Saturday, July 30, 2005

How to ride your bike more

The answer is simple: forget things you need to take with you.

I was on my way to the library, when I realized that I'd left my library card at home. I was suitably scolded for this transgression during my last visit to the circulation desk and I did not wish to experience a reenactment. So I went home and got it.

Upon arrival at the library, I found a space at the rack and then discovered that my lock was in neither of the panniers. So I had to turn around and go home. Now I have to get ready for dinner at a friend's house and there's no time to go back. No big deal. The books aren't actually due back until tomorrow, which gives me an excuse for another ride.

I'm a little frustrated, sure. But if I had driven instead, I'd be even more annoyed. I'd have wasted gasoline and still wouldn't have nothing to show for my efforts. On the other hand, my reward for being forgetful on a bicycle trip was an enjoyable 5 mile ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

On the trail of the energy bill

Jim at the excellent Oil is for Sissies blog offers a fine description of how motorists behave differently in Minnesota suburbs, as compared to the "grittier neighborhoods of South Minneapolis." However, the thing that strikes me about his post A ride in the burbs is his mention of bike trails and how he uses them to get where he needs to go. This emphasizes the difference between the thousands of miles bicycle trails (at least that's the way it sounds to me from Jim's accounts) in Minneapolis and the two trails I know to exist here in Savannah: Our trails don't really go anywhere.

The 6-mile McQueen's Island Historic Trail and the .7-mile Police Memorial Trail Loop are perfectly acceptable facilities for recreational cyclists, but if you want to get somewhere, not so much. But it looks as if the much-maligned $286.5 billion federal transportation bill may be changing this, if only a little. A front page headline in the Savannah Morning News today proudly proclaims "Millions of dollars headed our way." According to the story, the legislation includes:
  • $1 million for Phase II construction of the Truman Linear Park Trail, a 5.25 mile asphalt shared-use path running between Lake Mayer Park and Daffin Park.

  • $160,00 toward the Heritage Rail Greenway, 3-mile multi-use trail that will run alongside a historic rail line and connect Savannah's Historic District to the Georgia Railroad Museum.
The extension of the Truman Linear Park Trail may be of some use to utility cyclists and likely connects to the Police Memorial Loop mentioned above. But I can't understand exactly what the "Heritage Rail Greenway" is all about. Maybe someone can enlighten me about the proposed route. Of course, hard core vehicular cyclists would surely say that bike trails of any kind are a bad idea, as they reinforce the idea that bicycles do not belong on the streets. Also, a study mentioned in this newspaper story suggests that multi-use trails are dangerous to cyclists and the VC advocates probably agree. Still, I'm excited about the possibility of new trails.

The real "good news" in the newspaper story is the money going to new road construction including $3.2 million for the construction of the "Effingham Parkway," which will link state state route 119 with 30 and should stimulate even more suburban development in Effingham County. Earlier this week, WTOC-TV aired a typically upbeat story on new residential and commercial development in Effingham. Like most local television news stories on suburban development in Effingham, West Chatham and counties just over the border in South Carolina, it was breathlessly positive. After all, growth is good, right?

When the package ended, anchor Dawn Baker said this about Effingham County in her segue to the next story: "In 10 years we won't even recognize it." I think what she really meant is that the area will look a lot different in 10 years when the land is covered with McMansions. We will recognize it, however, as more of the same kind of suburban sprawl that encrusts cities all over the country. If Jim Kunstler is right, these communities, so joyfully heralded now, have no future.

Finally, on an unrelated note: Last night at Publix, an employee offered to take my groceries out to my car for me. I almost agreed, just for the chance to see her expression as she followed me out to my bicycle, parked about 15 feet from the front door. As usual, I chickened out and took the groceries to my "car" all by myself.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cars drive local TV

Yesterday I made a half-hearted attempt at yard work followed by a pitiful excuse for a bicycle ride. The heat index was still 143 degrees at 8 p.m. , so I decided to go inside and enjoy some good old American broadcast television. I tuned my TV set to a station affiliated with the Fox network and watched a program called "What Makes You Think You Can Dance?" Or maybe it was, "Who Told You to Start Dancing?" Or it could have been, "You Can Dance if You Want to."

