"Take My Picture, Mommy"

It was a simple request at the ice skating rink in downtown Tampa.  The little girl, maybe six, asked her mom to take her picture as she played by the dancing fountains.  Her mom smiled and said "I don't have my phone, baby."  What a change the years have brought.  Ten years ago the answer would have been "I don't have my camera" rather than talk of a phone.  It is a statement that highlights the impact of technology on our lives.

Every day our eyes are filled with images that capture our imagination and create memories we carry throughout our lives.  Sometimes these images impact the way we see nature, other times it is simply how we see those who surround us on the streets of our cities, sometimes it is the opportunity to catch our child at play.  Human nature drives us to attempt to recreate these images and share them with those we love. 

Rainbow over Tampa Bay
 (Taken with Inspire 4G)
As a full-time bike commuter, I have seen many wonderful sights, especially the rainbows that have appeared in the sky as I began my journey home.  While setting up my ride tracker on Endomondo, I was able to quickly capture this image as the rainbow spread across Tampa Bay. 

This week I ran across an amazing gallery of photos taken by Ali  Zaidi using his Droid Incredible.  The photo library shows 38 photos taken of a variety of nature shots.  The key here is knowing how far the capabilities of our phones have come.  Our phones have become a key element in our daily lives, driving how we communicate and now how we capture and share memories. 

Thanks Ali for showing what can be accomplished with a little vision and a smart phone.  Truly some incredible shots in your gallery.

A Typical (Atypical) Morning Commute

It was 64 degrees and sunny Thursday morning when I was preparing my bike for the morning commute to work.  Not your typical fall morning in St Petersburg, FL, but a nice day for a ride.  There was a pretty good breeze -- weather reports indicated 10 - 15 MPH -- from the north, which added a challenging obstacle to the days ride, especially since my morning commute is due north (directly into this morning breeze). 

My morning ride seems a bit easier since the recent time change.  There is something about the sun being up in the morning that makes the ride a little easier to commence.  However, sun or no sun, a stiff wind in the face will always add some excitement to the ride.  I threw my right leg over the top tube of my Trek 7.3 FX, launched Endomondo on my HTC Evo 3D phone and started the countdown to "free my endorphins," as Endomondo likes to speak at the start of a ride.  I always track my ride so this part of the commute is almost ritual.  This day would bring a welcome surprise along the route.

As the countdown hit zero, I pushed my left leg down on the crank, securing my "clipless" shoes, which ironically are not "clipless" at all, into the pedals as I drifted towards 13th Avenue.  A quick right turn and off to the races I go, moving along the road with ease with just the hum of the tires rising from the road.  Travelling east for the next mile, I notice a rare site -- another cyclist on 13th Avenue at the intersection of US 19. 

As I prepare myself to greet my fellow rider as we wait out the traffic light I notice an odd familiarity to the cyclist I am approaching.  I have definitely seen this jersey and bike before.  I pull up beside my fellow commuter and he looks over and gives me a hearty "heyyyyyy!" greeting with his Caribbean accent; it is my cycling friend Earl Henry. I haven't seen Earl on roads since late September, when he was training for the World Championships.  I usually see him about seven miles north of here at a place called "Gateway Center."  Gateway Center is a great area for a cycling workout due to the amount of pavement and limited traffic.  

Earl Henry
It's always good to see Earl.  He told me about his experience at the October race in England where he won two gold medals and set a world record at the World Championships for Track racing.  We speak briefly before the light changes and then head off in our different directions.  Seeing my 70-year-old friend out on his bike is oddly comforting.  Earl is a picture of health and a testament to the benefits of cycling.

It seems the breeze has picked up a bit but the sun remains and traffic is light.  Endomondo calls out my total time and my lap speed as I cruise through the kilometers it tracks for me on my ride.  I hit 28th Street and turn north to ride the next 8 miles directly into the breeze that is challenging me to pedal harder.

The roads are dry, the hum of my tires continues, and the wind begins to laugh at me as I push through the invisible barrier it is trying to erect.  Yet through it all I can only smile.  Endomondo calls out another lap time, slower than the last, and the wind begins to laugh as it punishes me by turning my 40 minute commute into a 55 minute duel.

