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Keeping Your Cool Under the Sun

Summer is in full swing and it’s been delightfully mild so far, which has made for really enjoyable bike rides. But with a heat wave in full swing it’s a good time to revisit sun and heat safety tips and precautions.

Being car-less with a busy schedule, I rely on my bicycle to get me from point A to B to C— a 35 mile roundtrip commute, during which the prevention of heat exhaustion is crucial. In the days when I was an aspiring farmer, I learned a lot about regulating body temperature and have since utilized that knowledge whilst cycling in the elements. The most important lesson was the more skin exposed to the sun, the greater the risk of heat exhaustion. Although it seems counter intuitive at first, this extensive study (Walsberg, Campbell, & King, 1978. J. Comp. Physiol. 126B: 211-222) explains why wearing dark colored long-sleeved clothing is going to keep the body cooler while riding a bike. Dark colored clothing not only offers better protection from harmful UV rays, but also absorbs the radiation of heat, yes, from the sun but from your exercising body as well! The most important factor here however, is windspeed, because even the most modest wind (anything over 7 m.p.h.) will convect absorbed heat away faster than it can be transmitted to the skin.  The fabric must be breathable and loose fitting though, otherwise that refreshing breeze produced when cycling (via air circulation) is negated and the physics of using dark clothing doesn’t work. Personally, I wear classic all black because it’s my uniform for work and school. A loose fitting shirt cools my core, but I opt for the “sweat-wicking, breathable” tights for their pedaling mobility. Snug athletic pants are ideal since loose fabric can easily get caught in a bike chain. Here are more tips for keeping your cool while riding under the summer sun:

  • Wear loose fitting, breathable, long-sleeved shirts (explained above)
  • Wear sun glasses and a hat
  • Take the shady route whenever possible
  • Drink copious amounts of water and eat salty foods (electrolytes)
  • Go hybrid: bike half and bus the rest
  • Make frequent stops to refuel on water and cool off in the AC
  • Apply skin protectant with at least a SPF 15, reapply every two hours to areas exposed to sun

All of this talk of keeping cool reminds me of yet another reason I love riding the forest trails. Not only is it cooler under the canopy, these wooded trails provide ample shade, so I’m less bothered with sunscreen (and forget the bug spray— the mosquitos can’t keep up!). More interestingly though, is that nature trails have the potential to keep our cities cooler in the heat of the summer. Studies show that our climate is in flux and metropolitan areas in particular have higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas. The phenomena is referred to as the Heat Island Effect (HIE) and it’s caused from lack of vegetation coupled with vast areas of materials that store heat from the sun, such as concrete and asphalt. You can feel the intense heat when you’re on the streets and even more so as the hot cars pass by. These wooded bike trails are one way to help lower temperatures and remedy HIE.

Therefore, biking to work is a means to actively participate in the conservation of our woodlands and environment all while cooling our city and us at the same time. The trails won’t beget themselves though, it will take revolutionary cyclists opting to ride rather than drive. The forests are beckoning, so let’s mount up and go for a ride!

Roanoke Park Conservancy is doing a lot of ecological restoration with these wooded trails within Kansas City, check out this map for detailed information.

Give me just four seconds!

On my way in to work this morning, a driver behind me at a four-way stop decided she couldn’t wait the four extra seconds for me to turn left first. She accelerated, cut the corner shallow to pass me in the middle of the intersection, and sped off in front of me. Half a block later she turned into her parking lot.

What?

Her actions easily could have knocked me off of my bike, which could have made my life either (a) much harder or (b) much shorter. All because she really needed to be in her parking spot four seconds before she would have otherwise arrived.

Drivers, I know how frustrating it is to be stuck behind a cyclist! We are slower than most cars. You have to allow ample space when passing us. We sometimes take up the whole lane — and we’re protected by law when we do. But we are still humans! Speeding around us, nearly hitting us or yelling obscene things doesn’t make the roads safer, it makes you look like an impatient jerk. Many cyclists are polite: if we realize we’re holding up traffic, we may pull over or wave you past. If there’s a group of us riding, we’ll do our best to form a single-file line as soon as we notice you behind us. But if there isn’t a safe way to do those things, it is our right to use the entire lane — and running over us shouldn’t be your reaction!

