Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wild Goose Ride

You never know what you're going to see when you get up out of your chair and go for a ride. Today, for example, I was in the middle of interior house reconfiguration when I decided to take a break and meditate on the passage of another year. Sure 2009, you snuck up like a dude with thighs like tree trunks riding a carbon triginta speed dream machine and blew past me for a while, but I kept in touch with you all the way, and eventually caught and passed you. 2010, I see you coming, you remind me of 2009 in some ways. Go ahead, take the lead. I'll draft behind you for several months. I've seen the geese flying in December in Phoenix; that one out in front of the V will tire soon enough. Honk away, 2010, honk honk honk. I'm right behind you, and I will attack when ready. My friends and I are all back here, spinning easy, enjoying the scenery. It was a good way to close out the old year, and to start the new one. I'll see you around the corner. Get up. Go ride.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Holographic Noise in an Alternate Reality

Today I rode to establish the first leg of my three-legged ultimate fantasy: find a route that I could use to commute to Arizona State University in Tempe (leg 1) on my Sinner Mango velomobile (leg 2) where I would perform Internet research and computer scut work for Paul Davies (leg 3).  "Say JR," the premier cosmologist would call to me from the midst of his cosmic wanderings, "Could you compile a dossier on these news stories about holographic noise they have encountered on the GEO 600 experiment for me? Also, check up on what's going on at the LHC today, after you flash that wireless router with some dd-wrt firmware." When Davies says "jump," he would just assume that I would know how high. Well, the photo above illustrates what passes for the express route to Tempe for velocipedes, the Crosscut Canal path. The sidewalk starts from what would presumably be a tortuous or impossible switchback navigation for a Mango (just visible in the left of the photo) after negotiating a crossing of Indian School Road. Once you are on the Crosscut sidewalk, it is an excellent piece of cycling infrastructure. But getting on it from either end is not straightforward. After the tunnel above it looked like a side street might be a more workable feeder for a velomobile. Anyway, 

a bit farther along and the path winds past the Desert Botanical Garden, and Papago Park. Since I am in Arizona, I feel compelled to post the occasional photo of a saguaro cactus or two. After a pleasant, if sidewalk expansion joint-rattled, little southerly run, the Crosscut path dumps you out in the middle of the Salt River Project ongoing engineering works project, which I gather has something to do with genetic research related to mashing together the native species of the Colorado, Salt, Gila, Agua Fria, New, and Verde Rivers, the waters of which all come together in this little neighborhood (although the white amur carp and quagga mussels must complicate the research setting). There's a confusing array of signs, construction, and gates, some open, some closed, but after you dump out onto a street, which on the map says "E Campo Alegre Ln" but which I thought said "Marigold St", you find out you were on the wrong side of this, which doesn't bode well for the southern terminus of my fantasy commuter route to my job solving the mysteries of the universe and life on other worlds:

Except for lowering the gates and putting actual guards in the guardhouse, it looks like a fait accompli: before reaching this fortress, you'll have to hang an east a little earlier, and exit the path/park complex on North College Ave. Which is OK, since it has a workable bike lane, too. If you look closely at the signage, you'll see this is not only an entrance to the giant canal mystery works, but also a back entrance to the zoo. QED.

After that, I found myself in Tempe taking pictures of the old grain elevator, only because it is inevitable that they demolish it and erect a giant Hooters/Starbucks/Pizza Hut in its place. Yes I'm still a little bitter about downtown Tempe since Changing Hands books moved out, and Yoko Love stopped playing Long Wongs. 

I'm not sure how well the Mango would do with the sidewalk expansion joints all the way to Tempe. Riding that every day might make me long for some sweet miles of rubberized asphalt like they surface the freeways with. That stuff is smooth, and a mixture suitable for cycling and running surfaces would be welcome here. But there is this great tunnel, which makes up for it a little bit (although two Mangos meeting in the middle would not work, I think)

Since my route today took my favorite east-west bike expressway, the Arizona Canal, which is surfaced with gravel, my steel-framed single speed with slightly knobby 700x30 Kenda Kwik tires seemed all around a better choice than a velomobile. I even used it for a little side excursion on the mountain bikey trails of Papago Park, although going downhill is better with a 42x16 than going up. Coming home, at the end of the Crosscut, and while waiting for the light to change to get across Indian School Road again, I noticed that the sign which indicates the place where the Crosscut Canal pours out of the Arizona Canal rather confuses the naming of the latter, possibly to obscure the location of the regional aquatic genetic mixing laboratory complex downstream. But when you consider that this is all just a holographic projection of a two-dimensional surface billions of light years away, what's a little perpendicular mis-signage in the middle of the first leg of an impossible three-legged fantasy? Mmmm, Mango. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, December 25, 2009


I am light on shadow,
flesh on steel,
motion on earth,
Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and the Melvins,
road and trail,
freeway construction site and walled-off wilderness,
anonmymous blip out of billions,
yet capable of singular glimpses of transcendence.
I am a vented helmet that is a symbol of freedom,
I am John Romeo Alpha, and
I have just one speed: go.
Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Light Club: The First Rule, A Bicycle Prayer

Dec 23 is the day we all just want to be over with. But I don't feel I have enough days left to spend them like that, so I put on my lights and went for a ride.

Hear my prayer on the darkest week of the year.
48 degrees, drenched in sweat, covered in mud.
Flying in the night along the water...

Started the year a slave to fear,
running from the old demons,
fattening on slipshod dreams,
a camera-crushed shadow shone
on the confused cave stone.

Ended the year flying at night,
pushing as hard as I could,
knees crying, thighs burning
to answer to that old self:
you can be this,

48 degrees, drenched in sweat, covered in mud.
Flying in the night along the water, laughing.

