Friday, July 30, 2010

Lincoln will be Bicycle City, USA by 2040 is Lincoln's online "Town Hall", where residents help envision what Lincoln will look like in the next 30 years.

Residents can currently add their thoughts to "Getting Around" (and vote on "Beautiful Places" additions added over the course of the past couple of weeks). The majority of the "Getting Around" suggestions (5 out of 9) promote cycling! As of 7/30/2010, cycling related posts are as follows:
I like four out of the five suggestions because those four are (relatively) inexpensive encouragements towards cycling as transportation, as opposed to a punishment for making a transportation decision which fits a family's needs. (On the other hand, the suggester's example involves R street from 12th to 17th: good luck driving faster than 7mph during the day, regardless of the posted 25mph limit.)

Lincoln has a long way to go in terms of cycling infrastructure when compared to Minneapolis or Portland (Oregon), but can (and should) make a few small and inexpensive changes to make cycling a viable transportation option for the folks who live here.

I'm not selfish towards my own choices in riding a bike: when more people ride bikes, fewer people drive. A bike takes up 1/6 the space a car does. A bike route on a less-traveled street means one less car on the higher-volume roads. That's less traffic to get in the way of people who need to drive for a living, reducing the costs of everything transported for everyone.

We all win when bikes are included.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heat index reached 112 wednesday.

The ride in was hot, muggy and windy. It was 85 degrees at 7:30. It was going to be that kind of day.

There's something seriously wrong with this: The heat index in Lincoln at 9am was 96 degrees. For comparison, Baton Rouge's heat index was 90, Miami, FL's heat index was 88, and "Hot-Lanta's" heat index was 85. All at 9am.

We were warned this was going to be a hot and dry summer. I'm missing the "dry" part somewhere. We just got a ton of rain dumped on us. It washed away the heat and left a big glob of humidity in the air.

The ride home was ridiculous. I supplemented wind and gravity when it needed it and found a friend on the trails. I had a chat about IT infrastructure, data recovery and natural disaster-resistant bank vaults with another cyclist whom I know only as Lloyd. He came back from a ride to Saltillo.

Tomorrow we get a reprieve from this, and then it's back to mid-upper 90s for the next several days. Welcome to Nebraska in the summertime.

I felt like I was swimming in a jacuzzi for 14.2 miles.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You don't need to "work out", you need to play.

Why do people "work out"? Why not "play out"? We get in cars and drive for 5-15 minutes (each way) to "work out" on machines that improve us physically but drain us mentally.
 People obviously get bored with these machines, since people bring books to read and personal music players to drown out the noises of other machines and to reduce the mental pain of going nowhere slow.

The owners of these gyms realized they could help alleviate their customer's mental anguish by piping in music from the local top 40 radio station or even show some basic cable TV to keep them entertained just long enough to "get them through".

Some owners will go so far as to install movie theaters to keep patrons from abandoning this mind-numbing equipment.

The way I see it, no amount of equipment will help you get to your fitness goals if you aren't going to use it. And you aren't going to use equipment if it bores you to tears.

You don't need to work. You need to play.

I realized this the first time when I was in high school. I watched Risky Business: Tom Cruise's character took off on a bicycle through Chicago streets late at night in one scene.

My impressionable mind decided I could do that, too. (Just the biking late at night part: I wasn't calling hookers and asking "what the fuck?" only to have it backfire on me big time.)

I got on my Cannondale SC600 at about 1am and went for a ride for 2 hours through suburban Omaha neighborhood developments for some playtime.

West Omaha is carved up into neat 1 square mile sections, and each section has a collection of quiet well-lit residential streets with gentle hills that parallel the natural landscape of the region. One development's entrance is usually across an arterial street from another development's entrance.

Late at night you find that the arterial streets are largely empty, unless you're near a high volume arterial with big-box stores facing them.

Since the roads inside the grid do not follow the grid, one can easily get lost. Finding my way home after getting lost among similarly named streets (142nd avenue? 142nd street? 142nd Circle?) was part of the fun.

There are no neighborhood stores within these developments. They're residential for the most part. The commerce is separated from the residence, makes things quieter, but leads to an increased dependency on cars.

I would ride a couple dozen miles through those suburban nightmares during late nights every couple of weeks. I once went out in the snow. (Once: those old all-aluminum Cannondales do not have any clearance in the rear triangle for tires larger than 700x26 and the snow will turn into a big ice ball.)

