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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Riding to Choir Rehearsal

I rode to choir rehearsal last night, rather than taking the bus as has been my habit since our Wednesday night rehearsals began. We have bought a Yakima Super Joe 3 bike rack for the Avalon so I had the nice backup assurance that I could slap the bike rack on the car and carry the bike home if needed, or I could ride back if I felt like it. This works out nicely on Sunday mornings; we have our Traditional Service at 9:00 and then a Contemporary Service at 11:00 (I like to think of them as the Stodgy and Lame services). I sing in the 9:00 choir and about the last thing I want to do is hang around until 12:30 when Karla is finally free of the late service obligations before going home. I can toss the bike on the car, haul it to church (we get there by about 8:20) then ride home after the 9:00 service is done and I've had a cup of coffee and some baked goods at the Coffee Hour. Thusfar, I haven't ridden on Wednesday nights, though, so this was a new one for me.

I haven't ridden much in Minneapolis on weekdays. My commute runs north into Arden Hills where I see a smattering of other cyclists. I was surprised to see how many cyclists were out and about as I rode to church. I left about 6:00 and headed down Hoyt and Raymond and Pelham in the fading light. Not for me the dark anonymity of the deepening dusk, I have two LED taillights on my bike and one on my helmet plus two headlights.

At the Lake/Marshall Bridge a peace march was going on, a vigil noting the death of the 2,000th U.S. soldier in the Iraqi war. I stopped to take a photo or two but they kind of bagged, the light was so dim. I need to carry a small tripod with me for these dusky shots, plus the digital isn't as good at long exposures as my film cameras. I did take this photo of a tow moving upriver towards downtown Minneapolis. I rarely see tows on this stretch of the river, not that I'm by here much on weekdays.

Tow on Mississippi in Minneapolis
I rode on. I'm still casting about for a good commuting headlight solution. I ran two headlights tonight, one a Blackburn Quadrant four-LED light that I'd like a lot better if it wouldn't shake out of its handlebar mount, and the other a 1-watt 3-AAA LED flashlight from Target that I rubber-banded to the flat drops of my handlebars. Together these provided decent coverage even in the darker bits of the bike trails down the Mississippi. The main trouble with the LED lights is that they get part of their remarkable brightness from being very focused, so the tight beam doesn't illuminate much other than what's straight ahead and isn't helpful when coming to turns in the dark.

There are a couple of other lights which look interesting if I were infinitely rich, which I'm not. The Light and Motion Vega is a 3-watt LED light that's completely self-contained with its NiMH batteries. I have been pretty impressed with my little 1-watt Target light and am intrigued with how bright the 3-watt L&M Vega would be but it's $159 at Calhoun Cycles and that's quite a lot of money. While reading up on the Vega I also came across the DiNotte Ultralight 5-watt LED light. It also sounds intriguing, but it's over $200 from Nashbar and takes a separate battery pack. Of course, if I was infinitely wealthy I'd just get one of the HID lights (or two!) and scorch my way home through the night.

I rode on down the west river pathway and then out the Minnehaha trail to choir rehearsal. I was coming out of the coffee shop near church when the bus came by, the one I would have taken had I taken the bus. Cycling's a bit faster if you don't stop to take pictures and buy coffee, but would be a bit slower if I make the instantaneous connection between my buses downtown.

I have to say I was surprised by how many cyclists ride without any lights at all. I met several along the trails who were almost invisible in the dark. I would prefer to be seen whether on the street or on the trail. Even on a trail, a head-on crash would be pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, it was good to see a number of commuters, with fenders, lights, a pannier and often a yellow or orange vest. It is the nature of cycling that you meet these people coming the other way rather than overtake them, so there isn't time to see what people are doing equipment-wise, but there were more out and about in the 6-7PM time frame than I would have thought.

After choir, about 9:10, I thought, what the heck, I'll ride home too. I headed out. Trail traffic was much lighter this time. The Blackburn light, which I like up to a point, fell off twice, both on the bumps of parking lot entrances along the West River Road bike path. I'd bang up and down the thresholds, standing slightly in the pedals to let the Atlantis pivot beneath me, and suddenly the light comes out and goes skidding down the pathway. Being LEDs, they don't go out when this happens, but it's still pretty annoying. A decent handlebar mount shouldn't be that hard to make.

