Thursday, October 09, 2014

Well, I guess that's equality of a sort

Sometimes I ride to work, sometimes I drive. Today I drove, and coming down Kellogg into downtown Saint Paul the rush hour traffic was all jostling to move into the left lane. I let a school bus move in front of me and could see the reason ahead; a policeman stopped in the right lane with a cyclist standing next to the cop car. I thought at first maybe there'd been a crash, and he was involved, but as I came alongside and then turned, the cyclist looked fine, there were no cars stopped, and the guy was rooting around in his pannier as the cop looked on.

Cyclist stopped by the cops, Saint Paul, October 2014

I parked in the adjacent parking ramp and took this photo. The cyclist looks like a pretty standard-issue Twin Cities commuter: Surly Long Haul Trucker, fenders, Brooks saddle, Ortlieb bags. I think he got stopped for some traffic violation. He sure looked annoyed. I don't know what he did. Speeding? It is downhill. Run a light? Perhaps. It's an unmarked car, would be easy not to notice. Whatever it was, the cop thought it serious enough to pull him over and then plug up one lane of traffic on one of the busiest roads into downtown at rush hour. Protecting and Serving, you know.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Something old, something new...

My son Henry, 21 years old and a shade taller than my 6' 5", needs a bicycle every bit as tall as mine. By happy coincidence, in 2009 a guy in Utah, having read this blog and some of my whining about needing tall bikes and the difficulty of finding them these days, e-mailed me to say he had a stripped tall Fuji steel frame and he'd give it to me, all I had to do was pay shipping. Sure! So, about $45 later, I was in possession of a big huge tall Fuji frame scraped down to bare metal.

Henry holding the bare Fuji frame as we got it Henry holding the Fuji frame as we got it, April 2009

The condition of the frame as we got it The condition of the frame as received. It looks a bit like rusting shipwrecks on Guadalcanal from 1943. I had the paint people sand blast the frame before painting.

It would be exaggerating to say we swung immediately into action on this. I did have the bottom bracket shell and headtube faced so that the opposing surfaces were parallel. I didn't, but should have, dragged the frame to some local framebuilder to get a couple of water bottle mounting bosses brazed on. This would have been trivial when it was still bare metal. I did take it to a powder coating place over in Golden Valley and had it painted a nice, fairly nondescript blue-gray color. In went a sealed-bearing bottom bracket and some cheap headset, and then the bike sat in the garage.

Henry in the meantime got taller than he was in 2009. He has a utilitarian Novarra Transit 7-speed internal hub bike that's a bit too small. He rode a mid-1980s Trek 620 until he got right-hooked and bent the fork. He got a Brompton H-model (the tall Brompton) from his grandmother. And finally, this summer, we decided to finish the built-out on the Fuji.

It's a funny mix of parts. The Fuji frame is probably from the late-1970s, which I infer from a) it's enormous size (68cm) b) it's complete lack of braze-ons and c) it's recessed front dropouts, a precursor to the 1980's "lawyer lips". Appropriately, some of the parts date back to the 1970s as well. The front wheel, for instance, is built on a 1977 Phil Wood hub, the very hub that appears in my Bike Touring Circa 1980 photos. The saddle is the Brooks Professional that came on my 1975 Motobecane Grand Record. The rear rack is a 1984 Blackburn, before racks had adjustable seatpost attachments. The rear wheel is from the Trek 620, the sidepull brakes were new because the Trek had cantilevers and this bike didn't have cantilever studs. The seatpost is new (different sizing than the Trek), the front derailleur is new, the Moustache bars were from an experiment I tried with my Atlantis, and the Honjo hammered fenders I just had lying around. The Honjos were, as usual, fiddly to install, and I had to fabricate a couple of brackets for the front fork mount and the brake bridge attachment point. In the end, though, we got this: Henry with the Fuji-framed bicycle.  It's an elegant machine. The Coolest Bike in Winona

It's hard to classify, with classic and modern elements, but in the end, it comes together nicely. It still looks 1970s, especially with the clamp-on water bottle cage holder (and I didn't have a silver cage that worked with these clamps on hand, hence the black cage), the three brake cable housing clamps along the tob tube and the seatstay clamps for the rear rack. The black fixture low on the seatpost is an attachment point for a Burley Travois trailer.

