Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I've barely ridden since Thanksgiving, being occupied with all the regular church stuff, a huge dinner we lay on there (about 150 people this year) and painting our dining room. I love this time of year, but December tends to be my lightest riding month and this year was no exception despite the moderate temperatures. Merry Christmas anyway!
Merry Christmas 2006!
Not actually our house. This one belongs to a family a couple of blocks from us called, I think, the Griswolds. As with most of my photos, click on the picture to see a larger version.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wells Fargo Worries About Their Carpet

Long time readers may recall my low-level argument with Wells Fargo and their policy of not accepting deposits from bicyclists in the drive-through lanes. Wells Fargo, apparently wanting to inconvenience their bicycle-riding customers as much as possible, suggested that I just go inside the bank. There's no bike parking at the Arden Hills branch, I said. It was suggested that I just take my bicycle inside with me and if the staff has any questions say I'd been instructed to do this.

This has been a slowly-evolving story, and I thought the next move (besides using the drive-through ATM to make my deposit, just as quick and they can't refuse to accept it) would be to ride in in mid-January with my studded knobby tires and filthy bike dripping snow, slush, salt and grime on their carpets and cheerfully say that I'd been instructed to do this rather than use the drive-through lane. I discovered last winter that the bike will retain a lot of filth and drop it pretty quickly when it warms up (I found this out at church, where I'd park it by a floor drain).

Wells Fargo, very prescient, must have figured out what I was going to do and countered. On 21 November I went over to the bank and...
New bike rack at Arden Hills Wells Fargo  21 November
Curses! The canny bastards have put in a bike rack at Arden Hills! No excuses about no bike parking.

I contemplate my next move...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Velos de los Muertos

Last year, on a whim, I made myself a skeleton outfit out of black Levis, a cheap black sweatshirt, a Mayo Clinic Health Guide and some iron-on interfacing, then rode around on my bicycle cackling at people with a pumpkin on back. This was good fun.

I got my inspiration in part from the Mexican Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, which tend to be exuberantly colorful.

Day of the Dead skeleton
This one was in the Museum Shop at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

I decided to do this again. First, we had to get the pumpkins ready. We have a huge yard with a back gate, so have a couple back there, a couple by the back door and one by the front door, plus I needed one for the bicycle.

Preparations begin for All Souls Eve
I pressed Henry into service doing pumpkins.

Veloskeleton with bike
And here I am. Got to add fingers to my black gloves. When I first tried this last year, I used an REI candle lantern to illuminate the pumpkin. This turned out not to work very well. I switched to using several red blinkie lights and that works great. In this photo, I have six of them blinking away inside the pumpkin. Of course, they all blink at different rates so you get this cool flickering effect, much better than an actual candle.

Photo Note: to get the pumpkin face to show up, I used a slow shutter speed, 13 seconds in this case. The bike and I are illuminated primarily by the flash, the long exposure allowed the pumpkin blinkies (and background sky, neighbor's living room and moon) to burn in. A tripods is handy for this. This distant shot was to see if I framed it right--it was extremely dark outside. Once established that I had the camera aimed right, I zoomed in and got a closer shot:
Close up of Veloskeleton and Bike
The quick feedback of digital is great! This is with my new Sony DSC-R1 camera, my first "serious" digital, giving me the flexibility to use external flash and set manual exposures.

I rode about 10 miles all in all. I prefer to ride towards people and grunt or recite some doggerel like Ghosties Big and Ghosties Small, Skeletons are the Worst of All and then cackle and throw a candy bar at the smallest kid. Sometimes I just grunted, sometimes I stopped and handed out candy. Unlike last year, nobody came out and gave me a beer. I don't think it actually frightens anyone under 6, but it sure startles the hell out some folks! I think it adds to the light-hearted neighborliness as well.

And I look nice and friendly:
My expert makeup job
The makeup looks better from a distance!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Late Summer & Fall Pictures

I haven't given up riding, I've just got really bad at blogging! I've got a couple of posts to catch up, and am going to date them at roughly the correct time, but here is a smattering of photos from the late summer and autumn.

Atlantis is late summer 2006 configuration
I wanted to go and take some pictures with Mamiya 6 (a 120 medium format film camera) to try out some cheap mailers, so went riding along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. Here's how I carried the camera; in the usual camera bag in a basket mounted on my Topeak rack. These racks are pretty ugly, but you can quickly interchange components using a sliding attachment, some spare ones of which I bought last spring. This isn't even a Topeak basket, it's a Wald with a Topeak mount on it. Anyway, this works great for Bicycle Based Photography. You ride to the spot, part the bike (the kickstand is great for this, as when this train went through), pull out the camera bag and shoot away. This is how the Atlantis was set up in late summer, with the cute but so far largely-unused Nitto front rack.

Camera bag in Topeak basket
Here's the Billingham camera bag in the basket on back. The bag has some padding to protect the camera. Also notable here is the stainless steel Jong Won JSB-500 double-walled water bottle, which will keep ice water icy for hours even on hot sunny days, and hot coffee plenty steamy on an hour's ride to church in the winter.

The Atlantis bars with VDO computer
I love how bike magazines talk about "the cockpit" of bikes they test, like it's real complicated or something. Somewhat more cockpit-like than usual is this VDO computer, which has an altimeter and temperature. I'm at 711 feet about sea level here at 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and am pretty sure the altitude's right because I, being a nerd, rode to Holman Field to set the base altitude one evening (704 feet at the north end of Runway 14/31), then rode straight home to establish my garage's base altitude (916 feet ASL). You have to reset the base each morning (or at known altitude locations, like airports, Continental Divides, the ocean, or the top of Mount Everest) because changes in barometric pressure will fool it. It also can get fooled, so that when I take it out of my air-conditioned office into hot summer afternoons and ride home, the temperature-compensation can give misleading altitude gain readings as the thermometer catches up to the heat.

New shipment of tubes to make more Atlantisses
Ah! A new shipment of tubes so Rivendell can make some more Atlanti! Gotta love steel bikes!

Badly installed U rack at Forest Lake, Minnesota 13 August 2006
When my employer asked me (as a commuter) about bike racks, I developed an unhealthy interest in bicycle parking. This, by the way, will get you nowhere with the babes at parties. In any case, driving back from dropping the kids off at camp Karla and I stopped in Forest Lake. They've developed their lakefront, and installed their U-racks improperly (they should be parallel to each other, not in a line!!!).

Repair machinery on Short Line Bridge  12 August
Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, Phase III of the Midtown Greenway came into wide use well before its official opening. There are thoughts about extending it across the Short Line Bridge into Saint Paul, which would be great. Sadly, there was a fire on the bridge over the summer that damaged it. I was glad to see repair machinery out on the structure and have since seen trains at the elevators on the Minneapolis side of the river. The Greenway ends here at the moment, and the fencing is much more formidable now, but in August I could still walk right up.

The Como Avenue rail bridge by Mannings Café 12 August
That's not the only bridge work. In the summer of 2005 Como Avenue, a good way to downtown Minneapolis for me, was closed for months while they completely rebuilt it. In the summer of 2006, the street was beautiful but now the railroad was rebuilding their bridge across Como Avenue by Mannings Cafe. On weekends, you could pick your way through. During the week there were lots of construction guys around and I (on the way to my dentist in downtown Mpls), took the detour.

The new supports for the Como Avenue rail bridge by Mannings
You can see the new supports here alongside the old steel (or iron?) ones. The new ones won't have a support in the middle of the road like the old ones did. The trick to all this was keeping the rail lines open during construction. Funny that I'd take photos of bridgework on the way to the dentist! Ho ho. The road is open again.

Ortlieb front bag with camera insert
Another way of carrying cameras. This is an Ortlieb front bag with the camera insert. This insert provides some padding and structure to the insides of the bag. In this instance, I'm carrying a Contax G2 film camera in there.

Speeches at ceremonial first spade for new U of M football stadium 30 September
One day in September I rode the Intercampus Transitway going towards Minneapolis and at the end, instead of vast empty parking lots, there was a fuss going on. It was the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new University of Minnesota football stadium. Some official was blathering on about the commitment to excellence and proud football tradition and how the new stadium would be great. Personally, I thought they were idiots to get rid of the old stadium, about a block away from where this ceremony was taking place. They had a nice brick traditional stadium and knocked it down to make way for the Aquatic Center. Swimming pools are nice, I guess, but college football in the sterile environs of the Metrodome is just lame. I thought they were nuts when they made the move, in 1982, and it's rewarding to see them come full circle and essentially admit it was a mistake. Now, as a Minnesota taxpayer, I get to help pay for this farce! This evening, the Gophers took on the University of Michigan and lost 28-14.

Grain elevators where U of M stadium will go
There are some grain elevators where this stadium's going. In the well-established tradition of actual productive businesses making way for entertainment venues, these will be knocked down to make room for a few football games each year.

Warning signs on elevators by U of M  8 October
The U (as the University of Minnesota is known in these parts) apparently has bought these silos. The warning signs are to keep people out. There have been occasional deaths of kids playing in grain elevators and falling to their deaths.

