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Feb 5

Frostbite

Posted on Friday, February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Tales from the early days

Like an old man on the porch outside the general store, I’ve been reminiscing about my early days of bicycling, before I knew what I was doing, before I considered myself a bicyclist. Each of my stories has a moral.

  1. Frostbite

I had a little pair of knit gloves. I hadn’t needed any better gloves than that, walking to campus wearing a backpack with my hands in my pockets or driving around town with the heater on. I wore those gloves through the winter. Springfield is far enough south it doesn’t get as much snow as northern Missouri. But it gets some snow, some cold weather, and the wind chill on a bike makes it that much colder. When I got to campus I tried to warm my hands under the tap water of the sink. Even the cold water felt boiling hot. My fingers hurt every time I biked to early morning calculus study sessions on cold days. I’d had to drop Calc II the previous semester, so I went to every single study session the next semester.

I not only passed Calc II, I got an A in it. But I also got frostbite on my fingers. For years afterwards, my fingers swelled up every time they got cold. Even just washing my hands in cold water made my fingers swell up.

The next year we were married and I was pregnant, and I still rode the bike to campus rather than walk 20 minutes. I bundled up in my winter coat. I thought I would walk on icy days, because pregnant women shouldn’t fall off bikes. But one day I didn’t know it was icy. It didn’t look icy. It didn’t feel icy until I tried to turn the corner and the bike slipped out from under me and I landed on the road. That scared me, but I guess my thick winter coat cushioned the fall. Anyway the baby was fine.

The moral of these 2 stories is 1) wear good gloves and 2) watch out for ice, especially on the corners.

 

 

Jan 19

My first real bike

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Tales from the early days

Like an old man on the porch outside the general store, I’ve been reminiscing about my early days of bicycling, before I knew what I was doing, before I considered myself a bicyclist. Each of my stories has a moral.

  1. My first real bike (the future Hulk)

When my husband Iain started college the first time, he bought a pair of roller blades with his first student loan check. During winter break he spent the last of his money on a huge jar of cheap peanut butter and an enormous package of cheap frozen chicken patties. When those ran out, his friends took him out to eat sometimes but otherwise he didn’t have any food. Finally he got emergency food stamps. When his next student loan check came he bought his new girlfriend a pair of roller blades. That was me. But I guess he did better at budgeting because he didn’t have to eat cheap peanut butter or get food stamps again. The bicycles arrived the same way– a student loan check came in, he bought himself a bicycle, and used the rest of it to buy me a bicycle.

He didn’t buy a cheap bicycle. He had a friend who was a serious bicyclist (and roller blader) so he knew not to buy a bicycle from Walmart. We went to AB Cycles in Springfield, MO, which still exists. If I wanted to, I could take that bicycle there for free tune-ups even today, 22 years later, because it has lifetime tune-ups.

When I went in to pick out my bike, I said I wanted to use it to go to campus. Our apartment was a 20-minute walk away. Especially on my way to the 7:00 a.m. calculus study sessions, that was a long hike. With a bike, I could make the trip in 5 minutes. I didn’t know anything about bikes and the bike shop fellow recommended a hybrid. I got a 15″ maroon Specialized Crossroads. It was completely different than any bike I’d ridden before. I felt wobbly and wondered if I would be able to ride it. But my boyfriend had spent a lot of money on it, money that frankly he could not afford. So I wobbled along the sidewalks. I didn’t know you shouldn’t bike on sidewalks. I didn’t know anything about biking.

It didn’t take me long to get the hang of riding it, but I’m not sure I really figured out the gears until I became a real bicyclist, 13 years later. When I became a real bicyclist, I learned that a 15″ bike is too small for me.

The moral of this story is that when you get something so you can be lazy, like bike 5 minutes instead of walk 20 minutes, you might use that same bike years later so you can be cheap and bike 20 minutes instead of drive 15 minutes.

Jan 15

Danny Manning Basketball Camp

Posted on Friday, January 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

Remember those days? It's been a while as you can tell from the hairstyles in the audience and the KU jersey on Danny Manning.

Remember those days? It’s been a while as you can tell from the hairstyles in the audience and the KU jersey on Danny Manning.

Tales from the early days

Like an old man on the porch outside the general store, I’ve been reminiscing about my early days of bicycling, before I knew what I was doing, before I considered myself a bicyclist. Each of my stories has a moral.

  1. Danny Manning Basketball Camp

In high school I went to a summer camp at KU in Lawrence. My dad had bought 2 used Schwinn bicycles. He thought they were a really good deal because Schwinn was supposed to make such great bikes. But he didn’t know much about bikes at the time and they weren’t really that great. I took one of them to KU to go to my summer camp classes and to downtown. The turnoff to my dorm was halfway down a really steep hill. Coming down that hill, I braked and nothing happened. My brakes were not slowing me down.

At the bottom of the hill was a busy street. I had to attempt the turn before I got to that street.

A man was standing on the side street that I was trying to turn onto. His parked car was just behind him. I wasn’t able to make a narrow enough turn at that speed, and I was heading straight at him. He jumped out of the way. I collided with his parked car. The bike was totaled, I was bruised and scraped, and his taillight was busted.

He was a college student, in town over the summer because he worked at the Danny Manning basketball camp. I was excited to meet a teammate of Danny Manning! My parents were not so excited about paying for the taillight of his fancy foreign car. It cost $155.

The moral of this story is to keep your bike in good working order. If you buy a bike anywhere besides a bike shop, take it to a bike shop for a safety check.

