Monday, December 15, 2014

Tried and liked, 2014 edition

The Internet-BOB (short for Bridgestone Owners Bunch) listserv has the annual end-of-year tradition of people posting what bike-related things they liked—and didn't like. This is always a fun read and a good opportunity to reflect back on one's own purchases and innovations. Finding previous editions on Google Groups can be a bit of a pain, and so I'm cross-posting my list here on the blog.

These were my items from last year (in abbreviated form):

Liked 2013

  • GB Randonneur bars
  • Converting my all-purpose bike to disc brakes in the front, V-brakes in the rear
  • long distance solo rides
  • converting from STI's to DT shifters on the go-fast bike

Disliked 2013

  • Flat pedals on the Cross-Check
  • MEC rain jacket

Undecided 2013:

  • metal fenders
  • shellacked cotton bar tape
Lovely shellacked orange cotton tape
I'd say those things pretty much still hold true, except that cotton bar tape has moved from “undecided” to “liked,” with the qualification that I wouldn't want to have it on an everyday bike that I don't ride with gloves. GB Randonneur bars plus cotton tape plus padded cyling gloves, however, is a great combination!

So what about 2014? It was a weird cycling year for me. Because of immigration issues I lived without access to my regular stable of bikes for much of the year. But nonetheless there are a couple of things for the list.

Liked 2014

  • S24O: Ridiculous as it may be, I so far had failed to successfully go on a sub-24 hour overnight ride, despite several attempts. This September it finally happened, and it was terrific!
  • Riding fixed: In another case of coming late to the trend, it was only this year that I rode a fixed gear bike. While I was stranded in Montreal before my visa interview, I borrowed a friend's fixie and actually took it on a 100 kilometer group ride on the first attempt. While there were no Zen revelations of being one with the road, I did like enough to just yesterday having bought a fixed wheelset for winter riding. Not totally convinced that that's a great use case, but I'll give it a try.
    Miyata Fixie
  • Riding in the Stuttgart region: Again because of the visa saga, I spent several weeks at my parents' near Stuttgart in southwest Germany this summer. The riding there is just great. You can choose between hills or river valleys; between quiet back roads, gravel forest trails, real single track, or paved bike paths. And a great bakery, a beer garden, or a restaurant is never further than half an hour away. 
  • A dedicated winter bike: After riding the SO's city bike with 2.25" Schwalbe Ice Spiker tires through the fresh snow, I knew that I had to get my own winter bike! I bought a cheap early-2000s MTB on Craigslist, equipped it with Ice Spikers, north road bars, and moose mitts (more on that below). This was money very well spent, as it significantly helped to make a very cold winter much less depressing. Unfortunately, because of my move to Madison I sold the bike and so far have been unable to find an appropriate replacement.
    Winter bike in its element
  • Pogies/Bar Mitts: Again, the SO tried these first and liked them a lot. She has the version from Handlebar Booties, and I got the Moose Mitts. Only downside: There are pogies for drop bars but not for ones with bar-end shifters, i.e. what I have on my everyday bike. I guess converting it to fixed would solve this.
  • Ski goggles for winter riding: This is one of the things were for years I thought that I didn't need them. But then once I tried them for the first time I immediately cursed myself for not having done this earlier. The pair was a rather scratched up pair of goggles that I bought for 3 dollars from the thrift store. They work great during day, but because they're tinted, I'll have to get another pair for riding in the dark.
  • Defeet DuraGlove Wool: Another great product from Defeet! Think, warm, comfortable, durable. Mine lack the ET feature of the current generation that allows using touch screens.

Disliked 2014

Nothing to report here.

Undecided 2014

  • I'm still on the fence about metal fenders. I had the metal front fender tear at the front stay. This was probably the result of me not installing the fender without any tension after having shipped it by plane. And of course one should keep in mind that these fenders were pieced together from stuff I collected at the bike co-op. I'm still somewhat concerned about the risk of sticks jamming the fenders and will buy the PDW Safety Tabs as soon as possible. I still love the extended coverage, stiffness, and looks of the fenders.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Southern Splendor on a not horribly cold day

Winter has come early and with force this year in Madison. Consequently, when the forecast predicted a day of temperatures slightly above freezing, I took up the rare opportunity for a longer ride. The route mostly followed the Southern Splendor ride by the Bombay Bicycle Club and proved to be an excellent choice. Lots of quiet back roads and a pretty, mostly snow-covered scenery.

For riding on the sections of bike trail I was glad to have my studded tires, as there will plenty of icy patches—on the Badger State Trail I rode past a guy who just had had a (harmless) fall. The roads mostly clear of ice and snow and merely wet and salty. I was wearing multiple layers of wool on my upper body, which turned out just right for the given temperature. I'm looking forward to doing this route again next spring or summer. Strava link.
Ice fishing in November? Where did I move to!?

