Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bicycle Words for 2012: Overcome obtundation, light up the banausic night

Thinking ahead, reading back, lighting up the night

I visited Peoria, IL in the mid-1980s, right about the same time as the central scenes in David Foster Wallace's unfinished novel, The Pale King, find his characters churning through form 1040s at the IRS processing center he planted in that midwestern city. Through a friend of a friend of a friend series of happenstance connections, one afternoon I found myself on an insider's tour of one of the Caterpillar facilities in East Peoria during a shutdown period (or retooling? getting ready for D11?), so not a lot was happening, production-wise. 

Due to some sort of market downturn, or perhaps over-production, or model switchover, there were hundreds of massive D10 Cat dozers parked out behind the building along the river. As I recall, as we descended some steps to stroll among these behemoths, I noticed they were parked in regular rows and columns, which I could easily count and multiply, with a small odd collection (also readily insta-counted) parked off to the side. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I asked, "So, how much are 523 D10s actually worth?" They told me the market price for each one, and I replied with a staggering total figure, which I don't recall, but it was half a billion or a billion dollars, something of that magnitude. [I want to say that a D10 complete with a DH3 ripper tip was something like $1.2 million, but I'm probably way off on that, I don't remember with any confidence]

I think DFW may have appreciated my act of minor compulsive quick calculating ((48 x 10) + 43) x $one point two million (or whatever). I simply could not help myself. In case you're not familiar with his work, David Foster Wallace was a very smart writer who loved unusual or rare words, whose best-known work, Infinite Jest, is long and difficult and packed with discursive footnotes and asides and digressions. His review of Garner's Modern American Usage led me to purchase that book, by helping me to understand exactly what I would get from it. My vocabulary is pretty good, but I am not an academic in any sense of the word. My one and only actual qualification for writing something like this is that I read a lot, always have. Similar or parallel to my one and only qualification for writing a bicycle blog, I ride a lot, always have.

Reading much of DFW is a pleasure for me, but some of it is a stretch, some parts are a big stretch, and a few things I simply don't understand. I appreciate his craft, however, and see the parts that are beyond me as opportunities for learning. (Except for the classic Latin quotes, screw it, spare me, the book is over 500 pages long already, I don't know classic Latin, and I'm just skipping over them, mostly, even though I'm sure that digging into them would both deepen and broaden my understanding. I'll go back through them if/when I ever have such leisure available.) The enjoyment I get from reading him is also tinged with sadness, though, because he lost his long battle with depression when he took his own life in 2008. It's impossible for me to read The Pale King and not think about his end. So I had to mention it here, since you would come across it, too, if you haven't already, and it wouldn't feel honest for me to skip over it. But I don't think I have much to add to the massive and heartfelt conversation about his last choice and what it meant to those who read him and knew him, so I'll just return to the book discussion.

As I read through The Pale King, a few of the unusual or rare words that he employed jumped out at me: obtundation, banausic, semions, swivet. While consulting my dictionaries as well as online sources for the meanings and backgrounds of these words, I came across another blogger who picked out exactly these same words while reading this book, and put up definitions of them on her blog, You Still Have Time to Get to the Airport. After reading those posts, my first shot for a title for this post was, "2012 Bicycular Prediction: the Year of Obtundation: The Stroboscopic Bicycle Ride as an Eremic Swivet Through the Banausic Night." For more formal definitions of these words, please do take a look at that blog and/or your favorite go-to big dictionary. For purposes of this post, though, I'll pony up my working thoughts about two of them, to try to show why I think they will be relevant to me cycling in the year ahead.

For my usage, obtundation is the state of being dulled by repeated, boring, technical (not trivial), mechanical tasks to the point of loss of vigor. From Wikipedia for further background: "Obtundation refers to less than full mental capacity in a medical patient, typically as a result of a medical condition or trauma." In our present day, high tech, post-industrial service economy, obtundation is a mode of being for many or most. It's losing your edge after slinging code for endless 70 hour weeks. It's feeling your appreciation for life, your savor of what's good and true about being alive, being blunted by endless random technical minutiae. It's seeing true face-to-face personal relationships replaced with online check-ins and LIKES. The current popular modern remedies for it are shopping, substance abuse, and shallow entertainments, which bring only further obtundation. The remedy I would recommend here is vigorous exercise in the form of riding a bicycle often, at length, in a variety of settings.

For my usage, banausic comes from a Greek idea of the semi-skilled, specialist work required to provide the goods and services that most people want and need. As I understand it, though, by their very nature, wants and needs have no limit or end, plus producing goods and services to satisfy them is subject to both competition and economic pressure to make more for less at higher margins and increasing revenues at the same time. In our era, many of these wants and needs equate to abstract, virtual, online software or services that are utterly intangible, too, at least in comparison with CNC machined bicycle parts, for example, which you can hold in your hand and feel. Or, compared to 523 D10 bulldozers parked in ranks next to the river in East Peoria. For the examiners and forms processors and auditors in The Pale King, it amounted to endless reviewing of tax returns filled out by TPs (tax payers) who often forget to sign their own names to the returns or make simple math errors, and whose incentive is to pay as little as possible. All day. Every day. Without sufficient measures taken to counter the effects, such work can surely cause severe obtundation in short order. And I'm not talking about mere tedium here. I worked some factory summer jobs that were just endless, mindless, soul-sucking drudgery. For this usage, banausic may be endless and soul-sucking, but not mindless, and not simple drudgery. We don't need to adopt a rare Greek-derived word for that type of labor, as we already have existing common words to express those concepts.

The Pale King was unfinished at the time that David Wallace wrote his own ending. I harbor a pointless wish that if he had completed it, he would have clarified his ideas related to thriving and surviving this banausic age, on strategies for heading off obtundation. As he left his notes behind, though, and as they were edited and assembled into the form of this book, the reader is left to his own devices for answering these questions, since the uptake is unclear: there are characters who appear to have mastered it, and others who are psychotic sociopaths due to it, and crossovers who could go either way. Something Big was going to happen in The Pale King, you can feel it, but that Big Thing was never written, and never will be. Perhaps it's so personal that it never would have been, or, that it was his design all along to omit It. Perhaps.