Mississippi River gorge north from Ford Parkway Bridge 30 September
The lameless and futility of the University of Minnesota football team is a perennial feature of life here, but so is the beauty of fall. This picture is north up the Mississippi River gorge from the 46th Street/Ford Parkway bridge at the end of September.

Since I'm catching this up later, I can report that the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team, playing in the storied Insight Bowl, gave up a 38-7 third-quarter lead, allowing Texas Tech the largest comeback in college bowl history, and lost. A day or two later, the coach was shitcanned. Ahhh, the proud traditions of U of M football!

Geese on Lake Johanna  2 October
And on the way to work one day there was a flock of birds paddling by on Lake Johanna. I pulled over, dismounted, and took this photo.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Saint Paul Bike Summit Report

I went to the Saint Paul Bike Summit last night at the Dunning Community Center on Marshall. This was hosted by the Saint Paul Bicycle Advisory Board (I'd put a link but the information is very ancient so I won't bother) and was a forum to present accomplishments, discuss plans, solicit comments and prioritize items brought up by the audience. About 50-60 people attended, including me.

[Note: this entry is likely to be boring enough for everyone, but is going to especially tedious if you are not familiar with Saint Paul and riding here. Sorry!]

As a bit of background, I have no history of bicycle advocacy other than just riding the damn things, and, for the last year and a bit, writing this blog. I did wonder last year while riding the Midtown Greenway (Phase III of which just opened September 8th, by the way, congratulations!), who put this together? I like many of the rails to trails ideas, the Greenway is unlike most paths in that it is fast, direct, useful and non-scenic, and I'd wonder who worked within the system to get this stuff done, especially with my vague awareness of the long timeframes, competing constituencies, funding issues, planning requirements, etc. I have no direct knowlegde of these issues, but know they exist and am glad that people have worked and are working on our behalf within the system.

The meeting started with some reviews of things getting done. Many of these I've noticed; the bike lanes painted on Como Avenue from Dale to Rice (my usual route downtown, e.g., to the Saturday Farmer's Market), the lanes newly-painted on Marshall towards the river (not my usual route, and the lanes stop early, but from where they stop to the Lake/Marshall bridge is two lanes wide and down a hill so I have no problem taking the right lane and zooming down), the newly-painted lanes on Como west of the Intercampus Transitway and the ones on Concord down by Boca Chica.

The longest part of the meeting was the comments section. You may not be surprised to know that practical cyclists are an opinionated bunch. Without taking minutes, the comments included these things:
  • The lack of decent north/south routes through the western part of the city was a recurring theme. There are two sets of railway tracks and Interstate 94 that present really big obstacles, and smaller ones like the Ayd Mill road cutout. North/South, I like the Chatsworth route (or Chatsworth/Victoria if you want to cross University on a light) but it requires carrying your bike across an "informal" railway crossing when there's no train there. I speculate that if the City asks BNSF for a crossing the rail guys will fence the damn thing off. The only other level crossings on these fast main lines in the city are at Black Bear Crossings (Como Avenue, SE side of Como Park and heavily-controlled, not that that prevented a 7-year-old on a bike from getting clipped and killed a few years back), and Talmage Avenue which actually is in Minneapolis now that I look at it, not that anybody knows where it is. Adding a new uncontrolled level crossing may not be what they want to do.

  • Others complained about Snelling south of Como across the railways. This probably does suck, but I never ride it, partly because it sucks so bad. Cranky we may be but we are nothing if not persistent; one guy said he'd been commuting on that route for 25 years and the bridge is due for a rebuild.

  • Some of it was poor sidewalk thresholds that dump you into traffic. The older thresholds, or ramps (there is some name for them) went down at the apex of the sidewalk corner, which dumps cyclists or wheelchair-bound people into traffic. The new ones go straight across, two apexes or a continuous radius on the corner. Old ones will be replaced in the normal course of events but no time frame was mentioned, there are bound to be some around after I'm dead.

  • There is another feature for traffic calming where the curb for the parking lane comes out and narrows the street down to one lane. We have this on Victoria south of Larpenteur near our house. I know neighbours liked this idea to slow down traffic (I went to a couple of planning meetings back in the mid-90s on this); from a cyclist point of view, it forces us out into the traffic lane. People proposed a jutout that doesn't stick out so far.

  • Various complaints. Poor bad paving on older trails, bad snow removal, debris on trails, cars in bike lanes, etc.

  • Specific street complaints; Snelling was the worst, no surprise, I prefer not to drive on it, followed probably by Lexington (my Chatsworth route is a parallel alternative to Lexington), Hamline and University. Ford Parkway was repainted but no bike lane added. Lanes suddenly ending. Lexington, for instance, is excellent north from about Roselawn to County E (just about exactly where I ride) in Roseville and north. In Saint Paul, south of Larpenteur and particularly south of Como Park it's narrow and too fast and there's not much they can do about it. One guy said Hamline and Marshall is the most-run red light he knows in the city. I don't like Hamline south of University and this is no surprise to me.

  • Some people like the recent improvements on Selby including some sort of structure in the middle of the street, if I understood correctly, which I may not have. I'll have to go take a look.

  • A couple of comments struck me as odd. One person said we need to integrate with the Minneapolis trail system. For the most part, there's a river between us and the opportunities to connect are extremely limited (Highway 5 bridge, Ford Parkway/46th Street bridge, Marshall/Lake bridge, hopefully the Short Line bridge, and the Franklin Avenue bridge). The Intercampus Transitway and Como Avenue, both on land borders, are already hooked up. How can we not connect with them? Also, one woman was very concerned about changing the laws to allow bicycles on sidewalks in some business districts. Is that a worthy undertaking? Has anyone ever gotten ticketed for sidewalk riding?

  • Some things are more complicated. This was the City of Saint Paul, not Ramsey County, not the Met Council, not even Falcon Heights or Lauderdale. The plans end at the city limits. One guy, who says he commutes from Hudson to Minneapolis each day, would like Larpentuer made more bike-friendly. Larpenteur, at least from Dale to Highway 280, is actually pretty good, wide with a big wide shoulder/parking lane. It narrows a bit between Lexington and Hamline, but stays useful and direct to Hwy 280, where Minneapolis starts, the street changes its name to Hennepin and it gets busy, narrow, broken up and often obstructed by trucks and commercial traffic. I normally take Eustis down a sharp little hill to Como right before this happens and ride the rest of the way west on Como. [at the moment, BNSF is rebuilding a cruddy old steel railway bridge on Como and you'll get detoured on weekdays. Go north to Talmage and you can try out the other mainline level crossing. On weekends, you can ride your bike under the bridge. I think it's done in October.]

    The complication with Larpenteur is that it is the Saint Paul and Roseville city border. I once called 911 on a car crash on Larpenteur. The operator asked me which direction the car was heading. Does it matter? If it's eastbound, she told me, I'll call Saint Paul, if it's westbound, I'll call Roseville. Oh. Eastbound, I said, but it crossed the median and is now in the westbound lanes. I left her to sort out who to call. Given this niggling over who to call about a crash, how will we possibly coordinate striping lanes and installing signage?

  • Education and awareness. It's always an answer. The vast majority of motorists share the road with cyclists without undue issue. There is a tiny minority who are mouth-breathing twits. Education and awareness is not likely to help them. One guy said he once had a drink thrown on him, got the license, but the cops wouldn't do anything because he couldn't tell who was driving. He was indignant; that would never happen to a car! Oh yes it would. I had a Saab 900 I liked a lot and was sitting at a red light in Duluth one morning when I got rear-ended so hard I hit the car ahead of me who hit the car ahead of him. The guy who hit me took off. The cops seemed to know who this guy would be and in less than half an hour found him at home. Been home all morning he said, smelling of booze. Cop looked at the car, which not only had front-end damage and was still warm but also had my taillight in his grille (the cop there and my cop compared part numbers from my intact taillight and the one in the guy's grille). However, nobody saw who was driving and this boozed-up insurance-free bozo got off free. It doesn't just happen to bikes. (and if you ever get in a crash while drunk, take off and lie, there are apparently no consequences)

  • Maps. There used to be a Twin Cities Commuting Map available but someone said it's out of print. Several people complained about how there wasn't a decent map of the Twin Cities for cyclists and that the Metropolitan Council should update it and reissue. I think they're wrong. I really like Little Transport Press's Twin Cities Bike Map, which has the core cities on one side with every street shown, and the larger metro area on the other. I adore maps anyway, and liked this one a lot when I first got it, but I like it even more now that Doug Shidell, the publisher, incorporated a couple of my comments on the latest one (Minnehaha west of Snelling as a marked route rather than Thomas, for instance, and the full length of the Intercampus Transitway). It's in bike stores now, it has the Light Rail on the cover and you can instantly tell it apart from the prior version of the Light Rail cover map by looking at MSP airport and seeing if the north/south runway is shown (another suggestion of mine, though I think he rendered it too short) (the really old Little Transport Bike Maps had the Stone Arch bridge on the cover and, although ok, weren't as good as this one). I actually talked to Doug about buying a bunch of these (10 or 12, whatever the package is) and carrying a couple with me for sale because people ask me about them so much (I stop a lot because I'm taking pictures, admiring the view, drinking beer, plus I'm from Iowa so am a friendly approachable guy) and want to know where to get them. I direct them to their local bike store, but if they're lost when they ask me it would be handy to give them a map. Just call me Matt the Friendly Bicycle Ambassador. By the way, Doug also does Madison and Milwaukee maps and a Twin Cities Bird Map, not that I've seen these others.

