Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Waiting for Dogot

Rest in peace, Mocha and Willie (but not you, Kato—you're not dead yet...)

Coupla Things

For those of you interested in the whole winter bike thing, Tarik offers a review of the 26" Nokian Extreme 294 studded tire over at his place. There's been a fair amount of chatter about these on the Icebike e-mail list over the years, and Tarik's review is a welcome addition.

Then, it's almost time for the 16th annual Cronometro Bike Swap, organized by the Brazen Dropouts Bicycle Racing Club. It's been a really good swap for the last couple of years and has grown to be one of the larger swaps in the country. It's happening at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on January 13th, from 9:30 to 4:30. Read all about it here.

It's 35 degrees and sunny today, so I went to the garden and puttered around a little. I turned all my compost piles, dug a few carrots (going to try adding some parsnips this year) and mulched the garlic, which is about 3 inches tall. The ground really still isn't frozen yet—or maybe it thawed—so the clods from the spading I did in late October are dissolving. The 27 wheelbarrow loads of leaf compost are settling in and I'm looking forward to a more productive season this year...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bullwinkle Unleashed

This is my dedicated winter bike, the Moose. It's a late-eighties Trek 800, originally purchased at a garage sale for $15. Mountain bikes of this vintage seem to have been made to be ridden in the snow. The long wheelbase and slack angles add up to a slow but steady cruise, well-suited to keeping the center of mass going in the right direction over unpredictable road conditions.

The seat post is stock, but everything else is a mix of hand-picked new and trash-picked old. Nitto Albatross CroMo bars (new) with SunTour BarCons (trash); Zefal Safari 3 (new), Lee Chi 4-finger brake levers (trash), bronze-colored dirt-drop knockoff stem (garage sale, but like new) and huge cheapie BMX platform pedals (purchased new, but now trashed.) Note an ongoing obsession with a big front mudflap that falls between the roostertail of front wheel slime and the crank assembly. Really cuts down on the wear and tear on the (trash-picked, except for the chain) drivetrain. That's a 110 BCD crankset, but it's geared more like compact drive—44-34-24, if I recall. The current rear wheel and its predecessor were both sourced at my local CurbMart (trashpicked.)

Currently running IRC Blizzard 112 studded tires front and rear. Remember those? The 56-stud version was the only commercially-available studded tire I can remember from back when I started riding year-round back in 1989. They're big and heavy, but the studs don't seem to be wearing out after 6 or 7 seasons—even with a fair amount of pavement riding. The best thing about them is that a neighbor who was moving to a warmer climate gave them to me, unused, for free.

This is my other dynamo hub headlight. It's the Shimano NX-30 laced to a Sun CR-18 rim, powering a Lumotec Oval Plus 3W halogen headlight with LED standlight. The whole show is run by Shimano's Nexus automatic switch (visible immediately behind the fork crown.) From what I've read, the automatic switch packs a dizzying array of circuitry for its simple job, but it works remarkably well. Occasionally, early in the morning before the sun is completely up, it will turn out the light while passing over patches of snow on the road surface (the sensor points at the ground) and back on when darker pavement is reached. At night it's perfect. I have plenty of blinkies to attend to, so it's nice that at least one light smart enough to keep up with the task at hand.

Also note the Tirefly on the Presta adapter. Don't see that every day.

The Lumotec isn't as bright or as focused or as wide as the Inoled I'm using on Shirley the Woodpecker, but it's a much cheaper light and was quite good when I purchased it back in 2001. It's been quite good for winter use.

Here's a view from the catbird seat. Coupla blinkies, since I'm a big believer in redundancy. Those Nitto Albatross bars do have quite the span, and lordy, do I love the fact that they'll take bar-end shifters. Thanks Grant! Also should mention that you'd want to get some stretchy grips for this setup, since the shifter cables need to run through them somehow. The old WTBs I have on there had just enough give.

I dunno, maybe I'll get me a Pugsley someday, but this'll do for now.

Friday, December 01, 2006


We're getting about 2 or 3 inches of the big snowstorm that's hitting Chicago right now. So of course, I rode:

Saw a guy on a bike fall down on the street adjacent to a bus stop—a combination of a steeply-crowned Jenifer street and an ice patch created by bus tires. Had to wait for a dual-unit, 30-car Wisconsin and Southern southbound freight to cross North Shore Drive, then rode sorta parallel to it as it faded gray into a wall of driving snow. Turned off North Shore into what seemed like a gale-force westwind. Sirens echoed throughout downtown as emergency vehicles responded to crashes. Watched a huge pickup truck pulling a skidloader on a trailer burn a half a gallon of unleaded spinning its way up a tiny hill, leaving a blue cloud of burnt rubber-smelling smoke in its .0005 mph wake. The Ford Escort behind it couldn't make it up the hill either. Long lines of single-occupant motor vehicles just about everywhere I went. Rode faster than many of them, even on the unplowed bike routes.

