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.