Monday, December 30, 2013


It's officially winter. Although, the change really took place before Thanksgiving, which really marked the end to all hope of moderate weather here. I was very consistent on my bike until then, but faltered a little when the temperatures dipped into the -20s (yes, that's minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit). Now I am back on my ghetto winter bike though, fighting snow banks at the intersections and trying to keep my chain on. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think it was fun, because I have a blast plowing through snow. I'd probably be a good candidate for a Fat Bike. Santa, are you listening?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Be Prepared

I have found that appropriate preparation before a ride can make all the difference between a fantastic ride and sheer misery during your bike commute, especially at this time of year. For me, checking the weather becomes an activity approaching a level of religious zealotry. You never know for sure when things are about to turn foul, or at what time of day: rain mixed with snow, frozen in the morning, 50’s in the evening. I’ve also found that the 30’s-40’s can be the worst for finding the right balance of layers for keeping comfortable.

Ice Ride

As an example of what not to do, a couple of days before Thanksgiving I had a decent ride to work, 30 degrees and sunny. That day, I happened to have not checked the weather report for the afternoon before I left. I had assumed that it would be about the same or warmer… as it had been all week long. I was bummed when I walked outside to go home that it was slightly raining and was just starting to freeze to the ground. Glad that I had set out before it got terrible, I slowly rode through the ice needles that were projected into my face from the heavy wind.

The weather here has pretty much got steadily/abruptly worse since then. Not counting the -20F windchill we have had the past few days, I have been pretty comfortable on the bike since that pre-Thanksgiving ice ride because I have been prepared for it with the right layering, thinker gloves and a wooly turtleneck.

After a mini-blizzard hit Wednesday, the roads have been horrid. It hasn't warmed up enough for the ice to melt even with the help of road salt, so it is a bit precarious on a bike. I obviously have had to put away my slicks since this photo from just the other day, and have pulled out my winter bike. Over the summer I have ideas of an overhaul to prepare it for this winter... but all of those plans didn't ever materialize and when I pulled it out it was the same as it was since I abandoned it at the first sign of spring. I had to monkey with the front derailleur cable because it has slipped and wouldn't keep the bike in a proper gear, making it unrideable. Thinking that I had it in order, it worked pretty well for most of my ride into the office on Thursday. However, the chain came off just before I arrived and I coasted the last block to my building. For the ride home, I was in a tight spot without any emergency tools (they are  still safely hanging in the small bag attached to the saddle on my road bike). Fortunately, I was at least prepared with a pen that held the derailleur in a workable gear for the climb home. Time to get prepared. Although the minus 0 temps have me wanting to give it all up until spring again. Let's see if I can stop myself.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Thanksgiving!

My Brother-in-law Homer spotted this blinged-out fixie (not to mention the amazing blue wall), which prompted a back and forth about how we could bling out our rides in similar fashion. If anyone knows how to add spinners, please let us know. In the meantime, I found a youtube video on painting your rims... a worthy project for this Thanksgivukkah weekend (which won't come again for another 79,000 years - so make the most of it!).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Autumn Leaves

The trees have grown pretty bare, are no longer as pretty as they were a few of weeks ago. Fall has brought gusty winds, and with it falling leaves. I actually had a blast on a particularly blustery day riding beneath trees that were dropping their leaves in sheets. They were everywhere, sticking to different parts of my bike, getting caught in the vents of my helmet.

I felt like a kid looking up as I passed under the trees. I tried to get some pictures as the leaves fell, but the low light didn’t offer anything for my iPhone to grab on to. So I will just have to keep the moment in my mind.

Yesterday my niece posted the Johnny Mercer lyrics to “Autumn Leaves.” I grew up on and love the Nat King Cole version (a musical taste passed on from my grandfather), and now associate it with wooing my wife. I think the song is actually about missing a lost lover after a wonderful summer, so I will try not to associate it with riding my bike through the falling leaves… as appropriate as that might also be.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moon Ride


I would have to admit, I probably looked ridiculous today on my ride to work. I was wearing a layer of thermal undergarments, on top of that I wore my normal thermal base layer, track pants, a fleece jacket, fleece turtleneck, scull cap, helmet, mittens and boots. The only thing missing were my wife's pink ski goggles (which I have had occasion to wear on a really cold day).... And today was one of those days that I wished I had fully swallowed my pride, all the way down to pink goggles. It was clear and 17 degrees when I left. And when it is that cold with no clouds in the sky, it feels all the colder. On my way home in the dark it was worse. Though about 10 degrees warmer, the dark and the cold made me aware of every petal stroke. The wind was so strong in my ears that I could hear almost nothing else. There is a certain pain in that type of cold that seems to slow down time, and the only thing you can do is pedal one stroke at a time until you are out of it. It all made me feel pretty alone on the road today, even with the cars passing. Like riding on the moon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Welcome to Winter

