Sep 25, 2009

Light Me Up

After a near-miss accident in downtown Minneapolis on September 9, I have been more consistent in using lights in dim conditions. I don't know if it would have prevented the mashing I almost received on 9th Street, but it certainly would not have hurt my odds (on a side-note, I've also been wearing my dorky yellow PDRMO* vest as well).

After some research and hand-wringing, I sprung for a set of Nite Rider dual lights about two months ago. Yes, the Nite Riders are expensive, but the sting of that was offset somewhat by a coupon I earned via Do.Cycle miles that I racked up by commuting on my bike (I am also down a shirt size, too).

The Nite Riders are great - they attach in less than a minute, fit all my bikes, and they are very bright. They have a day-visible flash mode that I have been using on early morning commutes and in rain/gloom. I think the flashers really make a difference; I have noticed fewer cars turning in front of me (I think) and it's obvious that I get more attention from pedestrians, which I think correlates to more attention from drivers as well. It's also a lot of fun to zoom around the IDS Center parking ramp with the strobe blazing away; it scares the shit out of the lawyers shuffling to the elevators.

On the rear end, I am running a Super Flash. This seems to be way better than this POS that keeps falling off my bag and smashing on the ground - it's a miracle that blinky still works, but it does, so I still have it laying around somewhere.

My ultimate favorite flasher is the "UFO". It's made by a company called Filzer. The UFO is a tiny (but bright) LED flasher that clips onto a messenger bag, under-the-seat bag, or even a zipper pull. It's got a "rotating" setting, a flash setting and a steady setting. The thing is essentially weightless and is only about an inch long, but it's very effective. The clip is well-designed and because it weighs so little, it never bounces off the bag. The things only cost something like $12 (CDN), too.

Testimonial: I was riding back from MMRB on Prior Ave. in St. Paul at about 9:00 PM earlier this summer. A couple in a car pulled up beside me while I was waiting for a stop light. The passenger in the car rolled down her window and told me how great the light was ("We saw you from two blocks away! Where can I get one of those!?"). I told her that sadly, the only place I have ever found these was in Canada. I found mine (both a white and red one) at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary. I wish-wish-wish a good local bike shop would start carrying these units.

It's getting noticeable darker, so I expect I'll be using these more and more in the coming weeks (and hopefully months). And I hope they work for me.

* Please Don't Run Me Over

Sep 23, 2009

The Downtown Dining Club and Where Not to Eat

Earlier this summer, I started a loose and fairly unorganized series of Dutch-treat lunches for Bike Lovers (and their friends) who work downtown. The mission is to meet up somewhere on the third Thursday of the month, more or less, get out of the office, and get to know some other bike riders. Anyone can call for a lunch at any time, but we at least try to meet once a month.

Our "Downtown Dining Club" has its own thread on MBL. So far, we have gotten together at Peter's Grill, Asia Max, My Burger and maybe one or two other places since its inception. I think Sorento, Black Bamboo and some Chinese place in One Financial Plaza might be on the list as well.

Today, the DDC thread sprang to life - not because someone declared "Lunch On" but because somebody (not one of us, thank goodness) "reportedly" found a dead mouse in their salad at a local restaurant. That's so nasty I can't begin to tell you how nasty it is. The Downtown Dining Club link has a photo; the "dead mouse" link has the full story.

Anybody that's interested in joining us can subscribe to the MBL thread, or just watch it, and find the next time and place. We won't be hitting the mouse salad place anytime soon, though.

Sep 20, 2009

Thoughts on Community Sponsored Agriculture

Squash Load
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We signed up with a CSA this spring for the first time ever. I was a little nervous about it (would we be able to keep up with the produce?) but for some reason I was stoked to do this.

We were blessed to have friends that were willing to split a share with us, so I pulled down the CSA guide from the interwebs, back in March, did some research, and landed on Big Woods Farms.

Why? Because they don't deliver the to the Seward Co-op. Pretty much every damn farm I looked at delivered to the Seward co-op, which I don't care for and is not on my route(s). I decided to start an insurgent insurgency and split from the program altogether and go with an outsider.

Big Woods drops off at a house near that coffee shop on 50th street and 28th Ave. in So. MPLS (Nokomis Beach?) and has been in business for over 15 years, so they seemed like a good bet. I called them up to sound them out and they were great on the phone; friendly, helpful and not full of themselves. I signed up that night.

The produce has been great; we have gotten a bushel basket of veggies every week since June, it seems. This weekend was the "Fall Harvest Fest" at Big Woods. We headed down to Nerstrand to help out with the squash harvest, scored some of the best pumpkins we have ever had (absolutely no kidding) and took a bunch of extra squash home for ourselves and our share-mates. Well worth the time for the harvest and well worth the money for the share.

