Sunday, May 29, 2011

That Which is Sacred Yields Not Riches

Getting inside Ilan Averbuch's "The Bell, The Flower, and The Wash" in Scottsdale

Ilan Averbuch's "The Bell, The Flower, and The Wash"

Standing behind the fence contemplating this new public art in Scottsdale (click link above, lots of good background and info), feeling a brief twinge for not being able to touch it yet, or sit beneath it (or inside it? SPA has a photo of that, we'll have to see if that is permitted when the fences come down, probably not though, somehow sitting inside big rusty funnel-flowers just feels beyond the realm of what would be permitted, a perk reserved only for SPA program managers (which is OK by me, I do not begrudge program managers their first right to sit in public art funnel-flowers, it's just now that I know one can sit in it, I want to, too, for the experience, the sights, the sounds, the feel, the perspective, to get to know it, to be like a bee, I suppose, the prima pollinator)), after I thought of funnels, and mathematical shapes like a hyperboloid or a catenoid (I love those Wolfram Mathworld pages because you can click on the shapes and rotate them around), I thought of a Sacred Datura flower. My friend had cut some from the alley behind her house yesterday, and had them in a slender vase on her table. I did not think to take a photo of hers, but here's an example:

Hindu Datura, Indian Apple, Jimson Weed, Sacred Datura, Thorn Apple (Datura inoxia)

I wasn't sure what "datura" meant, standing there behind the fence, so I was left to contemplate what it meant to me: a graceful, trumpet-shaped white flower which blooms at night, very toxic, and used by some as a hallucinogen. This much I know. Oh, and also, that snipping some blossoms, and putting them into a vase on a dimly lit dining room table seems to induce them to stay open rather than close up by sunrise.

After processing the word "datura," I moved on to "sacred". And, it sort of stumped me. I guess I could formulate what it is supposed to mean, but I started to think about how the word is actually used, leading me to decide that I don't know what meaning can be derived from the common usages of "sacred". 

Reverse view, seen from the street or neighborhood: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz I can say

In usage, most of the time, when someone says a thing or a place is sacred, I translate that in my mind to "I want that place or thing to be mine," or, "I claim property rights to exploit that place or thing for monetary gain," or "I want to convince people this is sacred so they will pay for the privilege of visiting it," or variations of those. Relics to rip off pilgrims who have journeyed far. Magic to deceive and impoverish the gullible and the desperate and the feeble-minded. Houses of gambling or chance built on sacred mountains to separate the lucky from their shekles. Greed is not godly, I could not help but think, and the profane will never elevate us above our most base characteristics. Ever. That which is sacred yields not riches.

Under construction, on 15 May

Wacker: also taken on 15 May

Riding the fixie around on the TCT (my new abbreviation for the Tri-city Tour, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe), I was asking myself, "so what is sacred?" a fair question given the above bold, contentious reasoning. While thinking about that, seeing if the focused firing of neurons could put together some coherent thoughts to answer the question, a bee flew inside my glasses, landed, and calmly roosted right in the center of the view from my right eye. Whoa. I tried to stay calm, but a big fuzzy/blurry bee inside my glasses caused me some concern. How does that even happen? What was its plan exactly? What was its next step? I pictured myself spending Memorial Day as one of those guys with a badly swollen eye. I pulled over, rolled to a stop, and removed the glasses as smoothly or calmly as possible.

The bee did not fly away immediately. It was smaller than it looked when it was right in front of my eye, but it was a bee. I regarded him, now calmer, and actually asked it, right there, by the side of the road: "Bee, what is sacred?"

Bee did not tell me his thoughts on the subject--I am no datura-eater. Neither did he fly right away, though. In fact, the bee stayed until I blew him off the lens with my breath. Did he regard me, asking, what is this guy's plan exactly? What is his next step? Can we get inside a bee's tiny head? Well, see, that's why I want to sit inside the rusty funnel-flower by Fire Station #1 in Scottsdale: to think like a bee, to wonder about what is sacred. Free of charge, free of fear, free of everything: just free. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Little Yellow Public Service Cards

Full suspension, XT-everything including disk brakes, cheap cable lock

It has reached epidemic proportions, I tell you: bad lock jobs, and even more serious, cheap cable locks, everywhere I look! I was eating dinner outdoors with my family at a lovely cafe this weekend, near a bicycle rack with five bikes locked up, all with cheap cables. Then a guy showed up with a road bike and a U-lock, and I thought, finally! THANK YOU! He proceeded to hook the U-lock through the quick release front wheel only. NOOOOO!!!!

