This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Monday, August 15, 2016

You thought electronic shifters were cool, check these babies out!

     A few years ago I revolutionized the world of commuter biking (at least in my humble mind) by creating shopping panniers from reusable grocery bags.  I initially used some 1/4 inch hardboard for backing but later replaced that with some lighter corrogated plastic board (the kind you see used for yard signs).  It was a nice solution; I could throw them on any rack, on any bike, they cost practically nothing and I didn't need to carry them unless I needed them.  It took almost 5 years but they wore out and tore.  Well, you can't keep anything nice these days so I looked for something more durable and longer lasting.  All the "shopping panniers" on the market are nice, there seem to be hundreds now, but they also cost hundreds of dollars.  No kidding, most are $50+  per bag and they may be more durable, but they will wear out.  
      One thing in life that seems to function forever is Wald products.  Their baskets seem to be timeless.  You just about have to be deliberate about harming them.  I've had a pair of their folding baskets forever, but haven't used them for ages because they have to be attached to the rack all the time and they are an extra 2# a piece to haul.  In my interweb travels I ran across a dealer who listed a new quick release model.   Yippee! I thought.  They were out of stock, but I am patient and went back to the website a week later to find they had disappeared.  I checked the Wald website and found no mention.  Hmm.  Well, it all saved me money because I started thinking (it hurt a little and was kind of scary) and came up with my own quick release solution.
 I added some small stainless steel S biner clips and an elastic velcro strap.
 In 30 seconds or less I added them to Byron.
 Took off to the local grocery,
and came back with a bunch of food.
No muss no fuss.
They didn't even rattle!
    The cool thing is that I can take them off when I don't think I'll need them for a while. I can put them on 2 of my other bikes without a hassle.  They are great!  Grocery baskets when you need them, no dead weight when you don't.  Using a different bike for the day and expect to make a stop at the farmer's market on the way home?  No problem,   Need some panniers for a weekend trip to a B&B or campsite?  No problem.  This makes electronic shifters seem pretty mundane in the great scheme of things.  I predict it to catch on and change life forever in the realm of Dorkdom.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Celebration of Sam (Hillborne, of course).

       I had a really pleasant ride to breakfast the other day with a few friends.  It was 30 miles through the countryside of SW Michigan.  We cajoled along about 15-16 mph and enjoyed the early morning coolness.  The others, dedicated spandex hamsters, were all on CF or aluminum roadies except one custom lugged steel rider.  Being a 60-70 mile ride I was on the Hillborne, it does whatever my road bike will do, but is 30 times more comfortable on long rides.  It was made for it.  We stopped at an unusual little country store/restaurant for "second breakfast" and some interesting conversation.  Gathering outside, we were looking at some of the hammock displays on the porch, when on of them said:
"Marc, have you thought about upgrading that bike?"
I diverted the question and explained that I had thought of a new road bike many times. Since I rarely use it, I forget about it." 
     I wouldn't change anything on my Hillborne. Well, there is a stem shift mount that might look better, and when I wear out the bottom bracket cartridge I'll replace it with a Phil Wood so I can forget it entirely.  But the guy who posed the question is well known and proud of his distinction as a techno gear snob, so I should have said: "Sure, I'm going to a 12 speed cassette with a quadruple crankset and chain, all in titanium with voice activated electronic shifters linked to a Bluetooth app on my Apple 11 prototype.  I'll be able to shift constantly in 1/2 gear inch segments at the speed of thought."   That would have settled things. He would have been impressed.
The fact is, the handlebars and fenders throw roadies off.
      If I had used drop bars they would be thinking of a vintage rando bike and be accepting.  The Bosco Bars are interpreted by the unfamiliar as "CRUISER."    Eventually they have to ask because they don't understand how a HEAVY,SLOOOOOW CRUISER can be rolling at 16-18 with their crotch rockets.  The question came up and a great deal of surprise was obvious when I told one of them later that the bike weighed 24.5 lbs when I built it up. 
 "What?"  "You built that that way?" 
      So the weight was no longer a question and I did not have the time or inclination to explain that the handlebars were a new design, in fact mine were the first ever sold.  The pedals are a new variation on the standard platform design and the frame was even a new tubing design.  That would have confused them because they have been led to believe that all innovation is tied to the Tour De France.  Nothing will come of comfort and usefulness. 
    All this was reminiscent of the first charity ride I did on it.  A spandex hamster came up beside me on his CF crotch rocket and asked a few things about the bike.  After a few answers he asked: 
"Why would anybody want a bike like that?"  
I said, " I can use it to ride a metric century in 16 or better some days, 
go to work, run with a moderate paced club ride, go to the store, ride trails,
negotiate a herd of Pokemon zombies in the city park,
run over gravel and grass, or tour the Himalayas.
What can you do with that?
Besides ride back to your car,
hoping you don't break it?"
There beneath the elegant lug work and ornate paint job lies a viable machine.
That's more than most can say about their bicycle.
Sam will probably keep me at N+0 for a long time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I really wasn't gone, I just wasn't "here."

