Away but still biking strong

It’s been a tragically long time since I’ve posted on MplsRad. Curiously enough, these last few months of silence have witnessed some highly noteworthy bike-related events.  Not being completely sure what to write about next has thrown this blog into an identity crisis.

Here’s a sample of the available topics.

On the bike front, we recently added a Bakfiets to the fleet which has revolutionized our child and grocery hauling capabilities. I urge anybody who’s been holding back because of the hefty price tag to just do it.

Minneapolis was recently given the title #1 Bike Friendly City by Bicycle Magazine, displacing Portland who held the distinction previously.   This is encouraging and somewhat bittersweet for somebody who holds up cities in Europe as the model for doing bike infrastructure well. There’s still so much work to do.

We recently returned from a trip to Holland and Germany, where we visited several cities known for having very strong bike cultures (Amsterdam, Oldenburg, and Bremen).  Meet-ups included a chat with Workcycles Henry Cutler and a wonderful day with Beatrix Wupperman and Richard Grassick, the creators of Beauty and the Bike.  It was also good to visit two cities, Hamburg and Berlin, both of which are attempting to build new bike cultures.  I returned from this trip much invigorated as to just how achievable building new “world-class” bicycle-friendly cities might be.

There’s so much great stuff to write about: new friends, new bikes, and fresh thoughts on infrastructure. That’s where my blog’s identity crisis comes into play. I’ve always vacillated between trying to keep things light and going completely off the deep end in raging-bike activist fashion. What types of topics do you enjoy reading about and where should we go next?

Talk to you very soon.

What’s your cycling brand?

In a country where biking as a means of transportation is so rare, everybody who saddles up is an involuntary bicycle advocate.  The bike you ride, the clothes you wear, and your riding behavior all create a positive or negative impression on the public’s view of cyclists.  Take this (highly unscientific yet fun) survey to find out how your biking preferences help or hinder the propagation of “every day” cycling: 

Which best describes the kind of bike do you ride?

  1. Old (perhaps rusty) Schwinn, beach cruiser, or other cheap bike with a basket, fenders, and chain guard
  2. Imported European-city bike, tricycle or transport bike
  3. Mountain bike or road bike
  4. Fixie
  5. Art bike

Which best describes your normal biking attire?

  1. Professional or casual “every day” clothes (dresses and suits preferred)
  2. Regular clothes with a rolled up pant leg, maybe some biking shoes
  3. Windbreaker, Gortex pants, and other “non-skin tight” recreational wear
  4. Hipster attire – skinny jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and a wool-knit cap
  5. Lycra, spandex, race helmet, and lots of non-paying “corporate sponsorships”

What kind of helmet do you wear?

  1. I don’t wear a helmet
  2. Fancy helmet designed to look like a hat or something with flowers on it
  3. Just your average bike helmet
  4. Motorcycle helmet or bike helmet with blinking lights, camera, and rear view mirror
  5. Nazi helmet

What do you carry on your bike?

  1. One or more children and/or groceries
  2. Groceries and/or beer in a milk crate or basket
  3. Groceries and/or beer in a pannier or backpack
  4. Not much in my messenger bag
  5. I don’t carry anything, it adds weight and affects my “performance” and/or desire for “simplicity”

Which best describes your normal riding behavior?

  1. I religiously follow all traffic laws and sleep with a copy of John Forrester’s “Effective Cycling” under my pillow
  2. I’ve been known to take the occasional liberty with traffic laws, but never at the expense or safety of others
  3. I routinely disregard most traffic laws but try to remain safe in the process
  4. Traffic laws are for cars not bikes – I won’t hurt anybody but myself
  5. My bike doesn’t even have brakes and I hate cagers

Add up your scores and refer to your “cycling brand” below:

5 to 9 points: The Prophet

You attract a lot of positive attention from cyclists and non-cyclists alike with your easy going demeanor and no-frills approach to biking.  Drivers appreciate your desire to play by the rules.  Even morbidly obese people driving Escalades and Audis consider pulling their old bike out of the garage for a spin around the cul-de-sac after seeing you.  Your positive presence inspires real change in behavior.

10-16 points:  The Pragmatist

You’re a practical centrist from an American vantage point.  You don’t look like a freak, geek, or Marxist.  Drivers won’t be considering a change in their behavior due to your presence, but they likely aren’t cursing at you or trying to run you down.  Your effect on cycling is positive from the perspective of other cyclists and neutral from the perspective of drivers.

