Thursday, August 27, 2009

Young Professionals Provide Feedback For Omaha's Bus Transit Authority

The masthead for this blog reads:

One man's attempt at opting out of the total car culture
by walking, busing, and cycling in Omaha, Nebraska.

There hasn't been much talk of busing here lately, as I'm been so taken with all that the world of cycling has to offer. This post is about busing in Omaha.

Today, the Omaha Young Professionals Council is presenting to Metro Area Transit the results of the survey that followed the YP Bus Challenge earlier this spring. I participated in the Challenge by buying a monthly pass and using the bus every day for commuting (with bicycle in tow) and some errand running. I formed a team at work and we came in at third place.

Yesterday I got an email from Omaha World-Herald reporter, Tom Shaw, looking for some quotes on a story. I was happy to oblige, as I see helping to develop a top-notch transit system in Omaha as vital to helping to check suburban sprawl, and to attract (and retain!) smart, hardworking folks (young and old) to Omaha.

The text of the story is below. Be sure to check out the paper or the web site for updates after the YP Council presents their report to MAT.

Group backs later MAT service

By Tom Shaw


It's 1 a.m.

You and your friends just had a great time in the Old Market. Now you want to get back to Dundee.

If only you could hop on a bus.

Expanding Metro Area Transit bus service to include late-night hours is one of several recommendations from the Greater Omaha Young Professionals.

The recommendations come from participants in the group's spring Bus Challenge. Nearly 200 people rode MAT buses over a three-week period in April and May and then took an online survey about their experiences.

Young Professionals, which is affiliated with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, seeks to improve Omaha so the city can continue to attract and retain young professionals.

MAT executive director Curt Simon welcomes the recommendations, which will be formally presented to the MAT board today.

Some of the group's suggestions, such as improving MAT's bus signs and Web site, are being done already, Simon said. Other ideas, including the late night bus service, will require more study. Currently, buses serving main routes quit running at 11:30 p.m.

Simon said support for public transportation from younger Omahans is key.

“They don't just want to see it work,” he said of the bus system. “They want to see it work well.”

Scott Redd, a systems engineer at Union Pacific, took part in the challenge. Usually he rides his bike from home near 50th Street and Interstate 80 to the downtown UP headquarters.

Redd said MAT is convenient for people in the midtown and downtown areas. It also cuts out the expense of downtown parking.

An avid biker, Redd also likes the fact that MAT buses have bike racks on the front.

“That was really progressive,” he said. “I was surprised when they starting doing that.”

But there are limitations.

Redd said he can't catch a bus home after about 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Chris Miller, an information technology worker for First National Bank, also pointed to bus schedules as a drawback.

Miller, a midtown resident who took the challenge, has ridden the bus downtown since 2007.

Miller said some of his co-workers don't use the bus because they don't think it's reliable enough.

MAT buses are on schedule close to 90 percent of the time, Simon said, but acknowledged occasional problems.

Miller and Redd said they think some young professionals buy into a stereotype that buses are only for low-income residents. Miller and Redd said the bus can be a good resource for anyone.

One recommendation is for MAT to rebrand itself and expand support for public transportation.

Simon said MAT continuously works to fight the negative images.

The group also recommended that more companies offer financial assistance to employees who use public transportation.

First National Bank subsidizes 25 percent of bus ticket costs for employees and sells them through its human resources department.

Union Pacific lets employees buy bus passes with pre-tax pay, saving some money on the cost.

Young Professionals also would like more bus service aimed at area college students.

Simon said the agency is developing a pilot program with Metro Community College to increase service for its students.

MAT hasn't had much success getting a program started for UNO students, Simon said, because of the varied times and routes students would need.

Simon said there's merit in exploring an after-hours bus that circulates through downtown and midtown. The question, he said, is whether late-night bus service would be economically viable.

MAT has changed some bus signs in response to suggestions from the young professionals group and others.

MAT now displays entire bus schedules on small kiosks at places such as 76th and Dodge Streets. More route information also is being placed at bus shelters.

