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Aug 20

A new way of thinking

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Roxie Vizcarra

Roxie Vizcarra

When learning computer programming or college math or how to do research, we must first learn to think about things differently. Computer programmers learn to think logically. Mathematicians learn to understand proofs. Researchers learn about positive and negative controls. These fundamental shifts in thinking comes to some people more easily.

Bicycling for transportation develops a similar fundamental shift in thinking, and just like math and computer programming and research, this comes more easily to some of us than others.

When I started bicycling for transportation nearly a decade ago, I worried about inconveniencing other drivers. If someone honked at me I was angry but I was also scared because I’d slowed someone down and gotten in their way.

It wasn’t long before I questioned my submissive attitude. I realized that I have a right to the road whether I’m on a bicycle or in a car. I have rights and responsibilities, but my responsibilities do not include making sure that drivers get to work on time at the expense of my own safety!

I came up with a little slogan: Safety first, courtesy second, fun third.

I love to have fun on my bike. One fun thing I like to do when I’m going fast enough down a hill is lean from side to side so that my bike weaves back and forth across the road. Is that dangerous or rude? Well, I only do it on smooth, wide roads and I never do it if there is any other traffic around! Safety first, courtesy second, fun third.

When my dad and I bicycled to 40 Missouri State Parks, on highways without shoulders we would pull over from time to time to let a string of cars or a big truck pass us. But we would only pull over when there was a safe place to pull over. We used an assertive lane position so that no one could crowd us off the road.

Most of the time we didn’t have a chance to pull over to let someone pass because the oncoming traffic cleared and the cars behind us used the left lane to pass us. The most anyone ever had to wait was perhaps 30 seconds– that is unusual, and in town no one ever has to wait even that long. We weren’t really inconveniencing anyone! One driver who had seen us on the highway approached us at a gas station and told us that we were making other drivers angry. “My life is more important than their anger,” I retorted.

Safety first, courtesy second.

If you worry that you might be slowing down cars, you are thinking about the wrong thing, and so are the impatient drivers. Everyone should be thinking about safety first.

Furthermore, you might be surprised to know that cars slow down other cars more than bicycles slow down cars! Even in a small town like Kirksville, each additional car on Baltimore St or at the beginning and end of the school day increases congestion and traffic congestion has a huge impact on traffic flow. A bicycle is small and relatively easy to pass. Bicycles don’t increase traffic congestion and bicycles don’t impede traffic flow.

Changing how you think about the traffic around you is essential to becoming a safe and happy bicyclist. If this change doesn’t occur, you won’t enjoy bicycling and you will, understandably, quit.


Aug 15

Pedestrians don’t hurt cars

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

Franklin St in front of the Student Union

Franklin St in front of the Student Union

The return of college students is on everyone’s mind. We envision the quiet, empty streets and stores of today packed with raucous kids, reckless drivers, and careless pedestrians a couple weeks from now. We forget that we were once that age– or we remember too well what we were like!

I often hear complaints from Kirksville residents about students crossing Franklin St. in front of the Student Union. A few years ago, a student was hit by a car and killed at that location, and now there is a pedestrian-activated light signal and a 25 mph speed limit. But many students still cross the street without pushing the button, without waiting for the light to change, or at places other than the marked crosswalk, and drivers in Kirksville complain.

It puzzles me why drivers complain about this habit. If a student walks out in front of an oncoming car, the driver is not the one who will be hurt.

I don’t hear anyone but me complaining about the majority of drivers who routinely exceed the 25 mph speed limit on Franklin St. or the numerous drivers who drive through the crosswalk when the light is red.

I recently read a story about a bicyclist who visited a particularly bike/ped progressive town in Colorado. A pedestrian stepped out in front of him and he slammed on his brakes, catapulting himself over the handlebar. He broke his arm in the fall. He was astounded when the pedestrian yelled at him for not yielding, and when the police officer confirmed that all vehicles must always yield to pedestrians in that city (and all motor vehicles must similarly yield to bicyclists). It didn’t matter if the pedestrian was crossing at a crosswalk or midblock, pedestrians always had the right-of-way.

The system works well for locals but visitors unfamiliar with the laws and customs can get into trouble, as our friend discovered. The point I want to make is that we take for granted the customs in our region and don’t think to question them. It is our custom to censure pedestrians who walk across the street rather than the drivers who speed.

Customs can be changed. I believe that this is one custom that should be changed, and I am doing everything in my power to change it. In whatever manner someone walks across a street, it is the car that kills a person. Cars hurt people. Pedestrians don’t hurt cars.


Aug 11

A 3 day tour

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

On the road to Mark Twain State Park

On the road to Mark Twain State Park

Mark Twain State Park, one of the oldest state parks, was on our list to visit during our 40 Missouri State Parks tour in the spring. It was going to take 2 extra days because it was so far away from any other park. So we decided to skip it. Instead, I visited it during a 3-day tour the last week of July.

Remembering that my favorite state park is the one that we visit in the middle of the week when the weather is nice, I planned the trip for the middle of the week. Despite scheduling the trip for the last week of July, I had the best weather possible: Low of 62F and high of 82F, no rain and nearly no wind, and lots of sunshine.

I started out at 7:30 am, 65 miles from my destination.

I stopped at Tribble Park in Hallsville, 50 miles away, and ate almonds and a peach on a bench in the shade near the playground. A little boy gave me a branch with dead leaves, holding it out like a flower.

My last chance for groceries was in Centralia, still 40 miles from the park. I would have no other opportunity to buy groceries until I came back through Centralia two days later. I bought pickles, V8, tuna, dried chicken noodle soup mix, and more.

For the next few hours I had no cell signal and a small headwind. I was trying out a tracker app, so everyone following my journey worried when the tracker didn’t update for a long time. Otherwise, the ride was peaceful. I was getting tired and my water was almost gone. I was relieved when I saw the 15 Diner and refilled my water bottles.

At 6 pm, I pulled into the Puma Campground at Mark Twain State Park campground. I set up camp, showered, and ate. I went to sleep early but I didn’t sleep well because my air mattress deflated.

In the morning, having slept terribly, I hiked some trails and found a lovely view overlooking the lake with a CCC shelter nearby. I took my little inflatable raft into a cove and paddled around in the sunshine. Then my friend Heather from St. Louis arrived with lunch! We drove across the park to the Mark Twain Birthplace museum. Mark Twain was born in a little cabin in Florida, MO, adjacent to the park. The cabin is now inside the museum. I ate spaghetti and blackberry cobbler at a restaurant that we drove to.