Here's Henry riding it. Note the good leg extension on the down-pedal: Henry on shakedown ride with Fuji-based bicycle

In the end, we're probably into it for $500 plus of course whatever sunk costs there were in parts lying around in the garage. That's a good value considering it's a pretty decent bike in a size that's very difficult to source these days.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Hot damn, I'm famous!

For at least a while in mid-August 2013, if you went to Google and did a search for 'bicycle touring', you'd get this page: For a while, a photo of me was the top hit on Google if you searched for 'bicycle touring'!

See that handsome devil in the black and white photo upper-leftmost in the results? (No? Click on the image, you'll get a big version) That's me!

Which is kind of strange. I haven't toured that much, and the rest of the images are from all sorts of global destinations. Maybe it's longevity; the Bike Touring Circa 1980 page went up in 1998 or so and must have been extremely thoroughly indexed at this point.

Here's a better view of the photo:

Matt about to depart Mingo, Iowa on the morning of June 10, 1980

I don't know how long this has been the case, or how long it will persist, but for the moment I'm basking in my Googley fame.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Watching the Tour de France

Official Tour de France t shirt from the 2009 Tour To be clear, I don't really give a rat's ass about bicycle racing. I don't read Velonews, I don't follow local clubs, I've never raced (I'm too slow, for one thing) and I don't care that much. I have met Lance Armstrong, 7-time winner of the Tour de France, and that was kind of cool because he's so famous, but he also personifies the problems with the sport and this event, that the podium results are just sort of tenative until all the drug results come in, sometimes years later.

Having said all that, I really like the Tour de France. Oh sure, the competitors are all drugged up, they just haven't been caught yet, and they are super-specialized physiques just like champion athletes in any big-money endeavour, but I like the team interplay and I really like the television coverage.

Really liking the television coverage used to be a problem because we don't have cable and the Tour used to show on Outdoor Life Network and then Versus, lesser cable channels, relegated with other minor sports like bass fishing and the National Hockey League. The Riverview Theater in Minneapolis would do free shows of the coverage on weekends, but that meant riding over to Minneapolis and getting all the stinking Subaru ads at full size, too.

Now the Tour is on NBC Sports. We still don't have cable, but for the last couple of years and again this year they've offered an excellent iPhone/iPad app. I highly recommend this. It's $15 for the whole Tour and has live video with commentary and, best of all, no commercials!

This is close to the end of Stage 3. Blue Shoes Guy won't win the stage. Screenshot from Day 3 on Corsica.  Blue shoes won't hold on.
 Yeah, the race is fun, and provides a reason to fly all over France and take photos from helicopters ("hell-ee-coptas", according to Phil Sherwen). It's this castle- and chateau porn that is brilliant.  And the lovely scenery, like Nice:
  Screenshot from Day 4, team time trial at Nice.
 Looks pretty Nice, eh? Ho ho.

 The first three days of this year were on Corsica, a place to which I'd given just about zero thought up to this point in my life, but which I'd now like to visit. The French get into this coverage, too, and in this case I was wondering what those guys were up to in the water. Fortunately, the heleecopta zoomed in for a closer look.
Screenshot from Day 4, team time trial at Nice.  Those shoes look like fun!
 Water rocket boots? That actually looks more interesting than the team time trial!

Now, this app (also available in Android) does a couple of things. First, if you're at work, you can have your iPhone next to your computer and keep an eye on the Tour while looking like you're working. You might want to watch your data consumption on this. The other thing that's pretty cool is that, if you have Apple TV, you can Air Play the broadcast to your regular television and watch it full size. It's brilliant!

Meanwhile, the estimable BikeSnobNYC blog had a comment by wishiwasmerckx which captured the essence of TdF coveage, so you can familiarize yourself with the commentary. Study this list and you should be able to pick up the action in an instant no matter what time you tune in to the coverage of Phil and Paul.

