Friday, April 17, 2015

Trouble in [Greenbelt] Paradise, Part I

As the weather gets nicer, Greenbelt traffic increases exponentially.  (Until it gets "too hot" - then it drops off again, except near the watery places.  Lots of people can't walk or run or ride a bike when it's too hot or too cold - that's below 65 or above 75 - haha!)  And with that increase in traffic, comes the inevitable increase in distracted and/or irresponsible users of the facility.

I probably only do 20% of my riding on the Greenbelt, but just this week I've seen two yahoos on motorcycles!  Well... pretend motorcycles.  One was a punk on a tiny miniature replica of a lay-on-the-gas-tank sport bike.  (Is that what they refer to as a "pit bike"?  I ride motorcycles - but not on the Greenbelt, and I don't keep up with the lingo and trends very well.)  And another was a young gal - early 20s (punkette?) on a little minibike-looking thing.  NOT a "moped" - this thing didn't have any pedals; it didn't pretend to be a bicycle in any way.  In both cases, I hollered, "You can't ride that on the Greenbelt!"  And in both cases they seemed happy to ignore me.  Hopefully they met with higher authority on up the line.

And yesterday, I happened across two babies in a double-up stroller.  Probably 9-10 months old.  (I'm pretty current on my babies, since I have grandbabies!)  Both were crying bitterly.  A fella - I assume their dad - was standing there leaning over, but I couldn't tell if he was trying to comfort them, or taunting them, or admonishing them to "suck it up."  When babies are sad it makes me sad... especially on a beautiful day in a beautiful outdoor place, which usually makes babies happy and wide-eyed with wonder.

And of course, the usual assortment of people who just stop on the Greenbelt, blocking the way of everybody else.  I always want to ask them, "Do you have a driver's license?  And, do you just stop your car in the traffic lane, when you want to chit-chat or drink some Gatorade?"  My suggestion for a Greenbelt Courtesy Tip from a previous post:

"Keep in mind that the Greenbelt is a transportation corridor, and is often crowded with users.  Please respect other users by not blocking the pathway to chit-chat, repair your bicycle, adjust your load, yap on the phone, send a text, conduct pet or baby admiration sessions, snap a photo, etc. Step to the side, so other people can go by."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New bike is no more

On Sunday, I went for a ride on the old, faithful Cannondale.  And frankly, it was a delight to get on it again, after a week or riding on the Gotham.  It was on that ride that I made up my mind to avail myself of REI's "100% Satisfaction Guarantee."

It was disappointing; after all, I've been pondering getting the Gotham for the better part of three years.  But there were some insurmountable issues... for me!  For another cyclist, they would probably be non-issues.

1) It didn't "fit" me well.  And REI seemed unwilling to provide much assistance in that.  I purchased a longer 400mm seat post on my own.  That made the saddle high enough, but then the handlebars felt too low and too close.  An aftermarket stem probably would've got me taken care of, but at that point I was somewhat frustrated with the process.  (In the accompanying photos, you'll see the post-adjustment saddle height.  The frame is the "L-XL" size, which is supposedly sized for riders 5'11" to 6'3" - since I'm 6'2" with 32" inseam, it should've fit me just right.)

2) My BOB trailer was/is unusable with a Gotham.  The proper-size "Nutz" are available (10mm), but the rear dropouts on the Gotham are wider than a more standard bike by probably 20mm, to accommodate the NuVinci hub and belt drive.  (I probably could've bent the trailer to fit, but then it would've been unusable on any bike but the Gotham.)

3) Disc brake issues filled my heart with trepidation.  Much of the charm of the Gotham was the notion that it would be essentially maintenance-free, what with the belt drive.  When the brakes were already "dragging" with less than 100 miles on the clock, it worried me.  (Maybe the good people at REI could've adjusted them and sent me on my way for 10,000 trouble-free miles... I don't know.  By comparison, my low-tech cable-operated cantilever brakes seemed pretty charming to my luddite eyes.)