Heather went home and I slept a little better with a pillow, but my air mattress went flat again. I was on the road by 6:20 am, eating a huge breakfast at the 15 Diner by 8 am. On the ride home, I had more honks on the 7 miles of Hwy 22 between Mexico and Centralia than I had the entire 1400 miles of the 40 Missouri State Parks tour! But once I was past Centralia the ride was nice. I found myself feeling angry as I passed through Hallsville, but a rest break in a shady yard and a couple pickles perked me right up. Pickles have lots of sodium.

There was no wind at all so I finished the trip home took an hour less than it had going. At 4 pm I was in Columbia, ready for a shower and a big meal.


Aug 11

What’s next?

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

Bicycling over 1400 miles of Missouri state highways, we had ZERO incidents. Will we be able to say this as our roads crumble?

Bicycling over 1400 miles of Missouri state highways, we had ZERO incidents. Will we be able to say this as our roads crumble?

Amendment 7, a 3/4 cent transportation tax, soundly failed with 59% of the voters against it. If it had passed, this would have been a historic moment in Missouri. For the first time ever, state transportation dollars could have been used for bicycling, walking, and transit.

Instead, we will be returning federal transportation dollars that we can no longer match, and we will be closing roads and bridges that have deteriorated to unsafe conditions.

While I am disappointed in this outcome, I want to consider what we can learn from the experience.

Heavy construction and trucking employed significant resources campaigning for Amendment 7. One criticism of Amendment 7 was that it let truckers off the hook for paying their fair share of wear and tear on roads and bridges. I’m not sure that is a fair assessment, but that was a common perception, and a successful solution to transportation funding will clearly define truckers’ contributions. The next proposal should have perhaps less support, at least less financial support, from wealthy companies. But where campaign resources should come from, if not from heavy construction and trucking, is a mystery to me!

Another objection I frequently heard to Amendment 7 was that MoDOT broke promises it made about new roads and bridges related to a bond issue that passed in the 1990′s. MoDOT is run by a director appointed by the Highway Commission. Highway Commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Entirely new people hold those positions today and MoDOT recently adopted an almost radical Long Range Vision that was unheard of 30 years ago. But it doesn’t matter. People lost their trust in MoDOT and the passage of time has not restored that trust. MoDOT’s admirable efforts over the past 2 years to seek public input through listening sessions and online comments helped, but it was too little, too late. MoDOT should continue its outreach efforts and continue to engage the public. We will trust MoDOT when we believe that MoDOT trusts us.

Luckily for all of us, better minds than mine are hard at work on these problems. I want to be involved to make sure that bicycling, walking, and transit are involved. But the more I learn about it, the more concerned I get for our transportation future, for semi trucks, for cars, and for bikes.


Jul 25

The means justifies the end

Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m going to be an election judge!

These are the white-haired folks who sit behind the table when you go to vote. They find your name in their book and say “Sign here.” They hand you your ballot and tell you to darken the oval completely and then feed your ballot into the machine. Then they give you a sticker.

That’s all you see them do. It looks pretty easy. And boring. But someone has to be there to guard the ballots and make sure everyone gets one and only one vote. They are Guardians of Democracy. And I’m going to be a Guardian of Democracy with them on August 5.

I responded to a call for election judges. The fact that we get paid is a bonus. I didn’t know that election judges get paid. I hadn’t thought about it. It makes sense though. Because how many people just care so passionately about democracy and have time to spend hours at the polls guarding the ballots? Offer someone even a small wage and suddenly they find the time. I sure did! Since I’m unemployed at the moment, I can find the time.

After I completed the web form to be an election judge, I received a message instructing me to sign up for 3 training sessions. Each one was 3 hours long. At the training sessions, I discovered that the election judges are not entirely white-haired. There are people of all ages.

The job turns out to be more involved than what I’ve observed. For the vast majority of voters, the job is what I’ve seen it to be. Of course, a small number of problems take a lot of time to resolve. The most common problem is a change of address. I thought if you moved within a few weeks of an election, you wouldn’t be able to vote. But as long as you were registered in Missouri, you can still vote. You can change your address up to the day of the election.

A lot of the problems are people who aren’t eligible to vote in that polling station, which is called a precinct. These people are directed to their correct precinct.

The Boone County Clerk, Wendy Noren, is nationally recognized for running good elections. She uses detailed, copious checklists to train the election judges. It’s important to do everything right so that each election is legal. The elections that are close can be contested and those are especially important to run a tight ship. The checklists are the key.

The provisional ballot is an excellent tool that helps speed things along. The provisional ballot is the last resort. Everyone who walks into the precinct is entitled to vote, even if they aren’t eligible to vote. If their eligibility is in question, they can cast a provisional ballot. Later, if Wendy determines that they were eligible, the vote will be counted.

If someone doesn’t have ID, they can’t vote in Missouri. It doesn’t have to be photo ID, but it does have to be ID, and not all forms of ID are valid, like a high school student ID. A college student ID is valid, and so is a utility bill if the name and address match the voter’s. If someone isn’t eligible to vote, we’ll determine that, and most people probably walk away. (Hopefully, they go register to vote!) But if they are determined to vote, we’ll let them cast a provisional ballot. Most provisional ballots are determined to be not eligible and therefore aren’t counted. But some are eligible and so it is important to take each one seriously.

The checklists include instructions such as, “The screen will display ____. Do not follow the instructions on the screen.”

Everything is counted and sealed and verified and counted. Every time printer paper is replaced, a form is filled out and verified and witnessed. Every machine has printer paper so that there is a paper record as well as an electronic record. All records are accounted for and closely guarded by us Guardians of Democracy. At the end of the day, the count on the ballot reading machine has to match the number of ballots now missing from the stacks. You can’t just walk out of a polling station with a ballot. Each ballot is a potential vote. Every ballot is precious.

There is an iVote machine. That is actually a big improvement over the paper ballot. Right now, the machine represents an additional $1000 per precinct in terms of the time it takes to train election judges and set up the machine. But if these one day replace nearly all of the paper ballots, that could be a huge savings. Elections are expensive.

An equal number of Republicans and Democrats are assigned to each polling station. When I signed up to be an election judge, I had to declare my party. I am a one-issue voter and so I consider myself non partisan. But for all other issues I typically identify with Democrat. Independents are assigned only after an equal number of parties have been assigned. I mulled over the options and went with Democrat so that I’d have a better chance of getting assigned to a precinct.

My precinct was not available, so I selected the precinct of a friend. At least I’ll recognize one person who votes that day. However, my assignment isn’t finalized yet and may not be until the day before the election. I voted on an absentee ballot. Even if I did get assigned to my own precinct, often there isn’t time for election judges to vote themselves. Wherever I’m assigned, I’ll be there for a couple hours Monday afternoon and then from 4:30 am to 8:30 pm on Tuesday. It’s a long day! I’ll bring a lot of food– and a book, in case it isn’t busy. Primaries are typically not the busiest of elections.

