Friday, February 5

From the Planner's Desk: It's Safe to Pass This Law

Kentucky Senate Bill 80 has passed committee.  On Wednesday, February 3, 2016 the Senate Committee on Transportation voted unanimously to pass the bill.

SB 80 is the “Safe Passing Law” or “Three Foot Law” that has been championed by Dixie Moore and supported by various organizations and a host of individual cyclists and advocates.  Kentucky is one of only a very few states that do not already have some form of a safe passing law on the books.  It looks like we’re getting closer, though nothing is guaranteed at this point.

L to R: Asa Swan, Sen. Robin Webb, Troy Hearn, and Doug Brent
before the Senate Committee on Transportation

Unfortunately a controversial cyclist in Nicholasville a couple of years ago complicated the conversation.  Before that I had not heard the standard fare anti-cycling rhetoric that was so well rehearsed in the national dialogue and more specifically in Colorado where I lived for five years.

Yes, oddly enough, a more bicycle friendly state seemed to have greater controversy surrounding cycling than my “unfriendly” home state where I was pleasantly surprised upon moving back to discover that Kentucky drivers tend to slow down, get over, and in general act more friendly to cyclists.  At least in rural areas.

Something that struck me as odd was that a number of Senators on the committee cited the Kentucky Trail Town program and its exploded popularity among constituents across the state as influencing their support of the bill.  It’s not that I don’t see the value in the Trail Town program myself, but what mystified me was that it had such a profound effect on the legislators in regards to the bicycle safety bill.  I’ll take it!

So what’s next?  The bill is not yet a law.  First it must go before the full Senate for a vote.  Then to the House Committee on Transportation for a vote, then before the full House and finally before the Governor for his signature if it makes it that far.  We still have a few hurdles to get past, but this is a positive start to be certain.


Now the real legwork comes into play for advocates of this bill.  It’s time to ramp up the letter/email writing and phone call campaigns to Senators and Representatives.  It's time to storm the Capitol on our bikes!




Friday, January 29

Ramming Speed Friday: The Winter Commute Part III


I was always antsy after lunch when the weather was cold or looking to turn snowy.  Even when my schedule allowed me to leave the office at 4:30 darkness would fall as I was riding home.  But much of the time during winter the end of my day was at 5:30.  Darkness had long come and the cold temps had set themselves up in ambush for me along the route home.
I got antsy.  And no amount of reasonable discussion would affect my release from the cubicle sentence I found myself serving.  Only a couple of times did sympathy win out and I was allowed to leave early to beat the weather.  Official office policy was that it was my choice to ride my bike to work and therefore no concession need to be made for my well-being.
It was only sort of my choice.  My car wouldn’t pass emissions.  We couldn’t afford to replace it.  So I rode.
Running snow tires on the X
Maybe I was bitter.  Heck, I was pissed off!  That didn’t change anything once I rolled my trusty human-powered mode of transportation into the dark winter evenings to ride home from work across the western Denver suburbs.
The first part was always a fast downhill unless there was still significant snow or ice.  By the time I got into the streets of Golden I was typically a popsicle.  In fact, I was halfway home before the grade lessened enough that I could get my heartrate up and start warming my digits beneath their layers.
I dodged black ice.  I surfed fresh snow sometimes.  I almost always took the longer route that was 90% multiuse path to avoid the evening vehicular traffic during low visibility conditions.  Though I did come to appreciate the superior visibility provided by strong LED lights in darkness.  Still, I felt safer heading home far from the reach of work weary commuters in their big steel coffins.
 
There were always more people out in the afternoon/evening during winter along the path.  In the mornings it wasn’t odd to make my entire commute and not see another soul.  Most of the time at least a few people were out on my way home.  I never felt like there were enough people to be a safety benefit should I crash and hurt myself.  And crash I did!
A coworker once fretted that if I kept riding I might crash someday.  My response was: “I crash every day.”  And it was true.  I just kinda learned to take a fall on snow and ice.  It rarely hurt.  And with no other trail users around it was rarely embarrassing.
I’d pass into Wheat Ridge on the Clear Creek Trail and then I had options of when to bail from the trail onto side streets.  The best case was a little longer but only three-quarters of a mile of street riding from trail to my house.  It was a little busier road than the longer option, but for the most part it was mellow.  The busier streets usually had more exposed real estate to ride on in winter.
 
