Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Book of the Road by Bicycle: A Reading

Let's begin in the middle of the story: this is the turnaround point

It's Books and Bikes Week here on OSG. 

Open the pages and dive in. First a word, then a sentence, paragraphs, pages, chapters, sections, book, all are devoured as the words pull you farther and faster through the story. You hear the characters' voices, their actions and predicaments take on a life of their own.

Uncertain sections arise, populated with strangers who move in unpredictable ways

Sometimes the story drags a bit. Slows down. Experiences headwinds, friction, sudden changes in temperature. Or else mechanical issues: run-on sentences, inept phrasing, clumsy diction, cliche. Transitions with air leaking out until they go flat. Chains of thought that run off the gears and tangle in the derailleur, or worse, get jammed between the chain ring and frame.

Power through. Head down. Press on. Seek a sweeter line. Keep your weight back, stay loose, and look where you want to go.

But, slow a bit. Do not travel oblivious, not here. Avoid auto mode.

But slow a bit. It could be that a major plot line, obvious, well traveled, springs up, and most readers herd that way. Most people hop into the high-speed lane, turn up the stereo, and travel oblivious, as fast and superficially as possible, skipping chapter to chapter six lanes wide, just moving in auto mode, on cruise control, to get to the exit they seek. 

However, there may be a side plot. A small twisting path, less traveled, somewhat slower, and requiring more effort to transit. At sunset, with the desert off to one side, the long shadows of afternoon. Slow a bit. Turn the page. Stop. Flip back a few pages and re-read. Ah, that's better.

There are details you were meant to see, up close, and not rushing past

There are details the author wanted you to notice up close, but which you must linger to appreciate. Details, angles, colors and juxtapositions meant for savoring in their own right, not as means to an end, but as ends in themselves, moments of mutual respect between maker and seer: acknowledging the human mind as worthy of the effort to cross the gap, and capable of feeling things it cannot exactly express, but knows that are valuable, as insights into the machinations of another mind. The mystifying familiarity is inexplicable. The fragility is palpable, too, but its mutual recognition and acknowledgement is strengthening.

The man uncomfortable contemplating his own fragility may be more at ease with it when it is held at the ironic distance between his eye and the ink on the page. This irony is a ghost that sneaks away as the story rolls on down the road.

The bridge enables crossing over the common route, to get to the less-traveled way, under your own power.

Cross the bridge at your own pace, linger but do not loiter: the sun is setting soon, and you've forgotten a light to read by. But, no worries. The end of the story is almost here. You haven't even noticed, but there's only a thin sliver of pages left to go, and you are sprinting along to find out how it ends. The words melt off the page lit by golden sunsetlight. You've forgotten you're even reading. Pure semantic transparency kicks in, you forget yourself as reading becomes living, ink transforms into clear meaning, for a few magic human moments. Two pages. What are the last words that will be left echoing in your mind to close out this book that has pulled you in so deep?

You reach the end feeling that anything is possible, that the world is open before your will.

Final page. The main character has finished his ride, leaving you to continue yours. You have the sense that he is not you, but that you've been privileged to have shared a view from the inside for a few turns in his life, and those feel all-too-brief now. As the story finishes, and you close the last page, the final two words on the page stay with you, and you've pinned to them a flood of emotion and experiences that have floated off the paper to blend with your own, and are now yours. You close the cover on words, and drift back into the world in a happy fade as you look down the road. 

Just ride.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Making Bookmarks from 414 Mill Avenue

It's Books and Bikes Week here on OSG.

It took some looking, but once I found the clear contact paper, I was in business. I had these old paper bookmarks from my favorite bookstore, and wanted to extend their useful life as bookmarks. I've done it before, sort of a poor, or lazy, man's lamination. It's also fast and easy, with good results, so it's an approach I like.

Detail from the finished bookmark. Is happy, no?

Other than needing bookmarks, though, why go to the trouble? Why not just use a handy slip of paper, or, perhaps, fold down the corner of the page? I'll explain, but first, here are two of the three I contact papered:

Formidable place marking devices

Allow me to explain the desire, the nostalgia, behind the 414 Mill Avenue bookmarks by showing the last one that I made:

One of these things is not like the other...

Here's the difference up close

I have many happy memories related to visits to 414 Mill Avenue, so the top two bookmarks are also like placeholders in my memory. Changing Hands closed the Mill Avenue location about the same time that the McClintock location opened. It's a fine bookstore, independent, and I enjoying stopping by there occasionally. But it's not a regular destination for me any more, and neither is downtown Tempe for that matter. For very different reasons: I just don't get down to S. McClintock Drive very often. I won't get into the downtown Tempe changes that lead me to avoid it most of the time any more, but I can say that back when I picked up the bookmarks above, it was a very pleasant, quirky, local place to stroll around in the evening, and it's not those things any more.

