Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry xmas and happy new year!

I'm going away to visit my parents for the holidays and I'll be back next year. So I don't know if I'm going to update this blog this year. I'm going to sit inside and eat xmas food and candy, so there may not be much biking to blog about. So best wishes for the new year to all my readers, that is, me and Ms.Ding :)

Sunset in november, about 16:00. The sun is just above the tree tops and would be visible if the camera was turned a little to the left.
A view from the railway bridge to the roads below. In the left, road for cars. In the middle, the bikeway. Also note the railing to stop kids sledding and adults slipping and falling down onto the road. The bikeway is about 2 m higher than the cars.

The smoke is coming from the combined heat and power plant (electricity to the grid and heat for District heating- basically a city wide central heating system) in Toppila. It's a powered by peat and wood and has energy efficiency of over 80%.

My poor bike, all frozen up!

Yesterday I had to go buy some presents. Very last minute shopper, that's me. :)

I threw some clothes on and went to find my bike. It was a cold day (-26C) but I was safe from frostbites because I have EST. I had left my bike outside the last time I rode it, instead of carrying it to the warm bike garage in the 
basement. There was some snow on the handlebars and the seat, but that was  quickly cleaned.

When I was cycling I noticed my bike felt a little 'off' and it took me a while to figure out the reason. At first I thought I had something wrong with the tires (like too low air pressure or something) because I felt a little unbalanced. It felt like the front tire was in a groove and I had to turn the handlebar harder than normal. Well, when I found out the reason I felt really sorry for my poor bike.

The grease on the bearings in the steering tube was frozen. There was a noticeable resistance to turning the handlebar. I could lock the brakes on the front wheel and lift the rear wheel up. The rear end of the bike stayed up in the air, instead of falling down. I wish I could have taken a photo if it, but there was nobody around right then.

There were a few other cyclists about despite the cold weather. I took some snapshots but they were not good so I'm not posting them. Bad lighting conditions and a little blurred. Usually I take several shots to see which settings work best. Not this time :) A metal frame camera is not perfect for cold weather. I doubt -26C is in the range of operation temperatures in the manual for the camera either. I don't even try to make cycling videos with my MD80 clone in the winter - its too dark and the battery has no juice in below -10C conditions.

Yes, the bike is in the garage again!

The EST for safer winter cycling

The EST is an advanced technological innovation for winter cycling. If you were cycling in the winter and the weather is cold, you could risk frost bites on your face because the wind chill effect makes it even colder. The obvious solution is to put more clothes and some kind of mask to protect your face from the cold. This is a hassle. And we all know that having to wear special gear like a helmet or a hiviz vest for cycling is not appealing to anyone.

The more advanced option is The EST. After years and years of scientific research, they came up with this innovation. Carefully designed in the laboratories of the tyre manufacturers, they make tyres which take full advantage of the special physical properties of the rubber: it is not elastic in cold. This means the EST tyres automatically increase the rolling resistance and thus force you to cycle slower when it is cold. And the colder it gets the harder cycling gets. A cyclist can have a good work-out while cycling almost at walking speed, with no wind chill effect at all! Awesome!

The red line is the risk of frostbites without EST. You can see how it rapidly increases. The EST compensates the effects of cold by decreasing the speed (blue line), so the risk stays at the same, low level no matter how cold it gets. 
The Energy Sucking Tyres increase the safety of cyclists by lowering their speeds when they are encumbered by many layers of clothing. For example, when cycling downhill to an underpass, the tyres suck energy so effectively that the bike can stop despite going downhill. Just think what could happen if a cyclist has so thick mittens in his hands that he can not use the brakes! Or the brake cables were frozen? The energy sucking tyres keep the bicyclist in control of his vehicle.

In fact, the Energy Sucking Tyres are even better than regular brakes. Just try braking on ice. As soon as the wheels lock, you are going to fall. But, don't worry. The Energy Sucking Tyres can function as ABS brakes! They will roll, but slow you down smoothly.

I'm sure whoever came up with this idea will be nominated for a Nobel price. It could be in the phycics category or in the medical category. Maybe even both!

Friday, December 17, 2010


In some countries (like the UK) there is a debate going about segregated bikeways. Should cyclists cycle on the road like cars or do they need segregated bikeways.

Obviously, I've grown with them so I find it hard to understand why anyone would like to cycle on crap lanes with cyclists dismount signs everywhere. Or cycle with cars, which can be dangerous for even an expert cyclist as you can see on the youtube videos. Definately only for the brave minority of people.

My input for all that debate can start by one picture:

A segregated train/bikeway bridge. 
Do you expect kids going to school to "share the road" with trains?

