Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 In Review

2008 was my first year as a full time bike commuter. I'll use this post to close out the year, and speculate about what 2009 might bring.

The Beginning

July 14, Monday
In a lunchtime conversation with my friend Jeff, I learned that he had bought a new Cannondale F5 mountain bike over the weekend. That got me thinking about cycling. I had commuted for the better part of a Summer in Huntsville, Alabama in my late teens, so I was already familiar with the process, but didn't really know much about the equipment and techniques.

July 15, Tuesday
Schooled myself about what kind of bike I needed, and learned about bike commuting through sites like Commute By Bike and mapped potential routes using Map My Ride.

July 16, Wednesday
Walked into the Trek Omaha store and clearly stated what I wanted to do. They put me on a Trek 7300 with lights. They were out of racks, so I had to come back over the following weekend and pick it up.

July 17, Thursday
My first commute to work. This was a life changing event.

And then a lot of days...

I won't log every day here. I just wanted to recall how quickly this all came about. I'll summarize and say that in the same week that I got my bike, we got a MT 220 for my daughter, and the following week pick up another 7300 for my wife.

Over the Summer we participated in the Corporate Cup Challenge and took many pleasure rides. One way we found to encourage our daughter to ride was to buy her a book at Border's after every five rides, or to ride down to the neighborhood Arby's for a soda and some curly fries. Emily says that her friends almost didn't believe her when she described riding 20 miles in one day.

Commuting To Work

According my logs at Map My Ride, I've ridden a total of 1,554 miles since I started. If I keyword search on "commute," I see 1041 miles.

If you figure that my truck gets 20 MPG, then I've saved 52 gallons of gasoline. When I started bike commuting, gas was near $4 / gallon. Now it's under $2. If we say gas, on average, was $3 /gallon, then I could estimate that I've saved $156.

Parking downtown can be free, if you walk far enough, or $3 to $8 a day. Monthly parking at my employer cost about $80 a month. If we say that I've saved $3 a day since mid July, and that there are about 20 working days on average each month, then I've saved about $330 on parking.

Estimated saving in gas and parking for cycling to work are approximately $500 for my first half-year. You can see that it doesn't take long to pay off the cost of a decent bicycle.

I started July 17 at 213 pounds. Yesterday morning I was at 196 pounds. That a net loss of 17 pounds. Other than cycling, I'm not doing any extra exercise. I'm eating more, and feeling better. My blood pressure is well below normal, and my resting heart rate is lower than average. At my fattest several years ago, I was near 250 pounds, so this 196 feel good, though I know I can do better.

An Intro To Long Rides

In early October, my wife, Roxanne and I rode from our house, over the BK Bridge, and to the trailhead of the Wabash Trace. We rode a couple of miles down the trace and then came back home. Round trip, this was about a 42 mile ride. We simply ran out of time, having other things that needed our attention at home, or else we could have enjoyed more time on the trace. This ride proved to us that we could do some light touring. We're cooking up plans now to ride more of the trace, possibly staying overnight in a hotel or camp site somewhere along the way.

Utility Cycling

Roxanne and I both have rear racks. We also have a couple of the Trek Interchange Grocery Bags that can hold an amazing amount of groceries. If we completely load up with panniers and use bungee cords for stuff on the rack, we can each carry about 50 pounds of goods. In the warmer weather, we made several trips to our local Hy-Vee about two miles away. It's mostly downhill there, and uphill back. For the purposes of carting groceries, it would be nice if it were the other way around, but such is life.

Many trips and errands were made by bike. These include:
  • eating out
  • hardware store
  • eating out
  • bike shop
  • eating out
  • drug store
  • eating out
  • book store
  • eating out
  • visiting family
  • eating out
  • attended baseball game
  • eating out
  • optometrist
  • and some eating out
Had Some Adventures

I've changed a flat, added studded tires for snow and ice, learned more about multi-modal bike-bus commuting, learned basic bike maintenance, become interested in bicycle/pedestrian advocacy, made some maps of the upcoming bike route system, discovered several routes and interesting neighborhoods between home and work, learned how to dress at -8°, learned a bit about my own body, and generally, learned that I can do anything that I set my mind to, all the while having a great time.

I even had a chance to glimpse how utility cycling is done in other places.

Getting out of my car and on to my bike in 2008 has literally been a life changing event.

Made Some Connections

Through cycling, I've been introduced to some incredible people, some I've met in person, and many only though the blogosphere. These folks have been encouraging, and even mentor-like in their passing down of hints, tricks, techniques and cycling specific knowledge.

Here's credit where credit is due:

  • Jeff - I've known Jeff for perhaps 10 years. We both work downtown and meet often for lunch, trading bike stories, and encouragement. Jeff is a life long mountain biker, and commuted during the summer three days a week, at over 37 miles a day! We would sometimes form a "bike pool" and ride out of downtown together.

  • Brady - I found Brady's blog when looking for information about cycling and bus transit. I'd never met Brady before, but knew who he was, as we both work for the same employer. He's often a first commenter on my blog, and we chat a little in the gym at work. Through his own blog and comments on mine, I've gotten invaluable information on gear and techniques for commuting.

  • Munson - His blog is also a valuable source of information. In competition with Brady, Munson often comments on my blog posts. Munson seemingly has mastered the art of thrifty and resourceful riding. I think of him as the MacGyver of cycling. He knows all about gear and how to extend the usefulness and life of gear.

  • Biker Bob - I met Bob briefly at a lecture on bicycling at UNO presented by Andy Clarke of the League of American Cyclists and John Burke, CEO of Trek Bicycles. Bob blogs a lot about cycling and also leaves useful comments.

The Omaha bike commuting has several bloggers, and many of them are exceptional in helping out folks with constructive and encouraging comments, as well as advice about routes, technique, and gear. I'm certain I am leaving some off, but here's a list:

I look forward to meeting new cycling folks over the next year.

Looking Ahead To 2009

I can't really predict what 2009 will be like. I plan to get some dual purpose platform/clipless pedals and some proper cycling shoes. I expect to continue to ride to work everyday. I also expect to get out more on the weekends for some exercise and pleasure rides. If the last half of 2008 saw me at about 1,600 miles, then I think 3,000 to 5,000 miles wouldn't be out of the question for next year.

I'd like to bike more with my family, especially if we can get our teenage son to come with us.

In general, I just expect to continue biking it whenever I can for work and errands, and to perhaps do a little better on the exercise and diet front. I'm already vegan, but you'd be surprised how many junk foods are vegan.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Think I'll Go For A Walk

Redd-Shifting Isn't Always About Cycling

"I feel happy. I feel happy."
Sunday saw unseasonably warm temperatures in Omaha. It was so nice that I decided to walk down to the local Ace Hardware store to get some chain lube.

The snow over the past couple of weeks has given way to damp streets, and damp streets led to a dried out, rusting chain. I misplaced the Tri-Flow that I've been using, and wanted to go get some more.

I considered cycling, but thought a nice walk was in order. Santa brought me nice set of Shure earbuds for my Zune, and figured a walk was a great way to try out the earbuds, get some exercise, and walk the green talk. I've never considered cycling on the streets while wearing earphones, but don't mind doing so on foot.

