Friday, September 28, 2007

10 Years of Car-Freedom

It's a momentous occasion for the Bike Nazi. As of the end of September, it's been more than ten years since I commuted to work - even once - in a car.

1985 is my real turnabout date. That's when I decided to start using a bicycle for most of my local transportation needs. But I still drove the car, ever so occasionally. (And continue to drive the car even now, when the occasion merits it - like transporting big heavy stuff, family outings, etc. But certainly not when I'm transporting myself and a sack lunch to the office.)

In December 1996, I bought a shiny new motorcycle.

I knew I'd be riding it to work occasionally, and decided to start a "commute log" in January 1997 to keep track of my transportation choices. A column for the bike... for the bus... car... motorcycle. The last entry for car was in September '97. (I drove the car twice in 1997 - that was pretty typical of the 12 years preceding. But as time went on, it became somewhat of an obsession to not drive the car.)

"But how about that motorcycle, Bike Nazi?" you ask.

Indeed, that first year I drove it quite a few times... maybe once a week when the weather was nice.

But it tapered off. I found myself looking for a place to park, and worrying that it might be tampered with. I was paying for gas, maintenance, insurance, etc. But mostly, I was stuck in the same traffic on the motorcycle, as I was in the car. I hate being stuck in traffic!

Who needs the stress?

I've been 100% bicycle-commuter for the last 2 years. On the 105-degree days, and the 5-degree days. On beautiful, sunshiny perfect days, and on wet, windy, miserable days. Occasionally breaking a path through newfallen snow. I've fixed quite a few flat tires. I've crashed a couple times. There have been days that I was feeling sick, and just looking forward to being at my destination. There have been days when I had a really bad attitude, about riding my bike and pretty much everything else. But there have been so many more days when that bike ride has given me a mainline-fix of joy and enthusiasm. I've communed with nature in a way that is simply impossible in a car. WOW! I'd NEVER give it up! (I also figure I save AT LEAST $700 per year, in real wallet dollars. Probably closer to $2500 per year, depending on how you figure.)

I'm an unlikely bike commuter. A middle-age fat guy. If I stood in a lineup with 10 other randomly-selected citizens, and people had to pick out the bike weenie, I'd prolly not get picked very often. (Unless we're all wearing shorts; I don't shave my legs, but 23 years and 117,000 miles of bicycling has toned my leg muscles.) The point is - ANYBODY can choose to bike commute, not just young, athletic-types.

Ride on, Bike Nazi! (I'll check back with you in another 10 years... no point in stopping now!)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cycling Merit Badge

I'm a counselor for the (Boy Scout) Cycling Merit Badge, and have been for a number of years... although I've never awarded one.

It's not an easy badge for a casual cyclist to earn... the final requirement is to plan and complete a ride of 50 miles in 8 hours or less.

I probably haven't gone on a 50-mile ride in 2+ years. And riding 50 miles is not the same as riding 25 miles except double the time. The last 25 miles are a lot tougher than the first 25!

Before the 50-mile ride can be undertaken, the candidates have to ride 2 rides of 10 miles, 2 rides of 15 miles, and 2 rides of 25 miles. The 25-mile rides usually weed out the pretenders, and the uncommitted.

I'm currently working with a half-dozen or so boys who want to earn the badge. We're doing our first 25 miler on Saturday, most likely out to Sandy Point (Lucky Peak) and back.

Many years ago, I took a group of boys on that same route. It was in the springtime - maybe April - before the water was turned on at Sandy Point, and several years before there was a "Shakespeare Restroom" enroute. They were guzzlin' their water like there was no tomorrow on the way out, despite my warnings that they'd likely not be able to refill. And the older, stronger boys were sprinting way ahead, despite my admonitions that they should "pace" themselves.

Well, you probably know the rest of the story... on the way back, they were out of water and pooped out... and you could hear their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from a great distance.

We're discussing possible locations for the 50-miler... right now the sentiment is for starting at Celebration Park (south of Melba on the Snake River) and taking a rather roundabout way back to Boise. I'd prefer starting 10 or 15 miles above Lowman on Highway 21, and then riding down to Lowman, and continuing on down through Garden Valley to Banks. (My thinking is... probably 80% gradual downhill... who doesn't love riding downhill?!!) The main problem with the Garden Valley route is... we'll be into mid-to-late October by the time we're ready, and the weather starts getting unpredictable by that late in the year. We shall see...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

L.A. drivers lose 72 hours per year in traffic

A study released today indicates Los Angeles has the worst traffic jams, where the average motorist spends 72 hours per year stuck in traffic.

(Click HERE to read the article.)

Runners-up (are they angrily demanding a recount?) are the Bay Area (CA) and the Washington, D.C. metro area.

