Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In the air tonight

In the last year I've been taking classes at Metropolitan State University. Wait, scratch that. I've been taking classes for what feels like forever. But we moved last year, so instead of Metro State being 3 miles from my house and pretty much right on the way home, it's now about 10 miles out of the way. Being a weenie, I'd been driving my usual Light Rail stop at Ft Snelling in the morning to catch the train to work. Then in the afternoon I would take the train back to Ft Snelling, get in my car and drive to school, park, and then drive home after class. Since Ft Snelling is pretty much as close to the opposite direction from school that I can really think of, it wasn't a very efficient use of time or gas. I usually put about 30 miles on the car every school day. I thought, there's got to be a better way. So yesterday I went about finding it.

In the morning I rode my bike to Ft Snelling and took the Light Rail into work, as I do the other 4 weekdays during the kids' school year. Then, in the afternoon I took the 94D bus from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul and rode my bike the approximate 1 mile to school. It took me about half the time it usually does to do the Ft Snelling shuffle. Thus ends the boring part of the trip.

When I left school at 9:20 it was dark. Of course, I knew it would be dark so I brought my lights along. I've ridden at night before, no problem. I turned on my taillight for the first time this year and noticed from the exceptionally dim output that the taillight is in dire need of new batteries. No biggie, there's plenty of streetlights. So many in fact, that turning on the incredibly cheap $14.99 headlight was really a non-event. I pedalled from school through downtown St. Paul and headed into Harriet Island park. As I rode through the park I was amazed at how many streetlights they had along the bike/walking path. I didn't even need my crappy headlight! But all that was about to change.

Harriet Island park ends quickly and the bike path runs parallel to Water Street and the Mississippi River. And this is where things get dark. I'm talking black. Water Street is not heavily travelled. Last night I saw two cars on it. Apparantly it's an out of sight out of mind kind of street when it comes to lighting needs. And lights on the path? Forget about it. I adjusted my headlight so I could see about 5-10 feet in front of me and decided not to worry about anything further up the road, since there wasn't much I could do about it.

For some odd reason, I have a fear of the homeless at night when biking. It probably comes from biking through Swede Hollow at night when we used to live in St. Paul and I would see homeless folks. During the day they seem harmless enough, but at night they are a little more bold. So I have visions of the homeless, lying in wait beside the trail to spring out and grab me. You don't have to tell me how unlikely this is, because I know. For one thing, most of the homeless folks I see are not exactly the spry type. I'm thinking that instead of springing out, they would sort of lurch in my general direction and I could easily avoid them. And another thing, I think anybody lying in wait on a path perhaps 2 people use after sunset would give up out of sheer boredom after about half an hour.

Why do I mention my irrational fear of the homeless? Just to give you an idea of my mindset as I rode along. There's a section along the bike path that has a chain link fence next to it, and while I was riding I heard something rattle against that fence. My active brain screamed out "Homeless attack!" and made my legs pedal faster. I actually looked over my shoulder to see if perhaps a down on his luck former Olympian was chasing me down. Nothing. I turned back toward the front and "Aaaah!" there's something right in front of me! in my headlight beam! Jesus, what is that?! As my brain calmed down I realized it was running away from me, not toward me. It was a great big racoon. I would guess a 20 pounder. And that dude was hustling to avoid getting run over. I slowed up, and he or she zipped off to the side. There was another running about 5 feet in front of his/her brother or sister who lit out for the territories at the same time. So what I had heard rattling the fence was in reality another racoon I'd startled. Nothing like a little rush of adreneline to get you the rest of the way home though.

Will I do this again? Probably. Am I glad I ordered a new headlight a couple weeks ago (which still hasn't been delivered)? You bet I am.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

She blinded me, with Science!

A research team at the U of M is seeking individuals who commute by bicycle at least three times per week. Bicycle commuters are needed for a research project regarding the behavior of bicyclists in the South Minneapolis area. Participants will receive $100 after they have completed the study. Your commute route must begin south of Franklin Street and end anywhere in downtown or near the U of M campus. The study runs October 9 through October 22.

To participate, you will need to strap a small GPS unit to your bicycle and activate it as you begin and end your commute. Two or three times during the study, you will need to meet with the project team to transfer data from the GPS unit. These informal meetings should take no longer than 5 minutes, and the times and locations of the meetings are flexible. You will also need to participate in orientation and wrap-up.

To learn more, contact Reuben Collins at the University of Minnesota. Please provide your name, age, and the approximate endpoints of your commute.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Grundy County Auction

Yesterday I decided to head over and check out the Minneapolis Police bike auction. I'd never been and had heard you can find some great deals. But first, how to get there? I'd ridden my bike in to work so I had to figure out a bike-friendly route to south Minneapolis, a part of the cities that I'm not very familiar with.

