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I Have a Dream

The P.F. Chang’s Rock n’ Roll marathon was held today in Tempe/Phoenix, AZ, and as a result many of the streets were closed to automobile traffic to clear room for the estimated 37,000 runners and 5,000 volunteers. The race course traveled around the area in which I live, potentially rendering me house-bound for most of the morning…but only if I wanted to drive. I hopped on my aluminum steed at 9 am this morning to traverse the 5 miles to church, and had 4 lanes of road all to myself since the race had not made it that far just yet. The street I rode had been blockaded and even had motorcycle cops making sure no clueless drivers ended up on the wrong side of the orange cones. I stopped and chatted with two of the cops and they told me to help myself to the road, since the runners were 40 minutes behind me. I happily complied and enjoyed the dash down vacant streets on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning.

When it was time for me to go back home, the race was still going in this part of town, but I was allowed to travel along the race course, inside the barricades, so long as I stayed out of the way. At this time, it was mostly the people who were walking that I encountered, but they only used 2 of the 3 lanes, leaving me plenty of room. One lane had been opened to auto traffic, but they weren’t really going anywhere. I thoroughly enjoyed riding past all of the cars as they impatiently waited for the 100 people in front of them to progress through the next traffic light, one car at a time.

And this got me thinking: first of all, I would love it if this situation would happen more often, with 3 of 4 lanes of road being designated for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. But what a dream that is! At the same time, I realized that is somewhat selfish in that people who legitimately need cars (handicapped, elderly…but it’s all grey territory) would be greatly inconvenienced by such a system.

But then I thought that this might be the kind of situation that is required to impact great transportation reform – and by that I do NOT mean “build more roads.” If people were forced (I tread VERY carefully here) into realizing how cycling (or even carpooling since 9 out of 10 cars I pass have A person in them) is a more efficient form of transportation, they might just be more willing to try it. But as long as our urban infrastructure and layout make it more convenient/easier to drive, I am sure people will be content doing just that, no matter how much gas might cost.

But I guess the major problem would be finding a mayor who would willingly close down 3 out of 4 lanes of traffic to let cyclists roam free. But then again, we all have to have dreams, right?

I’d Move to Norway For This

Check out this great story from TreeHugger.com that I came across during my morning blog-feed reading:

Norway’s Public Roads Administration (southern region) is giving its own employees a vacation subsidy if they travel to work on their bicycles. For each week or five-day period that an employee rides a bike – or walks – to and from the office, Statens Vegvesen will compensate with four hours of vacation time. When the cyclist rides an entire year to work, that’s equivalent to an extra week of (paid) vacation. The Administration points to increased health benefits to cyclists, but also is using the incentive to decrease road congestion.

In Denmark meanwhile, the Socialist Folkparty, one of the country’s
larger political groups, is proposing to offer cyclists almost two Danish crowns per commuting kilometer ($.36). Who knows how far the proposal may get: cycle-happy Copenhagen is considering banning heavy trucks from the inner city and is installing sensor-driven lights to alert vehicles to cyclists, but deputy mayor for environmental issues was criticized (though the Lady Mayor seems supportive) for his proposal to remove cars from one of the city’s major arteries, Nørrebrogade, to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians…

What would it take to get American companies who are serious about their impact on the environment (not to mention those that care less) to subscribe to a similar methodology?

I work for a sizeable financial brokerage firm and they have a “Trip-Reduction Program” which is merely a drawing each month for a $15 Target gift card. To qualify, you must use alternative transportation (carpool, vanpool, bus, bike) once a week for the entire month. They mainly “push” the carpooling thing, and by that I mean they have a poster in the break room. To my knowledge, there is one other person in my office (out of 200+) who does a multi-modal bike-bus commute…and yet I have never won the TRP drawing.

I am glad that my company at least makes some effort to encourage alternative transportation, but they certainly have a long ways to go. I also know that not all companies in Norway are offering a program like the one described in the TreeHugger article, but still, I cannot help but feel that America is years behind something like that.

Mr. Bicycle, I am Calling in Sick Today

I have been fighting some crud for the past few days, but until today I have been able to ride. This morning, I woke up with a stuffy head and sore throat, and I just felt that the benefits of biking just would not outweigh the drawbacks, and so I caved in and drove. I usually feel pretty pathetic when I drive, and I think the guilt (albeit self-imposed) is a healthy way to not allow myself to settle for driving as regularly. In addition to mentally feeling pathetic, my body feels more sluggish on the days that I drive. I’m not as awake when I get to work, and I am generally more tired throughout the day due to the lack of early morning pedaling. The fresh air and exercise are also great “stress-busters” – and yes I know this will not be news to any reader of this website.

There are basic principals of health/anatomy/immunology that govern how the body responds to physical stress when fighting illness. The Mayo clinic online covered this topic and gave the general statement that if your symptoms are above the neck – stuffy nose, sore throat – then it is safe to proceed with exercise. If symptoms are below the neck – congested chest, hacking cough or fever – it is wise to refrain from exercise. At this point, the health-boosting effects of exercise will cease to apply.

Some of us (myself included at times) think that we can “sweat out” a sickness by engaging in intense exercise when fighting a cold. While this may help relieve simple symptoms like stuffiness, in the end you are most likely going to hurt your body’s ability to fight the sickness. “Your immune system fights best when it isn’t stressed,” says MedicineNet.

