Thursday, October 28, 2010

At long last

Yes, you can all breathe easier now knowing I'm not injured or incapacitated and unable to maintain this blog. I'm back behind the (figuratively speaking) helm of the keyboard ready to freely provide help to all those who suffer from insomnia by expounding over my own experience commuting by bicycle approximately five days a week, about 6 miles round trip and a total of around 20- 30 minutes daily.

I didn't realize it was nearly 10 days since I'd last updated the blog. I have a cause to celebrate, because I noticed I had my first comment left by someone I can only hope actually read one of the entries. My first comment, and presumably the first real, somewhat verifiable evidence that someone read it. It was the entry where I complained and whined about the rear flashing light being loose on the seat post and my bungee cord being used to hold it in place and how I forgot to reattach the bungee cord and it became tangled in my spokes causing a mess yada, yada, yada. The comment was apparently left by someone who identifies themselves as being from the UK and mentioned they didn't think flashing rear lights were legal in the UK; or maybe it was flashing front lights that weren't legal in the UK. I can't remember, but I thank you Dave from for being the official first visitor to what I foresee will be the premier powerhouse and authority on bicycle commuting in small towns in the mid-western United States.

Now, on to my recent riding: I had a pretty good weekend of riding with less than perfect weather. Saturday my wife informed me I needed to take our two sons out of the house for a while as she needed a break from us. I was told this Friday night and I immediately began forming a bicycle adventure for the three of us.

When transporting the boys (1 and 3 year olds) I use a Wee-Ride in the front for the youngest, and a Burley two seat trailer for the oldest boy, and for both boys together during some legs of journeys.

We loaded up on food for the day. I'm a big fan of taking along some home made biscuits which have had a generous dollop of real butter applied between the top and bottom half while they're still hot from the oven.String cheese is another good treat great for days out on the bike. A canteen of water and a squirt type water bottle which fits in a bottle cage goes along too. Cookies for three; granola bars for three; an apple; and a hunk of french bread and a half dozen slices of hard salami completed the kit.

I also decided it would be prudent to take along a 10' X 10' tarp and a couple lengths of rope; my rain gear; jackets for the three of us; an 8' X 10' blanket;  a spare diaper and a few wipes for the little one not yet potty trained; my wallet with my debit card; and the cellphone. The cover for the trailer stays in the trailer all the time, so I don't consider it to be something I packed along. I took the tarp and rope, because they are just so light to carry and don't take up much room at all and you just never know when an improvised shelter may be needed. Fortunately, we didn't need shelter, but we used the tarp to lay on the ground below the blanket to keep moisture off us.

So, with the three of us on the bicycle, and the trailer, and the Wee-Ride components, and the metal wire baskets; and the rear rack, and all the stuff we packed along with us; we made quite a sight and was quite a weighty expedition for us as well. I knew the approach for the day would be slow and steady, because it just so happened the wind was quite boisterous that day and was blowing directly against us for about half of the journey. Luckily it was the first half and we had it to look forward to help push us home.

It had rained some during the night before and to be honest it looked like it could rain at just about any time that day. The sun never did come out that much because of the blustery fast moving, low-lying clouds being pushed up from the south. It never rained, but the wind did not let up.

I wore regular denim pants, a long sleeve button up collared shirt, lace up loafers, my reflective band on my left ankle, and my reflective work vest for visibility. Of course I wore my sun glasses and helmet. I consider those nearly essential equipment for almost any bike outing. Glasses of some kind come highly recommended in my experience.

I pedaled for about an hour or more into the wind going south out of town. Then changed direction and pedaled due east toward the rural municipal airport where we stopped for close to two hours of play and rest and picnic. From there roughly another hour of pedaling eight or nine miles to a small town where again we took nearly two hours to play in the city park and rest. We then left for home going at an angle north and west along a rail trail back to Ottawa, Kansas. It was 10 or more miles and we stopped once and walked for a good half hour because the boys were getting weary of the ride and needed to burn some energy.

All in all it was close to 32 miles of pedaling all of us. I felt great and it was a lovely experience.I'm not a speed king, I'm the determined turtle. I don't have a cycle computer, I use google maps to tell me distances.