Hear my prayer for 2010:
Get up. Go ride.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ghostriders Come Marching Rawhide

Four sometimes reliable weather prediction sources--my electronic weather gadget, my sore knee, a popular online weather site, and my wife--all said it was going to rain today. The weather gadget is not often right, and weather forecasting in Arizona is like a fireman playing craps with dice loaded by the house: boredom, punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror, and he can't win. But they don't pay pretty faces to stand in front of a camera to say, "There's an unpredictable and unstable Pacific low pressure system heading in the general direction of the West Coast, but there are too few data points to tell if it is going to fizzle or cause hail and haboobs. Your guess is as good as mine. Back to you, Dick." Since I bicycled to work today, I had to select gear going out the door that would be appropriate for the ride home. It didn't help me stay on task that the mental song of the day started out as Ghost Riders in the Sky, but lacking full lyrics and tune, morphed into When Johnnie Comes Marching Home, but lacking full lyrics and tune for that, too, morphed into Rawhide. So I stood their staring at the weather gadget, rationalizing that whatever the tune for Ghost Riders really is, the lyrics basically fit Johnnie. This slightly blurred photo captures the scene accurately.

I've been burned (and by "burned," I mean almost killed on the top of Humphreys Peak by hypothermia with my corpse pummeled by malted milk ball sized hail as it was fried by lightning bolts) by not taking the right gear for an outdoor activity enough times that "take the gear" has become a mantra for me. The question this morning as I stared bleary-eyed at the gadget with a loud mashup of a a Johnny Cash song, a Civil War song, and the Blues Brothers rendition of a country-western tune playing in my brain was, which gear? Remembering the Humphreys Peak fiasco, and how I averted a repeat the next time I hiked up there by taking a waterproof parka and pants, and had a great time in a driving winter storm, I almost took the waterproof parka. But the weather droid is usually wrong, the online graphics said only "30% chance," and I rarely heed the weather predictions of the love of my life, so I left the parka and grabbed the lightweight cycling shell. That decision appeared woefully inadequate when the storms came through mid-afternoon, with dust and blowing winds, along with rain, and I feared the minivan bail-out phone call was imminent. But as the afternoon wore on, the storms finished. As I went outside, I saw two things that made me believe everything would be OK, if a bit mud-spattered. It turned out that yesterday's song was one day early. The only thing missing was a unicorn running up and handing me some dark chocolate. Next time, I listen to the knee. Get up. Go ride.

Santa Claus, After the Rains


Rainbow. No ghostriders evident.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Commute: Somewhere Odor the Rainbow

On some rides, a song gets into my head. No, not from earbuds; I don't subscribe to making yourself deaf to sounds that inform you of traffic and other cyclists who would like you to get out of their way and not pose a threat to yourself and others. I don't know where these songs come from, and I can't say that they are appropriate to a particular time and place, except only in ways that my subconscious could explain, if it could explain--but then it wouldn't be very sub. Today's song was Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It may help to crank that tune while you read this post. Just as the tune of the day kicked in, I turned the corner and saw this:

Which is remarkable for its utter ghost town-like emptiness. At this time of the morning, this section of the street is usually full of large vehicles transporting the wee ones to school. Today, everyone but me is sleeping in. Of course, the mere act of taking out the camera to snap a street empty of vehicles called in the vehicles. Right after this shot hit the CCD and settled onto my SD card, a shiny SUV drove by and filled my nose with the odor of catalyzed unleaded fuel. You know that smell? Some common wisdom on the net asserts that the smell comes from sulfur compounds. Having burned a lot of sulfur myself in teenage chemistry experiments, as well as having lived in the shadow of a coal-burning power plant that emitted enough sulfur to induce choking sensations some days, that smell doesn't remind me of sulfur. It only reminds me of the first new car my Dad brought home with a converter. I'm pretty sure it was a 1975 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon. With those sweet simulacrum wood sides. I heard some media authority figure state categorically that humans lack the ability to summon odors to mind from memory. Bull. I can smell the fetid odor from that car's tailpipe just by picturing those gorgeous wood trim side panels, and vice versa. I can summon citrus, cherry, and dozens of other smells. In the case of the catalytic converter odor, though, it is so noxious that it's stored in the bad smell bucket, cut off from any good (or bad) memories associated with it. Unlike, for example, diesel exhaust, which I associate with a late-night stop at the Greyhound terminal in Chicago in 1981, where I sat with a fellow passenger playing gin for $10,000 per hand. Jim, if you're out there, I haven't forgotten the 70 grand I lost. My intent is to make it up to you somehow. Since I also associate diesel fumes with China in the year I was there, when it seems like the cities were diesel fume saturated, I'm likely to get a faraway look in my eye whenever a passing truck gases me. Those happy associations with diesel fumes were threatened today, though, illustrating that memory and scent associations in particular could be fickle and fragile things. As I paused to snap this shot of the rusted fish of doom:

A passing truck blasted me with the precious elixir of the fumes of faraway places and exotic experiences, when I looked across at the canal and saw this:

Which stinks. What does it mean to me exactly? Do they consider me riding my bike to work as "recreational usage?" I would assume that a guy riding to his job in order to put food on his table and presents under the Xmas tree so that his wee ones don't collapse into despair-ridden toylessness would not qualify as "recreational." The other side has the same sign, so it's possible they are taking a month and a half to drain and clean this section of all the garbage and rusted shopping carts and mutant duck carcasses that lurk beneath its swirling surface. So check back to this space in the timeframe of JAN5 for an update. I'll attempt to probe a canal worker for clarification of "recreational usage." Rusted fish of doom is not amused. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blue Sky Bonus Clip

This little clip shows a fun section of the ride at North Mountain today. I wouldn't say I was in the zone, but the zone was definitely visible from here. Check out the sky. December 20. 72 degrees. Get up. Go ride.

