Monday, February 28, 2011

Temporary Cessation of Fixed-Gear Operations

Axle lock nut in a non-operational state

While performing routine maintenance on the wheel of the fixed gear bike, right after trying some wet n wild Wild Shine purple nail polish as touch-up on another bike (fail), one of the axle lock nuts cracked and fell off. After words appropriate to this event were uttered, a temporary cessation of fixed gear operations was declared until a suitable replacement serrated axle lock nut is obtained. The primary requirement of said replacement is: it shall not crack and fall off under normal maintenance operations. For the duration of the cease-fixed, normal shifty bicycle operations are in effect. And a special, personal career note out to fabricators of serrated axle nuts which crack and fall off during normal maintenance: seek other employment now. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Peace Tree and The Massive Solar Flare

Overlooked Olive Tree

Clowncar, whose blog The Oort Cloud is about astronomy like my blog is about bicycling, only more, in a comment pointed out the glorious olive trees across the street from the scary steel plates I mentioned in the previous post. I am grateful to him for doing so, because in focusing in on the danger posed by the plates to cyclists, I had overlooked the counterbalancing living beauty in my own photographs.

When I discover a loss of perspective in myself like that, I like to pause and think it over, both to analyze what I did, and also to understand what I missed. Pausing on my bicycle commute home, then, I took some photos of the olive trees, which up close appear gnarled and ancient.

Gnarled and ancient

Olive trees, an olive branch in particular, symbolizes for some reason, peace. I like the suggestion that the symbolism arises from the length of time and amount of effort required to cultivate these trees over the years until they finally bear fruit, which cultivation requires a setting of relative stability. Where olives fruit, the fires are not burning, the bombs are not falling, the mobs are not marching, the dictators and despots are not ranting and killing. I've read of war zones where the ancient olive groves were salted with landmines the size and shape of toys. No fruit there.

I always try to pause to revisit my own incidents of loss of perspective because I view this trait as one of our worst failings: when our own insignificant bailiwicks assume the size and shape of all existence, when our awareness collapses to the size and extent of our tiny selves or smaller, to that of our tribes, when all that we see and feel is fear for what we think we belong to, or fear for what belongs to us, well, the animal takes over, we are at our smallest, and anger and violence are too often the result. We become so narrow-minded that violence thrusts its passion upon us. When that happens, too often we allow ourselves to join the ancient and modern alliance of fear, ignorance, hubris, hate, and blood-lust that gives a free hand to drive mobs and leaders to kill and destroy. This morning, that alliance is running amok in the world. 

This morning, in Libya, narrow-mindedness rules the day, and people are dying. 

In Tripoli today, the olive trees are going untended as people cower in their homes trembling in fear as experts in death and destruction await just outside their doors to gun them down if they go out for food, or to pray. At the moment, the ancient and modern alliance of fear, ignorance, hubris, hate, and blood-lust has a free hand there to do as it pleases, and it is doing it with wild abandon.

Perspective, awareness, vision has collapsed minds capable of so much more to a pinpoint which sees nothing but fear and death. This is what we humans do when we're at our worst. And it is contagious. The calls to fix violence with more violence must echo like war cries across the world's mindscape today. I suggest to you this is an error. I suggest to you that this is a failure of perspective. I urge everyone to pause to revisit this acute incident of loss of perspective to analyze it before it causes the rest of us to leap into the alliance of horror that this narrow-mindedness enables. Step back. Perhaps some astronomy will help, followed by a bicycle ride, and then talking over with your own tribe the ways in which narrow-mindedness and destruction are so closely tied. If you are at the moment fortunate enough to be living in a place where such acts are not in themselves a dangerous risk of life and limb. If, at the moment, the olive trees in your neighborhood are bearing fruit.

