Thursday, June 28, 2012

Great Cycling Cities of the World-And What Dallas can Learn

Great Cycling Cities
Because Bikes are taking over the world!

I recently joined a local online discussion regarding the use of bicycle lanes in the city of Dallas. Although there is much deserved support for this measure in my area, there is another group of cyclists within the cycling community (and I won't mention any names) who think it's best that everyone ride on the streets without the benefit of a bicycle lane. They feel that it is in the best interests of local tax payers to not have bicycle lanes around. They feel that the best answer to the bicycle commuter/motorist dilemma is to educate the cyclist and or motorist about road safety. In my discussions with some of them they have made it a point even to call out most cyclists for being at fault when there is a bicycle related injury or death on the road. They have been present in the same city hall meetings with pro bicycle lane advocates acting as the naysayers, the filibusters and the opposing party even though they should be part of the same team. They too are cyclists and they too would benefit from any measure that would allow more people to want to ride their bicycles on the roads.

I visited Berlin in 2009. Brandenburg Gates at night

The truth is, most if not all great cities are bicycle friendly. Where people yearn to live, there are bicycles present. Mentions of cities such as Paris, Rome,  Berlin, Amsterdam, conjure up romantic backdrops, but in many cases, might also bring to mind a scene of an old building with a bicycle leaned up against it. One can make the argument that most of these cities are hundreds of years old, and the small roads can accommodate bicycles much better than cars. That's one theory. Yet in the U.S, much newer cities are starting to follow the same example and are having excellent results. They have been able to reduce obesity rates in their populations, enjoy a better quality of life, and have become magnets for young professionals as well as the industries that hire them. Their down-towns and city centers provide a vibrant scene after work hours and the city becomes a community rather than a zoned area for business. In total, when a bicycle lane goes through a town or a city, everybody wins. Some of these cities are so well talked about that they are often used as adjectives to describe something's bicycle friendliness.

Cyclist in Portland,  photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Take for example, Portland. The bicycle initiative in Portland has been around for probably less than 20 years. It actually started in the 1990's as a result of the city hitting bottom and being considered one of the worst places to get around if you weren't driving a car during that time. Now Portland has undergone a 360 turn. If a city has bicycle friendly measures, you may now hear the term "Portlandia" when people talk about it. Bicycle fatalities have gone down considerably and cyclists are considered a part of the road rather than a group that doesn't belong.

New York City is another city I wanted to mention. Bloomberg's New York, not Giuliani's. Mayor Bloomberg has done more for the health of New York City than any other mayor in history.  He took New York out of being a city with dark alleys and halted traffic that went nowhere. He has been revitalizing it with bicycle lanes and much safer districts. The Times Square where I was nearly mugged over ten years ago is not the same one today. New York has also enjoyed  having transplants from other states coming in to live there because of it's health initiatives. There is actually a large growing number of Texans moving to New York, can you believe that? Bloomberg has also outlawed the sale of large two liter soda beverages within city limits. Rather than wanting to profit from the beverage giants by imposing a heftier sales tax on them, Bloomberg said "no" altogether to the over consumption of high fructose corn syrup, a chemical ingredient found in almost all processed foods in the United States, which is one of the leading causes of obesity in the nation. Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg, there's a spot waiting for you in Dallas if you get bored of New York.

Mayor Bloomberg oversaw the construction of many bicycle lanes throughout NYC. Courtesy of Ecovelo

Courtesy of New York Daily News.

Like New York, I can mention other cities that have benefited from bicycle lane infrastructure. Seattle, San Diego, San Fransisco, Chicago, and even Asheville in North Carolina which I just wrote my last article about just to name a few.

Now back to Texas. Our neighboring cities to the south of the state are starting to turn heads in dramatic fashion. Austin is leading the path as the most bike friendly city in Texas, with San Antonio taking a strong second place for it's bike sharing program initiative. Let's talk about Austin for one moment. A city with a little bit of everything in it, Austin is known for taking pride in it's uniqueness. "Keep Austin Weird" is the city's slogan which has become internationally recognized. Not only does this city boast miles of bike lanes with more in the works, it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery Texas has to offer. The Colorado River that runs through the city is a big destination for kayaks and canoes and is known for it's summertime bat watching parties when tens of thousands of bats come out to hunt at dusk. Lake Travis as well as about a hundred miles of mountain bike trails are other outdoor attractions you can find in Austin. It is also the home to professional employers like Apple and Activision. In Austin you will find more small business owners and more entrepreneurs than anywhere else in Texas. It is also home to seven time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong, who has personally put in a lot of his own efforts to make Austin even more bike friendly.

Lance Armstrong,  cycling advocate for the city of Austin, at his bike shop Mellow Johnny's. Originally posted by Bike Commute Tips Blog.

