Everyone: Get Off My Side

I bike.

I’m waiting with bated breath for the “out the door” temperature to be 33 or above, soon, so I can start biking to work again.  I’ve missed it terribly (and didn’t get to do nearly enough last season).    It just plain makes me feel good.

Of course, as I pointed out a few years back when I was interviewed in the Utne Reader, it’s really not a political thing for me.  It’s just one of few forms of regular exercise that don’t bore me stiff.

Unfortunately, both left and right have opted to politicize biking.   Smart conservatives attack the political cronyism, payoffs, and mindless noodling with urban geography that Big Bike is trying to wreak on cities like the Twins.  Not-so-bright conservatives attack people who ride bikes because they ride bikes.

But for every conservative chowderhead cyclophobe, there’s a small cloud of two-wheeled human smugginess that proves the theory.

John Gilmore noted the uproar of a biker, Marcus Nalls of Minneaopolis.  Or as the “biking community” knew him, a guy on a bike assassinated by a car:

WCCO-TV had a fascinating online report about the “memorial” which focused on Nalls’ means of transport much more than the actual human being. “More than 200 riders made their way from Loring Park to the sidewalk along Franklin [where Nalls died]. There, in a solemn procession, they walked their bikes past the “ghost bike,” which is a memorial bicycle that’s painted white.”

All cults need icons and what better, more effective icon than one associated with death? A ghost bike? Was this some sort of sick joke? No indeed, as I found out to my amazement. Such sorts of “remembrances” take place throughout the country when a biker dies. There’s even a disconcerting website: http://ghostbikes.org/

Naturally, what is really going on is the narcissism of the biking community being put on prominent display for the public to see but mostly for themselves. One white bike after another: no individual, just the hope that bikers still living won’t die in a similar fashion. White bikes are the crucifixes for the secular, “spiritual but not religious” types in our midst. The dislocation of religion into environmentalism and Portlandia lifestyles is relentless.

Gilmore mentions Portlandia.

That’s one of the funniest things about that series; knowing that grimly serious people live out the parody every day.

Doakes Sunday: Priorities

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I saw the article in the pie-pan (Pioneer Press) about the new bicycle boondoggle.  The estimate for the loop downtown is $18 million.  Which means the true estimate that they had is $30 million, and the actual cost will be $45 million.

The story quotes the City of St. Paul’s Sustainable-Transportation Engineer and also the Environmental Policy Director.  St Paul only has two director-level positions for bicycle ideas.  Now that, truly, is a bare-bones operation.

If only the wicked Republicans would give St. Paul more LGA, then they could plow the streets.  Meanwhile, what can we do with the cupboards being bare and the offices empty.

Joe Doakes

I love biking to work.

I just wish government spent less time and money making sure tax-paying drivers hated me while I was riding down the street (that I already paid for).

I Want To Ride My Bicycle, Year 7-ish: Cyclus Interruptus

It was back in 2007, working at a job in downtown Saint Paul, that I was able to start biking to work for the first time.

And I loved it; for most of the next four summers, I biked every morning I was able to; in 2008, that was every morning from about April 23 on (because the spring of 2008 was almost as late as this one seems to want to be) into early December; 2009, less so.

Back around election time in 2010, I went back to contracting – at a place that had no locker room.  I’m not one of those guys who can bike to work without a shower handy; cue Sammy Hagar, but I can not ride slow.  If I see someone on a bike half a mile ahead of me, I’ll try to catch them.

From there, I went to a job in Minnetonka.  The bad news; it was 16 miles each way, which after the previous winter required a little getting in shape to do the whole thing reliably.  The good news?  I did it; in late summer of 2011, after a month or two of riding from Park and Ride lots in the western subs to work, I did the whole thing for the first time, there and back…

…and as I sat at a stoplight at Prior and Marshall, after climbing the long, grueling hill up from the Marshall-Lake bridge, got a cell phone call about a family medical emergency that ended the biking season, and pretty much everything else, for the next three months.

After that, I spent a year at another contract at another building without a locker room, silently gnashing my teeth at the fates that left me commuting in a car through such a gorgeous summer for riding.

But now – knock wood – things may be looking up.

Started a new gig last week.  It’s not too far away – ten miles, by the usual bike routes.  And they’ve got a locker room.   The route is a beautiful one – a little dangerous in places, but it’s gonna be a fun ride.

I’m chomping at the bit, here.

And the weather seems to know it.

Critical Ass

One of the things I miss about my current job is that I can’t bike it to work.

Not that’s too far – the distance would be a nice challenge, and there are some park ‘n rides halfway there for days when I don’t want a challenge.

