Friday, September 18, 2015

Bike commuting 2014 in Madison: More stagnation

It's that time of the year again when the US Census releases the numbers of last year's American Community Survey (ACS), For bike advocates this is always an exciting event, as the ACS, despite its limitations, is one of the few available data sources about biking that allows us to look at long-term trends in cycling in the US.

As soon as I heard the data was out, I plugged the latest numbers into the spreadsheet I created for a post last year. It quickly became clear that the main news conveyed by those numbers is that there isn't really any news: Continuing the trend since approximately 2009, the percentage of people cycling to work in Madison has stagnated at around 5%. Compared to the US average and many other metro regions in the US, this percentage is high. Compared to the mode share in many European cities, though, there is a lot of room for improvement. Stagnation is not enough.

Seattle Bike Blog has some numbers for comparison:
Seattle (3.7 percent) is now in a bike commute race against Minneapolis (4.6) in the Mid-West, DC (3.9) on the East Coast, New Orleans (3.4) in the South, San Francisco (4.4) and Oakland (3.7) on the West Coast, and Tucson (3.5) in the Southwest.
And then of course is Portland, which despite all lamentations actually has increased its bike mode share to above seven percent for the first time.

As for explanations, my previous post and the comments are probably still accurate. Getting to somewhere around five percent, especially in a college town, is relatively easy. Beyond that, real investment in infrastructure and incentives/disincentives needs to happen. In Madison this has not happened. Changes that might entice people to bike to work have changed only incrementally. An improved intersection here, a widened bike lane there. But probably most Madisonians would agree that by and large there haven't been any major efforts that would make cycling a more appealing transportation option. No protected bike lanes, no rebuild of horrible intersections such as the one at Machinery Row, and many main streets in town remain without any bike infrastructure. Similarly, driving and parking continue to be cheap and convenient. At my workplace, for instance, construction has just begun on a massive expansion of a parking ramp, and in the hotly debated downtown redevelopment project of Judge Doyle Square, free or heavily subsidized parking seems to be a mostly unquestioned component of the plan.

Update 9/19: Here's a chart of all modes for 2006-14:
Commute share 2006–2014. Data: American Community Survey

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Riverwest 24: One of a kind

Ten days ago I got a brief Facebook message from Kierstin, one of my wonderful Madison cycling friends: “Alright my friend. You are up. Laura just bailed from our RW24 team to train for the Ironman. You were planning on coming out--do you want to race/ride on our team???” I had heard many amazing things about Riverwest 24, that weird hybrid creature of alleycat, endurance bike race, block party, and nieghborhood improvement project, and therefore my plan had been to just ride down to Milwaukee and hang out with my racing/riding friends. In no way had I expected to actually be able to participate, as the sign-up process for the limited spots is long in advance and involves standing in lines for hours on end. And so I was immediately excited about the possibility of joining Kierstin's team.

Dan and Claudine in their garage
After getting the boss's OK to take off early on Friday—despite a impending grant deadline—I told Kierstin I was in. Because another team member and I were first-timers, we planned on getting to Riverwest early in order to familiarize ourselves with the 4.8 mile (7.7 km) course and the race rules. We arrived well in time for sign-up and the dinner prepared by the Riverwest Co-op. It is difficult to put into words the atmosphere that immediately surrounded us. The whole neighborhood seemed to vibrate with positive energy and most everyone I encountered had a smile on their face. The homebase for our two six-person teams was the garage of Dan and Claudine, long-time residents of Riverwest and Volkswagen/Westfalia van enthusiasts.

