Author: Ellen S.

Women’s Solidarity Ride — August 30, 2014

“I am a woman who is free to ride a bicycle.”

That’s a pretty amazing statement — one made more amazing when I learned about the Solidarity Ride taking place around the world this Saturday. It’s an international event to show support for the Afghanistan Women’s Cycling team.

All you have to do to participate is RIDE! Take to your wheels in solidarity with the Afghan women that dare to ride, and remember the women that dared to ride before who paved the way for independent mobility and freedom for women around the world.

If you have the time and the friend list to accomplish it, you can organize an event and email info@mountain2mountain.org. If not, just get out and ride! Tag any photos with #solidarityride2014 on social media to add your voice to the conversation.

(Shout-out to Springfield and Willard, Missouri for already being on the list!!)

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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.

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).

kansas city scout sunset skyline

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!

What I learned from 30 days of biking

IMG_7385Back in March I stumbled upon a simple internet honor-system challenge: 30 Days of Biking in April. I had just promised myself I would start riding more around town versus my twice-ish-weekly group rides, so I impulsively signed up and started pondering places to go, like easy rides to work and longer rides to the zoo.

I feel like I learned a lot about riding (one would hope that’s the case after spending some time each day with a bike). Here are some highlights:

1. Don’t fear the granny gear. Some riders associate a sense of pride with powering up a hill without using their easiest gear. But a big reason that riding is enjoyable to me is because I don’t always feel the need to push myself to be faster. Pedaling in an easy gear — especially to a place such as work, where I don’t want to be a sweaty mess when I arrive — means I still get there, but without all of the huffing and puffing. Similarly on longer rides, a big hill won’t wear me out for the remaining miles.

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Rain won’t kill you. Invest in rain boots.

2. More biking = stronger muscles. By the end of week one, I could tell that my biking muscles were stronger and quicker to recover from long or tough trips. And when I returned to my gym from a months-long hiatus, I didn’t feel like I was starting over.

3. Rain won’t kill you. There are definitely some safety precautions a rider should take when riding in the rain, but the rain itself isn’t as much of an issue as I first thought. Plus the fenders and chain guards on BikeShare bikes prevent mud from splattering my work clothes. And I have awesome rain boots.

4. Things are closer than you think. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that riding from my home in the River Market to Costco in Midtown was a relatively quick trip. (I also learned that I can fit a tub of feta cheese, five avocados and my bike lock in my backpack! Score!) And while the ride down to KCUR’s offices takes twice as long on a bike, I’m getting exercise the entire trip instead of sitting in my car or on the bus.

5. Riding is rewarding. Feelings of accomplishment, getting sIMG_7155tronger, seeing more of the city, saving gas money, getting some exercise and getting to eat more ice cream because I rode more miles — these are just some of the great things that come from riding.

I wound up riding every day (except that one day where there were tornado watches and pop-up thunderstorms. I stayed in on the exercise bike for that one…) and I’m really proud of that. Here’s my daily log of trips (“Fifi” is the name of my bike). Where would you go?

Portland. Whoa.

IMG_8954_sq**This is the first post written by Ellen Schwartze, our newest KC Spokes People Blogger. Welcome Ellen!

I just returned to my hometown of KC after ten glorious, zero-percent-humidity, bike-lane-filled days in Oregon.

Let’s just say I have a travel hangover.

Portland, Oregon is one of the best-known biking Meccas in the U.S., and two-thirds of my trip was spent in that city, very specifically, so that I could have fun exploring by bike. Not surprisingly, for most of the trip, I found myself mentally perched between joy — of experiencing awesome bike facilities and finding an easy place to lock up my bike and sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists — and longing because I want these things in MY city, too.IMG_8950

So, what does Portland have that makes the world think it’s so great?

  1. SO. MUCH. INFRASTRUCTURE. It seemed rare to be on a street that did not have bike lanes. On one bridge, there’s a bike path that has a passing lane for cyclists to pass other cyclists.
  2. Bike corrals. I just learned this phrase from Elly Blue’s book, Bikenomics, and I love it. Several bike racks are installed in the place of a couple parking spots. It makes parking your bike a breeze because there’s always space. Do you know how often have I locked my bike to a trash can in KC? Lots of times.
  3. People biking. The bike lanes and corrals weren’t installed just for funsies; as more and more people chose to bike around Portland, the city and area businesses responded. Plus, with the amount of cyclists on the roads, drivers learned how to safely navigate with bikes. As a cyclist sharing these roads, I felt very normal — like I was just part of the flow. And everyone bikes. Tall people, round people, purple-haired people, business people. People on cruisers, people with panniers, people with rented bikes and people on their first bike.IMG_8782

(You know what Portland doesn’t have? Humidity and hills. Okay, so it rains instead of smothering you with Kansas City’s famous humidity. And, okay, yeah, there are some hills. But they aren’t like KC hills. These hills don’t crush all your dreams when you try to ride up them for the first time. Alright, fine, you know what Portland really doesn’t have? Excuses. You just bike. It’s what you do.)

But guys! All is not lost for KC! We have lots of things, too. Things like:

  1. TIME. Portland didn’t have a magic wand. City officials and residents started acting on plans more than 30 years ago. KC is now standing at the starting line of its own self-rediscovery. Bikes can be part of it.
  2. ADVOCATES. You know why you’re reading this blog.
  3. PROGRESS. Bike commuting was up 42 percent in KC in 2012. The region gained miles of new bike lanes in recent years. And there’s a ride to be ridden on every night of the week, and new groups to ride with.

There’s plenty of room to grow, but we have come a long, long way.


Ellen loves Kansas City, where she works at the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) as a Public Affairs Coordinator for the Air Quality program. You can find her riding her bike from the River Market all over KC, to Alamo Drafthouse to watch something she’s already seen or Southwest Boulevard for tacos and good conversation. When not riding bikes on their travels, Ellen and her husband run RoadGroups.com, a site where cyclists can search for group rides all over the country. She tweets random thoughts at @EllenSaysHola, bike fun at @RoadGroups, and downtown love for the Downtown Neighborhood Association at @dnakcmo.