When finally I returned home to the Bikeport I had an evening routine of stripping the bike of all my gear, maybe putting down towels if there was slush clinging to all the components, and hanging up my layers to dry.  Sometime before bed (unless it was a Ramming Speed Friday) I’d gather up all of the things I’d need for the morning commute the next day and stow them in panniers or cargo bags.  I’d get the coffee pot ready and hang up clothes for the next day. 
It was a pretty good life being a full time bike commuter.  There were a lot of challenges.  And at times it was difficult.  When I was getting over a cold I had to bum a ride.  One morning I made it all the way to the bike path counting on it being clear and it had not been plowed as usual.  I tried to call in, but my boss came and picked me up at the park in his Suburban.  And there were just some days I ended up having to drive to work.  When my family stayed home from school and there was two to three feet of fresh snow on the ground it was nearly impossible to ride my bike no matter how determined.
I resolved that if it was too bad for me to ride in it then it was probably too bad.  I may not have been the most hard core bike commuter to ever ply the roads in the Denver area, but I was more committed than the majority.  It once took me two and a half hours to make my eleven mile commute.  That day it was safer to “ride” than to drive.  That day they should have closed the office.  I still beat most of my coworkers in.
I highly recommend winter bike commuting if you have a reasonable route and the right cold weather gear.  You don’t have to have a lot of expensive stuff.  You just need to be somewhat resourceful and determined.

Thursday, January 28

Lowering the Barriers: The Winter Commute Part II


The alarm goes off.  I don’t need to look outside into the darkness and try to see what the weather conditions are.  I went to bed with the forecast burned into the surface of my brain.  It’s cold out there.  I can hear the wind.
 
“Do you want me to drive you?” my wife mumbles from under the blankets.
“Nah, I’ll just ride,” I reply, and drag myself out of the bed.
My clothes hang in the bathroom.  But first I hike into the kitchen and flick on the coffee maker.  I return to the bathroom and begin piling on the layers.  I have a thin base.  I put on two layers of socks, a polypro undershirt and tights.  Over that I pull on a t-shirt and cargo pants.  My wool button-up is draped over my bike behind the couch in the living room.
The coffee stops hissing as I sit down at the kitchen table to pull on my light hikers.  I pour the coffee into a Klean Kanteen, snug down the screw on lid, and tuck it into the cargo bag on my Xtracycle deep into the down coat that’s already there.  The coat provides a little extra insulation and keeps the coffee totally warm despite the sub-zero temps outside.
 
I pull on the wool shirt, yank a thin balaclava over my noggin, and snap on my helmet.  Last are my gloves.  I have a pair of thin liners with a medium weight pair of Windstopper fleece gloves over them.  With that combo I have pretty good dexterity for shifting and breaking while keeping my digits relatively warm.
I don’t need to check my lights.  They were charged the night before and are already on the bike.
I carefully roll the bike to the door and wrangle it into the predawn darkness.  The cold bites at my cheeks right away.  No other skin is exposed.  Once outside I pull ski goggles over the whole mess leaving no exposed skin for the wind to burn.  It’s ten below zero and I am heading out for work on my bike.
The wind is not in my favor.  It never is.  But I am in good shape and it’s not gale force at least.  I know where the patches of ice lay in wait and easily avoid black ice and lingering piles of snow and slush that are frozen until the sun hits them alter in the day when they will reform into new and exciting shapes.
 
