May 7, 2008

What's next?

This is somewhat of a momentous occasion, I have written a lot this semester, a steady amount coming from this class. But, what I really have noticed is that I have covered only a few topics on the subject of bikes. I saw reading in my previous blogs that I normally had a lot more to say on the issue I was writing about, and then either cut myself off, or I didn’t really get to the point I wanted to make at the outset. I think it would be really fun to do that sort of thing for a living. I know it’s possible, writing by bikes and for bikes (whatever that means).

There is a short-story, literature contest, deadline approaching for a certain Dirt Rag magazine. I would like to get something written up. Not because I think I’m an excellent writer, to say the least, but because I think I could do better than the previous winner’s entries. The only stipulation is that it should be bicycle themed, preferably mountain bikes. I asked some of my older guy friends what the story should be about. The stories I had read that were judged previously seemed to appeal to a middle-aged, white guy demography. The magazine readership probably leans that way too (duh!). Well, now as I’m writing this, I’m forming an answer to that question – what the story should be about. They suggested that I embellish the recent Homey Fall Fest 2007 party. Which included at least a 100 people putting numbers on paper plates and zip-tying them to the front of their bikes at a park in South Minneapolis. And then began the process of a very long and slow bike race that involved periodic “feats of strength?. At the end, after snaking through town in some fashion (I’ve never gone), ending up at Minnehaha Falls Park, many miles away, riding through the forest, to the last feat of strength stop. Last year at the final feat of strength, a woman that was riding down metal grating that was propped between two narrow ledges to make a narrow and precipitous bridge in the woods, fell off of her bike into the somewhat shallow ravine. I’m pretty sure she was wearing her helmet, but cut her head open severely, and the ambulance had to come out with a stretcher and haul her out. Apparently, this woman had driven up from Missouri (I think) for the event, and last year had ended up in the same situation, instead that time, she only had a broken arm as a result.

So, with this story in mind, I’m thinking of doing a sort of “What a bad day? thing, ending up with someone dying. Because, I noticed in all the winning stories of the previous 3 or 4 years, someone always dies. And really, all great stories involve the circle of life, birth and death. The making of a man to the demise of a man, blah.

Another English teacher of mine is hooking me up with a graduate student of his (hopefully). I’m not sure of the guy’s name, and my teacher was insistent on he contacting him. But, this graduate student had some travel writing published, and my teacher was certain that he would be interested in telling me about that genre, how the games works, etc. I could talk on and on about bikes, in a way, I guess it is an indirect way to save the planet – and humanity. You know, the lofty goals college students go for.

May 4, 2008

This post should have gone before "Just Do It, Doggy"

DISCLAIMER: I just realized I never actually uploaded this post, so here it is. It is meant to go with the aforementioned post.

Dogs on bikes are hilarious! Actually, that's what I’d like to think - how would I know, it's only a dream. My (semi-new) dog, God bless him, is, I think, quite scared of bikes. It could be me though, I can't help riding wobbly sometimes. I tried the other day to get my dog to run alongside me (with a leash on) while I pedaled, and it didn't work. He ran at more of a diagonal while I was going straight. Second time we tried, I lined the basket of my bike with a nice, soft blanket, and tried to stuff him in, but the dog was ultimately bigger than the basket. And his body really offset the weight distribution that I was used to. Lastly, I tried stuffing him into my bicycle bag, but that clearly was the worst idea, although he didn't pee in it, which was good.

My boyfriend and I are working on getting a trailer to hook up to our bikes and strap him in, but they are really expensive. And besides Burly trailers, there aren't any bicycle trailers distributed through QBP (Quality Bicycle Products) or J&B (don't know what that stands for), the biggest suppliers of bicycle equipment in the U.S.? - Minnesota for sure. The problem with that is if there are no trailers being distributed through these outlets, of which all bike shops in the Cities use, we can't get a deal on them (through certain bike shops), hence being unable to afford such a thing.

The next solution is to make our own! Which is feasible, actually, it would require a joint effort among friends to pull off; welders, machinists, and bicycle mechanic enthusiasts with some time on their hands. Check, check and check. The next step is to get the dog ready for such an adventure -- we might watch some WW II bomber movies or "Homeward Bound" to get inspiration.

