Aug 29, 2008

Save the Date: Nov. 13, 2008

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be presenting a "draft final" report on the I-35W bridge collapse on November 13, 2008 in Washington, DC. The report will include conclusions, probable causes, and safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.

On that note, in early August, I went searching the interweb for photos of the collapse for my August 2, 2008 "one year after" post. I found quite a few photos on Flickr, but surprisingly few on the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press or government websites. It makes me think that just perhaps photos of the fallen bridge are being surpressed by the government to make our already forgetful nation move past this monumental fuck-up. Here's a link to the NTSB site with some photos I came across tonight. Let's see if these stay up past Nov. 13.

I also came across this site tonight. It's a lot of fun; it's an interactive google maps tool to help you find those pesky "structurally deficient" and "functionally obsolete" bridges near you. Good thing Minneapolis does not have much to worry about here (if you know me, sense dry humor at this point in the dialogue).

Meanwhile, if you need to get in touch, I'll be in the basement making more tin foil hats for the cat and I.


I got back from ANC about 6:00 PM and will turn right around to go to MKE for the holiday weekend and a Brewer's game (at the fancy new stadium). No news other than work and no spare time for the last 5 days, so nothing worth posting. Here's the scenery from seat 2D on the 9:45 flight from Anchorage to MSP for your viewing pleasure:

Now, everyone, turn off your computer and go watch the Tour of Ireland.

As we say in Minnesota, I am tossing in a photo of a massive glacier that I think is in the Wrangell - St. Elias mountains of Alaska "just for pretty".

Edit: It's a sad state of affairs when you actually refer to the cities you travel to by the airport abbreviation. ANC = Anchorage, MKE = Milwaukee, MSP = Minneapolis/St. Paul, PDX = Portland, Hartford = BDL, Houston = IAH, etc., etc.

Aug 23, 2008

Bike Repair Day

Bike Lover Whatsisname and I answered the call of another Bike Lover that works at an emergency children's shelter in South Minneapolis this afternoon.

We donated the better part of the afternoon to fixing up about 18 kids bikes in various states of disrepair. We fixed several flat tires, pumped up a ton of bike tires (it turns out all of the kids are very good pumpers, even the ones that need a little help) and wrestled with some stubborn coaster brakes here and there.

At the end of the day, we got about 15 bikes working. Three more need parts (we could use a rideable 20-inch rear wheel with a coaster brake hub, a brake cable and a 17 inch inner tube if anyone is feeling generous or cleaning out the garage).

Here are the results of our labor - lots of little bikes waiting for the kids to come back out and ride 'em. This was a good afternoon; the work was pretty easy, the kids very appreciative and helpful, and the company was good.

That's is it. Ride safe and pump up your tires if they need it!

Heading Out and Good Deeds

I am heading out for a week in Anchorage for work tomorrow, so I will likely be a little busy, but will bring the camera and post if I can. To celebrate all-things-Anchorage, here's a photo of a moose family eating our trees. This was taken from the living room window when we lived up there.

This afternoon I will be donating a little time and patience to repairing kid's bikes at an emergency shelter in South MPLS. We will likely be needing some parts so I may be posting back looking for donations later today after we size up the situation. Stand by for pics and pleas.

Aug 22, 2008

Minnesota Nice

On the corner of 7th Street and 3rd Ave. there are a number of commuter buses that haul people out to the suburbs. Many, many times when I go by this intersection after work, I am treated to this site:

Minnesotan's politely lined up in a single file line patiently waiting for a bus that is not there yet. I could not believe this the first time I saw it. Everywhere else I have lived, people would be milling about until the bus comes, then they would squeeze into the bus once it comes. Here, they wait in an orderly line, not talking to each other, looking straight ahead, and certainly not getting too close to each other.

We are so sadly repressed in this state...

Aug 20, 2008

The Northwest Passage

I did the scenic Northwest Passage tonight on the way home because I was tired of the Park/Portland scene and the weather was very nice. The first real leg of this route (once you are out of the downtown mess) is on the Kennilworth trail. This is kind of post-apocalyptic at some points because it's sandwiched between I-394 and some sort of refuse heap that the MN DOT keeps screwing with, but after that, it's a really nice ride down to the Lakes. You then follow the lakes south to Minnehaha Parkway and then cut back east to home base. It's longer, but it's trails almost the whole way home, which is quite a change of pace from the high-traffic route I usually take. I will be very glad when the I-35W bridge work is complete and the West River Road trail opens open, then my longer, Northeast Passage route will be back in action.