At any rate, this program featured a dancing competition, judged by a three person panel: a British man, a British woman, and another British man, who seemed relegated to the role of agreeing with whatever the first British man said. Also, he appeared to be in charge of cuing the music on the CD deck. I never could figure out what the dancers were competing for, other than a place in the Pantheon of unforgettable former reality show stars, alongside the Bedazzler lady from "The Apprentice," the woman with Lyme disease from "Real World: Seattle," and the dude with the beard from the second season of "Survivor."

But that's not important. I wasn't so much interested in the popping, locking and Krumping demonstrated by the dancers. I wanted to see the commercials. For one long hour of this 90 minute program, I cataloged the commercials I saw into three categories: Car (includes automobile manufacturers and dealerships) Car-related (includes auto insurance companies, title pawn shops and auto parts stores) and Tangentially car-related (includes Checkers and other fast food restaurants that don't have dining rooms, far-flung real estate developments that can be reached only by car, and attorneys who specialize in auto accident claims). Here's the score:

Total commercials: 32
Car: 5
Car-related: 1
Tangentially car-related: 0

By my calculations, car and car-related commercials represented about 19 percent of the advertisng content of this prime time network program.

But what about a local broadcast? During the 30 minute newscast that followed "Dance Dance Revolution," the results were much different:

Total commercials:
Car: 7
Car-related: 1
Tangentially car-related: 1

Car or car-related commercials represented nearly 70 percent of the spots aired during the newscast.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Cadillac of bicycles

Todd is also pondering the "Lance Effect" and comes to a slightly different conclusion than I did. He doesn't seem all that confident that new bicycle owners, inspired by Lance Armstrong, will discover that their machines can serve as viable alternatives to their automobiles.

If I'm reading Todd correctly, the message he gets from Armstrong is this: A bicycle is a device that can mold you into an athlete of incredible stamina, who defies expectations and overcomes obstacles. In this way, a bicycle is no different than a rowing machine. It will improve your physical prowess, but you wouldn't want to ride one to the video store. I guess a fancy road bicycle, like Armstrong's Trek, is sort of like an exercise bike you'd see in a gym, except it's more "extreme" or "in your face" on account of you can strap in to the top of your SUV and drive around with it up there.

Speaking of SUVs, the thing to have mounted to the roof rack of your Escalade is a new Cadillac Bicycle. My brief visit to the Cadillac Bicycle Web site did not reveal any children's bicycles, but that didn't stop Detroit's NBC affiliate from describing the bicycles as a New Children's Luxury. After all, what kind of respectable adult would ride a bicycle?

Luckily, the folks at Cadillac have offered some (mostly good) riding tips, should any of their customers actually try to use one of these bicycles. My favorite in No. 5: "Avoid biking at night."

Friday, July 22, 2005

A change in direction

If you are a regular Bike Year visitor (I'm pretending that there is such a thing) you'll soon notice a departure from the previous fare offered here. I'm afraid my past inventories of bike lane debris, accounts of air horn use and reports of stolen bicycle lights made for pretty dull reading. From here on out I'll dispense with the boring accounts of utility cycling, unless I have something interesting to report. In other words, if I see a Yeti riding a bike down Habersham Street, you'll read it here. A guy pulling a lawnmower behind his bike? I'll probably keep that to myself. Thus, the risk of lapsing into a coma while reading this blog should be greatly reduced.

Does Lance ride his bike to the store?

Media reports over the last couple weeks (this item from a Louisiana NBC affiliate is a good example) suggest that this Armstrong fellow's success in a French bicycle race is causing Americans to drive to their local bike shops and pick up machines of their own.

