Nov 27, 2009

Head-Long into the Holidays

Things are getting away from me, it seems. I was in Anchorage for a series of meetings last weekend, recovered from all that on Monday, had one whirlwind day in the office followed by a few whirlwind days with the family for Thanksgiving, and now it's the weekend already.

MMRB had their Bike Blitz on today - that snuck up on me although I probably got an email on it. They have a request for 19 bikes through the United Way Holiday Wishes program. I went over there last year and helped out, and will so again today. It's becoming a Thanksgiving tradition, it seems. They had all but two of the bikes finished by the time I had to leave, so we got something done, and I got to meet a few Bike Lovers I hadn't met yet, so that was nice, too. While I was there, two people came into the shop to claim there bikes. They were both very happy to get them and very appreciative of the efforts of MMRB, so that was rewarding to see as well.

My Decembers have taken a turn for the worse the past couple of years, it seems. There's the holiday chaos and family visits, but on top of that I chair our company's compensation committee, which reaches a crescendo mid-December, we have our off-site planning meetings in early December, performance reviews are due in December. On top of that, several client need early invoices to close the books on yearly expenses. It's impossible to not slip into a reactive, d0-what-happens-next mode during December. Which is too bad, because December is also Christmas, and a fine time to ramp up the bird watching, start a new novel and fix up the bikes. At some point, I'd like to have a quiet, contemplative December, as it was meant to be.

Nov 24, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

One of the things I like about cycling is the endless opportunity to experiment with gear. Taken to an extreme this can be an expensive (or even decadent) pass-time, but like anything slightly deviant, if done in moderation it's a lot of fun.

My newest experiment is with some handlebars on my Marin mountain bike. The bike itself is an older, steel Marin with nice-for-the-era components. I found it on the consignment rack at a local bike shop last winter when I was in the market for a reasonably priced bad weather bike. The Marin is a little too nice to be a real winter beater, but it fit me well and was virtually new old stock, so it ended up coming home with me.

I had not ridden it much until this fall. The Rawland claimed almost all of my summer cycling time this year, but I figured that this would come in handy once the weather got more adverse. I outfitted the Marin with some fenders and moved a spare rack over to this bike anticipating commuting on it into the Fall and possibly the Winter. We have been blessed with a beautiful, if a little rainy, Fall. This gave me a lot of time on the bike, and woke me up to the fact that "bad weather" includes darkness (at least for me). The bike now sports a Superflash and my bright headlights as well.

I have come to really like this bike; it's as light as anything I ride except for my nice road bikes, and it is pretty lively and fun as well. My only real gripe was the handlebars, which were some flat aluminum bars under the Marin brand. I have never been a fan of flat bars because I like multiple hand positions, but the truth is that as short as my commute is, they were just fine. Never one to be satisfied with "just fine", I came across an interesting looking bar that a contact on Flickr was rocking on his old Kona.

After a few email exchanges to find out what the bar was and how my contact liked it, I ordered up a TiTec H bar for the Marin. Hiawatha set it up for me while I was out of town, so that part couldn't have been easier, and they did a great job with estimating the correct stem for me (it pays to know the mechanic, or rather for the mechanic to know you) and I have been happy with these things for a week now. Good looking, multiple hand positions, and plenty of room for lights.

I am tweaking brake lever position and still making peace with the trigger shifters, but this is a process, not a race to the finish. I'll need to see what works best and how things work with gloves, etc. My dream scenario for this bar is to totally wrap it with cork tape, but with brake levers and shifters, that might not be possible. Even so, it's better than my old flat bar, so I am sharing a few pics in case anyone else is dissatisfied with the usual offerings in the flat bar department.

Nov 19, 2009


After a fairly lengthy hiatus, I am heading back to Anchorage in the near future for a series of meetings. It's full-tilt winter in ANC right now, so I'll have to pack my long-john and head lamp, it seems.

I was reacquainting myself with the Anchorage scene in anticipation of my trip and checked back on the website for Speedway Cycles. Speedway is a relatively new shop; they were not in business when I lived up there. However, they are there now. This is a nice shop - they have more "nice" bikes than anyone in ANC, and to the extent that they are well known, it's for their Fat Back bikes. These are titanium Pugsley style snow bikes and a really something to behold. Speedway has a blog that has previously escaped my attention, but it is worth checking out if you are curious about the winter biking scene in Alaska and the extreme Fat Bikes.

Alaska is heading for Dark Times, I fear. Despite the conventional wisdom that Alaska is awash in energy, it's likely that Anchorage will face rolling brown-outs this winter due to natural gas shortages. The natural gas supply for south-central Alaska comes from Cook Inlet production fields, which are depleted and in decline. No new production is replacing this source, and the vast gas reserves of the North Slope are a long way from commercialization. Even if a North Slope gas pipeline were to start today, it's unlikely that gas would be flowing for at least 7 years.

