Saturday, May 30, 2009

Neither Fish Nor Fowl Nor Bike

As the American car industry declines, a reminder of what went wrong in American manufacturing over the last 40 years. The Gremlin. Aren't Gremlin's something to be avoided? They are a rare breed these days, because nobody can find enough parts to reassemble them. Sure they're cute in a nostalgic sort of way. Nostalgia for the 70's is a double edged sword, though. Groundbreaking and inventive... Or ugly and excessive. Perhaps the little Gremlin fits all of those descriptions.

The car company's had their chance in the 20th Century. Here's for the new Bicycle Century!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And Everything Changes

The last few days have been extremely hot. Tuesday 96F. Wednesday 94F. Both records. That probably isn't the only record broken. As I biked around town, yesterday evening, I had more company than I ever remember. Everywhere you looked there were bikes. Crowd's of them. I think it's funny because 90's with high winds, isn't the most ideal riding conditions. I'm thinking "Why don't you folks ride when it's 50's or 60's(Heck! This winter 20F was optimal for me.). It's really much better riding then." But something about looking a gift horse in the mouth.

As I made my way through downtown, I noticed that most of these folks are "Newbies". I'm not saying that they haven't riden before, but that they are just getting back on their bikes after a long winter hiatus. I know from past experience that when I got back on my bike, it took awhile to get back my riding form. I'm not bragging , but with Harvey, I was riding one of the heavier, more upright bikes out there. Still, I was the faster than most bikes out there. I realized that people were looking around at other bikes to figure out what they were supposed to do.

Here's were the learning part comes. It dawned on me that I needed to become a better example for these Goslings. Most of the winter, I could ride how I wanted, because there weren't that many other bikers on the roads. Lonely sometimes, but free. Now, with these mobs of bikes, some sort of etiquette needed to emerge. My freewheeling days were had to be curtailed, or these folks might learn bad manners. And bad manners can get you hurt. People are very much like Monkeys(no offense to the Monkeys). They watch what others do and mimic that behavior. I don't want to overstate my importance, but one of the people these summer riders would be watching, was me.

So, I started stopping at almost all lights, even if there wasn't a car in sight. I watched out for riders, letting them pass first. I didn't rush to pass the slower bikers(I did pass them eventually, because I'm sure they didn't want me behind, riding them). I smiled and chatted people up at stop lights. And except at a few fun hills, I took it easy on my ride.

It seems that every year I see more cyclists on the road. That's a great thing. I love it. But more bikes, means that people need to follow more of the rules and put more effort into watching out for others. If I follow my own advice, I'm sure it'll go a little ways towards tipping it that way.

One More Cyclist to Commemorate in the Ride of Silence

Bike commuter, Dennis Dumm was killed yesterday morning when a gravel semi truck cut across the bike lane on Park Avenue. A very sad tragedy on the day of the Ride of Silence. The ride honor's those who have been injured or killed on roads. His death certainly gave the evening ride in Minneapolis a more viseral undertone. Another, very real, reason to work toward make biking a safer endeavor.

Think about it as you ride to work. Dennis was doing the same, enjoying being outside on his bicycle. And then a huge truck pulls across in front of him and it's all over. All of us have had something simular happen to us. An unexpected move by a motor vehicle. Of course we have to watch out for possibilities, and ride carefully. Experience is vital. But as I ride to work, I see all sorts of things that don't really work. Bike lanes that just end with no obvious place to go. More common is no bike lanes(we don't have any protected lanes in Mpls.), just you and the traffic. Etc, etc,...

"Be safe!" isn't enough. Dennis was in a bike lane and the truck came right through that lane. We need something more than paint between us and death. We need just what cars get. Roadways that are set up in a reasonable safe way, that allows cyclists to get where they need to go. Here's for that day.

Photo by Carlos Gonzalez of the Star Tribune

Friday, May 15, 2009

Portland: Hip Bike City

Photo by Leah Nash of the New York Times

Right in the middle of my crush on Portland, the New York Times sends the "frugal traveler", Matt Gross, to the City of Roses to see what all the fuss is about. What he finds is cheap digs, lots of good food(and Coffee) and a whole lot of bikes.