The Ace Hardware store is only about one mile from my house. I've biked there many times, but haven't made the walk for a while. While leaving the sidewalk and heading toward the shopping center, I noticed that there are absolutely no sidewalks giving access to the shopping center. In order to get from the walk on the main street to the shopping center, I have to either walk on the soggy grass, or creep along the edges of the access street dodging chunks of ice, snow melt runoff, and mud.

On the way back I snapped this photo of the Union Pacific Railroad tunnel on 50th Street. Navigating this tunnel, both on foot and on bicycle is awkward and sometimes difficult. The tunnel was constructed one hundred years ago in 1908 and leaves no room for widening the street. The sidewalk is only about three feet wide, and the path is completely covered with rail bed ballast, broken glass, and mud. When cycling through this tunnel on the sidewalk, I always dismount and walk, for fear of getting a flat tire, or worse, bumping the wall and falling over the low guard wall and landing right in the street. I've ridden through the tunnel on the street, but find traffic here to be a little fast and unforgiving, especially when going northbound, uphill.

I can't help but think that someday the city will decide to replace this tunnel with a wider one, enabling 50th Street to become a three or four lane road, as it is south of the tunnel. This will be a huge, expensive undertaking and a logistical nightmare, as the UP tracks on top are a double track main line carrying many trains each day. Maybe that's why this tunnel remains here to this day.

In the Summer of 2009, the city will begin the construction of the Keystone Trail/Field Club Trail connector that will cross 50th Street between G and I Streets. It would be nice if the city eventually widened the tunnel to provide easy and safe access to the connector trail to the neighborhoods north of the tunnel.

On the other hand, as a resident of this area, it's nice to have traffic restricted and discouraged due to the low speed limits imposed by this narrow tunnel.

Well, I digressed a little by writing about the 50th Street tunnel, but in summary, I just wanted to say that ditching the car and walking to stores within a mile of my house is just as easy as doing it by bike. It may be a little slower, and I can't carry as much as I can with my rack and panniers, but walking has its own rewards.

So, with the new year looming ahead, consider making walking, in addition to cycling, a part of your own local, active transportation plans.

Photo credits:
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Microsoft Live.Com

Friday, December 26, 2008

This Global Warming Thing Is Going To Work Out

After work this afternoon I crossed the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and rode a few miles on the Iowa side. I don't know what the temperature was exactly, but I think it was near 50°F.

Recall that only a few days ago, the high temperature was around 5°F.

Totally weird. Almost all ice was gone from the streets. I felt kind of foolish riding on my studded tires, but there were still some slushy spots that might have been hiding some ice patches.

The nice weather attracted many folks out to cross the bridge on the day after Christmas. I only saw a couple of other bikers on the bridge, and they were wearing shorts.

I noticed today that my chain is a little rusty. I need offer up a little TLC to the drive train this weekend before it gets worse.

Get out there and ride before Old Man Winter comes back to town.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Random Words Of Encouragement

When riding home on Monday, it started snowing, making the visibility worsen and the already snow packed roads even more slippery. I was in my home stretch, cruising south on 48th St when I sensed a car coming up slowly behind me.

I appreciated the slow overtake, as this part of of 48th in winding and passing can be difficult, even when the roads are clear. As the car passed, I noticed the window down. I don't get many screamers, but I always expect them, just to be ready. A guy leaned out of the passenger window and shouted:
Way to bike! That's sweet!
Well, that was pretty cool. I was using all of my air handling capacities for respiration, plus I had a balaclava over my mouth, so instead of responding vocally, I just waved with my hand.

The guy added as they were pulling away:
I bike to work, too!
Again, I just waved. Wearing my lobster claw gloves, I hope the guy didn't think I was giving him the finger. Rather, it should have been interpreted as in Vulcan, "live long and prosper."

By my estimation, the emotional exchange rate between random encouragement and nasty screamers is about 100 to 1.

Do any of you have any interesting positive or negative random encouragements to share?

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Win!

I'm Not That Competitive, Really
Normally when I arrive at work downtown, Phil's green Schwinn is already there. My bike was the only one on the racks.

"I win!" I thought to myself, jokingly.

I talked to one of Phil's coworkers, and he said that Phil was off today. Bummer. Although.... he lives downtown and only cycles a few blocks, and I hear that he can do it using only one pedal. :)

Good Golly, Goggles Go Great!

My home thermometer said -8°F this morning, a new low temperature for me. The new goggles worked, for the most part. I got them large enough to go over my eyeglasses. About one mile into my trip, my eyeglasses began fogging up. Bummer. I guess my eyes sweat. I had to stop and stow the glasses in my bag, riding the rest of the way half-blind. I wonder if there's any anti-fog treatment made for eyeglasses.

Some of the snow packed streets were worse today that than last week. Ruts were forming in some places, and some of the snow pack had turned to ice. The studs still rock, though. It'd be nice if the city took a plow to the right hand edge of Leavenworth.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Over The Hill

A Midwinter Night's Dream

This post isn't about getting old, although spending almost all free time this past week on a bathroom remodel project is making me feel that way.

Today is Winter Solstice. That means that today was the shortest day of the year, and tonight is the longest night of the year. After today, the days will begin to creep up in length, while the nights grow shorter.

When cycling up a hill, it's nice when you get to the top and get to relax (or hammer even harder, depending on your style), letting gravity help you out.

Holy Crap, That's Cold

According to the weather forecast, it looks like tomorrow's morning commute will be around -12 degrees F, and the afternoon commute will be 9 degrees F. Sensibility is telling me to drive in, as I need the truck to go pick up something from the furniture store after work, anyway. However, the "never give up, never surrender" attitude is calling me to give it a try. Plus, I want to try out a new pair of goggles, and I figure what might be the coldest day of the winter is the best day. Plus, I never dug out my truck from the last snow we got, and I don't feel like doing it in the morning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cycling In A Winter Wonderland

Notes On My First Snow Commute

In a nutshell: If you want to continue commuting in the Nebraska Winter, get studded tires!

Last week I installed my Innova studded tires on my Trek 7300 commuter. Since I cycle, in part to save money, it seemed counter intuitive to pay $45 a tire just to keep riding during a time that more sane people hang it up for a few months. However, other reasons I cycle to work are simply "because I can, " "because I want to," and "because I believe in active transportation," it wasn't hard to convince myself that it was worth it.

The studded tires were recommended to me by MOD's succinct blog post, as well as a personal demo in his shop. Comments about studded tires on other sites and blogs just convinced me even more.

Wednesday morning saw Omaha streets still covered by packed snow. Only the main corridors were completely free of snow and ice. As soon as I leave my driveway, I'm on a steep down grade dropping about 20 feet over less than half a block. I just leaned back in the saddle and pay really close attention to the brakes. No problem at all... no slipping, no sliding.

As I'm cruising north toward Center Street on 48th Street, I realize just how quiet it is. I'm out earlier than most traffic down a side street that doesn't have much traffic on a dry day. The snow has made everyone drag a little. The street lights reflecting on the snow light up everything, even though the sun hasn't come up yet.

My wheels are crunching a little in the packed snow, but the gravely sound I've been hearing from the studs complaining on the dry pavement is gone. I know my studs are working when I can't hear them. The crunching and my own breathing are the only sounds.

