Sunday, August 31, 2008
I lucked out today and found a local seller of a used Garmin eTrex Vista through craigslist.org at price that was too good to pass up. I've been wanting either a bike computer or a bike-mounted GPS receiver so that I could track rides, speed, distance, etc. I also used to enjoy Geocaching in the past, but had to stop when I lost my GPS receiver. (Ironic, huh? To lose one's GPS receiver)
So when I found a used GPS receiver at the same price as a bike computer, I jumped on the opportunity. I've ordered a custom Garmin bike mount, but in the meantime, I wanted to try out the eTrex on a trail ride with Roxanne.
I'm one of those people who believe that most problems can be solved through the proper application of bungee cords, duct tape, or zip ties. After eyeballing the fit by holding the eTrex up to my handlebars, I saw the obvious choice. One thick rubber band would hold the mostly flat eTrex on my mostly flat headlight. As a failsafe in case the rubber band came loose, I tied the eTrex to the handlebars with a simple lark's head knot using the lanyard.
As a bike computer, the eTrex worked very well. I was able to monitor our speed, as well as track fun data like max speed, total distance, moving time, stopped time, etc. The only anomaly happened once when the max speed jumped to 35 miles per hour for some strange reason.
I use my bike mostly for commuting and errands, and I almost never get lost, but being a technology freak, it will be fun to track ride data using the GPS receiver.
Friday, August 29, 2008
This morning my wife, Roxanne, accompanied me on my commute into downtown. Near the VA hospital on Woolworth Avenue, I started kicking up some fine gravel and it made buzzing noises in my fenders. Roxanne, riding in front of me, asked me what the noise was. I replied back to "Rox" that rocks in the fender will make that noise. I suggested that she get fenders on her bike, too.
No sooner than I had gotten those words out of my mouth, Rox kicked up some rocks with her back tire, which is not outfitted with a fender, and a tiny stone went right into my mouth! I coughed, but I'm pretty sure that I swallowed the little rock.
I not going to to worry much about it, though. Like all things, good and bad, this too shall pass.
Get it? Pass. Oh, well. It's not that funny.
Please comment on some of the strange things you've accidentally swallowed while cycling.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In this story from July 25, 2008 airing on KETV, Omaha residents near Karen Park (near 62nd St. and H St.) oppose the city's plan to connect the Keystone Trail to the Field Club Trail with a wide, multi-use concrete path running along Buckingham Avenue.
View Larger Map
The plan for the first of two phases is to connect with the Keystone Trail on the east side of the Papillion Creek, go north to Buckingham Avenue, then east to 60th Avenue, then south to H Street. The path then runs north along the west side of 60th Street, then does a switchback to join the old Chicago and Northwestern rail bridge to cross 60th. The trail will then follow the old rail line, cross 50th Street using a pedestrian activated stoplight, and then continue to 45th Street near Dayton Street.
Construction for the first phase may begin Summer 2009. The second phase will connect to the existing Field Club Trail near 35th Street and Vinton Street and will begin shortly after the first phase is complete.
As a homeowner myself, I can understand the hesitation with respect to an enlarged sidewalk and an increase of foot and cycling traffic running along my street, however, I think the fear is really fear of the unknown and the fear of change. One homeowner mentioned that she's seen bottles, trash, and fights by the trail at Karen Park. I've ridden through Karen Park many times, and I certain that this is not the doing of cyclists. Maybe she means some other kinds of "bikers" loitering in the park or the Karen Park Elementary School throwing impromptu parties. In all my years of riding the Keystone, I've never seen cyclists tossing bottles and trash on the path.
In the end, this can only be a positive, progressive thing for Omaha. As a bike commuter, I can tell you that bike routes running east and west are extremely rare. The Keystone East Connector Trail will allow commuters to get from origins out west to in-town destinations like downtown and Midtown Crossing, making Omaha more of a bikeable community supporting sustainable transportation.
This summer I, my wife, and daughter got new bicycles, and the 2008 Corporate Cycling Challenge was the perfect opportunity for us to participate in our first group ride. Riding with more than 4,000 other cyclists was a very unique experience, and was one I hope to repeat again.
