Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back - Looking Forward


Isn't this the day we're spoze to assess where we've been, where we are, and where we're going?

2008 has been a monumental year, transportation-wise.

Gas prices fluctuated wildly, reaching highs well above $4/gallon for the first time in (U.S.) history. As a result, for the first time since records have been kept, total miles-driven was actually down a few percentage points. (Who woulda thunk?!!)

That, combined with other shaky economic factors, led to plummeting vehicle sales. Suddenly people seem content with their current fleet. And suddenly, people seemed not to be buying big ol' pickup trucks and SUVs just to be "fashionable." The only segment that held fairly steady was in high-mileage economy cars, hybrids, etc.

There was seemingly a new shop on every corner, selling cheaply-built-but-pretty little Chinese motor scooters and the like. One can't help but wonder how many (scooters and riders) will survive to hit the roads again next spring or summer.

I personally observed a huge increase in bicycle ridership at my office, and on the local highways and byways, at least during the warm-weather months. In past years, it was extraordinary to see 15 or 20 bicycles in the office rack, even on the nicest summer day. This year there were routinely twice that many, and on the perfect days they significantly overflowed the racks. Thanks to cold weather and gas prices that have fluctuated wildly downward, bike ridership is currently way down again. Time will tell what next month, or next year, will bring.

At year end, the "Big Three" automakers are clinging by a thread. (Someday kids will probably ask, "Daddy, why were they called the Big Three?") I liked Dave Barry's comment: "The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three auto makers return[ed] to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package AND a set of floor mats. 'We're actually LOSING MONEY on this deal!' they assure Congress." Even Toyota says they will lose money this quarter - for the first time in history.

There's not much to be optimistic about, economy-wise, at least short term.

Fuel prices will be driven - as they always have been - by supply and demand. If nobody can afford $4 gas, it will settle in somewhat lower. (No matter what, we can count on developing nations like India and China to be using WAY more gas than they were, say, 5 years ago. Gas is a commodity, driven by worldwide supply and demand. Long term, gas will go up in price.)

By next summer, bike transportation might only seem really economical. Or it might seem really, really, really, REALLY economical! (Like in July of 2008!)

Next year I expect I'll once again ride on 350 or so days, and will probably accumulate 5000 or more miles. Most of it with a big silly grin.

In September I anticipate I'll celebrate 12 years of totally car-free commuting.

My average speed might drop by .1 or .2 MPH... that seems to be happening. I'm no longer a strapping youth with boundless energy. With reasonable caution and some good fortune, hopefully I'll go another year mostly accident-free. (The older you get, the harder that ground is, and the longer you hurt after bouncin' off something!)

I dream of someday riding the Coeur d'Alene Trail - 72-plus miles of paved bicycle Nirvana in northern Idaho. Perhaps 2009 will be the year I can realize the dream. (I'd like to stow my gear in the BOB trailer, and take it at a very relaxed pace, with plenty of detours to see the local historic sites, scenery, etc.)

Hopefully I can continue to make at least a passive effort at being an Ambassador for Bicycle Transportation. I don't foresee any Critical Mass rides in Boise. But I can set an example, both by riding regularly and by being "multi-mode friendly." (Being confrontational seems counterproductive; I can't imagine how getting in a driver's face will convince him that he should be riding a bike!)

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just "preachin' to the choir" here at the Bike Nazi. There are probably blogs out there where people are touting how superior they are to everybody else because they drive a Ford Excursion, or a "monster truck," or maybe even a Toyota Camry. (You know the Prius People think they're at the top of the heap! hahaha) But that's okay... I love the feedback I get from y'all, and my knowledge and understanding have significantly expanded, thanks to you. And... even if I were the only reader, I occasionally enjoy waxing nostalgic and reading some of my rants from earlier days. (I hope to improve navigation, by adding some "tags." Making it easier to find stuff that's about the weather, or about LOCAL riding, or whatever.)