  • The last place I could have sold these maps was to three women on the east end of the Midtown Greenway by the Short Line Bridge, which as I have reported earlier, had a fire this summer. These ladies were from Chaska and had somehow got onto this trail, not at that point officially open, and followed me because I looked like I knew what I was doing. I told them this great trail might go over the ratty-looking bridge and connect to Saint Paul. We chatted, I showed them the map and where they were and directed them to the West River Road and towards Minnehah Park. The good news is, it sounds like the trail will go on across the bridge. Nobody is confirming anything, but the City of Saint Paul is doing the trail up Ayd Mill and calling it the Greenway and the comments made it sound like the Short Line bridge will be accessible to bikes. As usual, this is probably a couple of years out, but that would be great.

  • Bike Parking is an issue. Many people commented that it was an inhibitor to using their bikes more. The good news is that there are racks going in in the Marshall/Cleveland business area (think Izzy's ice cream and Trotters Cafe and Bakery) as well as in other places. There were a lot of comments, and I'd used mine on the Chatsworth rail crossing and didn't want to go again, but not only is bike parking (decent racks and especially lockers) not widely available enough outside common destinations, it often sucks outside bike stores. I first noticed this at World Cycling Productions and mentioned it in my blog, mocking them since the customers drive their cars there to get their $700 bike wheels, but in fact a lot of bike shops have sucky bicycle parking. The place to start might be getting decent racks outside bicycle retailers, then start hounding others. Jim at Hiawatha Cyclery has done a nice job outside with racks outside his shop, for instance, and he sells the Twin Cities Bike Maps, so you can have a fulfilled Practical Cycling experience. I may do a page of Bike Shop Bicycle Parking in the Twin Cities to illustrate this point.

  • At one point a lady was commenting on the proliferation of drive-through lanes for various businesses and someone piped up, yeah, and they won't even let you use them! Damn Right!

  • Although University Avenue is plenty wide enough for bike lanes at the moment, it probably won't be when Light Rail goes in there. There will be requests for sidewalks, parking, traffic, left turns, bike lanes and light rail, and it probably won't all fit, although the design hasn't yet been settled upon. Just don't be surprised. Also, University is likely to be tougher to get across once light rail goes in assuming it looks like the Hiawatha Line and not like Toronto's streetcars. I think it's due to open in 2014. These planning time frames are enormous.

All in all it was an interesting evening. Jim at Hiawatha has commented recently about how much he dislikes government and maybe anarchy would be better. That's a safe viewpoint from the standpoint of someone who's government provides police protection, puts out the fire if your house burns down, built the street you live on, enforces the property rights that allow you to stay there and provides a legal framework which, among other things, gives the mortgage company enough security to lend you the money to buy it, clears the snow, allows fresh water to come out of your taps and takes care of your shit when you flush the toilet. I think anarchy sounds greatest when you're a college sophomore. However, anarchy quickly dissolves into something else, tribal or feudal or fascist or, very rarely, and after some struggle, democratic.

This Bicycle Summit was a good example of citizens participating in government. Our opinions were being solicited, our viewpoints heard, non-cycling City of Saint Paul engineers were there to hear what the cycling community wants. I appreciate the opportunity to be heard and to have some tiny influence on what happens. Will we get everything we want? Nope. Can we affect what happens next and provide the benefits of our cycling experience? Yes. And we can affect it better if we're not the only anarchists; it'd be bad if well-organized pet owners got outdoor free-range hamster runs funded while anarchist cyclists just complained about The Man and how much it sucks and You Just Wait. As I mentioned earlier in the article, I have from time to time been astonished and grateful that someone, quite some time ago, took the time to get the approvals, design, funding and construction of the Minnehaha Park trails, the Midtown Greenway, the Munger Trail in northern Minnesota, the bike lane striping on Como and Marshall and Minnehaha. Somebody gave enough of a damn to get that stuff done, they probably did it in their spare time and they probably didn't get paid. Now it's our turn. Maybe one day we'll get a level crossing at Chatsworth and the railroad tracks and it'll be christened the Matt Memorial Level Crossing to choruses of rousing cheers; maybe they'll talk to BNSF and the railway guys'll have a conniption and fence the thing with barbed wire and my name shall evermore be cursed. Maybe nothing will happen. At least I will have tried my little bit to influence what happens, and I'd encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Saint Paul Bicycing Summit

The Saint Paul Bicycling Summit will be held Wednesday from 7:00-9:00PM at the Dunning Recreational Center at 1221 Marshall Avenue. I could summarize what this is about, but only noticed it from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press article, which I quote below. There is also an online survey about Saint Paul bicycling you can take.
We have the bikes, here come the trails
With more paths and a conference Wednesday, St. Paul aims to become state's bicycling capital
Pioneer Press

As bicycle commuters go, Steve Scholl is among the hardest of the hard core.

Nothing stops him from biking from his home in St. Paul's Highland Park to his job downtown at the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Nothing. Not traffic, not even the most daunting of Minnesota obstacles — winter.

"Ten years ago, 15 years ago, it was really difficult," Scholl said. "Today, I think it's really easy."

With varying levels of success, St. Paul has tried to become more bicycle-friendly.

But in the next few years, an unprecedented level of public investment — millions of dollars, much of it from federal funds — in bicycle infrastructure will at least bring St. Paul's reputation closer to that of Minneapolis, widely regarded as a national leader.

For Scholl, it means something as simple as the city plowing his bike route, the Shepard Road trail, during winter. But a vast expansion of the city's trail networks now under way would eventually allow bicyclists to cross town without sharing so much as an inch of pavement with automobiles.

The developments come as the city prepares for its first Bicycling Summit on Wednesday at Dunning Recreation Center. Together with an online survey, the conference will form the basis of a bicycle transportation plan that will be added to the city's overall plans.

"Mayor (Chris) Coleman is trying to make the city of St. Paul one of the most livable cities in America, and having trails and opportunities for cyclists is critical to making the city more livable," said Anne Hunt, Coleman's deputy policy director.

"What makes a great urban city is that you have opportunities to bike or walk or get in your automobile or use mass transit," Hunt said. "You want to provide residents and business people a variety of transportation options."


The Twin Cities have a reputation as a bicycling mecca, but St. Paul has always lagged behind its neighbor. In the 2000 census, 2 percent of Minneapolis residents reported commuting to work by bicycle, third highest in the country for a city of that size. St. Paul came in at a third of that rate, 0.7 percent.

But the census is taken in March, typically a miserable month for weather in Minnesota. And the top two finishers, Tucson, Ariz., and San Francisco, are fair-weather cities year-round.

"It says something about the activity level here — a lot about the activity level here," said Bob Works, who heads the bicycle and pedestrian program for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Demonstrating the area's love for biking was this weekend's 12th annual St. Paul Classic Bike Tour, for which 7,000 cyclists registered to ride, including Coleman. It is the biggest bike tour in the state.

And there are anecdotal reports that many more people are hitting the roads on their bikes daily, driven largely by health-awareness campaigns and the cost of gasoline.

"It sure seems like there's been an increase in the number of cyclists in Minneapolis and St. Paul," said Steve Clark, bicycle- and pedestrian-program manager for Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit organization that oversees a $25 million pilot project to improve bicycle infrastructure and awareness, one of four such federally funded projects in the country.

"It's not just gas prices and climate change, but also health consciousness," Clark said.

And that may be one of the factors pushing St. Paul trail projects — more people than ever are using them.

One of the biggest projects is the extension of the Midtown Greenway into St. Paul. By putting a dedicated bike lane alongside the railroad bridge near St. Anthony Avenue, the project would create the second Twin Cities Mississippi River crossing exclusive to bikes and pedestrians (the Stone Arch Bridge is the first).

Eventually, the Greenway extension would connect to a new trail along Ayd Mill Road, which connects to the Interstate 35E bike route, which connects to the Dakota County Big River Trail.


And that's the point — connectivity. Once a series of interconnected projects is completed, cyclists will be able to:

• Pedal from an afternoon concert on Harriet Island to Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood for dinner while staying off streets altogether.

• Travel from the University of Minnesota to the Capitol, helped by new trails in Como Park and a bike lane along Como Avenue.

• Bike from Lowertown to, well, Duluth, if you're motivated enough, via an extension of the Bruce Vento Regional Trail in the works that will connect downtown to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and a series of regional and state trails.

Furthermore, while Summit Avenue was one of the first streets in the metro area with a bike lane, Minnehaha, Como, Marshall and Fairview avenues and others now have striped bike lanes. And more are coming.

It's a far cry from St. Paul's ill-fated 1995 foray into bicycle utopia. With much fanfare, the city introduced dozens of communal yellow bikes for the citizenry to jaunt about town.

It was a harsh lesson for idealists pushing alternative modes of transportation. Within days, they started showing up mangled and vandalized. Others just disappeared.

Other ideas have emerged since then. In mid-2004, Metro Transit finished putting bike racks on every bus. Trains on the Hiawatha light-rail line also have racks, as will trains planned for the Central Corridor. Metro Transit's Bob Gibbons said they've helped people get out of their cars, especially with the recent spike in gas prices.

"Anecdotally, our bus drivers tell us they've seen a big increase" in the number of bikes, Gibbons said.

Bicycle backers say it has taken a major change in mind-set to get street engineers, for example, to think beyond the automobile. But it is happening. The city's parks department and its public works department now work bikes into their plans. When Marshall Avenue was recently repaved, for example, a bike lane was added.

St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Bob Bierscheid said the health and welfare of residents are part of his responsibilities, and biking opportunities are one way to address that.

"We've got this obesity issue that we're dealing with, and it's getting worse, not better," said Bierscheid, an avid cyclist. "We've got to get people out and active."

People who have toiled in grass-roots efforts to see these kinds of improvements say things have changed since the old days. Political leaders are more willing to back the projects as assets — not only to residents, but also to business leaders looking to locate a new shop or factory.

"I think the opportunities have gotten better and the climate has gotten better," said Richard Arey, a founder of both St. Paul's bicycle advisory board and the St. Paul Classic. "It does take a certain amount of self-enlightenment, but it does work."

Jason Hoppin can be reached at jhoppin@pioneerpress.com or 651-292-1892.

If you go:
What: St. Paul Bicycling Summit
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Dunning Recreation Center, 1221 Marshall Ave.

If you have an interest in cycling in Saint Paul, it would be good to go this meeting. I expect to be there and am even skipping choir practice to do so!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fancy Bikes Get More Costly

The Wall Street Journal ran an article a couple of weeks ago about how high-end bicycle prices are likely to increase due to constraints on the supplies of some high-tech frame materials, particularly titanium and carbon fibre. Quoting the article:
Cycling enthusiasts can expect to see prices head uphill for bikes made of in-demand specialty materials such as titanium and carbon fiber.

Driving the increase is a sharp rise in orders for airplanes made of the same materials, meaning that bike makers -- along with makers of sailboats, lacrosse sticks, tennis rackets, jewelry and bone screws -- are paying 25% more for raw materials and passing along some of the costs to consumers.

Prices for high-end bikes from makers such as Trek Bicycle Corp., Cannondale Bicycle Corp., and Serotta Competition Bicycles, some of which already cost more than $10,000, could rise 5% to 25%. A custom-made La Corsa titanium frame from Serotta, for instance, would sell for up to $7,000 with top components by the end of this year, up from $6,000 in January.

Amid rising demand, titanium and carbon-fiber makers are largely catering to their bigger customers: the aerospace industry. Zsolt Rumy, chief executive of St. Louis-based Carbon Fiber maker Zoltek Companies Inc., says he is trying to keep prices lower for bigger customers by raising prices for smaller ones, such as bike and golf-club makers, who constitute 15% of his company's business. "We really jack up the price" for smaller customers, he says. He's passed on more of the 60% to 100% increases to sporting-goods customers.

The article repeats an oft-heard misapprehension, that titanium is as strong as steel and as light as aluminum.
Titanium makers say their silvery gray product, made by refining and melting an ore extracted from rutile sand found in Australia and elsewhere, has the strength of steel and the light weight of aluminum. But it's far more expensive than both: Titanium can cost more than $32,000 a ton, compared with less than $1,000 a ton for carbon steel. The price of high-quality titanium, aluminum and carbon fiber has risen as orders from airplane makers and defense companies such as Airbus, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are buying up a greater portion of the supply to keep up with demand.

Actually, titanium weighs quite a lot more than aluminum, 280 pounds per cubic foot versus aluminum's 169 pounds per cubic foot. It is stronger, so you can get by with less of it in smaller tube diameters and make very light frames, but let's not mistake that for being lighter than aluminum. It is lighter than steel, which comes in right around 500 pounds per cubic foot. It also has a much higher melting point that aluminum, which is handy if you're making, say, Mach 3 aircraft, but I typically don't ride fast enough that atmospheric drag dangerously heats up my bike frame. You want a nifty material? How about magnesium, at 109 pounds per cubic foot? There are people making bikes out of magnesium. You'd better hope like hell they don't catch fire!

Lots of people spend a lot of money on bikes:
The tight supplies of titanium and carbon fiber, a strong lightweight synthetic material, come as the bike industry keeps expanding. About 19.8 million bicycles were sold last year in North America, up 8.2% from 2004, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Sales of bikes and bike-related parts topped $6 billion last year, up from $5.7 billion in 2004. Some bike makers estimate that 30,000 cyclists each year spend $3,000 or more on a new bike, a $90 million market.

But the growth also reflects the ever-escalating upgrades in bike models. Bike makers now use laser measurements, computer simulations, test-ride videos and drawings of a rider's body dimensions to create a more perfect ride. The desired growth in sales, coupled with tightening demand for raw materials, puts the bike industry in a bind.

A new wave of affluent cyclists is increasingly willing to pay higher prices for bikes that weigh less and are made of high-tech materials. But bike makers believe high prices eventually will hurt sales for middle-class buyers and could cause a return to other, cheaper materials such as lightweight steel. Cheaper bikes at retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are typically made of steel.

Older cheaper materials like steel? Wal-Mart bikes? What a slap in the face to us Rivendell riders!

I've always thought that the cutting-edge materials use in bikes was pretty neat. I don't partake in the fancy materials myself, sticking with brazed lugged steel frames and forged aluminum components for the most part, but for all the technology cars brag about, it's bicycles where advanced steel alloys, aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, magnesium, carbon fibre and even beryllium are used to hit lightweight high-performance targets. It's possible to produce bikes in these advanced materials and have them used in real-world conditions so that knowledge advances (I'm old enough to remember some of the early attempts like the Exxon (really) Graftek, the Viscount bike with the failing aluminum forks and the Teledyne Titan) . Military aircraft have used these advanced materials for years, they began to work their way into commercial aircraft in the last round of model introductions, and now are going to be used extensively in the new generations of planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 and A350 models. That's where all the big-volume demand is coming from and driving up the prices for your Litespeeds and Trek OCLVs.

Does this affect us Practical Cyclists? I'm guessing most daily commuters and ride-to-the-store cyclists aren't using carbon and titanium frames. Plain old steel works fine and some nice Practical Bikes like the Breezers are aluminum, partly for anti-corrosion reasons, but using exotic materials would only make the bike more attractive to thieves I think. I'm not going to fret about the rising cost of carbon fibre and titanium, I'll leave that to those who chase the latest in cycling technology and keep riding my steel steeds. It is going to hurt, though, when I get my titanium-masted carbon-fibre yacht. Curses!

Wells Fargo Answers Again: No

I got a call from Wells Fargo. It started off as an email, apparently unaware of the prior communication I'd had through the account messages, and which I had quoted earlier.
"I would like to speak with you regarding the feedback you provided about our Arden Hills branch and the drive up. Is there a number and time I could reach you? If you would rather, you can call me so we can discuss this further. I look forward to speaking with you."

It was from an Administrative Assistant for the Northeast Metro and Northeast Suburban Districts of Wells Fargo Bank.

I called Katie and left a message. She called back. She was pretty cheerful but the news she bore wasn't good; the teller who had initially refused to serve me that Friday afternoon was correct, the ones who had previously taken my deposits and the one who did so the following Monday were in error. It is for my safety. She went on about how it's hard to see cyclists and often car drivers aren't watching when they come up to a drive-through and could run into me and the pavement is sometimes uneven and the tellers can't see us. I said that I am taller than a car, nobody's going to have trouble seeing me. What about a pickup? she countered. I look over them, I said. Visibility isn't an issue.

Katie carried on; it wasn't that Wells Fargo doesn't want my deposit or is trying to make it hard to do business but it's for my safety. Look, I said, I ride all over the place and I deal with distracted and oblivious drivers all the time, a drive-through lane at a bank is just about the least of my worries. Oh but there's been an incident she said ominously, she talked to the Risk Management people, looked right at their internal website (not public, I looked) and there was some sort of incident that has brought this to the forefront again and they want to remind all the branches of the company policy. What sort of incident, I asked? Katie wasn't sure, of course, and thought she couldn't even find out, though she did say it was in Metro Minnesota so could be most anywhere.

If oblivious, dangerous motorized customers are a hazard to people, maybe they should be made to park and go inside. I took this photo at a Wells Fargo last August on one of my recreational rides when I wanted to use the ATM:
The Source of Wells Fargo's Concern
Now Where Did I Put That Deposi...Yaaaah!!

When the other person answered they said it was up to the branches, I said. What other person?? Katie sounded surprised for once. She didn't know about the response I'd had previously. I read it to her. She was dismissive of that response; that's just an Online Customer Service Representative, she said, she could be in Phoenix or somewhere and not even be familiar with the specifics of the different branches.

Don't you see we're doing this for your safety and that of other cyclists and pedestrians? I said it sounded like the Nanny State, trying to protect us from ourselves. I proposed to her that if the problem were that motorists were running into people, perhaps it is motorists who should have to park and go inside since they were the ones causing the problems. She laughed; this obviously wasn't a solution.

What about mopeds? I asked. Would you serve a moped? It's motorized. Wouldn't that still be classified as a bicycle, she said? Maybe it it's under 50cc, but it's motorized. Well, she said, it makes noise so drivers would notice it. Well then, what about my boss's Honda Accord Hybrid; when it stops, the engine shuts off and it makes no noise. Or what about an electrically-driven bicycle (like the Stokemonkey-powered Xtracycle, though I didn't cite the model)? It would be motorized. She wasn't sure, said that with the ever-increasing variety of vehicles maybe some adjustments would have to be made. I think she thought I'd be so grateful that Wells Fargo was concerned for my safety that I'd just say gosh thanks I hadn't thought of that and that would be it.

I don't think drive-through restaurants allow bicyclists or pedestrians, she said. Partly true, I said. In the discussions from my blog entries about this it came out that Wendy's and Taco Bell do not serve drive-throughs but that I had personally gone through MacDonalds as recently as last summer without issue. Oh, she said. I don't think she's done the research on who allows what.

And you know, I said, my Wells Fargo check card has a stagecoach on it. You wouldn't serve that? She laughed? OK, I said, maybe you don't see many stagecoaches (actually, not true. According to Wells Fargo's own site, a WF stagecoach will be in tomorrow's Minnesota daily State Fair Parade), but what about the Amish? They're in horse-drawn buggies. She didn't know. I'm not sure they use banks she said. They have money, I pointed out. They probably tie up the horses outside and come in she said brightly but you could tell she was making this bit up.

She tried to make it seasonal. Do you ride in the winter? she asked, sensing a trump card. Yes, I do, I said. Oh, well most people don't, and there would be a danger of people slipping and cars not seeing them and running into them. Look, I said, I ride all over town in the winter and deal with cars all the time.

My favorite bit was when I pointed out there was no bike rack at the Arden Hills branch. She said I could take my bike inside and if anyone asked just say I was a drive-through customer but that I couldn't be served. She told me that going inside was pretty quick. No it's not, I said, last time I went in it was about a 15 minute line. Well, it's kind of hit and miss, she said. What I didn't think of at the time, but did after, is how delicious it would be to take my bike inside in, say, February. I learned riding last winter that when you park your bike in a warm building, all the crap melts off. I wonder how the branch manager would react if I brought in a slush, snow and salt-caked bike and cheerfully said "Oh, I can't use the drive-through and Katie said I could just bring the bike inside with me!" as little blobs of filth dripped onto the carpet.

It was all cordial. She's got some oblivious and safely anonymous Risk Management Department on one side saying "Horrors! We must keep cyclists out of our drive-throughs so our innattentive and unseeing motorized customers won't run them down" and some pesky customer on the other wondering why it is that his vehicle choice makes it so hard to use the stupid drive-through, with a clueless Online Service Person chipping in three weeks earlier with possibly incorrect information. Her title is Administrative Assistant, so she has no decision-making authority and probably the boss gave it to her and asked her to handle it, which she cheerfully and doggedly did, she could be a White House Press Secretary. She kept brightly assuring me that Wells Fargo values my business and isn't trying to make it hard to do business with them but that they have my safety in mind when they made up this rule. I told her I understood the message, and that for the moment I would just use the drive-through ATM for my mobile banking needs.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My Hiatus

Hello again. I've been on something of a hiatus the last month (a lot of the usual bloggers have been quiet during this time as well), triggered by the visit of an aunt of mine from England in late July to early August and then having to do some work in Des Moines for my father.

My father lived in Des Moines alone until last March when, because of a back injury on top of his pre-existing early-stage Parkinson's disease, he went to hospital and then to a nursing home. He picked a facility in Bellevue, Iowa, where one of my sisters lives, and I took him there at the end of a tumultuous and unexpected week in mid-March. Happily, he has improved a lot since then, a combination of therapy and probably of having the right medications properly administered, and improved enough to move into an apartment adjacent to the nursing home. He's pretty chipper now.

His sister, Margaret, Auntie Margaret to me all my life and to Karla and the kids, decided to come see him. She fitted this in between her other trips, to Vietnam and Morocco and Italy earlier this year, to Belgium and Costa Rice coming later. Not bad for an 85-year-old retired schoolteacher.

She came right in late July and was here for two weeks, returning right before the latest terrorist airplane bomb scare in London but knocking out three of our weekends from the normal routine. Then, this past weekend, I did the 800-mile loop, here to Des Moines, where I met my sister and loaded her Suburban and my pickup with Dad's furniture and hauled it to Bellevue, then drove home. It'll take another trip to get the rest of what Dad needs, then some work on the house before we sell it. Looking back at the blog last year, it seems I had lots of time to go for rides and take photos; this year, many weekends since March have been taken with Dad-related work.

There wasn't much bike-related during Margaret's visit, but I noted the following:
  • The last entry was about a fire on the Short Line bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis. While Margaret was here, we ambled down to Bellevue by way of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona (Twelfth Night) and the American Players Theater (Measure for Measure) in Spring Green, Wisconsin. While in Winona, we popped into the Minnesota Maritime Art Museum which had opened for the first time that day. We were pressed for time; it was 4:30 when we got there and they closed at 5:00, so they let us in for free. They have a lot of gorgeous seascape paintings (weirdly out of place in the middle of the continent, but still lovely), some painted carving folk art display, and a set of photographs taken by Henry Bosse, an Army Corps of Engineers guy in the 1880s. Included in these was a photo of the Short Line Bridge in 1885 or so. It was pretty cool to see a 120-year old photo of the bridge that I had just included a photo of in my blog. I intend to return to the Museum when I have a bit more time.

    One might ask why there's a Maritime Art Museum in Minnesota. The story goes that a local senator built a big new house and had a big wall he needed a picture for and ended up looking at maritime scene paintings, many of which are conveniently large, and fell in love with the genre and started buying them. He is kindly loaning them to the Museum for their displays. Frankly, this all sounds a bit odd to me, but I also like this type of art and am happy it's here and that the Senator didn't fall in love with velvet paintings sold out of Ford Econolines in abandoned gas station parking lots.

  • We'll be appearing in Julius Ceasar at The American Players Theater. We actually went and saw Measure for Measure, but a staff guy came out afterwards and said that they wanted to record the crowd scene audio for Julius Ceasar so anybody who wanted to stick around afterwards could do so. We did. We chanted "Cea-sar, Cea-sar!" and catcalls and cheers and other bits, rehearsed briefly and then done in response to the text read by the Brutus actor or the director. There were about 200 of us in the crowd and it was great fun, the noise echoing off the surrounding hills (this APT is outdoors in the Wisconsin River Valley). If you happen to catch Julius Ceasar, when they play the crowd scene audio, that's me and the family and Auntie Margaret and 200 others!

  • In June I rode to Prescott and back to scout out the way in to the Cities from Wisconsin Highway 35. I wrote about this in Breakfast at Enrique's and noted how I'd seen a big country house called Cedarhurst that did afternoon teas. When Margaret said she was coming, we decided to go. It was excellent! A lot of tea places (Chickadee Tearoom in Lake City on the Three Speed Tour, for instance) are too cute and not all that good. We've seen a number of attempts go under over the years and often rightfully so. Margaret's an actual tea-drinking English person and Karla and I would auction off English teas at the Manor (our house) at church and they were very popular, due mostly to Karla's superb cooking and also the gin and tonics we'd administer later in the afternoon. In other words, we're a jaded audience. We were very impressed with the tea (the actual drink) and the accompanying 9-course food, from a scone to fruit to sandwiches to, at the end, lemon sorbet sitting in champagne in a glass bowl (this is a brilliant dessert, easy to do, you can scoop it ahead of time, showy and tasty). I'd highly recommend this place if you do teas.

  • Speaking of the Three Speed Tour, the 3ST guys held a special meeting at Barley John's to meet Auntie Margaret. She used a bicycle as transportation for a lot of World War II, including a period when she commuted 16 miles each way in and out of Birmingham. Her brother, my Uncle, was actually bike touring in France when the war broke out. She's not a Cyclist, particularly, but is a direct connection to a time when cycling was a common form of transport for a lot of people in the UK.

Now Margaret's gone home, the kids are back from camp, the bulk of Dad's stuff is moved, maybe I can get back to more normal life. It wasn't like I gave up riding during all this. In fact, distressed that most of my miles were accruing on the Big Red Schwinn (8-speed Nexus), I commuted a few times on the Atlantis. Karla and I have done a few rides, and she is getting more comfortable with the bike and with the distances I like to ride and may start commuting to church on the non-rehearsal days pretty shortly. Henry's been riding but somehow managed to bash up his rear derailleur pretty badly and it needs replacing. I've ordered a derailleur and shifters for his bike and will probably do that this weekend.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Damaged Bridge

One of the nice features for biking in Minneapolis is the Midtown Greenway. This currently runs from the lakes on the west side to Hiawatha on the east and construction is underway right now to take it to the West River Road. This follows a rail line from more or less Hiawatha to the river road. I wrote about it last fall; I have actually ridden a section this summer and am happy to see the lighting in, the access ramps getting built and the base gravel layer being put down. In fact, the Greenway site says the paving is complete to Brackett Park but please stay off so the contractors can finish up. The whole Greenway works like a bike highway, great for making quick time across the city.

The final part of this project would be to extend the Greenway across the Mississippi River on the rail bridge. (See the Google image here). This bridge used to have two rail lines; now only one is operational. Actually, right now, none are, because there was a fire on the bridge. I heard it on the 10:00 news, and here's the Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about it:
A broken Minneapolis railroad bridge
A fire that damaged a railroad bridge over the Mississippi is affecting Minneapolis businesses that rely on trains to ship their products.
David Chanen, Star Tribune

Last update: July 19, 2006 – 10:20 PM

Whoever launched fireworks that set fire to a railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis may have no idea what mayhem they caused.

The 1,061-foot-long bridge, also called the Short Line, carries the only railroad line that can serve several grain elevators and a scrap metal recycling business along Hiawatha Avenue. It will cost more than $200,000 to repair a hundred-yard section in the middle of the 125-year-old bridge.

Because of the fire, the span won't be operational for at least a month and that could mean a $200,000 loss to Leder Brothers, which ships its recycled products throughout the United States and Canada, according to co-owner Mark Leder.

At least 65 railroad cars that reached the Hiawatha businesses before the fire are stranded, and a 25-car train of grain headed for the elevators on Tuesday had to be diverted to storage elsewhere.

More than 5,000 railroad cars of wheat, rye, barley and corn cross the bridge each year, said John Gohmann, president of the company that provides railroad access to the Hiawatha businesses. If the elevators have to ship grain by truck instead of train, the companies would lose about 30 percent of the dollar value of the product, he said.

He said that his company, Minnesota Commercial Railroad, will lay off up to six employees until the bridge reopens. And in about five weeks, it will be prime time to move grain out and make room for new shipments, he said.

The steel deck truss bridge with seven spans starts near W. River Road and E. 28th Street and crosses to E. River Road and E. 25th Street. The bridge's tracks hang 150 feet above the river.

A passerby reported a fire to police shortly after midnight Saturday. Winds fanned the blaze, which took two hours to extinguish.

Accidental causes have been ruled out, Minneapolis police Sgt. Sean McKenna said. He also said that fireworks were found on the bridge.

Several "no trespassing" signs are posted at each end of the bridge, but police say people still climb on it. Laura Baenen, spokeswoman for Canadian Pacific Railway, said people have been cited for trespassing, but the company hasn't had previous problems involving fireworks.

And "the bridge isn't a place for a hike," she said.

Custom-treated ties

When the bridge will be open again is unclear because of the work required to replace 250 custom-treated wooden ties. It will be done in two phases, and the first will let trains use the bridge at very slow speeds.

The lack of rail access hasn't slowed two elevators owned by General Mills, said spokeswoman Kirstie Foster. Archer Daniels Midland operates two other elevators served by the railroad but said it couldn't determine the effects of the bridge fire.

How much business Leder will lose depends on a fluctuating steel market, he said. Their finished product is sent out monthly, he said.

"We can't make sales we have waiting in Canada and Iowa," Leder said. "This is definitely having a large impact on our business."

Using trucks isn't feasible, he said. One train car carries the same amount of their product as 3½ semi trucks, he said. It's also difficult to find trucks that will only travel one way, not to mention the additional fuel costs, he said.

Leder also talked about past uses of the bridge, including the delivery of a mammoth drill for a tunnel that carries light-rail cars beneath Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and deliveries of new light-rail cars (Metro Transit is adding three cars, but not until January).

"People don't realize how important this bridge is," he said. "We will really have to scramble until it's fixed."
I am gratified reading this article to see that they have plans to fix the bridge. I was afraid they might just write it off and abandon the rail line and the chances for using it for bicycles would drop significantly. Even fixed, I think there is some chance it will never serve for bikes, but it would be a terrific route if they would. Here's hoping the bridge gets fixed and the Greenway gets extended. It would be a real addition to the Cities' cycling infrastructure.

Oddly enough, I happened to take a photo of the Short Line Bridge (as it's called, see this site and scroll down to Bridge 23) on Saturday morning, just hours after this fire was reported and put out.
Short Line Bridge the morning after the fire

I was on my way to the Riverview Theater to watch the Tour de France (I highly recommend this!) and the upriver-bound tow and the rowing shells sharing the river caught my eye. The Short Line Bridge is the rail bridge the tow is about to go under. If you can't see the rowing shells, click on the photo to get the larger version. The buildings in the background are the part of the East Bank part of the University of Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Huey's Alp

Slate has an article entitled The Tour de France Almost Killed Me in which the author, Andrew Tilin, rode the route of Stage 15 of the Tour de France, including the climb up the L'Alpe d'Huez, along with 7,500 other fools enthusiasts. It sounds brutal.

Wells Fargo First Communications

There is a "Contact Us" link in the account screen from wellsfargo.com. I thought this would be handy as it is affiliated with the account and I entered other data as well like the date and amount of the transaction. My initial attempt to use this was thwarted because my florid eloquence went on too long, so I trimmed it down and wrote the following:
On Friday 7/7 I attempted to make a deposit at the Arden Hills Wells Fargo branch. I was depositing my wife's signed paycheck into our joint account using a deposit slip from our checkbook and requesting no money back. The teller and her supervisor (Suzanne?) refused to accept this because I was on a bicycle in the drive-through lane. I left. On Monday 7/10 I successfully made the deposit in the exact same branch from my bicycle. After posting this experience on my blog I got a lot of comments, some indicating no problem with doing this and others saying their Wells Fargo branch does not allow it. I would like to know the policy; is it company-wide, branch by branch or teller-dependent? I routinely ride my bicycle to work and have done this exact transaction before (see 6/2/06) without issue. Please let me know what to expect.
Thank you. Matt.
Wells Fargo responded to the Messages and Alerts section of the account screen.
Dear Matt:

I apologize that you experienced a problem when you attempted to make your deposit. With proper identification, there should be no problem in making the deposit as you described however, the decision is ultimately with the branch.

I have forwarded the details of your experience to our management. We constantly strive to provide you with the highest level of customer service.

We appreciate your business and thank you for banking with Wells Fargo.

Joyce H
Wells Fargo
Online Customer Service
Hmmm, so the decision is ultimately with the branch. I guess I'll have to go and inquire at the Arden Hills branch about what their policy is in relation to serving cyclists in the drive-throughs. I also wonder about Joyce's "with proper identification" qualification; in my email to Wells Fargo I was very specific about the nature of the transaction and it's one for which I have never had to provide ID since I'm not getting any money back. I even referred in my email to the last time I did this transaction from my bicycle so that if they were looking at the account they would see the same deposit amount from the prior month. The deposit would recur in the months previous but I can't be certain I did them from my bike on those dates.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tour de France at the Riverview

It was a pretty quiet weekend, cycling-wise, too bloody hot to do much. I rode over to the Riverview Theater Saturday morning to watch the OLN Tour de France coverage. I'd not done this before, and it was great fun. It's free, for one thing, and you can buy a bagel and orange juice and coffee and watch the coverage on the Big Screen in air-conditioned comfort.

I chose my days well. Saturday there was a breakaway by five riders that got 28 minutes out in front of the peloton, described as cruising along as on a Sunday ride, though at a pace that would kill me. One guy got dropped from the breakaway group after trying an aggressive breakaway of his own, then just 5km from the end the remaining four split into two pairs, the front one consisting of Jens Voight and Oscar Pereiro. Voight won in a final sprint, the other pair rolled in 0:40 later, the fifth guy, dropped some time back, came across 6:24 after the winner and, if the rules were strictly enforced, those five would have been the only riders left in the Tour. It was 29:57 before the main peloton came across the finish line and that would have left 152 riders outside the stage's time limit and therefore out of the Tour. The race jury moved the limit from 9% to 10% and the peloton could remain in. Whew! Though CBS on their Sunday Tour de France weekly wrapup didn't make much of this day, to me a nearly half-hour pickup by these two riders (giving Pereiro the yellow jersey) seemed like a hell of a gain for one day.

Sunday I suggested that Henry, Karla and I go to the Riverview, watch the coverage for a while, have a bagel, and Karla could go off and play the 9:00 service then come back and get us. We did this, driving over in the surprising but very welcome rain. It was another great day to watch, a six-man breakaway getting 5:40 up on the main peloton. The peloton began reeling these guys back in until there was a crash. You must have seen the coverage of this, it even made the local news station sports report on Sunday night, six guys go into a corner, front two slip, one of them falls, number five brakes and falls over, slides into metal barrier, number six brakes, locks up back wheel, in control behind falling number five, but crashes into barrier and flips over in extremely dramatic fashion disappearing behind the guardrail, the bike tumbling down, then, in a final touch, a water bottle flying up from the bike. The remaining three racers carried on. Rider One (Rik Verbrugghe) suffered a complex fracture of his left femur and is out for the year, Rider Five (David Cañada) broke his right clavicle and Rider Six (Matthias Kessler), whose dramatic tumble over the guardrail will long be remembered, actually got back on his bike and carried on. He tarried until the peloton caught up with him and ended up finished 12 minutes down. Those of us who find helmets useful admired the rocks stuck in the air vents of his helmet as he carried on.