One of Dan and Claudine's VWs
I somehow hadn't realized how long the breaks between riding would be on a six-person team. We would usually do two laps plus a bonus checkpoint. Bonus checkpoints could be anything from having your portrait taken at sunrise, confessing your sins at a 2 AM "mass" with a "preacher" in a condemned church building, to playing party games with teenagers at a youth center. Laps would take between 15 and 20 minutes, but the bonus checkpoints were rather unpredictable, sometimes taking an hour between standing in line and actually doing them. I was last in the rotation, meaning that the first time I got to ride was four hours after the 7 PM start. I had a lot of pent up energy at that point and was happy to let it all out on the lap. After that it was back to hanging out, chatting, and drinking beers and espresso. I caught an hour or two of sleep and did my second set of laps around sunrise. The neighborhood never really quieted down during night, with people being out and about, bands playing on street corners—and of course the constant stream of cyclists on the streets.

I had a couple lows during the 24 hours, but nothing that another two laps of hard riding wouldn't fix. The final lap we all did together, before heading home to Madison to catch up on proper food, personal hygiene, and sleep. What a wonderful, unique adventure!

Tim, Dan, Kierstin

Sleepiness just before sunset

On top of the reservoir, waiting in line for a bonus checkpoint...

...where our portraits would be taken... front of the Milwaukee skyline

My increasingly disgusting bike hat and gloves, drying out after a sweaty lap

Team  mates Dan and Kierstin

Steve doing post-lap Stava analysis to optimize our strategy :-)

There was a constant come-and-go of friends and neighbors stopping by

The morning was really hot and humid. Everybody was glad when the wind turned and brought some cooler air from across the lake

Highly sophisticated sports nutrition formula to keep me going

24 hours of free espresso shots from Colectivo Coffee

Jacob's and my bike

Final group lap


Packed up and ready to go home

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Solstice Ride: The Joys and Troubles of Night Riding

In my earlier days, I very much enjoyed riding alone at night. [...] It would be hard to defend the touristic value of these night stages, or argue that a beautiful landscape benefits from being seen under the pale moonlight rather than in the morning or the evening sunlight. Yet there is no doubt that some aspects of nature are more amazing when illuminated by the moon rather than the sun. Vélocio in Le Cycliste
The latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly features the republication of a 1929 article about night riding by famous French randonneur Vélocio. Inspired by his writing and the beautiful summer we're having here in Wisconsin, I started planning for an all-night ride on the shortest night of the year (this time hopefully without hitting a skunk...). The plan was to head out around sunset and keep going all night until the solstice sun would rise again.

 I developeded a few tentative routing options and tried to recruit fellow riders. Unfortunately, the few people potentially interested had other commitments that night, and so I was going to be on my own. I decided on a long but not ridiculous route: Head west on the Military Ridge State Trail to Dodgeville, then riding towards the Wisconsin River, follow the river east, and then return to Madison—all in all about 250 kilometers. This seemed like a good opportunity for another test ride of my newly acquired SOMA Grand Randonneur (there will be a dedicated post on this) and so I quickly installed the also new B&M IQ Cyo Premium headlight and swapped the dynamo front wheel from my Gunnar to turn it into an night ride-appropriate vehicle.
The sun has set

I got back from work a little after five, loaded up my front basket with supplies, had a nice pasta dinner, and by 8 o'clock I was ready to go. The fading sun provided beautiful light and I was zooming along at a decent pace, enjoying the cush of my 42mm-wide Compass tires.

I love riding this stretch of the Military Ridge in the evening light
Just after Verona I noticed that my front light bracket had started coming loose. A quick fix, but as soon as I stopped a squadron of mosquitoes immediately went on the attack. It was probably quite the sight to see me simultaneously trying to fix my light while minimizing the number of bug bites. Not much after this incident, I noticed that the right side of my saddle caused some discomfort. The saddle is a B17 Imperial that I just recently brought back to life with a new frame. I think what happened was that after a long ride in the rain last weekend, the saddle must have sagged enough to put pressure on parts of my behind where there shouldn't be any.
Blurry moon sliver over Mount Horeb

The last remainder of daylight was gone now, and soon the thin sliver of moon disappeared beneath the horizon too. I arrived in Dodgeville at 11:15. From here on I would be no longer on the bike trail but country roads. Lo and behold, I straight missed the first two turns, giving me pause: I was in unknown territory, relying only on the tiny screen of my GPSr for navigation. Suddenly that no longer seemed like such a great idea, and my saddle issues certainly didn't help. I assessed my options: Across the street, the glowing sign of a Super-8 motel tried to lure me in. I wasn't all that tired, though, and so I figured I might as well just turn around and take the same route back. The saddle discomfort I could deal with and navigation wouldn't be an issue on the bike trail. So around I turned, now with a slight headwind.