I have good intentions here. Overall, having your bicycle stolen is a rotten experience, so in the long run, deploying my Little Yellow Public Service Cards (LYPS cards) (not to be confused with the old LIPS laser printers) would increase the overall happiness level, or, alternatively, decrease the sum of suffering, wouldn't they? Yet, people are unpredictable. Some would not welcome this gentle admonition. A few would fly into a rage. Most would probably ignore it. Suffering due to bicycle theft enabled by cheap cable locks and bad locking technique would continue. Perhaps an experiment: place a few cards on candidate bicycles, use a hidden camera to capture the results? Or more open and honest, excuse me, did you notice the Friendly Security Note affixed to your ride, near your terrible lock? What is your reaction, are you likely to consider using a U-lock properly in the future because of it? On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy would you say you were overall, before you saw the card, compared to how you felt afterwards? Great, now compare that to how you would feel if your cheap cable lock were cut with a cheap cable cutter and your sweet ride was stolen by a ne'er-do-well in search of an easy twenty bucks, where would that put you, 1 to 10? Get up. Go ride. Lock up.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Found On Road Friday

Rubber saguaro antenna topper

I didn't know what this was at first. Upon examination of the parts--a rubber saguaro cactus, sunglasses, bandana, antenna mounting orifice in the base--I recognized it as an antenna-topper. Exactly the sort I would put on my commuter bike to extend happiness and whimsy all around the town. If I had an antenna on my commuter bike.

Ocean shells along a freshwater canal

To my semi-untrained eye, these appeared to be ocean shells piled up beside the canal. A head-scratcher. Farther along the path, though, I found that some of the path had been apparently experimentally peppered with tons of the tiniest shells. So it's possible an enterprising hunter-gatherer walked along and picked out some interesting stand-outs, then, upon accumulating a larger haul than expected, dumped it into this puzzling pile. Or, someone dumped out their saltwater aquarium here just because. Both the cactus and the shells made me smile and consider.

Single lane construction zone traffic jam on 44th also made me smile

Believe it or not, half a mile of single-lane backed-up traffic creeping through a construction zone also made me smile. Why? Because I was on my bicycle! The right lanes here were blocked off, and also full of trucks just a little out of the picture on the left. When the light turned, though, there was a nice opening, and traffic began moving a bit, so I was able to smoothly merge right in behind with no delay, flow into the traffic lane and NOT ride through the coned-off area. That doesn't seem like a good idea to me any more: for several reasons including Steve A's experience and recommendations, I try to stay with the main traffic flow. It worked perfectly here, and I stuck with it right up to an opening in the cones when I made a sharp right turn and bailed out onto a side street that I knew would also work as an alternate route. Funny that the cars chose to stay with the creeping line rather than follow me. I passed other cars headed toward the mess, and part of me wanted to wave them down, tell them to go back, follow me another way, save themselves the creeping aggravation of a line of slow-moving cars. Moooooooo, I can say. But it all went so smoothly up to that point that I didn't want to change tactics. 

The weekend: it is long. Enjoy it. Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Falling Behind, Catching Up, Riding On

Progress...a week ago. Pictures stacking up. Got to catch up!

There's only two days in a weekend, and I used mine for other rides this time than the Tri-city tour that takes me past the bridge project over the rubber dam at Tempe Town Lake, so I didn't catch the latest progress in digital image form. But it doesn't matter, since I haven't even posted the pictures from the previous Tri-city tour!  I guess it's a good sign that life is full, and the days jam-packed, but I would like to be somewhat timely on my posts! I mean, at this rate, my next update is going to be riding across it! They have those massive blue cranes in place, I can only hope to use to lift those spans into place when ready. Which for all I know they already did. Of course, given my previous bridge span placing experience, I would recommend a 550 ton MEGA-WING for lifting something like that. It just seems like a good idea to go big when lifting those spans.

In the spirit of catching up, photo-wise, here's another picture, linked to this previous one only by virtue of being from the same area--it's along the bike path up by the nature area just to the north of Tempe Town Lake. When I read it, it came as something of a relief to be told that I'm not alone in having some confusion in differentiating between acacias, mesquites, and a few other similar trees here in the desert. The sign helps. A little. As long as there are flowers I am in good shape, I guess. Get up. Go ride.

Next time I will keep my eyes open for the compound pinnate leaves.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011



Please: do not jump wall.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Key to the Best Sunday

One of the keys to the best Sunday

For me, the best Sunday is when my younger daughter comes up next to me and asks, "Daddy, would you like to make a picnic lunch and ride our bicycles to the park together?" Is that not the perfect question? After assembling our lunches, tuna salad sandwiches, with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions on fancy ciabatta buns, raw veggies, some beverages, we packed it into my trunk bag and went to get her bicycle. "Awwwwwww!" she cried. Her back tire was flat. Again. Which I had patched last weekend. Figuring that my patch job had been patchy, I took the tube back out, expecting to see the patch flapping in the breeze, but no, my patch job was most powerful. It was airtight as the Red October. Time to rotate the tube through a bowl of water to find the actual leak. What's this? A bubbly stem on the Schrader valve? All I need is a valve core remover tool, wait....I haven't used one in a quite a while since all my tubes are the other, skinnier type...I know I've got one around here....hey those tubes have a valve core remover on top of the caps, I'll get one of those. Dang it, this core is jammed in, the feeble plastic tool is not going to get it. I need that über core tool my dad gave me a long time ago, where did I put that thing? I dug around trying to remember, had another cup of strong coffee to roust the lazy neurons, oh yeah, in the steel tool box. Yes, here it is, with the spark plug gapper and door lock parts. Pull that core out, clean it up, put a tiny bit of light oil on the o-ring, back in, try again: no more bubbly Schrader valve. Come my dear: to the park, and lunch! We're off!