Astronomy for some perspective: on February 24, our sun, giver of energy, supporter of life, launched a massive flare of unimaginably hot plasma into space, as it has done and will do for billions of years. This time, though, a wondrous creation of human science and imagination, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, caught the "monster flare" on video with stunning detail. Can a giant plume of blistering hot plasma arcing into space remind us a bit of who we are and where we live? Can it bring some kind of balance or wideness to our often narrow-minded perspectives? I believe so. I hope so. Watch in full screen. Then head outside to think it over. Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Foolishness of Popular Thought

The most dangerous thing I've seen on my bike in weeks (actually dangerous, rather than assumed)

Almost universally, when people who don't ride their bicycles to work find out that I do, their reaction is: "isn't that dangerous?" Some people resort to telling me that it is so risky that I should not even do it. Usually punctuated with an anecdote of a friend of a friend who was run down by a crazed hybrid driver possessed by an anti-lycra psychosis. Non-riders conjure up a lot of scenarios which don't actually occur. The popular conception of the dangers of cycling is completely whacked out, compared to the reality.

On the other hand, something that is actually dangerous: big steel plates used to cover up construction excavation. Holy sweet mother of rotating spoked wheels those things give me the shivers. Hit one on skinny tires and even breathe on your brakes: you're going down. Ride over one in the rain: you're going down. Realize you are about to ride across one and try to turn just a little bit too late: yep, going down. In this case, fly out of the bike lane and lean into a right turn...BAM. In the daytime you can see them in time, but at night, in the rain, on a route where they were just installed: shivers. 

This is in a neighborhood where I see a lot of kids riding bicycles. They wouldn't leave a deep hole this size in the middle of an area where they played, so why would they do this in the street where kids ride? Because cars drive right over these with no issues. 

Right on the corner, too. Man, that right turn off the end of the bike lane is gonna hurt. This is when the foolishness of popular thought results in danger out of blind indifference. This was just down the street from a DRIVE SLOW sign stuck in a yard. How about a STEEL CRASH PLATES AHEAD sign instead. Get up. Go ride.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Here Let Me Get That For You

Here let me get that for you

I noticed your parked bicycle has a little bit of extra cable. You see, if you--never mind, here: [CUT] [CRIMP]. Much quicker to show than tell. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, February 21, 2011

This Light Too Shall Change

Time for a change

One minute twenty-four. Eighty-four seconds. That's the time, on average, it takes the stoplight to detect my bicycle wheels, and turn green. I've sat through that 84 seconds in winter's cold and Arizona's summer heat. I've had SUVs and diesel trucks idling around me, convertibles with jazz warbling, and other cars with the boom boom boom of bass. I've seen cyclists roll up to the red light, filter through the waiting cars, and weave out across the cross-traffic. Quite often, I see car drivers pull up talking on their cell phones, checking their watches, and nervously inching forward. Makeup application in the rearview. Shouting at the kids in the backseat of the minivan. Delivery truck drivers turning right and barely pausing at the red. Cell phone appointment book yellow sticky scrawled directions you can't read list gotta get gotta go where's that bill she's waiting for this check. All this and more.

Eighty-four seconds. I've seen impatience grow into anger. Shouting skyward at the light that will not change. One guy banging on his steering wheel out of frustration. Brother, I wanted to say to him, it's just a little less than a minute and a half, it always changes. One woman (hey, I'm on a bicycle, the world is open 360 degrees all around me and I check it all out, OK?) with her head in her hands, cigarette smoke wreathing out the barely cracked window. Lots of conference calls on the way into the office. Real estate deals. Grocery pickups. Usually late, often in a hurry, time time time. It's the light's fault.

On the other hand, there are the chill doggies with their heads hanging out the back window, taking in the morning air, tongue hanging out, nose twitching to apprehend the wild universe of odor swirling around the sunrise streets. Along for the ride. I speak to them and they wag their tails.

