Map of every velodrome in North America

If you are wondering “WHAT THE HELL IS A VELODROME?!,” please proceed to the bottom of the post.

So I finally took the ol’ thighs to Portland’s own Alpenrose Velodrome and I think I may have been gravely stricken with the track cycling bug.  Bother.  Oh sweet, sweet bother.

So I thought to myself where in North America can I stand to live, now that I may need to live near a velodrome?

As always, I turned immediately to the internets to find exactly what I needed, a map of all the velodromes in north america.  GUESS WHAT? There was no such map.

Well, now there is. Presenting…

My Map of Every Operational Velodrome in North America:

Note that not all of these velodromes are created equal.  Just one in the US is indoor (in LA).  Canada has two indoor velodromes, in Vancouver and in London, Ontario.  The degree of banking (the angle of the walls that make up the turns aka the scary bits) vary significantly between tracks, as do the lengths.  Portland’s velodrome is very steep and built to a mile standard rather than a metric one, leading to odd start and stop positions for metric events. The Mellowdrome in Asheville, NC is actually not a velodrome; the local cycling community has obtained an old automobile racing track.  The track is neither properly ovoid nor truly banked (just 4-8 degrees compared to Portland’s 43 degrees).

And while several of the velodromes are either brand new or currently under construction, at least one has been neglected to the point of unusability – Dorais Velodrome in, you guessed it, Detroit.  You can see from the air just how beaten up it is.  You can read about that track’s decline and discover by the bike polo set here.  I did not include the Dorais Velodrome on the map.

So there you have it.  Don’t move to Omaha if you want to throb some serious quad on the track.  As for me, I have to now throw my weight into a new bicycle subgenre, which means a possible new bike (spine shiver!).  those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I am considering yet another life for my stalwort old Redline 925.

It is nothing more or less than a special track built for bicycle racing.  Numerous events, mostly of relatively short distance and blisteringly fast speed, can be held on the velodrome.

If you are in a track race, it might look like this:

And sometimes they look like this:

And I KNOW you want to see a crash, and I am happy to deliver.  Make sure you watch to see Bauge’s legendary save.


How to photograph bicycle utopias

Dear participants in the 2k12 SchlossyB Copansterdam Bike-topia-palooza,

Look, I don’t want to rain on your holy-moly-denmark-is-rad parade here, but did you know that we are all counting on you?  Are you aware of the extraordinary level of responsibility that you all have?  Are you?

Here’s the deal:  We need to you take really good pictures of the bicycle stuff that you are seeing.

We (and I mean us at home, the home front, good ol’ ‘Murica) need you to do this because we badly need CHANGE for many reasons that Dr. Marcy Marc has told you about in detail, and we are simple so we have to SEE it to BELIEVE it.  That’s where you come in.

Last year I took a few helpful pictures of my time in Amsterdam with the class (see also this blog post).  Not enough.  Not nearly enough.  I wish I had spent wayyyyyy more time and effort on documentation.  So the guide that follows is to encourage you to spend that time and to give you a few tips to hopefully maximize your success and efficiency as you do it.



In several rules…

#1: Take a HUGE number of photos.

This is both the simplest advice and the hardest to follow.  Take an infinitive number of pictures.  Photograph everything, from several angles, several times.  I once heard that for each photo that actually makes it into National Geographic, there are something like 70,000 photos taken of the same story that aren’t good enough.  Aspire to that number.  Don’t be afraid to be a tourist with a camera in your hand, at least some/most of the time.  Like I said, we NEED you to get pictures of the cycle tracks, the riders, the signs, the bike racks, all of it.  And to get good ones, the only sure way is to take a HUGE number.  Seriously do it.

#2: Take some time JUST to take pictures.

Plan it out.  An afternoon of your freetime.  Go out, stand on corners, take a picture of everyone that goes by on a bike.  Roam around and photograph intersections.  It seems like a chore now when all you want to do is go to Tivoli and eat open-face sandwiches and “experience” Christiana, but trust me, you will be glad for all the time you spend focusing solely on taking photographs of the stuff you are really there to experience, the bicycle infrastructure.  Try to take 5 or more hours while you are in each city JUST taking photographs.

#3: Get close.

It’s an old adage of photojournalism: if your pictures aren’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.  Get close.  This is especially important with the kinds of point-and-shoot cameras that you probably went over to Europe with. Let your subject fill the frame.  Wait until oncoming cyclists are RIGHT there before you snap.

#4: Take a bunch of pictures of the same thing.

