Winter schminter

Perhaps no posts in two months have left the impression that my e-bike is in hibernation for the winter. Actually it’s more an indication that I’ve been riding so much I haven’t had time to post anything.

Until this year I’ve always hated riding in winter. That’s probably because I’ve never done it before, assuming it would be a horrible experience. Bad assumption.

I logged 216 miles on 29 rides in November, most in any month since June. With the snow and a week out of town in December, the totals dropped to 137 miles and 24 trips. So far in the eight days of January, I’m at 79 miles on 13 trips–a pace to top 300 miles. In January!

Yes, it’s cold. Yes it gets dark before I get home. The roads are in terrible condition and getting worse by the day. But just as I discovered back in the day before my knees went bad when I could run five miles a day, getting outside in winter improves my mental state a lot. I really savor being outside, and the bracing cold becomes refreshing, the spectacular sunsets a bonus on the evening commute.

(And this wouldn’t be an post without extolling the virtues of e-biking.) E-biking makes winter biking so much better. I find the worst thing about winter cycling to be the vicious gusts of wind out of the south on those days when the temperatures climb into the 50s and 60s. With an e-bike, I can neutralize this by upping the level of pedal-assist, cutting through the wind with relative ease.

Random E-bike Observations–November 4

Riding in on the State Liner (Route A) at 7:05a this morning, I was reminded how peaceful this route can be. By the time I reached the first busy street, the Southwest Boulevard, which is three-fourths of the way to my office, I had been overtaken by but a single car.

That’s five miles of nearly car-free riding, in the heart of the city courtesy of zero public bike infrastructure. All it took was an e-bike, the right route and an early start.

I’ve finally assembled most of my cold-weather riding gear. Today’s 46 degree temperature wasn’t really much of of a challenge for it, but certainly tougher tests are to come. If you’re interested in details, here’s what I’m wearing for our early fall mornings:

  • Wool cycling socks
  • Blue Jeans
  • Medium-weight polyester base layer from North Face on the Plaza (which I intended to soon compare to a Merino wool version)
  • Softshell cycling jacket in “Visibility Yellow” from Shawnee Trek store.
  • Merino wool beanie from Shawnee Trek.
  • Head gloves from Costco.

The softshell jacket is an adequate windbreaker even at 30 mph and everything is breathable, so I didn’t feel sweaty by the time I arrived.

I finally added a side mirror, and after just a few rides, I wouldn’t ride without it. I was reluctant because previously had a helmet-attached mirror, which was worthless.

All in all, a cloudy, dreary early November Monday morning is vastly improved by a bicycle commute to work.

Shortcuts added to routes

I use Route B: the Midtowner often to get from my office in the Crossroads to the Broadway Cafe in Westport. I would usually ride over to Main Street at 20th to pick up “B” and take it the rest of the way, and was perfectly content with that route.

Then Kevin Klinkenberg suggested I ride around the Penn Valley Park to Summit and then to my office. Turns out, it was a great suggestion, carving several minutes off the trip.

But it also presented a dilemma: how to add these segments to the overall map without it becoming too confusing and complex? The answer: short-cuts.

These routes are handy segments that are great for e-biking and may prove useful for some riders. But they don’t really justify a formal route of their own.

We’ve added two short-cuts to the system map to start. One is the Penn Valley cut, and the other is a reader-suggested route that connects KU Med and Route A to Westport and Route B along 41st Street. And we will add more as they are identified.

The short-cuts are on their own map layer, so they can be hidden to keep the overall map less cluttered. Like the major routes, the short-cuts can be downloaded to RidewithGPS for detailed directions on a smartphone.

My favorite weather app

I’m not one to let a little forecasted rain keep me from e-biking. But I don’t like riding in the rain either. That makes my choice of weather app important. 

I use AccuWeather (#2 weather app on Apple’s App Store; free). It provides a circle graphic that shows projected precipitation for the next 120 minutes. The length of the segment shows the duration and the color shows the intensity. And it gives a pretty dang accurate projection at a precise location.

Today the overall forecast was a 67% probability of rain. AccuWeather’s hourly forecast revealed a morning and afternoon window for riding that suited my schedule, so decided to ride. I took an unplanned detour to a coffeeshop to get some work done, and by the time I was ready to leave, rain was starting to come down. AccuwWeather’s “rain circle” showed light rain in the area for the next 7 minutes, so I took shelter for a bit and let it pass. The remainder of the drive was dry.

When I was ready to return home, I checked the rain circle:  no rain at my starting point for 120 minutes, but rain beginning in 28 minutes at my destination, a 25-minute ride away. So I had a 3 minute margin of error. A minute from home, it started to sprinkle. 

I find the AccuWeather to be, well, generally accurate, and very useful for trip planning like this. In six months of riding nearly every day I’ve only been caught in the rain once, and that’s because I didn’t check the forecast.

Crosstown routes taking shape

North-south travel patterns dominate in KC, making identification of east-west (crosstown) routes difficult. There are fewer options; they are generally narrower and carry heavy traffic. So we’ve been slow to identify recommended crosstown routes. However, after a summer or riding, and thanks to the suggestions of readers, we’re beginning to add such routes to the map.