Traffic is light and I make my way easily to the long lane that parallels the railroad track.  I can easily make out where the city/county corporate boundary is.  The road is a priority for one but not the other.  Two miles pass on the road with a stout headwind.  By the time I enter the park and approach the multiuse path my core warmth has started to spread into my extremities.  I know the window of pleasant warmth before The Sweat is small.  Once I really start climbing up into town I’ll begin soaking my baselayers.
There is a long straightaway between the mesas on the path.  I call that stretch The Wind Tunnel because the wind out of Clear Creek Canyon from the mountains is always fierce and cold.  It slams full in my face and threatens to stop me dead in my tracks.  I keep pedaling until I find some shelter in the lee of the highway.  I’ll get a reprieve until I pass through the trail tunnel and come out on the west side back into the full force of the Wind Tunnel.
The Wind Tunnel on a cold but snowless day
I miscalculate a turn and my rear wheel sinks suddenly into soft snow where I thought there was path. The edge of the concrete path caught my wheel at an angle and I fail to remount.  Before I can react I’m down on a shoulder and hip on the ice of the path.  I stand up, drag the bike upright, and shove off toward work.  Once I’m moving again I run a diagnostic on my systems.  Seems my clothing took the brunt.  My shoulder is less than numb and I know there’s no permanent damage.  The ice and slow speeds play in my favor. 
At the end of the Wind Tunnel there is a steepening climb to a bridge over the highway, and then another stretch of climbing to the high point of the Clear Creek Trail.  On the return—under warm blue skies—I can easily hit 35-40 mph on the descent.  At the top of the first climb just past the bridge I stop at what looks like a rest area along the path.  I snap a photo of the brightening landscape to the east.  Then I get back on the bike.  I’m only starting to sweat.
I make the apex a few minutes later and really begin warming up.  There’s a nice downhill to the icy and treacherous Tucker Gulch Trail, but I avoid it and jump over on the well-plowed streets.  I cut through town and pick the path back up in the park. 
Tucker Gulch Trail
All that’s left between me and a shower and then a day in the cubicle is a few hundred feet of elevation gain from Clear Creek to the JeffCo government center at 6,000’.  The first hill is a bear but short.  I cross Lookout Mountain Road and fight speed on the descent before the last long slog up to the building.  It’s long, maybe a mile, and too steep to ride on the snow.  I’m-a walkin’.
By the time I roll up to the lower level entrance and swipe my ID I’m a sloppy mess under my synthetic layers.  I whip off my balaclava and gloves and stow them in my cargo bags as I roll the bike through the empty halls to the elevator.  I’m dripping sweat but my face is numb from the cold. 
I leave the bike in my cubicle and gather my clothes from where they’ve hung since Monday.  I hike back downstairs to the locker room to shower and start my day.
Part III will take it all home.

Tuesday, January 26

Lowering the Barriers: The Winter Commute Part I


 
Winter bike commuting can be tough.  It can also be very rewarding.  And regardless of whether or not you commute by bike in the snow, riding a bike for fun in the snow can be…well, fun. 
I live in Kentucky now where winter weather typically shuts everything down and doesn’t linger very long.  But I cut my commuting teeth in the Denver, Colorado area where if you’re a dedicated full time bike commuter you just get used to riding on snow and ice. 
 
The purpose of this post is to just lay out a few tips and tricks for keeping upright while riding in the snow whether for recreation or utility.
1) Leave yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.  This is sound advice regardless of your mode of transportation, but on the bike it is more imperative to make sure you arrive safely.  Sometimes plowed snow may block a preferred route.  Sometimes bike paths that normally get plowed don’t.  If you have mechanical trouble it’s much harder to change a tube, fix a chain, etc in cold weather.  And it’s good not to be rushed.
 
