Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Briny, Rusty Mess

I've been riding to and from work each day though the snowy, cold Nebraska Winter. This includes a fair amount of riding on Omaha's salted and sanded streets.

While the briny grit is great for melting ice and getting traction for cars (I do just fine with my studded tires on ice, thank you very much), it's making a mess of my bike, and the regular spot on the bike racks at work.

There are still a handful of daily bike commuters at my office, but I seem to be the first or second one in each morning, giving me my pick of the rack, so I pick the same spot each day. I noticed a while back that my spot was getting messier and messier, until it got to a point where I just had to take a photo of it.

Look at this photo and you can't miss the salt deposits, and even a large pool of rust left from my often neglected chain.

Here's a second photo showing a rusty looking spot on the racks. I'm hoping this still will just wipe off, as I don't want to see them damaged by the salt.

Needless to say, my bike is filthy. I need to clean it, but I just keep putting it off. It looks like a messy way to spend some time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cinch In A Notch, Watch Out For Karma

Yesterday I pulled my pants belt in a notch. It was difficult, not in that I needed a mule team to pull the belt through the buckle, but that the faux leather belt was mighty accustomed to the previous hole. It took some manipulating to get the tongue (is that the name for the spindle part that goes into the hole?) into the new, unused hole.

I wrote before about losing 20 pounds since I started biking to work. So pulling in the belt was another nice way to confirm the physical changes that have occurred.

However, maybe bragging about it wasn't such a good idea. I don't brag, really. Rather, I get excited about things and feel I have to share.

This morning I noticed that the ratchet strap on my helmet was broken.

I guess this means that bragging about cinching in my belt a notch went to my head. Literally.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ow, Me Back

Say it like "Ahnold" would say it. "I'll be back."

I have a trick back. Only, the tricks aren't funny and amusing as the word would suggest.

Thursday morning I mounted my bike and rode the five miles to work, no problem. But when I dismounted at the racks, I felt the twinge in my lower back. I continued my routine: 30 minutes of lifting weights, shower, sit at desk all day getting up every hour or so to walk around, and go home. All the day, though, feeling the twinge make itself more known.

This morning it was an effort to move from the horizontal to the vertical posture required to get out of bed. I knew it wasn't going to be a bike day. Instead, I rode the bus in. I halfway considered calling in sick and spending the day sitting and laying on a hot pad, but after getting up and walking around a little, the pain has eased a little, and I'm glad I came to work.

It's funny how living the Shift has shifted my thought processes. I could have driven in, but chose the bus because I have become accustomed to not driving into downtown and dealing with the traffic and parking issues. The bus was my first thought. As a side note, I did drive my truck yesterday afternoon for my daughter's weekly drama lesson and noticed that I still have a quarter of a tank of gas left over from my last fill-up in November. Take that, oil companies.

Here's a list of other unforgettable back episodes:
  • Fell flat on back during my first snow shoveling experience after arriving in Omaha (from Alabama) about 15 years ago
  • Fell flat on my back from a height of about four of five feet while goofing around on a jungle gym with my kids about 10 years ago
  • Lifted a clothes dryer a few years ago (stupid, stupid)
  • Moving from a bent over position filling a cup at a water cooler to a standing position. PING! Back hurts. That's the weirdest one.
My plan is to take it easy today and this weekend, and hopefully be up for the ride on Monday. I'm leaving my studded tires on, as we might be getting more snow. I also will be spending some time playing with my new ugly, but oh-so-Googly T-Mobile G1 Android phone that should be arriving on Saturday.

So, until Monday, "Ow, Me Back" and then "I'll Be Back."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minus 15? Yes, I Did!

Why not cycle to work when it's this cold?

Here is a list of things that helped cinch my decision to bike to work for my five mile commute:

  • Son's car is behind my truck in the driveway. Have you ever tried to rouse a sleeping teenager and ask him to do something that doesn't directly benefit him?
  • I'd have to wait for truck to warm up
  • I park about a half-mile from work, walk to office would have been bitterly cold in dress pants and shoes
  • If I rode the bus, I'd have to walk to stop
  • If I rode the bus, I'd have to wait for bus
Instead, I layered up and started riding, generating quite a bit of my own heat. The end of my nose, the only part of my body exposed to the air, was cold until I started huffing. My fingers were cold at first, but after the first hill climb, the pumping blood warmed them up a bit. My toes were very cold and didn't warm up until I got to work. I may need to do something different on the feet for sub-zero temps.

I deliberately chose a route that would give me some visibility if I were to pass out or fall and hit my head. It wouldn't take long for an unconscious person to freeze to death in this kind of weather along a seldom used trail like the Field Club Trail.

My balaclava was encrusted with ice when I parked my bike at the front door of my office. I should have snapped a photo, but I just wanted to get inside at the time.