17-20 points: The Hardcore

You exhibit many of the stereotypes associated with American cyclists.  Your relationship with drivers and other cyclists is often confrontational.  Road rage and anger has been directed at you on many occasions.  Ultimately you are a negative influence on the state of cycling and relations with other modes of transport.  Lighten up a little bit. 

 21-25 points: The Radical

You thrive on the negative energy directed at you by cyclists and drivers alike.  You are not only reckless, selfish and conceited, but see your membership in the radical “elite” as being central to your identity.  Segregated cycle infrastructure is your worst nightmare because more people would cycle, thereby stripping you of your fragile identity.  You live to do battle with cars and everyone else who doesn’t subscribe to your particular fringe persuasion.  

What’s your cycling brand?  Comments welcome!

In helmet we trust

in helmet we trust
Red, white, blue and a lack of logic

My ire for bike helmets is well known, but only after being sent a fascinating article questioning the efficacy of helmet use in the NFL (American football for our foreign readers), have I realized that we have a broader  reverence towards encasing our heads in foam and plastic.  Rather than focusing on changing behavior and avoiding unsafe situations, we focus on mitigating the effects of an accident.

I’m inherently distrustful of the statistics provided by both pro and anti-helmet advocates, but there are some parallels that can be drawn between football and cycling.  Some studies have claimed that head injuries have actually increased as helmet use has gained popularity with cyclists.  Similarly, Australian football, which is hardly a girly man’s sport, has far lower incidents of brain damage than American football, even though the Yanks are decked out in protective gear head-to-toe.  Why?  The false perception of safety caused by wearing a football helmet has driven riskier behavior. Use of  the football helmet in the 1940s changed the sport so radically that the bulk of “hits” are now led with the head.  The argument for getting rid of helmets in the NFL is simple.  If the players didn’t have all of that “safety equipment” they wouldn’t be tackling players with their faces.  It also turns out that football helmets themselves are having no effect in curbing the number of players suffering from long term brain damage.

Likewise some feel that the pervasive use of bike helmets is driving riskier behavior with both cyclists and automobile drivers.  Even though bike helmets are not designed to help a cyclist in a direct vehicular collision, many cyclists are wearing helmets to guard against that very scenario.  The biker feels safer amongst the cars, and the automobile driver feels more comfortable passing a helmeted cyclist; everybody is delusional and clinging to emotional logic.

Of course, the NFL, just like hardcore-helmet zealots, have their proverbial heads in the dirt (or helmets I should say).  Instead of changing the sport of football and getting rid of the helmets, they want to design a better helmet or start throwing more flags when players tackle head first (as if the sport doesn’t have enough penalties already). Einstein said that, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Don’t expect the NFL or American cyclists to ditch the helmet any time soon.  It’s far easier to put our faith in a helmet than to tackle the complexities of proper infrastructure and accountability for reckless-human behavior.  By that measure, we’re quite insane.  In helmet we trust.

A slow bike convert

Bakfiet

A kinder ride

Several  weeks ago (before the family was struck down with H1N1) I was pleasantly surprised during my commute into work.  Merging ahead of me was a bicycle with a decidedly “up right” riding style and full fenders.  I put on the “gas” to catch up and get a closer look.  As I neared the rider I was able to identify his bike as a Workcycle Bakfiet.  I also recognized the man in the saddle!  Roughly one year ago, the same rider, Paul, caught up to me and quized me about my own ride.    At that time Paul was riding a road bike, was wearing a helmet and reflective vest, and had an odd car battery contraption powering massive headlights and a powerful horn.  He was quite the site and not at all tuned into my own particular biking zen.  Still, we chatted several times when our paths crossed on our way into downtown Minneapolis.   After all, all bikers are brothers and sisters.

Now here he was again, riding a Bakfiet, without a helmet and with a big smile on his face.  He recognized me and proudly proclaimed “I just can’t put this bike down.  I’ve lost 7 pounds since I started riding it!  You inspired me to get a Dutch bike.”  We rode side-by-side for several blocks, chatting about the virtues of practical bikes.