2) Dress like you’re going cross country skiing.  I heard someone give this advice and it changed the way I dressed for cycling and cross country skiing.  I typically would dress for my maximum heart rate but carry heavier clothing in case I had a problem.  So that meant panniers or a backpack until I got my cargo bike.  Layers are good, but ultimately cycling consistently in cold weather comes down to knowing what to wear for your comfort level and then carrying layers for contingencies.  No one wants to stop to peel off or pile on layers while riding.
This is what -10F looks like
3) Your water bottle will freeze.  Figure something else out, but make sure you keep drinking.
4) Winter days are short.  Lights. Lights. Lights.  I prefer rechargeable front and rear LED lights.  I carried the charger with me on the bike; that way if a light started going out on the ride to work I could charge it before heading home in the evening.  I ran my bright (250 lumen) NiteRider light even in sunny conditions.
Sporting chains (no kidding) and a light
5) Have a backup plan.  If you have a car and it’s just too bad to bike then drive.  There is no shame.  If you’re comfortable riding the bus and it works for you then don’t hesitate to jump on to avoid worsening conditions.  But make sure if you have a motor vehicle SAG option that when you call you’re not putting friend, family, or significant other into danger by having them come out on bad roads to save your nappy ass.  I remember calling once and then worrying about my wife getting out on icy roads with both kids in our only car.  We made it home safe, but I regretted not sticking it out and letting them stay at home where it was safe.
 
6) Have fun!  As much work as it was and as much as I suffered being a full time bike commuter in Colorado it was a whole lot of fun and I have a lot of great memories (and photos) from sticking to my guns even when the skies, roads, and pathways were less than optimal.
I don't know, where would YOU rather ride?
For my next post I'll roll you through a day in the life of a winter bike commuter.
Not THIS day
 

 

Friday, January 22

From the Suicide Lane: Bigger or Better?

Currently there is a Senate Bill before the Kentucky legislature to provide protection to cyclists on the Commonwealth’s roadways.  It’s a safe passing bill or what is typically known as a three foot to pass law.  Kentucky needs this.  Currently Kentucky is ranked the 49th bicycle friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists.  Kentucky needs safe passing legislation.

I was contacted by the bill’s champion to see if I knew any cyclists within a certain House District that might contact the Representative who happens to be the head of the House Transportation Committee.  She commented that his responses had been along the lines of “bicycles are dangerous and shouldn’t be on the roads,” that legislation like SB80 make cycling more attractive (duh) which will result in more people on the roads on bikes who shouldn’t be there in the first place, and that cyclists and motorists would be in more danger because of it.

So dangerous!

I find it odd that the head of the House TRANSPORTATION Committee doesn’t realize that 1) bikes are legal vehicles in Kentucky per KRS 189 and that 2) people are going to ride bikes on the roads for myriad reasons and they deserve the same kind of protections as other users regardless of how he feels about their presence or absence thereon.

But it’s a mentality that is prevalent.  This week is the annual Kentuckians for Better Transportation Conference in Lexington.  The conference is the yearly get together of statewide legislators, local elected leaders, and more specifically all of those people in the same room with all of the Big Transportation industry folks; the contractors, asphalt companies, the planning and engineering firms, and anyone who has an interest in big ticket transportation projects around the state.  And of course the state level transportation officials are there as well.  So all the decision makers and al the demand desire-ers get together to network and drink together in a hotel before returning to a full year of schmoozing and finagling all of those transportation dollars into the appropriate coffers.  Do I sound cynical?

Of course.  Despite the Kentuckians for Bigger Transportation claiming to represent ALL modes of transportation those that are not deeply connected to gasoline and diesel powered conveyances get the short end of the stick shift.  Too many people in positions of power have flippant attitudes toward cyclists and pedestrians while too many local elected officials are forced to deal with issues they have no real power to confront.  They’re told by knowledgeable “experts” in the Transportation Cabinet that there is simply not enough money to accommodate walkers and bikers in their counties and if they try to do so that the larger number of constituents in single occupancy vehicles are going to suffer for it.  Do I still sound cynical?  Do you disagree that this is not the culture in government today?