By the time I've gone a couple of miles up and down a few hills, I think I've got the hang of it. Rear wheel traction is not a problem. The front wheel can wag a little when it dislodges some of the packed snow, but it's easy to adjust and keep moving forward.

The few cars that pass me on Woolworth give me a wide berth. Thank you. The new resistance has put me down a gear or two, but I'm making pretty good time. I work my way to Leavenworth Street, but rather than ride downtown on Leavenworth, I decide to try Harney Street. The few close passes I've had are usually on Leavenworth, so I figure Harney might be a little less in auto traffic.

The drivers on Harney seem to move a little more quickly. The only negative aspect of my ride come when a moron SUV driver passes me on the right, using an unplowed parking lane, with cars parked in the parking lane. What an idiot. I wasn't going that much slower than the traffic in the other lanes. He then runs a yellow-going-on-red light, otherwise I would have caught up with him and given him a eyefull of my white blinky in his rearview mirror. :)

I make it to work a little later than usual, but wow, what a ride. Being active the whole way, I was never cold. I couldn't count the number of people I passed sitting cold in the vehicles waiting for them to warm up.

On the ride home, I grabbed a #2 bus to get to Lowe's to pickup some more items for my bathroom remodel project. A side agenda here is to ride the Keystone back to Grover to check out the trail after a snow. Traffic along the 76th Street was a little nerve racking, as the normally three lane road has been reduced to two. To get around me, motorists have to brave the snow wakes in the center lane.

Once I get to the trail, I find it plowed. Awesome! It was plowed everywhere except on the wooden bridges. I saw no other trail users from the Furniture Mart to Grover Street. Cold, dark, and quiet, I rode alongside a flock of honking geese rising from the creek. The ride up the Grover Street sidewalk toward 60th was spotty, with some sidewalks cleared and some not. After crossing 60th, I duck back into neighborhood side streets heading toward 48th and back into my neighborhood.

In summary, studded tires are incredible. I can honestly say that I can get around better on my bicycle that I can in my light pickup truck. I'm already looking forward to my morning ride tomorrow. However, with an ice storm predicted for the afternoon, I might end up riding the bus home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Here's Snow In Your Eye

The First Snow Ride

Temperatures were frigid this morning around 5°F, but warm compared to the -5°F yesterday. When I left the house this morning, snow was starting to fall, but was just a blowing nuisance, not sticking to the roads.

By the time I was on my last mile or so, the stuff was blowing right into my eyeballs and freezing in my lashes. I had this really weird experience where I closed my eyes for a half-second and thought, "I'll just close my eyes for a little bit and ride straight." Huh? Maybe the cold Nebraska wind makes me a little loopy. I will look into some goggles (pun intended) later this week.

By the afternoon, I decided not to ride home, but catch a bus and ride the last half mile home, getting used to the new studded tires on the way. I'm glad I did. From the safety of the bus, I got to see lots of crazy drivers all over the road. One ran a stop sign and nearly smashed up my bike on the front of the bus.

The tires worked great. There were some areas where my front wheel would get a little squirrelly on the halfway packed snow that came loose undeneath it. The rear tire had excellent traction, giving me no problem climbing hills.

When I got home, I was pretty warm wearing all my winter gear. I grabbed the snow shovel and cleared the driveway, sidewalks, and steps. My daughter came out to help, and we cleared snow from a neighbor's house. Gotta pay it forward, you know.

Later we took the truck out to get sand tubes for my truck bed and some stuff to finish a bathroom remodel I've been working on. I couldn't even get my truck up the hill on our street, and nearly fishtailed out on Grover Street. It's remarkable that I had no problems riding the same hill on my new studded bike tires.

The truck's fuel gauge reads about a half a tank. I haven't filled it for about a month. I'm loving that. I hope I can keep riding this winter. Solstice is coming up soon, marking the halfway point of the long, dark winter and putting the warmer, Spring riding days withing sight.

If I ride tomorrow, I might alter my route to utilize more neighborhood streets, parts of the Field Club trail, and more of the Turner Boulevard trail, and maybe sidewalks into downtown. I still want to give myself, and the auto drivers, some time to get used to dealing with the snow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Minus 5° Fahrenheit - Now That's Cold!

-5 degrees F this morning in Omaha. Windchill was -21 F. Only my toes got cold in my 35 minute ride.

I Can't Put My Arms Down!

In total from polypro baselayer and shirts, ending with fleece sweatshirt under a windbreaker shell, I had nine layers on the top. That sounds like a lot, but with the exception of the fleece, the layers are all very thin, so I didn’t look too bulky.

The bottom was AmFIB tights, polypro baselayer on top of that, then loose workout shorts and then loose workout pants.

For feet I had wool socks, handwarmers on top of the toes, then cotton socks, plastic bag corners, then sneakers. The chemical handwarmers on the feet quickly quit working, as they need air to sustain the chemical reaction.

Hands were kept warm polypro glove liners with handwarmers on the back of the hand, then Louis Garneau lobster claw gloves. My hands and fingers never felt cold.

On my head I had a fleece balaclava over head and mouth (nose exposed), then polypro balaclava over top of head and ears. I taped up the vents on my helmet. I probably could have used an extra layer on the top of the head.

Except for the cold feet, it was an exciting and refreshing ride. I don't think it would have been safe to ride any further with my feet getting cold. I'll need to develop some other foot warming strategy.

Where's The Sweat?

Here's an observation about how well the technical fabrics work (even the cheap ones). Of the nine layers, the seven closest to my skin were the technical "stay dry" fabrics. Next came the fleece, then the Vagabond shell. When undressing for my shower, the fleece was visibly damp. It's amazing to think how well those seven layers wicked away my moisture to that fleece. Wearing cottons and fleeces alone would have made for a miserable ride.

I write this, not to solicit comments or show how hardy I am, but to document what clothing works, and maybe what doesn't work. If someone else finds this information useful, then it's all worthwhile.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free Socks. Yeah, That's Right!

In November, I wrote about the Plus 3 Network where I can log my bike miles to earn money for charity, and how rider challenges are offered to reward riders with premiums. I had recently completed the SRAM 300 Mile Challenge and earned a pair of free socks, and was speculating about how and when the socks would arrive.

I am ecstatic to report hat my new socks arrived last week. Inside the package with the socks, there was a nice, signed card from the Plus 3 team, Letitia Joe and Rick, congratulating me on my success.

Coincidentally, Letitia found that blog entry, commenting that the socks had been sent, and hinting about seeing a picture of the new socks.

Here they are. The socks are so festive looking, they fit right in with the Christmas decor. I hung them "with care" on my hearth, in hope that St. Nick might cram some cool bike stuff in them.

I'd highly recommend that all cyclists, runners and hikers sign up at Plus3 Network and start "Making It Count."

Thanks for the socks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When I Ride, I'm A Stud (...ded Tire User)

I picked up my studded Innova 700x35 tires from the Highgear store this evening (staffed by MOD) and put them on the bike.

I've taken the rear wheel off only once before to change a flat, and the front wheel has never come off. I always seem to have a little trouble getting the rear wheel off and on, but eventually managed.