MAT's Web site will be improved soon, Simon said, so users can click on specific routes and pull up the bus schedule for that route.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bacon Ride, and a Failed Century Ride... Sort Of

This Sunday, Rafal organized another one of his favorite Bacon Rides, with route created by route wiz, Mark. I had expressed an interest in adding some more miles to get my first century under my belt, so Rafal obliged with some more awesome gravel routes through La Platte, and then streets, trail, and more streets through Bellevue before leaving me in Little Italy with 15 more miles to do on my own.

Several folks showed up at Wholner's at 6AM
  • Rafal D. on Bianchi single speed cross bike
  • James P. on a new Giant cross bike
  • Mark S. on a single speed, of which I didn't notice the brand, but it looked expensive
  • Ryan F. on a beefy mountain bike
  • Chris G. sporting a classic Bianchi Sport SS with some new tires, eager for his first time gravel adventure
  • And myself on the Specialized Tricross
W00t! A nice crowd.

The weather was perfect, with temps in the lower 60s, little wind, and highs predicted in the mid 80s. It couldn't have been a better day for cycling.

Chris told me that when he arrived at Wholner's, he realized he had forgotten his gloves. Then, he said, it dawned on him that he also had forgotten his helmet! Ryan's advice: "Don't fall." He didn't.

We made our way to the end of the city pavement just south of Walnut Creek, and from there, it was a mix of gravel roads and highway, with some MOPAC trail mixed in.

I'll save the play by play, and instead, offer up photographs taken during parts of the trip.

A nice breakfast was had at Platte River State Park, and conversation spilled over between our table and a table with some Lincoln riders that some of the folks knew. Unfortunately, Mark had a problem with his crank spindle and bottom bracket, so he had to call out for a ride home from the park.

Then, highway, MOPAC, pedestrian bridge, gravel, highway, gravel, lots of gravel hills near the church, more gravel, some highway, then more gravel.

James, Ryan, and Chris rode on back into town at Fairview near 108th, while Rafal and I rode on Fairview to 84th, then to Platteview to 57th, then La Platte Road, crossing under Highway 75 near the Platte River. We worked east toward Harland Lewis and then got onto the Keystone Trail/Belleview Loop and rode on in to Old Towne Bellevue to stock up on water and sports drinks.

The Bellevue Boulevard saw us to Mandan Park and on to 13th Street, and then we rode the familiar Gibson Road/Zoo/10th Street route. Rafal headed home at Bancroft, and I rode on in to downtown, crossed the river, and got some miles in on the Council Bluffs Levee trail heading toward Narrows Park before turning around and heading home.

Once home, I could relax. My shoulders and arms were a little sore, but my legs, knees and feet were feeling great. Aside from a general tiredness setting in, I felt like I could keep on riding. My new cycling shorts and jersey really kept me comfortable and energized.

At home, I saw what I was afraid on the bike computer.

I did not ride a century.

I was short of one-quater mile.

Epic fail!

Damn. I'll have to try again some other time.

Thanks, Rafal, for helping me on the century, and thanks to everyone for the awesome ride and conversation. I can't wait for more gravel adventures. My Tricross is getting quite the appetite for the awesome gravel roads and trails we have in this part of the country.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bike Burrito: A Better, Beautiful Bike Blowout Bag?

Since the recent single speed/fixie conversion of the Schwinn Le Tour II, I've been trying to keep the overall style at a simple, minimalistic level. One simplification was in achieved in replacing the original brake levers with newer, aero style brake levers with under-the-bar-tape cabling, resulting in a really clean handlebar. A beefy, silver single speed chain now accentuates the simple transmission of energy from front chainring to rear cog,

The purpose of the single speed Schwinn is to have a comfortable, simple, fun bike for tooling around Omaha, be it commuting to work or visiting the local restaurants or pubs and coffee shops. I don't plan on any epic adventures on this bike, but you never know. One must, in my opinion, when traveling more than a mile or two from home without a backpack or messenger bag is a "blowout bag." Typically a blowout bag is a saddle bag with a tube, pump or CO2 cartridge, tire levers, and necessary tools for fixing a flat on the go.

Most saddle bags these days are made of nylon or sometimes recycled rubber tubes, but for the Schwinn, I wanted to try something a little different. Here we come to the topic of this post; the Bike Burrito.

