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.

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