Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random Thoughts While on the Breezer

Was this sporty couple among the many returning students at Northern Arizona University? The Arizona Daily Sun commented on all the twentysomethings on bikes filling the streets of downtown Flagstaff! More students than ever seem to be getting from here to there by bike and bike racks all over town, whether on campus or in front of Mountain Oasis Restaurant are completely full. I actually had to wait 5 or 10 minutes for a space to open up at Target yesterday. A good sign.

This week I challenged myself to bike commute outside my usual comfortable routes and outside those occasion I deem the most practical. Since I serve on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity Flagstaff, I decided to bike to our monthly meeting on 4th Street after work, adding about 4 extra miles to my ride that day. Since I had some time between work and our meeting I checked out the Wednesday Farmer's Market at St. Pius at 4th and Cedar. While the Sunday market at the City Hall parking lot is a magnet for bike commuters, I was surprised upon arrival to find myself the lone bicyclist. Pity. The Wednesday Flagstaff Farmer's Market is a perfect bicycling destination for local and regional produce, cheeses, bread and other baked goods, as well as hand loomed yarns, homemade soaps and bath salts, and other craft item. Given the fact that nearly every parking space in the very tight St. Pius lot was filled, a bike with panniers or a bike trailer might be the perfect thing.

One place that could definitely use a good bike rack is the new Greek restaurant, Taverna, at Woodlands Village Center off Woodlands Blvd. We've pedaled there twice of the three times we've eaten there in the last month (Taverna is very good, by the way, with gyros as big as your head!) and locked our bike to increasingly limited space on the hand rails that run along the parking lot. We arrived around 4:30 on Friday afternoon for drinks and appetizers and were able to find a space but upon leaving the I observed that bikes were locked up and down most of the rails close to the restaurant. I'll have to make a suggestion to the manager the next time we're in.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Young Guys on Old Bikes

Alas, our camera appears to have been dealt a near fatal blow as a result of being saturated in blackberry juice a few weeks ago. Nothing is working quite as it should. Happily though, Wayne, one our fabo IT guys at work allowed me to take some photos of him on his very old Schwinn (single gear, he tells me) and was very patient while I struggled with the camera. Like our co-worker April, he also pulled his out of a pile of garbage.

Wayne lives in Kachina Village and rides a motorcycle to work daily but keep his Schwinn at City Hall for short commutes to different work sites around town and to lunch or whatever personal errands he has during the day. What a great way to avoid the hassles of worrying about parking.

Walking off our lunchtime PB&J sandwiches later in the day, Bob and I saw this guy riding a very similar old town bike in Townsite. Stripped down, simple and efficient. I wonder if this rider also found his bike while dumpster diving? Sort of gives a girl ideas . . .

Okay, so this bike does not exactly function as transportation but it is kind of retro in its own way. How did it get there? And why? Maybe the owner is working up to bike commuting? It's a start.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bike In Style News from Far Away

Our friend and co-worker, multi-modal transportation coordinator Martin sent me this fun clip from The New York Times On the Street with Bill Cunningham reporting on his observations of people riding their bikes and other people powered alternatives on the streets of NYC - some wearing skirts!. I just love the Times and don't know how I ever functioned without it.

Back here in Flag, it was a perfect day for bike commuting. With Northern Arizona University back in session this week, the streets were filled with students on shiny new bikes, as well as old faithfuls scratched, dented and covered with dirt and mud from trails (this is a mountain biking community overwhelmingly). Unfortunately, I left the house and picked up the camera unaware that the Planner Guy had removed the batteries to power his mouse! Oh, well. Hopefully, some stylish bicyclists will be at the monthly happy-hour group bike ride tomorrow night, beginning and ending at Altitudes Bar and Grill at 2 South Beaver St # 200. My hope is to be there just in time to pedal off onto the urban trail after work, camera in hand, with Bob and 15 or 20 friends and complete strangers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

When We Aren't on Our Bikes . . . .

Inspired by the Flagstaff Farmer's Market, last Sunday the Planner Guy and I went down the very, very steep switchback to Oak Creek Canyon and picked blackberries. Enduring slippery rocks, thorns, and the possibility of rattlesnakes we collected a large kitchen bowl full of juicy, very black, blackberries.

As any berry picker knows quitting the harvest is hard when you find a fertile area, heavy with berries. Try as we might to turn around and head to the car (yes, we drove and if you knew how steep a pedal back it would have been on the way home you would agree that we made the right choice, plus we were in our Honda, so there!) but the lure of more blackberries kept pushing us forward. Plus, when you are eating the pickings you have to re-stock.

It is true that we would have liked to bike to the blackberries but for normal bike riders, on commuter bikes, not lightweight racing bikes, it simply was not possible. Does that make us bad people? I don't think so, merely disappointed that I don't have great pictures of us parking our bikes along Oak Creek and packing out with our panniers stuffed with berries. Ah, yes, those would have been charming pictures - had pictures even been possible, as I got blackberry juice all over the camera, so succulent were they. Considerable cleaning was required back at the homestead.