Next time you’re considering pounding the gas pedal, ask yourself: are those four seconds worth ruining that cyclist’s livelihood, or possibly killing her? Is there a safer opportunity to pass her later on the road? Can you take a deep breath in those four seconds instead?

If you can do that, I can much better uphold my end of the bargain. I can ride predictably, since I won’t be scared of you accidentally sideswiping me. I will use a bike lane when available, but if there isn’t one I will ride safely in traffic. If I do take the lane, I will do so in a safe and calculated manner; I won’t swerve out in front of you. And I will not yell obscene words at you.

The best way to treat a cyclists is as if she is another vehicle on the road. Would you pass another car that closely? No? Then don’t get that close to me, either. Would you charge into oncoming traffic because that car is driving slower than you’d like? No? That’s not how you should pass me, either! I have the same rights — and the same responsibilities — as any other vehicle on the road.

Meet the Maker: Elise Keeling of ‘Pilot Valve’

IMG_0460Meet the Maker is our series of profiles on Kansas Citians who use bikes as inspiration for their art and craft. This week’s Meet the Maker is with Elise Keeling, owner of Pilot Valve jewelry.
What’s the meaning of the word “Pilot Valve“?
Pilot Valve” doesn’t mean anything in particular with my work. I found a brass tag with “pilot valve” stamped on it. I had no luck coming up with name for my business and this seemed to work-gender neutral, easy to spell, distinctive.
How long have you been making jewelry? How did you first get involved?
I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 yrs. I’ve been using bike parts for 2-3 yrs.  I had a friend show me how to break down the bike chain and that’s how I got started.
Are you a cyclist yourself?
I’m not a very serious or consistent biker, but I love to ride around the Nelson Art Gallery on a Sunday morning.
Why did you start integrating bikes into your jewelry?
I use bike parts because they are accessible (every bike shop has a pile of parts waiting to be taken the scrap metal yard). The pieces are small and lend themselves to jewelry.  I don’t have metal smithing skills so I take a “finished” item and then manipulate it for another purpose.
How would you describe your jewelry design aesthetic?
As for the look of my pieces, some would label it “steam punk”. I think it’s more broadly “industrial”.
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Where do you acquire all your materials for the jewelry?
I know some great and generous people who work on bikes so I can get parts pretty easy. Garage and estate sales also are good places to look.  If you buy some de-greaser, most bike shops are willing to find a greasy gear cassette to donate.
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Calling All Modern-Day Centaurs: Trail-Riding to Overland Park

While asphalt roads are ablaze with heat, I’m astride my bicycle under dappled green canopies, gliding through treelined trails and passages beneath the bustling streets. There’s a creek cascading over rocks, it races alongside, and we interlace as the stream snakes under the planks of wooden bridges. Mentally merging with my surroundings, I entertain the fairy-tale illusion of the speeding bicycle morphing into my galloping (Sagittarian) centaur self. Making my way along the covert course within the enchanted forest, it’s dark and cool, the breeze encircles my body, flowing through my mane as I inhale the rich earthly aroma. My innate biophilial instincts satiated, the mind silenced by the melodious birdsong, I drift away with the current of the creek…


 

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Indian Creek Trail beneath College Boulevard Bridge

This is my commute and more importantly imagination at play.  I avoid many of the exhaust ridden streets and travel 15 miles to work by bicycle via the parks and recreation trails from Midtown to Town Center.

I link together the trails of Mill Creek Park to the Trolley Track, and my favorite, Indian Creek Trail. On days I want a break from my zealous expedition however, whether it be extreme weather conditions or that I’m just wanting to read, I’ll take the KCATA bus #57 from the Country Club Plaza to 103rd and Wornall where I can access Indian Creek Trail behind the posh QT.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of riding this wooded trail, I highly suggest making a trip, there’s a mystical beauty to the forest that stirs the soul.

Check out this map of the Indian Creek Trail for more detailed information.

Kansas City Cyclists Club from Mo Valley Special Collections

Curious about KC Bike History?