The Bike Burrito is an artisan made cloth tool roll. It's essentially an apron of cloth with pockets on the inside that can be stuffed with tools and a tube, rolled up, and secured underneath the seat on the rails of a saddle with a leather strap. You could think of it as an old timey looking seat bag.

I visited the Bike Burrito shop and placed a custom order. I wanted colors to match my bike (namely, red, black and white), but since I didn't see anything in their shop, I placed a custom order, asking the artisan to use their own judgment. I supplied a photo of my bike and trusted their artistic eye to match a suitable pattern.

A couple of weeks later, my Bike Burrito arrived. I found the packaging so cute that I photographed it, almost like one might document a new product "unboxing" event. The first thing I noticed was that the burrito was wrapped like a, well, a burrito, in aluminum foil. Inside the envelope was also a little Bike Burrito pin, a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce, and a card showing the proper way to secure the roll under the saddle.

I put an extra tube in the big pocket, a set of wrenches (13mm, 14mm, and 15mm), a multi tool, and a mini pump in the other pockets, rolled it up, and tied it under my seat. I haven't ridden the bike with the burrito yet, but I noticed that the wrenches clang against each other if I bounce the bike around. To solve this, I rolled the wrenches in a rag before stuffing into the pocket. This seems to help, and also provides a way to wipe my hands, should they get soiled during a repair job.

I will post comments later after riding with the Bike Burrito for a week or so. I'll know better then about how well it rides along tucked under the seat.

Thanks to Jayme for the custom order. The Bike Burrito looks great on my bike.

The photos below show the Bike Burrito in detail.

It's a burrito, wrapped in foil.

I was pleased with the red and black tartan print.

Burritos should come with hot sauce!

The right tools and supplies for fixing a flat. I rolled the wrenches in a rag later to help avoid clinking and clanging.

My custom Bike Burrito installed on the bike. This would look so much cooler under a Brooks saddle.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Taco Ride - Rainy Dark Edition

Not many words for this post. Check out the ride description at Tim's blog.

These fawns let me get about 4 feet away from them

Tim helps out by snapping a random group photo.

This rainbow over Silver City was much brighter to the eye than it appears here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Snake Bite!

I wasn't really bitten by a snake. Read on.

This evening, I took the Schwinn, in fixie mode, on the Keystone for a short ride. I'm not able to commute to work by bike this week, so I'm trying to make sure I get some rides in. Right after getting on the trail, I noticed poor handling and looked down for a flat.

Sure enough, the rear 25mm tire was all squishy. I stopped to check, and dang it if the tire had no air in it.

I turned the bike over and pulled out my shiny Ace Hardware 15mm wrench and pulled the rear wheel off. I used a lever to pop out the bead, but was able then to get the tire and tube off by hand.

I had an extra tube, but had never used a glueless patch kit and wanted to give it a try. The weather was nice, and I had plenty of light left, so why not? I used my mini pump (also never used) to connect up to the Presta valve, gave it some air, and found not one, but two tiny holes next to each other.

Snake bike! I guess this is a pinch flat.

I had a nasty nail puncture last year on my hybrid, but the pinch flat was new. I am not sure how I got it, but I do know there's a bad gap on a bridge joint near where I get on the trail. I'm not used to hopping and popping obstacles in fixie (where I can't brace on the pedals), so maybe that was it.

I got the warm fuzzy about cycling when a handful of people, including one guy who "pedals" a recumbent using his arms, slowed and asked if I needed help, a tube, or CO2 cartridges. I do the same, so it all works out. I even helped a retired gentleman change a car tire once while out on a commute.

I didn't need any help, and in a few minutes, had the pressure up, good enough by feel, to remount the wheel and continue riding a bit. When I got home I saw that I had reached 60 PSI of the recommended 90 PSI maximum and topped it off with my floor pump. The patch seemed to work well enough to span the two tiny holes and hold pressure. My mini pump has settings for high volume or high pressure, so if I had been more patient, may have been able to get to 90 on the mini pump, but 60 was good enough to ride a bit.

I'm curious to see if the patch holds over the next few days. It sure beats the messy glue and rubber patches I used as a youth.