And do you disagree with the flawed logic in this thinking?  The new republican Governor spoke at the conference luncheon on Thursday.  If we could truly believe him to be speaking Truth then most of those industry bigwigs should have been shaking in their expensive shoes yesterday.  And I think they were, but not for the right reasons.  See, the Governor said he was committed to eradicating waste in the state budget.  And while I’m not sure what he will determine to be waste, I do know that if we appropriately cut up the pie and if we planned and built projects based on real needs and not contrived demand and selfish greed then perhaps more human scaled projects would end up coming to life in communities that desperately need them.

I actually heard one conference attendee (and I did not see his face and do not know who he is) say: “I’m just here to find some money.”  My guess is he was half joking and that he was likely a county Judge-Executive.  Our rural county Judges never have enough money to run their counties.  I truly hope it was a mirthful county Judge because had any other attendee said that it would have just been creepy.

I try to check my conspiracy theories at the door.  But it’s really hard to ignore big meetups like the annual KBT conference as being the informal lobbying sessions that they seem.  Or short of that being the networking orgies they definitely are for contractors to buddy up to county and highway district level decision makers for future favorability in the bid process.

There are no bike-ped sessions in the conference.  There was a token session last year, but it was more a novelty than evidence of a change in thinking.  If you check out KBT’s policy and bill watch pages you won’t find anything about the Safe Passing Bill.  I didn’t go to every session in the conference, but I didn’t hear anything about legislation that protects or even hints at promoting non-motorized or non-SOV modes of transportation.  Wonder where in ALL modes of transportation bike-ped fits in the eyes of KBT?

Thursday, January 14

Lowering the Barriers: Velophile Once More


I was once a velophile.  Our family had one car.  Full time bike commuting was my normal.  Beard-freezing rides stopped being novel.  When a coworker said of me riding on ice “you’re going to crash one of these days!” I replied that I crashed EVERY day, and as I said it I realized it was true.
 
Life’s distraction wore at me.  After moving from a major metropolitan area back to my rural Appalachian hometown cycling became a chore.  But I had signed up for a big mountain bike race “back West” before we moved so I was sort of obligated to keep turning the pedals.  The race came and went. In the aftermath I struggled to find reason and purpose in cycling again.
But I was no longer car-lite; I had become car-grossly-obese.  In the city I had ridden my bike twenty miles a day–one hundred miles a week–to get to and from work.  Back in bucolic climes I found myself behind the wheel of a car driving a minimum of four hundred and fifty miles a week! Life has conspired to strip me of my velophilic identity.  And I’ve not put up much of a fight.
I took up running.  There’s less gear and less issue with weather and traffic and  the paucity of legal mountain biking trails where I live.  Running was new and novel and just easier.  Since I wasn’t using the bike for utility or transportation purposes I didn’t miss cycling as much. I had forgotten the effort it takes to cover thirty miles for transportation purposes; when you’re not out for a leisurely ride but that you need to connect Point A and Point B with a line within a specific timeframe.  It’s a different activity than a mountain bike ride or a road bike ride for fun.  To plan to be presentable when you read your destination and to have enough fuel takes effort.  It’s more than just riding your bike.  It’s a journey, or a mini-journey, and we take these kinds of trips for granted when we go by car.  On a bike it’s commuting, but it can also be an adventure.
Inspiration comes in strange turns.  I’m the king of the unconventional bike commute.  In Colorado I frequently rode my mountain bike to work so I could detour over a mesa for some singletrack action before reporting to my cubicle work release program.  I took classes at CU Boulder and commuted twenty miles one way by bike through open space and suburban wastelands on both my mountain bike and my cargo bike.  I have actually biked my ninety mile round trip Kentucky commute, but it’s hard to get excited about riding in traffic in Lexington. It’s more suburban hell than urban heaven.  Throw in a healthy serving of extremely rolling rural countryside and it’s just TOO MUCH bike commute to bite off and choke down.
 
Recently I have recommitted to being my cyclo-centric in my life.  I have a cargo bike stationed by the basement door ready to roll at a moment’s notice.  I’ve made a couple of jaunts to town to the hardware store and grocery store.  Winter is settling in, but it’s an El NiƱo year so maybe this new resolve to bike in life will take hold. 
While it’s hard to take up biking for transportation for the first time, it’s also not easy to go back to it after being gone for a long time.  Cyclocentrism works best when it’s habit-formed and anchored into your lifestyle.  If you’ve got it hold on to it.

