Wednesday, February 29, 2012

240 bicycle bucks

Earlier this month I got my annual payout. Thanks to the Bicycle Commuter Act, participating cyclists at my place of employment can get up to $20/month in reimbursement, for bike-commuting expenses. I got the full $240. (Last year I was "off" one month, and got just over $200.)

You have to document, with receipts, expenses for bicycle gear and maintenance/repairs. (Clothes, helmets, etc., do not qualify.) And the max is $20/month... so if you ride six months of the year and drive the other six, you get up to $120.

Last year my money went to a replacement set of pedals, several tires and tubes, a chainring, cassette, and chain. This year I've already purchased some tires, and just ordered a $50 set of Monkey Lights. (I'm excited about the lights - stay tuned for more info. Or you can use your search engine to check 'em out.) I'll most likely be replacing the cassette and chain again, and brake pads. (If I've got up to $240 to spend, I'll likely figure out a way to spend it.)

I've definitely got mixed emotions about the "Bicycle Commuter Act." It's supposed to be making up, to transportation cyclists, for all the tax subsidies that are extended to the car-driving public. So I feel good about that part. But - I'd feel much better if they'd just removed some of those tax incentives for motorists - let 'em pay the real-life price for day-long parking, etc.! (If we weren't trillions in debt, I might feel differently.)

Gas - up 30 cents in a month!

I must confess feeling a bit of unrighteous schadenfreude toward motorists as gas prices spiral upward at an alarming rate. The news talking heads ask people, "How high will gas prices go before you curtail your vacation plans?" Four bucks? Five bucks?

Lately, rather than going on an afternoon bike "loop" ride as is my custom (in lieu of lunch break), I've been leaving a little earlier and taking the scenic route home. I ride past one of the cheaper gas stations in town, and it's been a little startling to see the price creep up - sometimes a nickel or more in a day! Mamma mia! It's obviously particularly hard on the folks who drive big heavy "prestige" vehicles, but I guess you should expect to pay something to project all that image.

One valid theory is that gas isn't getting more expensive - the dollar is decreasing in value.

Selfishly, I hope they don't go too high - gas prices affect the price of all goods and services. Plus, I've got some travel plans for this summer, both solo and with the family. And it's not all on the bicycle!

Monday, February 27, 2012

More bike paths = more riders?

My bike-riding friend Ellen sent me an article, "Do Bike Paths Promote Bike Riding?"

Apparently, unlike the "fundamental law of road congestion," which says that traffic expands to fill the available space, there are conflicting results when the experts try to decide of more bike lanes means more transportation cyclists.

A new study of bike lanes (on-street) and bike paths (off-street) in 90 large US cities suggests that "cities with a greater supply of bike paths and lanes have significantly higher bike commute rates."

Makes sense to me. The old "if you build it, they will come" adage.

Some, however, claim that most of the increase in cycling is casual/recreational, rather than people getting out of their cars.

Is that a problem? Seems to me, if people do more recreational cycling, they'll rediscover the "fringe benefits" of cycling. They'll get more confident on their bikes. And ultimately, perhaps a few of them will indeed take the next step and try riding to work, or to the market. (Ah - combining recreation and exercise and transportation! What's not to love?!!)

Tim Jones did a study in the UK. They have a National Cycle Network that they're developing, "a 13,000-mile system of paths and lanes established by Sustrans that claims to be within a mile's reach of half the British population." The infrastructure expanded by 98 percent; measurable use increased by 135 percent. Mr. Jones concluded that transportation cycling will inevitably increase in urban areas, when there are "good quality separate cycling facilities alongside heavily travelled roads and linking to everyday facilities that people need to use, self-enforcing speed restrictions using traffic calming and more intelligent design across residential neighbourhoods, coupled with making driving expensive and inconvenient in central urban areas through various restrictions on car use and car parking."

The "making driving expensive" thing seems to be inevitable. In London, I believe they charge a toll for motorists to enter the central city. And of course as those limited streets get gridlocked and parking remains elusive, it seems likely that transportation cycling will only get more attractive.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Portland - bike riding up 6%

Bicycle traffic in Portland, OR, increased by 6 percent in 2011 over the previous year. Story HERE.

Portland, of course, has a well-established culture of bike friendliness. They also have their share of non-believers. Wherever there are lots of cyclists, there are also some "bad apple" cyclists... you know, the ones who ignore traffic laws, scare the daylights out of motorists, etc.

Let's compare Portland and Boise as "bicycle cities."

What we share in common:
- somewhat hilly, but not dauntingly steep, terrain
- a big river bisecting the city, with a limited number of crossings
- expensive and getting-more-expensive gas

Portland has the advantage in "acceptance." Bicycling as transportation is "officially" embraced, and the city will boldly install bicycle infrastructure even if the perception could possibly be that it impedes motor traffic. Improved bike infrastructure means more people will venture out on their bikes. More people means more infrastructure. Portland is a few years ahead of us on that cycle. ("Cycle" - get it?)

Boise has the advantage in climate. The Portlanders obviously deal with precipitation; it's part of life over there. How blessed we are in Boise to have awesome bike weather. Sure, we have a few cold months, and a few 100-degree days, but I contend it's easier to ride year-round in Boise than it would be in Portland, and if you're not "up" for those cold days, you can park the bike for 2 months each year.