One minute twenty-four. I've seen that be more than time enough for impatience to blossom into full-on anger. But: at what? A stoplight? A timing box? A detection loop? The blind stupid luck of catching the red light? Brother, sister, neighbor, friend, fellow user of the streets, I'm here to tell you, this light too shall change. I check up on it every morning, me and my aluminum bicycle rims parked right between the narrow space between the detection loops. 

Be calm. Look around. At the date palms waving in the breeze, and the brilliant sunshine and blue sky, perhaps at the crazy peach-faced lovebirds that sing their heads off with the sheer exuberance of bird-being. The bunny munching the grass. Your eighty-four seconds of patience ensures successful, cooperative use of the public transportation system. Relax, be civil and contemplative. Take the pulse of the morning around you, the slow, rhythmic throb of the city awakening, be a center of stillness in the midst of the crazy manic rush. Like the guy on the bicycle waiting for the light. Still. Smiling. Calm. It's really only a moment. But if you lose it, if you let your anger loose, the results may last much longer. So take it easy. Here, I'll go through it with you. I started my stopwatch. 20 seconds to go. Almost there. Green. Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Please Regrease Me

Commuter pedals in need of lubrication

These pedals have a few thousand miles on them. When I got them, they spun a little too easy for my liking--in my book, new pedals should spin smoothly, but with some drag from the grease. I would have opened them and put in more grease myself, but they need a special axle locknut service tool, a TL-PD40, to hook onto that splined nut on the end. At $2.00, the TL-PD40 might be the cheapest special bicycle tool made in Japan you can buy, but I didn't have one, and didn't feel good about clamping a vise grip on it or something similar.

Tools in descending number of uses: countless, a handful, one (knife for illustrative purposes only, not used here)

Eventually, though, my concerns about the pedals proved out, and I knew I had to open them to get some new grease in there. I popped for the TL-PD40, and clamped a pedal in a vise. Pedals are slightly tricky when it comes to threading. Most drive-side pedals have right-hand threads and screw into the crank arms the normal way, while the non-drive-side pedals have left-hand threads and screw in the other way, so that the normal torque of pedaling doesn't unscrew them. Makes sense, and once you get used to it, becomes second nature. In a similar manner, the axle locknuts also screw in opposite directions, which is made clear by both the tool, and the pedal locknut itself: they have arrows which indicate opposite directions. The tool has writing which says "R Loose" with a counterclockwise arrow, and "L Loose" with a clockwise arrow. My intuition about torque and pedals told me that this may not mean what it may seem to mean, though.

Right pedal in vise, tool ready to turn: which way for loose?
With the right pedal in the vise and the tool engaged, I gave it a little nudge clockwise, and felt it loosen. So, either the instructions on the tool are meant to be read upside down, or perhaps at the South Pole. Or, these pedals are bass-ackwards from actual Shimano pedals, which is very possible. Anyway.

I used the excellent instructions and photos on the Park Tool site to get an idea about what I was doing. After cleaning and regreasing, it gives rather funny instructions for screwing the bearing unit back into the pedal body: "THERE IS NO TORQUE," it states. So I placed the tool as in the photo above, and applied no torque. Nothing happened. I tried applying more NO TORQUE, but still, nothing happened. Deciding that it probably meant "minimal torque, you don't need to be a gorilla and strip the plastic threads, THIS MEANS YOU JRA," I used just my fingers to gently engage and screw the bearing unit back in. After cleaning, regreasing, and reinstalling, the pedal felt just right when I spun it. Good. Get up. Go ride.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Longer Way Home

Up there: let's ride

Tonight, with rain threatening to dampen my commute, and assured to soak the weekend, I opted to turn 90 degrees off my normal commute, and take the longer way home: up the mountain, along the heights, and down the wheeeeeeeeee switchbacks back down.

Up there: it's not that steep, or that far, but it is NOT the way home, and is just for fun

I used the granny ring to get up there. As I don't usually ride up hills on my commute, it was off the beaten path, and my legs were asking "What the heck is this?" I explained that as it was Friday, and as we may not get much of a ride in this weekend if it pours rain for two days straight, this was a necessary and enjoyable diversion on the commute home. Yes, it was longer than usual, not a direct route, slower, more work, and also took some time, but I felt like prolonging the ride anyway. So I rode up there.