The sun was low but still provided some warmth

“Ice ordinance” A little too early to ride out onto the lake

Lake Kegonsa

Crossing the Yahara in Stoughton

Badfish Creek

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Counting bikes in Montreal

After a longer hiatus that had me staying in Germany and the US, I'm back in Montreal for a few weeks. Especially compared to Madison (Wisc.), the bikes, the riders, and their gear are noticeably different on the roads and bike paths in Montreal.

I was working in a Starbucks yesterday, located right on the most popular north-south bike route across the island on Rue de Brébeuf. From the corner of my eyes, I could see a continuous stream of bikes passing by, and when it was time for a break, I decided to do some counting. Starting at 4:01 pm, I counted bike traffic for 45 minutes. I tried also recording the (assumed) gender, whether people were riding a Bixi, and whether they were wearing a helmet or not. Despite it being the end of October, the weather was pretty nice—about 13 degrees and partly sunny. Bike traffic was definitely not at its rush hour peak yet, but I got a good sample size during the 45 minutes (and probably would have had a hard time keeping track of even more people biking past).

I probably missed a few people, as I could only see three corners of the intersection; and it's also possible that I counted a few people twice. Overall, though, the quality of the data should be good. So how many people bike up and down Brébeuf and Mont-Royal in 45 minutes on an October afternoon? Two hundred ninety-eight, or about 400 per hour.

The gender split is fairly equal -- something definitely not true in many other places in North America. There were 44% women and 56% men (I didn't count kids separately). The split between helmeted and bareheaded people was almost exactly the same: 46% with, 54% without a helmet. Women were slightly more likely to wear helmets than men (52% versus 42%). Bixi riders made up 11% of the total bike traffic—and to my surprise there were 18% of them wearing a helmet!

It's sad that in two days most of the bike infrastructure will be shut down for the winter and converted into snow/private motor vehicle storage. As can be seen in the data of the bike counter on Laurier (choose the monthly view), this leads to a severe cut to the number of people cycling.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Bike, I Vote: 2014 Wisconsin Bike Summit

Last Friday I attended the 2014 edition of the annual Wisconsin Bike Summit in Madison. Having just recently relocated to Madison, I figured the summit would be a great opportunity to connect with the local and state-wide bike advocacy scene. The schedule of the summit was packed, with three concurrent tracks. First, however, were the opening remarks by Michael Johnson. Johnson is the highly charismatic CEO of the Dane County Boys & Girls Club—and also an avid cyclist who goes on weekly group rides at 4:30 in the morning!

Dave Cieslewicz in a great outfit: Suit, bike tie, Sidis

The first panel I attended was on increasing the share of women amongst cyclists. The fact that women on average bike less than men (and the larger issue of equity; see below) has received quite a bit of attention lately, and the Bike Fed started a program for Women & Bikes. The panel was introduced by Carolyn Dvorak, the ambassador for the La Crosse group. Krista Crum from the Madison bike share system B-cycle presented data on how bike share in general and the system in Madison in particular can be a tool for increasing the proportion of women cycling. Whereas the overall share amongst cyclists in the US is somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, the Madison B-cycle system is much closer to gender parity. Cassandra Habel, the Madison ambassador of Women & Bikes and the person behind Spokehaven, then presented the wide range of activities that she has started in Madison to offer a variety of ways for women to engage with cycling at any skill level—fix-a-flat clinics, no-drop group rides, support for women racers, ...

The future of car travel

“A Vision for Wisconsin’s Transportation System” was the title of the second panel I attended, and it probably had the least bike-focus. Ashwat Narayanan from the advocacy group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and Bruce Speight from the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group presented their research into the misguided transportation policies in Wisconsin: a stagnating or declining number of miles driven in cars is met with costly highway capacity expansions that cost billions. As a regular Streetsblog reader I was quite familiar with their work and would have appreciated it if the speakers had explicitly the role of cycling in the big picture. But maybe that is the conclusion: Highway building is such a behemoth that active transportation investments simply pale in significance.

After a lunch break speech by RT Rybak, the former mayor of Minneapolis, I went to a panel that presented a number of statistics about bike commuting and potential strategies to increase them. I love this kind of research, and the work by Robert Schneider, professor of urban planning at UW–Milwaukee, was very interesting: He analyzed the 100 census tracts with the highest share of bike commuters and tried to distill what distinguished those neighborhoods from ones with lower bike commute shares. While some factors aren't easily changed, for example the proportion of university students that characterizes cities like Davis, CA, I think this kind of work has enormous promise for informing future policy and advocacy.