Pretty Pictures from Bike Bridges

Like many cities, Oulu was built where it was easy for people to travel to make some business. Oulu-river meant people could transport their barrels of tar to Oulu when they still used to have sail ships.

There are a couple of small islands where the river meets the sea. So there are a few brigdes connecting the islands to each other and to the mainland. Of course, some of these bridges are not meant for car traffic, but pedestrians and bicycles. The maintenance crews do drive on them to check the bikeways and remove the snow and grit them. In the first picture you can see one maintenance worker with a hi-viz vest doing his work.

I got a guy in a yellow hiviz vest in this shot. He's not a cyclist, but road maintenance worker :)

A beautiful sunset - about 1600hrs or 4 pm in late November.

Cycling chic in Oulu at -15C.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Bikes are like water

T-intersection of two bikeways. Shortcuts to the right.
This is what you see often: pedestrians and cyclists make their own paths. More often when the ground is dry so the shoes do not get wet and dirty (parts of Oulu is built on swamp) or if there is not a lot of snow. Pedestrians save a few steps by taking a short cut. Cyclists do not have to make such a tight turn if they take the shortcut.

I think even the tracks going left of the traffic sign are taking a little shortcut, ie. they are not on top of the pavement.

Bikeways in Oulu

I use the term 'bikeway' because it is shorter to type (cyclists like short cuts) and I can use it to cover all kinds of cycle facilities. I like it, it sounds to me similar to the "motorways" and "highways" meant for car traffic. It sounds like the bike is important.

We have about 550 km of bikeways. Most of them are multi-user paths. There are some cycle routes on quiet cul-de-sacs, where the car traffic is very light so they do not get in our way much.  I don't think we have bike lanes painted on the street anywhere in Oulu. They just dont work in the winter because of all the snow covering any painted street markings.

This is a shared street. It's also dead end street for cars.
I've read that in the UK they do not want to build paved cycle paths through parks. Here it's the opposite. Cyclists do not create traffic noise to spoil the parks. We build bikeways trough parks and other green areas.  They are often the shortest route between A and B, so it makes sense. Of course, as they are mosty multi-user paths, the pedestrians and dog walkers can enjoy the nature, too. I've not found the pedestrians, dog walkers, rollerbladers or mothers with prams to be a problem. On the routes I frequently cycle, the bikeway is wide enough so passing is no problem.

Dog walkers on a MUP on one of the islands.
Also the bikeway is a good term because the bikeways are not tied to the car roads. Non-through streets for cars and underpasses mean that the route to destination is (or it can be) different for a cyclists and a car driver. For example, from my house to a supermarket is about 1,5 km as the crow flies. By bicycle it's about 1,8 km. No traffic lights, three intersections with cars. By car it is 3,6 km and I think it is 9 traffic lights. Second shortest route is over 5km and has also traffic lights on it.  Ok, this is a very extreme example but explains why the bike is popular here in Oulu for short trips.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Studded tires& grandmabikes- a quick count

The other day I was at the bike parking lot at the university, and heard a ding in my head. I decided to see how many people had studded tires in their bikes. So I dug out a pen and piece of paper from my pocket and started to count.

The problem was, it was not as easy as it sounds. On smooth tires there was no problem. It had snowed recently, so the grooves and knobs on the knobby tires were full of snow. It was impossible to see at a glance if the tire was studded or not. I had to clean them first. So I checked about 50 bikes.

There was about one in five of bikes which had at least one studded tire. And about the same number of pure grandma bikes- that is bikes which are not mtb, hybrid, touring etc. I think I should've also counted how many bikes had racks and/or baskets. Maybe next time, when the tires are cleaner, I'll do a recount. Or I'll take a brush with me.

I'll have to think if I can figure out where I could get a comparison group that is not almost 100% students. Do students have more studded tires than 'average' cyclist, because they have to cycle no matter what the weather is? Or less, because they have no money? Hmm...


Today (8.12.2010) I took a brush with me and did a recount of about 120 bikes. The numbers are not exact because a few people took their bikes off the racks and rode off and others arrived. Also it was not the same day of the week and it was a warm day (-3C) today, so the results are a bit different.

This time there were less studded tires, about 15%. About 75% of the bikes had racks on them and about 10% had baskets. I just love useless statistics!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Underpass galore

The main campus of University of Oulu is located about 5 or 6 kilometers north from the downtown. The Student Housing Foundation has plenty of apartments for rent around the campus and also around other schools in Oulu. So when a student is seeking a place to live, it's likely that you can get it near the school you go to, not on the other side of the city. Being close encourages cycling and walking.

