Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Commuting by Bicycle in the Snow--Netherlands Style

As I watch this video of bike commuting in Utrecht, Netherlands, there are several key points to notice.
  1. No wind, or very little.
  2. No ice, or very little--but the slush could be tricky.
  3. Hats, no hats, scarves . . . the temperature must be just below freezing but not by much.
  4. Fenders and bikes that look a lot like the old Schwinn style 3-speeds.
  5. It ain't no big thing.

Right now as I write, the temperature is about 30 degrees. Wind? "Northwest wind 15 to 25 mph with gusts to around 30 mph increasing to 25 to 35 mph with gusts to around 40 mph."

I wouldn't mind a little snow and no wind. There's something very reassuring, though, about a place that's figured out how to get by--at least in the city--without a car.

Here's one with a little more extreme weather.

I think maybe tomorrow I'll ride my bike--if the wind lets us and I feel strong. Notice my equivocation? Got to stay strong to outlast the flu season. That excuse should last me for a while . . .

Dawn the next morning: 15 degrees Fahrenheit, winds up to 29 MPH, wind chill at -11 degrees . . . ah, well . . .

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ride 160 Miles and Earn a New Bike: the Montague Navigator and the Burley Travoy

My plan is to ride my bike more this year, to use the bike as both a commuting and a recreational vehicle.

It galled me to think that I had to throw that resolution out the door in order to visit my parents and brother who live in California 2,000 miles away. My solution is the title of this post, "Ride 160 Miles and Earn a New Bike.

I'll present the plan, but first let me introduce the bike, a Montague Navigator folding bike.

Montague became famous in the bike world by making military folding bikes for paratroopers. They still make their Paratrooper model, but I chose a more standard bike because it has some features that fit my needs better.

For the Christmas season, my wife and I bought a commuter bike trailer, the Burley Travoy, that we plan to use for weekend camping.

Here are the events in the order that led me to buying my "160-mile bike."
  1. I buy the Travoy and begin researching on the net and on Google maps local touring routes.
  2. I research folding bikes, thinking to the future, but only find bikes in the $2,500 range until I discover Montague bikes.
  3. I discover a bike route planned by the Central California Cycling organization from Sacramento to Chico, California. The route passes through Oroville, where my parents live, and the route passes right by Sacramento International Airport.
  4. It appears the airlines will accept the folded bike as an extra, checked bag, but I worried about the soft bag ($100 and a smashed bicycle) and the price of the hard case ($400-500 and a smashed bank account).
  5. Then I thought about Roseville, a town close to Sacramento that is an Amtrak junction. I could travel from Fairfield to Roseville and ride my bike to Oroville. Two days of riding, stopping halfway in Marysville, and staying at my parents' place, and the bike is about half paid for in one trip.
  6. Amtrak ticket, $400; lodging (4 nights, 2 each way), $400 max; trip food, $100 = $900. Since we usually plan between $1,500 and $2,000 for the trip (plane, motel, car), I've just paid for a big hunk of the bike in one trip. Cool.
It looks like over-60 adventure cycling, but 40 miles of riding a day is definitely an attainable goal. The land is essentially flat, and I'll be commuting and riding weekends all spring. I usually stay in a motel to allow my elderly parents to keep their routine, but I'll pitch my tent in their carport so I can slip outside when they need a rest.

Amtrak allows for two carry-on bags. "Each passenger can have a total of 2 carry-on bags, each not to exceed 50 lbs. (23 kg), 28 x 22 x 14 inches (700 x 550 x 350 millimeters)."

It also states the following, regarding bicycles: "Folding bicycles under the dimensions of 34" x 15" x 48"/860 x 380 x 1120 mm will be allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage. They must be considered a true folding bicycle."

The Burley Travoy bag, packed with extra traveling items, measures 22" x 18" x 9", within the carry-on luggage strictures. The Montague Navigator, folded and bagged, measures 36" x 28" x 12", which meets the folding bicycle requirements for Amtrak.

Thus, I can carry on these two items, along with an under-the-seat bag with food and a book, and travel green this summer . . . and pay for my bike along the way.

I even found a route from Fairfield to Ottumwa (the eastern junction with Amtrak for me). There are even more possibilities--maybe I'll ride the bike from Ottumwa to Fairfield on the return journey if the train arrives on time at 9:00 A.M. I'll get a ride to Ottumwa when I begin the adventure, though. Two days on a train after having ridden a bike on a mid-June day for around three hours--the conductor would probably kick me off the train for bad hygiene. Can't have that!

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bicycle Commuting as a Way of Life: Take Copenhagen, for Instance

What makes commuting by bicycle an enjoyable experience?
  • Accepted
  • Safe
  • Easy
I think these three concepts make riding a bike in town a fun and fulfilling experience. They create an ambiance that allows for the relaxing joy of pushing the pedals to get somewhere.


Belonging to a group is a comforting thing--at least it can be if the group is protected and celebrated by the powers that be. In order for the citizens of a community to embrace bicycling, having the government embrace it first is a big plus. And that embrace must be on the social level, the regulatory level, and the structural level. The city must celebrate bike riding as a positive addition to the city's lifestyle, it must pass whatever regulations are needed to promote bicycling, and it must change the physical structure of the city to make folks on bikes feel included. Copenhagen, for instance, is a city that has made riding and parking a bicycle just as normal and natural as driving a car--more so, perhaps. Bicycles own the town!


Creating a city environment that provides safety for the cyclist is essential in order for people to choose riding a bike rather than driving a car. Some of these environmental changes must affect the emotions of the bicyclists. They must not only be safe but also feel safe. One means of providing this sense of safety is through the city's legislative decisions; the city must walk the talk so that others can . . . ride with pride? The biggest way of providing safety is to change the structural organization of the city, to adopt those street and traffic alterations and modifications that other cities have found to be effective means of making a city bicycle safe. One intersection in Copenhagen had ten serious bicycle accidents a year; with some changes to the environment, that dropped to one. Now, that's a measurable commitment to bicycling safety!


In my little Midwest town of Fairfield, Iowa, the streets are set up for cars. It's easy to get to where you want to go in a car, to park, and then to do your business. My town also has a wonderful system of lime chip bike trails. Some can be used a bit for commuting, but most of the trails are for recreational riding, not commuting. Therefore, the sense of commuting being easy and inviting can still be improved. Increasing the structural changes for riding in the city area and providing easier parking opportunities for bikes-giving them a higher profile--will allow those who would ride bikes and who don't to see and believe how easy commuting by bike would be. In Copenhagen, the city even has plastic cars which fill a street-side parking slot. The plastic can be raised in four sections to safely and securely harbor cargo bikes, which are bigger and more expensive than regular commuter bikes.

Below is a video where Americans who were attending an international conference on bicycling in cities speak out their reactions to how Copenhagen has made its environment a bicycle-friendly reality.

I think you'll like the comments and the visuals.

It is impossible to make Fairfield a year-round biking city, of course, because the winters are too harsh. Oh, yes, some hardy souls do bike year round, but ice and snow and blizzard conditions just don't make it feasible for everyone. There are some times when the conditions make riding a bike an extreme sport.

Still, for six months a year, bicyclers can give it a go in my hometown. For two to three months more, it is possible to bike, and for about three months, put biking up there wilth climbing Mt. Everest. The city should concentrate on promoting those easy months. Let's get Grandpa and Grandma out their on their bikes, along with everyone else.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved