Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hit and Run

Friday evening I was clearing my driveway after dinner. I could see from the end of the driveway a bunch of emergency vehicles in the intersection at Lexington and Larpenteur, just a few blocks away. When I got done with my snow, I got on the Nokian-equipped Marin and rode down to see what had happened. By the time I got there, the police and emergency vehicles were gone but there was a video crew still there. I rode across to ask what had happened.

A pedestrian fatality, a hit and run. An old guy was hit by an Avalanche (which threw me for a second, until I remembered the Chevrolet Avalanche) which didn't stop. It happened about 20 to 8, he said, at which time we'd been sitting down for dinner and had seen a couple of firetrucks go by.

I don't know what the final toll will be for automobile-related deaths in 2005, but it'll probably be in the 42,000+ range again, 1,000 or so of which will be pedestrians and cyclists. It seemed sad and lonely to me that this poor guy got hit on the penultimate day of the year, it's threatening that it happened in an intersection my children often use, it's pathetic that the driver didn't have the integrity to stop. It has been my own experience with the uninsured, the drunk and the reckless (or all three) that they are very likely to take off, and that often there are no consequences. One year, it cost me a Saab I really liked, totalled at a red light by an uninsured drunk who took off and who paid no consequences whatsoever; just a month ago it was a hit and run bash in the left front fender of our Avalon in the Midway Cub parking lot, that cost us our $500 deductible to repair the damage. Here it cost a guy his life, and the driver stopping would not have changed that, but would have shown some acceptance of personal responsibility.

The Pioneer-Press says the victim of this crime is seventy-four year-old Dale Reinhardt. In the article currently posted online, they don't even mention the time or the intersection. And the world has moved on to 2006, his death will be added to the butcher's bill of tens of thousands of other motor vehicle fatalities and the story will quickly fade from what little public view it has. May his soul rest in peace.

Friday, December 16, 2005

An Invitation

Long time readers of my blog (Hi Liz!) know that I often refer to riding to church, either on Sunday mornings or, since the beginning of September, on Wednesday evenings for choir rehearsal. I rode to church as recently as a week ago Wednesday, my first real studded snow tire ride, 14 miles in 1 hour 20 minutes and sweating like the Dickens in 20 degree weather, overdressed as many novice cold weather cyclists are. I've been out of town for a few days and now the horserace that characterizes the runup to Christmas for a church music family with houseguests coming is underway and I probably won't ride much in the next week or two.

As Christmas approaches, I'd like to invite you to church. Not Christmas Eve or Day, particularly (though of course you'd be welcome!), but to our Festival of Lessons and Carols. It will be Wednesday night, December 21, at 6:30 with a dinner following at Saint Luke's Episcopal Church at 46th Street West and Colfax Avenue South in Minneapolis. This is an event we've run before at other churches, but is the first time we've done it here since Karla only started as Music Director in January. It is nine readings from the Bible interspersed with carols and hymns of the season. There's no sermon or communion or speaking in tongues or snake handling or anything like that. Dinner is our Medieval Dinner, or that's what we call it, spiced tomato soup, roast pork with cherry sauce, minted peas, rice, salad, pumpkin rolls, mulled wine (alcoholic) and cider (not) or punch followed by a selection of desserts. I do a lot of the setup, a bunch of the cooking and my share of the singing and you'd even get to hear me sing a brief solo in Spanish! What could be better? Henry and Geneva, my offspring, made famous in the Riding to Duluth episodes, will also be participating. We're asking for RSVPs as this is not a cheap dinner to put on and we'd like to know more or less how many people are coming. We're also asking $5 a person for the dinner, more if you can afford it, nothing if you can't.

Will I be riding there? Nope. I have to haul over all sorts of stuff. If you do ride, the bicycle parking situation isn't brilliant (there's a railing next to the church you can lock up to) but if you ask for me and bang the worst of the snow off your bike we could bring it inside. If you do drive a motorized vehicle, our church parking lot is behind Java Jack's at 46th and Bryant or you can park in the street, depending on the Snow Emergency status. Most of the Number 4 buses also run up and down Bryant if you're a transit person.