72 hours, huh?

That's only three days! If somebody works 220 days per year, that's only about 20 minutes of lost time per day. They can live with that, can't they? Can't they burn up 20 minutes listening to their iPods, or yappin' on their cell phones, or hollerin' at the kids in the back seat?

Frankly, I wonder how the Treasure Vally Drive compares. 'Most every morning and afternoon, I-84 looks a lot like this:

Of course, the poor pathetic motorists won't take any responsibility. They get in their single-occupant vehicles and take their place in the queue... and grouse about how the gummint isn't mitigating their woeful situation. (As if they were forced to live 25 miles from the office, and drive alone, along the same route as used by 60,000 other SOV-drivers.) Jiminy! They're taxpayers, and they deserve 20 traffic lanes!

The TV jingle for the farm/ranch store always comes to mind (to the best of my faltering recollection):

"There's a price you pay, to get away... to live outside the bounds..."

Isn't that big traffic jam what the dude's singing about?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rather DIE than EXERCISE?

A survey conducted by the British Heart Foundation indicates that six of every 10 Britons would not be motivated to exercise, even if their lives depended on it.

The BHF estimates that a person dies every 15 minutes as a result of physical inactivity.

Dr. Mike Knapton of the BHF: "This is a deadly serious issue. With our busy lifestyles and labour-saving devices, we've stopped getting the exercise our bodies desperately need. For many people, exercise has become an ugly word, something to avoid at all costs."

Do you know anybody like that? I sure do!

A full article can be linked to HERE.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Not To Do It, II

Last week I mentioned my concerns about the bike-lane striping on the new pavement of Meridian Road (State Highway 69), northbound, just south of I-84. (Click HERE if you'd like to review.)

I happened to be in the same place again yesterday, this time with camera. I'll let you be the judge. (Click on the photo if you'd like to see it big.)

The striping was almost surely laid out by well-paid traffic engineers. How do they envision a cyclist safely negotiating this intersection, if the cyclist intends to continue north, rather than bearing right (onto Interstate 84)? The stripe actually goes around the corner and continues down the freeway entrance ramp. Odd indeed.

Just north of the intersection, the road overpasses the freeway; the bike lane continues, but one lane to the left. Frankly, I'm guessing they probably included width for a bike lane in the design specs, but never gave the actual use by cyclists much thought. They're totally focused on the (motor vehicle) traffic jam.

(Cyclists are allowed to ride on interstate highways in Idaho, but just because it's legal doesn't mean it's advisable... at least on the stretch between Meridian and Boise.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

It's a bike! No - it's a snowmobile!

I happened across the KtraK kit in my eternal quest for bike lore. This would be just the ticket for people living north of the Arctic Circle. (For the rest of us, it seems like a waste of money, since the snow will soon be all melted.)

(I know some of my readers are major gear-heads... y'all oughtta love this thing! Clancy can prolly build his own from spare parts in his garage; Danielo will fabricate one out of bamboo!)

The kit is supposedly now available for 26" bikes. Here's the manufacturer website. (Direct from them, the rear kit is $519; the front ski kit is $169.)

If it really works, it's prolly just a matter of time until there are hot-headed conflicts between cross-country skiers and kamikaze downhill KtraK riders!

One person at a time

The Boise area air quality has steadily deteriorated over the past 10 years or so. 2007 will almost certainly be the year when we exceed the maximum number of "yellow or worse" air-quality days. (Which will almost certainly result in lawsuits being filed, and our federal asphalt-expansion funding being jeopardized.) (Frankly, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.)

Most people seem willing to ignore the problem, or blame everybody else as they drive on, day after day, in their single-occupant vehicles.

Gary Multanen isn't one of those people.

I'd never heard of Gary until I read his piece in the Idaho Statesman this morning. (Click HERE to link.)

"Changing a habit can do a lot for Valley air quality"

Gary owns a small business, Best Bath Systems. (They deserve our patronage.)

He describes his "moment of clarity" as he pondered his commuting habits - "I was struck that I was the prototype of the worst kind of thoughtless polluter, plopping into my car to drive to and from work every day. Just like every other solo commuter. Our bad habit to commute alone has made cars by far the biggest contributor to deteriorating air quality. So last year, I began riding my bike to work. I feel great. People ask me if I've lost weight."

Ah... I love it when somebody sees the light!

But Gary went beyond his personal behavior... he rewards his employees who bike-commute, or carpool, or use public transit with a $50 savings bond. (If they use alternative transportation at least 6 months of the year.)