Weak in the Knees

The John Romeo Alpha "ride to the ride" rule worked in my favor today. As I started off in the late morning for North Mountain, my right knee was hurting, probably from overuse. I've been riding a lot. So the knee just needs to shut up and keep pumping. A warm-up spin in a medium cadence loosened up the whining joint, and it felt fine by the time I arrived at the left end of Trail 100. That previous video I posted was at the opposite end. That was just a week ago, giving some credence to the sore knee's point of view. One purpose for today's ride, other than riding the bike when the temperature is 72 degrees--OK you don't really need any other reason than that. But one additional thing I accomplished was trying out a slightly different mounting method of attaching my Tachyon XC camera to my helmet. The previous way I attached it seemed secure, but I vibrated more than I would like out on the trail. Mike at mtbikeaz.com used a goggle strap cranked down with a tire lever to keep his camera steady, so I concluded that the zip ties alone were not cutting it. Keeping the zip tie geometry the same, I used two strips of the 3M Dual Lock under the mount to keep it firmly in place. Mission accomplished, that stuff is absurdly strong. Then I also adjusted the helmet straps so that it would stay as steady as possible on my head. The results are in the video below. I still may crank it down with a goggle strap next time, or try a frame mount. There's a whole middle section of Trail 100 that still needs to be ridden and recorded.

Lots of people out enjoying the outdoors today, walking the dog, mountain biking, spending time with the kids, and jogging along the canal. What is it that is so mesmerizing about a bouncing pony tail? Still weak in the knees. Better go for another warm-up ride. Get up. Go ride. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

To Press or Not to Press

Me? I'm a presser. Hop or roll up the curb, reach down, press that sucker three or four times to be sure. But I bet some people are non-pressers. Either cyclists who wouldn't cross that curb barrier to touch a damned pedestrian button for a million bucks, or drivers who see me do that and either think I am stepping over some imaginary no-no line, or else think to themselves (like I do when I'm driving), "I wonder if that makes the light change faster." But, in fact, I don't press it to try to make it change faster, only to ensure that the light waits long enough for me to get across the street on my bike, and isn't a quicky-green that only lets two cars turn left and then goes red again. On a day like today, a 70 degree mid-December bike-riding nirvana day (I'm sending warm happy sentiments out to all the people living in bitter cold places today, don't hate me because I don't live in a cold place or in a traditionalist bicycling monoculture that suckles off the cold gray days like we all deserve them--we don't), I would be happy to sit in the sweet sunshine for several minutes waiting for the light. It will turn. No big hurry. The weather is just as perfect on this side of the street as the other. True, I'm not spinning down the canal on my single speed on this side of the street. I'm sitting waiting over here to go over there and start doing that. But the light will change. The bike will carry me across. OK, maybe I'll press it one more time, the bike and me want to move now. A friendly "It feels like Spring" barbaric yawp to everyone. Today's 30 mile spin in the sun was on the single speed below. It could have gone longer, but Other Things Beside Riding had to be done today. Lube up the chain though: tomorrow is Sunday, and the forecast is for 72 and sunny. Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


I'm in favor of doing whatever you want to with your bike. I also recognize that different combinations work for different people for complex collisions of opportunity, taste, cost, knowledge, peer pressure, skill, will, and chance. Formula-wise, you get Bike=OxTxCxKxPxSxWxCh, where 'x' is the mystery mashup operator. (Note this formula only applies in relatively free/open societies, and not in totalitarian regimes where only one or two types of bicycles are manufactured, nor in traditionalist bicycle monocultures where any deviation like wearing a helmet or any item of lycra visible or even underneath is punished with scorn).  Still, when I see a configuration like this, I'm not filled with negativity or judgment, only wonder: I wonder how that works for someone, are their arms in some kind inexplicable formation which makes this possible? I am on board the "all two wheeled human-powered vehicles are cool" bandwagon. I'm just curious what makes this work for someone. Get up. Go ride.

Zen Fountain Bike

Sun rising to the right. No one else around except the truck drivers, construction men, and yard guys. A warm day in the homestretch of a month where everyone else at work will be out on vacation until the new year. I see the fountain every day I ride in. There's the fountain, there's the bike. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

HP-15C and 1989 Fuji Suncrest Side by Side

Compare and contrast.
  • Cost about $100. 
  • Still work great. 
  • Made in 1980s. 
  • Far surpassed for their original usage by new technology (desktop computers, bikes with suspension) but because of essential features (the best buttons ever put on a calculator, a timeless steel frame) continue to serve useful purposes.
  • Able to be morphed into other purposes easily by me somewhat aided by a book (HP-15C Owner's Handbook (the best manual ever written for an electronic device), the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair 2nd Edition). 
  • Some people look at me funny when I use them. 
  • Some people nod knowingly when I use them.
  • RPN and a Biopace chainring. 
  • SOLVE key and LX M-454 cantis. 
  • Landscape orientation and M453 SIS thumbshifters. 
  • A giant enter key right in the middle and four finger brake levers (easy to mash either when panicked without fear of harm). 
  • Not high powered, but run for an incredible length of time on the power available. 
Edge to HP-15C : linear regression, trigonometric functions, statistics, math, registers, memory.
Edge to the Suncrest: once carrying me up and down South Mountain with a bunch of road bikers, hauling me back and forth to work regularly, gears, wheels, pedals.

Rubbish Riding

Bike Radar has some striking HDR photos of bikes in a junkyard. They call it rubbish riding. Lager and tetanus shots all around.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Vacation Day Trail 100 Mountain Bike Ride

Monday vacation day: three very sweet words. I used the day wisely, made a few adjustments to my 1998 Bontrager Privateer S mountain bike, donned my Tachyon XC helmet cam, and went for a ride. Following the John Romeo Alpha "ride to the ride" rule, I rode out to the Dreamy Draw parking lot, filled up the water bottles, and hit the trail. The temperature was in the high sixties, almost too warm for long sleeves. It rained a little here in the last few days, so the dust was suppressed, and the air was very clear. Trail 100 is not the world's most difficult or challenging trail, just close enough to home for me to ride to, and guaranteed to be fun on a warm winter day. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sweet Mother of the Cosmic Puppetmaster: Crested Ducks

What a Pepsis wasp, angry about being displaced to the number 4 spot by deformed ducks, might look like.