We are doing the Tour of Minneapolis this year along some of this route. I was going to sign up for it last year but ended up going to Anchorage for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conference and missing the event entirely. This year the dates work better, so we are riding. We will likely ride over to the start and avoid the parking mess. Large rides like this kind of make my skin crawl, but if I don't have to drive there, I am generally up for it.

That's all. I've got to go chase the damn kids off my lawn...

Aug 19, 2008

Geese and Salmon

It's a little know fact that some flight attendants and gate agents commonly refer to airline passengers as "the geese". For instance, when it's time to board, the gate agent may call the flight crew and ask if they are ready for the geese. Certainly our fine Northwest Airlines personnel would never refer to Minnesotans as "geese", but I guess this happens on other airlines in other states. It makes sense to me. Airline passengers move in groups, they look around and make noise, and some of them do in fact waddle quite a bit as they walk.

Bikesnob coined a term similar to this that I love. He referred to biker riders that are not paying attention to what is in front of them as "salmon". Makes perfect sense; they are heading upstream oblivious to what's around them. Now that s/he has raised my consciousness, I see salmon all over the place.

Aug 17, 2008

The Bike Boulevard Field Trial

So it turns out I am not a very good amateur transportation planner. Like a number of things in my life recently, the concept is a little better than the reality. I rode some of this today and here's the deal:

Oakland Ave. needs some repairs - quite a few potholes (those could be fixed) and it has a lot of on-street parking, particularly as you go north towards downtown. I had three open doors I had to pass on my Sunday test ride, so the prospect of getting doored at rush hour seems pretty high if you were not careful. Also, although I am no sensitive suburbanite, but there were some places along this route where I would wonder a bit about personal security. I don't get that vibe as much on Park or Portland. Finally, there are stop signs on almost every block as well. If this were going to work, then Oakland Ave. would have to get priority treatment like Nokomis Ave. does in the stop sign location lottery and many of signs would have to be removed and the cross streets controlled. And now that I think about it, this is damn unlikely since both Park and Portland have controlled intersections at cross streets.

Maybe not a good idea just yet but I still like the concept of a bike boulevard from South MPLS to downtown. I'll be riding up Park Ave. and thinking about this some time between 7:00 and 8:00 tomorrow morning, it seems.

John Allen Riffs on Minneapolis

It is worth the time to read this link if you have not seen it.

For some reason, it feels good to get spanked. "Minneapolis striped some of its bicycle lanes in a highly unusual location -- down the middle of streets, between travel lanes that flow in opposite directions. I do not know what the reasoning was for this location of the bike lanes. Bike lanes in this location are not even considered in the AASHTO guide, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices or other engineering references."

Aug 16, 2008

My Recommendation on Bike Boulevards for MPLS

Not that I think the world necessarily wants to know my opinion, but I am going to bravely wade in to the murky waters of Bike Boulevards.

For those that may not be following along, MPLS/St. Paul is getting some Bike Boulevards! Shi-shi and the guys at Hiawatha Cyclery covered this better than I would so here's a link for background material.

I like the concept of bike boulevards, but from what I have gleened from the press coverage and the blogs, this will not make much of a positive impact on my day-to-day existance, so here's what I would like to see.

The bike routes north and south from what I will call "south cental Minneapolis" run north on Park Ave. and South of Portland Ave. These are busy one-way streets that run from Minehaha Parkway to downtown. Between them lies the overlooked and uncharted wilderness called Oakland Ave. I ride Park and Portland a lot since that's the shortest, fastest route from my house to my office in downtown. Both of these streets have high levels of traffic, and although the bike lanes are on the "wrong side" of the rode (I like this - it decreases the chance of a driver opening his/her door into the bike lane) and I have never had a "near miss" on these streets, the fact is that these streets are just not very pleasant to ride on.

It seems to me that running bikes up and down Oakland would streamline bike travel into downtown for many riders from So. MPLS and Richfield, get bikes off of the two busiest one-way streets in the area and improve the quality of life for cyclist throughout the south metro. Of couse, we are constrained on where we can cross I-35W/I-94, so my plan would use Park and Portland from just south of the freeways and into downtown.

The one caveat here is that I have not actually ridden this route; I plan to ride this tomorrow and reality check this idea. If things go according to plan, I willl update this post with some photos and real-work observations on Sunday.