I rolled in about 10:30 and put everything away. I haven't traditionally ridden much in the colder months and it's interesting to ride as the weather gets cooler. I wore a wool tshirt, a wool long-sleeved shirt and my DayGlo yellow cycling jacket and some thin full-fingered gloves and was plenty warm as the temperature went into the upper 30s. I do find that my eyes water a lot in cooler weather. I wonder what people do in the really cold weather. Ski goggles?

I heard on the radio that Paul McCartney, who sang last night here in the Cities, was seen riding a bicycle around Lake of the Isles. I bet he could affort an HID headlight!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Me and Mass Transit

I've been riding the bus each week. Our church choir rehearses on Wednesday nights, a new thing for this church, which has gone 30 years without a weeknight rehearsal, and Karla and the kids are there early to do children's choir and whatnot. I can come home from work, snarf down a bit o'dinner and catch a nearby bus to church with just one connection. Round trip is about 30 miles; my truck gets 20-22 mpg in the city, so a $2.00 bus fare versus 1.4 gallons of gas at $2.80/gallon makes the calculation pretty simple. On the bus, I'm there in an hour and we all drive back as a family.

I could ride my bike, like I do many Sunday mornings, but it's 1 hour 15 minutes in daylight and I often don't leave until 9:15 or so, plus now it's dark out, so it gets to be a late arrival home. I've thought about riding and bringing the bike back in the car. Sadly, neither of my bikes really fits in the car (between the big frames, wide handlebars and fenders), and we don't want to leave the Yakima rack on the roof all the time. We might get a trunk rack that folds pretty flat and quickly attached to hold two or three bikes, but at the moment, if I take a bike to church I have to ride it home.

As a result of this, I have spent a bit of time on the Metro Transit web site. They have an excellent trip planner in which you enter your starting and ending addresses and the desired arrival or departure time, and it comes up with your itinerary. Getting to church once a week doesn't require lots of planning; I catch the same bus each time. However, it is helpful in evaluating other trips by bus. A handy bus thing is the bike racks on front; I have used these (once) when riding with Geneva a couple of summers ago. She got tired, and we took a bus for a chunk of the trip home carrying the bikes up front. These racks work great as long as nobody else uses them and as long as I ride with only one tired kid at a time.

One weird thing on the Metro Transit site is this graphic for their adopt a bus shelter program. It looks like a suggestion to have carnal knowledge of a bus shelter as the individual hugging the shelter appears to have no trousers on:

Adopt A Shelter illustration

My bike and bus riding isn't a patriotic response to President Bush's September 26th plea to economize on gas usage; I've been working to reduce my driving mileage all summer, since the President was kissing and holding hands with Crown Prince Abdul last spring pleading to keep oil under $50 a barrel. I thought this was appalling and was ashamed for him. His plea for conservation, though, is notable. This is an administration which has traditionally viewed cheap oil as part of the American lifestyle:
From White House Press briefing, May 7, 2001: Q Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?
ARI FLEISCHER: That's a big no. The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one... But the President also believes that the American people's use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy.

and conservation as merely a personal virtue:
"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." --Dick Cheney, April 2001

Now, finally, four years late, our President wants us to conserve energy. Is this not a flip-flop? And why no actual action in terms of tightening fuel mileage requirements, increasing the gasoline tax or cutting out the worst of the pork in the recently-passed highway bill? Do you think a graduated fuel tax in the wake of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks might have allowed the country some time to adjust to the realities of buying oil from our adversaries? When the President was done encouraging us to cut unnecessary trips, he conserved energy by getting on his personal Boeing 747-200 and flying to Beaumont, Texas to appear to be involved in evaluating damage to the oil industry. Yup, it's reassuring to know he's on top of things.

In the meantime, I'll forego my personal 747 and use the bus and the bike as practical.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This Has Never Happened To Me Before. Really.

More from the New York Times (registration required, but it's free). This article is all about men, bicycle seats and erections. I personally have to say that I never get erections while riding my bike, so maybe there's something to this. Of course, I don't ride as many miles as a lot of serious cyclists plus I already have two children and am not really in the market for any more (mine are delightful, but babies are exhausting) so can afford to treat this article with the sort of immature smirking hilarity reserved for embarrassing medical problems I don't suffer from. Yet.

October 4, 2005
Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life
A raft of new studies suggest that cyclists, particularly men, should be careful which bicycle seats they choose.