Recently they built a supermarket near the campus. Very convenient for the people working and studying here. This also meant more traffic on the road south of the campus. So they built underpasses for us cyclists so we do not have to wait at traffic lights or follow the same routes as cars take. I decided they might be a good subject for a photo tour.

Cyclists bypass the traffic lights at the intersection above.
 This is one of the busiest underpasses near the campus, as it connects one of the main routes coming from south. There are plenty of students using this route.
No waiting for passing cars.
 This is an underpass to indoor sports arena just south of campus.

You can see this is older design.
The other major cycle route from south.
There is another underpass to the right.
There is a roundabout above the underpasses, but cyclists do not have to worry about them. It was cold (-15C) so I tried to get the cyclist in the photo, to brag about how cold proof we winter cyclists are. But then I missed the other underpass. It looks the same as this one so not big loss. The layout is the same as the last intersection with underpasses in the video at Hembrow's blog.
I did not even know this was there too. Amazing!
As I was finishing my underpass-photo tour I noticed this one bikeway I had not noticed before. It looked like it might lead to yet another underpass. So I followed it and found fifth! underpass.

Ok, what is so important about these underpasses? They are all built on the same strech of road, just south of the campus. That road is only 1,1 km long and has five underpasses. I think that is the highest number of underpasses on any road I've seen anywhere in Finland. Permeability to the max. It's like a sieve.

Why build so many? There are several routes cyclists coming from south can choose depending where they come from and where in the campus they want to go. Making cyclists and pedestrians wait at traffic lights is evil. Forcing them to make a detour to get to an underpass would make their trips longer. Cyclists (and pedestrians) like directness.

A few months ago saw a documentary (I can't remember if it was on TV or youtube, so no source, sorry) about a road in Georgia, USA. The road had something like 4 lanes in each direction. I don't know if it was a highway or just a local road, but cars were going fast. There was a even a hill so car drivers had limited visibility. What was so awful was that pedestrians were supposed to cross this road, on foot. There had been several fatalities when people were trying to get to a bus stop at the other side of the road. They could take a long detour, or try their luck.

Roads like that are a lot like the Berlin Wall. Even more than I thought. They split the town in half. You can get killed when trying to get accross.  Makes me wonder if people realize they are living in the shadow of The Iron Curtain?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is it not cold...

CSI: Oulu - the suspect is a man with one frozen hand. Could this be a clue?
when you do not notice one of your gloves missing? It was -15C when I took this photo and had been for a few days. This glove was very thin though, maybe good to -5C or -10C. Lets hope he had better gloves on.

Cycle parking

I took some photos a few days ago. The first two are taken at one of the bike parking places at the university. I noticed that maybe having a camera made of plastic would have been better than a metal frame camera. At -13C the metal camera was cold, and my poor fingers did not like it at all. Maybe I should have left the fair weather gloves home and worn the winter mittens :)

One of the bike parks, on a fresh -13C winter day.
You can see there are some spaces available, so some people have decided to take the bus instead of biking. -13C is not too cold for most of us, though.
Standing in the same spot, I turned 90 degrees and took a photo towards the bus stop.
Some landscape artist decided we need more trees in the campus so they planted them in the bike park. Right now they look a little ridiculous because they are so small, but I think they look better in 50 years.

There is a bus stop behind those trees. And one of the car parks. The car parks are much further away from the doors. It makes only sense. The drivers arrived by car, therefore they are not tired from the exhausting cycling so they can walk a little more than us poor cyclists! Perfect!
Three kinds of parking in this picture: cars, bikes and dogs .The dog cage is behind the last bike on the right, not very visible in this picture.
This was taken the same day as the pictures above. At the supermarket near the university there are three places to park bikes: on the right (closest to the doors), in the shed-like building on the left or another shed behind me. The cars have to park further away, behind the sheds. You can clearly see the sheds are awfully far (30 meters or so) from the doors. I don't know if they originally planned the bike parking to be only at the sheds but when everyone started parking closer to the door, added racks there too.

If you see an actor/actress cycling in a movie, how do you know if they (or the director) are utility cyclists or just pretending? In one movie I saw the main character arrive somewhere on her bike, stopped over 10 meters before the bike rack and pushed the bike to the rack.

That does not make any sense! Don't they know that one of the best things about bicycles is that they get you closer to the destination than cars? Any good utility cyclist would have cycled at least 8 meters more and taken only one or two steps before parking her bike!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Segregated bikeways in the winter

Segregated bikeways are important for safety and comfort of the cyclists. Physical separation from the evil cars make us feel safer, and the noise level is lower. They are even more important in the winter.