But there’s no place to take a shower at the office, or anywhere near it – the only gym close enough to even think about is still 3-4 miles away and, worse, would involve a pretty challenging route to get from the gym to the office, which means I’d need another shower when I got there.

Anyway, apropos not much, Joe Doakes of Como Park writes:

Driving downtown St. Paul this morning, it occurred to me there was one nice thing about the rain – it would keep the bicycle riders away. No sooner had the thought entered my head than a bicycle rider appeared.

It’s 7:15 a.m. It’s raining. It’s gloomy. I’m on Wabasha Street at 7th – smack downtown in rush hour traffic. This simple soul rides off the curb into traffic on a black mountain bike wearing a black helmet, black jacket, black pants and black shoes. Then he “splits” traffic riding up the dotted lines between cars stopped for a red light before sticking his black-clad arm out and swerving left in front of a truck to turn onto 5th, causing an accordion of nose-dives and brake lights cascading back toward the Capital.

He had a grubby yellow saddlebag slung on the portside of his rack and one tiny red light on his saddle, blinking like a firefly possessed by a demon; that’s it, that’s his safety system. Everybody else was supposed to be watching out for him between the sea of taillights, the drops on the windshield, the smear left by the wipers.

What.

An.

Idiot.

Smear – that’s about what I expected when he cut off that delivery van. I honestly think I would have stopped to get out and spit on him.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

That’s the problem with those Critical Mass riders; they try to do their same schtick when they are not a critical mass…

Skidding Past Every Point

Dan Haugen, who we last ran into a few years back when we taught him a little about research, writes for “Midwest Energy News” – which is funded by an alt-energy pressure group – about Minneapolis’ new biking director, which recently survived a challenge in the Minneapolis city council even as the city lays off firemen.

The rationale is – well, both typical and mildly troubling (emphasis added):

‘An investment, not an expense’

Across the country, cities like Portland are hiring bicycle and pedestrian coordinators to help attract not only federal project dollars but also to make their cities a more attractive place for workers who want the option of living without a car, says Joan Pasiuk, director of Bike Walk Twin Cities, which promotes non-motorized transportation.

In other words, you have to spend taxpayer money to get other taxpayers’ money:

Chicago has had a bicycle coordinator for a decade and a half. Omaha hired its first bike coordinator last year. Even cities like Miami and Phoenix that probably don’t come to mind as major bicycling hubs have hired for similar positions in recent years.

“Cities are seeing this as an investment, not an expense,” says Pasiuk.

And there you see the spread; cities that are broke, or cities that are doing well enough that they can afford some of the petty luxuries like, well, biking coordinators.

It’s an odd set of priorities for a city that’s flirting with “broke”.

I had to mention this:

And then there’s the health savings. Researchers in the Netherlands found that despite being at higher risk for injury, cyclists enjoy “substantially larger” health benefits compared to drivers.

But if you read this blog, you knew that two years ago.

UPDATE:  I changed the reference to MN Energy News in the first graf; it’s “Funded by”, rather than “a front for…”, the pressure group.  It was pointed out to me – civilly, mind you – that the phrase “front” casts an unnecessary aspersion.  I’ve reworded accordingly.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Season 5, Month 2

It’s been a frustrating year for biking.

The bad news:  My office is in the western burbs.  I live in Saint Paul.  That makes for a sixteen mile commute.

The good news: Those sixteen miles are almost completely striped lanes and bike paths.  I know – taxes, transportation dollar, silly expenditures, bla bla bla, but I paid for ‘em, so I’m using ‘em.

More bad news: my daily schedule frequently doesn’t allow me the hour-and-change it’d take me to ride home at night; stuff needs to get done after work.  It’s clearing up…just in time for autumn.  Not that autumn is bad bike weather – not at all – but it does mean that the season is going to end in the next 2-3 months.

Semi-bad news:  since I really only got to start biking consistently in early August, I’ve been working my way up to doing the whole run.  I started by throwing my bike on the rack and driving to a park-and-ride out in the western subs.  Every week, I switch to a park-and-ride a little farther from the office.  I’m currently riding in the last eight miles or so.

The bad news:  between eight and 16 miles, there are no park and rides.  So I’m mentally working my way up to taking the plunge and riding the whole 16 miles each way.  But it’s my goal to fit the whooole thing in at least once a week,and ride all or part of the commute at least four days a week.

It’s more psychological than anything; three years ago, when I was biking all the time, sixteen miles wasn’t that big a deal.

The good news:  Oh, screw it. I’m going to do it.  Monday.

The Cramdown

I like to bike.  My current commute is 16 miles each way, if I do the whole thing (and I usually don’t; most days, I’ll throw my bike on the rack and drive to a park-and-ride and bike the last 8-10 miles,although my goal by the end of bike season, November-something with any luck at all, will be to ride the whole thing at least once a week).

