Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hit and Run

Friday evening I was clearing my driveway after dinner. I could see from the end of the driveway a bunch of emergency vehicles in the intersection at Lexington and Larpenteur, just a few blocks away. When I got done with my snow, I got on the Nokian-equipped Marin and rode down to see what had happened. By the time I got there, the police and emergency vehicles were gone but there was a video crew still there. I rode across to ask what had happened.

A pedestrian fatality, a hit and run. An old guy was hit by an Avalanche (which threw me for a second, until I remembered the Chevrolet Avalanche) which didn't stop. It happened about 20 to 8, he said, at which time we'd been sitting down for dinner and had seen a couple of firetrucks go by.

I don't know what the final toll will be for automobile-related deaths in 2005, but it'll probably be in the 42,000+ range again, 1,000 or so of which will be pedestrians and cyclists. It seemed sad and lonely to me that this poor guy got hit on the penultimate day of the year, it's threatening that it happened in an intersection my children often use, it's pathetic that the driver didn't have the integrity to stop. It has been my own experience with the uninsured, the drunk and the reckless (or all three) that they are very likely to take off, and that often there are no consequences. One year, it cost me a Saab I really liked, totalled at a red light by an uninsured drunk who took off and who paid no consequences whatsoever; just a month ago it was a hit and run bash in the left front fender of our Avalon in the Midway Cub parking lot, that cost us our $500 deductible to repair the damage. Here it cost a guy his life, and the driver stopping would not have changed that, but would have shown some acceptance of personal responsibility.

The Pioneer-Press says the victim of this crime is seventy-four year-old Dale Reinhardt. In the article currently posted online, they don't even mention the time or the intersection. And the world has moved on to 2006, his death will be added to the butcher's bill of tens of thousands of other motor vehicle fatalities and the story will quickly fade from what little public view it has. May his soul rest in peace.

Friday, December 16, 2005

An Invitation

Long time readers of my blog (Hi Liz!) know that I often refer to riding to church, either on Sunday mornings or, since the beginning of September, on Wednesday evenings for choir rehearsal. I rode to church as recently as a week ago Wednesday, my first real studded snow tire ride, 14 miles in 1 hour 20 minutes and sweating like the Dickens in 20 degree weather, overdressed as many novice cold weather cyclists are. I've been out of town for a few days and now the horserace that characterizes the runup to Christmas for a church music family with houseguests coming is underway and I probably won't ride much in the next week or two.

As Christmas approaches, I'd like to invite you to church. Not Christmas Eve or Day, particularly (though of course you'd be welcome!), but to our Festival of Lessons and Carols. It will be Wednesday night, December 21, at 6:30 with a dinner following at Saint Luke's Episcopal Church at 46th Street West and Colfax Avenue South in Minneapolis. This is an event we've run before at other churches, but is the first time we've done it here since Karla only started as Music Director in January. It is nine readings from the Bible interspersed with carols and hymns of the season. There's no sermon or communion or speaking in tongues or snake handling or anything like that. Dinner is our Medieval Dinner, or that's what we call it, spiced tomato soup, roast pork with cherry sauce, minted peas, rice, salad, pumpkin rolls, mulled wine (alcoholic) and cider (not) or punch followed by a selection of desserts. I do a lot of the setup, a bunch of the cooking and my share of the singing and you'd even get to hear me sing a brief solo in Spanish! What could be better? Henry and Geneva, my offspring, made famous in the Riding to Duluth episodes, will also be participating. We're asking for RSVPs as this is not a cheap dinner to put on and we'd like to know more or less how many people are coming. We're also asking $5 a person for the dinner, more if you can afford it, nothing if you can't.

Will I be riding there? Nope. I have to haul over all sorts of stuff. If you do ride, the bicycle parking situation isn't brilliant (there's a railing next to the church you can lock up to) but if you ask for me and bang the worst of the snow off your bike we could bring it inside. If you do drive a motorized vehicle, our church parking lot is behind Java Jack's at 46th and Bryant or you can park in the street, depending on the Snow Emergency status. Most of the Number 4 buses also run up and down Bryant if you're a transit person.

I know some bike bloggers are not fond of Christians. Believe me, there are some Christians I'm not much fond of either! As time has gone on, I care less and less about the institutional detritus of organized religion and more about the core message; love thy neighbor as thyself. I'm not going to try and convert anyone, your spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) are your own business, you won't get on any mailing lists or have brown-suited pairs of clean-cut young men (often on bikes!) show up at your front door, it's readings and music done by one professional (my wife) and a bunch of amateurs and then a meal, all on a Wednesday night, the shortest day of the year. Come and join us.

You can read about it at the web site: Saint Luke's Festival of Lessons and Carols. If you would like to come, please RSVP at Lessons and Carols RSVP so we have enough food! Thanks!

And if I don't write again before then, have a great Christmas!

Blackburn Customer Service - Positive

This worked out well. This past summer I bought a Blackburn Quadrant 4-LED headlight. It looks very 1950s retro. It's not a super-bright Luxeon LED light like the 5-watt DiNotte Ultralight (review here), 3-watt Light and Motion Vega or even Blackburn's own 1- and 2-emitter System X X3 and X6 lights, but does cast a useful beam, makes the bike visible, attaches quickly to any bike and doesn't cost a lot. I ended up buying a second one so that the children could each have one for those times we end up riding in the dark.

As much as I liked the light, one of them kept popping off its mount, usually when I'd go over bumps like the driveway thresholds along the West River Parkway bicycle path. There's few things more annoying or momentum-destroying than clocking along at 15 mpg, going over the bumps and having the light come off. Now you have to stop, turn around, ride back, pick up the light, reattach, etc. It's very aggravating, especially when it happens more than once in a ride, as happened to me one night riding home from church. This light fell off enough that now one of the four LEDs doesn't light.

I discontinued use of the one that kept falling off but used the other still. I decided to write Blackburn and ask if I could return the light for replacement. I wrote this email from work. Diane the customer service rep wrote back and said "Thank you for your inquiry. This is a bit unusual I will be glad to replace the light for you, please allow time for delivery." I wrote back to ask where I should send mine back to, then left on some business travels.

I got back Thursday and there was a box on my desk. I wasn't expecting anything, but opened it and there was a new Blackburn Quadrant in there and no note about having to return the old one. She got the address from my email signature.