Typical snowstorm.

Shirley the Woodpecker performed swimmingly in his/her maiden snow voyage. A little squirrely, but confident overall. The only problem was Tokay hill number three, where I couldn't stand up to pedal because I'd lose traction out back. Had to sit and grind it out, which was fine today, but might become a problem on days when I'm not feeling quite as studly.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Today, I hit the 3000-mile mark for 2006. Might not be so exciting for the randoneurs out there, but for somebody with as many time commitments as I have, it's a pretty darn happy feeling.

Miles per bike were approximately 1600 for the LHT, 700 for the Cross Check, 400 for the Xtracycles, 250 on the Trek 400 and the balance on a coupla other bikes.

Last year totaled about 2900 miles; about 2100 in 2004; 1800 in 2003; 2002 was maybe 1600 and 2001 about 1200. Before that, I didn't really keep track, but I might have come close to 3K one or two years back in college.

This would be year 15 of bike commuting since I started in 1988, and this winter is Wisconsin Winter number 12. (I walked for a few years when work was only three blocks away, and sat out a couple winters with back and prostate problems.)

Apart from a little Achilles tendonitis in my right heel, I feel about as good physically as I ever have in my adult life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Big Dummy

Update 09-30-2007 Early reviews from the Interbike trade show here

Update 01-05-2008 More Big Dummy news here.

Update 03-06-2008 Part one of my review here.

Wow, what can I say? Surly has decided to produce an integrated Xtracycle-compatible frame. A true longtail:

I count about 7 or 8 trusses in this frame. (click for a bigger version)

And a photo of the same bike with the Xtracycle bits and a Stokemonkey installed.

Early reports (November 1) from one of Surly's test riders sound promising:
We currently have one single sample for us to testride and I just got done with my three weeks of testing on it. Here are the results, mainly in comparison to my Instigator frame with the Xtracycle Free Radical bolt-on.

During city commutes with a normal load, the bike is noticeably quicker and more nimble in handling. It's about 1 1/2 pounds lighter just in the frame and fork, yet it's torsionally stiffer and does not fishtail like the Insti/FreeRad. The nice vertical compliance that is inherent in long frames is still there, but it has lessened a bit. With the slight bouncing feeling I got when I'd hit small bumps on my Insti/FreeRad virtually eliminated, it rides much more like a normal bike.

One day I loaded it down with two 5-gallon kegs of beer, a soundsystem and another 40 pounds of stuff. All total the load was about 200 pounds in addition to myself, right around the intended weight limit. This size load would've truly kicked my butt on the Insti/FreeRad, but on the Big Dummy I was able to ride it like a bike without the load dominating my every move. My lower back wasn't forced to sit on the seat to stabilize the load the whole day and I ended up putting about 30 miles on it, both on and off road. Sure, my legs were cooked, but it was nice to know was the Dummy was capable of whatever I was capable of.

Day by day I found myself more comfortable with the geometry and was darting through traffic without having to manhandle it. I never once thought I was at a disadvantage in tight situations while at speed. I even ripped a small section of singletrack much faster on the Dummy than the Insti/FreeRad, proving the off road capabilities are improved. Seriously folks, getting a long-wheelbased bike through a corner and occasionally getting a two-wheel drift is a total blast. Imagine having the your weight loaded equally on both front and back wheels without the real threat of endo-ing, and you'll get yourself going faster than you'd ever think you could go.

Overall, I'm extremely happy so far with this preliminary version of the Big Dummy. We still have some things to tweak and more prototypes coming to test this winter, but the results will only get better.

Gotta give the folks at Surly a lot of credit for going out on a limb for this concept, but it has a whole lot of potential if they do it right. And they're known for getting things right.

Me? I can hardly wait.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Woody Woodpecker Resurection

It's been a while since I've blogged anything, but I've had a very busy fall. I've put a lot of time and effort over the last couple of months winterizing the house, the garden and my bikes. Plus there's work and family and catching colds. All more likely to score time allotments than blogging.

Anyway, I've decided to start blogging some of my bikes. I tinker with bikes quite a bit and like to try lots of different things, so I thought I might like to show some of them to the world.

First up is a Surly Cross Check that I bought as just a frame in 2000. It's one of the early bean-green frames, and one of the last made with Reynolds 631 tubing. This one started life as sort of a fun off-road cyclocross bike:

Sort of silly that I had bought a 56 cm frame, given that I'm over 6 feet tall, with a 34 inch inseam. Should have gotten a 58 cm at least, and perhaps a 60 cm. As you can see, the bars are quite a bit lower than the saddle. Don't get me wrong—it was a gas to ride—but a sure-fire recipe for a stiff neck later.

