Archive Page 2

Bikeshare in Saxapahaw?

These appeared at the (only) bike rack in Saxapahaw this weekend, in front of the General Store:

The glare from this morning’s warming sun obscures the message. Zooming in:

“iBike, Public Access Biking, no one owns this bike but if we all keep an eye on it and add the occasional repair, no one will lack a ride. Thnx, Dr. Bike.”

I have to meet this Dr. Bike, cuz I like what she’s doing.

Saxapahaw’s a little town, more a crossroads right now, with few services to bike to, except for where these bikes are already parked. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of trips for kids and adults to replace cars with bikes… In fact, I better jump on mine if I’m going to get to work on time in Chapel Hill today. Spring is finally here, let the long bike commute begin.

Honking with doughnuts: ride to eat

When the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s Benchmarking Report was released last month, I wrote about a group of cyclists – those folks who have no option but to ride bikes where they need to go – that seemed to me to be underrepresented in the usual (a least my usual) bicycling media. The Report made me think of another underrepresented group:

Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2010 Benchmarking Report, p. 41

That’s right – cyclists caught in the act of indulging in treats like doughnuts.

It’s no secret that cyclists can eat. And eat and eat and eat. And drink. And drink and drink and drink. The ability to eat just about anything I want is probably my top reason for riding as much as I do. Regarding doughnuts, as a displaced yankee down here in the south, one of the main things I miss from the north is cake doughnuts. I’m not talking about the gooey sweetened circles of fat produced by Krispy Kreme and the like. I’m thinking of the barely sweet dense, yet soft and moist doughnuts made in the kitchens of the old diners in places like Casco and Rangeley, Maine. Molasses, apple cider, plain, and chocolate “sinkers” so perfect for dunking in your morning cup of coffee it launched that ubiquitous brand (which I believe has gone downhill since I worked there when I was in high school).

That’s why I’m teaching myself to make doughnuts in my own kitchen. To turn a phrase from Greg Brown back on itself – when you can’t get it out there, you better look for it at home.

Now with a few experiments under my belt, wrestling with the frying process, and over-fried, under-cooked or rubbery attempts foisted off on polite friends and co-workers, I’m almost happy with the results. Today I greeted my friends who gathered at my house for a 40-mile ride with some pre-ride gingerbread cake doughnuts. I’d tell you the recipe but it’s a trade secret. Here’s an idea of the process and the results:

Start with the right flavors: real molasses and fresh ginger

As with bikes, it helps to have the right tools.

Doughnut holes fresh from the fryer.

The perfect group ride.

(Apologies for the poor-quality photos. I’m waiting for the new camera to return from Mexico with my tandem partner/fiancee.)

These definitely kept me riding for the duration, and the couple of remaining holes went perfectly with a warm cup of coffee to warm me up after the ride.

Last week I test-piloted a batch of banana-nut cake doughnuts and handed them out to the Haiti-benefit riders on their way through Saxapahaw. (I figured bananas and bike bikes go hand-in-hand, or rather, cleat-in-pedal.) Judging by the fact that they were gone in a matter of minutes, I know I’m not the only one who lives by the credo “Ride to Eat.”

Where have all the honkers gone?

If I had any regular readers at all, they may have wondered where these tandem bloggers had gone off to. The short answer is we’ve been no where, and no where near writing a blog post. The loss of internet at our house for the past month has contributed to our silence, but we’ve got that sorted out now. My last posts concerned the freak occurrence of a snow storm here in the peidmont that offered three solid days of sledding, and a fellow bicycle-commuter who rides without choice regardless of weather, temperature or light. What’s changed since then? Not a whole lot yet. Just this week, we had another dusting of snow, morning temps are still below freezing, and Cristobal still looks like he’s hating it as he pedals to work along the highway.

But spring is finally arriving. The daffodils are pushing up through the thawing mud, days are longer, and these honkers have gotten the tandem out over the last couple weekends. Despite last weekend’s harsh wind that gave wind burn as red and raw as any the Windy City dishes out, we joined a group of cyclists on a benefit ride from Carrboro to Saxapahaw, raising money for Haiti relief. The promise of 50-degree temps (that never quite got there) and the chance to do some good got a lot of folks out, and we even greeted another couple on a Co-Motion out on the country lanes.

Sadly, this tandem couple is parted for the week while my fiancee lives it up south of the border for spring break, but it means I have more time on my hands to blog, grease chains and dial in my brakes. There’ll be no honking in traffic this week, but lots of getting ready for it.

