Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes it's just about riding

This weekend I participated in a "group ride". It was a first for me, with the exception of completing the cycling portion of a half triathlon two summers ago; which, by the way was the second longest distance I'd pedaled a bike, the longest being the completion of the Prairie Spirit Trail (click on the highlighted words to go to their website)followed by an additional 11 miles on to my parents' house. It was a ride sponsored, organized, and led by members of  Kanbikewalk, which you can access by clicking on these highlighted words:Kanbikewalk. I estimated the turnout to be about 15-18 cyclists, I never did count exactly how many were there, what with me being a "word guy", and more prone to describing the experience through sensory detail, rather than quantifying the experience through data.
"The word guy" at a young age.
We made a nice group, but we didn't show much diversity.  Most were men between the ages of 35 and retirement age, and all "white", that is to say Caucasian, meaning varying degrees of pinkness through tan-ness, depending upon how much sunlight and wind 
each of us is exposed to regularly. Luckily, one pleasant female cyclist rode with us who spoke with a genuine Indian accent, and no I don't mean Lakota, or Iroquois, but Hindi, and her healthy, vibrant complexion was darker than most and was not caused by exposure to the elements.
November granted us a nice Saturday morning to ride. The temps climbed from the mid forties to the high of fifty seven. I liked the cool temps, it allowed me to wear several layers and peel one or two of them off  when needed. As I feared, I was the best dressed cyclist at this event. I decided beforehand I was there to represent the commuter aspect of cycling, rather than the recreational aspect. With this in mind I opted to wear pretty well what constitute my normal work clothes for teaching English to high school students: button up collared shirt, belt with buckle, pants (I wore denim jeans, though for four of five school days I wear khaki pants), brown leather casual shoes, and a faux tweed sport jacket, or suit jacket, whichever you prefer. Let me just say that the other cyclist looked better, because though I wore "dress" clothes, they are threadbare and nearly worn out and would not pass for "dress clothes" much of anywhere except a school full of high school students where half of them wear pajamas to school

 and the other half wear wife-beaters. 
Nonetheless, due to my clothes and my three speed bike, I was right where I always try to position myself: at the center of attention! Several of them let me know I should participate in their annual "tweed ride". Sounds cool to me. Here's a video of what a tweed ride might look like; some elements of it anyway.

The purpose of the ride was to show off a portion of some of the nice bike/ped trails the city of Olathe, Kansas has to offer. They were nice, curvy, blacktopped things which meandered along Indian Creek and through suburban America. The highlight of the trip was the "multi modal transportation interchange". To put it simply, this was a busy intersection of interstate highway, busy city street, and busy county road. What KanBikeWalk did was push for access for all forms of transportation (pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles) at this busy intersection (I noticed they didn't include horseback). It worked very well, and is a model for how all cyclists would like to see it done as far as bike lanes are concerned.
The nicest design feature was how the bike lane was between the vehicle right hand turn lane and the left hand vehicle lane so vehicles who intended to turn right were already on the cyclist's right and the danger of a vehicular cut off was greatly reduced.

I was in no hurry on the ride. The first half, roughly, was on the "meandering trail" I mentioned already. I suppose people are creatures of habit, and it didn't take long for all of us to bunch up and form a big clot of cyclists on the path. This kind of riding requires the cyclist to pay more attention to the cyclist directly in front of him in order to judge if he/she is slowing; the purpose being to avoid a rear end collision. I didn't see the point of driving 40 miles to go on a bike ride through a beautiful cross section of America on a gorgeous day just to watch the rear end of the cyclist in front of me. So, I hung back several bike lengths, just as I do when I drive, only when I drive it's several car lengths.

I noticed a few of the other cyclists just couldn't stand my approach and felt the need or desire to pass me, which was fine by me. Probably their desire to pass and get on up there was because they were riding bikes made for speed and racing, rather than looking around and enjoying the ride. Long story short, I ended up riding at my own pace, which was considerably slower than the others, and hanging back to provide encouragement to the aforementioned lady who needed a little emotional boost.

