Friday, December 25, 2009

Biking After (Another) Blizzard

Second Blizzard of the Season

Omaha hasn't had a Christmas blizzard since 1941. While most people stayed in this Christmas, I needed to deliver some presents, so what better opportunity or excuse to get the bike out again than the second blizzard of the season. Being still stir crazy from remaining indoors all Christmas Eve also helped me make the decision to head out. I love a challenge, and needed to burn off some holiday treats calories.

The drifts were deep in my neighborhood, and my elbow still hurts from digging out from the last storm, so I wanted no more shovel action. The streets in my hilly destination neighborhood hadn't seen a plow, so getting there by automobile would have been difficult, anyway. I'm happy to leave my truck in the drifts while my bike gets all the fun. Considering all this, I donned my blizzard biking apparel, loaded the messenger bag with gifts, and set out for a four mile trip.

There's a sidewalk under there somewhere.

Considering that there would not be a lot of traffic, I took my chances on routes I would never bike under normal circumstances. I rode Dodge Street and 42nd Street, with only a few gentle passes from holiday travelers, and not much trouble with the snow. It was when I turned onto Grover Street one-half mile from my destination that I had a problem. A silly wipeout (with witnesses) reminded me how slick things were as I turned off a plowed road onto one with drifts. Fortunately, falling on the snow drifts wasn't unlike falling onto a couch. I ended up walking about 1/3 of a mile in a spot where the snow was just too thick on an uphill climb. For my final hill climb, I carried my bike on my shoulder cyclocross style, taking tiny steps into really deep snow.

I didn't take any more pictures as I made my way out. I arrived safely, and not at all cold or chilled, in time for gifts exchange, a nice Christmas lunch, and time spent with family.

On the way back, I made really good time since some of the roads had been plowed for the first time, or perhaps replowed. I didn't have to do any walking or pushing this time.

The trips were slow, but consistent, averaging about 10 MPH in my lowest gear.

I did stop for some fun photos.

King of the hill!

I wish I could say I rode my bike to the top.

This is my leg sunk into a drift up to my knee.

Warning: Don't try this with your SUV.

What To Wear?

After a year of all-season bike commuting, I've got down pretty well what works for me. In case any of this information may be of use to others, I'll list the conditions, and what I wore.

Blizzard Trip, Leg One: High winds with blowing snow, temperature around 10 degrees.

Blizzard Trip, Leg Two: Reduced winds, no more falling snow, temperature around 22 degrees.

  • long sleeved base layer top, polypropylene (from sporting goods store)
  • short sleeved wicking shirt (from department store)
  • another long sleeved base layer shirt
  • long sleeved wicking ski shirt (from sporting goods store)
  • long sleeved zip-up cycling jersey jacket (from bike shop)
  • hi-visibility cycling wind breaking shell (from sporting goods store)
  • AmFIB leg tights (from cycling store)
  • base layer leg tights on top of AmFIBs (from sporting goods store. I probably didn't need these, but in case I ended up walking more, I wanted to make sure I'd stay warm)
  • cycling knickers (custom made from Scout Dry Goods)
  • glove liners under lobster claw gloves
  • fleece balaclava over head and face
  • polypro balaclava on top of head
  • wool cycling cap on top of head
  • helmet, of course
  • MTB style SPD shoes for clipless pedals
  • ski goggles on the trip out. Didn't need them for the return trip. 10 degrees seems to be my threshold for requiring goggles.
To the uninitiated, biking in the snow might seem strange, but a properly equipped bike and rider can really get around quite well on city streets. There's no dig out, defrost, or warm up time, and the freedom of self propelled travel in the face of weather that all but shuts down a city is a great feeling. It's also fun to cycle past people trying to get their cars unstuck.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Biking After A Blizzard

First Blizzard of the Season

Heck, yeah! I'm riding!

Technically, the blizzard was overnight, and while there were still 30 MPH winds in the morning, the snow had stopped and most of the blowing snow had settled. There were still some wicked drifts and plow wakes on the neighborhood and side streets. I don't think it was ever warmer than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

AM Commute

There was lots of pushing in the neighborhoods and side streets. It took me about 30 minutes to go 2 miles.

