Friday, December 29, 2006

Pee Pee Time!

Photo: I rode my bike to Red Lobster. I'm meeting my wife here to celebrate. Yes, I'm posting from the parking lot of Red Lobster. I am a nerd.

I got a call from the HR department for the company I've been contracting at for the past six months or so. They have gotten full approval for me to start work as a full-time associate on Jan. 8th. This is awesome news! I was concerned that I'd take a pay hit because of the benefits package that they offer, but I actually ended up getting the benefits AND a raise to go with it! Basically, they're going to end up paying for extra benefits for my wife (like insurance) all things said and done.

So, I'm keeping my commute. I would still like to ride from Olathe to downtown (or back home from downtown) one time per week once I get my endurance up and the weather gets nice.

On with formalities. The UA Drug Screen. Oh noes!!!! I haven't even lit up a cigarette before, so I wasn't the least bit concerned, so long as copious amount of caffeine didn't disqualify me.

I got an "A", by the way :)

I must have looked like a democrat this morning

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against democrats. Without pushing my views on those who read my ramblings, I'll say that I'm fairly conservative (in the silly political sense of the word) and registered as a republican.

Some friends of mine have these long-standing stereotypes. I personally don't believe all of them are true. If you want to just skip over them, just skip past the italics.

For one, most people that hang out at Starbucks are Mac users. While I have no idea if that's true, I do see some Macs at Starbucks on occasion. I have used Macs and PC laptops in coffee shops, so I'm not terribly biased on either side.

Another stereotype is that Mac users are typically artsy, liberal eco-zealots. I also have no idea if that's all true, but I do know that a good deal of graphic designers prefer using the MacOS versions of their programs over using the Windows versions. I am not a graphic designer. I am a writer, a programmer, a hacker (in the good sense of the word: "curious"), and many other things.

Finally, I do know that a good number of bicycle commuters are doing it partially because it's good for the environment, and that many bike commuters are liberal, and probably self-described democrats.

Anyhow, so here I am: I'd been writing something on my Mac while riding the bus, but didn't get to finish it. I'm hungry, thirsty, have time to burn before work, and suffering without a REALLY GOOD coffee shop downtown. I hit Starbucks, the only coffee shop between 15th and 8th, Oak and Broadway that is guaranteed not to make me regret drinking their coffee. I lock my bike up, go inside, place my order, find a table, set my helmet down, whipped out the MacBook and finished writing my composition.

I must have looked like such a democrat. :)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bikes Everywhere!

I had to make a trip to the Library today. It must be the unseasonably warm climate. There were 3 bikes chained up next to the library! The white Trek 820 belongs to a guy who works there. I know for certain he's a bike commuter. I haven't seen the other two bikes before.

The comfort bike had a unique twist, though. The owner re-used an old inner-tube by running the lock chain through it to protect the paint. Interesting re-use of an old tube. I'll definitely add that to my list of possible inner-tube re-uses.

I've had enough...

... of riding on knobby tires!!! I switched back over to the Outlook on slicks until it starts snowing again. The ride in was a LITTLE easier. It's going to take me a few more days to get totally used to my new longer, hillier route. It's good for me, though.

The picture is just my quick-release wheel sitting in my cubicle at work. I figure if a theif cuts my cable lock, they will still have to steal another front wheel or buy one before they can ride my bike or sell it to someone.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Found a nice bike shop downtown

It looks like their website is offline, so I can't link to it, but I swung by River Market Cyclery (on 3rd street between Grand and Oak) today over lunch. They have an impressive selection of bikes and accessories. The customer floor is pretty big for being downtown, and it's organized without a lot of clutter. The manager informed me that they just started carrying Cannondale, so expect some new bikes to show up soon! From my limited time there, I was seeing Schwinn, Giant, GT, and other well-known brands. They seem to be targeting the midrange-savvy recreational mountain bikers and urban commuters. I didn't notice a lot of road bikes, but saw some sweet singlespeeds and quasi-recumbent chopper bikes among the hybrids and mountain bikes.

If you work or live downtown, it's worth the jaunt. They have pretty much everything you'd need in a local bike shop, including installation and repair mechanics.

Via - Olathe Bike Plan

This is a great post on I think it's funny that they make the assumption that commuters are "expert cyclists". While I do prefer riding on the street and I do have a pretty high confidence level, I am easily humiliated by large hills, and can't sustain a decent speed (closing in on 20 MPH) for more than maybe a mile or so at a time before getting completely winded.

Anyhow, if you live in or around Olathe, KS, you owe it to yourself to check out the presentation notes. Olathe's always been pretty bike friendly, but it's nice to see that they have a formal plan to further accomodate cyclists of all levels.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Toys

I had gift cards to my favorite bike shop and MicroCenter burning a hole in my pocket tonight. I finally picked up a good floor pump (Park Tool PFP-3), a portable tire pressure gauge (for bikes, 120PSI max, most car gauges only go to 50 or so), and a good sport backpack that's meant to carry a laptop. Now I don't need to worry about where to put my new MacBook when I am commuting to work. The old messenger-style laptop bag wasn't cutting it.

My knobbies say they can take 65 PSI. I usually run them at about 40 but they were even lower than that when I checked them with my gauge. I pumped them up to 60. We'll see if they feel any "faster" tomorrow on my way to work.

Bonus picture. I tried to zoom down Broadway again today to catch the earliest bus. I failed by mere seconds, so i had to wait about 20 minutes for the next bus to come along and I snapped this picture. Southwest Blvd is usually packed between 4pm and 6pm, but Kansas City was a relative ghost town today. I'm betting a lot of people are burning vacation time this week so they can get an extra long break.

New commuting toy

The guys over at Focaljet hooked me up with a new Black 13" MacBook. As it turns out, it works great with Bluetooth dial-up networking, so I can actually blog, check e-mail and maybe even get some work done on the bus ride home.

I took my slow, evil Sorrento again today, on the new 127th street bridge route. Not a bad ride, but it seems to have a lot more hill. It was a pretty un-eventful trip to the bus. I have no clue how cold it was this morning, but my core never got very hot, and my knees were really cold and stiff the whole way in. It doesn't help that I'm still fighting off whatever illness it was that forced me to drive last week, too.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New 127th street overpass in Olathe

I rode my Outlook to church this morning, and took the newly opened overpass in Olathe.

The overpass cuts over I-35 and the railroad track, creating a solid stretch of road from Antioch to highway K-7. There are no highway on-ramps for the new overpass, so the bridge should be a lot safer than my usual commute route on 119th street.

The bridge isn't 100% open yet, the sidewalk isn't totally accessible, the center lanes are closed, and the street lights aren't up yet.

I'll probably use this route from now on, even though it adds a few miles to my ride.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I think I'm free of job worries.

It looks like the company that I've been doing contract work for might be able to shoe-horn an opening out of HR for me, allowing me to come back to work pretty quickly (probably not seamless, but close enough). Hard telling exactly how it will play out, but if it works, it will help my commute, but not in the ways you'd expect.

* My recruiter is currently paying my parking spot bill. It's only $52 or something a month, but I will lose my free parking when I lose this contract.

* I will have the option to have $40 taken from my paycheck each month for a spot inside the building I would be working in (instead of across the street, uncovered like I am now)

Bus Fare:
* I currently pay $1.75 each way except on summer ozone alert days where it's $0.25 each way, which might happen once or twice a week in the hot summer months. The average 22-day work-month costs me $77 if there's no ozone alert. Still cheaper than gas.

* One of the "perks" at this company is that they pay for most of a monthly bus passport. End result: I have $15 per month taken out of my check, they cover the rest. Unlimited bus rides on the Johnson County Transit system.

So, my options are:
* Pay $15 for bus fare and $40 parking per month, and have the ability to choose driving or bi-modal commuting for $55 per month.

* Pay $40 for parking and shell out my own bus fare on days I ride the bike, and probably end up driving more.

* Pay $15, and then have to not only worry about burning gas, but finding parking ($4-$8 per day!!!) if I drive.

Sounds like paying the $15 and then having a good monetary motivator to bike commute is the winner.

I'll keep you posted. This is all pie in the sky right now.

By the way, I still didn't ride my bike today. It's been a few days, I had a killer fever last night, and I'm not riding my bike in the cold while I'm sick. This is the first time in 3 months that I've not ridden for more than 2 days straight. It's also the first time in 3 months that my knees don't ache a little. I think my legs needed the break.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No bike today

I've got some kind of cold thing that's been going around the office. I can usually get rid of these things pretty quickly with lots of water, orange juice, and capsaicin (i.e. a few tablespoons of the hottest hot sauce I can find and/or tolerate - which is pretty damned hot by the way).

On top of that, I'll probably be driving more in case I land an interview. I have several job applications out, and I'm hoping to at least get my foot in the door somewhere with an interview before the new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

They are trying to stop me from commuting...

... by taking away my job!

That's right, as of Dec 29th, I'll be Jobless. The company I'm working on-site at has lost funding for outside contractors (of which I am one). I'm looking for a job closer to home, preferably Olathe, Lenexa, or Overland Park Kansas.

I'm actually quite handy at almost anything computerized, electronic, or mechanical. If you know someone who is looking for a UNIX, Networking, or Information Security guy, let me know. In the meantime, check out my snazzy new resume. It landed me an interview (sadly, nothing more) at Google a few weeks ago, so it can't be that bad.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ouch! 'Ring rash!