Jan 8

My first wreck

Posted on Friday, January 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

Tales from the early days

Like an old man on the porch outside the general store, I’ve been reminiscing about my early days of bicycling, before I knew what I was doing, before I considered myself a bicyclist. Each of my stories has a moral.

  1. My first wreck

We lived out in the country on a highway. It wasn’t a busy highway, but it wasn’t a place a 9-year-old could bike by herself anywhere. I biked in the driveway. When my sister got a bigger bike I inherited her bike. It had a banana seat and a white basket on the front. Sometimes we biked with Mom down the highway to the first gravel road and went around the gravel road “block” until we came back to the highway. Once I fell on the gravel and skinned my knee. We walked our bikes a little while, me crying, until Mom said we’d get home faster if we pedaled. I didn’t think I could pedal with a skinned knee, but I could.

Mom and I biked 14 miles to Oskaloosa (or, as we called it, Oskie). I was amazed that a person could bike that far! Way out in the country, the only way to go anywhere was in a car. There were a couple neighbors we could visit on foot, but we never did. My sister babysat for the neighbors on the other side of the highway, and our 2-year-old brother tried to follow her. A trucker saw him toddling down the highway and stopped and brought him back to our house. As far as I knew, a car was as necessary for life as air, water, and food. Biking all the way to Oskie was an epic journey.

When we got to Oskie, we stopped at a gas station to put air in our tires. I had the impression that after all that biking, the tires had run out of air, like a car would run out of gas after a lot of driving, but I guess the tires were just low. My tire immediately exploded. The gas station attendant (they had them in those days) told us it was because the tires got too hot from the friction of the highway. Funny how that seemed like a reasonable explanation to me. We didn’t have spare tubes and if we had, we didn’t know how to change the tubes. It didn’t matter though, because Dad had already planned to meet us at the gas station with a truck to take us home.

This is actually 2 stories so it comes with 2 morals. 1) Gravel sucks. 2a) Learn how to inflate a tire. 2b) Learn how to change a tire. 2c) Carry a spare tube.

Jan 3

Learning to bike

Posted on Sunday, January 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

First bicycle

Tales from the early days

Like an old man on the porch outside the general store, I’ve been reminiscing about my early days of bicycling, before I knew what I was doing, before I considered myself a bicyclist. Each of my stories has a moral.

  1. Learning to bike

Some kids learn to bike almost before they learn to walk. Others take… a little bit longer. Like me. Frankly, it always took me a bit longer to do physical things. I was small for my age, the smallest kid in my class except for the kid who had an endocrine disorder. I was smaller than most of the kids in the grade below us too. Maybe that’s why it took me longer to learn physical things. My head was a magnet for balls– even if I wasn’t part of a game, balls invariably hit me on the head sooner or later. I didn’t much like ball games, for that reason. It took me a long time to learn to swim. Every summer I went to swimming lessons. Other kids moved up to the next class, but not me. Finally I was determined to pass the beginner class. I had to tread water for 60 seconds. It was the longest 60 seconds of my life and I was pretty sure I was going to drown. After that, I never went to swim lessons again. PE was the worst class for me, all through grade school.

The surprise then, is not that I was slow to learn to bike, but that I ever became such an ardent bicyclist. I learned to ride a bike when I was 9. We had a red bike with coaster brakes.

Most parents don’t know how to teach riding a bike. They use training wheels are the ticket, or run alongside holding onto the seat of the bike. But the best way to learn how to ride a bike is to lower the seat until your feet can touch the ground, remove the pedals, and scooter along with your feet, until you get the trick of balance. In our experience, it takes 1 to 3 hours of practice like this to learn to ride a bike. My mom didn’t know all that. She was too short to run alongside me, and we didn’t have training wheels on that bike. So she told me to coast down the paved part of the driveway. She got it right by accident.

Our driveway was gravel, except for the bit in front of the garage. I coasted down that over and over, putting my feet down as necessary to not fall over, until I coasted the whole distance of the paved bit– perhaps 20 feet. I didn’t yet have the knack of steering, so I veered off to one side and landed in a rosebush.

The moral of this story is to save your back and don’t bother with training wheels to teach kids how to bike. Let them scooter along until they get the knack.

Dec 21

How do YOU bike MO?

Posted on Monday, December 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

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This is the time of year charities receive the bulk of their donations. But I’m going to ask you to donate a little of your time- not money- this week.

The Missouri Foundation for Bicycling and Walking* has launched a new, informational website: IBikeMO.org. This is a new resource, and to make it work we need YOUR help. Share your pictures, share your groups, share your news, and share your enthusiasm because we ALL Bike MO!

There are several ways you can help. Pick one or more!

Are you enthusiastic about cycling in Missouri? So are we!  

IBikeMO is a place to learn about bicycle groups, shops, and trails across the great state of Missouri. Whether you’re into road cycling, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, or utility cycling, we hope that you’ll use IBikeMO as your central resource for ALL things cycling in Missouri.

For those passionate cyclists looking for an opportunity to give back, IBikeMO provides easy access to volunteer opportunities and a link to donate directly to the Missouri Foundation for Bicycling and Walking.

But for IBikeMO to be all it can be, we need people all across Missouri– people like YOU– to submit information and to spread the word about this new resource.

*The Foundation is MoBikeFed’s non-advocacy (501(c)(3)) side.

Dec 9

Bicycle Charities

Posted on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

World Bicycle Relief gives mobility to students, health care workers, and entrepreneurs in Africa.