So I let my sister's boyfriend ride it for a while, but he really wanted a mountain bike. Then I almost ended up selling it, but decided to make it into a single-speed commuter instead:

Turned out to be the right decision. I always liked the way this bike rides, and it continues to be a pleasure with the upright bars. It's currently a 39-18 with a Formula flip-flop rear hub. It has a Shimano 3N70 dynamo front hub powering an Inoled 20+ 2-watt LED headlight, Nitto Dove bars, Zefal Safari 3 rack and Brooks flyer. All of these things I mention specifically because I like them a lot and would recommend them to anyone. The front view at the top of the post shows the dynamo hub and the Inoled on its Inofix stem mount. Also shown is the Woody Woodpecker headbadge, the origin of which is an Ancient German-Irish Secret, and huge homemade mud flap. Note in the side view how the mud flap falls below a line between the bottom of the front wheel and the bottom of the chainring, intercepting the stream of wet, gritty crap present whenever one is in motion during one of Wisconsin's winters.

Because this bike was designed to take the largest tires possible, the chainstay bridge was pretty far forward. There used to be a huge, ugly gap between the fender and the tire and the fender touched the seat mast:

Can't have that. Fortunately, our local hardware store had a 15-cent nylon spacer that now moves the fender back just enough to look good and resolve the touching issue:

Also visible is the no-skid and electrical tape chainstay protector.

The other issue with the fender was a major conflict with the Zefal rack. The Cross Check has only one rear braze-on, so the chunky Zefal rack mounts and the v-stays of the SKS fenders have to attach at the same point. Visible in the side view (several pictures above) is a lot of crossing of rack and fender stays. In the end, they simply weren't going to both attach to the outside of the dropout, so I ran an extra-long bolt and nutted the stays to the inboard side of the braze-ons:

which wouldn't have worked with a multi-speed setup, but works just fine with a single.

This is still a cyclocross bike. It has a high bottom bracket, snappy handling and a short wheelbase that results in some substantial toe overlap with the front wheel. Even so, it's remarkably stable, agile and its horizontal dropouts and enormous tire clearance make it very versatile. It can easily handle 700c 35 Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded tires, which I used briefly this spring (I'll use them more extensively this winter). They have a harsh ride, but combining them with the dynamo hub make this a very capable winter bike.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Please...Call Me Crash

I hafta get up on my soapbox for a few minutes.

There's a problem with the way we talk about incidents where a vehicle collides with something, causing damage, injury or death. The problem is that we call such an event an "accident." Why would I think this a problem? Madison's longtime bicycle-pedestrian coordinator explains:
Dictionary definitions aside, the common connotation of the term accident is something that was unavoidable, unplanned, unpredictable, unpreventable, etc. In common usage, the term accident implies that no one was responsible for what happened. Most traffic crashes, however, are both predictable and preventable.
Calling these incidents crashes or collisions allows us to get away from the blamelessness that the term accident implies, and get on with the task of addressing the human behaviors that lead to these occurrences on a predictable basis so that they can be prevented.

He goes on to point out that the State of Wisconsin has recognized this mistake a long time ago:
Wisconsin DOT statistics indicate that something on the order of 80% + of reported traffic accidents are caused by driver error. In the 1989 edition of Wisconsin Traffic Accident Facts, at the bottom of page 1, is the following:

Accidents to be called Crashes

Traffic crashes are not accidents, but avoidable events caused by a single variable or chain of variables. We are dedicated to reducing traffic injuries and fatalities by addressing the factors that cause them. During this transition year, the 1989 edition of Accident FACTS uses the term "accident." Future editions will incorporate "crash" into the text and will be entitled Crash FACTS.

Here's an example of how crashes are not accidents, an incident relayed by a local alderperson:

[The Public Information Officer] of the East Police Precinct called me early this morning to report on a motorcycle-van crash which occurred at about 9:30 pm Friday night at the corner of Atwood and Jackson streets. The crash resulted in the death of the motorcyclist and critical injury to the van driver. As of this morning, the van driver, a woman, was in critical condition.

Police spotted 3 motorcyclists driving west on E. Washington Avenue at 100 MPH. Police gave chase, and two of the motorcyclists pulled over. The third continued at a high rate of speed toward the downtown. Near downtown, another squad began the chase, and the motorcyclist turned (I don't know where), got onto Williamson St., and began driving east. The police officer ceased pursuit at about Baldwin.

The motorcyclist continued onto Atwood. Police do not know how the driver collided with the van.