Add to this the fact the might Trans-Alaska Pipeline is flowing at less than half capacity, and for the first time since forever ConocoPhillips will not be drilling a single exploration well in Alaska next year, and that the State of Alaska gets more than 80% of it's state budget from oil and gas revenues, it looks like very dark times in deed for our Alaskan cousins.

2010 - 2020 is going to be a very challenging decade for Alaska, no two ways about it. I hope the citizens wake up to this reality very soon and get the politicians aimed in the right direction, because otherwise it's going to be very, very unpleasant.

Nov 16, 2009

An Early Meditation on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day 2009 is going to be a complicated one.

I am certain that many, many people will be glad to turn the page on 2009 and watch the twisted wreckage of this year settle into the sediments of history. Economic woes the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression have touched the lives of just about everyone, it seems. Friends and family have lost jobs, companies have downsized, retirements have been postponed and dreams put on hold. Add to this the typical litany of deaths, divorces, personal problems and other assorted mishaps and tragedies of a typical year and 2009 starts to looks pretty rough, indeed.

That said, I can't say it's been all bad, either. Frugality is the new chic, SUV sales are down and McMansions in the newest suburb look a little less toothsome these days. People are also more grateful for what they've got, based on what I have seen. I know offices that have had to put staff on furlough and effectively reduced their base compensation by as much as 24%, and while they don't like it one bit, those people are grateful to have a job at this point. The presumption of entitlement seems to be one of the victims of the recession, which is not all bad. On a personal note, I learned to slow down and appreciate the moment a little, as well.

I don't have my whole Thanksgiving Day toast thing ironed out just yet, but I think the theme of it is going to be appreciation for the lessons I have learned managing through the adversity of 2009, gratefulness that my friends and family fared as well as they did this year, and hopefulness that we actually learn something from the finance mess and carry these lessons into a future that is possibly a little smaller, but one hell of a lot smarter and just maybe a little more sustainable.

Nov 15, 2009

Grass Roots Bike Advocacy

TopTube on Rawland
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
A new bike advocacy group is taking shape in Minneapolis. The as-yet-unnamed group is focused on Minneapolis cycling issues only (not pedestrians, not the Twin Cities, not Minnesota and not transit).

I think it's about time a group like this came together in Minneapolis. We have seen the City and elected officials give lip service to being pro-bike (Yay - We're Number 2!), and they through quite a bit of support behind Bike/Walk Week, but they have pretty consistently failed to plan for and accommodate cyclists in their construction projects, have failed to deliver on promises made during the planning of the Hennepin/First Ave. projects and are now offering sub-par solutions on that project, and they don't effectively promote bike boulevards and other options to promote cycling as an effective way to get cars off the road.

I think a vocal group that shapes policy, promotes cycling and calls for accountability from the City will only benefit Minneapolis cyclists. The next planning meeting will be Saturday, December 5. If anyone wants additional information on the group or would like to participate in the next planning meeting, post a comment or send me an email and I"ll be happy to pass on the relevant information.

Nov 12, 2009

Minneapolis Ignores Bike Commuters

With the Marq2 Project, I began to suspect that Minneapolis could care less about providing safe accommodations for bike commuters downtown. We have now recently undergone a lane conversion on Hennepin Ave. and 1st Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. It's got a lot of the cycling community up in arms because what was promised seems to differ a bit from what was actually delivered.

Here's the concept for First Avenue:

Looks nice, huh? Here's the Plan for First Ave. that the City presented to us:

Here's the reality of the conversion on First Ave.:

This has been a problem from the get-go, with cars encroaching on the bike lane, passengers opening doors into bike lane (and even if they looked for cyclists, the side view mirrors are set for the driver, so they can't see cyclists in the mirror from the passenger seat), and drivers wondering into the bike lane to plug the parking meters. At least now, thanks to pressure from the cycling community, the City is starting to ticket cars in the bike lane, but relegating bikes to the gutter (with no chance of avoiding the door zone) is a bad, bad idea.

Of course, the reason we have this situation is that the City does not have the balls to restrict on-street parking on First Ave. or take away a lane for cars. This begs the question of whether or not Minneapolis deserves all the accolades they get being such a bicycle-friendly city. Yes, we have a greenway and some multiple use trails around the lakes, but although we have recreational amenities, bike facilities for commuters are poor, especially downtown. I wish we could get the cycle-friendly awards revoked until this gets fixed so our elected officials could not point to this and feel good about themselves.

Nov 9, 2009

How to get a Guy to Clean Bathrooms

My wife was amazed to see that the bathroom in our basement positively sparkles at the moment. This not typically the case; we have two bathrooms, one upstairs and the other in the basement. She generally uses the bathroom upstairs while I tend to use the bathroom downstairs.

