The Flood Plain Problem

Years ago, we bought a house in suburban Denver.  We chose that particular house in part because it backed to a bike trail.  Beyond the trail was a dry creek bed.   That dry creek had “flash flood risk” written all over it, and I knew enough to check local flood plain records before we signed on the dotted line.  The house was high enough that it wouldn’t be a problem.  One day I got to see a flash flood with my own eyes.   It was a raging torrent carrying lawn furniture, umbrellas, plastic swimming pools and logs past our home.  The bike trail?  What bike trail?


The high water in a certain Midwestern city receded weeks ago, but bike trail debris remained.

It wasn’t until years later when I started to notice that this particular set up was not an anomaly.  Most urban and suburban bike trails follow watersheds as they course through town.  To urban planners, this is just common sense.  The land lies in the flood plain and isn’t good for much else, so why not turn it into a recreational resource?  Granted, it won’t be available when the water rises but so what?   For most folks, it’s just fun and games.

This is why those urban cyclists who cycle the most will tell you that they cannot rely on most cities’ trail systems as a way to and from work.  This is why many prefer the roads to bicycle trails.   Roads are a priority to society.  Communities work to keep them open, come hell or high water.  This is problematic in several ways, not the least of which is that when trails are underwater, cyclists are forced to share roads with motorists who are generally unaccustomed to seeing them.


Same city, alternate route.  If you cycle, sooner or later you will cycle in a place that looks like this.  Doesn’t it make sense to know the right way to do it?

Here in the Midwest, when water rises it stays high for weeks and maybe even months at a time.  We lost a major bridge on our local bike trail to high water this past weekend.  So far, the only estimate I’ve heard in terms of re-opening is “a year and a half.”

So it looks like I’ll be on the roads a lot this summer.  Truth be told, I’ve been gravitating away from the trail and towards the roads (both paved and unpaved) for some time now.  This is fine because I went to school and learned how to ride the roads.  Most people haven’t, though.  They unknowingly put themselves in harm’s way because there’s a right and a wrong way to cycle on the roads and they’ve never bothered to learn the right way.

Nor have they practiced.  Practice makes perfect, and if you’re a regular trail rider you’re probably not comfortable sharing crowded city streets or high speed county roads with motor vehicles.  You have a different set of risks that requires a different set of skills.

If you cycle enough, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself on the road.  There’s no escaping it, even if your city is loaded to the gills with off-street cycling infrastructure.  This isn’t necessarily bad news.  Despite what you may think or hear, roads are not generally unsafe if you know what you’re doing.   The problem is in trying to tackle them without a clue.

I think it’s so important for any adult (and even teen) who rides a bicycle to learn how to ride it properly.   His or her life may depend on it and at the end of the day I believe with all my heart that safety is primarily the responsibility of the person with the most to lose.  This is why I choose to teach the League of American Bicyclists SMART Cycling curriculum. SMART Cycling teaches you how to safely ride regardless of conditions.   You’ll learn what the greatest risks are.  More importantly, you’ll learn the skills and techniques necessary to avoid them when you can and mitigate the damage caused by them when you can’t.  The course will give you “perspective” about your cycling.  It’s dirt cheap and you’ll come away from it with skills that will serve you as long as you ride a bicycle or drive a car in a place where other people are riding bicycles.

I am based out of Jefferson Iowa, but am available to teach SMART Cycling throughout western Iowa, eastern Nebraska and adjoining areas.  I don’t mind traveling and I’m certainly not doing it to get rich.  The two day, 14 hour class (including 7 hours on the bike riding in traffic) will set you back $100.  You’ll get far more than that in return.  Classes of four to six cyclists work best.  Companies and civic organizations are welcome to sponsor.

Who needs SMART Cycling?   Bicyclists, for sure, but also anyone who comes in contact with those of us on two wheels.  Law enforcement professionals, educators, and city leaders all benefit greatly from learning the curriculum.  So do people who are interested in integrating cycling into a community’s tourism or lifestyle mix.

The best thing about SMART Cycling is that it gives you the confidence to ride safely regardless of the conditions you find yourself in.  I still remember when I took the course myself.  It opened my eyes and it took my cycling to the next level.  More than that, though, it completely changed my life.  It made me realize that cycling was transportation, and if I wanted to do it there was absolutely nothing stopping me from recognizing the health benefits and pocketing the financial savings that were part of the deal.

Feel free to reach out when you’re ready to take the next step.  We’ll start by talking and see what makes the most sense for you.  Where we go from there is up to you.









Season of Change

My brother in law had a massive stroke this past Wednesday.  He’s still in the ICU at a hospital in Colorado.  It’s serious, and so if you pray I’d like to ask for your prayers for him and his family.  If not, please keep them in your heart.

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May 1, 2017.  My first bike ride as an Iowa resident.  Looking forward to seeing these days again…soon.

Life is short.  If you don’t yet believe this, someday you will.  It’s pretty much inevitable.  One day you wake up and realize that you’ve already lived most of it.  For me, that day was on the back side of fifty.  The challenge, then, becomes what to do with the rest of it.  Some people get bitter.  I’ve seen it and it’s heartbreaking.  Others decide to make the most of it.

I stumbled upon yet another post about protected bike lanes last week.  This one was on LinkedIn and like a lot of these posts, it was irritating to me.  It’s not that I have a problem with protected bike lanes.  It’s more about this angry mindset that demands that society protect us from every little thing.  This twit (sorry, but it’s the right word) was demanding a network of protected bike lanes from sea to shining sea.  It’s the only way forward, he said.   We need them and we need them now! I was going to comment and then decided not to engage.   It wouldn’t have been constructive.

As is so often the case with his type, this guy was in full attack mode.  Never mind that it has taken the Dutch well over a generation to build this type of infrastructure in a country where everyone cycles.  Here in the United States, regular cyclists are outnumbered 19-1 by non-cyclists, most of whom could not care less about protected bike lanes and certainly don’t want their taxes going to pay for them.

What was interesting about this guy’s argument was that he reserved his greatest vitriol for “vehicular cyclists” like myself.  How dare you ride in the street, he seemed to be saying.  Don’t you know how dangerous it is?  You’re part of the problem!  Maybe, but if we’re going to be even a little honest, for the next 50-100 years or so the choice is between riding in the street or not riding at all and that’s if we’re lucky.   I choose to ride.  Life is too short not to.

And I don’t believe that it’s society’s job to keep me safe.   That’s my job.  There’s a lot we can do to mitigate risk.  We can wear a helmet and mirror.  We can choose our routes carefully.  We can pay attention to what’s going on around us while cycling.  We can take a Bike League class and learn the techniques that will save us from carnage.  The list goes on and on. If you think that cycle paths alone are enough, watch this video from Holland. Even there, in Bicycle Nirvana, motorists are impatient and take reckless chances.

It’s raining here this morning and the snow cover is rapidly melting.  I crossed the Raccoon River for the first time in weeks yesterday evening.  It’s still frozen solid.  It will likely break up today or tomorrow and when it does it’s going to be trouble downstream.  I hope people are preparing for the wall of water that’s heading their way.

Spring is the season of change.  When it comes to cycling, many people will soon be pulling their bikes off of hooks in the garage and heading out for the first time.  That’s good.  Here’s hoping you get out on your bike soon.  Happy trails!