Thursday, April 28, 2011

Busted? Traffic school for you!

For as long as I can remember (since I was a heavy-footed teenager, that's for sure!), motorists who ran afoul of the law could opt to take a traffic class, to avoid losing their driver's licenses. (I took such a class once in my teenage years. I don't remember much about the class, but 2 or 3 hours of misery seemed a small price to pay, to hang onto my flyin' license!)

Now, over in central Oregon, they're trying the same thing with cyclists. A cyclist who is cited for breaking the law can pay the fine and do the time, or can opt to take a ($50) "diversion" class.

Lt. Chris Carney of the Bend Police Department: "Not everybody understands a bicyclist has to follow the rules of the road."

Amen to that!

They've got the police, bicycle advocates and educators, and the courts on board. The class is conducted by a LAB-certified instructor.

I would love to support such a program in the Boise area. I've long contended that education/enforcement are what we are most sorely lacking to be a truly bicycle-friendly community, and this program covers both ends. I just don't know if we could get all those power players on board. Most seem content to ignore bike violators, unless there's a crash.

Story HERE.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Upcoming Boise-area bicycle events

Here are some that I'm aware of, and hope to join in with. Please let us know of others.

There will be a "Ride and Seek" scavenger hunt on May 14th (Saturday), originating at Veterans' Memorial Park. It's a fundraiser for the Boise Bicycle Project and AmeriCorps. More info HERE.

Boise Bike Week runs from May 15-21. It is "a week promoting bicycling in every form." This is the ninth year; it has become part of the bicycle fabric of Boise. I've participated before, and will participate again. More info HERE. It kicks off with "Family on Bikes," 5/15 (Sunday) at the Egyptian Theater. Nancy Vogel and her family - of Boise! - will tell of their 3-year bicycle adventure from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. The grand finale is the "Pedal Power Parade" on 5/21 (Saturday), originating at Capitol Park. In between are a bunch of rides, picnics, training sessions, etc. (Looks like it's the biggest and best BBW yet!)

Bike transportation advocates should enjoy a presentation/discussion on May 18 (Wednesday) at 6pm at Boise City Hall. The presentation is by Mia Birk. Ms. Birk was one of the key players over the past 20 years or so, in making Portland one of the most bicycle-friendly cities. She now extends her expertise across the Fruited Plain, with a firm called Alta Planning and Design. More info HERE. (I just read her book, Joyride, and will be commenting on it in the near future.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bike transportation - not so efficient after all?

I've smugly declared that bicycles are "the most efficient form of human transportation ever devised." And I'm rarely, if ever, challenged on that assertion.

One reader observed that if you consider the cost of calories for that amazing "hybrid bicycle engine" - you know, what you spend at the grocery store - it might not be so cheap after all. But a person has to eat whether he drives a car or rides a bike, so it's very hard to measure... and I continue to maintain that all things considered, a bicycle is considerably cheaper than any alternative.

But... maybe not?

I found an amazingly comprehensive report called Bicycle Energy by David S. Lawyer. He has some interesting and detailed observations.

On the surface, indeed a bicycle seems more efficient by many-fold, over a fossil fuel-powered automobile.

But Mr. Lawyer points out that for every food-calorie burned in riding, it might take 10 calories to grow, distribute, and cook that food. Nit-picky?

How about this one... Do you want to factor in the life expectancy of the vehicle? He observes that while an automobile might last a 200,000 mile lifetime, a bicycle lifetime is 525 miles. (525 miles? What the??? Per month, maybe? But consider the millions of bikes that will never be anything more than the occasional recreation toy. Many of them probably do only last 525 miles - spread over 10 years.) If you factor that in, one car might take the driver (and passengers) many hundreds of times more than one bicycle, over the lifetime of the vehicle. So maybe per mile, the energy to manufacture a car is less than for a bicycle... all bikes considered.

He's got all sorts of stuff - rolling resistance, aerodynamic drag, inclines and descents, small car vs. big car, etc. You guys with your slide rules and scientific graphing calculators might really enjoy it. (My head started aching, so I just kinda skimmed over a lot of it. And if you're asking, "What's a slide rule?" you were born too late! It's kinda halfway in between that graphing calculator and the abacus.)

Let's ride!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Brush with the Law

I had a strange experience Saturday. I bicycled out Eisenmann Road, which is at the very southeast end of Boise Valley... the edge of the high prairie. And, I stopped on the last overpass over I-84, to snap a photo and enjoy the beautiful day and a bit of rest.

As I stopped, a state highway patrol car pulled over on the other side. The officer got out and motioned me over.

"Were you up here a few minutes ago?" he asked.

"Nope, just got here."

"Did you see another guy on a bike?"

"Yes, I did," I answered honestly. "We passed maybe 1/2 mile back - he was going in the other direction."

"That must be who I'm looking for."

