Sunday, March 28, 2010

So You Think You Know How to Ride a Bike....

It was a beautiful day in Dallas for Traffic Skills 101, by the League of American Bicyclists! Yes, it was kinda cold. Yes, the North wind was blowing. But this class was originally scheduled for last Sunday when it SNOWED! So it was a beautiful day in Dallas! There were eight students in the class, and the ratio of instructors to students was amazing!
The class included 4 hours of online instruction before the "hands on" drills. About half the time today was drills in the parking lot, the other half was on the streets of Dallas. In this picture, I am riding my bike in a zig zag pattern (a pretty tight pattern), just to get used to some tight turns, and getting a feel for how your bike handles.
One of the drills was to scan back over your shoulder, as if you were checking for upcoming cars to change lanes or make a turn, while maintaining a straight course with your bicycle. Try it, it is harder than it looks! The person in the background would hold up one or two arms, and the cyclist had to scan, maintain his position, and call out how many arms were in the air.
This picture is of Tim and George and me. Tim works for the City of Arlington and commutes to work like I do. George also commutes to work and is a member of the Lone Star Cyclist that sponsor the Tour de Italia in Italy, Texas each June. The Tour de Italia was the first bicycle rally Rhonda and I rode in 2006, and George was in charge of it that year. It's a small world, isn't it?
This picture shows George in the "Quick Stop" drill. We slammed on the rear brakes, then the front and rear brakes together, then the front and rear brakes together AND slid back off the saddle. It was amazing to learn how much quicker one could stop a bicycle in an emergency! Notice how attentive the instructors were, making sure we were safe performing this difficult manuever!
This is not particularly good photography (they missed my face!), but it certainly shows the intensity and seriousness of this drill. I'm a pretty happy guy, and I like to smile for my photos, but this was obviously pretty important! I'm really appreciative of the League Cycling Instructors that put so much time and effort into teaching these skills to knucleheads like me!

These two photos are of Richard Wharton and Sherry Lewis, two League Cycling Instructors that were SO helpful. I hope to be a League Cycling Instructor when I grow up. After the parking lot drills, we got really practical, and rode several miles around Dallas, on six lane roads, making lane changes in traffic, moving from the right lane to the left turn bay to make left turns and just generally being "traffic". It was a bicycle confidence inspiring day!
Rhonda was there, too! She drove me and my commuter bike up there, then spent the day shopping and having lunch with our son T.J. and his wife Kristina. She hung around and took pictures for a while when we were getting started, and I am so thankful to Gail Spann for getting a picture of her! There are several more pictures of this class on my Facebook page, courtesy of a really sweet and beautiful lady I'm so glad to have as my new friend, Gail Spann. Gail is a League Cycling Instructor and is in the picture of me showing how to stop really fast! She was going to catch me if I fell over. (Yeah, right!) YOU are not too old, or too out of shape, or too anything else to ride a bike. I ride every day, I absolutely love it, and I want you to come join me! It will make a kid out of you, again!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Slow, Snowy Start to Spring

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

You'll recognize the poem by Robert Frost, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening". Well, I was not in the woods and it was not evening, but it certainly was snowy on this second day of Spring in North Central Texas. My Sunday morning routine is usually a short bike ride to town to get a newspaper, then a lazy cup of coffee perusing the latest news. There was no reason for this morning to be any different, just because of a little snow. I would not recommend that you choose today for a long bike ride though. It is 32 degrees with a howling North wind!

I call this my grocery bike, and I think the bike is as old as I am. It is a Huffy Savannah Comfort Touring bike that I purchased for a 20 dollar bill at Dr. Jeter's estate sale. The only thing I really had to do to it was put new tires and tubes on and lubricate the chain. With the wide 26 inch tires and fenders, it is my go to bike in bad weather. Today qualifies as bad weather. Some would call it a girl's bike. I call it a "step through frame". It had a basket on the front when I got it, but the basket was broken, so I replaced it and added the newspaper baskets on the rear. I can haul a lot of stuff on this bike, and with the three speed internal gears, it pedals pretty easy.

This tree is adjacent to our front sidewalk and the street in front of our home. For the past week or so it has been covered with beautiful white blossoms that floated like snowflakes to the grass below as the wind blew. Now it is covered with real snow, and I'm sure the blossoms will be gone as the thaw comes.

As I turn South from Linden Street to Gaines Street, the wind is at my back and I am very comfortable in my rainpants, light jacket, mittens, and ear muffs. It will only be a short ride to town and back, but I am glad I decided to ride the grocery bike in lieu of taking the car. I would actually be colder in the car, because I would not have dressed as well, and the heater probably would not start having any effect until I got back home.