A brief training exercise for watching the TdF:
Tapping out a rhythm... Turned himself inside out... Open up the suitcase of courage... He's in a spot of bother... Oh, my, he's ridden into the carpark... The colored fellow... He'll be paying for this effort tomorrow... That chateau was built in 1547... One by one, he's peeling away his competitors, and now he's all alone on the slopes of... The riders will have to look out for that traffic furniture... There's a dangerous left-hand corner less than a kilometer from the line which may cause fits for the leadout trains... I'm hearing on race radio that there has been a crash at the 135 kilometer mark. We don't know if any of the favorites have been swept up in it or delayed... And the team car has sent several of his teammates back to help him chase to catch back on. He should have no problem reaching the back of the peloton... What an unfortunate time in the race to have a puncture... The race comissars have ordered the team cars out of the gap, and our computers are telling us that the breakaway should be caught with about 12 kilometers to go... He's racing like a man possessed...

And just yesterday, there was Phil (an Englishman) saying about Stage 3 winner Simon Gerrans, who won in the final sprint against Peter Sagan by about 5 inches: "I'm told Gerrans speaks English. He's Australian, so we'll see."

Enjoy the Tour, and have a great summer!

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ridin' the Rails

Northstar logo on engine in Big Lake
I went on a bike ride with my daughter Geneva, a junior at the University of Minnesota in the Honors Program in English and Political Science. She's liked bicycling for a long time, notably since the second day of our 2005 ride to Duluth when she was 11 years old and said, "Dad, I think to do this you have to love cycling. I think I only like it."  Well, she's been riding to her job at the U nearly every day (using my buddy Paul's Rule of Commuting: "If it isn't actually raining at the time you leave, ride. It'll be ok") and wanted to do a fun ride. We meant to do the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota's train to Big Lake and ride back last Saturday, but the big Friday night storms dropped a huge tree branch onto, and in bits, into, our garage and two vehicles, so rather than ride with BAM we spent the day chainsawing the tree and uncovering the cars.

We decided to do the ride this Saturday, June 29, instead. So, Saturday morning, after the insurance adjuster was here taking photos, measuring things and making estimates, we rode from home down to Target Field, where the Light Rail terminates and, two floors down, the Northstar Commuter Rail ends as well. We got our tickets, took the elevator down, and waited a few minutes until the train showed up.

(Just as a reminder, the photos in this blog all are links to larger versions of the pictures. If you're deeply interested, just click on the photo)

The Northstar train cars have a couple of bike parking spots on the lower level of each car. You basically nose it up to this yellow strap and secure the bike so it doesn't roll around. I'm not sure how this works without kickstands; we both have them, and it worked fine, though the yellow nylon strap ends were frayed and a bit of a challenge to get through the metal buckle.
Our bicycles in the Northstar Train bike parking

The train was really large and largely empty. Here is Geneva in her seat with the bikes visible in the background. We didn't notice upstairs until the end of the trip, but they have tables between facing seats up there.
Aboard the Northstar, downstairs

The train was so big (eight cars, two engines) because there was an afternoon Twins game on. I guess they haul a lot of people down to the games, which must be extremely convenient since the Minneapolis terminus is at the ballfield. This warning sign was up, though; don't stick around for rain delays or extra innings, 'cause the train is out of here on schedule! The Northstar line uses regular Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks and must have scheduled time slots for their runs, hence their need to stick to schedule no matter what's happening in the game.
  The train was big to bring in Twins fans, but they'd better win in 9 innings!

Geneva and/or I have taken trains to fun places like London, Paris, Geneva (the city, not the daughter), Chicago, Portland and now, Big Lake! Another cyclist guy on the train took this photo for us. He was going to ride around for a few hours and take the train back; we were going to ride home.
Another cyclist on the train took this one for us. The Northstar uses the MPXpress MP36PH-3C locomotive, two of them for these longer trains. (If you want to pinch one and take if for a ride, the manual is here). When it left Big Lake headed back south, it would presumably fill up with Twins fans on what was to prove a spectacular day to be at the ballpark and a Twins win 6-2 over the Kansas City Royals.
Wabtec MPXpress MP36PH-3C locomotive of the Northstar trains.

