Monthly Archive for April, 2009

May is the time for bike love

The Davis Enterprise: Apr. 24, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #15

Title: May is the time for bike love
Author: Joe Krovoza

May is Bike Month. In the new home of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, we’ll be having one pretty good time. Spring has sprung, so sign on mentally and literally to hone your velo world.

First, go to to digest what the Sacramento Region is doing. Davis Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor is co-chairing all of this. Sign up at “Log Your Miles” on the right. Students and school staff should do the Schools Program competition. Set a goal; track the cohort you join; nudge your friends. This is good stuff.

Here in Davis, it’s going to be non-stop events. Watch The Enterprise and the city “Focus” for events all month, including the UC Davis bike auction (2nd), shop to bike downtown (2nd), Twilight Criteriums (4th & 18th), Cyclebration @ the Farmers Market (9th), Full Moon Bike Loop Ride (9th), Celebrate Davis! (14th), Double Century (16th), and maybe some special bike films at The Varsity too — and much, much more.

But why? Good health? Lower congestion? Lower carbon? Clean air? Hearing the world as we move? Forcing teens to shed their chauffer? We all know the basics. If we are taking steps to reduce carbon, know that the current estimate is 53 percent for the carbon from our fair city attributable to transportation! That’s higher than the state average of 40 percent. Thus many bikers think twice before using fossil fuel to move the weight of a car for any short trip.

Still, why bike? Is there a unifying, overarching idea? Portland Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes spoke at the Avid Reader last Saturday. His new book Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities got me thinking. Mapes observes that so much of what Davisites love about their town is attributable to the bicycle. I started to really think on that point. Is it true? And is it true whether one is a cyclist or not?

Some folks really don’t like cyclists in Davis. I have read some arguably hostile Internet chatter. We are less predictable at “stops” and anytime we talk about car-replacing trips it’s almost impossible not to sound smug, and that’s not good. Yet when someone gripes about another city, ask yourself whether cycling in Davis mitigates the issue here.

If we drop our kids off at school, and the traffic is only annoying, give love to the biking kids who reduced the jam. Parking hassles downtown? View every two-wheeler you see as space gifted to others. Obesity in other towns? Not so much in Davis. Thank school P.E. and athletics, Little League, AYSO, Aquadarts — and the ease of biking. Smaller shopping trips by bike might even indirectly encourage us to eat fresher foods! Richards Boulevard underpass clogged? Every bike in the Putah Creek tunnel under I-80 is one less car in the mess.

I know I can extend this idea. My main point is this: Participate in May is Bike Month as a gift to Davis. Biking increases the quality of life for all. When you get on your bike, you make Davis nicer for others; when you do drive (and that’s okay, ah, sometimes), feel some love for those bicyclists!

Let’s also reflect a bit in May. Is biking half full or half empty here? On any Saturday in the fall, just 20 percent of soccer players bike to their game? For UC Davis students, staff, faculty living in Davis, 50 percent bike to campus and 18 percent drive, with bus, ped and skate rounding out the modes. Maybe that’s pretty good?

Driving to campus is documented to be on a downward trend. Of all commuters who live in Davis, 17 percent bike to work according to the 2000 census, down from 23% in 1990. Good bike and ped to school numbers are being complied for Davis. In 1969, 41 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. biked or walked to school. By 2001 that number was down to 13 percent. Will Davis even be where the country was 40 years ago?

If you aren’t on the side of one of these stats that you want to be on, use Bike Month to hop to the other side. Give your bike some love.

— Joe Krovoza has lived in Davis since 1991 with wife Janet and daughters Charlotte (since 1991) and Lillian (since 1993). He recommends Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities (2009) to anyone who needs some fresh inspiration.