Tom's Food Market is one of the few neighborhood groceries that still exist. It is not open on Sundays, so I have to go into town to a major chain grocery for the newspaper. There are newspaper racks that have the weekday papers for purchase, but the Sunday edition is no longer vended this way because they cost $3.00 now, which makes them subject to theft. I delivered The Dallas Morning News from age 7 til I was 18. When I started the daily paper was 5 cents, and on Sunday it was a quarter. I still enjoy reading the hard copy, but I'm afraid its days are numbered, and we'll soon get all the news from the internet or television.

If it has 8 sides, we stop, even if it is covered with snow!

Don't you just love this great old building? I'm so glad it is still used by our local school district. This is the building that was the High School when I graduated. I pass by it most mornings when I take my short commute route to work, and there are usually young people walking or being dropped off by their parents or school buses. Sadly, few students bike to school these days. I'm thinking that may change in the future.

The future of education in Ennis is bright though. Just to the West of the old high school is this new intermediate school, which will open this fall as a state of the art facility. It is a beautiful addition to our community, and it is named for Jack Lummus, who graduated from Ennis High, played football at Baylor University and for the New York Giants, and was killed in action as an army lieutenant on Iwo Jima during WWII. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and heroism as he led his men in battle.

Could this be a bike lane in front of the new school? It is not, but could it be? Hmm....

Another great old institution and example of a neighborhood store is Amelia Ann Florist. Although ownership has changed a number of times since I was a kid in Ennis, the store has not changed much. My memory of this store is that it was where most people purchased corsages for banquets and mums for homecoming. They always had the greatest holiday decorations, especially at Christmas, and you can see through the plate glass window that the tradition continues with the Easter Bunny in full view!

I am almost at my destination. This is looking East on Ennis Avenue from Clay Street. Not much traffic on a snowy Sunday morning, and the amber turn of the century street lights cast a peaceful glow over this thoroughfare.

Some friends of ours that formerly lived in Dallas purchased this beautiful old frame home a few years a go and restored it to its present lovely state. It is so picturesque in the snow with the white picket fence and the flags hung from the front porch. Ennis has a lot of nice, new homes, but there are some great old ones also. This home may be near 100 years old.

This last image is looking East on Knox Street, towards the railroad tracks from McKinney Street. We still fly old glory in Pierce Park. I still thrill to see her paint the breeze. Long may she wave!

So Spring has sprung in Ennis, month brings Bluebonnet Trails (they should be gorgeous this year). It's going to look like spring soon, just stay tuned.

"Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Read Any Good Books Lately?

You might have the impression that riding a bike is a hobby for me. You might be right. My kids will probably tell you that when I decide to engage in a new hobby, I get very involved in it and try to learn everything I can about it. I did the same thing with golf; I read instruction books, I practiced, and I subscribed to publications such as "Golf" and "Golf Digest". I've done the same thing with a couple of other hobbies, such as shooting and locksmithing. Huh. Some of you learned something new about me!

It has been a really good week commuting to work. The weather has warmed up, and I only rode in the rain a couple of times, and it really was not much rain while I was riding. I increased my commuting distance a little each day, and this morning I rode about 10 miles by riding out Main Street towards Palmer. Rhonda and I ride to Palmer often in the evenings when the weather is warm. I was a little disappointed this morning with how much the road has washed out, but I also acknowledge that it has been a cold and wet winter!

Sorry, I digressed from the topic. Back to the books! The pictures show my library of books about cycling. There are books on bicycle maintenance, bicycle rider conditioning, bicycle tours, bicycle commuting, and personal experiences of other cyclists. I think it is interesting that two of the books call themselves the "complete" books. At least one of them must have been "incomplete". Of course, no cyclist would have a library without at least one book by Lance Armstrong.

I could write a review of each book for you, but I'd rather just let you read what interest you and decide for yourself without my influence, but if you have a question about one, sent me an email and I'll get back to you. I promise! Check your local library for books about cycling, or let me know and I'll be glad to loan you any of mine.

There is also a wealth of knowledge about cycling on the Internet. Maybe in my next post I'll include a list of some of the web pages that I read.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Come Saturday morning....

You can cut and paste the link above (sorry you can't just click on it) to your browser address bar to see and hear a good video of "Come Saturday Morning". I guess my "friend" in the song is my bicycle.

Saturday morning dawned breezy and beautiful...the alarm went off at the usual time, and I only tarried momentarily before greeting the day. The sun had not yet made an appearance, but being on the cusp of Spring, I was looking forward to its arrival.