Ahh, wonderful chainring rash!

As you can see, I still have scars from a similar run-in with the chainring of my first commuter bike, the cheapo Wal-Mart NEXT DS-26. The new scrapes came from my haul-ass bike ride to meet an earlier bus near the last downtown stop instead of simply waiting at a nearby bus stop before riding it all over town. I was zipping down Broadway Blvd going at least 30 MPH when a light changed to yellow. I probably could have made my nose into the intersection before the light went red, but didn't want to chance it. I hit the brakes hard. Aided by a lot of speed, my squishy front suspension, and a pretty steep downhill grade, I did a mild (albeit unintentional) stoppie that probably lasted some 4-5 seconds. Since the stoppie was under control, I went ahead and rode it out rather than letting my rear wheel fall and trying to brake again properly. Unfortunately, when I landed, my right foot hit the ground first, and then the chainring hit the back of my leg.

Going full-out down Broadway totally drained me. I took it pretty easy from the bus back home.

In case you wonder how it happened last time, I was riding my bike down a long, shallow grade of steps and lost my footing.

The morning grind

Look, the Sorrento is just begging for some more snow!

Lately, I've been taking an earlier bus than I need to, and riding around downtown a bit before I actually go to work. Traffic is much slower out here than it is back in Olathe, and it's a lot safer to spend extra time on the roads out here than it is to find a different route to the bus stop in the suburbs.

I'm trying to build up some endurance, but my measly 10-15 miles per day (broken up into 2 or 3 smaller sections with rest in between, nonetheless) isn't going to cut it. I'd like to eventually be able to make the whole commute entirely by bike at least once a week. As it stands, that's a 60 mile round trip. I'd also like to ride the MS-150 bike tour in '07 or '08. We'll see how that works out. It's not that I doubt that I can ride 75 miles per day, It's more that I doubt I can ride 75 miles in the time they allow.

I'll probably borrow my cousin's Bianchi road bike (which is currently on loan to my dad...) for the 150. It would be funny to show up on a mountain bike, though.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Power & Light District Construction

Pictured: Construction on Sprint Center and the rest of the Kansas City Power & Light District. This project, once complete, should help the infrastructure of Kansas City for those who don't own or choose not to use a car.

I swung by that place for coffee again, and noticed how far along Sprint Center has come. While I really don't care about the sports arena itself, the new KC Star building and Sprint Center represent significant changes to Kansas City. I'm hoping that with the new Power & Light district, will come several commodities that suburbanites like me take for granted, such as a grocery store and shops that sell other necessities of living. Suddenly, housing downtown has taken off with the opening of many loft apartments, but people still need to find parking, and cars are still needed for everyday tasks because of the lack of infrastructure downtown.

Aside from getting a mediocre mocha and a breathtaking view of urban blight being transformed against a sunrise backdrop, there wasn't a whole lot out of the ordinary this morning. I plan on riding the Sorrento all this week because of the forecast of snow. It's amazing how different it is to ride a bike that's a few pounds heavier, with a set of inefficient off-road tires. It's almost enough to make me consider adding a road bike to my stable once spring-time gets here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lazy weekend

Not a whole lot of anything this weekend. I mostly stayed at home. I made a few grocery runs (as usual) via bike, of course. I just got done tuning up the Sorrento, recharging all my light batteries, and swapping my commuter gear onto it. I guess it's supposed to storm and/or snow some more this week. I decided rather than worry about the weather, I'd just prep the Sorrento with knobbies, and use it this week just in case. More pictures coming, as usual, tomorrow.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fun return trip

Well, I loaded the bike up with Christmas goodies on my way home tonight! My wife's present is in the duffel bag and I got a package in the mail.

When I went down to my bike, I saw a guy working on a mid-90's Ford Escort. It turns out he was trying to fix a problem with his self-retracting seatbelt. It's a common problem. I, myself have a '95 Escort as does my father. They both have the issue. I gave him a few pointers on why it breaks and how to fix it. Some of you don't know, some of you do. I actually have a few cars, and one of my main websites is a Ford Focus site that has instructions for modifying, repairing, and maintaining the Focus. I'm quite handy with a wrench, and enjoy helping people fix things, whether they're bikes, cars, electronics, or machinery.

Slow Start

This is just a pic of the side profile of my bike with the reflective stuff on it. I don't have my toolbox on the rack right now, I replaced it with the milk crate (so I could haul my laptop and duffel bag.) The stuff on the fork and chain/seat stay is red reflective tape. There's a few pieces of "Candy cane" reflective tape on the rims and the basket. The basket also has amber tape on the side. By my handlebar you see the reflective material on the handlebar bag, and under my rack, you see a very bright seat bag. :)

Anyhow, you really, really need adequate sleep in order to ride a bike or do any strenuous physical activity first thing in the morning. I never did get caught up on my sleep deficit from yesterday, and didn't get enough sleep for last night alone, either.