Much of the credit for the success of this goes to my lovely wife, who took the lead role in recipes and cooking for the produce. There's no way I could have kept up with this and eaten it up on my own.

This is well worth doing if you like vegetables. If you want to eat better, or want to improve your diet, this will be a challenge for you; the produce comes every week, and it doesn't keep all that long (although CSA stuff keeps longer than grocery store produce). If you are committed, this would be a great way to improve your diet and keep your food-dollars in the community. If you don' like to "eat healthy", this would overwhelm you in the first month - don't try it.

Sep 19, 2009

Syracuse and Fear of Cycling

I am back from a mid-week trip to Syracuse, where we have a small office focused on electric utility work. Syracuse is an interesting city; it has some wonderful old buildings and history (Erie canal, the Iroquois Nation, etc.). The photo above is the Niagara Mohawk Power Company building. Mohawk has now been snapped up by National Grid (as were many other companies) but the building remains known as the Mohawk building. It's one of the most impressive examples of Art Deco I have ever seen. Syracuse does show signs of the grit and decay common in other northeaster cities, and they aren't much for maintenance (sidewalks and medians are weedy, cross walks unpainted, etc.), but it's definitely worth a stop.

I stayed at the Jefferson-Clinton Hotel in Armory Square. It's an historic district with a lot of preserved buildings that have been re-habbed into restaurants and bars, mixed in with some aging retail places. The hotel was nice; good rooms and a good location, but my favorite part was the "do not disturb" signs. The devil on my shoulder was strongly suggesting that I swipe my DND sign, punch a hole in it, and attach it to my photo-I.D. badge for work. But I resisted this temptation and left it for the next guest to enjoy.

The only real challenge for this trip was due to the fact that no one flies direct to Syracuse; it's a second tier city served only by feeder airlines, so that means connections through Detroit for me. I used to spend tons of time in Detroit early in my career, and have seen the Detroit Metro airport grow to its current size for almost 20 years. They now have a long, dark weirdly lit tunnel that plays spooky music which you have to pass through to get from Concourse C to Concourse A or B. I don't know what the architects were trying to achieve with this, but if they were going for "near-death experience (with your luggage)" they were successful.

On an entirely unrelated note, I came across this interesting series of articles on fear and cycling by a Sociologist named David Horton. Someone posted a link on MBL about the articles and that's how I came across this. The helmet article is interesting - helmet campaigns very blatantly send the message that cycling is dangerous, and there's a political correct aspect to helmets that seems way out of proportion. But that said, I almost never ride without one, either. So far, it's been quite good. I may well add a link to this on the right.

CSA Harvest Fest today followed by a relaxed Sunday. This promises to be the last good weekend of the summer, so get out there and enjoy it!

Sep 15, 2009

Just Wait...

... until I can get my camera cord, because I will share with you the wonders of the After-life simulation tunnel at Detroit metro airport and the curious perks of executive lodging at a 5 star hotel...

Sep 13, 2009


Waterford 2
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We spent the last three days driving around Wisconsin. The catalyst was my sister's 40th birthday party in Racine. With a little trip planning, we hit on a Plan of Operation that called for a stop in Madison or there-about, a drive from there to Racine for the party on Saturday, and an orderly retreat to somewhere around Madison or north of there Saturday evening, with a final push home on Sunday.

We could have done the whole thing in a day if we were feeling more hardcore, but with the party starting at noon on Saturday, it would have been a brutally early start, so we opted for the leisurely.

We ended up staying in Wisconsin Dells/Lake Delton both nights. What a wasteland that is. It's trailer park/Las Vegas tacky, with an endless parade of water parks, amusement parks, dinner theaters, restaurants and motels. The girl at the front desk of the motel on Friday night told us that "The Dells" shut down at Labor Day. No wonder - they must be so sick of it all by then it's all they can do to hang on until September. It was trying too hard, over-stimulated and sad. Maybe if I had kids and was from Chicago I would feel differently...

We took the scenic route back from Racine, driving Highway 12 from there to Madison, more or less. We made slight side trip in Waterford, WI to snap a picture of the Waterford Precision Cycles building. I was first here to drop off my 1200 for a new paint job in 2007. Well worth the trip - I was treated to an impromptu of the place by Richard Schwinn, and they did a great job on my frame, too. I was kicking myself at the time because I never got a picture, but I righted that on this trip. It's a pretty humble looking shop in a humble little industrial park, but they pump out some pretty amazing bikes from this building.