I'm pleased with this. I haven't had many occasions to have to return things and appreciate the responsiveness that Blackburn exhibited here. Would I recommend the Quadrant for your bicycle lighting needs? Well, it's more for casual night riders than for serious, frequent or commuter riders, but if you want a light that's pretty cheap to equip your fleet (I can't afford HIDs for all the family bikes! Or for mine, for that matter!), it works pretty well. I also like the Mars 3.0 taillight, with two yellow side-aimed LEDs as well as five red rear-facing ones, which you can get packaged with the Quadrant for under $30. (LBS Plug: I got mine at The Bicycle Chain around the corner from us). In fact, the Mars is one of the lights I equipped with lithium batteries for my winter bike. I am looking forward to a review by James Sharp of Lactic Acid Threshold of several LED headlights including Blackburn's System X3 3-watt Luxeon headlight and even of DiNotte's forthcoming $169 3-watt LED taillight! He has a photo of his handlebar with several of the high-power LED headlights on it; it must look like a night football game is on when he lights them all up! I wish I could talk companies into sending me a pile of expensive lights to try out!

Thursday, December 08, 2005


That's haiku about bikes. I got the idea from The Old Bag, a female Twin Cities cyclist. I tried my hand at a couple:

Stiff black leather taut
Against my nether regions ouch
A new Brooks saddle

Snow falls in moonlight
Cyclist falls in moonlight too
SPDs too tight

These are kind of fun!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold Weather Lights

I made another adaptation to my bike for winter riding. I replaced the alkaline AAA batteries in my taillights with Eveready Lithium AAAs. These batteries are expensive ($10 for 4 at Target) but have extremely long shelf life, high output for much longer than alkalines and, most crucially, function properly down to -40. As an added bonus, if you're a weight weenie (and, having just installed 850g tires on the Marin, that's clearly not me) then you'll appreciate that they weigh 1/3rd less than regular alkalines (7.8g each).

I've used these batteries before, in other applications. I have an MD-12 motor drive for my Nikon FM3A film camera that takes eight AA batteries; this adds up to a substantial mass, and the 1/3rd lighter lithiums make it noticeably less hefty. A friend of mine who does nature photography in the Colorado Rockies found alkalines losing power and failing in the cold when the lithiums plugged right along without any cold-induced issues. The Eveready lithium AAs have been around for several years, the lithium AAAs are a new item this year.

It's worth noting that nickel-metal hydride (nimh) rechargeables also have superior cold-weather performance to alkalines, though not as good as lithiums. They'd work fine for rechargeable headlights, for instance, but wouldn't be suitable for taillights because they steadily lose charge over time and you don't want to have to keep disassembling your blinkies to recharge the batteries. The lithium AAAs you can slap 'em in there and they'll last for years regardless of the temperature.

As an aside, Nashbar has one of their periodic everything-20%-off sales on right now (I think it ends today). I was considering the Light and Motion Solo Logic Li-Ion SL headlight. It's a 13-watt halogen with a lithium-ion battery pack and a smart charger, good light output, small, quickly removable, lightweight and with good cold-weather performance. Nashbar typically wants $249 for this light, but with the 20%-off code it could be mine for $200! I dithered about this; $200 is still a lot of money for a bike light, at least to normal humans like my wife, and when I checked this morning, they were out of them! Makes that decision easy!

Anyway, is winter riding suddenly going to be a much greater experience through the promise of lithium batteries? No, it's just a tweak, but I see plenty of people with poor or no lights still riding at night at a time of year when it's dark more than half the day and when motorists aren't expecting bicycles. It's only sensible to show lights while riding, and to my mind, it's sensible to use batteries that are indifferent to any cold I'll be riding in so those lights will be at full brightness.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Get a Grip

In past years I have attempted to ride at least a mile in every month of the year. I'm not sure I ever did it, generally missing a month along the way somewhere. In 2004, the month I missed was September, the month we painted the house, but usually I'd omit January or February or November. Even in years when I did get my mile in it would often mean teetering up and down the street until the odometer clicked over 1.0 and then back into the warmth of the house.

This year I decided to try riding more in the winter. Being a guy who likes gear, I decided the thing to do was to equip my Marin with studded snow tires. I was down at Freewheel during the week and stopped in to buy tires. I think I meant to buy the 106-stud Nokian Hakkapeliittas but either they didn't have them or I didn't pay enough attention and instead bought a pair of 26 inch Nokian Mount and Ground 160s, with 160 studs each. At least they have an easier name to pronounce.

Saturday was the day to mount the tires. I started with the bike, which I brought into the house Friday night to warm it and the tools up. I have a nice big garage, but it's no fun to work out there at 16F with all the cold tools, etc. I took off the 26 X 1.75 Trek Kevlar Inverts I normally ride on the Marin and put on the Nokians. I had other repairs to do as well; on Halloween I'd suffered my first SPD crash, not getting unclicked from the pedal and toppling over, and this had broken my Twist-Grip shifter. It still worked, with an occasional slip, but was uncomfortable against my hand and having a broken shifter housing was not going to be good long-term. I'd bought a replacement one (labelled "X-Ray"!) over at The Bicycle Chain and installed that as well. This took me a while as I don't deal with these very often and had to ponder how it went together and how the cable routing worked. Here's the X-Ray shifter on the Marin:

X Ray shifter on Marin

All done, I took the Marin out and rode it around in the driveway and yard. I don't know if the Nokians grip that much better or if they just give you unwarranted confidence but I rode without difficulty on our snowy driveway.

Nokian Mount and Ground 160  26 X 1.9
This is the tire after a bit of riding. You can tell it's brand new from all the little rubber things sticking up off the tire. You can see the studs in the tire either side of the centerline.

Marin Pine Mountain with Nokians mounted
Here's the Marin. One reason I hadn't done more than teeter up and down a mile during the cold months has been a reluctance to expose my main bike to the winter salt on our streets. This is still true; I don't expect to ride the Atlantis, acquired last spring and now my main bike, this winter, but the Marin I am now willing to try. It's a beefy mountain frame, is well-suited to plowing into surprise potholes and whatnot and, while hardly a junker, is my secondary bike, relegated to pumpkin duty and local runs to the grocery store. I'm not as worried about operating this bike in the harsh conditions of a Minnesota winter.