The bike went back this evening.  Delightfully, there was absolutely NO "static" - the guy just entered stuff into his cash register and I swiped my bankcard for the refund.

I do NOT want to suggest that the belt or NuVinci were unsatisfactory.  The belt was uncannily quiet (until the swish of rubbing brakes caught my attention), and the NuVinci is an awesome piece of technology.  I tried out its full range... I "down-twisted" on several occasions to ride up hills, and on one occasion I "up-twisted" to the top end... I was putting pressure on the pedals, but barely, riding downhill at 30mph.  So the range is indeed comparable to pretty much any multi-gear bicycle.  Unfortunately, I won't be giving it the long-term road test I'd imagined.

And thus ends a brief but interesting chapter in my riding history.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Getting old

One of those age-old questions, without a clear answer: "Do you quit riding a bicycle because you get old, or do you get old because you quit riding a bicycle?"

I like to think it's the latter... and I hope to keep riding until my kids insist I give it up because I can no longer keep it upright!  (And hoping I never arrive at that point...)

The mother-in-law lives with us... well, actually, adjacent to us.  She's in her 90s, and her kids prevailed on her to sell her house and move in with one of them [my wife] where she could get attention and assistance when needed.  We built a little 600-square-foot cottage for her out back, connected to the main house, and it's been mostly a comfortable transition.

However, I've observed her.  When she first arrived in Boise a couple years ago, she would routinely cross the street and walk around the perimeter of the city park - about 1/2 mile.  She wasn't setting any records for speed, but she was doing it.  In the ensuing couple of years, she's declined noticeably.  She mostly sits in her easy chair now.  When she walks any distance, its with the assistance of her walker.  (She still goes and "exercises" in a swimming pool a couple times a week, but that's about the extent of it.)  She complains about her constantly-sore knees.

So - did she quit walking because she has sore knees, or does she have sore knees because she quit walking?  She had more incentive to get up and active in the morning, before she took up housekeeping with us.  Nowadays, if she chooses, she can mostly putter around in her place and her needs will be seen to by her house mates.  There might be a lesson here.  Or maybe not.

I'm 61.  Which means I'll be middle-aged within ten years or so.  (Hahahaha!)  These days, when I drag my sorry carcass out of bed, it's a rare day when I don't feel somewhat sore and stiff.  I notice it while doing the most trivial of things... making the bed, brushing my teeth.  But after 10 or 15 minutes of working the kinks out, and an aspirin tablet or two now and then, I generally feel all right with the world.  But I can see how one could take a different route: "I'm pretty stiff and sore today.  I better take it easy and watch TV, and I'll probably feel better in the morning."  But will you ever feel better in the morning, if your preferred remedy is to relax?  I'm thinking not.  "Use it or lose it."  I see evidence of that every day... and I hope I can keep using it, because I don't want to lose it.

Friday, April 3, 2015

New bike!!

Yup - with two exclamation points, because it doesn't happen very often.

(In the past 14 years, I've bought several "beater" bikes on the Craigslist ranging from $5 to $60 or so.  And in 2009 my insurance replaced a stolen bike with a spankin' new one after I paid my $500 deductible.  If I had a do-over, I woulda bit the bullet and covered the loss myself; they raised my rates, so I paid for it anyway.  And three years or so later, that spankin' new one developed a crack in the frame, and it was covered by the manufacturer warranty.  But this is the first new bicycle I've bought for myself since 2001 or so.)

If you visit my blog regularly (thank you!), you already know - it's an (REI) Novara Gotham.  And, the compelling attraction is the drivetrain... I've been wanting to give the belt drive and NuVinci CV rear hub a good workout.  And - I bought it during the spring "members 20% off one full-priced item" sale.

First impressions?

QUIET!  When coasting, there's a very subdued clickety-click of the freewheel.  But the belt makes no noise, and the gears / hub are totally quiet in their operation.

