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.