Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bicycle Commuter's Constructive Repsonse to Auto Insurance Spammer

I've helpfully indicated which discounts I believe I both deserve and qualify for

Dear Auto Insurance Spammer, let me run it down for you. I'm afraid I'm going to have to start off on a bad foot, but the middle section gets more informative, and I finish up with some strong constructive suggestions.

First, the part where you claim that your base of 40 million customers is a "neighborhood" is just, um, pure crap. A neighborhood is by definition a small geographical area that you can easily walk across or bicycle around at a slow speed. I'm all for density, but 40 million people packed into a square mile is a little too many bees in the hive for me. You've got 4x10^7 customers, that's great, just say so, the number speaks for itself, don't try to smash it forcefully into an ill-fitting metaphor.

Next, let's move on to the discounts I both deserve and qualify for, as well as discussing why I don't qualify for the others, along with ways that I might.

Multiple Automobiles Discount, No. I see that I am missing out on up to 20% off for insuring multiple automobiles through you, which up until recently might have been interesting, but we sold our multiples off, and are now a family of four with one motor vehicle. We do each own one or more bicycles, however, so perhaps you could see your way to offering a multiple bicycle discount. Any house which averages more than two bicycles per occupant would be pre-qualified.

Multi-line discount, No. Unless adding a line for insuring multiple bicycles would help.

Good driving discount accident-free discount: absolutely. I have no tickets or accidents of any kind for several decades of driving. Plus, as I drive only rarely now, and never use the car to commute, this record is likely to continue. 35% discount: bring it on.

Home-auto discount: not sure. I guess since we own one home and one auto, yes, possibly, technically? This just seems so geared toward multiple car homes, though, I'm not sure you have us in mind. Home-bicycle discount, we got that one nailed.

Home alert discount: totally. In addition to the home alarm and fire alarms that you mention, we also have carbon monoxide detectors, and exploding dye packs rigged on some of the bicycles. Or, at least the wish to rig up exploding dye packs. 

Having exhausted your list, I want to add a few more discounts that I deserve and qualify for.

Uninsured / Under Insured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage, available and extended for cyclists who don't drive cars, or are full time bicycle commuters and only occasional auto drivers. On my current auto insurance policy, I have UM/UIM coverage, which I am please to note would cover me while cycling if I were hit by a motorist with no insurance. I guess what I am looking for here is something like the full UM/UIM coverage, with additional coverage for damage or theft of the bicycle I ride to work every day (zero deductible or what's the point), and some kind of equitable coverage for a car-lite household.

Decreasing congestion discount. By cycling to/from work every day on side streets and bike paths, I am removing one car from the streets and freeways, thereby decreasing congestion. Believe me, I've been there, been one of the creeping snotballs of automotive mucous choking my way slowly and painfully through the airways of the city on the way to work, with the suburbs coughing up their steel phlegm balls in the morning, and the city horking them back up at night, traffic congestion is no fun. Think of me on my bicycle as the guaifenesin of automobile congestion, there to loosen congestion and promote the discharge of automobile phlegm.

Stress lowering discount. I lower stress by my friendly waving at aggressive drivers, taking turns at four-way stops, smiling, offering hugs to drivers slamming their fists against their own steering wheels and screaming in frustration, and generally being a persistently happy bicyclist every day. I like to think of myself as a pavement peacemaker. I am conscientious and courteous to a fault. Throw me a bone here, I haven't displayed a middle finger to a motorist for at least five years.

Follow traffic laws scrupulously discount. We already covered the "no tickets" discount above, so that is probably a prerequisite for this one. But this one is the step above that, since it is my habit, my hobby even, to endeavor to be a rolling driver's manual on two wheels. I'm the type of cyclist who was thrilled recently to learn that the law of Arizona actually says that pedestrians who have to walk on the road should walk AGAINST traffic. Why was that thrilling? Because, contrary to some commonsense views, cyclists must NOT ride against traffic, we should ride with it, and so I guess I thought that also applied to pedestrians, but learned that it does not. On second thought, though, I probably wouldn't qualify for this one, since you would probably have to answer some of those absurdly rigged rules of the road questions, like the ones that begin, "An ambulance with its lights and siren on, a horse, an Army chaplain during a declaration of martial law riding a Segway, and a blind man riding an autonomous computerized pogostick converge from all directions on a street without markings or signage. A sink hole develops and swallows half the road, creating a dark, gaping maw with no apparent bottom. If the autonomous pogostick loses guidance and begins bouncing randomly around the road, then..."

