Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rivertrail Flood Alert

Lansing's Rivertrail is heavily flooded in many areas. People with an aversion to striped backs, wet feet, and splashing in general are advised to stay clear for the following week. This not a test.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Cleaning

Spring means get on your bike and ride to most folks, but for a few of us goofier people it means time to clean up the bike after months of winter road grime and salt. I myself am lucky enough to have a couple bikes, one for the nice weather and one for the rain/snow. Holly really has had only one bike for a long time, an old Gitane that I cobbled together into a single-speed commuter. It really is a bit too small for her, and it's certainly not pretty enough to show off in the summer. I felt bad about spending so much time and money on my bikes, nice as they are, when she commutes more than I do by bike and is relegated to riding an old beater.

So for the summer, I stumbled across a 1983 Trek 560 frame in her size and decided to build it up into a summer fun bike. The 560 was a steel lugged bike built in Wisconsin, with a tight racing geometry. Read: small tires and no fenders. I just happened to have a 650B wheelset laying around waiting for the right bike, so I mounted them up. 650B wheels are smaller in diameter than the original 700C wheels the Trek came with, which means that they sit lower on the frame, increasing clearance for larger width tires. I have a set of Grand Bois Cypres tires on there, which are about 30mm wide, nearly double the original tire, and they're smooth and fast, to boot. The only problem with 650B conversions is getting long brakes to reach the rim, but I had some Dia-Compe centerpulls that fit the bill nicely. After adding some old Campagnolo shifters and derailers, the whole thing came out very nicely. I even shined up a lot of the metal with some Mother's aluminum polish to look extra nice.

Holly also has wanted a bike that she can ride with a skirt and cute shoes for a while now, a movement that seems to be growing thanks in large part to sites and blogs like Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Let's Go Ride a Bike. I have a Mixte frame coming eventually, but we already have her mom's old Schwinn Suburban in the garage, and that thing just sparkles. It's also really old, slow, and heavy, so I'm not sure how long she'll be able to hold out commuting on it. I shined it up too, adjusted the brakes, and now it's ready for some cruising. All it really needs now is a cute wicker basket and she'll be set.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Another Critical Mass tonight, 6pm at the Beaumont Tower in East Lansing on the MSU campus. I'll be there if at all possible, should be fun.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Critical Mass-a-thon

As noted previously, there has been a lot of local cyclist-related hoopla (HOOPLA!) in Mid-Michigan. Alleged Saturn driver and State News hack Zack Colman wrote and published an article in the State News giving free advice to cyclists, such as "bicyclists on the road are a driving hazard to people in automobiles," "you are where you should not be," and "you're not Lance Armstrong." Obviously, many cyclists got upset about this, particularly the comment that they weren't Lance Armstrong.

Typical ways that an angry cyclist will react to a negative situation include but are not limited to: flipping "the bird," calling for, but never actually committing, U-lock justice, angry comments on local websites, bitching at the LBS with the "crew," and of course the dreaded Critical Mass. I believe all of these things happened, but I know for a fact that Friday April 10 at 6pm, MSU was the staging area for a Zack-Colman-related Critical Mass.

As with many protests nowadays, it started as a tweet, which got retweeted and facebooked until a critical mass of critical massholes was reached, and a consensus of time and date arrived at. I arrived a bit early at Beaumont tower, expecting to see maybe 20-40 Massholes once the clock struck 6, but people, and bikes, kept showing up. upon the decided hour, we rolled out behind a bike-towed trailer to the tune of two bagpipes. Somehow the local bagpipe community had been informed of the event, though I'm not sure of the connection. Seizing the opportunity, MSUBikes' own Tim Potter gave a rousing "they will never take... Our FREEDOM" speech in the mode of William Wallace. That last detail may or may not be remembered by all, due to the high endorphins running through the blood of the collected Massholes.

Once rolling along, the mass of cyclists made their way on the roads of campus (gasp!), ending up at the Sparty statue for a photo-op, just in time to interrupt a proposal. Sorry guy, hope she said yes and you live happily ever after. After a couple hours of riding and only one cycling-related injury reported, the group headed to the MSU Police HQ to debrief and chat.

Turns out the turnout could have been far bigger, but for students' propensity to leave campus for the Easter holiday. Perhaps that was Zack Colman's dastardly idea to muck things up. To correct this mistake and give the MSU campus a second chance to fall prey to a huge herd of cyclists, another Critical Mass has been scheduled for this Friday at 6pm, at the Beaumont tower. Bring your friends, helmets, and be safe. We don't want anyone to get hurt if at all possible. Confine yourselves to one lane of traffic and observe all traffic rules. And if you ride a French bike, don't forget your tools.

Thanks to Tim Potter and Marci Baranski for use of photos 1 and 3, respectively.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Reason We're Hated

edit: Impromptu Critical Mass: There will be an impromptu critical mass event tomorrow, April 10th, at 6 pm starting at Beaumont tower on MSU campus, to protest Zack Colman's column. Join us.