As you probably are aware, we in North America are suffering from some giant bastard dropping a hot pocket on us.  Some big old bubble of heat has been lying on us taking the temperatures in Michigan from our normal sublime 70's into the 80's and (gasp) 90 degree territory. 
It's not even comfortable to drink beer in weather like that.   I've been getting up really early to ride my bike before the heat sets in.  Most people I know are weird and still have jobs and families and stuff to do, so I've been riding safely in the cool of the day alone.  
It's not a bad gig, and not all I've been doing with my little "me time."
Our local bike club has put together our own fundraiser for the families affected by the horrific tragedy of June 7th.  We have designed a nice jersey to sell to anybody interested in helping.  It's a map of Michigan that has Kalamazoo marked with the chainlink heart symbol from Kalamazoo Strong.  20% of the purchase will go directly to the families of the victims.  
It's a cool looking jersey, 

available as long as the demand continues. I know I have readers all around (Google is watching) so I want to know these are worn in Russia, the UK, Denmark, Macedonia and where ever else the interweb goes.  Order up!  They are produced to order and don't take long.
Following up on the realm of cycling safety.
As a citizen advisor to the area transportation study, I was invited to the annual 
Michigan Transportation Planners Conference.  
It's a fun filled 3 day adventure full of colorful powerpoints 
presented by engineers.  It was a close call a couple of times,
but I managed to stay awake throughout.  
I was (no sarcasm here, really!) amazed at the preoccupation with 
Complete Streets initiatives.  It seems to have finally sunk in that our 
cities have become unlivable piles of  concrete and
 the car may not be a useful form of urban transportation.
Even Detroit has gotten into the act by dieting Dearborn Rd, 
the great bastion of  auto history.
Along with other planning presentations we were taken on a tour of 
the culinary institute built by the local community college.
What does that have to do with transportation? 
 It was built with limited parking
to promote the use of public transportation, cycling and walking.
In the immediate parking lot, there are 5 spots for cars, 30 for bicycles
and the campus was built right on the planned MUP which will be 
a north/south commuter route in the future.
In all the conference and speakers were predictably mundane

except for the fact that all these city officials and planners
seem to be totally committed to multi-modal traffic
and mitigating the dominance of the automobile.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Old home, old friends and the Katy Trail

