Oct 28, 2010

Cereal Day!

Cereal Day
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Every year, Malt-o-Meal sells their cereal products in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center for $1.00 per bag. Each sale raises $2.00 for the United Way.

That's a generous contribution to United Way, but seriously, Cereal Day is a bigger deal than it really should be. I came up from the bike racks in the IDS Center today only to be confronted with hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase Choco-Puffs and Malt-O-Bark for friends and family.

The atmosphere in the Crystal Court is festive on Cereal Day. It's like Christmas for grown-ups. Office drones line up to buy, and then schlep giant plastic bags of breakfast through the skyway to their cubes and offices.

I don't understand this demand for breakfast cereal. I honestly can't recall the last time I ate a bowl of cereal.

Apparently, I am in the minority on this one.

Oct 26, 2010

Bomb Cyclogenesis FTW

We were treated to a "bomb cyclogenesis" today. For those of you less into weather than some of us, that's a strong, rapidly intensifying low pressure system. This storm, the first major storm of the Fall season for us, produced a good shot of rain, record low barometric pressure and some very impressive winds.

In Minneapolis, we saw a peak gust of 52 MPH at 5:15PM. That was about the time that I left the office to start my ride home. I rode to work today specifically to sample this monster storm and was not disappointed.

The winds were probably about 35 MPH (sustained winds) with some gusts over that. I doubt I felt the 52 MPH blast, but all forward progress was nearly stopped by one gust when I crossed I-94 on the Chicago Ave. bridge this afternoon.

My co-workers thought I was insane for riding to work today. On the other hand, I felt like I was the only sane one in the building. This is a huge weather event, and to miss out on the experience by huddling on a bus was unacceptable. Something like this only happens a few times in anyone's life, and to chicken out and ride the bus or drive would have made this just another rainy, blustery day in Fall.

Honestly, the ride was not as difficult as I expected. I was dressed for wet wind and didn't have any trouble controlling the bike. I was admittedly a little concerned about being blown into traffic by a side-wind, but that never happened. Not even close. The only real problem tonight was A-hole drivers. I don't know if it was the poor weather or not, but I noted more speeding, and more inconsiderate drivers than usual on the route home.

I think a little weather-related adversity is good for us. A case could be made that too much fine weather breeds complacency, sloth and indolence and suppresses intellectual development (indeed, this was a real theory in geographic thought; it helped to rationalize European colonization and is now widely considered to be, um... "culturally biased"). This windy slap upside the head is really good at focusing us like a sunny, 70 degree day can't.

I hope you all enjoyed the bomb cyclogenesis as much as I did. Stay safe and stay dry!

Oct 25, 2010

Cyclist Killed in Collision on First Ave.

1st Ave. 11/4/09
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Today a 55 year-old cyclist was struck and killed on First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. Although reports are sketchy right now, it sounds like the cyclist was going straight in the bike lane and was struck by a delivery truck that was turning right.

First Ave. was modified in late 2009 to include bike lanes. The design for these lanes was intended to shield cyclists from traffic with a line of parked cars. During rush hour, parking is not allowed on the street, but during off-hours cars are allowed to park next to the bike lane, but away from the curb as shown in this photo, which I shot late last Fall.

There were problems with this design when it was implemented; drivers did not understand that they can't park next to the curb, or would hang over into the bike lane, creating a hazard for cyclists. The City installed "candlestick" markers to delineate the bike lanes better as a result of these problems. I originally took this photo to document the installation of the candlesticks.

I have ridden the re-designed First Ave. exactly twice. I rode it once right after it was installed to see for myself how well it functioned. I rode it again after the candlesticks were installed. The number of cars hanging over into the bike lanes were reduced thanks to the candlesticks, but I was never comfortable riding on First Ave.

The reason for my distrust of this bike lane was (and still is) that the parked cars obstruct the view of the cycle lane for drivers turning off of First Ave., and they also can obstruct the view of cars on First Ave. from cyclists using the First Ave. bike lanes. It always seemed to me that a right-cross was more likely, and left-cross was also a possibility. I avoided this street as a result.

My other concern with the design was that other cyclists would view First Ave. as a "safe" street to ride on because it has dedicated bike lanes that are isolated from traffic. In my opinion that creates a false sense of security that can lull inexperienced cyclists to believe that they are safe riding in these lanes.