I hope you find this interesting or informative, or entertaining. I'm pressed for time to end this so end it I must.

p.s. I took the boys to church on the bike Sunday morning too.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I hate it when that happens!

I'll try to get to the point this time without rambling on and on and only mentioning that which pertains to the title at the very end, and instead try to let you know how the title relates right off.

What I hate is when I have loosened one end of the bungee cord I keep on my bike and then I forget to reattach it and I mount up and begin riding away and the cord's hooked end becomes entangled in the spokes. It becomes wrapped around the rear axle and is difficult to extricate. Plus it generally close to ruins the bungee cord and deforms the shape of the hook. I don't know what effect it has upon the spokes it encounters. So far, none of them has broken, but I can't imagine it would be doing them any good.

I am in the habit of keeping a bungee cord on my bike at just about all times, because I never know when I'm going to need one. I like to keep the opposing ends hooked to the opposite sides of the rear rack. To keep it taut, I feed it around the seat post, the handlebar side of the seat post.Not only do I keep it there, at the ready, so that I might use it for securing anything which is in need of securing, but I also have come to depend upon it for keeping my rear flashing light in place.

My rear flashing red light is a Bell product from my LBS (Local Bike Shop- around here our LBS is Wal-Mart). It's an LED light and I'm pretty well pleased with it with one exception. It's designed to clamp around the seat post. This has proven problematic for a couple reasons: for one, it is partially hidden from view being mounted below the saddle; secondly, anytime I have something I need to transport which requires I use the top of the rear rack means it blocks the view of the light completely. My rear rack came with a place to mount a light to it which would place it on the rearmost portion of the rack. I think this would be an ideal location to place it, but I will have to devise some way of mounting it. The light I have does not "jive" with the mounting system in place on the rack.

Another thing I've come to dislike about the light is the clamp. It's made for a seat post which is bigger in diameter than my own seat post, so I must make use of the rubber spacers they've provided. To further complicate matters, the spacers aren't sufficient enough to clamp the light tightly and I had to improvise with my own spacers as well. As you might predict, the spacers eventually wiggled loose and the light is free to spin freely. That's the reason I have the bungee cord going around the seat post, to help hold the light I have still.

That's my blog entry for the day: don't forget to reattach the bungee cord on your bike, and get a good rear flashing light and attach it to the rear rack.

Keep on commuting by bike.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loose screw

The temperature was just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when I passed the bank sign just after seven o'clock. It's dark out at this time, this time of year. I've begun taking a slightly different route to school just this week due to a new bike lane installed last week.

Previously, I'd pedal one block over to the slight downhill grade into town on the four lane highway where traffic speed is reduced from 40 to 30 to the left turn only lane at the traffic lighted intersection. It's an uninterrupted downhill grade to the lights, a distance of maybe a quarter mile on smooth four lane concrete Kansas D.O.T. maintained highway. It's quick and convenient.

This week I've altered my path. Now, I go straight, down a similar grade on the street adjacent to my house. It's a similar distance, but it's city maintained streets. This means dips for drainage; potholes where the blacktop has been broken away and the old brick below it is exposed; two stop signs (I take an Idaho stop approach to these stop signs, which means I treat the stop sign as a yield sign, slowing with caution, then, if clear continuing on without stopping). Also, there is a slight uphill grade to climb to reach the stop sign where my left turn is. This is where the bicycle lane begins, after the completion of the left turn, once I am on the former state highway. From this point I am going downhill again and building speed until it flattens out a block or so from the same lighted intersection I used to encounter when I took the other route.

The new route is not quite as quick, due to all those reasons I mentioned. However, I have begun taking this new route in order to show my appreciation to the city for installing the bicycle lanes. Plus, I figure using the bicycle lanes is slightly safer than riding the other route which has no bicycle lane. I say using the lanes are only slightly safer because whether you are aware or it or not, there are some design flaws involved in bicycle lanes which on occasion make them more unsafe than simply riding in the lane as a vehicle.