Gary: "Our experience here at Best Bath has made it crystal clear for me that free thinkers, free enterprisers, and individuals willing to make a simple step to change their lives can make a significant difference in our community's quality of life. ... But if we change nothing in our personal habits to help, we've got our head so far down the ostrich hole we'll never pull it out. So, hop on your bike and pedal to work. Take a nice morning walk to the bus stop. Carpool with a friend. Once you do, you'll be surprised how many of the people who used to take you for granted suddenly think of you as a bit of a hero."

Amen, Gary!!! (You're my hero! I wish all employers were as proactive as you are.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New bike safety hazard - ELK!!

He was first spotted early this morning, running down Broadway Avenue. (Snort! Snort!) Soon afterwards, he was seen in one of the riverside parks. (A favorite area for local cyclists.) He almost certainly came downstream from the hills northeast of town. A yearling bull elk, estimated to be 400-450 pounds. He was later spotted in the brush near Albertson Park. (I see deer down there frequently - especially in winter. But I s'pose a 100-pound deer isn't as threatening as a 400-pound elk.)

The cops and Fish and Game people chased him around town for awhile. Eventually they cornered him near Curtis and Cassia around noon time. (That's maybe 1/2 mile from my front door.)

When you come up against the Boise Police Department... you're gonna have a bad day. "Hasta la vista, baby!" "Do ya feel lucky... PUNK? Well... doya?" "I fought the law, and the law won." Etc.

According to reports, the cops shot him twice with a handgun, "to stop it so Fish and Game officials could tranquilize the animal."

Now, I'm no hunter... but after you've shot a critter a couple times, is there really any point in wasting a tranquilizer dart?

Yeah, he's dead meat now. (But keep those guns locked 'n' loaded - citizens are reporting more elk sightings.)

Idaho Statesman story can be linked to HERE.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bikes not welcome here!

Ada County prides itself on being a bike-friendly community. These days, you can even see the signs proclaiming such. (We aren't "gold bike-friendly," but we're happy to be "bronze bike-friendly.")

I'm wondering if that friendliness ends at the Meridian city limit.

Over the weekend, I rode on Meridian Road for the first time in awhile. Since the last time, a fairly major intersection upgrade was completed just south of I-84, at Overland Road. Ah... glass-smooth asphalt. Ya gotta love it.

The problem was, and is, that the supposed "bike lane" is abysmal through the new stretch. At least northbound, it is painted to hug the far-right edge of the pavement, irrespective of painted turn-only lanes, etc. I'd say there are 3 or 4 places where the designated/painted bicyclist route has potentially-serious conflicts with turn-only motor vehicle lanes... including a freeway entrance ramp.

It wasn't too bad on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, when traffic was relatively light, people weren't stressed out late-for-work, and visibility was good. But what would it be like at 7:30am on a weekday? I wouldn't want to experience it for myself.

Meridian Road is also known as State Highway 69, so I assume it was the Idaho Transportation Department that did such a smash-up (literally) job on the bike-lane striping. Maybe they can fix it in a few months, after they lay down the inevitable chip-seal.

The "established" road, north of the I-84 overpass, isn't very bike-friendly either. It's for that very reason that I don't ride to Meridian very often. I get a subliminable (as Pres. Bush would say) message that bikes aren't particularly welcome in Meridian, land of pickup-truck rednecks and SUV cul-de-sac bedroom subdivisions.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Mr. Ecology

This photo is on Drudge this morning, and I feel compelled to comment.

Remember Al Gore? Mr. Global Warming? Mr. Inconvenient Truth? The guy whose mission in life is to tell us how important it is to reduce our Carbon Footprints? (Who's own inconvenient truth is his $30,000 annual power bill at his Tennesee mansion?)

Here's a candid photo of him, getting out of his Gulfstream, and into his stretch limo. "Do as I say, not as I do." Of course, his ardent followers will give him a pass, because of the importance of his "message."

At least Larry "Hypocrite" Craig has a lot of company, huh?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Beware the Creep!

No... I'm not talking about the guy in the next public toilet stall, who's trying to play "footsie" with you! (nudge nudge, wink wink)

I'm talking about the "creep" of the goathead plants. (AKA puncture vine)

Yep, it's that time of year again, when the fruit of the vine has matured and is casting seeds... and creeping into your path, if you're not eternally vigilant.




Some folks seem to be under the mistaken impression that if they squirt a little Roundup on it, their problems are over. Not so! Once it has blossomed, the only way it can be removed is slash-and-burn Goathead Holocaust.



Here's a pretty little goathead plant, growing up from a crater in the middle of the bike path.


To answer the obvious question - yes, I patched two flat tires this afternoon. (Kevlar-belted tires? Big flippin' deal!)

(All photos were snapped on my home-bound commute, 6 September 2007. Click on any of 'em for larger viewing options. I post these photos in the hopes that all my cycling sisters and brothers can be familiar with the enemy.)


