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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Don't Make Me Go Out There

Here in southwest Missouri, we're now in the midst of an early summer heat wave. Day time temperatures have been in the mid-90s, with heat indices topping out at over 100 degrees throughout most of the last week. Even after the sun goes down, temperatures stay in the 80s until close to midnight and the humidity hovers at around 90%. While this isn't all that unusual for this time of year in the Midwest, it still sucks.

My garage - which also serves as my shop - is not air conditioned. It's also not very well insulated. So the garage is basically the same temperature as the outside temperature, except with a slight lag due to radiative heating from the brick exterior. This means that in the evenings, when I normally wrench in the shop, it's as hot as it was in the late afternoon but the humidity is skyrocketing. It's sticky and gross. I keep a box fan running, but it's still pretty miserable.

I have a hard time talking myself into working in the shop this time of year unless I have something really pressing to get to. I will find nearly any excuse to stay in the air conditioned house and not go out into the shop. My bicycle is my primary means of transportation, so it needs to stay in good working order. But any projects (like the Panasonic Touring Deluxe project I'm currently working on) end up taking a back seat until the weather cools off.

If it sounds like I'm trying to talk myself into getting an air conditioner for the shop, that may be true. But I don't think it's going to happen any time soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How Do We Address Poor Cycling Habits?

There are a dizzying number of bicyclists here in Springfield who ride illegally and dangerously. Biking on the sidewalk is the norm, and riding against traffic - in the left lane or the wrong way on a one-way street - is not a rarity. Bicyclists who ride on the streets in the correct lane often don't yield at stop signs and almost never obey stop lights. Though it should be noted that in Missouri bicyclists are legally allowed to run a red light when the light fails to change for a bicycle and it is safe to cross.

But are these sidewalk bicyclists and cycling salmon even aware of what is safe, appropriate, and legal? In many cases, I'd say no. Many of these people likely haven't been on a bicycle since they were children, when they were urged to stay out of traffic and to ride on the sidewalk by concerned parents. Then they become adults and decide to try out cycling again. They swing a leg over a cheap bike, get out on the sidewalk to ride, and largely see other bicyclists not obeying traffic laws. This only affirms continued incorrect and unsafe behavior.

So how do we address this type of behavior? Certainly formal classes are an option. Ginger and I signed up for a Safe City Cycling class in Columbia, MO years ago, but didn't come back after the first night because of how boring the class was and how much time it took up (if I remember correctly, the class included three sessions that were three hours each). Does a 19 year old college student who is taking classes full-time and working 30 hours a week really have time to take a class like this? Doubtful. What about a working parent who is putting in 16-hour days at work and caring for kids? I don't think so. Or a teen whose parents are practically absent (or actually absent), and who is struggling to stay enrolled in school and is sometimes sleeping on the streets? Definitely not. This is a great option for fledgling bike commuters who are sufficiently motivated and have the time, but for everyone else, it's not a feasible option.

An alternative that would cast a wider net would be marketing campaigns, media, and/or public service announcements. I was lucky enough to be involved with one such campaign several years ago, when Ginger and I were working closely with the Healthy Living Alliance. We made a video that covered the key rules for the road for bicyclists, which was then circulated broadly on social media and television. These methods are limited, as it's hard to convey much information in these types of short sound bites, but it's a good way to get a quick message or two out to a broad audience.

Boots on the ground campaigns are probably the most impactful. When we lived in Columbia, MO, the police launched a program in which they would stop bicyclists who were riding after dark without lights, explain the city ordinance on bicycle light and reflector requirements, then give the bicyclist free front and rear bike lights. Not a bad idea. I've also often considered making a "No Bicycles on Sidewalk" stencil and painting it on sidewalks throughout downtown as a constant reminder for sidewalk cyclists. After all, if I'm rolling over that sign with onlookers glancing from the stencil to me openly ignoring it, I'm going to feel pretty sheepish.

