Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sneak Peak for Sping 2015 SC Training (Update: Training to happen Fall 2014)

Update:  Amy from the PCC contacted me with an updated Safe Streets Curriculum Training tour schedule. They'll be out touring and training folks across the state the week of November 14-22, 2014. Stops haven't been set - yet. Contact them if you are interested in learning more or having a possible tour stop in your home town!

I wanted to make sure that you had an opportunity to learn more about the Palmetto Cycling Coalition's Safe Streets Curriculum Training if you hadn't already heard about it. As the state advocacy group for South Carolina, the PCC works hard to education, improve and empower decision-makers, state and local planners and engineers and public citizens to do more for biking. They are a great group, and you should consider supporting their cause.

The Safe Streets training has been developed for two different audiences. One is geared towards teachers and students of almost all grades and is available on the state's Department of Public Safety website. The other training geared (pun intended) towards a more general public audience. However, the final touches are being put on this training, and it will be unveiled during a week-long tour in the Spring of 2015 during the week of November 14 - 22, 2014. Contact the PCC directly for more information or to have them consider a tour stop in your hometown.

The Safe Streets curriculum aligns with the PCC's ongoing Safe Streets Save Lives campaign which works on developing educational programs, workshops and literature to improve safety for everyone on the road. This is a great campaign, and one that everyone can get behind.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bicycle Riders, Mount Up!

I've recently been working on a project to improve bicycle parking and storage at some university residential facilities. Commonly found around the campus are variations on the "comb-style" bike rack. You're probably familiar with these because most elementary schools, churches, grocery stores and businesses have these as their standard bike rack.

Comb-Style Bike Rack

After doing some research, I started to consider some wall-mounted bike racks. The project area was covered, but was tight on space. The project called for a better organization and use of space so that the bikes could be more accessible. Additionally, the space was covered, so it was really important to take the time to do this improvement project right. Covered bike parking at residential places is a hot commodity - no one likes to leave their bike outside exposed to the sun, wind and rain if they don't have to.

There are all different kinds of wall-mounted bike racks to consider - modular racks, single racks, hook racks. I started searching online. To meet the needs of the project, the racks had to be something that could be mounted into a cement or brick wall, provide a secure place to lock the frame of the bike to the rack, be cost effective and look nice. There were a couple different models I considered.

Wall Mount Option #1 Cycle Safe:  The Cycle Safe Wallrack model was a contender. It could be mounted into the wall and provided a place to lock the bike.

Cycle Safe Wallrack

However, the installation of several fixtures left too much room for potential error (placing them too low to the ground or too high so that they couldn't be reached by a user or too close together to handle bars would entangle), so it was crossed off the list. I also felt that for the needs of this project, there needed to be more to the fixture to address the issue of security. (Though this might be the perfect thing for your garage!)

Wall Mount Option #2  Vertical Wall Mount:  Upbeat had a model that was also interesting. Though the name was a bit of a mouthful, the Bicycle Locking Vertical Wall Mount Rack, the locking mechanism seemed to be a bit better than the Cycle Safe model. The fixture also seemed a bit more robust and had me feeling better about my concerns with security. This was better, but since these came in individual units, too, I kept digging.

Wall Mount Option #3  Dero Ultra Space Saver:  The Dero company makes the Ultra Space Saver model that looked promising. It comes as a modular unit of 8, has predetermined spacing (16" standard between racks), and is great for mounting into the cement or brick wall. These were also recommended to me by someone who works within another university setting. Hearing that there was known success regarding use, security and durability over time with this model also helped. The company also makes the bike repair stations on the campus, and we've been satisfied with the quality of the components.

So, after a call to the company to get more details and answer a few questions, the Ultra Space Saver ended up being the winner. Here's a photo of the area before the rack....

Hmmm....we can do better.

and after.

                              Much improved!*

What a difference the wall-mounted rack makes! The photo was taken several weeks after the racks were installed. The fixture was intuitive enough that the students learned how to use it on their own! Success! It felt really good to see the positive response to the organization, use and accessibility improvements. I have continued to occasionally check in on this space to see how it's being used, and I have nothing but good things to report! (*Please ignore that white space on the photo. I don't know where that came from.)

Have you seen any bike parking wins? Have ideas how to address some bike parking fails? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Top Southeast Mountain Biking Trails: Checking Out Tsali Recreation Area

Recently we took a vacation to the North Carolina mountains. Living about two hours from the Great Smoky Mountains, it was close enough to home that we got to spend a lot of time taking in breathtaking vistas, towering trees and lush foliage. Cooler temps and views like this was exactly what I needed. It was a nice retreat from the South Carolina summer heat.

The Great Smoky Mountains - What a view!

The entrance from the NC side of the mountains.
We camped at Turkey Creek Campground in Almond, NC. I had heard that Tsali Recreation Area was nearby, home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the region, so we decided to check it out one afternoon. 

Tsali is within the Nantahala (pronounced "Na-tah-hay-luh'") National Forest owned by the US Fores Service, so it's covered in trees and has an extensive trail system. The drive to the trail head was winding and a bit long, giving one the feeling of "leaving it all behind." There is also a campground and boat launch within the park, providing visitors with several choices of outdoor activities. A day pass for biking is $2.