Looking back down

More or less, symbolic of my bicycle commuting in general. Riding a bicycle is not the shortest route, or the quickest, or the easiest, but it is rewarding for me nonetheless. In tangible ways like health, fitness, muscle tone, sure, but it's probably the intangibles that lead me to continue to affirm that riding my bicycle to work is much better than driving my car.

Phoenix, seen from up on Camelback, as a Pacific storm moves in for the weekend

Commuting by bicycle is, in itself, taking the longer way home, for me and my commute any way. Today, I made it even longer. And you know what? It was even better. Sometimes, it may not be the quickest, or the shortest, or the easiest, solution which yields the best result. That's probably kind of obvious, but riding my bicycle is an enjoyable way to validate that for myself. It's also probably something like what I've been thinking about while writing this blog. That, and you know, the other, nearly constant suggestion about what to do instead of sitting still at home. See you around. Get up. Go ride.

Soleri Bridge Flash Update: The Bike Racks Came First

Horse parking just added at Soleri Bridge and Plaza in Scottsdale

Back in one of the posts about the dedication ceremony at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza, I observed that plenty of people rode bikes to the shindig, but no one talking about public spaces or about life in our crowded, modern cities felt like mentioning two-wheeled human-powered transport in their speeches or discussions to mark the day. Now, I still stand by those pithy observations, but realized today that I hadn't taken the long view: the fact is, from the first day the bridge was open, there were bicycle racks available in a very central location. Today, about two months since the dedication, I noticed they added more hardware, all important and necessary. But I might have noticed: bike racks came first.

Horses, getting excited about the Goldwater Tunnel behind them, the new horse parking, and crossings

New pedestrian parking next to the pylons

It's possible that tree behind this seat will be big and shady some day

Chairs! Seats! Front row for the monsoon bell concert!

This latest phase of accessorization of the plaza is a step forward for pedestrians and horses. It seems like it is still necessary to bring your own shade, perhaps in the form of a parasol. But there's drinking water just up the path, at least for pedestrians: I thought it potentially mean to tie up a thirsty beast who has to stare at water in the canal that he can't drink. But I better take the long view: up next, espresso carts, and horse troughs? Those seats above really are perfectly situated for listening to the bells when the wind blows. You can find me there in a monsoon, possibly in a blinding dust storm or driving rain, seeing what they sound like then. Get up. Go ride. 


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This Air This Night

With traffic on the bridge passing me by in the evening air

This air, this night, riding home in a t-shirt in February's perfect dry desert air, the sun just set, my mind just clearing, the cars thinning out and the night's silences starting to take hold. All I hear is bike sounds, all I feel is wind on my skin, all I think is remember when. I'm thinking of past euphorias and what elicits them: certain songs, certain people, places, experiences, events, time, place, set. Can the words someone whispers into your ear cause euphoria? Oh yes. Can remembering someone whispering words in your ear while riding your bike home focus shadows of that euphoria painting strange highlights into unexpected fringes of you mid-commute? Yes. Whispers of whispers. A dream of a dream, perhaps. Memories that stand up to cry you to remember them. That we were in it. There. That air, that night. The stars wheeling above. And a long, drawn-out breakfast in sunshine, a prolonged sense of full like three days of an infinite capacity for authenticity and connection. A moment of being a laugh. Ear-whisper word euphoria. Yes. Get up. Go ride.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Sale Bicycle At the Wagon Wheel Rack

Oh 1992 you ride again...