Last night's ride didn't help me much. I exerted myself when I was already tired, and I was slightly under-dressed in only a t-shirt, gloves and jeans (and my nylon mesh reflective vest that adds nothing in the way of warmth.) I should have tossed a windbreaker on. It was a fun ride, though, which is why I do it.

I woke up pretty late this morning, but managed to kick myself into gear (even if it was a gear on the granny ring) after about an hour of bludgeoning the snooze button in contempt of all things work-related.

I forgot to mention last night that I did a brake upgrade on the Outlook. A few days ago I tuned the original brakes as best I could, and it helped a little. Last night, I got tired of the stockers and tossed on a set of longer, softer Jagwire pads, which were the only "post-style" pads (found on some cantilever systems) the bike shop had in stock. It took me a good half hour or so to get them really perfected. I broke them in gently last night, but had a chance to put them through their paces this morning. They are a world apart from the original pads. I can do a brake-induced front wheelie now, no problem! I still prefer the linear-pull V Brake system on my Sorrento, though.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Still got out for a ride

This is a kind of silly story. This new place called Corporate Cafe opened up 2 miles north of me. It's supposed to be a bar and cafe. Food, alcohol, coffee. The staples of life.

It closes at 8:00 PM. What the heck kind of bar closes at 8?!

Anyhow, they were closed when I got there but they gave me a menu and told me how awesome their food is. Gee. Thanks, guys.

Then, I rode another 5 miles to where my wife works to hang out with her for the last hour of her shift, where I'm making this post.

Didn't ride in this morning

First off, I went and *TRIED* to see the meteor shower early this morning. My wife and I drove down to Powell Observatory since there was a lot of light pollution and haze over Olathe. The haze ended up being really thin overcast cloud cover, or possibly fog, that didn't show up on radar. Driving all the way out to Louisburg at 12:30 in the morning didn't help. It was still too overcast to see all but the brightest stars and meteors (which looked like fuzzy dots and creepy little cloud-obscured lightning respectively.) We got back home about 2:00 but I couldn't get to sleep until 3.

I also have a lunch meeting with a director and some fellow consultants at the consulting company I actually work for. It's definitely within biking distance, but I have no clue how long it will last.

Anyhow, it all boils down to the fact that I would NOT have enjoyed my commute today had it been by bike. There are a lot of reasons to use a bike instead of a car, and I value almost all of those reasons. I just happen to hold "Because I like it" higher than "To show those oil mongers who's boss" and "To make my co-workers question my sanity"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Helping the revolution (just a little)

Pretty simple. A bike rack, my trusty Outlook, and a couple of two-wheeled fuel-burners to keep my bike company. It's looked like this for the past two months.

That bike rack wasn't always there. When I first started bike commuting, I would -- with Security's permission -- cable-lock my bike to a wrought-iron fence next to the guard/valet hut. There was about a 6' wide gap between that fence and the parking space next to it, so I had plenty of room to park, and people had plenty of room to open their doors. I guess someone complained about my bike, though. I guess they thought that one day I'd scrape their paint trying to squeeze in or leave. They surely weren't complaining about me taking a whole spot with my bike, because I wasn't taking any parking spots.

A few weeks after I started bike commuting, the rack showed up, taking one of almost 20 motorcycle parking spaces. This time of year, that's not a problem. I'm hoping there's no animosity once the weather warms up and the motorcycles come out to play.

That's the thing about Kansas City. If I lived down here, especially alone (I'm married), I wouldn't need a car for much of anything. Even so, Kansas City, MO is not terribly bike friendly. Grocery stores are a few and far between -- Downtown KC is still sorely lacking in infrastructure. Bike-specific parking is non-existant. Aside from this bike rack and the lockdown posts in front of the Central Library shown in a previous post, I've seen no other place that was actually designed for bicycle parking. I usually end up cabling the bike to a tree or a light post if I need to go anywhere else.

Anyhow, because of me, there's one more bike-friendly parking spot here downtown. Even if it's inside a parking garage in some faceless building downtown. Hopefully, come spring-time, I see a few more human-powered two-wheelers parked with my bike.

As far as today's morning ride went, I don't know what the deal was, but I never really woke up. The whole ride to the bus was simply tedious and painful. I didn't eat breakfast before I left, but I had a late supper, plenty of water this morning, and got 7 hours of sleep. Three miles shouldn't have been so hard. I caught a pretty early bus, so I goofed off on my bike downtown a bit. I put about 2 more miles in "on the way" to work from the bus stop. Those miles weren't bad at all. No clue why I was so slow and tired on my way to the bus just 40 minutes earlier.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Update on my wife

The commute was uneventful tonight, so not much to write about there. My wife's ER visit turned into an abdominal sonogram appointment on Monday to figure out what the source of her pain was, and it turns out the cause was a batch of gall stones that require a gall bladder removal surgery. She's freaking out and I'm nervous.