A fun point came when I managed to put the tire on the rear rim without using the tire levers. As I mentally patted myself on the back, I took a look at the tread pattern, seemingly directional, and wondered if it mattered. Slowly I spun the tire around, angling it just so in the light so I could read the markings on the sidewall, and saw that, indeed, there was a directional indicator. Darn! With a 50/50 chance of getting it right, Mr. Murphy had directed me to mount it backwards.

After getting both tires mounted and the wheels back on the bike, I took it for a test ride up and down my street. I'm amazed at how noisy the tires are. As others have described the noise, it sounds like I'm riding on gravel. I'm hoping the noise will abate a bit once the studs have worn down a little.

The ride also feels a little squishy. I don't know exactly what that means. I think since the tread is so different from the road-like hybrid tires I normally ride, there's a little more side-to-side give. I'll get a better feel for this during my next few commutes.

I'm a little annoyed with a little rubbing sound I hear from the rear wheel. I am not sure where it's coming from, but I think it might be from a close clearance with my fender. Maybe that will subside a bit, too, when the studs wear down.

The roads are damp right now from some rain earlier this afternoon. The overnight low looks to be around 20F, so if we get any slick spots on the lesser traveled lanes, it's likely that I got the studs on just in time.

I expect the resistance added by both the studs and the more aggressive tread will slow me down and make me work a little harder. I guess that equates to a more intense workout.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Importance of Bike Lights and Fake Crack

According to a news report from WOWT, an Omaha cyclist was recently pulled over by police for not using lights as specified by Nebraska state law (Section 60-6,318). The statute states that when riding at night, a cyclist must equip the bike with a front facing light that is visible from 500 feet. A rear light is optional, but the bike must have a red reflector meeting certain DMV standards.

According to the report, the cyclist was pacing nervously, and when asked if he was hiding anything, invited the police officers to search him where they found 1.1 grams of crack cocaine and 0.8 grams of "fake crack."

The cyclist was arrested on charges of possessing crack cocaine, and for not having the required light.

The lessons to be learned here are:
  • Use a good headlight on your bike when riding at night. It will help you see, help you be seen, and avoid traffic tickets.
  • Optionally, consider using a headlight or flasher even during the day. Being seen during the day is a good thing.
  • Consider a red rear light and/or flasher, but don't remove your reflector. It's the law, plus there are cases where a reflector will be seen where a light won't be. If you plan to ride frequently in the dark hours, consider even more reflective surfaces.
  • Exercise your constitutional rights. Don't invite the police to search you (even if you have nothing to hide). Remain friendly and polite.
  • Carry only "fake crack." The real stuff will get you into trouble.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bike & Ride - Omaha World Herald

Metro Area Transit offers a "Bike & Ride" program that allows users various options, such as riding to work and biking home or riding to a bike trail connection for an extended, scenic ride. All but the short MAT buses are equipped with a front-mounted rack that holds two bikes.

Daniel Lawse, co-chairman of the Green Neighborhood Council of the Green Omaha Coalition, called the program "a fantastic improvement to Omaha's bus system. . . . Having bike racks on buses increases the mobility of Omaha residents who use public transportation - and it may encourage new people to use public transportation due to the new options available."

Instructions for using the racks as well as information on which bus routes connect to trails and to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge are posted on the MAT Web site, Also listed are do's and don'ts, including: "Don't forget your bike on the bus!"

There is no charge to use the rack; riders will pay standard fares: $1.25 for regular fixed-route service with 5-cent transfers. Express ridership is $1.50 per trip.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MAT Makeover With New Trip Planner

Quite randomly, I clicked onto the Omaha Metro Area Transit web site and was surprised to see a major enhancement to the bus service web site.

In addition to a new look and feel on the same old content is a brand new interactive trip planner. Gone are the days of looking at a digitized copy of the printed bus schedules trying to figure out where on the line your stop is, and here are the bright, new days of planning a trip online.

While there still seem to be a few kinks to work out, the planner tells me what I need to know. I can tell the system where I am, and where I want to go, and when I want to get there. The system will respond with step by step instructions of where to go, when to be there, and how long the trip will take. The trip info also details transfers and walking distance.

Even if you don't know exactly where you want to go, the system can help make suggestions for destinations like "Grocery" or "Train Station."

I've seen systems like this in other larger cities, so it's cool to see MAT rising to the challenge of transforming Omaha into a more accessible community though easy to use public transit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Snow's Coming! What's A Commuter To Do?

OK, most resourceful, wise, and experienced Omaha cycling community, how does a beginning, but rather dedicated cycling commuter deal with riding on snow and ice covered roads?

I started bike commuting back in July, having logged over 1,300 miles of combined commuting, errand, and pleasure rides. I'm having so much fun, that I can't stand the thought of giving it up just because of some frozen precipitation. I don't know that I'd want to try to plow through fresh snow, or try to ride during a storm, but even when it's clear out, ice patches can form, especially on the side streets I utilize for my commute.

With daily morning rides in the 20s to 30s (F) for the better part of a month, I've already proven to myself that cold is no problem with proper clothing (and my new lobster claw gloves). However, the thought of wiping out on ice really frightens me. I also am concerned about dealing with sharing the roads with cars having a hard time keeping their own course.

According to the National Weather Service, Omaha has seen anywhere from 20 to 30 inches of snow for the past few years. Despite that, I want to keep riding. It's fun. It saves money. I like the free downtown parking. It helps keep me from getting too fat.

In my reckoning, there are a couple of ways to handle this.
  • Build an ice bike
  • Outfit my existing bike for ice riding
Build an ice bike - pros
  • save wear and tear, salt and sand from my normal Trek 7300
  • can use alternate geometry for better handing dangerous condition. Ie: a shorter frame to be closer to the ground in event of fall or slip
  • if all the ice clears up, can easily switch back to regular bike
  • could build as single speed, or with lots of money, internally geared hub
  • could build with drum brakes for easy braking without damage to rims, discs
Build an ice bike - cons
  • I like riding my regular bike
  • have to obtain a new/used bike. Cost of tuning it up.
  • have to customize with new accessories. Ie: fenders, rack, lights, etc
  • if going with fancy hubs, drum brakes, etc, could get expensive
Outfit existing bike for ice riding - pros
  • I like riding my regular bike
  • no need to buy new accessories, just studded tires
Outfit existing bike for ice riding - cons
  • risk of damage by salt, sand to frame, rims, drive train, etc.
  • can't easily switch back to regular riding during dry spells without changing out studded tires for regular
  • regular bike is tall. Falling might hurt.
  • not sure if studded tires will clear my fenders
  • I've read accounts of shifters, derailleurs freezing up with frozen mess
So, bike dudes, please reply back with your stories and advice on how best to handle the winter commutes. Even if you trade the bike for a bus or car on select days, I'd still like to hear from you. Even if I ride the bus in, that's still a day I don't have to deal with driving downtown, so that's still a win to me.

Photo credit:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bike Commuting Can Be Dangerous

It's Black Friday, and I'm off work, so I didn't get to ride in to work today. However, I did the next best thing (or, perhaps the lamest thing, depending on your point of view) and searched YouTube for videos relating to bike and bike commuting issues. Interspersed with videos of crazy fixie riders in San Francisco and New York were a couple by the creator of this video that were pretty good reports on commuting.

This video makes me nervous to watch. All those right hooks just give me the willies.