We rode to the park at a leisurely pace, and dined on our tuna sandwiches like king and princess in the bright sunshine. Daughter pedaled her bike around, and talked with some friends she ran into, pet their golden dog, ran water into the sand and made sloppy, while I sat on a bench in the shade and contemplated the world slowly turning beneath me. Thought about a lowly, stout little valve tool my dad gave me long ago. Thanks dad. And thank you, younger daughter, for taking me for a bicycle picnic. It was the best Sunday. Get up . Go ride.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remember Those Who Danced

Remember those who danced over a hundred years ago. Hmmm.

Fixie in the falls

I both noodled along and raced today. Over by the soon-to-be-knocked-down soundwalls along the 101 freeway, I rode super-slow, absorbing the sounds and sights of an environment about to be changed. They are going to destroy some of the art in the process, although it is still unclear to me how much exactly, and what it's going to be replaced with. Then along the canal I went fast for a while, and then cooled my jets beside the Arizona Falls for a bit.

I read that sign as I turned to roll down the ramp to the cool area and drinking fountains: "remember those who gathered, picnicked, and danced at Arizona Falls over 100 years ago," it implored me. So I listened to the water whooshing over the falls, and thought: I can't remember them, since I wasn't around then, but the expression probably means something like "imagine them," or "have thoughts for them," something like that. That was a long time ago, though. I can picture a band, and people dressed in their finest, out on a late Spring evening down by the falls for a social event. Perhaps some rode bicycles. This trip down imaginary-memory lane made me recall my old neighbor from childhood, Mrs. L, who was almost old enough. Let me do a little math....she's long gone now, I think she would have been an older child around 1900. She lived in the midwest then, but perhaps thoughts of her back then are close enough to what the AZ Falls signage makers had in mind. Mrs. L told me an expression they used when she was growing up to describe something that was wonderful, or great: supercopflopcious, she told me. So: a band playing, water falling, the sun setting on a late spring evening, picnic food set out, chicken, salads, roasted meats, veggies, pies under bug screens...supercopflopcious! I can almost hear the water whooshing and the band playing.

To give context, depth, and perspective to our own daily activities, work, and pastimes, even our lives, we look back, and imagine, and a specific place assigned a specific history can help with that. No Internet, no phones, I think not even electricity, many other things which must have made their lives much different, yet I can remember them, because I remember links in my own life to them, like Mrs. L, and similar evening outings from my own past. If I closed my eyes above and listened to the water falling, and breathed in deep to smell the greasewood, it was even easier to imagine them. I could almost hear the music playing.

These things were blooming like crazy out there today. I wonder if they had them a hundred years ago around the Arizona Falls, or if these are recently imported; I don't know for sure.

Exuberant red bloomage, dancing right out across the cycle path

It was a good ride today, no, more than that, excellent? No, I'm looking for another word, something a little more historic, got it: superco-- you know. Remember those who danced. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tovrea Castle in Phoenix, From the Bike Lane

Tovrea Castle, and saguaros about to go POP!

Tovrea Castle is a Phoenix landmark that has served a few different purposes since its construction in 1928 (read its twists and turns on the wikipedia, here), but now is an almost-refurbished Phoenix "Point of Pride" with a lovely cactus garden all around it. I remember it best when it was lit up at night with lights around each tier of the wedding cake. When seen from the air, or from a distance, it was truly notable and odd. 

I've never been inside. But I ride my bicycle past quite often, and decided I needed to snap a few pictures.Some with signs in them.

The stories this place could tell! If stucco and cactus could tell tales, I mean. An understandable reaction when you see this place is similar to when you come across the gleaming white pyramid tomb of Governor Hunt, not too far from here: whaaaaaaaaaat?? Eventually, though, after you see them dozens of times over the years, they grow on you, and you stop noticing them. Then you ride by a little slower on your bicycle one day, and notice the different angles available for taking photos, and with a beginner's mind recall the essential weirdness of the wedding cake, but also its unique interest, and the memories of remembering. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amateur Cable Destruction

I do not have much practice cutting bike lock cables. So, it took me a few tries to figure out how to easily get that satisfying SNAP! sound of the jaws slicing through the cable. This is a relatively small bolt cutter, 18", and I cut this cable without pushing one handle on the ground, and without using my weight, only arm muscle. I did this to gain an understanding of what it actually takes to defeat this type of lock that I see most people using to lock up their bikes out there. And the answer is, with just a little trial and error: not much. I had a few fails before I figured it out, but once I got the hang of it, it was about half muscle, half technique. It wasn't exactly easy, but it was certainly quick, and didn't take very much effort.