Chuck Strawser from the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation had this to say in response to some e-mail traffic on a local cycling list that referred to this event as an "accident":

Please stop using the word "accident" to describe "crashes." This is a horrible tragedy, but it wasn't an "accident." It's a clear example of why most crashes are NOT accidents—a motorcyclist evading police and driving at 100 MPH is almost inevitably going to end up crashing. There's nothing unpredictable, and certainly nothing unpreventable, about it.

One of the first steps to changing the culture that seems to think it's normal for drivers to kill more than 40,000 people a year, and seriously injure half a million more, is to change the language. Crashes are not accidents. (OK, it's possible that some tiny percentages of crashes fit the common understanding of the word "accident," but that doesn't mean it's OK to call all of the crashes that are predictable and easily predictable "accidents").

If you don't think that language matters, then consider "defense of marriage" vs. anti-gay legislation, and "Right to Life" vs "Pro Choice." Wherever you stand on those polarizing issues, it is absolutely clear that language matters, and when it comes to CRASHES, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation agrees. [see above]

Also read Mr. Strawser's excellent Capital Times op-ed on a similar topic.

I often wonder how our heavy dependence on motorized transportation is not widely viewed as a major public health issue. One might think that an average of 42,000 fatalities and 3.2 million injuries per year due to crashes alone would warrant some outrage. Of those numbers, about 6000 of the fatalities and 120,000 of the injuries are not occupants of motor vehicles involved. Pedestrians, bicyclists and just about everybody else is at risk of great bodily harm. Consider also that "motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for every age from 3 through 33 years old." I'm not exaggerating—all of this information and more is readily available in painstaking detail on the NHTSA Web site.

Where is the concern, much less outrage, commensurate with the sheer volume of death on US highways? I just don't see it. Why not?

It's in large part because we excuse these incidents by describing them with a word that absolves anyone involved of responsibility. Having caused a motor vehicle crash once, I can tell you that it was a thoroughly awful experience. As unintentional as it was, it was equally preventable, and my fault for not paying closer attention. So my reflex upon hearing about a fatal crash is to feel some empathy for the person who precipitated it. I think it's also perfectly natural to think to one's self that it could have been me, because it could happen to any of us.

But empathy alone is not an appropriate response to the consequenses of motor vehicle crashes. The only meaningful first step toward addressing this huge public health and safety issue is to to stop treating it as if it cannot be addressed. Inattention, intoxication, deficient knowledge of the rules, scofflaw attitudes, whatever the reason, none of it is excusable, and we should stop treating it in word and by enforcement of law as if it were. Where else in our society do we allow such deadly force to be misused with so little consequence?

As part of the Ghost Bikes campaign, the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is offering this sticker, as well as stickers bearing the Ghost Bikes image. Click on it to find out how to get your paws on one.

And remember, the word of the day is: "crash"

Time to get off this soapbox. It's hot up here.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Connecting the Dots

Score another front-page article for Madison cyclists, complete with a big, full-color, above-the-fold photo:

This time the article is about including bicycle facilities as a natural part of the transportation infrastructure. My friend and neighbor Andy is the featured cyclist—that's him in the photo.
"Many people think I am either stupid, insane, or foolish for riding busy roads to Sun Prairie," said Swartz.

"This should not be the case. I should have routes to use that would not lead people to that conclusion. . . . We need safe routes to (Sun Prairie) and other destinations for the novice and average rider in all conditions, the temperature, precipitation, light and hour of day."
Certainly the ideal for any bicycle commuter, but there's more to it:
"Look at it this way," Swartz added, "there is the obesity epidemic, land-use decisions, private property rights, public transportation costs, gasoline prices. They are all integrated. With gas (headed toward) $4 a gallon, people will start thinking twice before they build."
I was a little surprised to see those quotes in print...

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Kid on the Block

I've been working this week on finishing Xtracycle number 2, a mid-90's GT Karakoram:

It's set up with a Surly 1 x 1 disk fork, Hayes disk brakes, Sun Rhyno Lite/XT wheels and Nitto Albatross bars. A pretty good combination so far.

The GT frame is not suspension-corrected, but the Surly fork is—which has a surprisingly positive effect on its handling. Large Marge suffers from the same heavy steering that many folks have said comes with stock Xtracycle conversions. I've measured the relative heights of the rear axles and Boss Hogg bolts (where the Xtracycle connects to the rear dropouts of the donor bike) and found that the GT has an axle height of 13 inches and a BH height of 13.625 inches. Marge also has an axle height of 13 inches, but her BH height is only 13.125 inches. One might have thought that keeping the Boss Hoggs at the same height as the original rear axle would be the ideal, but now I'm thinking that might not the case. It's hard to know whether the fork by itself makes the difference, but I'm thinking I might like to try the Surly fork on Marge (because I'd like to convert it to disk brakes anyway.) I'm guessing that raising the front end will improve Marge's handling much in the same way it has improved the handling of the GT.