There was other work to do, too. Our main car is a Toyota Avalon, two years old now. We don't buy new cars very often and thought a long time before getting this. There were those who suggested we get an SUV for the safety of four-wheel drive. We wanted lots of leg room, particularly in the back seat, and fell for the Avalon the first time we test-drove a used one. I thought about the 4WD thing; we don't do off-roading, and the times we need extra traction the issue is typically one of tire grip rather than road clearance or needing all-wheel drive. Also, you look at the death rates for occupants of large sedans versus sports utility vehicles and the sedans come out much better. While it is true that in a crash between a Suburban and our Avalon, the Avalon is likely to come out worse, overall, the death rates in Suburbans (to pick one vehicle) are much higher. A lot of this has to do with large SUVs rolling over, an uncommon crash in a low-slung sedan, much more frequent and disproportionately deadly in higher and heavier SUVs. The sedans stop shorter, turn and accelerate more quickly, have better visibility, sit lower and, in a car the Avalon's size (3,400 lbs), still offer a lot of structural protection.

In thinking about our snowy and icy roads, I decided that a good compromise would be to get the Avalon, roomy, powerful and comfortable, and get a set of snow tires. I ordered up a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks from The Tire Rack and, being a cheapskate, got them on the painted black steel rims rather than the expensive alloy ones. These look pretty hideous.

Here's the Avalon, freshly returned from Schoonover Body Works after its third visit in two years. This car has proved irresistable to others, who keep running into us.
Avalon with regular wheels

At the same time I bought the Blizzaks, I went to Sears and got a hydraulic jack so I could do a NASCAR-like tire changes rather than use the car's own jack. So, having re-shod the Marin, I went out and got out the hydraulic jack to hoist the Avalon.

It wouldn't work.

I pumped and pumped and pumped and it would raise about three inches and stop. I retreated to the garage, rummaged around to find the instructions for it and sat out in 15 degree comfort reading about my jack. It sounded like I was going to need more hydraulic jack oil, though where the old stuff was I have no idea. There was no puddle on the shelf where I store it.

On the other hand, I could ride the Marin! I got the bike out, suited up, and rode out through the snow of the backyard and off down the snow-covered streets. The Nokians seemed to grip well. I wasn't exactly leaning through the curves threatening to drag my pedals, but neither was I teetering along perfectly vertical, afraid to lean at all. I plowed through the light snow, through heavier bits where it had been plowed, and on clear pavement. I haven't ridden knobby tires in years. They look enormous even though they're much smaller than the original knobbies that came on the bike. I rode down to the local Checker Automotive store and bought myself a bottle of hydraulic oil. Then I saddled up and rode back, partly on a busy road cleared to the pavement, partly on the snowy side streets. The snow tires worked great.

I filled the jack and sure enough, it jacked fine, then spent a busy and un-NASCAR-like 40 minutes putting on the snow tires. Here's the Avalon with the snows on it. It looks like a law-enforcement model.
Avalon with snow tires on

There, now the fleet is ready. We'll drive around in the Avalon with our superior grip and anti-lock brakes waiting to get clobbered from behind by out-of-control drivers. I can do the same on my bike!

This should be a fun winter!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Keep Ridin', Patriot

I like this ad. It's especially appropriate on a day like today, with a steady fall of puffy snowflakes. Click on this image and you get taken to an ad agency site where a Miller ad gets played; make sure your speakers are on. Not for those with dial-up!

Keepin' It Cold, Patriot

Clink clink! That's one way to keep the brewskis cold! I saw this link on a blog called Commute-A-Blog. The guy is from near Boston so I think Commute-a is his pronounciation of what we Midwesterners call Commuterrr. You know, to a bicycle, we are nothing but fuel cells, and Miller High Life is as good a raw material as any to make the bike go! Speaking of which, I'm getting thirsty...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iowa Bicycle Map

I had a busy couple of weeks up through the Thanksgiving weekend. I flew to Boise, Idaho, the weekend before Thanksgiving to give a deposition in a legal matter, returned, then we all drove down to Iowa to my sister's for Thanksgiving. She lives in an old (1850s) farmhouse in a valley a few miles upstream from the Mississippi River. I won't go into detail on the weekend, it had virtually nothing to do with bicycles (other than admiring a Schwinn World Sport 10-speed my brother-in-law got for $17 in nice shape but with a profoundly uncomfortable seat).

As much as I love cycling, as much as I love the freedom and joy I get when out riding, I also like driving. Driving to Iowa is a beautiful run, down the Mississippi along Highway 61, crossing at Lacrosse, then down Wisconsin 35. We usually stop in Lacrosse. There's a coffee and candy shop on Pearl Street where they sell candy cigarettes. I believe these are illegal in Minnesota, so we stock up.
Geneva with Candy Cigarette, er, stick
Here's Geneva looking tough putting on her Lacrosse-bowling-league-after-work-at-the-brewery face. I noticed that the candy cigarettes have become more politically correct; unlike last year, they are called Candy Sticks, not cigarettes, and no longer have a red end like a glowing cig. We always get here after Halloween, which is too bad, these would be great to give out on Halloween.

I like the fallowness of the land, I like the starkness of the light, the sense of foreboding of winter. I like Thanksgiving, largely free of religious or commercial overtones, just family and friends together thankful for our many blessings. I won't go on about it.

However, at one point, as we were about to set out somewhere in my sister's car, I noticed a 2005 Iowa Transportation Map for Bicyclists published by the Iowa Department of Transportation. I looked at it and asked if I could keep it.

This map is pretty cool. It is in essence a duplicate of the regular Iowa Department of Transportation Transportation Map but with the roads marked differently. Rather than color the roads strictly by their legal designations (Interstate, U.S. Highway, State Highway, County Road), the color is by the Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT). The most interesting roads are the purple ones, with AADT of 0-700 vehicles. This encompasses most of the excellent and extensive County Road network that criss-crosses the state. In addition, the AADT color is black-banded when the road has a minimum 4-foot paved shoulder or bicycle lane. Green dots indicate bike trails under five miles in length; numbered green dots indicate trails over five miles in length, with additional information on the back of the map. Also on the back of the map are the usual city maps showing bike trails in the cities, some rules of the road, suggested trail etiquette and the clever ad, Bike Helmets: Don't hit the road without one.

I scanned in a bit of the detail around where my sister lives from both the regular 2005 Iowa Transportation Map and the 2005 Iowa Transportation Map for Bicyclists. They show the differences pretty clearly.

  • I noticed right away that the County Road my sister lives along is different on each map. It's between the towns of Bellevue, more or less the center of this scan, and La Motte to the west. On the regular highway map, County D57 is shown as a white-centered grey road, a gravel County road; on the Bicyclist's Map, the D57 designation is there, but the road isn't shown. This is appropriate, as the gravel road wouldn't be tons of fun to ride on.

  • Continuing on west of La Motte to Zwingle and to Bernard, you can see that the road has the four-foot paved shoulders or bicycle lane and thus is shown in the purple (for the 0-700 vehicles a day) with the black borders (for the bike trail).

  • Other things are also more varigated. The State Highway 62 from Maquoketa through Andrew to Bellevue is a single black line on the Highway map; on the Bicyclists map, it shows an AADT of 1,501 to 3,000 from Maquoketa to Andrew and then 701 to 1,500 from Andrew to Bellevue. That gives you some useful information about the expected traffic flows.

  • What the map doesn't show is elevation changes. I know, I know, you can hold the cracks about the boring flat terrain, try riding across this state and you will find out how wrong you are. That road from Maquoketa to Andrew and Bellevue is very hilly (it's coming off the plain down to the Mississippi Valley) and you'd better be ready for some long grinds and wild descents. In general, in Iowa, if the map shows a twisty road, it's hilly (or running along a river, but you can tell that) and if it's straight, like the roads in north-central Iowa, it's flat or just gently rolling. You can infer this with experience, but it's not shown directly on the map.

The Transportation Map for Bicyclists version:
Iowa DOT Bicycle Map
The regular Transportation Map version:
Iowa DOT Highway Map
The Real Version:
Jackson County D57
The photo is of my sister's farm. Jackson County D57 is crossing the photo, and is hard gravel like the road I'm on. You could ride it, I guess, but gravel roads aren't always very pleasant depending how deep and fresh the gravel is. The Map for Bicyclists is wise to leave it off as a good route.

It's cool that Iowa has done this. I pretty much grew up there so have a soft spot for Iowa and Iowans who are generally overlooked and underestimated. I certainly see that here; one of my theories of populations is that every state makes fun of the state south of it. Who knows what they do in Louisiana? For all the cool cycling culture and cutting-edge attitude in the Twin Cities, Iowa has done this nifty map, hosts the cross-state RAGBRAI ride each year and has a terrific network of county roads that make it a marvelous place to ride. If your two-wheel travels take you that direction, I'd recommend picking up one of these maps. You can order them from the DOT Iowa Bikes site. Have fun!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bikes in Slate

There are a couple of articles in Slate talking about Practical Cycling. In one, Outside magazine writer Bill Gifford writes about riding a bike in everyday life in The Bicycle Diaries. In another article, a guy named Andy Bowers, an editor for Slate, writes Nobody Rides in L.A. about riding in Los Angeles and what a vastly different experience it is than driving. Here's a short excerpt:

One day, I found myself biking down an empty little access road next to the notorious 405 freeway during the evening commute. The freeway, as usual, was paralyzed, and I noticed I was actually moving faster than the cars. That's when the revelation hit: Over the past few months, I had discovered a different Los Angeles.

There's nothing there that's news to people who read this blog, but it is pretty prominent positioning for articles of this nature.

Of course, some of their immediate bite may be muffled by the price of gasoline drifting back down through $2.00 a gallon. With cheaper gas and the onset of cold weather in many parts of the country, it's an easy time to relapse from cycling.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sneak Preview of Phase III

I rode to church Sunday. I'm sure nothing could be more fascinating to you than me relating all the times I ride to church. This being All Saints Day, it was a Festival Sunday, and the usual 9:00 Stodgy Service/11:00 Lame Service schedule was changed to 9:00 Quiet Service/11:00 Festival Service. The good news here was that choir didn't need to be there until 10:15 to warm up versus the usual 8:30. With all this extra time there would be plenty of time to ride.

I left shortly after 9:00 riding the Atlantis. I build out this frame in June and am only now getting close to 1,000 miles on it. To many cyclists around here, 1,000 miles on a bike is as nothing, you do that by late May. For me, it's as many miles as I've ridden in a season in years. (Actually, I have probably 300 more on the Marin, but it's hard to tell, the computer battery died and my USB drive that I tracked mileage on got wiped out so I lost track). I want to get the bike over 1,000 miles for the season and don't anticipate riding the Atlantis much once the weather turns cold and the streets get salty.

It was 36F when I left, and foggy. I've been riding in these conditions in a wool t shirt, a Wooly Warm long-sleeved jersey and an REI DayGlo yellow cycling jacket. I wear a SmartWool skullcap (extremely thin wool, but it helps a lot as I have no hair) under my Bell Metro on which I have not yet installed the Cold Weather Kit with the extremely hilarious-looking basset hound ear covers. I wear some wool pants I got from Marshall Fields and some Pearl Izumi gloves that are not insulated but which work fine for this type of temperature range.

Having decided the streets work better than trails at night, I wanted to try my street route in daylight before riding it at night the first time. I made a quick stop at the local Caribou Coffee to get a Mocha in my excellent Jong Won JSB500 stainless steel thermal water bottle, then set off. I did my usual Como/Raymond/Pelham/Lake Street Bridge route but rather than taking the West River Road bicycle path I rode a couple of blocks down Lake Street and took 46th Avenue southbound. This is marked as a good bike street on the Twin Cities Bike Map. I rode this down to 42nd Street, then headed west across I-35W to Bryant Avenue, then a few blocks south to church. I arrived in 1 hour 3 minutes by my stopwatch including the stop at Caribou. This is a full 10 minutes faster than my usual time when I use the bike paths. It's 12.5 miles even. I like this; it cuts more than a mile from the path-utilizing route and, if less scenic in the daylight, will be shorter and better in the evening.