I don't know the specifics of what happened today on First Ave. I can easily imagine the cyclist was riding up to the intersection, did not see the turn signal on the truck and proceeded straight through the intersection, directly into the path of the truck, which had begun it's turn.

I think this design needs to be revoked, or if not, additional controls need to be added to give cyclists green arrows or red lights to accommodate right turns.

It's too bad this tragedy happened, but hopefully we can all learn from this and create a safer city for everyone.

Oct 24, 2010

Home-Made Laundry Soap: Too Cool

Our behind-the-alley neighbor gave us a small container of home-made laundry soap recently in appreciation for various and assorted good deeds done and favors rendered. She told us that her sister has problems with allergies and can't tolerate scents and fragrances, so they have been making this laundry soap and really like it, so they were giving us some as well.

I am admittedly a huge sucker for this kind of stuff, but I was amazed at how well it worked. With only one tablespoon of this mixture per load, all the clothes came out very clean and bright. We used up our initial ration so I set out today to make some more. Here's how to do this:
  • 1 cup Fel's Naptha laundry soap, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1/2 cup washing soda
I struck out on washing soda, but the better grocery stores will have Fel's Naptha soap and Borax in the laundry section. Absent washing soda, I used Oxi-Clean, which is about the same stuff, but costs a lot more ($6.50 or so for the tub).

The only trick is grating the Fel's Naptha finely enough. I used a small kitchen grated and elbow grease, and that worked very well. Best of all, you only need to use 1 tablespoon of this stuff per load (2 tablespoons if the laundry is heavily soiled).

This is simply too cool to not pass on. Enjoy!

Oct 23, 2010

Train Ride

Crotch-Eyes View
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Despite a threatening forecast, two friends and I boarded the Northstar commuter train and headed north and west for a longer ride this morning. The guys I rode with have done this route about 5 or 6 times this year. One of them talked me into tagging along during our last 3-speed ride, so after a failed attempt last weekend due to scheduling conflicts last weekend, we mounted our assault on the northern 'burbs today.

As far as "long rides" go, this really wasn't anything to write home about, but I really have not done any long rides this summer, so I was a little disappointed (but not surprised) when my legs noticed the 3-hour ride.

We did not go all the way to Big Lake; instead we headed out from the Elk River station, due to commitments back home in the late afternoon. The ride was great - traffic was low and it was fairly scenic, but what was a interesting was that we got a little of everything on this ride; farm fields, residential neighborhoods, park lands, some urban stuff downtown and in North MPLS. It was all there.

The company was great, too. I don't generally ride with a partner much, but for longer rides a few other people make the ride so much more enjoyable. The trick is finding the right partner; it's no fun to be hanging on to somebody's rear wheel the whole ride or to be waiting for everyone else at the top of the hills. Today we were pretty well-matched on the flats but these guys kicked my butt on the hills. Of course, they have probably ridden a thousand more miles than I have this year, so there's that.

Unfortunately, I could not begin to describe the route. The link is close to what we did, but it was a pretty convoluted journey that capitalized on some little cut-throughs in residential areas here and there. I should have sparked up my GPS and grabbed the route that way, but I totally spaced that out when we started the ride.

Fortunately for us, the rain held off until I was all the way back to the Greenway and only a few miles from home. All told, it was just under 50 miles, counting the ride to our meeting place and then on to the train station. Like I said, not anything to write home about, but a significant ride for me this year.

Oct 18, 2010

How I Did

Back in March I posted a few goals for this season's cycling. It's now late enough in the season to assess how I did relative to those goals...

I didn't set a mileage goal for myself in 2010; my commute is relatively short and my time and energy for extracurricular activities like longer recreational rides was, um... lower than I would have liked this year. I knew it was going to be a difficult year back in March, so I demurred on setting a mileage goal and instead tried to focus on slowing down and having more fun during my rides. Left to my own recognizance, I tend to ride in the biggest gear I can spin, and generally time trial to and from work. I wanted a more relaxed cycling life style (slow down, stop at a lake, grab a beer on the way home, etc.).