We used the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota's route to get home, which first took us to Elk River down County Highway 14. We basically followed the Mississippi River, on the east side until Elk River, then changing to the west bank the rest of the way into Minneapolis. This photo is of Geneva on County 14.
Geneva riding on County 14 between Big Lake and Elk River

All our rivers are high after this very wet spring and early summer. This is the outflow from the dam just above the confluence of the Elk and Mississippi Rivers. Those black bits are birds, swifts or swallows, excitedly flying under the bridge and back out.
Our rivers are high.  This is the outflow over the dam just outside Elk River.

After lunch of a too-large 1/3-pound burger at Daddy-Os in Elk River (memo to file: next time, split one between us), we crossed the Mississippi and headed south. As we came up on Dayton, I thought it looked vaguely French with the chruch steeple sticking up and took this photo. Turns out it was settled by French people and the Church of Saint John the Baptist took confessions in French into the 1950s.
The church of Saint John the Baptist visible in Dayton as Geneva approaches

The current church building was built in 1904. It's quite a looker, as churches go.
The church of Saint John the Baptist, Dayton, Minnesota

Just south of town there was what looked a bit like an abandoned plantation with these out on the gateposts. It's ok, though, they're white! Norwegians, probably. I'm not sure what the scoop is on Elsie Stephens, but I read that Dayton is buying the 23-acre estate on the Mississippi to add to its existing park.
Lantern jockey near Dayton.  It's ok, they're white.

Of course, I live in a house that ought to have "Gone With The Wind" doorbells, but I'm not sure lantern jockeys would go down well here in the Cities. Still, this looks like a nice property.
The Elsie Stevens property, being developed as a park.

The park adjacent to Elsie's farm is touted as the Cloquet Island overlook. I'm a sucker for these sorts of things, so we stopped for a look.  I don't know, I'm no outdoor recreation professional or anything, but I think a bit of judicious undergrowth trimming might enhance the view:
The scenic overlook of Cloquet Island.  They may wish to trim the underbrush.

Maybe it looks better in this state of mind:
Maybe it looks better in this state of mind.

We pressed on, me watching Geneva disappear in the distance, then waiting for me. I gotta work on her bike, adjust the brakes so they rub or something, the girl's getting too fast for me. We stopped at the Coon Rapids Dam. Normally you can walk or ride across the dam to cross the river, but this summer it's closed for some work.
The Coon Rapids dam with the Mississippi at high levels.  The pedestrian/bicycle path over the dam is currently closed.

Geneva enjoying a Gatorade and hoping she doesn't start sweating green like in their ads.
Geneva resting at Coon Rapids dam.  We're getting close now.

The ride down through north Minneapolis isn't the most charming, though I now know where to take any copper pipes and wire I steal out of foreclosed houses to finance my meth habit. It quickly turned from grimy industrial to hipster, then we crossed the Mississippi back to the east bank on the Stone Arch Bridge, an old railway bridge now used for bikes and pedestrians...

...and wedding pictures:
The Stone Arch Bridge is a popular spot for wedding shots.  Here's a group hoping the constant flow of goofball cyclists such as myself will die down for a minute.
Don't worry, girls, you can always use those dresses for, you know, cocktail parties and, well, stuff.

Ironically, the next bridal party waiting to get shot is beautifully lit by the evening sun. It's only when they line up to get the skyline in the background that they get that awful backlighting. They should do this in the morning.
Ironically, they're beautifully lit while waiting, horrible backlit once taking the photo.