The "I'm researching insurance that benefits cyclists" discount. Other than UM/UIM, are there other policies or companies that a full time bicycle commuter should know about, or have? Other discounts I may have overlooked? Anyone heard of an employer that gives health insurance discounts for bicycle commuters, for example?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Warm and Sunny, Quiet and Strong (in a bottle)

All days should be like this one

Spinning at a good rate for two and a half hours on a quiet path all to myself on a warm and sunny day with everything pretty much in balance made me wish that all days were like this one. Mid-70s, legs felt strong, no aches or fatigue, stress level low, breathing regular, heartbeat steady and calm.

This tunnel specially constructed to allow cactus to cross under the road to avoid traffic (I think)

The all-around goodness of this day and this ride made me recall my post, as if we were young and the days were ours. I was young. The day was mine. I must have done something right. Got enough rest last night. Dealt effectively with work stress. Accomplished what I needed to get done to clear my head. Did right by my back to help it de-inflame and baby those tense lower back nerves to calm the heck down. Kept the bike in good working order. Spent time with the family so that all was tranquil on the home front. Including powering through some fractions with the younger daughter and showing her some reduction tricks that seemed to nudge her ordered symbolic manipulation skills a few notches higher. Fractions: marks on the paper which have rules for converting into new marks on the paper, you just need to understand which rules are relevant, and how to apply them.

Cave Creek Wash TR: the spin zone (query to canal boffins: why does this trail alone merit a useful signpost?)

Could every day be like this one? My sense is no, but the question has been asked, and if answered negatively, triggers immediately the follow-up: why not? What about: almost? What about: generally similar to? Or, what was it about this day that might be distilled and dripped like tincture of excellence onto every day for the rest of them, until they run out? Dripped like the chain lube of the gods onto the links of the seconds of each day so that the spin of the hours is silent, smooth, and golden? Shedding the dust and the dirt of the world like some mad waxy mysophobic nanotech elixir. Extracted, stored in a handy bottle, apply liberally as needed for continued excellent days? 

If I acted as if I had such a bottle, and imagined using is thus, would it be so? Every day: mellow and golden, warm and sunny, quiet and strong, on a long, smooth ride.

Harmony chain lube: as if you were young and the days were yours

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two Years of Bicycle Commuting: My Clothes No Longer Fit Me

Nice shirt, rendered TOO LARGE by two years of bicycle commuting

Was I really that large?
I guess I must have been, since I have the clothes in my closet to prove it.
But, it's hard to believe this tent-like button-down shirt once fit me.
Going through the closet to clean it out, make room for some new choices, out with the old, into the donate or rags pile.
Summary: my legs are slightly larger, my abdomen is noticeably smaller. It's not so much weight loss as muscle tone. A lower body fat percentage obtained through several thousand miles of medium-speed bicycle commuting. 
I wasn't overweight. But I was undertoned. Carrying around more stored calories in the form of fat than needed, or wanted.
It wasn't a sudden thing. But, mile by mile, week by week, these shirts became more and more ill-fitting, baggier and baggier, until they are now tent-like if I put them on. Which isn't exactly the image I want to portray when wearing a nice shirt.
So, thank you, bicycle commuting, for your two years of slow, but significant, muscle-toning influence on me. 
I need to rethink shirt shopping now. The parameters have all changed. Being a commando shopper, in, BAM! get what is needed, back out before they know what hit them, I need to get the parameters straight before I enter the shopping establishment.
I need to work out the parameters for a lean, but never mean, bicycle commuting machine. 
And don't get me started about the baggy pants situation. I used to be skeptical of bicycle-specific fashion, now I need to check it out just to appease the people around me who feel the need to point out the baggy pants. Not that they aren't right. I do have some 25 year old Levi's 501s that fit like they should. And that's pretty cool, actually. Not only that they fit, but how well they have survived the years. I love love love my old jeans. Glad I kept them. Even more glad they fit again.
I'll probably keep one of those giant shirts, just to remind myself. I could hang it up in the bike area, whenever someone asks why I have so many bicycles. Point to the shirt: because that used to fit me. 

Farewell, my tent-like outer garment

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hang Up and Drive

Hang up and drive on your way to a great used book sale

The VNSA book sale is coming up soon. "Hang up and drive" is a step in the right direction. I prefer "SELL IT AND RIDE A BIKE" but, we're talking baby steps here.