Whymcycles ride on — Resourceful tinkering gave birth to fascinating machines

The Davis Enterprise: Apr. 17, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #14

Title: Whymcycles ride on — Resourceful tinkering gave birth to fascinating machines
Author: Peter Wm. Wagner

photo caption:

Peter Wm. Wagner and his family take three of his unusual Whymcycles for a spin in their West Davis neighborhood. From left are his wife Jerri, daughter Amelia and son Sam. All three machines pictured have an off-center rear axle, and no pedals or chain drive. They are powered by the rider maintaining a bouncing rhythm while standing on the center section. The “Hoosier” race car tires on two of the machines allow them to stay upright without a kickstand while parked, and to float on water.

It all began when I was a 3-footer, age 4 … learning to ride my 8-year-old big sister’s bike, which had 2-foot-high wheels. No supervision, no training wheels or helmet. Alone, I learned… Two years later at Christmas, we three youngest received our first and only bikes, one-speed Schwinns. We mastered them and explored our neighborhood on them.

In the years to come, Dad ignored our pleas for newer machines. He kept his word, that one bike, one speed, would do. And they did. My Spitfire got me through school, and much exploration of Los Angeles.

My friend’s family had a surplus of bikes, ready as the cycles of our dreams. At age 10, my pal and I did yard work for cash for parts to build our own Stingray. We first made a seat of wood, with splintery, bloodless result. The seventh-grade picnic, serendipitously near the bike rentals at Griffith Park, was my first experience on a bicycle built for two … a tandem! The first of my many tandems was ridden that first Earth Day. Tandems are soooo fun for family and dating!

A sidecar soon followed, repurposed as a two-wheeled box on the front of another bike … a pickup truck trike! We carried cans, friends, car engines.

The early car years stole some of my bicycling time. But the thrift, fun and ease of parking have kept me cycling, always. After college, a business career left me time and cash to spare.

“Make a rear-steered tandem, like we rented, in the 1930s,” my father challenged. OK, done. A bike vacation? A 10-speed rear-steered tourer that could ship in a one-bike box … and be a single-seater, too. A 26-inch unicycle? Gotcha! Stretch a double into a triple. OK, a 48-inch big wheel? Make my own highwheeler.

Visits to museums found me “greeted” by antique originals, and ideas for projects. I’d never make a 10-man “Orienten” tandem. But alongside that bike at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., was a simple, yet mysterious bike that has come to define me. There stood a 1934 “Ingo” bike, a wood-floored scooter with 28-inch wheel and low off-center axle.

A year later, I warily tried to lace, or spoke, such a wheel, under the watchful eye of an elder tinkerer friend. Twenty years hence I would be helping another generation of cycle inventors.

That off-set wheel went onto a bike. With patience, bounce propulsion had entered my life. I met two highwheel cyclists in Old Sacramento, on their 100-year-old originals. They tried my “Ingo,” never having tried one. And I got to ride their old boneshakers.

They encouraged me to make more of my Ingos, which I renamed “Whymcycle,” from my middle name Wm. plus “cycle” — “whimsical” meaning imaginative, fanciful or eccentric — like the Ingo, geometrically! 122 bouncing Whymcycles created thus far!

Then came marriage … babies … baby seats … toddlers. A tandem with high pedals in front for Colin to be safe out front on the rear steerer. New baby sister? Then ditto on the triple!

Upon moving to Davis, my neighbors and cycling friends wanted some of these bikes. Duplicates came into being, with parts from the recycling center and helpful shops.

For years we enjoyed the Picnic Day Parade. Cycling chums applied to enter the parade and the one-day-a-year Davis Whymcycle Society was born. Friends, strangers, students and families of every age meet on Picnic Day morning. We match size and abilities to machines. We parade down to campus. Everyone tries any machine they wish, while listening to marching bands, ponies snorting and antique tractors chugging.

We bounce, ride tall bikes, trikes, handcycles, quadricycles and amphibious “kinetic sculptures.” These human-powered machines are in races on the West and East coasts and beyond, at rivers, bays and lakes. This “triathalon of the art world” has cycles of fantastical animals, or mechaniacal machines, making every builder an artist in his or her own right. Their purpose, as well as that of all 240 Whymcycles I’ve made, is enabling every one of us to have the joys of our childhood continue long into our senior years.