And then home. My bike showed 59.55 miles on the day, a good outing, and more than I usually ride in a day. It was great fun to get out and ride the Northstar for the first time, then ride back along roads I haven't ever driven even after 19 years living here. It was cool to see small towns and rural areas yield to exurbia, suburbia, inner city industrial, hipsterville, and old urban core in one long continuous stream. I think it would be a terrific ride in the fall though you'd want to watch your sunset times. The BAM ride was advertised as 41 miles, that being Big Lake to a Park Department parking lot at Broadway and the River; the rest of our miles were riding to and from downtown Minneapolis. I'd recommend you give it a try some lovely day.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mad Traffic Skillz

Today was the second Saturday of Traffic Skills class, taught through the auspices of the League of American Bicyclists. I was one of the instructors, and we had the rare opportunity to have our class do their qualifying ride in sleet, steady rain and 40F temperatures. Yeah, I tell you, those who last week laughed at my RainLegs assless bike chaps were singing a different tune by the time we got back in today! Anyway, congratulations to Erik, Daria, Roy, Courtney, Andy, Nate, Ruby, Jeff, Sheldon, Scott & Jay for completing the course and doing the skills riding and road evaluation in conditions approaching those I consider the worst for riding or camping (33 and rain). For some of these folks, last week and this were the first time they'd really ridden in traffic. Doing it in cold, windy, wet conditions showed that it is possible, though not exactly a picnic, to operate in adverse weather. After class was done, and after downing a major burrito and beer at The Muddy Pig, I met Vickie, a woman from work, to take her on a 20 mile loop around Saint Paul. She's relatively new to cycling and has started commuting once a week. This doesn't sound much, but she's just part time and it's 15 miles one way, a pretty serious commute. Vickie's discovered she likes cycling and has signed up to do a 60 mile ride in early June, and asked if I'd ride with her through the the Saint Paul loop. I barely made it on time due to the Muddy Pig's indifferent service. Sadly, I hadn't brought along any dry socks, and my wet shoes and socks kept my feet chilly, but we did the circuit. No rain now, and it had warmed up to 46. It's encouraging, in a quiet way, to have these folks interested in enhancing their riding skills, to have someone discover the joy of riding, to see a group learn directly that it is possible and not even that bad to ride in shitty conditions. It's also a quiet satisfaction to stop by the Trung Nam bakery for a chocolate croissant on the pre-ride, checking out the circuit before the class, and to hang out afterwards with the other instructors and several students at the Muddy Pig while the rain slowed and stopped outside. I didn't get much else done this rainy Saturday, but am pleased with what I did achieve.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thar She Blows!

I went off to see BikeSnobNYC at the Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota. I don't ride over to Minneapolis as much as I used to. It wasn't the ideal day to ride:

...Wind Advisory Remains In Effect Until 7PM CDT This Evening...
*Winds...Sustained Winds Increasing To 25 To 35 Mph This Afternoon...Gusting To 45Mph.

*Impacts...Hazardous Driving Conditions...Especially For This In High Profile Vehicles. Unsecured Lightweight Objects...Such As Trash Cans And Lawn Furniture...May Be Blown Around.

And so on.  Long experience cycling in the Midwest teaches you to do your rides outbound into the wind and homebound with a tailwind. It's a painful lesson the first time you think you've got new strength and vigor and head 30 miles out in the country going, Man, I'm like freakin' Eddie Merckx (it's been a while since I've done this), look at me, then you turn around and struggle back into the teeth of your former tailwind as it drains all hope and spirit from your sorry corpse. Anyway, as it happened, I set off into the teeth of 25 to 35mph sustained winds.

I went down Hoyt and my usual crossing of Snelling into the open gate of the State Fairgrounds after a long delay from a slow light.

Cyclist comes through the Hoyt State Fairgrounds gate, March 2012.
That gate is left open most of the time, except most of August as the Fair sets up. Waiting to cross Snelling I could appreciate the bucolic aromas blowing my way from the University of Minnesota's livestock barns. They would only get more intense until I passed by.

Once at the University's Minneapolis campus, I found Washington Avenue all torn up as they add in Light Rail. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but it caught me off guard. I rode to Coffman Memorial Union and locked up the bike in the crowded racks out front, then went down to the bookstore.