Wendy conducted the Introductory training session. “When you get to the polls,” she told us, “no one cares about party anymore, whether you are Republican or Democrat.” We won’t care politically, but of course we’ll care about who initials each ballot. Each and every ballot must be initialed by one Democrat and one Republican. But her point was that we will only care about the process that day, not about the outcome.

The means justifies the end.

Jul 25

First bicycle commute

Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

A quiet place with little or no traffic is a good place to practice bicycling skills.

A new bicycle commuter

I’ve been coaching Scott on how to use his bicycle for transportation. We started with a rental bike and 4- or 5-mile rides with lots of breaks. His first milestone was buying his bicycle, a Trek Verve 1 named Hillary (after the hills).

With his own bicycle, we didn’t have to drive somewhere to bike. We could bike around his neighborhood. His neighborhood has quiet roads but very steep hills. Each time he shifted into his lowest gear, he immediately stopped pedaling and walked the bike. It was time for some slow bike practice.

Instead of going for another ride, we went up and down his street as slowly as possible. I hoped to show him that he could coast or pedal at 4 mph or even less. Then he wouldn’t have to walk the hills. I also showed him the Power Pedal Position and the proper way to start and stop the bicycle.

Most beginners try to sit on the bike seat with their feet touching the ground. The only way to do that is if the seat is too low. Once they start pedaling, that position is hard on the knees. If your knees hurt, your seat is probably too low. Raise your seat until it is difficult to sit on the it with your feet touching the ground.

To start the bike, put the pedal in the Power Pedal Position (in the 10 o’clock position). Push down on the pedal, lift your other foot off the ground, and only then sit down on the seat. To stop the bike, stand up first. As you brake to a stop, put one foot on the ground.

Scott didn’t need much practice in slow biking or Power Pedal Position. He picked up on riding an arm’s length from the curb pretty easily, too. Some people just hug the curb and can’t seem to let go. After his brush with the curb on the Katy Trail, Scott has a healthy respect for the edge of the road.

The last critical thing for him to learn before he’d be safe biking to work was how to scan (turn his head to look behind). It doesn’t matter so much if he signals, so long as he knows whether there is any traffic behind him. Scanning is a little harder to get the hang of. He practiced a few times. I was proud when I saw him scanning back before  moving around a parked car.

We did a trial ride of his commute last weekend. The ride there took 30 minutes, including a 10 minute break at a convenient little park at the top of a hill. The ride back took 20 minutes. Ice cream downtown took an hour.

I was glad he picked Tuesday for his first bicycle commute, because it worked with my schedule that I could ride with him. I stayed about 50 feet behind him and I kept my mouth shut. I was done with coaching; it was time for him to ride on his own. The ride in only took 20 minutes. He stopped at the park at the top of the hill just long enough for a drink of water. He didn’t have any trouble with traffic, although a wheelchair user who didn’t look before crossing the street nearly collided with me.

The next time he commuted by bicycle, I wasn’t able to join him. We were both confident he’d be fine on his own, and he was. He experienced his first headwind, but the ride home was a ‘breeze’!

I am tremendously proud of him for biking to work and of myself for coaching him to his first week of commuting!


Jul 22

Bicycles in movies, music, & literature

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Eco Suparman

Photo by Eco Suparman

Not only are bicycles fun to ride, but they are fun to put into song and story.

Movies. There are quite a few movies about bicycles or with bicycles. I love Kermit and Miss Piggy’s romantic musical bicycle ride in The Great Muppet Caper. Kermit rides with no hands and stands up on his saddle! The iconic movie bicycle is the Wicked Witch of the West pedaling through a tornado. In The Pink Panther, Steve Martin plays the bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau who inadvertently, hilariously, and repeatedly causes Tour de France riders to wreck.

Music. Other than “A Bicycle Built for Two”, Queen’s “Bicycle Race” may be the best known song about bicycles. But I prefer the other side of the double A-side album, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, when Freddy Mercury yells, “Get on your bikes and ride!” Pink Floyd’s “Bike” is almost a good description of my own bicycle, Crush. Crush does have a basket, a bell that rings, and things to make her look good. However, you may not ride her if you like. I’m selfish that way.

Literature. The bicycles in the funny yet creepy book, The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, have personalities and even, at times, appear to have moved by themselves. In fact, two of the bicycles run off together. David Byrne’s folding bike played a central role in his touring experiences with The Talking Heads, and he published Bicycle Diaries, an account of his experiences bicycling through the cities the group was touring.

Finally, I leave you with a poem by one of my favorite poets.

Ode to bicycles by Pablo Neruda

I was walking


a sizzling road:

the sun popped like

a field of blazing maize,



was hot,

an infinite circle

with an empty

blue sky overhead.

A few bicycles


me by,

the only



that dry

moment of summer,





barely stirred

the air.

Workers and girls

were riding to their



their eyes

to summer,

their heads to the sky,

sitting on the


beetle backs

of the whirling


that whirred

as they rode by

bridges, rosebushes, brambles

and midday.

I thought about evening when

the boys

wash up,

sing, eat, raise

a cup

of wine

in honor

of love

and life,

and waiting

at the door,

the bicycle,



only moving

does it have a soul,

and fallen there

it isn’t

a translucent insect


through summer


a cold


that will return to



when it’s needed,

when it’s light,

that is,




of each day.

Jul 17

What is Amendment 7?

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Image by MoDOT

Image by MoDOT

On August 5, you can change our future by voting “Yes” for Amendment 7. Amendment 7 will save Missouri roads for all travelers– including both motorists and bicyclists.

Amendment 7 is a 3/4 cent sales tax for transportation. What is significant about this tax is that it is for transportation, not for roads and bridges. Our current state transportation funding is for roads and bridges, so sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, and transit can be built only with local or federal funds.

Legislation is always a collection of compromises and concessions. This one is no different and there are several things I wish were different about Amendment 7. But thanks to the valiant efforts of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, the most important aspect to me, inclusion of bicycling, is intact. The Highway Commission approved the final project list tied to Amendment 7 which has substantial bike/ped projects– not as many as I would like, of course– but far more than we can expect under the current funding model. An issue paper from Bike Walk KC covers the good and the bad of Amendment 7.

I’ve been following the evolution of Amendment 7 for a couple years. Opponents do have good reasons to oppose the measure, but the alternative to passing Amendment 7 is that we wait another year, or two, or ten to negotiate compromises and concessions and end up with a bill that may be even worse. In the meantime, our roads continue to crumble and we face losing federal money because we won’t meet the required matching state funds.

MoDOT itself has been just as important in persuading me to support Amendment 7 as the content of the bill was. Under the leadership of director Dave Nichols and prompted by the funding crisis, MoDOT was incredible over the past couple years in seeking public input– something unheard of before now. The MoDOT Vision, formally approved by the Highway Commission, incorporated public input and 2 of its 4 pillars are “safety” and “choice”: MoDOT wants me to be safe and to be able to choose to bicycle.