That turned out to be a rousing success. I was able to slow down and enjoy the ride, meeting friends after work for beers, stopping at Lake Calhoun, taking the long way home, etc. I also broke out of my rut(s) as well, experimenting with some new riding styles. I bought a tired old 3-speed, overhauled it and had fun poking around the Cities on it with Molly, and even led a series of 3-speed rides that drew an eclectic collection of Bike Lovers and Gentlemen Cyclists. I also acquired a single-speeded aluminum mountain bike that has sort of become my default commuter. No gears, no SPD pedals, plenty of lights and fenders and cushy Big Apple tires. On that bike, I am all-weather capable and there's no speed pressure at all. It's fun to ride, too. The single is maybe a little bit slower, but my speed is more constant, my pedaling technique is now better and I can power up hills better this year because of that bike.

Looking back at the old post, I see that I did set a performance based sort of mileage goal - it was "as much as I can reasonably do" or something like that. I did well on that end as well. I stopped using a cyclometer about mid-way through the summer. My battery died and I never bothered to get a computer for the mountain bike, so I really don't have any idea how many miles I have ridden, but I can say that I commuted by bike pretty much every day that I could this season (excluding travel days and suit-and-tie days). That feels like a big accomplishment.

The real accomplishment is that none of this seems like a big deal. One of the real underlying goals here is to transform myself to the point where riding a bike is the default option rather than something I could do. I made a lot of strides there; the bike is now the easiest and fastest way to work, and hopping on a running to the corner store, or buzzing around the lakes after dinner is easy - no changing clothes, no special shoes, no fucking around, just get on and ride. That's very liberating.

The goal I fell down on was to do more group rides. I led probably half a dozen, and I got myself out for the ABCE ride, but I did not get in a single Hiawatha ride this year, which I feel kind of bad about. There's still time, however.

I anticipate more time and less stress with the new year, so I am  planning to set my sights on some longer rides, including at least a century, and if that goes well, maybe some randonneurs or something. We'll have to see about that. In the meantime, keep commuting, ride through the winter and get ready for next year.

Oct 15, 2010


Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
A photo from a dawn-viewing at Lake Nokomis this week.

Oct 12, 2010

Mural F#!@ing Madness

Photo Tag - Mural Madness
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
There a number of bike/photo games going on at any given time, but until today, I have never taken part in these shenanigans. It's a good idea for some good clean fun, however.

Basically, somebody posts a photo of a landmark with their bike in the photo and somebody else has to figure out where it is, get the pic, and then re-post another photo to keep the game going.

I noted last night that the latest mural tag was a place I know well that happens to be pretty convenient to my commute, so I grabbed it this morning on the way to the office. I felt like a little kid at Christmas, waiting to upload the photo, and half expected to get sniped before I could post, but I was successful.

Funny how these silly little games can spice up a day.

Bike Advocacy: Southern Connector Meeting Tonight!

This sort of snuck up on me, but I plan to make this meeting tonight regarding the Southern Connector:

Bicycling Update Subscribers,

On Tuesday, October 12th, Public Works will host a public meeting to present a revised draft proposal for the Southern Bike Connection. The meeting will be held at 6:30 pm at the Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church (4120 17th Avenue S). Flyers have been distributed in the Bancroft, Northrup, and Hale neighborhoods. The meeting will discuss bicycle boulevards on:

• 17th Avenue S, between 38th Street and Minnehaha Parkway
• 12th Avenue S, between Minnehaha Parkway and 54th Street
Minneapolis Public Works has developed a layout (pdf) with several options. All options will not be constructed. The public will be asked to rank preferences for traffic calming and improvements to busy crossings.
If you have feedback or questions, please fill out our online form or contact Shaun Murphy at 612.333.2450 or shaun.murphy@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

Happy Riding,
City of Minneapolis Bicycle Program
Despite living in Northrup, we never received a flyer, although we did get the email from the City on this, so I'll count that as sufficient notice. This would be a nice addition to our bike infrastructure, so please come out and support this project if you can.

Oct 10, 2010

Corps of Discovery

What may very well be the last 3-speed ride of the season set out from the Longfellow Grill today at about 1:00 PM. The official ride was on the order of 25 miles or so, but counting the ride to the ride and home again, I bet I logged 35 to 40 miles on the old clunker today.

The route took us north on the Grand Rounds. That's a nice route and I enjoy all of it, including the industrial areas north of downtown. The weather was unbelievable - warm and hazy and beautiful. A balmy end of the season on these bikes of a by-gone era.