From my perspective, though, and for 2012, my strategy is that getting off your butt and doing something physical, real, and sometimes challenging, like riding a bicycle, is a good approach. Possibly together with someone you like, or love. Many bicycle advocates seem to yearn for the final oil crisis that will force people to give up their cars and ride bikes and take transit, but not me. For one thing, such a crisis will have much deeper, broader, and painful impacts that I don't think we're prepared for. Rising gas prices, and increasingly wild swings in oil prices with increasingly dire economic impacts, probably will convince more people to ride bicycles, I would guess. However, this appears to be a slow process, and so far, we seem willing to do whatever it takes, and spend whatever it costs, to keep driving.

On the other hand, widespread obtundation induced by banausic occupations, and intensified by the greater productivity demands and increased workplace stress of These Tough Economic Times, seem like very good reasons to go for a long bicycle ride. 2012: the anti-banausic year, a bicycular end to obtundation.

I've also suggested to my close family members that I won't buy any new bikes this year, since I have all I need already. Which means n+1=n, which implies that anything is possible. We'll see how that goes.

I see you coming, 2012. Ready. Bring it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nitto Was Their Name-o

Swap bar swap

There were some bars
I got at the swap
And Nitto was their name-o
And Nitto was their name-o.

Neither 420, or 460, shall be the size of the bars, but with 440 shall ye find perfection

Currently running a tiring vacation schedule over here:

wake up about 8
read for a couple hours (currently making my way thru The Pale King, wow)
spend time with the family
have lunch
think about working on the bikes
go for a ride in the brilliant sunshine and mid-sixties weather
spend more time with the family
read more
think more about working on the bikes

I finally broke down and actually did a little bit of work on one bike, putting on the Nitto handlebars I picked up at the last GABA swap. 440 is just the right size for me. The B115 model has just the right shape and curve for me. Apparently my hands prefer an old fashioned, classic simple curve, These feel just right to me. The old ones did not. For comparison:

Previous bars on the left, classic bend on the right: Nitto for the win!

OK, I have to cut this short as the unforgiving vacation schedule beckons. I think it's time go read more of The Pale King, then take my family out for dinner. I hope I can keep this up. The weather forecast is more warm sunshine, so if it's a few more days until my next blog post, you can blame this hectic schedule. 

New bars, new bar tape: black and nasty.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

So wrong, so right, so glam

Yeah, yeah, I know

Check out the stable foot platform, and the stiff yet compliant bottom bracket area

Authentic leg movement!

Mixed emotions about this

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bicycle Light Pusher: The First One is Free

Two flashy lights have new owners

Once dusk falls and all the cars have their lights on, it seems to me that bicycles should have their lights on, too, for visibility and safety. At a minimum, to be seen, even if you can still see. So when I came across two people* riding together at that time with no lights, it was on: "Hey, do you want some lights? I have some, for free," I told them. As we all stopped, I also confirmed that they had none mounted. I handed over the packages, they tore them open, mounted them on handlebars, and were being seen in no time. As I rode off, I looked back and saw their twin points of bright flashing in the darkness. 

I'm not sure what happened with them from there, or what will happen, but I succeeded in my one and only purpose: to make two riders aware that lights help you to be seen at night. That's it. You plant ideas and hope they grow. Some day, maybe one of them becomes an expert in hub generators and invents the ultimate light system. Or visits Candlepower bicycle light forum obsessively. Or at a minimum, eventually develops the habit of riding in darkness with SABS lights fully installed and operational.

I saw them right after I saw a guy going the other way who looked like he could use illumination, too. As I was contemplating a u-turn across traffic to hand over the goods, I spotted these other two, and went after them instead. It proved to be much easier to catch up to them traveling in the same direction than to flip around and catch the other guy. Also, he was kind of emitting "don't mess with me" waves. Have you come across riders like that? The kind that might not react well to being chased down and offered free lights? But perhaps I misjudged him. Perhaps a free light or two would have brightened up his night just a bit. Perhaps he was just frustrated that no one could see him. There's only one way to find out.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Going to go have some family time. See you on the other side, my magnificent two wheeled ones, I offer some Vonnegut to see you through: 

"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." 
--The First Book of Bokonon, verse 5

*I've opted for a non-discriminatory light giveaway selection policy, such that age, gender, race, immigration status**, or type of cyclist will not affect my search. I won't mention those factors in these posts, either, to emphasize the thought that all cyclists are created equal when it comes to needing to be seen at night. I seek out humans riding in darkness. These are the altruistic ethics of the family of the velocipede. I reserve the right to ride on past bad-crazies though. Happy crazy or quiet crazy is OK by me, but the ones waving their arms and screaming angry gibberish at me or the world in general, I'll ride on by them.

**Is that a problem, in terms of current local laws? Not for me. They can have a bottle of water if they're thirsty, too.  


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Acre Is Not Enough for Me and My Bicycle, Mr. Wright

How I got there

Employing a combination of bicycle and light rail to go to the Phoenix Art Museum to view the newly opened exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century, is analogous to skiing in to a snowboarding seminar: it's doable, but the irony or cognitive dissonance is liable to derail any coherent train of thought you may have, and, depending on who you run into there, could be trouble. Rocking my fixie flatland commuter, and carrying my messenger bag with a validated all-day light rail ticket hanging out of my pocket, I was sensitive to the possibility of encountering a True Believer, who would view my chosen transport combination as an affront on the level of driving up to a civil rights convention in a lovingly restored General Lee styled Dodge Charger.

Closer up and better lit view of the bike rack guardian. Hoping he's not a True Believer from the Wright Auto Shop.

Frank Lloyd loved the automobile. He installed gas pumps in his own garage in Oak Park to fuel up his lovelies. I picked that up in the NYTimes article just linked. Also, and I should have known this, the Guggenheim Museum in New York was inspired by car ramps, and is intended to be visited by taking the elevator up to the top, then walking down, using gravity to easily stroll your way down. I've been about half a dozen times, and I've always done it the other way around: walk up, and take the elevator down. Guess that makes me a Bad Machine, one who likes to walk for miles, and against gravity.