Amendment 7 is important whether you bike, walk, bus, or drive, and if it passes on August 5, it will usher in a new era of transportation for Missouri.


Jul 14

Even more about gears

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

My right shifter has 8 gears. My left shifter has 3 gears.

My right shifter has 8 gears. My left shifter has 3 gears.

I’ve written about spinning vs. mashing and how I taught people to use their gears. But as I continue to teach people how to use their gears I discover that I have more to say on the topic.

New bicyclists gets frustrated trying to figure out which gear to use. It depends on many factors– the grade of the hill, the wind, your speed approaching the hill, the weight of you and your bike, the width of your tires, the surface of the road. It’s impossible to say exactly what gear you should be on at any point.

I don’t think about my shifting; it’s automatic. After coaching a bicyclist through shifting, I watched how I did it myself. I realized that I was constantly making adjustments and that I got it wrong a lot. I shift too high or too low and drop back one or two gears. I primarily use my right hand shifter, which shifts the rear cogs, but I use my left hand shifter, which shifts the front cogs, quite a lot too. Before I run out of gears with my right hand I’m try out a different combination using my left hand– and sometimes I get it wrong and go back to where I was before. While I’ve gotten much better at guessing what gear to use, I’ve also gotten much faster at changing gears so that I can make mistakes and recover without losing all my momentum.

If you are learning how to shift:

1. Practice shifting with both hands until you are comfortable with all your gears. Many new bicyclists only shift with their right hand. The right hand shifter (the rear) is for fine-tuning which gear you are in. The left hand shifter (the front) is for making big adjustments, when you’ve run out of gears or almost run out of gears on the right hand. But don’t be afraid of making big adjustments because sometimes you need to.

2. Avoid the extreme combinations. This is a little complicated to explain and easier to see. Many shifters assign numbers to the gears, where 1 is the gear for going up hills and bigger numbers for going down hills. My bike has 3 cogs on the front and 8 cogs on the back. The combination 1-1 is great for climbing a steep hill. The combination 3-8 is good for going down a hill. I would never use the combination 1-8 or 3-1. Those are extreme combinations, and it is called “cross chaining”. These combinations are bad for your bike because they put stress on the chain, and they are redundant– the gear ratio achieved by 1-8 is duplicated by the 2-6 combination.

3. Shift before you need to. If you are climbing a hill and can barely turn the cranks and you try to shift, your bike just won’t shift. In order to shift, you need some tension on the chain but not too much. If you shift too early, your feet will flail away for a moment, but just relax and let the bike slow down until its speed matches what gear you are in.


Jul 12


Posted on Saturday, July 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Even after years of bicycling, I think I ought to be able to go faster up the steepest hill in southwest Missouri.

Even after years of bicycling, I think I ought to be able to go faster up the steepest hill in southwest Missouri.

After I’d been bicycling for a few years, I felt frustrated with my apparent lack of progress. Everyone around me was so much faster. After the first year when I lost 25 pounds and gained fitness, I didn’t get any faster.

Then I had a revelation.

I was far faster than everyone who wasn’t on a bicycle. Even as a bike/ped advocate, I know more people who don’t bicycle than people who do. When I’m biking I don’t see the people who aren’t biking. I also don’t see the people who are behind me. I only see the people who are ahead of me, the people who are faster than me. It’s hard to feel like you’re improving when you only see people who are faster than you.

I had another revelation.

Anyone else in my body would be doing only as well as I was doing. We have only the body we have. The faster bicyclist puts less effort into her ride than I put into mine. The faster bicyclist shouldn’t feel proud of what she is doing on the bike right now. She should feel proud of what she’s done on the bike every day in the past. It is that effort that has given her the body that can do what she is doing now.

I’m teaching someone how to bike. He feels clumsy and out of shape. I’m prouder and more excited about his first 5 mile ride than I am about my last 60 mile ride. He’s got more to be proud of than anyone sitting on the couch. He’s doing an incredible amount with the body he has to work with. No one else could coax more speed or more endurance out of it than he can.

Don’t get discouraged by your apparent lack of progress or feel that your performance is pathetic. Don’t demand more from the body you are given than what it can give you. Appreciate the marvelous job that the body you have is doing for you.


Jul 9

A bicycle named Hillary

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Scott and his bicycle, Hillary (named for the hills)

Scott and his bicycle, Hillary (named for the hills)

The last time Scott was on a bicycle was over 50 years ago. He rode all over the little town of Knob Noster. One evening, he rode into the yard– straight into the clothesline his sister had strung up to dry her doll’s clothes! That didn’t stop him from bicycling. College and a car put an end to his bicycling days.

His health hasn’t improved with age and sedentary living so he decided to start bicycling for transportation. I was excited and nervous when he asked me to help him pick out a bicycle and learn to ride it.

We would put the aphorism, “It’s like riding a bike” to the test! Would he still be able to ride a bike after 50 years?

The answer is yes! He pedaled around the parking lot, a bit wobbly and uncertain, but he still knew how to ride a bike.

We started with a bike rental. We biked down a quiet street to the Katy Trail. On the trail, he was distracted by an oncoming bicyclist and crashed onto the rocks. He was scratched a little but otherwise unhurt, and he bravely continued another mile down the trail. We took a break every mile. I brought snacks and water for the 4-mile ride.

The next weekend, we took the same route and I still did not think to bring a first aid kit. We took a break every mile and consumed the snacks I brought. We were nearly back to the quiet street, congratulating ourselves because he hadn’t fallen, when he brushed against the curb and lost his balance, crashing onto the rocks again. He was scratched and bruised. But he was game to go again the next weekend.

I finally realized that the Katy Trail has too much traffic and too many rocks for a beginner. I picked out a different route and brought a first aid kit. We went down quiet streets to the Stephen’s Lake Trail which is quiet and bordered by soft grass. He did not fall! (When we passed near a creek, he reported feeling a magnetic pull toward the rocks lining the trail…)

He bought his bicycle this weekend. The Trek Verve 1 is a good solid bike for a beginning bicyclist. We took his new bike to Stephen’s Lake Trail and continued up Hominy Trail, quiet, paved bike paths with mostly grass borders. He is getting the hang of the gears and his balance is much better. I’ve learned so much myself about teaching someone how to use a bike, that I hope I have more opportunities to do this.

During his first ride on his new bicycle, he named it Hillary, in honor of the hills he struggles with as well as the presidential candidate!


Jul 6

Just try

Posted on Sunday, July 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Need to look nice? Bike in your suit-- slowly, and tuck your pants leg in your socks.

Need to look nice? Bike in your suit– slowly, and tuck your pants leg in your socks.