See you on campus. There’s ample bike parking!

— Peter Wm. Wagner lives in Davis with wife Jerri and son Sam, and enjoys teaching in Davis and introducing kids of all ages to the world of Whymcycles. His nearly grown children, Colin and Amelia, ride with him when they can.

Bicyclists on the train: We’re a mobile community

The Davis Enterprise: Apr. 10, 2009
(first appeared in Monday online edition Mar. 2, 2009)

Davis Bicycles! column #11

Title: Bicyclists on the train: We’re a mobile community
Author: Jay Johnstone

photo caption:
Librarian Jay Johnstone exits the cab car of the Capitol Corridor train with his well used road bike. For the past year, he has commuted from Suisun/Fairfield to Davis and then pedaled from the train station to work at the Stephens branch library and back.

There are now lots of riders carrying their bikes on the train. I’m one of them. Most riders say they take the train because it costs less than operating a car. We also take pride in doing something about greenhouse gases. At the core, though, we’re simply bicyclists. The train just gets us to and from the most bike-friendly town in the USA.

I’ve been using the train almost a year. In April, 2008, I re-discovered the words of Gandhi that one should be the change one seeks to happen. I had been telling myself for years that when gas hit $4 a gallon, I would use the Capitol Corridor train to commute to Davis from Fairfield/Suisun. The moment I read Gandhi’s words, I actually jumped out of my chair and committed myself to riding the train. I was slightly ahead of the wave of train riders that was to come.

For almost 25 years I’ve ridden a steel-frame 10-speed bike. It’s a conversation piece now, among the 21-speed carbon-fiber jobs. The brakes have two levers each: the normal pair for riding crouched on the dropped bars and a set that can be operated from the upright posture. I especially value this feature because it combines speed, comfort and safety in traffic.

I bought a monthly rail pass and began biking between the Davis train station and work. At first I used my hybrid for its cushy, upright ride. I could usually fit the big bike into one of the few racks on the cars. More bikes began to appear on the trains as the gas prices doubled. Frequently, there were a dozen bikes on one car and only three racks. I soon rolled out the 10-speed because it was lighter and tighter for narrow spaces.

Bicyclists are conscientious about the congestion. The train crews are helpful, too. Bike racks have replaced seats on at least one car on each train. Some trains have a special bike car. There are bike decals on the cars with racks. The main bike car is on the opposite end of the train from the engine.

The first rule is that bikes must be secured in case of an emergency. A bungie cord is useful in case you have to tie onto something like another bike. The Friday afternoon train is notoriously full.

There is such a variety of bikes and accessories on the train: roadies and mountain bikes, minimalist fixies, bodacious townies, compact urban commuters and amazing folders. Also there are various luggage systems: collapsing baskets, detachable saddlebags, converted milk crates, backpacks, courier bags and even trailers.

The riders are a diverse community: the athletic biology tech from Martinez on her elegant new roadie; a rough HVAC mechanic from Vacaville on his gnarly stump jumper; an enthusiastic Berkeley grad student on a sedate 3-speed, a retiree returning from riding/camping around Lake Tahoe on a hybrid, couples rolling through on sturdy touring rigs, and youngsters with jazzy BMX jobs. We have bikes and the train in common. It’s a little mobile community, and another aspect of the lively bike culture of Davis.

Davis is a hub of bike culture. Picture the rush hour trains. One rider commented that it feels like it should be accompanied by Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.” Near Putah Creek, just before the Davis station, riders don their helmets, gloves and packs and line up. It reminds me of smoke-jumpers. When the doors open, a wave of bicyclists rolls across the station plaza. I love being in that swarm, cranking together, teeth in the wind.

Taking my bike on the train has revived my love affair with my machine, extending both its utility and our range.

— Jay Johnstone has been the regional librarian in charge of the Mary L. Stephens Branch of the Yolo County Library in Davis since 1994. When he isn’t reading, hiking or kayaking, he and his family ride their bikes around town and while camping in the national and state parks.