Our first, Route AA: Armour, uses the city’s only protected bike lanes as the backbone for a route that runs from Broadway on the west along Armour to where it becomes 35th Street east of MLK and all the way to Benton Boulevard, where it connects with Route G, the East Sider. It’s a straight shot. Along its relatively brief 2.4 mile route, it connects routes B, C, E and G and is one of the flattest routes possible in KC, with a maximum grade of 1.1%

Our second, Route BB: Meyer, runs from Route A: the State Liner at the Belinder Circle in Mission Hills east along Tomahawk to where it becomes Meyer Boulevard, and then along the entire length of Meyer to the front gates of Swope Park.

One glitch here: Google Maps only supports 10 layers, and since each route is on its own layer, we’ve hit the limit. Route BB, therefore, isn’t yet shown on Google Maps. We’ll probably need to restructure the map so all Crosstown routes are on the same layer, and then provide separate links to the RideWithGPS pages for these routes.

Katy Trail e-bike friendly

Fall is a wonderful time to ride the Katy Trail, and e-bikes are allowed. The trail speed limit is 20 mph and e-bikes are not subject to a power limit. Here’s a year old archived Reddit post about riding the Katy on an e-bike.

Quick Take: The Hyde Parker

Note: Quick Take posts are comments from a single ride along a route. As such they aren’t intended to be comprehensive evaluations or conclusive.

Today I strayed from my regular morning commute on Route A to take Route C: the Hyde Parker to get an impression of this route during rush hour. In particular I was worried that traffic would be breathing down my neck along Brookside Boulevard. I needn’t have worried. Traffic was light the whole way.

Here are some random observations:

  • I’m not sure if I were starting in Brookside and heading Downtown I would take this route. It may swing just a bit too far east. Route C comes near connecting the southern end of Route B: the Midtowner, so I think it’s worth seeing if they can be connected. On the other hand it was 25 minutes from Brookside to Downtown, which isn’t too bad.
  • For its namesake neighborhoods (South, Central and North Hyde Park) as well as for Longfellow, this is a fabulous route. I used to ride Gillham, enduring the traffic for what I perceived was a more direct route. Yet the Holmes/Charlotte pair used by Route C is far better in all respects.
  • The only point of congestion was in the middle of the Truman Med complex thanks to a long line of delivery trucks camped in the left lane. It warranted an extra measure of caution.
  • The Holmes/Charlotte section is amazingly quiet. It felt like a Sunday morning.
  • The pavement along the route was in reasonably good condition–especially by KC standards

Reconsidering Grand Avenue. Nope.

Our downtown routes use Walnut Street, one block west of the official Grand Avenue dedicated, unprotected bike lanes that were over seven years in the making.

In the spirit of always searching for a better route and always questioning the existing routes, I reconsidered whether we were right–whether Walnut beats Grand. And after all, a lot of time, energy and money was spent on the Grand Avenue lanes. Grand is a wider street. It’s the official way to go. So I did what we do: I got on my bike. I rode the streets in traffic.

And yeah no, Grand stinks.

It’s a bone-rattling, frame shattering ride. The condition of the pavement is simply dreadful. And it’s not from potholes, but from endless street cuts and terrible patch jobs. In many places, the utility covers are several inches below the street surface–a kind of intentional, permanent pothole. So unless the intent was to create a bike slalom course, this street should never have been considered until repaved curb to curb.

And of course there is no maintenance of the painted lane markers, which are now badly faded and incomplete. Apparently it’s acceptable to pour a big pad of concrete and simply ignore the need to re-stripe for the bike lanes.

At several intersections, the bike markings completely disappear and it’s not at all clear where a cyclist is supposed to be once they arrive at the other side of the intersection.

I know we have ambitions to climb the rankings of cycling friendly cities, and I’m optimistic that someday we will, but I’d suggest that until we’re serious about doing better, that someone from the city go down and power wash this mess away.

So is Walnut a great route? No. But it’s better than Grand, and our routes that use it stand unchanged for now.

California provides incentives for e-bike purchases

California Governor Gavin Newsom has just signed legislation that expands the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program to include vouchers for e-bikes. The bill is California Senate Bill 400 (SB 400). The program has provided support for buying electric, hybrid, and plug-in cars and mobility options such as car-sharing memberships and transit passes. Now e-bike purchases are included.

An editorial in Outside Magazine makes the case that the current $375 million in annual subsidies for electric cars would go a long way if applied to e-bike purchases instead.

Searching for east-west connectors

We’ve been exploring different east-west connector routes, and can use some help and input. The goal is to find the best routes for e-bikes today, that can connect to the north-south routes. Those north-south routes connect people to our two largest job centers – Greater Downtown and the Plaza area.

Armour and 35th Street seems like an obvious candidate. The protected bike lane on Armour is excellent, and 35th Street to Benton is a good route without much traffic.

51st Street has some advantages, too, since it doesn’t have a freeway interchange at Bruce R Watkins Drive, However, it has a series of hills that aren’t ideal, and it dead-ends into UMKC, which would require some work-arounds. That’s fine, but we’d like some other opinions on this route.

Riding along Brush Creek, especially from the Plaza to Cleveland is very interesting. It’s not meant to be a higher speed bikeway, but there’s rarely any people walking or running on it today, so there’s little traffic competing for the space. But it also isn’t terribly well-maintained, and there’s trash and homeless people to dodge, as well as some tight curves. Check it out, let us know what you think.