The main reason I want to get a way for my dog to cooperatively "ride" with me is because I am sick of driving to the dog park. Do you hear me?! Sick! You have to pay the meter each time, and I usually end up traversing 35W, which sucks, because of construction. The park we go to is too far away to walk or really have him fun alongside the whole time. And the last time I was at the park, the woman's car next to me got her side window smashed in, for shame.

By the end of this summer, hopefully things will be worked out and my dog and I can go everywhere together. Or maybe, I'll look into getting a side-car and we can both wear aviator glasses and white scarves, all the while flapping in the wind.

Racing Report

I’m going to race this summer, probably on mountain bikes. My friend that owns the bike shop I go to sponsors a team and we had both been anticipating that I join the team once spring arrived. I met my friend, the bike shop owner when I first moved to the Cities, but that was when I lived in Shelbyville (St. Paul). I came in every once in a while to get my bike fixed over there – quite a long way from my house. Now, my boyfriend is in cahoots to be the new owner of this shop in the next 10 years (they knew each other before me), and I’m babysitting the guy’s daughter. For privacy reasons, or whatever, I don’t want to use anybody’s names, but the bike shop is Behind Bars in NE Mpls. I got to know this individual better last year when I raced for the other team he sponsors, Grumpy’s/Little Guy Racing, a bunch of ex-messengers made up the bulk of the team. Little Guy, however, the flagship of the team, was still a working messenger when he raced.

There are so many opportunities in the summer to race, sanctioned or not, it’s crazy. Just about every week there is an alley-cat advertised on www.mplsbikelove.com. Winning money or bike parts or respect is what usually comes out of the event – if you win. There are many variations of the alley cat nowadays, especially since it has spawned from primarily bike messengers throwing these races. The term “alley cat? compared to “road race? came from the difference that you are racing downtown, down alleys, through stoplights and pedestrians, swerving through cars and cops. It is an illegal bike race, technically. But so are most fun things. Last summer at an all-girl alley cat, one of the women who had never raced before, was at the back of the pack and got picked off by a cop. She received a ticket from the ordeal, but once the prize committee heard what happened, a new prize category was formed for “First time racing and getting a ticket?, from which the winnings provided the means to pay off the ticket.

I want to be a professional bicycle racer. This goal collides with my goal to finish school sometimes. But, once I’m old and fat, I’ll need some vocation to fall back on, to sit at a desk and relieve those joints. On nice days like today, all I can think about is how the sun and wind would feel on my face right now if I was cruising down the road. Nice weather means being able to sweat again, to clear out the system. It’s a mind over matter problem. Or, I should say, playing mind tricks on myself. Bargaining that when I get A done, B will be soon to follow. But I know once A is done, it will be dark, and I will be tired. So I’ll have to save the bike ride for another day. I just keep telling myself this until school is done. May is the hardest month to force myself to stay inside. Going for a ride for me, is not just riding around the lakes. I like to pack up, maybe take a book, and leave for a few hours. Until I get out of the city, out of traffic lights and pot-holes. I’m not satisfied until I know that I’ll be exhausted when I get home. Every ride is a training ride. Every ride means going as fast as possible for as long as I can. That’s where the adrenaline rush comes. That’s where I’m not thinking about anything but the surroundings and how much I can push myself to my mental and physical limits. That sort of thing makes me happy.

The first race of the “MN Cycling Made Real? women’s series was about a week ago in Sogn Valley, MN. I raced it last year, because it goes right by my parent’s house, and I rode those back roads all the time growing up. I got first place, and it was great. I wanted to do the race this year, but this semester is hitting me hard. I have no time for recreational activities (boo-hoo), but that makes me want it all the more… next year.