People do amazing and creative things to keep bicycling despite obstacles. They use specially built bicycles to overcome medical limitations. They park-and-bike or bus-and-bike to overcome prohibitively long commutes. They use trailers, trail-a-bikes, and bike mounted baby seats for kids.

The message I get from this is that there is only one good reason not to bicycle: because you don’t want to.

I want to emphasize that. It is a GOOD reason not to bicycle. While I can be somewhat evangelistic on the subject of bicycling, I do recognize that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to bicycle, but then you probably don’t understand my complete lack of interest in watching football.

If you don’t want to bicycle, that’s ok! I won’t judge you. You don’t need to make excuses. In fact, if you make excuses, you’ll probably get annoyed with me. I have an answer to every one of your excuses, because I’ll assume that you really do want to bicycle and just need solutions. So just be honest with me.

These are not good reasons not to bicycle:
You don’t have time.
You have to dress nice for work.
You live too far away from work.
You have to drop your kids off.
You have to use your car during the work day.
There’s a big hill between your house and your work.

I have answers for every one of those.

If you think you don’t want to bicycle, I just ask that you try it. Give it a real try, not some half-hearted attempt that is doomed to failure. Bicycling can improve your life so much, your blood pressure and your pocketbook and your mood, that it’s an important thing to try.

Don’t cite some reason why it didn’t work for you. Be honest that you didn’t like it. Maybe you want to like it, because it’s so good for you, but you don’t. If the reason you don’t bicycle is that you don’t want to, tell me so and I’ll shut up.

Who knows? If you try it, you might like it. And in return, I’ll try watching football when I get back from this bike ride.


Jul 2

The great bike path debate

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

A quiet place with little or no traffic is a good place to practice bicycling skills.

A quiet place with little or no traffic is a good place to practice bicycling skills.


On the side of the great bike path debate, I come down firmly in the center, unlike my unlucky friend who came down bloodily on the rocks on the side of the bike path. You will likely be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as a bike path debate. What’s not to like about bike paths? You probably assume that the only dissension is over who is going to pay for it, or maybe someone might oppose it if it passes too close to their back yard.

Bicyclists disagree about the relative merits of bike paths. Opponents believe that bike paths marginalize bicyclists. Poorly designed or maintained bike paths put bicyclists at increased risk of injury. Proponents feel that bike paths are safe places for normal people– not just experienced, daring bicyclists– to ride bicycles, a training ground for beginners.

I’m in favor of building bike paths because the data show that more people bicycle when there are bike paths. Rightly or wrongly, people feel safer on bike paths and so they bike more. When more people bicycle, all bicyclists are safer. I like to ride on bike paths sometimes myself, but only when the path is convenient. I adamantly oppose any attempt to restrict bicyclists to bike paths.

I witnessed some crashes on bike paths recently that slightly modified my opinion of bike paths. One crash was that of a beginner who I’m teaching how to bicycle. He can ride a bike, but it has been decades since he last rode and he’s unsteady. Thinking of the trail as a safe place for a novice bicyclist, I took him to the Katy Trail where he did all right until another bicyclist appeared and distracted him. We went back to the Katy Trail a week later, where he crashed again! Another crash I saw on the trail was an “endo”, where a bicyclist braked with the front brake only and flew over his handlebar.

Just because it is a bike path doesn’t mean it’s a safe and appropriate place for beginners. Any place that has a lot of traffic, whether it is a bike path or a street, has too many distractions. I found quiet streets and a quieter trail for my beginner to practice on and he did NOT crash. I’m glad to have learned this lesson but I’m sorry I learned it at his expense!


Jun 28

The importance of shoulders

Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

The frontage road next to Hwy 36 with a steep grade and a higher peak.

The frontage road next to Hwy 36 with a steep grade and a higher peak.


When my dad and I biked to 40 Missouri State Parks, we experienced all kinds of roads and surfaces. When choosing our route, roads with little traffic were tempting. But low-traffic roads are the least likely to have paved shoulders and most likely to have steep hills. Busier roads are more likely to have wide, paved shoulders and lower grades.

We biked on some gravel roads, but as few as possible. Gravel is slow to bike on and there’s nowhere to buy chocolate milk and V8 on gravel roads.

We biked on narrow, curvy, hilly, low traffic two lane roads. Some of them were in good repair, and some had so much chip seal repairs that they were nearly gravel.

We biked on bike paths a few times. The bike paths were charming, but didn’t compare well to the roads. The limestone gravel of the Katy Trail slowed us down and our bikes got dusty, requiring prompt cleaning so that our chains didn’t deteriorate. The St. Joe path wasn’t graded at all, so climbing the hills was hard work but worse, the downhills were dangerously steep and narrow.

When we could, we biked on paved shoulders ranging from a narrow 18 inches to an ample 10 feet.

The traffic volume and speed coupled with 18 inch shoulders made the few miles on Hwy 50 alarming, but it wasn’t so bad after all because it’s a four lane road. The big trucks and fast cars used the left lane to pass us.

Hwy 7 near Warsaw and Hwy 32 near Bolivar were the scariest roads. These roads carry a high volume of traffic but have no shoulders. Because of hills and curves, Hwy 7 had few places where traffic could pass us safely. But Hwy 32 was worse because it appeared to have shoulders and the drivers were impatient with us for not using the shoulders. It was impossible to bike on the rumble strip that filled the narrow shoulder. On these roads and others, we pulled off frequently to allow traffic to pass.

Shoulders in poor repair were frustrating. On Hwy 32 on the east side of the state, the wide shoulder is in frightening condition with large random pools of gravel. The traffic volume and speed made riding in the lane pretty uncomfortable, but it was far safer than the dangerous unpredictable gravel.

Among the best roads to bicycle on were, surprisingly, the interstates. It is legal in Missouri, though not in most other states, to bicycle on the shoulders of interstates. Interstate highway shoulders are 10 feet wide and have smooth pavement in good repair. The gentle grade of a long climb contrasted sharply with the adjacent frontage road that peaked 3 or 4 times in the same distance. The big fast trucks created a wind blast which was frightening at first, but once we got used to it, we called it our “second tailwind”. We could always count on a big truck to give us a little boost. (The most dangerous part of biking on the interstate is crossing entrance or exit ramps. Don’t bike on the interstate if you don’t know how to do this safely.)

The best roads have wide, paved shoulders. Nearly all the roads we biked on were state roads. Although historically MoDOT has saved money by omitting paved shoulders, this strategy resulted in roads that are dangerous for all travelers, motorists and bicyclists alike. The new MoDOT Vision emphasizes safety and choice. Paved shoulders are central to safety and choice, so we can expect to see more of them as roads are built and repaired.

Jun 24

Bicycle Clothes

Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

A bandana and a skirt wrap turns my bicycle outfit into my in-town outfit.