Image credit: Adventure Cycling Association

Another panel that promised to be very interesting was about the US Bicycle Route (USBR) System and its implementation in Wisconsin. The USBRs are an effort to create a US-wide network of long-distance bike routes. As a volunteer mapper for OpenStreetMap (OSM) I had earlier agreed to help getting the planned Wisconsin routes into the OSM database, but never heard back from the people in charge. At the panel a representative of WisDOT and the Department of Natural Resources presented the three corridors planned for Wisconsin, two going east–west and one going north–south. Somewhat confusingly, there is also a fourth route in the plan, USBR 30 through Madison, but that one is planned not by state agencies but by the Bike Fed and was not mentioned at all during the panel. The second presentation was by the president of Rails-to-Trails.  Their work to convert abandoned rail corridors around the country into trails for active transportation is quite impressive. I was also intrigued by the fact that they have a detailed, volunteer-created database of both rail corridors and trails, including surface information. This seems like a great opportunity for collaboration with OpenStreetMap.

The final panel of the day returned to the topic touched upon in the first panel: Equity. The Milwaukee coordinator of the SmartTrips program, Shea Schachameyer, presented her efforts on data collection about biking and walking in a low-income neighborhood. How many people of color or people with low income already bike? What do they consider to be barriers to biking and walking more? And how can those barriers be overcome? Keith Holt of the Bike Fed addressed the question of equity more generally. How can equity be defined in the world of bike advocacy? How can the momentum around the topic that recently popped up around the topic be translated into effective action? As one can imagine, there are way more questions than answer. One example of equity work done right that Holt presented was the creation of the Underground Railroad bike route. Despite Holt's initial skepticism about the very-white-and-from-Missoula bike touring organization Adventure Cycling Association, he described how the cooperation with the University Pittsburgh's Center of Minority Health ultimately led to a successful project beyond appropriation of Black history.

Eleanor McMahon in front of the Capitol

The summit concluded with a group ride to the State Capitol where Eleanor McMahon, a member of the Canadian legislature and founder of the Share the Road Ontario gave a short speech.

I really enjoyed the summit. The only slight criticism I have is that, as it not uncommon with these types of events, the schedule was so packed that discussion and socializing often came up short. Probably a lot of that happened at the Saris Gala that happened in the evening and that I unfortunately couldn't attend. It also would have been helpful if the name tags had stated the organization or location of the participants. Especially for newcomers to the Wisconsin bike advocacy scene this made it hard to figure out who was who.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Finally, the first S24O! Blue Mound State Park

So it's September 2014, and the Ride or Pie?! crew still hasn't ever done a "Sub-24 Overnight" (S24O), the bike camping format "for the time challenged," introduced in a 2007 article by Grant Petersen of Rivendell. The idea had great appeal to us. We have done a good number of multi-day bike camping trip over the years, but they do require a good amount of planning, preparation, and coordination. The idea of the S24O, one the other hand, is that it's possible to just head out sometime in the afternoon, with little prior planning, camp overnight, and be back home in less than 24 hours.
When we still lived in Montreal, we had made several attempts to actually do a S24O, but —ironically enough— they somehow always fell through because we were too busy or something. So it was high time to make use of the last warm days of the year and finally head out there.

The post-mortem analysis of the earlier attempts seemed to indicate that packing all the gear was one factor that had led to failure. It's not really a S24O when you have to spend 4 hours putting lowrider racks on the bike, digging for camp gear in various closets, and then neatly packing it into your four Ortliebs. For that reason I decided to just take along the trailer this time. The trailer is nothing fancy, just a Y frame with a flat deck and rattly wheels, but I figured it would certainly make it through the 45 kilometers from Madison to Blue Mound State Park and back.

Tent, sleeping bags and pads, a towel, and some pillows were just stuffed into an old mail bag and strapped onto the trailer. This left of plenty of space in the panniers for half a change of cloths and cooking gear—no optimization required. The Biketopus only carried one mostly empty pannier for groceries that we would buy on the way. 

Right on time, at 2 p.m., we were on the road. That unfortunately was also the time when the Badgers football game ended, and there were throngs of people dressed in red everywhere. Soon, however, we were past that and on the bike path towards Verona. The new extension of the Cannonball Path seems to get close to completion, but for now we still had to take the detour on the US-18 frontage route. After that section, it was 100% car-free bike trail all the way to the State Park.

The weather was terrific, and there was even a bit of a tailwind to compensate for the gentle uphill. We were going quite fast, and probably a little too fast. I had forgotten to bring any on-the-road snacks, and at some point first signs of bonkage appeared. By the time we arrived at the Grumpy Troll brew pub in Mount Horeb, there sure was some grumpiness to be had, as evidenced by this picture:
Grumpy troll biketopus

A pint and some cheese curds later, we continued the last 10 kilometers to our campground. To our surprise, there were already several other bike campers at the site. Dinner consisted of beans and Tofurky sausages cooked on the fire pit. Because it was so warm and the sky was clear, we decided to leave off the rain fly and watch the stars before falling asleep.