He got in his cop-cruiser, turned on the lights, and took off.

Hmmm... the other guy hadn't looked like a ne'er-do-well... just another guy out enjoying the beautiful day on his bike.

I stood there for a couple minutes, snapped a couple photos.

As I turned to get back on my bike, lo and behold, a county deputy comes pulling up. WHAT THE?!!?

He got out of his car.

"How ya doing?"


"Have you been here for very long?"

"Oh, maybe five minutes, but I'm getting ready to leave." (I thought maybe I was upsetting them by loitering.)

He paused for a couple seconds, then said, "You're not thinking about jumping, are you?"

"... Heck no!"

Wow! What a question!

Apparently, it would seem, somebody driving underneath saw me, or maybe the other cyclist, and phoned in a concern that there might be a "jumper" on the overpass!

Jumping was the farthest thing from my mind! You'll search far and wide to find somebody who enjoys life more than I do! (In fact, I bet cyclists don't even get counseling as often as the general population - it's therapeutic!)

(Before I got home, I'd turned over 2000 miles for the year.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wildlife Close Encounters

This is the time of year when the earth comes alive. Boise is getting spectacularly beautiful, with blossoms on many trees, the daffodils and tulips, and vibrant green new foliage.

The critters are on the move, too.

Yesterday (after leaving the dentist's office), I got a flat tire on my way to the office. I was close, so I decided to just walk a couple blocks. And I had a rather amusing encounter with an urban squirrel.

(Poor squirrels! They are the Outlaw Bikers of the animal kingdom - their motto is "Live Fast, Die Young, and leave a Furry Patch on the Highway.")

Anyhow... I was walking down the sidewalk pushing my bike, and I spotted Mr. Squirrel in the gutter, behind a parked car. Just at that moment, for a reason only he could understand, he decided to head across my path for the lawn and trees on the other side of the sidewalk. He ran, and came up against my rolling front wheel. For maybe 3 seconds, he scurried along right next to the rolling wheel, actually rubbing against it - then he made his move, trying to dash in front of it. He was a bit too close - the (flat) tire rolled against his little noggin, and I felt a grating sensation... like when you hit a round rock and push it in front of your wheel ever so briefly. Poor guy! He jerked loose and altered his trajectory, leaving at least a foot between the wheel and himself, and made it to the other side. He appeared to have not suffered any permanent damage, but I suspect he had a bit of road-rash under his chinny-chin-chin.

As I went on down the sidewalk, I cast a glance backwards. He was standing on the sidewalk, watching me with what seemed to be a hurt-feelings expression. "Why did you run over me???"

Then on my way home, I was riding the asphalt and noticed a little garter snake coiled up. (On cool but sunny spring and autumn days, they seem to enjoy the warmth that gets absorbed by the dark-colored asphalt. Unfortunately, that tends to put them right in harm's way.) Since my granddaughter loves toads and lizards and snakes, I stopped and collected him. They're a little stinky, so I used one of my "emergency rainstorm grocery bags" that I carry to cover my shoes in the event of an unexpected downpour.

As expected, Mackie loved him! We put him in a big wheelbarrow and exchanged pleasantries for an hour or so, then we bagged him back up and took him back home - right to the spot where I had found him. The story had a happy ending, I hope. (And we hope he'll come out to see us sometime in the future, as we go by.)



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bicycle vs. Huge Diesel Pickup

I had to stop at the dentist this morning, so I got an early start.

At the first traffic signal of my commute (Cassia / Latah), a guy in this huge white dually-diesel pickup had to stop at the red light, while I went through on the green light. His light turned green and he roared on by.

The next light up the way (Latah / Rose Hill) turned yellow just as he was approaching, and he slammed on the brakes. I got another good look at his awesome truck. A triple roll bar -looking contraption, with five huge spotlights mounted along the top. (I don't think it provides any actual roll-bar functionality; it's probably just to mount the lights on. But it sure looks macho! The few feet of space in the pickup bed that are lost... a small price to pay for all that macho vibe!)

I couldn't have done any better if I'd written the script... the light turned green just as I got there! I very much appreciated the furious roar of diesel torque, as he "floored it" to keep the guy on the bike from getting the hole shot.

The dentist's office is only another quarter-mile up the road from there... and imagine my delight when I pulled into the parking lot, and there was Diesel Boy, just shuttin' 'er down. Hahaha! I walked through the door just ahead of him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

BSU Campus - closed to bikes?

On Saturday my granddaughter and I rode a stretch of the Greenbelt, including behind the BSU Campus. I noticed a new sign on a "sandwich board" sort of thing (temporary-looking) that said something like "no bicycling beyond this point." Hmmm...