It was time to hit the road again.  I had planned to visit  Kansas City for a conference, but the conference was cancelled at the last minute.  That didn't really matter much, it was chance to return after...well a long time and enjoy the city where I went to college and lived for 12 years.  
Once again I got an incredible bargain from Air BB.  
Staying at Leib Dodell's beautiful home one block south of the Country Club plaza was a real treat.  
He and his two beautiful dogs were wonderful hosts and companions.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt getting from the train station to my lodgings at the Country Club Plaza.  Everything seemed to be where I left it.  The temperatures in KC were raging.  The nominal temps were pushing 100 in the late afternoon and real heat was on the pavement.  On Friday, I cooled off by spending siesta time at the Nelson-Atkins art gallery.  There is a world class collection of paintings and sculptures including one of Rodin's monumental bronze, The Thinker.
Although Rodin cast several monumental versions like the one in KC, the original was a miniature part of a bronze relief in a door with the The Thinker pondering  the 
 struggles of humanity at the Gates of Hell.
Times are better now.  
The big guy looks over an expansive lawn supervising 
a giant bad-mitten match.  The world is improving.
Later that evening I went out to Westport Square for a burger and beer.
I stumbled across a few friends.  Nobody I knew before, but the monthly 
gathering of a Critical Mass Ride.
Hell, I had nothing else to do.  I joined in as 2-300 people took over the streets of  Westport in an organized (but somewhat inebriated) column of riders.  We progressed down Nichols boulevard, through the Country Club Plaza stopping traffic in our wake as streams of pedestrians cheered. We meandered through the busy Plaza area through  Brookside  until reaching
the inevitable rest stop at the famous rose garden in Loose Park.  Circling through the Chinese arches full of blossoming roses  we looked like a swarm of drunken bees before several took a ceremonial dip in the fountain at the center of the garden.  PBR was passed around and a whole lot of hilarity  continued to complete a 23 mile circuit back to Westport Square.
Saturday was another quiet  day re-exploring the footsteps of my college days.   I manged to meet a college buddy of mine who  was still in town.  Since our days in the English Dept at UMKC,Stanley E. Banks developed the life of a professional poet with his lovely wife Janet.  We had a great time catching up and the was conversation was so enjoyable I never experienced an awkward silence to fill by getting a photo of us together.  Another time, until then, follow this link.
Sunday morning.  (Dum, Dum go the drums in the background)  My host was fretting over my not being acclimated to the heat.  I decided to leave before 6AM, to escape the KC river valley before the city awakes.  It kinda worked.  The hills travelling away from KC are challenging and getting out of the city was slower than planned.  Despite that, I was only a little behind schedule when I reached HWY 50 on the outskirts of Lee's Summit.   50 is a federal highway, straight and boring, but the hills are graded down and there is a paved 8 ft shoulder making it fairly safe and easy to crank out some mileage.  I  nearly reached Warrensburg on schedule when storms hit.  In this part of the country rain is always accompanied by lightning and thunder.  It's best to run and hide.  I did and ambled into Knob Noster campground in the late afternoon, it all worked out, but I was dying to find the trail in Sedalia, and some shade.
Things were still hot on Monday.  The rain from Sunday afternoon and evening left a dense fog hanging low so I waited until late morning for better visibility.  Half the day was taken on the final 15-20 miles getting to Sedalia for lunch where I got on the Katy Trail.
There I was welcomed by shade and relief from the bubbling asphalt popping under my tires.
There are a couple of nice things about rail trails; shade and the reduction of hills.  In the mid 1800's it was discovered that 2.5% grades were the most a train can effectively combat.  
So you know you never have more than that to deal with, but those grades can go on for miles, and miles and miles.  The ride from Sedalia to Pilot Grove is one of those rides. The reward at the end is a city park where free camping is permitted along with the use of toilets two shelters with electricity and (gasp) the municipal pool where $3 will get you a shower as well as relief from the heat.
It's the Hilton of stealth camping if I ever saw it.
That's where I ran into James Gasko.  A few years ago, he had an argument with his boss, which led to him quitting his job, which led to a disagreement with his girlfriend, which led him to taking early retirement from a construction union.  Being a lifetime bike fanatic, he's been  living on his pension while traveling around the country with his aging beagle ever since.   He said he works at bike shops now and then in his travels, but in the past 4 years hasn't found a reason to quit moving.
On up the trail to Boonevile I intersected and crossed the Missouri River.
Booneville is famous for it's first settler, the legendary Dan'l Boone
and became the starting point for many westward expeditions. Those routes lead to Kansas City and diverge into the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails.
Along the route many of the events are archived with interpretive plaques.
Of course the most famous would be the Lewis and Clark expedition enfranchised by President Jefferson.  They navigated the Missouri in their exploration of the western plains.  I knew that, you knew that, but what didn't occur to me was the current they were battling the entire time.  On most occasions they were barely able to gain 20 miles against the river that drains most of the western continent.  I thought I got tired!  I'm a wuss.
Continuing along the river, the trail is relatively flat and easy and cuts through some
 magnificent bluffs, cliffs and rock formations.
Facilities along the trail are frequent and pleasant.  In Hartsburg, I was invited to camp in the backyard of the Globe Hotel.  It's a small BB which only charged me $25 for the use of the backyard
as well as the shower, indoor facilities and a sit down, 
gourmet breakfast with other trail riders.
There was friendly camaraderie and swapping of tales from a roomful
who travel by bike on a regular basis
Unlike any other trail I have seen,  most of the trail heads have Fixstation bike repair stands.
That's a handy thing, even if it was just to tweak the headset adjustment.
Unfortunately water was not as common as advertised.
Even though the heat had abated somewhat, we still need water 
and it was not as common as advertised on the trail signs.
Note to self: Camelbak!
There were notable formations along the trail and beautiful vistas.
This is not a fallen rock, but a huge granite outcropping which had ignored erosion