 As per usual, I didn't sleep that well and got up around 6. This gave me plenty of time to turn the damp firewood into a nice morning fire and prepare coffee, tea, and oatmeal.

Unwilling biketopus is unwilling to get out of the tent...

...but breakfast and sunshine make everything better.

Moi, in my usual morning cheerfulness, especially with a cup of coffee
 Breaking down tent, as everything, wet and dirty or not, was stuffed into the mail bag.
Sunrise plus turning leaves: Awesome colors

Back in Mount Horeb, we stopped for a second breakfast at Schubert's. And after pretty much exactly 22 hours we were back home in Madison. Full success!

So I think we have this S24O thing down now. The one improvement I'll make for the next season is to buy a huge tote box, in which we can store all the camping gear and that then I can just strap onto the trailer. The mail bag worked okay but was a bit difficult to strap down, and the storage box should also further reduce prep time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

15 Bike-friendly Businesses In and Around Madison

Please excuse the horrible headline—I can assure you that Ride or Pie?! has not been acquired by Buzzfeed. But this post actually is about the fifteen businesses and organizations that have been awarded the bike-friendly designation by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).

Each year the League awards one of four levels of recognition to companies and organizations that are especially bike-friendly for their employees. The awards are based on an 14-page questionnaire covering the four E's: encouragement, engineering, education, and evaluation and planning. In contrast to some other bike-related awards or rankings based on dubious data, this process makes the bike-friendly business designation a meaningful measure. Potential employees can use the awards as one factor in deciding where they want to work. For companies and their current employees, on the other hand, the survey provides a tool for evaluating and improving bike-friendliness.

This year's new awards were announced yesterday, and there are now over 800 bike-friendly businesses (BFBs) in the US. Wisconsin currently ranks fifth among the states, with 43 BFB's, and a sizable number of those businesses are in and around Madison.

Here is a map of all of the ones in Madison. The size of the bubble represents the number of employees, ranging from 5 to 23,000; and the color represents the level of bike-friendliness: bronze, silver, or gold. We currently don't have a platinum level BFB, but maybe that will change in the 2015 edition of the competition.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Have we reached a plateau? Latest figures on bike commuting in Madison, Dane County, and Wisconsin

There is much anticipation in the bike advocacy world around the annual release of the American Community Survey (ACS) by the US Census Bureau. Among a wealth of other data on the US and its population, the ACS also asks by which means of transportation people get to work. I decided to look at the data for my home town, county, and state—Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin.

There are a multiple caveats on the data quality, but since there aren't many alternatives available, the ACS is still a valuable source of information of bicycle use and transportation trends. Some of the limitations become clear when we look at the actual question asked:
How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK? If this person usually used more than one method of of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of the distance.
So someone who bikes to work on two days and takes her car on three would count as a car commuter. Similarly, a person who rides 5 miles to the commuter rail station, takes the train downtown, and then walks to their office, would count as a train commuter. The other, less obvious limitation, which is especially relevant for Madison, is that students' trip to their university are not considered commutes and therefore not counted. And of course, trips to work constitute only part of all trips made.

That said, let's look at the data, beginning at the state level.
Maybe unsurprisingly, at the state level the picture for bike commuting appears rather bleak. Between 2006 and 2013 the rate of bike commuters has been basically flat and far below one percent. However, one must keep in mind that there are only six states in the whole of the United States that have a mode share of one percent or more, and the national average is 0.62%. Nonetheless, the flat trend raises some uncomfortable questions for bike advocates.

 How do things look in Dane County? The proportion of people riding their bike to work is significantly higher than at the state level, and over the seven-year period there also is a small but noticeable increase in bike commuting.
This pattern repeats itself at a higher level in Madison. Given that Madison respondents make up roughly half of those of Dane County, this comes as no surprise. As you can see with the dotted lines in the charts, at the county and city level the margins of error are quite sizable, and conclusions about trends should be taken with a grain of salt. But when we compare the Dane and Madison data with cities with a similarly high rate of bike commuting, it appears that the growth in bike commuting may have plateaued over the past couple of years. Cities with a initially low bike commute share, such as New York City or Washington DC, continue their growth, but once the rate reaches around five percent, growth appears harder to attain.

I am not going to address the potential explanations for this plateau effect, but feel free to put forward your theories in the comments, especially as they pertain to the specific situation in Wisconsin and Madison. In the meantime I will try to get access to the Madison bike counter data, which would allow some cross-validation of the ACS data.