The most potentially hazardous design flaw found in the idea behind bicycle lanes, from my perspective, is how the bicycle lane cuts through the path of a right turning vehicle. This is from the perspective of a cyclist who pretty much attempts to operate his bicycle as a vehicle. Since I try to operate as a vehicle, and do things which a vehicle driver would expect out of a vehicle, I abstain from staying completely to the right on a road which provides a right hand only turning lane.  This ordinarily is not too big a deal, because vehicles will sometimes go ahead around me on the left, using a portion of the oncoming traffic lane to pass. This becomes problematic when there is a raised, separated median between opposing traffic lanes. So, imagine it: I am on my bicycle staying generally on the right hand third of the lane, in the right lane of  a four lane, median separated road. The righ hand lane I have been traveling upon has now become marked as a right hand turn only lane. I have no intention of turning right because just beyond the right hand turn in question the bicycle lane begins. I must then signal to vehicles I'm moving into the left lane, stay in the right hand third of the left hand lane while vehicles turning right are passing me on the right hand side, and vehicles behind me are breathing down my neck because they can't pass me on the left because there's a raised concrete median preventing them from doing this.

Luckily, the stretch in question in truth is only a hundred yards or twice that, but it seems like more when I am trying to be a friendly, considerate part of traffic who also expects courtesy and respect in return. Part of showing courtesy and friendliness is recognizing the fact that every vehicle out there can travel faster than me on a bike, and trying to slow them down as little as possible, without placing myself in any  danger.

These are some thoughts about bike lanes and thoughts behind commuting by bicycle. My two sons are right now requiring my assistance so I must stop this entry.

Oh yeah, the reason I titled it loose screw is because I lost one of the screws which holds my chain guard in place. I stopped by the lumber yard and hardware store and replaced it with a longer one which I additionally double nutted and used a lock washer.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are you down with the wetness?

So, this morning, for the first time this school year, I think, I was forced to don my rain suit and ride in the rain on my way to the high school this morning. Thankfully, it wasn't also cold. This is how it went down. I left the house and was about a third of the way when it began to rain. I pulled up under the awning of an abandoned business front on Main st. so I could add the layer of rain suit over my khakis, shirt and suit jacket.

I keep my rain suit in my pack-pack. I keep my back pack in the rear drive side collapsible wire basket attached to my rear rack. I keep the rain out of my back-pack by applying a generous coat of 3m Scotch guard. I applied it three years ago and it seems to remain effective at keeping the contents of the back-pack dry. I carry my rain suit in the back-pack at all times and carry the back-pack with me to school at all times, too.

My rain suit is in pretty sorry condition. It's about ten years old or older, for one thing. It's gray, which is a bad color for bicycle commuters, but when I purchased it, I had no intention or even any thought of using it to commute by bicycle. I've further increased its unappealing appearance by attaching some home made reflective strips to it in some prominent places I thought likely to reflect headlights. The worst aspect of my rain suit is the ripped open crotch. But, if you've been reading this blog, you've already read about it.

Riding my bike in the rain is actually pretty enjoyable. Perhaps it's because I do it so rarely I still find it novelty enough  to like it. I think I like the additional reflected lights on the wet road surface which appeals to me. Also, it may be my imagination but, I think my bike rolls along a little easier when the road is wet. The third reason I think I like it so much is because there are generally no other bike commuters out in the rain, and I like saying yes when students and faculty ask if I rode my bike today in the rain.

I'm thinking of trying to become a follower of some of other bicycle commuter blogs in hopes to network with some other like minded individuals. Lately I've been thinking about career change in order to find one which involves riding bicycles. Perhaps networking with other cyclists may facilitate this a little better.

That last paragraph was off topic from riding in the rain. However, I'll close with this: Riding in the rain is just that. Riding in the rain. It's a matter of being prepared and having the right mind set. It doesn't have to be miserable. That being said, I don't live in a place that's considered "rainy". Get out there and give it a try.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Okay, now the gloves are coming . . .on!