Brake cable cutter result

I also tried using a brake cable cutter, as in the previous video that I showed on this blog, and found it much harder, For one thing, I had to expose the inner cable to permit the cutter to get a bite. That really only involved using a pocket knife to slice around it, but I pulled back the plastic to show the results better. I'm no gorilla, and didn't feel like putting in an all-out effort to try to slice the cable. The point was to see if it would be easy for anyone to do. There's probably also technique to it, too, and I didn't work at it too long, but with that, my conclusion is that a bicycle brake cable cutter is not the easiest choice. You can see I did some damage, and could have gotten through it eventually, but I was looking for the insta-cut, the SNAP!, and couldn't easily get it.

Bolt cutter, for size. I think I paid $7 for it.

This tool is pretty small, barely bigger than a place mat. I am also aware that there are other tools that can defeat a U-lock (there are plenty of videos out there), but the ones I have seen at least either take longer than this, or else make lots of noise and sparks. I posted this because sometimes, a visual demonstration is more convincing than just a verbal explanation. It took me less than ten seconds with a cheap little bolt cutter, and I'm not even very good at it. Cables are next-to-useless for locking up your bike, they are only better than no lock at all, and should only be used if you or someone has almost constant (no gaps greater than five seconds!) eyes on it. But who wants to stare at the bike rack? That's just annoying, although probably much less annoying than having a ne'er-do-well with a $7 bolt cutter and ten free seconds steel your ride. Just use a decent U-lock, cable for the wheels, and be done with it. That combo will probably slow them down enough, or get them to move onto easier pickings: all the bikes locked up with cables. Get up. Go ride.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Iron Irony: When A Lock Is Not Locked

In a basket at the rack: a lock, but not locked (twice)

Wouldn't reach, so not locked

More secure lock left in bracket in preference for a quick buddy cable lock-up

I don't know that the Little Yellow Public Service stickers / cards would help much here. I have one more post coming, where I cut up some cable locks, or try to, with various cutting implements up to and including bolt cutters, in order to demonstrate their almost-useless (but better than nothing) security level. But, I have learned from this little adventure in public service security mindedness: although I am overwhelmed by how widespread the poor cable locking practice is, it at least offers a opportunity to strike up a conversation if you feel like helping out a fellow cyclist. And, I will give it to you cable locker-uppers out there: actually using the lock is better than nothing at all. But, I would suggest, once you elect to lock up your bike, once you cross the "I want to slow down the person who wants to take my bike," line, why not go beyond the "slow them down five seconds line" and move on to the "look for easier pickings" place? When everyone is using cables, a properly employed U-lock has to be a pretty good deterrent. OK, almost done with the lock obsession. Cable destruction ahead. Get up. Go ride.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Anthropomorphic Bicyclist in Scottsdale

All 3 photos are of "Anthropomorphic Bicyclist" by John Randall Nelson, at the Scottsdale Civic Center

The standard usage of "anthropomorphism" is the attribution of human features or characteristics to non-human creatures or things. To cut to the chase, I don't think becoming one with your bicycle qualifies, strictly speaking, as anthropomorphism. The term is usually used to describe an error, or mistake. My brother-in-law dislikes cats, and thinks that any emotion or thought that we attribute to ours ("They love us. They miss us. The cats understand many things we say.") is anthropomorphism. On the other hand, "My cat is hungry," doesn't seem to me to be anthropomorphism, if we only mean that there is some sort of sensation that it needs to eat. Even that's tricky, though, because we don't usually mean only that when we say that we are hungry, we also mean that we are thinking or scheming about what we're going to eat, who we are going to eat it with, and probably a whole memory-association complex of past experiences tied to the intended meal. I'm not sure a cat would have all that stuff in its head, too, and that would probably be anthropomorphism to think that it does. "My cat loves tuna," is right over the line. As a side note, I would love to see a domestic cat try to take down a tuna in the wild some time, but that's a different post.

Since the link and the page would seem to indicate they don't necessarily persist the descriptive text after the exhibit is gone, I will go ahead and quote at length from the Scottsdale Public Art page, with the thought that this post will still make sense in a few months, and not point to a dead or different link. From the current exhibit page of Cycle 2 of Belle Art: "A new form, a cyclist who becomes one with the bike, joyfully revolves amongst altered signs on the orange wall. Made with re-Cycled (pun intended) traffic signs salvaged from the Scottsdale Transportation Department, the signs and symbols are both ambiguous and familiar. The iconic folk art style of the forms and the imagery of re-imagined bicycles and signs touch on social dexterity and creativity as a means of crossing boundaries. Taken as a group the images take on the sense of a day dream, of a blue sky ride...The artist also recently completed other anthropomorphic bicyclist sculptures for traffic calming roundabouts near downtown Tempe, at the intersections of Wilson and Howe streets, and Roosevelt and 11th streets."