Now that we've discussed some bicycle friendly cities of the world, let's go back to, ahem, Dallas. Voted worst city for cycling by Bicycle Magazine and The League of American Cyclists. What can Dallas learn from all this? First it needs to get along. There are cyclists of all types in Dallas. There are those who wear spandex and those who don't. Those who ride for sport or recreation need to take a look at those who ride to get their groceries. The age and fitness levels of people who ride bicycles are all over the spectrum. We would like to see a city where 12 years old's as well as 70 year old people are able to get around by bicycle. For that, you need bike lanes. Education is important for bicyclists to be accepted and respected on the roads, but needs to go hand in hand with infrastructure in order to be successful in the end. Once everybody can get along, the Dallas Bike Plan  as well as a statewide safe passing law have got to be taken seriously and given more attention than lip service. These measures need to be aggressive and changes need to start happening soon. This, unlike popular belief, does not have to be financed by tax payer money alone. Dallas has it's own self financing transportation piggy bank called Interstate 90 and the Dallas North Tollway, as well as federal grants available that are designed to encourage this sort of development. It also has millions that have been given to the city by private donors and non-profits alike. Dallas, to put it bluntly, is losing it's educated young people to other states and cities around the world. Some might come back to Dallas for personal reasons or financial hardship, but most will not look back at this place reminiscing if Dallas does not step up it's game soon. I can't and won't at this time walk the Downtown of Dallas at night unless it's to see a Maverick's game, when most police are present. Otherwise it's just an invitation to get mugged or worse in a city that's too quiet for anything good to be happening. Bring in the bicycle lanes, transit oriented development, give Dallas more neighborhood businesses at are open late and maybe I'll change my mind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My trip to Georgia and North Carolina

A Bicycle's Point of View  From Georgia and North Carolina
Local Art from a festival in Asheville, North Carolina

I normally write articles based in my own area of North Texas. Sometimes you need a broader perspective on things, or just a vacation. This is exactly what I did on my trip to Georgia and North Carolina. Although I can't lump sum the two states together I can surely say that both possess a wonderful variety of natural terrain and wonderful people. 

My trip to Georgia covered the north part of the state around the Atlanta Area and south of the state on Tybee Island, which nears the city of Savannah. I left behind my ten speed conversion at home this time in favor of a more off road friendly Mongoose Otero. I do both mountain biking and road biking, and saw this trip as an opportunity to get out into the trails of Georgia and the mountains of North Carolina.

One of the stops that I made along the way, on my trip to Georgia, was the Big Creek Park trail and Greenway in the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta. This gave me a chance to try out my brand new Go Pro Hero 2 helmet camera.  Here's some video of the trail that I rode during my time there.

The surrounding cities of Atlanta, such as Roswell, Cumming and Alpharetta, are full of wide open spaces more so than you will find in north Texas. There are not as many construction projects or deforestation as where I currently reside. The roads are more narrow and wind through hills at fast speeds, yet I saw an array of cyclists safely riding in the area. It's a beautiful place to visit, dotted with tall pine trees and a mix of the rural and the urban combined. 

In the latter part of my trip to Georgia, I visited Tybee Island, off the coast of the city of Savannah. Tybee Island is known more as a tourist destination yet the whole island has bike routes and the cruiser culture is very much alive on the island.

This Truett's Diner is one of the first diners owned by the maker of Chick Fil'A

Showing off for the Camera: Popping a wheelie at Tybee Island.

One can relax at the beach, rent an old beach cruiser and peruse around, fish at the pier, or wait until the evening tides bring in good swells for surfing. I stayed on the island for two days, and on the second day swam to one of the neighboring isles close by. It wasn't until later that I discovered that they were catching black tipped reef sharks at the pier. Oh well, I survived to tell my story at least!

In contrast to the ocean and urban scenery of north and south Georgia, North Carolina was its own animal to say the least. The mountains, although not as tall as the Rockies, were still mountains indeed. The scenery was breathtaking. Mountains would descend into valleys and picturesque views of cattle staggered up a mountainside were common in this area. On my stay in North Carolina, I visited the towns of Waynesville, Canton and Asheville. Waynesville is a quiet little town with a classic city center in the middle of it. Galleries exhibited some local artist's crafts and the restaurants made a point of serving good, healthy food. Waynesville is definitely not a food desert; I can't even recall seeing one fast food chain nearby. Everything is local, fresh and organic. They even have a local farmer's market in Asheville where fresh produce is readily available.

On my second day on my visit to North Carolina I visited the towns of Canton and Asheville. There I checked out the Rough Creek Watershed historical trail and caught a glimpse of a black bear about 40 yards away from me. Riding in the real mountains is a unique experience. For one thing, going uphill is more walking the bike than anything else, also something I am not used to coming from Texas. Natural spring water pours out along crevasses on the mountainside and the water looked good enough to drink. 