PM Commute

I only had to dismount once, and riding on the main streets was pretty easy. It took me 15 minutes to go 2 miles.

I halfway considered taking the bus home, but as the day went on, MAT kept pushing back the time they were going to resume service. Finally they announced that they weren't going to run any buses. So much for dependable public transportation.


Here are some photos I took in the morning and around lunch time. You'll notice the large wakes in the center lanes. The city is experimenting with pushing snow to the center to ease parking and pedestrian access to sidewalks. I think it's working, but it seemed to make for some awkward moments when traffic needed to move from one side of the street to the other.

Cycling home on Farnam Street, also with a huge wake in the middle, made me believe that the one way street might serve better as a two way street, especially if there were bike lanes along either side.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Lights on a Bike

Graphic design by Emily Redd

On the occasion of next week's 2009 Bike Omaha Bike De'lights holiday lights tour, I decided to get festive and decorate my bike.

On the handlebars is a wreath with sleigh bells. A sleigh bell also hangs near each brake lever.

I used battery operated lights from Walmart. Each strand cost about $6. I wove one strand around the main triangle, and a second is secured using zip ties and home made fender clips. I fashioned the fender clips from a Dr. Pepper soda can using tin snips.

The battery packs are secured under the saddle using a plethora of zip ties, using more than needed, as they have a tendency to break in cold weather.

Please come out and join us for the ride, even if you don't have a decorated bike. I will have some extra sleigh bells to hand out if you want to jingle all the way.

The ride has garnered some interest from the community:
Be sure to follow @BikeOmaha on Twitter for last minute updates and news about the ride.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Spooks On Spokes 2009 - My Recap

Zounds! It's been almost a month since my last post. Unfortunately, this post is going to pretty meager. I just want to post the few pics that I took during the 2009 Spooks On Spokes scavenger hunt.

Chris G. and I teamed up to ride in the 2009 Spooks On Spokes scavenger hunt/alleycat organized by The D and his wife, The K. We started out pretty strong, but a couple of wrong turns (from my map misinterpretation -- being a Unix professional, you'd think I would understand that a "u" is not the same as a "U"), a flat tire, and ignoring the fact that the finish line wasn't the same as the starting line, put us at four hours; a full hour behind the winning teams.

From the start, my objective was simply to finish the race and have a good time, and unquestionably, this was accomplished. Chris and I had a great time riding, and running into other cyclists, both known and unknown, was fun. I also enjoyed seeing the variety of bikes that showed up, from fixies to cruisers, from 15 pound road bikes to tank like mountain bikes.

Here's my list of observations:
  • It's mean to make the second checkpoint 15 feet out in Zorinski Lake. My feet stayed wet all day, and I'm not sure how to get the smell of lake water out of my shoes. Thank goodness for warm wool socks
  • Picking up soda cans by hooking them on the end of a wire is harder than it looks. Expect to fall at least once if you've never done this. Maybe bike polo would be fun?
  • West Omaha trails, sidewalks, and shoulders are messed up. You're riding along when suddenly it just stops! You might also find a trail bridge that dumps out into a undeveloped field.
  • 90% of the joggers at Zorinski Lake are female
  • If you try to use your Geocaching "Force" to locate hidden objects (like the 20 minute time bonus hidden in a wooded area), you're likely to find a Geocache. I did, but it was destroyed by water. Otherwise, I would have TNLNSTL.
  • It's distracting to change a flat tire when there's a line of people waiting behind for their turn at the challenge.
  • Most people staffing business at checkpoints seemed amused to participate by handing out their business cards.

Participants signing in

Powerbar giveaway

A couple arrives in hula costumes. The temperature was in the mid 30s.

Yee haw! A cowgirl costume. I wonder if the boots have pedal cleats.

All bikes are laid down. Participants must run to the first clue, then run back to their bikes.

The D briefs all participants on the race rules.