In the meantime, I'll be sure to watch out for more snake bikes on the Keystone!

Lessons Learned
  • Who needs expensive CO2 cartridges? If conditions allow, the mini pump is effective, and free to use, and if I mess up, I just reattach the pump and try again.
  • Make sure tires are properly inflated. I understand skinny road tires can lose air more quickly than wider, lower pressure tires. Not sure if I headed out on low pressure, but maybe I did.
  • Glueless patches seem to work pretty well! At six patches per kit, it's way cheaper than buying a new tube.
  • Even for short rides, bring a blowout kit. Sure, I could have pushed the bike two miles, uphill, home, but where's the fun and adventure in that?
  • Pack two tire levers. For some reason I only had one. I didn't need two, but if I had, I didn't have it.
  • Cyclists are so cool, always looking out for each other.
  • Be comfortable fixing flats! I did this some as a kid, and have changed tires and tubes some for riding in different seasons. Anyone serious about cycling, (men, women, and children) should learn how to fix a flat. You will get flats! It's not that hard, and can be done in a few minutes with some practice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Omaha's 2009 Corporate Cycling Challenge

Sunday, August 16, 2009 started out with with thunderstorms in the early morning hours, but by the time the Corporate Cycling Challenge 42 mile "Tour de Fort" started, only some blowing drops remained. I did the 10 mile ride last year with my wife and daughter.

The plan was to hook up with some of the MITMON folks at Starbucks before the ride, but I overslept and didn't leave the house until about 7:30. I'm so glad I got all of my equipment and gear ready the night before.

I pedaled on down, stopping at the store to get some Gatorade to mix with my water, and got into position only a few minutes before the start of the ride. I wasn't able to find anyone I knew, so I rode all the way to Ft. Calhoun solo.

In a way, this was a good thing. I didn't have to worry about going too fast with my family, who decided to sleep in this year, and I didn't have to worry about going too slow with all of the folks who ride really fast, but are friendly enough to let me tag along. For the first five miles, I rode along with the crowd, but then I thought, "why not speed things up a bit?" So, I did.

I started passing folks, advancing my way up. Mind you, not at any breakneck speed, or with crazy maneuvers, just a steady, but quicker pace than those around me. After a while I found that I was matching the pace with a line of four other guys who seemed to be hanging together. I rode like this until we hit Highway 75 and into the hills of Ponca.

Once we turned north on Highway 75, things changed, in a remarkable way. Those guys I had been drafting slowed down, considerably. Folks started shifting their chains off the cogs. Tandems began crawling. I pedaled on, shifting down only one gear, and just spinning away. From this point on, all the way up and down hills on Highway 75, I was only passed by a couple of riders, but I, myself, passed dozens of other cyclists. I'm not trying to toot my horn, but I think the past few weeks of single speed commuting has paid some measurable dividends. I wasn't crazy fast, but it felt awesome to keep a steady pace up the hills and easily pass so many people.

Once we got to Ft. Calhoun, I dropped off my ride tickets to prove that I was there. I grabbed a banana and some Fig Newtons, and stood in line to use the portable toilet. It was in Ft. Calhoun that I ran across Tim from UP, Rafal, and Angie E. from UNO. Tim was in a hot pink Veloshop racing kit, Rafal was in his Midwest Cycling gear with slick tires on this single speed, and Angie was sporting a new bike.

I rode back with Rafal and Tim, and that put to rest any ideas that I had about me being a fast rider today. Rafal, as always, is beast on the single speed Bianchi cyclocross bike, and Tim is just amazingly fast, especially on his lightweight titanium bike with 52 tooth chainring that looks like something that came out of a sawmill. I was dropped on most hills (the way back is more hilly than the way there), but caught up easily enough when the terrain flattened out a bit. I think Tim and Rafal were holding back. I did get very comfortable climbing out of the saddle on the Tricross today.

Either Rafal or Tim (I can't remember which) said that they averaged 18MPH. I'm not sure if that includes their trip out and back, or just their trip back when I rode along. 18 MPH isn't bad considering the hills on the north side of town.