Friday, January 27, 2012

Yellow Roses in the Canal: Phoenixterdam I Won't Forget You

She stood at the rail of the bridge and threw them

The cool night air hit my skin, heightening my already awakened senses in the afterglow of the rijsttafel dinner. We rode our bicycles over together to have a drink at the bar across from her apartment, where the bartender and the guy playing jazz guitar both knew her name.

I don't remember much other detail about that night in Phoenixterdam. I know they went around and lit candles on the tables in the bar at some point. I know the jazz guitar player stayed way late, as late as the few of us who were still left kept applauding his songs. To tell the truth, I thought she was out of my league, but she kept laughing at my jokes, and it wasn't about buying drinks because she paid for several rounds herself, so I stayed and alternated between saying things that made her laugh in her beautiful way, and listening to her spin out her tales of the various beaches she had visited, or would visit, or was thinking of visiting, since October in Phoenixterdam brings such thoughts of warmer, sunnier places to mind when the weather is rainy and cool.

Eventually the bartender shooed us out the door by turning the lights back on. The jazz player played his last song, took a bow, drank the beer I got for him, and headed out. The bartender walked over to our table with a vase full of yellow roses that were past their prime but still fragrant and lovely, took them out, wrapped them in a ribbon and a bit of newspaper, and handed them to her. Kiss on his cheek, more of her beautiful laugh.

We walked out the door arm in arm, and neither of us wanted to do anything else besides walk along the canal together in the cool, foggy night. Maybe out of my league, but she felt right walking next to me, as we fell naturally into a walking rhythm where our steps matched and felt like together we could walk anywhere, and talk about anything.

The warm babbling river of words of our conversation did not stay with me all these years. But we strolled for a long time, lost track of what hours might have been passing, until the sky started to warm up with signs of dawn approaching. I'm sure we spoke of what we believed, what we hoped for, something about injustice and the plight of the poor of the world. I'm sure I talked about the statue of the four people entwined with barbed wire and morphed into nuclear missiles that I had seen on the street with all the museums. I do remember that at that point she walked over to the railing with the roses she had been carrying on some sentimental mission. She stood at the rail of the bridge and threw them into the canal, saying, "For all who come later!" 

She said she knew a coffee shop that never closed, and asked if I wanted some breakfast. The question was so right at that moment, because we were both feeling chilled, and all walked out. I'll never forget our breakfast in Phoenixterdam, in part because she made the best omelet I've ever tasted, up to that moment, and ever since. The bright sunshine of dawn streaming through the window is a moment I return to on the rare occasion of seeing yellow roses floating in the canal, riding by on my bicycle.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Found on Road: Bolt!

Grade: 5
Diameter: 1/2 inch
Length: 4 1/2 inches
Approximate retail price: 75 cents
Approximate retail price of 3 inch lift kit to man up your pickup truck: $600 to $1000
Value of using correct torque and Loctite on nuts: priceless

Grade: 5. Wait, why didn't they...oh nevermind

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Olfactory Cyclist


Faint oleander.
Dinner smells, three types along the way: meat (hamburger, perhaps meatloaf), some heavenly garlicky caserole cheezy herbaceous thing, and curry)
Evening, after light rain.

The preceding represents the memorable parts of my bicycle commute tonight, from the perspective of my nose. Scent is probably the most mysterious of our senses, linked directly to memory, more subtle yet more influencing than we usually recognize, or know. I've mentioned countless times here how cycling exposes me to the outside world in wonderful and multiple ways that everyone who commutes by car generally misses out on, but I don't think I've ever spent the majority of the commute just concentrating on the sense of smell. So I did that tonight, and was humbled. 

First, except for the profound and relatively distinct scents listed above, much of what I detected was fleeting, hard to categorize, or even not recognizable. Second, we don't have, or at least I don't have, vocabulary well suited to telling a story by scent alone. I remember watching a documentary which included people who make their living designing scents, perfumes, cosmetics, even food additives, and a large part of their profession was in maintaining a library of scents that they were familiar with, which they used in layers and combinations to build up the desired result. Until Blogger adds a Smell-o-vision widget, which on second thought might be generally unwelcome on a bicycle-related blog anyway, the short list at the top of this post is about as far as I can get.