Cyclists are hated, no doubt about it. We hold up traffic from reaching the next red light. We go too fast, or maybe too slow. We cross intersections unexpectedly and run red lights. Generally speaking, we make life a living hell for those humans smart enough to get behind the wheel of a 2-ton car and drive the 3.5 miles to their next destination.

Just ask this guy. He's an opinion columnist for the State News, and it's his belief that all cyclists belong on the sidewalks and out of his way, while he's sipping a latte and changing radio stations in his awesome 2001 Saturn SC2. If he has to run us over to get where he's going and pronto, then so be it. Why, we're riding on the road, and obviously we don't belong there, since we can't go 70 miles an hour down Farm Lane like he can.

Truth be told, I ride on the road whenever possible, and for many reasons. Most people think it's because riding on the sidewalk is inconvenient, which is true. It's a pain riding around pedestrians, trying to navigate without hitting, much less annoying, someone whose rightful place is truly on the sidewalk.

But for me, the reason for riding on the road is safety. You are nearly invisible when riding on the sidewalk, and when the time comes to cross a roadway or driveway, traffic is not going to slow down, even when it's your turn to cross. Plenty of cyclists have been hit and killed by cars turning left or right into them while they used a crosswalk. Drivers simply do not look for you to cross there. At least in the road you are in plain sight, and if that means inconveniencing a few people on their way to get their oil changed, then so be it. When seen, you are less likely to be hit.

Even on the road you have to be careful, and expect cars to do the unexpected. Many cyclists have different ways to be seen on the road: some ride like they're invisible, dodging cars, weaving and swerving like a madman to avoid being hit. Some are patient, obeying all traffic laws as if they were driving a car. Some are moving light shows, with blinking red lights, reflective vests, and flags attached to the rear wheel. My advice is to simply be aware of your surroundings, and ride defensively. Know that, in any given battle between car and bicycle, the bike will lose. Also, use the right of way with sensitivity to the situation. Better alive and wrong, than dead and right.

Now that the weather is sunny and warm again, I look forward to seeing the streets full of bicycles like salmon clogging a stream. Good luck, and keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Aw, frickerfrack. Just when the sun comes out, you get to feel the heat of spring's first rays on your back and peel off the layers of winter wool, Michigan reminds you that it's early April, and dumps a half foot of snow on you. We had a particularly nasty snowfall, and a neighbor lost a big tree during the night. Thankfully, I have yet to pack up my winter gear, so on go the goggles, on goes the headband, on goes the waterproof pants, and away we go.

A classmate said to me she was thinking "no way is he going to ride today, no way at all" right as I passed by on my bike. I really didn't feel like riding through the disgusting slush and cold, but once underway I remembered how snowy commutes really aren't a big deal at all. Obviously after a mile or so you no longer feel the cold all that much, and so long as you have appropriate gear, the snow and slush doesn't cause all that many problems, either. The one thing I will not miss, however, is cleaning the frozen road grime off the Bridgestone.

So, looking at the forecast there will be another day of snow and chilly wind, but after that we are looking at sunny skies and low-to-mid fifties. To me, that's darn near perfect cycling weather, and I can't wait.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nothing beats a new pair of shoes.

And by shoes I mean tires. I have not been particularly enjoying the morning commute on the Bridgestone XO-3 - it's been slow, noisy, and heavy, and takes far too much energy to get going. The speed problem was particularly apparent when I got to hop on my Fuji during a warm spring day. I can't expect the XO to be super fast - it wasn't really designed to be - but riding it should hardly be a chore. So I started by changing the tires, from big fat knobby things that felt slow and unresponsive to the well-regarded Panaracer Pasela, in 700x35.

With the new tires I immediately noticed an increase in speed, and the bike felt much more connected to the road. The tires are still a bit on the wide side, which is what I was looking for on this bike. Before, the bike felt comfortable on backroads, but on the city streets it felt much like a heavy mountain bike would, out of its element. Having changed the tires out, I actually found myself spinning out when the speed started to pick up, so when I got back from the first shakedown, I changed out the chainring to something a little bigger. To tackle the noise issue, I adjusted the singleator and cleaned up the chain. The change in ride was drastic, from cloddy and noisy to somewhat agile and silent.

One of the things that drew me to the Bridgestone in the first place was its do-anything personality. Cantilever brakes and huge clearance assures that the bike should be able to tackle many terrains, from backwoods trails to paved city streets. Thankfully, the XO's cross-country nature hasn't been spoiled by the Paselas. It feels downright spirited bombing through the backwoods. To do the final test, I took it to my local trails and paths park, Scott Woods, near Hawk Island Park. It's a good mix of unpaved trails and nicely blacktopped walking and riding paths. You always spot a lot of squirrels scurrying through the leaves this time of year, but a careful eye reveals that squirrels and joggers aren't the only creatures about. I can't wait to try a longer jaunt.