I know some bike bloggers are not fond of Christians. Believe me, there are some Christians I'm not much fond of either! As time has gone on, I care less and less about the institutional detritus of organized religion and more about the core message; love thy neighbor as thyself. I'm not going to try and convert anyone, your spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) are your own business, you won't get on any mailing lists or have brown-suited pairs of clean-cut young men (often on bikes!) show up at your front door, it's readings and music done by one professional (my wife) and a bunch of amateurs and then a meal, all on a Wednesday night, the shortest day of the year. Come and join us.

You can read about it at the web site: Saint Luke's Festival of Lessons and Carols. If you would like to come, please RSVP at Lessons and Carols RSVP so we have enough food! Thanks!

And if I don't write again before then, have a great Christmas!

Blackburn Customer Service - Positive

This worked out well. This past summer I bought a Blackburn Quadrant 4-LED headlight. It looks very 1950s retro. It's not a super-bright Luxeon LED light like the 5-watt DiNotte Ultralight (review here), 3-watt Light and Motion Vega or even Blackburn's own 1- and 2-emitter System X X3 and X6 lights, but does cast a useful beam, makes the bike visible, attaches quickly to any bike and doesn't cost a lot. I ended up buying a second one so that the children could each have one for those times we end up riding in the dark.

As much as I liked the light, one of them kept popping off its mount, usually when I'd go over bumps like the driveway thresholds along the West River Parkway bicycle path. There's few things more annoying or momentum-destroying than clocking along at 15 mpg, going over the bumps and having the light come off. Now you have to stop, turn around, ride back, pick up the light, reattach, etc. It's very aggravating, especially when it happens more than once in a ride, as happened to me one night riding home from church. This light fell off enough that now one of the four LEDs doesn't light.

I discontinued use of the one that kept falling off but used the other still. I decided to write Blackburn and ask if I could return the light for replacement. I wrote this email from work. Diane the customer service rep wrote back and said "Thank you for your inquiry. This is a bit unusual I will be glad to replace the light for you, please allow time for delivery." I wrote back to ask where I should send mine back to, then left on some business travels.

I got back Thursday and there was a box on my desk. I wasn't expecting anything, but opened it and there was a new Blackburn Quadrant in there and no note about having to return the old one. She got the address from my email signature.

I'm pleased with this. I haven't had many occasions to have to return things and appreciate the responsiveness that Blackburn exhibited here. Would I recommend the Quadrant for your bicycle lighting needs? Well, it's more for casual night riders than for serious, frequent or commuter riders, but if you want a light that's pretty cheap to equip your fleet (I can't afford HIDs for all the family bikes! Or for mine, for that matter!), it works pretty well. I also like the Mars 3.0 taillight, with two yellow side-aimed LEDs as well as five red rear-facing ones, which you can get packaged with the Quadrant for under $30. (LBS Plug: I got mine at The Bicycle Chain around the corner from us). In fact, the Mars is one of the lights I equipped with lithium batteries for my winter bike. I am looking forward to a review by James Sharp of Lactic Acid Threshold of several LED headlights including Blackburn's System X3 3-watt Luxeon headlight and even of DiNotte's forthcoming $169 3-watt LED taillight! He has a photo of his handlebar with several of the high-power LED headlights on it; it must look like a night football game is on when he lights them all up! I wish I could talk companies into sending me a pile of expensive lights to try out!

Thursday, December 08, 2005


That's haiku about bikes. I got the idea from The Old Bag, a female Twin Cities cyclist. I tried my hand at a couple:

Stiff black leather taut
Against my nether regions ouch
A new Brooks saddle

Snow falls in moonlight
Cyclist falls in moonlight too
SPDs too tight

These are kind of fun!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold Weather Lights

I made another adaptation to my bike for winter riding. I replaced the alkaline AAA batteries in my taillights with Eveready Lithium AAAs. These batteries are expensive ($10 for 4 at Target) but have extremely long shelf life, high output for much longer than alkalines and, most crucially, function properly down to -40. As an added bonus, if you're a weight weenie (and, having just installed 850g tires on the Marin, that's clearly not me) then you'll appreciate that they weigh 1/3rd less than regular alkalines (7.8g each).