So much win in one photo:
  • 1992 road bike
  • wagon wheel bicycle rack at State Fairgrounds
  • bags of used VNSA books
  • rack
  • downtube shifters
  • awesome frame pump
  • sunshine
Get up. Go ride.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Stroboscopic Bicycle Valentine

Love the night.
Love the spin.
Love the machine.
Love the moment: it's gone in a flash.
Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

VNSA Book Sale 2011: Power and Stillness from the Rising Sun

Dragon claw chi exercise

Try this some time: face the direction of the rising sun just before dawn, arms raised, hands in the form of claws, motionless, eyes shut. Shiver in the pre-dawn. Seek stillness. As the first slivers of warmth touch your face and palms, begin tensing and relaxing the muscles in your hands, fingers, wrists, but without moving. Some movements of the hand are powered by muscles in the forearm. Tense those, and feel the opposing bones, tendons, muscles within the hands resist. Then relax thoroughly. Visualize energy filling each finger in turn--for me, it helps to think of them lighting up. Keep your arms up. Don't move. Stillness. Repeat. Again. If you start at dawn and stop only after the sun has fully risen, 15 minutes later or so, this would be a workout. I suspect that if I tried it, I would be a trembling, sweaty mess in five minutes.

I didn't know any of that when I saw this person in this stance at the book sale. Instead, I had some sort of mocking response. Sometimes, I am a moron. When the intertubes helped me figure it out later, I realized my error, and thought: I went to buy books, with an open mind to learn, yet I was a moron. Anyway, buy books I did.

Thousand of us waiting for books. Including 1 Tool fan.

In previous years, there were two lines, but this year, they herded us all into one long line that bent back on itself several times, until thousands waited for the doors to open at 8:00 am. 600,000 used books, once a year, and I try to never miss it.

Book crowd
L, M
Would it be uncool if I installed bar tape on someone's bike?
Police are investigating the color-matched bar-taping of two bicycles locked up at the VNSA book sale.
Cat inspects the bicycle-related book purchases.

I debated riding the bicycle to the sale. It was off and on several times. In the end, though, I resigned to the reality that I have no practical way to transport that many books on a bicycle. And purchasing a cargo bike expressly for this purpose seems excessive. But, as you can see above, several people did bike to the sale, giving me reason to consider the matter further next year. Perhaps a trailer would do. When, also, perhaps I will not mock that which I do not understand, but instead will seek stillness and power in the rising sun myself. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, February 11, 2011

ARTBRIDGE: warm and fuzzy, round and spinny

the round and spinny part

Every Thursday, or at least on many Thursdays since "every" would imply a thoroughness and longevity that I am not prepared to assert with confidence, there's a gathering of artisans on the Marshall Way bridge across the Arizona Canal in Scottsdale called "ARTBRIDGE Artisans' Market". I had paused to try to take a picture of the booth above with Gumby somehow in the foreground [his head and hand are just barely visible below the front wheel above] when Joe Cyclist rode through the picture and obliged my bicycle bloggy need for the day. All done, right? Hit PUBLISH POST and time for ice cream, right? Oh no, oh no, read on!

I wondered who some of the artists artisans are who ply their trade at these ARTBRIDGE Thursday nights, so I hit up a search engine, and one of the first results was something called Bewilderknits [great name btw]. So I clickied, and found three people devoted to yarn, knitting, and fiber, in a similar way that I am devoted to bicycles, tools, and bicycling. Their web site design and blog are very similar, and appeal to me. Check em out. But what really caught my eye was their info on Facebook, (and I quote): "Paying homage to the furry, bundled wild things in us all." What? These people are nuts about knitting, I tell you! "Bewilderknits is comprised of three Phoenix knitters and yarn spinners who aim to...create a warm space in the world by surrounding everyone with comfy, soft, usable pieces of art." That's awesome. Inspirational even. That's the warm and fuzzy part. You guys should knit something for the Soleri Bridge up the way. It looks like it could use some of that. 