I'm thinking FLW would have loved the Spokane Parkade, which I still have nightmares about:

Room for 3878 cars. Concrete from the Acme Concrete Company, Warren C. Heylman, architect. (my photo)

Watch the short intro video for the exhibit to get a feel for it. I did. I feel that they are overreaching with their talk about linking his work with "today's sustainable, green architecture movement." I think a lot of his work is visually stunning. I've done a walking tour and gone inside one of his houses in Oak Park, and he was a genius. Fallingwater is an architectural masterpiece. But I don't think many of his designs would be LEED certified. And foremost, the automobile was at the center of his view of how people would move around in urban environments.

Phoenix Art Museum bicycle helmet adornment. One green thing I took from my visit.
Because, look: a metropolitan environment a la Wright with a density of 500 to 800 people per square mile, where each family has a house on an acre of its own but can't walk or bicycle outside of that acre because the rest of the place is given over to high speed automobile transport, with no transit whatsoever, is no solution for the 21st Century, and is not green or sustainable in any sense of those terms. It's a Super Suburb ideal that is not in line with the environmental, population, energy, and natural resource realities we now face. Wright was wrong. That was the main thought I took from the exhibition. 

Green, sustainable: hang your bicycle in the light rail

To their credit, the Phoenix Art Museum did not try to mislead us, or hide Wright's suburban sprawl plans. In fact, models of them are included in the exhibit to consider critically, and to decide for ourselves what we might learn from them, complete with those goofy helicopter UFO thingies. We are probably meant to view the drawings and models and seek out ideas, make them our own, and grow them into green and sustainable concepts for this age. I dig textile blocks. Shade and integrating materials with place, I'm all over that. But as a whole, not in parts and pieces and derivative concepts, but rather as the title of the exhibition would imply, his is not an architecture for the 21st Century. In fact, looking back at some of my pictures from Palenque and Chichen Itza from my trip to la Ruta Maya, I'm thinking that they got the thousands place wrong: it may be a better fit for the 11th Century. This is not as snarky or mean-spirited a statement as it might sound, if you haven't seen those structures: the Mayan buildings blew me away, textile block fabrication is a technology they would have really appreciated, I think, and a different plan for their cities may have even helped them a bit with whatever it is that caused them to wither away.

How about, Reinterpreting FLW for the 21st Century: Deriving Elements of Sustainability for a Car-Crazy World.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bicycle Commuting in Winter: Fuel Up!

Breakfast to get you there and back

For the winter commute, and by "winter" I mean when the temperature drops below 50F in Phoenix, I like a hot breakfast. My current favorite is my version of "super oats": Coach's Oats with mixed unsalted nuts and dried fruit, sometimes a spoon of peanut butter or Nutella, and a splash of milk or vanilla soy milk. Coach's Oats are a great find, as they are very similar to steel cut or Irish oats, except they cook in microwave in 2.5 minutes. This is fuel for my commute. What's yours?


Monday, December 19, 2011

Bicycle Thieves Will Be Viciously Eaten

Jurassic Age by Sui Jianguo, guarding the bicycle rack at the Phoenix Art Museum

I wonder if a large, red, bronze and steel dinosaur glaring at the bicycle rack deters bicycle thieves. Surely, the prospect of being devoured savagely for attempting to steal our machines would give them pause. I don't like violence, and prefer peaceful solutions to all conflicts. But a sign that said "TOUCH THIS BIKE AND YOU WILL BE EATEN" has some appeal to me. Jurassic justice, we could call it.

I ordered up a tasty combo light rail and bike ride to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the new Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition. Of which more coming up soon. The journey there was rainy again, with the sun showing its face just for a few moments that permitted me to get this happy shot. Then the clouds returned and I chased the dark skies and pattering drops all the way home. My kids tried to tell me that I smelled sweaty when I rolled in the door, but I told them it was just a myth.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Brief Primer on Bicycle Cleaning

Parking near stainless art emphasizes dirt on your bicycle

Recent rainstorms, most welcome in the desert, have reinvigorated my urge to keep my bicycles clean(er). The idea of never leaving your bicycle dirty at the end of the day is an ideal I aspire to, both for aesthetics and long-term machine maintenance, but do not always succeed at following. In addition, I do see the advantages of an ugly bicycle for commuting, and dirt and splattered mud is an easy way to uglify your machine for bike rack security purposes. Sometimes, I gaze with satisfaction at mud splattered on my plastic fenders, because I don't think it will hurt them, it makes them look like they are doing their job, and it makes them much uglier than they are when I wipe them off and they become black, shiny, and attractive. Big Clyde asked about my cleaning technique, so here goes.

First, to set the table before I serve the snack, I have landed on an cleaning approach based on living in an extremely dry, often dusty, but seldom wet or muddy, place. These are very similar or identical conditions to Tucson, where Big Clyde resides, but will not be very applicable to most people who live in wetter places. For their benefit, I include below some more authoritative bicycle washing references, which hold some good tips for anyone wanting to be thorough in bike washing. 

My personal preference leans heavily toward the NO SOLVENTS OR DEGREASERS school of thought. I like a shiny and gunk-free machine as much as the next bicycle-obsessed person; however, I do not think it's generally a good idea to work solvents and degreasers deep into your chain where you only want lubricants. I've been following the "wipe, lube, and wipe until clean" method of chain maintenance for a couple years, with generally good results. When I've bought or obtained a used bicycle, I will do a top-to-bottom, full-on solvent and degreaser based cleaning with gusto and down to the last spec of varnish-like gunk, but for general cleaning I avoid the harsh stuff and stick with liquid dish soap.