In reality, educating cyclists on appropriate, safe, and lawful bicycle use likely requires a combination of all of the above, plus other methods I haven't thought of. Unfortunately, the police in Springfield don't seem to have much of an interest in bicyclists who are riding incorrectly and illegally. What's more, the Healthy Living Alliance no longer operates as the functional entity that it was when we first moved to Springfield, and most of the other bicycling and transportation organizations in the area largely ignore downtown and Springfield's central core, which is where inexperienced bicyclists seem to be most highly concentrated. As of right now, the best I can do is keep riding legally and appropriately and act as an example to others. So that's what I'll do.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Road Warrior Ramble

Just when I thought our favorite brewery couldn't get any better, it went and started hosting some Sunday rides. Weekends are pretty busy for us, and I'm coming off a particularly busy season at the office so really all I want to do on my days off are laundry, grocery shopping and be with our kids.

Apparently I've done that every weekend for months because Cody conspired with Miranda, his sister, to get me out of the house "because I never do anything."

I'm so glad I went. I met up with Miranda at the brewery with just enough time to have a beer (a super nice guy put the first $100 on his tab so we got a couple for free!) and hit the road. We opted for the 10-miler since she was recovering from a couple of longer rides and I haven't been on my bike in forever. It was a beautiful day, a friendly crowd, a leisurely pace and an all-around excellent experience. I'll do it again, no arm twisting necessary.

Friday, May 20, 2016

STRAVA Labs Heatmap is Cool

STRAVA Labs has created a global heatmap using data from users' bike and running routes. Pretty rad. The global map shows some pretty interesting things. It's no surprise that Europe has a much greater concentration of cycling routes. I didn't know Sao Paulo was such a hotbed of cycling activity. And how about Puerto Rico being lit up? It's also a little striking to see all of the active cycling routes in Japan and South Korea set against the nothingness of North Korea, though there's no surprise there. Of course I had to include a zoomed in view of Springfield, MO - shown in the bottom image.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Panasonic Touring Deluxe: A Blank Slate

I've never really built a bike up from a frame before. Sure, I generally strip each of my project bikes down to the frame when I start a rebuild. But I normally try to reuse as many of the original parts as possible, so I work within those boundaries and thus don't take too many liberties with the aesthetics of the bicycle beyond a saddle upgrade and grip or bar tape color. In the case of my Panasonic Touring Deluxe project, though, I'm starting with only a frame and a fork. It's basically a blank slate, and I'm free to be creative with how I build it up.

With that said, I plan to piece the machine together with a mix of original components - specifically for the drivetrain - and new or non-original parts. I've already picked up the Shimano Light Action groupset that came stock on the 1986 Touring Deluxe, and I plan to hunt down the matching Light Action downtube shifters. While I'm not as concerned about the make and model of the cockpit parts, I would like to retain the original look of the bike with a simple gooseneck quill stem and randonneur bars. Probably the coolest parts of the original bike were the Shimano drillum brake levers, so I'd like to find a set for this project.

I've been agonizing over what to do about wheels. Initially, I wanted to use this project as an opportunity to build my first set of wheels. But I also like the idea of fixing up an old wheelset that is from the approximate vintage of the bike. I think I've found a compromise - lacing new touring rims to a set of used vintage hubs. And in the hopes that I can pull it off, I picked up a brand new set of 700C Velocity Dyad 36-hole touring rims over the weekend. Eventually, I'm planning to pick up a pair of serviceable used hubs from my LBS to lace them to.

Regarding aesthetics, I plan to go with unpainted aluminum with most - if not all - of the components on the Touring Deluxe. With the dark red of the frame and the white lettering of the decals, nearly any color scheme will look great on the bike. Certainly a black saddle and black bars would look nice, similar to this Miyata 615. But I also really like the way this Maruishi looks with the dark aged Brooks leather of the saddle and the bar wrap. Then I ran across this handsome specimen - an identical year and model as mine. I don't much care for the green cloth-looking wrap on the bars, but the lighter color brown saddle looks very attractive. With this in mind, I'm thinking I'll go with an even lighter shade for the leather that will really pop against the dark red of the frame; perhaps a honey color Brooks. Not sure about bar tape, as I'd like to see the rest of the bike built up before I make that decision.

This is going to be a fun project, but I'm planning to take my time and do it right. Look for good deals on parts to keep my project costs low, while also paying particular attention to the quality of the components that I add to the bike and level of craftsmanship that I devote to it. After all, I plan to put some serious mileage on this bike and I want it to require as little maintenance - especially field maintenance - as possible.