If I knew the area, I would put the hammer down and pretend I was racing a flat stage of Le Tour De France. Otherwise I would read street signs and make mental notes of how to get back home.

It's how I played. 

A few years later, "play" was immediately followed by "station". I have the atrophied muscles to prove it.

I merely ride to work and back these days. It's a bit repetetive, but it's certainly not boring enough to make me crawl into a car and drive to a gym. I can (and do) change my route every so often so it's still like playing.

Play is different for everyone. Find what play suits you and do it. If you enjoy the repetitive boredom of indoor machines, go to it. Leave me outside.

I played for 14.5 miles today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It costs me more money to bike than to drive.

So last week I set my Facebook status to something along the lines of "I haven't put gas in my car for three months", which prompted one of my cousins (I have many) to point out how much money I must be saving.

If I did save a bunch of money, that would be a sweet bonus, but that's not why I do it. I'm definitely not saving money by riding, that's for sure. 

I put 13.2 gallons in the tank last week. The car traveled 276.1 miles on that 13.2 gallons of gas. 276.1/13.2 = 20.9167 miles to the gallon.

My driving commute is 7.9 miles. At 20.9167 miles to the gallon, 7.9 miles comes to 0.377 gallons of fuel burned on my drive. At $2.679 per gallon, that is roughly 1 dollar and one cent in each direction.

So I spend roughly $2.02 per day when I drive my car to work.

I spent $35.36 ($2.679 per gallon) on those 13.2 gallons of gas. I assure you, I spent a heck of a lot more on food during that time.

I have to point out that on the days I ride my bike, I cannot stop thinking about food. It's like being a teenager all over again, but without the acne. There's a good reason for that. My heart rate monitor tracks calories burned. An easy ride is about 350 calories in one direction. A 20+mph headwind means nearly 550 calories in one direction.

But for argument's sake, we'll say I burn off 750 calories each day I ride my bike to and from work.

What does 750 calories look like?

I'll skip over most vegetables. While I like vegetables (the vitamin and mineral content simply cannot be beat) and eat more than I need in a day, exclusively fueling up on them is cost-prohibitive, not to mention outright painful given the quantities needed.

A cup of romaine lettuce has about 10 calories. I need 75 cups of romaine lettuce to get 750 calories. 75 cups = 4.68 gallons. I can't eat that much lettuce in a week, much less a day. A cup of diced celery is 17 calories. I think you can see where I'm going here.


A 4oz apple contains 65 calories. I will need to eat eleven and a half apples to make up the calorie difference. That's 2.8lbs. At $2 a pound (I don't eat Red Delicious apples), we're looking at $5.60 each day.

Gym-Rat Candy

A chocolate Powerbar is 230 calories. They are available at the grocery store for about $1.59 each. I need three of them, that totals up to $4.77. (Don't kid yourself, they're candy: the fat and protein difference between a Powerbar and a Milky Way is insignificant.)


A 4oz grilled chicken breast is 130 calories. I will need to eat nearly six of those to make up the calorie difference. That's a pound and a half of chicken, or about $4.50, if it's on sale.


Bacon is roughly $3 a pound in your grocer's refrigerator case and is split up into 16 one-ounce slices, each packing a walloping 50 calories. That means I need to eat 15 slices of bacon to fuel up.

Who am I kidding? 15 slices? Make it 16. I'm not leaving that last slice of smoky, salty goodness in the package for tomorrow, I'm eating it now. I burn off $3 worth of bacon a day. 

Fast Food

Burger king has a "Buck Double", after state and local taxes (it's prepared food, grocery items are not taxed in Nebraska), it comes out to $1.07. It contains 410 calories. A small onion rings with sweet and sour sauce is 1.49+tax, or $1.60 and brings another 360 calories to the party. That brings my total to 770 calories for $2.67.


The banana is the training fuel of choice for many athletes: they're tasty, they're compact, they're full of energy, they're inexpensive and they're packaged in an all-natural bio-degradable case. A 4oz banana contains 121 calories. I need just six of those. Bananas are roughly 50 cents a pound, so it's $1.50 a day.

Yes, the banana saves me about 50 cents a day over gasoline, but that's certainly not enough to make me feel smug about how much money I'm saving when I check my bank balance. I eat a whole variety of foods, not just bananas and they're more expensive.