World Bicycle Relief gives mobility to students, health care workers, and entrepreneurs in Africa.

This is the time of year for charities. There are a lot of charities that have something to do with bicycling. Here are some of my favorites, in order of geography: international to local.

World Bicycle Relief distributes bicycles to students, health care workers, and entrepreneurs in Africa. These aren’t just any bikes. They are specially made for the rugged terrain in local factories with local materials. World Bicycle Relief trains local mechanics, giving them a marketable skill as well as ensuring functional bikes. World Bicycle Relief, in short, is the coolest international charity I’ve ever heard of. It doesn’t just give bikes away. It empowers people with bicycles.

The League of American Bicyclists advocates for better bicycling across the nation. Their lobbying component is strong, but they also run several amazing programs, like Bicycle Friendly Communities/ States/ Businesses/ Universities, and the Smart Cycling program is the gold standard for bicycle education. I am a League Certified Instructor, and I teach Smart Cycling in Columbia.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy helps communities turn unused rail corridors into trails. They fight legal battles at local, state, and federal levels over land rights and funding. Every trail project everywhere runs into the same objections, and Rails-to-Trails helps communities use data to win over the public.

Adventure Cycling is a resource for bicycle tourists. Adventure Cycling publishes maps of cycling networks and is establishing the U.S. Bicycle Route System. The Adventure Cycling bicycle tours, ranging from fully supported to nothing more than a map and a guide, are immensely popular.

I’m the president of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation which advocates for better bicycling and walking in Missouri. Of all the charities on this list, MoBikeFed is the smallest in terms of staff and programming. The League has done a great job of developing a Smart Cycling program, and the local organizations do a great job of teaching Smart Cycling. MoBikeFed’s place is at the state level, assisting localities as needed. For example, MoBikeFed helped local advocates defeat the 2010 St. Charles County Bike Ban, and more recently has worked closely with Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc to establish the Rock Island Trail.

I’m on the Board of Directors of the PedNet Coalition which advocates for active transportation in Columbia and serves as a consultant to communities across the nation. In addition to routinely mobilizing its members for public input on sidewalks and trails, PedNet spearheads efforts to improve city ordinances that have a significant impact on walking and biking, like the Complete Streets ordinance and the Anti Harassment ordinance.

I believe that your largest donation should go to the most local group, your next largest donation to your state-level advocacy group, and a smaller donation to a national-level group, depending on your specific focus. If you like to bike on trails, Rails-to-Trails is your national-level charity. If you are a bicycle tourist, it’s Adventure Cycling. If you are a generalist, it’s the League. Finally, a donation to an international charity can make a difference.

Nov 28

Cargo

Posted on Saturday, November 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

Bike move

 

In a recent homework assignment, I analyzed the reasons why we choose to go by car, by bike, by foot, or by bus. Of course, most people go the quickest way, which is usually by car, but people who bicycled also cited enjoyment, exercise, and cost, while some people who drove needed to haul cargo or small people.

Guess what, you can haul cargo and kids with your bicycle, thereby allowing you to reap the enjoyment, exercise, and low cost of bicycling as well as get your errands done.

Small children love riding in bicycle trailers. There are also child seats that go on your bicycle, either in front of you or behind you. (I haven’t seen any bicycle sidecars.) As kids get too big for the trailer or the child seat, they can ride a Trail-a-Bike which attaches to your bicycle. It gets a little harder when they outgrow the Trail-a-Bike. There are some products that attach two bikes together, or you can get a tandem (expensive!), or you can bike a lot slower so they can keep up with you. If you have multiple kids of different sizes, you might need a triple tandem and a trailer to get them all in.

Unless you are in a bicycle race with a support vehicle and domestiques, your bike has to carry at least a little bit, like a water bottle and a seat pack with your flat kit. To carry a purse or a few items as well, you can use a backpack or a basket on your handlebar. But a rear rack expands the cargo possibilities: panniers, rack trunk, a rear basket, or strapping stuff directly on the rack. A front rack opens up even more storage space.

If you have large loads, like when you stock up on groceries and bring home a giant package of toilet paper, a flatbed trailer is your friend. I converted a kid trailer into a flatbed trailer by removing the plastic seats and attaching the axle & hitch to a piece of plywood. In addition to the usual groceries, I’ve hauled a Rug Doctor, Christmas trees, and cats on that trailer. I’ve even strapped a lawn chair to it and hauled people!

The bakfiet, or Dutch cargo bike, is growing in popularity. Several children can fit inside the box that is the front of the bakfiet. You can haul anything in a bakfiet that you could haul in a car.

With a 12-foot-long Bikes At Work trailer, my bike exceeds the hauling capabilities of a car. I’ve borrowed one of those for lumber a couple times, and a bed once. I made several trips with it to help a friend move a few block away. Her furniture wouldn’t fit in her car, but it fit on the trailer!

Hauling stuff by bike is satisfying work!

Nov 25

Why do you go the way you go?

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

"You can go by Zike-Bike if you like" (Dr. Seuss, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now)

“You can go by Zike-Bike if you like” (Dr. Seuss, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now)

I’ve had a couple fun homework assignments in this semester’s class, Transportation & Health, for my Sustainable Transportation Master’s Degree. Every student in my class entered data into a spreadsheet about a trip we make regularly. How long would the trip take by car? by bus? by bike? by foot? We calculated our exposure to pollution via each of these modes, and indicated which mode we primarily use and why. Our data joined 2 other years’ worth of data, for a total of 35 students.