There's also the issue of GT's frame design, which I like quite a bit in spite of its goofiness. It has a noticeably harsher ride which I hope will translate to improved torsional stiffness with a load of cargo on board. The Trek 830 (Marge) has a disconcerting whippiness at low speeds with a heavy load. The handling improves considerably once it reaches 7 or 8 mph, but I'm glad I've never had to make an evasive maneuver while carrying buckets of sand or the like.

And than there's the cable routing for the rear brake:

...which is just a bolt from a post-type cantilever brake, bolted to the seatstay bridge as a stop, with a barrel adjuster added as a ferrule. Ended up being pretty clean, really.

Now I just need to add a few little things like grips, a bell, and the Xtracycle racks to finish up. I'll post pictures of the final product...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Must-Read

An excellent Chicago Tribune series entitled " A Tank of Gas, a World of Trouble" takes a fascinating and well-researched look at the world of petroleum production and consumption. Reads a bit like a novel (in a good way) and is by far the most comprehensive and honest traditional print media story I've read to date. Highly recommended. (Tip 'o the hat to Ka-Bar)

See also Jane Bryant Quinn's op-ed that appeared in Newsweek. (Previously blogged by yours truly here.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Thoughts About Cars and Bikes

As a follow-up to the Ghost Bikes post from last week, I'm posting a column that appeared in the latest issue of Sustainable Times. It was written by Bob Allen, the same guy who wrote the Cargo Bikes article that appeared here and in the Sustainable Times back in April. He does a pretty darn good job of expressing what I'm sure a lot of cyclists are feeling, including me...

Cars Are Like Glass Houses

By Robert Allen

Bicycles are for transportation, not personal transformation. Riding a bicycle won’t turn a sinner into a saint.

But this doesn’t stop some motorists from expecting more than normal human behavior from every bicycle rider they see.

Anti-bicyclist letters to the editor in local papers are becoming drearily common, denouncing all who dare ride bicycles because of the antics of a rude and careless few. Of course, such letters are a benign and preferable form of backlash compared to the aggressive messages delivered along the road by some impatient motorists.

But I wonder why the letter writers, or anybody, would think bicyclists should be held to a higher standard than the rest of society.

Of course some bicyclists are rude and dangerous and they are wrong when they act selfishly and stupidly.

Riding a bicycle can help you shed pounds, save on gas and have more fun -- but it’s not going to change the content of your character. If you’re a rude and selfish jerk before you get on your bicycle, you’ll probably remain one no matter how many miles you ride.

People who focus their invective on bicyclists seem curiously complacent when it comes to dangerous and distracted motorists, who pose a much bigger threat to the health and welfare of any community.

Motorists are armed with tons of metal capable of much higher speed. The simple physics of the equation spells trouble. Add distractions like the scourge of cell phone addiction to this motorized mix and there are plenty of reasons for concern, if not a Sisyphusian stream of angry letters.

But there is something about the sight of a lone bicyclist blowing through a stop sign that sends the motoring public over the edge.

Perhaps it’s because bicyclers who ignore stop signs seem to be saying to the world that they think they’re above the law.

It’s a point well taken. Bicycles have an equal right to the road in Wisconsin, and with that right comes the responsibility to observe the same laws motorists occasionally observe.

But while I don’t condone it or recommend it, I know why bicycle riders are reluctant to scrub all the speed they’ve worked to build up at stop signs guarding empty intersections.

They aren’t doing it to thumb their noses at the world. They roll through intersections when the coast is clear because the cost of stopping for bicyclists is more directly felt than it is by drivers.

For a bicyclist, starting from a dead stop requires a considerable physical effort, much more exertion than simply maintaining pace. A driver who stops merely has to press down on the gas pedal a bit and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re back up to speed (never mind the extra blast of hydrocarbon emissions you’ve just delivered).

This isn’t an excuse, but maintaining hard-earned momentum is a compelling reality for the self-propelled.

A stop sign, however, means stop. It shouldn’t be treated like a yield sign.

I do my best to make a point of stopping fully, especially when being observed, not just because it’s the law; as a bicycling advocate, I try to be a decent ambassador out there on the road.

Not that my efforts to ride lawfully and courteously are going to change anybody’s mind. Courteous riders, like courteous drivers, are certainly in the majority. They just aren’t the ones anybody notices.

There are all kinds of people riding bicycles and driving cars. The next time one of them does something foolish, don’t hold it against the rest of us.

Allen is a commuting and recreational bicycler who lives in Middleton.