Chris flats near Village Point on a West Dodge service road.

Unfortunately, I was too wrapped up in participating in the race that I didn't take many more photos. Watch the comments for links to other sites with photos from the event.

Start making your plans now for bicycle-friendly costumes for next year's Spooks on Spokes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Guerrilla Bike Path Engineering Task Force

"If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The Guerrilla Bike Path Engineering Task Force."

I've noticed some improvised infrastructure engineering on some rough bike path/sidewalk bridge joints. These are places were the top surface of a sidewalk doesn't quite meet the surface of the bridge. Often it appears that someone has taken a hammer to the raised surface to notch out a tiny ramp. It's not much, but maybe enough to help avoid a pinch flat.

I also notice someone had taken a chisel or similar tool and notched out a groove on a wooden bridge in the One Pacific Place Park. Today I saw that there were two tiny little cement ramps added to the rough transition between bike path and wooden bridge.

I'm sure we've all thought of doing something like this, but lack the time? I can't say I endorse such activity from a legal point of view... but thanks!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photos From "Oh! What An Alleycat!"

Omaha's first annual Oh! What An Alleycat! event was a huge success! Read the official blog here.

When Sean announced that he was going to organize an alleycat race, I knew I wanted to help make it happen. Rather than participate, I offered to help run a checkpoint. I'm not terribly fast, and sometimes not the best navigator, so helping out seemed to be the thing to do.

About 15 people showed up to race, and several more to help out. Our gathering at the arch in the Gene Leahy Mall was certainly noticeable. There were bikes everywhere of all kinds. Fixies, single speeds, racing bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrids. It was a beautiful thing.

We helpers showed up early and Sean briefed us on the protocol. We each were given a grease pen for marking player's playing cards, and an index card telling us where our checkpoint was, and the location of the next checkpoint.

I rode off to my post in the Heartland of America Park. Sean had directed me to an area on the lake that was near the boat ride piers, describing a boardwalk. I think most people interpreted their clue, given by them by the officials at the first checkpoint, as the wooden footbridge over 8th and Farnam. In the confusion, some people rode all the way to the wooden bridge leading to the riverfront before seeing me waving from my checkpoint. Please explore the map below.

I got a kick out of seeing the leaders trying to get to me at great speed. Some bombed down the steep grassy hill (on fixies, no less), while some hefted their bikes on the shoulders and ran down the steps from 8th Street. I think everyone ended up finding me. However, I had forgotten to ask Sean how many riders there were, so I wasn't sure when I was done.

Just to be safe, I moved out more in the open to the boardwalk at the boat piers, waited, and fed some cookies to the ducks.

Finally I got a message from Sean telling me to rejoin the group at the arch. By the time I got back, all prizes has been awarded. A few of us went on to Upstream for some post ride refreshments.

After some snacks, some of Upstream's finest beverages and some fun conversation, I rode off toward home. Ben was looking to get some more saddle time, so he joined me for the ride to my house. I think afterward he might have continued on to the Keystone Trail for some more miles.

Everybody I talked to seemed to enjoy the alleycat, and is looking forward to the next. Thanks to Sean for putting this together, at his own personal expense, and thanks to everyone who came out to race or to help. Also, thanks for The Douglas for making the special event spoke cards. That's something you don't see every day in Omaha.

View Oh! What An Alleycat! Checkpoint #2 in a larger map

Here are some photos I took.

Click here if you can't see the slideshow above.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Photos From The Last 2009 Bacon Ride

You can read all about the Bacon Ride adventure here at Pedal-Omaha and here at MITMON.

Here are my photos.

Click here if you can't see the slideshow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Shiny Bike Is A Happy Bike

I'm not a particularly neat person. I'm not dirty and I've got good hygiene, but one could never call me a neat freak.

However, lately I've been trying to keep my bikes clean. You won't see me with a toothbrush working out bits of gravel dust and grease from every nook and cranny, but it's pretty easy to wipe things down with a rag and a pre-moistened dusting wipe.