If you happen by, I wish you a joyful and successful 2009. I hope you are prepared for whatever the future may bring. I hope your situation is such that, like me, you can regularly enjoy the savings, and communing-with-nature, and serenity, and increased fitness, and social friendliness, and responsible earth stewardship that are by-products of bicycle transportation. Most of all - BE SAFE AND HAPPY!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


On the way home this afternoon, I deviated from my normal route... to prolong enjoyment of both the dry pavement and the late afternoon scenery. It was worth it.



Monday, December 29, 2008

Outdoors reporter discovers winter bicycling

Pete Zimowsky, the Idaho Statesman's outdoors reporter, describes his winter riding experience HERE.

Apparently his commute is about 15 miles round-trip. Pretty impressive in the winter. (His good fortune is that most of it is apparently on the dedicated greenbelt. I feel MUCH better when bicycling in the nasty stuff, when I'm not also worrying about getting creamed by a 3000-pound, sliding-out-of-control steel missile.)


It's been maybe 2 weeks that we've had winter road conditions here in Boise, and bicycling has been particularly "adventurous."

On Saturday it snowed about 4 inches. I ended up riding maybe 4 miles around my neighborhood. Part of it was in traffic lanes (on mercifully-lightly-traveled roadways) and part on sidewalks. (At least I assume there are still sidewalks down there someplace.) About 2 miles of it was riding with a snow shovel perched atop my handlebars, on a "mercy mission." I crossed paths with a couple cross-country skiers who were headed down the road in the opposite direction. A lone dog stopped sniffing a half-buried fire hydrant, to watch the crazy guy go by on the bike. Slow going with frequent use of my "outriggers" (feet, in emergency no-crash maneuvers), but my zero-crash record is still intact.

When the riding is over snow and ice, and bouncing among piles of snow and frozen slush, it's physically demanding, but in a whole different way from the normal aerobic workout.

Yesterday, the "big melt" finally started; the temperature rose to the 40s and by this morning, the snow and ice had receded considerably, exposing pavement in a lot of places.

Which meant that the bike ride to the office was much more normal, for a change.

I found myself breathing hard where I normally would not. Perhaps a little of that was the ride into a fairly brisk wind, but I'm sure a lot was due to the fact that it doesn't take long at all to start getting "out of shape." A couple weeks of somewhat-involuntary winter layover, combined with questionable diet regimen... and I'm huffin' and puffin' on a 3-and-a-half-mile ride! Pathetic!

At least it's a temporary situation, resolution or no resolution. There are plenty of folks, my age and younger, who wouldn't be able to ride a bike to work if their lives depended on it! It's all about lifestyle choices.

I look forward to more unobstructed riding. And I really look forward to April or so, when they finally get most of the sand and dirt swept up, that they've scattered all over the roads for traction. Bleccch!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winter Bicycling Challenges "review"

In these parts, we have (unusual) ongoing winter road conditions. In fact, it sounds like this is an unusually snowy winter in most places. (The man on the radio said this is the first year in memory, when every person and place in Canada will have a White Christmas. That seems significant to me.)

There may be some dry-road relief in a week or so, but for now... let it snow, let it snow, etc.!

I was looking at some old stuff that I posted last winter. And found some information I thought would be worth dredging up again.

If you're interested:

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Dark

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Cold

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Slippery

If I don't talk to you before... Merry Christmas, and "God Bless Us Every One!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boise Bus Tale

This isn't directly related to bicycling... sorry. It's about a bus ride I took yesterday. (The bus is my "alternative transportation.") I wrote it for the Boise Guardian; I don't know if he'll publish it or not.

Merry Christmas!


Public transportation is a contentious issue in the Treasure Valley.

Proponents say it's the inevitable answer to increasing congestion and pollution, and fluctuating fuel prices. Opponents point out that it will always be heavily subsidized by non-riders, particularly if the buses are often transporting very few passengers.

In our generally affluent society, most people can choose whether or not to ride the bus, because they can afford to own and operate a car (or multiple cars, in most households). However, some individuals depend on public transportation to get around; their only other option is shoe leather.

Why do people choose to drive cars? Usually they cite "freedom." Freedom to go where they want to go, and when.