Jason Lewis’ accusations notwithstanding, bikers pay all sorts of taxes; for starters, very few of us bike exclusively; most of us drive cars, and pay gas taxes, and as I showed some time ago, those of us who mix biking and driving actually benefit the rest of you taxpayers and gas-buyers.

I mention all of this purely to set up the fact that I’m not one of those conservatives who thinks bikes are in and of themselves a communist conspiracy, and that bikers have been sucked, wittingly or not, into some “progressive” vortex.  It’s just not true.

But like most conservative bikers, I do the odd theatrical facepalm when I see the institutionalized arrogance of the Bike über Alles crowd.  And we have just such a case on display in St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood.  A “non-profit”, “Transit for Livable Cities”, is proposing a “bicycle boulevard” – not much unlike the one on 39th Street in south Minneapolis, which I accidentally discovered this past weekend, and which seemed oddly devoid of bikes when I saw it – straight down Jefferson Avenue.  And to do it, they want to make Jefferson, especially at Cleveland Avenue, virtually impassable to cars.

St. Paul Public Works plans to move forward this year with a grassy, bicycle-friendly median along Cleveland Avenue at Jefferson Avenue that has drawn both praise and criticism from residents in the area who are weighing the merits of a narrower crossing.

The median would force northbound and southbound traffic along Cleveland Avenue to slow and traffic along Jefferson Avenue to make right turns.

Public Works has tentatively proposed that the median go before the St. Paul City Council on Aug. 17. If approved, construction could begin in October or November.

Cleveland is the main way of getting north and south from Highland to the Midway.  Having a big gnarly bottleneck at Jefferson will not just be a huge pain, but it’ll squeeze traffic into the side streets or bump it over to Fairview, which is already overtaxed; with light rail contruction, getting north and south through Saint Paul anywhere west of Lexington (so far) is a sisyphean nightmare.

The citizens against the Jefferson Avenue Median have a facebook page.  And Joe Soucheray – who benefits from being one of few mainstream conservative commentators who don’t froth against biking for no reason takes the proposal apart.

More later…

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Seaon 5, Day 1

So yesterday I finally got back on the road.  Sort of.

For the first four years of this series, I was riding to a job in downtown Saint Paul.  It was about six miles each way; a brisk twenty minutes, mostly downhill, in the morning; a gruelling (initially) climb up Cathedral Hill followed by a relaxing blast up Summit Avenue at the end of the day.

My new commute is something on the order of 20-odd miles.  Doable, certainly, but I’m not really in shape to make that kind of a jaunt and make it to work and do it on the way home at night just yet.  So I compromised.  I threw the bike onto a bike rack and drove out to a park and ride in a nearby suburb, and I rode the last probably five or six miles in to the office.

Gotta say, I miss the relative calm of city biking.

The first half of the trip was mostly bike lanes and trails; it was a fun, if choppy, ride.  Hills are fine; new hills that I haven’t done before suck.

The last half, though, was over a couple of busy suburban arterials with no shoulders and only notional speed limits.  I was keenly aware that I was only as safe as the least-engaged driver wanted me to be.  I grew eyes on the back of my head (or, to be fair, kept my head swiveling about like an owl on the hunt) for the last couple of miles in to the office.

The last three miles is, as it happens, the worst part of the whole trip.   The rest of the commute – from my front door to somewhere in the western subs, on a hypothetical all-bike ride to work – is striped bike lanes (Minnehaha, Prior, Marshall) or dedicated bike paths (the Greenway, the River Bluffs trail), up to that last little gauntlet of death.

So my goal for my abbreviated biking season; get to the point where I can do the whole, Saint Paul-to-western-subs trip at least once a week.

You heard it here first…

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Year 5, Pre-Game

Getting a late start on the bike commuting this year.  Part of it is because my commute jumped from six to about 20 miles.  Part of it is because my bike – a 1983 Fuji Monterey that I got in, well, 1983 – is showing its age; it’s a bit of a hangar queen these days.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s earned it.  I’ve got more miles on that bike that on some cars I’ve owned.

So I test drove some other bikes this past week, and have finally taken the plunge on a new ride.  More details – perhaps in a revived “Hot Gear Friday” – coming soon.

Next step – find a park-and-ride about 5-6 miles out from the office, drive and park there, and ride the rest of the way in (the office has a shower, thankfully).

Goal:  by the end of summer, be doing the whole 16 mile haul (it’s shorter via bike trails and lanes) at least once a week.

Frequently Asked Questions – II

I get a lot of questions here at Shot In The Dark.  Periodically, I like to answer them.

Let’s start at the top!