I posted earlier about seeing Duck Dawkins floating down the canal. Some Google-thrashing uncovered the information that he is probably a black crested duck. Further directed research revealed the unmitigated horror that underlies the crest. For example, 25% of them die at birth because their brain is exposed. On this happy site, where you can see a nice photo of a paceline of crested ducks getting prepared to draft, we find this explanation: "The crest is formed from a mass of fatty tissue that emerges through a gap in the cranium." OK, that's it, crested ducks just made the JR Alpha top 10 list of bad pranks by the cosmic puppetmaster:

1) The manner, place, and time of the demise of Thomas Merton.
2) The fire in '67 at Cudia City (26 Men filmed there, the only viable competitor to the Maverick series). A real Western studio burned to the ground, and replaced by tract homes. Why god, why?
3) Crested ducks
4) Pepsis wasps
5) Human morphology
Therefore, with crested ducks now in the #3 spot, I am inaugurating the JR Alpha Foundation for the Amelioration of the Life Condition of Crested Ducks (a subgig of the OneSpeedGo Institute). I don't want your monetary contributions. Some of these poor floating bastards have trouble even eating normally, due to their cranial elaborations. So, if you come across one, just treat him nicely, throw him some tasty duck chow or something, and tell him John Romeo Alpha sent you. Get up. Go ride.

Easy Decision

Phoenix. December. Sunday morning. No excuses. No doubts. Take the path to the right. Get up. Go ride.

English Implosion Pt.1: Annoying Danglers and Casualisms

Twelve million and counting: That being said

Making a run at six million: Having said that

Lashing out at a clear and present danger while also slaying sense, currently running >20K: hipster + that being said 

"That said" as the start of a paragraph or sentence: countless beyond number, cannot be googled accurately (regexes anyone?)

Bryan A. Garner a little help here please.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seen: Duck Dawkins

Seen today on an easy canal ride: Duck Dawkins. What's that on top of your head Dawkins? Adaptation? Mutation? Tumor? Revolutionary feather-based helmet? God's cruel idea of a joke? A massive alien duck-brain? Float on, Dawkins, float on.

Helmet Me, Continued

In a recent randomized duck blind study [JR Alpha, OneSpeedGo Institute, 2009], only 16.67% of waterfowl were found to be wearing protective headgear in potentially dangerous situations. This study did not consider feather color.

This site, cyclehelmets.org, presents data on both sides of the helmet discussion, leaning (it seems to me) more to the "helmets are hyped and probably not needed or useful, and may do more harm than good" school of thought, rather than the "wear them all the time to save you the one time you need it" school (me). [although I noticed that Hodgson is missing from the studies reviewed. Hmmm.]  Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute appears to lean in the pro direction.

One line of reasoning that the anti- side seems to like to attack is the "it happened to me, so it must be true" anecdote. I agree that this is generally a rhetorical form that should set off all the BS sensors. On the other hand, when bicycle helmets do their job within their design envelopes (slow to mid-speed collisions), it seems to me they can turn what would have been the rare, yet personally significant brain injury, Natasha Richardson for example, into a non-event that is not reported in official injury statistics, and would only be available via personal anecdote. Most cyclists I know, after a fall at 20mph where they smack their helmet on the ground and get some bruises and road rash, would not report that to anyone. After an incident like that, it still seems very plausible to me that the helmet did make a critical difference, yet this outcome will remain unreported and not considered in all of the studies of accident statistics. (noted also that the "most cyclists I know" rhetorical form also triggers the BS sensors into red alert).

My friend lost control of his motorcycle on a decreasing-radius turn at over 80mph. He was wearing full gear. He was bruised and mashed up, and his bike was totaled, but he walked away with no serious injuries. This is an incident of the personal anecdote, the "protective gear saved me" pattern. I have no doubts that the conclusion is utterly valid and true. Does that mean the outcome would always be the same at that speed? Of course not. On the other hand, the anecdote is data to consider in your own personal safety decisions.

So at this point I look at the available data, combine it with personal experience (explicitly biased, to be sure), and try to reach a reasoned and convincing conclusion for myself: since I avoid high-speed auto traffic very intentionally, and maintain what I believe is a healthy perspective that cars are two ton steel death machines that cyclists should watch like a mouse would do in a cage full of hungry cats, and since 99% of my cycling occurs in the helmet design envelope, I'll keep wearing one. That doesn't mean I think everyone should, or that you need to. That's up to you.

If you often ride in the company of high-speed automobiles, or often ride faster than 25mph (or whatever the top limit of typical bike helmets is), or find yourself hitting the ground a lot because you like to huck monster cliffs, then a well-vented expanded polystyrene foam hat probably won't do much good for you, might be bad, and you may want to consider alternate forms of cranium protection better suited to your potential impacts. If you mostly ride slow in a pack of similarly attired and stylish commuters, and are so practiced and comfortable on your two-wheeled machine that the odds of a freak "I was just riding along at about 5mph, x happened, and I smacked my head into the pavement" incident seem vanishingly small to you, and the idea of wearing a helmet irritates you or does not mesh with your fashion sense, I also get it. Although you may want to reconsider something like balancing "vanishingly small" against possible permanent disability or death. So the picture is far from clear, the studies far from decisive, and the technology far from ideal. And vanity knows no bounds. Continued vigorous debate and flexibility is called for. We need more data, and better helmets. Biking is not nearly as risky as many people seem to believe, but it will still probably pay off to be safe out there. Get up. Go ride.    

The BIMBIC Ratio Management KPI

As a manager, a KPI (key performance indicator) that I measure for myself is called the BIMBIC ratio. The is a ratio of the time spent with Butt in Meetings / Butt in Chair (my chair, at my desk). If this ratio is many times greater than one, and it's likely for most managers that it is, then that may mean several things, but BIMBIC focuses on just one: how available is the manager for people to stop by and consult with him. That's it. If you have a very high BIMBIC, it means you are very unavailable to talk to, to chat with, to shoot the breeze with, to serve as a sounding board, to lend your knowledge and experience and vision to hash stuff out, to answer critical questions, to serve as a shoulder to lean on, or to see what the heck goes on around your desk on a typical day anyway. How's BIMBIC measured? Well, to date, for me, it's been an approximation to be sure, although I do envision a pressure switch in my chair interfaced with my calendar in Outlook. I mention this now because it's possible that my BIMBIC today was somewhere below two, for once, which is pretty rare. Many days BIC, the denominator, is 0, which is as ugly managerially as it is mathematically.