We ended our outing with tasty cucumber and cream cheesesandwiches from the back of the . . . car. I agree that it would have been more romantic to have been able to pull the cucumber sandwiches out of a rear wicker basket attached to the ruby red Breezer but you must believe me that it simply wasn't possible.

So while we did not bike to Oak Creek Canyon, we did pick enough blackberries to make four pies. Planner Guy, aka Chef Bob, baked his beloved (me) blackberry pie. With homemade crust. And it was fabulous! I am quite sure the flour traveled from the grocers by way of the Schwinn Jet Star, making the pie both tasty AND mostly sustainable. We have about three more pies to go, or 2 pies and 4 - 6 turnover, I'm not sure. Unfortunately, we ate the pie before we were able to clean the camera and to take a picture. If you can find a blackberry pie on the William Sonoma website, I am sure you'll get an idea of how delicious it was. Topped with homemade whipped cream, BTW.

So, in summation, we aren't on our bikes all the time. Sometimes, when we have a need for which the bikes are not practical, we give ourselves permission to be imperfect and just take the low-emission vehicle (which we someday hope to sell because public transit has some to Ponderosa Trails). But isn't it okay just to try and do the best you can? Yes, I believe I am sort-of a bike advocate but I don't want to be a extremist about it - how much credibility do any of us have when we just go beyond common sense? Flagstaff is an Olympic training ground, and I can promise you that I have never seen any gold medal hopefuls tackle Hwy 89 to and from Oak Creek Canyon. I'm pleased knowing that the school teacher next door just got a bike and is going to wear her Nutcase helmet on "crazy hat day" at her school.

More Flagstaff Mountain cycle-chic next week, I swear.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday at the Farmer's Market with the Regional Plan

The Planner Guy and I were up early this morning in order to be a to be at the Flagstaff Farmer's Market where he, his coworker Kim, County planners and volunteers from the Citizen's Advisory Commission were holding an Open House to gather public comment for the Flagstaff 2012 Regional Plan update. Public opinion about a variety of community planning topics is gathered, including that pertaining to transportation and sustainability. Members of the community can ask questions, share thoughts and concerns about the regions current direction of growth, and obtain resources for further learning about the issues and how they can be involved in contributing to the process. Among the issues important to me, as one might suspect, is the further expansion of bike (wider)lanes and the Flagstaff Urban Trail System. I'd also like to see greater emphasis on expanding public transit so that living and working car-free (or at least car-lite) is an easier option for more people. Being married to a City Planner and a city employee myself, I've had ample opportunity to give my input, but kept a low profile at Bob's booth in favor of capturing photos of the market and its patrons, especially those on bikes.

Bob and I made ready our bikes the night before since we needed to do some shopping ourselves for the coming week - our usual front porch dining needs, Dr. Hummus, Rainbow Valley Farmer's Cheese, Village Baker bread and fresh produce. I anticipated needing two panniers, Bob's saddlebag and my bike basket for all our bounty for the return ride home.

The Flagstaff Farmer's Market could the perfect place in Flagstaff for interacting with die-hard bike commuters and Sunday bike commuters. I refer to some as Sunday bike commuters since I suspect that many attending the market travel to the market by bike more for family recreation than as part of their lifestyle. In no way do is this a criticism since everyone has to start somewhere and Bob and I are from from being independent of our car. I wonder how many will eventually make that leap from biking to the farmer's market to biking to their weekday errands and to work?

It would be naive to say that making the transition from driver to pedaler is a simple task. A considerable amount of planning and preparation can be involved. After all, as progressive as Flagstaff is compared to other communities with with respect to supporting bike infrastructure, it is still a community developed with the car in mind. This woman I spoke to lives in Kachina Village, outside the City limits, and typically parks her car close at the nearest FUTS access and bikes the rest of the way in.

While recently a number of the cycle chic blogs have taken some unfair hits for allegedly only featuring youthful female bike commuters, I was really happy to have the opportunity to capture several "this is what 50 looks like" women modeling the benefits of the active, bike commuting lifestyle. They are women closer to my age and the women with whom I would like to identify. They prove that getting older doesn't have to mean slowing down or settling down.I loved this woman's casual little bag. A great wicker basket from Arizona Bikes on Aspen Avenue adorned the front of her bike, too.

But let's face it, many Flagstaff bike commuters are young - and male. This young gentleman was particularly well-dressed. Perhaps he just came from church? Maybe he's channeling Gene Kelly? Or maybe, he just knows how to dress. A crisp white shirt and khaki pants always work.

Many at the Flagstaff Farmer's Market chose to travel in pairs. Better for carrying large bags of produce back to the homestead? Or maybe it's just more fun that way to get to know one another.

Back at the Regional Plan booth, I found Bob and Kim in constant discussion with visitors to the market. Scanning the comments, I noted many suggestions related to bike infrastructure and public transportation. Bob told me that one person he spoke to works at Flagstaff Medical Center, which provides their employees with financial incentives to bike to work, thus encouraging healthier living and providing more parking for patients.

