Thursday, May 31, 2007

May Recap

Primary goals for May:
* Bike commute an average of more than 4 times per work week
Status: Complete. Between taking my vacation (and by vacation I mean packing my belongings into boxes) and taking a sick day, there were 18 work days for me this month, and I only drove twice.

* Make Bike To Work Week a 5-day bike commute week
Status: FAIL. There was no way I was risking my already shaky health situation so I could sit in a 40-degree refrigerated bus while I was soaking wet. There was also no way I was going to ride 22 miles in torrential downpour.

* Have fun
Status: Complete. Need I say more? Bicycling is fun! My road bike, despite being entry level, is one of the most efficient and elegant machines I've ever observed in action. I purchased it right at the beginning of May, and it's carried me most of the miles I've ridden this month. Several people warned me that road bikes aren't very forgiving. I found this out early on, but it hasn't kept me from having fun! My idea of "fun on a bicycle" changes when I'm on my Trek, though. High-speed sprints in the drops and carving corners is fun, but it's no more nor less fun than tackling a flight of stairs or ice boulders on my mountain bike, or even hopping curbs, doing track-stands, and popping wheelies on my hybrid. I re-iterate: Bicycling is fun!

Secondary goals for May:
* Make at least one whole round trip by bike for Bike To Work Week
Status: Complete. Wednesday, May 16, I rode my bike all the way to work, and all the way home. On top of that, I completed three other one-way trips Monday morning, Thursday morning, and Friday evening.

* Exceed 400 miles for the month of May
Status: Complete. Barely. I had to run some errands on my bike that netted me less than six miles. I then hit Indian Creek Trail to rack up about 13 more, giving me a total of almost 404 miles for May.

Other miscellany:
I actually got the scale to read 199.8 pounds for a brief, fleeting moment this week, but I think I was dehydrated. Right now I'm currently at 201. I'll consider myself under 200 pounds, when I can actually reliably weigh myself and have it be under 200 pounds. I don't pay a lot of attention to my weight, as I'm too busy bicycling and working to give it much thought. I know I'm on the right course, so there's no sense weighing myself twice a day or even twice a week.

Also, riding a little less often has allowed me to really up my intensity. I can feel the difference in acceleration and speed that I have today and I'm going to attribute it to actually taking a day off. In the mornings, as I sprint to the bus, that's a different kind of riding. I can usually do that pretty fast unless I didn't sleep well. Today, I actually felt fastest on the last 3-4 miles of my ride, and it was kind of a gradual "warming up" feeling.

Oh yah, and my road rash is almost gone. Sheesh.

So, what does June hold? Moving, for one thing! I am taking off June 19th, which is when we can officially move in to our new place. We'll have our current apartment until june 29th, though. Life is going to be pretty challenging this coming month, so I'm not really making any promises. I'd like to see my C/D ratio keep climbing, so I really do have to average 4 or more bike commutes per week this month.

I'm confident that I'll have plenty of fun on my bike, and that I'll be able to say I'm staying below 200 pounds by the end of June. Those aren't even questions in my mind.

No bike today, but I made yummy soup!

It stormed all day with only a few breaks here and there. I was planning on going to the Wednesday night ride again, but there wasn't a break in the weather, and no one showed up. I'll ride in pretty much anything, as you all know. Everyone else wimped out.

Anyhow, on with my awesome soup! I experimented yesterday with some stuff, and made a pretty good soup, but decided to one-up it tonight, since my wife thought it was good enough for a repeat.

It's chicken broth, imitation crab meat (I'm not rich!), shrimp that I cooked and peeled before putting in the soup, chunks of chicken breast that I browned before putting in the soup, cubes of firm tofu, cauliflower florets, baby corn, and pieces of cabbage. And just a little bit of thai chili oil.

The end result needed just a little bit of soy sauce and a touch more chili oil than I'd originally used. It's a hearty soup with a thin base. Some spring rolls and the soup combined for a complete late-night supper.

Now I really need to ride tomorrow. I'm hoping the weather clears up in time for the Brookside ride tomorrow. Maybe I'll hit that one. Just 15 miles away from 400. I'll take my hybrid out in the rain and run a lap around Olathe if it comes to that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Errands on bike

Yet another fun-filled day of preparing to move, but not without a few excuses to ride. My usual post-work meal routine with my wife isn't changing this week, so I decided to make the 6-mile voyage on bike.

The air outside was tepid and gluey. The sun was shining and wind was coming out of the south. It was a seemingly effortless ride to get supper, and a little more work riding the last half mile into the wind to get to the college. When I arrived on campus, the whole place was operating on a skeleton crew. Graduations are finally done, and they're between semesters. I entered the college, unaware of the carnage being propelled by that northbound breeze.

As my wife and I ate, we saw the college's lobby light up like someone was taking pictures. We thought nothing of it until several seconds had passed. Then, the ominous crescendo of atmospheric detonation roamed through the desolate corridors of the institution. Baffled, I went outside to analyze the situation. I was greeted with the faint aroma of lightning's ozone and a spontaneous deluge that had seemingly materialized out of nowhere! Mere minutes before, I was riding my bike in steamy sunlight.

I tarried until the storm passed. It only lasted half an hour or so, but to my relief, the temperature had dropped quite a bit. Once I got back out onto the main thoroughfares, the sun began to cook through the clouds. As fast as the storm had arrived, it departed. Blazing luminescence danced from the puddles below. Little droplets of water flew off my tires. Some of them sprayed onto my legs and face while others glimmered before me, hurdling through the beam of my headlight.

I made a deviation from my route to visit the bike shop on my way home. I've been encountering some oddities in my brakes, and I wanted their head mechanic to check it out and possibly give me a little advice. My best guess is that the brake pads that came on my Trek are of mediocre quality and should be replaced with something akin to Kool Stop Salmon pads, but I'll let the pro tell me that. I'll have to visit tomorrow when Kevin's in the shop.

Finally, I arrived home. I was irriguous -- partially by the shower from my fenderless wheels, and partially by my own perspiration. While my trip wasn't precisely a pleasant one, it was far from bad. One thing is for certain, though: There's no way I would have been blessed with the sensory experience I got today had I chosen to drive.

By the way, I recently added a few new blogs to the list on the right, and ditched a few blogs that haven't had any activity in a long time. Check out Urbana-Champaign Bicycle Commute, Dan on Bike, and MN Bicycle Commuter. I've enjoyed reading them as of late.

Monday night ride!

Photo: The cockpit of my Sorrento.

Tonight's recovery ride provided some much-needed recovery -- not from a weekend of criteriums and time trials but from packing things into boxes, heavy lifting, and what have you. I decided to spice it up a bit and did the group ride on my knobby-tired heavy-ass, bouncy, fun mountain bike. I've spent far too much time riding the road bike lately and just wanted to have some fun. I knew I'd have no problem keeping up with the Monday night crowd on anything I own. Wednesday? That'll be a different story!

Photo: A pic I snapped over my shoulder. A little sparse for a Monday ride but the lane hoggers are still in full force. I can tell you this: the Wednesday night ride doesn't feel as close and friendly, but people actually listen when you tell them there's a car coming up behind them and to drop in to single file.

Anyhow, it was a fun ride, but I couldn't find my helmet. We swung by Mark's place right after we started riding and he lent me one of his spares. I did a little more off-roading than most of the riders, but there was a guy on a hybrid that seemed to like the grass and dirt a bit, too. While waiting for everyone to arrive, I warmed up not by doing laps, but by hopping curbs and obstacles, and perfecting the art of the track stand on platform pedals.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Solo Mini-Tour of Southeastern Johnson County, KS

Photo: My bike leans against a reflective post as I prepare to leave suburbia. There are heavy earth-movers on the farmland, which probably means yet another shopping center or subdivision is on the way. Click the image to be taken to a photo set of my journey. If you don't want to read my whole post, the photo descriptions tell the story in a terse and chronological fashion.

Here are some highlights, though.

After dropping my wife off at work, I got the bike ready for the journey. The panniers were there mostly because I wanted to have my laptop with me while I ate breakfast. You can't ride around on an empty stomach! I swung by Daily Dose (about 3 and a half miles from JCCC) for a nice hot cinnamon roll and some black coffee to chase it down with while catching up on email and news with my laptop. Then I was off.

I departed south on Quivira and decided to take it until it went no further. I found a bungee, and decided to take the photo above, since I was stopped. The vast farmland caught my eye as a beautiful depiction of southeastern Johnson County. Then I saw the bulldozers. That's a pretty good depiction of the rest of Johnson County.

As I proceeded, I rode through ye olde village of Morse, KS -- one of the many settlements along the Independence route (Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails). I snapped some pics while in Morse. You should check them out with all the other pics I took.