When we arrived at the trail head, there was a large gravel parking lot, bathrooms, an information kiosk and a washing station. 
Trail head and Facilities at Tsali

The bathrooms were nice, clean and were in the middle of being renovated. The open-air covered shelter had a few benches that were nice to sit and make any last minute adjustments before heading out on the trail. Providing a little cover from the elements was a nice touch. There was also a clear demarcation between the area were cars were allowed by the small, subtle wooden bollards, as shown in the photo above. The set-up was really welcoming. 

Moving just beyond the area, there was a clear sign that helped trail-users understand the trail schedule for mountain bikers and the equestrian community. Communicating trail etiquette, rules and schedule is important in creating an inviting, safe environment for everyone. A major issue on a trail system like this is the potential for conflict when a mountain biker comes up on a horse, and vice versa. (Mountain bikers are fast and quick moving, which can easily startle a horse.)  The photo below shows Tsali's trail schedule, limiting some trail use based on the day of the week.

Tsali Trail Schedule

For example, mountain bikers are allowed on the Tsali Trail on the weekends (Saturdays and Sundays), and horses are allowed on a different trail during the same time, on the Thompson Loop and the Mouse Loop. Interesting way to control traffic and mitigate issues between the parties.

There was also a bike washing station that was being used. You can get pretty dirty mountain biking. Here was a simple wooden frame that had four dangling "J" hooks where folks could hand their bike and wash it off with some running water. It was great to see how a simple, elegantly designed facility was a big asset at the trailhead. There's also a shower head where riders can rinse off if they get covered in mud. It was pretty nice.

Mountain Bike Washing Station at Tsali

There were also some general rules posted at the kisok. The list of reminders, rules and tips was extensive yet brief. If you do go out, make sure to take some time to read and absorb some of this stuff. (The photo below isn't the most ledible, but you get the idea.)

Sharing the Trail - Rules & Reminders

It looked like an awesome set up. This visit didn't provide the opportunity for us to try out the trails, but we enjoyed checking out the facilities and spending some time on Lake Fontana. It was beautiful.

If you've had the opportunity to ride the trails at Tsali, somewhere else nearby or want to share a great spot with other folks, please share them in the comments below. It's always great to check out new places and have new adventures!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Reality of Clipless Pedals

A little over a month ago I shared that I bought some new bike shoes. I had admittedly given up the sneaker-and-pedal-cage combo to try out the clipless bike cleat. In a post written in January of this year, I shared how I have been pretty comfortable with the pedal-cage option, as I have been using it for about 7 years for my mostly-commuting lifestyle.

With an invitation from a friend to join in some group rides, I felt like I wouldn't be taken seriously unless I made the change. I also feared that I wouldn't be able to keep up with other riders.  I was also really curious to try something new to see what all the fuss was about. How could I be so opinionated on something I had never really tried?

After about 6 weeks of use, I'm ready to share my reflections - the good, the bad and the reality - after making the switch.

1.  (The Good) They are inspiring me to ride - which has been a big surprise. This has been the single biggest and best surprise for my riding experience. I think I was over due for some inspiration, and having some new gear has seemed to do the trick. It helps that I feel more efficient, and I love the clicking sound the shoe/cleat make when clipping into the pedal. Maybe it's my little way of saying to myself "it's go time."

2.  (Okay, another Good) I am using new muscles. Yes, ones I didn't even know I had. My body apparently was using one set of muscles with the pedals and cages. Because it is using a whole other set with these babies. And I'm sore. But I like it. The new shoes are engaging my core, back and different leg muscles in a better, more efficient and more comfortable way. I'm pretty stoked because it results in a better riding experience for me. Because your foot doesn't move around very much in the shoe or on the pedal, the mechanics of completing a full pedaling revolution can be different. I'm loving it.

3.  (The Bad) They are a royal pain to walk in. Since they don't bend or have any tread, you can't walk more than 10 feet without feeling like you're going to slip or fall. You are also walking directly on the cleat, essentially wearing it down, grinding the metal on the pavement with each step. For as pleasing as the clicking sound the shoe makes as it snaps into place on the pedal, this sound is equally "nails-on-a-chalkboard" irritating.

4. (Yep, another Bad) They make falling over on your bike ridiculously easy. Wanna see a grown man tip over like a falling log? Or want to see a proud, strong athlete blush? While being clipped into your pedal helps with speed, stopping without falling over is the most difficult part of using this kind of pedal. Because the shoe is practically tied down to the pedal, the almost-thoughtless action of stopping on a bike takes forethought:  seeing the upcoming potential for a stop, planning the stop, the planning of which shoe to remove from the pedal, removing the shoe from the pedal, breaking and finally stopping. It's not impossible to master, but it does take some practice. (For the record, I have not fallen...yet. However, I KNOW that it's just a matter of time.)

5. (The Reality)  I love these babies for long-haul rides, but have no place in commuting. Here's my advice: If you love to ride for practical purposes, errand running, short trips around town, etc. stick with traditional pedals!

I have been thinking how I should adjust my daily commutes. I can see the benefits, fun and appeal of the clipless pedal for the long haul, racing crowd, but my everyday riding has undergone a temporary setback. This is well explored and explained in some recent books that are encouraging folks to just ride instead of getting caught up in the need for fancy, expensive equipment.

There are a variety of options I'm entertaining, and I'll let you know what I come up with. In the mean time, I'm interested to hear your opinions and experiences on pedals and changes versus clipless pedals. Looking forward to hearing from you!