Except to say, most of all, the vanilla stumped me. It was intense, as if someone dumped a pint of Häagen-Dazs in the bike lane, or broke a bottle of vanilla flavoring on their driveway. It's actually what got me started on this program, as I contemplated that first scent, I decided to follow my nose all the way home.

So, a kind of new beginning for me, or a new perspective, call it focused olfactory investigations on two wheels. I found it challenging. It was like turning the last sense I use into the first. And it changed my perception of the ride. I promise, this won't devolve into One Scent: Smell! But on the other hand, nozzling up the faint molecules riding on the wind, attempting to process, perceive, and categorize them, seems like fair game. What might I learn? What might I discover out there riding around? It's my blog, I'll sniff I I want to.

Not any more, I presume

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Waiting for Trucks, Shooting Gaps, Glimpsing Dandelions

Stats in the 2012 Bike / Ped Benchmarking Report hint this is what Americans think cycling streets is like

This is what walking, and cycling, the 44th Street bike route looks like. Traffic speed is 40+ mph.

On first glance, these scenes look like terrifically challenging settings for a cyclist, or a pedestrian, for that matter. And I admit, they are not pedestrian perfection or cycling heaven. Most of the Ten Lessons from Great Cycling Cities have not been learned in Phoenix yet, at least by most people, it's true. The motor vehicles roaring past the elbows of the pedestrians on this sidewalk are not going to land this stretch of bicycle route on any tourist brochure.

Yet after that truck backed into the empty lot where it was dropping off or carrying away fill, that street at the top was quite excellent to ride on, quiet and easy.

I can't say as much nice stuff about 44th Street at commute time, except that you wait for gaps created by the distant stoplights, hope you are a good judge of the 100 to 200 feet of stopping distance the oncoming traffic will require, and make your move. There's always the sidewalk, and I'm grateful it's legal here, a slow and deliberate bail-out for me when no gaps in traffic appear, but don't pedestrians have it tough enough through here? And the numerous driveways are blind and busy. The corner where this second shot is taken is a common spot to see cyclists who are riding from Lafayette down to Campbell, as well as runners who are connecting with the canal, which is just behind those pedestrians. 

There is actually a tiny little park off to the left of this photo, to the pedestrians' right, one of those little slivers of extra leftover land that the city has seen fit to plant with grass and some great old shady trees. I pause in that park sometimes and watch the world go by. Most of it driving a car powered by gas that looks on its way to $4 a gallon again (and what lessons to be learned there, now, and in the future). Five minutes here and you get to see the best and worst of motorists, the sweet and the sour, the super-polite and the aggressive hungover maniacs, from waving to honking, it's all there.

Somehow, I've worked it out that I don't mind waiting for the trucks. Somehow, I look at shooting the gaps in the 44th Street rush hour mania as a worthwhile challenge. Froggering across these three lanes into the center left turn lane on a bicycle at dusk, then floating a bit to wait for a gap going the other way between traffic flowing at 45 mph in opposite directions, is diving head-first into dirty space that on other roads is kept incursion-free with Jersey barriers, steel retention cables, or crash barriers. There may be validity to the suggestion that at least some of my confidence and inner calm is just the endorphins working. 

Then I look over and catch sight of the January dandelions. I want to lay among them, and ponder the lessons of real cycling in the city. That's me, in the city I live now, with the bike of the moment, and this life. And possibly some traffic endorphins. Oh well.

Oh my ephemeral Jandelions, whisper some lessons into my ear before the trucks blow us both away.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I Craved Carradice, Don't Need a Parking Lot

Saddle bag made of cotton duck, with leather straps, made in England

I had heard of Carradice bags before, mainly from other bike bloggers, and was intrigued. But when I listed to a program on The Bike Show, "Another Day for you and me in Carradice," I was convinced. The pride of careful production, the craftsmanship, the attractiveness of something of good design made to last, along with a certain degree of respect for a small shop in England making something very good, made me want to try out a Carradice bag that fit my needs. I purchased a Low Saddle Longflap, and a Bagman quick release rack to mount it. (If you click on The Bike Show link, make sure you also check out the photos of the Carradice shop, those old machines are incredible.)

Mounted, only about half full

I could have gotten a larger one, as you can see, but I wanted to start out with something in the middle, to see what it would be like to have a larger, but not ginormous, saddle bag.

With this one, about half full, I didn't even know it was there. The Bagman rack hold it very firmly, no rattles, no wobbles, and no clearance issues with my legs.