I ended up hitting a mile-long stretch of gravel on the southern-most section of Quivira. I was happy I didn't upgrade to 20mm tires on my road bike. 25mm tires were dicey enough, but I really wished I was riding my DB Outlook through there instead of the Trek 1200. I took it to 175th street, which curves around and joins 179th street, a really nice 2-lane road (one either direction) with big, wide, well-kept shoulders that rival most bike lanes in Johnson County.

I made the death-slog granny climb to Metcalf Ave. as I pulled into Stilwell, KS. I continued south on Metcalf to 191st and rode a mile east to Nall. I wanted to snap some photos of ye olde downtown Stilwell, but I didn't feel like tackling another gravel road, and time was wearing thin. I had to return to the college before 12:00 and if I turned around now, I'd give myself about 20 minutes longer than it took me to get this far. With some buffer for a "just in case" mechanical or flat, I turned around and made my way back to the college, using a different route to avoid gravel at the expense of riding on some fairly major arterials.

All in all it was a blast! I put on 31 miles with an average speed of a little over 14 MPH (using my 2H 11M rolling time, which didn't keep ticking as I stopped for photos) and topped off at about 35 MPH on one of the nice downhills. I wasn't pushing it too hard, though.

I'll definitely try to do some more riding like this in the future. I love being out and away from the hustle, bustle, and buildings of the suburbs.

Oh yeah, I rolled past 363 miles today, therefore I have again exceeded the previous months' miles. Although that wasn't a goal of mine, it is an achievement that I'm pleased about. I shot for 300 miles in April but blew it away. Since I've gotten my C/D ratio above 3.0 and I did at least one round-trip for bike to work week, I have already made my May goals a reality. Maybe I'll shoot for 400 miles on the bike this month. I have a lot of work to do to prepare for moving, but if I hit the Monday night ride and Wednesday as well, I could probably pull it off.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I hate traffic

I found the best way to remind myself why I hate driving to work.

I drove to work.

I woke up at around 8:00 this morning -- 45 minutes after the last bus departs, and late enough that riding all the way to work would not only get me in way-past-late, but I'd probably be squished in the process. I sucked it up, grabbed the keys, and drove.

Now, I love my car. I love driving my car. I just hate driving my car on northbound Interstate 35 into Kansas City, MO at 8:00 in the morning on a Friday. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, I'd bet traffic was actually pretty mild today, comparatively speaking. I know there are certainly a few faces missing at work today, as several people have taken today off to give themselves a nice 4-day weekend.

Rest assured, many people who are traveling today weren't on the road by 8:00.

So there you have it. You can now chastise me for being "one of those guys" who drives 50 miles alone to get to and from work. Maybe I'll see if one of my bus-riding neighbors (Mike, a former co-worker at JCCC that now works for a bank a few blocks away from my office) wants to get home a little quicker by riding home with me.

As for me, I'm taking a 10-day weekend. I'm off work until Tuesday, June 5th. I'll be at home packing and preparing to move, but I'm sure I'll put some miles on. If my postings are a little sparse for the next week or so, you know why.

Lastly, I updated the format of my Bicycling Log. Instead of tracking To/From miles separately I combined them into a "Commute Miles" field. Then I added a "Transport/Recreation Miles Ratio" field.

Why'd I do it? Well, I've long known that I ride my bike more for basic transportation (where most people would use a car) than for recreation. I should kind of re-iterate that. My bicycle is a recreational activity all the time, but I count "recreational" miles as any time I go out on my bike and come back without stopping to do anything. This is useful for me, as I can get a clear picture of how I'm using my bike.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nice evening for grocery shopping

Photo: A nice grocery store run with the panniers. Large items went in the panniers, letting me carry a lot lighter load than usual on my back.

Have I mentioned that I love my panniers? I take them off for recreational rides, but for running errands and going to work, the extra space is really a welcome addition.

It did sprinkle a bit today, but aside from the wind, it was really nice out while I was riding. The sprinkles and cloud cover cooled it off a bit as the evening wore on. I saw plenty of commuter bikes at the bus transfer station on my way home, enjoying the nice weather as well! This evening, after supper with my wife at the college, I zipped down to the bike shop to look at potential bikes for my wife, and to check on the status of a taco'd wheel that they were truing up for my dad's Bianchi. I found a few bikes my wife might enjoy. Some of them with 3-speed Nexus drivetrains, others with more conventional setups. We're planning on taking a few out for a spin on Saturday.

After the bike shop, I came home for a while, then went back out and got some groceries as shown above. When I asked the kid to put the large stuff in the basket without sacking it, and to put the rest in my duffel, he inquired "save a... uhmmm?" as if he was expecting me to know what gets killed to produce a plastic grocery sack. I responded with "save a landfill." It's the best I could muster up.

While I enjoy the idea of conservation and don't like wasteful things, I think sometimes I must come off as a die-hard environmentalist crusader. After all, what other valid reasons are there for using such a quaint machine for transportation?

It's really going to rain! Promise!

It's been trying to rain for days, and I keep saying it's going to rain. It looks like it's going to do it for real*!

It was not only warm and muggy this morning, but I was faced with 20MPH winds that gusted to twice that easily. Once I got downtown it was even worse. Tall buildings create this venturi effect on the street level, where wind velocity increases rapidly once confined to narrow roadway corridors. I almost was knocked off my bike by a ferocious side wind.

On a slight tangent related to Bernoulli's Principle and the Venturi Effect, an image from one of my websites (a photo taken by a friend of mine hosted on my website as part of an instructional article) was published in two textbooks: one on Thermal Fluid Sciences and another on Thermodynamics last year. My friend and I each got complimentary copies of both books, and they're actually quite interesting to read. I'm not sure if I'm ready to become a physicist, though. I think I'll stick to topics I know, while getting published (on several different occasions) in magazines like 2600.

* Honestly, I'm just re-iterating it, hoping that if I talk about it enough, it just won't rain.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Okay, so this is actually Olathaaaaaaaaa! But I did slink past 300 miles for May today. After grabbing some supper, I looked at the time and it was a little after 6:00. Since I missed Monday's usual ride, I decided to see what kind of offerings were on the table for Wednesday as far as group rides go. I found one that's supposed to be a "leisurely 10-17 mile Welcome Ride - (leader stays with the slowest rider)" That's their words, not mine. It starts not too far from the college, so I hit the road in the Explorer, with the bike strapped to it. It wasn't THAT close!

I pulled up just as everyone was starting to shove off. Yes, I was that guy. As I hopped out to unload my bike, I saw my familiar riding buddy, Tim. Well, at least I wasn't among total strangers. I had no idea he'd be there, so this was just by chance that I bumped into him here.

What followed was not a leisurely welcome ride. It was a 17-MPH average hillfest into headwind where the strong riders drop the wimps like me in the first 3 miles. I kept what I thought was a reasonable pace, although I turn into a spinmonkey on the climbs. We eventually got broken up into three groups. 8 or so riders in the lead peloton, myself and another newbie to this ride with nothing but a hand-drawn map to lead us, followed by some people that got hung up behind me at a stop light, who actually knew where they were going. My group was the blind leading the blind.

We eventually happened upon one of the fast riders who'd totally dropped her chain and had it tangled up every which way. I got the bike working again, just as the tail group was catching up to us. The lady was riding a bike with a double crank, and I have no idea how that bike got up the hills we were riding on. Oh, wait, yes I do - I'm a wimp that needs a granny ring on my triple crank! It was mere minutes before she told us how to get to the destination point, then darted off to catch the lead group.

At the destination, we re-grouped. People inquired about my road rash, we talked about oozing gooey bike injury drainage and treatment methods, then after that we pretty much stuck together. It helped that we had tailwinds on our way back.

All in all, a nice ride. Very hilly and faster than I'd probably choose to ride alone. It was marketed as a friendly welcome ride, but I think it would have killed my interest in group rides had it been my first ever group ride. That said, I'll go there again sometime soon. I like challenges, and the people were nice, even if they wait for no one.

Storms are brewing

The skies are getting darker. It never did rain last night, but it seems inevitable today. While I was getting my morning mocha, I watched as a Metro clean-up truck hosed out the bus stop shelter with a power washer. He then proceeded to blast away at the Metro bus sign/schedule, and in the process, power-washed my road bike, panniers and all.

It kind of cheesed me off, but I tossed a fresh layer of Finish Line wax lube on my drive train last night so the chain should be okay. When I got back to my bike, I was expecting to see some moisture inside the panniers but they stood up to a few seconds of high-pressure water while remaining dry inside.

So, even if it rains on my way home, my panniers will probably keep the contents from getting soaked. I've used them in light rain before, but I wasn't expecting them to withstand a pressure washer.