I've found that cleaning my bikes is relaxing, and also helps me inspect parts for wear and damage, potentially identifying a problem before it gets too bad.

My friend Jeff had been telling me about some of the various citrus based, biodegradable degreasers on the market, such as Simple Green and Purple Power, and how easy it is to clean a chain and cogs using them. I found the jugs of degreaser in the automotive section of a big box retailer.

I'd already learned how to remove the master link from my chains, but didn't have any way to get freehub cogs off.

Last week I got a cogset lockring removal tool and a chain whip. Using these I was able to take off my nine speed cogset off the Specialized Tricross and soak it in some Purple Power degreaser.

I put the chain into a big Gatorade bottle and sealed it. I let everything soak while I cleaned the rest of the bike. I'd give the bottle a good shake every now and again to try to dislodge some of the grease on the chain.

After I was done cleaning the bike, I removed the cogs and chain from their degreaser bath, rinsed them off, and then wiped them down with an old tee-shirt. The result was amazing. All of the parts shined like so many crazy diamonds. I was able to pour off most of the used degreaser into another container, leaving the dirty stuff at the bottom, where I could dispose of it later. I'll keep the used degreaser for the next time. Perhaps I can get two or three uses out of a batch of this stuff.

I put a little grease on the freehub splines and reassembled the cog set, spacers, and loose cogs back on to the hub before using the lockring tool again to tighten the assembly. I wasn't sure how hard to tighten down the lockring, but after it started to catch into a series of grooves, I gave it one more good twist. I didn't want it to be too hard to take off again the next time, or risk damaging it or the threads. If anyone has some advice on how tight this should feel, please let me know.

I threaded the chain back through the derailleur jockey wheels and rejoined the two ends using the master link. Then I applied some of my drip lube on the chain, shifted all the gears while turning the pedals, and then wiped down the chain.

I'm still amazed as how shiny this all is. I always forget that these parts come silver colored, and not really blackened, as they tend to get over time.

The next order of business is to get it all dirty again with lots of gravel dust on Sunday's Last Bacon Ride of the Year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Art of Being Seen

Motorists often don't see bikes at night, so we have to go out of our way to be seen when riding the streets of our cities. My morning commutes are often in the dark, and the occasional Taco Ride has me biking home 30 miles in the dark.

Being Seen

I could add lots of reflectors, like this guy. (Photo courtesy of AJ Jones IV)

I could also add a dozen blinkies, like these guys:

Nah. (Is that even legal?)

The Art

My Schwinn project is just as much about art as it is a functioning bicycle. Even if I've made it up myself, I've got this standard in my head for what this old bike should look like. I'm trying to preserve its 30 year old style while making it fun and safe to ride using modern components.

So mounting dozens of reflectors and LED blinkies, while it would help me be seen, there's no art in it.

The Art of Being Seen

I ruled out a seat post light when I came across bar end blinkies. These tiny lights slip into the rear facing ends of road handlebars. While they aren't as bright as a good seat post flasher, they are passive to install. When they are off, you can't even tell they are there. One con is that I can't direct their beams. They point down toward my legs and the street below the bike.

Bar end light on

Bar end light off

Today I added a new rear facing light. This one is a nifty looking bullet light made from polished aluminum with a bar end light inserted. The Soma Fabrications Silver Bullet can be mounted in many places, but I choose to mount it on the dropout eyelet so that I could avoid using the ugly plastic seat stay mount.

Finally, here's a video of a 360 degree walkaround showing the lights in use. They aren't as eye catching as a Planet Bike superflash, but in the interest of preserving a little artistic style, the bar end lights and the Silver Bullet will do.

The Law

Nebraska law demands that bicycles operating at night have tire reflectors, either in the form of a reflective sidewall, or spoke mounted reflectors. See the side reflector code here.

I don't meet the requirements of this law, yet.

Also, bikes must have a forward facing light, and a rear red reflector. A rear light is permitted, but does not take the place of a reflector. See the rear reflector code here. I think in the city of Lincoln a rear light is required.