The ride was on a perfect, late summer Sunday morning that seemed to have been designed for a day outdoors. Roxanne and I had already put a few hundred miles on our bikes, so I am certain we could have easily done the 24 mile route. However, our daughter is still new to cycling, and we didn't want to make her hate the ride, so we did the 10 mile route around Carter Lake. In her defense, though, she did ride with us from our home to the Heartland of America Park, a five mile ride each way. Between the commute to and from the ride, and the ride itself, we did end up riding 20 miles.
The group ride experience was fun. It was weird to be off to such a slow start, being passed by faster riders while passing slower riders. It's amazing that people don't bump into each other.
A confusing moment for me happened when I noticed that the music that I presumed to be from the Q98 Five radio DJ seemed to follow us as we rode on toward Carter Lake. After a couple of minutes of confusion looking for speakers or a van or something, I realized that a rider up ahead in a Ragbrai jersey had a specially designed bike trailer that served as a solar-powered boombox. I think he had an iPod on his top tube that was connected to an amplifier powered by some sealed lead acid batteries and was playing classic rock and roll tunes for the entire trip.
At the end of the ride we sat on the grassy hill and ate PB&J sandwiches that we had packed for the event. While downtown, we stopped by Patrick's Market and loaded a grocery pannier with provisions for the next couple of days. You've really got to plan ahead and combine trips when committed to making as many trips by bike as you can.
We'll see you there next year.
Oh, by the way... It appears that the UP team won with 7,898 employee miles plus family points. See the results here.
I saw it this morning! But luckily, only after I pulled the key out of my bike lock and entered the building. Lucky me.
It felt like rain, and there was distant lightning all around, so I pedaled my happy little feet the entire way and just barely beat the deluge that was to come.
In a way, this saddens me. I've been bike commuting since July 16, and got fenders a week or so after. I've not yet had the opportunity to try out the fenders in the rain. I'm sure riding in the rain once will be good enough. :)
Am I ready for a rainy ride home? I don't know. Certainly I don't mind getting wet. However, I don't know for sure that my pannier is waterproof. I've got some plastic bags to wrap things up in, but I'd rather the inside of the pannier stay dry.
Please comment with your own rainy ride experiences.
Monday, August 25, 2008
My current personal media player of choice is a Microsoft Zune 80. One cool thing about the Zune is ability to "socialize" with others through wi-fi song and picture sharing, and its sharing of recently played songs though a social networking function on the web and in the Zune desktop application.
By enabling the social functions on my Zune player, I can share with the world what I have been listening to. Microsoft makes available some widgets that can then be embedded on other web sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, etc. Using the social features on the web site, I can discover new music by taking a look at (and a listen to) what other people with similar tastes are listening to.
Whenever I sync my Zune, my friends' most recently played and favorite songs are automatically pushed to my device. It's like having a bunch of DJs sending me their favorite tunes. I can't tell you how many new favorite artists I have now as a result of these Zune social relationships.
At the top right of this blog, you'll see a mini version of this widget. Here on this page you'll see a larger version that shows more detail about the artists and songs, and allows sampling of the tracks so you can hear the tunes, too. Look for the little play button when viewing an individual track.
What does this have to do with bike commuting? Nothing. I don't think I'd ever listen to my Zune while cycling. Certainly never while commuting in traffic. Bust music is fun, and music was meant to be shared.
And please... no comments like, "What's a Zune?" I get the joke, really. :)
Sunday, August 24, 2008
This morning Roxanne and I rode the trail from end to end to get an early peek at the newly poured trail, as well as to snap some photos to share. When I first started riding this direction to and from work a couple of weeks ago, crews were still pouring the cement paths along the switchbacks at the top of the trail near Pacific St. At this time, it appears all of the cement work is done, all of the paving stones are in place, and the retaining walls are installed. All that remains is for the landscaping and grass to fill in the dirt areas. Please note that there is still a thin covering of dirt on many sections of the trail, so be careful after a rain, as this could turn into a slippery layer of mud.