I suspect this Lance-induced mania for road bikes will be short-lived and could come to a grinding halt when European riders regain ownership of the Tour de France. It's probably nothing more than a small-scale revival of the Bike Boom of the 1970s. Still, if it puts more bicycles on the streets, I think it's a good thing.

I'm wondering how many of these new cyclists will get hip to the notion that they can use bicycles for more than recreation. I wouldn't recommend bolting grocery bag panniers to the back of a Madone SSL, but maybe seeing the world from a bicycle could influence some folks to see their bicycles in a different way. This will be helpful, especially if it turns out that everyone will need to become more familiar with cycling in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sand gnabbed

Peddled my trusty old 1979 Peugeot UE-8 to historic Grayson Stadium to see the Savannah Sandgnats dominate the Augusta Greenjackets. (Thanks for the tickets, Gnate). After the game, I unlocked my bike and reached down to activate the taillight when I discovered that it was missing. Stolen! The thief was pretty determined to have my $6 light; it was glued to the rear rack of the bike.

Weather: Clear, 90 degrees.
Time of day: Evening
Other cyclists observed: 1 (recreational)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 1
Total miles this bike year: 67

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A confession

I've not previously disclosed the fact that my much-celebrated back route into the Twelve Oaks shopping center requires me to ride on a sidewalk for about 15 feet. This short stretch of sidewalk links Varn Street with the Buckingham South parking lot. Although I've never actually seen a pedestrian on this sidewalk, I suppose the proper thing to do is to walk the bike through this area.

At any rate, I feel comfortable admitting this now because last night I saw a man drive a Mazda Miata down the sidewalk and into the Buckingham South Parking lot. Apparently my secret path to Publix isn't so secret. After the Mazda had passed, I inspected the curb near the sidewalk and saw that it bore the scars of many encounters with automobile undercarriages.

Weather: Clear, 90 degrees.
Time of day: Early Evening
Other cyclists observed: 5 (recreational) 1 (competitive, training)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 5
Total miles this bike year: 65

Bikes live downtown

Stopped by the library to check out some books and then the office to collect a book I'd left there. I haven't ridden the bike downtown lately, so I was sort of surprised how many other cyclists I saw.

Miles: 6
Weather: Clear, 93 degrees.
Time of day: Morning
Other cyclists observed: 18
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 5
Total miles this bike year: 60

What's that in the bike lane?

I set out for Publix after dark Friday night. I was southbound around 61st Street, when I saw something in the northbound bike lane. As I got closer, I could see that it was a man in dark clothes walking a bike with a lawnmower tied to the back of it. No lights.

Just a couple days later on the other side of town, a cyclist was hit and killed by a car. He was also wearing dark clothing and had no lights. I wonder if a local organization could organize a program to provide, at the very least, clip-on blinky lights to bicyclists.

Miles: 5
Weather: Clear, 90 degrees.
Time of day: Eventing
Other cyclists observed: 1 (transportation/utility)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 54

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Weekend update

I know, I know it's Wednesday already. Here's what's happened since our last exciting episode.

Friday, July 8: An afternoon at the beach on Friday inspired me to head to Publix for some Wild American Shrimp. North of the Habersham Village area, a white Mercedes overtook me, pulled into the bike lane, stopped and the started coming toward me in reverse. I steered into the main lane of traffic to avoid the car. As I passed I prepared to issue a mighty blast from the air horn. Just as I passed the driver's window I hit the switch and...a pathetic "meow" escaped from the horn. I must remember to keep that air reservoir full.

Miles: 5
Weather: Clear, 93 degrees.
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 1 (recreational)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 1
Total miles this bike year: 21

Saturday, July 9: H came with me rent DVDs from Hollywood Video and pick up some items from Publix. Our trip back across Abercorn from the video store was delayed because our bikes would not trigger the traffic signal. Soon enough, a car came up behind us. The light turned green and we crossed with the car, sort of like remoras traveling with a shark. On the way home, I noticed a strange object ahead in the northbound bike lane. As I approached I realized that it was a blown-out bicycle inner tube. I hate all the debris that winds up the bike lanes, but at least this came from another bike.