I still haven't found a suitable retro looking forward light for permanent installation, so I've been using a Planet Bike Blaze light.

I put a rear reflector on this afternoon. Some, like Sheldon Brown, argue that reflectors don't work, and that lights should be required, but I figure that a rear reflector and a light can't hurt, and helps satisfy legal requirements.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Schwinn Le Tour II Restoration, Phase 3.5 - Single Speed with Fenders


I put Phase 3.5 in the title because the bike's configuration hasn't changed that much from the so-called Phase 3. There will be a Phase 4, so stay tuned.

The addition of fenders, Brooks B17 saddle, cloth tool roll, silver crank dust caps and retro bottle cage does change the look somewhat, though.

The fenders are the 37mm polished aluminum fenders from Velo Orange. I installed them myself using the supplied hardware. Fortunately, I didn't have to drill anything, but unfortunately, I didn't have all the hardware I needed, and had to pick up some extra parts from Ace Hardware.

It seems to me that the tire clearance is a little too wide but due to the way the frame is built, there wasn't much I could do about it if I wanted to keep the clearance uniform.

The old-school bottle cage straps are designed to secure certain bottle cages against the tube. These straps don't have any nuts that would replace brazeons, so I can't use any bottle cage.

I felt a stainless steel bottle would work well with the chrome and polished aluminum elsewhere on the bike. Some also recommend steel bottles, as they don't get gunked up the way plastic can, leach chemicals in the water, and make the water taste funny. The bad news is that the bottle and cage aren't designed for each other, so there's a little vibration and noise when the bottle is empty.

The tool roll is a Bike Burrito and looks really good underneath the black Brooks B17 with copper rivets and rails. I keep an extra tube, tire levers, wrenches, rag, patches, pump, and a multitool in the roll.

I still want to cut the fender stays to keep a clean look.

I needed to create some spacers to move the fender further out from the chain stay bridge. I used a long bolt with washers and nuts as spacers. I used leather washers from Velo Orange to help absorb vibration.

This part was tricky. The sliding mount was in the form of a strap that I had to bend, fold, and pinch myself for a custom fit. This holds the top of the fender secure to the seat stay bridge. The hole in the strap for the brake bolt wasn't wide enough for the nut, so I had to ream it out a bit with a drill.

The fenders came with a fork crown daruma. This nifty piece of hardware connects to the brake bolt as it passes through the crown. It drops a bolt that goes through a hole in the top of the fender. I don't know if I did it right, but I didn't tighten down the nut under the fender too tightly. As a result, I can wiggle the fender a bit to align it over the tire, and it gives if I clip the fender with my toe, rather than bend the fender.

The Good

  • Fenders rock. I've got fenders on my Trek 7300 hybrid, and they've enabled me to ride comfortable in wet conditions. They also help keep the bike clean, especially the underside of the new leather saddle.
  • They look cool, I think. I feel almost caveman-like when it comes to shiny things. Oooohhh... shiny!
  • Yay! I installed the fenders myself! It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but it did take a while. It should go more quickly next time.
  • Being able to carry a bottle is nice on those hot days when I might not be riding near water. This bike is more of a city commuter with skinny tires, and not intended for long adventure rides, but a swig of water every now and again is a good thing.

The Bad

  • These fenders, while not as pricey as Japanese Honjo fenders, were a little more expensive than plastic fenders.
  • I'm afraid the metal fenders will get dented and scuffed with everyday commuting. This is a working bike, and not being restored just for show.
  • Toe clipping is a problem now. My days of the almost-track stand are done on this bike, since my feet hit the fender if I move the handlebars from side to side.
  • I didn't notice any vibration or rattling during an easy test ride on the trail this afternoon but I wonder if commuting on the rough streets of Omaha will shake something loose.
  • I guess it's impossible for Velo Orange to predict all the parts that I would need. I spent an extra $10 on assorted nuts, bolts, washers, and such from the local hardware store.
In summary, I like the look of the shiny new parts. Fenders extend the riding days of any bike. I've got a few more ideas for the bike before I call it done, so be sure to watch for updates.