Most people say the bus isn't an option because of inconvenience, or scheduling issues, or difficulty to use.

My own local transportation choice is bicycle. Has been since 1986. I feel it affords the same freedom that a car offers, but without the expense. The main limitations are... it involves some exercise (is that bad?), and weather looms large. Slippery roads can be difficult in a car, but deadly on a bicycle. So occasionally I depend on bus transportation when the roads are snow-covered or icy.

Yesterday was one of those occasions.

I had to travel across town (from downtown to the Cole/Ustick area) after work, for a family Christmas gathering. If I caught the 5:15pm bus, I thought I could easily arrive at my destination by the 6pm gathering time, despite the 3/4 mile walk at the other end. (Amazingly, no bus gets closer than 1/2 mile from Cole/Ustick, other than one "high school" route change in the morning, and again in the afternoon.)

I was at the downtown bus stop five minutes early, and watched as other buses arrived, loaded passengers, and departed. I got anxious. But other people were there, waiting for the same bus, which provided a bit of comfort.

Finally at 5:28, the Fairview bus arrived. I paid my fare and sat, still somewhat optimistic that I might get there on time if I hurried.

But as it turns out, that was the 5:45 bus. Apparently there wasn't a 5:15 bus yesterday, for whatever reason. But at least I got to wait another 15 minutes in a nice warm bus (and arrived fashionably late).

I'm a lifelong Boise resident, and have no plans to leave. So I have a stake. And for that reason, I would love to see a viable bus system. The traffic jams don't have much impact on a cyclist, but the air pollution certainly does. Transportation is a quality-of-life issue for everybody.

I'm asking myself: Would most of my fellow citizens be willing to walk 3/4 mile to get to a bus stop, or from a bus stop to their destination? I'd have to say no... particularly when it's 3/4 mile of ice and frozen slush. Would they choose a transportation option where the scheduled bus might or might not show up... at all? I'm thinkin'... um ... no. (Yesterday I was wondering if the Boise Bus system is run on the same computer that does the BCS football thing!)

The bus system is severely underfunded. Nobody would deny that. Federal funds have dried up over the years, and there is no local funding either. But the harsh reality is, without more riders it's hard to justify more dollars. And without better routes and reliability, I can't envision more voluntary passengers. Right now it serves desperate citizens who have no choice (like me), and the lucky people who it's convenient for.

I jokingly (at least half-jokingly) say that "cars are for losers." But I sure didn't feel like much of a winner yesterday.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Studded Bike Tires

Danielo mentioned that he switched over to his Kenda Klondike studded bike tires a few days back, and feels very comfortable on 'em.

In the bike rack at the office, there are four bicycles today - two of the four have studded tires. One is a "mountain" bike with some nice-looking Nokian tires at both ends. The other is a touring bicycle - very similar to my own - with fenders and some nice Schwalbe tires. A guy said he actually saw some studded bike tires at Wal-Mart. Weird. (I'm confident they would've been in 26" mountain-bike size.)

When the snow falls and the roads get covered with slippery stuff, it always puts me to thinkin' about studded tires. But the pleasant reality is - here in Boise, Idaho - it's rare (but not unheard of) for snow to stick for longer than a few days, or a week at the most. So, do I buy a $100+ set of tires that I'll only have legitimate use for, maybe 10 or 15 days of the year? So far, I've resisted for strictly financial reasons.

(I haven't missed a day of bicycling so far this time around. One icy afternoon I had a distant caroling gig, so I left the bike at the office overnight, and caught a ride with a colleague. The next morning I took the bus to work, then rode home in the afternoon.)

Peter White, of the New Hampshire bike shop named after him, has some good information about studded snow tires HERE, if you want to study up. There is a wealth of information on his website about everything-bicycle. (I also lifted the cool photo - of his shop - from the website.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cars slippin' and slidin'

I mostly adhere to John Forester's assertion that "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

The only time I ever call that into question is when there's crusty, frozen snow and slush in the gutter pans, and I'm in the traffic lane on my bicycle going 15mph, and an impatient motorist is bearing down on me from behind at 25mph. Or tailgating me and revving the engine.