I've used these batteries before, in other applications. I have an MD-12 motor drive for my Nikon FM3A film camera that takes eight AA batteries; this adds up to a substantial mass, and the 1/3rd lighter lithiums make it noticeably less hefty. A friend of mine who does nature photography in the Colorado Rockies found alkalines losing power and failing in the cold when the lithiums plugged right along without any cold-induced issues. The Eveready lithium AAs have been around for several years, the lithium AAAs are a new item this year.

It's worth noting that nickel-metal hydride (nimh) rechargeables also have superior cold-weather performance to alkalines, though not as good as lithiums. They'd work fine for rechargeable headlights, for instance, but wouldn't be suitable for taillights because they steadily lose charge over time and you don't want to have to keep disassembling your blinkies to recharge the batteries. The lithium AAAs you can slap 'em in there and they'll last for years regardless of the temperature.

As an aside, Nashbar has one of their periodic everything-20%-off sales on right now (I think it ends today). I was considering the Light and Motion Solo Logic Li-Ion SL headlight. It's a 13-watt halogen with a lithium-ion battery pack and a smart charger, good light output, small, quickly removable, lightweight and with good cold-weather performance. Nashbar typically wants $249 for this light, but with the 20%-off code it could be mine for $200! I dithered about this; $200 is still a lot of money for a bike light, at least to normal humans like my wife, and when I checked this morning, they were out of them! Makes that decision easy!

Anyway, is winter riding suddenly going to be a much greater experience through the promise of lithium batteries? No, it's just a tweak, but I see plenty of people with poor or no lights still riding at night at a time of year when it's dark more than half the day and when motorists aren't expecting bicycles. It's only sensible to show lights while riding, and to my mind, it's sensible to use batteries that are indifferent to any cold I'll be riding in so those lights will be at full brightness.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Get a Grip

In past years I have attempted to ride at least a mile in every month of the year. I'm not sure I ever did it, generally missing a month along the way somewhere. In 2004, the month I missed was September, the month we painted the house, but usually I'd omit January or February or November. Even in years when I did get my mile in it would often mean teetering up and down the street until the odometer clicked over 1.0 and then back into the warmth of the house.

This year I decided to try riding more in the winter. Being a guy who likes gear, I decided the thing to do was to equip my Marin with studded snow tires. I was down at Freewheel during the week and stopped in to buy tires. I think I meant to buy the 106-stud Nokian Hakkapeliittas but either they didn't have them or I didn't pay enough attention and instead bought a pair of 26 inch Nokian Mount and Ground 160s, with 160 studs each. At least they have an easier name to pronounce.

Saturday was the day to mount the tires. I started with the bike, which I brought into the house Friday night to warm it and the tools up. I have a nice big garage, but it's no fun to work out there at 16F with all the cold tools, etc. I took off the 26 X 1.75 Trek Kevlar Inverts I normally ride on the Marin and put on the Nokians. I had other repairs to do as well; on Halloween I'd suffered my first SPD crash, not getting unclicked from the pedal and toppling over, and this had broken my Twist-Grip shifter. It still worked, with an occasional slip, but was uncomfortable against my hand and having a broken shifter housing was not going to be good long-term. I'd bought a replacement one (labelled "X-Ray"!) over at The Bicycle Chain and installed that as well. This took me a while as I don't deal with these very often and had to ponder how it went together and how the cable routing worked. Here's the X-Ray shifter on the Marin:

X Ray shifter on Marin

All done, I took the Marin out and rode it around in the driveway and yard. I don't know if the Nokians grip that much better or if they just give you unwarranted confidence but I rode without difficulty on our snowy driveway.

Nokian Mount and Ground 160  26 X 1.9
This is the tire after a bit of riding. You can tell it's brand new from all the little rubber things sticking up off the tire. You can see the studs in the tire either side of the centerline.