May be close to my ideal bicycle stuff carrying system. And I may be wrong, but that flasher loop looks good.

I am always looking for better ways to carry stuff on my bike(s). A bag, a rack, a pannier, I'm looking for something durable, easy to put on the bike and take back off again, with enough capacity to carry stuff like books, some groceries sometimes, other times food and drinks for a picnic in the park, a jacket, plus assorted bike tools, a pump, a spare tube, lights, camera, lock, spare clothes, and so on. The carrying method also has to be mechanically sound, so that it doesn't cause more trouble than it solves, so it has to stay in place, can't bounce around, basically has to do its job well without complaining or falling apart. Monsoon-proof is also good for my application.

Close-up of quick release quick-released

This bag is called "long flap" because the top flap has an extra long fold-out piece that can expand the capacity of the bag significantly. I didn't need that for this ride, but if you use it, there's a water-resistant inner bag that cinches shut under the expanded flap. The quick release seems sturdy and effective, and I will report back on durability and wear as I use it more.

Bagman bending

The Bagman rack is somewhat bendable, and being a bit of a perfectionist in such matters, I had to try to bend it in order to get optimal bag volume and placement. I said "somewhat", though, because it is a stout rack, not really intended to bend in use, which is what you want. Unless you want to bend it. It's kind of an awkward shape, too, so I couldn't just stick it into my vice and bend it. The rack tubing appeared possibly stouter than seat rails, so it seemed like a bad idea to clamp it onto them and try to bend it that way. I tried several different ways to set up a good, stable way to bend it, and ended up using lag bolts and a 2x4 to hold it down. The clamps that woodworkers have on the sides or front of their workbenches might have worked, but I don't have those, so I made do.

My first thoughts for how I intended to use this bag were for commuting. I still might do that, but I really like the all-around abilities of this bag to carry a varying amount of random stuff, which might make it more suitable for my weekend adventures and urban explorations. So I mounted it on my go-anywhere weekend adventure and urban exploration bicycle to see how that works. And, once I saw The Bike Bureau commuter pannier, well, I knew what my next Carradice purchase is going to be. That actually looks very close to what I have been looking for over the last two years of bicycle commuting. It's probably also monsoon-proof.

If you look around, these bags seem affordabe to me, particularly for how well they are made. Of course, that may be the perspective of someone who just sold his car, and now has a little extra cash to spend on bike stuff. The money I just saved on car insurance for one year alone would allow me to buy a rather full collection of these fine bags. You know, that last sentence made me smile so much I think I will end there.

I purchased this bag myself. Please see my FTC notice and blog disclaimer if you have further review-related questions.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Relentless Reckoning of Space and Time

How far? How fast? Predictable? Visible? Angry? Erratic? Texting? Bald tires? Worn brakes?

"...all mountains are in a state of continuous collapse." -Laurence Gonzales

Once when I was camping with my wife and some friends, we set up our tent at the base of a desert hill of medium height. Once the camp was settled, we began our various exuberant outdoor activities. My wife and her friend J were having a conversation in the tent, where they went to get out of the sun and enjoy a cool beverage. Four of us decided to scramble up the hill which overlooked the tent. I was the last of the four going up. It was moderately steep going, and loose with gravel, so in places we were scrambling up on all fours, and moving in a zig-zag to get around the cactus and rocks that littered the hillside.

I paused to watch the three people in front of me crawl up and over an egg-shaped rock that was roughly four feet in diameter. After the three of them got over it, I crawled onto and over it myself. As I reached the top of the rock, I stood upright on it. It popped out of the hillside like a cork, dropping me onto the gravel and cactus. I slid a short distance down, not very far really, and was fortunate to be able to arrest my sliding fall by grabbing stuff. I rolled over onto my back, looked down the hill, and saw the egg-shaped boulder bounding down the hill, directly toward the tent with my wife and J in it.

It is a movie-like memory of devastating possibility that I will never forget. And there was obviously nothing that I could do, the boulder was accelerating on a direct path, and only would take another second or two to roll over the tent. I believe I yelled out, or tried to, but it all happened so fast in real-time that I am not sure about that. I am sure about the feeling of dread and powerlessness, however.