If Changing Hands was still at 414 Mill Avenue, I'd probably stop by every Saturday. My TCT would take me right past it, if I had reason to include the downtown area. Not that I need that many more books. Books are like an n+10 thing with me, sometimes anyway.  But the current occupant of the old bookstore location appears to be a chiropractor. Ride halfway across the Valley to get to a bookstore known as an openminded exploratorium for ideas, knowledge, reference, imagination, and stories, sure. A chiropractor? No. (City of Tempe, you traded a chiropractor for Changing Hands? Yikes. No, I know, market forces, Invisible Hand, rents, private property, downtown development, I get it. Yikes. To be fair, though, look what Phoenix got in place of Dushoff Books. Double yikes.) Old Town Books is still on the street, perhaps the TCT should swing by the neighborhood after all.

This week I thought I would write more about books and bikes, and see where that might lead. I need to re-up my library cards. I want to look for places to rest a while and crack open a good book, now that the weather has hit the WHY THE HECK ARE YOU NOT OUT RIDING phase of our yearly climate cycle. This weekend was seriously perfect cycling weather. I rode, I flew, I smiled till my cheeks hurt. I sought out new places to stop and read, but finding no new ones, will return to some oldies-but-goodies. 

Now I have some lami-papered bookmarks to take with me, to mark my place, and to remind me of a great bookstore location with a place held in memory of the many evenings I spent down in that basement browsing. Now gone. Well, time flies. Let's ride. Let's read.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tandem Bicycle Commuting Mystery Machine: What's In That Box?

Please ignore poor photo quality, grabbed across traffic while simultaneously going WhAAAaaaaat??

I've seen my share of repurposed bicycles in the world, from hog carrier to portable blade sharpening system to barber shop on wheels to beer keg transportation. In one southern city in China, I saw a bicycle modified nicely to tow a balance scale on which the proprietor would weigh you for a small fee. But the modified tandem in the photo I took, above, has me stumped. With a wheel mounted sideways, and some sort of protuberance(s) sticking off the front, I'm not sure or even slightly certain about What's In That Box (WITB).

Only two things I am pretty sure about regarding this machine, in fact: if I see him again (and I marked well the time and place of his passing, not that this is a stalking deal, but I gots to know) I'm chasing him down and doing an aggressive OSG investigative interview, and also, that it is probably some sort of work-related, money-making business on wheels setup. Probably. Technically this is bicycle commuting, if that's the case. WITB bicycle commuting.

So....What's In That Box? Theories? Your sketches of how a PTO (power take-off) arrangement works with this particular box would be very welcome. Where he parks, does some mechanical reconfiguring, and is able to pedal the tandem and power, say, an ice cream maker inside the box. For example. Which would be awesome.

Whatever is in that box, I'm pretty sure that front suspension fork is unnecessary. I could chat with him about that, too. Unless he is riding out to deliver bikemade ice cream to mountain bikers. Whoa.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Verde River: Sunrise, Day After Thanksgiving

This road was dark and rocky, and smelled like the javelina pack that lives in the gulch. I put on my headlamp briefly, but didn't need it, as the predawn twilight was more than enough to find our way. The home gulch of a javelina pack is not one of my favorite smells. But at least it lets you know that they are around, so we were careful to watch for them as we invaded their territory, bushwhacking our way down to the river.

Gravel to gulch before sunrise

The dark gulches dumped us out onto a steep road, with more bushwhacking ahead. But our goal was within sight, with only a barbed wire fence to slither through to get near the water.

Sun still not up yet. High-ISO shot with my camera brightens up the scene, although noisy.

Scoring the alternative choices, we rated "walk down to the Verde River to watch the sunrise together" at +50 compared to "go shopping with crowds of crazed bargain-seekers for crap you don't need that will end up in the landfill in a year or two" at -75. Sunrise over the river was the clear choice. This was our Bright Friday. Condolences if yours was black.

I felt the water at this point

I may have mentioned something in the previous, Puscifer-crazed post about going swimming here. My woman talked sense into me regarding this point, stressing the greater sense of doing so some summer morning, rather on a November morning when the air temperature was 43F. But, I did bend down here, plunged my hands in, splashed the Verde's waters onto my face and neck, to feel the water's chill. 