The BikeSnobNYC had met some cyclists at the Freewheel Midtown Greenway store and ridden to Coffman Union with them.  I thought about it, but didn't leave work early enough to labor another 7 or 8 miles into the wind.  Thus, I missed out on bonus Snob time but did get a seat at the presentation.

Here's Snob:

Bike Snob at U of M bookstore in Minneapolis.

We were kind of wedged in there, and those who had ridden had to stand for the presentation or sit on the floor.  I think it was more people than they had expected.  Snob followed along with the theme of his book, pointing out that we were relatively powerless in economic terms, the $6 billion spent in the bicycle industry being dwarfed by auto companies, pharmaceutical companies and oil companies, but we could become a religion.  He promoted his Lobster God, pointed out how religions are an excuse for all kinds of odd behaviours and funny clothes (he didn't mention the Mormons' special underwear, perhaps a corollary of cyclists' shorts) and then cyclist abuse could become a hate crime.  Some of the time he talked about being a good cycling citizen, which forms a large theme in his latest book, The Enlightened Cyclist: Commuter Angst, Dangerous Drivers, and Other Obstacles on the Path to Two-Wheeled Trancendence.  One of the great things about Snob is that he is cynical and funny as hell in the blog yet there is an underlying good nature.  It comes out in the books (his first book was Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling).  I'd recommend reading these books. 

There were questions afterwards, including a couple of mine, particularly wondering if Snob was working full time when he started the blog.  When I first started reading him he was only a couple of weeks in and I was pretty amazed at the volume and quality of the writing (the photography traditionally blows).  Could this guy be working full time?  Yes, at least to start with.  He quit about the time his first book came out.

People lined up to get books signed (defaced, as he calls it).  He signed mine.  Then I wandered on out in search of Objective 2 of the evening: trying a Chick-fil-A.  I went upstairs and asked where it was.  Back downstairs, but closed.  It's only open 10:30 to 2:00 on weekdays, not on Saturdays or Sundays at all.  What?  I went back down and found the place.
University of Minnesota Chick-fil-A, closed.
Yep, closed.  Those are some stringent hours.  So, if I want to try a Chick-fil-A, I've either got to get myself to the Union on a weekday at lunchtime or, alternatively, fly somewhere, get fondled by the TSA, and try the one at the airport.  Fil-A & a Fondle.  Sounds like a decent night out.

Well, time to head on home.  Now comes the reward for the slog over to the Union into the teeth of the gale: the return trip.  The wind was still pretty snappy:
Snappy wind out of the west pushes me home.
Those flags are at the University of Minnesota golf course.  As bad as it is being tall on a large bike frame going into the wind, it is superb with a ferocious tailwind. I got into my highest gear (a relatively modest 91 inches, something I rarely use) and spun along Larpenteur towards home. It sure is fun to clip along at 22 mph without even trying very hard! I've heard of people doing Tailwind Centuries where, on days like this, they are taken 100 miles out into the wind by motor vehicle, then ride back for an easy 100 miles. It hardly seems fair, but I can see the allure.

Having failed to get Chick-fil-A, I stopped at Stout's, a relatively new place plagued with utterly inadequate bike parking. They have some outdoor seating with a cage around it, so I locked up to that while I ate.
Stout's Pub inadequate bicycle parking facilities.
Maybe restaurants don't want cyclists, maybe they just don't think about us, at least they're better than Caribou Coffee who have almost universally absent bike parking yet often have banners of cyclists hanging inside.  I'm going to have to write page on retail establishments and bike parking. Plenty of places that you think would welcome cyclists (including, for instance, most bike shops) have nowhere to lock up despite acres of parking for motor vehicles.

Sated, I cruised on home with the tailwind. I liked actually meeting BikeSnob, it was fun to hear him give a talk, good to put a face with the online persona so many of us know. I think his presentation needs a bit of work yet, but he's off to a good start and is anyway preaching to the converted. And, for all the joking about religion and barking at poor cyclist behaviour, the message is pretty classic; be nice to others, treat them as you would be treated, and try and love your fellow man despite his foibles.

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