For the next step, we each asked a question that could be answered, possibly, by analyzing the data. Assuming that most people choose the mode of transportation that gets them there the quickest, I asked, “What other reasons play into our choice of transportation?”

For everyone, the car was the fastest mode. But 1/3 of the students (including me) chose something other than the car: biking, walking, or transit. These students must have had compelling reasons to outweigh the time commitment.

Oddly, students who chose to bike, walk, or bus sometimes listed “Time” as the reason. That was because their mode, while not as fast as taking the car, was faster than one of the other modes. Walking was usually the slowest mode.

Many students who did take the car, 2/3 of the class, mentioned “Time” as well as other reasons. Since we all chose different trips, such as going to work, going to the gym, or going to the grocery store, we had different needs for each trip. Students listed the need to haul groceries or other passengers as a reason to use the car.

I’ve found myself using the car more often than I like lately, and the reason is “Time”. Each errand, I consider biking. If I’m making a big grocery trip, I would hook up my trailer to my bicycle. If it’s dark, my colorful bicycle lights would blink like a police car. If it’s cold, I would bundle up in my winter gear. But then I think of my homework, grading papers, cooking supper, and attending meetings, and I sigh and get in the car, saving myself 30 minutes of travel but losing an opportunity for 50 minutes of biking.

To be fair, I bike somewhere almost every day, to the gym and to meetings. But I enjoy biking my errands, and that hasn’t been happening much. Another day, when all these other very fun things that I do like Bike/Ped Commission and Public Transportation Advisory Commission and the Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety wind down, I’ll bike some of these errands that I’m driving today.

Why do you go the way you go?

Nov 21

The right clothes

Posted on Saturday, November 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

Yehuda Moon 2

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” – Alfred Wainwright

The autumn rains bring back memories of my early days of bicycling. The first time I got caught in the rain, I got soaked. That’s not a big deal if it’s warm, until I have to spend the day in an air conditioned building. Next time it rained, I was prepared. I brought a change of clothes with me.

Then I learned that my change of clothes should include a towel, socks, and underwear. A steady rain gets through all layers pretty quickly!

Then I learned that my change of clothes had better be in a plastic bag, like a grocery sack.

Then I learned that my change of clothes had better be wrapped in TWO plastic bags. Thin plastic grocery sacks get holes in them, and leak.

While summer rains are pleasant, autumn rains are cold. A $10 rain suit from Walmart fell apart after two bike rides. It wasn’t designed for bicyclists. I purchased a Gore-Tex rain coat and Gore-Tex rain pants made for women bicyclists for–cough–$400! “It’s cheaper than car payments,” I reminded myself. 8 years later, I’m still using both the rain coat and the rain pants (although somehow the rain pants have gotten snug), so this investment has paid off. That’s $50/year, and keeps going down every year I continue to use them. I wear my Gore-Tex more often as extra protection from the cold than from the rain, so this has been a good investment.

I wore the rain coat and rain pants during a steady, cold rain this week. I was warm and comfortable while biking, and only slightly damp at the end of my trip, except for my hands and feet.

My hands and feet were soaked and cold. I’m still experimenting with rain gear for my hands and feet.

While the right clothing can make any weather just fine, it can take a while to find the right clothing for the right weather!

Nov 17

Vitamin Sleep

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

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“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” –Abraham Maslow

My bicycle is my “hammer”. It solves many problems:

Bicycling saves money.
Bicycling makes me healthy.
Bicycling doesn’t pollute or cause congestion.
Bicycling makes friends.
Bicycling makes me strong.
Bicycling in all weather makes me tough.

And bicycling helps me sleep.

Well, that might not be entirely fair. I’ve always been a good sleeper. It’s my superpower. I know I’m a good sleeper because most people I know struggle with sleep. They can’t fall asleep, or they wake up and can’t get back to sleep. They sleep restlessly and are tired when they wake up.

I fall asleep early and wake up early. I struggle to stay awake late, when I have a reason to stay up. I think my sleep quality might be better since I started bicycling, but it’s not something I’ve ever struggled with, so it’s hard to say.

The effect of bicycling on sleep is more obvious in people who do struggle with sleep.

A single bike ride doesn’t guarantee them a good night’s rest. They might even be a bit restless the night after a long ride. Three of my friends have independently observed that regular biking or walking does improve their sleep. When they stop biking or walking, their sleep deteriorates. And when they start biking or walking again, their sleep improves again. It takes a few days to a couple weeks to notice, either direction.

That’s not real evidence; it’s anecdotal. What is evidence is the plethora of studies on the topic. A recently published study links cardiorespiratory fitness to sleep complaints in 8000 people across 35 years (Dishman 2015, Med Sci Sports Exerc). That’s just one of hundreds of studies of exercise and sleep. The effect isn’t one-way: better sleep improves your life in many ways, including your fitness. Exercise to sleep, and sleep to exercise! Sleep is the new vitamin!

I can solve just about any problem with my bicycle. What problems do you have? Try biking or walking, and see if that solves your problem! If it doesn’t directly solve your problem, it’ll make you feel better.

Nov 1

Self care

Posted on Sunday, November 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

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My apologies for the Long Silence. In less than a month, I attended 2 conferences in different cities while teaching one online class and taking another. That advantage of an online class is that it can be done anywhere; the disadvantage is– it can be done anywhere! Couple that with my usual activities of commissions, boards, and task forces, and a minor family crisis (Nell’s ok– though it’s been a challenging semester), and things start falling off my plate.