The short ride to Starbucks was brisk, but hot coffee and delicious oatmeal with brown sugar, fruit and nuts and a nice conversation with a stranger warmed things up quickly.

From Starbucks to Lions Park is "all the way across town", but really not too far for a cool March morning bike ride. The property for Lions Park was acquired in a monumental fund raising effort by the Ennis Host Lions Club a very few years ago. The City of Ennis made a great contribution to the park in the construction, playground equipment, and continued maintenance, but the local Lions take an active part in the park with a standing committee that assembles at the park monthly to make sure it is kept clean. The park is an asset to our community, and there were a number of citizens using the park's walking/jogging path to get their exercise this morning. I have taken my grandson to play at the park, and it really is okay with me to comply with the green sign.

I insisted that my picture be taken "working", lest the Lions Club Tailtwister (Lion Bill Cox) think the only reason I rode my bike to the park was to be the photographer.

Often Lion members bring their children to help work at the park. In this picture you see Lion Jim Haberman with his daughters, along with Lion Ed Wright and Lion BicycleBill.

From Lions Park, I rode back across town to Ennis' best kept secret, Kenny's Bike Shop (no, you've never heard of it and you don't know where it is), but Kenny wasn't there, so I'll get a picture next time. Then back across town to the post office, and further for a visit at Lion Ben Fry and Tammy's garage sale, where I pointed out to Ben that he owned a frog gig, which he assumed was a pecan tree shaker, since that was all he had ever used it for. That will probably cost him a quarter Wednesday. If you were a Lion, you'd understand!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's like Spring!

What a beautiful day! This morning I extended the commute to about 4 miles each way, then when I got home Rhonda wanted to get a little exercise, and rather than go for a walk, she agreed to go for a bike ride.

We rode South about 4 miles out to the new Jr. High/High School, then rode around on all the nice flat pavement out there. It was against the Southerly wind on the way out, but the wind pushed us all the way home. It wound up being about a 10 mile ride, and we got home just as the sun was getting low in the Western sky, and the air was just starting to cool down. It was a wonderful way to wind down the day, riding bikes with the love of my life!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Cold, Rainy Commute!

Today was not the coldest, wettest day I've commuted to work and back, but I wanted to put this post up so you could see that the weather should not keep you off your bike, unless you just want it to. I took this picture right after I got home. The temperature was about 40 degrees, and it rained just about all day. I have on my regular work clothes under the rain pants and a light waterproof jacket over a fleece vest.

One of the most important things for me is the ear muffs! They really make a difference when the weather is in the 40's or lower. When it is much colder, I wear a full balaclava that covers most of my face. Another very important clothing item is the mittens that are resting on the pannier. They are waterproof and insulated. The only time I wear them is when it is a cold rain, other days just fleece gloves or other light gloves.

I also like my dorky riding glasses. They have a special prescription insert (which I could not do without) and they are large enough that they protect my eyes from the rain and wind. And speaking of "dorky", how about that rear view mirror! I don't need any surprises coming up behind me, and I also don't mind getting over to let the faster vehicles pass.

This bike is a 1983 Trek 510. It is the first road bike I purchased, and I turned it into my main commuter bike recently. The handlebars put me in a more upright position than the drop bars that were on this bike, and being more upright improves my vision of the other vehicles that I encounter on my commute. Notice the plastic fenders that I added. It was difficult to make fenders fit this bike, because the bike was never intended to have fenders, but fenders make the ride on a rainy day! They really help me remain clean on the bike (and they keep the bike cleaner) because the spray from the tires is not thrown up on me or the bike.

Many cyclist think this is the most important part of the commuter's bike, the rear blinky. This little red light has 10 led bulbs that can stay on constantly, or blink in about 10 different configurations. It is VERY bright!

This front light may be as important as the one on the rear. It is a very bright light that can also go into a blinking mode. There are two things to consider when putting lights on a bike, one is for the light to help you see, the other is for the light to help you be seen! I actually have one additional light on the bike that is a blue blinky on the front, and if you look back at my helmet in the photo of me above, you'll notice a small light on it also. Hopefully, everyone can see me coming!

The final picture of my commuter bike is the pedals. I chose these wide platform pedals because there are several starts and stops on my commute, so it really was of no benefit to have pedals with straps or clips. I can wear the same shoes on my bike that I will work in all day, although I do keep an extra pair of shoes at the office just in case my shoes get too wet or muddy on the ride.

I have another bike that I ride when the weather is REALLY bad, and still another road bike for longer distance rides for fun and more exercise. Stay tuned for pics of them to come!