The air was fluffy with cotton from the cottonwoods, the ground littered with their golden leaves

Ah, there's the sun

The sun peers over the mountain and lights the tops of the yellow trees on fire above a shadow line shaped like the mountaintop. That shadow line drops lower and lower, as the chorus of mist hanging over the river chants goodbye.

Bringer of life to a dry valley, coloring it green

We startled a small group of mule deer, gray with their big ears. They slipped through the brush, quite silent, then stopped on a hill on the other side to regard us warily. I took one step toward them, and they vanished. A bit like in a dream. I try to hold on to moments like that one. Like a mountain-shaped sunrise shadow line, these moments all fall into the river and wash away, though.

Mountain-shaped sunrise shadow-line dropping into the water

Mule deer about to bolt

the Verde River inviting me to stay

Also check out the map of Arizona's rivers, each miraculous, and troubled, and dammed, in its own way.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weigh your worth before her majesty the Verde River

Down by the Verde. Blog post title is a lyric from the new Puscifer album. Photo is from a 105F September ride.

I'm grateful for water in the desert, for family and love, and for this bounty called Life. 

I'm headed down to this river at sunrise on Friday for a dip: because the Verde is a cold miracle flowing through a dry valley and I can hike through the darkness through places I'm probably not supposed to be in order to feel her chill run through me. 

One view of my worth is that I'm an infinite blip in a vast cosmic emptiness that thinks and loves and rides. But nothing weighs your worth like a dip in the Verde at dawn in November. 

If I unload freight in those frigid life waters does my worth increase while I lighten my load? 

I will hike back in the rising light, seek out my people, my tribe, and tread lightly among our peculiarities and special unique qualities and traditions, and find solace and quiet therein. And tell them the tale of my Friday, how it was not Black, but rather seemed icy, full, light, and miraculous.

I hope to return from her majesty's waters to discover that the miracle that someone else weighs enough worth in me to trust/love/esteem me persists. I plan to act like someone who deserves even a fraction of it.

Shivering in the after-cold, I will seek solid warmth in the crushing blanket of memories, and will be grateful if I find a bit of something steady to calm the shivers, and not its unsolid cold opposite.

To travel lightly, unburdened, to be balanced, to ride with the happy freaks as if I was young and the day was mine. 

Like someone who awoke in the best dream they ever had, and knew just what to do.

Also grateful that another member of my tribe and I have great seats together at the Puscifer concert in Mesa in a couple weeks. 

And of course last but not at all least, I'm grateful for a few readers who stop by once in a while and ride down this road with me a short while.

Thankful. Grateful. Peace.

Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction in the Comfort of Your Own Shed

When modest fabrication skills meet lofty aspirations, the results are unknown

Oh no, what have I done?

Possibly, it has something to do with limom and all his ruminations on buying a frame. I have felt some of the same pulls, similar urges, as he as expressed, but I also have thought a lot about building my own frame. Not because I think I could do a fantastic job by just reading a book, or a better job than someone who actually knows what they are doing, no. I'm pretty certain I would be lucky if the first one was even usable. Or didn't fly apart while I was riding it and spear me with a not-very-well-mitred tube joint. Even the second one may just be OK. And by the time I would invest in the tools and parts to build two not very good brazed lugged JRA frames, paid the emergency room bills, and considering some discounted but still somewhat market rate for the hours I would spend, I would probably be able to just pick up a nicer frame built by someone who knows what they're doing. So there's certainly nothing very reasonable about the idea, at least not if you look at it like that.

However. On the other hand. I would be riding something unique, something that I knew very thoroughly, something that I made. I could probably build it with Dura-Ace 10 speed downtube shifters if I felt so inclined. If I completed the project at all. Or if it held together. I have only skimmed the book so far, intending to give it a good read-thru over the long weekend ahead, but, for example, if you don't get the silver brazing just right, the thing can just fall apart, wrecking not only you if you happen to be riding it when it breaks, but also any sort of paint job you may have put on it, too, since at a minimum the separated joint will have to be cleaned back down to bare metal and re-brazed. One option he mentions is to rattle can it, and then ride test it hard for a few months to see if it holds together, then getting the spray paint abrasive blasted off, and having a proper paint job done, once you're reasonably sure the brazes are holding. Or else, after you finish, have someone who knows what they're doing inspect the joints. Come to think of it, I do know someone I could check with while doing it, someone who does know what they're doing. Time to give him a call if I go forward, I think. Or look into a training course of some sort.

Another aspect of the project, though, is that I lack a good space for working on building a frame for dozens of hours, including mounting jigs for mitering tubes, as well as the brazing process itself. Hmm, it seems like I bought another DIY book a couple years back that would come in handy. Let's see, where did I put that book....

Yeah baby, bike-building shed, here I come!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zen Bike Path Combat Alert Technique

In an effort to alert pedestrians on the canal path to my approach on my bicycle, I have adopted the following flexible approach, which I adjust to suit specific circumstances. The foundation of this approach is an increasing scale of alert technique, similar to what the U.S. Marines refer to as the Continuum of Force, except in a harmonious, non-combative sort of way, perhaps more in the vein of aikido. In a Zen sense, it is combat which is not combat. I fight by not fighting. I alert pedestrians by not startling them.

The Continuum of Zen Bike Path Combat is as follows:

Level 1) Slow down and choose a line which will support safe passing no matter what happens. This sometimes involves slowing down very far indeed. The line chosen must allow at least three to five feet of passing clearance. Take note of whether or not the approach and slowing is enough of an alert in itself, particularly, for example, if a White Industries Eno freewheel is in use. If the pedestrian is not alerted, proceed to level 2.

Level 2) At this point, I take note of whether or not the pedestrian is equipped with earbuds in both ears. I still proceed step by step through the levels, but earbuds may cause me to escalate to level 4 sooner. Level 2 involves a distinct yet pleasant* DING-DING on the bell on the handlebar. A semi-alert pedestrian will typically be able to hear the DING-DING, and be suitably alerted to my approach. If the pedestrian is not alerted, proceed to level 3.

Level 3) At this point, I am approaching fairly close to the pedestrian, near enough such that raising my voice just sightly and saying "On Your Left," will usually do it. If that works, I time it with a "Thank you!" just as I pass, and all is well. If, however, no notice has been taken, and I have any concern or question as to the safety of passing, I will proceed to level 4.

Level 4) The Zen Bike Path Combat kiai. This is a powerful verbal tool to be employed only in the circumstances described: when levels 1-3 have not succeeded, and an alert is still required. An alert is not always required at this point. If the pedestrian may be safely passed without going all the way to Level 4, I will do so, with a sense of exasperation combined with hopefulness and harmony. You rock on with your bad self you ear bud-wearin oblivious pedestrian, and I wave at you in hopes that an ear bud-wearin oblivious cyclist doesn't cross paths with you thinking that you will hear him and move just in time.

If I have any doubt of passing safely and courteously, I will generate a powerful burst of sound from deep inside which gathers deep, balanced ki forces, focuses them, reverberates off my diaphragm, and sometime knocks earbuds out of ears with its mighty decibels as it resounds off the urban canyon walls. I've frozen bunny rabbits in their tracks with this technique. It is not a yell. It is not that loud. It is simply very, very powerful. Seldom does a Level 4 Zen Bike Path Comabt kiai fail to alert the intended recipient of my passing. Here, check it out (props to Jay Gluck and Morihei Ueshiba). 

*or should it be, "pleasant yet distinct?" Requesting a word order ruling on this one from native English speakers in the blogosphere who have an infallible sense of such things. I believe I prefer the latter, although it is not a strong or unmovable preference, unlike "big, fat tire" instead of "fat, big tire" (which is just wrong), or, for example, "lycra menacing horde" which is totally off, compared to "menacing lycra horde," which you definitely don't want anywhere near your neighborhood, as we have established previously.

Monday, November 21, 2011

7th Ave Tunnel in Phoenix Update: Forests of Naked Rebar

View through the fence, 11/20/11

In a comment back on August 17, I speculated on a January, 2012 completion for this tunnel, based on its progress to that point, and taking into account how long similar projects like the Goldwater Pedestrian Underpass and the tunnel by Chaparral Plaza in Scottsdale took to complete. Based on the progress as of November 20, I may not have been far off. There's still a lot of rebar exposed, waiting to be encased in artfully textured concrete. Looking down into the site, I got a sense of how complex a project the constructors face in putting a tunnel under an existing roadway, with an existing canal on one side and a drainage diversion channel on the other.

I was surprised to see the ramp out the north side reaches the curve.


I'm still holding out hope that this guy is going to show up on-site soon, or, that he will be embedded as an optical illusion in the wall of the tunnel. He looks so happy to be going through a tunnel under 7th Ave, doesn't he?

Artist's rendering of 7th Ave tunnel from the public meeting poster

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Menacing Lycra Ironman Horde Invades Scottsdale!