I've commented before about the sometimes-disturbing carelessness of pedestrians. (The Phone Zombies are particularly dense on campus.) But I've got to admit I've also seen, and had close encounters, with some careless cyclists. (There are places to go 25mph... and there are places where you go 5mph. It takes judgment - and not particularly acute judgment, IMO - to make such determinations.) I can confidently declare I've never caused a hazardous situation in my occasional rides across campus. (There have been times when a Zombie would've walked straight into me... or into the side of a brick wall, or an open manhole, for lack of paying attention.)

I don't know what the specific restrictions are on bicycle use. I would hope that students on bicycles don't have to walk 'em clear across campus. It's fairly narrow north-to-south, but it's probably a mile from east to west.

Ironically, a recent article at the Arbiter (student newspaper) website lauds the recognition BSU got, as one of the Top 20 Bike Campuses. And the timing is bad - a bike ban on campus as gas prices approach $4. (Everybody knows how poor college students are... right?)

Like many rules, this one is going to penalize many conscientious citizens, because of the actions of a few irresponsible citizens.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Earth Holidays '11

Earth Hour was on March 26th this year. Did you celebrate? A confession - I TOTALLY missed it - didn't even hear about it until a day or two later. Too many other pressing issues, I guess.

However, I'm not going to let Earth Day get by, the same way! It's April 22 - next Friday. I s'pose government offices and banks will be closed. And if you're REALLY serious about your earth-friendly ways, you can celebrate Earth Week, which runs from April 16-22.

Just in case you've been asleep under a rock for the last 35 years, and are clueless, these "Earth" celebrations are ostensibly an opportunity for self-examination, and renewed resolve to be less harsh on our Mother Planet. Do something meaningful, like maybe a new bumper sticker on the SUV.

Yeah, I confess I'm a little cycnical. And one should NEVER discourage another from adopting more earth-friendly ways. But at the same time, I'll reserve my right to roll my eyes when I see a bunch of "save the earth" type bumper stickers plastered on a car. Maybe Earth Hour and some sloganeering is those folks' level of commitment. Can you say "poseur"?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd say for the vast majority of Americans, the single most significant choice they make, when it comes to impact on the environment, is their routine choice of transportation. And putting a bumper sticker on your Ford Excursion or Hummer, or even your Volvo or Subaru, doesn't make it one bit more earth-friendly.

Here's an Earth Day music suggestion: "Save the Planet" by Edgar Winter's White Trash. (My all-time favorite environmental song!)

Last year's snide commentary - HERE. (With links to the snide commentary from previous years.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lamentations over gas prices

As predicted (a no-brainer, really), rising gas prices have affected people's driving habits. There is much grief througout the land. Here is a story at the local daily paper website. Ironically it portrays a guy whose lifestyle has deteriorated because of his more expensive 4-mile SUV drive to the gym. (What's wrong with this picture?!?)

And here is an eerily similar article from the Chicago Sun-Times. They focus on personal tales of woe; I s'pose that's understandable, because their readers can identify.

But just mention bicycle transportation as an alternative, and most people dismiss you as some sort of eccentric crackpot. And they love to point out the drawbacks of bicycling... "I live too far from work" ... "I have errands to run" ... "I have to drop off a child at daycare" ... "it's too hard" ... "it's dangerous." (Or they change the topic, and start the complaints about bad cyclist behavior. That's helpful to the conversation, huh?)

I like the ones who see everything through their Political Glasses. It's Obama's fault that gas prices are so high! (Of course, last time they were hovering around $4, and a Republican was in the White House, the blame was laid elsewhere. Or vice versa.) And driving a big gas-guzzling vehicle is either viewed as the ultimate act of patriotism, or overt treason, depending on one's politics.

No denying it. There's definitely some give and take with ANY form of transportation. Sometimes I'm cold, wet, and miserable on my bike ride. Sometimes I'm in a pickle because I have to haul something that pushes the limits, on the bicycle. I can't drop off a child (unless I have the Tag-A-Long bike - then it would work nicely!). I can't shop for groceries, for the month. But on the other hand, most of the time the fuel price isn't critical, whether it's $1.25 or $5.25.

Do motorists believe there is no downside to car transportation? If you drive, you are subject to the fickle nature of the fluctuating fuel market... that's the fact, Jack. Deal with it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gear Review - Aerostich Dispatch Bag

For awhile, I've been wanting something that would carry an overnight's worth of gear when I go on a motorcycle adventure. (When I go longer than that, the saddlebags come out, but they're overkill if I'm just making an overnight run a couple hundred miles away, and staying in a motel instead of camping.)

After considerable noodlin' of the situation, I settled on the Aerostich Dispatch Bag.

Aerostich, out of Duluth, MN, makes some awesome motorcycle gear including the Roadcrafter zip-in suit, as used by SERIOUS touring motorcyclists. Their catalog is always chock-full of interesting gear; I've ordered some nice stuff from them over the years including some elkskin "roper gloves" that are fantastic. Their website is here.

