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.