Don’t just get one.  If there’s something worth photographing, it’s worth photographing several times from several angles.  You will be very glad you did this, later.   If you don’t have enough memory card space for this, go buy more memory cards.  Seriously.  Buy them.  Try to get at least three angles of anything worth shooting.  If it’s a moving scene, see if your camera has a “sport”mode or other mode that takes pictures in quick succession.

#5: Charge your camera.

Every night.  No exceptions.  WE ARE COUNTING ON YOU.

#6: Rule of thirds.

Look, I don’t make the rules.  But there are some things the brain just likes, and when it comes to two-dimensional images, rule of thirds is a key to making an attractive image.  Essentially, you are going to organize your photo into 1/3rd chunks, like this:


As you can see, the horizon line is 1/rd of the way from the top.  The subjects (boat, island) are at the intersection points of the lines that make the thirds.  This is one of the core principles of graphic design, so you are encouraged to think about it.  Images where the subject is dead-center are actually not desirable in general.


#7: Photograph everything

This is rule 1 rehashed.  Here’s the deal: you don’t yet know what point you will want to make to people back here about what you are seeing over there.  Do yourself a BIG favor and get enough evidence of a high enough quality that, whatever point you eventually want to make, you are able to make it.  Taking a huge amount of pictures and generally following the above rules is the ONLY way to do this.

#8: SHARE!!!! NOW!!!!!

Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, dropbox, whatever you please.

OKAY!!!! Please let me know if you have questions or need other support.  We are all just sitting here in America waiting for you to see (AND RECORD) what you need to in order to FIX your deeply flawed transportation system back here. No pressure.  I can’t wait to live vicariously through your HUGE number of pictures.


Ted Sweeney

once-and-future bike-utopia photographer



PS: on video…

Video is good too.  Take some video.  But don’t do it at the expense of still images.  Still images are the easiest to spread and share, and don’t require editing.  If you have the skills to create awesome mutimedia/video heavy stuff, then you already don’t need my advice.  By all means get some nice clips of bike rush hour, intersections, etc.  Just make sure you get LOTS of still images as well.

Video: Cross Crusade #1

The Cyclocross season is going strong, with the start of the Cross Crusade last weekend.  Cyclocross is like parkour in the mud with a bicycle.  Though I had a terrible time last year, I showed up once again at the first Cross Crusade race last weekend at Alpenrose, one of more than 1,400 ‘crossers to participate.  I used my GoPro camera to shoot a video, and, in an odd and unexpected turn, actually edited the footage and posted it online.  Enjoy.

Video and pictures of cycling in Amsterdam

This summer I had the excellent opportunity to investigate the storied bicycling utopias of Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  While I’ve written about the experience before, I haven’t posted many of my helmet cam videos of cycling in Amsterdam and some of the pictures I took.  Let’s fix that.

First, I’ve put together this video to give you a sense of what it feels like to ride in Amsterdam.  Enjoy in HD.

Separate and Safe: Cycling in Amsterdam from Ted Sweeney on Vimeo.

The goal with the video is to lull you into a feeling of comfort and glee, as that is the general feeling one gets when actually (rather than high definition virtually) cycling in Amsterdam.  The network of dedicated cycle-tracks (the ones separated from traffic) and bike-friendly streets hinted at in the video is complete and fully connected; you can get everywhere with this level of comfort.  Pretty nice.

Most of what can be said about bicycling in Amsterdam has been said before: normal people blah blah blah work clothes yadda yadda no need for helmets yeah yeah yeah practical bikes yackity yackity children on board etc.  I think it’s nice if we can let pictures do the talking.

A Dutch man told me that it’s wacky to fear cycling in the rain; “you aren’t made of wax–you won’t melt.”  I don’t really get it, because wax is generally water resistant anyway, but I love the phrase.

That man is particularly lovely.

Amsterdam is defined by the number of bikes roving about and locked up within it.  It’s interesting to think; if there were just a single city in the world that had accommodated cars to the degree that every American city has, we would certainly be thinking of that city as the “Car City” in the same way that Amsterdam is a “Cycling City,” and we would marvel over (and blog about) pictures of its large, packed parking lots, impressive interchanges, and normal people behind the wheel.

There’s something really nice about children being carried on bikes.  I wonder if that’s just the bike advocate in me, or if there’s a universal appeal to it.  It just seems more elegant than stuffing them in a minivan.

If these pictures don’t innately appeal to you, think of this: how much money are these people saving by not owning a vehicle (they may own one, but they certainly don’t need the several cars that most American families require)?

Amsterdam is a beautiful city, mostly because it feels ramshackle and lived in. The bikes chained everywhere really contribute to that.