This cold weather riding is fun, but I'll be glad when Spring comes and I don't need to bring an extra empty pannier with me just to carry my extra gear to my desk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Of Things Lost - The Good And The Bad

The Bad Loss

Last Thursday I did my weekly bus ride home with the bike. My daughter takes a class at the Rose Theater (she's in the picture at that link: bottom center) after school on Thursdays, so I grab a bus toward home and bike the last half mile. I don't change clothes for this, but rather throw on my warm riding jersey jacket and high-visibility Vagabond wind breaker. I then drive her to the class, and go back to work for about and hour and half.

I recall that last Thursday was pretty mild, and I was in a hurry to catch the bus, so I just threw on the jersey and put the Vagabond jacket under the flap of my pannier.

Friday morning, I discovered that my Vagabond jacket was nowhere to be seen! I hadn't even opened the pannier, so I don't think I took it out and misplaced it. Friday morning I rode back along the same route I used on Thursday, in hopes that I would find the jacket. No such luck. Lost and found at MAT, my employer, and my employer's fitness center hadn't seen it either.


Like a true vagabond, I guess the jacket thought it was time to pull up its shallow roots and head off somewhere else in search of adventure. My only hope is that someone find it and recognizes it for what it is, and not mistake it for some cheap, flimsy windbreaker.

The Vagabond is a Pearl Izumi product, so it's a tad on the expensive side. I didn't want to buy a new one unless I had to. So before ordering one (the local Trek stores were out of stock) I checked out Sports Authority. I've noticed that they have a Canari brand of cycling clothing that typically runs about half the price of the PI stuff. There I found a high-visibility yellow jacket with all the same features as the Vagabond:
  • water resistant
  • breathable
  • zip out sleeves, turning it into a vest
  • pockets
I think this is the product at the Sports Authority web site, though I must have gotten a sale price, as I paid just under $50 for it.

After wearing it for half a week, I can say that it's almost as good as the Vagabond, but not quite. It seems to get a little stiff in the cold, where the Vagabond did not. I also like the better fit of the PI product, especially around the wrists. I think the Canari jacket has more reflective piping on the back.

The Canari sleeves zip out individually, whereas the Vagabond has a unique one piece design for the sleeves. I am not sure which is better, as it's pretty simple to zip in and out the sleeves on the Canari jacket, whereas it takes some alignment with three Velcro patches to get the sleeves back on the Vagabond.

I have two Canari products now and so far, they seem to be good quality, and at half the price of the Pearl Izumi line, it might be worth it to save some cash.

The Good Loss

This morning before dressing and leaving the house for an 8°F ride, I stepped on the scale and was hit with a nice number: 193. This number is significant in that it's full 20 pounds lighter than my first day of bike commuting, almost six months ago to the day. It's also the lightest I've been since I topped out at 250 during my fat days back in 2001.

My next goal is to reach an even 190 and go buy some new pants.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blizzard Bike Commute

By 4pm, Monday's blizzard had died down a bit. The snow had stopped falling, but the 20-30 MPH winds kept visibility, and the ability to ride a straight line down a bit.

Given the mess that the roads were in, I chose to ride sidewalks and trails until getting within a half-mile of my home where I then rode the neighborhood streets.

I've found that riding west out of downtown on Douglas Street sidewalks is not that bad. The north sidewalk is very wide all the way to 24th Street. It narrows a bit from there, but in all, you can ride it almost all the way to the Turner Boulevard Trail near 30th. I've found this to be a good alternative to the streets when they are at their slipperiest and traffic at its most impatient.

I found the Turner Boulevard Trail to be mostly cleaned. I am presuming the Parks Department used a brush to clean it. Yay! I was amused to find that the operator had some difficulty seeing the trail, as the brushed path didn't exactly match the true path of the trail.

Heading up Pacific, then down to the Field Club Trail, I found it mostly clear, as well. Blowing snow covered parts of it, but in all, the trail riding was 1000% easier and safer than the street riding would have been.

The hard part came when I left the Field Club Trail to head west up Vinton. Again, I chose the sidewalks for the slow hill climb. Most of the sidewalks were rutted and filled with drifting snow. I've ridden in the snow a few times this winter, but never through the snow. Come on people, shovel your dang walks? I shovel mine.

This was hard! Riding uphill, wind shearing from the side, turning the front wheel wildly from side to side trying to keep moving forward through the ruts while the loose snow was impeding me more. I wonder if this is what mountain biking is like. At one point I got stuck and had to hop off and walk a few feet. Another time my foot came off the platform pedal and the crank spun around backward and whacked my shin with the pedal.

Both yesterday and this morning I tried a trick with my fogging glasses under my goggles. My cousin Billy in Alabama advised me to try rubbing in some dish soap on my glasses and then buffing it off. It worked well yesterday, but this morning I got some sweat or something on the lens and had to stop and remove my glasses. Goggles work great during the high winds, blowing snow (and sand!) and temperatures below 10 degrees.