I'm not looking forward to my rainy commute this evening. Hopefully it clears up by the time I get off work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Product Review: Banjo Brothers Saddlebag Panniers

I put a bit more thought and research into panniers than I did with the rack they sit on. Panniers come in all kinds of different kinds, shapes, sizes, and purposes. In general, most rear racks designed to carry panniers all have very similar dimensions. The panniers themselves, though? That's a different story! With many models to choose from, I had to look at dozens of different models, and narrow my choices down to about 3 models before purchasing anything.

I needed a set of panniers that would be able to carry my laptop bag, cable lock, work clothes, rain jacket, cell phone, and other gadgets. I also needed the panniers to be easy to remove and install, because I planned on taking them off the bike when I get to work. Furthermore, and most importantly, I needed them to not get in my way. Big panniers can hold a lot of stuff, but it doesn't do any good if your foot hits the bag with every pedal rotation.

Those were all "musts" on my list of features. I wanted something with reflective material (not hard to find, almost all the models I considered had this) as well as good water resistance. I don't need waterproof panniers, but they shouldn't turn into buckets of water when it rains. I also wanted something under the $60 price-point but was willing to pay more if the right deal came along.

As you can see, I definitelty found something with reflective material. :)

These saddlebag panniers attach to the "hooks" on the rack with a metal loop. The loop is attached to a nylon strap that goes up to the top of the bag, across the rack, and down the other side. There are pieces of elastic band that give the panniers' hook loop some stretch to make installation and/or removal a bit easier, while staying firmly on the rack. You can cinch these straps down with the adjuster on the top of the rack.

The inside (wheel facing) part of the saddlebags are lined with a hard plastic piece. The whole inner surface of the bag is lined with a rubbery water-resistant covering, and the zippers are covered when closed properly. Banjo Brothers says these saddlebags are water resistant but not waterproof. They've been through a few light rains and nothing has gotten damp inside yet.

The only gripe I have about these bags, is that if the load shifts inside the bag, it has a tendency to "poof" outward a bit. This is unsightly, inefficient and annoying. I have considered cutting out a chunk of corrugated plastic to make the outer wall just as sturdy as the wheel-facing inner wall. I think this would not only improve their aesthetics when carrying a bunch of stuff, but would also make it easier to "layer" things to stay more organized inside. It might reduce storage capacity just a little, though.

Overall, at about $50, I don't think I could have done any better. I shopped around at a lot of stores and saw a bunch of really nifty options for panniers. For my purposes, these fit the bill perfectly.

Update: I've had to get the seams re-stitched on the top part that joins the two bags together. This is almost certainly from carrying frequent loads that are probably heavier than these were designed to hold. If you're packing light stuff like clothes or a lunch, loading them full isn't much of a problem. When you pack denser items, you probably shouldn't fill them all the way up.

* Competitively priced
* Durable
* Compact enough to stay out of the way
* Big enough to carry quite a load
* Water resistant
* Reflective!

* Might be a little too big for some peoples' comfort or needs
* Cheaper options are out there
* Have a tendency to deform when loaded with a lot of stuff
* If heavily loaded too often, the seams get weak and need re-stitching

Product Review: Blackburn Cross Rack

When I purchased my Trek 1200, I knew right off the bat that I'd need a cargo rack to carry my gear. There were a few brands and models to choose from, but I'll admit that I got this strictly based on price compared to competing products. I actually had this rack installed before I even bought my bike. The bike shop did manage to twist the head off of one of the hex bolts that came with the kit, and it wasn't due to cross-threading. Installation was apparently a breeze, but the rack's frame required cold setting (read: "needed to be bent outward") in order to attach to the braze-on points on my rear dropouts.

There were two models that looked identical from Blackburn. The Cross Rack and the Mountain Rack. The mountain version had a black piece of sheetmetal forming the rack's ledge, and the cross version had a shiny silver piece of sheetmetal instead. Since my bike is black and silver, I chose the black and silver one, plain and simple.

The features I was looking for were braze-on mounting, tie-downs, and hooks at the bottom for attaching panniers or bungees. As it turns out, none of the racks I saw at the local bike shops had all three of these features. The seat-post mounted racks had tie downs but they lacked the frame or hooks to attach panniers to. The braze-on attachment racks all had hooks for panniers, but no built-in elastic tie-towns or bungees. Such is life.

I dealt with the rack (and some small bungees) for a few weeks without panniers. Overall, this rack carries a heavy load very well. I've loaded it down with groceries, all of my work gear, and plenty of other stuff. It seems to be able to support at least 30 pounds without any problems. My guess is that it could handle even more.

You can see I wrapped the frame with reflective black tape and placed a standard DOT reflector on the back of the rack. This is mostly just for some extra reflection when I don't have panniers on.

* Affordable
* Carries plenty of weight
* Attaches firmly to frame (if you have braze-on holes on your frame)
* Has built-in hooks to attach panniers or bungees for carrying even more stuff
* Drilled-out mounting bracket for rear reflector or blinking light (with some creative mounting)

* Not exactly a work of art
* May ship with mediocre bolts and fasteners
* No built-in tie downs, bring your own bungees!
* Requires some bending to make it fit standard rear drop-out braze-on points

Slumming with the BSOs

Photo: Even if I can't find any bike commuters downtown, the college campus never fails to provide some company for my bike. Even if it's a Road Master and a Huffy. Bike Shaped Objects. How Quaint.

Not much to say about this evening's ride. I'm not done yet, as I'm still at the college where my wife works. I'm relaxing a bit before heading out to get supper. The clouds are rolling in, the air is cooling off, and it looks like we might be in for some rain soon.

I finally got around to charting routes TO WORK and FROM WORK for after my wife and I move in June. Click the links to see them. It should work pretty well, and if I can keep my speed up, I should be able to make it in under an hour.

Muggy morning

Photo: My bike locked up down off the terrace. Alone. Background: a KCMO Metro bus whizzes by. There are few bike commuters to be seen today. I don't know if it's the impending thunderstorm, or just the usual sloth factor.

This morning started off really humid in the high 60's. I got out the door early, and showed up early. I raised the seat on my bike before I left because I've felt that it could stand to be a bit higher. I only moved it about 3/4" but I overshot my mark. I don't have any hip sway, but my legs felt pretty powerless this morning, which probably means I'm over-extending them. I'll lower it down about halfway between where it was and where it is now before I make my homeward journey.

It seems that some of the other blogs I read and comment on frequently are going through this kind of "mission statement" phase. Not surprisingly, my reason for blogging about alternative transportation isn't much different than many others' reasons. Primarily, it's because I hope that other people will read about my silly adventures in multi-modal transportation and give me pointers and advice in the comments, get ideas from me, get inspired to try bike commuting, or simply get a chuckle from my random, goofy stories.

Reading other peoples' bike commuter blogs reassures me that I'm not the only one pounding the pedals when the time comes to go to work or to run errands. Even though I might go weeks or months without seeing another bike commuter on the road, the blogosphere is here, and I have friends and peers around the world who are doing the same thing I do.

On top of that, I like to write, I enjoy taking pictures of random stuff and I love riding my bikes. Blogging about it allows me to combine three things that I like doing. I might not be that good at any of them, but I'm having fun.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The minions are angry...

In the past week or two, it's been building. I'm talking about the incessant whining and complaining about fuel prices. Today, the tension seems like it's about to the breaking point. People are really, really angry today. I noticed this in the coffee shop this morning, and now that I've been here at work for a few hours, I've heard non-stop belly-aching about the cost of a gallon of 87-octane gasoline.

I'm seeing it online too. In peoples' blogs, in their forum postings, and even in e-mails. It's not just one place, it seems to be everywhere. People are talking about how many hours they need to work in order to buy fuel to get to and from work every day. People are thinking of asking employers for a raise to cover fuel costs. People are demanding to be allowed one day of telecommuting per week, or flex schedules with four 10-hour days per week.

What are people NOT doing?

Well, for one, I haven't noticed a severe increase in bus ridership in the morning. My bus is usually pretty crowded, but it's a pretty consistent group of people. I don't see many new faces, no matter which of the buses I take.

I don't notice a lot of car-pooling going on, either. The parking lot is just as crowded this week as it was 2 months ago. I can say that motorcycle use has increased a lot, but it's about the same now as it was when I started working here back in July. When the weather is nice, two-wheeled transportation sees a boom. I'm sure motorcycle use won't be much higher this year. It's hard to justify spending thousands of dollars all at once and pay higher insurance to save a few cents per mile when the weather is nice.

Anyways, it seems that there's a lot of complaining going on for nothing. Even if people are driving big pick-ups and SUVs, car-pooling with one other person, and trading off which days they drive will result in about 50% fuel savings. It's like moving halfway closer to work. Adding a third person to the pool will net even more savings. How many people drive vehicles that won't seat 3 adults comfortably? Sure, I see the occasional Miata, Corvette, or Boxster in the parking garage. More than those, I see plenty of Corollas, Accords, Fusions, and other mid-size sedans, then there are the crew-cab pickups and SUVs.