If any of you Omaha commuters want to make your own commuter videos, I'd suggest this cheap (or free) bike camera mount.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Buses, Bike Racks, and Cheeky, Churlish Children

Buses and Bike Racks

Living the Shift today put me and my bike on a bus from downtown to the Metropolitan Community College South Omaha campus to meet with an enrollment adviser for my son. Though he's in high school, he's participating in a program that lets him take classes for college credit while still in high school.

I could have driven to work, and then to the college, leaving the bike at home, but where's the fun in that?

Instead, I got to see the modern MAT Transit Center hosted by Metro. On the south side of their "Connector Building" is a long terminal where buses park. I think the routes that come through that center park for 10 minutes before resuming.

I saw at least two "wave" style bike racks outside on the terminal. The rack I used was a little too close to the wall, as my 700c front wheel couldn't go completely over the bar. However, any official racks as part of a transit center are welcome in any configuration.

The transit center has an indoor waiting area with rows of seats, much like you see in an airport. The waiting area is also connected to the lobby of the Connector Building. There are vending machines, and a window for purchasing MAT tickets. The hours might be limited, as it appeared to be closed. The Metro campus safety office was connected to the lobby, creating a sense of security for the passengers waiting for buses.

I think I'll go back with my camera, take some photos of the facility, and do a quick little report on the transit center. Word has it that other MAT locations will get racks, too, and I think it would be cool to document them.

Cheeky, Churlish Children

After our appointment, I cycled home through Burlington Road neighborhoods, crossing the Interstate on 36th Street. I decided to try Grover going west, rather than getting on Vinton, partially because of reduced rush hour traffic, but also to see a street I hadn't seen before. Crossing the railroads and I-80 on 36th Street was a little creepy, since the bridge wall was only three feet or so high in places. A badly placed rock or a bump from an auto and....well, I don't even want to think about it.

Near the back side of Jefferson Elementary School, I got a disturbing surprise about how some people let their kids grow up. I saw two boys, probably no older than four or five years of age, outside playing on the sidewalk. As I approached, I heard one boy talking to me. I thought he was saying "cool bike!" (Of course, it's all about me, right? :) )

Then I realized he was saying, "That's my bike. You stole my bike!" I found this mildly amusing, imagining this kid trying to straddle the 20 inch frame, when I saw the other boy pointing a stick at me yelling, "Bang! Bang!" Again, the first kid, "Bring back my bike! You stole my bike!" And again, more mock gunfire. I have to admit that I pedaled away with a sad heart.

So what's to be made of this? Are these boys just "being boys?" Or did I witness the beginnings of thugish behavior, likely to be fully manifested in another ten years?

So in all, seeing the new transit center, and discovering a pretty easy and low traffic way to get from my house to South Omaha was rewarding. I also enjoy the times when mild weather and situations allow me to ride in my regular clothes (but with cycling jacket/vest).

Have a great holiday weekend!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things Are Different At 11° F

Disclaimer: These aren't my fingers, but this is what I feared. Please read below. I apologize if I've spoiled your lunch.

Friday morning's pre-dawn commute saw a temperature of 11° Fahrenheit in downtown Omaha. That's not exactly ideal cycling weather.

However, since my mantra lately has been, "I'll keep biking to work as long as there's no ice and snow on the streets, and even then, I'll think about it," I rode in.

Historically, I've shunned weather reports, using the philosophy of "I'll wear tomorrow what I should have worn today," but since the weather can be dangerous now, I've made a habit of checking a day or so in advance. Seeing the predicted lows, I added the Canari Evolve Pro long sleeve jersey to my arsenal on Thursday night, made easier using a great Sports Authority coupon. I figured at 11°, I could use something more in addition to my multiple thin layers of wicking shirts over baselayer.

I also added a fleece balaclava, pulled down over my face, but stretching the hole so that eyes, nose and mouth were exposed. I can't stand the feeling of breathing in and out through a face mask. The balaclava was long enough to completely cover my neck, and that made a huge difference.

For my legs, I tried pulling the AmFIB tights over polypro baselayer tights, but that didn't work. The fleece lining was just too grippy on the baselayer, so I changed the order. Pulling the baselayer tights over the AmFIB tights was easy, and helped add another thin layer of warmth without restricting leg movement too much. I am still using the Gavia gloves. They are made from AmFIB material, but relatively thin.

So opening the garage, I headed out with only a few square inches of skin exposed on my face. I noticed that my brake cables felt a little sticky from the cold. Also, the sound of my tires on the street was a little different. At two blocks away, I got the cold air Sinead O'Connor-style tear (see 3m:28s) that rolls down my cheek each morning. I found it harder to get oxygen out of the air, so I took it a little more slowly and in a gear lower than normal.

About 15 minutes into my 30 minute commute, I felt my outside fingers on my left hand colder than I have every remembered. At first they were just very cold. Then they hurt. Then they quit hurting. That can't be good, can it? I pumped my fist, and also tried squeezing my forearm with my other hand. My fingers started hurting again. As much as I like the Gavia gloves, they aren't suited for this temperature.

All day Friday, and even now on Saturday night, my ring finger still tingles a little. It's not swollen or discolored in any way, but I can't help but wonder if I suffered some mild frost bite. Perhaps frost nip would be more appropriate.

I will most certainly be shopping for warmer gloves before the next bout of temps in the teens in early December, according to Accuweather's long range forecast. I'd really like a pair of split finger or lobster claw style glove/mitten hybrid, but I'm having a hard time finding anything like that locally in my size. Given the holiday week coming up, I don't know that Amazon could get them to me in time. I may have to go with a warm, more easily available full fingered glove.

In summary, I feel my first crazy-cold commute was successful. With the exception of the frigid fingers and a few cold toes, I was comfortable enough, and the satisfaction of arriving at work under my own power, despite the cold weather, was very rewarding.

A major part of the Shift is learning from all experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, so that adjustments can be made, knowledge increased, and then make the next ride all the better.

Credit: Frostbite photo from

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Socks - Can It Be True?

A while back I read Munson's post on and signed up. Basically, the website hooks up sponsors (like SRAM and Trek) with causes (like Bikes Belong and Breast Cancer Research Foundation). The site encourages folks to bike, run, and hike and log their miles at the web site. The miles are then translated into cash paid on behalf of the participant by the sponsor to the cause. It's really a nifty way to get people motivated about being active. I joked with my wife and friends that I was being sponsored by Trek Bicycles, so I must be a professional cyclist.

In addition to getting riders to log miles for charity, Plus3Network also has a few "challenges" for which cyclists can sign up. One challenge available to me was the SRAM 300 Mile Road Mile challenge. The first 300 members to complete 300 miles would get a free pair of SRAM socks.

Today I logged my 306th mile since joining, and I was the 51st person to claim the free socks! My 300 logged miles have earned a whopping $2.04 for Bikes Belong.

Can it be true? I ask because when I logged my miles and used the website to claim my prize, I received a message on the screen that simply said that I had claimed the prize. Um...ok. How does this work? Plus3Network doesn't have my mailing address or phone number. They do have my email address. Will they use the plotted Google map route from my daily commute to find me on my way to work tomorrow?