I haven't heard any official tallies, but the Corporate Cycling Challenge may have set a new record this year with 4,500 participants, or at least registrations. The money collected by participants and sponsors goes to help with trail development in Omaha and eastern Nebraska.

Lessons Learned
  • Cycling specific chamois shorts make a huge difference on long or hard rides. The Pearl Izumi shorts I picked up yesterday were worth every penny. Will I wear them to the grocery store or restaurant? No, that's what my knickers are for.
  • I don't look nearly as fat as I thought I would in the chamois. There are a lot of people much larger than I am. However, if you have any pictures from today that suggest otherwise, please keep them to yourself.
  • The cycling jersey I got, with pockets on the back, is comfortable and light, and also lets me carry snacks, wallet, phone, etc., without the need for an extra bag
  • Snacks are not needed on the Corporate Cycling Challenge. There's an abundance of bananas and Fig Newtons at the turnaround points. I'll leave those home next year.
  • Many people decked out in racing kits are slow.
  • Many people wearing cutoff jean shorts and dirty t-shirts are fast.
  • Make sure your tires are in good shape and properly inflated. After each rough railroad crossing were piles of people changing tires.
  • Maybe I'll get a cycle computer on the Tricross to get better data on these kinds of rides.
It's great to see that so many people turned out today to help support cycling in the Omaha metro area. The Corporate Cycling Challenge is a fun way to ride some of Omaha's scenic roads while helping out the trails networks, all while having fun with family and cycling friends, old and new.

See you all at the 20th anniversary 2010 Corporate Cycling Challenge next year.

The Route

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Further Along On Fixie: A Fun Fad?

I've still not tried my 10 mile round trip daily commute on the fixed gear; I'm too chicken to play in traffic, especially on some of my downhill runs.

However, I've spent maybe two hours on the Keystone Trail riding fixie. In short, it's fun, but I don't know how practical it is. Maybe it doesn't have to be practical.

Navigating starts and stops and slow speed turns is different than when on a freewheel. It's almost like learning how to ride a bike all over again. Also, my legs are a little sore, as if I'm new to cycling, all over again. The back pressure required to slow down (unless I cheat and use brakes) requires a different force to be applied from the legs. Even when using brakes, the legs are never along for a free ride. I can never simply ignore what my legs are doing. My mind must always be on pedaling strategy.

I suppose there are some good things to take away from the fixie experience. For one, I like to coast. Perhaps I coast too much. If I can get in the habit of always pedaling, as if I were on the fixie, I'd be a better rider.

Secondly, I think the constant pedaling, and standing to climb and back pressure on the pedals to slow, could make the fixie a great workout bike. I wonder if I could get a better workout in an hour of fixie than I would on single speed or with gears.

Lastly, I think fixie gives me better balance. Since I don't ever want to have to stop and unclip, I'm more likely to slowly approach my stop and balance at slow speeds, or even stand for a few seconds.

I wouldn't want a straight up fixie bike, but I'm really having fun with the flip-flop hub on the Schwinn that let's me ride single speed or fixed gear depending on the experience I want to have.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First on Fixie - I Didn't Die

When I did the single-speed conversion on the Schwinn Le Tour II, I was left with a rear hub that has mysterious threads on the non-drive side. "So this is a flip-flop hub," I thought.

Curiosity got the best of me today when I went to the bike shop and got a Surly 17 tooth track cog and lock ring. Let's try fixie!

Fixie, or fixed gear, is when there is no freewheel or freehub allowing the rear wheel to coast when not pedaling. If the wheel is turning, so is the chain, and so are the cranks, and so are your feet. A flip-flop hub allows a regular freewheel cog on one side and a fixed cog on the other. By taking off the wheel and flipping it around, one is able to ride either single-speed (with coasting) or fixed gear (with no coasting).

Mike at the Re-Cycle bike shop was kind enough to let me use his work stand and tools to put it on. The cog was too thick for the multi-speed chain I was using, so I also had to throw on a beefy, silver single-speed chain.

Having never even sat on a fixed gear bike, I didn't dare try to ride home in this configuration. So I flippity-flopped the wheel back to single-speed and rode home normally.