Not only was I glad to have sent some business Stephan’s way at Dutch Bike Chicago, but I also feel proud to have “converted” a biker into a better cycling advocate.  I’ve always maintained that neon-orange clad combat bikers are awful advertising for everyday biking.  Paul’s new approach will hopefully breed more casual and relaxed bikers.  Welcome to the fold, Paul!

Opa says farewell to day games at the Dome

Opa waits outside the Dome

Opa waits outside the Dome

Today we took the opportunity to watch the last Minnesota Twins day game at the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome.  Opa patiently waited outside for our return.

I will actually miss watching games here, even though I’m quite excited about outdoor  baseball at Target Field.  This stadium gave us two World Series championships and countless hours of entertainment.  Good bye, Old Dome. We’ll all have fond memories of you, particularly at games in April. 🙂

Bobike Maxi SC review

Marek rides!

Marek rides!

My son, Marek, is a lucky little dude compared to other kids at his daycare.   Why?  Unlike most of the children who arrive and depart school in massive SUVs, Marek rides in style on the back of our Dutch bike at least once (and sometimes twice) a day.  The Bobike Maxi SC is the product that makes his absolute coolness possible.

Bike-mounted child seats have fallen out of vogue in the United States in favor of bike trailers.  The rare bike-mounted child seats created for the American market are ridiculously large (to be commensurate with our level of safety paranoia) and usually require installation of a proprietary rear rack to affix the child seat to.   Since my bike already has a rear rack, the Maxi SC was a natural fit as the seat suspends over the bike’s existing rear rack.  Installation was fairly straight forward, but I favored on the side of caution versus speed.  I did have to grind down a couple of bolts so that they didn’t poke through my skirt guards, but the remaining parts went on out-of-the-box.

If you’ve even skimmed this blog, you probably know that I’m a rabid anti-bike helmet zealot.  When we first got the Bobike Maxi SC, my wife insisted on Marek wearing a helmet (more due to the peer pressure of friends).  This plan was quickly abandoned after Marek figured out how to take off the helmet and throw it in the street while riding.  When we insisted on helmet compliance, he hated riding the bike.  After we gave up on this silly requirement, he quickly became an enthusiastic rider.  He spends most of his time pointing out dogs, trucks, birds, and singing while riding.  Sometimes he even sings “the daddy song” which is a series of non-sensical lyrics featuring variations of the word “dad.”  It’s pretty cool having your own singing minstrel mounted to the back of the bike!

The bike’s balance certainly changes  with the addition of an extra (and ambulatory) thirty pounds in the rear, but it’s totally doable.  The little foot rests that strap down the child’s feet are a must.  I tried leaving his feet unbound in a failed experiment and he kicked me the entire ride.  I also like the massive reflector on the back of the seat.  No car will miss you during the night.    When Marek is getting picked up or dropped off by mom, you can also use the seat for hauling groceries and such without too much fuss.  Still, I recommend the addition of a sizeable basket to the front of the bike or panniers if you’re going to be moving a child by bike with any frequency.

Other Bobike variants exist, some of which feature a much higher seat back than the Maxi SC.  If you plan on having your child wear a helmet, I think the Maxi SC would be preferable as the high headrest on other models may make a helmet incredibly uncomfortable.

Whenever I pick up Marek the playground is lined with kids, jealous with envy, as I load him up and ride off.  Amazingly, I’ve only had a couple of people confront me about the fact that my child and I are sans helmet.  The vast majority of people are tickled pink at the site of us riding around town. We get many positive compliments and were even approached by a woman originally from the Netherlands who expressed absolute adoration for our ride.

Many Americans long for a more relaxed European life style.  The best way to make that happen is to practice such a lifestyle and make it real.  I’m happy that my son’s first impressions of biking have been positive and free of fear-mongering.

Long live the Bobike and free range children!

The next phase of absolute insanity

This has to be some kind of joke

This has to be some kind of joke

The great people at Copenhagenize.com, defenders of common sense and foes of emotional propaganda, posted an article recently that is starting to make me think that Ted Kaczynski might not have been wrong about everything. Apparently the Danish safety czars are actually promoting the use of helmets for pedestrians.

I’ll keep this brief because I don’t even know where to start. Pandora’s box is open, folks, and it all started with bike helmets. It appears that the Western world is hell bent on sucking all that is good and fun out of something as simple as biking and walking. This is living proof that if you allow one logic failure to prevail it will only give birth to new ones.

God help us.