The studies add to earlier evidence that traditional bicycle saddles, the kind with a narrow rear and pointy nose, play a role in sexual impotence.

Some saddle designs are more damaging than others, scientists say. But even so-called ergonomic seats, to protect the sex organs, can be harmful, the research finds. The dozen or so studies, from peer-reviewed journals, are summarized in three articles in September's Journal of Sexual Medicine.

In a bluntly worded editorial with the articles, Dr. Steven Schrader, a reproductive health expert who studies cycling at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said he believed that it was no longer a question of "whether or not bicycle riding on a saddle causes erectile dysfunction."

Instead, he said in an interview, "The question is, What are we going to do about it?"

The studies, by researchers at Boston University and in Italy, found that the more a person rides, the greater the risk of impotence or loss of libido. And researchers in Austria have found that many mountain bikers experience saddle-related trauma that leads to small calcified masses inside the scrotum.

This does not mean that people should stop cycling, Dr. Schrader said. And those who ride bikes rarely or for short periods need not worry.

But riders who spend many hours on a bike each week should be concerned, he said. And he suggested that the bicycle industry design safer saddles and stop trivializing the risks of the existing seats.

A spokesman for the industry said it was aware of the issue and added that "new designs are coming out."

"Most people are not riding long enough to damage themselves permanently," said the spokesman, Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. "But a consumer's first line of defense, for their enthusiasm as well as sexual prowess, is to go to a bicycle retailer and get fitted properly on the bike."

Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom.

The link between bicycle saddles and impotence first received public attention in 1997 when a Boston urologist, Dr. Irwin Goldstein, who had studied the problem, asserted that "there are only two kinds of male cyclists - those who are impotent and those who will be impotent."

Cyclists became angry and defensive, he said, adding: "They said cycling is healthy and could not possibly hurt you. Sure you can get numb. But impotent? No way."

The bicycle industry listened, said Joshua Cohen, a physical therapist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the author of "Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat." Manufacturers designed dozens of new saddles with cut outs, splits in the back and thick gel padding to relieve pressure on tender body parts.

Scientists also stepped up their research. Since 2000, a dozen studies have been carried out using sophisticated tools to see exactly what happens when vulnerable human anatomy meets the bicycle saddle.

The area in question is the perineum, between the external genitals and the anus. "When you sit on a chair you never put weight on the perineum," Dr. Schrader said. "But when you sit on a bike, you increase pressure on the perineum" sevenfold.

In men, a sheath in the perineum, called Alcock's canal, contains an artery and a nerve that supply the penis with blood and sensation. The canal runs along the side of a bone, Dr. Goldstein said, and when a cyclist sits hard on a narrow saddle, the artery and the nerve are compressed. Over time, a reduction of blood flow can mean that there is not enough pressure to achieve full erection.

In women, Dr. Goldstein said, the same arteries and nerves engorge the clitoris during sexual intercourse. Women cyclists have not been studied as much, he added, but they probably suffer the same injuries.

Researchers are using a variety of methods to study the compression caused by different saddles. One method involves draping a special pad with 900 pressure sensors over the saddle. The distribution of the rider's weight is then registered on a computer. In another technique, sensors are placed on the rider's penis to measure oxygen flowing through arteries beneath the skin. Blood flow is detected by other sensors that send a "swoosh" sound to a Doppler machine.

The research shows that when riders sit on a classic saddle with a teardrop shape and a long nose, a quarter of their body weight rests on the nose, putting pressure on the perineum. The amount of oxygen reaching the penis typically falls 70 percent to 80 percent in three minutes. "A guy can sit on a saddle and have his penis oxygen levels drop 100 percent but he doesn't know it," Mr. Cohen said. "After half an hour he goes numb."

Dr. Goldstein added, "Numbness is your body telling you something is wrong."

Today's ergonomic saddles have splits in the back or holes in the center to relieve pressure on the perineum. But this may make matters worse: the ergonomic saddles have smaller surface areas, so the rider's weight presses harder on less saddle, Dr. Schrader said. The perineum may not escape injury because its arteries run laterally and they are not directly over the cutouts. The arteries can come under more pressure when they come into contact with the cutouts' edges.

Thick gels on saddles can also increase pressure to the perineum, the studies found, because the material can migrate and form clumps in all the wrong places.