Once home, I grabbed the wrench and flipped around the wheel and tightened up the chain and took it for a spin. Actually, the bike took me for a spin. I had trouble just getting out of the driveway. I live at the top of a pretty steep hill. I was riding both brakes at a slow crawl all the way down the hill.

My plan was to ride down to a nearby parking lot and just get the hang of the track bike style pedaling. The first parking was being resurfaced, so I rode neighborhood streets to a shopping center and practiced a while there. What pitiful track standing I had learned to do on my single-speed didn't seem to help much on the fixie. No longer able to ratchet the cranks to keep my best foot forward, I was all over the place, backward and forward, and thowing a foot out constantly. At one point I fell over when I couldn't get my foot out quick enough. Embarrasing, but expected. Standing for only a few seconds was the best I could do. Maybe some practice will help.

Finally I felt comfortable enough to try some back streets. I rode around a couple of blocks, ascending and descending hills. I was completely unaware of how the whole back-pressure on the pedals would feel. Once or twice I went to wipe sweat or shift in the saddle and forgot that I couldn't brace myself on one leg for a moment. Gotta keep pedaling!

Want to stop? Gotta keep pedaling!

Want to slow down? Back pressure, but keep pedaling! I felt no shame applying both front and rear brakes.

The 17t cog was a little steeper than the 18t that I've been riding, but it felt kind of aggressive and snappy. I zipped up the hill to my house a little more quickly.

I doubt I will try this configuration when riding the streets on my commute. It just makes me too nervous. The real fun will begin when I get to a trail or lonely road, flip the wheel around, and see what happens on a nice, long flat.

Even if I don't ride the fixed cog often, the thick silver chain looks a little sharper than the previous chain I had on.

Bike Omaha System Officially Open

With the ceremonial shredding of a ribbon, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle officially declared Omaha's on-street bicycle route system open.

Read more about it on the Bike Omaha blog, including a route map, photos and video from the event.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ring My Bell

I ordered an all-metal brass and steel bell from Olympia Cycle to go on the single speed Schwinn.

Here it is pictured to the right. Sorry, there's a smudge on my camera lens.

A bell is a must for riding around pedestrians and slower moving cyclists, especially on the bike paths.

I actually ordered another model, but Larry ordered a batch of both styles from his supplier. If you want a solid, loud and clear brass bell for your bike, now's the time to go to Olympia and pick one up for about $13.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mmm... Bacon. What? I'm a Vegan!

I thought Rafal was being creative in his use of language by describing Mark's 65 mile road and gravel route as a Bacon Ride. It turns out, there was bacon involved, however, suitable alternatives were available for vegetarians.

Rafal, James P. and I met at Aksarben Village around 6am and headed out to the south and the west using a Bikely route created by Mark S. I didn't get a lot of photos. Rafal's pace was quick (for me) and it didn't leave me much time for fussing with the camera. I did get a few shots of the MOPAC Trail near Springfield, then some at Platte River State Park, where we had a buffet style breakfast, and then some photos along the pedestrian bridge that spans the Platte River west of the park. We finished the trip with some suds at Blue Planet Natural Grill before parting ways.

Before the ride, I had thought I would turn back about 20-25 miles into the ride, but Rafal encouraged me on (I can't repeat his words *grin*). Plus, I didn't have the cue sheet, and, frankly, wasn't certain how to get back, so I stuck it out. I'm glad I did. I'm slow climbing the hills, but I think I recovered well enough.

Though Rafal and James were on single speeds, I don't think I would have fared so well on this gravely terrain, so I opted for the Specialized Tricross bike, which, as Brady put it, was "designed to eat gravel."

With 72 miles, including the commute to and from the trail, this is the most that I've ridden in a single day. Including a restroom break and breakfast, we were out for about six hours. My previous record was the Shenandoah trip, where my wife and I were out for 11 hours over 65 miles, albeit, fully loaded down with touring gear on damp limestone.

My legs are a little sore, and I'm tired from staying up too late last night, but I had a real blast, and am looking forward to another long ride with my bike friends again in the future.


Here's a link to the photos in case the slide show doesn't load.


View Platte Gravel 65 mile (Bikely) in a larger map