May 1, 2008

April showers bring May bikers

The days are getting longer, brighter and warmer; always a momentous occasion after 7 months of winter. This has two implications: more people are outside doing recreational activities – like biking; and those who are in their cars, impeded by the extra foot traffic are proportionately more aggressive to the amount of spring bikes. And that’s understandable. I can’t tell if I’m more of a jerk on my bike or in my car, but I know the street is a mean showdown between pedal power and auto authority sometimes. It’s just that some people ask for it more than others. Like those bikers that ride in the Critical Mass once a month (I really have no choice to go because I work every Friday), they’re asking for a showdown, deliberately pissing off everyone around them not on two wheels. It’s a kind of protest, but I don’t think it generates the results that the Mass ride hopes to achieve. I think it’s better to persuade by example. I started biking in the winter because I saw others doing it, and thought that if they could deal with the elements I could too, and after I tried it a couple of times, I realized there wasn’t much to it.

Today, I noticed the seasons were changing from the way people were driving. It’s a subtle change, but noticeable. This morning on my way to school, I was riding a few blocks from my house, where 31st Ave. turns into a two lane street just before it reaches the 35W exit. Normally, I just stay as close to the right as is safe and ride right next to a car as cars decide which lane to go into, compared to taking my own lane. But this woman would not give me any room. This wasn’t a big deal, but I could tell she was doing it on purpose, and it was kind of a jerk move. On my way home from school, I was riding downtown, down a one-way street in the bike lane on the left side of the street. This lady started turning right into me as she tried to take a left, completely oblivious to anyone in the bike lane. This is something that I can’t say I would never do, with all the distractions downtown and whatnot, but it hasn’t happened to me in a while.

I miss riding in the winter sometimes as it gets nicer out, because then people are very cautious as they drive, and generally everyone goes slower. With all the increased bike traffic in the spring, there is an urgency to stake out territory on the street, it seems from both sides. I might even go as far to say in the winter, bikers are allotted more sympathy, pity or adulation, but in the summer they are a nuisance, clog up the road, or as the more bikes there are the less likely a motorist to notice them. I think it’s safe to say that the seasons in Minnesota affect the mind as much as the obvious change in nature. These are some of the things I think about when I’m riding along.

Just do it, doggy

Well, I may have mentioned that my dog needed to learn how to ride a bike. Not really, but I had to find a feasible way to tow him around town and I just hate being stuck in my car on a nice day when the goal is to get somewhere fun nearby. Compared to actually needing the car to carry something (or that needs to be contained) or drive a really long distance. So, we bought the dog trailer. I bought it today from my friend for a deal because the upholstery was ripped and he was going to send it back to the company. I forgot the plastic cover at the bike shop because I was in such a hurry to get home. This did not stop my attempt to get out on the road and take the little doggy for a test ride to the dog park.

Things went bad. I made a makeshift cover out of extra fabric, duct tape and bungee cords that I had lying around. I put the dog in and realized since he wasn’t sitting like a child with his feet forward; there was too much weight in the rear and I had to counterbalance the trailer. Before I found the brick in the attic, we would make a few feet then the contraption would fall on its rear, stunning the dog, and frustrating me. So, the brick worked for a few blocks placed in the front of the trailer, but then my foot hit the trailer hitch that was attached to the chain stay. This made the hitch rotate and then run into my spokes, stopping us in our tracks. I tried to readjust the hitch but (bear with me) – I think – the chain stay on my bike was too narrow for this particular hitch, which made me have to move it towards my feet (because the chain stay gradually widens in circumference as it gets closer to the bottom bracket), which made me hit the thing and then run the cycle again. After several attempts to stop and restart, the dog started getting uncomfortable, I could tell because his barking was very loud and consistent. I couldn’t deal with it anymore, but still determined to make it to the park. I figured since I was more than a few blocks from my house at this point, I would ditch the trailer and come back for it later. There was Pizza Luce (at 32nd and Lyndale) down the block, so I thought it was relatively safe for me to leave it by the bikes and come back in a couple hours. It turned out that it was, there was an employee outside and he suggested that I attach the trailer to his bike while I was gone, no problem.

We made our way, bike, dog and me, and thankfully with the new collar we got our dog recently that improved his walking, I was going to make one more attempt to have him run alongside me while I biked. It turned out to be the most wonderful trifecta, the dog ran along, the bike stayed the course and I really just had to hold on. We went to the park, I came back and got the trailer off of the guy’s bike that I saw, and the dog is exhausted from sprinting for two miles. I have an extra bicycle trailer now, and a couple of bent spokes – but we’ll keep on keeping on.