Overall, the finish quality of the bike is pretty good - about what I expected.  Better than a department store bike by a long shot, but not as flawless as a high-end LBS bicycle.  (The main color is "stealth" matte black... maybe to go along with the quiet ride...)

The disc brakes are pretty nice, but I probably would've chosen cable-operated rather than hydraulic, as a matter of simplicity.  Hopefully the hydraulics will prove to be completely trouble free, but for the occasional pad replacement.

Riding Position:  It's designed to be an "upright/hybrid" type position, but the seat post is too short for me!  I rode it home from the store; as I took it out the door I moved the seat up 3 inches or so, then along the route I moved it up 2 or 3 more times.  At this point, I'm about an inch higher than the recommended highest point, and a fella at REI is trying to round up a replacement seat post.  Moving the seat up turns it back into a riding position that's pitched forward a bit... I could replace the handlebar stem, but I think it'll be good - I like being able to distribute some weight onto my arms, and that's what I'm used to.  So no steering changes are planned at this time.

REI's setup wasn't particularly stellar.  It has aluminum fenders, and neither front or back was precisely oriented with the tire... the front fender was off enough that it occasionally rubbed against the tire on one side.  (Am I being nit-picky?  Could be.  If I were a professional bike mechanic assigned to set up bikes, I'd take an extra 10 minutes and try to make everything just right... seems like it would pay off in a very happy, satisfied, impressed customer.)

I got some "BOB Nutz," intending to set it up for pulling the BOB trailer.  But alas, that's still a work in progress.  The NuVinci hub and belt, it turns out, is probably 15mm or so wider than typical mountain or touring-bike spacing.  If I want to pull the trailer, I may have to modify the trailer... we'll see.  Not urgent at this point.

I switched to the Brooks saddle, and installed a Cateye bike computer (not the one with calories and carbon offset, however).  I expect I'll install a bottle cage, pump, and emergency bag on it, but those are the only custom features I intend to add.  (It comes with lights front and rear.  The front is rechargeable with a micro-USB cable.)

REI recommends bringing it in for a "warranty tune-up" after 20 hours or 6 months, whichever comes first.  Hahahahahaha!  20 hours in 6 months?  I'll probably click 20 hours by mid-April.

I intend to add more subjective impressions as I accumulate those miles and months.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greenbelt courtesies

In the course of my travels, I've been to many communities that boasted of a bicycle/pedestrian pathway.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I've not seen any that's more glorious than Boise's beloved Greenbelt.

The city's website describes it as follows: The 25-mile ... tree-lined pathway follows the river through the heart of the city and provides scenic views, wildlife habitat and pedestrian access to many of the city's popular riverside parks. The Greenbelt also serves as an alternative transportation route for commuters.

When I was a young pup growing up in Boise - and floating the Boise River - the river had a few parks along the way, notably Municipal, Julia Davis, and the spankin' new Ann Morrison Park.  But for the most part, the river bank was lined with junked rusty equipment, slabs of concrete that had been dumped, drain pipes, and lots of overgrown brush, poison ivy, litter, etc.  It's nice to have that "before-after" perspective - perhaps I appreciate it even more than people who have arrived in the ensuing years.  My hat will forever be off to the visionaries who planned it and made it happen... and to the landowners along the river, who bought into that vision.

I enjoy the Greenbelt year-round.  (Over the last 3 or 4 years, recognizing its value as a transportation route, the Parks Department has been very faithful about keeping it plowed, on the rare snow days.)  Unfortunately, my commute only involves maybe 1/2 mile of those 25 miles, but it's also a fine place to do some recreational riding and sight-seeing.  Particularly when I have my young granddaughters along... there are hazards on the path (keep reading), but I'm generally confident they won't get squished by a motor vehicle.

I probably enjoy the Greenbelt more during the "off months" than during peak season.  The most glorious time, scenery wise, is in the spring and autumn.  But alas, my selfish enjoyment of the Greenbelt diminishes somewhat as the weather gets nice, because the Greenbelt population increases exponentially... and many of the newcomers behave as though they don't know how to share the facility graciously.