A bandana and a skirt wrap turns my bicycle outfit into my in-town outfit.


Bicycling clothes can be intimidating and expensive. But they don’t have to be. While some aspects of bicycling-specific clothes are helpful, you can bicycle for transportation in ordinary clothes. My daughter avoids skirts and flared pants if she’s going to be bicycling, but with some simple steps these can work on a bicycle too. You can bike in cute clothes, comfortable clothes, or the weird clothes made just for bicycling.

Bicycling, especially at this time of year, will generate some heat. If you need to look nice, dry off with a towel and change into a fresh shirt. Allow a little extra time before you change because you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you stop pedaling.

Roll up your pants leg or tuck it in your sock so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain. I have velcro leg bands that keep the pants leg out of the way of the chain.

The key to skirts is practice. My new sister-in-law hiked up her wedding dress to show off her shorts that matched her sneakers when she and my brother rode a tandem bicycle from the chapel to the reception. Tuck a longer skirt up around your legs so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain. Medium length skirts are easy to bike in. Wear shorts or tights under a shorter skirt. A tight skirt that restricts leg movement won’t work for bicycling.

I wear ordinary clothes for most of my bicycle trips. I wear bicycle specific clothes in some circumstances. Early on in my bicycling, I bought a rain suit that wasn’t cycling-specific. In just two short bike trips, the rain pants were ripped to shreds. After that I bought expensive cycling-specific rain pants and rian jacket which have served me well for several years.

For longer bicycle rides, I wear padded bike shorts and a bike jersey. This is mostly because I like to wear the appropriate costume for whatever activity I’m doing. There are some functional aspects of the costume that are helpful, but by no means necessary. They fit snugly so that they don’t flap in the breeze. Bike jerseys have pockets in the back so that things don’t fall out, which is a concern in the bent-over position demanded by road bikes. Bike jerseys are often bright colors, which increase visibility, and my newest jersey advertises the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.

Some bicyclists swear by the thick padding of bike shorts, but many do fine without it. I rode 75 miles a day from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE and back in regular shorts, and I’ve done many rides with padded bike shorts. A comfortable bike seat is more important than padded bike shorts. Padded bike shorts also have the disadvantage of looking utterly ridiculous. I feel self conscious enough stopping at a store or restaurant while I’m on a bike trip that I carry a skirt wrap to put on over my bike shorts.

Experiment with your bicycling wardrobe and wear what’s comfortable and convenient.

Jun 18

Get out!

Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

Frenchman's Bluff at Cuivre River State Park

Frenchman’s Bluff at Cuivre River State Park

Now that I’ve visited 42 Missouri State Parks, people ask me which park was my favorite. That’s a tough question to answer. My favorite park is the one we visit in the middle of the week during nice weather! But whatever the weather or even if it’s a popular camping weekend, I heartily recommend visiting a Missouri State Park any chance you get.

The best park to visit is the state park that is closest to you that you have never been to. Or visit a new area of a familiar park, a trail or a beach or a visitors’ center you haven’t seen. Seek out the naturalist and the park supervisor or assistant park supervisor and find out what they know about their park. Go to the next presentation. When is the last time you went camping? You need a lot less to go camping than you think you do! If I can live in Missouri State Parks for 40 nights and 41 days with just 40 pounds of gear, you don’t need to fill up your car.

We expected Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park, and Mina Sauk Falls on Taum Sauk Mountain State Park to blow us away– and they did. But some of our most amazing experiences were unpredictable. The best view in the entire state was Frenchman’s Bluff at Cuivre River State Park. The fireflies at Pomme de Terre State Park blinked as fast and bright and thick as Christmas lights. I listened to a mandolin played by a fellow camper at Arrow Rock State Park as the setting sun sparkled on the water. I watched the full moon rise over a muskrat lazily paddling back and forth at Knob Noster State Park. I climbed over huge rocks on a narrow ledge on the challenging Devil’s Promenade Trail at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. A chance encounter landed us on a sailboat at Stockton Lake State Park. We saw things no one else sees thanks to a personal tour from the naturalist at St. Francois State Park.

Visiting 42 Missouri State Parks was an incredible accomplishment. But I’m not satisfied yet. I want to visit all the rest of the 87 Missouri State Parks and State Historic Sites. I haven’t thoroughly explored any of the parks we visited yet, and I want to go back to every one of them and spend more time there. I want to hike every inch of every trail in every Missouri State Park.

Missouri has a lovely state park system. Get out and enjoy this beautiful resource as soon as you can.


Apr 30

Frequently Asked Questions

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Tom Uhlenbrock, DNR

Photo by Tom Uhlenbrock, DNR

Frequently Asked Questions

My dad and I are biking to 40 Missouri State Parks. You might think the question asked most frequently is “Why?” Dad gets that question a lot, but I don’t. Maybe no one needs to ask why I would do something crazy!

How far are you biking?
1500 miles.

How long will it take?
45 days.

When do you leave?
Thursday, May 1

Where will you stay?
We’ll camp in state parks.

Will you be on the Katy Trail the entire time?
This one makes me smile. The answer, of course, is No, because the Katy Trail only goes across the state, and the parks are scattered all over. The Katy Trail is a state park, and it will take us as far as Boonville which is a few miles from Arrow Rock State Historical Site. After that we won’t see the Katy Trail again, except to cross it a couple times.

How old is your dad?
65 years old. To save them the embarrassment of asking my age directly, I follow up immediately with, “I’m almost 40.” In fact, my 40th birthday is in the middle of this trip!

How far will you bike each day?
Anywhere from 17 to 70 miles. Our average is 41.3 miles. We have rest days scheduled following the longest days.

What will a typical day look like?
I think we can count on hills and wind. It will also be very cold and very hot, possibly in the same day, because this is Missouri. This time of year is a good time for thunderstorms and tornadoes. The question is, will there be any days that are mild, still, and flat?

Are you going to write about it?
Oh yes. You can count on that. We already have a journal ( with routes and approximate dates, as well as a Facebook page for updates (40 Missouri State Parks). Each day we’ll post where we are located and update our schedule. You can follow along or meet up with us at a campground or on the road.

In 2009, I bicycled from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE, staying in state parks and city campgrounds along the way. I was an inexperienced bicycle tourist and I had so many miles to cover each day, that all I had time to do in the state parks was eat and sleep. I had no time to see and experience the parks. Missouri has so many state parks that they are, for the most part, spaced only a day’s bike ride apart.


Apr 27

My old friend Katy

Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Lots of purple stuff was blooming.

Lots of purple stuff was blooming.