With just three riders, the time gap narrowed, ticking down to under two minutes and then under a minute. The race got really spread out, and the peloton was pretty small but ruthlessly tracking down the remaining riders. On a final climb before the downhill into the finish line the breakaway dwindled to two riders and the lead to 0:25. Down the final descent and you almost could hear the Jaws theme as the main group closed the distance. It was oddly compelling, shots of the two lead riders coming around a corner and then, startlingly close, the main group. A rider broke away from the main group and began pushing hard, closing the gap to the breakaway riders rapidly but then the Finish Line went by and they'd held on, Pierrick Fedrigo winning the stage, Salvatore Commesso right behind, Christian Vande Velde at 0:03 seconds back, his attempt to catch the breakaway guys at the finish having fallen just short, and then the pursuit group of 33 riders 0:07 back. Other racers continued to drift in for quite a while including Kessler in a group of 12 riders 12:04 back. OLN doesn't broadcast them all coming over the line, of course, but it's interesting to see the official results, with a group of four riders coming in at 22:08 behind the first place finisher and one final straggler in at 32:05.

It was still raining when Karla returned and we went home. The CBS Weekly show got moved from it's 4:00 time frame last week to noon this week, and we watched that show as well. The bit about the last two days seemed not to convey the drama, but maybe every day's like that and it's just that I saw those two days of OLN coverage (we don't have cable at home). I did putter with the bikes a bit in the afternoon, installing a U-lock holder on the red Schwinn and buying some odd bits of hardware to try and permanently mount my taillights to my rear racks.

I highly recommend the Riverview's Tour de France coverage. The French scenery is lovely and well-shot as the helicopters, cars and motorcycles cover the ride. The commercials are doubly-annoying on the big screen, unless they're doubly amusing; the Flomax ad for male urinary difficulties in particular seemed a crowd favorite. I'm not sure why the Riverview does this, the crowds don't look big enough that they'd make a lot of money on bagel sales, but I'm glad they're doing it and hope to continue attending. See you there!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pee Wee Rides to Work

I rode over to join some of the Three Speed Tour guys for a beer or three last night. It's only about 3 miles from work, and it wasn't particulary hot out, so I didn't change and just rode over in my work clothes, wool slacks and black dress shoes. Shoes being bulky, I just left my cycling shoes at the office, figuring, I'll just get 'em when I ride in tomorrow.

What I didn't consider is how completely dorky this would look this morning. I got ready to leave and realized, well, I guess I'll wear these dress shoes in. I'd hate to wear white socks, my usual, with them, so instead put on my pair of freebie black cycling ankle socks that say "Burn It Up" on them and have little flames around the anklet. Thankfully, the Burn It Up is concealed by your shoes; my socks ought to say, "Hey Guys, Wait Up!". On go the cap-toe Dresssports, the shoes I normally leave in my drawer at work. With the electric blue Ralph Lauren shorts ($4 on clearance at the end of last season, Marshall Fields having failed to cajole anyone into paying $48 for a garment so hideous) and yellow t-shirt, I looked like a total doofus. My wife had a chuckle as I left for work, calling out "Have a good day, PeeWee" and I'm not sure but I think even the cat averted her eyes. Fortunately the children were still asleep and didn't have to witness this spectacle.
Traditional Leather Shoes
Here's the look. Worth a thousand words, eh? This is on the red Schwinn which is mostly done evolving. Besides the nice shoes, flaming socks and pasty while ankles, you can see the Wald chain guard I put on, replacing the stock nuts and bolts with 4mm stainless allen bolts, the zip ties holding the Nexus eight-speed shift cable, the stowed Esge/Pletscher two-legged kickstand under the left chainstay and the water bottle eyelets, one of which I successfully cross-threaded last week. I bought a 5mm tap to fix this, haven't yet done it, but I'll soon have a bottle cage back on there, and the Blackburn accessory mount, so I can carry the Mammoth pump and also sometimes an old Nightstick battery which I have plans for using as a power source for launching model rockets off the rear rack, sort of a human-powered mobile Scud launcher. My son is 14 and wants to launch rockets, a bicycle would be perfect, you can go right to the spot in the middle of big grassy areas, deploy the two-legged kickstand, thus maintaining a level platform, and launch away. I actually used to do this as a youth myself and amazingly still have the two-piece launch rod that is bike-portable. That project, once done, will be for another post.

Fortunately, I don't think I saw anyone I know on the way to work and went directly to the bathroom to change. Here I discovered that I'd forgotten to pack dress socks, so emerged in shirt, tie, wool slacks, black cap-toe Dressports (now looking very appropriate) and little flaming socks.

Fortunately, I have some regular black socks in my shoe drawer and discreetly changed over to them once I got to my office.

Some other items of interest.
Topeak Rear Basket and Rack on Schwinn

Here is how I carry my stuff on my commute. Rather than panniers, I use the roomy Timbuk2 Medium Cargo Tote to carry my clothing, raingear, office things (PDA, keyboard, cell phone, camera, etc), little tool kit etc. To carry this, I toss it in a Topeak Rear Basket that attaches and detaches very quickly from the rear rack by way of a thing Topeak calls a Fixer 6. I leave the basket on, but if you want it will slide right off and that handle extends and the little wheels allow you to wheel it around behind you, something I've never done, something which when combined with the socks/shoes/shorts combo could lead to unbearable levels of doofiness. I use a bungee net to hold down the Cargo Tote and lock. Nothing ever bounces out, the Cargo Tote is very comfortable to carry over my shoulder, and I can pack the clothes loosely enough that they don't wrinkly. People are sometimes surprised to find out that I, wearing pressed dress shirt, tie, wool dress slacks and the (almost) always-appropriate black Dressports, rode my bike in. I figure it quietly helps break down a couple of the regular objections to bike commuting, the "I have to dress up at work" one and "the I can't stink" one.

The basket works well for other stuff, too. I've carried beer back there, an Igloo cooler, groceries. The Topeak system is pretty slick but brings up a gripe of mine; the non-interchangeability of bike luggage. For instance, in our fleet of bikes we have a German front basket (on Karla's bike), a Jandd front bag (on Geneva's), the Nashbar Toto basket (not in service at the moment) and an Ortlieb front bag (on my bikes), all of which require their own specific mounting hardware on the handlebars, none of which is compatible with the others. To some extent, this is understandable in that they are all from different manufacturers, but Topeak, who has a lot of well-conceived products, for some idiotic reason has three different rear rack track mount formats. Why oh why would you do this? In my case, the Topeak Super Tourist rear rack is the MTX format. Mounted to the bottom of the basket is the Fixer 6, a plastic shoe that slides into the rack track, and a yellow catch that catches the cross-bar at the front of the rack. It's securely mounted yet can come off in 5 seconds and go back on as quickly. The shoe raises the basket enough that it'll clear pannier hooks on the rack's side rails, so that if I'm buying a lot of beer I can mount 2 grocery panniers plus the rack-top basket (and then almost do wheelies all the way home). It's ever so practical, but I wonder why they sabotage their own idea with the three track mounting formats.

They aren't the only baskets around. I added a link a couple of weeks ago to a Dutch company called Basil that makes bicycle luggage. I'd seen a couple of these on the Saint John's Street Cycles website some time ago and one day tracked down the maker. Then just this weekend the Saint Paul Pioneer Press ran an article about cycling in Holland (originally from the LA Times) that started:
A bicycle bell tinkled and I looked up and saw a Dutchman in a knit cap coming toward me. As he pedaled by, a fuzzy white head popped up from his bike basket. It was a terrier, chin up, ears perked forward, head tilted curiously to one side. Easy-riding Rover, I thought. The dog was probably enjoying the moment as much as I was.

Its master and I were bicycling through the countryside about 25 miles southwest of Am sterdam, watching Holland's famous flower fields flash by. The terrain was flat, the air crisp and clear, the scenery a splash of dazzling yellow and green. Acres of bright daffodils stretched in every direction. I felt as though I had found bicycle nirvana.

Perhaps I had. With 13 million bicycles, the Netherlands — or Holland, its regional name — has twice as many bikes as cars and nearly as many bicycles as people. An 11,000-mile system of bike paths, many of which are separate from highways, crisscrosses a nation so small and flat that it's easy to use bicycles to transport people, groceries, even terriers.
Accompanying the article was a photo of a bike with either a Basil or Basil-like pet basket on it. It's worth looking at their site; they make lovely wire and wicker baskets and the pet carriers look particularly useful as they have a wire cage thing to go over the top and apparently mount to the seat tube rather than directly to the rear rack so (I think) the pooch or kitty doesn't get shaken to pieces. Not that I'd take Sophie the cat anywhere, but it's still cool. I emailed Basil to see if they sold here in the U.S., but not yet, apparently. I also emailed Jim at Hiawatha Cyclery encouraging him to tie up all his working capital in a container-load of these things so that maybe I could buy one if I felt like it. Sadly, he may be learning after his Bleriot enthusiasm.

Finally, also from the Dutch, a nifty bicycle maker. Take a look at De Fietsfabriek. There's lots of heavy utility bikes ("Perfect for families with two or three children") like the Dutch ride, cargo bikes, but also a whimsical High Bike. The best thing about this unit is the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that if you have to stop quickly in traffic, just put your foot on top of a car! You won't find that kind of advice on your Trek site!