Just as many smokers do not get lung cancer, many cyclists will never develop impotence from bicycle seats, the scientists said. What makes one person more vulnerable than another is not known. Body weight seems to matter: heavier riders exert more pressure on saddles. Variations in anatomy may also make a difference.

Dr. Goldstein said he often saw patients who were stunned to learn that riding a bicycle led to their impotence. One middle-aged man rode in a special cycling event to honor a friend and has been impotent since. A 28-year-old who came in for testing, Dr Goldstein said, showed the penile blood flow of a 60-year-old. A college student who had competed in rough cycling sports was unable to achieve an erection until microvascular surgery restored penile blood flow.

"We make kids wear helmets and knee pads," Dr. Goldstein said. "But no one thinks about protecting the crotch."

The safest seats and saddles, experts say, force the rider to sit back firmly on the sit bones so the perineum is protected.

Dr. Schrader advocates saddles that do not have noses. After finding that traditional saddles reduced the quality of nighttime erections in young policemen who patrol on bicycles, he has persuaded scores of officers in several cities to use noseless seats and is now studying the officers' sexual function over six months.

Nunzio Lamaestra, a 46-year-old police officer in San Antonio, said he appreciated his noseless bicycle saddle.

"You get used to riding without the nose," he said. "I can do everything, including ride with no hands."

The Last Excursion

An article in this morning's New York Times (registration required, but it's free) relates how SUV sales are dramatically down despite the employee-pricing incentives offered by the major American auto makers the last couple of months. It's also noted in there that Ford built the last of its Excursion SUVs; that was last Friday, just after lunch.

In September, industrywide sales of large S.U.V.'s were down 43 percent from a year earlier, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. That is particularly bad news for General Motors and the Ford Motor Company, which are dependent on truck-based S.U.V.'s.

Last month, G.M.'s overall sales fell 24.2 percent and Ford's declined 20.3 percent, compared with the same month a year earlier.

In contrast, Japanese carmakers reported increases last month, propelled by passenger cars and smaller S.U.V.'s known as crossover vehicles. Toyota's sales rose 10.3 percent, Honda's increased 11.7 percent and Nissan's, 16.4 percent....

At Ford, sales of the Explorer, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator fell more than 50 percent compared with the same month a year earlier. The company also built its last Excursion in the month, ending production of its largest S.U.V.

At G.M., sales of the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe fell more than 50 percent, while the GMC Yukon was down 46 percent and the Cadillac Escalade fell nearly 23 percent, with the supersize Escalade ESV falling 40 percent. Sales of the Hummer H2, made by G.M., fell 32 percent.

The sharp declines come despite heavy spending on discounts. According to a new estimate from the auto tracking firm Edmunds, automakers are spending twice as much on discounts for each large S.U.V. they sell - $4,704 - than the $2,366 overall average vehicle incentive. That is partly mitigated by the fact that the vehicles tend to be more expensive, but only partly.

"Just three years ago, people ignored the fuel economy numbers on the sticker," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at Edmunds. "Now it's one of the first things people ask about, especially the middle-income families."...

Not that the Japanese firms are immune:

Large models at Japanese automakers also suffered, with the Toyota Land Cruiser off more than 50 percent and the Nissan Armada down 21 percent. But the Japanese make more of the smaller and lighter sport utility vehicles that customers are shifting to, and have a stronger hold on the resurgent car market.

The big-picture thinking that underlies this ongoing decline in the Big Three's share of the U.S. auto market and the decline of Ford and GM to junk status persists:

G.M. has said the large S.U.V. market will perk up once it introduces its new generation of such vehicles at the beginning of next year.

But at a media briefing last week, Robert A. Lutz, G.M.'s vice chairman and product development chief, emphasized that his company would be hedging its bets. "I'm betting we're going to see regular under $2 a gallon again," he said, but added that "what we have is volatility and the volatility may continue.

Maybe high gas prices will cure obesity in our senior citizens!

In a September survey sponsored by AARP of 568 people over 50 years old, 47 percent said they were reducing travel and vacations and 39 percent said they were visiting family and friends less often. Thirteen percent of the respondents even said they were offsetting high gasoline prices by eating less. (emphasis mine)

I still need to go test drive an H2 Hummer to see what the fuss is all about. I rode by the dealership one day on the way home from REI and looked in the windows of a couple (it was a Sunday) and they don't look all that spacious inside. I want to see just how roomy they are and try driving one before GM folds the whole enterprise.