Thanks Bob.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Heat Wave

Here it is, the 2006 community garden space. Some things are doing better than others, but nothing was an outright failure. So far I've gotten radishes, lettuce, broccoli, peas (lots of peas) beets, kohlrabi, onions, carrots and summer squash. Not much in the way of quantity (except for the peas) but lots of lessons learned. Lessons like don't plant corn where you've just buried a large quantity of coffee grounds:

The rest of the corn was knee-high or better when this was shot, and this stuff wasn't past your ankle. I suppose I should know better than that, but part of the purpose of having this garden is to learn. Too much nitrogen, and probably too acidic. I'll compost the grounds thoroughly before digging them in next time.

The corn that was planted in the regular soil is doing pretty well, especially now that we've had a couple of 90-degree days. The indian corn is about 8 feet high and the sweet corn is almost 3 feet high. The soybeans, bush beans (Top Crop and Masal) are just about ready to be picked, and the bush beans I planted around the 4th of July are doing reasonably well also. Tomatoes and peppers will soon be ready. No rain predicted until Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ghost Bikes

It was me. I designed these lovely signs, which cropped up all over Dane County on about June 23. They're part if a public awareness campaign launched by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Since I have a reputation as an avid cyclist, quite a number of people asked for explanations. I told most of them that it really amounts to asking motorists to please pay attention to what there're doing, in hopes that fewer cyclists will be killed and injured in traffic crashes.

Invariably, the response was some variation on "but...cyclists violate traffic laws all the time!" Okay, fine. I'm sure that's true. But just the same, there are plenty of law-abiding cyclists who are just at much at risk when it comes to inattentive driving. No one involved with the ghostbikes.net project is asking that anyone be allowed to violate any traffic regulations with impunity. If some cyclists violate the law, how does that vindicate motorists who violate the law?

I think there's a common willingness among people who drive regularly to overlook the asymmetrical consequences of car-bike collisions. The harsh reality is that inattentive motorists are far more likely to kill than inattentive or even scofflaw bicyclists. That's really a hard one for many folks to swallow.

Funny though, how when a truck driver reaches for his fallen cigarettes, plows into a car and kills a 4-year old and her grandmother, he gets time behind bars. Somebody looks down his throat in his rear-view at highway speed and kills a 30-year old cyclist? Hung jury. Where's the sense in that?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bicycle Gardening Helper

At about 80 pounds, she was a nice addition to this load, which also included 30-some-odd pounds of compost in 2 plastic buckets, 25 feet of 24-inch chicken wire, some stakes, a shovel, some scissors and the watering can. A little more than we usually haul, but not by much. Good thing the trip doesn't include a bunch of hills...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I Love a Parade

Our whole family participated in this past weekend's kickoff for Bike to Work Week, the Madison Art Bike Parade. That's us behind the push-pull tandem—I'm wearing the sheepskin hat and that's my daughter and a friend taking advantage of Marge's ample passenger accomodations.

Of course, the disadvantage to having Bike to Work Week in May is that it can rain quite a bit here in the springtime, and Saturday was no exception. The parade's trophy winner had a bit of a problem with the wooden axles of his bike swelling, which slowed his forward progress quite a bit. The maker of the Peeps bike also found herself with a different, though no less vexing dilema. But everybody soldiered through with good humor and it ended up being quite a bit of fun. Looking forward to a more creative entry next year...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cargo Bikes, Part 2

Lightning strikes again.

Increasingly sophisticated bicycles are being designed to transport people as well as the accoutrements of their daily lives. Special bicycles and tricycles can haul items such as furniture and building supplies. And they're catching on in bicycle-friendly cities such as Madison.

It was front page, above the fold. Fantastic.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gardens and Art

We've gotten a community garden space recently, and we decided that it needed to have some art. So, my wife has been taking some ceramics courses in the Art department at the University. One of the grad students created an installation that used something like 200 of these clay houses. Each one is about a foot square, 30 inches tall and weighs a good 25 pounds. The show was several months ago, and the houses were slated to be tossed in the dumpster. Of course, we had to have them. We've had about a dozen sitting in the driveway for quite some time, so it was time to cart them off to the garden:

Pretty easy load for the Xtracycle, and plenty of room left for tools. Much better than the first load, which included two 20-some-odd pound buckets of compost. But really, even that wasn't that bad. As long as the two sides are balanced, it'll really haul a lot. The weather is still too cold for the city to turn on the taps at the garden, but my rain barrels have been full. So I've also hauled several loads of water, to the tune of about 10 gallons per trip. That's about 83 pounds and works fine—even if the buckets slosh a bit, the bike still handles OK.

Here's a shot of the houses arriving to find their fellows already in place:

Factory and bike path in the background.