A post by the writer the Tandem Geek blog, who is the host of the Tandem Link web site, also wonders where have all the honkers, that is tandem riders, have gone. (If you’re a tandem team reading my blog and aren’t aware of his site, you should probably go over there instead!) In the post, he looks at the decline of tandem riding club membership over the past decade. I’m not much of a club rider one way or the other, so I don’t have an opinion about whether it signifies a decline in tandeming or just in club participation. However, the more my partner and I grow into the sport, I’m starting to get excited about joining up with some of the regional tandem. Tandem Geek also has a 2-part winter survey of tandemists and their gear.

So, the honkers haven’t gone away completely – though I’m solo for a week. We’re just winding up. The miles are starting to accumulate, the long commute from Saxapahaw to Chapel Hill will become regular again, our internet is back, and we finally picked a new camera so this blog may become a bit more visually interesting once the camera, along with my partner, gets back from Mexico.

Snow day in Saxapahaw

The question of riding bicycles out of choice, necessity, or some mixture thereof was solved for this tandem couple this weekend. A friday night storm of snow and ice closed the roads and filled the fields, and persistent freezing temperatures have kept it all in place. We were forced, albeit happily, to hang up the Sidis in favor of the Bean boots and go frolic in the snow.

No biking today, but plenty of fun to come...

The unusually wintry winter we’re experiencing in North Carolina delivered the sort of snowy weekend that exists deep in the collective American sentimental memory of the season – this is real winter. Whether you’re from a serious winter climate (i.e. The North, like this Mainer) or an unserious winter climate (i.e. The South, like my honey), I bet we conjure up a similar vision of the perfect winter day – bright white snow sparkling under the sun after snowing all night, sound softened by the deep snow, meditative crunching of snow under boots, red-faced children on sleds, hot cocoa. This was exactly the scene in Saxapahaw this weekend, a scene that comes around perhaps once every five to ten years.

This being the South, it’s a given they don’t have the equipment to clear and treat the roads – and I’m happy for any reason not to get in the car. However, it also means that when the snow hits, we’re not prepared with the truly essential equipment. What to use for a sled? Luckily we live in a river town, so improvisation was easy. That which floats could also be used to go down a steep slope. We dug out our truck tire inner tub that we use to float on the Haw. It’s old, and had a couple holes. This is where bicycle skills come in handy:

Patch kit and pump, no problem.

My stoker’s enthusiasm for sledding, partly due to her geographic deprivation of snow during her childhood, is unparalleled. Long before I roused myself from bed on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, she had our warm gear pulled out, a lunch packed, and a thermos of hot tea ready for full days out on hills. These were to be epic days for us and our dog who’s built for this weather more than anything.

Recently I’ve been considering why Saxapahaw was a better place for a settlement along the Haw as opposed to any other stretch. It’s been continuously inhabited for centuries, mostly recently by the Sissipahaw Indians, before the Europeans migrated to the area with their mills and churches. Following the closing of the mill in the 90s, Sax has entered its latest state of transition, as the center of a community that is trying to be more inclusive of workers, farmers, foodies and artists regardless of race. Why all of this activity here at this point along the Haw? It has to be the tall hills that rise above the river, which provided enough high ground for housing and a water tower. The major landholders in the town, the Jordans, maintain a huge open field of rolling hills. These hills are of course perfect for sledding.

After a few runs to break trail, we were attaining some long runs and serious speeds.

At either end of the field where the hills were steepest and longest, neighbors gathered with whatever sleds they could find. I’d never met so many Saxapahemians. Even during the summer when the Saturday farmer’s market and live music draws a couple hundred folks, you’re never sure who of them actually live in the area. The snow was an event for the local community itself. It’s a tradition that goes back decades. We sledded with a family for a couple hours who’d been in the area for a few generations, who said they’d all come around to these fields every time there was snow.

A slope behind the mill houses off Hilltop St was by far the most popular. By the time we got there, the slope was completely slick, and jarring moguls had formed. It was teeming with children, and plenty of adults were joining in the fun. The slope went off the back yard of one house whose residents have been there renting for a few months. They had set up a stand of hot cocoa for everyone to enjoy. I said it was cool of them let people play off their back yard. They replied that they didn’t have a choice. This is just where the locals go whenever it snows.

Watching this group from afar, we’d seen some large objects going down the slope. As we approached, we realized we were watching the true merging of the river town with a snowy day. The older kids, by whom I mean the adult men, were running their canoes and kayaks down the slope.

Drag race!

We watched this crew launch downhill, hit a rut on the way down and turn full sideways before righting themselves, and finally flip over. No worries about drowning in that canoe, but bones have something to fear.