Church over, I saddled up and headed out. I originally thought just to zoom back home, but instead began to get distracted by things on the way home as I looked around. The first was a bicycle framemaker I've never heard of and whose shop I have never seen. This is on 42nd Street just west of Hiawatha.
Chris Kvale Custom Frames
I've never heard of Chris Kvale Cycles before but then I'm not particulary in tune with the Twin Cities cycling scene. I went up and peered through the window. The blue frame hanging there looked very luscious with a beautiful paint job and some superb lug detail work. I think he paints these frames as well. Looking for the link on the web later, it sounds like he's highly regarded. It looks also like he's moving around the corner, the opposite side of the hot dog shop.

I rode on a bit. The light rail barriers came clanging down.
New Minnesota and Old Minnesota
New Minnesota and Old Minnesota. In the foreground, one of the Light Rail trains goes by while in the background, across Hiawatha, stands a grain elevator. Minneapolis was founded on grain milling and trading and a vestige of this business remains scattered along a rail spur on the east side of Hiawatha. This rail spur has some interesting ramifications for bicycles, too, as you shall see below.

I wasn't in a particular hurry to get home, where lay lots of leaf work to do, and instead meandered up along the streets behind Hiawatha taking some pictures. As with most photos on my blog and website, if you click on the image here you'll get a bigger version.

Railway north of 42nd Street at Hiawatha
The rail spur along Hiawatha is limited to pretty slow speeds and just sort of peters out so that there is barely a remnant left by the time it gets to Minnehaha. Here, though, it is still active.
Elevators and Rail Cars
Here are some grain cars alongside one of the elevatores.
ADM Atkinson Mill yard office
For all the financial services businesses and high-tech stuff, this was the core business for Minneapolis for a long time.
House by the Elevator
This house is right behind one of the elevators. I think if I stood between them I could spread out my arms and touch both.
Elevator with wheat mural
I like the wheat mural on this elevator.

The train tracks that serve these elevators curve to the east just north of Lake Street and head over to the Mississippi River and Saint Paul. The same rail spur served the train tracks that ran along the Midtown Greenway Bike Trail. There is a plan to put a bike trail alongside the train tracks. I don't know if this means to actually cross the Mississippi or not, but you can see Phase III of the plan here.

I meandered over to Lake Street and then up to the train tracks. The road crossed on a level crossing.

Rail lines to the west
Looking west, you can see the tracks and some of the light industry.
Rail lines to the east
Looking east, I noticed that work seems to have started.
McLeod and Sprint
Things were marked up like there was work going on, McLeod and Sprint here. McLeod was once digging down in Eagan and put an auger through both the main and backup data cables for Northwest Airlines, shutting down Northwest's worldwide operations for a few hours. Running main and backup lines right next to each other may help explain why NW is in bankruptcy. The second set of tracks has mostly been pulled up. The dirt looked pretty hard-packed. The Atlantis is no mountain bike, but the 700C X 28 tires aren't delicate, either, and I decided to ride along and see what I could see.

Cyclists cross railway tracks
I rode down alongside the tracks. They hadn't pulled up the parallel tracks at the level crossings. Here a couple of Practical Cyclists cross over; the front guy has a grocery bag on his handlebar.

Pile of railway ties, utility poles, etc
There were heaps of debris. Some of it was trees, some of it telephone poles, some of it railroad ties.

Bridge deck before any work
As the tracks move towards the river the land begins to fall away from the railroad tracks which are up on an embankment. Here a bridge crosses a road where a few blocks west they'd still been level crossings. No work has been done on this bridge, but I rode on across.

Graffiti number one
It's mostly light industry along the north side of the tracks. Some segments of the Minneapolis artistic community seem to have found this area already.
Graffiti number two
For all the artistic impression, they could sure use help with their handwriting.

Railroad ties like an archeological skeleton
These factories had had rail service at some point, but now the ties in the ground emerged like they were old dinosaur bones.
Trees growing in old train tracks
There are some remaining rails, but it's clear they haven't been used in a long time. I wonder when the last train ran on these tracks? 1960s? 1950s?
Anasazi bike mural
I think some of the graffiti is official. This Anasazi-style cyclist recurs along the factory walls several times, as does a similar runner motif.
Pedestrian Tunnel under tracks
At 38th Avenue there's a pedestrian tunnel under the tracks. The embankment for the rail line keeps getting higher above the surrounding ground and is quite an obstacle at this point.
No Trespassing
You go by some houses and then come to the west end of the Mississippi River bridge. I don't know what the plans are here; it would be great if the trail carried on over the river, and the bridge is wide enough for a single rail track and a path. I read on one of the always-useful railfan sites that this is Bridge #22 and was for the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific main line going west. It was called the Short Line Bridge and opened on December 4, 1880. The Milwaukee Road ran passenger trains across the bridge until May 1971 (when Amtrak started). Canadian Pacific and Minnesota Commercial still use the bridge to service the Southtown yard (the stuff along Hiawatha) although it is no longer on a through route and now has only one track.

Mississippi River from Minneapolis bridge threshold
You'd be a long way above the river!
Road turnaround by bridge
I stumbled down the embankment to the West River Road.
Bridge over West River Road in Minneapolis
This is the bridge over the West River Road before it heads across the river. I decided to go over to the Saint Paul side and see where this comes out. I set off down the bike path to the Lake Street Bridge, my usual river crossing, a few blocks south.
Yellow leaves in Minneapolis Tree
Most of the trees have lost their leaves, but a few are hanging on and haven't even completely turned yet!
Rail bridge from Lake/Marshall Bridge
This is the rail bridge from the Lake Street bridge. This is looking upriver.
Bridge above East River Road
I rode up the East River Road. The rail bridge is way up in the air here.
Atlantis by bridge support
Heavy Iron. This bridge is built! That's a major nut behind the handlebars.

A guy stopped, mistaking me for some other Atlantis rider, and we chatted for a few minutes. I meekly said I was closing in on 1,000 miles; he was getting close to 8,000 for the year, and had just toured in Nova Scotia. He was retired, he said, which gives him lots of time to ride. He noted that the front wheel of the Atlantis had a lot of spokes; it's 36 spokes but is radially-laced, which makes it look like a lot. Funny thing is, the back wheel is 32 spokes. He told me that should be the other way around. He asked if I were riding the same direction, which I thought was nice, but he was going south down the trail and I wanted to go east, so we parted ways.

