Saturday, February 24, 2007

Abnormal behavior

If you spend enough time reading bicycle-related blogs or talking with bicycle-related people, you may unknowingly slip into a magical fantasy land. You may actually come to believe that riding to work or the store is "normal."

Yesterday I was talking about blogs with a newspaper reporter. Rather than attempt to explain the concept of utility cycling, I described Bike Year as being mostly about bicycle commuting. His response:

"You can do that in Savannah?"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Worth the walk

I noticed this Associated Press story in the newspaper today. Maybe it was published in your daily paper, too. It describes a university study that looked at ways to motivate older Americans to walk. The answer, it seems, is to give them a destination. A snip:

The benefits of walking and being active are well-known, especially for older people, but what kind of neighborhood gets seniors going?It's not necessarily one with lots of walking trails or parks. What matters, researchers found, are the destinations such as restaurants, grocery stores and even bars that are within a half-mile of your home.

I don't yet qualify as an "older person," but my motivation to become a utility cyclist was also directly tied to destinations. The library, the supermarket, the video store, the office — having a destination gave me a purpose. It made me feel better not to be riding around aimlessly.

What if the destination is a locally-owned seafood restaurant? Is this the kind of destination that might lure older people and not-so-older people out of their houses for a stroll? Is this the kind of destination that a community should encourage, if it wants lively streets and active and healthy citizens? I'd say yes. Others say no.

For a number of years, I lived directly across the street from Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, surely one of the most famous and beloved of all Savannah restaurants. In Mrs. Wilkes' obituary, then-Savannah Mayor Floyd Adams was quoted: "Hopefully, her legend continues through her restaurant and family. She has brought international attention to the community and we thank her for that." Paula Deen called her a pioneer "for women in the restaurant business."

But let's imagine that Mrs. Wilkes was still living and decided to open a restaurant at 107 W. Jones St. in 2007, instead of 1947. Would she receive the enthusiastic support of local politicians? Would people call her a pioneer? I think she'd be called lots of things, but pioneer probably wouldn't be one of them.

I understand controversy over the seafood restaurant on 40th street centers on allegations that the owner agreed not to allow inside dining, but then subsequently installed tables anyway. Still, why should he have been made to agree to such a concession in the first place? What difference does it make whether customers eat inside the restaurant or order their food to go? The real question is this: Is a seafood restaurant, owned by a family that's operated a fish market in Savannah since 1946, a disruptive commercial intrusion that damages the residential character of a neighborhood? Or is it an amenity that makes a nice destination for a walk?

Photo: Stephen Berend, Savannah Morning News

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Product Review: J&G Cyclewear Rain Cape

As promised, here's a review of the J&G Cyclewear rain cape. As mentioned in the last post, the cape is incredibly light. I'll skip further explanation the product, as it is described in detail here.

So how did it work? I must report that I was wet and cold when I got home. This does not, however, diminish my esteem for this product. For two reasons:

First, let's just say that I picked the ideal conditions to test this thing. On Feb. 1 Savannah received 1.20 inches of rain and I think most of it fell during my ride home. Not only was I hit by rain from above, plenty of water was splashing up from below. The streets were subject to significant "ponding," as our local weather forecasters like to say. In some places, such as the intersection of Habersham Street and Victory Drive, the water was up to my bike's rims. I'm running 26 x 2.1 Continental Town & Country tires, so there's quite a bit of rubber between my rims and the road. I don't think I would have remained dry if I'd ridden home vacuum sealed in a Space Bag.

Second, part of my moisture control problem was surely due to user error. The cape has fabric loops underneath. The idea is to grasp the loops and position your hands on the handlebars so that the cape forms an awning over your legs. About halfway home I discovered that slightly repositioning my hands provided more coverage. The cape does not have a hood. And that's good. Proper adjustment at the neck would kept my shoulders and back drier. It can be adjusted at the waist, which I also neglected. A gust of wind exposed my backside momentarily. I won't let that happen again.

Another cool thing about the cape is that it is supposedly made in Oregon, which probably makes it the only non-food item I've ever owned that was manufactured in that state.

Perhaps I'll post a review after I've used the cape during a more typical rainstorm. At any rate, I can say that it performed well enough to receive my enthusiastic endorsement. Whatever that's worth.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Product review preview

It was cloudy when I commuted to work this morning, but it wasn't raining. Now I'm getting ready to head home and it's pouring. This is great news for me because yesterday's mail contained a J&G Cyclewear Rain Cape, a gift from a very thoughtful person.

My first impression of the garment is that it is much lighter than I expected. It arrived not in a box, but a regular mylar envelope. I wasn't expecting it to be as heavy as a truck tarp or anything. Still, it's very light, which will be beneficial this summer when it's rainy and hot.

I'll post a full review sometime after my rainy ride home. Stay tuned.