while the river carved out this spectacular valley.
It rained off and on for a day or two.  
Just some mild showers on the outskirts of passing storms.
I met many other travelers and stopped to chat with each of them.
Some traveled light and fast and others were en-route across the country.
These were just misplaced.
A cow and her two bull calves were wandering the trail.
In the distance I thought they were dogs, then realized they were too big and slow,
 then hoped to God they weren't bears.   Momma was smart.
She took to the woods, bleating for the calves to follow.
They had no idea what I was and backed up, putting me between them and their mother.
They got confused and I was too.  I know they weren't bears, but they are big, dumb and panicky.
I don't do big dumb and panicky.  I decided to get off the bike and walk it into the woods on the opposite side from the mother.  They finally developed the courage to follow her.
Speaking of needing a drink.  
The towns around there may not have water but they all seem to have bars. 
 I ran into Jason (I think!) and Blake who were from St. Louis.  
They look a little blurry because they were 
working their way from tavern to tavern 
on their first overnight bike expedition.  
They picked a good venue and were having a great time
 making all the mistakes one makes on their first REAL bike ride.
They'll be back for more.
Overall the trail is one of the best trail experiences I have had.  There should be more water available at the trailheads, and after a couple of days I ran out of cash.  In all the little towns since Booneville there was not an ATM to be found.  Not only that, all the little mom and pop retailers treat debit cards as credit and are not prepared to give out cash. That was a real pain in the neck.
Note to self:  Camelbak and Cash.
I was glad to reach St. Charles. 
 It's just 25 miles north of downtown St. Louis and is a charming little tourist trap
 which fills up nightly with people going from bar to boutique 
spending money on unnecessary stuff they can't find elsewhere.
Most of the buildings in the tourist section date back to the early 1800's.   There are no camping facilities there.  The town does advertise camping available on the trailhead postings along the way.   At the end of the day, I found a quiet place on the river at the very end of their park system.  It was no problem, nobody came or went except one friendly guy with a handful of fishing gear.
Leaving in the morning was easy.  It was Saturday.  .
My train didn't leave until Sunday morning.
I had all day to negotiate 25 miles of paths and routes through the St. Louis area.
It's a good thing, because it rained all day.  Sometimes it fell in bucketfuls
which forced me to lounge in neighborhood coffee shops along the way.
All in all it wasn't a bad commute.
I meandered through town all day, taking my time in the rain.
It was a good thing I was on time,  
Like KC, St. Louis is built on a river valley at the junction between two of the biggest rivers on the continent.  I sorta forgot that there has to be a lot of dirt keeping those two rivers apart.
That's right, big tall hunks of dirt with climbs reaching 20% grades in some places.
It was best to use up the day,
lunching in several places along the way
before crashing out at a hotel near the Amtrak station.