I’m really aware of the serious liability that is the worship of European bicycling infrastructure.  Here’s what I mean; it’s never going to be enough to say “look, they are doing it/have done it in the Netherlands” as we work towards good public spaces and good cycling infrastructure in America. Quite the opposite is true; dwelling on foreign success makes these ideas seem foreign, unusual, curious.  What is foreign, unusual and curious at this time in American history is to have the political will to accomplish stuff like this, to really idealize public space for people through smart investment.  We are limping along, burdened with the cost of our car infrastructure.  Still, these pictures and videos are just a sideshow, not the antidote, not the American solution.  They are ideas and possibilities, and if they jog your imagination just a little bit, that’s all I can hope for.

I think we’ll leave it there for now.  I’ll get a Copenhagen video together for all you nerds out there.

Time lapse bike-assembling videos

I’m here in the Outdoor Program Barn converting my touring bike into a cyclocross bike.  It got me thinking about a couple of videos we made in the past year, of assembling bikes in this very spot.  First, there is the sickly charming “Gotta Build Katy a Commuter Bike;”

Barf bags provided on request (email me). Then, there’s a more relaxed video of metransfering the components from my old Fuji roadbike to new De Rosa frame:

The time-lapse software is for mac and it’s called Gawker, very functional and free.  It can easily use your built in i-Sight camera to make timelapse videos.  Adding the music is on you (I recommend beer and your guitar).

The many lives of my Redline 925

This post is about my commuter bike, which is also the first real bicycle that I owned as an adult.  I’ve found that the first real bicycle one owns as an adult tends to be formative; it’s the first bike you get that actually fits your body, that has features selected by you rather than by Santa, that you personally wonder about accessorizing.  That bike, which one also tends to ride for adult purposes (going to work or on errands, going on longer rides for exercise) is the one that gains an air of legitimacy in your life as a real vehicle.  It’s also the bicycle that a lot of Americans never get around to buying.  Never owning a bicycle (that fits you, that you picked out) as an adult means that bicycles never prove their legitimacy to you.  I am convinced that if most Americans simply tried riding bicycles that fit them, they would “get it.”

Again, this post is about my Redline 925, my first real adult bicycle.  I bought it on craigslist when I returned to Eugene and UO after my year in AmeriCorps (07-08).  I knew nothing about bikes at the time.  I called up two bicycle-geek friends and made them not only pour over the CL ads with me, but also come out with me to look at the bicycle (also, Peter had a Subaru, and I had no vehicle whatsoever).  My geek friends kicked the tires on this bike, criticized the guy selling it with words I had never heard like “trued,” and got the price down for me.

The 925 is a single speed commuter (9-2-5, get it?  GET IT!?) bike with a flip-flop rear hub, meaning you can choose to make it a fixed gear with just a little bit of work. The frame is essentially road-bike shaped.  Instead of the original mustache handlebars the guy had added some Cannondale drop bars, which made the bike feel fast and race-inclined.  I liked that.  I zipped all around Eugene with the glee that comes with the first adult bicycle.

Atop of my first adult bicycle, I started to notice all those little things about the transportation system that all cyclists notice; the potholes, the spotty bike-way network, the death-cheating situations, the fear, the insults (I’ll never forget my first major car-bike altercation; a guy almost hit me as he turned left, and hollered back “get a car, faggot!“).  All of a sudden, as someone who relied on the bike for my personal freedom in the city (well, in Eugene), I cared about this stuff.  In a major way, my first adult bicycle made me care about this stuff.  Before I knew it I was on the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, learning firsthand how the city and community were trying to deal with these issues.  I took a bicycle maintenance class at the UO Bike Program, and soon afterwards took an opportunity to become coordinator of that program.  I had also acquired my second adult bicycle, a yellow entry level Fuji road bike, and had started riding and racing with the UO Cycling Team.  About a year and a half after letting my first adult bicycle, the Redline 925, into my life, everything I did revolved around bikes and bike advocacy.  I think the Redline was the start of all of it.

Last fall, I wanted to race Cyclocross.  Cyclocross is a combination of the best parts of mountain biking (interesting courses, dirt, more eclectic characters) and road biking (fast road bicycles, tight clothes, bright colors) with mercifully short races, obstacles that require you to get off and carry your bike, and a beer swillin’, bring-your-dog-to-the-race kind of attitude.  Unfortunately, cyclocross bikes have some technical differences from normal road bikes, meaning I couldn’t use my Fuji.  I was facing the prospect of having to get a new bike.  Then I hit on a solution: I could use the Redline 925.  It had room for the big tires needed to make cyclocross work.  Since it was singlespeed, there wasn’t much that could break.  As long as I found the correct gear ratio (how big the single gear is), I would b able to ride the whole course with ease.  Here’s the redline set up for cyclocross, though still with my commuting bell on it (which I would ring liberally during races):

When I did finally get the gear right, I had a great time in those races.  I mostly raced with the beginner category, so I had a chance to be competitive.  I even came in first at one race:

I won a beer. Go Ducks. Photo by Al.