April 9, 2008

Bikes, Boys, and Beers

I went to a party at a bike shop on Saturday, it is unsaid that you need to come in through the alley, or even stay in the alley all night if weather permits. It's the same scene at every party; piles of tires, rows of bikes, same group of people. Bike derby in the middle of the alley, sometimes cars are allowed to pass through, sometimes there's too many people hogging the side street. (Bike derbying involves rolling around in a circle with a bunch of other people, you need to keep your hands on the handlebars and try to knock people off their bikes with your bike or your body.) I usually break or bend or dent, maybe scratch a part of my bike if I derby. At the end of the night, small groups filter out, riding together for safety. Not for whom they might encounter on the way home, but so somebody doesn't crash and die or get found by the cops first.

I wanted to start with this scene because these parties are such a common occurrence in "the scene". By attending these parties I am unwittingly part of "that scene" and most of my friends too. Most of the people I know in Minneapolis and spend time with I've met at different bike related functions. Recently, I remember someone asking another person and myself how we met, and we both looked at each other and said, "Oh, probably bikes." The idea made perfect sense at the time, but there's not even a verb in that sentence - but I guess the word "bikes" encompasses riding, working on, looking good on your bike.

I want to elaborate on what I think the scene is in Minneapolis bike culture. For starters, I think it's important to say that I have only lived in this city for...um...3 years. Before that, I lived in st. Paul for 2 plus years and before that it doesn't even matter. When I was working as a messenger in St. Paul there was NO ONE around on bikes - ever. There still really isn't downtown. I did it for the sheer enjoyment, economical reasons, heath reasons - a way to be outside all the time. But when I moved to Minneapolis I was amazed at the amount of people that took to the streets. I remember listening to a commentator on MPR a few years ago who was talking about political stuff but he made a trip to Minneapolis from D.C. or something and started off the conversation with, You know MN is the land of 10,000 lakes, but really it is the land of 10,000 bikes. I'll never forget it because for one, I am glad that visitors notice and two, to have that designation really makes me feel warm inside. Now, there is also the hipster movement on bicycles which is great, more power to everyone, but I don't understand the fascination with Chrome bags, they are made for bike messengers. Seeing some guy in a suit getting on the bus with one empty one on makes me want to puke. Actually, it used to, I've gotten used to the fashion statement. But, I’m going to leave it at that for now, I could go on forever about this scene talk.

March 24, 2008

My spring break didn't include blogging, but should have

I am not a natural blogger. I do not fall into the camp of people that have an epiphany or an extraordinary day and blog about it. Nor do I naturally roll around thoughts in my head and decide to see them in print, thereby exasperatingly pounding on the keyboard to type fast enough to remember them all.

I should have blogged about my bike trip this past spring break week, since my topic is on bikes, and I need to get going on the blogs, but I didn’t, so I’m going to recap a few days. As I have mentioned (in class), I traveled with my boyfriend, Josh, to northern Arkansas to visit the Ozark National Forest. It was a spur of the moment decision, Arkansas has an especially good state website and I found an “epic? mountain bike trail system at the Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail. Syllamo has over 50 miles of single track trails (impressive), and it probably would have taken us about a week to ride them all. To say the least, we got our Northern arses kicked by the mountains, but to be fair there was major flooding during the week and we had to deal with extra water and debris.

Before we headed to Syllamo, we stayed in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for two nights and a little way outside of town there was Leatherwood City Park. A park, which a ranger explained to us, was over 1600 acres and funded by the city. It had rained more than ten inches in the area, which was not a common thing. On our hour drive way to Eureka Springs from Fayetteville while it was pouring, unbeknownst to us people were being washed away in the floods and dying. We decided to go mountain biking, and during that whole day the rangers words ran through my head saying, “it’s only gonna get worse?. Meaning that if we walked down a little part of the trail and it was bad for biking or walking, the rest of the trail was going to be worse later on. Now, I think of myself as a somewhat experienced cyclist, but I can say I’ve never forged as many bodies of water as I did on that trail. As the trail being sometimes a shallow rut for water to follow, we were finding ourselves riding on streams. As the rain pounded on the sides of the mountains, it brought down trees and rocks from the natural rocky exterior, blanketing the trails with debris. We found a series of disconnected bridges in an especially “lakey? part of the trail system, which we surmised that they had been connected at one time, and the water disjoined them. What was so singular about this experience in Arkansas is that I wouldn’t even have the slightest clue what the mountain bike trails around here would be like when it floods, due to the nature that you can’t ride the trails here when wet. Down there (in Arkansas) the trails are rocky, and here they are mostly packed dirt that would get all torn up if ridden in wet weather.

When we finally got to the highlight of the trip, the Syllamo trails, we only had two days to ride. For reasons due to flooding we couldn’t get to our cabin that we had reserved. Luckily, we brought camping gear with us, and it was so nice after the rain anyway we camped at the base of the trail system. The forest rangers were trying to get people off the top of one of the mountains who were trapped when we arrived, and the bridge connecting one side of the campground to the other was washed out. We watched bulldozers and trucks quickly remove the roadblock, and after it was cleared on the other side found other “hardcore bikers? from Oklahoma and Kansas. We spent a couple days here that was well worth the wait, and then came home, bruises and scratches from fallen tree branches all over our bodies, satisfied with the trip.

March 3, 2008

biking in the apocolypse

I just happened to notice that the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. is going on this week. Where bicycle enthusiasts from all over the country gather and support pro-bicycle legislation. Through the Minnesota Bicycle Pedestrian Alliance, I was asked to represent Minnesota a few years back, with another woman from Duluth to listen in on meetings, give advice on improving bicycle transportation, and to meet senators and lobbyists; however, this trip was dependent on receiving a stipend for anyone to go, so sadly I didn’t get a stipend, and I didn’t attend. I didn’t really care that much, nor do I think the summit does any real change or impact – but how would I know?

The amount of time, money, effort, and concerted city planning for feasible bicycle transportation in the Twin Cities is second to none. It helps that the former mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Ryback was a staunch supporter of urban mountain bike trails which started the legacy of the Theodore-Wirth park trail, and other dirt trails off the beaten path around some of the Minneapolis lakes, that sometimes requires memory and landmarks to get to again. Minneapolis was just announced the second-highest bicycle commuter to car commuter ratio in the nation, an impressive feat considering the winter elements here.

I also just found out that the new 35W bridge is going to have a tunnel for pedestrians running underneath the bridge, and I am very excited about this. It represents the level of priority given to alternative transportation and the feeling of growth and continuance felt for the city and its dedication to alternative transportation funding. But really, I guess it is just a tunnel. It is actually kind of out of the way, taking the trip under the freeway, compared to routes most people take that already circumnavigate the bridge.

The Midtown Greenway bicycle “superhighway? is also a shining example of an unused space put to good use by the city planners of Minneapolis. The coalition is underway right now putting in a bike shop across the trail from the Midtown Exchange building, with bike and clothes lockers, bike repair, and maybe a warming house in the winter.

The point of all this is that the future state of affairs concerning our world is forcing us to consider alternative transportation. The precarious consequences of peak-oil, and global warming predicaments ; a fight against obesity and the corporations that profit off of it, and a seeming reluctance for kids to voluntarily play outside anymore; and ecoadventure conservation (I guess you might call it) more important and positive forces to the scary changes happening to our world. I ask myself daily is this fight against the destruction of our Earth, our carefree way of life (albeit in the U.S.), and the ever looming apocalypse really specific to our time, or are we “fighting? a different form of resistance that people have been resisting for centuries? Everyone thought they were going to die at any moment in the Cold War too. What I mean is, is the world really going to end soon if we don’t shape up? Because that’s the message I am getting. It’s confusing and scary, I’m just glad that there is support for an alternative way of life (bicycles replacing cars – it will never happen), however insignificant all these urban planning changes may seem.