I need to check them out some Thursday night on the ARTBRIDGE. I have some concern that I would end up riding away with a yarn-covered knitted bicycle, but I would go with the flow. I would get with the knit. I would whirl with the purl. Anyone who spins is OK by me. Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Did Not Go Down And Get It

One more cast-off

I did not go down and get it. 
Occasionally, I will carry 50 feet of paracord, and could have used that to fish it out of the canal drying up for maintenance, but I was without paracord. If you tell yourself you won't need the paracord, you will need it.
Reuse, recycle, I did not.
Cleaned up, oiled, greased, freshened up, it could be ridden. Ride it I did not.
A garden hose, a can of spray paint, "clean bike cheap ride!", a Craigslist bargain: sell it I did not.
Painted blaze orange and stuffed with flowers: a front yard decoration. It was not to be.
Streamers, sparklers, flares and flashing lights, a celebration! Denied.
A cutting torch, a welding machine, a new contraption! Hack no.
Traced back to its owner, KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. This your bike? What the heck were you doing, throwing it into the canal? CSI I am not.
Ground up, melted down, liquified, poured into a sand mold for jewelry. No not molded, not jeweled, not made pretty.
Hack saw, cut into varying lengths, strung up with spokes and wires, a wind chime! Negative on the wind chime.
Painted white, a ghost bike, a memorial? Not done.
Just this: photograph on the blog, a few words below it. 
These: please don't throw bicycles into the water. Use them instead.
Sunshine. Open air. Quiet. The road. The path. The trail. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Happy Connecting Path

Happy Follows Function

I posted recently about the importance of useful connectivity for paths: to be useful for cyclists, they shouldn't just be linear parks isolated in the middle of car-full nobikesland, but routes which connect up with a network of other routes in a logical, well-signed manner. This little connector path between the Arizona Canal and Lafayette Blvd, which parallels N. Arcadia Drive (48th Street) is just about ideal from my point of view. It is quiet, it is shaded by some big old trees, water runs alongside in the irrigation canal to the left of the trees, and it connects one cycling route along the Arizona Canal with another on Lafayette. And from this perspective, Camelback Mountain looks positively scenic. At each end, it is slightly camouflaged by the big old trees which shade it. 

Now, you may look at this, and say, "So what, it's just a sidewalk?" But you see, that subtle functionality is a sign of a well-designed path, once which does its job and fits comfortably into the neighborhood around it, connecting route to route. When you see the terrible alternatives, for example the street in front of the school down at the bottom of my Superman Never Made Any Money post, or the dehumanizing abominations in the car-centered mall culture around a place like Metrocenter, for example, you can start to see how bad things can get, and really take a hankering to a happy spot like this one. We can do this. Get up. Go ride.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Regarding the Roadrunner

Welcome to the blog, my old friend

Somehow, I haven't posted before about one of my favorite desert birds, the roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, a friend to all cyclists possessed by the spirit of Kafka, Cervantes, and Monty Python. They are fun to watch, and even more fun to try to take photos of with one pedal of a fixed-gear bike clipped in. This one moved fast, and was very adept at keeping cover between itself and my camera.

What the coyote sees

In mating season, I have seen them dance up to reflective windows proudly bearing huge lizard-prizes in their beaks, to demonstrate their prowess to the bird in the reflection. I was happy to see this one made it through last week's freak Arctic freeze. It seemed to be out enjoying the more moderate temperatures and bright sunshine. And no, they do not go "beeep-beeeep". They do, however, seem to shy away from any object marked "ACME". 

Roadrunners sometimes get used to people, but I've seen that end badly for them when they get too relaxed around cars and parking lots. This one, though, he seemed to possess the right level of suspicion of our species. He darted. I rode. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oasis: The Sound of Water and a Sky Full of Blue

Arizona Falls Mechanicals, During the Dry-Up

Two key elements of an oasis are the sound of water and a sky full of blue. An alternate test is a sky full of stars. I used to camp with people who always had to camp near water, even if we didn't use the water for drinking, cooking, or swimming. Of course, when it was hot we jumped in, but on some of our cold camping trips, we still had to be near water. I finally figured it out: in a dry place, it was an oasis thing. 

