Jan 31, 2010

The City of the Big Shoulders

We are back from an action-packed three-day adventure to Chicago. I had a work event on Thursday afternoon and evening and used that as an opportunity to spend a few days in the City.

Our hotel was inside the loop, so we were pretty centrally located, both for my work engagement and most of our sight-seeing activities. Although all the locals were acting like it was really cold, it was not bad at all, which is a nice break because we did not rent a car; instead, we bought 3-day transit passes and relied on the trains and buses to get around, which forced us to be intrepid but actually went just fine.

I was most impressed with the size and scale of Chicago - it makes Minneapolis look... quaint. The buildings are much bigger and there are many, many more skyscrapers than anywhere I have been except NYC. We mostly grooved on the architecture this trip, taking a guided tour put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation that shot about half of the day on Friday, although we saved time for riding the L to scope out some more buildings and to eat pizza at what is supposedly The Place for authentic deep-dish goodness as well. Saturday we hit the Art Institute and Shedd Aquarium and walked the City some more. One of the best views of the skyline was from the museum campus, it turns out.

All in all the trip was ridiculously easy, so I expect we'll make it back some time relatively soon. It would be nice to hit it in better weather since they apparently have an extensive trail system along the lake that would be nice to ride. More photos from the trip on the Flickr site.

Jan 25, 2010

On the Bus of the Damned

Every now and then, for no apparent reason, bus rides turn in horrible ordeals. Tonight was one such night. My Route 14 was supposed to pick us up at 6th and Nic at 5:40. At 5:50 we were still waiting there with no sign of a 14 anywhere.

When a bus is this late it's usually bad news - something went wrong and now the driver is off schedule and crabby, the bus is often full to capacity and most of passengers will be cranky. What's more, with all those people on the bus, inevitably you end up stopping at every stop along the way, which makes the whole situation steadily worse rather than better.

Because the bus was so late, a suspiciously friendly stoner girl's transfer expired while we were waiting, but lucky for her she had time to work the crowd to drum up some coin for the fair (If I ever see you again, you owe a dollar, Tess from Texas). When the bus finally arrived, I could immediately tell what the problem was - our driver was cautious to a fault. I am no fan of careening around South Minneapolis on a run-away bus, but at some level that's better than crawling home. As we lurched and bumped our way out of downtown we were passed by another 14. Yes - we had been caught, and passed, but the bus behind us.

I made it home about 45 minutes later than when I should have gotten home (it's a 30 minute ride). When we finally arrived at my stop, I thanked the driver and stepped off the bus, immediately slipping on the ice and going face-down like a bag of hammers for the first time this winter. A fitting end to my ride on the bus of the damned.

Jan 24, 2010

The Shop

This winter I have been delighting in hanging out in my basement workshop. I have been collecting a variety of tools for years now, but the recent restoration of an older Trek has helped me to fine-tune this setup and fit it to my current needs and my current house, so I thought I would indulge myself with a virtual tour of what The Spouse refers to it as my "man-cave".

This is a view of the workshop part of our basement. Unfortunately, we have a small basement compared to most houses in MPLS, and that small basement has been chopped up somewhat, but the main part is mostly shop. If you were to venture down there, here's what you would find...

I have a kind of junker workbench (acquired from my father) that is a cast-off from an Ace Hardware store that my father, my brother Johann and I have all worked at some point in our lives. Mounted to the bench is a mid-sized vice mounted to the bench. I also have a jewelers scale (from an Estate sale) on the bench, but it's more of a toy than a tool because I am by no means a weight-weenie. To the left of the bench is a Craftsman rolling tool chest full of spare parts, cleaning equipment and other miscellaneous junk. On top of the roll-around is a 4-drawer tool chest with most of the day-to-day tools in it.