I tuned up my brakes tonight on the Outlook and rinsed it off. The pavement is finally starting to dry up a bit out here, so tomorrow should be a pretty clean, dry ride. I will probably head to a further bus stop than usual again. I like spicing it up.

Foggy Morning, great ride

It was close to freezing this morning, but I had been burning up the last few days of commuting. I decided to try a different layering strategy, so I went with a plain old t-shirt under the thin, wind/water/snow-proof outer shell of my ski coat. It was definitely more comfortable.

The dense fog this morning made me thankful for the fact that I took the time to scrub the scum off my lights and reflectors. I found some hints of rust on my chain last night while wiping it down. I went ahead and gave it a thorough cleaning and applied a fresh coat of chain wax. Looks like a good portion of yesterday's grime was actually saltwater and sand.

In other news, in a discussion with some fellow bus riders, I found out that peoples' first impression of me is that I'm eccentric, retarded, got my DL suspended, or any number of other things. Oh well.


Monday, December 11, 2006


Not to get all myspace-ish teen drama here, but holy crap today sucked. Not specifically my commute. Just stuff on the way and throughout my day at work.

I took some Blockbuster movies back today, I posted that this morning. Well, I guess they were *5* days past the "returnable" date with the new Blockbuster policy. Long story short, we are now proud owners of 5 movies, several of which we don't really want -- All because we've been too busy to get them back to the store. Grand total? $108. We'll see how that turns out. After debating the policy, asking to see a manager, and doing my best to instill a sense of pity, I got nowhere. I rode my F'n bike in the rain to get there, for pete's sake. Does it look like I have $108? (What the pimply faced girl behind the register doesn't know is that I probably make more in a year than her parents both combined, but that's none of her business now, is it?)

Anyhow, I said something like "I'll be back when I can afford it. And stuff." Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. F'n Blockbuster. I have a new name for them, but it's not family friendly, so I won't post it here. Let's just say it rhymes.

Also, my wife landed a swanky new job at a local college. While that's totally awesome, she's going to lose her insurance, and I currently don't have any. It's not that I can't afford to find it, but the consulting company I work for doesn't offer insurance to hourly employees, and I'm making way more as an hourly. This leaves me with the daunting task of finding a health insurance policy for my wife and paying out of pocket for it. Oh joy.

Also, one of my two strings of Christmas lights stopped working on my way home tonight. I'm kind of bummed about that, but it's just icing on the cake and was to be expected after this kind of day.

That's all for now. I rode home like I was competing in a time trial, which helped blow off some steam. I had some serious pent up rage before I hopped on my bike and came home. Then I took a nice hot shower. I feel a little better now, but looking back on things makes me realize that no matter how good you have it, you still win some, lose some.

No picture tonight, unless you want to see a seriously disgusting bike. I'm going to wipe the chain, reflectors, and lights off. That's it. It's going to get even dirtier tomorrow.

Getting in the Christmas spirit!

It was such a muddy ride in this morning, but I rode the Outlook, on slicks, with Christmas lights. I borrowed the idea from some other commuters on BikeForums. I got a few friendly honks.

I also took a totally different route today. I had to return some movies to Blockbuster this morning, so I went pretty far out of my normal way, and ended up getting on at a different bus stop than usual.

With the exception of being drenched in really watery mud on my ride, it was pretty uneventful. That's why I change clothes after I get to work, right?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Icky rain

Looks like I'm in for some showers this week, but at least it's above freezing. I'll snap some pics in the A.M. I have something I want to show you all.


Well, Friday while I was at work, my wife had to go to the E.R. :(

She works just a few miles away from the hospital, but I had to seriously alter my commute to get there after I got off work -- and I DID leave early. I ended up taking my usual bus route, but riding it a bit further than usual, which landed me across the street from the hospital. My wife had been released by the time I got there, but she was unable to drive. Yay morphine! I went in, talked to the ER nurse, then put the bike on the bike rack and took my wife home.

I have some surprises for Monday. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 08, 2006


It was a freaking COLD start to the day. I'm glad I wore my ski goggles and brought some hot coffee with me. Once I started riding and warmed up, it wasn't too bad except for my gloves being a tad too thin. Someone said I look like cobra commander in my stay-warm gear.