A view from my Go Pro in Canton, North Carolina

 Asheville got me. It understood me down to the core. From a bicyclist's, a photographer's, and an artist's point of view- it's heaven. A small city with everything in it, Asheville boasts miles of bike lanes, coffee shops and is known for its summer art festivals as well as for the hundreds of miles of forest and mountain bike trails that surround it. It's the kind of place where new ideas are welcome and creativity is encouraged. Here's a couple of shots of interesting things in Asheville.

Like I said, this place gets me. Point of view authors like Bike Snob NYC are available at their shops

True, very true

Some wacky art at the art festival

All dogs go  to heaven?  No, all dogs go to Asheville.

Electric bikes are available for cruising around the city

Laid back: This is the typical Asheville resident artist

Mural art is seen everywhere in Asheville.
What I didn't see in North Carolina is what will bring me back someday soon. This area is known for having at least five waterfalls, canoeing and kayaking and hundreds of miles of bike trails and routes throughout. Two days weren't enough to see everything this wonderful place has to offer. Who knows, I may end up pitching my tent there one of these days! Yes, I liked it that much.

Places like Georgia and North Carolina are evidence that bicycle culture is not waning, it's growing everywhere in the country. Sometimes it is necessary to get out of your local area to realize this. We can get stuck in our own microcosms and lose sight of the greater picture; the world is a big place, and there is much left to talk about. Places like Asheville and Tybee Island help me focus on the can-dos and forget about the can-nots. Stay tuned for more articles like this, because like I said, there is much more to talk about.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vintage Bike Swap-Garland, Texas

My Day at the Bike Swap

Lots of oldies but goodies.
Today I checked out a local vintage bicycle swap meet, the first of it's kind in Garland, Texas. Garland is not known for it's bike-centric community, but there is a growing interest in cycling in this city that neighbors Richardson. Tucked away behind a self service car wash off the main interstate is Don Johle's Bike World. One of the only if not the only bike shop in town, it is a small but welcoming place for new cyclists as well as those already dedicated to cycling. Don Johle's was the host of today's event, an event which I got to participate in as well as showcase my vintage yellow Schwinn. The day's event was filled with heavy cruisers,  WWII era bicycles,  BMX, monstercross bikes, and the cat's meow of Schwinn Stingrays, Lemon Peelers, and Racers. 

It was great to get all the local feedback as well as valuable information from other bicycle restorers and enthusiasts alike.  I look forward to more events like these in my area. Here's a few pictures of the day's event.

Yours truly, Author of the Bicycle's Point of View. Courtesy of Suburban Assult

My vending stand and my featured bicycle.
BMX oddity. This is a six person BMX tandem.
Cruiser of the motorized variety.
Loved this British workhorse of a bike. I'll get one someday.
The raffle prize.
Schwinn's galore- All your 1960's boyhood dreams coming true. BMX precursors.
Participant on his custom cruiser.
Events like these help raise community awareness about cycling in a fun, non Lycra-clad sort of way. My hope is that cycling continues to grow in Garland as projects like the DART rail expansion and other city's efforts get acknowledged and recognized by the local community. Stay tuned for more reports like these from other cycling related events in the North Texas area. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vintage Find- 1976 Schwinn Varsity

1976 Candy Red Schwinn Varsity
Steel is Real!

Rummaging through the classifieds, sometimes you get lucky. I scored a deal on this 1976 Schwinn Varsity recently and I wanted to feature it as one of my vintage rides. This bike uses an single piece crankset and everything on it works through a series of bolts. That means no quick release wheels or seat post. It does however, feel very solid on the road and is built to take alot of abuse. It should be, because this bike weighs like a tank! I would conservatively say this bike is almost 40 pounds heavy. It comes with a "Schwinn approved" rear rack and eyelets on the saddle for a saddlebag. 

The really cool and unique feature about the Schwinn Varsity is it's rear derailleur. The rear derailleur on the bike moves horizontally rather than vertically along the gears, retracting from side to side rather than moving up and down. I can't say this makes for reliable or accurate shifting, but its a real interesting feature that you don't see on other bicycles.

Note how the rear derailleur moves in and out rather than up and down the freewheel.

The Vintage oval shaped Schwinn Headbadge.

This bike is a cool summer cruiser with the added advantage of having features which resembles that of modern day road bikes. This is a bike that I would use as a grocery getter or as a one of my Frankenstein creations to go on adventures with. They now have 27" knobby tires you can buy for these bikes to take them off road on flat dirt or gravel paths. If you stumble upon one of these bikes in this condition, it is definitely a bicycle sought after by a lot of Schwinn enthusiasts as well as vintage bike collectors. It is not the most prestigious bike Schwinn has ever made, but it is a piece of Americana from a time when bicycles started to become popular in the United States. This bike can also take a beating as a commuter or rainy day bike.