I must be in serious denial about the weather change, given that I am still riding racing slicks on ice. We had our first snow of the season on Tuesday night. It was Election Day and I biked to the polls to vote before the snow started falling. I looked out the window Wednesday morning, relieved to see we hadn't got the 4 inches that were expected. My winter bike isn't ready, the roads liked pretty good, so I decided to give it a go on my road bike. Where the cars were driving, the roads had warmed up enough so that they were passable. Part of my ride was on a separated bike path, and that's where it got dicey, especially near the cemetery I pass every day. I was sliding everywhere and had to ride with one foot down to steady myself. I just about turned back to go home and take my car to work but when I rejoined the main road it was fine again. Cold at 27 degrees, but steady rolling. 

I had been dreading the change if weather. It has been cold, but the first snow has psychological effects. Seems to me our last snow was in May sometime... So to have it snow. November 5 makes for a short summer season. As bummed as I think I have been just dreading it, there have been times out there on my bike in the cold when I have really enjoyed it. Today was one of those days. 30 again in he morning, but ice patches small and far enough between to easily avoid them. Riding, I felt the same stillness that I find cross country skiing at zero degrees. Then, 43 and dry on the way home was excellent! I still hope the snow accumulation stays down and that I can ride the roadie a bit deeper into November/December. We'll see. I had better get the other steed ready! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cloud Ride

It was really foggy today, and it had me thinking of my friends across the "pond" and how they must often ride in it. It is more rare here, so when I saw the weather report this morning, of cloudy and 41 at departure, I was thinking cool, it sure beats the low 30's I've been riding in lately.

For some reason, riding in the dark fog in the morning had me thinking about Ichabod Crane... it was a little eery out there, which I suppose is apropos with Halloween Tomorrow. (Hopefully no Headless Horseman in my future.)  

Turns out it was literally like riding through a cloud. Wet. The other thing is that I was worried about drivers' ability to see me, even though I stick to the bike lane and less busy roads when possible.  I have been leaving earlier and now see a lot of school busses. They always make me nervous because they are blind-spots-on-wheels (perhaps I should start calling them headless horsemen), and I also always wonder about the drivers' experience. 

Turns out, like riding in the rain, riding in fog is fun. And its beautiful this time of year. Snow will fly soon, so I will soak this up while I can.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I found a large horseshoe on the road today while biking to work. It was raining quite a bit, and I cruised on by. (Once I am going, I don't usually stop for anything - am even tempted at times to leave my own water bottle behind if it falls when I am in a good rhythm).

But needing a little luck in my life right now, I decided to go back for it after a few strides. It had obviously come off a draft horse, and must have weighed as much as my u-lock, perhaps as much as my bike frame. It is a bit unusual to find a horseshoe in the middle of the city. In fact, I don't know that I have ever found one before (does it show that I spend little time in the country?). I was not too far from the State Fairgrounds, and sometimes have to dodge horse trailers when they have shows at the barns, which must explain where it came from.

I was on my way to a morning meeting at a health clinic with a dry suit and tie packed in my messenger bag. So instead of opening my bag to the wet, I looped it through one of the fastener straps and expected to hear the heavy *klink* as it fell of the back when I started riding again.

It was still with me when I got to the meeting, changed, met. Then changed back again and got drenched on my way to Downtown. It was still with me when I got to the office, so I hung it over my doorway.

It wasn't raining much and I didn't have any close encounters with cars on my way home.
My luck must already be changing.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Went to see the movie Gravity tonight. It was pretty crazy. It was fitting that when we exited the theatre there was a torrential downpour. It was fantastic to run in, and it reminded me how much I like biking in the rain. Especially when it is raining hard. Once I rode in a thunderstorm at night, power knocked out, branches falling around me... Wizard of Oz type stuff (not so much fun). But a steady rain that you can zone into and feel the rythm of your body, I love it. The gravity part is nice too.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2 Years

Its been one year since I started this blog, two years since my close encounter with the old lady driving a Buick. Not a lot has changed since then, but I certainly have. Today, I received a timely email from one of the groups I follow, Transportation Alternatives (based in New York City), which shared some statistics from to a poll they had conducted on transportation, in relation to their current mayoral race. New York is certainly not representative of the country, but I found it interesting that a third of NYC voters knows someone who has been seriously injured or killed in traffic. Presumably, this number includes motorists as well as bicyclists. 875 responses on a random sample is a pretty good data set on a poll like this, so when you group those who want protected bike lanes with those who want safer streets for pedestrians (total 67%), it becomes pretty clear that traffic safety is a common interest.