I rode east up Saint Anthony Street which goes from the East River Road to Pelham, a street I've been using on my way to church. I've lived here more than 11 years and had never been on this street. It runs parallel to the tracks and rises quickly up the hill.
Tracks coming from bridge
These are the tracks coming from the bridge. There's room for a bike trail there!
Tracks to the east in St Paul
And then they go off to the east. I rode up to Pelham.

Graffiti on railway bridge over I-94
The Saint Paul artistic community hasn't been idle either.
Interstate 94 and the railway tracks
A pathway along the tracks would deal very gracefully with crossing the Interstate. This is where Highway 280 goes off to the north from Interstate 94.
Rail bridge over I-94
And off it goes.

At this point, teatime was drawing near and I gave up following the tracks and rode on home. Karla, who had been up at 5:30 getting Henry ready for an early Minnesota Boychoir appearance, was feeling fatigued and we had a couple of cuppas. Cycling was done for the day, and Henry and I went out and worked on leaves until dark.

Bikes make a great way to explore like this. You can get places that are tough or impossible in a car, everything is accessible, you can see lots, and there's no problem stopping to take some photos, unlike a car, where you've got to park the darn thing every time you want to take a snap.

The trail could be pretty cool. If the Greenway actually does extend from the current termination at Hiawatha and continue to the river and then over and into Saint Paul it would be an extraordinarily useful bicycle and pedestrian superhighway. (Actually, you can read about the construction progress here and there are plans to use the rail bridge). The Greenway already joins up very nicely at its western end with other bike paths; to have it connect across the river would be brilliant. I will have to make some inquiries about it.

In the meantime, the Atlantis got to 996 miles. One short ride and it'll be over 1,000 for the season.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Last Ride of the Velo-Pumpkin

I rode to church choir again. It was 64F outside Wednesday night and the ladies were meeting early, us men weren't due until 7:40, so I figured what the heck, the pumpkin on the back of the Marin isn't rotten yet, let's light 'er up and ride to church.

The Marin has big beefy 26" X 1.75" tires on it, all the better for pounding over unseen potholes and obstacles, plus the rear basket and pumpkin were already installed. I headed out right at 6:30.

The main difference between this week and last is the end of Daylight Savings Time. It was basically completely dark out as I left, though I wasn't quite as anonymous as I thought; I passed a couple walking a few blocks from home and they called out, where's the skeleton?, a result of my Adventures on Halloween.

I went west on Hoyt, through the Fairgrounds, illicitly down the last bit of Intercampus Transitway to Como, and along Raymond to Pelham. I like to think the flickering pumpkin looked good floating along in the darkened State Fair Grounds, for instance, but it's hard to tell when it's behind you.

I had a pumpkin malfunction on Pelham and had to stop and find the top and reset it and the bungee cord. I didn't see as many cyclists this time, but the lightless ones could pass by unseen pretty easily. I rode across the Lake Street bridge and down the West River Parkway bike trail. There didn't seem to be as many pedestrians out as last week, either, even though this week was warmer.

I did run into some cyclists along the Minnehaha bike path, all showing lights. Of course, in the dark, you can't really see the person, you just get dazzled by the headlight and then they flash by. I was using my Blackburn Quadrant front light. It throws just enough light to be useful in the really dark bits and is probably pretty visible to oncoming traffic.

I got behind another commuter for a while. He seemed annoyed that I was behind him. He'd speed way up and slow down while I plugged along behind. He wasn't so slow that I felt compelled to overtake him nor so fast that I wouldn't catch back up. He finally took off in a standing sprint and got a long way ahead of me and made a green light where I caught the red, and I didn't see him again. He had a helmet light on but it was pretty dim. He also had a taillight, but it was hidden by a bag strapped to his rack so that it wasn't visible until you were almost on top of him. Not like my pumpkin, with five LED blinkies all blazing away inside it. I think it's stupid not to show lights when riding at light.

I got to church right about 7:45. I've done the ride in 1:05 (on the Atlantis, in daylight) but 1:15 seems more realistic, allowing for lights, pumpkin malfunctions, etc. The one trouble is, choir-wise, my throat gets dried out and the tone of my voice isn't as good as it should be. We're just rehearsing, it's Sunday mornings that count, but I may need to come up with a good warming-up drink to help me when I ride there, not that that will happen much more this season.

Going home, I rode 46th and then 42nd Streets, then north mostly on 46th Avenue. I think the streets are actually better than the trails in the dark. At least cars all have lights, the street lighting is brighter, you don't have the picturesque meanderings along the creek which all of a sudden are dark, ill-lit turns concealing dog-walking pedestrians, oncoming lightless bikes, etc. If you do see other bikes (and I saw a couple of others), you aren't confined to a narrow pathway. I think in the dark, I prefer the streets.

Once home I took all five blinkies out of the pumpkin and removed it from my basket lest it rot in position. Garbage ain't 'til Tuesday. I don't know what people thought of it, whether it provided moments of confusion or annoyance or happy delight. Often you don't know how you affect others, and hope only that on the whole it's positive. I like the whimsy of the pumpkin taillight and will undoubtedly do it again next year.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


All Hallows Eve

Halloween this year gave a sudden lurching realization that my children are getting big. As a kid, I did the usual Halloween stuff, costumes and trick or treating (and, for my Des Moines years, the oddball Beggar's Night). Once I was through college and in an apartment and then in a house, I delighted in giving away full-sized candy bars rather than the snack size. Once we had children, I began to take them out for Halloween in a succession of cute costumes. Henry in particular would put forth unflagging effort in collecting free candy as we'd range far and wide through the neighborhood. Last year Geneva for the first time kept up with him through the whole evening and they each collected ten pounds of candy (we weigh it each year). Last year, while I strolled along, there was someone on a bicycle who rode by a few times in a strange costume with an enormous head that looked like it was made of paper mache. They didn't say anything, they just rode past and waved, up and down the streets of the neighbourhood.

This year, Henry still wanted to go trick or treating but Geneva didn't. She wanted to hand out candy and see all the cute kids in their costumes. I thought back to the guy on the bicycle and to a classic skeleton costume we'd made for Henry ten years ago and thought, that'd be fun. I could make a skeleton costume, ride my bike up and down the streets, put a pumpkin on the rear rack and give out candy!