One of the most prominent features in the shop is the wheel truing stand. I sprung for a Park Professional stand two years ago. Yes, these are expensive, but I really, really like this truing stand. It's a real step up from my first stand (a Minoura that I got on mail order over 20 years ago). I initially mounted this to the work bench, but subsequently attached it to a very heavy piece of scrap butcher block to make it both stable and portable. This set up kicks ass - I can leave it where it is most of the time but can easily move it aside if I need more space on the workbench.

The tool box with most of the interesting stuff in it is a Craftsman 4-drawer model that I got at a serious discount at a pre-Christmas sale last December. It's virtually brand-new, but so far, so good. The top compartment holds bulky items like a rubber mallet, a hack saw and a tin snips. It also has some miscellaneous items like the flat tire/tube repair kit (tire levers, patches), plus a box cutter, some electrical tape and an assortment of zip-ties.

The top drawer of the tool box contains the few precision tools that I have (a digital caliper and a micrometer) as well as some small tools such as spoke wrenches, third-hand tools, freewheel and sealed bottom bracket tools and chain gauge. There's also a multi-tool that's too limited to carry on a bike but too handy to get rid of in there.

The second drawer has most of the bike-specific tools such as a cotterless crank remover, a crank bolt wrench, a cable/housing cutter, and a cable puller (I picked the cable puller up on a lark but it's handy as hell - I use it for zip ties more than anything, but it's great for brake cables as well). There is also a chain tool, two pin spanners and a nice socket wrench handle I picked up at a auto-parts shop in Black River Falls a year ago, as well a set of hex wrenches and a multi-head screw driver in this drawer.

The third drawer is for open end wrenches, cone wrenches, an adjustable wrench and two channel-lock pliers. I also have an ancient ice pick that's been around our house since forever, which is surprisingly handy for a variety of applications (poking crud out of tight spaces, grabbing a chain to pull it through a front derailluer, etc.).

The bottom drawer is for larger tools and specialty wrenches, and includes a pedal wrench, some headset and bottom bracket tools, a chain whip, some miscellaneous open end wrenches and a cheap tubing cutter. There's also a small tackle box that corrals the various small hardware items such as washers, nuts and bolts that would otherwise get lost.

In the near future I will be hanging some peg-board on the wall above the bench and probably hanging up a cork bulletin board as well for a calendar, gear-inch table and other assorted guidance.

There is a lot of satisfaction in setting up a shop that works (in fact, getting ready to do-it-yourself can be almost as enjoyable as actually doing-it-yourself if you get into this sort of thing). Doing it all on a budget certainly adds to the challenge, but if you have the patience to look for bargains, it is absolutely preferable to buying your way into home shop nirvana (and that's not even an option for most of us anyway).

Jan 23, 2010

Transactional and Transformational Change

Several weeks ago I got into a debate with a co-worker about, of all things, transactional versus transformational change. We were discussing how best to implement some new processes, and typically how best to implement any change often depends on how significant the change is. Hence the friendly debate on whether this was transactional or transformational.

First some definitions.

Transactional change is aimed at achieving established goals by either redefining or clarifying roles, responsibilities and task assignments. Transactional change is a "first order" change that involves things like requirements, standards, chain of command, etc.

Transformational change is deeper - it's a second order change and involves elements such as mission, strategy and organizational culture. Much bigger and fundamental and often harder to get to.

I am a big believer in the notion that you can effect transformational change by enforcing transactional change. In other words, setting standards, rewiring reporting structures and defining roles will, over time, have the effect of moving any organization transformationally to it's next level or iteration. At some fundamental level, you are what you do. Therefore, if you do anything long enough, it becomes part of who you are. Seems obvious, right?

Having worked through this issue at work, I am seeing examples of this all over the place outside of the office. Want to be bike commuter some day? Simply ride your bike to work; just trying it once is a fine place to start. Give it another go later when you feel like it - you'll probably hit on something that worked better or made it more enjoyable the second time (even if it's just being in better shape). And so it goes; do this often enough and you will absolutely transform yourself into a regular bike commuter. Or a runner. Or an artist. Or a writer. Or whatever.