Physical rehab aside, it took me a little while to be comfortable on a bike after being hit by a car. I've had a few close calls since then. On the road, I have learned that my safety is my own responsibility. I have to trust the drivers around me, and they have to trust me that I will "ride in a predictable manner." I've made mistakes, and I have seen my share of drivers make mistakes, mostly out of impatience.

Still, there are others that I have encountered with open hostility towards people on bikes. They are the folks that worry me the most, more than the ones not paying attention for a moment. I've been yelled at, called names, and have had drivers intentionally cut me off and cut it close in order to try to prove a point. The point taken is that they are too foolish to know what they are risking. I've yelled back, chased people down, and even tapped on a driver's window to get their attention and tell them off. I know that just perpetuates the hostility, and it can get a rider into an unpredictable situation or altercation. So mostly I try to grin and bear it, and use the anger and adrenalin as a PED to improve my ride.

There is a bike memorial that I pass when I ride along West River Road in Minneapolis. It serves as a reminder to me of the everyday dangers, and the precautions I need to take when I am on my bike. When I see it, I remember my own crash, and how blessed I am that it wasn't worse, that I am lucky to be live and to have quickly rehabilitated.  I am glad to be there for my kids, glad for the opportunity to ride with them and share this passion. I am grateful for the new perspective that seminal event has given me, and hope to maintain this as a day of rebirth. God is great!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Swamp

This won't mean much to most. Last week we did a family ride on the trails that I used to bike on as a kid. We all called the undeveloped wetlands area at the end of our block "the swamp". We would ride down, dump our bikes by a big oak tree and play "war", which mostly meant crawling through the high grass with wooden toy guns or sticks that we pretended were guns.
Mike was always talking about how his dad was in WWII or Korea or something, so he ended up our resident expert on making platoon sweeps of the swamp, which runs along Shingle Creek. We would often ride our bikes along the then dirt paths, fish for bullheads, wade the 'rapids'. 

It was weird to go back after over 20 years. Much has changed. What I remember as mostly dirt paths is now paved. The prairie grass and weeds that lined the creek is mostly mowed. The thicket at the end of my old street is cut down so you can see the water. I am going to post some pictures that I took along our old stomping grounds from Twin Hills (aka "Booby Hills") along shingle creek, around Palmer Lake, to Brooklyn Center Civic Center and on to where Brookdale Mall stood until recently. 

What seemed to take us all day to ride, would have taken Sarah and me 20 minutes, if I hadn't stopped so often to take pictures and explain like an old man what we used to do at this point and that.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Google Bike

My Brother-in-law, Homer, moved to California and started working for Google last week. He is living the dream and was sending lots of texts his first couple of days with pictures to share with us the excitement of his orientation process. So I asked him, while he was at it, to send me some pictures of some Google bikes (all photos here courtesy of Homer and his iPhone).

I have to admit, when I first heard the words "Google bike", my first thought was about the Google Car project to build  autonomous "driverless" cars, and wondered how that could possibly be adaptable to bikes.

A funny thought, but it turns out the Google Bike isn't at all about technology, its about sharing, convenience, and utility - some other Google traits that we run into with their products.

The Google Bike is essentially a bike-share program on the Google campus, minus all of the hi-tech parking stalls and subscription fees. In fact, they are pretty basic cruiser-type bikes for the most part. All analog. According to another Robert Johnson (no relation), who wrote a piece on the bikes earlier this year, it started in 2007, when Google bought 100 Huffies for their folks to ride to and from meetings and to Google shuttle bus stops (yes, they have a company shuttle service that runs to and from Google temporary housing, equipped with high-speed wireless hotspots and everything you need to keep working while on the go). That quiver of Huffies grew to a fleet in 2009 when they introduced the multi-colored "clown bikes", and they currently have 1,300 of the bikes around campus.

Homer said they are literally everywhere. No locks, just grab one and go. And apparently, the occasional one walks-away, never to return.  Homer hasn't said how they manage the fleet, but according to Johnson's article, they are housed and maintained in a building near headquarters, and there are at least a few people on Google staff who take care of them and make sure there is always one handy for a fellow Googler to get to that next meeting.

I wonder if Homer will ever need to use the sweet Bianchi we shopped so hard (and he paid) for this past winter? If not, he knows my address.


Homer's Bike

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jesse James Days

This past Saturday, I rode the Jesse James Bike Tour in Northfield, MN with my friends Colt and Trent. I had trained for the Century, but my training fell off at the end August due to our family vacation (I only rode 250 miles the whole of August compared to 700 in July). When I climbed back onto my bike the Tuesday after Labor Day, I realized that I didn’t have the legs for 100 miles the following Saturday. It was a difficult mind-shift in terms of my ambition to cap off the summer in that way, but I welcomed the prospect of enjoying another 65 mile ride with friends. And in that sense, Jesse James delivered.