By the way, the photo at the top of this post of the Port of Anchorage, and has nothing at all to do with the content of this post. It is simply a visual element to add interest to this blog.

HC Saturday Ride

Molly was psyched to do the Hiawatha Cyclery Saturday ride this morning. She enjoyed last week's trail ride a lot and was game for another run at it today. Today's outing was a leisurely ride through So. MPLS to a secure, undisclosed breakfast location somewhere along the route. Our intrepid leader made us climb some pointless hills early on, but no one got left behind, so no real harm done.

Two of Molly's friends, Hellen and Jennifer, came along as well today (first timers to this group ride). They did great and I think they had a good time (Ladies, you knew that you would be blogfodder). Here is Molly and her posse setting a scorching pace as I dig deep just to hang on to the group:

After about an hour on the bikes, we took over half of "The Bad Waitress" at 25th and Nic for breakfast. The French Toast is great, the oatmeal is good, and the pancakes are about the size of a dinner plate.

A slightly faster ride back to HC via the Greenway and then on to the domicile and we were home by 11:00 or so and on our way for the rest of the day. Nice ride, good breakfast and nice people. What's not to like? As an added bonus, I got a handful of people to yell "YARRRR!" like any self-respecting bike pirate would on a beautiful Saturday morning.

Aug 14, 2008


It's so disillusioning when people close to you (coworkers, colleagues, etc.) fail to live up to your expectations, somehow let you down or make you feel taken for granted. It dredges up all kinds of lousy feelings - resentment, betrayal, anger... all emotions I don't spend much time sampling, thankfully. And all this is seasoned with a steady undertone of doubt that maybe your expectations are somehow unfair or your standards unrealistic.

Aug 13, 2008

Albino Squirrel Alert

South Minneapolis is host to a small but tenacious population of albino squirrels. I had not seen one since moving back from Anchorage, but tonight this ran across my deck:

These vermin are usually scrawnier and less sleek looking than their gray cousins. I have always suspected it is because they get teased by the other squirrels. This one looks pretty good, for a white squirrel.

Summer Cross Check

Somehow my Cross Check got a little better looking recently when I was not paying attention. It might be the Conti Contacts (a little slimmer and white sidewalls as opposed to the nice wide black-wall Conti Top Touring tires that will come back out once the weather gets a litle worse) I also trimmed the fenders a bit, so that might have cleaned it up as well.

It's still pretty much the same old bike, but I shot some new photos at any rate because I did not have many good ones. The second photo is interesting because I shot it with the flash on to capture the reflective bits on the bike. The Contact sidewalls have space-age reflective stuff and the saddle bag is reflective as well. This one is a Banjo Brothers bag with a One on One logo embroidered into it. The Banjo Brothers stuff is always a good value and the One on One logo gives it some bike culture bling (ha!).

On another note, hits on this site have gone up in the last month. I can't imagine anyone actually taking the time to see what's out here, but thanks for stopping by at any rate. I get a lot of hits from people looking for the gear inch calculator, photos of the Pugsley or the Waterford 1200, people looking for the "stretching for cyclists" PDF I re-posted from MBL, and quite a few from people looking for a used Minoura truing stand (sorry - mine is sold to Nickel, who has been lucky enough to not need it just yet). I also got a lot of hits from a cross reference on Planetary Gears that had something to do with the startling resemblance of bike saddles to certain parts of the male anatomy. On a more troubling note, I get a low but steady number of people looking for their own amphibious assault vehicle as well.

That's what I've got tonight. Ride safe and be open to possibilities.

Aug 11, 2008

The Yin and the Yang

This is one of my favorite photos from Alaska. We took this south of Anchorage, along Turnagain Arm on our house hunting trip in September 2003. It was a moody day and the low clouds and mountains made the place seem magical and far away. Too bad you can't super-size this one, because it's a beauty. That's the yin in this post.

The yang is crushed limestone trails. I got a question from shi-shi about how the riding is on a crushed limestone path. It just so happens that I have a photo of one to help with this explanation:

When you say "crushed limestone" it evokes images of horrible, loose, sharp rocks (the kind they use at construction sites) skittering beneath the tires of your bike. It's actually not quite so bad. The rock is finely crushed and quite compacted. It's more like riding on a smooth dirt road with some loose stuff here and there. If you were to go gunning around a corner on a road bike, you would probably lose it in the corner and be picking gravel out of your elbow for a few days, but on the plus side, with most of the rails-to-trails around here, there are very few turns that you actually have to make. If you click on the photo and get the jumbo sized version, you can get a feel for the texture of the surface.