What has not fallen off my plate is bicycling and family. It’s time like this that I can see my priorities clearly! I haven’t taken any long, recreational, just-for-fun bicycle rides, but I haven’t even considered canceling or trading shifts for a GetAbout ride. Our riders count on the ride leaders like me to show up, and that bit of accountability is what I need to spend some precious time on something that could be considered frivolous.

It’s not frivolous. Not in the least. Bicycling is my self-care. It’s what gives me the energy and health to do so much, to attend 2 conferences in a month, to teach, to learn, and to take care of my daughter.

If you need a little motivation to make self-care a priority in your life, start a Couch-2-5K, volunteer as a Walking School Bus leader, or lead a class at the gym. That extra accountability will allow you do something selfish– taking care of yourself– under the guise of serving others.

Oct 3

Walking the Detour

Posted on Saturday, October 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

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MoDOT is replacing 3 bridges on I-70. The bridge replacement includes redesigning the streets underneath. MoDOT used a ‘Design-Build’ bid process which is unusual. The advantage is we can get a much better result for the money, but the disadvantage is the lack of opportunity for public input. The stated goals of the project are 1) to replace the 3 bridges, and 2) disrupt traffic as little as possible during the construction period.

The problem is that MoDOT and the winning team interpreted “traffic” as “motor vehicle traffic”, and the disruption to pedestrian traffic during this project is severe. If there had been a chance for public input, we would have championed preserving pedestrian as well as motor vehicle traffic.

Rangeline has 6 traffic lanes under the bridge, including 2 left-turn lanes (one on each side). These 6 traffic lanes will be preserved although narrowed during nearly the entire construction period. However, the bike lanes and the sidewalk are already shut down entirely.

That’s right– there’s enough space for six 9-foot lanes of traffic but not for a single 4-foot sidewalk. For what will probably be the better part of a year.

So what is a pedestrian to do? MoDOT says: walk half a mile over to Providence, cross there, and then walk half a mile back. That’s three times the distance of the closed sidewalk.

I tried out the detour for myself. I walked west on Vandiver, a hilly street. One rationale for not allowing pedestrians under the bridge during construction is ADA accessibility. I wondered how a wheelchair would handle the steep slopes of Vandiver or some broken pavement.

I drained my water bottle as I waited at the stoplight to walk south along Providence. The sidewalk on Providence was new and wide with a pedestrian bridge over the highway. At a side street, a driver waiting to make a right turn was intent on watching traffic to his left, waiting for an opening. When he went, my wariness pays off– he never had looked to his right and would have hit me if I had walked in front of him in the crosswalk. I waited again for a car turning onto the same side street that also never saw me.

At Bus Loop, I had some shade. It was late afternoon and after school activities were winding down, with students lined up trying to get out of the parking lots. The front car of each queue poked out across my path and the driver inside may or may not have seen me. I took my chances and crossed in front of them.

After I passed the high school, the sidewalk ended abruptly! I caught a glimpse of what might be a sidewalk underneath used cars for sale.

Finishing the detour, I walked the “closed” sidewalk for comparison.

There is a “goatpath” in the grass around the barrier at the construction zone. Concrete barriers turn the bike lane into an effective sidewalk– but one barred at both ends to pedestrian traffic. It is a path intended for construction workers. In the absence of active construction, pedestrians are using it. I saw one go around the barrier.

“It’s for the safety of the pedestrians,” one engineer told me, alluding to the danger of something falling from construction equipment. How does this compare to the increased risk in exposure to traffic, the increased risk at conflict points like the side streets and parking lot entrances?

I believe that the engineers who came up with the innovative and clever designs for the bridges are smart enough to come up with a better solution than the 1.5-mile pedestrian detour. The City stepped in and offered free bus rides to anyone needing to get through the intersection.

I want to recognize, appreciate, and laud the progress MoDOT has made in accommodating non-motorized traffic. As I walk through a so-called detour like this, or the 3-legged crosswalk I inspected the other day, and I see how far they have to go, my faith is tested. However, when I spoke to another engineer, he was amazed that a pedestrian detour was offered at all. Now that I know that, I’m pleased that they did make the attempt. They can learn from the experience, and I hope they’ll do better on their next pedestrian detour.

Sep 24

Placeholder photos

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Sep 21

From the other side

Posted on Monday, September 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

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I planned to ride 90 miles at BikeMO, MoBikeFed’s annual bicycle ride in mid-Missouri. But a few days before the event, I threw my back out. So instead of riding my bike, I drove the “SAG wagon”. A supported bike ride has roving SAG wagons, people driving around ready to help bicyclists in trouble. I was the designated sweep SAG, so I hung back near the last bicyclists. Rather than follow the last bicyclist, I drove ahead a little, pulled over and waited until the last one passed me, then drove ahead again. I anticipated a boring day, but it was surprisingly interesting watching peoples’ progress. We rolled down the windows and waved and cheered every time we passed bicyclists!

It was a useful experience for me. These sorts of rides are generally on quiet, low traffic, two-lane highways with no shoulders. The low traffic volume makes the roads safe– the hills and lack of shoulders does not. Often I found myself following a string of bicyclists as I waited for the other lane to clear so I could pass (and cheer). Usually the bicyclists all fell into single file and hugged the edge of the road when I did this, although there still wasn’t space to safely pass until the oncoming traffic had cleared.