By the way, wireless results are in from this part of the trip. My wireless rig found 15 or so new wireless networks on my way to the bus. I let it run on my bike, attached to the front of the bus, all the way downtown, and it found almost 130 more new networks on top of that! Not like anyone cares, save for a few die-hard geeks.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


In 2000 or so, Pete Shipley (if I recall correctly) introduced the term "Wardriving" to a bunch of hackers -- some malicious, some benevolent -- at the DefCon convention in Las Vegas. While Wardriving sounds violent, it is not. It involves driving around with a wireless-enabled computer, looking for wireless networks in the wild. It usually does not involve actually connecting to them or anything illegal.

It wasn't long before people started counting how many new networks they could find. It became like a sport. I've been into it for quite a while, and now I've rigged my commuter bike with a Garmin eTrex Yellow GPS, a Senao Engenius 200mW wireless card, and a pair of magnetic-mount 9dB antennae for picking up more networks. At its core, my "War Biking" setup uses a Hewlett Packard Jornada 720 running HPC2000 -- a derivative of Windows CE, similar to Windows Mobile found on PDAs such as the Dell Axim and HP iPaqs. The package is rounded out by a software tool called "MiniStumbler" which simply takes note of all the networks that it sees, and records GPS coordinates so that you can go back and map exactly where they are.

Tomorrow should be a fun commute. Temps will be in the single digits, and I'll be trying out my new nerdy setup. I wonder what people will think of the antennae on the back of my bike... I'll post some maps of what I find.

Cheated today :(

I cheated today and just drove my car to work. I spent all last night doing some fun things to my Outlook, but didn't check the weather. I woke up today to 12*F temperatures, which means that the standing water and moist pavement I saw last night would certainly be ice this morning. I'd need knobby tires for the ride, but I didn't have time to swap the wheels onto the Outlook, or my commuter stuff onto the Sorrento that's currently got the knobbies on it. Chalk that up to a lesson learned. I definitely need to check the forecast the night before.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A fellow commuter gets 'bent

... as in, recumbent. I've seen this guy around before. The bike is a Revive (DX I believe) sold through Giant bicycles. It appears to be a semi-recumbent, foldable bicycle with only a rear derailleur. I snapped this picture through a dirty bus window on my way home from work this evening.

Whoever you are, I see you fighting the good fight. Keep it up, buddy! And I might ask if I can take that beast for a spin one of these days, that might be just the bike my wife needs!

I got coffee. Kind of.

As you can see, I switched over to the Outlook this morning. It stayed above freezing all night, so the slicks should be okay. After riding the heavier Sorrento with slow knobby tires, the Outlook felt like greased lightning today, even though I had dialed in the rear derailleur incorrectly. I have it adjusted to use the lower 7 of the 8 gears on the rear cluster, so I can't actually hit my 11-tooth top gear until I re-adjust it. Damn the 7-speed RD!

The bus made good time, so I stopped at Starbucks for a mocha. I'm usually a dark-roast french-pressed coffee drinker, but the occasional mocha just hits the spot. Unfortunately, all coffee shops downtown serve either mediocre drinks or toxic swill. Starbucks, while probably the largest coffee chain in the US, does not have the best coffee. They have predictably mediocre coffee that happens to be the best of all the mediocre coffee downtown. You could say I've been spoiled by one of the midwest's top baristas -- Sandy, the lead barista at javajazz has taken several awards including my own personal "best quad-venti mocha in the universe" seal of approval. That said, I still enjoyed my mocha this morning.

Other than actually having time to snag a warm treat before work, the trip in was pretty bland.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My gear

Just FYI, I thought I'd post up my utility cycling gear. Might as well, right? Depending on the task at hand, I may swap, mix, and match stuff from one bike to another.

1999 Diamondback Sorrento SE (Yellow/Black)
Pros: Front suspension, 24 speed, indexed shifters. Easier to ride and shift, more forgiving on treacherous KCMO Roads.
1998 Diamondback Outlook (Red)
Pros: Weighs less, rigid front fork makes for a more direct feel. Seems to handle better on pavement.

When commuting to work, pretty much all of this stuff gets put on the bike I'm using:
Schwinn seat-post-mounted cargo rack
- Blackburn Mountain Air pump mounted on rack
- Plano 3200 Tackle/Tool box (trays removed) bolted to rack with thumb-bolts
-- Clothes inside tool box
-- Misc gadgets for work inside tool box
-- Comb, hair gel, deoderant inside tool box
-- Bell LED tail light mounted outside tool box
Axiom under-seat bag
- Park Tool MTB3 Rescue tool inside seat bag
- Spare inner tube inside seat bag
- Patch kit inside seat bag
Bell handlebar bag
- Master Python cable lock inside handlebar bag
- Lunch inside handlebar bag
- Book to read while riding the bus inside handlebar bag
Blackburn Quadrant headlight
mars_3"Blackburn Mars 3.0 tail light

I've put a ton of reflective tape on the bikes and accessories. The Axiom Seat Bag and Bell handlebar bag both have quite a bit of reflective material on them as-is. I added reflective tape to the front forks, to the chainstays and seatstays, to the cargo rack, to the rims, and to the toolbox that sits on the cargo rack. I usually wear reflective ankle bands, a reflective helmet, a reflective flourescent chartreuse "crossing guard" style vest, and gloves with reflective material on them. I'd rather look like a dweeb cartoon character than a speedbump. No one will ever be able to say I just "came out of nowhere" with all the flashing lights, bright material, and reflective stuff.