Anyhow, I'm pretty tired of listening to all this pissing and moaning about fuel prices. As long as the demand for fuel is on the rise, the prices will be on the rise. I wouldn't be surprised if bus fares climb an additional 25 cents per trip, either.

People need to learn that actions speak louder than words. 200 years ago, we banded together and fought a ruthless force. We stood our ground in the name of independence. Today, our country is seemingly occupied by a bunch of wussies that only know how to cry in the corner while helplessly surrendering.

The situation is not helpless. You don't need to "shut up and drive." You can do something about it. You won't change oil prices or demand in a week or even in a month by reducing your personal usage. You can reduce the effects of oil prices impacting your bottom line, though. If enough people do it, demand may fall to the point where a gallon of gasoline simply isn't worth $3 to the average person. As it stands, gas could climb to $5 per gallon and the majority of our society would continue to drive, complaining all the way to the pump.

The big 0x1C...

... 0x1C is 28 in the base 16 "hexadecimal" numbering system.

(while (and(> (date-value) 1179723600) (< (date-value) 1179809999))
(print "happy birthday\n")

Anyhow, enough with the geek stuff. Today's my birthday. Normally, I'd head to the Monday night recovery ride, but not today. My wife and I are going to try out this new Asian restaurant that just popped up in the new shopping center a few miles from home. This morning's ride was nice and easy. It's about 60 degrees outside, and it's nice and clear.

I have my leg wrapped up in a sport bandage with antibiotic ointment and gauze underneath. On the main road rash part, I have a new "second skin" type of covering that keeps the area moist and clean. We'll see how it works. Everything feels like it's healing up nicely, though.

So begins another week... I've promised a new bike commuter that I'd ride into downtown with him once my leg heals up. I've said I'm not going to make a habit of riding between home and downtown, but it's a pretty fun ride. Once I move, I'll probably be willing to do it more often.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bike To Work Week: Ride to your place of worship

On Bridging The Gap's Bike To Work Week calendar of events, today is the last official day. I wasn't able to make the wrap-up party, but I did get to ride to church. Usually, my church meets in the practice auditorium of Olathe East high school. That's about a 3.5 mile ride. Every year, over summer, there are times when there's remodeling or construction going on around the school district. When that happens, we can't meet in the auditorium.

Last year, we met in park shelters at Heritage Park and Cedar Lake Park. This year, however, my church has some property that we're developing into a community center. We decided to raise a tent on the property and hold service outdoors under the tent. The weather was awesome! It was a bit on the windy side, but overall, it was a good time. The property is about 7 miles from home, so I had no problems riding there. I left early enough that I could turn it into a leisurely stroll once I got away from traffic.

If you look at the photo, you can kind of see my bike leaning against a support post. I got there really early. Our praise team was warming up and practicing, and a few people were setting up refreshments and praying. I just sat down and meditated for a while. It was a nice change of pace, as usually I have to set up and run sound, video and/or lights. None of that out here under the tent!

Product Review: Genuine Innovations Ultraflate CO2 Inflator

After trashing 2 valve stems with my mountain bike hand pump, I decided it was time to suck it up and go CO2. My hand pump isn't made to inflate high-pressure tires, and I didn't feel like buying another one, at least without a hose (such as a Road Morph). In the end, as I searched for roadside tire inflation options, I picked out the Genuine Innovations Ultraflate. I've used it three times already. Twice to air up a replacement inner tube after getting a puncture, and the third time to "top off" my tires, as I'd forgotten to air them up in the morning before departing on my commute. It's shown above with a 12 gram CO2 cartridge and a Schrader-to-Presta adapter. The Ultraflate does not ship with the adapter. I'll get to that in a moment.

The thing I liked about the Ultraflate was that it would accept inexpensive 12gr. CO2 cartridges, or larger capacity threaded cartridges. You can see that the valve tap is threaded. To use threadless cartridges, you insert the cartridge into the yellow body, and swiftly screw the body onto the valve, puncturing the cartridge and preparing it for use. To use threaded cartridges, simply thread the valve tap onto the cartridge, and set the yellow body aside.

As with all CO2 inflators, it's recommended that you do not puncture the cartridge until you need to inflate a tire. The Ultraflate has a dual-mode head. You screw it onto Schrader tire valves, or press it firmly onto a Presta tire valve. This is where one of my gripes comes into play. The Ultraflate seems to hang on the presta lock screw when you're done inflating the tire. On two occasions, I found that I had to fidget with the inflater to get it to "let go" of my tire valve. I didn't lose any pressure in my tires, nor did I damage the valve or stem, however I think it would be easy to have any of these problems. I started using the Schrader-to-Presta adapter, and I've had a lot better luck. Screw the adapter into the Inflater, then screw the inflater and adapter onto your presta valve after opening the lock screw. The end result is a more positive engagement, and graceful removal of the inflater and your presta valve.

The Ultraflate is surprisingly compact. In my run-of-the-mill Serfas-brand seat bag, I am able to fit two 700c x 25mm inner tubes, three CO2 Cartridges (one inside the yellow body of the Ultraflate), the Ultraflate itself, and my Patch kit.

A single 12gr. cartridge inflates one of my 700c x 25mm tires to about 105 PSI from being totally flat. The trigger valve on the Ultraflate allows the operator to easily control how much and how fast the CO2 goes into the tires. Overall, this is a good value at about $15. Bike shops sell CO2 cartridges for several dollars each. This is a rip-off. Go to a sporting goods store and buy CO2 cartridges made for pellet guns. In bulk, I bought a 15-pack of 12 gram cartridges for the bike shop price of 2 "name brand" 12 gram cartridges.

Overall, nothing beats a high-quality floor pump. For emergencies, though, this is one of the more compact and affordable ways to ensure you have a way to get your tires inflated.

* Affordable
* Flexible options for CO2 cartridges
* Works as designed for Schrader or Presta
* Easy to use and control the flow of CO2

* Larger and heavier than some competing systems
* Doesn't have a "hybrid" hand-pumping option... Once you're out of CO2, you're out
* Awkward to use on Presta valves
* Doesn't hold a CO2 cartridge while assembled without puncturing it

* Use a Schrader-to-Presta adapter when filling tires with Presta valves
* Buy CO2 in bulk packages at sporting goods stores
* Always carry one or two more cartridges than you think you'll need
* Drill a 1/4" hole in the butt end of the yellow body so that a 12gr. cartridge can be inserted backwards for storage while the inflater is fully assembled.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday ride

I took a nice, slow ride with Tim O on the Indian Creek Trail today. On the way back, the path turns into a really narrow sidewalk to go over a bridge. The barrier between the bike path and the road is just a concrete wall. I scraped my leg pretty good on it. Blah. It's just skin, right?

I got about 17 miles in. My legs feel a lot more loose and relaxed tonight. A nice slow ride is just what I needed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bike to Work Week - Day 5 Wrap-Up

I got persuaded into riding back into Olathe with Chris this afternoon. I left at about 3:30. We swung by the Trek store on the way back into town so he could pick up a spare inner tube. It was a long, slow ride, and Chris is definitely faster than I am, at least in my current weakened state.

It was cool having another cyclist in sight, and a little discussion is always welcome. I just wish I had a little more hammer juice in the shriveled pillars of mangled meat that used to be my legs. I was pushing as hard as I could, and just couldn't get any momentum behind me, even on the slightest of inclines or going against the faintest of headwinds.

It was a fun and enjoyable ride, all the same. I feel like yesterday's homeward commute-by-bus has been avenged.

Again, if anyone wants to join me for a really easy-going spin on Indian Creek Trail tomorrow morning, show up at the Quivira Park entrance before 9:00. I'll be there. Don't expect a fast ride. I'll be unwinding.

Is this selfish?

I started commuting by bike back in September. In November, they installed this bike rack. I was commuting by bike twice a week, then thrice as time allowed, then 4 days per week, and now I pretty much use my bike daily. Today's the last day of bike to work week, yet in all the months I've parked on this rack, I've never, ever seen another bicycle locked up to it.

Today, I decided I'd park it like this from now on. I think it's a little selfish, but it's a little more stable and secure as well. Am I a bastard? Does this make me evil?

Upcoming product reviews

This past week, I've put quite a few miles on my bike. I've also tested the limits of myself and my gear.

I don't get free stuff for my bike. I shop around, get stuff that looks like it'll meet my needs, and run with it. After I've used some stuff for a while, I get to form an opinion about it.

Anyhow, in the coming days and weeks, I'll work on some product reviews:

* Trek 1200 Bicycle.

* Blackburn CrossRack

* Genuine Innovations Ultraflate CO2 tire inflater

* Banjo Brothers Saddlebag Panniers

They all have some good and some bad aspects, but I put all of these things to the test this past week.