The Redline, made to ride around town rather than on the trail, performed pretty darn well for cyclocross.  That leads into my overall message here, which is that one thing I love about bicycles is how versatile they are; even one single bicycle can be made to suit a very wide variety of needs with minor modification.  When I needed the Redline to be a cyclocross racing bike, I just took off the fenders, put on some nobby tires, and went for it.  Sure, purists shamed me for having road-style caliper brakes that lack the “mud-clearance” of cyclocross-standard cantilevers, but hey, being able to make my commuter do double duty instead of shelling out $900+ for an entry level ‘cross bike is a pretty damn fine deal.  After the ‘cross season, the Redline went back to commuter duty, with a grocery rack and fenders.

While I was on my Northern European bicycle tour earlier this summer, I thought a lot about the kinds of bikes Europeans ride around their cities, and the features those bikes have.  Really, in my mind, I was continuously re-accessorizing the Redline.  By the time I returned I was absolutely rearin’ to set it up as the ideal city bike.  So… from cyclocross bike to Dutch city bike in ten months… I bring you my new and improved first adult bicycle!

Here, again, is before:

And, drumroll… AFTER!

It’s summertime, so I haven’t put the fenders back on, but I’m sure you can excuse that in recognition of all the extraordinarily practical features this bike now offers!  Starting with sexiest-first, we have the Pletscher Double Kickstand:

It has new handlebars (Nitto Allrounders) that give me an upright riding position (but not too upright, purists, don’t you worry), finally allowing me to take babysteps away from the craven, hunchbacked crouch of the road racer:

It has a new magnetic generator light in the front.  These are especially popular in Copenhagen.  They require no batteries, and they are difficult to steal.  I use it mostly as a backup light, but it’s nice to know that if I forget my removable lights I am still legal and somewhat safe.

And of course there are the racks from Gamoh:

These racks are pretty serious about hauling things.  In full recognition of the arguable pretentiousness of hauling things by bike, I am compelled to share with you some of the recent loads this beast has hauled.

There was our new vacuum, a craigslist buy:

A whole load of group camping gear for the Pedal Project overnight trip, with some help from my Bike Friday trailer (bought that at a garage sale a while back for $20; Bike Friday sells them for the rather unbelievable price of $200-it’s just a rubbermaid container on a simple frame, though the hitch is pretty ingenious):

Finally, I hauled a huge load of unneeded things to the Goodwill on Franklin the other day; the box on the back really tested the limits of what the rear rack can carry, but I made it there with no mishaps. (w/ disembodied hand, below).

The racks are great.  Gamoh also sells them with an extra rail wrapped around, to make a bit of a basket, and with wood panels between the bottom rails.  These ones, the “porteur” style, are about $40-$50 cheaper than the equivalent CETMA.  When I want to get a few groceries, I put them in a bag and bungie the bag down to the front rack.  No problems yet.

Of couse, my bike is missing some essentially Euro features.  I may still add a chain guard.  I don’t really have a good way to attach the rear wheel lock, and it really isn’t very useful in bike-theft heavy Eugene anyway (I do think rear wheel locks are cool, though).  So far, rather than switch to something springy and leather, I’m sticking with my WTB saddle that has served me well though all the phases of the Redline.

Part of my journey from knowing nothing about bikes to being overly obsessed with them has been about trying out the different contexts that involve the bicycle.  From basic commuting to recreational riding to racing, to advocacy and back to commuting, this Redline has been the physical manifestation of my own progression through the world of bicycles.  I have no idea what urge will seize me next (mmm… internal geaaaarrrrrrring), but I have confidence that my first adult bicycle, the Redline 925, is up to it.  Your bike probably is too.

Photo by Fred Sproat, from Andy Clarke‘s visit to campus to award us the Silver Level Bike Friendly University award.

The Pedal Project: build a bike and ride

I had a fabulous opportunity last week to be a part of the inaugural Pedal Project.  This is a program the UO Office of Sustainability put on for incoming students, one of several such programs.

The program had an ambitious plan, and I was nervous about it.  The idea was to bring in some students who had never worked on or even thought all that much about bicycles before and have them build up bikes from scratch.  They would then use these bikes they had built to navigate around Eugene and get an introduction to urban transportation issues related to sustainability.  Finally, they would ride those bikes a few dozen miles to an overnight camping spot.  All of this would take place over four days.