In fact, if it weren't for cars, winter bicycling would be nearly as enjoyable as any other time of year.

Yesterday (Sunday, 12/14), I accumulated about 7 miles of bicycle riding on fresh-fallen or snowpacked neighborhood roads, with essentially no motor-vehicle interaction. It was fantastic!

Last night it looked pretty obvious that the snow is here to stay, at least for a few days. So, I took off the "skinny" (28mm) tires, and put on the "fat" (35mm, with tread) tires for the season.

This morning (Monday, 12/15) I rode up the street to the bus stop, thinking if it was brutal, I'd catch the bus on in to the office. It wasn't too bad, so I forged ahead.

I like to think that my life and health are more important to my fellow citizens, than 5 seconds of their commute time. But sometimes I don't see much evidence of that notion. (And the news coverage, mostly showing pickup trucks and SUVs lying smashed and upside-down, doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the skill and good judgment of those people I'm sharing the road with.) So maybe when the roads are treacherous, I'd prefer separated bike/pedestrian paths, just as a matter of survival.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Caroling by bicycle

I'm in a little caroling group at the office. Every year, we get together and brush up on our material, then make the rounds to various assisted living facilities, hospitals, retirement homes, etc. Our repertoire is a fairly standard mix. About half the songs are "Baby Jesus" songs, and half are "Frosty/Rudolph/WinterWonderland" songs.

(I think of us as "real-life little drummer boys." I may not be able to share fancy gifts, etc., due to my own always-tenuous financial situation. But I can sure join my friends in trying to provide a little happiness in the way of some Christmas music.)

My singing colleagues have come to grips with the fact that I always arrive at our destinations by bicycle... and with the Christmas lights a-flashin'! (To their credit, they make a real effort at carpooling; I admire them for it.) Day or night, rain, snow, or shine, I pedal on through.

There is occasionally a situation where it's night, and wet snow/rain is pelting me in the face, and I wonder myself if I'm insane as I ride across town. But I try to avoid genuinely dangerous situations, and be highly visible [the Christmas lights help!], and pedal on. I remember once when I was sloppin' around in semi-frozen slush in the bike lane - which, of course is not a bike lane when it's night and the bike-lane stripe is covered by snow. It would have been scary-dangerous, except all the cars for a half-mile in every direction were bumper-to-bumper, standing still, in gridlock.

What's particularly satisfying is when we have the occasional noon-time gig. They leave the office at 11:45; me too. They arrive by car at the destination; me too - on bike. They drive back to the office; I ride back. We all return to our cubicles in the same elevator. Sweeeeet!

Monday, December 8, 2008


Here in Boise, we're fortunate to only have maybe 2 or 3 weeks' worth of days each year when peoples' jaws drop as they ask, "You rode your bicycle - today?!?"

The "morning ride" was borderline. Fat, wet snowflakes coming down steady, and starting to accumulate. Temperatures near freezing.

Other than the snow that accumulated on my shoes and britches as I rode, no problems. Traction was fine and traffic was mercifully light and slow-moving.

By contrast, we have 100 or more days every year when the weather is so nice I want to ask people, "You're driving your car - today?!?"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

5200 Miles in '08

I rolled over the 5200 mile mark today, for 2008.

I've got a few milestones that I can use as goals, this time of year. Of course, the 4000 - 5000 - 6000 marks are good milestones. As are the 500 marks in between each.

5200 is meaningful, because it means I've averaged 100 miles per week.

If the weather holds out, I expect I can make 5500 ... or maybe 5555. (Yeah, I'm kind of a numbers-nut.)

I also installed my blinky LED Christmas lights on my bike today - NOW we'll have some fun!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alternative Transportation

I don't s'pose ANYBODY would ride a bicycle or drive a car if they could get ahold of one of these:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Bicycle Commuter Act

If you commute to and from a job by bicycle, as of January 1 you may be eligible for some new employer incentives... if you can get your employer on board. Now is the time to do some lobbying, I'm thinking.