Tuesday, January 12

From the Planner's Desk: Safe to Pass


Apparently I’m going to be on the radio this coming Thursday.  Gary Bentley hosts Bike Talk (on a rotating basis with John Fry) on Thursdays at 1pm.  You can listen to Bike Talk on WLXL 95.7 fm or tune in at www.lexingtoncommunityradio.org
 
Right now Senate Bill 80 is before the (Kentucky) Senate Transportation Committee.  SB80 is the “Safe Passing Law” that has been proposed and championed by Dixie Moore. 
Basically SB80 is:
AN ACT relating to the overtaking of bicycles on a roadway.
      Amend KRS 189.300 to require operators of bicycles to travel upon the right- hand side of the traveled portion of a highway; provide that bicyclists shall not have to ride on the shoulder of the highway; amend KRS 189.340 to require vehicles overtaking bicycles to pass at a distance of at least three feet; specify when a motor vehicle may pass a bicycle to the left of the center of a roadway.
I have mixed feelings about a three foot law.  I don't feel like they really do as much as they should or as they seem like they do.  They are basically unenforceable in a meaningful way.  And what I mean by that is that if you are injured or killed because someone violated the three foot law whatever penalty is imposed is no consolation.  And if there's no vehicle to cyclist contact then unless you have a police officer as a witness who is also a strong cycling advocate then its moot.

However, not having a three foot law is legally insensitive.  Not having a three foot law ignores the need for motorists to give cyclists ample room on the roadway.  And having a three foot law provides a platform for education and understanding.  It is the beginning of the right kind of dialogue.  We need more positive conversations about the increase of cycling on the roads in Kentucky.  So far we've not had a lot of negative press, though one particular story opened the Pandora's box of negative motorist sentiment toward cyclists that didn't seem to be opened before.

It's time to take the reins and direct the conversation toward better relations and better conditions for cyclists and away from the detrimental spew that results from a sensationalistic news story that really isn't relative to the big picture.

So while I would prefer to see stronger legislation and more harsh penalties for distracted and irresponsible driving I will put my shoulder behind this effort as it currently has the most momentum and does provide a positive benefit to the cycling community in my state.  I'm not conceding here.  I feel like this is a good first step.  But three foot laws are not the be all end all protection cyclists need on the roadways. 

Friday, January 8

Field Work Fridays: Proportionate Spending


I composed this piece a couple of days ago, but on Thursday a headline popped up in my social media feeds: $112 million cut from Transportation Cabinet budget--which linked to a WKYT news story. The biggest cut is $62 million for revenue sharing which is direct aid money to cities and counties.  I know first hand that most rural communities are already treading a razor's edge of need versus revenue.  They are constantly putting out a series of fires instead of engaging in sensible planning and routine maintenance.  Of course this directly affects the issues I will bring up in the following piece, but instead of rewriting it at this time I'll just let it ride and try to adapt my thoughts as the 2016 General Assembly session progresses. 
 
I’ve been in meetings with engineers, planners, and other transportation professionals and local officials where the discussion had drifted to bike-ped—or even just bike—issues, and funding comes up.  Invariably one or more of the good old boys of the nothing-but-highway building era says “building bike infrastructure is fine, but the funding has to be proportionate.”
Lord help us all if 1% of the population currently rides bikes and we suggest spending 1% or more of funding on bike infrastructure.  We can’t justify disproportionate spending…can I get an amen?
Except that for a few decades we’ve done exactly that.  We’ve overfunded the personal automobile, subsidizing the most environmentally and socially impactive mode of transportation possible at the expense of all others.  In most cases we’ve underserved even the low percentages of people who choose alternate modes.
Stephenson Trail, Berea, KY
Would it really hurt us to focus a slightly disproportionate amount of money on bike-ped for a year or two?  I’m not saying 50% of our transportation budgets, but why not 10%?  Even 5%.  Or why don’t we identify our local populations that are underserved through lack of bike-ped, transit, or other modes and double up on spending for a few years?
If cars are so important, and no one really wants to give them up, then diverting a little extra money to give the weirdos a few more choices couldn’t hurt, right?
I see people walking around my rural community all the time.  There are both those who walk out of necessity in all conditions and those who walk for recreation or health.  When you factor in those who do walk for non-transportation related purposes and those who would like to walk more for utility or non-utility then I would bet the farm that a majority of people wish there were more and better options to get out of the car.
I might lose the farm, but if that were the case then it would be time to give up anyway.
 