This ride was about right - it was leisurely, but we moved along at a smart pace. We had only two real rest stops (one at the start of Weber Parkway and the other at Theo Worth) so it was more pedaling than milling. This was just about what I had in mind when I coined the "Corps of Discovery" concept for 3-speed rides. A little more gung-ho than a typical gentlemen cyclist ride, but not so much that it's unpleasant.

After all, we cycle for pleasure, not for penance.

Oct 9, 2010

Good Deeds

MMRB Tear-Downs
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
This morning found me in Fridley bright and early. This was the last city recycling day of the year in Fridley, and I donated some of my Saturday to help Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles work the event.

MMRB gets a lot of their bikes from these kind of events. This is my second MMRB day in Fridley, and earlier this summer I worked Andover for them as well.

By now I have this down to a pseudo-science. I bring my own tools, a small folding table, and my work stand. It's not necessary to do this - MMRB has tools and stands, however I find I am faster and more comfortable working with my gear. I always learn something at these events as well. Today I got to remove a cartridge bottom bracket, which I don't think I've had to do yet (al of mine are either cup-and-cone or too new to bother with). It was a snap - brilliant design, really.

Tomorrow will be what is probably our last 3-speed ride of the season. This one promises to be a trip on the northern reaches of the Grand Rounds. We will be meeting at Longfellow Grill at 1:00 PM on Sunday if anyone's interested in tagging along.

Enjoy the awesome weather - it's a gift we need to appreciate!

Oct 4, 2010

Night Riding

You Never Know
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Molly has been very conscientious in riding her bike this season. She signed up for 30 Days of Biking ("We Ride our Bike Every F-ing Day") in March or April and she did, in fact, ride everyday. She's kept it up since then, too.

Although she's tenacious, she's not necessary proactive; some evenings, she'll head out the door at 9:00 PM because she hasn't gotten her ride in yet.

Lately, I have been accompanying her on these night rides to support her cycling and to spend more time with her. Tagging along has been good for me, too, because it's put me back in touch a little bit with what's magical about riding a bike. Wooshing through the night with only a cone of halogen light to guide you is exhilarating, and the play of light and shadow, and the sudden changes in air temperature are good for my brain.

If you haven't ridden your bike at night, get some lights and give it a go, it's a lot more fun than it really should be.

Oct 3, 2010

Dakota Trail and Upgrades

Yesterday we took advantage of the fabulous Fall weather by riding the Dakota Trail in it's entirety. I had done about 90% of this with a co-worker and his family last year, but Molly had not ridden it yet, so we made plans to tackle this on Saturday.

I posted a trip report on my first Dakota Trail ride last year. When we did that first ride, we started in Wayzata and found there to be little parking. I do not recommend that; the trail is also very poorly marked in Wayzata and there is not much parking. We found the trailhead, but we also helped a few others that were trying unsuccessfully to find the trailhead as well.

This year, we started in St. Boni. I was pleased to see that they have a parking lot for trail users right off of Hwy. 7. I was also pleased to see that there is now a restaurant at the trailhead as well. The St. Boni Bistro looks like a decent coffee shop/breakfast/lunch place, and with their location at the end of the trail, I have no doubt they will do well. That's a good example of how a bike trail can be good for business and benefit the local neighborhood.

Sadly, Molly was finished before the trail was, so she stayed at the Minnetonka Drive-in while I time-trialed back to the truck for about 6 miles on my single speed mountain bike and picked her up.

She had been interested in a better saddle for awhile, so after a little back-order induced wait, we got her a shiny new Brooks B-64 on Friday. Spurred on by her Dakota Trail experience, I installed this on her Breezer today. It's smooth and creamy, that's for sure. I think she'll really like it, and it looks great on the bike. That bike has 26-inch slicks and shock absorbing seat post, so between the the fat tires,  the seat post and now this saddle, it's like riding in a Cadillac.

While I was wrenching, I also put a 20-tooth cog on her 3-speed (up from the stock 18) and took off the ass-hatchet saddle that came on the bike and put a better saddle on there  for her as well. That should make that bike a lot more comfortable for her as well.

Just in time, too. It looks our next 3-speed ride will be on October 10.