Day 5: WOW! Commuters!

I rode the 3-mile hammerfest to the bus this morning. A nice, smooth ride, with some hard pushing, my old familiar hill climbs, and a newfound road confidence. It was even colder than it was yesterday morning, but I used the same level of warmth. 3 miles of hammering keeps you pretty warm compared to 20+ miles of intentionally-paced riding.

When I got to the bus, there was already a white Specialized Allez Sport strapped in. I've seen it once before, but it's been a few weeks. When I got on the bus, I started talking to the rider. It turns out it's Chris, an EarthRiders member who's been consistently high on the KC Commuter challenge points ranking, and who I'd been talking with on a regional bike commuter mailing list. It was nice to put a face to the name. It's also the guy who I thought was a mile ahead of me yesterday, but that wasn't him.

As I sit here at Starbucks, I've seen 4 or 5 other cyclists riding by. There are 3 bikes locked up outside (one of them is mine) and I've seen a few strapped down to the bike racks on buses. There are a LOT of bike commuters out today! Look...another bike on a bus just as I typed that last sentence!

While I'm here giving a play-by-play of reality while it's unfolding, I just saw a guy staring at my bike as he walked by... almost like he was checking out a nice looking woman. That's kind of a weird look to be giving a bike. He was a heavy-set business-type guy, probably not going to steal my bike. Maybe his bike lust will get the better of him; he looks like he could use a little bit of bike riding. Okay, now I'm the pot calling the kettle black. My bike does look really good though. ;)

I'll probably run into Chris on Monday. There's a new bike commuter that wants to get from Shawnee to Downtown. Chris and I both ride the same way once we get to Shawnee, so we're both going to guide the cyclist downtown. Kind of like an impromptu BIKE ESCORT. It should be fun, and helping a new bike commuter to gain confidence and understanding of the route is a worthy cause.

Look! Another bike on a bus!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bike To Work Weak - Day 4 wrap-up

Thanks, Warren. I couldn't resist.

I wussied out and took the bus to JCCC this evening. I had some stuff to do once I got back into Johnson county, so I'll still get some miles. You know how some people thought I was taking Bike To Work Week a little too literally? Well, it's Bike *TO WORK* Week. Not Bike To Home Week or Bike From Work Week. LOL! While I'm at it, I'll participate in "Bike is the ticket to ride" event tomorrow. In other words, I'm tapped. Seriously.

Let's do a recap of my week so far. I've had about 12 hours of sleep and put about 150 miles on my bike since Monday. Put mildly, my current lifestyle is not conducive to this kind of commuting yet. Part of this is family related. I have to wake up at 5:00 to make it out by 5:30, which is basically the latest I can leave. To get enough sleep, I'd really need to be in bed by 10, maybe 10:30.

As it stands right now, my wife gets home around 10:30, and that's the only time I see her. She's asleep when I leave in the morning. If I was asleep when she got home, that would really, really suck. I wouldn't want to simply NOT see her, ever.

There are a few positives to this, though:

First off, I can do the full round trip on occasion, I just can't do it on a daily basis. I've proven to myself that I have what it takes to ride the whole trip. This is a huge mental breakthrough.

Next off, my wife has been accepted for another position in her department that will result in hours that will help me get some more sleep. It sounds like she might even get converted to full time.

Finally, we're moving a few miles closer to both of our jobs at the end of June. I'm not sure what the new route would look like for a full bicycle-only commute, but I'll hash out those details in the coming weeks. This would probably result in about a 15-20 minute difference in my commute time, meaning that I might be able to get to my office in an hour or less once we move.

I've already said that I'm calling this Bike To Work Week a success. This week has been a great growth experience. I've had a several great rides to and from work, a fun group ride with my dad and some friends, and met a few fellow commuters -- even if only to exchange a wave of the hand. Leading up to this week, I had the honor of showing up to a few city council meetings to show my support for cycling. I'll take away a slightly more passionate zeal for cycling from these events.

Riding to the bus in the morning is usually a pretty rushed ride, and I know tomorrow probably won't be any different. It'll be a major change of pace from what I've been doing in the morning lately. I'm usually slow and steady, conserving my energy to get me all the way downtown. I won't have that luxury tomorrow, and I'm going to be doing it on sore legs to boot. Saturday, I'm hosting a slow ride on Indian Creek Trail. I'm going to need a longish recovery ride that's low-stress, low-speed and high on fun factor. If you want to join me in stretching out the legs, and winding down from the Bike To Work Week festivities, let me know, or heck, just show up. Details are in the announcement at the top of my blog.

By The Way...

Although I'm not cycling to impress anyone other than myself, I thought I'd take some time out of my day to brag a little. I didn't realize it until late last night, but on Monday, I passed 1,000 cycling miles since I made my commitment to use the car as little as possible on January 1st.

While I know some people get 10,000 miles or more on their bikes every year, I thought 1,000 miles was a good number to celebrate over.

Some of my cow-orkers will probably never ride 1,000 miles on a bicycle over the course of their entire lives. Others do participate in weekend group rides, and fund-raisers like the MS-150. For all I know, they ride more than I do, but choose to leave the "toy" at home. It's amazing how people who ride bikes can't grasp the concept of using it for transportation.

Also, I'm poised to leave the clydesdale club soon. For those not in-the-know, cyclists that weigh over 200 pounds are jokingly known as clydesdales. Among fellow clydes, it's a semi-serious name of respect and acknowledgement. While it looks like I won't be a clydesdale for much longer, I will always support those who use cycling to promote a healthier lifestyle. Being active at 200 pounds, I feel better than when I was lethargic and ballooning up past 180 pounds. I can only imagine how great I'll feel when I get down to 180 pounds and being active.

Oh yeah, and my bike-to-drive ratio is back up over 3.0 again. I'd like it a lot if it never goes below 3.0 for the rest of the year. We'll see.

Bike To Work Week Day Four: Round Three

No photos this morning, just riding. Relentless, constant riding.

I left at 5:00 sharp, and I knew it would be a bit slower than usual. My legs didn't recover from last night, and they were not quite as responsive as they were yesterday morning. I wasn't that slow, but I was slower.

It was a bit colder this morning than yesterday, but I learned my lesson. I wore long thermals under my bike shorts (and over the liner) to keep my knees warm, and a hoodie to keep my core warm. Full-finger gloves kept my hands comfortable.

My front derailleur was still off a bit, but now I was dropping the chain off the hammer ring instead. I took a bit of a different route, catching 67th street to Turkey Creek Trail. When the trail crossed Merriam Lane, I hopped off the bike to do some derailleur tuning and some stretches. After I got it dialed in, I had no more problems.

As I approached Antioch and Merriam Lane, I saw another commuter again. It wasn't Caroline this time. I tried, yet again, to reel the cyclist in, but I ended up running dead even this time, never gaining ground. I lost visual contact where Southwest Boulevard does a chicane through some residential stuff. A few minutes later, I passed Jeff again, on the unmistakable green fixie.

Up the boulevard, into the heart of KCMO, and in for some quick carbs. It's not over yet, but I'm calling this year's bike to work week a success. My goal was to make it at least one day round trip via bike. Monday was about the same number of miles as a round trip, but it wasn't. Yesterday was a full round trip and then some. I plan on finishing today with another round trip, and tomorrow, we'll just have to see how I feel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Day 3 wrap-up: Bike officers, red bull, and loads of fun

Today, I set off on my journey at about 4:30PM. It's AMAZING the difference a half-hour in departure time makes. Instead of doing the usual cyclist thing of finding little back alley shortcuts, I sat there, in traffic, biding my time like everyone else. It kinda sucked. But it's okay.

I experimented a bit on the way home, and I felt pretty strong the whole way. I kept well-hydrated and maintained good speed and road position. I really felt like everything was coming together. Having this much seat time today (almost 4 hours worth, if you count times I wasn't moving) I really started to feel at one with my steed. I no longer feel like I'm controlling it. I feel like it's going where I want to go. It sounds cheesy, but it's the only way I can describe it. I just got in from putting 27 more miles on my bike, and I'm not really all that worn out. It was a great ride.

Photo: I stopped to talk with Ed (left) and Doug (right) at JCCC. This week, there are several graduation ceremonies happening at the college, for various schools and college degree programs. Doug and Ed patrol on bike. As I worked for JCCC for almost 9 years and my wife currently works in their department, I know both of these guys pretty well. We sat around, talked about bikes, commuting, and all that jazz.
Then the Red Bull street team showed up, offering us free Red Bull. So I continued chatting it up with the officers while I polished off my carbonated, caffeinated nectar from the gods above.

Then it was off to the bike shop to figure out why I kept dropping my chain off the granny ring. I think they fixed the problem (I could have but if they will do it for free...)

Anyhow. I'm home, relaxing, and planning on another day of wonderful riding.