I probably spent 1/2 an hour searching online for bike maps of Minneapolis. There's just not much out there. I have several good maps at home, but they weren't doing me a bit of good. Dave Dash is in the process of building what could be a great resource, a website called citybikemap.com which allows users to plot their own routes. But he's just barely launched it so there's not much out there yet.

After looking at what was available, I took the following route. I headed out of downtown and rode south on Portland Ave. There's a marked bike lane all the way down to right around 46th St. Once you're past the bike lane it's a little hairy for a block or two, but if you're not riding during rush hour (like I was) it's fine. Then I headed west on Minnehaha Parkway and followed that almost all the way to the auction. There were plenty of times when I had to stop, back up and turn around before I eventually found what I was looking for.

The way back home was much smoother. I was able to get right on the parkway, this time eastbound, and I felt a lot more confident about where I was headed. A mile or so in I passed an older couple on hybrid bikes. We met up again at the next light and they commented on my "lizard love" shirt (it has little cartoon lizards in every conceivable sexual position). They jumped the light change faster than I did and they were ahead again. Instead of seesawing back and forth with them I just tucked in and rode along. They were moving at a pretty decent pace, around 24 k/hr. I really enjoyed the bike path in the Minnehaha Parkway. It's decently paved, and most of it isn't a shared path with walkers/runners. It is very scenic and nicely shaded. It was a beautiful afternoon and I couldn't think of anyplace else I wanted to be. The older couple split off when we reached Hiawatha, and I joined up with my regular commuter route in Minnehaha Park. I ended up with 47 kilometers on the day, learned a new route and got to see a new part of the city. All in all a great day.

The auction? Pretty much a bust. There were some decent looking mountain bikes, but they were all too small for me. There were a couple of old school beauties that I would have been tempted to bid on too. One was an old Schwinn that still had what looked to be the original speedometer. The old analog style with a dial and mechanical odometer, similar to this. The odometer read over 9,000 miles. Not too bad for an old Schwinn. But, I'd promised my wife that I wouldn't buy anything, and there wasn't anything there that I wanted bad enough to break my promise.

This morning I rode in to work wearing a tie. And for the twentieth time today, I don't have a job interview. I just felt like it. I was biker at the ends (shoes and helmet) but business in the middle. On Highway 13 I caught up to a guy who was decked out in full bike trim. Shorts, jersey, gloves, the works. I passed him handily wearing my slacks, shirt and tie. Didn't seem to bother him, being passed by a foppish dandy as he sped up and caught me. I dropped my pace and we rode together for a few miles. He seemed like a nice guy. That's what I like about biking. I'm an introvert by nature, and don't do well at small talk. But put me in the saddle and I'll chit-chat with anyone.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Devil in disguise

Who says owning a Hummer makes you socially and environmentally reprehensible?

From your good friends at Hummer bikes

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If you're going to San Francisco...

We are too! We'll be going toward the end of October, MEA weekend for you Minnesotans. It will be me, the wife and another couple. This will be the first time the four of us have travelled together, so it should be a very interesting experience. We have all been discussing what we would like to do while we are out there. I've composed a list of typically tourist-y things (visit Alcatraz, ride a streetcar, etc.), but the one I'm most excited about is renting a bike and riding it across the Golden Gate bridge.

The idea hadn't even occurred to me on my own. I was googling San Fran, looking for interesting things to do and found several bike rental outfits. For about $50 (give or take) you can get outfitted with a bike and a map and turned loose in the city. The basic route is to get out of Fisherman's Wharf and cross the Golden Gate into Sausalito. Once there you can either continue into Tiburon or just stay put in Sausalito. Either way, a ferry ride back across the bay is included. It sounds just awesome.

If anybody has any experience with San Fran biking, let me know! I'd also be interested in any cool San Fran things that I'm not likely to find on the Official San Fran website.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Round and Round

The city has been promising/threatening to sealcoat our street for over a month now. As a biker, sealcoating is a hideous process to live through. They cover the street with sticky, smelly tar and then pour tons of tiny rocks on top. Most of the rocks don't stick to the tar, so it's like living on a gravel road for weeks. We get a flyer in our mailbox every week proclaming that this is the week they're going to do it. Never mind that we told you last week was the week. We're serious now. I'm sure the people who deliver those flyers were starting to be ashamed of what they did for a living.