So, I made a costume. The top is a cheap XXL black long-sleeve t-shirt from Target, the bottom a pair of old black Levi's. I cut out bones from fusion interfacing and ironed them onto the garments. I also bought white and black face paint to make my head look like a skull. Finally, I have a white helmet liner made for use in the summer to reflect sun and wick sweat; that would serve to keep my head warm. Some thin black gloves would keep my hands warm.

Karla had bought five pumpkins. I carved a couple, including one about the right size for the bicycle basket. This Wald basket is one we have lying around which I zip-tied to the rear rack of my Marin Pine Mountain Urban Assault Bike. I initially set up the pumpkin with an REI candle lantern, for a couple of decades my preferred source of light when camping.

Here's the pumpkin mounted and ready to go. This is my Marin Pine Mountain, not the Atlantis. This bike has fat 26" street tires on it, all the better for pounding over obstacles I can't see in the dark. The basket is zip-tied to the rear rack, the pumpkin wedged in place against the front of the basket, and a yellow bungee cord holds the pumpkin down and the lid on.
Marin Pine Mountain with pumkin

Here's a closer shot of the pumpkin.
Pumpkin in bicycle basket

The light to start with was from an REI candle lantern. I cut a couple of slots in the pumpking and the lid held the wire bail in place. I had high hopes for this arrangement.
Candle Lantern in pumkin   this didn't work too well

About 6:30 we set out, Henry wrapped in yards of muslin as a Mummy, me in my skeleton outfit with white skull-head and pumpkin.
Matt's Make Up
Hello, little girl, like some candy? This is my skull makeup at the end of the evening. My beard kept me from getting the whole jaw really white. Still, at a distance, the effect was good.

I soon ran into technical difficulties with the pumpkin. The candle kept going out. These candle lanterns work great even in pretty wet and windy conditions when camping, but something about the bike was giving the candle trouble. I wonder if it was sloshing wax from stops, starts, bumps and turns, something it doesn't have to deal with when camping. I'd stop and re-light the candle lantern but kept having to check over my shoulder to see if it was still lit.

After a while I rode home, took out the candle lantern and instead put in four LED blinkie taillights all set to steady on. This worked great. The light bounced and reflected around the interior of the pumpkin and gave a good strong orange-red glow out the carved face. (Later, when the evening was done, I tried putting all four lights on blink, and that was even better; they all blink at different rates, giving this flickering effect).

Thus equipped, I rode around. I startled a number of people. I think I startled a lot of drivers. Clad in black, I was unwilling to ride in front of people who had a Stop sign, worried they'd coast on through and hit me, so I'd so a right turn. The poor driver would be coming up to an intersection when suddenly this enormous skeleton on a bike would come looming around the corner. A couple of adults I talked to (during brief pumpkin maintenance stops, or when stopped to give children candy) said the effect was very startling. I would have liked to see what the pumpkin was like from a distance, since it would roll down the street, around corners, and probably looked pretty odd in dark areas since I was showing no rear lights at all.

Halloween's a great night to ride around. Part of the fun is how open and lit up people's houses are; you can see in, check out the neighborhood. It was fun when I'd walk with the children to note who was nice and who was grouchy, to see people come and go, who was cheap and who generous, even who was really stingy, like the year one guy gave out poems. I didn't shadow Henry this year, instead ranging far and wide through the Como neighborhood and even riding around the Como Lake. I was hoping I'd see the big-headed cyclist from last year and rode some of the same streets but there was no sign of that person. This was too bad, I'd like to have heard how they came up with the idea.

I got one treat; waiting at a corner, a guy came out who'd seen me ride by and said, you're working hard tonight, here's a treat and handed me a bottle of Bass Ale. Hot damn! Beer trick or treatin'! It was unopened and I kept it until the night was done.

Here's Henry and I at the end of major candy operations. The strips of reflective tape on my read fender sure work well in this photo! Henry's mummy costume was getting pretty ragged. At one point I'd ridden by him and a dog had come out of a house and was tugging on a loose piece of wrapping. Despite his costume malfunctions and attacks by vicious canines, he collected 12 pounds of candy, a really good outing.
Matt and Henry at Halloween 2005

My costume was inspired by one we did for Henry ten years ago. Here we are then.
Henry and Matt at Halloween 1995

Here I am with my bottle of Bass. Next year I think I'll do hand bones as well, so the arms don't just end at the gloves. In this picture, lit with the camera's flash, you don't get to appreciate the lurid red glow of the blinkies in the pumpkin.
Matt with Bass Ale

I had my first SPD crash. I'd felt pretty smug about going clipless this summer with my SPD pedals on the Atlantis and the Marin and never having the inevitable crash new SPDers are supposed to encounter. Since getting the Atlantis, my miles on the Marin have been pretty limited. The pedals on the Marin, some Nashbar-brand SPD on one side, platform on the other, have a lot tighter releases than the Ritcheys on the Atlantis. So, I come up to an intersection where there is some traffic confusion and slowed way down and then stopped and my foot wouldn't release and over I went. As I fell, I'm thinking, great, I haven't crashed in years, and here I go on one of the few times I'm not wearing a helmet. Crash! Predictably, as soon as I hit, my shoe released. I scraped my knee and banged my elbow but other than that my main injury was to my dignity. Fortunately, in skeleton costume nobody knows who I am! Crash? What crash?