I stayed quiet during the meeting of KanBikeWalk. I find it's better to stay quiet and look ignorant, rather than talking and proving it to everyone. They were some smart people in there, and I like what they're trying to get going. They're pushing for safe walking and bicycling. That's it! Pedestrians and cyclists simply wish walk or bicycle without being harmed. They're pushing for the end of the vehicle centered transportation system. Yes, vehicles do account for the largest part of transport, but does that mean they are less accountable for their actions? A cyclist or pedestrian walking on or along a roadway and adhering to traffic laws, should not be "taking their lives into their own hands", or doing so "at their own risk", no more than vehicle traffic should feel they are.

I'm not sure what my role in this is, but as the Midwest Bicycle Commuter, traffic laws and traffic planning affects me. I don't want to be harmed commuting by bike only to have the law enforcement officers and the community at large feel that I "had it coming."

This has been a long entry and my mentioning so only makes it longer. Keep on riding your bikes and walking. Keep being a good example. Help people you know ride their bikes and walk places. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful I live in the United States. I'm thankful for my family.

Keep on commuting by bike.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I can do

Coming up this Saturday I'll be taking my bike to Overland Park, Kansas to attend the annual KanBikeWalk meeting which you can read about when you click on these words. This will be my first foray into bicycle advocacy.I'm not really sure what to expect, but I hope to be helpful and provide a dedicated commuter's perspective and possibly network with some like minded people.

A pre-meeting 25 mile or so ride will take place to which I'm looking forward to riding in. I have some concerns about being able to keep up with the others, but I have absolutely nothing to base these concerns upon, as I've not met any of these people, nor do I know their riding strength or equipment. The concern stems from my own equipment. I "roll" with a heavy bike to begin with. But I also add on the weight with my rear baskets,
lock and Wee-ride mount, like the one pictured above. I won't have the Wee-ride seat, but will leave the gray cross bar connecting the seat post to head set in place. That's not my bike pictured, but it's a three speed not unlike the one pictured; and that's not my actual basket but it's an image of the exact make and model of the two baskets I have on my bike.

I won't try to compete. I'll pedal a consistent pace that is as comfortable and fast as I wish to go. If this group is like most groups, they'll have members who will choose to ride racing bikes and wear racing clothing. I'll be wearing regular jeans and leather shoes, probably a leather jacket and whatever layers I'll need to wear for mid-November weather. I'm not out for speed, I'm out for the enjoyment of the ride and to look around.

I shouldn't be so judgmental. Maybe I'm not being judgmental and I have nothing for which to apologize. I just want to do this ride on my own terms the way I like to bike. I just don't like the posture and inconvenience of the racing bike when I'm not competing for speed or place. I'll be prepared for any weather and I hope they don't cancel on account of the weather, but on the sight I noticed they would allow for that event.

Speaking of weather, I rode home from school yesterday in cold November rain. I wore my rain suit and as I was leaving another teacher said "You're brave; riding in this (the weather)". I told her just wait to see what she thinks of me in February!

I may have to get a new rear flashing light as the one I have has been jarred loose on two occasions. Both times I was able to safely recover it and the batteries from out of the street before it was ruined by being ran over by a vehicle. Riding my bike at full speed over the transitions in the street were what caused it to come loose. 

I'll give you the post ride run down next week. In the meantime,

keep on commuting by bike!


Friday, November 12, 2010

It's raining, it's pouring . . .

Like the title of this blog entry indicates, it is raining and pouring today. I listened to the rain during the night on our roof and outside as it puddled. I anticipated the ride to school in the rain, but when it came time to leave on the bike, though the road was still wet, it wasn't raining. So, I took off.

I made it to the highway before the rain began to pour down. It started off gradually and I tried to think where I could pull over out of the rain in order to don my rain suit. By the way, that's not a picture of rain I took; and that's not me in the hi-viz rain suit, although I often display a cheesy smile a lot like his. But, what I did was take my 10 year old rain suit of gray, about like the one on the left, and add my own reflective patches to it in hopes it would look professional like the one on the left. Instead, mine just looks ghetto; or white trash.

Anyway, I stopped at an antique mall that had a nice big porch and I pulled on the rain gear as the cars and trucks swished by. I had recently (and it turns out, wisely) switched the gloves I carry in my backpack. I used to carry part cloth, part leather gloves with matching professional clothing in mind. That's what I used to carry, now I've switched to a pair of heavy duty, leather, insulated gloves more like these:

I always get more than a few looks when I enter the school wearing my home made high visibility rain suit, and above that my high visibility work vest:

I also wear a high visibility strap around my ankle on the traffic side of the bike, like this

I was the only person on bicycle this morning, and I predict I'll be the only one on bicycle this afternoon on the way home. I've received many comments from students and adults alike that were meant to be a little bit derisive or sarcastic along the lines of "We saw you this morning, you were hard to miss." I look at these sarcastic comments as evidence of success. That's my goal: to be seen. Not because I'm an attention hog (which I am), but because I want vehicle drivers to see me so they won't hit me with their vehicles!