“Hey, Merg!  You worked on a special election campaign.  And it lost!  Hahahahahahahahaha!” Yeah, who’da thunk it, a Republican losing in Saint Paul.  That’s not even “dog bites man”.  That’s “Dog sniffs Dog”.    We gave it our best shot, and we came up waaaaay short.  More later.

“Hey, Merg!  You promoted Bradlee Dean!  I got the screen shot!” Well, yeah, genius – it was on my blog every weekend for two years.  And in the last segment of my show, every Saturday; “Sons of Liberty up next, for those of you who want your Constitution straight up with no chaser!”, or some such.

That’s what you do when you work for a radio station, or any broadcaster, or narrowcaster for that matter, if they depend on ratings; you cross-plug the other shows.  If, I dunno, Eric Pusey and Diane “Minnesota Observer” Gerth were to buy air time after the Northern Alliance on Saturdays, I’d give them a jaunty cross-promotion, too – because that’s what you do in radio.  It’s called being a professional.You promote the station’s other shows – because if they’re doing well, the whole station does well.  And if the station does well, Ed and I stay on the air.

Does it mean I endorse everything Bradlee Dean said on his show?  Of course not.  I’m not going to comment on the Sons of Liberty’s departure from AM1280 – but the General Manager who lets us use his air time, Ron Stone, did, right here, and I really don’t need to add much to that.  Of course I will add that much of the Twin Cities leftymedia’s “coverage” of Dean was really, really bad; he never advocated killing gays, for starters, and his “association with the GOP” is even thinner gruel.  But hey, they need to break eggs to make omelettes, right?

“But Merg!  You lost!  Hahahahahahaha!” Well, as Abraham Lincoln said, “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.And bringing a multi-party democracy to the “progressive” cesspool that is Saint Paul is nothing if not just; Saint Paul Republicans follow in the footsteps of Lech Walesa, trying to crack the rotting facade of a single-party autocracy.  It’s a tough job…

“Hey, Mitch – how’s biking going?”:  It’s not, yet.  My commute jumped from six to 20 miles.  Which is not to say I’m not going to start riding to work, at least part-way, pretty quick here – probably by throwing my bike on my bike rack, driving part way, leaving my car at a park and ride, and biking in the rest of the way.   Soon, here.

“But Merg!  Your candidate got beat!  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Teh DFL owns this town!”. In 1982, the Chicago Bears went 3-6, in a strike-shortened season.  It was a terrible year, and a terrible team.   But it had some elements – Walter Payton and some other great players in waiting – that would, when combined with a new coach, Mike Ditka, lead that same team, three years later, to become the greatest team in the history of pro football.

The Saint Paul GOP, and the Fourth District GOP for that matter, are going to need more than three years to recover from decades of the beaten-down indolence that is the result of decades of defeat and oppression.  I say ten years.  Others think it can be done faster; I hope they’re right, but I figure ten years.

What, we’re supposed to just give up?

You don’t know me very well, do you?

“Say, Mitch – why do you still call the show the Northern Alliance Radio Network?  It’s just one show, on one station!” Oh, stay tuned.


I Want To Ride My Bicycle, Season 5: Cease And Desist

To: Mother Nature

From: Mitch Berg, Biker

Re: Springing for Spring

Ma:

By this time last year, I’d been commuting via bike for a week already.

Two years ago?  I’d been on the road for four days.

In 2008, of course, we had an ice storm in early April, pushing biking season back to the middle of the month, so I shouldn’t complain too hard.

Still, Ma – I love winter (or what Twin Citians call “winter”) as much as the next guy, but could we get off the can and on the stick here?

Melt, baby, melt.

That is all.

(And no, I do realize that a fast melt will cause all sorts of flooding problems, and I do not want that.  I’m just itching to get on the road).

Opportunities For Improving Ones’ Reasoning Explained

Over the years, this blog has had great fun bagging on conspiracy theorists. 

In almost eight and a half years of writing Shot In The Dark, I’ve mixed it up with 9/11 Truthers, Triggers (people who believe Bristol is really Trig Palin’s mother), Ronulans who think that there’s a conspiracy to build a trans-American highway, even people who believe (I’m not making this up) that Karl Rove sent a sniper team to shoot down Paul Wellstone’s plane.

But the most irritating conspiracy theory is one that I’ve encountered almost exclusively on the right – the theory that riding a bicycle unwittingly ties you into a shadowy international network of Fabian socialist Bilderberg cap-and-traders.  All sorts of conservatives and “conservatives” believe this – from Jason Lewis, who is, bless his heart, the father of modern Minnesota conservatism, but is half-wrong at best on the “bikes and taxes” issue, all the way down to some of our “less-gifted” brethren.