Also: shade, and drinking water at Arizona Falls

I don't think there's a sign up indicating that there's drinking water down by the falls. You just have to follow your oasis-seeking impulse, and head toward the sound of the falling water. If you are heading east, there's more drinking water ahead (Scottsdale Waterfront, the nature viewing area near Hayden Rd), but if you are headed west, it's a long way to canalside drinking water, or purpose-built shade for that matter. Although the tunnels under the street crossings do have a certain cave-like oasis quality about them in the summer.

But, I guess I imagine an actual, desert oasis type of setting. The LoPiano Mesquite Bosque down in Tempe would be an example of an oasis authentic to the Sonora Desert, but we tend to be eclectic in our appropriation of art, landscaping and architecture here (Tuscan home, anyone? eck), so I think I would be equally happy with some date palm encircled shady pond with places to tie up camels, or horses nearby. Just give me the sound of water, some open sky, a quiet place to sit with my bicycle, and I'm good. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, February 4, 2011

This Ice-Wrapped Never World

I shall wrap you in white, against the cold dark night, there's a hard freeze on, my delicates.

Cold comes from loss of heat. Remove all heat, and you would get as cold as possible, absolute zero, −273.15°C, or −459.7°F, or (my favorite) 0°K (Kelvin). I mention that not because it reached zero degrees Kelvin in Phoenix on Thursday morning, although I was wondering if we weren't headed in that direction, but because I think it's relevant to the concept of putting blankets on stuff outside. Putting a blanket on something doesn't add heat to it. Unless the blanket itself is hot, and in any case it will cool down to air temperature pretty fast. All that putting a blanket on does is slow the release of heat. A blanket is equally good at keep heat out, too, so wrapping a block of ice in one will slow its melting. In Europe they are spreading blanket-like carpets on glaciers for that very reason. I'm not underestimating the aid that these covers will give to these plants, particularly beneath the clear black cold skies we're having at night: the clearer, the colder, because clouds act like blankets themselves, insulating, and also reflecting, heat which is otherwise sent radiating out into the darkness.

That's ice. On a canal. In Phoenix. Never never never never.

Friday is supposed to be the end of this cold spell. However, it will require one more Plan B+ clothed commute. Plan B+ is the under 40°F clothes, augmented with thick wool socks, a head cover under the helmet, both pants legs wrapped shut against the socks, and an extra layer of fleece under the jacket. It's a very warm combination that I haven't worn in a very long time. Let's hope it's a very long time before I wear them again. Stay warm, don't make with the slipping or the falling down. Go Pittsburgh. Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ice Station PHX Polar Expedition Report

The Ice Tree, an unknown species, possibly of alien origin, discovered Wednesday morning in Phoenix

With temperatures dropping below freezing, and winds from the north from 25-35 mph, both from the whip-tail end of LOW pressure Snowmageddon/USA-2011, this bicycle commuter expedition set out for Ice Station PHX on Wednesday morning, to take readings, return with samples if possible, and to explore the limits of human-powered locomotion added by wind-stopper fleece, basilisk-proof goggles, and ninja sniper gloves (the Plan B commuting outfit).

In addition to the unknown species cataloged above, several residential yards were observed with what appeared to be ice skating rinks which seem to have been intended to be flood irrigation.

This expedition helped me to define the lower limit for my plan B clothing, which I ride in when the temperature drops below about 40. The limit is a windchill of 20 degrees. These clothes actually left me uncomfortably cold, and if we have similar weather on Thursday, I will go with the Plan C ("Cold") outfit: wind pants, parka, shoe covers, and added head insulation. The sniper gloves and basilisk goggles were the bomb, though. My eyes and hands were warm, at least, which goes a long way.