Now, I put bikes together.  It’s not especially challenging.  The parts are, in general, made to fit together; you just need to have the right parts.  But I am a supergeek, and most of my time is spent thinking about these things.  I was a supergeek about bikes for quite a while before I actually put together my first bike.  That “build” was certainly not my first time working on bikes or using bike tools.  For these students, it would be a bit of a rude introduction.

And then a bike camping trip? Even people in Eugene who ride bikes around town quite a bit scoff (too much, methinks) at the thought of using them for recreation, or to ride any strenuous distance.  How would these students react?  Would the bikes even survive the trip?  Would the general scuffle with logging trucks and debris-in-the-shoulder and rolling hills that is the greater Eugene area riding environment forever scar these folks and keep them off of bikes?  Usually these things have to be eased into.

Clearly, we were all but doomed to fail.

And yet…

The students took bikes that had been donated to the UO Bike Program by Lane Transit District or the Eugene Police department and set to work stripping off their old components and building them up as single speed mountain bikes with coaster brakes.  That’s the standard setup the Bike Program uses for its long term bike loan service (with which students can check out a bike for $15 per term for up to three terms) because it yields a reliable bicycle that doesn’t take much maintenance to keep going.

They set to work for a day and a half attaching all the necessary parts; rear coaster wheels, chains, seatposts and saddles, grips, front brakes, fenders, single-speed cranksets, bells, racks with baskets, pedals, and magnetic generator lights.  I buzzed around with some direction and teaching, but make no mistake; the students assembled these bikes themselves, from scratch.  They came together with a motley but oddly unified look that I really like.

They built these bikes, rode them around town a bit on a scavenger hunt, and the very next day loaded them up for an overnight bike tour.  Now, I am very willing to claim, in full ignorance of whether the statement is true or not, that this is the first time ever in the history of our wet and spinning world that humans have assembled their very first ever bike that they’ve ever worked on and then immediately ridden that same bike on an overnight loaded bike tour.  First time.  Ever.  No big deal.

Okay, yes, Shelley and I pulled trailers with some of the gear and food. Here’s my own bike loaded up for the adventure (in solidarity, I went single-speed as well).

We headed out the Fern Ridge bike path through West Eugene, on our way to Fern Ridge reservoir to camp.

It was a very hot day, and I’m not going to say there wasn’t any grumbling or dehydration, but in general the mood was high.  Empowered.  Kickass.

We were on some busy roads too, and went over some hills.  We survived.  Thrived, even.  We made it to our camp site at Richardson State Park and got situated.

The bikes performed very well, by the way.  None of them completely disintegrated on the ride, a testament to the care the students put into creating them.  True, we had a few wheels rubbing frames (quickly corrected), but we didn’t even have any flat tires.  Once camp was established, we headed down to the balmy waters of Fern Ridge for a soak.  It was an OK evening aesthetically:

We ate some burritos with quinoa (an unfamiliar foodstuff for most of the students) and told some ghost stories and went to sleep.  Shelley and I didn’t have a tent and inexplicably got rained on blah blah blah and soon it was morning and we packed up the bikes and headed back to campus.

Here is a link to our whole route, though you should note that I had to fight with Google Maps a bit and the real milage is around 38 (at the end point “B” there we really just got back on the bike path and rode back to the start).  On the way back we used the course of the Eugene Roubaix road race, traversing the gravel section and struggling up the little hill on Cantrell rd with our single-speeds.  Here’s the group coming to the end of the mean, mean gravel:

We got back to Eugene a little bit overheated but satisfied, I think, with our effort.  I’m not going to say there wasn’t some grumbling about butt pain, but everyone marveled just a bit, just enough, over what we had accomplished.  Before leaving town, the students donated their bikes to the UO Bike Program, so that they can be loaned out and used for centuries or even millennia to come.  The students will be back to move into student housing next month.  I’m not too worried about this group.

So there you have it.  For the first time in the history of our oscillating, dark-matter-filled universe, five folks who didn’t initially necessarily give a crap about bikes built some anyway and then immediately went on the kind of adventure that a lot of other folks might think is crazy to undertake.  For my part, I had a total blast.

I haven’t described the whole program: The students also got tours at the Center for Appropriate Transport, Bike Friday, Arcimoto (most fun test drive of my life, thanks guys), and UO Campus Recycling, and had a good time discussing the disturbing yet excellent Who Killed the Electric Car? With the bikes and the camping trip, that’s an awful lot for four days.

Next post: a despicable geek-out about the Euro-inspired upgrades I have made to my commuter bike, complete with many bikepornographic shallow depth-of-field close up shots.  Mmmmmmmmmmm.  Stay tuned.