So I want to establish two points before we move on:

  1. I ride bike.  Lots. From March into December, I do most of my commuting by bike.  I love it.  It’s fun, it keeps me within shooting distance of “in shape”,  and I just plain enjoy it.  It’s also financially more efficient, which is an utterly conservative point as well.
  2. I am at least as conservative as you are, and probably more so.  Whoever you are.

Which brings us to this piece, by one D. Dowd Muska.  I’ll let you figure out which category D. fits into.

There is something profoundly wrong with a nation where more adults ride bicycles than children.

America might now be such a nation.

Along with every single nation in the world, really.  Even in countries where biking isn’t the most affordable means of transportation for the regular schmuck, bikes are more common among adults everywhere.

While kids sit at home texting their friends and slaying computer-generated monsters, a growing number of their parexnts and grandparents are clogging the roads atop a contraption that was once considered a child’s toy.

Well, no. 

The bike became a mass-market commodity item long before the automobile became affordable to most Americans.  In many places, the bike was the first ticket the working stiff had to get off mass transit or quit walking, in those days before cars (and manufacturing jobs) became ubiquitous.  In some parts of the country, the move to build paved roads was driven initially by the number of bicycles on the roads. 

For the working stiff who couldn’t afford (and didn’t want to deal with the upkeep of) a horse, the bike was the original muscle car.

Two odious ideologies fuel the popularity of bicycling: anti-obesity extremism and eco-lunacy. Pedal power, we are told, will not only make you thinner, it will reduce your “carbon footprint.” (It’s a Nanny State twofer.)

Already slim, or pursuing other means to lose weight? Like your SUV, and don’t swallow the discredited theory that man is baking the planet? Then obviously you’re an idiot.

Well, then, by the opposite token – if I”m not already “slim”, prefer biking as a matter of personal choice (something most of us conservatives uphold!) to “other means of losing weight” (which are usually both less healthy for you and also bore me stiff), and don’t believe in global warming, does that make D. Dowd Muska an idiot?

In 2003, BusinessWeek asked Andy Clarke, director of state and local advocacy for the League of American Bicyclists, to respond to the fact that 500,000 Americans commute by bicycle. The figure was “pathetic,” he snorted, “for a nation that should be smarter and wiser.”

While this bit is utterly disconnected from the rest of Mr. Muska’s piece (it’s a non-sequitur, really), honestly, so freaking what?

A “community organizer” said something stupid yet arrogant and self-serving.  This reflects on the individual biker exactly how?

Exactly the same way as some stupid quote from Pat Buchanan or David Vitter reflects on conservatives and conservatism at large; not a bit.

Feeling themselves superior to their countrymen [Objection:  Assertion based on facts not in evidence - Ed.] in both health and environmental consciousness, many bicyclists flout road rules.

As opposed to “many”  automobile drivers who…flout road rules.  I mean, I”ve watched Cops; how many high-speed chases of bikers do you see?

Writing in the Rocky Mountain News, Arvada, Colorado resident J.M. Schell admitted that there was “a very, very good reason so many view those of us who are cyclists as rude, arrogant jerks. Most of us are.”

Which reflects perhaps on one J.M. Schell – for whom I don’t believe I ever voted as my spokesman, by your leave, Mr. Muska.

I personally find that rudeness and being the smallest vehicle on the road don’t go well together.  There are ample reasons to amend motor vehicle laws so that bikes and cars can share the road better – but that’s the subject of a different post.

Recklessness and lawbreaking notwithstanding [Indeed, utterly logically unconnected - Ed.], Big Bicycle has attained the status of a lobby that cannot be ignored. “Bikes Belong,” an agitprop shop “sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often,” boasts of “12 professional staff, 18 volunteer directors, and a $2 million annual operating budget.”

As a conservative, I personally am fine letting companies (and groups of companies) spend their own money their own way.

“Maximizing Federal Support for Bicycling,” a page on the organization’s website, explains that it spent $1 million on lobbying between 2002 and 2005, which ultimately produced “$4.5 billion for bicycling and walking in SAFETEA-LU, the … transportation law passed in August 2005.” Where did that money come from? You guessed it: the federal gas tax. (Four out of every ten dollars raised by the levy are diverted to non-highway expenses.)

OK, I’m confused here.  Is Mr. Muska’s piece a slam on bikers as people, or a riff on transportation spending policy?

Because if it’s the latter, Mr. Muska is on to something.  It’s the same “something” almost all conservatives have been on all along (gas tax funds should go to roads, not light rail or wind-powered pedestrian walkways or whatever.  That is an actual policy discussion – as opposed to mindless and contrived name-calling.