I have the same impulse to move over when I’m bicycling. Now that I’ve seen the point of view of a driver, I understand more clearly than ever what a bad idea that is!

The only way to safely pass the bicyclists is to change lanes. I can’t change lanes until the oncoming traffic clears. Bicyclists singling up and hugging the edge encourages and tempts me to try to squeeze past them in the same lane. That is not safe! The message the bicyclists are sending is: Go ahead, pass us, we’ll make room. Only they can’t make room, because the lane just isn’t wide enough for the car and the bike.

If the lane is too narrow for a car to pass you going the speed limit without changing lanes, ride in the center of the lane. It doesn’t matter what the speed limit on the road is. Don’t tempt a car or truck to try to squeeze by you. Take up a little more space– and reduce the temptation to pass you– by riding side-by-side. As long as you don’t stray into the oncoming lane, take as much space as you like. You are not inconveniencing anyone, because they can’t and shouldn’t pass you whether you are in the middle of the lane or at the edge of the lane. You are safest if you don’t tempt and encourage them to try to squeeze past you by giving them the perception that they have enough room to pass.

When you are the driver and you approach a bicyclist, change lanes to pass! Thank you!

Aug 30

Lessons from my back

Posted on Sunday, August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

Back

It’s time to reflect on how easy it is to take my health for granted, because once again I’ve thrown my back out. This is partly a consequence of bicycling many thousands of miles– bicyclists are prone to certain types of injury, and this is one of them. But before you suggest I stop bicycling, let me tell you some injuries and diseases that bicyclists are NOT prone to: Diabetes. Heart disease. Arthritis. Depression. Cancer. Car crashes. Bicycling protects me from diseases that are associated with sedentary lifestyle and car culture. I’d rather risk ulnar nerve entrapment, IT band issues, lower back pain, and the possibility of a broken collarbone than a chronic disease or serious injury that destroys my quality of life.

Don’t get me wrong– bicycling neither dooms you to certain ailments nor guarantees protection from others. I bike a LOT, and I’ve learned how to reduce the risk of many injuries and crashes– clearly, I am still learning!

And now that I’ve moralized and alienated half my readers, let’s return to my reflections on health.

When new bicyclists tell me they are worried about slowing down traffic, I lecture, “You have a right to the road. You’re not inconveniencing anyone more than a couple seconds. Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed.”

Getting on the bike with a lower back injury was a bit uncomfortable, but manageable. The first slight rise in the road astonished me (and my back)! I’m not used to thinking of that small rise as a hill, and I had to shift all the way down. The next surprise for me came when the light turned green as I was waiting in line with several cars before and after me. I usually follow the cars ahead of me closely through intersections, but I couldn’t keep up. I felt awkward about slowing down traffic, and had to tell myself, “Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed!”

Bicycling with a lower back injury was a good reminder of what it’s like to be a slow, uncertain, and wobbly bicyclist. It improved my compassion and empathy for new bicyclists.

When I’m healthy, I take pride in biking slowly. Using my lowest gears, I can climb hills without breathing hard, breaking a sweat, or passing someone out walking his dog. I take pride in my endurance, my ability to bicycle for long hours, knowing that I’m slower than most bicyclists (and faster than most couch potatoes). Bicycling with a lower back injury showed me how strong and fast I am ordinarily– stronger and faster than I realize.

Take a moment to appreciate your health. Don’t take big risks, like sitting on a couch or in a car. Protect your body with a happy, active lifestyle!

 

Aug 26

Why did the chicken cross the road 3 times?

Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

Stadium and Bernadette

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

Most chickens can cross once and they’re on the other side, but not so at Bernadette and Stadium. Chickens are supposed to cross THREE roads to get to the other side. Each road has a pedestrian refuge in the middle, so it takes 6 light cycles to get through the whole thing.

I decided to try it out for myself.

Standing in front of Drury Inn, I looked across at the gas station on the other side of Stadium Blvd at the intersection of Stadium and Bernadette. I biked here, so I will wheel my bike along as I cross each street.

I start the stopwatch. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait for it to change. The light changes and I walk south across Bernadette. I have about 10 seconds. Almost immediately my light starts blinking red. The red hand stops blinking and turns to a solid red “DON’T WALK” as I step into the pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street.

I’m not walking slow, I’m not rushing either. If I were an elderly person, or in a wheelchair, walking slowly for any reason, I wouldn’t make it across before DON’T WALK. If I sprinted, I might make it beyond the pedestrian refuge and across the entire street before DON’T WALK.

I angle my bike so that it fits inside the pedestrian refuge, a narrow path between raised concrete curbs to isolate me from the traffic. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait. It changes and I continue south to finish crossing Bernadette. Again, I have barely enough time at my moderate pace to cross before the solid DON’T WALK signal. After 3.5 minutes, the first leg is done.

I won’t bore you with pushing the button, waiting for the light, crossing halfway, repeat. If you are bored reading about it, imagine the tedium of the experience. This isn’t a pleasant amble through green forests and chirping birds. It’s vigilance for the moment the light changes and a mad dash and vigilance in a vista of concrete and poles listening to engines humming and roaring.

At the last corner, I point my bike north and a young pretty panhandler joins me. A bit embarrassed, I try to explain to her that I’m conducting an experiment. Then I realize how silly it is for me to feel self conscious around a panhandler. “I’m timing how long it takes to go through all these lights since there is no crosswalk to get from the hotel to the gas station,” I explain.