This time around, I didn't miss the turn-off to Blue Mounds State Park and climbed my way up to the plateau on top. There were a couple campers and barricades, presumably in preparation for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds taking place on Saturday. At 2:30 am, everybody was asleep (including the mosquitoes), though, and so I could enjoy a sandwich and a wonderful view of the starry sky. Continuing on the path would mean that I would miss out on a lot of the views of the skies and so I decided to continue on roads from Mount Horeb on. At least here I would be in familiar territory, and it was late enough to not have to worry much about people driving home after bars closing.

Strange animal sightings in the dark...

 Leaving the path also meant more hills, and while my mind was quite awake still, my body showed some signs of tiring. Nonetheless, riding on these back roads was much nicer than being on the path.

State Capitol, very early in the day

In the distance I could see the glow of Madison, gradually supplemented with the first bits of light of the new day. I arrived back home a little before 5 am, exhausted but not excessively tired. The theory that as long as you keep going your mind can stay awake for a long time does seem indeed work for me too.

Bike counter on the SW Commuter Path
All in all it was a great experience, quite different from riding during the day. One of the things I enjoy about cycling is just looking at and experiencing the landscape. At night, this experience is very different: Visually it is very much reduced; but at the same time this enhances your other senses to some extent. If I were to a ride like this again, I would pick a route that's easier to navigate, maybe choose a night with more moonlight, and make a better effort of recruiting fellow riders.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Not my day, but... – Dairy Roubaix 2015

Mile 50: Turn left and climb one last hill back to the camp site. Or turn right and do another 58 miles. I stopped at the intersection, drank some water, and chatted to some other folks pondering this decision. Eventually I turned left, and it was the right choice, even if meant not following through with what I had planned.

My Madison buddies working the registration desk

Wonderful breakfast buffet

Dairy Roubaix is a Wisconsin spring classic, and I had heard heard many great things about it. I signed up months ago and was excited to see that the weather forecast promised excellent conditions. Somehow I was not at the top of my game, though. I arrived at Wyalusing State Park the night before the ride, after a hectic day of work and errands. I ate dinner too late (and maybe should've gone a little bit more easy on those jalapenos...) and didn't sleep well in my bunk bed.

One of the nicest stretches of the route, along the Mississippi
Once the ride started, though, all that was forgotten. The sun was out, it was warm, and the scenery was terrific. There were lots of friends from Madison riding too, in addition to a whole bunch of interesting people I got to know before, during, and after the ride. Knowing that I would have a long day with lots of climbing ahead of me, I made sure to not start out too hard. Nonetheless, I was going at a good clip, probably helped by the fact that with my 35 mm tires and the low-trail geometry of my Gunnar I had an appropriate tool for the gravel roads of western Wisconsin.

First and only rest stop, including Korbel shots
The tiny hamlet of Glen Haven at some point had two bars
At the first rest stop, after 26 miles, I snarfed down one of the sandwiches I had brought. But my stomach discomfort had started showing itself again and I had a hard time eating for the rest of the ride. The nasty, strong wind from the east didn't make things easier either. Hence my decision at mile 50.