Is bicycle-commuting a credible traffic-fighting tool? No, says Cato Institute scholar — and avid cyclist — Randal O’Toole. “I don’t think encouraging cycling is going to reduce congestion or significantly change the transportation makeup of our cities,” he said. “There really is very little evidence that any of [these efforts] are reducing the amount of driving. They’re just making it more annoying to drivers.” (O’Toole observes that telecommuting is far more common, and growing faster, than getting to work on a bike.)

And now we’re getting somewhere!  Telecommuting is a response of the free market to the uptick in energy prices, to road congestion, and a slew of other motivations. 

So, for that matter, is biking, for many of us. 

Bicycles are wonderful, of course. For children. Only misanthropes complain about stopping or yielding to safely accommodate a couple of twelve-year-olds pedaling their way to the fishin’ hole.

For adults, bicycling has become a finger-wagging, revenue-pilfering, and increasingly obnoxious crusade.

If you buy into the conspiracy theory – that we bikers become tools of the vast two-wheeled conspiracy the moment we saddle up?  Perhaps.

But as that noted conservative tool the Utne Reader noted, conservatives (including me – I’m quoted) ride, too - for impeccably free-marketeering, libertarian, conservative reasons.

John “Policy Guy” LaPlante focuses, unsurprisingly, on the policy side of things, for the most part, in his response to “D”.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Season 4, Month 4; Mental Health Day

I hate hot weather, especially hot and humid weather like yesterday – unless I can be biking constantly and intensely.

Oddly enough, being up and on the road inverts things completely; that same overheated/drenched with sweat feeling that’s so miserable when you’re cooking dinner, for example, is just wonderful when you’re out on the bike, working up a good productive lather.

I took a well-deserved and much-needed mental health day yesterday.  I did some puttering around the house, and then got on the road a little after lunchtime for a long hard ride.  I rode down the U of M Busway trail to the University, then across the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi into downtown Minneapolis.

You know how they say having a life-threatening illness makes you appreciate life more?  Riding through downtown Minneapolis does about the same thing; the threats to your life – car doors opening, idiots texting, truckers misjudging their clearances – give one that keen focus on staying alive that cancer survivors and combat veterans talk about.  It also made me very happy to find the entrance to the Kenilworth Trail, close by Target Field.

The Kenilworth took me down to Lake Calhoun; a brisk lap around Calhoun and Harriett, and then back up the east side of Calhoun and back to Lake of the Isles, led me to the Midtown Greenway, a long bicycle superhighway across South Minneapolis built in a long-abandoned railbed.  The riding got very easy; the path is sunk well below ground level, which shields you from wind that’s coming from the north and south, but channels it if it’s from the east or west; I was getting blasted eastbound like a dart from a blowgun.  That felt good, after a hard ride out.

Running low on water, I stopped at Freewheel Bike Shop, a repair/coffee shop attached to the Midtown Commons development, down on the trail level.  I had an iced coffee and a lemon cookie and topped up my water.  And drained it (1.5 liters), and topped it up again for the road; I’d forgotten how much hot air and a howling wind will dry you out.

I rode down the Greenway back to the river, for the worst part of the trip – the punishing climb from the Marshall-Lake bridge up to Fairview Avenue.  It’s not an absurdly steep hill, but it’s just loooooooong.  Actually, it’s not even so much that it’s long – it just taxes my patience; “get done, already”, I practically mutter to myself, as if anger can re-mold geography.

But once I got to the top of the hill, it was a nice two mile coast home (not that I coasted; bad idea for the legs).  And I sat on my porch steps and polished off my water, drenched in sweat, and I felt…

…good.  Cleaner – on the inside, anyway; a shower was pretty much mandatory for the outside – and just plain happy.

Gotta do that again someday.

“It’s All About Meeeeeeeeeeee!”

A North Dakota bike tour M bars a Minnesotan for objecting to a community prayer

…over, and over, and over, and over…

Morgan Christian, 54, of St. Paul, rode the 500-mile CANDISC ["Cycling around North Dakota in Sakakawea Country"] tour three consecutive years. He objected last summer to a prayer said before a meal at a public high school gym in Turtle Lake, one of several host communities along the route.

Christian expressed his objections to the minister and ride director and in subsequent e-mails to the State Parks and Recreation Department. He said he expected an apology but instead received a letter from the bike tour committee telling him he wasn’t welcome back.

I’ll just bet he “expressed” his objections…

“If I don’t say something, who am I?” Christian said. “I’m going to be the guy who stands up and says there are people who don’t think this is wonderful. It is an imposition. There could be a moment of silence, or at least a warning that prayer is going to be said.”

But instead you chose to be the self-glorifying narcissist who has to make your worldview the focus of attention.  You chose to whiz in your host’s wheaties.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation Director Mark Zimmerman said Christian’s attitude was the issue, not his religious beliefs. Ride director Hillary Nelson said Christian disrespected the ride and the town.