Riding like this is not for the faint of heart. I usually try to be very visible and now I was riding around in black with no front lights on a night full of oblivious pedestrians and distracted drivers. On the other hand, I was generally meandering at a stately pace, not pushing to make time, and so could pay lots of attention to being cautious, avoiding drivers, etc. I'm thinking next year I might do it again but cruise around more of the city, not just up and down the streets of our area. It would be kind of fun to go up and down Summit, ride around Crocus Hill, maybe even pop down to Concord or Lake Street where the skeleton motif would fit right in with the Dia de los Muertos theme. Skeleton-costumed cyclists riding around with pumpkin taillights giving out full-sized candy bars to little children has to win us some goodwill, right? Plus, it's fun. It could be the start of a trend!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Riding to Sam's

I had a couple of errands to run Saturday and set off on the Atlantis. I headed west to start with. One of my routes west and south is through the State Fairgrounds. This is not shown as a viable route on, for instance, the Twin Cities Bike Map. This may be because the entrance is closed off for the State Fair (roughly the two weeks before Labor Day) and on some weekends when there are Classic Auto shows or other fee-charging events on. The rest of the time, though, the entrance at Hoyt and Snelling is open to pedestrians and bikes. I rode down Hoyt, crossed Snelling on the light and came up to the fence. You can see that it's a pretty narrow path.
State Fair gate from Hoyt

If you were an Amazing Precision Cyclist you could zoom right through this, but I stopped and walked the bike through. You can see how tight a fit this is, keeping in mind I have broad 48cm handlebars.
Tight fit through the Hoyt gate

Then you can ride off through the Fairgrounds, largely empty and vacant this time of year. If you go west, you pass by the University of Minnesota's Saint Paul Campus farm fields. These cows were in the field, basically equidistant between the Minneapolis and Saint Paul downtowns.
Cows at U of M Saint Paul campus

This one wasn't too interested in a mere cyclist.
Black cow ignoring cyclist

I rode on through the Fairgrounds...
Minnesota State Fairgrounds in October
...onto Raymond and down south of University. The store I'd gone to visit, Viking Safety Products, was closed. Bummer! The phone book said they were open Saturday 9-12, and I've been there before on a Saturday morning. Oh well.

I set off eastbound, wanting to stop by the Sibley Bike Depot. I rode down Grand Avenue most of the way, where the stores must have been doing some Halloween promotion since there were lots of little kids in costumes on the sidewalks.

I wanted to pop into Sibley to see what they had lying around for three-speed bikes. I had run into the Lake Pepin Three-Speed Tour site and separately tracked down Pashley Cycles. I knew the Pashley name from the 2001 Encycleopedia where a lovely seven-speed Harrod's Light Roadster was listed. It said it was made by Pashley. We were in London that fall of 2001 and stopped by Harrods. I nipped up to the bicycle section but none of these lovely bikes was in evidence. They'd also discontinued their excellent Harrods-brand curry powder so it was a disappointing visit all around.

What I didn't realize was that Pashley was a Stratford-upon-Avon based maker of bicycles, including the ones used by the Royal Mail. Stratford's right in the heart of my family country and I even had three great-aunts who moved there after being bombed out of Coventry by the Germans in 1940. I stayed with them several times in my youth in a lovely house out on Tiddington Road backing up to the Stratford Golf Club. They ran a high-end ladies shop in Bridge Street, less than a mile from where Pashley is located. These great aunts are all dead now but on our 2001 trip we were visiting family in Redditch and Coventry, both very close to Stratford. Next time over I'm going to have to visit Pashley.

The particular item of interest in the Pashley Roadster in the 24.5" frame size for, as they put it, "the taller gent". The frame is pretty big, I guess, and it has a double top-tube. The 24.5" frame sounds smallish (the Atlantis is a 27") but it is designed for gentlemen with a 35" to 39" inseam, right in my range. Maybe the 28" wheels lift it higher. There is a Sovereign option which I believe makes it a 5-speed (still internal hub gears) and also adds a hub generator. You knock off the VAT but add shipping and I'm guessing this bike would run me $1,100. It's tough to justify blowing a grand on a 5-speed bike that weighs probably 45 pounds when I have this delightful Atlantis, but I harbor a secret desire to get one. I can't take the Atlantis on the Three Speed Tour even if I promise to just use three of the gears. Thus, my trek to Sibley.

It would be great to report that they had a Pashley for the taller gent sitting there for $25 but of course they didn't, and the three-speeds they had in stock were all tiny-framed. I chatted for a while with the guys at the Depot about bikes. One of them had a pretty nifty Schwinn he was using around town, a 10-speed with fenders, upright bars and some decent folding wire baskets. This was interesting, but it was no three-speed, so I moved on.

My next destination was Sam's Warehouse Club. We're members but don't go there all that often. However, I have always liked to give away full-sized candy bars at Halloween, and a box of 36 is about $13-14 at Sam's. I had never ridden my bike there before and hadn't tried to get from downtown Saint Paul to Maplewood, either. I rode off up 9th Street, which curved around and ran parallel to I-35E. After about a mile, I crossed under the Interstate and got on the Gateway Trail, a bike trail that runs out to the Saint Croix River north of Stillwater.
South entrance to the Gateway Trail
Here, though, it runs along and then over the Interstate along an old railway right of way. This cuts diagonally northeast through this part of the city, showing you the backyards of lots of homes and businesses. There are a couple of very heavy-duty circa 1918 bridges. I only went as far as Keller Lake, then got off and rode up Arcade past Gervais Lake, on up to Lahore and then east on County D. I needed to get to Highway 61 and cross under I-694. County D was closed for construction. Closed? That's for cars and girlie-men! I rode on up. As it happened, there were only a couple of hundred yards of torn up road. I wallowed down through the dirt to Highway 61, across the near lanes of traffic, through the grassy median and across the distant lanes. This got me under I-694 and onto Buerkle Road, which took me over to Sam's.

Sam's doesn't have bicycle parking. I'd harangue them for it, especially given Wal Mart's sudden desire to be seen as green, but this is a store where people buy stuff by the pallet-load. Also, the lack of a bike rack is no worse than, say, World Cycling Productions or any number of bicycle shops. I locked my bike to a handy sign and took my panniers (a Jandd and a Breezer grocery-bag pannier) in with me to make sure I didn't buy more than I could fit.

When you buy compact, high-value stuff, it doesn't take long to get $108 worth of merchandise into two grocery panniers. I was distressed that they didn't have Mounds bars, having to settle for Rolos, Salted Nut Rolls and Kit Kats, plus some deli meats, smoked salmon, granola bars, etc. I checked out, loaded up the bike and rode home much the same way I came, wallowing back up the construction zone on my small chainring with unclipped feet and getting off the Gateway Trail at Arlington to make my way home. In all, I did 35 miles or so, the part from Sam's including about 24 pounds of merchandise in the panniers.

This is the trail near Keller Lake. It looks like an old rail right of way here.
Gateway Trail near Keller Lake

Here's the Atlantis loaded with my purchases.
Loaded Atlantis on Gateway Trail