As bounding boulders do, and purely randomly, it bounced off a small bump and careened off to the left, missing the tent, but making a tremendous racket as it rolled by the fragile cloth shelter. My wife and J piled out, and looked up the hill to see what was happening, and saw me sprawled on the ground below an egg-shaped boulder-sized hole. After I apologized for almost killing them, I inscribed a new rule into my brain for permanent and irrevocable enforcement: never set up a tent in the rockfall zone at the bottom of a hill. That space is dirty with danger, and is not a proper place to put up a tent.

A corollary of this rule, learned on another trip: the space at the bottom of a dry wash or canyon is dirty with flash flood danger, and is not a proper place to put up a tent. Even if you're tired from carrying a pack all day, and the sandy wash is soft and inviting, and the surrounding area is rocky and uneven, the wash is flash flood space, not camping space.

For cycling, one similar and relevant observation that raises more questions than it answers: a certain amount of space all around a speeding car is dirty with danger, and is not a proper place for a cyclist or pedestrian to venture into. This space is not static, but moves with the car, a bubble to avoid. For a car on a three lane with traffic in all lanes, moving 45 mph, the space in front of the car which is dirty in this sense is no less than 100 feet, and can be more than 200, depending on road conditions, driver awareness, driver reaction time, driver proficiency, the maintenance state of mechanical components of the car, air temperature, and probably other variables. Some unknown (to me) space on all sides of a car moving at 45 mph is also dirty, owned or occupied if you will by the car, since it could move within that space in the next time slice t+1 with a momentum similar to its momentum in the current time slice t.

In the particular space of these photos, 44th Street in Phoenix at the Arizona Canal, which is marked as a bike route, and is a popular crossing for pedestrians, runners, and the occasional desert tortoise, the reckoning of space and time necessary to float through these dirty high-speed bubbles is relentless. Right near the position of the ped+dog in the top photo, the sidewalk narrows, and is bounded by a wall on the canal side as it crosses the bridge. Cars and trucks often pass very near the curb as they cross, and it feels very much like a ped, cyclist, dog, or desert tortoise crossing this bridge on the sidewalk is well within the dirty bubble zone. The feeling I get there is similar to that of setting up my tent at the bottom of a mountain in a state of continuous collapse.  

Dog+ped negotiating safe space+time across a river of cars, and a mountain in a state of continuous collapse

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bubbicular Cycling 101

Effective bubbicular cycling techniques are called for in this situation

All road users fare best when the combination of technique and facilities enable the control of speed and direction of motion such that each road user maintains an empty space or safety bubble around themselves and other road users. The optimal dimensions of the safety bubble is determined by closing speed, the longest reaction time, certain subjective factors like skill, experience, and confidence, and any established legal minimums. An additional margin is dictated by comparing and considering the relative risks, costs, and dangers posed to each of the various road users under given bubble incursion scenarios. A larger safety bubble would be indicated to mitigate greater risks. In addition, this approach gives insight into a decision process for adding facilities or infrastructure, based on the determination that considering all factors, the requisite proper safety bubbles would be impractically large either by exceeding human capabilities to visualize or maintain, or because they would exceed the available space of the right of way. Physical separating barriers are indicated in order to prevent safety space incursions when the requisite safety bubbles would be impractically large.

I coulda had a V8. But I sold it, don't need it. I am a practitioner of bubbicular coexistence.

A few items (a-hem) still on the to-do list:

  • Institute bubble-aware laws and techniques
  • Erect bubble-aware signage
  • Develop standard bubble establishment and preservation training curricula
  • Invent, patent, and sell electronic bubbicular sensing, monitoring, alerting, and provisioning devices
  • WARNING. HALT. ALTER YOUR DIRECTION AND OR SPEED. BUBBLE INCURSION IS IMMINENT [accompanied by VR projection of red danger field indication in area of impending bubble incursion]
  • Ultimately we're talking bubbicular force field here, but that may be a few years, and a few billion R&D dollars, in the future
  • Predictive bubble dynamics, heuristic and statistical algorithms for real-time bubble incursion prediction and avoidance
Be the bubble, my fellow cyclists. Avoid incursions. See the bubble you need and make it happen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chase, Pace, Race and Hook, and Other Pointless Bubble Intrusions

There is no prize for getting to the other cars faster

On the ride into work this morning, a car approached me from behind in the lane to the left of me, kept pace with me for a brief moment of hesitation, raced ahead, then right hooked in front of me. It all went just dandy: I heard him, saw him next to me, saw him race ahead, prepared to quick turn with him if needed, and then he turned about a second in front of me. I was whistling a tune and didn't miss a note. It's possible that my obvious nonchalance was an indication to the driver that the race-and-hook would be okey-dokey. But as I reviewed the act, I decided there was no sense in it, no benefit for anyone, only costs. All he had to do was slow down and turn behind me a few seconds later. Most drivers wouldn't do it to another car, but I have seen it happen, and it's equally a bad idea in that situation: what's the point?