Marin Pine Mountain with Nokians mounted
Here's the Marin. One reason I hadn't done more than teeter up and down a mile during the cold months has been a reluctance to expose my main bike to the winter salt on our streets. This is still true; I don't expect to ride the Atlantis, acquired last spring and now my main bike, this winter, but the Marin I am now willing to try. It's a beefy mountain frame, is well-suited to plowing into surprise potholes and whatnot and, while hardly a junker, is my secondary bike, relegated to pumpkin duty and local runs to the grocery store. I'm not as worried about operating this bike in the harsh conditions of a Minnesota winter.

There was other work to do, too. Our main car is a Toyota Avalon, two years old now. We don't buy new cars very often and thought a long time before getting this. There were those who suggested we get an SUV for the safety of four-wheel drive. We wanted lots of leg room, particularly in the back seat, and fell for the Avalon the first time we test-drove a used one. I thought about the 4WD thing; we don't do off-roading, and the times we need extra traction the issue is typically one of tire grip rather than road clearance or needing all-wheel drive. Also, you look at the death rates for occupants of large sedans versus sports utility vehicles and the sedans come out much better. While it is true that in a crash between a Suburban and our Avalon, the Avalon is likely to come out worse, overall, the death rates in Suburbans (to pick one vehicle) are much higher. A lot of this has to do with large SUVs rolling over, an uncommon crash in a low-slung sedan, much more frequent and disproportionately deadly in higher and heavier SUVs. The sedans stop shorter, turn and accelerate more quickly, have better visibility, sit lower and, in a car the Avalon's size (3,400 lbs), still offer a lot of structural protection.

In thinking about our snowy and icy roads, I decided that a good compromise would be to get the Avalon, roomy, powerful and comfortable, and get a set of snow tires. I ordered up a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks from The Tire Rack and, being a cheapskate, got them on the painted black steel rims rather than the expensive alloy ones. These look pretty hideous.

Here's the Avalon, freshly returned from Schoonover Body Works after its third visit in two years. This car has proved irresistable to others, who keep running into us.
Avalon with regular wheels

At the same time I bought the Blizzaks, I went to Sears and got a hydraulic jack so I could do a NASCAR-like tire changes rather than use the car's own jack. So, having re-shod the Marin, I went out and got out the hydraulic jack to hoist the Avalon.

It wouldn't work.

I pumped and pumped and pumped and it would raise about three inches and stop. I retreated to the garage, rummaged around to find the instructions for it and sat out in 15 degree comfort reading about my jack. It sounded like I was going to need more hydraulic jack oil, though where the old stuff was I have no idea. There was no puddle on the shelf where I store it.

On the other hand, I could ride the Marin! I got the bike out, suited up, and rode out through the snow of the backyard and off down the snow-covered streets. The Nokians seemed to grip well. I wasn't exactly leaning through the curves threatening to drag my pedals, but neither was I teetering along perfectly vertical, afraid to lean at all. I plowed through the light snow, through heavier bits where it had been plowed, and on clear pavement. I haven't ridden knobby tires in years. They look enormous even though they're much smaller than the original knobbies that came on the bike. I rode down to the local Checker Automotive store and bought myself a bottle of hydraulic oil. Then I saddled up and rode back, partly on a busy road cleared to the pavement, partly on the snowy side streets. The snow tires worked great.

I filled the jack and sure enough, it jacked fine, then spent a busy and un-NASCAR-like 40 minutes putting on the snow tires. Here's the Avalon with the snows on it. It looks like a law-enforcement model.
Avalon with snow tires on

There, now the fleet is ready. We'll drive around in the Avalon with our superior grip and anti-lock brakes waiting to get clobbered from behind by out-of-control drivers. I can do the same on my bike!

This should be a fun winter!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Keep Ridin', Patriot

I like this ad. It's especially appropriate on a day like today, with a steady fall of puffy snowflakes. Click on this image and you get taken to an ad agency site where a Miller ad gets played; make sure your speakers are on. Not for those with dial-up!

Keepin' It Cold, Patriot

Clink clink! That's one way to keep the brewskis cold! I saw this link on a blog called Commute-A-Blog. The guy is from near Boston so I think Commute-a is his pronounciation of what we Midwesterners call Commuterrr. You know, to a bicycle, we are nothing but fuel cells, and Miller High Life is as good a raw material as any to make the bike go! Speaking of which, I'm getting thirsty...