I don't know when the "User Courtesies" were first published, but I thought they might be worth reviewing. They can be found on the website that is linked above. Also, neighbor community Garden City has adopted them in their entirety, for the stretch of Greenbelt that they manage. (Just don't ride your bike on the forbidden Riverside Village "nature path"!!)

Here are those Courtesies, along with some commentary and observations I've added, as a long-time user-advocate.  The published material is in italics (and colored - sorry, Clancy!), my comments are not italicized.  I'd be very interested in other peoples' observations, and would dearly love a response from Boise Parks and Recreation.

To insure that all users' rights are protected and to guard against accidents, the Boise Parks & Recreation Department has established the following courtesies and safety guidelines for pedestrians, in-line skaters and cyclists to obey.

- Stay only on designated trails.
- Pedestrians have the right of way at all times. Cyclists and in-line skaters must be aware of pedestrians.

I'd like to see that changed so it reads, "Pedestrians have the right of way at all times. However, all Greenbelt users should be aware of, and respect, other Greenbelt users." Is there some reason that pedestrians don't need to be aware of cyclists and in-line skaters? In fact, the "Tips" section on the same (Boise) web page states, "Stay alert and tuned into your surroundings. Take off headphones and be aware of what's going on around you." Great advice! Reinforce it in the "Courtesies" section!

- All Greenbelt users should stay to the right and use caution under bridges and at blind corners where vision could be impaired.
Routinely violated by all classes of users. Some pedestrians stroll down the left side as if they are practicing some kind of safety technique, while everybody they encounter has to adjust. Others lurch from one side to the other, while staring at their handheld gizmos. Dogs dart from one side to the other... they don't know any better, but the people walking the dogs should. Packs of pedestrians, runners, cyclists, etc., routinely use the entire pathway width.

- Pedestrians should not walk more then two abreast.
See comment immediately above.

- Motorized vehicles and hoofed animals are prohibited. (Maintenance, patrol and handicap vehicles are the exception.)
I'd sure like to see the "authorities" set a better example. I've had rides on the Greenbelt interrupted by golf-cart after golf-cart after golf-cart, all apparently conducting "official business." I've seen police cars driving down the Greenbelt in Garden City! Motor traffic should be kept to an absolute minimum, for both safety and aesthetic reasons!!

- All non-paved sections are restricted to foot traffic only.
I don't believe this is accurate. I'd prefer, "Obey use restrictions as posted on signs - bicycles, dogs, etc." I believe there are areas (I'm thinking of Veteran's Memorial Park, for example) where it's perfectly fine to ride bikes on unpaved stretches. And there are paved places (Maryanne Williams) where cyclists and dogs are not allowed.

- Dogs are allowed only if on a leash - leash not to exceed eight (8) feet.
Routinely violated - dogs running loose, and dogs at the end of a 25-foot spring-operated retractable leash, running all over the place. Some folks obviously feel their beloved pooch is "special" and doesn't need to follow the rules meant for commoner mongrel dogs.

- Dog owners are responsible for sanitary disposal of dog feces.

See previous comment. Nobody would be bothered by a pile of dog poop left by such a "special" dog, right?!?

- Bicyclists and in-line skaters are encouraged not to conduct serious training or to maintain fast speeds. Competitive events for in-line skaters and bicyclists are not allowed because of safety issues and potential accidents.
Amen and amen!! The biggest legitimate bicycle beef that other pathway users have - and the reason for restrictions like the infamous Garden City "nature trail" - is the wankers dressed like Lance or Kristin (the Armstrongs) blasting at 20mph past pedestrians! Get off the freakin' path, you posers!