Used with permission from Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

Used with permission from Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

I’m a visual learner. I like photos and videos, postcards and historical dramas (Downton Abbey! Call the Midwife! Mad Men!) to help me figure out history, and how it applies to me now. So, when I want to know more about Kansas City history, I go to the Kansas City Public Library’s website, kchistory.org.

Today I typed in bicycle! Here’s what I’ve learned, and I’m only on the first page of results:


What can you find?

Biking and Busing in Kansas City

I took my bike out on the highway last week. We hit 55 mph before we had to slow down.

I wasn’t riding my bike of course. We were both on the 51X headed to the Plaza after work. I was snug in my seat, and Fifi was tightly fastened on the bus’s front bike rack. It made getting to the plaza much nicer, as I wasn’t sweaty and gross when I met up with friends, and I got there in about half the time it would’ve taken to ride (and not much longer than it would’ve taken to drive).

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Seeeeee? I told you that ride back from the plaza was beautiful!

Taking your bike on the bus opens up fun new ways of getting around town while getting a few miles in at the same time. For example, in the plaza example above I was able to ride home that evening, taking a couple of fun detours I would’ve missed if I’d been driving. Plus, it was a BEE-YOO-TEE-FUL night, and I got a little bit of exercise.

If you haven’t used the bike racks on the front of KC’s buses, I can understand if you’re a little apprehensive about using them for the first time. They don’t seem particularly welcoming, and it’s intimidating to think of holding up the bus when they’re on a schedule. I’m here to tell you that it’s easy to overcome both of these things!

First: watch this 2-minute video from KCATA. Loading and unloading your bike is super simple. As someone who will brag about my bikey leg muscles well before mentioning my upper body strength, I can assure you the front racks aren’t too heavy. Just be sure to leave enough space between you and the bus for it to unfold.

Second: I’ve yet to find a driver who is rude about me loading my bike. At worst they’re indifferent. That video may have lasted two minutes, but loading your bike — even the first, most awkward time — only takes a handful of seconds. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to load it in the time it takes for other passengers to board the bus and futz around with their bus passes.

(It’s normal to worry about your bike when it’s on the front rack. Just sit close to the front and breathe easy, mama. That bike isn’t going anywhere. You’re a wonderful bike parent doing the best you can. We all get nervous sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.)

Some of my favorite bike-and-bus combos (start/end in the River Market):

  1. MAX or the 51X to the plaza. Ride back via JC Nichols –> Westport Rd –> Pennsylvania, through Penn Valley Park, and back northish on Southwest Blvd. to Walnut. Bonus points for stopping at Murray’s for ice cream!
  2. Main Street MAX down to Waldo. Ride the Trolley Track Trail back to the plaza, then head over to Rockhill Rd which turns into Gillham which turns into Oak to get north. Bonus points for joining the Brookside Ride on Thursday nights!
  3. The 25 or the 108 to the Kansas City Zoo. Ride back via Meyer Blvd –> Paseo –> 9th St –> Charlotte (now with bike lanes!). Bonus points for finding the piano-key bench at 12th & Paseo!

Meet the Maker: Tara Tonsor

164246_10151512851448808_1011186810_n*This post is the beginning of a new series, called Meet the Maker, a recurring feature about how local Kansas Citians integrate cycling into their art, business or craft. This week’s feature is with Tara Tonsor, a local jewelry maker and owner of Lost & Found Jewelry by See{k} Design.

How long have you been making jewelry?

Steadily for over 5 years, but as a creative person I have always dabbled in jewelry even as a little kid. Craft nerd!

How long have you been biking?
When I lost my car it seemed to be the best solution at the time. I killed the engine, and realized I didn’t want to deal with another payment plan, and I lived and worked close, so temporarily I thought I’d wait awhile. That was three years ago. I do think I will eventually purchase a car, but the experience of surviving without one has changed me incredibly. Not only am I more healthy and in tune with my body, I am more aware of how i spendIMG_20130906_191719 money, how I affect the environment, and I how can make a smaller carbon footprint.

Why did you integrate bikes into your jewelry?
The idea just came to me one day. When I think of wearing jewelry, I think something worn around your neck is a symbol of perhaps your beliefs, your passions, what you love. It made sense.