I get quite a few rubber neckers who are amazed someone would ride their bike to begin with, let alone in the rain, and never mind wearing all these reflective clothes.  Here's a picture of some gear I plan to add to my reflective wardrobe for bicycle commuting.
Anyway, I hope it's still raining when I leave the building. I'm looking forward to a rainy ride!
Keep on commuting by bike!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A problem I've encountered

My commuter bike is a lugged steel frame Takara three speed road bike with 27" steel wheels. The problem I've encountered is this: the steel wheels get just a little bit out of true in a place or two on the wheel, as steel wheels are wont to do, and then they make contact with the brake pads; I attempt to alleviate this problem by adjusting the brakes out just a little so they won't make contact with the wheel, but then the stopping power is diminished. If I adjust the brakes in tighter, then the contact with the steel wheels increases.

This would not be too much of a problem if I already possessed the skills necessary to true a steel wheel. It's probably easy. However, I don't already possess those skills. There's few things more irritating to me on a bike ride than riding with the brake, at least partially, applied.

So, my next task as a wannabe self-sufficient bicycle commuter in the midwest is to check out youtube videos to see if I can learn how to true a wheel. I suppose I should research to learn if truing a steel wheel is advised.

I stopped by the local gas station to make use of their air compressor and topped off the front and rear to 75 p.s.i. I run Schwalbe Marathon 27" x 1 1/4" tires. I've been very pleased with them and they have increased my confidence level tremendously. So much so, that I've taken to not carrying the requisite gear for a repair on the road. I researched user reviews on these tires and the majority opinion was they were bombproof. Some people cite their heavier weight as a drawback, and a lower level of handling/performance. However, for my commute I have been pleased and have grown accustomed to the weight and I've also not noticed the handling aspect as a drawback. A dedicated bicycle commuter needs to value reliability over technical edges.

Streets take a toll on bicycle tires and wheels. As a bicycle commuter I'm constantly on the lookout for the smoothest path on the roadways; the smoothest way to transition over large cracks and joints in the road. It also saves your body at least some of the jarring which can also occur from these obstacles.

I'll go on line now and research what I can find out about learning to true my wheels and report back at some point.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A little dab of oil

My bike was starting to squeak a little bit. It seemed to be coming from the axle of the front wheel. I haven't done much in the way of maintenance to the bike since I spent a few days last spring dialing in the three speed hub, so I determined a little bit of oil wouldn't hurt, provided I use it sparingly and in a limited number of locations. I didn't have any special bicycle oil. What I did have was an empty can of household oil, made for sewing machines, hinges, etc. and it had a nice plastic dropper on it for easy application. I also had about three quarts of 20W-50 Castrol motor oil on hand in a five quart container. So, being the problem solver I am, and necessity being the mother of invention, or in this case, refilling, I carefully transferred about an once or two of the motor oil into the empty metal can with the dropper.

Since it was after dark when I decided to do this, I wheeled the bike into my workshop and turned on all the lights so I could see better. Next, I turned the bike upside down and rested it on the ground on its handlebars and the seat. I have to be careful doing this, because the rear taillight on the rear fender stands a good chance of being damaged if I am not careful. This is because I first raise the front wheel like a wheelie, and just keep pulling it on over.

I applied a drop or two of the oil to the front axle, the rear axle, and tried to place a tiny drop on each of the joints of the chain, although the chain looked fairly lubricated. I'm sure it was my imagination, but when I left a few minutes later to attend a meeting in town, it seemed like the bike rolled easier, and the squeaking stopped.

The point of this is that I have every confidence that just about any bit of oil you might happen to have on hand will be fine for lubricating your commuter bike. Don't be afraid to use kitchen oil for that matter, most everyone has a little of that around. Use it sparingly. A drop of oil spreads greatly. You don't want to make a mess of oil on your chain and the moving parts of your bike, because it will attract dust, or your clothes will get in it and get stained.