Some Authoritative Bicycle Cleaning Resources:
Jim Langley
Park Tool Video
Belgium Knee Warmers (mechanic who shares my dish soap preference)

My post-monsoon recent cleaning approach, used after a muddy and fully soaking commute ride:
  • Before arriving home, find some deeper standing water to ride through. This removed most of the splattered mud, making the rest much easier.
  • Under cover but still outside, pick up the bike and drop it gently a few times to knock the loose drops off. Also, check for any remaining caked-on mud around the brakes, inside the fenders, under the racks, on top of the seat post, etc. It's much easier to remove when it's still wet.
  • Using rags which do not leave lint or threads behind, wipe off the parts where you don't want grease first: rims (yuck, covered in black grime!), frame, saddle, bars, cranks, etc.  We're using the water picked up in the soaking ride to remove most of the egregious grime here.
  • Switch to a clean rag when they are dirty. Move on to the parts you want to end up greasy or lubed: chain, headset, cogs, chainwheels. 
  • At this point, review the state of cleaning. It may be Good Enough at this point. Or you may need to go and get a bucket of hot soapy water (dish soap) to make things right. Up to you. I was tired, wet, and starting to get cold, so I called it good at this point.
  • After the bike dries off, lubricate. This is important to me because I use a dry lube, which is excellent in Phoenix, but doesn't hold up in the rain at all.
  • Total post-ride clean-up time: about five minutes.

When it's not raining and making everything a muddy mess with standing or running water here, which is almost all the time, I admit that I do not clean up after every commute because it is simply unnecessary. However, if my ride or commute involves any significant mileage on the canal or other path, I take the time to wipe off the fine, accumulated dust which inevitably will get picked up, and which hardens to a rock-like coating if not dealt with in a timely manner (experience talking, there). A slightly damp rag takes it right off, augmented with the occasional more thorough washing with hot water and dish soap. For which, by the way, an actual bike stand is indispensable. Cleaning your bike thoroughly without one is frustrating enough, in terms of awkwardness and unnecessary effort, to deter future washing. Clamping your bike into one, and following some variation of the thorough cleanings above, is actually kind of fun.

Be honest: how often do you clean your bike(s). Solvents and degreasers, or no? Go ugly?


Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Mom's Cactus, and DIY Bicycle Frame Building

Further evidence of my mom's green thumb

My mom has a green thumb which I did not inherit. By all appearances, it would appear to be such an essential part of her nature that it comes effortlessly to her. For example, it seems that the care she lavished on this cactus amounted to: sticking it in a nice pot, putting the pot in a spot which would appear to me to be strange but which the cactus appears to love beyond all understanding, and then to splash water in the general direction of the cactus at an ideal random, sparse interval known only to her and the cactus, as if they are members of some sort of watering conspiracy, a secret hydration cabal. 

In contrast, if I were to undertake to nurture this cactus which I would not do out of an excess of previous disastrous attempts, the cactus would turn brown and wither away within two days. That may sound unlikely, since cactus are incredibly resilient and able to withstand monsoon storms, droughts which last for years, flash floods, and birds boring holes into their cores to nest, but I am nothing if not knowledgeable about my own limitations.

But I'm not giving up. Under the theory that it's actually skills and knowledge which my mom possesses which enable her to grow and nurture plants, and not just some innate ineffable glow of life force, I plan to have a sitdown with her to pick her brains in an effort to find out more about how she does it. She has more thriving plants of far greater diversity scattered around her house and yard than I have bicycles, which says a lot. 

Possibly, gaining some understanding from her about how she does it would help me along the path of building my own bicycle frame. I am not sure exactly what the logic is behind that odd-sounding belief, but when I stare at that photo of that odd, happy cactus with its sensuous, flowing curves which represent some sort of loving, exuberant relationship with gravity, it somehow makes sense to me.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bicycle Commuting Tips: The Myth of Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Let's talk about riding to work

In order to understand a challenge or problem, I like to break it down into its parts, and look at the sub-problems within each part, so that rather than one big mess of scary impossibility, the challenge can be seen as a set of smaller problems, some of which are already solved, and all the rest of which can be solved, one at a time if need be.

So, as far as bicycle commuting goes, there are really two main sub-parts in the bicycle commuting instruction manual:

Bicycle Commuting Instructions
1) Get on your bicycle
2) Ride your bicycle to work

That's really all there is to bicycle commuting. If you are interested in commuting by bicycle, but feel uncertain or overwhelmed by the idea of it, take a look at the two simple sub-parts of the idea, above, and take them one at at time. Don't focus on irrelevant or extraneous questions, keep focusing on these core issues. 

For example, it may be hard to get on your bicycle if you don't own one. That's not really a bicycle commuting problem, that's a bicycle ownership or access problem. You can tackle that.

Or let's say you have (1) nailed, but get hung up on (2). Again, that's not really a bicycle commuting problem so much as a route-finding problem, or an endurance problem, or a traffic problem, or whatever. Again, you can tackle that. Look at your options. Most important of all, don't get hung up on one dead-end answer that leads you to conclude that (1) or (2) is impossible. They are not. It is much more likely that you have just not thought of, or tried, all the options you could. Keep trying. See what works. In large part, the hundreds of posts on this blog are either directly about that, "keep trying, and see what works," or else are the happy results of this part scientific, part fun-engineering (I like to call it "fungineering"), ongoing process.

You can spend a lot of time and effort working on the sub-sub-problems between (1) and (2), but really, I can tell you from personal experience, the actual problems are not larger than those, and most are smaller and easier to solve. 

However, I have noticed when talking to pretty much everyone I know that I never get that far. I never get a chance to talk about how easy and straightforward the Bicycle Commuting Instructions are to follow and implement because people are so hung up on mythical objections to bicycle commuting: that riding your bicycle to work requires a Stoic effort of will (think about the movie 300) which results only in blood, sweat, and tears. 

Another way to restate the myth: it's dangerous, you'll stink, and it's impossibly difficult.

Blood No activity that we do is perfectly safe, it's true. I have found that by learning, practicing, and using safe riding skills, though, my confidence about riding in and around traffic has risen, and I have put the risks into perspective. Let's talk about perceived risk compared to actual risks. The actual risks that I'm talking about are heart disease, heart attack, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and type II diabetes, just to get started. A sedentary and typical affluent 21st Century lifestyle contributes to these. In addition, I have a family history of people dying from those and related conditions. Those are the statistics to go and study and ponder, these are the real dangers to health and happiness to figure out how to conquer. Focusing on the dangers of riding a bicycle distract attention from these real threats to life that you can see all around you every day. The benefits of riding your bicycle to work are directly targeted at lowering the risks of these real dangers. And regarding the perceived (and distracting) dangers of commuting by bicycle, they pale in comparison. The real threat here is a slow death from stress, overeating, and inactivity, not from riding your bike to work. The real threat is compounded by the impacts automobiles have had and continue to have on our cities, our environment, our psyches, and our world. These costs are substantial, and dwarf (again) the risks faced while riding your bike to work. There's practically no comparison.