What is it about gardens and art that they go so well together?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Peak Oil Hits the Mainstream

Wow. I was thumbing throught the print edition of Newsweek today and ran across something that shocked me. It was an op-ed by Jane Bryant Quinn about peak oil that didn't use the words "peak oil" at all:

The U.S. lives in an energy trap. We fell into it gladly, dug it deeper and sit fat and happy, with blinders on. We're fed daily meals of imported oil, from countries we pay in IOUs and think we can push around. But now we're starting to see the costs and risks of our dependency—and I don't only mean gasoline averaging $2.74 a gallon at the pump.

For years to come, we'll be in the hands of some of the most dysfunctional governments in the world. Oil prices will rise and economic growth will slow—not this year, but almost certainly a few years out. We'll be paying in both treasure and blood, as we fight and parley to keep ever-tighter supplies of world oil flowing our way.

What has changed in the world? We're running out of the capacity to produce surpluses of oil. Demand for crude is expected to rise much faster than new supplies. Developing nations, such as China and India, are glugging barrels at astounding rates. Meanwhile, most producer nations can't find enough new oil, or drill out more from their reserves, to replace what we're using up. Production from most of the large, older fields is in irreversible decline. [Emphasis added]

This ain't commondreams.org or the Sierra Club web site...it's Newsweek. It's not like she soft-peddles it either:

On paper, we have alternatives, such as liquefied coal, oil sands from Canada and ethanol. But they're not anywhere close to production on a massive scale. For a smooth transition, mega-energy projects need to get started at least 20 years before oil supplies decline, writes Robert Hirsch of the consulting firm SAIC in a study prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy. If we don't get a running start on the problem, he says, "the economic consequences will be dire." We're probably already behind. It takes leadership to address a potential crisis in advance.

Unfortunately, we're investing in war, not in crash projects to develop new energy sources. Maybe there's time to spare. But some events, like true civil war and collapse in Iraq, could change everything in a day. We're running a faith-based energy policy—still addicted to oil. If something goes wrong, it will go wrong big.

So, it seems like word is getting around.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Large Marge

Here she is, the family Xtracycle Free Radical. Her name is Large Marge the Pedal Barge and she's a trash-picked Trek 830 mountain bike frame hooked up to an Xtracycle Free Radical hitchless trailer.

We've had lots of fun with this thing. Besides the countless trips to our community garden space, I've hauled insulation, lumber, paint, dog food, groceries, a bale of marsh hay and a whole bunch of interesting yard sale stuff.

Cargo Bikes

My 15 seconds of fame began late last week when the Sustainable Times, a local treehugger publication, ran an article containing a profile of our family's use of an Xtracycle Free Radical. They have no Web presence at all (which is unfortunate, because they really have a good thing going in print) so I am publishing the article in its entirety here:

Cargo Without the Car

by Robert Allen

Another time. Another war. And Americans were asking themselves “Is this trip really necessary?”

Supporting the troops during the Second World War meant more than slapping a sticker on the car. It meant thinking twice before driving that car.

Years later, I remember hearing my grandparents and parents asking the question, even as cheap gas and Detroit muscle were making car use as reflexive as breathing for most Americans.

The question seemed quaint then. It’s not so quaint today.

Another war. Uncertain oil supplies. Climate change. Gridlock. Obesity. Take your pick. There’s more than one reason to begin questioning the necessity of car trips.

The bicycle provides an obvious way to make unnecessary many trips that once were made in a car.

But many of us who already use a bicycle to get ourselves to work or around town now and then still hop in the car to haul groceries or other household goods. We’re willing to carry ourselves on bicycles, but get flustered by the challenge of carrying much else.

A few years ago, I began rediscovering the types of bags and racks I knew as a kid, relatively modest ways to carry a few things on a bicycle. As a recovering racer, it’s taken me a long time to overcome the racer’s weight fetish for the sake of such practicality.

But the payoff of using even a modest bag or rack is an immediate improvement in the enjoyment of almost any ride. Having a place to shed or acquire layers of clothing helps cope with changing weather, and this stretches the riding season. Food, maps, tools, a spare inner tube or camera are pretty handy to have around.

A decent sized bag, basket or rack means a rider can suddenly run more errands. But even the big old saddlebag on my three-speed quickly reaches its limit, long before I can cross a grocery run off the necessary list.

The real limit, though, is only of one’s imagination. A growing number of riders are finding ways of increasing their carrying capacity to a point where the car is much less necessary in their lives.

One such rider is Michael Lemberger, a Madison graphic artist who currently is adding a second Xtracycle cargo bike to his family’s stable. A little over a year ago, Lemberger converted one of his bikes using an Xtracycle kit. He’s now converting another bike for his wife Gloria, a ceramic artist.

The conversion kit moves the rear wheel back 15 inches, stretching the bike to accommodate an impressive array of bags and carrying surfaces. The extra length has obvious benefits, while allowing a rider to carry wide loads without hitting the load with his or her heel on the backstroke of the pedaling motion.