I pull into work and get ready to hit the showers as the wind whips the flag flying in front of our building.  My smile widens as I laugh at the wind for the punishment it gave me this morning.  For I know what the wind doesn't; while we fought for close to an hour for my morning commute, this wind will be my friend in a few short hours.  Richard, the security guard, tells me, "that must have been a tough ride."  I nod my head and point to the flag.  See how the flag is waving?  He says yeah.  The wind is coming from the north, in just a few hours, this wind will push me home. 

Sometimes fighting through the barriers of a ride are eased by the smile of knowing this current barrier will soon be your aide, your friend.  It was a good day to be on a bike.

Be safe!

Trek Demo Days in Loves Park, IL

I have always wanted to go to Ocala or Alafia in central Florida to attend a Trek demo days, but my schedule has never really allowed me to.  Until today!  In Loves Park, IL.  I know, it isn't the same and that is true.  But, it was a demo days none the less.
Trek Bikes Demo Days - Rock Cut State Park

After flying to Chicago, I drove over to Rockford, IL for a business trip.  While here on a Sunday I decided to go over and check out Rock Cut State Park about 2 miles away.  As I pull in and drive around, what do I find but a Trek tent set up in the park.  It was quite a fun time and tons of new 2012 bikes!  They had a rack of Cronus CX and some Fisher 29ers.  Personally, I zoned in on the Madone 6.9 SSL - all 14 pounds of it.  I took it for a ride around the park and the first thing I noticed is this Tampa, FL boy is not used to the rolling hills of Northern IL.  It would have been nice to be in my cycling gear as well, but even in jeans and Merrill's, the Madone is a sweet ride.  With full Dura Ace components, this was easily the smoothest shifting bike I have ever ridden.  And this thing flew down the hills; once I climbed up and then got rolling.  I hit the drops and hung on around the hills and curves -- easily hitting 30+ mph. 

Larry with Ken & Lauren from Trek Bikes
This particular bike was a compact set up with 53/39 double crank and 11 - 25 10 speed cassette.  Ken and Lauren from Trek set the bike up for me, 58CM frame with a Race XXL saddle.  I had to ride on some simple nylon pedals since I didn't have my shoes, but the bike was simply made to race and she quickly jumped out and screamed at me to ride faster.  I definitely look forward to the day I can upgrade my 7.3 FX to a pure road bike, but this bike is not for commuting.  She wants to race!

Trek Shop Towel and Winter Cap - Thanks Trek!

If you get the chance, hit a Trek Demo days and check out the 2012 line of bikes.  You will NOT be disappointed.  I can't wait for my next chance to go to a demo days.

be safe!


Vehicular Homicide: Car vs. Bike

Jury Duty: I Was Actually Seated!  Then I was dimissed just prior to deliberations as I was deemed an alternate.  Now why is that amazing?  Well, I am a full-time bike commuter and the case was Vehicular Homicide; Car v Bike. 

I have to admit, when the Voire Dire started and they asked if anyone rode a bike I figured I would soon go home.  I raised my hand and I was questioned at length about cycling:
Do you have a light on your bike?  Do you have a tail light that blinks?  Do you stop at stop signs?  Do you stop at red lights?  Do you ride on the road? Do you talk on your cell phone?  Blah, blah, blah...
I was completely surprised when we came back in to learn I was on the jury.  I was more surprised at the legal process in the state of Florida.  I can tell you without a doubt that the 2009 Toyota Yaris did in fact hit the cyclist.  I know the cyclist died.  I know the cyclist was crossing the street at an angle, against the traffic signals.  I also know the cyclist was impaired (drugs and alcohol).  What I don't know?  I don't know who was driving the car and I don't believe the prosecution proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt!  Why you ask?  Well, let's go over that.  But first - I can tell you it was a young black man on trial and the only black person on the jury was also dismissed as an alternate just prior to deliberations.  I know that we both felt, based on the evidence presented, the young man on trial was "Not Guilty."  I also know that the jury of his six peers, all white, convicted him of vehicular homicide, fleeing and alluding and leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death.  I also know this young man is facing 60 years in prison.  So why do I feel they got it wrong?

Well, let's start with the evidence.  First off, the eyewitness of the police officer, who gave a positive ID of the driver of a car, that the officer acknowledged was driving in reverse at 25 MPH; at a distance of 20 - 25 feet.  So, there was a positive ID of a black driver who was not facing forward, at night, from 25 feet away, in a black car. The original description called in was a "light skinned male with short hair."  Doesn't sound real black to me.  Also, I struggle with the fact that the officer changed his description 3 times over the first nine hours after the accident.