This weather would be notable, if most of the rest of the country weren't significantly worse. But, it's not often that I get to express solidarity with cyclists in other cold places. In this instance, though, I can say, pretty authentically: BRRRRRRRRR. Lows well below freezing Wednesday night (in the 20s? whaaaaat??), with more gusty north winds. It could be a Plan C ride Thursday morning. From Ice Station PHX. Gggggget uppppp. Ggggggo rrrride.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kneequilibrium and The Varieties of Fixed Gear Experience

The locus of ceaseless bending motion

After riding the fixed gear about 55 miles this weekend, a some ideas gelled about what is easier than I thought it would be for me to adapt to with no freewheel, and what is harder.

Easier, fun even: starting, spinning, stopping, standing, hills, bumps, corners, sprinting.

Harder, still fun to explore though: if the bike isn't set up just right, and sized just right, and / or your technique has flaws, riding a fixed gear gives you direct feedback about what's wrong, and doesn't give you the normal breaks during coasting to rest a bit or relax. In particular, the constant rotation of the pedals compelled me to shift around and make many adjustments to just about everything until everything, particularly my knees, felt right. I am talking about small adjustments that added up to tangible differences. My knees felt great after the rides. But at certain points in the middle, they started to let me know, "You are not doing it right." At that point, I would try something different, varying the forces in my pedal stroke, shifting my weight forward or back a little, checking the angle of my legs and ankles, and so on, until it seemed to feel better, and then it was better. 

I guess I'm saying that on a fixed-gear, since you can't shift gears or coast, when you need to make adjustments for comfort and efficiency, you find new things to adjust in your technique in order to achieve "kneequilibrium", the combination that leads to the knees working inside some optimal combination of force and timing that feels right. That's how it felt out on the canal path, anyway.

My kneequilibrium establishment mechanism

I finished out the Sunday ride with a hard push for the last three miles, to see what it would feel like to spin more or less as fast as I can on this bike without bouncing. With a 42x16 gear combination that doesn't yield a super-fast forward speed, somewhere around 23 mph in the 110 rpm range, [yeah I know, not very impressive, I ride for love not glory] and it's smooth cadence, not power, that becomes my limiting factor in Flatland. Which leads me to a couple of further conclusions. Since it's better technique with higher cadence, and not higher forward speed, that I'm seeking, I finally might have to mount one of my cycle computers on this machine to collect some better numbers about what's going on. And more practice might be better for my knees, my efficiency, and my overall ride. Listen to me. Maybe I'll just keep spinning fast as makes my knee-go feel good instead. Get up. Go ride. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Imagine Pandas in the Rain

Sign stapled on many poles Monday morning

I don't really know what's going on with these signs that I saw on multiple poles on the rainy ride into work on Monday morning. Possibly, a prank. If I could read Japanese, perhaps the name would tell me more. For the sake of the blog, I almost called the number, which I blanked out in the photo above, but I figured they already got enough calls about pandas today, one way or another. Also, I know that pandas are extremely rare, and protected, and probably both prohibitively expensive and illegal to obtain, or to keep as pets. Yes, odds are, a prank.

Still. These notices were stapled up on poles in a neighborhood where the expense, legality, or practicality of obtaining a panda, and keeping it as a pet, and affording Yubari melons to feed it for that matter, would not be insurmountable barriers. And check out that bear on the poster--does it not resemble the snapshot of such a pet, far from its native element, posed upstairs near the stair railing?

But I think not. Still. As I rode away, I thought, OK JRA, open your mind a bit, remember that you saw a big old desert tortoise hauling shell up the sidewalk near here, so, what if a pet panda got loose in the neighborhood, what would that look like, if you caught a glimpse of him loping along one of the quiet side streets lined with eucalyptus and oleanders? 

So I gazed down the next side street, which looked just as I had imagined, and there it was: a black and white panda bear loping across the quiet street, having snuffled the scent of the bamboo grove in a nearby Japanese garden, on his breakfast walkabout. I ride through a world where such dreams are possible. I dream of pandas in the rain. Get up. Go ride.