By extension, the Posterior Locality Monitoring System (PLMS) monitors where your butt currently is as compared to where you planned or hoped it to be. For example, if you were stuck in front of your computer during a time that you really planned on riding one of your bikes, then the PLMS should alert you to get off your butt. Over time, the PLMS would track your BIPBOBS ratio (Butt in Irrelevant Places divided by Butt On Bike Seat), and smack you upside the head whenever BOBS stayed at 0. Come on people, BIMBIC needs to be as low as possible, and BIPBOBS needs to be less than one. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hello Friday

Hi Friday, how's it going? I've been working all day. The wind is calm, the air is cool, let's just take this slow. One block at a time. Easy does it. Happy to be here. Think I'll head home now. Get up. Go ride.

1986 Centurion Facet Aluminum Workhorse

Hi there, aluminum-framed friend, how ya doin? Been some places? Still got some on the list to do? Purple tape. That says something.


Zugzwang is a word with such an interesting sound that it ought to be onomatopoeia for something like "the sound an improperly tightened wound up spoke makes when it unwinds," or possibly "what happens when a pebble lodges in the knobs of your tire and then pings off your frame," or, "Ryan faceplanted just then, looks like he broke his zugzwang."

But from its actual meaning, it seems that it could be used to describe something like blasting down an unfamiliar street on skinny tires, dodging out to avoid a parked car with traffic just to your left, and seeing the sewer grate just before you hit it. Zugzwang. There's a little onomatopoeia in that. And if you are able to think fast and convert to reciprocal zugzwang, you just might keep rolling. Here's wishing that all your zugzwangs go reciprocal on this last day of the work week. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ten Reasons I Like to Stop at Lights on My Bike

10. Stopping allows me a moment to pause and look around, to take in the sensations of the place I am at, giving me additional data that is not always apparent in motion. This morning, while stopped, I heard and saw the water bubbling up out of the flood irrigation valves in a nearby yard. The temperature was just right so that the water was turning into a fog but only over that yard, sort of like a cartoon cloud that only hovers over one guy's head. Further along I noticed other yards with their own fog in the clearing stages.

9. Pausing also gives me an opportunity to study my fellow cyclists. Do they stop at lights? Do they stop at lights because they see me stopped at the light? Do they not stop at the light because they see me stopped at the light and they don't want me to think they stopped at the light because I stopped at the light? Should I mention to them that they should stop at lights if they appear to be blasting through one? If they appear to be blasting through the light and I see an oncoming Maserati doing 185 in a 35 should I mention it to them, or what?

8. It shows car drivers that some cyclists do stop at lights.

7. I can take a moment to check over my bike hardware status. All there? All still attached where it should be?

6. I can assume a standing position for a few moments, to check if anything is sore, or tired, that shouldn't be, and stretch or take other measures if it is. When you are spinning, you don't always notice pain, injury or soreness.  Endorphins or something.

5. While the car drivers are noticing that some cyclists stop at lights, I can also inspect the car drivers. Did they see me standing there on the corner? If I signaled a left turn and went out into the turn lane, how did they react? Is the woman in the minivan in front of me looking at me in her review mirror and thinking, oh look, there's a cyclist right behind me? Is the guy in the massive Ford F350 who obviously sees me and who is signaling to turn right just demonstrating an excessive amount of caution towards me (much appreciated bro), or what? If I motion for him to go ahead is he going to shoot me for my presumptuousness?

4. Car watching.

3. Ha ha, I can stand in the sweet sunshine and look up at the clouds. And you mostly can't. Except for the six kids riding in the back of the rusty pickup. And it's probably better that they remain seated.

2. Water from my bottle tastes different while standing at a stoplight. I don't know why.

1. Stopping puts a few moments of my fate in the hands of the somewhat randomized system of the light timer/sensor system. When will I get to move again? What will happen in the moments before I do? If I weren't even there, would the light turn green at exactly the same time anyway? Do the in-pavement sensors detect me on my bike? (some lights, some times, it seems like it). When the light does turn, I note that the universe has clicked into its next version, and I appear to be still in it, for now. So get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Midweek Early Winter Nighttime Bike Polo in the Desert

(Secret/personal reminder to self: it's probably time to start wearing gloves, at least on nighttime rides. 45F seems to be your number for that.) I got an email from a friend who has been playing bike polo for something like 10 years with these guys that there was a game on tonight. I didn't plan to play, but I did ride over to watch.

Polo Bike Casually Tossed in the Grass

Part of my ride to the park where they always play was crossing a pedestrian bridge that arches over the 51 Freeway. At night, alone, with the wind, and the cars roaring underneath, it's a strange crossing on a bike. 

View Larger Map

Before they started, they hung around in the park chatting for some time, in no real hurry to get started.

Pre-Polo Strategy Session (I assume)

Then they set up the equipment on the field, which included some goal markers fabricated from clear PVC pipe with a Streamlight penlight jammed down inside to light the marker. 

Sitting there watching friends playing bike polo, at night, in the middle of the week, in a park, in December, I couldn't believe that I had thought about driving my car over to watch, instead of biking. My hands did get numbed on the ride home, but the ride there and back beat the hell out of sitting around the house. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tachyon XC 2010 Helmet Cam First Impressions

The Tachyon Inc. design engineer, putting the finishing touches on the Tachyon XC 2010 model, gazed with his practiced eye at the detailed 3D model on his screen. What final element could he add that would signal, "Here is a design engineer with an eye for detail, someone who puts care into his work, someone who wants to leave his mark." With a twiddle of his mouse, he added six stainless 1.5mm hex screws, where two probably would have been sufficient to hold down the shiny trim piece.