(I mentioned this before, last October. Thanks to bob t for reminding me.)

The Bicycle Commuter Act was added as a "sweetener" to get at least one congressman (Earl Blumenauer, D-OR) on board with the recent $700 billion taxpayer-sponsored bailout. (Ironically, he voted against the bailout anyway, and he has my admiration for that. Of course, the bailout passed.)

In a nutshell: "For employees who regularly commute to work by bicycle, employers may offset the costs of bicycle purchase, improvement, repair, and storage at the rate of $20 per month. Based on how the employer chooses to offer the benefits, the employee may bring receipts to be reimbursed, may sign up for regular monthly payments, or devise some sort of voucher system with their employer."

I sent a message to my Human Resources manager at the office. She promised to look into it, and to advocate for some bike-rider props.

(We've always had sheltered and fairly secure bike parking - they could probably just start taking the $ credit for providing parking. But I hope they'll choose to encourage more employees to bike-commute, by dangling some kind of carrot in addition to the parking.)

If your employer provides free car parking to employees, seems to me you'd be on pretty solid ground asking for some decent bike parking, if nothing else. And Uncle Sam (the taxpayers, actually) will help foot the bill, starting in January.

(More specific information, including the actual statute, can be found at Congressman Blumenauer's website. He's arguably the bicycle commuter's best friend in Washington, D.C.)

Frankly, I'd much rather see Congress remove the tax incentives that encourage people to drive single-occupant motor vehicles to work. That would be the fiscally-responsible thing to do. But since that obviously ain't gonna happen, and since Congress is totally detached from the concept of fiscal responsibility, we might as well get a small slice of the pie, huh? Our kids and grandkids can pay for it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cost of Driving

We got the memo yesterday... for the first time in (my) memory, the reimbursement rate for use of personal cars on company business is dropping!

From 58.5¢ per mile to 55¢ per mile, starting January 1.

Dang it!

That means in 2009, I'll only be saving about 51¢ per mile by riding my bicycle, rather than the current 54.5¢!

(Estimates only - your cost-of-riding may vary. I figure about 4 cents, but even if it were 10 cents, I'd still be saving a WAD of money!)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Give the Gift of Clean Air"

One of the bicycle mini-floats in the Holiday Parade had that message. (Photos of the bicycle brigade can be seen here, on Danielo's stream-of-consciousness.)

I was thinking about the Gift of Clean Air as I bicycled home yesterday, which happened to be a "yellow alert" air-quality day. I took the scenic route, and was riding along the Federal Way bike/pedestrian path, looking out at the soup.

(For those not familiar, Boise lies in a valley at the base of some mountains. Frequently, the air tends to stagnate in the lowest point, trapping the bad stuff. Federal Way is an arterial highway that runs along the opposite rim of the valley.)

Anybody over 30 or so will remember when smoking was pervasive. In offices, restaurants, hospitals, etc. - people smoked everywhere! (I grew up in a non-smoking household. When I was a kid, I took trumpet lessons. I can remember how appalled I was that my teacher would drag deeply on his cigarette, and then blow the smoke through his trumpet as he played.)

Over the years, non-smokers asserted their right to breathe non-tainted air, and smoking bans were enacted. Nowadays it's the exception, rather than the rule, to be in a public place where smoking is tolerated. (As a non-smoker, I appreciate breathing the non-smoky air. But it's disappointing that it has to be another rule; people should just respect one another without a rule having to be in place.)

In all likelihood, the pollution spewing out of exhaust pipes is more toxic than cigarette smoke, yet we all seem very tolerant of breathing that stuff! It's a small price to pay, so we can all drive around whatever, wherever and whenever we want, right?

Well, here's something to think about.

Imagine we were all getting around on foot, or by horse and buggy, in 2008.

Along comes some innovator - Mr. Daimler, or Mr. Ford, or Mr. Toyota, or whoever - who proposes a new method of mobility. It's a carriage propelled by an internal combustion engine. It operates on volatile, explosive fuel that is poured into the vehicle by common folk (except in Oregon). As it runs, it emits carcinogens into the air... yep, the same air that we're all breathing.