This morning my real derailleur was frozen after slamming through the snow drifts, forcing me to ride my bike 3-speed style (ie: 3 front chainring positions in the front and the largest rear cog in the back).

Tomorrow's weather looks good, but Thursday the range from low to high will be -5 to 5 degrees. Another fun day of commuting.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow? Schmo.

Snow is back in the forecast, so the studs are back on the wheels.

Be careful out there!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'm Not Supposed To Be Here

Like Deteriorata, the National Lampoon spoof of the Desiderata poem, apparently I have no right to be here, or at least on the Field Club Trail. (See both poems here)

Friday morning I rode the Field Club Trail to work from Vinton to Pacific. With temperatures in the mid to upper 20s, the pre-dawn ride was very pleasant. It was very dark in some places, and I even came close to oncoming joggers a couple of times, despite having both a solid halogen beam and a blinky LED on my handlebars, I didn't see them. I am sure they saw me, so I wasn't worried about collisions.

To each person I overtook or passed in the opposite direction I gave my cheery, "Good morning!" Most either waved or greeted me back.

As I was approaching Pacific Street, I came upon a man walking a tiny dog. "Good morning," I said in my genuine "it's a great day to be alive" voice. He must have thought I said something else, as his response was a loud:

"You're not supposed to be on here, rapscallion!"

Note, that the word "rapscallion" was not his word of choice. I was called an important part of both the male and female anatomy; a part of significance to cyclists, in that if this particular body part is sore, one cannot enjoy a day in the saddle.

Well, how do I react to this? I just chuckled to myself. The thought that I, while cycling, was not permitted on the Field Club Trail, was preposterous.

I have a fatal flaw. In situations of public rudeness, I always try to imagine why someone would act that way. I always speculate and try to rationalize the behavior. The best I could come up here was:

  1. The dog walker thought I was a motorcycle, electric scooter, or some other sort of motorized vehicle due to my bright headlights. I don't ride particularly fast, but perhaps he saw me coming for a half-mile or more, with anger building up by the time I finally passed him. Despite my friendly greeting, he had already worked out what he was going to say to me.

  2. He thought there were some sort of hours of operation that disallowed cyclists on the trail at certain times, perhaps excluding bikes in the pre-dawn hours. I tried to find an online resource outlining trail hours of operation, but could not. I do know that some city parks have operating hours posted prohibiting use between, for example, midnight to 5am. I think these are posted to outlaw overnight parking.

  3. He's loony.
I've written before about how nice gestures overwhelmingly outweigh mean ones. Before the silly smile could leave my face, I came to the intersection of Field Club and Pacific, getting ready to turn right and head up the crazy hill toward the Turner Boulevard Trail. A car heading west on Pacific preparing to cross the trail stopped for me, despite having the right of way. I motioned for the car to come on through, since, you may know, the crossing there is not friendly for bikes with all of the gravel and tire-eating grates spanning the road. I was turning right, anyway and not proceeding along the trail, as the driver may have thought.

The gesture was appreciated, though, and helped to assure me that there are probably more friendly drivers than crazy dog walkers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I'm Going To Pump.... Me Up

No more girlie man for me. Hanz and Franz are going to pump me up.

This is totally unrelated to bike commuting, but I felt that the new year is a good time to start a new practice. Since I'm in the gym each weekday changing clothes after my morning commute, why not take an extra 20-30 minutes and do some strength training?

By putting it in writing here, I've challenged myself to stick to it and make it work.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Off With The New and On With The Old

I was checking out the weather forecast in Thursday night for Friday morning's ride when I saw that temperatures were predicted to be pretty mild (for a January in Nebraska), and no real chances of appreciable precipitation during the work days.

Should I take off my studded tires?

I used the long range forecasts at and and saw that there may be some freezing rain this weekend, but the next couple of weeks looked pretty clear. I am looking at the Accuweather forecast now and it's showing some snow and ice on Thursday, 1/8. The month forecast doesn't show that.

So, I decided to go ahead and take off the Innova studded tires and put back on the stock Bontrager tires that came on the bike. The studded tires are awesome in the snow and ice, but lately it's been dry on 99.9% of my paths. The Innovas also are noisy and put up quite a bit of rolling resistance. They were also a little expensive, so spending the time to change them out for at least 10 days more of dry street riding seemed economical to me. I'd like to get at least two seasons out of them.

Surprisingly, neither Innova tire had lost any studs after 106 miles. I expected to lose a few. Some were already worn down to the rubber, but in all, they still give quite a bite to whatever gets under them.

While the snow is pretty to look at, and I wouldn't mind going sledding again this season, for the purposes of cycling to work, I'd be happy if the roads stay dry and clear for the rest of the year, and the studded tires stay on the shelf in the garage until next Winter.