But, lo, his fancy design work was undone by the orangutan-like assemblers, who did chuck up a 1.5mm bit into a hammer drill, and scabulate the clean hexagonal holes into sloppy, misshapen, odd-numbered polygons. (This is how it arrived. When hex heads are on display like this, they should be pristine.)

I ziptied the side mount to my helmet, and went out for a test ride. Here's the cam on the helmet. (A test ride video with the camera mounted on the handlebar is here. )

My first impressions of the camera were good. I spliced together some of the test shots, and put the video at the bottom of this post. The review that convinced me to buy this one is here, on the Helmet Cam Review blog. The reviewer covered the points I was looking for in a helmet cam, with the Tachyon XC coming out on the top of my criteria. The reviewer there goes into much more detail than I will here. I'll just mention a few points that came out during my test ride.

I like the buttons. They are just hard enough to press so that you get a positive result, with no accidental presses or activation due to vibrations or bumps. My only criticism is the dual rising tone is used to indicate both "record START" and "record STOP". Using the same pair of tones to indicate ON and OFF makes it impossible to know, when the camera is attached to your helmet, if you are starting it or stopping it. All you know for sure is that you successfully toggled it from one state to the other. When you are out bouncing around on the trail, with wind and lots of other noise, it is easy to miss the sound, and then you are stuck with taking off your helmet to check if the green light or red light is on.

Today I rode in a light rain. The camera is waterproof, and was completely dry inside when I opened it after the ride. The waterproofing makes the audio quality very low. But, they explain that on the web site where I bought it. I left the audio on the sample video I posted so that you can hear what it does catch. Two things that you can hear relatively well are the sound of my bell, and the ducks quacking (although I wish it were a little more sensitive to quacks. Oh well).

The FAQ on the Tachyon site cautions against using rechargeable batteries in the camera. Which is absurd.  I understand the caution of the engineers, and that rechargeable batteries come in different sizes and different quality control, and also appreciate the care that went into designing a battery carrier that is exactly snug enough that it doesn't jiggle around and is secure in a camera that's going to be subject to a hard life. I get it. And I love what they did. But I'm not going to burn a set of alkalines or lithiums for every hour or two of video I shoot. I'm just not going to. So I grabbed my favorite rechargeable AA batteries for use in cameras, the Rayovac Hybrids, threw caution to the the wind, and stuck them into the camera. They did not jam, and performed flawlessly. And when I was done, and flicked the little red catch that releases the battery carrier from the camera, it popped out without effort.

Ah, the forbidden fruit of rechargeable batteries, now depleted, exiting the camera successfully.

Here's the video. As I mentioned, the audio I left raw, as it was recorded, to give a sense of what it picks up. Overall, I'm very happy with this camera so far. Note: I paid for this product myself, and did not receive any payment or other incentives for writing this. Coming up soon, some mountain biking footage. Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Exit the Box

Do not stay in the box. Do not be placed there. Upon demonstrating proficiency within the box, you may then exit the box to resume the ride. The box is not your friend. Unbox yourself. I'll take a thousand copies of this sticker please. Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Early Winter Phoenix and Scottsdale Canal Ride

Life was good today beneath a partially overcast sky, enjoying a ride through Phoenix and Scottsdale with temperature in the upper fifties. My sister fell on her front step today because she lives in the arctic Midwest where ice forms, and bruised her butt. This video is dedicated to the ice-induced hematoma on my sister's left butt cheek. I hope she feels better soon. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Sunset Commute, December 4, 2009

On the ride home tonight, I watched the setting sun burnish the top of Hayes Peak in the Estrella Mountains, and slowed my pace a little to spin easy as evening fell. I wanted to grab a picture of the dying light burning the pyramid-shaped rocks miles away, but that's a view that doesn't show up very well on a cell phone snap. Instead, a few miles down the road, I pulled over and caught last light in Dateland. No heavy thoughts; in fact, as I thought about that phrase, "last light in Dateland," I thought of a date shake at the Sphinx Date Ranch, and nearly turned around to pedal back and get one. But, maybe I can use that as a lure to get one or more of my kids out on their bikes this weekend. So, it's the weekend. Let's all go get a frosty beverage of our choice, relax, and contemplate ways to make the residents of this planet more aware of one another. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wobble and Fall

An article on Bikeradar reports on a study which concludes English cyclists are 20 times more at risk than motorists, and that bike accidents peak in the summer(time). Would a similar ratio show up in the States? One commenter thinks the summer(time) peak is due to more inexperienced cyclists hitting the streets when the weather is fair, possibly the type that the article indicates motorists should be extra-vigilant for, as they are likely to wobble and fall. Which should be a Monty Python sketch. Or one of the choices in the list of values on a policeman's accident report software.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Behold, the White Industries Eno freewheel. If one were to appear beneath my Christmas tree, I'd be a happy guy. Like a kid receiving a Wii or a new BB gun, I would turn it over and over in my hand, not believing my good fortune to own one, as I felt awe at the engineering prowess spent on turning chain power into circular motion. Merry Enomas.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I17 Tree Tradition

Each year, just north of Sunset Point along I-17, someone decorates this tree. I guess I like it because it's not there to sell big screen TVs or to entice you to lighten your wallet or to buy buy buy more junk you don't really need. Part of me fears that something so lacking in corporate sponsorship and official imprimatur is doomed to end eventually. I'm sure there's a law or security restriction which forbids doing something so offbeat, so rogue, as to return year after year to this spot just to put up decorations for people to enjoy as they blast by at 75. One year there will be yellow tape, armed guards, video surveillance, stealth drones orbiting overhead. A fence around the area with razor wire would not be uncalled for, in order to keep the juniper in line with the other standard median junipers, so that drivers are not distracted from their consumer errands. In 2009, anyway, it still stands, a bit of Arizona, a bit precarious in its independence and off-beat existence, balanced between northbound and southbound. Something so pure and fun may not last, once the officials start thinking about it. Here's hoping they continue to overlook the little juniper with the star on top. Maybe their tolerance for the offbeat would be increased if they would just Get up and Go ride.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Excessive Protection on Black Friday