Do you think it would get the time of day? I'm speculating that it wouldn't get any traction - the obvious hazards would outweigh the benefits. But since motor transportation evolved 100 years ago, when far less was known about the effects of environment on health, it's ingrained. Everybody's doin' it.

Okay - I've digressed. Sorry about that.

I'm happy to offer the Gift of Clean Air to my community. I hope they appreciate it, and perhaps consider giving the same gift back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Parade

Anybody who rides a bicycle year-round in Boise should be proud of the "ambassadors for year-round cycling" who participated in the Holiday Parade on Saturday. The weather was very cooperative - overcast and mid-40s. The pavement was mostly dry, but toward the end there was a bit of drizzle. Very "Portland-like" weather.

I'm thinkin' there were maybe 10 or 12 of us, total. (Did somebody count?) And on a wide variety of bicycles, although no high-end hardware.

One guy was on his dad's old "ten speed" - the kind with stem-mounted friction shifters and the brake extensions for grabbin' when your hands are on the top tube. (Does anybody else remember that nostalgic stuff?) Another guy was on a vintage German road frame that he'd built into a single-speed. A cruiser... a tandem... Clancy and his son on his beautiful Xtracycle. Danielo on his "Celebrate Infertility" commuter bike, his son riding on a ride-along "trailer," and then his cargo trailer behind that. (Musta been 15 feet, from front to back!) Clancy's other son (I believe) on his "Rat Rod" 20-inch bike.

I was on my "everyday" Cannondale touring bike, pulling the Bob trailer with "ghetto blaster" accessory pack. (Since all the seasons were well-represented, I dressed summer-like, but brought the Christmas tunes along.)

Immediately notable was the stark difference between the Harley group near the front of the parade, and our group. They were roaring - making noise for the sake of making noise - and we glided along in relative silence, except for the tunes I was totin,' and the happy ding-a-ling of bells and squawk of bulb-horns. (As a guy who probably rides more miles on a Harley than most of those parade riders, frankly I'm a bit embarrassed by all the racket they produce. But I can kinda understand it, too.)

Our position in the parade was right behind the "recycler drill team" - young ladies doing drills with blue curbside recycle boxes. And strangely, right in front of the County Coroner, I learned later. (They interviewed him on the teevee, and asked him about the crazy bike riders. He said we looked to be doing okay.)

As is always the case, the parade was stop-and-go. (Very similar to rush hour motor traffic.) During the stops, I'm guessing our group had more fun than any of the others - from start to finish of the parade, moving or stopped, we were riding in circles, figure-8s, loop-de-loops. Very unorganized, yet strangely synchronized. I'm guessing the parade route was a mile from start to finish. I ran up about 3 miles on my odometer; I bet others rode more than that! I only came to a feet-down standing stop maybe 3 times. It was actually VERY satisfying to ride with cyclists who can really handle those bikes! Despite many opportunities for disaster (coroner standing by!), I don't believe there were even any near-misses! Just courteous and skilled riders wearing odd clothes and big smiles, and demonstrating some deft bicycle maneuvering!

My only regret is that I was concentrating so much on riding accident-free, I didn't do much interacting with the spectators along the route. But whenever I looked up or waved, I seemed to get a positive response, and I saw a LOT of smiling faces! (Maybe somebody walked away thinking, "Hey! I could ride a bike year-round, at least when the roads are dry...")

My favorite moments were a couple times when Julia, representing Autumn, and dressed in a fantastic beaver-suit, complete with buck teeth and tail, rode along next to me. I had the upbeat Christmas tunes playing (Beach Boys, Ronettes, etc.), and she would start bouncing along happily in time with the musical beat. It was like a weird real-life Disney cartoon or something, and I laughed out loud! (What's wrong with this picture?!!?)

My brain-bucket is OFF to my awesome cycle devotee sisters and brothers. I'm so glad I got to spend a couple hours with you on Saturday morning! Keep representing us as well as you do!