How would you describe your jewelry design aesthetic?
I prefer natural materials. I find simplicity important, but a mix of materials that are warm and inviting. The lasercut designs are made from bamboo. The chain is usually bronze, and I add natural stones or charms as well. I’ve been working with bicycle inner tube tires as well lately.

How popular are your bike themed pieces for your customers?IMG_20131028_225707
Being a part of the bike community, they are very popular! Sometimes I end up meeting a mom or grandma who buys them for their daughter/granddaughter and they say, “She rides her bike everywhere, o this is perfect for her.” I think that is very cute. I have many guys that wear them too!

As a cyclist, what do you hope to see as the future of biking in Kansas City?
Personally I want to see KC (especially the more suburban areas) to recognize cyclists as part of the road and that many of us do obey the road laws just as cars. Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit uncomfortable in these areas, even family neighborhoods right next to schools where children ride their bikes! I think the concept of educating both cyclists and drivers of how to share the road without either party feeling accused or threatened is tricky, yet much needed.

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A Cyclist’s First Racing Experience

By Tyler Galloway

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Tyler Galloway, second from the right, raced his first bike race last weekend. Photo by Roger F. Harrison

I did it.

I finished.

I reached my goal but it was only slightly less than hellish finishing my first road race. Even better, I later found out that I wasn’t even in last place (though it kind of felt like it at the time), so I count that as a solid win.

Being relatively new to road bike riding, I really had no idea what to expect of a race scenario, beyond a lot of dudes in spandex with fancy bikes (which was met in spades on race day). On an impulse and out of impatience, I signed up for the annual State Line Road Race. The men’s beginner group in which I was slotted (“Cat 5”), would ride a total of 42.5 miles. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, particularly since it was only about a week before the race and my “training” consisted of squeezing in one 50-mile ride before the race, which would be about the farthest I’ve ever ridden. I never said I was the smartest at doing this; I was just excited about testing my mettle.

As I entertained delusions of keeping up with the pack during the race, my wife smartly advised me to go in with a “just check it out” attitude. I worked to heed her advice as a way to avoid nervousness, which was fairly successful, but I could think of little else the few days before the race. My sleep was restless the night before as my brain would not calm down, despite my best efforts.

The race started at a pace way faster than I had ever ridden before, but I was determined to stay in the pack because I knew the wind resistance would be much easier than going it alone. Some aspects of the first two laps were even easy as we zipped up and down the rolling hills on country blacktops – others were not. These guys powered out of corners and went into beast-mode up hills. I received a good dose of humility on my first lap as I watched probably 10 guys pass me ascending some stair-step hills. With a lot of effort, I was able to catch the pack and maintain the pace for another lap. About halfway through the race, though, the pack started to slowly pull away from me. There was nothing I could do to catch up and, disheartened, I watched a group of over 20 riders slowly but surely leave me (and a few others) to battle the wind and hills alone. Already feeling dejected that I had done so poorly, I waffled between giving up and slugging it out by myself. I thought about my wife’s advice and pep-talked my way through the remaining laps. It even felt like I finished my last lap a bit faster, as I knew the end was near and I would indeed survive.

Immediately afterwards I felt a mixture of happiness (that I had finished) and disappointment (that I was so slow, relatively speaking). Later, I was greatly encouraged after looking at my GPS stats to see that it was one of the fastest, farthest rides I had ever done, no doubt due to the competitive nature of the ride. In the end I realized that I had ridden two races – the first half was for the race itself, for others, to keep pace; the second half was for myself, to prove that I could stretch myself to achieve a lofty goal. The great thing is that it took the former to achieve the latter at the level I did, and that’s enough to make me


Tyler Galloway, a former low-level bmx-er turned low-level road cyclist, is an Associate Professor of visual communication at the University of Kansas. He lives in Lenexa with his wife and six-year-old daughter.

Taking Your Bicycle on Amtrak

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Amtrak bike boxes come with written instructions.

 

By Caroline Helmkamp, local resident and experienced bicycle traveler. 

    Earlier this summer Amtrak announced that it was expanding bike service with specially designed baggage cars to carry bicycles without being placed in a shipping box.  Amtrak is still in the planning stages for bike racks in the new baggage cars, and specific information about how this will all play out is not currently available.  They do intend to improve service to cyclists and to make traveling with bikes easier according to Ms. Deborah L. Stone-Wulf in an email message to me.