Serious Transportation

My Wells Fargo experiences have generated some comment activity, some on this blog and some on others. One comment stands out in particular:
No wonder the general population gets annoyed with cyclists. Do those of us that use a bike for serious transportation a favor and quit making an ass of yourself.

It may not be a surprise to learn that this comment was posted by an anonymous commenter. It sounds a bit like someone trying to get me (and others) to rise in outraged response. Tempting though this may be, I'll demur but will address the issues Anon (if I may be so familiar) raises.

The General Population does sometimes express irritation with cyclists, though I do not concede the point that being a cyclist somehow excludes me from the general population. The irritation, in my experience, is generally expressed as frustration that cyclists "always" ride through stop signs, ignore red lights, ride on the wrong side of the road and ride at night without lights. To some extent, and with many cyclists, they have a point. However, and keeping in mind that I first commuted to work on a bike in 1975, I have never once heard anyone complain that cyclists try to perform routine transactions at their bank.

As for making an ass of myself, it doesn't take too close a reading to see that there was nobody behind me in the bank line getting inconvenienced and that when the teller said they wouldn't serve motorized vehicles I didn't raise any ruckus at all (saying that someone was making an ass of themselves, for instance) but simply left without comment.

But the most interesting part of the comment was about using a bike for serious transportation. I'm not sure what Anon is getting at here. In the last month I have ridden my bicycle to work, to church for both choir rehearsals and services, to the grocery store, the liquor store, the fireworks last Tuesday, the hardware store, a bar last night, restaurants, the Farmers' Market, the movies, the bank (as you well know!), to volunteer at a bike race and also just for fun. Does this make it serious transportation?

Of course not. If I did all that in a car, would it become serious transportation? No. It would just be a guy going about his daily routine. That's all I'm doing, there's nothing serious about it. When my daily routine includes the occasional trip to our bank on my bicylce to deposit a check, a transaction I have done before and now have done since, and I am refused service on the basis that I am on a bicycle instead of in a car or truck, it merits questioning. I am able to make those inquiries without being an ass about it.

Anyway, sorry to inconvenience the serious cyclists as they, what?, rush through the streets to deliver kidneys to the awaiting doctors at the transplant center? Chase down criminals? Rush to help children trapped in wells? I'll potter along to my job and my stores and my church and try and not aggravate the General Public for you.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wells Fargo Refuses My Email

It was too long. Gotta get less wordy, I guess. I'm supposed to limit my emails to 20 lines. Of course, you don't find that out until you try and send it and there's plenty of room for what is in essence a full business letter. Pity, the email was from a signed-in, online me and associated with the account and everything. Fortunately, I copied it and mailed it to myself at home before trying to send it so it will form the basis of a nice letter to Wells Fargo.

In the meantime, I emailed Pam O'Connell, President of the Heartland Credit Union and explained the situation and asked if there was some industry practice regarind bikes in drive-through lanes. She emailed back:
It is up to each financial institution - no problem with regard to insurance.
Then, ever on the job:
It's those pesky banks.....you should be using your fantastic Credit Union!!
She's right, I should. We have savings accounts and a car loan at the credit union but not our primary checking. This is basically because of inertia.

I'm not even sure if Heartland has any drive-up lanes at the moment, but we're building a new home office opening next year (in Inver Grove Heights) and it will have drive-through lanes and I'm guessing they'll serve bicycles.

Wells Fargo Takes My Money

I rode to work this morning and Karla's paycheck and deposit slip were still in my bag. I thought, what the heck, I'll ride through the Wells Fargo drive-through lanes and try depositing again. If they say no, I'll just loop around to the drive-through ATM and do it there.

I circled through the parking lot to look at the hours. The office opens at 9:00AM, the drive-throughs open at 7:00. It was shortly before 8:30. Perfect.

I rode into the drive-through lane, stuck the check and slip into the canister, hit the button, and Whoosh!, off she goes. The teller communicated with me twice.

"Good morning sir"

"You're all set."

Whoosh! Then some more whooshing. And some more. The vacuum thing was malfunctioning. It finally popped up and I took out the canister and got my deposit slip (8:29AM) and the door closed immediately and more whooshing started.

"Sir, we're having some difficulties with the tubes."
"What should I do with this?" I yelled over the whooshing, holding up the canister.
"Sir, I'm sorry but we can't hear when the vacuum's running."

So I did a maneuver that would be tough in a car, pulled a U-turn, went over the curb and up to the front door, and left the canister there. This is actually more direct that my usual route, a left onto County E and then an immediate left onto Pine Tree, like I do in a car. As I rode out of the driveway a guy opened to the door and got the canister.

"Thank you sir!" he called, and I waved back.

So, what happened here? Did the awesome power of the blogosphere bring Wells Fargo weeping to its knees in a series of emergency weekend meetings to discuss drive-through policies? Did these morning tellers screw up and take my money against the rules, the scofflaws? Did Friday represent the small-minded application of obscure teller procedures or the perhaps the raw exercise of arbitrary power, a poor example of employee empowerment? Maybe they can take deposits from bicycles when the office is closed, and I've always deposited in the morning previously and so never had a problem? I'm not sure.

My own paycheck is automatically deposited, so it'll be July 15 before we have another one to deposit (unless y'all want to send me checks, which I will deposit all over town as an experiment!). In the meantime, I am going to seek clarification on this. I am on the Supervisory Committee of Heartland Credit Union (where we have savings accounts and our car loan) so will be able to talk to our President and staff about this and can ask to see insurance policies and the like if need be. I am also going to call Wells Fargo and seek clarification about their policy, though the downside of this is that they do for some reason refuse to take deposits and reinforce this in the course of teller training and I won't even be able to make deposits in the morning. I'll keep you informed.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Wells Fargo Refuses Drive-Through Service

Wow, I don't have long to write this as I'll soon be off to the BFF, but I left work (on my bicycle) and rode over to the Wells Fargo bank at County E and Pine Tree Drive in Arden Hills to deposit my wife's paycheck. I went through the always-convenient drive-through lane, got out the signed paycheck and filled-in deposit slip from our checkbook, and put it in one of the canister things. The speaker piped up.

"Sir, we can only serve vehicles in the drive-through."
"That's fine. Minnesota state law says I'm a vehicle." and I pushed Send. Whoosh! Off it went.

A couple of minutes went by. Whooosh, back came the canister.

With the check and deposit slip still in it.

The speaker piped up again.

"Sir, my name is Suzanne (? it started with an S). We can only serve motorizedvehicles in these lanes. You'll have to come inside to make this deposit."

Motorized vehicles? That's not what the original teller said. Screw 'em. I took the check and deposit slip out and left. Time to write a letter or three.

Some facts:
  • It's my wife's paycheck, which she gets twice a month and we deposit in this bank. My wife is on the checking account.

  • The amount of the paycheck is not reportable under the Patriot Act (I wish it was!).

  • I wasn't asking for any cash back, it was a simple deposit.

  • I've deposited at this branch before off my bicycle.

  • We have a long relationship with Norwest/Wells Fargo, including car loan, musical instrument loan, mortgages in Des Moines and here and the refinance a couple of years ago, a credit card and a checking account. While CFO at a small company in Des Moines we had a $2 million line of credit with Norwest that I arranged. We are not new customers.

  • We're not even just customers; I worked for Norwest Document Custody (I was a stinking temp) for a year (basically 1996) running a project to reconcile their vault contents and computer systems which had become almost comically screwed up. I ran the project.

  • Norwest used to support cycling, even running the fabulous Norwest Cup race in Minneapolis from 1993-1995. They are the main sponsor of Maryland's MS150 this year and sponsored a criterium in Boise last year.

  • Wells Fargo's own advertising doesn't have a motorized vehicle--it's a horse-drawn stagecoach. Ironic that they'd refuse to accept a deposit from the vehicle central to their branding strategy.

What to do? I'm going to contact Wells Fargo and see what they have to say. What possible reason could they have to make life more difficult for cyclists? Why is my wife's paycheck deposit fine if I stick it in the plastic canister out a car window but so radioactive they won't touch it when I'm on a bicycle? What if I ride a Stokemonkey-powered Xtracycle up to the drive-up, would it then be ok? How about a 25cc gasoline-powered Cyclemaster? What if I were Amish? Does it matter to them that I normally shut off my engine while using the drive-through when I engage in transactions while in a motor vehicle?

I'd be interested in knowing if anyone else has run into this problem at a bank. I volunteer on a credit union Supervisory Committee so know there are fishy transactions, and if I wanted $12,000 in cash or to change the account address or get cash back without an ID I would understand, I hope they'd have me come inside for those even if I was in a motorized vehicle, but to refuse to accept a straight deposit because I'm on a bicycle is just stupid.

I've heard of people having troubles at fast food restaurants although I have personally gone through MacDonald's drive-throughs on my bike as long ago as 1983 and as recently as last summer with no hassles.

I'll write Wells Fargo this weekend and we'll see where this goes.

Meanwhile, off to the movies! I'll see you there!

PS Late addition: Take a look here to see a photo I took last summer of one of Wells Fargo's preferred motorized customers.