I could really use a new pair of cycling socks. I have a nice pair of Smartwool socks that have been with me for the entire 300 miles of the SRAM challenge. The Smartwool socks are still in great shape, but it'd be nice to have an extra pair.

Lately I've only been commuting on my bike at the rate of about 50 miles per week, so it's taken me about six weeks to earn the 300 mile prize. It's amazing that I've washed the Smartwool socks only once or twice a week in all that time, and yet, they don't get icky.

I'll report back on the sock situation when/if they arrive.

Credit: Socks photo googled randomly from

Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Commuting Weather In Store This Week! Also Some Good Deals In The Stores!

Good Weather In Store

It looks like the weather is going to be our friend this week. I absolutely love riding in these cool Autumn mornings and evenings. With afternoon highs between 40 and 60, and lows in the upper 20s to mid 30s, it shouldn't be too cold.

Note that I grabbed the image above from the Weather Underground, and their predicted temperatures always seem to run a little low, in my experience.

The most important thing, however, is it doesn't look like there's any wet or slippery stuff in the forecast. The partly cloudy conditions might also help with the glare problem, as well.

Good Deals In The Stores

If you are in the market for some Autumn/Winter clothing, check out Sports Authority. Through Sunday, they are having a grand opening sale. In their breezeway you can find some coupons that will save you $10 off a $20 purchase and $25 off $100 purchase. It isn't that hard to find something useful for $20 and get it, effectively, half-off. I grabbed an extra polypro baselayer top so I could have a dry one to put on for my afternoon ride home. Cost after coupon: $14.

Scheel's at Village Pointe has a shelf full of bike lights on clearance. I saw $30 lights on sale for $10 to $15, depending on the light. I picked up a super bright red 3-LED torch-style light to add to my seatpost for $10. It's about as bright as my Planet Bike Super Flash, but with a tighter beam. Since the LEDs are visible through the clear plastic casing, it has decent side visibility, as well. I run it on solid while I use the Super Flash as an eye catching flasher.

So get out there and stay warm and stay safe and enjoy the nice cycling weather.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

After 10 days off the bike, I am back in the saddle again. "I'm BAAAACK", as Mr. Tyler would say.

I had a touch of cold, and then four days out of town, so when Monday came, and I was feeling much better, I couldn't wait to break out the cycling shorts and t-shirt and resume my daily commutes.

Hold on a sec, it was 25 degrees this morning, mid 30s and raining in the afternoon. This is AmFIB weather. :)

Oh well, any day I can bike to work is a good cycling day. I may not have this luxury once the ice comes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cycling in New Orleans - Parking

While walking down Canal Street and the surrounding areas, I snapped a few photos of bike parking in New Orleans. At least in this area, traditional inverted U racks are available. It also seems common to lock a bike up to a street sign, as well, sometimes even within sight of unoccupied racks.

At first glance, the manhole cover looks like the rear wheel, but in fact, it is missing.

You have to figure out how to use this machine to park a car.

The next three photos show the same bike at various levels of zoom. Check out the SMART car, and then finally, the stickers and weird chain locking the bike. What's that ball-thing near the rear wheel?

In summary, it appears to be easy to park a bike in New Orleans.

Cycling in New Orleans - Some Information

I won't have the pleasant opportunity to do any cycling in New Orleans while I am here for a conference. But that's not due to lack of a bike, foul weather, or difficult to ride terrain. Each of these problems would be easily solved here. I simply didn't plan for it, and I don't have a lot of free time during the daylight hours.

In a quick ten minutes of research, I've found out a few interesting things about cycling in the Big Easy:
  • Bikes can be rented for $25 a day at Laid Back Tours for out of towners like me.
  • Laid Back Tours can also offer guided and self-guided tours of New Orleans at a great price
  • It doesn't appear there are any bike lanes, though I think there may be some exercise trails, though the Louisiana Depart of Transportation does offer this bike map
  • New Orleans is second to Portland, Oregon in residents who routinely travel by bike (reference)
  • The only "hills" in the city are the levees used to keep the water out of the city
The main reason I started this search for New Orleans cycling info was because I wanted the answer to this question: Is is legal to ride a bike in the street car lane of Canal Street and on the sidewalks? That question still remains unanswered.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cycling in New Orleans - Some Photos

While in New Orleans for ApacheCon 2008, I noticed a fair number of cyclists on the streets. Always being interested in how other people are using their bikes, I took some snapshots. I only did this for 10 minutes or so. Many people seem to ride up and down Canal Street on a Wednesday afternoon.

I didn't see any helmets, Lycra, Spandex, or the typical Great Plains "Fast Guy on a Bike."

A pretty black and yellow job. Notice the rolled up pant leg and the cards in the spokes.

Hi-vis hair instead of hi-vis clothing. Notice the purple and green paint or tape job on the frame. Behind her was a fellow riding a bike with a tiny front wheel and a large back wheel (or maybe the other way around), but unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture.

That's a big basket! Courtesy of the American tax payer.

You can't tell in this photo, but the guy needs to button up his shirt. It's not that hot out.

Rear rack and front basket loaded down. I need to check out the Voodoo Mart tomorrow. I'm fresh out of Voodoo supplies.

Bikes with front racks seem very common here. Notice the mismatched wheels.
I wonder which one is the original? Zooming in, it looks to me like the rear brakes don't make it down to the rims, so my money would be on the front tire.

This young lady's bike looks like it had drop bars, but with the drop parts chopped off.

This bike seems to have wide, fat tires with a high-rising handlebar
Another fat tired bike, with a step through frame. Notice the right pant leg cuffed up.

Ordinary guy on ordinary bike. Sidewalk riding seems common here.

Another fat tired bike, with rear basket and fenders.

Now I know why New Orleans is called "The Big Easy." It's because it's flat and warm all year, making it easy to ride bikes.

Check back tomorrow for a report on bike parking in the New Orleans.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shifting Gears - Getting Around with No Car, and No Bike

The Shift over the past few days has been a little different. I've had a bit of a cold, so I haven't ridden my bike since Wednesday; almost a week. Let me tell you that I miss it and look forward to resuming the cycle ride next week.

Instead, I've been taking the bus to and from work. I'm still impressed with how easy it is for me to go carless for my normal daily routine. Going bikeless isn't so much fun.

Today, Election Day, was a little bit of a challenge. Tuesday was also a travel day for me, as I am writing this in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I will be attending ApacheCon. You can follow my travel blog here:

First thing this morning I saw my daughter off to her school bus, something I don't often get to do. Then I grabbed my backpack and my suitcase and walked to the polling place a couple of blocks from my home. I probably looked odd to my neighbors walking down the street rolling a suitcase.

I got to the polling place fifteen minutes before opening. I waited in line until about 8:05 am where I cast my vote. I made it to the bus stop by 8:15 am to take a bus into downtown. I was pleased how smoothly everything went.

After doing some work and squaring some things away, I got a taxi to the airport.

I've only been in New Orleans for a few hours, and only saw what I could see in the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel, and from my 40th floor window at the hotel. I don't know if New Orleans is a bike friendly city, but so far, I've seen quite a few riders; even at night. I've seen several locked up to poles and railings, and a handful of bike racks. From what I can tell t through the window, the city looks very flat, and I would imagine that the Gulf Coast weather makes for mild temperatures for much of the year.