Once you start on the path at Turner Boulevard and Pacific Street, you'll notice that you're at the stop of a switchback that runs along newly landscaped terrain and a brand new retaining wall. The switchback is nice in that it allows a slow and controlled descent through the area until you reach the bottom near Mason Street at Leavenworth Park. The switchback is especially nice when climbing the hill. There even seems to be some sort of gravity vortex that makes it an easier climb than you'd expect. I'm sure it's an accidental optical illusion with the landscaping. Watch for a future post on this.
About halfway down look to the left for a crosswalk (shown from the opposite direction in this photo) that will get you across the street where you'll pick up the path again. Now you'll cruise past a set of three fire hydrants (not sure why so many are placed together) and cross the street again. Another half-block and you'll cross Mason Street and be riding along Leavenworth Park.
Once you've crossed Leavenworth Street, you'll continue on downhill toward the north, crossing the street a couple of times. The next place of interest in Dewey Park. This park is configured for tennis players, with nine courts and two three-walled courts where one could practice alone. There's also a children's playground here and an Omaha Fire Department training facility.
They also installed a new bike rack at the park.
Continuing north, you'll cross Harney Street (site of the historic First Unitarian Church of Omaha), and further still at Farnam Street, you can go no further, as Turner Park has been closed while the construction of Midtown Crossing is in progress. With condos and apartments, shopping, dining, entertainment and a community focused atmosphere, Midtown Crossing may prove to be a cycling destination when it's complete in Fall 2009.
In summary, the Turner Boulevard greenway trail may help some commuters get closer to downtown. Its relatively short run with multiple street crossings won't be of much use for fitness purposes, but I'm imagining when all of the landscaping is done and Midtown Crossing development complete, that it will be a pleasant, scenic route that actually goes somewhere.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
This is old news. However, in looking for resources on cycling in Omaha I came across this multi-contributer blog devoted to bicycle commuting in and around Omaha. This particular entry consists of citizen video and photo reporting at its best, made back in May 2008 when the Mayor kicked off the Bike To Work Week and the Activate Omaha Bicycle Commuter Challenge.
Check out the videos here.
The local Omaha news outlets reported some time back that the bus authority, Metro Area Transit would be installing bicycle racks on all city buses sometime this Summer or Fall.
A visit to the MAT web site showed a menu icon that read “Bike & Ride.” Clicking on this link a few weeks ago I found a very spartan page simply saying that they were coming and to check back for an update. Being the inquisitive type, I fired off a note to MAT using a form on their “About Us” page.
My note read:
Do you have a timeline or estimated timeline of when bicycle racks will be available on the city’s buses? Will there be an extra charge for racking a bike? In the event that the racks are full or malfunctioning, would one be allowed to bring the bike on the bus?
Within a half-hour, I had my reply!
The bike racks are in route to MAT.
Timeline will be completed later this week.
No charge to use bike racks. Every bike rack can hold two bikes. Passenger responsible for loading and unloading their bike on the rack.
No bikes on inside the buses.
Bike information to be posted at www.metroareatransit.com
[phone number masked]
Coincidentally, this was the same day that I met with the city’s Traffic Engineer, Mr. Todd Pfitzer, and he told me that during the 2008 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, MAT had to remove the seats from about a dozen buses to provide transportation for the participants. Mr. Pfitzer said that he thought the racks were in, but that MAT’s timeline might have been delayed due to the reconfiguration of the seats.
Today I revisited the MAT web site “Bike & Ride” page and saw an update.
Installation of the bike racks has begun. At this time, the bike racks are not operational.
Please do not try to use them.
Coming Soon; Bike Rack operating procedures.
Please check back for more information!
In summary, it looks like the racks will be visible very soon, and available for use sometime after that. It won’t cost any additional money to use them, but with only two slots per bus, be prepared to be at the stop early if you think the rack might be full, wait for the next bus, or just ride on to your destination on your bike.
View Larger Map
A few weeks ago I, along with my friend, Jeff, had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Todd Pfitzer, Traffic Engineer for the City of Omaha. He filled me in about the future of bike lanes in Omaha, and the news is good. Mr. Pfitzer is a cyclist and a motorcyclist, himself, and thus, well versed in all aspects of traffic management in the city.