B2WW Day 3: Chilly!

Photo: Starbucks might be known around the nation for their coffee, but they also make some pretty good kickstands :)

So yeah, it was 50 degrees when I left this morning. 50. That doesn't sound bad at all, does it? That sounds like a good time to throw on my MTB shorts and maybe a long sleeve t-shirt for my trip to the bus. I wore a long t-shirt (grey) and a white t-shirt over that for a little extra warmth and visibility, and my lime reflective vest over that.

Note to self, 20+ miles is a bit of a haul when you're cold! I should have worn my windbreaker and my full-finger gloves. My legs weren't too bad in shorts, surprisingly.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant ride. I left a bit later than I did on Monday, to get down town closer to 6:45 than to 6:20. As I approached the intersection of Merriam Lane and Johnson Drive, I saw something ahead. Blinking lights and a bright yellow jacket... Another commuter? The bike was pretty far ahead but seemed to have a single pannier on the drive side.

I picked up the pace a bit to reel in the cyclist, if for nothing more than to exchange greetings and salutations, and caught up around Antioch. As it turns out, it was an older woman named Karen who's been commuting by bike for longer than I've been alive. She lives in JoCo somewhere and works at the IRS. I guess there are a few other bicycle commuters that use the same route as well, including her husband on occasion. It was kind of cool to actually run into someone... ANYONE else that commutes by bike. Monday, with the exception of exchanging a wave with Jeff who was going the other direction, I was the only cyclist in sight. Caroline and I parted ways around Boulevard Brewery, and I continued onward.

Initial reaction to the panniers? AWESOME! Having the weight balanced and lower-slung than being strapped down to my rack is great. The bike's handling feels a bit sluggish compared to when the weight is on my back, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. Even with all the extra weight, the Trek 1200's handling isn't any worse than my unencumbered Diamondback Outlook hybrid.

Anyhow, I'm going to try to warm up for a bit before riding the last few blocks to the office. Tonight's ride should be more pleasant, in the low 70's. I'll get out of town a little later than I wanted to, since I have a performance review with my boss today starting at 4:00, which is when I usually try to hit the road.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Photo: My bike locked up with the kegs at Buffalo Wild Wings.

If you can't tell, I got reflective panniers! I got a check in for some consulting work I did, and I quickly went and blew some of it on a set of panniers. They're not the most expensive or the cheapest, but they appeared to be a good bang-for-the-buck, and I don't have any heel-strike problems with them like some of the bigger touring bags or grocery panniers I looked at.

Despite not driving to work, I still had plenty to keep me busy. As you can tell, I went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Some of my friends meet up there on Tuesdays for wing night. It's not much further than the bus stop, so I hammered on it and made pretty good time. Then, it was off to see my buddy's new house. I went to the pharmacy, then finally to the grocery store. These are all things that I had to do, or that I would normally do. Last year around this time, I would have just driven around everywhere, even though it was just about 10 miles even. All of this in-town driving with lots of turning the car on and off, driving a mile here, 3 miles there, and so on, would have probably burned a gallon of gas. Instead, I got to burn off some chicken wings and beer that were tasty and delicious, without feeling too guilty about eating and drinking all of it.

...There's no way I burned off all those wings, though...

Oh yeah, panniers can only mean one thing, I have to do another round trip via bike. I might as well make it tomorrow. And maybe Thursday too. :)

Zealous, not stupid.

I still have a cough. Yesterday didn't seem to make it any worse, but it didn't make it any better, either. I woke up in time to leave at 5:00 again, but a quick check of the radar revealed a storm brewing not too far off... close enough to sneak up on me while en route to the office. Averaging 16 MPH going northeast, I could never win a race against a storm moving due east at 35 MPH.

I decided to lay back down a bit and see what it looked like when I woke up. When I woke up, there was a deluge coming from the sky. I know my limits. I drove to the bus stop. There would be nothing to gain from riding my bike in this stuff. Once again, my C/D Ratio falls below 3.0, but tomorrow's ride should bring it back up.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bike To Work Week - Day 1 wrap-up

These kids made me jealous. While I was pushing pedals through a headwind full of dry, almost-90-degree heat, these twerps were cooling off in Turkey Creek. I felt like riding right into the stream, but better judgment took over. The cool water looked so refreshing!

Then there's the group ride, and oh what a group ride it was! We were off to a kind of slow start. My dad joined us, and Tim O was there, as well as a bunch of other new faces. We departed a little later than usual, but Mark Thomas had to herd the cats cyclists, so that was part of it. This group ride got a lot of attention, as it was a sanctioned event for Bridging the Gap's Bike To Work Week. I think it was a stunning success!

Riders watch and listen as Mark Thomas gives some helpful hints on finding your way around suburbia, navigating neighborhoods, and finding new ways to get to your destinations via cycling. The focus of our ride this evening was to show people some popular shopping center destinations. To demonstrate, Mark used a messenger bag during our whole ride to simulate running errands on a bicycle. A Chrome brand messenger bag like the one shown will be given away at next week's Monday night ride. All you have to do to enter the drawing is sign up and write a post on

We took a detour to Old Town Shawnee, a park with some original downtown Shawnee buildings. Volunteers from Bridging The Gap and City of Shawnee, Kansas put together some give-away schwag such as reflective ankle straps, ice cream bars, trail maps, and whatnot. Those without kickstands or a buddy to lean bikes together with just laid their bikes out in the grass. It looked like a battlefield of exhausted bicycles. Probably not too far off. Hahah. Deb Ridgeway was there to answer questions and thank people for participating, then she met us again at the Trek Store...

Where products, tickets, and dining gift certificates are given away while we celebrate with some wonderful homebrew Brown Ale, brewed by one of the Trek Store technicians. I won a multi-tool and my dad won a Trek DiscoTech blinkie.

I didn't finish riding all the way home. I socialized with my dad and we rode together in his car back to my place. This was his first organized group ride, and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last.

Here's a short video clip I took of some riders flying by:

Sweet success... for the first half!

Photo: Cheesy temperature photo-op by the Commerce Bank at Neiman and Shawnee Mission Parkway. The time was about 5:40, and I was little more than half way to work...

But NOW, I'm kickin' it at Starbucks. I got here in about 1H22M which is pretty darn quick compared to the amount of time the trip takes on my hybrid going the other direction. The morning air was balmy but comfortable. I was right last night though, It never did get below 70.

The ride in was without incident, almost to the point of being a little boring for some of the way. What few motorists I encountered gave me plenty of room. As I rode up Baltimore from Southwest Boulevard, a gentleman mistook me for a bicycle cop. Must have been the lime reflective vest and das blinkenlichten on the back of my bike. He asked me for directions, as all the construction downtown had rendered his printed dot-com driving directions useless. I obliged.

I don't think I could have asked for a nicer morning to put 20+ miles on a bicycle. Tuesday or Wednesday (depending on who you listen to) is supposed to bring storms with it. I'm definitely not riding the whole way in inclement weather. If storms crop up, I will proudly and happily ride to the bus stop.

Anyhow, I'm off to the salt mine. The next time I hope on my bike, I'll be facing temps nearing 90 degrees. I'm not sure if you can see it in the photo or not, but with those kinds of temperatures, I figured it would be wise to carry a little more water. I put a second water bottle cage on the Trek last night. It will probably come off after Bike To Work Week because I took it off my Outlook, and if I plan on doing any more long distance riding, I'll likely suck it up and buy a Camelbak.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gearing up!

I'm ready to rock!

After messing with my bike all weekend (and not riding it afterwards) I knew I'd need to shake out some bugs. My brakes were in dire need of tightening up, and my rear derailleur has been getting a little, tiny bit sloppy. Considering I barely have 100 miles on the bike, I'm chalking it up to cable relaxation and settling into the cable housing a bit.

It took about 10 minutes of tinkering to get the brakes and RD dialed in the way I like them. Then, it was off to the grocery store to give it a proper test, and get some nourishment for the long ride tomorrow morning.

I'm abandoning the backpack for now. I'm strapping stuff down to the rack for this week of long riding. The sun's been down for about an hour now and it's still really warm and humid. It's my guess it won't drop much below 70 tonight. The last thing I need is a sweaty backpack. I can't wait to get a proper set of panniers on this thing.

Anyhow, I'll try to sneak some pics tomorrow. I should be leaving at about 5:00AM. I don't plan on averaging 10 MPH all the way there, but I'd rather get into town a half hour ahead of schedule than a half hour late. For every minute after 7:00AM, my presence on surface roads will become less and less welcome.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Finally, the weekend... or not?