I swap wheelsets depending on weather conditions. Right now, I'm using this setup:
Front: 26" Joytech/Alex Quick Release wheel, Cheng Shin knobby tire
Rear: 26" Shimano/Alex Quick Release wheel, Cheng Shin knobby tire, Shimano 11-34 MegaRange cassette

The MegaRange cassette with 34T for the granny gear is insane, and let me climb or keep moving in the toughest conditions such as deep mud or snow. The cheapo tires kept me upright in ice, and conquer gravel, mud, snow, water and sand very well. They make me think twice about trading for a big name brand tire like Kenda.

When the weather's nicer:
Front: 26" Joytech/Alex Quick Release wheel, Forte SlickCity ST Tire
Rear: 26" Shimano/Alex Quick Release wheel, Forte SlickCity ST Tire, Shimano 11-30 Cassette (OEM)

These tires are insanely fast for a mountain bike. If you ride mostly on pavement, do yourself a favor and pick up a set of slicks. This particular set has proven to be very resilient, with plenty of abuse, and only one "goat head" puncture actually made it through to the inner tube.

Winter clothing:
I use Champion(tm) Medium-weight thermal base layer full pant and long-sleeve crew shirts on cold days. My upper body usually has a T-shirt on with a double-layer work coat over it. I usually wear jeans in the winter for cycling. If it gets colder, I might wear ski bibs.

I use a Seirus balclava for head warmth, Uvex Ski goggles on really cold or blustery days, and Ryno work gloves for hand warmth and a little bit of hand padding.

So, now you know what I'm working with. A pair of fairly old but very reliable bikes, and a modest assortment of add-ons.

Loose saddle, Park MTB-3 to the rescue and miscellany

This morning, I noticed things getting a bit wobbly under me. Athough still below freezing, it was warmer and calmer than recent mornings and I was making record time for using the sluggish knobby tires. I ignored it, and kept on truckin' to the bus stop.

When I finally arrived downtown, I got a chance to assess the situation. The allen bolt holding the saddle to the seat post was coming loose something fierce. My bike sits in my warm apartment all night long, and gets exposed instantly to sub-freezing temps every morning. It then survives a round-trip total of 60 miles mounted on the rack in front of a bus, with plenty of jostling and jarring. Then it gets ridden home in the cold, and moved back into the warmth of my apartment. With that kind of routine, a few loose bolts should come as no surprise.

I broke out my trusty Park MTB-3 Rescue Tool, right there on the sidewalks of downtown KC, MO and tightened the offending bolt.

For lunch, I made a quick bike jaunt down to Lulu's Thai Noodles. It's fun to get there because there's nearly a mile of down-hill Broadway Blvd on the route. On a slow mountain bike, one can exceed 30 MPH without trying. Unfortunately, Broadway turns into a gruelling climb on the return trip, forcing even disciplined cyclists to spin lower gears. It was then, I noticed that the wobble had returned. I once again tightened it up before heading back to the office to enjoy a steaming, spicy batch of Pad Se Eu. It's worth noting that I'm never going to lose weight if I keep eating this kind of stuff, but it's *so* yummy.

Anyhow, my wife had an interesting challenge for me when I got off the bus: swing by a local deli and pick up a gallon of their uber-tasty sweet iced tea. It added about 2 miles to my ride home. The problem is my bike was already loaded with my work/commuter gear. I ended up stuffing my pockets with gadgets and tools, and carrying the iced tea in my tool box (which has been BOLTED, no longer strapped) to the cargo rack. Then, halfway home, she let me know to pick up some evaporated milk from the grocery store as well. Turns out she was completing some chicken dumpling soup for me. That totally hits the spot in cold weather like this.

My saddle is sturdy again. My belly is full of thai noodles and chicken dumpling soup. My commute is getting faster, so I am getting stronger and to top it all off, I put about 11 miles on the bike today instead of the usual 6. I call that a good day.

Winter is upon us!

From here, I'll chronicle my commutes and other interesting bicycling stuff that I feel like sharing. Last week was my first real test of fortitude and dedication. It started out with rain all day tuesday. This made for extremely wet and slippery roads for the earlier part of the week. Wednesday afternoon, we got some flurries and snow, which blended with the rain water to form a slush that was not easy to ride through.