He found the kind of hotel that I love. The Ace is European style hotel with rooms costing only $75 a night. Plus bikes are provided free of charge to guests! If you don't want the cheap bike, you could also rent a Batavus from Clever Cycles for $100/week. I'm going to keep this article handy for my next trip to Portland.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Suburb on the Edge of Tomorrow

Photo by Martin Specht for the New York Times

The suburb of Vauban in Germany is a great example of what life could be like in the not so distant future. Vauban is almost completely car free. Doesn't that sound like paridise? How did they do that? You've heard of "Build it and they will come". How about "don't build roads, don't allow car parking spaces and make it expensive to store your car on the edge of town". Those are some of the reasons that Vauban is showing the way for the rest of us "still stuck in the 20th Century" folks.
Please notice that this New York Times article is currently it's number one, most read article online. There must be a lot of interest in this way of life. Perhaps, people hunger for car-less/less-car community. I know I do. I keep envisioning myself without need of a car(and dream of my city having a lot less cars in it!). I'm not there yet, but I keep finding more reasons not to use the car, today.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Style and Bikes in San Francisco

There was an article, yesterday, in the San Francisco Cronicle's SFGate about bike commuters and style. One of the people they interviewed(pictured too) was blogger /fashionista/cyclist Meligrosa(Of course!). You should know her from the Bikes in the City.

She was all for it. Bikes and style. Both at the same time. Often... and heels are no problem.

Picture courtesy of Meligrosa.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Heaven Found

The apparition had led me to a real cool bike shop. At first I didn't know if it was a bike shop or a fashonable clothing store, using old style bikes as props. There were a couple of city bikes in the windows but they were surrounded by a lot of stylish outfits. Upon entering, I saw a few more bikes and much more clothing. Really nice stuff, that looked fit to wear on a bike. Too bad that I wasn't in a clothes shopping mood(That only happens twice a year... if I'm lucky). It wasn't until I went into the room at the back, that I knew I was in a real bike shop. A really cool bike shop! I had found Clever Cycles.

Why is there a bed on the street?

Now to take a "city bike" for a spin. They sized me up and put me on the bike most likely to fit. An Azor Oma. This would be my first time on a Dutchie and it was no disappointment. They are the Cadillac of bikes, or that's what it handled like, anyways. A very comfortable ride that put me in a mood to cruise around... no hurry. But I could pick up some speed, if I wanted to.

I also tried the Bakfiets cargo bike and loved it. Watch out on those quick turns because the front wheel will buckle, if you do. After riding the Bakfiets and getting one of the owners to take some pics of me on it, we got into a good conversation about his shop. He said that they had sold 300 Bakfiets, I think that's what he said. It blew my mind. 3 hundred of the cargo bikes in this city? Maybe he meant all of the city bikes. Still, 300 sounds like a good start to changing bike culture, here.

Need a passenger.

I also found out that you can rent bikes here. A little too late for me. I left the shop really wanting one of these bikes and trying to figure out if I could afford one... and another trip to Portland.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Surprise Trip to Bike City

Last weekend, I made an unplanned visit to one of the cities that has a reputation of being a bike mecca. I was actually across the river in Vancouver, Washington and unsure if I was going to be able to make it over to the City of Roses, to get a taste of the bike culture. Happily it worked out that I had some time on a mostly sunny, Sunday afternoon to hit the streets of Portland, Oregon and see for myself if it lived up to the hype as a bicycle haven. For the most part, it did or at least it's definitely headed in that direction.

I headed downtown to Waterfront Bicycles and rented a some kind of cross bike. I only had an hour and half, so I rode quickly across the Hawthorne Bridge and headed into a residential neighborhood. I really only have Mpls. to compare it to, but my sense was there are more bikes cycling around Portland. How many more is obviously a tough guess but it could be twice as much. For a variety of reasons, I did feel safer riding the streets of Portland. The most obvious reason is that there are more lanes on streets and bridges than Mpls. They didn't always make sense but that might be because I was new to it. I also felt more at ease because drivers in Portland seem to be lot mellower than in my hometown. Nobody seemed to be in too much of a rush and cars seemed to be aware of bicycles. Another thing I noticed, is that a higher percentage of bicyclists were obeying the traffic laws. Combined, these three conditions gave me the "subjective" sense that I was safer riding in Portland.

City of Green.

Now, I not saying that Portland doesn't have a long way to go. It's still very much a car town. Cars everywhere. And they could definitely use even more lanes and paths that are separated from autos. As it is, there is a lot of mingling with cars, which can be deadly.

Ghost bike signifies that a cyclist was killed near by.

Then, as I was headed back down Hawthorne Blvd, an apparition appeared. It was an angelic sign for me that I must return to this place, as soon as I returned the rental.

Angel on wheels.

I did return and received a special treat...but that's another story.