My casual observations make me believe cycling is up several percentage points in Boise, too. I know the bike parking gets downright crowded any more, 8 or 9 months of the year. The economy and expensive gas is probably the main factor - but I think we're looking at the future. It will never get cheaper to operate a motor vehicle, and people are trying to find ways of economizing. And many of the folks who are "forced" onto a bike by $4 gas will discover that bicycle transportation is not only cheap, but far more enjoyable than bumper-to-bumper rush hour every day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bicycle built for two!

In recognition of Valentine's Day (or "Clementine," as granddaughter Mackenzie calls it).

Dai-sy, Dai-sy, give me your ans-wer, do.
I'm half cra-zy, all for the love of you.
It won't be a sty-lish mar-riage - I can't af-ford a car-riage,
But you'll look sweet, on the seat, of a bi-cy-cle built for two!

My entire life's experience with tandems has been one ride around the block on an ancient Schwinn that felt so flimsy I didn't know if we'd complete the trip. I'd love to take a spin with an enthusiastic riding companion, and on a sweet, sturdy two-seater. Perhaps someday.

A week or so ago, this awesome Ellsworth Witness was parked in the bike room at the office. Wow-eee! Check it out... disc brakes, suspension at both ends, Brooks saddles. A quick web search suggested it's on the high side of $5000. (Ouch!)

I'm not sold on the concept of "mountain tandem" riding. I'd prefer to take my test ride on pavement. Riding a tandem on a smooth dirt road probably wouldn't be too disconcerting... but single-track? Or anything very technical? Can you imagine an independent and significant source of weight leaning (or not leaning) in an unexpected manner if you were trying to negotiate some challenging terrain? I dunno. Tandem enthusiasts would have to show me how great it works first.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is the "3 feet to pass" law effective?

The Boise Weekly is reporting that two years after a new law was instituted, requiring motorists to clear a cyclist by at least three feet when passing, that law has only been enforced once.

So - does such a law make any difference?

The officers who issued the citation weren't aware of the law until they looked it up in the book. (Or however they look such things up these days.) The offender claimed he couldn't yield the three feet because "traffic prevented him from getting over." Which is totally bogus - if you can't safely move over on a public road, you slow down and wait until you can! (And the cyclist claimed he had plenty of room; he was just being a jerk.) The judge agreed, found the guy guilty, and fined him $80. (Sweeeet!)

Cyclists interviewed for the story don't think the law is working. I would agree... after the law was passed and publicized, it seemed to me like there was slightly more caution exercised by drivers. (Just like there was for a couple months after that deadly May when 3 Boise cyclists were killed on the roads.) But then it was back to Business as Usual. Which reinforces my notion that we need EDUCATION (publicity) and ENFORCEMENT if we want to have compliance.

(The key to getting somebody prosecuted, is to be able to positively identify 'em to the cops. A license number, and a description of the car and driver, and you're in business.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

83 year old guy rides 17K miles in a year!

Boy! And I thought I was motivated by my bike computer!

Mel Olsen, 83, of Moses Lake, WA, rode 17,088 miles last year. And apparently his main motivation was trying to stay near the top of of the list on a mileage-tracking website -

17,088 miles! That's averaging 46.5 miles per day! I don't know that I could do that, even if it was the only thing I had to do!

Obviously the guy loves riding - and his wife does too. That's awesome!

The Korean War veteran got started bicycling when a doctor advised him to take it up to help with his blood circulation in his legs. Obviously it "took."

Story HERE.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Let there be light.

In these parts, the sun is almost peeking over the horizon at ride-to-work time. And there's plenty of sunshine still, in the afternoon. So, the days of daily headlight usage are almost over for another season. (Bob T recommends year-round light usage for visibility... so far I've contented myself with "passive visibility" in the form of bright clothes, during the day.)

I had good enough luck with an effective and cheap lighting solution that I feel good about recommending it.

Over the winter I used a light and bracket purchased from DealExtreme.

The light is called a "TrustFire S-A2," DX SKU number 36358. $12.60 delivered. (NOTE: The stuff gets delivered from China, so expect delivery to take at least a couple weeks. I always get anxious... but it always eventually arrives.)

I've had mixed results with other lights I've ordered from these guys - always with the switch. (It's unnerving when riding at night, and you go over a bump and your light goes off... or switches from bright to "S-O-S" mode!) But this one has served me faithfully without problems, for the better part of a year. It has 3 modes - high, low, and high/strobe. I normally use the strobe on my commute route, for maximum visibility. It's rated at 230 lumens... I don't know about that, but I can see it lighting up reflective signs 1/2 mile up the road, and I've had motorists flash their bright lights at me from time to time. And that's with 1 AA-size battery! (I started using rechargeable NiMH batteries - either Eneloop or Sony, because they supposedly have a longer "charged-up shelf life" than most. A charged-up battery has typically been good for a couple weeks of commuting trips.)

A bonus feature of this light, for me, is that it also makes a bright and handy pocket-size flashlight, off the bike.

I've mounted it on the bike with a DX Universal Adjustable Mount, DX SKU number 31871, $2.39. (Bringing the total to about 15 bucks.) It's the model of simplicity - a rubber bracket that keeps everything in place, with a velcro strap to wrap around the handlebar, and another around the light.

Clancy has had good luck with bigger DX lights that use a more specialized battery... and they're handy because they're so bright you can peel paint with 'em, too! (grin) But I like the universal-battery feature. During the dark season, I typically carry spare batteries for headlight and taillight in my seat bag, just in case. (All year round I carry an AAA-size flashlight in the bag, and keep the taillight mounted... ya never know when you might get delayed on a trip, and end up needing a light for added night safety, even in the summer.)