Sunday, September 27, 2009

Traffic Skills 101

It's official: I am safe to ride on Houston's streets!

Today, I completed the Traffic Skills course sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. REI hosted the course taught by instructors Peter Wang and Nicole Volek.

We spent 8 hours in class; five hours were classroom work and a written test, and the other three were a variety of drills in the REI parking lot and a ride through Houston's Galleria area.

I would have like much more time on the bike . . . especially with the drills. While I was able to do all of the emergency maneuvers passably, more supervised practice doing them would have been much appreciated. Still, I got to spend time doing them under supervision, and I have some things to practice on weekend days that I don't feel like taking a long ride, but feel like riding some.

Goofy errors on my part kept me from acing the written test. However, I'm of the mind that the most important purpose of a test is to show me the areas needing extra attention from me, and I passed, so all was not lost.

I recommend the course. More information about Traffic Skills 101 can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get in the Bike Lane!

Tonight, I made a milk run on my bike . . . in the dark.

Plans for a commute today were foiled by more fun with bicycle tires. This time, the front tire was flat. Hopefully, the tube I put on tonight will be the last one I have to replace for awhile.

Anyway, I put on helmet, turned on flashers, and headed for the store for a half-gallon of soy milk.

While cruising through the neighborhood, a guy told me that my strobe could cause someone to have a seizure. I'll have to check that one out . . .

The two cops that were sitting side-by-side at a dead end didn't say anything about my flashing white.

At the store, I locked up, did my business, and got back on the bike.

I've already said that I don't like the bike lanes on Briar Forest. I like them even less in the dark. On the way to the store, I ran over something metal. After that, I was done with bike lanes for the night.

Returning home, things were going well. Suddenly, a car behind me turned on its brights. When I didn't move over, the driver laid on the horn.

Meanwhile, the inside lane remained free from cars or any other vehicles.

About the time it came time for me to turn, the car pulled into the inside lane, came up beside me, and a woman yelled from the passenger seat, "Get in the bike lane!"

My reply? "I'm allowed to ride in the street . . . read the code!"

I resisted the urge to add, "Sanctimonious bitch!" I guess my complaint - free program is helping after all.

And, the law says I have the right to ride on the roadway. So there!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fun with Bicycle Tires

When I think about it, I've had a very charmed couple of thousand miles on the CrossTrail. Yes, the rear wheel had to be trued (mostly because of the weight I force it to carry) a couple of times, and the spokes on the rear wheel were replaced, but those were good things.

When toting up the mileage on the bike since last December, it was easy to see why I've suffered three flats since Saturday.

Saturday morning, I woke up early. I had a little time before my Traffic Skills 101 class, so I decided to make a coffee run on the bike. Lo and behold, the rear tire was flat. I guess the night riding the night before took me over something sharp.

I pulled the tube, checked for a leak, and couldn't find one. So, I put the tire back on, filled it up, and went for my ride. Then, I went to the class (which I'll talk about in a future post).

When I got home, the tire was flat again. So, I pulled out a tube and went to fill it.

Ironically, we had talked about tire checks in class. Our instructor said that every year, at the MS 150 ride from Houston to Austin, someone invariably blew a tire while topping it off before the ride. He also said it sounded like a gunshot.

I've been around guns off and on throughout my life. The stain in my shorts verifies the instructor's claim. At least I was outside, and the ringing in my ears went away fairly quickly . . .

So, I figure that the tube was too small for the bike because I'd gotten the wrong size. I take the tube and the tire to Bike Barn to make sure I get the correct size. Eric, the sales guy, comments that the tread is awfully worn . . .

Turns out that the tube was the right size, but it was likely flawed. Bike Barn comped me another tube (which was really nice since tubes aren't warranted).


Then, the riding day of the Traffic Skills class gets postponed due to rain . . . which never arrived.

This morning, it takes a little effort to get vertical and get motivated to ride, but I do it. I have a great ride into work. New lights make me more visible to drivers and the road more visible to me.

The ride home is even better! Tailwinds all the way. I'm spinning in the highest gears ever on the ride home. It's fast, easy, and fun!

When I turn into my neighborhood, the bike feels like it's weaving beneath me. Must be the wind, right? After all, it's blowing against me now.

Nope. When I check tire pressure, it's down to 20 psi. So, I inflate first. When it gets to 60 psi, a clear hiss lets me know that I have a puncture of some kind.

That does it! Time to think about a new tire.

Bike Barn tells me my options are limited . . . until Maxx pulls down a set of Armadillos.