No, if I truly wanted to save money, I would eat heavily processed factory-foods almost exclusively. Supermarket junk food is almost always cheaper than gasoline when used as a bike fuel. Cases in point:

Pop Tarts

Pop tarts are 205 calories per pastry, they come two to a pouch. You need two pouches, or 2/3 of a box, to get your calorie needs met. That amounts to $1.33 a day to fuel up with pop tarts.

Cardboard Pizza

Tombstone pizza. 1/5 of a cardboard pepperoni pizza is 312 calories. I need to eat roughly half of the pizza to meet my calorie needs. They're 4/$10 (on sale), or $2.50 each. So it's $1.25/day to fuel up on a Tombstone death disk.

The Greatest Food Ever

An apple fritter contains 650 calories and costs roughly 99 cents.That means it's about 1.20 to fuel up on this glorious amalgamation of dough and fruit.

Mac and Cheese

Kraft Mac and Cheese: A box of prepared mac and cheese (with 1/4c milk and 2 tablespoons of butter) will get you about 600 calories. The box is about 79 cents, the milk is about a nickel and the butter a dime. I still need 1 and a quarter boxes (or 2.5 servings) to make up the calorie deficit incurred by riding my bike. It will cost me about $1.15 per day to fuel up with Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Broke college kid food

Ramen noodles. A single brick prepared according to package directions contains 380 calories. I saw cases of ramen at the grocery store for $2.40/12, or 20 cents per brick. I only need two bricks to make up the difference there, so it only costs 40 cents a day to fuel with ramen.

I eat a wide variety of foods, and frankly, gas has to cost $4 per gallon for me to break even on fuel costs.

What I don't save in money, I save in time. I get 3-6 hours of exercise each week without setting foot in a gym, where "normal folks" stand around for upwards of an hour waiting in line to ride a bike that goes nowhere.

But let's not overlook the real lesson here: if I really wanted to, I could maintain my weight while eating two apple fritters and a pound of bacon every day, followed with a heavy dose of leafy vegetables to help rid my body of toxins.

I just have to bike.

I pedaled off 798 calories today. I think I'll have another slice of bacon.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I wear a helmet. Do you?

I'm a firm believer that helmets take whatever beating your skull otherwise would, and are therefore good things to have on your head whenever you ride.

But if you read the Vancouver Sun, you might have read this article by Harvey Enchin:

Wearing a bike helmet might not make you any safer.

My immediate reaction to the headline was something like this:

Is he trolling? Is he trying to poke the hornet's nest? Just what is he talking about?
Colin Clarke, a mechanical engineer and British cycling advocate, has argued that the helmeted head will be subject to more impacts than a non-helmeted one in part due to the larger size of the helmet compared with the bare head. A near miss for a bare head may have an impact force of 70 per cent of a direct impact for a helmet wearer, he claims.
Yeah, maybe if you ride 5mph on the sidewalk.  And who in the heck is Colin Clarke? (Yes, I know he's a mechanical engineer and British Cycling advocate, but what has he published?)
Furthermore, while helmets may offer adequate protection from skull fractures, they may increase the risk of brain damage from "rotational shearing forces" given the greater number of impacts for helmet wearers.
I think I'll take my chances with rotational shearing forces over having a dent in my skull any day of the week, not to mention having my scalp peeled back leaving me to bleed to death in the street. But hey, if you worry about rotational shearing forces, so be it.

Is there a point to shocking the cycling public at large?
According to a 2003 article in the American Heritage Invention and Technology magazine, a surge in bicycle helmets from 1991 to 2001 -- to the extent that 69 per cent of child cyclists and 43 per cent of adult cyclists wore helmets by the end of the period -- was accompanied by a decline in ridership and an increase in cyclist accidents, resulting in 51 per cent more head injuries per cyclist.
Was this an illustration of moral hazard? Did wearing helmets give riders a false sense of security, resulting in riskier behaviour? Or perhaps traffic conditions, aggressive motorists or faster, lighter bikes are responsible for the elevated injury rate and mandatory helmet laws kept it lower than it otherwise would have been. We don't know.
Oh, he doesn't like mandatory helmet laws.

I've got a libertarian bent in me and I do share his sentiment that laws enacted to protect you from yourself are a waste of taxpayer dollars, but I also feel that proclaiming that you might be able to skip over a proactive step in protecting yourself is irresponsible.

Seriously, that sort of behavior is for the blogosphere. Most journalists are educated folks who don't need to resort to such stunts to drive readership to their publications.