Lemberger has carried many bags of groceries on his “long bike”. He’s come back from building supply centers carrying everything from insulation to two-by-fours. He’s added some handlebars to his rig so his 7-year-old daughter Olive can enjoy riding in back.

For the sake of a photograph, he strapped on two 55-gallon barrels (though sanity took hold before we tried to fill them up to truly test the manufacturer’s suggested weight limit).

An Xtracycle’s claimed cargo capacity is about 200 pounds. Add a rider and the total ballast you might try to pedal up a hill would be about 400 pounds. Lemberger hasn’t tested that limit, though he says a loaded Xtracycle is surprisingly stable.
Xtracycle kits are available in some Madison shops, as is installation services for the less mechanically adventurous. You can learn more at www.xtracycle.com. Or check out www.rideyourbike.com/xtracycle.html for a gallery of longbike riders carrying amazing loads.

Of course, there are other ways to increase your bicycle’s carrying capacity. Many riders, from long-distance touring cyclists to local grocery haulers, favor any of the increasingly sophisticated trailers on the market. Visit www.bikesatwork.com for one Iowa maker’s take on trailers.

One advantage of a trailer is that you can disconnect it easily to lighten up your machine when not carrying cargo.
Another advantage is that trailers keep the weight of the load off the bicycle, allowing the bike to use much lighter wheels than would be required for carrying heavy loads. Lighter wheels help a bicycle feel much more responsive because light wheels have less rotational weight for a rider to propel. This is why racing bike builders, while always concerned about the overall weight of the machine, go to especially extreme lengths to shave grams off the wheels.
Lemberger, however, likes the feel of two wheels. He believes two wheels, even if relatively heavy wheels, create less rolling resistance than the four wheels of a bicycle and trailer rig.

Of course, trikes are yet a third option, allowing a large cargo carrying space behind the rider between the back wheels. See some classic workhorses as www.worksman.com.

Two, three or four wheels, isn’t the issue. There are many ways to increase self-propelled carrying capacity and decrease reliance on motor vehicles. People in other parts of the world, especially where cars aren’t even an option, are well familiar with many cost-effective options.

At about $400, an Xtracycle kit isn’t exactly cheap. But if it decreases your reliance on a car enough, it will pay for itself rather quickly.

Lemberger isn’t a purist. He and his family of three still own a car. “We’re not car free,” he said. “But we’re car-light.”
Of course, that puts them far ahead of many of us, including your author. And this is what got me thinking of that quaint old question about what trips truly are necessary.

Reducing dependence on the automobile is more about attitude than equipment. It also requires a certain degree of fitness and physical abilities that are not universally shared.

But for those with the needed physical abilities, which includes a vast number of today’s car addicts, a real commitment to reducing auto use will inevitably carry with it the benefit of increasing fitness. Increase fitness enough and you, too, could be testing yourself to see how much cargo you can haul up that hill from the grocery store.

Don’t start out with bags of cement or 55 gallon barrels. Think about smaller errands carrying items you could fit in a small bag or even a large pocket.

“You have to wonder how many car trips are made that could be done on a bike or by walking,” Lemberger said. “There are an awful lot of car trips made to return a DVD or a library book.”

Are those trips really necessary?

Allen is a commuting and recreational bicycler who lives in Middleton.

Yes, that's me, riding down the street with two empty plastic 55 gallon drums strapped to the Xtracycle. Such an unusual sight that I've gotten a call from a reporter at another, larger, mainstream local paper. I'll post something about that article after it runs.

I've also been confirmed as the official family eccentric, a title I wear with pride.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rattling around inside the car box

So I was listning to Ecotalk on Air America this afternoon, and they had a second segment with Peter Tertzakian, author of a new book about oil entitled 1000 barrels a second. Like last week's segment with Tertzakian, it was a very good conversation—the type of frank discussion we should be having about energy issues right now (and for the last 20 years.) I like the host, Betsy Rosenberg. She's a good journalist and a very sincere environmentalist. But she had to spoil the whole darn thing and make the same comment that I hear almost every environmentalist make when they talk about oil depletion:

[...] I drive a hybrid car, have solar panels, do all those eco-friendly things, I don't feel like I'm sacrificing. I feel smarter, I feel like I'm part of the solution [...]

It's sad, really, that it seems like it will take us forever to start thinking outside the car box. Even a smart person like Betsy Rosenberg needs help looking beyond the painfully obvious. It's not just the fuel economy of the car. It's the manufacturing of the car, the infrastructure required to support it, the way it influences land use patterns and all the other unspoken burdens that go with our dependance on the damn thing. She's fallen into the trap that many of us reflexively fall into, because the first thing many of us ask ourselves when we encounter a problem is not "how can I solve this problem," but "what can I buy to solve this problem?"