Our only lament was that we only had one tube to slide on, and that we didn’t have a sled we could ride on together. We’re a tandem couple, and we needed something like a classic toboggan (for the southerners out there, I mean the multi-person sled, and not a knit hat). On our very last run of the day, we decided to try it anyway – we both loaded onto our tube and set off down the hill. It was the wildest, funnest ride of the day. As a sort of turnabout, my beloved stoker sat up front and could watch the path down the hill and the quickly approaching edge of the woods, while I, typically the captain on the tandem, was on the back, laying back unable to see forward or control our speed or direction in the least. I was literally being being dragged along at epic speed, at the mercy of gravity and whatever control my partner had up front. It was the best run of the weekend.

Who’s biking? Choice or necessity

I made contact this week with a fellow bike commuter I’ve seen nearly every day since last summer. His is a rare sight on a bicycle on the rural roads outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro – an older Latino man that we dubbed Cristobal so that we could talk about him between us. When the temperature and day light permitted the 20-mile ride to town, we’d cross paths with this man going the opposite direction. My partner and I would both wave from our tandem across the busy road, and eventually he started waving back.

As a sort of complement to this story, a new report called “Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report” was released today by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, which uses what (limited) available data there is to look at how many people are biking and walking in the U.S., and who they are. Well, there’s us. And there’s Cristobal.

Before we met Cristobal, we speculated that he was Mexican, probably from a certain state where most of the latinos in this part of North Carolina come from. (It helps that my partner works with migrant populations in this area of Mexico). We also figured that he was commuting by bicycle to work at a farm or quarry 12-15 miles out into the countryside because he didn’t have a car. In my head, I was happy for Cristobal, and hoped that he enjoyed the choice of bicycling as much as I do. I thought, he must be one of the most fit guys in his neighborhood.

He rides an older, beat-up blue bike with cruiser handlebars and baskets on his rear rack. Until recently he wore a cap rather than helmet, and still he wears a helmet only occasionally. When we would pass by on our tandem in warmer months, he seemed comfortable on the bike, even a bit amused. We stopped riding for the winter, but we see him every day on our drive. The morning temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. He has a thick coat, mittens, and a helmet sits atop a knit cap. He looks miserable.

As we were traveling home in the early winter dark, we didn’t see him. Not because he wasn’t there, but because he had no lights or reflectors. I decided to buy him a set of front and rear lights. I was worried for his safety, but I also took this as my opportunity to meet him. There’s a gas station where we often see his bike where he probably stops for a snack on the way to and from work. After weeks of driving by, we finally passed the store while he was there. We stopped and met Cristobal.

First off, his name’s not Cristobal, but it’ll do for this blog. We approached with big awkward grins and the set of lights. Luckily my partner is also fluent in Spanish. While I set to installing the lights on his bike, she was able to get Cristobal’s story. As she guessed, Cristobal is from Guanajuato. He’s a bit older than the typical recent Mexican immigrant, though he’s probably younger than he looks. He moved here two years ago and lives with his son who’s in his 20s. I shook Cristobal’s hand, and it was rough and chalky.

We introduced ourselves as the tandem couple that waved to him when we passed him back in the warmer months – he seemed to remember us. We told him that we were impressed he biked so far out everyday, that he must be strong, and that he’s a better person than us for dealing with the winter. The private bicycle cheerleader in my head was shouting RAH-RAH, but Cristobal’s take on it was different. He said he hates biking. That he only does it because he needs the job, the job is far from town, and he has no car. But he said he was grateful for the lights, shook our hands with genuine warmth, and mounted his bike to ride back home in the dark.

We passed him on our way home today and were glad to see his new lights flashing from the side of the road. It was a warmer afternoon, in the 50s, but tomorrow they are predicting snow, which at least means cold and precipitation. Trucks were spraying “brine” along the road.

Without speculating about Cristobal’s personal circumstances, we know that North Carolina makes it difficult for immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses now – a reckless conflation of poor immigration policy with public safety, which is what the license process should really be about – but that’s a problematic topic for another post. According to what I can gather from this new “Benchmarks” report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking (ABW), Cristobal’s reasons for bike commuting are at least as common as all of us folks now blogging about our conscious decisions to commute by bike. Mine is a choice, his is not.

As I said at the beginning, Cristobal, the Latino immigrant bike commuting out of necessity, is a rare sight out on the country roads. But it’s not so rare in cities and towns across this country. According to the ABW report, while Hispanics now make up 15% of the U.S. population, they account for 22% of total bike trips. If this data is accurate, then that population is overrepresented among bicyclists, while perhaps underrepresented in the popular media image of who bicyclists are.