The only really bad time I had riding one of these was in spring during the thaw. The trail had started to thaw out and was soft, and riding it was like pedaling through quicksand. I was grinding it out in my low gears, sweating like coalman and not getting anywhere (absolutely the stuff certain recurrent nightmares are made of, actually). On a fat tire bike, these can be a blast to ride on. In wet weather, they are sloppy but usually rideable. In thaws they pretty much suck.

That's it. Ride safe, have fun and live boldy.

Edit: Interesting information on crushed limestone trails from a viewer.

Aug 10, 2008

Get out of Town - Bluff Creek Inn Visit

My wife suggested a quick B&B visit this weekend as a change of pace. Coincidentally, I had suggested a local B&B (The Bluff Creek Inn in Chaska) to a BikeLover that was looking for a local place that he and his wife could ride to. We had stayed there years before and it appears to be close to a bike trail. So with that momentum, Molly got on-line and booked a room for us last night. I tossed a bike on the roof of the car with the plan to ride home so I could figure out the route.

The inn was nice; it's an old house by Minnesota standards (built in 1859 or so). The breakfast was great - coffee, fruit and yogurt, an egg dish (a B&B staple), and little muffins a-plenty. The ride back was great as well. I did not realize it until after I started back, but this is right off the Southwest LRT trail (in fact, the Inn is only 0.15 miles from the trail crossing of Bluff Creek Drive).

I documented the ride back to help out the BikeLover, so here are a few photos of the route:

This is an example of the trail maps that are located along the LRT trail. It's a Three Rivers Park District trail, so it is well marked and has maps like these, and trail signs like the one above at major road crossings. The trail is an old rail grade, so it is not hilly, and made up mostly of crushed limestone.

About halfway between Chaska and South Minneapolis is the Depot Coffee Shop. The Depot is a very popular stop because it's right on the trail and a good distance from Minneapolis, so a lot of riders head out to the Depot, take rest stop and then return to MPLS. Group rides also leave from the Depot due to ample parking and the fact that anybody who rides a bike probably knows where this is.

The Southwest LRT trail somehow magically becomes the Midtown Greenway west of Lake Harriet. At Lake Harriet, I ducked south and followed the Lakes around to Minnehaha Parkway and took that the rest of the way home.

All told, it was an easy 24.5 miles or so, and about 95% of that was on designated trails. I had ridden this trail at least once before, but I did not realize where I was - I parked at the Depot and rode west to the end of the trail but did not pay much attention to the maps. I find the rail grade trails to be a little boring at times, but this one was as good as any I have been on and learning the route was well worth the effort.

Aug 6, 2008

How to Golf (Or Rather, Go Golfing)

I have only golfed once in my life. It was a company function about two years ago, and golfing was one of the team building events. We got paired with 3 other people we don't normally work with and had to golf 9 holes. I actually did much better than I was expecting. I had a "natural" swing and was able to hit the ball fairly straight. It was a "best ball" event and I got the best putt on one or two holes, so I helped the team and had a generally good time doing it, but I have never, ever golfed since then.

I had not thought about that since tonight, when coming home from work, I spied this:

Apologies for the lousy photo, but if you squint, you can see that it is a guy motoring down the Minnehaha bike path towing his golf clubs like a Burley trailer behind his ten-speed. Brilliant!!

This makes getting to the golf course more fun than being there, in my book.

Aug 2, 2008


It has been one year and one day since the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi river at rush hour on a week day. There were memorial events at a park near the site and coverage of "one-year-after" stories in the Star Tribune.

That event was kind of traumatic for me. I was living in Connecticut when 9/11 happened, and that event resulted in the deaths of two people from the little town I was living in. I was in meetings at a state office building near Harford, CT when the towers fell, and we were evacuated and state office buildings were closed because no one knew what the hell was going on, but whatever it was it was not good. I left my meetings, returned to the field office I was working in, and learned that Duke Energy Gas Transmission (my client) had closed all non-essential offices (which included mine), so I went home and watched the coverage on CNN.