Photo: Clean, shiny road bike (sans racked handlebar pannier thing)

I'm still feeling pretty crappy, and today's commute by bike was, for all intents and purposes, completely uncalled for. I hit my 3.00 bike commute / drive ratio yesterday and I didn't feel like setting myself back. So, I was a nincompoop today and rode the bike, despite the onset of bronchitis. I found out that on my road bike, I can still average 13 MPH with hills for 3 miles without breathing through my mouth at all. I took an intentionally slow pace to avoid any further stress on my throat and lungs.

I still felt like crap at work, and I should have just stayed home. Even now, I'm coughing up a storm. When I got home, I took the Trek apart and gave it a proper cleaning, including prying out all the little bits of whatever that had embedded themselves into my brake pads. It wasn't really that much stuff, but I cleaned them out anyways. I cleaned the wheels off in the bath tub (with a rag, not in 2-foot-deep water) and gave the frame a wipe down and fresh coat of wax. Once re-assembled, I lubed it up and checked all the cables. Fresh, clean bikey!

It sucks that I feel so crappy today. Sunny skies and temps in the mid 80's are going to be calling my name tomorrow, but I probably won't be able to ride. We'll see.

I get to telecommute Sunday early morning for server maintenance. So much for having a real weekend.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Today's events

I took off for work quite a bit later than usual this morning, fully intending to catch the last bus out of town. I succeeded at that, but ran into dense, thick fog. Needless to say, I had blinkies going full-force and was cautious about cars coming up behind me and while traveling through intersections. The humidity was so prevalent that when I arrived at the bus stop, every exposed hair on my body (arms, legs, eyebrows) was forming dew droplets, not sweat. I almost thought about swimming to work instead of cycling. It was that humid.

Flying my advocacy flag high, I visited KCMO city hall with a handful of other cyclists to show support for KCMO to adopt the month of May as Bicycle Month, and this coming week as Kansas City's official Bike To Work Week. In attendance were guests of honor Eric Rogers (wearing the black helmet) of and Deb Ridgeway (wearing the green helmet) of Bridging The Gap as KCMO Mayor Mark Funkhouser presents them to the council. After the motion passes, Deb and Eric present Mayor Funkhouser with a brand new cycling helmet. There are rumors that Mayor Funkhouser may participate in Bike To Work Week. This is a significant difference from Olathe's city council meeting on Tuesday, where Mayor Copeland said that gasoline would have to go higher than $30 per gallon before we'd see him on a bicycle.

Finally, there were a few bicycles parked on the sorry excuse for a bicycle rack that city hall provided. Absolutely no one, myself included, used the rack as it was designed to be used. I parked on the outside end of the rack, as you can see. Also on the rack was a unique art-bike turned three-speed ridden by one of the Acme ladies. Notice I also got a real water bottle for my bike thanks to Bridging The Gap! They were handing out bottles to all council members and other interested attendees (not just cyclists).

I returned to work for a while after going to KCMO city hall. Now I'm on my way home. I'm still kind of recovering from my sickness.

Olathe cyclists have allies

I attended an Olathe City Council meeting on Tuesday. It was a stark contrast to the 127th street meeting I went to back in March. The main reason I was there was because of one single item that was up for discussion: The Olathe Bicycle Transportation Plan.

There was a lot of structure. There was also a lot of animosity towards cyclists that began to rear its head. One council member exclaimed that cyclists don't pay taxes to use Olathe's roadways, and that they are slow, and obstruct traffic "like a farm tractor on a highway."

Quickly, to counter these points, it was mentioned by several people in attendance that almost all cyclists own cars and use them (thus paying taxes for Olathe roads), as well as stating that bicycles don't cause damage to roads the way large motor vehicles do. Also, it's no secret that bicycle lanes would keep cyclists out of the way of motorists, and motorists out of the damage path of cyclists in most situations.

To the rescue were two other council members: Marge Vogt and Larry Campbell. It so happens that Marge is a co-chair for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocacy Committee for Mid America Regional Council. It should come as no surprise that she openly embraced the discussion of the bicycling plan, asking questions to ensure that the planners had a clear vision of what the project would entail. Larry is the former mayor of Olathe, and prioritizes quality of life for Olathe residents. While more soft-spoken on the topic of cycling, it was evident that he can see that cycling is beneficial to our city.

Three other fellow cyclists spoke to the council -- an Olathe resident, Lenexa resident and a De Soto resident -- all somewhat close to Olathe. They brought up valid points and spoke on behalf of the many who would benefit from safer cycling amenities in Olathe.

Let's not forget Keith Bredehoeft, Traffic Division Manager of Olathe, who presented the master plan to the council. He seems to have a very strong interest in the plan for both transportation and recreational cycling and its many benefits such as less motor vehicles on the road, healthier lifestyles, and environmental impact. He also pointed out that whenever new cycling facilities are implemented in the area, usage of the facilities is higher than calculated. He stayed cool under pressure from council member John Bacon, who often criticized aspects of the master plan but in the end moved to proceed with the planning phase of the project.

Dale Crawford is a Park Project Coordinator for Olathe, as well as the Advocacy Chair for Johnson County Bicycle Club. Dale keeps a lot of Johnson Countians in the loop with opportunities to be heard and/or seen. While he remained somewhat quiet at this council meeting, he did come out to thank and talk with cyclists that made an appearance after the portion of the council meeting regarding the bicycle transportation plan had concluded.

Regardless what I've said about Olathe and some of its more vocal anti-cycling residents -- especially in my rant on the 127th street improvement project -- I must say that Olathe is still pretty far ahead of other cities in greater KC area as far as cycling is concerned. It's because of the few vocal people like these that the thousands of cyclists in our area have what we've got, and continue to remain visible when issues like this one come up.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Clean Commute - Inspiration for bike to work week

If the weather co-operates with me next week, I am going to try to get at least one round-trip bicycle commute day in, without using the bus or any other motorized transportation. If I can keep it up, I will try to go all week without using the bus. That said, I'd love to see some other people -- who think they live too far from work to bicycle all the way -- to ride their bicycles to the bus for bike to work week!

Really, though, our existing mass transit system offers many benefits. These benefits will be similar for every major metro area that has buses or trains for commuters to use. You'll see why I have been and will continue to use Johnson County Transit's system.

Fossil Fuels
Using fossil fuels presents many, many problems. For those concerned with the environment, cars use a lot of gasoline and produce a lot of pollution. This damage is two-fold, both reducing our supply of natural resources as well as damaging our atmosphere. For those concerned with the source of our oil, cars increase our dependence on foreign oil from abroad, including the middle east. Some people believe oil sales in the U.S. directly bankroll terrorism. Finally some are concerned about the ballooning oil industry. Despite record prices for crude oil, petroleum companies are making record profits to match. Oil tycoons don't feel threatened; Cars are here to stay, and higher costs for raw materials just means that their already exorbitant mark-up nets them even more cash. They laugh all the way to the bank when they see oil prices on the rise.

So, ignore all those "gasoline boycott" e-mails you've been getting. Don't shift what day you pay the piper. Reduce your gasoline usage!

According to numbers I got from Cris at Johnson County Transit (a.k.a. The JO), the Olathe, KS express bus route carries an average of 35 people per trip over 6 trips. Some trips are longer than others, but my guess is the average round-trip route (including the trip back to the bus barn) is around 45-50 miles. It looks like 3.5 miles per gallon is about average for non-hybrid buses that burn diesel. In this case, each bus will burn about 12.8 gallons of fuel in order to deliver those 35 commuters to their ultimate destination. How does that stack up against using a car? Well, each person's share is about 1/3 gallon per trip, or 2/3 gallon per day. My 24 MPG car (actual consumption when used only for getting to and from work) would use about 2 gallons of fuel per day.

To use less, you'd need a car that actually gets 67 MPG or you could car pool with a co-worker in a car that actually gets 34 MPG. I'm not talking about EPA ratings. Very few cars actually get 34 MPG in rush-hour traffic. More realistically, you could car pool with two other co-workers while getting 22 MPG.

Reducing the amount of fuel used is the only way to "stick it to the man" or reduce consumption and pollution. Using car pools, mass transit, walking or riding a bike are all viable ways of making it happen.

Congestion and Traffic
Buses are pretty big, but when you consider the fact that sometimes one bus is keeping more than 30 cars off the road and out of the already crowded parking lots downtown, they don't seem so big any more. Using the Olathe bus route as an example, all the trips combined are keeping about 200 cars back here in Olathe instead of on the road and in parking spaces.

Saving Money
Let me do some math for you, using my commute as an example. It's about 22 miles from the bus stop to my office, and at $3.50 per day ($1.75 per trip), it's equivalent to the cost about 1.2 gallons of gasoline. Just to break even on fuel costs alone, you'd have to own a car that actually gets 36 miles per gallon (again, not EPA Rated, but 36 MPG in traffic). Once you count the costs of parking downtown and the wear on your car from about 900 miles driven each month, it's easy to see that there are tangible financial benefits to leaving your car at home or at a park and ride location, or better yet, riding your bike or walking to the bus if it's close enough!