Miles: 5
Weather: Overcast, 87
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 0
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 26

Sunday, July 10: My original destination was Star Bike on Montgomery Cross Road. But I ended up going much farther than that. Before stopping in at Star, I made a side trip to K-Mart. I bought a cheap Bell rearview mirror for three bucks. I installed it out front where I had locked my bike to a display swing set (no bike racks to be found).

As I exiting parking lot, a Honda Accord travelling on a diagonal path across the parking lot passed a couple feet in front of me. Gave him a blast of the air horn. He looked startled. Then honked back.

Not three minutes later on the other side of White Bluff Road, a car overtook me and the driver laid on his horn, because, well, I don't have any idea why people feel compelled to do that. I responded on the air horn and the effect was dramatic. This particular motorist preferred to operate his vehicle from a nearly horizontal position (his seat was nearly fully reclined). Well, when he heard the horn, he sat upright as if he had been awakened from a dream. He slowed the car, craned his head around to see where the noise came from and stared at me for a couple seconds and then blew his horn again. Then he turned right at the next intersection (without stopping for the stop sign).

At Star Bike I bought a Planet Bike taillight, something that was missing from my rig. I noticed the bicycle path continued past the shop. I wondered, how far did it go? I had to find out. I followed it through the Paradise Park neighborhood and then crossed Abercorn on Tibet Avenue. The path continued down Largo, crossed back across Abercorn and into the Windsor Forest neighborhood where it either it ended or I lost it. I realized how close I was to the Savannah Mall, so I decided to stop in at Target. On the way home I took Middleground Road, turned near St. Joseph's Hospital, and eventually made it back to Largo, at which point I rejoined the bike route.

I stopped off at Publix on the way home. I locked the bike to a long cart corral that's located in front of the building. It's under the overhang of the building and normally doesn’t have any cars in it. When I came out of the store, the bike was leaning at an extreme angle, held upright only by the lock cable. Someone had rammed a shopping cart into the handlebars. It didn't look like an accident.

On the way home, a guy on an electric scooter departed the Jones Red and White store and rode north in the southbound bike lane, all the way to 50th Street.

I tracked my route on this handy Goople Maps mod site. The results are here.

Miles: 49
Weather: Overcast, 85
Time of day: Afternoon
Other cyclists observed: 1 (utility) 8 (recreational) 2 (competitive/training)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 4
Total miles this bike year: 44

Tuesday, July 12: Returned the DVDs. There were no cars available to trigger the light, so I had to ride over to the pedestrian signal and hit the button. This whole area is so inhospitable to pedestrians; I wonder how many people have actually pressed that button. The light does not allow much time to cross the street, so pedestrians really have to step it up, I bet.

On the way home, the northbound bike lane was full of runners. Two, headed north, turned onto side streets before I got closer than a half block away. One southbound runner moved to the sidewalk as I approached. This was the latest I've been on the road this Bike Year. Fired up the lights on the way home.

Miles: 49
Weather: Clear, 90
Time of day: Evening
Other cyclists observed: 1 (utility)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 49

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


My destination tonight was the Publix supermarket in search of the Hidden Valley Ranch fat free ranch dressing that was unavailable at the nearby Jones Red and grocery store. Just prior to my departure, I installed a Delta Air Zounds air horn. And I had a chance to use it.

While passing the Red and White, a mini van turned right directly into my path. I hit the horn and moved to the left to avoid a collision. Not sure if the motorist heard me. I felt better, nonetheless.

On the way back I encountered Amy and Paul loading their truck for their move from the Chatham Crescent-Ardsley Park Historic District. They said they had investigated purchasing bikes once they were settled in the Savannah National Landmark Historic District. I encouraged this idea.