- Bicyclists and skaters who wish to pass other users along the Greenbelt must notify others that they are passing, either verbally (example: "passing on your left") or by other audible means (bell, horn, etc.). The person wishing to pass is responsible for passing freely and clearly around others, and not hindering approaching users.
I have a slight problem with this. As a citizen who does most of his riding on the streets, I would liken this to honking every time you come up behind somebody, or pass. It implies that the person you're passing isn't astute enough to pay attention. My practice: If I come up behind somebody who's walking in a nice predictable straight line on the proper side of the path, and there's plenty of passing space, I'll slowly and cautiously go on by, maintaining the maximum available distance, and at a respectable rate of speed. If passing will be hazardous, I'll announce my presence beforehand, and hope they're not rockin' out with the earplugs. Consider it a compliment if I don't holler "on your left" before I go by!

- Don't harass or encroach upon the wildlife. Disturbing or collecting any vegetation or natural habitat along the Greenbelt is prohibited.
- Glass beverage containers are not permitted.
- Alcohol is prohibited within 250 feet of the Boise River. Beer/wine is allowed in ... restricted areas by permit...

I'd like to see one more point added... maybe at the very top.
"Keep in mind that the Greenbelt is a transportation corridor, and is often crowded with users.  Please respect other users by not blocking the pathway to chit-chat, repair your bicycle, adjust your load, yap on the phone, send a text, conduct pet or baby admiration sessions, snap a photo, etc. Step to the side, so other people can go by."
(It's so common-sense that you'd think it's no-brainer obvious... but so are a lot of those published rules already in place!)

Okay - I've vented. (But I'm confident much additional venting will be required, over the just-underway "amateur greenbelt season.")

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Springtime Happenings

We're enjoying an early spring in these parts, in stark contrast to some areas of the country.

Even the fair-weather cyclists are starting to emerge.  Watch for some commentary about Greenbelt practices in the next few days... currently formulating as I deal with the onslaught of amateurs.

I ventured downstream on the Greenbelt once again a few days ago.  Progress is definitely being made on the footings of the new bike/pedestrian bridge.  I'll be glad when it's in place.

I haven't heard any updated official announcements in the past month or so, but it seems that the area Bike Share will soon be a reality.  (A friend of a friend was just hired to keep the fleet running.)  Check out this website - Boise Green Bike.  The checkout stations have been determined... the major sponsor (St. Lukes Hospital) is all lined up... fees have been determined.  ("Pay as you go" is $4/hour.  Monthly memberships are $15, annual memberships are $70... each includes an hour a day.)  There is a fairly limited central "hub" - if you venture out of the hub they ding you for another 2 bucks.  I'm still somewhat skeptical that Boise's demographics will sustain a bike sharing program, but I might be wrong... and I'm happy that they are starting out fairly modestly, with plans to expand if the need can be proven.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Football - safer than riding a bike!

"There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."
- Mark Twain

Need some evidence of that?

You've probably heard the ongoing dialogue regarding football injuries, specifically brain injuries caused by repeated concussions.  Just this week, NFL player Chris Borland announced his retirement from the San Francisco 49ers at the age of 24, because he doesn't want to risk those kind of injuries.

In response, on Tuesday Dr. Joseph Maroon, a neurosurgeon, said, "There are more injuries to kids from falling off bikes, scooters, falling in playgrounds than there are in youth football. Again, it’s never been safer. Can we improve? Yes, we have to do better all the time to make it safer, but I think if a kid is physically able to do it and wants to do it, our job is to continue to make it safer. But it’s much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football."

Is he talking "tackle" bike riding, or "flag" bike riding?

It might be meaningful that Dr. Maroon earns money as a consultant to the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee.  He's also team neurosurgeon to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's probably a safe bet that more kids break their heads riding bikes than do playing football.  But Maroon is obviously and conveniently ignoring the fact that for every kid who plays football, probably 1000 ride bikes.  And 999 of those 1000 kids emerges unscathed.

If he really believes what he says... perhaps he's had a few concussions over the years.

Story HERE.

NOTE!  I unhesitatingly advocate wearing a helmet (both children and adults!), and wear one myself, because of the possibility of konks to the noggin!  Don't get me wrong!  Cyclists suffer head injuries every day of the year.  But let's get real, and not try to convince people by distorting facts.