Thursday morning, that slush had frozen over completely, making for a very cold and slippery ride in. Fortunately I did not fall over or lose my footing once. Thursday evening, it had turned to massive amounts of snow (about 8 inches, but with snow drifts approaching a foot and a half deep). I rode 3 miles on ice thursday morning, and 3.2 miles in foot-deep snow thursday night.

This week has been substantially better. Aside from being really cold yesterday, it was an uneventful commute in. A typical monday, if you will.

The Outlook

Not more than a few days later, still ecstatic about my purchase, I found another Diamondback on Craisgslist. Under the wrong impression that Diamondbacks were all built from higher quality components than department store bikes, I jumped on it. It wasn't a bad investment. It was a 1998 Diamondback Outlook. This gentleman had gotten it for Christmas some 8 years ago, but only rode it around his cul-de-sac before hanging it upside down, dormant, un-used, for close to a decade.

It was practically given to me. Much to my chagrin, I found a cheap freewheel rear wheel on it once I got it inside. Since I got the bike so cheap, I went ahead and took the bike shop up on a new freehub rear wheel with a cassette. The shop had a cassette that was a take-off from a brand new bike, so they pretty much threw it in for free. Even though the Outlook has only 7 speeds on the rear derailleur, I went ahead and got an 8-speed cassette so I could use both wheelsets between my 24-speed Sorrento and the 21-speed Outlook. The Outlook barely set me back $100, all costs added up.

So, I had two bikes, one with knobby tires and one with slicks. Interchangeable wheels, interchangeable lights, cargo rack, seats, and whatnot. There are very few things as satisfying as having a backup vehicle in case of mechanical failure.

I also strapped a toolbox to the rack, for carrying my tools, a change of clothes, and my lunch. You can see it in the photo above.

Shortly thereafter, I went ahead and sold what was left of my cheap wal-mart bike on Craigslist as well. A gentleman came and picked it up to give to his son for Christmas. He had a spare rear wheel for it, so it was not going to cost anything to fix it up. Hopefully his son weighs less than I do, and takes care of it. It treated me well for the short time I had it, and it had plenty of life left in it except for the rear wheel.

The Sorrento

I swung back by the bike shop the day after my bike bit the dust to see about getting it repaired. This is the same place that had high prices that I couldn't afford. The options were interesting. For $25, they could sell me a new cheap rear wheel, put the old gear cluster on it, and send me on my way. They warned me that I'd probably be back in another month or two. The wheel design (called a freewheel) is a cheaper setup that doesn't lend itself well to overweight riders, or to rough riding conditions (curb hopping, occasional pot-holes, etc.) Unfortunately, I met both of the criteria that makes for hasty wheel carnage.

Another option was to spend about $60 for a new cassette-style wheel with a freehub. These wheels are more durable by design, and better suited to my application. Unfortunately, the gear cluster from my old broken bike isn't compatable with these style of wheels, so an additional investment of $20-$30 would be needed to pick up a cassette to go on the wheel. Considering that I only paid $60 or $70 for the whole bike, spending another $80-$90 to fix it didn't sound like such a good idea.

Then, the manager took me outside, to a row of used bikes that he'd taken in trade for newer bikes that his other customers had bought. The conditions I was riding in called for a hybrid or mountain bike of some sort. A racing road bike would never hold up to the kinds of things I do. I tested two used mountain bikes that were being sold for $100 each. One was a Ross, the other a Diamondback (which oddly enough, had slick street tires on it, like wide road bike tires). I put dibs on the Diamondback (a 1999 Sorrento SE), and asked the manager to install a new chain. It already rode like a dream. It was every bit as solid as some of the newer bikes that were selling for $350 and up. For $100, I couldn't go wrong. I picked it up the next evening after work.

I swapped the accessories (lights, cargo rack, etc) from my cheap old bike, onto the new one and started riding to work almost every weekday.


I'm Noah. Three months ago, when my car started acting up, I jokingly said "I should just go buy a bicycle!"

I'd already been driving to a bus stop three miles from home to save a little money on gas, wear and tear on the car, and wear and tear on my nerves from the stressful Kansas City rush hour. It didn't take long, however, for that joke about buying a bike to make some sense. 3 miles to the bus stop and 3 miles back. That isn't too far for a daily bike ride.

Clueless, I wandered into several places. The local bike shop offered several really nice bikes, but they were out of my price range. I found some much more affordable bikes at department stores and sporting goods stores around town. "A bike is a bike, right?" That's what I thought. With that, I picked up a cheap bike from Wal-Mart and was on my way to a fun and inexpensive way to travel, with the benefit of better health. Six weeks later, the rear wheel on my cheap bike fell to pieces. I was left with newfound strength, some weight loss, a renewed passion for bicycle riding, and nothing to ride.

The adventure had begun. It was time to find a trusty steed that wouldn't let me down.

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