Attributing to my bicycle, in a non-figurative manner, human characteristics, for example, giving in a woman's name and caressing it gently because it is sensitive, responsive, and beautiful, is anthropomorphism. Becoming one with a bicycle, as a human-bike system of flesh and steel where man and machine function seamlessly and without thought or extra effort, is what happens when one of the most efficient machines ever invented is ridden by someone who has a lot of practice. It is a form of finely-tuned kinesthesia, almost an extended proprioception that envelopes the parts and machinery of the bike. Almost. But excellent technique plus ergonomics does not equal anthropomorphism. And I choose to believe that John Randall Nelson is aware of that.

Take another look at the title: Anthropomorphic Bicyclist. It suggests that the rider in the sculpture has this trait. I can accept that; once you have ridden your machine for a while, it almost seems natural to begin to attribute some human characteristics to it: moods, physical attributes, spirit, a remembered history, spunk, speed, power, will, grace, etc. Many of us are anthropomorphic bicyclists. I think this typically involves projecting onto the machine characteristics of its own, though, and not suggesting that it is physically or actually melting together with its rider, its fork becoming arms (or legs), parts of the frame becoming flesh and blood and bones, while the dog rides on the rear rack barking at the weird transformation. That would not be anthropomorphism. It would be magic.

When I feel like I have found the magical element in a work of art, I am convinced I have come close to its message, intended or not. Imagine the rider in this kinetic weathervane calling his bike "Stella" and thinking that "she" is smooth, supple, quick, or whatever. He is missing the point. He is overlooking the magic as he actually becomes one with the machine. What if we stopped naming everything, including the bike, and just rode it? Oh, I do like that, being reminded of what may have been overlooked. I have to find out if John Randall Nelson is a bicyclist. If so, perhaps one night, bombing through the darkness, he saw past the anthropomorphism, beyond the naming of things and the projecting onto them of our own peculiarities, and glimpsed the magic of physical oneness with the machine. Cool. Looks like I will be headed down to Tempe, to Wilson and Howe streets, and Roosevelt and 11th streets, to see some more John Randall Nelson anthropomorphic bicyclist sculptures. Just remember: it's the bicyclist who is anthropomorphic, and not the sculpture. The sculpture is a depiction of magic. Fuzzy cell phone video below. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Evanescence of Fresh Blackberries

Bike fuel: Rubus armeniacus

For a brief week or two each spring, we harvest a few bowls of black berries from old canes in our backyard. I take it that conditions in Phoenix are not at the center of the climate conditions favored by these berries, in fact, it appears that they have to struggle to survive summer's blasting heat--Oregon, or Illinois woods, are two places I have seen them grow like weeds. But they do survive here, and bear fruit, and it seems to me end up producing a sweet, complex, and delicate berry that bears witness to the difficulties endured to produce it. I have put up some epic berry posts in the past--the two from the trip to Iowa City still make my tummy grumble happy sounds--but this simple bowl of seedy black is all I need. 

These don't travel well, they don't even store well. We pick them and eat them the same day, or possibly the next, before their fresh magic turns to mush. I had them on cereal today. But, to me, they are best on their own, as in this hastily taken photo. I was in haste to eat them, you see, so didn't give it that photo studio treatment. Oh, and the bees love their flowers, and I love the bees, so it all works out well. But, even now, to pick them in the morning is to pick warm berries heated by our ever-enthusiastic desert sunshine. Either way, they don't last long. A day, maybe two or three at most. I better go check now. Get up. Go ride.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Interesting Lane Indicator

Near the Rio Salado path, from Kallipolis, the realm of the philosopher-kings

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bridge Update: Piece by Piece

When I was here a week ago, I saw the cranes hooked up to span number one, and figured they were getting ready to lift it into place. Boy was I off track! Instead, I guess they were lowering pieces down to the riverbed in order to build up the spans before dropping them into place. I hope they have protections and protocols in place so they don't tip one of those spans while trying to place it and pop one of those bladders! I'm not saying I would wish that to happen at all, just that it would DEFINITELY happen if I was operating the crane. Whoops! Tear! DRAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN. That's the kind of thing that happens to me when I try things like lowering a bridge span onto piers over a poppable rubber bladder that's holding back a gagillion gallons of water: gurgle gurgle gurgle.