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Riding on the Katy alone is beautiful. But riding with company on the Katy is a real treat. On the road, conversation is continually punctuated by “car back” and a retreat to single file. Conversation resumes after the cars have passed. Yesterday, conversation wasn’t interrupted nearly so frequently, and when it was, it was to pass a walker or slower bicycle, a relatively quick procedure. Focused on the conversation, I missed much of the beauty of the trail, so it was actually pleasant at the turnaround when we parted company and I could pay attention– although it was good company and I will always choose company over scenery. (The headwind turned into a tailwind when I turned around, which also increased the pleasantness of that part of the ride!)

There was a moment that I will try to capture with words, at least a pale imitation of it. I didn’t try to take a picture of it because I knew it wouldn’t convey the scene. At this time of year, everything is greening up. Later, foliage will obscure much of the scenery. But now you can still see deep into the woods– trees, dead wood, old brown leaves, brown mud– with a thin veneer of green. The sun went behind a cloud and the effect was eerie. It felt like every Disney villain lurked just off the trail. It wasn’t scary, because Disney villains aren’t scary, just pathetically kind of mean spirited and bad tempered. It reminded me a bit of the scene where Frodo and his friends hide under the roots of the tree and the worms and bugs crawl out, only with less black and more green and brown– Disney villains, not Nazgul.

I haven’t gotten out on the Katy Trail nearly enough. I’ve been on it a few times in town, but not so much for just a nice ride. When I first started bicycling, one of the first things I did was discover the Katy Trail. Ah, back in those days everything was new. The hot sun and the dust, the river flowing nearby, the blue bluffs, green everywhere, critters of all kinds darting about, and 42 miles was a personal record, the furthest I’d ever gone on a bike. Then there was a time I had been on the Katy Trail so often that every other tree was a landmark and I knew just how far it was from Cooper’s Landing to Easley and where the bend in the river was and where Lewis & Clark had probably landed again.

When we moved to Kirksville, the Katy Trail was the thing I felt saddest about leaving. So it is a little surprising it took me so long to get back on it, not the in-town part but the far reaches of it. I haven’t been on the entire length of it yet, not as far as Sedalia to the west or St. Charles to the east. I’ve only been as far west as Boonville (3-4 times) and as far east as Tebbetts (once).

We went as far as Claysville. Marc is a stronger rider. When I ride with someone stronger, I always push a bit, even if they are holding back for me. I have never successfully ridden with someone stronger and NOT pushed myself. I can’t seem to do otherwise. It’s probably good for me anyway.

The first part of the ride was mostly cloudy with, as I mentioned, a headwind. I did well in drinking my Nuun and refilling my bottle at Cooper’s Landing. Almost to Ashland, I did well again in stopping to eat. (I guess I could have tried eating but not stopping. I had the almonds & raisins in the top tube pack and my banana in my jersey pocket, so theoretically they were accessible.) The rain spat on us a little, then near Hartsburg it got serious. We ducked under the shelter and moment later it poured– perfect timing. Marc had a live-tracker on his Garmin and his wife had been following him and trying to match his location to the storm she could see on radar, and decided to meet us at Hartsburg in case we needed a ride. She arrived as the rain let up and the sun came out. The trail is a mess during a downpour, but it drains fast and dries quickly and we were soon on our way the last few miles to Claysville. The sun came out for real and stayed out most of the rest of my ride.

Shortly after I turned around, another rider caught up to me. He slowed down, took out his earbuds, and chatted for a few miles. He was riding from Jefferson City to Rocheport that day. He rode a mountain bike but I was pushing to maintain 17 mph– even with the tailwind that was too fast for me. I kept it up for a while and then backed off, and he wished me a good day and went on. Again I did well in stopping to eat some almonds & raisins. But I wasn’t drinking enough water.

At Cooper’s Landing, I had exactly $3 cash, and I could get 2 egg rolls for that from Chim’s, the unusual Thai restaurant on the Missouri River. It’s just an odd place to find a Thai restaurant. It has been in business for many years and it’s one of our favorite places, if a bit out of the way if you’re not on a bicycle. I ate those and laid back on a picnic bench in the sun and closed my eyes as a singer/ guitarist began to perform. After her first song I reluctantly got up and left. I was getting a little cold because I didn’t have a jacket.

From Cooper’s Landing it’s a short ways home, yet at the same time long. It seems like it is so close but it takes so long. Cooper’s Landing often is the destination, an hour and a half out and an hour and a half back depending on the wind. My knee was bothering me more and my efforts to ease the pain with my leg position and using the other leg more were having less and less effect.

I got into town and got a call from Iain– they were at a restaurant downtown. I was torn. I was closer to home than to the restaurant. But the food was better and more of it at the restaurant. I remembered the plan had been to meet at the restaurant early and then go to the play. I hadn’t been sure if I’d go to the play, depending on my bike ride, and I didn’t want to go in bike shorts and filthy from the trail. I didn’t have a bike lock. I went to the restaurant, where they were eating outside so I didn’t need to lock my bike. We found a safe place for my bike during the play and I went in without feeling self conscious in my bike shorts & a coating of trail dust. The play was fun, though I was plenty tired by then. I was relieved to put the bike on the rack and ride home in the car, and not have to pedal again.

For riding with someone I haven’t ridden with before, someone who is likely to be a stronger rider, I had tried to make my bike as light as possible. That’s hard right now, given that I have fenders and both front & rear racks. Last time I used only the front top tube bag and it was barely big enough for a flat kit, much less any food, so this time I added the seat pack and some almonds & raisins. I only took my sunglasses, not my goggles, and it was cloudy enough at times that the sunglasses were annoying. I like the goggles not just for the eye protection but as a place to put my take-a-look mirror. I guess on the trail I don’t need a mirror, but once you are used to it, it’s jarring not to have it. So I mostly left my sunglasses on even when it was dim.

The one item that I wished I had was a jacket. It was plenty warm when I left, and I knew I’d get warmer pedaling. I also knew when we stopped I might get chilled. So it was a judgment call and I wish I had brought the jacket and bungied it to the rear rack.

I had almonds & raisins and a banana. I had a bottle full of Nuun and I refilled it 3 times with just water. I wish I’d put extra Nuun in my seat pack, since I did have the space. I was still thinking I didn’t have any space for it. I also wish I’d taken my multi tool so I could have made saddle adjustments on the ride.

My knee started hurting around mile 40. That means I’m so close to having a perfect fit– but not quite there. My knee was hurting quite a bit toward the end of the 65 miles, and it’s still hurting today so I did not do either of the bike rides I planned to. In fact I overslept entirely for the 6:30 am ride.

Apr 27

The new MoDOT

Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Behind MoDOT buildings

Behind MoDOT buildings

I job shadowed a MoDOT planner recently.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have considered such a thing. A few years ago, MoDOT was the enemy. MoDOT created a bike/ped coordinator position only because federal bike/ped transportation funding required it. Then they fired their bike/ped coordinator and left the position unfilled for a few years. When they finally did fill it, the bike/ped coordinator worked only on ADA compliance, and wouldn’t touch bike/ped.