The cars are weird vehicles. On gravel road their tires clear the road from loose gravel, and during the winter they try to do the same with the snow. The problem is they will only clear two tracks on the road, leaving rest of the snow and ice on the road. In the picture you can see the clear tracks and about 5 cm of packed snow and ice on other parts of the road. Now this is early in the winter, and we get three more months of snow here in Oulu. What happens is that later on, those cleared tracks will become narrower and narrower or maybe even fill up. If you cycle in the tracks, getting away from them will be difficult. If you cycle on the shoulder... umm, where is it anyway? Find the shoulder in the picture:
Well maintained road early in the winter.
Road maintenance crews remove the excess ice from the road every now and then, but they can't get it all away. The road surface will be uneven, with some parts of 5 or 10 cm higher (thicker layer of ice on it) than others. This is not a good surface to cycle on.

Compare this to a well maintained bikeway below. Snow is removed, some gritting and there you go. It does not matter much that there is ice under your tires. If it is even and gritted, you can cycle on it. Cold, dry ice is not even very slippery. That's because the surface is not smooth and the tires can get a grip on it. If the ice melts during the day and freezes every night, it becomes very smooth and slippery.

Well maintained bikeway early in the winter.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cycling down 7% in 20 years

I wrote about the Regional travel study earlier. What is sad that cycling is losing it's share. In 1989 cycling had 28% share, 2009 it was only 21%. Some was lost to walking and cars and teenagers using mopeds. More families have a car or two. People are getting lazy!

The city had an economic boom and has rapidly grown from 100k to 140k inhabitants and new suburbs have been built on the edges of the town. So the distance to downtown or work or where ever the people are going gets longer. Long distances make cycling lose it's advantages over cars.

Recently the city council approved plans to build a parking garage for a thousand cars under the pedestrian street in down town. It's a part of their 2020-plan. They want to revive the businesses downtown.

The budget was 30 million two years ago, now it is 60 million Euros. That is 60000€ for each parking place. It will be interesting to see how much it will actually cost. Is 100 million enough?

There were promises to make more streets pedestianised and improvements to the bike routes after the garage is completed, but we'll see if that happens. What is certain though that this will get more trips done by cars when the parking is made easier. Will it bring the economic boost to the downtown area businesses? Well, the hypermarkets at the edges of the town get lots of customers by car. So having more cars must mean more customers to the downtown area, too?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Very, very northern Florida

I live in Oulu, Finland. 65 degrees north, 25.4 degrees east, about 200 km south of the Arctic Circle. Luckily the Gulf stream brings warm sea water (from Florida :-) to Scandinavia, so our climate is not quite as cold as one might imagine. Typical monthly average in January in Oulu is slightly below -10C or so. Coldest monthly average is -21C from 1985. Compared to Toronto's record monthly average of -9C, we win!

We get some snow in late October or early November, but usually it melts away because it's not cold enough yet. When the ground has frozen, the snow does not melt away anymore. Usually we get permanent snow in late November and it stays till April.

A 2009 study said 21% (or 22%, depending which page of the report you read) of all trips in Oulu are made by bicycle. I think it was 18% of commuters. That is all year average, including winter. The winter cycling is about 1/4 of summer cycling. Considering how long our winter is, we'd have rather impressive statistics if we did not have winter to ruin our year. Not as good as the dutch, though.

About half of the trips made are 5 km or less. On trips shorter than 2,5 km about two thirds are made by walking or by bike (32%). On trips between  2,5-5 km cycling has 28% share. Kids, teenagers and young adults use the cycle a lot, with boys being a little more active. Cycling is at it's lowest for 30-44 year olds. But it's worth noting that 45-54 year old women cycle almost three times more often than men of the same age, and they keep cycling. The "old women" are not known as risk takers, so that's proof why safe, segregated bikeways work. I'll post later why they are even more important in winter.

Most winter cyclists will cycle if it's not colder than -20C, after that they change to walking, bus or car. There are several reasons why. It's harder to protect face from the windchill effect, and keep your fingers and toes warm. It can be done, but then you get the problem of sweating because you have too much clothes on. Not to mention that tires are made of rubber and they lose their elastic properties in cold, causing lots of rolling friction. It gets so bad I have to keep pedaling to keep the bike moving downhill. You see what I mean when I talk about sweating?

On a good winter day of -10C in January, you can see more cyclists than on a sunny +1C day in March. Does that sound weird? It's not. Cyclists can cope with weather easily, but in slippery, wet ice and slush are harder to deal with. In the spring the snow/ice covering the bikeways starts to melt and freezes during the night. The conditions can get bad. I'll take some photos in March if I remember.