I got the bag in the hi-viz yellow. It has a large reflective panel as well, making it about as visible as it can be, without disco strobe lights. The Dispatch is the smallest of 3 bags; the base is 12 inches across and the top 18 inches. (Volume is 1100 cubic inches; the bigger "Courier" holds 1700CI, and the biggest "Parcel" holds 2700CI - a regular back-mounted duffel bag! I was willing to sacrifice some hauling space in exchange for long-term comfort, since I'll be using different luggage when more volume is needed.

The Dispatch should carry my netbook computer, rain gear, some provisions and toiletries quite nicely.) I expect this will be a good option for (bi)cycling, as well - an alternative to a briefcase or backpack. I expect I'll continue using my fanny pack for my sack lunch and a couple small items, but the Aerostich bag would be nice when I need to haul some clothes or whatever.

It's expensive at $77 - but build quality is excellent (made in the USA, too!), and after comparing with some other brands, that was right in the ballpark for quality gear. Hopefully after a summer's worth of use, I can post some follow-up impressions.

Product Review - Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires

I just replaced a set of Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires. They were the "factory original tires" on my Cannondale T1 bicycle, and they served me over 2 winters and 3000+ miles. (Excellent mileage. I swapped them out for skinnier tires over the warmer months of last year.)

What I liked:
- Excellent mileage. In my experience, I tend to get 1500-3000 miles of life out of a rear tire (substantially more out of a front tire; I assume due to weight distribution and that the rear wheel provides the driving force). So the Marathon Racer is at the high end.
- Reflective sidewall. Visibility is always important, and the reflective sidewalls provide significant help at night.

What I didn't like:
- I was disappointed by the number of flats I got with these tires. I probably had 10 punctures over the life of the tires. Strangely, most were in front.

People who have commented on this blog have been very positive about their experience with Schwalbes. They make a "Marathon Plus" tire, with additional puncture protection, and I would hope they would fare much better.

These tires are quite expensive, as bike tires go. In the $45-50 range. You never know, but it seems unlikely I will buy a set. My new favorite tire is the Vittoria Randonneur. I got almost as many miles with a Vittoria, and didn't have a single flat over the life of the tire (!), and they're substantially less expensive at $27-30. (A reflective sidewall is available for a few bucks more.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Water's risin'

Pretty much every spring in these parts, if the winter snowfall has been normal or higher, we have plenty of water running down the Boise River through town.

They measure the water at Glenwood Bridge; as you can see, the water is high enough that it has rendered the bike/pedestrian underpass pretty much unusable.


We found an alternate route; some punk kid was riding his BMX bike under, turning around, and coming back again, then repeating. He commented that the water was cold.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Automobile co$t - up, up, up!

If you're doing a comparative analysis of your transportation options, bicycle seems to just keep getting better.

The American Automobile Association - hardly an anti-car group! - just released their annual "Driving Cost" study. Not surprisingly, costs are up. According to them, it costs 58.5 cents/mile to own and operate an average sedan ($8776/year - that's based on 15,000 annual miles). SUV drivers pay a premium for such prestige - 74.9 cents/mile ($11,239 annually).

Other notables:

Costs included: insurance, license/registration, taxes, depreciation, finance charges, fuel, maintenance, and tires.

Depreciation alone costs $3,728/year. Ouch! So just having a car sitting in a driveway or garage will cost you ten bucks a day. (Fortunately in real life, depreciation trails off. So if you have an old beater that you use now and then, your cost will likely vary considerably.)

The AAA started releasing the annual study in 1950. That year, it cost 9 cents/mile to own a car. (And yearly numbers were calculated on 10,000 miles/year, rather than 15,000.)

Personally, I'm glad I ride a bike, because I don't have $8800 per year of "slush" in my budget! Ding-ding-ding-ding...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Row, row, row your Bike

I happened to notice an ad for a used "Rowbike" on the Craigslist.

I was very curious. It's more or less a recumbent. More or less.

But - the seat slides along a horizontal rail, forward to backward. A combination lever / handlebar stem is pulled back, then released, in a rowing action to trigger the forward motion. Some sort of ratcheting mechanism apparently drives a fairly standard-looking chain/derailleur on the back wheel.

You've gotta love innovation, huh?

The Rowbike website is HERE. It includes some little video clips, so you can see the contraption in action.

My first impression: it looks like it would provide a pretty good aerobic workout, comparable with a stationary rowing machine. It would definitely exercise the upper body more than a conventional bicycle. I'd probably really enjoy riding one - for a change of pace - along a dedicated bike/pedestrian path. HOWEVER... I can't help but think that safety might be compromised by the need to "row" the thing. (But at least it's not going "backwards," like rowing a boat, huh?) Nor can I envision people going on cross-country trips on their rowbikes.