It's probably because I have some kind of klutz gene. I had a summer job a long time ago running a deburring machine, knocking the burrs off of metal parts. It started early in the morning, I was sometimes sleepy or otherwise out of it, and I should have just told them: it's no good having me run the deburring machine early in the morning. If I manage to avoid deburring my own hands, feet, and other parts, which I barely did manage, I would probably accidentally deburr a passing forklift driver or something. 

I learned to drive a manual transmission when I was just a kid by operating a large piece of farm equipment with working kids hanging off of it. Again early in the morning. I probably should have told them, not only do I not really know how to operate a manual transmission, but you should not have me attempt to operate a piece of farm equipment with kids hanging off it early in the morning. 

Another time, a man who did not know about my klutz gene asked me to drive a dump truck to carry loads of horse manure out to the back of the property and dump them there. Guess what time of day that was. I should have told him: no, if you have me do this, horse manure will probably end up in remarkable places, in remarkable quantity, and we will be spending the afternoon trying to figure out how to the get the dump truck out of the pond.

Riding a bike is about the only machine I feel confident interacting with early in the morning. I think my muscles are doing all the thinking on two wheels. Even when the klutz gene is active. Get up. Go ride. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Balance Between Gear and Go

Carbon fiber and aluminum in a smooth spinny configuration

I admit to a certain level of being a gearhead. Particularly back when I was hiking and backpacking avidly, sometimes it felt like three days of hoofing through the wilderness was a forum for trying out new gear, gadgets, apparel, and, well, things. I spent many more hours scrutinizing gear reviews and shopping for gear than I did actually hiking. Looking back on that fact, one word comes to mind: sad. As in, that's just sad.

Some experiences turned me around, though. I had the pleasure of hiking down to Havasupai with an older gentlemen who sported a 1970s backpack he got at Goodwill for $3.50. He used a broom handle for a hiking staff. His aluminum canteens had been providing water for his hikes for twenty years, he said. His boots were worn and tattered, and had been into the Canyon so many times he had lost count. In short, he had struck a bargain with his gear that supported, rather than detracted from, the experience: do your job, stuff, so that you disappear from my thoughts while I am out there, and when someday you become so worn and beyond repair that you cease doing your job, I will replace you with something equally utilitarian and non-distracting, probably something that some gearhead used once and threw away. 

If you want to head out barefoot carrying only a knife that you hammered out of an old leaf spring, that's cool, but I tend to lean more toward taking stuff along to employ for various purposes: carrying water, cutting/chopping/slicing, shelter, cordage, warmth, etc. In the case of bicycles (back to our topic), for smooth and reliable locomotion.

The new rear gear

Reading wheel reviews with anything like a skeptical eye could cause you to chuck nearly every one of them. If you are an elite racer, that is, the one or two percent of people who read those reviews who actually might realize some of the advantages of lighter, stiffer, more aerodynamic wheels, I'm a big supporter of you having access to useful information that helps you to decide where to spend your two grand or whatever on which wheel set. But I am not an elite racer, nor are the huge majority (and you know what I mean by huge) of other readers of those reviews, and so I tend to think that the reviews are intended to separate us from our cash by making us think that buying said wheel set for two grand will cause us to ride like an elite racer. In gas-powered racing sports, there may be a certain level of validity to gear=speed equation, but in cycling, if you can't put the watts into the pedals for hours, and don't have the mega-hours to train to refine your technique and strategy to a razor's edge of competitive hardness, no amount of high-priced gear is going to let the rest of us hang anywhere near the pros.

Every review in the popular bicycling press ought to start off with the following disclaimer: no, buying this will not make you suddenly fast, strong, competitive, or more manly. Any pro racer will still drop you without breaking a sweat. 

Even with the new wheels / aero frame / accessory forged by monks in Italy out of unobtanium, Liz Hatch on a cheap department store bicycle would still ride by me, smile and wave, and leave me behind as if I were standing still. Almost all of us would be the chasing skeletons in the video below, falling behind and exploding into so many fragments of broken bicycle and bones. Happy, smiling, awe-struck piles of crumbling skeletal material. Mr. Skinny, give it up.

Poetry in motion, no? Yes, she is. And while I can't hope to match her in speed, or endurance, I can watch her, and pros at her level, to learn from what they ride, and how they ride. The smoothness of their spin, the relaxation in her hands and arms, the flexible power. And check out her brifter position: validation of the flat bar top and high lever position. Most importantly for the topic at hand, what pros use, abuse, develop and refine on the road yields improvements in materials and design which trickle down to us in slightly heavier forms.