I feel it's important to continue writing about the apparel I don for my near daily commute of close to three miles and fifteen minutes each morning and afternoon the days school is in session. The reason I think it's important is because I am attempting to change the perception of commuting by bicycle in my own little corner of the world and in my own little way. I wish to show those around me they can ride their bikes nearly every day of the year; they don't have to spend large amounts of money purchasing the "latest" gear and bikes; and the type of bike best suited for commuting around here.

What does this have to do with apparel I wear to and from my destinations on the bike? Well, it's important for people to see me wearing "regular" clothes. Take that descriptor with a grain of salt because my wardrobe is definitely threadbare and secondhand, thus disqualifying it from being "regular". Well, people may in fact wear secondhand clothing and still be "regular", but my problem is that my clothing is not fashionable. Anyway, what I mean to say is that I simply wear the clothes I'll be teaching in that day, out on the bike for my commute.

Rather than buying and wearing special jackets and pants,and shoes which are advertised as being cycling specific, I choose to wear my slacks and dress shirts, blazers and leather shoes on the bike. Most of the problem, at least here in the mid west, is the dramatic temperature change from morning to afternoon. When I leave in the morning now, I am wearing a white tee shirt;a semi-turtle neck;  a button up long-sleeve dress shirt;  a blazer of one design or another, a pair of black driving gloves; my slacks, shoes, and helmet. It goes without saying I choose to wear a highly reflective work approved vest as the outermost layer on my torso. This morning I added an additional article of clothing: a black synthetic "scarf" or muffler. It's one of the most versatile things to wear I can find. I love it for preventing the wind from going down the back of my neck. It also seems to act as a heat stopper and allows my body to heat to remain near my chest without escaping up out of the neck of my shirt.

This morning when I left I felt the cold, and by the time I arrived at school I was nearly hot. That's one of the tricks of commuting by bike. It's difficult to be prepared for nearly every weather situation, but there are a few situations I want to always cover. First, the rain. I always carry an old two piece rain suit in my backpack folded as compactly as I can manage. It's old and believe it or not,the crotch is all ripped out. It's totally the wrong color for commuting by bike: gray! But, luckily I've taken the time to attach quite a few reflective adhesive trailer stickers to it. By stickers I mean the adhesive white and red rectangle ones used to attach to trailers and the rear of work trucks and gates and the like, not the ones depicting our favorite cartoon personalities such as Scooby-Doo.

I like the many layers approach to dressing for the cold. That's because I can always remove articles as the need arises and I have adequate temporary storage for transporting them when not in use. Layering clothing seems to make the body breathe a little easier and reduce the overheating effect.

That's about it. Each day more or less determines how I'll dress. In the upcoming weeks I'll add a windbreaker type article which I'll wear to keep the cold wind and air from freezing my arms and chest. After that has exhausted its usefulness in the cold, I'll begin topping off all this with a zippered leather jacket. The difference is dramatic!

One thing I would like to add to my list of accouterments is a balaclava. My ears do tend to get cold and ache in the truly cold weather. But, I don't like to wear caps and such under my helmet.

Just don't despair. All the stuff I wear and use is not cycling specific gear and has been purchased or given to me from a variety of sources. I definitely don't wear spandex. I utilize platform pedals with no clips. That's because they allow me to wear whatever shoes or boots I wish to wear, rather than using clip-less pedals and the accompanying shoes, which means I'd be forced to carry extra shoes for teaching, or keep a pair in the desk or somewhere else in my room. Instead I keep a boot brush in my desk to maintain the leather if it needs it.

You don't have to wear cycling specific clothes in order to commute by bike.You just need to realize what you need and determine if you have it, and then use it. Part of the reason we commute by bike is save a little bit of money. I figured I saved roughly $3 per day I ride my bike. If we go to school 180 days, that's a savings of $540. That's money I'm spending in other places. That's not the only reason I commute by bike, of course. The main reason is I just like it so much. For those who remain uninitiated, it's difficult to understand. Some folks may decide to try it and become discouraged and give up. Try not to. You can do it. I'm no expert and I'm not anything special. I'm just a guy with a goal.

Keep on commuting by bike!

of Lately, the temps have been quite cool in the morning, and dark.