Looking back at April, I saved almost $200 by riding my bicycle and bus to get to work. I also rode 250 miles more than the bare minimum to get to and from work, which works out to about $30 in gasoline. Many of those miles came from combining errands and shopping trips with my commute home. I would ultimately get off of the bus further from home, but it would position me to easily make 3 or 4 stops on my way home, so I wouldn't need to use my car.

Other Benefits to mass transit
There are many other benefits to using mass transit. In the early morning, you can usually catch a half-hour cat nap on your way to work. You could also review those reports one last time before getting dragged into that meeting first thing in the morning. If you'd rather check out the sports page or latest stock prices, you can. Feel like touching up your eye liner? Go for it. Instead of being stressed out in your car, you can relax, play sudoku, listen to your morning radio show, or whatever else you feel like doing. The time is yours, and it's liberating.

While waiting around for a bus doesn't seem like the most convenient thing in the world, it really isn't that bad. The more popular bus routes have pick-ups every 15-30 minutes. It can take a little bit of adjustment, but it works really well. If your work schedule doesn't often demand late nights, the bus will probably work great for you!

Riding your bicycle
(or, you are not too fat, old, out-of-shape, or clumsy to ride a bicycle)

The percentage of people who simply cannot -- for physical reasons -- ride a bicycle at least one mile is nearly infinitesimal. For those with mobility and/or balance problems, there are recumbent bicycles, adult tricycles, recumbent adult tricycles and even so-called "tadpoles" with two wheels in front (for steering) and one in the rear (for power). These solutions allow the rider to sit on a more comfortable seat, as opposed to a saddle. The three-wheeled cycles don't fall over as easily, and all of them allow the rider to comfortably rest their feet on the ground when stopped. The downside is that most trikes, and certain kinds of recumbent bicycles won't fit on the bicycle racks supplied on the bus.

Enough with the bizarre bicycles. Most people reading this could probably ride a comfortable hybrid bike. High-quality hybrid and commuter bikes can be purchased for under $400 at any bicycle shop. Hybrids offer more road comfort than a racing-style road bicycle with curvy handlebars, but they offer better efficiency and less rolling resistance than mountain bikes. This makes them good for most tasks involving a bicycle. A genuine bicycle shop (that is, one whose primary business is bicycles, not a sporting goods store or heaven forbid a store with a toy aisle) will be able to find the right bicycle for you. Not just one that you can stand over and ride, but one that fits both your budget and your body. They'll also make sure it's assembled properly, and adjusted for the best possible riding position. $400 might sound like a lot of money to drop on a bicycle when there are bike-shaped toys at discount stores that can be purchased for under $100 but you really do get what you pay for.

If you can ride one mile, then the battle has been won. The first week or two are the hardest, because your body has to get used to riding. Bicycle saddles are not like the seat in your car or office and they require some getting used to. Once your body has built up some muscle around your "sit bones" where you rub on the saddle, you will find that most bikes are not that uncomfortable to ride. In fact, it's easy to get hooked!

If you live within 5 miles of your job or a bus stop, then you should just trust me when I say that you can probably ride a bicycle 5 miles once you've gotten used to it. Your legs are fully capable of it. Back in September, I bought a bike that was just about the most inefficient thing I could buy. It had cheap front and rear suspension which made it difficult to pedal and It had wide, low-pressure knobby tires with a lot of rolling resistance. The engine -- my own body -- hadn't gotten a genuine work out in over ten years. I was 100 pounds heavier than I was when I graduated high school. I had bad knees, sore feet and ankles every morning when I woke up. As heavy and out of shape as I was, and as horribly inefficient as the bike was, I was still able to ride it 5 miles in a single sitting. If you don't believe me that all you have to do is start riding, check out the inspiring story of The Amazing Shrinking Man as he went from 581 pounds to 241 pounds in a little over a year with the help of a bicycle and other lifestyle changes.

Challenges to cycling or walking
Sure, riding your bike or walking to work does present its own set of challenges. What if your hair gets messed up? What if you get sweaty? How are you going to carry your briefcase to work? How will you get home if it starts storming in the middle of the day?

I'm not saying that a bike can replace a car all the time, and my family still owns two motor vehicles: a fuel-efficient compact car and a modest-sized SUV with a flexible-fuel V6 engine that can accept a blend of Ethanol and Gasoline up to E85.

Here are some hurdles I had to conquer.

Getting Sweaty
My first few days of commuting by bike, I got really, really sweaty. Fortunately, I had a half hour to cool down on the bus before getting to work, but I still had damp work clothes on. I solved the problem by riding in shorts (or jeans if it's cool enough) and a t-shirt, while gently rolling my dress clothes and placing them in a backpack. I may switch to using panniers (saddle bags that hang next to the rear wheel on either side) as the summer gets closer and my back gets sweatier from carrying a backpack. Now that I'm in better shape, I pace myself as well so that I don't sweat much while I ride in the morning.

Carrying stuff
Not only do I usually carry my business casual attire to work, but I also carry a laptop, occasionally carry my lunch, and sometimes use my bicycle for other errands such as light grocery shopping. Both of my commuting bicycles (a hybrid and a road bike) have racks on the back, with bungees to hold things down to them as needed.

Being Prepared
I'm not the type to worry excessively about bad things, but I like to be prepared. On both of my commuting bikes, I carry at least one spare inner tube, some tire patches, and a way to inflate the tire. For my hybrid, I just use a hand-held miniature air pump that fits easily in my bookbag. The tubes and tire changing tools sit inside a little pack under the seats. For my road bike, I use an inflater that takes cheap CO2 containers (for pellet guns) which fits nicely inside the under-seat pack with the inner tubes.

Cleaning up a bit at the office
When I get to the office, I still might be a little sweaty, so while I change clothes, I slap on another layer of deoderant, sometimes use a bit of foot powder, and/or use a refreshing wipe (like the Old Spice Cool Contact wipes) on my brow, arms and legs. This cools me off a bit and wipes off any road dust or grime. I usually run a comb through my hair as well; My helmet usually gives my hair an interesting look.

Sick Today :(

For the record, I'm sick today. I started feeling like crap yesterday but wrote it off as lack of sleep. Then I remember how soaking wet I was on Monday and how there were several people coughing and sneezing on the bus. I am running a pretty good fever but I hope to break it soon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Product Review: Nite Rider Evolution headlight

I finally got the chance to put my new headlight to the test last night. On my way home from Daily Dose, my usual route is through a lot of residential and some lightly developed parts of town. Most of these places lack street lights, and with the overcast haze, last night provided the perfect opportunity to really see how well my Nite Rider Evolution does.

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised. While my old Blackburn Quadrant LED light would cast a bright reflection off of reflective street signs, and throw enough light onto the ground to see potholes in time to avoid them at speeds around 10 MPH, I knew I was going to need more lighting for my faster road bike.

I'd describe the Nite Rider's beam as a rounder pattern and about half the brightness as a single motorcycle headlight. For speeds up to about 25 miles per hour, it provides more than ample see-ahead distance on pavement. It brilliantly illuminates road signs, and from far away, is much more eye-grabbing than my LED headlight.

I would have had to spend a significant amount more to get the "Smart" version with electronic voltage regulator, variable brightness and flashing mode. The pay-off wasn't worth it for my application. Between last night and the past few dark morning commutes, I've noticed that cars which would normally pull out in front of me from side streets are now stopping to let me pass.

I still have some more testing to do, as I haven't gotten the chance to see how it does on a dark or dim bike path yet. It's likely that in the coming weeks, I'll find myself on one of Indian Creek, Mill Creek, or Turkey Creek streamway trails near twilight. None of these are lit after dark, as technically no one should be on them. They "close" at dusk and open at dawn but there's no way to enforce it, or if there is, they choose not to.

Update 1: On August 12, the NiteRider's bulb burned out right after I'd charged the battery and was testing it in my apartment. It turned on with only a blink. Diagnosis: the bulb is burned. I'm a little disappointed that it didn't last longer, but NiteRider is sending me a free replacement bulb, so I'm not terribly concerned. They said that a burnout this quickly is highly unusual. From a use standpoint, this light is nothing short of amazing. I've taken it out on morning commutes, midnight rides, off road, through tunnels, and anywhere else you can imagine needing light. It is good to see with, and more than bright enough to make you easy to see for traffic.

I'd recommend this light for anyone who is commuting, enjoys riding until the sun goes down, or may often find themselves out on the bike before or after dark. It doesn't last long enough for long night rides. When I went on a nearly 40-mile after-dark trip with some friends, I had to conserve my NiteRider's battery and rely on LED lighting for times when we were in the suburbs and under the street lights. The NiteRider proved itself very well once we got out into the pitch black rural farm areas.

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