DNA evidence showed that the driver was NOT a potential contributor to DNA taken off either the drivers door handle or the steering.  However, the DNA evidence shows that the driver was a potential contributor to the DNA sample on the gear shift.  Oh, there are at least 100 other males in St Pete who also matched the sample.  It also showed it could have been a white male or a Hispanic male.

Finally, the car was found in an abandoned house in the defendant's neighborhood.  WOW - and that convicted him.

Don't get me wrong, I want justice for the cyclist.  But I want fair justice.  After three days of the trial, I am convinced he was not the right person.  So what to do?  Really, there is nothing I can do.  Except continue to be safe on the streets, continue to pursue cyclist rights.  More importantly, I can pursue fairness in the legal system.  As long as folks are railroaded, there will always be animosity between parties.

As always, be safe!

Is It a Bike Lane or a Gutter?

The things you find on the streets of St Petersburg!  These two little guys decided to hitch a ride with me to work by embedding themselves in my rear tire on two different morning commutes.  Which got me to thinking - is it a bike lane?  Or, is it a gutter?

I don't want to take away from what the city of St Petersburg, FL is trying to do, but there is not much effort it seems to keep the gutters, err bike lanes, clean.  Currently I am riding on Continental Gatorskin Hard Shell tires, so they do a really good job of keeping my tires inflated.  However, I know of no tire that can match 3 inch nails.  I also seem to always grab them on my rear (drive) wheel.  I have never understood that. 

Regardless, I will continue my commute and look for ways to avoid road debris, but you also, be safe out there.  There is likely a few items waiting to "nail" you too!

be safe

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Rainbow over Tampa Bay!  Leaving for my commute home, after a few hours of thunderstorms in the Tampa area, I was greeted by this sight.  This time of year can be very taxing for bike commuting because of the lightning, but what a way to start a ride home!  Nothing says "enjoy the ride" quite like a nice big rainbow arching over your route.
Be safe folks and peace out!

My Trusted Ride

Here is a picture of my trusted ride.  She has taken me over 3100 commuting miles so far. 


3,100 Miles, 400 Commutes, and 45 Pounds

Year one of bike commuting is complete and the numbers speak for themselves.  I pedaled over 3,100 miles while making over 400 commutes on my bike.  Oh, and I lost 45 pounds.  Well, to be honest I actually lost over 50 pounds but I put back on 6 pounds over the last month.  Something new to work on!  So what does it all mean?  Was it worth the effort, the work, the close calls?  The short answer is yes. The long answer?  Well, keep reading.

I started my journey of bike commuting because I simply did not have time to exercise.  I have a friend in Washington State who has been bike commuting for three years and 20,000 miles so I figured I would give it a try.  Since my commute was only five miles, and I was unsure if I would be able to stick to it, I borrowed a single speed from a friend (Twitter @lmtdslip) and worked to see if the five miles was doable.  Fortunately, my work is very cool and progressive and they offer showers and locker rooms for those who work out in the morning or at lunch.  While the first week was hard and I was soaked by the time i got to work, I found that the trip was attainable.  Further, as I continued to ride I found that the stress relief of riding home after work was a tremendous help.

So I took the plunge and bought a Trek 7.3 FX to use as a daily commuter and began the adventure of full time commuting September 6, 2010.  I don't want to make this a huge posting, but the results speak for themselves I believe.  The biggest being the 45 pounds I lost.

I also reconnected with an old high school friend whom I haven't seen in over 25 years.  Chris (Twitter @cluise) is now in Connecticut and is working on training his son's scout troop on their biking.  I hope to get up to Connecticut soon and perhaps go for a ride with Chris.  It's been too long. 

In addition to the daily commute, my son and I did a 62 mile fundraising ride for the American Diabetes Association, together raising over $2,000 for Diabetes research.

I pedaled over 3,100 miles while trying out Continental Gator Hard Skins and Specialized Nimbus Armadillo's.  I lowered my resting heart rate from 77 to 43 BPM, lowered blood pressure and saved some serious jack.  Because my truck got 15 miles to the gallon I figure I didn't buy 206 gallons of gas (3,100 divided 15).  Using an average of $3.50 per gallon for the course of the past year and that is $721 NOT spent on gas.  Take that big oil!