Our legislative agenda one year pushed for a statewide Complete Streets policy. We had enough support that it looked like a promising bill that might even pass. But it didn’t make it out of committee because MoDOT did some underhanded lobbying against it. MoDOT didn’t want anyone telling them what to do.

That was years, before the funding crisis loomed. Almost overnight, MoDOT changed from an insular, father-knows-best organization into one that welcomes and seeks out public input. Since then, MoDOT has conducted Listening Sessions around the state. It was that public input which persuaded MoDOT to embrace bicycling and walking. MoDOT made a strong commitment to bike/ped: multimodal transportation is one of four pillars in the new Vision, and MoDOT promotional videos feature biking and walking. I’ve seen MoDOT share Dept. of Conservation Facebook status updates, an indication that MoDOT is looking outside of itself and interacting with other state departments– another behavior that is characteristic of the new MoDOT.

A funding crisis, it turns out, is an opportunity. A funding crisis shakes us up and opens us up to new ideas and new ways of thinking, whether you are an individual or an organization or a nation. New leadership at MoDOT combined with the funding crisis precipitated a new attitude.

It’s a time of change at MoDOT. MoDOT still makes mistakes, such as installing crosswalks on only 3 streets at an intersection– to cross the 4th street, you are supposed to loop around the entire intersection! But MoDOT is open to fixing these mistakes, and the new bike/ped coordinator is an engineer, which means he knows how to talk to engineers. Because of a 3-legged crosswalk debacle in Columbia, MoDOT changed its standard practice and 3-legged crosswalks are no longer acceptable.

It’s an exciting time at MoDOT, and I want to be a part of it. That’s why I job shadowed a planner and will enroll in a master’s program in Sustainable Transportation this fall.


Apr 24

Transportation Commissioners Ride the Bus

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Columbia Tribune

Photo by Columbia Tribune

I have been on the Public Transportation Advisory Commission (PTAC) for the City of Columbia for almost 3 months. My first contribution was to coordinate bus rides for the commissioners. To accommodate different schedules, we had the first on a Saturday evening and the second Wednesday morning.

One of the pushback complaints we get is that people see empty buses and think no one is using them. Our bus on a quiet Saturday evening had half a dozen people in addition to the commissioners, and Wednesday morning was hopping with a full dozen plus us. Columbia Transit keeps exact numbers so they know that people are riding the buses and what the peak hours are.

Saturday was the first time I put my bike on the bus. There is a rack on the front of the bus that can hold 2 bicycles. I studied the instructions on the rack: Push the handle and pull the bar. I was mystified but a Columbia Transit employee pointed out which was which. This YouTube video shows exactly how to do it (skip to 0:40). Now that I know how to do it, it’s easy!

On Wednesday I got to see the handicapped accessible bus in action. The step unfolded into a ramp and the seats folded up to make room for our 2 wheelchairs. Many of the bus stops along the route, however, are not accessible.

Some people think the city bus is uncomfortable and dirty, full of noisy, smelly people. That was not our experience at all. We were the noisiest people there, talking to each other and the reporter. In my experience other riders are quiet and respectful. The buses are clean, neat, and comfortable. I didn’t notice any odors from the bus or the people, not even cigarette smoke.

In fact, I always enjoy the experience of the city bus. It’s different than my usual modes of transportation. Driving by myself is an antisocial activity. Bicycling and walking sometimes give me a chance to interact briefly with other people. But riding a bus is a shared activity, even if you never speak to the other riders. We are all in the same bus together. And if you want to talk to someone, it’s easier to strike up a conversation with total strangers when you have something, no matter how small, in common.


Apr 20

Gear stories

Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Learn the gears

Learn the gears

One of the hurdles for new bicyclists is gears. Once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you always know how to ride a bicycle, right? But if you learned as a kid, you may not have learned how to use gears. You may not be able to fully operate the first bicycle you own as an adult, yet you think you should know how to do it because you biked well when you were a kid.

I barely remember learning how to use my gears when I got my first real bike in college. I know I had troubles with it, but I don’t remember the process of learning.

The other day I rode with some folks I met at the gym who are training for the TriZou triathlon. They were all good athletes, but they were new enough to bicycling that they didn’t understand their gears.

Traci was struggling up a steep hill and I noticed she was in her middle chainring. “You have a smaller chainring,” I told her. “That will make it easier.” I was a little uncomfortable speaking up, because some people like to mash away in a higher gear and don’t enjoy my easy spinning style.

But she was grateful for the advice and asked how to shift. “Your left (front) shifter is for making big adjustments, and you have 3 gears there,” I explained. “Your right (rear) shifter is for small adjustments and you probably have 8 or 9 gears there.”

“When do I use the biggest gear in front?” she asked.

“Going down a hill,” I answered, “when you get to the point where you can’t pedal any faster, then you use your biggest chainring.” She tried that out and it worked beautifully.

“I hate bicycling,” Elizabeth said at the top of a hill. I knew immediately what was wrong. Just like Traci, she was using her middle chainring for everything and only shifting with her right shifter. I explained it to her, but we had the additional challenge of her bar-end shifters that I wasn’t familiar with. But we figured it out on a flat stretch. After the second loop, she felt much happier with her bicycle.

Scott thought there was something wrong with his bike. “I can’t get it to go into the smallest chainring,” he said. “On that last hill, I finally gave up and stood up on the pedals and then it shifted and I nearly fell over.”

“Ah ha!” I said, excited. “That’s because your chain has to have tension on it, but not too much tension, to shift. When you go up a hill, you have to downshift before you need to.” He tried that approach with success.

I thought then that I should explain cross-chaining. Some shifters assign numbers to the gears: 1 to 3 on the left, 1 to 8 on the right. 1-1 is a good combination for climbing a steep hill. 3-8 is a good combination for going down a steep hill. 1-8 and 3-1 are terrible combinations and put a lot of strain on the chain. They cause the chain to be at an angle relative to the bike, instead of parallel with the bike. They are unnecessary because the gears have some redundancy: the gear ratio achieved in 1-8 might be the same as 2-6, and 3-1 overlaps with 2-3.

This is a confusing concept, but I told them to put the bike up on the bike rack on their car and try it out. They’ll see soon enough how the chain doesn’t look quite right in the 1-8 and 3-1 combinations.

If you don’t have a personal coach, the easiest way to figure out your gears is to try them out in a parking lot or on a flat stretch. Just try them out and feel how it gets easier or harder to pedal as you change gears. If you find yourself struggling up a hill, shift down so it is easier to pedal. If you are flying down a hill and can’t move the pedals any faster, shift up so it is harder to pedal and you can go even faster.