There's got to be a bigger point in here amongst all the anecdotal evidence against protecting yourself... ah here it is, in the last paragraph:
In the Netherlands, there is high a rate of cycling and a low rate of cycling injuries. Virtually no one wears a helmet. There is, however, a vast cycling infrastructure that keeps bikes and cars apart. We need more study to determine whether the helmet law is achieving its objectives and, more importantly, to develop a comprehensive plan to improve cycling safety. In the meantime, I'll continue to wear my helmet.

Okay, so he wants what one finds in continental Europe. I don't have a problem with that. Cycling facilities are inexpensive and can be added to existing facilities with minimal interruption of services to existing users.

Lincoln, Nebraska, where I live, has over a hundred miles of bike path added to arterial streets, abandoned railroad corridors and flood control projects. Hundreds of miles of secondary streets are posted "bike routes".

The author also chooses to wear his helmet, despite the threat of rotational shearing forces that may cause brain damage.

The only people who responded to his headline are cycling enthusiasts. Given his message advocating more research into cycling safety and implication that Vancouver needs more cycling facilities to separate motorized traffic from the non-motorized, he is simply "preaching to the choir".

What about the rest of the congregation? What about the people who skim the headline and let out a smug little chuckle at "bike dorks" and move on to the World Cup news? What happens to them?

I'm picturing one of the aforementioned congregation, the one who chuckled at "bike dorks" visiting a bike shop in Vancouver with his new girlfriend (who happens to be a cyclist) buying a new bike, a water bottle, a bottle cage, a pump, a couple of spare inner tubes and a set of tire levers to keep the good times rolling. When asked about a helmet, he gives this response:

"Helmet? And look like a bike dork? Please. I read somewhere that helmets don't do any good anyways."

An article by some Australians, available for download at the USA's National Institutes of Health says otherwise.

Case in point: I was once told that drinking diet soda causes weight gain. I'm pretty sure the person who told me that read a shocking headline and didn't read the rest of the article. (I was later told by another person that rats who were given diet soda also tended to over-eat to compensate for the calories their little rat brains were expecting from the sweetness. Keep the shocking headlines to yourselves, people: I'm human and capable of telling my overgrown brain "you'll get NOTHING, and LIKE IT!")

Don't be misled: wear your helmet. The life you save will be your own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Coasting: it's as effortless as driving.

The rides today rocked. Could not have asked for better weather.

It's Friday before a long holiday weekend and I treated my commute as such. I wanted to see how far I could coast today. My chosen coasting area was the Antelope creek trail, starting at the bottom of the hill near the reservoir, just after one passes Everett Elementary. (I needed to build up some speed, I got the bike to 22mph by the time I got to the bottom of the hill.)

I then coasted until about halfway up the hill just before the Trago Sprayground. I needed to start pedaling. 6mph is slow enough to make one lose their balance on a bicycle. That's almost 5 blocks of not pedaling. That's about 1/3 of a mile to those who choose motorized transit.

I almost pedaled up the super-short inclines in between bridges, but decided to let the bike slow to 13mph up the hills and 16mph down the hills through gravitational acceleration.

It took me longer than normal to get home, but my kids informed me I was just in time for dinner!

Pizza Friday!!!

14.08 care-free summer miles.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hopefully it doesn't rain much.

What we lack in mountains in Nebraska, we make up for in farm access roads. I've ridden a few just because.

Up until March I haven't had a bike I felt comfortable taking on gravel roads. I bought a Specialized Crosstrail Sport because being cooped up all winter SUCKED. I've had it fitted with fenders and a rack, I ride it when it threatens to rain during the not-snow season.

The Crosstrail will get some studded ice tires in October or so and then the road bike gets to live in my basement, held upright by an indoor trainer. It might also serve as a drying rack for clothes since it's in the laundry room.

Enough discussion of the "dark by 5pm" season. It's summertime.

I've often entertained the idea of riding to the in-laws place via gravel and minimum maintenance roads. This is my weekend for it. I'll feel like a true Yankee pioneer by cycling on roads normally not cycled upon, joining the ranks of the brave (or foolhardy).

I definitely won't feel guilty about eating/drinking too much when I reach the in-laws place: it's 22 miles, 15 of which will be on gravel or dirt with tons of ungraded hills. If my HRM is correct, I should burn off 1300 calories in the 2 hours it's going to take for me to ride.