So, finally to the new wheels. My experience in riding them on my tri-city tour to compare with riding the same route on the previous wheels yielded this subjective evaluation of the notable differences, in order of perceived significance: the new 700x25 Rubino Pro Slick tires at 110 psi made much more of a difference than I expected, compared to the previous tires, in terms of road feel and traction, so anything else I noticed may be questioned. Next time I get new wheels and want to compare them to the previous set, I need to make sure to run that same kind of tires to get a fairer comparison. Second, though, it did feel like the bearings in these Ultegra hubs were smoother and superior to the ones in the cheaper Bontrager Race hubs. Lastly, and probably most subjective and uncertain, when I stood on the pedals and sprinted as hard as I could, I could at least start to understand all the talk about "stiffness" and "responsiveness when sprinting", as these wheels did yield a more confident feeling of reliable and quick motion, as if I was not really pushing them up to or beyond their limits--they felt like they had more to give than I could put into them, if that makes sense.

But for me, the new wheels are less about sprinting stiffness, and more about this: urban road riding, Washington Street in Phoenix on a warm Saturday afternoon, a smooth road and a stiff, dry head wind:

Washington Street, bike lane, light rail line on the left

I was riding this sweet stretch of pavement in the heat of the afternoon. My body is still getting acclimated to this year's heat, so I was feeling a little overheated here, but I saw this open road and had to go. Like the guy hiking Havasupai with the old backpack and broomstick, I put my hands on the drops, shifted to the big ring, and was looking for the gear to disappear. I wanted it to do its job well, slice through the wind, and put power to the pavement not because I was imagining myself to be an elite racer, able to hang with Liz, but rather because I wanted to feel what I am capable of, explore my own personal limitations on two wheels, and push them. The heat does that, and let's be honest, the right gear can make some difference in that endeavor. It's a balancing act. One that I test myself on by riding my bicycles every day. As long as the gear shopping, the wrenching, the polishing, the Liz Hatch video watching, are all balanced out with hours of actually spinning on the machine, whether strenuous or meditative (or both, since the two are not mutually exclusive), a certain uneasy balance can be achieved against all the hype, the media, the liability stickers, and the aspirations of an unappeasable ego. Perhaps he shall not be sated, but he can be quieted with hours on the hot road. Even momentarily mellowed. Get up. Go ride.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stickers Are Subject to Peeling

Nothing lasts forever (should that be sujets? anyone?)

I think, ideally, I wish for my bicycle, and my blog, to be sticker-free. Free of brand names, free of cruft, stripped of needless words. For a while, for example, my commuter bike was totally sticker- and word-free, except for the head badge. I decided it looked a little too interesting like that, though, so I stuck some various colored things back on it in an effort to conceal the sleek black machine which lurks beneath. And in practice, back in the real world, I end up leaving some stickers on my bikes, giving in to some cruft, some brand names too, and I'm sure not always succeeding at the Strunk and White ideal in this space: omit needless words (x3).  To which I extend and apply polymorphism, to say: Omit needless ads. For the same or similar reasons.

Some stickers (and words) got to go. "Jante sujet à l'usure" is one that I peeled off faster than I throw out pie plates. With those icons added on the sticker, I interpret this message to be: "notice/warning: as also explained in the enclosed user manual, this rim will eventually wear out, and as it does so, the end user should be aware that when it does wear out, it should no longer be used, as riding at speed on a rim which has exceeded its useful working life may be hazardous." Or something like that. Which seems to be a message which serves only the legal liability avoidance instincts of the wheel manufacturer's legal army. Similar to those tags on mattresses. I also tear those off immediately.

When I dream about getting my own handmade bicycle some day, I picture a sleek steel beast, monochrome, midnight black or screaming orange I can't decide, with no brand names or stickers of any kind, only the maker's name or brand, on the down tube on each side, and on the head badge. That's it. The rest of the messages and words I will keep in my head, and if it comes up in conversation, I am more than willing to explain how wheels wear out eventually, or what brand of saddle or hub I'm using on it currently. Ah, to dream. Get up. Go ride.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Central Ave and the Grand Canal, Phoenix

Three palms + Brophy Prep

This is a view from along the Grand Canal path in Phoenix, Arizona, of a steeple or tower at Brophy Prep school, off Central Ave. I was going to ding these Spanish-style constructions in Phoenix, of which there are several, for not blending in well with the architecture and neighborhoods around them. Derelict gas station surrounded with chainlink and barbed wire across the street from St. Thomas the Apostle, I'm thinking of you. Then, I recalled other cities I've visited, particularly the great city of Merida, Yucatan, and the situation there visually looks very similar in some cases, where modern cityscapes have sprung up around Spanish mission architecture, with similar results. The missions thrive, and the city grows around them. So I framed this shot with just the palm trees and the tower, and like that, too--palm trees are not exactly native to this area, either, but once they get a root-hold, the spread like weeds. Scenes from a bicycle. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Wall of Flowers and a Bicycle to Welcome the Heat