Trent and I left for Northfield a little before 5:00 a.m., while it was still a little too dark to see if we had properly mounted our bikes on the car rack. Fingers crossed, we headed out and had an enjoyable 40 minute drive from Minneapolis (though I was glad not to be the one driving). I had been looking forward to this bike ride for some time, and found it impossible to sleep the night before. It started with excitement, I suppose, and staying up a little late getting my bike and gear ready. The excitement wore off as the night wore on, turning to apprehension that I wasn’t going to get enough sleep to do ANY sort of bike riding. When I last looked at the clock, it said 2:39, and then in a blink came the unwelcome 5:30 alarm.

We arrived in Northfield just as the sun was starting to rise, pulled into the Circle K (or whatever they had down there) so I could get some caffeine. Dr. Pepper + the thought that I had spent the majority of the past year awake anyway (due to our twin babies) = the perk I needed to get underway.  

Through the marvels of technology (email through iPhone), I was able to find Colt -- he was standing 20 meters away from me and we hadn’t seen each other in the sea of other wandering MAMILs.

It was after 7:00 when we finally got underway, perhaps 7:15 with the bathroom breaks and final bike checks. The sun was just staring to climb and the temperature was comfortable. We rode through some suburban style subdivisions before making it out onto the open road. The signage marking the ride route was a bit lacking in town, where there were obviously a lot more twists and turns than out on the highways. We were not the only riders that ended up having to double back a couple of times to find our way. But once we left Northfield, there were cornfields as far as the eye could see.

And then some more cornfields. It was actually quite picturesque. I took some photos with my phone to try to capture the feeling. The golden tops of the cornfields reflected the sun magnificently, and as they day heated up, the sweet smell of agriculture permeated the air.

Before the first rest stop, there was this amazing descent that was long and steep enough for us to really pick up some speed and cruise for a good distance (about a mile). My computer said I got up to 42.4 MPH, the fastest I have recorded. It was phenomenal. As I pedaled my hardest a State Trooper sped past with its sirens blasting, making the experience all the sweeter. As we pulled into the rest area, everyone was talking about it and whether they were daring or conservative on the descent. Well placed stop for conversation! For me, that was the definite highlight of the ride, worth doing again.

One of the cool things about this bike tour, was that we encountered several families throughout, a few doing the longer routs. We ran into this dude pulling his 4 year old daughter on a trailer bike, which had a Burley attached to it, pulling a 2 year old (pictured below) riding the 45. There was also an 11 year old girl riding the 65 with her dad (on a sweet little Jr sized Orbea, I might add). We also crossed paths with a 13 year old sporting a Team Sky jersey riding the 65 with his parents. As a group a mamil fathers of young children, we all discussed how we would like to get the whole family out on some of these rides with us (as soon as they can pull their own weight).

The atmosphere at the rest stops was great, even had vendors and massages at some of them. They all also had these weird wheat rolls that looked like giant bits of kibble.

My wife teased me a bit that I tried to grow out a cowboy style stache for the event, but I had to do something to honor the demise of the outlaw.


My phone died at 54.12 miles so I missed getting pictures (and data) at the tail end of the ride, which took us about 4 hours to complete. Another highlight of the ride for me was getting swept up and tagging the back of a group of about 15 really fast young riders from St. Olaf Collage out on a club ride. They were all working together racing style, and as they overtook me one by one, I folded in to keep pace. I wanted to grab a snapshot, but didn't dare fumble for my phone in that tightly packed group. As I moved to the back, I tried to get to my phone to grab a shot, but they were moving at such a good pace that when I stopped pedaling for a second, I fell off the back of the group and couldn't rejoin. I looked back, and there was no-one in view; I realized that I had left Trent and Colt behind. I rode slowly for a while, enjoying the solitude, but then found some shade under a tree by a cool late 19th Century school house to wait for my riding companions. The last few miles of the ride were great, though it was strange that the route took us through a kind of industrial part of town. As we got closer to the school where we started, the signage for the tour fell apart again. There is an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school in fairly close proximity, and we weren't sure which was which. when we got back to the high school, we ended up entering the parking lot from the opposite side, missing the official finish fine. So we circled around so that we could cross in an awkward sprint finish. Trent showed off his power, beating me by half a bike length.

I felt great at the end. The temperature had got up into the 90s, but I didn't feel it. I was tempted to ride my bike the 40 miles back to Minneapolis, but after a shower and the Subway sponsored lunch I was content to ride along and chat with Colt (in his car) and chalk this one up to another training ride in preparation for a century before the Fall is out.