The down side?  Over the course of the first year the Camino wheels on my Trek 7.3 FX lost 10 spokes.  I finally had them rebuilt with DKSwiss spokes.   I am still holding out hope that Trek will supply me with a new bike for my daily commute, even if only on a test basis.  I love my trek, but other bike shops and companies are asking me to use their products and write about it so I am not sure how long I will be on a Trek.

That said, I do feel a sense of accomplishment over the past year.  Even my co-workers have stopped mocking me, even to the point of asking where is my bike on days I have to drive.  Pretty cool?

So, if you are reading this, I urge you to give it a try.  You doctor will be happy and you will be less stressed (except for the times you almost get hit by a car!).

So, put your helmet on, through your leg over the top tube, and pedal away!  And as always - be safe!

Pedaling to New Friends

For six months I have been bike commuting to work, taking basically the same route and working to reduce my time and improve my average speed. Most days I see the same man out practicing his ride - usually on a Teschner Fixie but sometimes on a Pinarello Road bike. He has an easy stride and is fun to watch as he practices his starts on the fixie. 

After reading Peter Flax recent letter in Bicycling Magazine describe his thoughts of watching the older man riding in his neighborhood I resolved to stop and introduce myself to this mystery rider and take the time to get to know him. Boy, am I glad I did! This simple act of greeting a fellow rider introduced me to 70-year-old Earl Henry; member of the Florida Bicycling Hall of Fame, USA Cycling and a champion racer.

Now looking at the photo here I trust you also feel as I do that there is no way this guy is 70! But alas, I looked up his record in recent races and, according to USA Bicycling he competes in the 70 and over group.  Quite frankly, I am impressed.

Earl gave me advice on my riding, invited me to join group rides he does and provided needed encouragement for a new rider who is only six months into the commuting experience. He is a truly humble and inspirational man that I am honored to have met. I only hope our paths continue to cross as we practice our pedaling arts.

Thanks Peter Flax and Bicycling Magazine for providing me the impetus I needed to stop and introduce myself to a fellow rider. How about you? Met any interesting folks on the roads / trails lately? If not, make the time. The real story may be better than the one you imagine in your head!

Be safe!

Broken Spokes and Broken Necks

It has been a long time since I last updated, but trust me that June was a bizarre month. After an intense April and mild May, June came along to sunny Florida and brought the start of rainy season and the beginning of summer. As a daily bike commuter in the lightening capital of the world, rainy season can be quite a source of frustration. The start of summer gives me, as a parent, new worries for my 17-year-old son. So where to begin!

What seemed a simply start to summer found me pedaling faster on a new set of Continental Gator Skins. Reducing my tire size from 35mm to 25mm elimated some of the friction and added a nice burst of speed to my daily commute. Almost instantly I saw a 2MPH improvement in my average speed. The downside seems to be the ongoing battle I am having with the rear wheel on my Trek. The stock Camino wheels have popped 5 spokes now and time is fast approaching to replace the wheel set. I am looking at American Classic and Bontrager Race wheelsets as a replacement. Your advice is appreciated!

When taking the bike to my LBS for a spoke repair, I got a call from one of my sons friends that he got hurt at the beach. I got what has to be every parents favorite line; "Mr Meadows, your son is ok but....." I am pretty sure I didn't here anything after "but." Anyway, I was told that he hit his head on the ocean floor while diving through waves at the beach. Since he was awake, walking and talking I just said bring him home. About 30 minutes later a second call comes that he wants to go to the hospital. We direct them to the nearest ER and then off we go to meet them and make sure all insurance information is handled. Well, that is when the fun really started.

After a CT scan the doctor came in to tell us our son had broken his C1 vertebrae in his neck. WHAT!!!!! This is the first in the spinal column, where the skull rests on the neck. Broken on the left side - complete break. But God is gracious and spared our son! Every doctor then started asking how he got out of the water and stunned to hear him say he walked out of the water and went to the beach.
Long story short, my son is doing well, he is healing, still walking and all. There is a long healing time, but things are positive and God has been great to our family through this. Needless to say I didn't get on the bike for over a week, but that is ok. I love riding, but I love my son so much more.