A wall of flowers plus bicycle

We dwelt in the tippy-top upper 90s for a while on Wednesday, and there's a chance it will hit 100 on Friday. I'm currently reading The Telling Distance: Conversations with the American Desert by Bruce Berger, and I happened to come across an appropriate and agreeable quote: "Heat--unlike cold--is one of those pleasures most keenly relished on the threshold of pain. It is oddly comforting to feel noon pouring down, to bake from beneath over bedrock, to find your marrow vaguely radiating." (p.46) We're not there yet, but we can see there just around the corner. The air is also exceedingly dry--the forecast is for 4% at 95F at drive time on Thursday. That's entering the zone that starts to feel like summer around here. But all of it, the sun pouring down, the wall of flowers, the dry air, the pavement baking from beneath, it does comfort me. And, it signals the ending of the pollen season, which is also most welcome. Except in that the pollen comes from beauties like these. Right after I snapped this picture, I walked back over to my bike, and took a deep inhale up close of these blossoms. I actually stuck my sniffer right in among them, giving due respect to the formidable toxicity, of course. Their scent singularly is not strong, not showy, not overbearing, but in concert, gathered in their hundreds or thousands like this, their combined subtle fragrance is overwhelming. And as the temperature heats up, well those fragrance molecules become more energetic, until sometimes I think the air almost burns with flower fire. Oleanders pouring down at noon, fragrance on the sweet threshold of pain in the heat. Get up. Go ride.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

These Things Don't Dig Themselves

Power, grace, and tunnel-digging prowess all rolled into one

I checked into the progress on the tunnel under 7th Avenue at the Arizona Canal. Clearly, since I am posting about it, there's progress to report. Voila! A tunnel is born, er, excavated!!

Whoosh, I can say

The Hitachi Zaxis 450LC has employed its power to excavate this future bike and pedestrian express route under 7th Avenue. This will all be paved, walled, and finished, of course, I just wanted to grab a shot of it as it was in progress, you know, for future reference. Perhaps the Zaxis's next stop will be the intersection of Scottsdale and Camelback, or perhaps, 40th Street and Camelback, to dig some similar tunnels there, too. Go Zaxis Go! 

Some of the broken glass was still around here, some of it seemed to have been swept up. If I had tracks like that excavator on my bicycle, I probably wouldn't care about a few shards of broken glass, but bike tires are more vulnerable, of course. I picked up my first flat tire in a long time this week, a piece of a nail that punched right through my tire and tube, and squirted green slime all over the place (not around here, though). Note to self: slime tubes are great for sealing small punctures, but really make an awful mess when punched through with a nail. It sounded like fiiizzzz-squirt-fizzzzzz-squirt-fizzzzz-squirt flop flop flop flop. Neon green. Everywhere. Yuck. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Thing With Bridges

Preparing to place a piece of the new bridge across the rubber dam at Tempe Town Lake
(That's the Tempe Center for the Arts across the way. Checkout the cool virtual tour.)

Back in January, I noticed the banner up on the fence here declaring the plan to build a pedestrian bridge across the top of the rubber dam that creates Tempe Town Lake. On my tri-city bicycle tour this weekend, I saw that the construction boffins are preparing to place the first section of the bridge on top of the dam. This bridge will not only provide a way for cyclists and pedestrians to cross here, but will also offer some protection to the rubber dam from the sun, with the intent of delaying the next time that it goes POP!!! and lets the lake drain. 

Weekend constructors, not a common sight!

The project supervisors all turned out

This skeptical egret seemed to be the overseer. The cormorants appeared to be scanning the water for something...

The tri-city bicycle tour machine. With the mighty tri chain ring!!

It's possible the bridge boffins were preparing to do the lift that day, but unfortunately I couldn't stick around to find out. As I mosied on down the riverbed toward the big metal tree sculpture I wrote about yesterday, they seemed to be clearing the area, either to lift, or because they realized it was the weekend, and got the heck out of there. Maybe when they are done here, I can convince them to drop a span across Indian School Road and the Arizona Canal at the north end of the Crosscut Path. Now THAT would be a connection the egret supervisors would approve, a real link-up in the metro cycling system. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Populus Freemontii at Tempe Town Lake

Populus Freemontii - The Tree at the Narrows (a big metal tree sculpture at Tempe Town Lake) by Joe Tyler
shade me with your rusty leaves while the wind whistles through your iron boughs

There's another tree-that's-not-a-tree constructed to display leaves of people who donated money to plant real trees. This one is called "Populus Freemontii - The Tree at the Narrows" and is right by Priest Road and the end of the path on the north bank. 

Informational signage

I observed a troop of Boy Scouts with bicycles reading the sign and checking out the plant life along the north bank. It's plentiful, and does offer a good opportunity to study many types of native plant life.

It takes me back to LIZARD ACRES!!
(perfect recognition on my part BTW, it is the same artist)

It does need a rusted lizard or two...

Just an incredibly great day to be out riding a road bike. I did my tri-city tour (Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe), and saw many others out enjoying the warm day on two wheels. Get up. Go ride.