Miles: 5
Weather: Clear, 94 degrees.
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 2 (competitive/training) 2 (recreational)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 16

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Red, White and rain

I've been caught in the rain on my bike before. However, today was the first time that it was raining when I got on the bike and I had every reason to expect that it would continue raining for the duration of my ride. My destination was the Jones Red and White grocery store in the Habersham Village Shopping Center.

The bike performed wonderfully. However, the crummy GAP Outlet anorak I was wearing did not. It lost most of its water repelling powers about 15 trips through the washing machine ago, so it did me little good. If I'm going to go out in the rain again, I really need better clothing. Still, the ride was fairly enjoyable, despite the fact that the Red and White does not stock Hidden Valley fat free ranch dressing. The sun came out about 20 minutes after I got home.

Miles: 3
Weather: Rain, 81 degrees
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 0
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 11

Monday, July 04, 2005

Raising eyebrows at Publix

I have been out of town for most of the weekend, so today is the first chance I've had to ride in a couple days. My destination was the Publix supermarket located in the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center. A person on a bike is something of a novelty at Twelve Oaks because it's located near the confluence of two very busy six lane asphalt rivers.

I have found the back way into Twelve Oaks. I take the Habersham Street bike lane north across Derenne and then turn right onto Varn Drive. From there, I ride through the parking lot of the Buckingham South Retirement Community and enter the Twelve Oaks parking lot behind the Pier 1 store. Without this route — which allows me to avoid Abercorn Street — Publix would be pretty much unreachable for me.

The popular perception that a cyclist would have to brave Abercorn to enter Twelve Oaks accounts for some of the surprised glances I receive from fellow shoppers. They really don't expect to see a bicycle at Twelve Oaks. I noticed a battered Roadmaster mountain bike parked just inside the store in the area where shopping carts are stored. It's the only other bike I've seen there. I don't know if it belonged to a customer or employee. I wonder if its owner uses the same route in and out of that I do.

On the way back home, I encountered a pedestrian walking north in the bike lane. As I passed her, I said, "The bike lane is for bikes." I didn't look back to see if she moved to the sidewalk. The bike lane was free of debris and parked cars.

Miles: 5
Weather: Clear, 93 degrees. Heat index: 101!
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 1 (competitive/training)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 8

Friday, July 01, 2005

First ride of the new Bike Year

I took the just-completed utility bike conversion for a shakedown cruise late this afternoon. My destination was the Habersham Village shopping center. My first stop was Jones Red and White grocery store for a pair of rubber gloves to replace my wife's pair that I destroyed in my homemade parts washer (more about that later). The I stopped in at Habersham Beverage for a bottle of Steinlager to celebrate the first day of the year.

After one ride, I'm very pleased with the bike. A complete description of the bike, the modifications I've made, and photos are forthcoming. Here are the details of today's trip:

Miles: 3
Weather: Clear, 85 degrees
Time of day: Early evening
Other cyclists observed: 4 (recreational)
Number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street: 0
Total miles this bike year: 3

Happy Bike Year!

The goal of this blog is to chronicle my utility cycling (a term I learned just a few days ago) efforts over the course of a year. A normal person would have probably started this type of project on January 1, but that was before my pedaling epiphany (see below). So I’m starting on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year for lots of organizations. That's close enough to a new year for me. The beginning of this blog should also correspond with my conversion of a $20 yard sale bike into a mighty utility cycle.

Less than 90 days ago I came to the realization that I could use my bicycle to accomplish all sorts of things that I previously handled by car. Well, that’s not true. I had a general understanding that such things were possible and occasionally used the bike for trips to the neighborhood grocery market, to nearby restaurants, and to the office on weekends, when dress codes were not enforced. At some point during the last 90 days, I magically became aware of how enjoyable these types of bicycle trips can be.

In this blog I plan document my mileage and catalog the types of tasks I’m accomplishing by bike. I’ll also describe the encounters with humans and other objects I have along the way.