Shopping for a small vid camera deal for shots for the blog, I came across this video. I like the editing and music. Some work and care went into making it. The different camera angles keep it interesting. But the full face helmet and pads all over look excessive for the trail they're riding. When I saw his outfit, I anticipated some gnarly rock-strewn drops, or else some twisted, stump and root littered fast rip downhill, but that jump that they show in slow-mo and still shots looks exactly like the one I used to jump with my blue Schwinn Stingray three-speed with the banana seat and sissy bar. Maybe the gnarly parts got edited out. Would like to see the footage that justifies all that gear though. Get up. Go ride. After the turkey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Commuting in normal clothes and shoes

As I mentioned earlier, I put platform pedals on my bike, in order to simplify my commute by wearing regular clothes and shoes instead of Lycra or other bike-specific clothing. I still wore a helmet. My jacket was a hi-vis yellow number with reflective piping that's not going to show up on any of the cycling chic blogs any day soon. And I did wrap some reflective Velcro strips around my pants. But as the main purpose was not to make a fashion statement, but rather to decrease prep time at both ends (or all four ends if you count both legs of the trip). By that measure, it worked well. Locking and unlocking the bike still took a couple of minutes, but other than that it did feel a lot more like hop on and go.

It's a rather subtle change. But, it felt like the difference between, say, a regular exercise ritual with a set route and equipment, and a fun, relaxing way to get to work instead of driving the car.

I wore the hi-vis jacket because in my view, seen from the perspective of a bicycle on the street, cars are two ton steel death machines driven by maniacs who need extra sensory input to see your small moving shape as significant against the fast-moving background visible through their windshields while they issue orders to the kid in the backseat and reply to three text messages. I don't mean that all drivers are like that, just that expecting them to be like that makes you safer. In practice, almost daily, I am pleasantly surprised by the unexpected courtesy shown by some drivers. Thank you, if you are one of them. But if you're not, it's no problem for me, I don't expect you to be.
In any case, I'm not stressing about it, because I'm just on an easy spin to work. Here, you go first, please. It will give me a few more minutes in the sweet sunshine. Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


Mid-70s on a late November day in Phoenix, sunlight streaming through the bougainvillea. Get your bike. Take a little time. Get up. Go ride.

Rescues are Free

Free search and rescue (or rather, taxpayer-supported SAR) makes sense to me. I live in a state with a large area of publicly owned land with a rich variety of opportunities for outdoor activities. I take advantage of this whenever I can, encourage others to do the same, and think of it as a net increase to quality of life that we have alternatives available both nearby and farther out to escape the cement and steel, brown cloud choked life of the city. Now, given that, and setting aside the significant issues of outright or willful stupidity, recognizing that accidents will happen, we provide a safety net. That makes sense to me. We can afford it. Get out and smell the creosote when it rains.

But it occurs to me that the same logic applies on a grander scale to life and health care. Yet, while SAR in Arizona is free, we pay out the wazoo for health care, while as I understand it an opposing or complementary situation exists in Europe, where SAR insurance and fees are rampant, while health care is heavily subsidized. Huh. If I fall and break my femur in the Blue Primitive area, I'll IM local SAR and then go to Germany to get patched up. Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Infinite Float

I don't know how long it's been since I wore regular clothes and shoes on a bike ride. Years, certainly. But in order to enter the world of simpler riding, today I decided to run my weekend errands on a bike with platform pedals, and wearing regular, non-lycra clothes. I removed the Eggbeater pedals (pictured above) from my commuter bike and replaced them with plain old platforms, put on denim shorts, a t-shirt and some shoes with no pedal cleats. My Pitbull lock and cable were already velcroed to my rear rack. Then, I thought a fanny pack might be better than a seat pack to carry around the store, so I loaded up one as shown above (minus the eggbeaters): Crank Bros power pump [this is not a Crank Brothers ad, it just happened that the pump and pedals showed up together. Although I do like these two particular products, and have used them for years with no problems], tube patches, a mini-tool, a Leatherman Squirt P4 that goes everywhere I do, and my wallet. It may seem excessive for a quick run to the store, but I like to be self-sufficient when I ride. I carry a cellphone, but have never yet called for a pick-up.

The ride itself went great. As the first ride in years without being clipped in to the pedals, I was particularly aware of the different sensations that this simpler foot-bike interface produced: my feet felt lighter the whole time with infinite float. The denim shorts worked fine, although I don't think I would want them for a 30 mile ride, but for a quick run to the store or a short commute, they should be OK. I did wear a helmet, though in spite of the trend of throwing brain safety to the wind apparent in online pictures of people wearing normal clothes. There is nary a helmet visible in the pictures from Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Love the culture and the bike focus, hate the cerebral hemorrhage.

One of the main reasons for trying out the simpler, non-Lycra setup today was to see how it might work to simplify my commute. It would be faster and easier to wear normal clothes and shoes to bike to work. If I give that a try next week I'll report back. For now, I'm going to go lube a chain on another bike so I can put on some Lycra and shoes with cleats tomorrow morning. Get up. Go ride.