Looking back at my complaints about the broken spokes I feel somewhat foolish. Yes, I broke a few spokes and I may need new rims. However, my son broke his neck and walked away! Who could ask for more.

Cell Phones, Coffee Cups & Automobiles

About two weeks ago I was forced to crash my bike in order to avoid being hit by a car. As a person who bike commutes at least four days a week I usually pay keen attention to what the traffic surrounding me is doing. So I would like to tell you I was quite surprised to be confronted by a car travelling close to 50 miles per hour with the driver holding a cup of coffee in one hand and texting on her cell phone with the other. Again, I would like to tell you I was surprised, but I was actually not surprised at all. I see this far too often every day. So as I was sitting in the grass getting ready to pick my bike back up, I noticed that the driver had stopped and rolled down her window. She called out to me, "Are You OK?" to which I replied "Yeah, you didn't spill your coffee did you?" "No" she replied then she drove off. NICE!



IS $250 Really the Value of a Cyclist Life?

This is a hard post to write because of the vivid reminder of how little our society and courts value cyclist rights. But now it is more than rights, it is the value they place on the lives of cyclists. I live in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, St Petersburg to be precise. There are some very nice areas for riding including the tremendous Pinellas Trail, a converted rail line. However, as a full-time bike commuter I cannot always be on the Pinellas Trail. That is where the problem in the Tampa Bay area comes in.

Since last July 2010,  17 cyclists have been killed, read that again, KILLED, riding on the roads of Tampa Bay. Sometimes it is the fault of the cyclist, sometimes it is the fault of the driver. But now the courts in Tampa have established the value of a cyclist life at $250. In an article in the St Peterburg Times on April 22, 2011 (Law puts a low value on the lives of bicyclists), Dan DeWitt writes about the case of Brad Ash, a bike commuter who was killed last October by Jennifer Tuttle when she hit him with her GMC Yukon. Seems Ms Tuttle was too busy tending to her young son in the back seat of the Yukon to pay attention to where she was driving. So she killed Brad Ash, a 41-year-old middle school teacher. Ms Tuttle was cited for "careless driving," she pleaded "no contest" and Judge Robert J. Cole of Pasco county withheld a formal finding of guilt and fined Ms Tuttle $250 plus court costs.

The irony is she would have been in much more trouble had she hit another car and killed the driver. This was not "careless driving" it was reckless endangerment and put everyone on the road at risk. If you are too busy to pay attention to the road, get out of your car!

Reading the comments is even more elightening to the issues on the roads in Tampa Bay and elsewhere in the U.S. My personal favorite was from a reader with the screen name "fredster" who wrote in the comments:

I love bike riding and do it every chance I get. BUT I also have to drive for a living. 32 k miles per year. I can not always give a bike rider the 3 ft clearance the law says I have to. I am not about to go into the oncoming traffic to obey the law.

That comment alone speaks volumes, the arrogance of someone to say 'I have to drive for a living but I cannot be bothered with obeying laws about a bike rider' perhaps indicates someone in the wrong line of work.

I do all I can to stay out of the way, I found a low traffic route to get to work and I use crosswalks at busy itersections. In fact, last Wednesday I was almost hit by a Dunbar Armored Truck as I was crossing in a crosswalk, with the "walk" indicator lit and the Dunbar driver ran the "no turn on red" sign into the occupied crosswalk. When I called the company the response was "you should be careful."   Really, perhaps your drivers shouldn't run red lights!

So until all parties start to take responsibility for their actions and treat traffic law as something more than a mere suggestion, tensions will continue to rise. This applies to the cycle clubs who go on big, group rides and run stop signs, red lights, etc. These actions anger drivers, who in turn are less inclined to honor the rights of the bike commuter, who may be obeying the stop signs and red lights.

Finally, until the courts and police take the issue seriously and enforce the laws on the books, drivers will never honor the rights of bike riders. Judge Robert J. Cole has now established that it is more cost effective to kill a bike rider than it is to get a speeding ticket. I can't help but wonder if the fine would have been the same if the cyclist had been his son, daughter, or wife? Perhaps it is time for Pasco County to vote Robert Cole out of office.

In closing, think about the impact to society where we value the life of a human being differently based on the mode of transportatioin they choose. I will keep commuting and working to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling, will you do your part to calm the tensions between cars and bikes?
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