But anyway, they finally made good on said threat and sealcoated the street on Friday. I left for work on Friday morning and they had only done half of the street, so I was able to ride out of the neighborhood on good pavement. I was going the wrong way on the wrong side of the street to do it, but what the hell. Friday afternoon I just walked my bike up the hill.

So of course, Friday night both the kids want to ride their bikes. Trying to avoid the horror of watching them fall repeatedly into the gravel I talked them into walking our bikes up the hill and riding on the paths in the park. Great idea in theory. But, by the time they pushed their bikes all that way they didn't have much interest in riding them. So they played at the playground while I rode Chuck up and down the path. We finally left when we realized several things:
1. It was getting dark. The most obvious of the items.
2. We hadn't eaten dinner. Becoming more obvious by the minute.
3. We hadn't let Mom know we were leaving. Not obvious, but once realized it was impossible to ignore.

Saturday I trimmed the heck out of the willow trees in the front yard and piled the trailer high with branches. To make things easier, I left the trailer hooked up and parked the whole rig in the front yard. My wife took our van to go for a walk (don't say it) and daughter E wanted to ride bikes again. Since we had the whole driveway and garage at our disposal, we rode in circles or sometimes figure 8s for over an hour Saturday evening.

So, a fair amount of time on the bike this weekend, but no miles to speak of. But, if my mental figuring is correct I passed my mileage goal for the year on Friday.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Jive talkin'

Wow. The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) is the governing body for professional cycling, and they are normally very much on the side of drug testing and rarely take the side of the athletes. Which makes their recent press comments about the 1999 TdF urine samples even more powerful. They get in the face of not only L'Equipe, but also WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Here are a few choice nuggets:

``How could this be done without the riders' consent?'' the UCI said.

It [the UCI] also asked WADA to say if it allowed the results to be disseminated, which UCI says is a ``breach of WADA's anti-doping code.''

``We have substantial concerns about the impact of this matter on the integrity of the overall drug testing regime of the Olympic movement, and in particular the questions it raises over the trustworthiness of some of the sports and political authorities active in the anti-doping fight,'' the UCI said.

``We deplore the fact that the long-established and entrenched confidentiality principle could be violated in such a flagrant way without any respect for fair play and the rider's privacy,'' it said.

UCI singled out WADA president Dick Pound for making ``public statements about the likely guilt of an athlete on the basis of a newspaper article and without all the facts being known.''

It also criticized the article in L'Equipe as ``targeting a particular athlete.''

Here's a link to the complete story.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I think I have a problem

Last night I spent an hour in the garage, detailing a tricycle. I'm talking about steel wool, bike polish, goo remover, the whole 9 yards. The only thing I didn't do was use that spray on tire cleaner, but that's because I didn't have any. But it's a nice trike, one of those retro Radio Flyer ones. And it looks pretty all cleaned up! Clearly, I need a girlfriend.

Of course, my bike is still filthy.

All shined up and ready to ride.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Living and riding in 3/4 time

It's official, summer's over. At least, as far as my bike commute goes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not done commuting. It just means that I have to go to my abbreviated schedule. During the summer I can drop my kids off at daycare at 7, ride in to downtown, shower at the YMCA and still be to work by 8:30 or so. But, now that school is in session the bus doesn't pick them up until 8:15. I'm not willing to slide my entire schedule back a full hour and 15 minutes because I wouldn't get home until their bedtime. So, I'll get them on the bus and then ride to Ft. Snelling and catch the Light Rail in the morning. This gets me to work at 9:00, and I'm not stinky after the 7 km ride. Then I'll ride the entire route home.

Today, my boss told us all to leave early so I took off at 4. I wanted to ride someplace I hadn't ridden before and get some additional miles under my belt. I rode on West River Road to Franklin, then crossed over to East River Road and followed it to Summit. I rode Summit all the way to the Ramsey hill, which I'm glad I was going down instead of up! Once I got on 7th Street, I knew I had to get off of 7th Street as soon as possible because traffic was hairy. So I took a right onto Smith and climbed up the high bridge across the river. I was glad I'd been soft pedaling and enjoying the scenery to that point, otherwise the climb might have killed me. But I felt very strong all the way up. Which is good, because I had to keep climbing through Cherokee Park and onto Highway 13. By the way, 13 is under construction right now just south/west of the park so I wouldn't recommend that route any time soon. I flew into Lilydale and took the Lilydale trail (more long, drawn out climbing) all the way to my regular route at Sibley Memorial Highway.

A total of 40km on the day and a beautiful ride. Even more beautiful because I didn't plan it, but it just came together naturally and spontaneously. And other than the construction on 13, I never had any problems. Happy Labor Day weekend!