Hopefully I'll get back on the saddle next week to continue the Shift on two wheels.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bus Mounted Bike Racks Are TOO Convenient

The new bike racks installed on Omaha's MAT buses are convenient for multi-modal trips, or for bike in/ride out (or the inverse) commutes.

Too convenient. At least twice this week I've chosen the bus trip home over a bike trip. Both days were probably some of the best cycling weather we've had all year.

  • Cycled in to work with the temperature in the mid to upper 20s. Awesome ride. Learning how to ride in cold weather, at least for my short 5 mile trips.
  • Felt tired in the afternoon, caught a bus home.
  • Cycled in to work with the temperature in the low to mid 30s. Awesome ride.
  • Parent/Student/Teacher conference for my daughter, didn't want to have to rush and to have clean up before the conference, caught a bus home.
  • Each Thursday I leave work a little early to fetch daughter from home, drive her to a drama class downtown, and then return to work until class is over.
  • I usually catch the bus home to avoid the cleanup.
Without fail, whenever I mount my bike on the bus and go inside, I hear comments and conversations spurred by the bike.
  • Overheard woman to driver: "The first time I saw a bike on a bus, I thought it was the driver's."
  • Other bus rider to me: "Whoa! Did you just put your bike on the bus? How did you did you do that? How does that work?" As if the racks has previously been invisible.
  • And then lots of other chatter from commuters who have ridden public transit it other cities.
So in summary, I think the bike racks are awesome. They have really come in handy, and combining bus and bike trips has probably gotten me to ride each more frequently. However, the danger is that for a lazy cyclist like me, I need to ensure that I don't choose the bus over the bike without a compelling reason.

Gosh, I'm feeling tired again. :) At least I've got my weekly Thursday excuse today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Omaha Unveils Latest Part of Trail System - Omaha World Herald

Omaha unveils latest part of trail system

Although cold, blustery weather rarely inspires bikers and joggers, Omaha on Monday morning unveiled the latest part of its trail system.

Mayor Mike Fahey officially opened the Turner Boulevard Trail during a brief ceremony at Dewey Park.

The trail mostly follows Turner Boulevard south from Harney Street before turning west to 36th and Pacific Streets. Users can then follow city sidewalks to connect with the Field Club Trail.

The northernmost portion of the trail, linking Turner Boulevard with Dodge Street, will not be finished until 2009 because of the ongoing Midtown Crossing development.

The concrete trail is 1.2 miles long and 8 feet wide. The project cost $593,000, with about $474,000 coming from the Nebraska Roads Department and $59,300 each from the city and the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.

"It (the trail) makes it even more enjoyable to live here in midtown," said NRD board chairman Jim Thompson.

Thompson said the Turner Boulevard Trail is the second of the city's new urban trails. The first was the Happy Hollow Trail, which opened a few years ago.

Thompson was joined by City Councilman Jim Vokal and neighborhood leaders at the trail's opening.

Carol Haas of the Leavenworth Neighborhood Association said it's important to link the city's green spaces.

"We couldn't be more excited," she said.

• Contact the writer: 444-1149,

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dang, It's Hot Outside! Am I Fibbing?


I admit it. I am affected. I am afflicted. I am addicted to evaluating, and too often, buying biking gear. Back in July I decided to start cycling to work each day as long as I and the elements could get along. The idea was to simplify my life, slow down a little, get some exercise, walk my talk with respect to sustainable living, and to save some money on parking and gas.

As Fall weather has descended upon us, I find that I have to make adjustments to my gear and on-street attire to deal with what Ma Nature is throwing at me.

Back in the Summer, it was stay-dry technical fabric shirts to replace my cotton t-shirts. Then gloves to maintain a tight grip on the sweaty handlebars while helping to prevent my hands from numbing. Then the rains came and I had to get a rain jacket. When the cooler temps hit, I learned about technical baselayer (high-tech long-johns) and layering with extra shirts. I saw the magic of SmartWool socks that can be worn for days before needing a wash. (Yeah, I didn't believe it either until I tried it)

Seeing and soliciting advice from other cyclists, I convinced myself to get a convertible Vagabond cycling vest/jacket to break the wind (ahem) and keep the Autumn rains off my core.

This past week saw me wearing AmFIB tights. This strange and wonderful article of clothing is designed to keep a cyclist's legs both warm and dry in cold and rainy weather. The AmFIB tights worked great last week during some of the cool rainy mornings, but between the tights and layering underneath the Vagabond jacket, I found myself getting toasty by the time I neared work. The heat retention was very noticeable in my afternoon rides and while riding some during the late morning on Saturday and Sunday.

Incidentally, I wore the tights into the Hy-Vee off the Keystone today for some grocery shopping. I got either strange looks, or admiring glances. I'll go with admiring glances. :)

Looking at the weather forecast for the next couple of days, I see the 7am temperatures are predicted to be mid to low 20s. With that, I pedaled myself once more to the Trek store today and got some new Gavia gloves, also made with AmFIB material. I don't know if I need any thick, lobster-claw style gloves just yet, so the salesman's advice on the Gavia gloves was enough for me, at least for riding in the 20s.

Now recall that cycling to work and on errands is supposed to be a money saving venture. Why is it that I need/want more gear? In my mind, I justify it by knowing that if a purchase keeps me on the bike for one more month, getting exercise and promoting self-sufficiency, then it's money well spent. But why do I ride past the K-Mart, the Sports Authority, and end up at the Trek store, or virtually at buying Pearl Izumi products? Is there a hint of (dare I say) fashion consciousness or brand snobbery? Am I vain when I try on the PI AmFIB Gavia jacket or Insulatour jacket and think about how great it looks and how awesome it would be to ride the cold days with it on?

I don't think so. I am careful with my purchases. I ask advice from the local cycling community on what very specific products work with specific riding conditions. Often the answers are specific brand or products: "SmartWool," "AmFIB," "wear baselayer," "get a cycling vest." So far I've found that the recommended specific technical products are superior to making do with department store clothing.

I also understand that these technical products should last for a while. I expect my AmFIB tights to last at least a few seasons, perhaps more. I expect all of the gear should be reasonably durable. If I do need to replace worn out gear, then I can compare the cost with gas for my truck, oil changes, tires, and other consumables. In the end, I (at least in my own mind) can justify the cost of cycling gear.

Am I fibbing myself, or does this make sense to the rest of you cyclists? What's your story?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Changes on way to ease Omaha's bike traffic - Omaha World Herald

Changes on way to ease Omaha's bike traffic

Omaha turns crabby when it comes to its treatment of bicyclists, the chairman of the city's bicycle advisory committee said Saturday.

Marty Shukert told the 2008 Omaha Bike Summit that this should begin to change with the addition of bicycle lanes and signs on certain streets next year.

The Omaha Bike Summit, organized by Bikeable Communities and Activate Omaha, was held at the National Park Service headquarters on the riverfront. About 40 people attended the morning sessions.

Shukert, chairman of the bicycle advisory committee created this year by Mayor Mike Fahey, said in an interview that Omaha currently rates poorly in its treatment of bicyclists.

Although the city has a good trail system, it has no lanes or designated bike routes, has poor bike racks and minimal bike parking.