“This was Turtle Lake’s way of representing their community,” she said. “If he didn’t like what was going on, he could have left.”

What?  Quietly?  What are you,crazy?

Christian said he was just standing up for himself.

“I don’t think I raised my voice all that much. Whether I appeared agitated, I don’t know,”

Read:  He was a howling, screaming little prick.

he said, adding that he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom from Religion Foundation about the issue.

And that’ll be the end of the CANDISK ride.

Thanks, Morgan. It’s all about you.

Jason Lewis Is Wrong

I was enjoying an all-too-rare hour of listening to Jason Lewis the other day.

I was driving through the teller line at the bank, when he chimed in with an oldie but goodie:  “Bikers don’t pay taxes”. 

And the teller looked at me, perplexed, when I shouted “you are wrong for two reasons!”.

First:  I do pay taxes.  City and county taxes.  Some of which go to paying for bike lanes – the odd strip of asphalt around the lakes, and a stripe lane on the occasional street.  Not every street mind you; one street about every mile or so, generally, usually not the high-traffic ones.  (And by the way – Minneapolis’ re-work of Hennepin and First Avenue North, putting the bike lane between the parking lane and the curb?  Reekingly stupid.  It smacks of equal parts revenue generation plan and green-über-alles arrogance).   While there may or may not be state transportation dollars mixed in there, I most certainly do pay taxes for them. 

Now – in their infinite wisdom, the powers that be decided not to make bike paths a user-fee-based system, paid for by tolls or bike licenses or whatever.  Got any ideas?   I’m down with ‘em – although we all know it’ll just mean more property tax revenues for government to spend.  But that’s a larger problem on which we all agree.

Second (ironically, inasmuch as I was in a car when I thought this):  Like 99% or more of bikers, I pay gas taxes.  I drive.  Six months or so a year, though, I commute by bike (as well as all sorts of recreational riding).    For longer trips, or trips where I have to haul groceries, I drive. 

And you can ask any engineer, but five five-mile trips cause more road damage than one 25-mile trip; the longer trip is likely to be on the highways (which my gas taxes pay for), with fewer starts and stops and turns, the kind of thing that wears down roads.  So since a higher percentage of my gas-tax-generating car travel is longer, more efficient, less-damaging trips, while for half the year most of my short-hop trips cause no damage to roads at all (because I”m on a bike!), the state taxpayer is actually getting less damage per gas tax dollar out of me, the driver who bikes a lot, than out of someone who drives all of the equivalent mileage.

By the way -  while I drive, I buy less gas – which means less demand pressure on the market, which lowers the price for the rest of you. 

On all counts, you’re welcome.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Season 4, Day 1 Recap

Riding to work was a huge rush yesterday morning – especially racing down Cathedral Hill with a brisk tailwind!

Riding home from work, on the other hand, was a character-building ordeal, plodding up Cathedral Hill into a howling headwind.

Note to self:  Figure out how to get the wind to shift during the day.

Mission clock is at T minus 60.

Counting The Hours

The Problem: While daytime temps are well above freezing, clearing off the streets fairly nicely, the morning temps are still a little chilly; the lows are going to be out of the teens, at least, but still plenty below freezing.  It’s not too cold to ride – that’s why we have caps and gloves, of course.  But it does mean all that melt-off freezes which, along with the big ridges of never-plowed snow left over from earlier in the season, should make the morning ride kinda treacherous.

But afternoons?   Hmmmm.

The Solution: I’m pondering throwing my bike on the bus tomorrow morning and teeing up the season a ride home through the unseasonably warm afternoon rush hour. 

Developing, as they say.

The Watched Pot Boils Faster Than An IED…

…compared to the ice on a watched bike lane.

I’ve been patrolling the bike lanes on my main routes to get to work – Summit and/or Minnehaha Avenues – to see if the ice is anywhere close to receding far enough to make biking to work tenable.

Not yet.  And I’ll cop to it; whatever motivation a zero-degree morning doesn’t sap, my cold-weather-averse kids do.

But next week?  A couple of days above thirty-five should do to the ice what a couple of “get on the bus on time, see-ya!”‘s should do for the kids.

An Acheing In My Heart Legs

It’s a strange time of year in Minnesota, weather-wise.  There’s enough sun high enough in the sky  to warm things up pretty well during the mid-day.  But there’s enough snow cover to reflect all that sunlight back into space, so nights still get pretty chilly – and it’s still a bit brisk when we get ready for work in the morning.

So for the next ten days or so we’ll be having highs pushing 30 during the day, but lows in the single-digits to barely over ten.

Which means that in the afternoon, I’m overwhelmed with the desire to start biking – and get bludgeoned in the morning by the idea that it’s probably be a really dumb idea for the time being.