The I-35W bridge collapse felt a lot like that to me (it was "re-stimulating", as my wife would say). It was a normal day that took a turn and you did not know what to do with it. I left work at about 5:15 that day and drove home (sometimes I would ride my bike under that bridge on the way home, but not that day; I drove). It was very hot, and Molly was at her parents, so I made a nice gin and tonic and the cat an I went out on the deck to grill some brats. I heard a police siren as I was starting the grill, but did not think anything of it. Police sirens in South Minneapolis are as common as mosquitoes. After about 15 minutes, it dawned on me that the sirens were continuous. They never stopped, and in fact, were increasing.

I went in the house and turned on the radio, thinking that perhaps a plane had crashed at the airport or a grain mill on Hiawatha Ave. was burning down. When I heard on NPR that the bridge had collapsed, I was stunned. I am not real prone to hyperbole, but I was actually stunned. I spent the rest of the evening tracking down the wearabouts of employees that I know cross that bridge and text messaging with other managers at my company to compare notes on what we knew. Cell phones did not work reliably, so I had to resort to texting, and I was not able to talk to my wife until the day after.

By 9:00 the next morning I had accounted for all my employees and we were getting on with our lives. In some ways it seems like a kodak moment.

What I don't understand is, where is the outrage?? After I-35W, the state launched a massive bridge inspection program and found a lot of other problems. They closed a bridge in St. Cloud, another in Winona, and the Lowery Ave. bridge in Minneapolis. Somebody was seriously slacking. And I don't mean they took Friday off; this has been brewing for more than 10 years. Consultants recommended repairs, inspections were increased, but it seems like very little actually was done to improve things. That does not surprise me, because I can be a pretty jaded person when it comes to elected officials and public servants, but what does surprise me is that few have been taken to task or otherwise held accountable for this mess.

Actually, now that I think about it, that does not surprise me either.


Cheese and crackers!!

This showed up on Craig's List MSP today. It's quite a nice bike. The ad says:

"Like new Trek 2200 SL road bike, size 54 cm (21 1/4 inches). Used less than 10 times (under 100 miles). Super light aluminum frame and top quality original Shimano 105 components.

Paid $1,630 new. Asking $1,000 or best offer."

The poor guy should have saved his money and bought a hybrid or something. It looks like he did everything he could to get the bars high, but this is just not that kind of bike. He must have added an after market adjustable stem, because I would be very surprised if Trek puts those on their 105 equipped road bikes. For reference, here is a more typical road bike set-up:

I wonder if he got sold this by a bad bike shop or convinced himself that he was going to be a sleek bike racer and got the bike based on that, then after 10 tries decided to say screw it and ditch the bike. Too bad. I bet if he had the right bike and a proper set-up, he would really enjoy buzzing around on a bike.

Aug 1, 2008

So Tar and Feather Me...

ExxonMobil made record profits this quarter and they are being villified in the press for it. Here's NPR's short piece on the news:

Exxon Reports 14 Percent Rise In Quarterly Income

Morning Edition, July 31, 2008 · The world's biggest private oil company has shattered its own record. Exxon announced Thursday morning that its net income rose 14 percent in the recent quarter, to $11.7 billion. It's more money than any other U.S. company has ever made in a single quarter.

Okay. Sure. $11.7 billion is A LOT of money, but everyone take a breath and think this through. What really matters, and what the media deliberately avoids taking about, is profit MARGIN. That's what's left after the investment and operating expenses are taken out of the balance sheet. Now, how expensive do you think it is to develop LNG terminals in Qatar, build proprietary tankers to move LNG and crude oil all over the world, and support the operations of one of the biggest companies in the world? ExxonMobils profit margin the last time I saw the statistic was about 6 - 7%. To help you put that in perspective, Walmart's profit margin runs around 78%.

Why the difference? Operating expense. ExxonMobil builds large projects, pays living wages, conducts research, etc. whereas Walmart pays minimum wage, builds cheap pre-fab stores and negotiates it's suppliers to the bone.

The media and our elected official have never been big on the facts, however. Nobody is in a big hurry to call the Walmart executives in the explain their obscene profits or justify being successful because energy is a hot-button topic right now and when you are Big Oil no one has your back.

Yes. I understand that gasoline is expensive. What do you expect when demand increases on a finite resource? I am actually amazed it does not cost more. Oil companies make about 6% on a gallon of gasoline, by the way. I bet your liquor store makes something like 90% on a 6-pack of beer.

So, there it is. Get the tar and feathers and have a kick at me, but that's the facts.