This is very good news for those of us who want to take bike tours away from our local region.  Amtrak currently has a policy that allows bikes to be taken on some Amtrak routes, and we have done this a number of times.  We have taken full sized bikes and our folding bikes on board.  We have also shipped our full sized bikes on Amtrak and flown to our destination, collecting our bikes at the Amtrak Station.

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Remove two nuts and turn the handlebars.

There are several caveats about planning an Amtrak journey with your bike.  The most important is to ensure that the Amtrak route you plan to follow is on a train that can actually accommodate your bike; not all trips will.  Most cyclists in our region are already aware that the River Runner with twice daily service between Kansas City and St. Louis allows four bicycles on the train with a reservation.  The cost is $10 per trip.

The Southwest Chief which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles with a daily stop in Kansas City in each direction will also take your bike, but it must be placed in a box and may not exceed 50 pounds.  The fee for this service is $15 for the box and $10 for the trip.  The essential thing to know, however, is that this service is only available if the station you go to has BAGGAGE HANDLING.  Kansas City does, but if you are going east on the Southwest Chief, the only place you can take your bike with you is to Chicago.  None of the intermediate stops currently has baggage service.

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Remove the Pedals. I attach sandals and helmets to the rear rack.

The Amtrak staff at Union Station can always tell you the stations with baggage handling, and the baggage icon on the official Amtrak schedule also shows those stations. On one occasion we had to change our tour when we realized that a train we wanted to transfer to did not have baggage handling.

When we first shipped Long Haul Truckers on Amtrak, we wrapped our frames in pipe insulation, stuffed lots of bubble wrap inside the box and added additional padding.  Then we taped them shut with a vengeance!  Now that we have some experience, we don’t worry so much about their being damaged—because they NEVER have been.

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Roll the bike, back wheel first, into the taped-up box

The process takes less than an hour, but it is a two person operation.  At the station in Portland, Oregon and Washington DC, Amtrak personnel actually assisted us in the process.

The box that Amtrak sells passengers is enormous; don’t think about the boxes you get from your local bike shop.  Those are meant for bikes that are broken down and are a lot smaller.  Our Long Haul Truckers roll into the Amtrak boxes with their fenders, front and rear racks and often a tent strapped to the rear rack.  We often fasten our helmets and shoes onto the frame as well.  Of course, you have to loosen the handlebars, turn them, and strap them to the frame.  Pedals also come off.  George’s bike is a large frame; mine is a 42 cm, so there is room to spare, but both go into the Amtrak boxes with no other alterations to the bikes.

Unlike at the airport, we have never seen the bike boxes disappear on a conveyer belt.  There are cutouts on the sides of the boxes for human hands. We have seen them in railway baggage carts, and on their ends, but they seemed no worse for the wear.

You can also check your panniers in the baggage car.  We zip tie two panniers together so they become “one” bag to check.  We carry the other panniers onto the train with us.  Everything goes on the train you embark on.  If you transfer from one train to another as we often do, the baggage handlers take care of bikes and panniers in the station.  Upon arrival, bikes and panniers are off loaded and presented to you.  It’s handy to have a knife to open the taped-up boxes and tools to reconnect the handlebars and the pedals. Then you attach your panniers and lights, put your helmet on, and roll out of the station.

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Ta Da! Your bike is ready to go!

O.K., I know that many travelers have terrible Amtrak tales to tell.  We have a few as well.  But overall we find traveling with our bikes on Amtrak is pleasant, efficient, and economical.  There was a time when we used the airlines, but the days of free shipping + free boxes are long gone.  In addition, going from one Amtrak station to another is usually a lot more convenient than using airports far out on Interstate Highways.

It seems to us that the slow-paced tempo of a train ride matches the slow-paced tempo of our tours.  We look forward to the changes that Amtrak has in store, but we’ve already found that taking our bikes on board is a fine way to get to and from a self-contained tour.


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Caroline Helmkamp is a retired educator and experienced bike touring guru. She is also involved with bicycling education and advocacy in Kansas City. Check out her list of resources at http://caroline-touring.blogspot.com