Eventually, it was time to do our shopping.

I cannot leave the market without some delicious Dr. Hummus. Required eating for our front porch.

Bob requested tomatoes and some veggies to saute with pasta. I like the little basket the vendor provides to carry selections to the cashier.

Brian of Manna, local makers of handmade soaps and lotions, sold me a tin of Rosemary Shea Butter. Fresh and heavenly. I couldn't live without rosemary.

After rounding out my shopping with four Molly's Tamales, a loaf of French bread from the Village Baker, and two butternut squash, I was exhausted and needed a newspaper and a cool watermelon cocktail. A perfect rest before helping Bob pack up and head home for homemade blackberry pie with fresh whipped cream and a front porch napping session.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Friday Night Moonlight Ride

It is often said that fall in Flagstaff begins in August. Last Friday night certainly seemed to prove it true but then again, the morning also began on a brisk note. Warm glove weather will soon be upon us.

Last week, our dear friend and coworker, multimodal transportation coordinator extraordinaire Martin sent me a little e-mail to tell me that Friday night Flagstaff Bicycle Organization was hosting a 10 mile moonlight ride beginning in downtown Flag at the bus depot on Phoenix Avenue. Awesome for two reason - riding after dark is one of my favorite things and the bus depot is is directly across the street from Fratelli's Pizza, one of Bob's favorite things. Sign us up!

So we gathered last Friday night on Phoenix Avenue, after consuming a simple but delicious pre-pedaling cheese pizza, with some 40 or so bicyclists of all ages to travel by the full moonlight over the Flagstaff Urban Trail System to our destination, Fort Tuthill.

The gathered pedalers represented various realms of the Flagstaff bicycling universe. Mountain bikers I must say were strongly represented but I recognized several bike commuters I often see on my way to and from work, including these Breezer enthusiasts. Yes, it is truly a fine commuter bike.

Martin pulled me aside to show me his prized Breezer Mountain bike, which he has upgraded over the years. Joe Breezer no longer makes mountain bikes according to Martin, who extrapolates on the Breezer mythology with considerable fondness and admiration. He in fact encouraged me to keep mine locked in one of the interior bike racks of City Hall.

As anybody who has lived in Flagstaff for any length of time will tell you, do not expect to take a moonlight walk or bike ride without running into a skunk. They were present and accounted for but happily none of us were sprayed. I one I saw was quite large but high tailed in in the opposite direction when suddenly startled by a motion sensor light.

Not a natural photographer, I failed miserably in recording the moonlit trails we covered but they were simply too mysterious and dreamy for me to stop for any shots. The FUTS paths we traversed were mostly smooth and graveled with occasional gentle assents, nothing my Specialized Expedition couldn't handle. I was grateful that despite the full moon the Running Bob reminded me to attach my headlight to the handle bars but regretted I still had not replaced my flashing rear light.

At Fort Tuthill we bicyclists gathered to wait for the slower riders, mostly younger children and the grownups accompanying them. We chatted about our impressions of the night ride and I overheard one older gentleman gush to his wife over his cell phone that he could not believe how far he had ridden, making me smile as we had only done 5 miles but learned that riding 5 miles, even at night is more than manageable and definitely the funnest 5 miles he has ever crossed. The five miles, though, was enough for Bob, who already had pedaled at least 20 miles that day, including to his morning physical therapy appointment. We were less than 2 miles from home and decided to head in that direction. Without socks and the temperatures dipping down into the low 40's our toes were quite frozen when we reached our house but we were invigorated by the ride and the starry sky. After hot baths, we threw an extra blanket on the bed and, with carefully placed dogs on the foot of our bed,soon drifted off into a satifying Friday night sleep.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What is MountainTownie Biking?

The August issue of Mountain Gazette (No. 158) features an article, Mountaintownie Biking: The Once and Future Slow Lane, along with several other articles about biking in the Mountain west. It's worth checking out.

Not surprisingly, schools of thought vary about what constitutes a mountaintownie bike. Both refer to bikes that are the preferred mode of transport for many mountain town resident. Mountain towns tend to be expensive places to set up a homestead. Mountain town residents generally trade of the cost of living for the outdoor lifestyle and some make it work by transitioning to a one car or no car household, depending on circumstances.The formalists find form and style of paramount importance. Their ride of choice is old, vintage and homebuilt, if possible. If the bike rattles, even better. The functionalists, as one gathers from the word, view the bike as a means of gettin' some place and taking care of business. While, functionalist appreciate a stylish ride, they prioritize dependability. Everything needs to work.

I'm not sure where I fit into all this but I am probably leaning toward being a functionalist. I love the old vintage cycles I see around Flagstaff but I need to get to work on time. Perhaps a good follow up piece could be "Who is the Mountaintownie rider?".

Is it me?

Is it him?

Is it her?

Anyway, great article. Lots of fun and many insights of the challenges of bike communuting in the mountain west.