Sweat First, a brief editorial comment: sweat is not a toxic fluid that kills all who come near it. It is often the result of hard work, and I suppose for a long time was recognized as such, but in recent times we've taken to covering up its presence and even taking steps to prevent working up a sweat. Our present squeamishness about it seems bizarre to me, but I harbor no illusions that I would be able to alter that a bit. So let's talk about managing it. The ride into work does not need to be a workout, or a race. Take it easy, ride at a moderate pace, learn to achieve thermal balance and control through monitoring your effort and adjusting your layers of clothing, and you can manage your sweat to a large extent on the way in to work. On arrival, clean up as much as you need to in as convenient and efficient a way as you can manage. I always shower before I ride in, and that seems to help, perhaps by decreasing odor-causing bacteria, but I don't know about the science behind that thought. Save the workout or racing for the ride home at night, and go crazy then if you want to.

Tears Once you fulfill the basic Bicycle Commuting Instruction steps (1) and (2) above, this one starts to seem absurd, that you could have ever thought that it would be hard to commute to work by bicycle. I think it is true that anything worth doing may entail the possibility of difficulty and disappointment. It may take you longer to commute by bicycle, and it probably is more physically demanding than driving a car or riding a train, that's true. Once you get into the swing of it, though, and once you get your legs and lungs into decent shape for riding, it's a pleasure. It truly is. I find that after two years of commuting full time by bicycle, my overwhelming emotional response to it is happiness and laughter. It has become a mental and physical fitness ritual for me that I would be very reluctant to give up. Rather than tears, I find that more than anything else, laughter is the emotion that goes with bicycle commuting for me, and I can't say that any of the other methods I've tried (car, bus, subway) even come close.

There are other benefits to commuting by bicycle that I haven't gone into here: economic, social, traffic (my bike means one less car on the road at rush hour), and more. The main purpose of this post was to list the core bicycle commuting instructions, and to start to try to dispel the myths that people always, always raise, to tear down the mythical barriers they habitually and reflexively throw up, when I tell them I commute by bicycle. Blood, sweat, and tears are not valid reasons to avoid commuting by bicycle. If that's all that's stopping you, please see the instructions above to get a view of the actual steps to commute by bicycle.

The path of no blood, sweat, or tears at all

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bicycle Tunnels of Surpassing Dryness

The change in color of the pavement is entirely due to water. Also check out the nice lighting.

It's been raining for two days in Scottsdale, yet check out this bicycle tunnel: bone dry. The canal bank up behind me is such a soupy gloppy mess that I rode around it on Tuesday, taking the street detour. I imagine that without proper engineering, without taking into consideration drainage, slope, and landscaping, this tunnel could easily turn into a culvert rushing with rain water on a day like this. Instead, though, the tunnel boffins have built something that stays dry, and I want to even say warm, during and after a downpour.

East end

The grate across this pavement apparently has something to do with it, as well as the gravel on both sides. In addition, a little further along, there is a larger grate that looks like it could handle a larger flow.

Rain diverting, tunnel drying aparatus

Yee-ha, ride 'em tunnel boffin!

I appreciate not only the dry tunnel on my wet commute, but also the display of consumate skill and confidence. The engineers who designed this, and the constructors who built this, probably took a step back when they were done, and knew that based on their planning and thought, this tunnel would stay dry during storms. They knew. They had confidence in their application of principle and construction. 

I even like to imagine that they took pride in the product of their labors, and that part of their pride derived from knowing that they were taking care of the people who would walk and bicycle through this tunnel. Shelter from the storm. Excellent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are Sure You Are Up For This? Rain Day!

Wind, rain, chill: yeah baby!

As I headed out the door for what the weather forecaster insisted would be a miserable, chilly, rainy, windy commute, I was asked if I wanted a ride in the car, followed by, as I continued to push my bike out the door, "Are you sure you are up for it?"

That's like a challenge to me! Why yes, I believe I am up for a bicycle ride in the rain! With a yearly average of only 8.3" of precipitation, almost all of that in the form of rain with the rare hail and even rarer graupel, rain is somewhat unusual in Phoenix, and I consider it a pleasant change of pace. Regarding the weather forecaster, perhaps she was miserable because she was trapped inside her car! Miserable weather forecasters, shoot me an email and I will take you for a bicycle ride out in the weather, where you, too, can experience new and interesting sensations unavailable to those stuck inside their cars. 

The Top 3 Unusual and Interesting Sensations I Got To Experience in Monday's December Rain Storm:

1) The world seen through rainy, fogged-up glasses. Even better at night, with lights on!

2) Water ripping off my front wheel in a front-facing rooster tail as I rode through the standing water. Gave my fenders something to do, too. Have you heard that sound, faster = louder? Really concentrated on it, listened to the water flying off the tire? Imagine a photo here of that, absent because it was really coming down at that point, plus the mud flying off (see next point), plus the water underneath, didn't want to get my camera that wet.

3) Getting really, really muddy squelching through the canal bank mud. Though I am no canal boffin myself, I imagine that making bike wheel tracks in the mud does the canal bank no good whatsoever, but it almost never happens. There was more mud, and it was deeper, than I expected, so I just kept moving and just squirreled my way through. The water in the streets washed it all off my bike afterwards. Miserable weather forecasters, shoot me an email, and I will take you for a bike ride in the mud, during which you will be covered head to toe in the stuff, and will find yourself laughing at me covered in mud laughing at you covered in mud.

The rain gear worked well. Kept up a high cadence to stay warm, and had fun while doing it. And it was still raining when I headed home, and felt chilly, so I layered up and rode into the blustery storm. 