Confirmation of the need for garage and workshop

Hey, if I had a workshop and garage, not only would I have a place to store the bikes out of the way, but could also put the bikes to other uses. Three bikes per 500 square feet sounds like just about the correct ratio, but shows 2D thinking. When you go vertical and look at it as bikes per cubic foot, you open up options like wall hooks, ceiling hoists, designated areas, or weird and stunningly expensive bucket-like devices. With the third dimension and the right gadgets, one bike per 800 cubic feet sounds about right. On the other hand, eventually your living space my start to resemble an old house converted to a bike shop run by an acquisitive savant with a secret organizational method. The good news is, no matter how many bikes you accumulate, the excessive mass will eventually work itself out. Going directly to the garage/workshop stage seems more efficient. But always lock them up, or else. Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Yurtle gets up and goes while I sat on my butt making excuses for not commuting by bike yesterday. I had what seemed like good reasons, but as coworkers asked why I didn't ride in, the reasons sounded like so much regurgitated tortoise chow coming out of my mouth. Driving my metal box home, I thought, all it takes for the tortoise to move is to stick him in a sunny spot in the yard. Before you know it, he's exploring, dragging his shell around, extending his neck, sniffing the clover, browsing, grazing, moving. The neighbor cat comes over for a sniff and a paw, and Yurtle pulls into his shell for a minute, until the cat becomes bored and wanders off. Sunshine and open space, perhaps hunger for fresh greens, compel him to move. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Imagine biking in the moment

Perfect weather, no aches or pains, light wind, sunshine. Should be focusing on breath, wind, here and now, bike in the moment, instead listening to a mental monologue about work, buying a new monitor, forms to fill out, deadlines coming due. But, imagining a quiet mind biking in the moment turned out to be a sneaky way into having a quiet mind biking in the moment.

Wrench and Tile

Wrench and Tile

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Helmet Me

The summer had gone on too long with its triple-digit temperatures and weeks without rain. Clouds gathered in billowing piles around the periphery of the valley, but the heat dome growing from the endless pavement blazing in the sun them at bay. Nights in the nineties for weeks, and multiple days in the one hundred and teens. I still rode, usually at night, usually along the canal path, but the reluctant monsoon gnawed at my spirit with the heavy, still air, full of humidity but no rain to ease the heat. I rode anyway, but by late-August it seemed pointless, since the next six weeks appeared to offer more of the same. Possibly it would never rain again.

I went out that night accustomed to the heat and prepared to ride my miles without relief. The forecast called for a slight chance of thunderstorms like it had for weeks before, and would for weeks to come. Weather forecaster in the summer in Phoenix when the monsoon won't let loose has to be a terribly frustrating and fruitless job. More heat today. Slight chance of dust storms but probably no rain. Same tomorrow. Same next week. Blah blah blah. See you in October for something different.

Four miles into the ride along the canal and the wind kicked up suddenly. There was thunder, and some wicked lightning, and then the skies opened. It wasn't rain, it was liking standing under a broken shower head with the water turned on full blast. I kept riding because the sensation of flying along through the falling water washed the dusty heat fatigue right out of me. I could still see adequately because my HID headlight burned through the falling sheets. And I started laughing, silly, loud, maniacal laughter at the wonder of it, the perfect sensation of speed in a downpour on a summer night in the desert. Three cyclists passed in the opposite direction doing exactly the same as me. If it has lasted for hours I wouldn't have noticed the time because I was spinning in a zone without concern for such things.

The rain stopped eventually, and I headed back. My mind was as clear as the air after the storm. I decided to take it easy the rest of the ride home, no hurry, no race, no points to be gained or times to be beaten, just ride. It felt as if I was one of the few people outside anyway, that most sensible people were still indoors, safe/sound, peering out the window, wondering if it was over yet, while I was out there spinning easy. I came to the end of the canal trail and the start of the street, and saw it just a millisecond before I hit it: a steel trench cover plate in the road, slick with water, angled across the road. I was moving maybe 15mph when my tires rolled onto the steel plate, which was slick as ice. Without any warning or hesitation, my tires lost traction and I went down on my left side, hard, so fast I didn't know what was happening fully until my shoulder and arm were contacting the pavement. My helmet near my temple hit the pavement hard. The impact tore the watch off my wrist (although I didn't realize it), and various bits and pieces of my bike snapped and sheared off as I slid to a stop. I think my left foot might have stayed clipped in to the pedal simply because it had nowhere to go, while my right foot popped out, leaving me sprawled on the ground at a strange angle to the bike. The old steel mountain bike with skinny tires mounted proved its indestructability again, needing only a minor handlebar straightening and a few whacks to be carry me. I hobbled home, scrubbed the gravel out of my road rash, and realized my watch had torn off in the crash. I drove my car back, found the watch beside the road, next to my smashed taillight, and drove home again. The streets were still quiet after the storm. All the way back I replayed it over and over in my mind. It happened so fast. I couldn't do anything to change what happened once it started, and could have only avoided it by somehow knowing that the steel trench cover would be there, and would be slick as ice from the rain.

I looked over my helmet when I got home. The left side was dented and scraped where it had smacked into the ground and skidded along with the rest of me. While the bruise on my shoulder and the road rash down my left side hurt, I wasn't laying in the ER with a traumatic brain injury. The helmet did its job well. Wearing one worked for me, so I will continue to wear one. I can't tell you that you should, but I can say this: It was impossible for me to do anything to stop my head from slamming into the ground, and it happened before I even knew it. Moving along at an easy speed is fast enough, and sitting on a bike is high enough, to do serious damage just by going down. So helmet me. Get up. Go ride.

Get up. Go ride.

Mine is flying down the canal path, enveloped in darkness, moon reflecting off the water, tires singing their gravel song through the steel frame while the wingbeats of a startled great horned owl brush air against my face as I interrupt his dinner plans. The cottontail he almost taloned races alongside me in a panic, looking up and seeing me spinning, in place of the death that he sensed was coming. We run together for a few moments for the sake of running, and then, realizing that his life continues, he darts off into the mesquite bushes while I spin on. Mine is also tearing down a mountain at unsafe speeds sometimes, the shock frantically flexing its thing, the tires' knobs grabbing at anything to try to keep me mostly upright, moving straight, and out of the rocks and cactii. It's also spinning down a long stretch of asphalt on a carbon machine and nothing else mattering except a relentless, circular motion of my feet at speed with little effort, powering a line of in-the-moments attained when physical and mental find their balance in pure motion and the slow burn of muscle. Some days, mine is watching the city wake up from the vantage of my bike on the way to work. Some others I will tell you later. What's yours? Whatever it is, or if you don't know yet, find it, and go do it. Get up. Go ride.