“Oh, I usually just wait until traffic is clear and just go,” she says helpfully.

Of course she does. ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would do the same. And if she were unlucky enough to get hit, we could blame her because she was, after all, jaywalking. How did the engineers who designed this intersection not know that people needing to cross there would do exactly what this bright young panhandler suggests?

The panhandler tells me about the people she’s met during her journey and the crazy and amazing things they are doing, as if my experiment fits into the same category as rock climbing in every state or bicycling across America.

We reach the northeast corner of the intersection 9.5 minutes after I started. It has taken me nearly 10 minutes to traverse 356 feet– nearly the length of a football field. If I’d done what the panhandler recommended, I’d have traveled less than 1/2 the distance in 1/6 time.

The experiment yielded data, sure, but it also yielded an experience.

You never know what will happen when you cross the street.

Aug 15

My abbreviated bicycle tour

Posted on Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

20150808_095916

Last year my dad and I bicycled 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 40 Missouri State Parks. This year my friend Scott and I planned to bicycle 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 28 Missouri State Parks and State Historic Sites. Last year our route took us all over Missouri. This year our route was St. Louis to Kansas City by way of the Bootheel– the perimeter of Missouri.

We were 203 miles, 7 days, and 3 State Historic Sites into our tour when disaster struck. Scott didn’t see the broken pavement at the bottom of a steep hill (thank you, St. Louis County Public Works). He went airborne, over the handlebar, and landed on his shoulder, separating it. He and his bike needed repairs. The tour was over.

It was not a bad tour. It was a failed tour. The distinction is important.

The walls of Sparky’s Ice Cream Shop in Columbia, MO are covered with thrift store art. The owner and collector explained in a TedX talk why he collects thrift store art and what the difference is between bad art and failed art.

“I dislike the term ‘bad art’… I don’t call them bad, but I’m okay with the word ‘failed’. Failure is interesting, and it’s a normal part of the process of becoming an artist. But artists usually fail in private. So when I come across one of these paintings for sale, I feel like I’ve been allowed to see something rare that I was never supposed to see… Bad art is when the skill dwarfs the ambition. Gigantic technical ability plus no big dream except to create the same product over and over and over.”

A ‘bad’ bicycle tour would be one where someone started off to do it, inexperienced and unprepared, and gave up after 2 hours or maybe stuck it out for a couple days. The best moments of bicycle touring come after serious suffering. You have to suffer to get there, to get to that Perfect Moment. You can’t do that in a couple days.

This wasn’t a ‘bad’ tour. We tried, we suffered, we experienced some glimpses of Perfect Moments.

Our skill and experience definitely did not dwarf our ambitious tour. We had a big dream, if not gigantic technical ability.

Ours was a ‘failed’ tour. I’m proud to let you see something rare that you were never supposed to see. Failure is interesting, and I love things that are interesting, like abandoned buildings in ghost towns, in run down areas of cities, and in thriving business districts. Abandoned buildings are full of mystery and history and interesting.

I want to try again. I want to ride the Iron Curtain and the Bicentennial Trans-America Route. I want to experience the suffering that yields up the Perfect Moments, to experience the appetite that kicks in after a couple weeks of struggling and low energy and makes the simple act of eating a spiritual experience. That’s what our ‘failed’ tour left me with, a desire to try again and again.

Jul 24

Bicycle touring gear

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

My mascot, You, appears in many of my bicycle touring photos.

My mascot, You, appears in many of my bicycle touring photos.

I love bicycle touring. When I started, I didn’t have any bicycle touring gear and I didn’t have a clue. I had a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Now that I’m a moderately experienced bicycle tourist, I have bicycle touring gear and lots of clues. With these, I have a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Anyone can bicycle tour without special gear. Having special gear makes it a little easier, but overcoming challenges without easy answers can be rewarding and even fun with the right attitude.

That said, getting fancy gear that makes something easier is rewarding, too. My opinions in bicycle touring gear constantly change. I can only tell you why I like the gear I have right now.

Gear selection is a balance between comfort on the bike (less weight, less volume) and comfort at the campsite (sitting, sleeping, eating, entertainment). Gear can be comfortable, durable, and lightweight, but rarely is it all that and inexpensive!

The popular tent these days is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. At over $300, it’s still on my wishlist and I make do with something cheaper. If you have a tent that is free-standing and doesn’t have to be staked down, you can set up on a concrete pad out of the mud and water, or maybe under a picnic shelter. Weight and volume are critical, so choose a smaller tent.

I’ve finally got the sleeping pad of my dreams, and it’s actually a cot. The Therm-A-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is pricy, but a good night’s sleep is invaluable! This super lightweight cot puts me a couple inches off the ground. On hot nights air can circulate under me, and on cold nights it’s great to be up off the frozen ground.

To make the cot even cushier, I put a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad, which folds up accordion-style. Many bicycle tourists just use this.

Sleeping bags filled with duck or goose down will compress into a tiny stuff sack that takes up very little space. I have a medium-weight bag that keeps me warm almost to freezing temperatures, but ideally I’d also like an alternate bag for milder weather.

The MSR Micro Rocket Stove takes up very little space, is lightweight, and boils water fast.

I love the Hydro Flask water bottles. They aren’t cheap for water bottles, but ice water stays icy in them for a long time. I recommend the standard or wide mouth that accommodate large ice cubes.