Your immune system fights most effectively when it isn’t stressed. Research studies show that a moderate fitness program helps boost the immune system, lessening the chances you’ll fall ill with a cold or flu. But scientists also note that a single rigorous exercise session or race can actually make you more susceptible to bacterial or viral infection.

So listen to your body when you feel sick and need to rest — a hard workout could impair your immune system for several hours, allowing unwelcome guests to make your illness worse.

And make sure you give your body enough time to recover before you return to exercise after a serious illness like the flu. Come back too soon and you may actually send yourself into a relapse of the illness, which further slows your return to everyday activities.

I will say that bike commuting has seemed to help my body prevent illness these past months. I have historically gotten sick twice a year for as long as I can remember: in the fall and then again as winter gets close to spring. This is the first time that I have felt sick in over a year, and it has certainly been less intense than experiences past.

So as I go heat up some chicken noodle soup and down a gallon of water, at what point do you, the reader, say “enough is enough?”

First Impression: Sette Elite Carbon Road Shoe

I must have been a good boy this year because, after breaking a strap off of my cycling shoe, Santa Claus surprised me and brought a new pair of road shoes from Pricepoint.com: the Sette Elite Carbon shoe (MSRP: $210, PP.com: $89.98).

Here is what Pricepoint has to say about the shoe:

The new Sette Elite Carbon Road Shoes with their ultrastrong and ultralight carbon fiber sole providing excellent stiffness and torque transfer. Not to mention the four air vents in the toe and midsole combined with a breathable mesh upper to ensure your feet remain cool and comfortable all day. The Elite Carbon Road Shoes feature a premium fit and support that is provided by a molded heel cup and two hook and loop straps combined with a quality metal ratchet closed tab with quick release for easy adjustments.

I am young, and not rich, so this is a pretty fancy pair of shoes for me. My only other pair was bare-bones compared to the Sette Elite Carbon, so it might take me a while to get used to a better shoe.

The Sette Elite Carbon comes with a 2 strap and 1 ratcheting strap design, allowing for a nice, snug fit – as long as you are not in a hurry to get the shoe on as quickly as possible (it’s the triathlete in me…). The buckle is easy to manage with one hand, both for tightening and loosening, making it easy to get on and off. It also seems to be really sturdy and I am confident it would hold up to the stress of use as an everyday commuting shoe.

The shoe is incredibly comfortable – with no pokes or scratches on the inside – and good looking. There is a neoprene (or something like it) tongue that provides a really snug yet comfortable fit to the top of your foot. I bet this material makes the shoe extremely comfortable in the summer when your feet tend to get hot and sweaty. I could not get a feel for how functional the air vents are during my ride today because it was a “room temperature” kind of day: not hot or not cold. I am confident I will get to evaluate their cold-weather comfort in the weeks ahead and will report back with more detail!

The carbon sole provides a nice stiff “backbone” for a cycling shoe, which is good for optimum power transfer. I honestly don’t notice a HUGE difference in pedal-efficiency between my old, non-carbon shoes and the Sette Elite Carbon, but then again I have only used the shoes once on my flat commute. The winds were too strong today for me to have a desire to do a little sprinting or climbing…

A New Year Is New Excitement

2008 is here (I say that as if it were news) and I must say that I am excited about the year ahead. I have never really been one for setting resolutions but that is most likely attributed to my age. There is a certain instability of life that comes with being 24 years old – odds are I will be doing something completely different (career, personal hobbies, etc.) in 6 months from what I do now. However, I see a lot of exciting things ahead of me this year, and bike commuting is at the top of that list.

I have only been bike commuting since August 2007, but have biked an average 4 work days out of 5 for those past 5 months. I have been able to continue riding into winter since I live in Arizona – we’ve had a couple mornings in the upper 30s so far, but it could certainly be much worse.

After reading Jack’s post I set up an account at bikejournal.com; hopefully I can keep up with my mileage numbers. I don’t know the exact breakdown, but the cyclometer on my road bike has 3276 registered miles and it just turned 2 years old – meaning I am averaging ~1600 miles per year. In addition, my mountain bike shows 704 miles on the cyclometer (I have only had it since June), giving me a total of ~4000 miles biked in the past two years. I would say that I rode more miles this past year than the former, and assume the breakdown is more like 1800/2200. Based on how much I have been riding and what I predict to ride this year, I want to shoot for 2500 miles ridden in 2008 (this is a GOAL, not a resolution).

I head back to work tomorrow after being on vacation since Dec. 21. Our forecast for tomorrow shows sun with 46 degrees in the morning and 69 degrees by the afternoon. This has me so excited about getting on the saddle tomorrow morning as I head to the office. And what better way to spend New Years Day than getting my bike ready to go?! It is a bit chilly outside today but the winds are howling around 20 mph sustained, so it just feels right to stay inside, wearing my new fluffy slippers, and wrenching and scrubbing around on my aluminum steed.

After brewing a fresh pot of coffee, I got to work and scrubbed off all the dirt and grime from my wheels, frame, drive-train, etc. I made sure my shift- and brake-cables were properly tightened and adjusted; made sure the chain and derailleurs were grit-free and properly lubed; sipped on my java and rocked out to some Nickel Creek.

The Velorution is coming at you 2008 – I have a feeling it will be a good year! May all of you have a safe and Velo-rific year. Happy Riding!