February 9, 2008

number 2, nothing fancy

I mentioned in my last post that I might write about the legality of biking, but I’d rather talk about something that is on my mind right now. Winter biking…

The moisture on my glasses, the cold wind that creeps in my jacket between my glove and my sleeve, visual confirmation that cars are spewing exhaust as I trail close behind them, these are elements that I experience everyday. I pass by men and women huddling at the bus stops that stare, people who pay no attention to me, and gasp when I pass them. There are middle-aged women in large vehicles that mouth obscenities, big guys in pick-ups that roll down their windows and yell obscenities. I know where most of the ice patches are from my house to school, and dips, and holes, and rocks.

A friend, who was putting a presentation for “winter biking?, asked me if I knew any more tips and tricks than he had on his list. I couldn’t say I did, but it was great to know that there was enough of an interest to put a whole presentation on for. Curious enthusiasts all over want to know answers to the same questions: What kind of bike do you ride? Aren’t you cold? Where are you going? Actually, I never get asked where I’m going unless I stop at a light with a guy nearby that’s looking for change.

One time a few years ago, during a frigid cold snap, I was working outside on my bike. The only glimpse of other people were scuttling through the skyways and peeking out through their stocking cap and scarf. It was snowing a little, large soft flakes that piled up high on the sidewalk making more of a cushion on the pavement than anything. I was making a delivery up by the capital in St. Paul, about a one mile incline from my office, usually doing at least five trips a day. On the way up I was pedaling behind a DOT car, and it suddenly made a right turn in front of me without using their signal. I was close enough to push myself away from it (everybody was going slow) and feigned a hit and when down to the ground. It was a little over-dramatized, and I knew I wouldn’t get hurt with all the snow around, but the car didn’t stop anyway. It was more of a show for the other drivers. I was shaking though, I remember, and made the rest of the way up to the top of the hill. On the way back down I was warm and my adrenaline was pumping. I learned to time all the lights on the way back down to my office, and it’s the best memories I have of that job. On the way down about half-way, I saw two guys point at me and run towards me with a camera. They were traveling around the state catching footage for that night’s episode of ABC news with Brian Jennings or something like that. They wanted to know what I was doing, if I was cold *burr*, and if they could tape me for the news that night. It was about zero degrees, but it was colder at negative ten the day before, and they rolled their eyes when I said it wasn’t as bad as yesterday. I answered their questions with a Minnesotan reserve, wishing I had said other things after they left. They asked me again and again if I was a “hardy Minnesotan?, trying to get their sound byte for the day. I honestly didn’t know what to say. Yeah, I guess, never thought of it that way before. I called my friends and family to tell them I was going to be on National News! I watched the whole thing for a glimpse of my part; they covered guys jumping in the ice Up North, and women saying “it’s cold!? in Chicago. At the end of the feature, my minute of fame ended, in a camera shot of my back riding away, with the snowing falling around.

February 4, 2008

Blog number 1. Hi, How are you? I'm writing about bikes

Dear Audience,

I will try to avoid the trivialities, as I write this introductory blog, on why I picked this topic. I will not use these means as an opportunity for me to talk about myself, as I would happily do. But, through these successive articles, I invite you to get to know me.

I like bicycles. I like to use them, and abuse them. I would also like to give you some background information, which may constitute the majority of this first attempt. (Please bear with me, I will try to be brief in this attempt, and also skirt the line of using this opportunity as a means of egoistical fashion.)

When I was seven my parents invited a foreign exchange student from Amsterdam to stay on our farm for a year. Needless to say, I was an impressioable girl and was soon riding with her all over the country roads on bicycles. Fast-forward to the present day, and this past-time borders on obsession. I have worked as a bicycle messenger, mechanic, and served on the board of the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance (MBPA). I have won races, and last weekend was the biggest unsactioned bicycle race of the year in Minneapolis. Last year there was over 300 people that raced in -20F weather. Gladly, the race did not get broken up by the police. Last year, as some are aware there was a large crack down on "renegade" bicyclists during a critical mass protest that some proponents of the crack down feel that it was somehow an early attempt at protesting the Republic National Convention. I thought it might happen again, but Barack was in town so I don't think they paid too much attention to us.

My boyfriend and I rode the race together, and during the competition we had to scale embankments to get to certain roads, and I thought I was losing my vision at one point about two hours into the race. Regardless, the event was fun, and I'm glad we're all up to speed.