Unfortunately the tractor was to slow to make for good drafting

Rare sighting of yours truly wearing a helment
Some general remarks about Dairy Roubaix: The organization was wonderful, the scenery stunning, the people great. The variety of bikes was great, too: Fat bikes, single speed 'cross, crabon race bikes, a beautiful lugged Holdsworth, a randonneur build and ridden by Jon Kendziera of Jonny Cycles (which apparently might make a comeback), a stainless steel travel bike by Ellis Cycles, also ridden by its builder, and many more. The elevation profile of the ride is challenging for sure, and I felt sorry for the people riding on tires less than 30mm wide. I'm pretty sure I'll be back next year, then hopefully for the full length of the course.

Nice Soulcraft
Jonny Cycles rando rig
...with Rene Herse cranks
Special thanks to the ride organizer for going to great lenghts to reunite me with my helmet and my gloves that I had left behind!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Illinois Incursion: 150 gravely spring miles

As part of his preparation for the TransIowa race, Michael had announced another "long training ride," meaning about 240 kilometers (150 miles), a significant portion of it either on unpaved rail trail
or gravel roads. In theory that sounded like something right up my alley -- except that it was barely April. I had gotten in a good amount of riding in the previous weeks but am of course still not in
the greatest of shapes this early in the season. Combine that with the vagaries of April weather, and suddenly the ride looked a little daunting. Once I saw, though, that the weather forecast was about as
good as it can get at this time of year, I committed to the ride.

Jacob and Tyler on one of the first gravel roads we reached

Maybe the collapse of Wisconsin road funds will get us similar roads closer to home some day...

Incursing Illinois with me were Michael, Jacob, Tyler, and for part of it Steve. We have all ridden together before, and I think the size and constitution of the group was just right for such a long ride. Steve and I met up with the rest of the group at 5:20. The sun wouldn't be up for another one-and-a-half hours, and it was cold. I was only wearing thin wool gloves on my hands and wool socks in my summer shoes on my feet, making for a somewhat miserable experience. On the upside, there is something magical about riding into the dawn on a spring day. Frogs, birds, and the occasional rabbit were already out and about, and once we got into the country, a thin layer of hoarfrost covered the fields and wooden bridges on the Badger State Trail. Despite the heavy rain during the previous days, the trail was in not-too-bad a shape. Still, ruts, holes, and fallen branches did require our attention, meaning that I didn't take any pictures during the first couple hours of the ride.

Jane Adams Trail

In Monroe we made our first convenience store stop and also left the Badger Trail. Instead, we rolled along on country roads, which meant a faster surface but also the beginning of some rolling hills. And a dog: Jacob and I were a bit ahead when we spotted a black lab coming towards us from on the farms. It didn't look particularly threatening, but you never know. So we stayed alert and kept an eye on our new companion. He just kept running along and along and along... Only once we got to a farm with more dogs, maybe 2 kilometers down the road, did he get distracted enough and let us continue by ourselves. Soon after crossing the border into Illinois we also hit the first gravel roads, which were in pretty good shape and fun to ride on. The Jane Adams Trail then led us to the turnaround point, Freeport. We stopped at a—well, not that great gas station, where Jacob and I were immediately approached by a toothless guy in a car who wanted us to buy lottery tickets for him. Uh yeah.

The beautiful city of Freeport, IL...

...offers great amenities for the driving population.

Gravel roads + tailwind = bliss

Now turning north, we had a great tailwind for most of the way back to Madison. I felt great and couldn't resist upping the pace a bit. Our little group got spread apart and reunited a couple times until we hit the final rest stop, the Piggly Wiggly (for those of you not from around here: yes, that's the actualy name of a supermarket chain) in Brodhead. Tyler and I hammered along, doing some nice paceline work whenever we had a stretch heading into the wind. I knew the pace was too far in the red zone for me, but with "only" 70 kilometers ago I threw out common sense and kept going hard. We were pretty close to Madison when I started fading. Tyler kept disappearing into the distance and I finished the ride at a more leisurely pace and a coffee stop at Barriques, clocking in at 235 km on what was my earliest-in-the-year-ever 200+ kilometer ride.