Another pointless scenario that I see all the time is the Race to the Red Light. People, typically pedestrians or cyclists, are waiting to cross a busy road, or, in a variation, another car just wants to move into another lane before he gets to the intersection, and signals. Before moving, both check traffic and seeing no one within distance oncoming that would be of concern, start to make their move. But then, for no apparent reason again, some driver decides to hit the gas and accelerate, in spite of the red light clearly showing just ahead. Or, in some cases I'm certain, the reason is actually to CUT OFF the intended lane change or crossing, just for the sheer cussed assertiveness of it. Also, similar to the chase, pace, race and hook, no benefit for anyone just risk, or cost. Also similar to the CPR&H, not something I would do to another car while driving a car. Too risky. No reason to do it. Several reasons to just slow down and chillax.

Both of these violate a fundamental safety rule I always try to implement on the road: the safety space bubble. This is merely a safe and respectable distance from you to the next living being on the pavement in all directions, x, y, and z, as well as the maintenance and preservation of same, visualized as a bubble surrounding each living being, and includes anticipating bubble motion. The required space bubble size expands or contracts depends on speed, as well as what the other living being is doing. If the other living being, for example, is waving their arms and screaming obscenities at you, or perhaps at a tree, a larger bubble may be indicated. If the proper space bubbles are prevented from intersecting or intruding on other proper space bubbles through successful bubble anticipation, the living beings are definitely prevented from smashing into one another.

Chase, pace, race and hook, as well as race to the red light, raise all kinds of unnecessary, valueless space bubble intrusions. I'm in my space bubble, floating lightly. Please avoid pointless, valueless bubble intrusions. You're in your bubble, I'm in mine, let's respect the bubble, and keep safe. Guard your space and stay out of trouble, bubble.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Blackout

Even though you can still use Wikipedia on SOPA blackout day if you are using one of my favorite browser extensions, Noscript, or even just the Firefox search bar, One Speed: Go! is dark on January 18 in protest of the SOPA act.

Helmet Taillight Mounting Nirvana: Learning to Love the Clip

Gathering the materials and tools

I had a simple project in mind to sew a tight loop of heavier webbing onto a square of 3m dual-lock in order to fabricate a generic, strong mounting point for any clip light. In this case, to mount any clip light to any spot you can stick another square of dual-lock, which is more or less any semi-flat surface. Like my helmet. I was ready to get started in the photo above.

I still think that would be a good idea. But as I looked at the project, the parts, and the time, which was getting late, the idea simplified way down: grab that Velcro one-wrap, cut some just the right length, and see if that won't go through the rear vents of the helmet to serve as a tight holder for any clip light. Eh voila.

So, so simple. And secure.

This approach had the added advantages (beyond letting me to get a bit more sleep) of requiring no modifications at all to the helmet or clip light. It seems very firmly attached. Yet easily removable. In systems terms, it is an interface which is loosely coupled: as Wikipedia defines it, "a loosely coupled system is one where each of its components has, or makes use of, little or no knowledge of the definitions of other separate components." This is in comparison to my previous taillight project, which was tightly coupled: the holes I drilled into that light and stuck bolts through make it only applicable now to that particular mounting situation, and not the more generalized clip anywhere interface. The drawbacks I have seen with the clip interface, though, are the obvious ones: pointing it the direction you want it to go in, and retention. This simple helmet strap resolves both of those. Oh, along with instant flashy gratification, since I don't have to wait 72 hours for the adhesive to cure.