No need to wait for an epiphany or some mysterious transformational change to come crashing into your life (in fact, doing so will usually prevent the change from happening).

My goal of riding through the winter fell off in December, but I picked it up again in January (to some extent, anyway) now that it's warmer. Framing my goal of becoming a year-round commuter as a transactional change (rather than a transformational change) helps me to put my mid-winter winter lull into perspective. Recognizing how transactional action brings about transformational change makes this little backslide merely a step on the path to that more fundamental change.

P.S. - The image used for this post is a west African symbol for the concept of life transformation and changing your character.

Jan 16, 2010

War Elephants

With our city streets narrowed by snow, ice and parked cars, we are having to pay a lot more attention to on-coming traffic when driving, and both on-coming and over-taking traffic on a bike. Inevitably, someone has to move aside and wait to let the other pass or it's going to be a bad scene.

More often than not, when I am on the side streets close to home I'll move aside to let one of my neighbors pass. Not a problem - friendly waves are often exchanged and it's all rather civilized. Further from home, however, I am more likely to encounter large and unfamiliar vehicles, like City trucks or Xcel Energy maintenance trucks. These things take up all that's left of the roads, and they look a lot more hostile over your shoulder.

After getting nudged aside a little prematurely by an impatient City truck on Oakland Ave. last week, I have come to referring to these vehicles as "War Elephants" with good reason.

Be careful out there.

Mississippi River Ride?

Friends of the Mississippi River, Mississippi River Fund and the National Park Service are currently gathering information to guide the development of a potential support tour of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. They are requesting interested riders to complete a short on-line survey to help gauge interest.

I did this survey earlier today. Based on the questions, it's clear that any organized ride that might come of this will be a fund raiser - either pledge-basedor pay-to-ride - with proceeds going to Mississippi River projects.

The idea of a two-day ride along the Mississippi sounds good, but I would want to know a little more about what they intend to do with the proceeds before I would be able to make up my mind about how much I would pay, or be willing to fund raise, in order to do this kind of event. Nevertheless, I took my best shot and completed the survey. Click the link and do so as well if you have any interest in another scenic ride coming together in the metro area.

Jan 14, 2010


For any Bike Lovers or (bike-curious folks), the illustrious MPLS Bike Love downtown dining club will be convening on Tuesday of next week at The Burger Place. Here's the link with the info (go to the last page).

Thanks, Andy for declaring "Lunch On!".

Back in the Saddle

The Ride Home Today
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I have a friend who describes riding in these conditions as "cheating death at 8 mph". That might be a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly more difficult than zooming around on clean pavement.

I took advantage of the warm weather and rode in to work rather than gut out another bus ride. I left a little later than usual and avoided Park Ave. (my usual route) due to the ice ruts, sloppy snow and cars in the bike lane. Instead I went north to downtown on Oakland, which was slow going with some clear patches between bumpy ice patches, (with a little mashed potato snow through in to spice things up). Oakland was slow but acceptable up to about 24th or so, then I bailed out and went for Park to cross the freeway. Avoiding Park Ave. was the right idea - the bike lane is there, sort of, but ice ridges are encroaching on it and will catch your wheel if you get too close.

Unfortunately, the happy motorists don't seem to understand the three foot law well in winter, and i got buzzed quite a bit more than I like. The downtown conditions were really very good. The ride home was better; I stuck to Chicago Ave, on the advice of Bikesmith from earlier this year. Chicago was in much better shape than Park/Portland the traffic was only heavy around Lake St.

I was prepared for this to take longer than my fair weather rides, but nevertheless I was surprised at how long it did take to get where I was going. What is normally a 20 - 25 minute ride in good conditions stretched to something like 40 minutes today, it seemed.