OUT OF THE OFFICE
Here's an interesting piece compiling survey results from a proposed transportation sales tax measure by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and a cool photo of what the Road to Biketopia looks like: Envision Tax Dollars Being Spent 

 

Thursday, January 7

Lowering the Barriers: Doing it Yourself


I grew up what I consider lower-middle class.  We weren't poor per se, but we definitely didn't have a surplus of cash to throw at every problem.  The result was that I learned from my dad to fix things myself and to be innovative and creative in keeping myself going through life.  I wish I could say this meant I am a really handy guy, but the cold stark reality is that I fake my way through stuff until I hit a wall that I must pay a professional to surmount. 
I built my own Xtracycle.  Until I had to install the fork.  I just didn't have the tools and know-how  make it work.  So I took the bike all put together to the bike shop and paid them to install the fork for me.  
I stripped my donor bike down to nothing to get the frame powder coated...

I rebuilt the bike as an Xtracycle...
 
And later that year I rode the bike I built (save the fork) 53 miles from the plains to Guanella Pass at 11,669'
And back.
A few years ago I bought Todd Downs' Bicycle Maintenance & Repair.  It's been indispensable in getting me through a lot of repairs and maintenance (ironically).  And what the book wasn't able to help me with I have typically been able to sort out between YouTube and Sheldon Brown To be honest, I don't love Sheldon Brown's website.  I think it is a fantastic resource, but in my experience it’s frustrating to have to read three articles for the one you need to make sense.
Anyway, I always at least try to fix or maintain our fleet myself.  When I run into hiccups I always still have the option of begging the Training Partner for help or taking my mangled attempt to the bike shop.  Historically the bike shop has been graced by my truing needs and the aforementioned steerer tube trim.
For Christmas this year I requested bike tools.  And Santa delivered.  I now have a truing stand, a proper chain cleaner, a tool tray for the repair stand I got a few years ago, and replacement chain tool and cable cutters for the ones that broke/were lost.
Fleet maintenance

It's hard to find good wrenches...
 
The barrier that most people perceive is a lack of knowledge of how to repair bicycles.  But the truth is bikes are fairly simple machines and other than a few specialized tools (such as a cone wrenches and a star-nut setter) most people will have the general tools they need to work on bikes.  And even if you don't a set of bike-specific tools is fairly cheap.  The How-To knowledge is readily available and you don't even have to be tech savvy to figure out most repairs.
And another major plus?  If you screw something up you can just load your bike on the car and drive it to a bike shop.  That's not possible when you screw up an automotive repair. 
It should go without saying that every cyclist should know how to do field repairs such as changing a tube, fixing a broken chain, and making minor adjustments to the bike.  These skills are easily learned and will save you from having to call a friend or loved one to drive miles into the bush to find you and bring you home.  That said, no matter how much you know about fixing bikes you just can't carry enough tools to cover every contingency on a ride.