I'm sure several drivers were looking at me as if I were crazy, so I did my best to project back my true feelings about riding in the December rain: happy to be alive, happy to be in this moment, looking forward to the possibility of doing it again tomorrow. Stopped and took a picture of the Soleri bridge shimmering in the rain, which dark clouds overhead, to celebrate this experience. I mark this moment in wind and rain: pour rain, pour. I am sure that I am up for it. I welcome and embrace the falling water.

Soleri Bridge, Scottsdale, one moment in rain

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This Doesn't Work With That: Inconvenient Incompatible Parts

Park Tool TS-25 truing stand inside a small box. Would that work?

When I saw the concept of some parts that could be bolted on to my PCS-10 repair stand to enable it to also be used for truing wheels, I thought, cool! I got to try that. This small box showed up a few days later (AA rechargeable battery included for scale), and I tore it open to go and bolt it on.

Inside, simplicity itself: beefy steel axle holder, quick release mounted sliding indicator

Soon as I went over to the work stand, though, I saw a problem: the nifty #106 Work Tray that I had already bought and also attached to the stand would be in the way of any wheel truing operation. I hadn't seen any note, like "Please note: to use the TS-25 Truing Attachment on your PCS-10 work stand, you will have to temporarily remove the #106 work tray (if present), since This Doesn't Work With That." With bicycles in particular, though, this seems to be more often than not a matter of Insider Knowledge rather than explicit documentation. I always appreciate a footnote like "The Shimagnolo RIFE derailleur is not compatible with the Moon Tour Spexy brifter due to insufficient clearance with the cable cleaner-lubricator unit," but those are few and far between.

I appreciate the convenience of the #106 work tray. It holds small parts and tools very near to the work, to the extent that I use it just about every time I work on my bike. I had pictured using the tray while attempting to use the truing attachment to hold the axle during a  bearing adjustment, since in my mind it looked like this axle holder might also work for that, too (perhaps with a spacer, I was willing to experiment). It all seemed to be coming together. 

I tried some alternatives. The tray doesn't really seem to work on the other side of the pole. There is also a position at the top of the stand that will also accept the support prongs of the work tray; unfortunately, the tray still interferes with a wheel mounted for truing even up there.

True interference! Ten yard penalty!

In the end, I left the truing attachment on the stand, and just plan to remove the tray next time I want to use it. It seemed like just the thing for an easy truing when in the middle of other work. I have an actual truing stand, too, but due to storage and space limitations, that operation is often done in a separate area. I guess we'll see how it all shakes out once I get some more usage out of this, since any wheel that shows signs of being out of round will have to go on to the real truing stand anyway.

This will work, but the tray will have to come off to use the truing attachment.

It may be possible to leave both attached if I adjusted the moveable tube all the way up, but it seems like that would put that clamp about eight feet off the ground. Which would still make it a TDWWT situation to me. Some things like TDWWT incompatibilities just don't seem to pop out to me until I go to physically attach This (whatever it is) to That (whatever it is) and only then see that TDWWT! That is perhaps one of the key differences between a hack like me and a good, experienced, skilled mechanic or fabricator, who possess the ability to visualize What Works With What (WWWW) and how it all will go together before they actually put it all together. Fortunately, I seem to enjoy putting things together and taking them apart again. I get many opportunities to experience that enjoyment.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Puscifer Show, Mesa AZ, 12/09/2011: Dionysus's Arizona Gig

Note: This isn't directly bicycle-related, but I attended a show last night that was overwhelming enough that I want to write about it to get my brain-arms and body-mind around it better. While the concert had nothing to do with the human-powered machine with two wheels that you the reader may conclude I am obsessed with, and nor did I ride one to get there, I want to untangle some connections to some of the threads in this blog: Arizona, the desert, being creative, thinking differently, encouraging the desert sun to roast your brain to clean out the cobwebs and horsecrap, allowing contending ideas to wrestle with each other in a mental cage match MMA-style until one taps out or until one chokes out the other, and productive obsessions, to name a few.

One blogger's rendition of the Puscifer show stage setup

Puscifer is a muscial exploration project of Maynard James Keenan (MJK), the lead singer of the band Tool. He lives in the Arizona, where he attempts to coax grapes to grow to supply his wine-making enterprise. Some of this enterprise is located in the Verde Valley, which is for MJK as well as for me a sort of concentrated distillate of all that is positive and negative about Arizona and the desert. For me: hiking with my woman through gulches down to the Verde River at sunrise, or riding my bicycle to and around Dead Horse State Park, on the good side, but on the other side, it will always be the place where my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly a few years back. Every time I descend that hill into the Verde Valley and see the snow-covered San Fransisco peaks in the distance, I feel both sides of this place. This is part of the explanation for my eyes filling with tears during "Green Valley" at the concert.

Concert t-shirt portrayal of Billy Dee and Hildy

"Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology...In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized." (Wikipedia, In this era of pervasive media and total online access to information and imagery, when people believe we know everything worth knowing, and considering what now passes for "civilization" (cars, malls, reality TV, online check-ins), where exactly would that be, now, this "beyond the borders of the known and civilized?"

All that remains, in tangible items, of seats in the third row

Billy Dee is a character pictured on the cover of the album Conditions of My Parole who is an execrable redneck tailer park punk rock singer drunkard, to put it generously. His boundaries are the trailer park, the whiskey bottle, the money he can't seem to keep hold of, the concert stage he mounts to try to make a few bucks, and the people in his life he abuses in his alcohol haze, chief among them Hildy his wife and singing partner. 

Billy lives in the Verde Valley, Arizona, and dresses totally uncool: nasty white wig, silver Elvis glasses, rumpled stage costumes. In contrast with MJK: black cowboy hat, boots, a minimalist Arizona anonymous rock star, almost. Billy Dee had some nice black boots, but one of his bandmates stole them for whiskey money. There's nothing likable about Billy Dee, other than his singing voice I mean, and every time MJK portrays him, Billy seems to get nastier, more tawdry, more execrable. In addition, apparently, he has recently spent some time as a guest of the Yavapai County Sheriff in their deluxe and secure facility.

Yet, there's just this one thing: Maynard's portrayal of Billy is personal, tinged with knowing, and possibly with even a little love or tenderness, as if Billy Dee is somewhere between MJK's next door neighbor, brother, and future or past self. There, but for the grace of miles and years and struggle and creative reflection, go I.