I don’t like to use a trailer on a bicycle tour. It allows me to carry too much stuff, and before I know it the weight is slowing me down to a standstill. Furthermore, a trailer tire is smaller than bicycle tires, requiring extra spare tubes and spokes. I prefer to pack my gear in front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag, strapping on anything that doesn’t fit. Ortliebs are the top-of-the-line panniers, which many of my friends use. I picked up a used set of Cannondales a couple years ago, and I like the multiple pockets, but I wouldn’t mind the spaciousness, bright colors, and water proofness of Ortliebs.

My non-essential luxury items are a tiny lightweight collapsible chair, and my mascot: a stuffed chicken named You. You show up in many of my photos, and You are a great conversation piece!

Jul 20

Winging it

Posted on Monday, July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

bicycle wings

A common mistake people make when doing a bicycle tour is planning too much detail. It is perhaps theoretically possible to plan an appropriate number of miles to travel each day. But I have never heard of anyone actually doing that. The far more common story is too many miles and a huge amount of stress trying to make a particular destination by a certain day.

On my first bicycle tour, I reasoned that if I could bike 100 miles in a day, that I could bike 80 miles fully loaded in a day. It was brutal, and the relentless hills of northwest Missouri meant that my ‘easy’ 60-mile day was the longest and most exhausting.

A more reasonable number of miles for a fully loaded bicycle tourist is 40 or 50, but it depends on so many things (wind, hills, fitness) that I wonder if the best planning is no planning. An 82-mile day during my first bicycle tour across a flat part of Kansas with a tailwind ended up being the shortest day! If I’d planned only 40 miles that day, I’d have had energy and hours of daylight and nothing to do.

I repeated that mistake recently, on a 3-day shakedown cruise to test out my gear for an upcoming 6-week tour. I planned 55 miles a day for 2 days and 30 miles for the 3rd day. The first day was nice until near the end. I’d biked to Arrow Rock State Historic Site twice before, and I remembered it as being hilly. My memory was accurate. Those hills at the end of a long day beat us up and spit us out. I managed to get coals hot enough to cook hamburgers if I held the skillet close to the wet wood, but I was too tired to bother with the marshmallows.

It is a sad day indeed when you are too tired to set a marshmallow on fire.

The next 55-mile day was 100% hills. They were pleasant if tiring until we got to Glasgow where Hwy 87 is unpleasant and tiring. Hwy 87 goes down in my book as the hilliest road in Missouri, which is saying something, because I’ve bicycled over 2000 miles of Missouri highways. In addition to the hills, Hwy 87 has no shoulders and more than enough traffic. We decided to take our chances on the gravel roads in the floodplain of the Missouri River. While some of this route was flatter, I had to walk some hills for almost the first time in my life. I pride myself on my skillful and eager use of my lowest gears that allow me to climb any hill slower than you can walk it, but the steep gravel hills defeated me.

The gravel road included a low-water crossing with 5-inch deep mud. I was grateful for the weekly deadlifts in the gym class I go to, as I carried my fully loaded touring bike across that mud.

Even our final day, an ‘easy’ 30 miles on the flat Katy Trail, was rough because of a heat wave. We refilled our water bottles several times and used electrolytes liberally, but we were far more exhausted than we expected.

On the one hand, I hope that less planning and more flexibility will make my upcoming bicycle tour more enjoyable, but on the other hand, I have to admit that in a way I enjoy the suffering. I don’t enjoy it while it’s happening, but I love having done something extreme. I loved the peach cobbler I earned on the Glasgow hills. The Katy Roundhouse campsite felt like Shangri-La after endless pedaling. I love retelling stories of 30 mph headwinds and 5-inch deep mud.

I’ll let you know in a couple months what a bicycle touring experience is like with less planning!

Jul 16

Social anxiety

Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

Staying in the lines

Staying in the lines

Fear of traffic keeps a lot of people from bicycling. But it’s not always fear for their safety. It’s more like social anxiety. The road is a social place. It’s a place with rules of behavior. Everyone has their own ideas about what those rules should be, and we are very quick to judge anyone not following our rules.

As a social setting, the rules of the behavior seem to be simple. We drive on the right side of the road. We stay within the lines. Stop lights tell us when to stop and when to go. Speed limit signs tell us how fast we can go.

But it isn’t really simple at all. The rules are complex. The speed limit sign doesn’t tell us how fast to go– only the upper limit. Without any other guidance, people turn to the speed limit sign as dictating how fast to go. “I couldn’t believe I had to follow a car going 30 mph in a 35 mph zone for an entire mile,” someone might complain, as if the 35 mph means that is the speed you ought to travel, rather than the maximum speed you are allowed.

We are on the same road going different speeds, and angry with virtually every other user of the road for going the ‘wrong’ speed. And that’s when we’re all using roughly the same sort of vehicle with the same capabilities. When one of us is using a very different type of vehicle, such as a tractor, or a bicycle, it gets even more complicated.

It’s the threat of social ostracization on the road, even more than the threat to our safety, that deters many of us from bicycling. The thought of someone honking or yelling at us makes us nervous, even though a honk or yell can’t hurt us. The feeling is the same as when we agonized over what to wear in junior high– the honks and yells on the road are the equivalent of whispers and snickers in junior high.

The solution is the same as my solution to pretty much every problem in the world: walk and bicycle more. The more people who walk and bicycle, the more normal it will seem to you and to everyone else on the road. Your bicycling will overcome not only your own social anxiety over bicycling but others’ social anxiety too. Not quite bold enough to do it yourself? Ask a friend to join you.