Still, it was kind of fun. I only fell down once, which I declare to be victory because I didn't get run over (thankfully it was on a side street this morning and not Park or Portland). The ice ruts are very technical to ride on, and if you are going slow enough, attacking them is a good challenge and would certainly build some skills. My main problem, and the reason I went down, was that I was riding faster than conditions would allow. I figured that out as I picked myself up off of Oakland and remembered that concept the rest of the day.

We'll see if I remember it tomorrow.

Jan 12, 2010

Repeat Customers and Winter Riding

I can see that I have a few regular viewers of this blog, which surprises me. I have a sense of who a few of you are, but others are a mystery - especially your out-of-towners. If you are a frequent visitor and not one of the usual suspects, I would appreciate a comment below to help put a virtual face to a url. Feedback on content or topics is welcome as well.

Now, on to winter riding...

I fell off the wagon on commuting pretty quickly once the weather got really cold. I rode through November, which was glorious, but winter hit us pretty hard in early December. The snow and ice sealed the deal for me and I have been relegated to the bus for most of December and January. It's finally a little warmer and I was getting itchy to ride, so last night when I got home from work I changed and went for a short ride.

The ice-rutted side streets were an absolute bitch at first. Even with studded tires and pretty low tire pressure, I nearly crashed into a parked car at one point when my front wheel dropped into a rut and my rear wheel didn't. But I Fred Flintstoned it a little bit and recovered, and no real harm was done (I wonder if my car insurance would have covered that potential mishap?). I did get a lot better at ice riding in a relatively short time - it turns out it's very easy to go faster than you should, so once I figured that out I was fine. I also made it up the relatively steep hill near my house with no real problem whatsoever (one of the only advantages of a little extra weight over the rear wheel). The main streets were not a problem at all, and my gear was just fine, so I don't have any problems with being cold or riding in the dark, it's just the ice that was bringing me down. So, I know it can be done, at least down to about 10 degrees or so. I've ridden in below zero temps, but it was more of a dare than for transportation. Maybe something to work up to...

This ride was a confidence builder for me, and I may very well ride to work yet this week while it's still warm. Of course I forgot my camera, so all I have to offer is shot from the Route 14 this evening. The bus is bringing me down, and I have to admit some satisfaction last night when I walked into the grocery store and coffee shop in my balaclava and helmet and got stared at by the civilians.

That's it. Ride safe, share the road and keep an eye out for the winter finches.

Jan 7, 2010

Bike Sharing in the 612

Bike sharing is coming to Minneapolis as soon as this year, it seems. When I first heard of this I admit that I was highly skeptical; we have all heard of bike sharing programs where the bikes got stolen or broken or both in short time and that was the end of the program.

After reviewing the Nice Ride Minnesota website and looking at the business plan for Nice Ride, I have to say that this venture seems to be better thought-out than I expected, and I think it just might work. How this is planned to work is that locked bikes would be available to everyone that subscribes to use them at kiosks set up around the service area; to get a bike users will swipe a card, take the bike and ride to another kiosk where they will lock it up again. subscriptions will cost $50/year, $15/week or $5/day. The first half hour is free (after your subscription, that is) and they charge after that to encourage people to get the bikes back into the kiosks.

The program is being championed by Mayor Rybak and funded by the federal government through Bike Walk Twin Cities to the tune of $1.75 million and a $1.0 million donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The business plan calls for the program to be run by a non-profit corporation that will be capitalized with public subsidy and private contributions; it will use this capital to purchase the equipment necessary to operate a bike-sharing program. The non-profit entity will generate 80% of its operating revenue from subscription sales or other user fees - the remaining 20% will come from business partner sponsorships. The revenue should be sufficient to
  • pay on-going operating costs (the largest costs are anticipated to be maintenance, system operating contracts, payroll, replacements due to theft and vandalism, and insurance)
  • build community outreach programs to support the program
  • accrue sufficient reserves to replace bikes and kiosks when they are at the end of their service life (about 5 years for bikes and 10 years for kiosks).
It is anticipated that the non-profit would execute two purchase agreements with a system vendor; the first would be an initial purchase agreement for the bikes, kiosks and installations services; the second purchase agreement would cover a software license and operating agreement.