Why the separate-but-equal bathrooms? Whiskers. My bathroom tends to be accented with stray whiskers in the sink, on the countertop and pretty much everywhere else. As my wife will quickly point out with little prompting, any out of place body part, component (or fluid, for that matter) is disgusting. Therefore, she is happy to avoid the downstairs bathroom to the extent she can.

Things changed this weekend, however. I applied "shop mentality" to the problem of bathroom cleaning, and in so doing, I think I made a mental breakthrough that has all kinds of interesting possibilities. What do I mean by "shop mentality"? Consider the typical home repair shop:

Yes - there is a little clutter, but these are all projects in progress. I have my tools organized in that red metal tool chest. Big clunky tools like a rubber mallet and a hack saw, plus the tire levers and patch kits are in the top part. Small tools like spoke wrenches and measuring tools are in the top drawer; bike-specific tools like the crank-puller and pin spanners are in the next drawer. Open-end wrenches and cone wrenches are in the third drawer, along with a cable puller, and the bottom drawer has the big flat stuff like a chain whip, a lock ring remover and a headset wrench. The black rolling thing has spare parts, degreaser and other large junk squirreled away in it.

I like this set-up because I have been working at amassing it for some time. What that means is:

1.) it's relatively complete; I rarely have to make do with a tool that doesn't fit or is not intended for its purpose;

2.) I know where everything is and it's handy, usually no more than a step or two away, and;

3.) I know how to use all of this stuff (generally speaking).

This kind of preparation helps to remove one of the most common barriers to doing a good job - laziness. Laziness is an incredibly pernicious quality suck; most of us would try to use a butter knife if it was handy and screwdriver was more than a flight of stairs away (even though we would all admit that a screw driver does an absolute shit job of tightening a screw). Another benefit to this is that the right tool simply works much better and is much more satisfying to use, which can be rewarding in itself. Therefore, in my book, one of the best things a person can do to improve their level of bike maintenance is to get their home shop relatively complete and in some sort of order that works for them.

What does this have to do with bathroom cleaning you ask? This weekend, I used the same rationale and constructed a tool kit for bathroom cleaning:

I went to Menard's and headed to the cleaning aisle. I sized up my maintenance job (shower stalls, mirrors, sinks, toilet, etc.) and scanned the shelves for what seemed to be the best products at the best value and got a small arsenal of cleaners, brushes and rags, all for less than $20. At home, I assembled my cleaning tool kit, taking care to ensure that it was organized and portable, so I would have all this stuff within reach, and promptly applied myself to cleaning the bath with a craftsmen mentality rather than a chore mentality.

I am either very simple-minded or brilliant, because this worked like a charm. I now derive satisfaction from my clean mirror and spotless sink, and I admit to a certain pride in my shower floor as well.

Nov 5, 2009

LRT Trail at Night

Fellow Bikelover and blogger MN_Homesteader shot some video of the LRT Trail (parallel to Hiawatha Ave. between
downtown and the Midtown Greenway) to illustrate how dark some of the sections of the trail are. Another Bike Lover,
Slow, was mugged on this trail in September.
I am posting this to raise awareness of the issue and get people mobilized to help make this needed improvement

Nov 3, 2009

Full Beaver Moon

Originally uploaded by overly curious bystander
Maybe it's the change in season, maybe it's the shift away from Daylight Savings Time and the resulting early nights, but for whatever reason, every year at this time I seem to be fascinated with the moon.

Here's a beautiful photo of the full Beaver Moon (e.g. November's full moon) rising somewhere over the U.K. We had one nearly as good over South Minneapolis last night, but I was not able to catch it on film, or pixels or whatever.

Nov 1, 2009

Time vs. Emotion and Place

I have long suspected that stressful or emotional times can evoke deep, strong memories and feelings of place more effectively than simply spending extended periods of time in an area.

I drove through the Midway section of St. Paul early this afternoon to paw through the bike garage at MMRB and visit the Menard's before heading home to watch the football game this afternoon.

I was struck by how familiar this area was and how strongly I felt about it although I rarely go over there. If you haven't been there, it's a kind of seedy, industrial area shaped by University Ave., Prior Ave. and I-94. The reason for this heightened feeling of place, of course, is that we started the company I have worked for 17 years ago to the day in this neighborhood.

We got a short term lease on a small building at 520 Lynnhurst Ave (across a little park from Porky's Drive-in). We only worked in that space for about 5 or 6 months before we moved to Butler Square, but to this day I know that area like the back of my hand and it resonates with me every time I go there. The major change since we were there is the construction of the Menard's - this used to be a motel and restaurant/bar that was called the Irish Well, but that's gone and it's a Menard's parking lot now. Otherwise, it's all pretty much the same - the Midway Liquor store, the saw repair place and sign making shop...

It's a pretty non-remarkable area, really. Yet, I have a strong sense of attachment to it. The stress and excitement of this time in my life seems to have etched those memories deeper into my psyche, despite the short time I worked there.