We also took advantage of the leisurely pace of this trip to explore Rocky Arbor State Park and Mill Bluff State Park. Rocky Arbor is just north of Wisconsin Dells and features massive pines and rocky limestone outcrops. Mill Bluff is neat - it's near Camp Douglas and has those tall limestone island that you can see from I-94. Well worth the stop.

Sep 9, 2009

Back to School

School Season Again.
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
This week It was abundantly clear that the school year has started again. Kids are waiting at corners with their helicopter parents eyeing me as I ride by (I don't look like a kidnapper, but you can't really tell, apparently) and school buses are out on the roads once again.

The yellow buses are not a problem, really, except that they are loud; so far no kids have spit on me or thrown garbage on me when they pass (I probably just jinxed myself with that sentence).

(The semicolon is my favorite form of punctuation - more than a comma, but less than a period; perfect).

The problem, to the extent there is one, is the little Head Start buses. I am all for Head Start - they provide education, health and nutrition support to low income families with little kids (okay, I didn't research that but it's pretty close to right). There's plenty of families in the Head Start program on Park and Portland Ave., so the buses make quite a few stops along the length of my commute route. There's no bus stops on these streets, however. That forces the little buses to nose in and "take the lane" in the bike lane.

It's not that much of a problem, in fact, when I took this picture yesterday, the car over my right shoulder actually slowed down and let me in to get around the bus (thanks for that), but it's a hassle I didn't have before, so I have to post it here to maintain my reputation as a curmudgeon.

On a more sobering note, I had a near-miss yesterday morning. A car waiting in the left turn lane on 9th Street at 2nd Ave. got impatient with some jerks on bikes that decided to stop and chat in the left turn lane (huh?). As I rode up in the bike lane (between the straight-ahead lanes and the left turn lane), the car cranked the wheel and pulled into the bike lane to get around these assholes. Unfortunately, I was right there at the time and I had a car to my right (no escape route for this one). I yelled at the car (I think I said "HEY!" but I might have said "STAY!") and accelerated hard to get out of there. I was untouched but a little scared by that; it was pretty close and I would have been mashed between two cars. Luckily nothing bad happened.

Nevertheless, I ran my bright lights today and I think that made a difference. I may end up running flashing lights during the day, we'll see. I'll probably get complacent and give that up after awhile, but today it felt like the right thing to do.

Sep 5, 2009

Fund Raiser!

There will be a fund raising event for "Pink Pigtails", one of the moderators on MPLSBikeLove.Com tomorrow at Gumpy's Northeast. There will be a silent auction, vegan and carnivorous food, and adult beverages. We will be making the scene late afternoon or around supper time, I expect. I hope others can make it and show their support through the auction. The organizers have lined up a lot of items, including messenger bags, vintage bike swag, local art and so on.

Sep 2, 2009

Turn Off the Lights?

I was on a short business trip to Denver this week - we flew in to Stapleton on Tuesday morning after a short "ground stop" at MSP because too many other people were doing exactly what I was doing that day. I was traveling with some finance/private equity guys (t's always interesting to travel with people that are different than you - whether they are in finance, law, produce, or whatever, because they have a slightly different take on the world that spices up the conversation).

After that minor mishap, we took off, had a nice flight, and landed at the Denver airport, were we were treated to a surreal, silver sky with no horizon whatsoever. There were no mountains, no downtown skyline, no rental-car-lot-on-the-horizon. No Denver. I have never seen anything like it, and because I forgot my camera, you won't either, unless you were there yesterday.

The reason for the bizarre landscape was smoke from the charred remains of California. The wildfires had blown their smoke over the Front Range, and Denver was in the Cali-smoke deposition zone yesterday.

This morning on CNN we saw Governor Schwartzeneger (sp?) assuring us that California had enough money to fight the wildfires. This triggered some breakfast discussion. "Can you imagine even having to even address the question of whether or not your state has enough money to fight a fire?' I asked, rhetorically.

At that point, I got an earful. The upshot of the discussion was that Proposition 13 capped property taxes, which forced the state to increase taxes on business, which was a drag on the economy. Unlike the U.S. government, California cannot print money, so without unlimited and perpetual growth, it was bound to fail. The recession only sped this all up.

"That sounds like a pyramid scheme", I said. The finance guys agreed with me.

Jim Kunstler had a good blog post about a recent trip he took to California. In light of the smoke from California harshing my mellow in Denver, it seems relevant, so here's a link. After reading Kunstler and reflecting on my discussion with my finance friends, I don't know what's going to happen to California, but I doubt it will continued to be the Disneyland it once was.

Idolatry in Minnesota!?!

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
It looks like the pagans of Minnesota were busy worshipping their bovine God at the Minnesota State Fair last Monday.

Someone should tell the Lutherans about this.