Ninety dollars later, I walk out with a new set of puncture-resistant tires. I'll be rolling a thinner tire; 38 c instead of 45 c.

Will I roll faster with less surface on the road? Will the new tires stay inflated for a couple of thousand miles?

It would be really sweet if they installed themselves . . .

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Night Riding on the M.U.P.

Today was supposed to be a commuting day. But, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting at the same time that my wife had a doctor's appointment. Being the noble husband and father that I am, I offered to forsake my bicycle commute to get the Princess to the meeting and get the monkey off of the Queen's back.

"Oh, I hate for you to give up your ride. I'll make it work."

I already knew that it wouldn't. I also knew that there would be one stressed out mommy and one disappointed little girl if everything didn't go according to plan. So, I said, "I can go for an evening ride, instead. Don't worry about it. I'll drive."

Today, a steady gentle rain came down from late morning until dinner time. That's great news for Houston (we've had a drought most of the summer), but bad news for a commuting cyclist (drivers were quite cranky the last time I rode in the rain). So, I picked a good day to drive.

After getting the meeting wrapped up and homework supervised, it was almost sundown. The streets were wet and the air was saturated with moisture. When I think of dark, slick, and steamy, it usually isn't bike riding that flashes across my mind . . .

After dark, I generally wear clear safety glasses to keep road debris, insects, etc. out of my eyes. When stopped, those glasses generally fog up; once I start riding again, they clear quickly. Not so tonight. It finally got so bad, that I removed them so I could see drivers and the street more clearly.

In Houston, when the temperature drops, all of God's creatures come out to play . . . especially the little bitty ones . . . especially when near plant life. When I got to the trail, the glasses went back on . . . fog or no fog.

I'm not sure, but I think tonight was my first instance of scofflaw riding. I didn't see a sign to confirm it, but I think the path at Addicks Reservoir closes at sundown. My bad! Oh, well . . .

Turns out I wasn't the only one on the trail. A couple of ninjas rode past; I hope they were only riding on the trail and not on the public roadways.

Another guy rode by with an incredibly bright helmet-mounted light. I got to get me one of those!

Eastbound bike lanes on Briar Forest were full of water and debris. Tonight, there was no question in my mind about whether I should take the regular lane or not! The few drivers traveling eastward with me didn't seem to mind.

So, I sit here at 10:35, wide awake with my endorphins running full tilt. It was a great ride!

And, I bet I'm gonna pay for it in the morning . . .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Downhill Both Ways?

Holy crap!!! What happened?

I think someone gave me a leg transplant sometime between Tuesday and this morning!

So, I get on the road at about 6:50 a.m. and ride to Starbucks. I order my usual, take a seat outside, sip my coffee, and watch the sun come up.

By the way, the coffee was decaf.

Then, I hop on the bike, get on the road, and head out into the park. A group of roadies pass me (on the right, of course . . . chickens!) and stop at the top of the dam. I ride pass, down the hill into the park.

Then, all of a sudden, I'm flying!

Granted, the downhill gave me plenty of impetus . . . it always does. Usually, though, I slow down within a couple of hundred yards after reaching the bottom. And, the hill ain't that big (this is, after all, Houston).

So I'm riding in both a higher gear and at a higher cadence than usual. I sustain that pace to the turnoff to the equestrian area. Turning into that area, I pick up the MUP through the center of the park, and I pick up the pace again.

I continue that pace through the park. I notice another cyclist trailing me at a distance. That gap doesn't close.

Toward the end of the park trail, I slow my pace for a bit on the road and then on the reservoir trail. The cyclist following me catches and passes me on his road bike.

His cadence is pretty fast, I notice. I spend the next few seconds attempting to match his cadence as he pulls away. Finally, I do.

And then, he isn't pulling away anymore.

And then, I'm pulling closer. Me. On my CrossTrail with the 45mm tires.

I'm almost close enough to draft when we come to a fork in the trail. He goes left, and I go right. The hammering continues up a gentle incline toward the end of the trail. Once I cross the highway, it starts up again.

And then, I'm home . . . half an hour sooner than I expected!

Now, I need to figure out just exactly what it was that I learned today . . .

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Don't You Ride on the Sidewalk?

First, finding a contiguous sidewalk alongside any roadway in the Houston area is a challenge.

Second, pedestrian behavior is even less predictable than motorist behavior . . . especially if there are pets or small children involved.

Third, I can't help but think that being closer to vehicles in driveways entering traffic is a bad thing.

Fourth, the law says that I have a lawful right to operate on the road.