The vanguard of the menacing lycra Ironman horde! Do not be fooled by his fit appearance or happy demeanor!

Undeterred by the City of Scottsdale Transportation Commission's decision this week to close the easement for cyclists in the Hidden Hills subdivision, an invading horde of menacing, fit, strong, fast, beautiful athletes competing in the 2011 Tempe Ironman invaded Scottsdale's southern flank Saturday morning, putting on a blatant display of just the kind of smooth, human-powered grace and physical coordination that Scottsdale is anxious to purge from its neighborhoods.

A bold proclamation of the devastation to follow

The model for the Transportation Commission's bicycle encouragement schemes: shut it down! Keep 'em out!

Turning away from its recent "Bike Friendly City" GOLD rating, Scottsdale has decided to prioritize being overweight, bitter, and confined to a car stuck in rush hour traffic moving from job to strip mall to suburban cookie-cutter sleeping boxes over cycling. "Damn," they muttered while watching the Ironman cyclists, "Those bastards look fit and strong. Imagine if we had more citizens doing that crap. What would this city look like? What would our neighborhoods look like with more people on bicycles and on foot? This invasion on our southern flank is a disaster, a shambles! No, this shall not stand. We're implementing our V8 Plan to encourage SUVs and pickups so that they can traverse our neighborhoods at higher and higher speeds. With that, we're raising the speed limits on residential streets to 55mph, and banning bicycles on all but the bikeways."

The following surveillance video illustrates the horror that the City is anxious to defend against. Warning: this video contains graphic lycra horde menace. Viewer discretion advised.

Assuming strike position

Happy, muscled, powerful: what kind of message does this send?

Member of the lycra horde harassing an innocent motorist just trying to right hook him while he's in a 112 mile race.

Surveillance outpost Tango Union

Neighbors and property owners, this is your enemy: just look at her! KEEP OUT is the only response for this!

A squad of the menacing lycra horde plotting civil disorder and property value destruction. Oh, the horror.

They ride with determination, stamina, and focus. How can they go so long without TV???

The worst of the worst: beauty, speed, endurance, rolled into a neighborhood terrorizing bundle.

They said "HELLO!" when they rode by me. I know that's really their secret code for "WE WILL DESTROY YOU."

Fit, healthy, graceful, fast: not welcome here.

Bicycles: wasteful of natural resources, responsible for thousands of road deaths each year, neighborhood menaces.

Oh god, they are procreating, multiplying, riding in parks together!

This is the future the City of Scottsdale Transportation Commission will see that we don't get.

I just want to ride


Forecast in the 70s, calm, sunny. Saturday. Don't want to work, don't want to think, don't want to blog, don't want to do much of anything else, I just want to ride. No jacket required, just spinning in sunshine. No dwelling on the unmitigated stubbornness of residents installing speed humps to "calm cyclists", and no getting upset about the recently named "gold" bicycle friendly city of Scottsdale burning cyclists and bowing to developers and residents over the Hidden Hills easement. Query to public policy-makers: when would a decision process based on the noise of a vast majority of car-owning property owners and developers ever decide in favor of a tiny minority like cyclists in car-centric place like Phoenix/Scottsdale, if the choice is based only on votes and opinion instead of other considerations long-term sustainability, livable streets, in fact, anything other than property ownership and automobile dominance? It feels like the BFC Gold city has lost its way already. Scottsdale Transportation Commission, you voted because residents don't want to look at cyclists, period. You caved to the fear of the MENACING LYCRA HORDE. No, not going to dwell on those events, because I don't want to grow fat, sedentary, and bitter, driving in my sealed metal box from work to big box store to the comfort of TV and back again in a suburban nowhere cityscape. I'm going to go ride and show my BIKEY FACE proudly to the world, smile and wave at everyone. The more bitter you are about what the car lifestyle has made you, the more I want to let my bikey face shine.

I'm going to go out and take the measure of the MENACING LYCRA HORDE who are competing in the Ironman in Tempe today. I imagine they, too, will be making their best bikey face, rather than their bitter automobile faces. Yes, I just want to ride. Count me as a proud and happy member in good standing of the horde.

Another neighborhood menaced by the horde.

Scouts for the MENACING LYCRA HORDE, looking for new property owners to piss off.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Derailed Project

Old XTR derailleur in need of new pulleys. This old design appeals to me, and this one still feels solid.

I know nothing about it, but it seems like I need to take about 1/64" to 1/32" off those brass bushings

Done. Now to accessorize with a chain. And a frame. Wheels. A few other parts.