On the bike carry and know how to use:
Patch kit (for tubes or tubeless)
Appropriate quicklink for your chain

At home here are some basics to start out with:
Tire levers
Chain lube
Standard wrenches or an adjustable wrench
Cable cutters (even if you don't think you'll ever replace your own cables)
Shop rags

And from there you'll decide on more advanced tools as the need for them arises.  It's easy enough to go to the bike shop and ask how much they charge for making a certain repair and how much the tool(s) costs to do it yourself.  Then weigh how often you're likely to need to do said repair and what are the financial and temporal consequences of screwing it up.  I say give it a go and use the bike shop as backup, but you have to use your own judgment based on the resources at hand.
I've successfully swapped a cassette from one wheelset to another because I had the tools.  I've installed disc brakes, I've replaced derailers, and I've replaced cogs and chainrings.  All it took were the tools and the patience to read a book or watch a video online to figure it out. 
I’ve found a great deal of confidence and empowerment through working on my own bikes and keeping them rolling year after year with minimal help from my LBS (Local Bike Shop).  I love to support bicycle businesses, but I can do that through purchasing gear and accessories and keep the wrenching at home for the most part.  It makes me more resilient and keeps me riding more often.

Tuesday, January 5

From the Planner's Desk: No Place to Ride


A little housecleaning note...I'm going to try to stick to a Tuesday and Thursday posting schedule in the New Year.  No promises, but that's my intent.  This dovetails with my recent habit of posting on The Chainring Report on MWF.  Of course I'll have to throw in the occasional Ramming Speed Friday post here.  It's like a tradition, man!
Also, I am open for post topics and blog suggestions.  Email me at ascentionist on Yahoo Mail with any input or constructive criticism.  And now, on with the post...
 
A lot of people have told me they would take up riding or ride more if they only had a good place to ride.  And you have to remember that most people assume you take your bike to where you want to ride.  Or they don't.
Transporting a bike to a trailhead has its own pros and cons.  Depending on your car (or lack thereof) it can be easy or difficult.  Old pickup truck?  Piece of cake!  Ferrari?  Good luck with that; though I have no sympathy.  But if you can and are willing to portage your bike elsewhere to ride then your options grow.
 
Riding from home—front porch rides—can be satisfying, but not everyone is blessed with a great road for cycle in front of their homes.  If you are able to strike out without employing an internal combustion engine you can definitely ride more often as it is more convenient to just get on the bike and go as opposed to loading and unloading, changing clothes and shoes at either end of the ride, and making sure you don't forget your helmet at home.
If you are doubly blessed to live in a neighborhood or town conducive to cycling and have the room to leave a bike ready to go at all times then there should never be an excuse for you not to ride.  And don't give me that three feet of snow crap. 
But let's say you don't live on a great street and you don't have a lot of free space for your bike or fleet of bikes to stand ready for your cycling call.  How do you find places to ride in your town?
If you live in even a moderately sized city make sure you've explored all of your local resources.  Chances are there is some great place to ride that you've not considered.  Explore tracking apps like Strava and Map My Ride to see where other people are riding. Visit your community's parks and rec webpage or search for “Trails…Your City.”  Ask around. 
"Sure it's okay to ride on the golf course!  No one's stopped me yet."
 
If nothing is obvious then you have to get creative.  Can you ride the walking track at the city park?  Local school campuses?  Is there a county fairground nearby?  Public lands such as state and national parks?  When all else fails find a neighborhood with wide streets and low speed limits and traffic volume.   
If, after looking high and low for a decent place to cycle, you can’t find anything suitable, then it might be time to become a community activist and begin lobbying your local government(s) for better bike infrastructure.  Look at aerial photography (like Google Maps or Google Earth), local maps, and talk to others about where there might be places suitable for multiuse trails, bike lanes, sidewalks, etc, etc. 
Research funding sources.  It's easy to google "trail grants" or to contact your state's department for local governments or local development and ask how to find money for projects in your community.
Once you have a great idea (trust me, every town has potential, you just have to find it) then put together a simple proposal and run it by your local elected officials.  If they say ‘no’ remember that ‘no’ means ‘not right now’ and go home and research the issues they raise.  Go back with a better proposal.
Remember, it really sucks to look back and say “if only we had XYZed twenty years ago.”  Wouldn’t it be better in twenty years to say: “look what we accomplished!”
If not you then who.