Backside of t-shirt

If I am so certain that I am nothing like Billy Dee, then why does he make me laugh uncomfortably, and why did I spend $16 for a CD and $40 for a t-shirt with Billy's face on it next to Hildy? If MJK is so far from becoming Billy Dee, where does the nearness, the inner vision of Billy's world, come from which drives him to dwell on the character and portray him so compellingly?

Anyway, musically, the show was incredible. The warm-up was Carina Round, who brought her own flavor of indie goodness to the show, with a voice and songs sung like I've never heard before, but would like to again. It's very possible she's been listening to Tool, and Maynard's voice, since she was four years old, because she sounds and looks a bit like his sexy and talented offspring. She does her own thing, but also has some Maynard moves that didn't always seem to be in harmony with her own talents and techniques. MJK and his bent-over singing/roping style fits him, in his dark cowboy get-up, but I'm not sure it always worked for Carina in her slinky black dress. 

Together, though, the range and variety they gave us in this one show was overwhelming. From quiet and contemplative songs to the combination aural and visual assault of "Undertaker," this concert fired words images and music at me so fast and loud that most of it is still whirling around in my head trying to find order and sense in long-term storage with helpful context. Seriously, "Undertaker" was close to inducing seizure or stroke, with the pounding industrial bass rhythms actually blowing my hair back. 

At the end of the concert, seeking context for the contending images and messages and music that I had just been bombarded with became my strategy. You can see Billy Dee as comedy and take him no deeper or further than that, and probably get a good understanding of him. But, it's also possible to try to understand him in context, which I have started to do with this post, and I get the uneasy feeling that further contemplation doesn't always lead to comfort or ease. 

Since I call Arizona home, and visit the Verde Valley regularly, I have context to build on. I have the dirt under my fingernails, and the scars of miles and years and reflection, to show for my time in the desert. While Billy Dee makes my skin crawl, and I laugh derisively at him, sometimes I am secretly cheering for him to pull out of it. A lot of the time he seems like he may be having fun. It's not my idea of fun, no. But I would like to see him stay together with Hildy. I can't help tapping my foot to some of his songs. 

I don't imagine the god of the grape harvest would spell everything out for me down to the smallest detail. He does require that I think for myself, that I seek to be creative and not drink from the spigot of mass-produced noise just because it seems sugary sweet and tastes good for an instant. I imagine he would be OK with me finding a quiet spot in a desert gulch somewhere to listen to the wind, breathe deep the creosote perfume, and listen to the cactus wrens buzzing in the heat, trying to build a meaningful, musical context of my own. And if I ride a bicycle to get there, under my own power, in the open air and in the bright sunshine, that would be headed in the right direction, too.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Steal This Light!

Perhaps a change in strategy is called for

Still no joy giving away lights to Cyclists of Darkness. Now, I'm not necessarily saying that the universe is taunting me or anything, but Thursday night's street census of potential takers was: one guy on a recumbent who could not have been illuminated more perfectly, with front, tail, and even beautiful side running lights, and, a car with no lights on. A car. Blasting down a busy street, no lights. I don't think my magenta flashy LEDs would help a car much.

With that kind of result, maybe a hippie-style free store, a LED commune of sorts, is called for, as limom suggested. Some place that people in need of flashy fixtures for their velocipedes could stop and stock up. Probably put some U-locks on the shelves, too. A few more nights of little to no COD action and I may become LEDdy Hoffman. It reminds me a lot of the fishing trips I went on as a kid, sitting in the boat for hours, catching nothing. 

While the street wasn't offering up any COD Thursday night, there was a deal on spare tires. Free for the taking, they were.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Point Seven Percenter Finds No Light Takers (So Far)

Bus stop wisdom, Indian School and Hayden, Scottsdale

The bicycle commute rate in Phoenix is given as .7%, point seven percent. I don't know how accurate that figure really is, but I can attest to not seeing too many other cyclists out on the roads during a typical commute time ride. On average, I'm guestimating I see from three to seven cyclists, of all different types and persuasions, during my commute, which can take up to half an hour each way when I take it easy. 

But my last post about being on the lookout for COD (Cyclists Of Darkness, people at night on bicycles lacking lights), in order to give them one or more of the lights I'm carrying with me now, must have had some sort of cosmic repercussions. I say that because my Wednesday evening commute brought me into contact with a grand total of ZERO other cyclists, of any type: no commuters, no sports, no children, no mysterious converted tandems carrying boxes of unknown purpose, no cruisers, no electrics, no gas strap-ons, nothing. Nada. 

As this anomaly unfolded, I started getting less choosy about who I would give my lights away to. I mean, just about anyone who looked like they might have had a use for a flashy light would have worked! But no one was out except for me and the cars. I did see two women pushing a baby stroller which had no lights on it, however, and they did cross the street. I thought, would it make the stroller more visible to have one or more flashing lights affixed to it? (probably), and, would the two women be amenable to a stranger stopping and offering to affix flashy lights to the stroller at no charge? (call 911 and then I have to explain to the sheriff my thoughts on stroller visibility?) So no, I didn't attempt it, not this time.

Thus, I am still on the lookout for COD in need of flashy lights. But I truly thought I would have more to report, either that all the cyclists I encountered were brightly equipped, or, that I had found a COD, chased them down, and made my first attempt to give away a light. Not seeing even one other cyclist took me by surprise. But I guess we point seven percenters have to be prepared for that. Or, just ride farther out of our ways to find the rare COD that we seek.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Giving Away Lights to Cyclists Blundering Around in the Darkness

My portable, flexible, flashy collection of give-away lights

We've all seen them: cyclists blundering down a pitch black street with no lights or reflectors on their bikes (note to self: throw a couple of reflectors into the giveaway bag, you've got too many of those laying around, too). So in this season of giving, I've put together a bag of lights to giveaway to them, in an effort to make their passage, and mine, and yours, safer. These are all new, never used, and should work as decent Be-Seen flashers. I'm enthusiastic about passing them along. There's just one question: how would I go about this exactly?