Mr. Pfitzer has been working with Marty Shukert, a planner with the design firm of RDG Crose, Gardner, Shukert Inc., on obtaining money for and planing the development of bike transportation in Omaha. I left with information prepared by Mr. Shukert on proposed bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, and some interconnecting multi-use trails. I’ve taken the information and plotted it, to the best of my interpretation of the written descriptions, on a Google Map.
Omaha Bikeway - The Map
This map may be augmented in the future to show all existing bike trails in the Omaha area.
How to Read the Map
The blue lines represent future bike lanes. A bike lane is an extra lane with on-street painted markings showing the lane.
The red lines represent future bicycle boulevards. A bicycle boulevard is a route selected especially for bicycle travel due to gentle grades, wide lanes, and potentially reduced traffic. A bicycle boulevard will not have a marked bike lane, but may feature signage to reminde cyclists and motorists to “share the road.” A bicycle boulevard may also have drainage grates removed to reduce rist to cyclists riding the route.
The green lines represent existing multi-use trails that may connect with bike lanes and bicycle boulevards. The multi-use trails are integrated with sidewalks in some areas and often intersect with roads.
The pink lines represent proposed bike lanes that for whatever reasons, have been rejected.
I’ve also added points of interest to the map that augment the use of the Omaha Bikeway. These include future in-town developments such as Midtown Crossing (near Mutual of Omaha), Aksarben Village (at the site of the old Aksarben fairgrounds), and bike shops.
I will post updates to this blog as new information on the Omaha Bikeway becomes available.
Please note that this information is all very unofficial. Don’t hold me, the city of Omaha, or any of the above mentioned persons responsible for the accuracy of the maps or for the status of the projects. The information was shared with me as a courtesy and not in any official capacity.
I know what you’re thinking. “Bicycle commuting is for nuts.” Sadly, this is the common thought about cycling is the US, especially here in Omaha, Nebraska. If you ride a bicycle in some parts of the US, you’re typically assumed to fit into one of the following groups:
- a bicycle nerd
- a child
- homeless, or too poor to own a car
- being punished for DUI
I’m here to prove otherwise. I’ve got a regular office job. My family owns three cars. I’m not athletic. I’m just a normal guy.
About five weeks ago I decided to invest in my first “grown up” bike, hit the pavement and get active, while saving money on gas and parking, reducing my ecological footprint, and generally having a great time challenging myself to get to and from work under my own power.
Previous to my purchase of a new Trek 7300, I had only ridden K-Mart bikes. Whenever I had tried to ride those bikes, I was always uncomfortable, slow, and terribly inefficient. My ill-fitting discount store bike made me tired and after a while I totally gave up on trying to ride it. I suppose I was too naive to understand that buying a quality bike and getting selection, sizing and fitting help from a knowledgeable salesperson made all the difference in the world. My new bike is almost effortless to ride.
Now I’m riding about 50 miles a week commuting to my office in downtown Omaha. In gas alone, I am saving about $10 a week. If you figure daily parking at a $3/day lot, then I’m saving about $25 a week. Consider, though, that this is during the Summer months when weather is beautiful and dry. I’ll have to take each day at a time as Fall and Winter set in.
There are countless websites on bicycle commuting (see links below to some of my favorite), so you can learn much more for searching the web, but I’ll just list out what seems to be working for me.
Get a Good Bike Designed for Commuting
Avoid the “big box” retailers. Go to a local bike shop (often abbreviated “LBS” on bike related web sites) and leverage the staff’s expertise. Expect to spend $250 or more for a good hybrid bicycle (part mountain bike, part road bike). What makes high end bikes more costly are things like lighter frame, bigger wheels, quality components like shifters, brakes, suspension, tires, etc..
Don’t allow the salesperson to limit your fit to whatever is in stock. Have them explain the differences between their bikes. Ask to take the bike for a spin in the parking lot or nearby street or trail and get a feel for its shifters and brakes.
Customize and Accessorize
Don’t like backpacks? Get a back rack and panniers (think saddlebags). Panniers are great for carrying your work clothes or for trips to the store. They also make your bike look wider to traffic behind you (put the pannier on the left side). You can also use bungie cords or a bungee net to tie down other kinds of cargo.