The ABW report also attempts to break down bike trips by socioeconomic brackets, but that data seems to come from 2001 numbers, which may or may not be relevant anymore. For what they’re worth, those old numbers indicate that across income levels, the share of bike trips is basically the same. What is even harder to capture is the reason (utility or recreation or some combination of those) for the bike trip. ABW speculates that the lower-income share of bike trips may be more for utility, while higher income classes may bike more for recreation. Given that Hispanics have a very high poverty rate in North Carolina and the rest of the U.S., it’s probably not a wildly irresponsible assumption that among Hispanic bikers, utility trips out of necessity make up a large proportion of their total trips by bike, like Cristobal.

There’s another image of the bicyclist that I don’t see represented in the media and bike blog community that much, but was probably the most prevalent when I was a kid growing up in rural Maine, and may still be the popular image of bicyclists among certain communities, such as low-income communities and rural areas. My childhood mind remembers basically three types of bicyclists: kids like me on their bmx’s; the occasional odd-ball adult in neon lycra; and, more commonly, the slovenly-looking fellow biking against traffic. Bikes in this last category were known as DUI-machines, and I bet their popularity has not waxed or waned one way or the other.

I’m happy, and exceedingly lucky, to have the choice to ride my bike (er… choice of one of many bikes) for utility or for fun. (I’m even luckier to have a partner to ride a tandem with, who has by and large the same motivation as me, plus can speak Spanish…). There’s probably at least as many bicyclists who ride out of necessity, as out of choice. As our society looks at products to market, services and education to offer, and new transportation plans and policies, I hope that a major demographic of the bicyclist population doesn’t get lost on the side streets.

Sensory overload

I saw a vexing thing as I rode along the paved Bolin Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill today. What I saw I have ambivalent feelings about – a man who appeared to be blind led by his service dog, with the tell-tale Apple-white cords dangling from his ears.

Most of the greenway users I observe are joggers and walkers, and lots of people walking dogs. And, most of those folks that are out there solo have some sort of device to their ears, like a cell phone or ipods. Since it’s basically a recreational space with a lot of users, I take it easy on the bike rather than treat the path like a closed race course. I came from behind the man with the service dog and slowed to his pace. As I got closer, the man suddenly spooked and pulled at his dog, then settled down. I waited to pass slowly until I could be sure the way around him was clear. That’s when I confirmed that yes, he was blind, and yes, he had ipod buds in his ears.

On the one hand, I have to say that it’s perfectly acceptable that a visually-impaired person would partake of the same pleasures and activities as anyone on the path – in this case a pleasant stroll with his dog along a car-free path by a stream, whilst listening to favorite music, news, or comment.

On the other hand, the more I think about it, the more I’m opposed to blocking out any of my senses – hearing, sight, metal focus – while I’m out there ambulating and locomoting on streets and paths. I wrote about my feelings about using devices like cell phones and ipods while driving and biking a while back. I admitted that I’d tried biking with headphones for a while and realized that was pretty dangerous. And, I confessed to running or dog-walking while listening to music. As I’m exposed to more miles traveled via bike, foot, or car, (and hear about more studies and news stories) I’m convinced that I need all available senses at my disposal.

The winter days and the proximity of a gym have given me a chance to experiment with one alternative to running outside along paths or streets while listening to music – running while listening to music on the treadmill. Treadmills pose their own risks I discovered. If I think about it too hard, staying balanced on the moving walkway seems fairly improbable, but perhaps only as improbable as staying within the lines on the pavement while driving – don’t think about it too much and you’ll be fine.

I found that the danger on the treadmill in fact lies, yes, with the ipod. There I am, clicking through my podcasts, just settling into the comforting nasal tones of Ira Glass’s sensitive observations when the ipod slips from my hand, hits the treadmill track and is shot backward from the apparatus. I flail my arms in an attempt to snatch it back like a jedi, but forget to coordinate the pace of my legs with the pace of the moving belt below me. I jump, pirouette, spin, end up running backwards a few steps while still on the treadmill before I, too, am spewed off the end.

At least all I tumbled onto was a padded mat, rather than into the path of a car. Alas, the treadmill is so boring and running is so painful that I’m still willing to risk the twisted ankle by mixing the personal running device with the personal listening device.

Radio piece on empowering people through bikes, Worldview 1/22/2010

Listening to a fascinating piece on the work of World Bicycle Relief.

via Worldview 1/22/2010.