That, and the roads in Saint Paul are atrocious this year.  The city got behind the eight ball from the beginning; the Christmas ice/snow storm left most of the side streets as rutted and filling-jarring as andean goat paths.

Anyway.  Soon.  The goal for the year is to be back on the road by mid-March, to make up for the lousy biking last year, when a family commitment left me driving around the metro every morning all summer.  While I did manage to bike a bit from September through November, and even squoze in a ride in early December, I never really got a rhythm going.  The other goal?  Get somewhere close to my 100-mile-a-week pace from 2008.

As soon as these freakin’ mornings warm up.

(NOTE:  While this blog’s policy is to generally leave comments alone, all anti-biking comments will be mutilated for my own febrile amusement.  There will be no further warnings).

But Since We’re On The Subject

To:  Twenty-Something Pantload

From: Mitch Berg – Bike Sympathizer

Re:  Next Time, You Get An Elbow In The Choppers

You know who you are.  You’re a twentysomething hYpStR.  You ride one of those trendy retro three-speed bikes with the cargo racks, in which you’d stuffed your backpack, some books, and (I have no doubt) your IPhone.

You were riding up Wabasha last night.

Now, I’m sympathetic; I usually ride up Wabasha at the end of the day, when I’m biking home.  It’s that existential near-death experience that kicks off my ride home by making me appreciate life so much more.

But there’s a difference, here.  I ride on the street.

I first saw you as I was walking up the sidewalk to the bus stop, as the cold was settling in.  I heard a voice behind me, curtly demanding “excuse me”.  I turned around; you were whisking past someone walking on the sidewalk behind me. You sailed past me, crowding me toward the wall just a little bit.  You pedalled up the sidewalk, brushing a lady who was carrying a baby, as you tried to thread the needle between people getting on the 3 bus.  You seemed – by your speed, as well as your “arrogant enough to have been a Loring Cafe waiter during their heyday” – to think it was our job to get out of your way.

Just saying; next time you try that, make sure Dadders is still paying your dental insurance.

That is all.

Declaration

With yesterday’s “blizzard”, and today’s relative chill, I think it’s time to declare 2009 biking season closed.  (*)

As I mentioned earlier, it was a rough year for biking; much of my summer got eaten up with family business that kept me off the road for most of July and August.  Biking in the fall, at least for me, takes a certain amount of momentum – and I had none.

Still, I managed to bike through much of September, a good chunk of October, a bit of November, and I even squeezed in one rare, chilly December ride.

And it was a good year in political metabiking, too; the case the biking is more conservative than not biking was proven pretty conclusively.

But I think I’m gonna call it for the year. But I’ll be shooting for a March start date in 2010.

See you then!

(*) And yes, I know people are still on the road.  That’s hardcore.  More power to ‘em, but it’s not for me.

One Step Back, One Step Up

For the past couple of years, from whenever the snow’s been off the roads until I just can’t manage it anymore, I’ve been biking to work.

Or trying to.

2007 was a good year.  After about 15 years of virtually no biking at all, I commuted pretty much daily from June through August.  And I did it without dying of a heart attack.

2008 was even better.  I managed to bike pretty much daily, from late April ’til late September.  It was a hard fall, and getting the kids to school ate up a lot of time and effort, but it was a great season, all in all.

This year?  Enh.  I spent most of the summer dealing with a family situation every morning, which precluded most biking from mid-June until September.  And between the cold, hard fall and the usual school schedule, it’s precluded a lot of biking; I’ve managed a couple of days on good weeks, less on others.

But this week, with temps up in the high fifties and brisk but temperate mornings?   Yesterday felt good out on the road.

Yeah, I’m fixing to send the season off with a bang.  Might even bike to the station on Saturday, with any luck.

Next biking season, though?  It’s gonna rock.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: Just Like Starting Over

Last year, I managed to commute via bike pretty much every day from late April to early October.  I managed to get into the best shape I’ve been in in decades.  It was great.

This year?  Ugh.  Not so much.

A family commitment left me driving to appointments early every morning for the past 11 weeks or so.  That squeezed out most daily biking, of course; I got in the occasional weekend ride, but riding once a week doesn’t have the same effect as being out there every single day.

But school’s back in session, and things are clipping along generally fairly well – so yesterday, it was back in the saddle.

And…ugh.  I feel like it’s mid-April all over again.  Although to my credit, I managed the end-of-day climb up Cathedral Hill without any huffing and puffing, so maybe I held up better than I thought.

Anyway – the plan is to ride every possible day until the weather makes it utterly impossible – and by utterly, I mean “drifts over my 27″ wheels”. 

Or at least that’s what I mean at the moment.