The phase 1 service area will include the downtown CBD, the U of M campus and Uptown:

A number of local businesses have already sponsored kiosks, including: Augsburg College, Grant Thornton, Abbot Northwestern Hospital, Dorsey & Whitney, Seward Co-op, Wedge Co-op, Equal Exchange, Peace Coffee, Birchwood Cafe, Dero Bike Rack Co., and Aveda.

The program is scheduled to kick-off in May. Like I said earlier, the business plan is well-thought out. One question that comes to mind is how many people will actually subscribe for the program and whether the subscriptions will be sufficient to keep the program viable for the long-haul. Also, the issue of vandalism and theft is also an important variable - if the replacement costs get too high, that would be an obvious challenge to sustaining this program. I hope it works.

Jan 4, 2010

Advocacy Advances and Minneapolis Bike Coalition

We seem to be gaining some momentum on the Minneapolis bike advocacy front. Thanks to the efforts of a few people, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition was created in late 2009. MBC was created to advocate for a more bicycle-friendly Minneapolis where bicycling is encouraged and anyone from 8 to 80 can feel comfortable riding. The priorities for now include improving the Minneapolis Bike Plan, advocating for better riding conditions downtown, and increasing bike parking in Uptown and Longfellow.

The downtown advocacy is what really turns my wheels about this group (I crack myself up sometimes). I have railed about the lack of complete streets and failure to accommodate cyclists downtown more than some probably care for, but it might just be starting to pay off. As mentioned previously, I was interviewed by a reporter for the Downtown Journal recently on the Marq2 Project. He had come across this blog doing research for his article and contacted me to discuss the project. That article ran in this week's DJ and although the article is short, it hit all the major points well.

The next meeting of the MBC will be Saturday, January 9 at the downtown library (room N-202) from 1:30 to 4:30.

Jan 3, 2010

Farewell, Sam.

On Saturday I attended the funeral of a person I worked with a long time ago. It was the early 1990's and we were young - this was our first "real job" and although he was an Environmental Inspector (a field position) and I was an office worker, Sam and I hung out together and became friends

He attended our wedding in 1990 and we worked together until 1992, when the company we were working for experienced a number of lay-offs, and Sam was let go. I left the company on my own and ended up starting a new environmental consulting firm with some other co-workers in late 1992. Sam ended up taking a job with the Burlington Northern Railroad and we drifted apart. I knew he had gotten married and had some children, but I didn't know much more beyond that.

On Tuesday I was shocked to learn that Sam was the victim of a freak train derailment accident in Northeast Minneapolis. We attended the funeral in Maplewood on Saturday and learned that since the time I knew him, Sam "grew up" to be an excellent husband and father.

It was apparent from the many speakers at the service that Sam loved kids; not just his children, but all children. One of the speakers at the funeral told us about Sam's quirky parenting style, which I want to pass on here. In one anecdote, his sister confided to him that she was really struggling with her children's whining. Sam told her that when his kids whine, he makes them stand on a chair and do it louder. Inevitably, this resulted in the kid not being able to do it because they were laughing too hard and the whining stopped as a result.

Another story involved a rainy-day dice game that Sam invented to help pass that time with his kids. Essentially, the game involved each kid taking a turn throwing the dice. If a kid got a 7, then (s)he had to run around the house barefoot in the rain. If a kid threw a 2, then they got to pick another kid that had to run around the house bare foot in the rain. Brilliant.

What I liked about these stories were how well they helped to fill in the blanks for me from the time I knew Sam up to the present, and how well those stories fit with my memory of the person I used to work with (Sam was the only person I knew who regularly used the word "wacky" and he had a great sense of humor). These stories showed me how he grew and matured and passed on his playfulness and his love of life to his family.

I am sure he'll be missed by many, many people but it's gratifying to see that he became so successful after I had known him, and what a positive impact he had on those around him.