Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The thermometer says "It's cold"!

Some of you may be saying "Thank you Captain Obvious!" Well, I know you know it's cold out, but I think some people out there who are in their vehicles don't appreciate how cold it really is. Then again, some drivers might say it's me who doesn't appreciate how really cold it is. After all it's me who's out there riding his bike amid traffic who's not expecting bicycles, while the water in the drainage outlets is frozen and the bank sign temperature is in the teens.

You may be inclined to ask,"Midwest Bicycle Commuter Dude, what will you do if you crash on the ice and you're all by yourself?"  A valid question I suppose. I leave relatively early for school, but not so early that no one is already out and about and beginning their own commutes to work. Presuming I'm conscious and able, I'll probably try to signal someone's aid using either my front or rear flasher. Or worst case scenario, I'll try to get attention with my reflective vest.

The place where I'll be most vulnerable, as far as lying undiscovered for any length of time goes, is on the length of rail trail I use. Not many people are out using the rail trail this time of year, at that time of the morning. It's also the part of my commute likely to remain uncleared of snow and ice. If it is too "hairy" for me, I plan to commute using the main arterial roads which will have been cleared.

I stand a better chance of being protected in a bicycle spill in cold weather, because I'm wearing so much more clothing. The layers which are covering every possible inch of my body except my face will help to protect me. Of course, I will be wearing my helmet.

I'm not naive enough to claim all this clothing will protect me from anything happening. A person can still break a bone through layers of clothing, or sustain a concussion even though they wear a helmet. Icy, and snowy road conditions are much different than cold conditions. Obviously when road conditions are bad, vehicles can't handle as predictably or as well as in ideal conditions. That's bad news for a cyclist.

As far as the cold weather goes, I wear lots of clothes to keep warm. I only have a fifteen minute commute, so it's not that long of a time to spend in cold weather. The exertion of pedaling warms me quickly during my commute.

It takes some planning to commute during the winter months. Invariably, I'm hot and uncomfortable during those first few minutes when I arrive at school or back home from my clothing and body temperature increase during pedaling. Then, I must spend a few moments folding some of my articles of clothing and storing them in my backpack for the day, or night.

These are some things to think about. Really, once it's below freezing, there's not a lot of difference in the feel of temperature. It's all cold. It's not impossible.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter, so far, has been a little rough on my bicycle commute. To date, I've broken my rear flashing LED light and my bicycle lock. The former had come loose on a couple of occasions and fell in the road, which forced me to execute a safe U-turn, locate the component (pretty easy) and two AAA batteries (not as easy) before traffic overran them. On both occasions, the rear facing light cover, which contains the LED bulbs, the batteries, and the inner switch, was jarred loose by my bike passing over particularly big seams in concrete pavement at a fairly fast clip, and skidded across the alongside the road. Fortunately, I heard something amiss each time and took the red flag as something I should investigate. On one of these occasions a battery had been ran over and I had to force the flattened battery into its slot. It worked. But, then later on I could not access the flashing function with the switch; it only operated on solid light setting until the next morning when it appeared to be fully operational again. Then, not long after, I couldn't get it to work at all.

I broke my bike lock at the school's bike rack Monday morning, or Tuesday. The bank sign read 17 degrees Fahrenheit when I passed it at 7:00. I guess the lock was frozen and I was having trouble separating the locking mechanism to where I could open it, stretch the coiled cable, and feed it through my frame and the rack. I double checked I had the combination correct and gave the lock a swat on the metal bike rack. That swat was enough to shear off the male end of the combination lock. The rest of the week I've been bringing my bicycle inside the buildings I'm visiting. At school I'm not worried about it being genuinely stolen, but rather I'm concerned a student will decide it would funny to hide it from me. I'm a busy guy and I can't fool around with that prospect.

I nabbed the identical rear flashing light from off the bicycle trailer, since it's not being used much to tote around our boys in this cold weather (I'm all for it, but I think my wife would not like it, and maybe not the kids) in order to continue on commuting in the dark mornings and evenings.

Both of these were Bell products purchased at Wal-Mart. I believe they're each a couple years old and have survived at least one other winter. I don't remember exactly what I paid for them. I think maybe $10. for the lock and $15. for the flashing light. I suppose they lasted about as long as I expected them to, and as long as I should expect them to last for the price.

If money were no issue, I'd choose to outfit my commuter with a dynamo front hub and front and back lighting system. I'm not sure what kind of lock I'd choose. Part of why I ride this old, "vintage" three speed is because everyone looks at it and thinks "dork!" and functions partly as a theft deterrent. The only people who'd steal it would be people who are sick of walking, or want to cause mischief. It's not one for re-selling to get some money.

Anyway, it's cold and getting colder and my students are getting a good look at a bike as a tool, rather than a bike as a toy. They're asking questions and I think that's good. They're making judgemental comments, and, I guess, I'm a good sport.

Keep on commuting by bike!


Friday, December 3, 2010

We can only march to the beat of our own drum if we listen for it

Well, I'm back. It's been a number of days since I've updated this blog. I'll blame it upon the Thanksgiving break and its interruption to our schedule. I pray all of you out there enjoyed a safe and pleasant Thanksgiving and spent it with those whom you love.

I'm concerned about the image of cycling in the United States. This concern is prompted by a movie I recently watched. In The 40 Year Old Virgin,

the protagonist,  for whom the title is derived, is ridiculed by his co-workers for riding his bike. If the protagonist wishes to forever altar his status as a virgin, i.e. engage in sexual intercourse, his friends inform him, he must do a few things differently; like improve his wardrobe, eliminate his chest hair, and stop riding his bike. He defends his choice by pointing out that lots of people ride their bikes. His detractors respond sarcastically with, "Yeah, when they're six!"

The point we as viewers are to infer, and the awkward protagonist infers, is that cycling, riding a bike, is a recreational activity and a mode of transportation reserved for children. If you wish to be "cool" and enter into adulthood, you must abandon the childish affinity for bikes and get a vehicle.

I wonder how many "popular" viewers who identify more with the protagonists' "hip" co-workers, than with the individualized protagonist, are reinforced in their view of the bicycle as a toy. In this film, Hollywood celebrates conformity; not only in the aspect of cycling. However, since this is The Midwest Bicycle Commuter, I'm focusing on this issue alone.

I thought the movie was pretty entertaining. I get their humor. And, as with all comedians and works of comedy, eventually they will choose something dear to you as a target, and your feelings will get hurt. Well, I'm a big boy (physiologically), and I can take it (sob). However, I'd like for cycling to enjoy a better reputation than that. I would like for the perception of cycling to change in the public's eye.

It's probably easier and popular to engage in promiscuous sex, than to remain a virgin. It's probably easier and popular to simply buy a car and drive it where you need to go. It's an act of will power and individualism to stay true to yourself and continue on collecting childhood toys, just because you want to. It's an act of will power and individualism to choose to ride your bike to work, and to places you need to go.

Unfortunately, simple little comedic moments like that one, full of sarcasm, will be the sum total of research and opinion a great number of viewers will conduct upon commuting by bicycle. It's a shame how such a small scene can continue the negative perception bicycles and riders alike suffer. I know it's not reality, it's Hollywood. However, the great masses of sheep who identify themselves with Hollywood, and subscribe to their conformity message, yet bleat about their desire to be an individual, will use this one minor scene to reinforce and  rationalize their decision to marginalize and discount bicycles and bicycle riders.