Many motorists exhibit bad etiquette toward bicyclists, and some bicyclists have bad etiquette toward motorists, he said.

Shukert told the group that his consulting firm, along with Activate Omaha, has established a 20-mile bicycle system for east-west travel through the city. The map of the system is available in limited numbers at bicycle shops, Shukert said.

The advisory committee will recommend bicycle lanes and stripes, street signs, bicycle symbols painted on streets and other strategies to improve conditions for bicyclists. Shukert said two foundations have contributed a total of $600,000 for those items.

One is the Peter Kiewit Foundation, and the other asked to go unnamed, Shukert said.

Joe Gudenrath, a spokesman for the mayor, said several City of Omaha representatives are on the advisory committee.

The mayor wants the city to be more bicycle-friendly, so the proposals will receive serious consideration, Gudenrath said. Further, the $600,000 in private money will make it easier to implement those recommendations, he said.

"This is something that the mayor has taken an interest in for a number of years," Gudenrath said.

Shukert said he hopes to see paint on streets next spring.

• Contact the writer: 444-1123,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ActivateOmaha! Website Offline

Ack! I noticed yesterday that the website for ActivateOmaha!, was offline. It appears that the domain name service provided by Network Solutions has expired. Hopefully some domain name snatcher doesn't snap it up and hold it for ransom.

If anyone has an email address for Tammie Dodge or Julie Harris that does not end with, or you if have their telephone numbers, please try to get into contact with them and let them know (if they don't know already, which I suspect they would).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Omaha Bikeway Progress Report - Marty Shukert

Marty Shukert, a planner with the design firm of RDG Crose, Gardner, Shukert Inc., presented an update to the City of Omaha's plan to develop bike lanes and bicycle boulevards at the recent 2008 Omaha Bike Summit. Mr. Shukert was kind enough to give me permission to record and post his presentation on the Redd-Shift blog so that others may also enjoy it.

For a quick summary and an answer to the burning question of "When?", I will say that Mr. Shukert said we may see painted lanes and signage beginning in the Spring of 2009.

For more detailed information, please watch the video below.

For those of you who take your media on the go, download this for your portable media player (iPod format).

I apologize for the poor video quality. This is an amateur recording and did not faithfully capture the professional quality of the presentation. However, it is my hope that the information will be of use to the Omaha cycling community.

Special thanks for Activate Omaha and Bikeable Communities for organizing and sponsoring the 2008 Omaha Bike Summit, and to the National Park Services for the use of their meeting facilities at the Riverfront.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How Dry I Am (Not!)

Today was my first ride to work in a real rain. I'd always managed to dodge the showers and ride in a drizzle, or just on wet pavements, but not today. This morning it was about 50 degrees with a steady, but relatively light rain.

I took it slow since I didn't wear my glasses, had a tiny hint of a headache, and wanted to allow more time for my brakes to work. I also figured folks in cars were having a hard enough time without having to worry about hitting me, so I wanted be extra careful. In all, it was a great ride, and I was quite comfortable.

My PI convertible cycling jacket/vest kept my core warm and dry (and conspicuous with its high-viz yellow color), and my baselayer tights kept my legs warm, though they were wet. My gloves were soaked and my head wet, too, but mostly I noticed that my shoes were flooded. I've been wearing SmartWool socks, and they are great. I did get to experience that whole "wool is warm when wet" thing, but I could feel the water welling up in my sneakers, especially when I hit puddles. I imagine I will need to get some kind of wet weather bootie for my feet.

Now the big question for you bicycle commuters. How do you, or do you, dry your gear when you get to the office so that you aren't putting on cold, damp clothing for the ride home?

I've got my gloves on an air vent at my cube, and I put my shoes on air vents in a seldom used lab/conference room. I draped my shorts over my PC. I also put my baselayer top and bottom on hangers and put them inside a server rack in the lab. In all, I think I'm being somewhat inconspicuous and respectful to my coworkers, but I'd love to hear your stories and ideas.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Actually, I Would Have Preferred A FAT Tire

Six-thirty in the morning isn't the best time for a Fat Tire, but it seemed to be the right time for a flat tire on Wednesday.

This morning as I was nearing my point where I emerge from slow paced neighborhood streets onto busy Leavenworth Street at Turner Boulevard, I felt a kink in my drivetrain. I figured it was just a missed gear or something. However, then I heard a rubbing noise on my tire that worsened when I applied my rear brake. I pulled over and gave a quick look, but didn't see anything.

The rubbing noise continued, and I just attributed it to something stuck in my fender and decided to look for it later. I continued the remaining two miles in to work, and under the generous lights above the bike parking, I was able to inspect the wheel a little more closely. Spinning the wheel, I still heard the rhythmic rubbing sound, but still saw nothing for a couple of minutes.

Finally, I saw what looked like a little pebble sticking out of the tread. Plucking at it with my fingernail, I saw it was no pebble, but the head of a nail. Moving my focus of attention back a few inches, I saw that I had an entire one inch nail entering, and exiting my tire. Amazingly, the tire appeared to have suffered no loss in pressure.

My theory is that my front tire kicked up the nail, throwing it into my drivetrain. Then it went through my chain and somehow got thrown into the right spot for entering my rear tire. Maybe that's a wild theory, but it works for me.

"This is my lucky day!", I thought. Perhaps the nail entered the tire and exited the sidewall without encountering the tube. The nail was too tight to pull out with my fingers, so I used the can opener blade on my multi-tool to pry out the nail. The immediate sound of hissing told me that the tube was punctured. It's amazing to me that the nail sealed the hole for the remaining (and quickest and most dangerous) part of my ride to work.

Well, this was the event I was prepared for. In my saddle bag I had a CO2 canister and tire levers. I carry a spare tube in my commuter bag. So at the bike racks, I removed my wheel and changed a flat for the first time in 15-20 years. The quick release wheel made it easy to get the wheel off, but I had some trouble getting everything lined up to go back on.

They say once you learn to change a bike tire, you never forget. They do say something like that, don't they? Anyway, the actual tube replacement process went pretty well. I racked the bike on a bus to get closer to the Trek store where I bought a couple of new tubes, plus a mini pump before riding home on the changed tire.

Here's a list of lessons learned that might make this easier next time:

  • Carry a pump. I only get one shot with the CO2
  • Pack a small pair of pliers, or get a multi-tool with pliers
  • Make sure CO2 canister nozzle is upright when using it. Otherwise it spits CO2 ice
  • Pack a pair of disposable latex or vinyl gloves. My hands were filthy after changing the dirty tire and handling the chain
  • Take more time inspecting the tire. I should have found the problem more quickly.
  • Don't remove a nail until I'm ready to change the flat. I lucked out that I was able to continue riding. Had I pulled the nail on the road, I would have been forced to change the tire on the spot or grab a bus for the remainder of the commute.
Look at the bicycle tire behind mine in the top photo. I just noticed that the tire is flat. I assumed that the owner of that Giant bike beat me in to work each morning and stayed late each day. He/she seemed to me to be very hard core, due to his/her commitment to ride the bike even on the nastiest weather days. Now I think it's obvious that the bike doesn't move. I suppose it's possible that the bike doesn't even belong to an employee at my place of business and has been abandoned. I wonder what its story is.