I found an article about bike-commuting in Bangalore, India. (Click HERE to link.) Evidently the surging economy has resulted in a new phenomenon - TRAFFIC JAMS. Welcome to the 21st Century, huh?

Nikhil prefers to ride his bicycle. The 15km (think downtown Boise to Meridian) commute takes less than an hour by bicycle, 1.5 hours by car.

He also fights the social pressure with his website, Bums on the Saddle.

"If you look at the general population that cycles, its mostly kids or people who cannot afford bike. [He must mean "cannot afford car."] Young people aspire to get a motorbike once after college. We want to say that cycling is cool and we want to build a community."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Second-class citizens?

These barrels have been stored (?) along the State Street "bike route" for at least going on three weeks.

This particular stretch of road isn't particularly comfortable for cyclists, anyway, what with Jersey barriers on one side and heavy, 35-mph traffic on the other. It gets downright heady when some Bozo comes riding his bike in the opposite direction, and trying to occupy that same space. (That happens to me with unsettling regularity.)

Perhaps the ACHD folks (or contractors... whoever) haven't perceived that the barrels are narrowing down the lane by 60% or so.

I'm assuming some big project must be forthcoming along that stretch. But when? And can't they find a lower-impact place to store the barrels in the meantime? I'd suggest the right motor-vehicle lane. After all, they have two lanes to work with.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

August Riding Report

I finished the month with 430 miles, accumulated on 25 days of riding.

"What about the other 6 days? Huh? Huh?" you're asking.

Well... if you have to know... I was in Canada on my motorsickle, the first 6 days of August. I got back home on August 7.

Another somewhat-limiting factor last month was the nasty ankle sprain I gave myself, while on my motorcycle adventure. A month has passed, and it's still a factor, although I'm back to 95% or so.

(You can read about my motorcycle journey and the ankle-sprain HERE.)

That puts me at 4013 miles for the year.

I really wanted to arrive at 4000 miles by Aug. 31. Which theoretically puts me on track for a 6000-mile calendar year, assuming 500 miles per month.

(Yeah, I admit it, I'm compelled by that little stopwatch-sized onboard bike computer. Maybe I'm a slave to it.)

In reality, the miles typically come easier in July and August, than they do in November and December. Time will ultimately tell. I'm hoping to have some quality-and-quantity miles in September and October, two of the very best cycling months in these parts.

"We got caught!"

Well, it happened yesterday.

I snuck away from the office a bit early (getting a head-start on a long holiday weekend - it's pretty much standard practice at the office where I work). And I was taking the "scenic route" home, on my bicycle.

The clouds were looming ominously to the southwest (and were awesomely beautiful in every direction - I love clouds, except for solid-overcast). But I expected the dark clouds to stay far from me.

They didn't.

When I was maybe a mile from home (riding in shorts and T-shirt), the wave arrived. I saw it coming, directly toward me. The trees twitching and bending in the blast of dusty wind. Debris swirling. And then it was upon me. Suddenly I was riding into a swift, dusty wind... and then into wind and muddy rain.

(The weather people on the TV later said it was a 45-mph front that blasted through the area, knocking down trees and causing power blackouts.)

I saw a slightly-built lady at a stoplight, mounted on a scooter. She was working hard to hold that thing up. The traffic signals were dancing.

I crossed paths with another cyclist, also in shorts. He said, "Looks like we got caught."

Indeed we did.

Yeah... one of the few pitfalls of dedicated bicycle transportation is, you "get caught" every once in a while. A freakish weather event comes upon you suddenly and unexpectedly.

I'd say I "get caught" maybe twice a year.

"Getting caught" is different from riding in less-than-perfect weather. I can prepare for riding in the rain, or even snow. I can dress for a 100-degree day, or a 20-degree day.

When I "get caught," sometimes I take refuge under a shelter and wait it out. I've stood under trees, bridges, awnings.

Other times, that's impossible.

I vividly remember once when I was riding out on Gowen Road. A freak storm blew up, complete with hailstones the size of grapes. Ouch! The tallest thing for a mile in any direction was a 3-foot-high sagebrush. My only choice was head-down and forge on. (As is usually the case, the storm was over as quickly as it started.)

No doubt some of the folks in their cars laugh scornfully at cyclists who "get caught," and take comfort in how much better it is to be in a car.

Well... I'll tell ya... I'll gladly risk "getting caught" a couple times a year, for the reward of not being caught in a motor vehicle every stinkin' day of the year.

I rode on through the late summer mud-shower. I had to pay a bit more attention to my riding than usual, because I was twitchin' in the wind. A branch came off a tree, maybe 10 feet away, as I rode down the home stretch. I arrived safe and sound, albeit a bit wet and dirty... nothing a 30-second rinse-off couldn't take care of, just fine.