A lot of times, the Cyclists of Darkness (COD) will whoosh by in a crunchy grinding of poorly lubricated chain and maladjusted derailleurs heading the other direction (should I throw in chain lube? A link to 8th edition of Barnett's Manual, although I notice they no longer let you download the derailleur chapter 32 for free?) Relevant to this post (I do digress sometimes, don't I?), should I spin around, and chase them down? "Excuse me! Excuse me! Would you like some lights? Free? It will only take a second..."

What if the COD is at the bike rack? A much easier approach, I think. "Oh, riding off with no lights I see! Would you like a couple? I have extras. Here, have some! This Niterider is particularly awesome, let's put it one your seatpost here..." That one will work, I think.

What if the COD is reluctant, though? "No thanks, I enjoy being a COD, I like cruising down a dark street on ninja bike invisible to cars and everyone else." Perhaps I could sneak a Knog onto their seatpost when they're not looking. Watch where they park, slink out there, and BAM! They have a flashy light out back.

The COD are everywhere, I've noticed. I'll report back on my COD flashing expeditions in this space, as I continue my quest to light up the night.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Portland? Portland. Portland!!!

PHX, dusk, pointed approximately in the direction of PDX

Is Portland THE ANSWER? It depends on what the question is, but anyway, I'm planning a trip to find out. And I started following blogs like Portlandize, Portland Afoot, and to see what they have to say about the place. What happened was, I am reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, as I mentioned in the now-complete "OSG Books and Bikes Week mega-series", and JHK had some flattering and intriguing things to say about PDX. I can bullet point out a few of the key points that would distinguish it from PHX (I'm using IATA airport codes in this post, I know not why):

  • intelligent urban planning featuring limits on land development
  • mild climate (annual precipitation less than NYC)
  • diverse and abundant local produce
  • Powell's books
  • High-density integrated cityscape (JHK says "the texture of life is mixed, complex, and dense")
  • Zoning code requires buildings to have display windows at street level
  • Buildings also must be built out to the sidewalk
  • Last but certainly not least, cyclists are a visible and vital presence in PDX

I love many things about Arizona, and PHX. I take photos and write about everything I am grateful for here. However, the list above is depressingly representative of all that is missing from PHX. To get a quick idea of the type of long-range planning, the vision driving Arizona down the road to the future, have a look at the recently published ADOT pamphlet, "What Moves You Arizona, Long Range Transportation Plan 2010-2035." Although it speaks of vision and alternatives, the pullout quote on page seven speaks the truth: "ADOT’s priority for transportation is to preserve the integrity of the existing system." 

The forecast cost of preserving the integrity of the existing system for 25 years is $89 billion. The bulk is for roads, with some rail, aviation, and transit thrown in. If I had to sum up what this money will be spent on in a single sentence, here's the bullet: "Let all hope that we can come up with the $89 billion so that we can continue to expand the sprawl outwards, and with skill, luck, and a lot of large construction contracts, Arizona in 2035 will look a lot like a fast freeway ride to any prosperous shopping mall or big box store, ideally." This vision does not inspire me. I seek a greater depth and richness in life for me and my family.

If everything else was equal, the climate would not be an issue for me: I have grown to love riding my bicycle in the heat of the summer, and find a certain meditative and purifying quality to it. But everything else is not equal. It's one thing to be cycling through a green shady park, or bombing down some sweet desert singletrack, when it's 112F, and quite something entirely different to be cycling through an asphalt parking lot, its integrity planned to be preserved and expanded for 25 years at a cost of billions, dodging cars when it's 112F.

Riding in PHX dreaming of PDX

My response, then, is to want to take a trip to Portland to check it out. Take the family up there and walk those streets, probably bicycle those streets, for a few days. Get a taste. I kind of get the impression that PDXers may not be super-keen on outsiders coming in to stay. I can only hope for some consideration of my personal traits: openminded bike-crazy blogger, mindful of, and admiring of, the bullet points listed above. And a lover of the outdoors. Full-time bicycle commuter in Phoenix, of all places. I love my cats, love 'em. And I give away lights to other cyclists in need of illumination. 

That's cool, PDXers, anyway, we're just going to stop by to check the place out. See how it stacks up against the other places I've lived and visited in this world. Try the coffee, which is supposed to be pretty good. I would just add, I have a track record of attaining goals that I set my sights on. Even, especially, difficult and life-changing ones.

And do what there if you stay, JRA, what are you thinking? Perhaps I could join on at Portland Design Works, to perfect my bicycle commuter personal drone (BCPD). The BCPD flies about ten feet above and just behind the bicycle commuter, acting as a beacon, illumination source, threat sensor, and 360 degree video feed to support the bicycle commuter. At stops, the BCPD orbits and hovers overhead, surveying oncoming traffic of all types in the intersection, and calculates a opening for the bicycle commuter to make a safe crossing. And in navigation mode, the BCPD takes the lead, flying to the specified destination along bicycle-friendly routes, be it the nearest good coffee shop, public art installation, book store, bike shop, or urban happening. The BCPD also has a fun techno party mode and a headbanger mode. Finally, they implement what I call the BCPD Space Bubble Protocol (SBP), which causes each BCPD to scrupulously avoid bumping into another BCPD. Option 1 is head to PDW to hack on the BCPD.

Option 2? My current chosen career is portable. There's nothing about it which anchors me to PHX, or even USA for that matter. So if PDX tickles my fancy, and that of my family, Option 2 should be workable, too, possibly more than 1. I'm not banking on Option 1, but it's fun to think about.

Hold on, what about option 3, there are always three options given. Well, well, opt.3, that's the good one, isn't it? The interesting one? Where karma, fate, wheels set into motion if you will, chance, unseen factors, tiny choices, previous minute actions multiplied like the relentless flap flap flap (FLAP FLAP FLAP...) of the butterfly's wings, it all plays out and yields...what's next. In a split second, the opening that you have made opens, and you take it. The wheels have been set into motion. The butterfly's wings have flapped. No one can tell for certain what the sunrise will bring. But I plan to be riding my bicycle, whether the middle letter of the local airport code happens to be "H" or "D".