Install a FRED (railroad slang for a flashing rear-end device) and a headlamp. New high-output LED technology allows for relatively small and extremely visible lights that help drivers see you when you ride on the road. I would also recommend a white, forward facing headlight. I use one (day and night) that can blink a couple of high-output LEDs, and have observed motorists notice my lights and do a double take. I’ll take two looks over one any day.
If you think you’ll be riding in the rain or on wet pavement, you can get fenders installed at your LBS for about $35. These will keep you and your bike clean and dry when riding in wet conditions.
Plan A Route
Use Google Maps, Google Earth, or MapMyRide.com to scope out a route to and from work. Also try driving your proposed route in your car and take note of lane width, grade, traffic volume, etc.. Be open to changing your route slightly until you find one you like.
If you live in Omaha, stop in the library or a bike shop for the ActivateOmaha bike map. You can view it online at http://activateomaha.org/. This map shows not only bike trails, but also city streets suitable for bike travel.
Allow Yourself Time
It’s not a race. You don’t have to qualify. Just ride at your own pace to arrive at work or home without being totally exhausted. Over time, you will find your pace and endurance picking up and your commute times shrinking.
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend heading in the same direction, ride together for as long as you can. There is safety in numbers.
At first I was afraid I would have to wear all the spandex and lycra to ride a bike. Trust me, you don’t want to see me in spandex and lycra. So then I rode a couple of times in a cotton t-shirt and found it didn’t work well when things got hot and sweaty. After a trip to the sporting goods store, I discovered various brands of “stay dry” materials that wick away sweat without leaving wet spots on the material. Under Armour is an example of one such brand, but other (cheaper) brands are available in the sporting goods stores and stores like Target and K-Mart. Get bright yellow or orange shirts if you can find them.
For shorts, try some that have a compression shorts style liner clad inside a looser basketball short style outer. Also, I’ve heard you can wear tight fitting bike shorts underneath looser fitting shorts. In either case, the tighter fitting inner shorts help prevent chaffing.
Wear a Helmet and Gloves
The helmet is a must. The gloves are optional, but help out greatly with grip when things get wet or sweaty.
Educate Yourself about Bicycle Commuting
Read as much as you can on bike commuting. Here are some sites I find useful:
Bike commuting isn’t all about saving money and going green. It’s also a great way to get a workout in time that you would otherwise be sitting in a car. Riding a bike is fun and is about the closest you can get to flying without leaving the ground.
First, while I wish I could take credit for the name, Redd Shift, I cannot. Brady over at the Wholesome, Steel-Cut Goodness blog came up with the idea. Brady blogs often about bicycle commuting issues and suggested that I use Redd Shift to explore the subject.
I put the idea off and used an existing blog at Sounds.interbug.com to write some bike commuting posts, but the more I thought about Redd Shift and just what it could mean, the more I thought I should just give it a try. Try as I might, I couldn't think of a better name, so I decided take Brady's suggestion and run with it. I will gradually copy the existing bike related content from the old blog to this one.
All you science nerds will recognize that a redshift occurs when an object moves away from an observer. Redshift is basically for light what the Doppler effect is for sound. Of course, I'm not saying I ride so fast that when I ride my bike I turn into a reddish streak when I pass by you. My name is Redd, and I do shift my gears. I'm also shifting my life around a bit by trying out sustainable transportation and moving away from the status quo of the total car culture, so all the words work together very nicely. Thanks, Brady.
The focus of this blog will be to explore bicycle commuting issues. While I exercise in the gym every now and again, I'm not a fitness guru. I've never ridden any bike races or long tours. Basically, I'm just a guy who started riding a bicycle to work to save a little on gas and parking expenses, practice a little sustainable living, and generally live a more active lifestyle. Riding a bicycle is also great fun, and when there's a meaningful destination, there's a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
Please do understand that I am not anti-automobile. My family owns three cars, and we certainly use them often. But just like a handyman has many different kinds of tools in his toolbox, each for a specific job, I consider the bicycle one of many tools in my transportation toolbox.
So, dear reader, if I'm lucky, I will post some information of use to you. I invite you to share as well by commenting on the posts. I'd love to hear about your own bicycle commuting experiences.
P.S.: Thanks to Wikimedia Commons user Rogilbert for the excellent redshift image.