You don't have to spend excessive money buying "special bicycle oil". Just dip a cotton swab (a q tip) into a small amount of cooking oil: canola, vegetable, olive etc.and rub it on the target area. Use a small kitchen measuring cup to hold a small amount of the oil , like a tablespoon to start.. You'll want that separate container to pour the oil into because the q tip will collect old, nasty goo from off the target area and it will corrupt the good oil when you dip it back into the clean oil. Better to corrupt a tablespoon of oil rather than the entire bottle.

If the q tip doesn't seem effective, I've used a toothpick to dip into the oil, because it will collect just enough on the toothpick to form a drop on the end, then you can place the drop where you wish with some accuracy. If you wish to take a little bit of precaution for overspray, you can use the aerosol cans of cooking oil. To prevent some uncontrolled overspray, rip off some cardboard from a cereal box, a twelve pack pop or beer box, or pizza box; even a paper plate. Hold it on the opposite side of the target area you're spraying to catch the overspray so it won't get on your floor. Again, use this oil sparingly as well.

Kitchen oil is not ideal for lubricating your bike. There are better choices. But, if you're a die hard bicycle commuter, you must acknowledge you, to some degree, value practicality. When you need to lubricate your chain and you don't have any oil designed for the purpose, or you don't want to get any for some reason, and you have some kitchen oil on hand; use the kitchen oil.

Kitchen oil won't work well to lubricate a badly rusted chain. To treat a badly rusted chain, lubricate it with WD-40 or an equivalent. An equivalent to WD-40 would be any spray (aerosol) oil identifying itself as "penetrating". Any spray oil which says it will free rusty bolts will do. I recommend you apply this product liberally to the badly rusted chain taking precautions to catch drips and overspray. After applying the oil generously, use a rag to wipe off excess oil in an attempt to reduce the mess of oil attracting dirt and dust. Ride the bike a day or two for ten miles or so. Then, sparingly apply the other lubricating oil. The penetrating oil will free up the chain and defeat the rust when combined with movement. The lubricating oil will help protect and lubricate the chain.

Because ideally you want to have your chain well lubricated, it runs the potential of leaving oily marks upon your pants or leg, or whatever else with which it comes into contact. That's why it's important for the bicycle commuter to ride a bike with a practical chain guard. The chain guard serves two purposes: it protects the clothes; and it protects the chain. If you're a dedicated bicycle commuter, weather conditions will seldom dissuade you. Protect the chain from moisture and grime and it will extend its life, and will increase your pleasure and performance on your commute.

Make sure you don't apply any kind of oil to the outer rim or wheel. Doing so runs the risk of the oil coming into contact with the brake pads. Brakes don't function as well when they encounter oil and your ability to stop will be adversely affected. In other words you won't be able to stop in as short of a distance. It will take a greater distance for you to come to a stop.

Good luck. Send me a comment if I can answer any questions for you.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The new "i generation"

As you may or may not have learned, I am a high school English teacher in a small, mostly rural town in northeast Kansas. Perhaps you may not realize, but this is not a place where adults ride bicycles. At least it's not common. If an adult rides a bike, it must be for recreation, not as a viable transportation source.My students, as you might imagine, have inherited their parents' attitudes about the bicycle: it's for kids; it's a toy; don't ride a bike when you can drive; driving is a rite of passage into adulthood; only liberal kooks ride bikes.

Well, generally that is the attitude I encounter. I'm somewhat of a novelty. However, the students gradually are becoming at least curious about how much I ride and why. It could be that my example may possibly lead some of them to begin questioning why they're driving: because it's easy; because it's the "cool" thing to do; because a vehicle is an extension of my personality; because I want to fit in; because I don't know any other viable mode of transport.

If the students are slowly, grudgingly, mockingly beginning to ask questions, it could be that in the years to come students here in Kansas might finally catch on to the benefits of cycling. After all, Kansas is ideal for cycling.

With the technological innovations coming at us all in ever increasing frequency, and with the emerging green culture, it is one of the best times to cycle. So much immediate information is available at our fingertips, the cyclist rarely need feel out of pocket the way they may have felt in years past. The palm size communications systems available out there, which also make calls b.t.w., allow a cyclist to take the world with him or her when they cycle.

The i-generation gives to culture, and to the environment, and to family. The i-generation also takes care of themselves. Remember, there is no "I" in team; but, there is in bike!