Subsequent clicking around since my previous taillight post has yielded the information that the PDW Radbot 1000 includes a rack mount. Which is great, although it still appears temporary, click into place, not screwed on. Searching various UK and European sites yielded the further information that there is a different rack mounting standard at work on some racks there (see 50mm to 80mm for examples), and also that there are several permanently rack mounted battery-powered taillights available there. Although I may end up feeling the Radbot 1000 impossible to resist, as I mentioned previously, I am pretty well stocked up on taillights at the moment, and am thus focused more on how to use what I already have, rather than buying more. Inspired by this small one-wrap victory, I continue to seek the ultimate in secure, flexible, flashy brightness.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When It All Comes Together

Bespoke, personalized transport

Working work in progress

Utility bike for a tall person with a kid. Or...no, I just don't know.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Do Good, Have Faith, Be Strong: Sell Your Car

Decision time regarding the car

I had doubts about selling my car. Sure, I almost never use it, and my family would still have one, but so many what-ifs went through my mind. What if I need a car for work for some reason? What if I need to drive somewhere out of the city? What if something changes which prevents me from commuting to work by bicycle? Several dire or semi-dire scenarios come to mind related to the last. Worries. Concerns. Uncertainties. What-ifs, weighing me down.

We had three vehicles until recently, since we did not trade in the two we had when we acquired the latest one. The plan at the time was to sell at least one of the older ones, which we did, leaving us with two. But then, to take the next step? Sell mine? What if, what if something?

In purely rational terms, I should definitely sell my car. I practically never use it, sometimes weeks go by with it just sitting there getting dusty and slowly rotting away as the months pass. So, sure, selling it would result in no more insurance or license fees, no more taking up space, no more regular upkeep, which I have kept up with, knowing that I would end up selling it some day. 

But, I will tell you that there's something about willingly giving up your car that feels like something could come up that would cause regret about the sale. What would that be? What something outweighs the obvious logic of converting a car I almost never drive into cold, hard cash? 

The imagination offers several possibilities, but on reflection, they are just that, possibilities. So the question becomes, do any of those possibilities that something could happen outweigh the obvious conclusion that I should sell it? How to deal with something, the unknowns that tomorrow may bring? And how much of the hesitation is actually just the weight of the cultural baggage that has taught me, berated me, for decades that I need a car?

I went for a long bicycle ride to think it over, and was able to make the decision and deal with that unknowable something by giving myself a direct and relatively simple imperative: do good, have faith, be strong, sell your car. That may not seem to make sense at first, so allow me to unpack it a bit to show how I arrived at a antidote for something.

"Do good," that refers to both morality and achievement. Morality: follow the principle of acting toward others as you would have them act toward you, and also do the best that you can to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, be patient, kind, tolerant, forgiving, loyal, true, and so on. Achievement: seek success while attempting challenging endeavors. Sometimes we think of this as "doing our best."

For me, holding on to car I do not need, for reasons I cannot articulate, does not feel like doing good. It doesn't feel like I am doing my best. And on the other hand, sometimes, riding a bicycle to work every day, as I did in 2011, can seem like a challenge, but it also feels like I'm doing good.

"Have faith," this refers not to religious faith in this usage, but rather to the belief that tomorrow will be positive, fulfilling, fun, good, educational, non-lonely, overall worth looking forward to, life-affirming. If you think about it, we have no good reason for thinking so. Religious faith may support this belief for some, so be it, that works for this purpose, as long as it doesn't also involve supernatural voices in the head telling the believer to kill or something like that. All we actually know for sure about tomorrow, specifically, or rather tomorrows in general, is that there will come a point in life for each of us when there won't be any more. That's a certain, sound conclusion. Anything more upbeat than that is a belief, a shaky inference, and not a sound conclusion, so why hold this belief? For one thing, when it comes to specific tomorrows, for most of us in typical situations I mean, there's no way to know either way about the next one coming up. It might be excellent, it might be mediocre, it might be horrific, or it might not actually come up at all and turn out to be instead a dark abyss of infinite nothingness, we don't know. We don't know. Which means, again for most of us in typical life situations, it might be any of the above, or something else. Since we don't know, I say: have faith that it will be excellent. Things generally seem to turn out better when you look at it that anyway, and if there's no reason to think otherwise, go for it.

Also, there is a certain level of faith in thinking that when the sun comes up tomorrow, I will again get on my bicycle and ride it to work, no matter what. Thinking so has a lot to do with making it happen, for me (assuming tomorrow is a work day).

But what about when something does happen, what then? For it always does, for all of us, and to think otherwise is to ignore the stark reality that life happens every moment, everywhere, and some of those events are bad, some are crushing, some are merely dreadfully difficult. What then? Be strong, I say. While doing good and having faith, bend with the wind and snap right back up. Flex. Seek alternatives. Try things, fail, try again. Talk it over. Think it over. Some things you try will be terrible failures, some things you think up will be ridiculous, but keep trying, keep thinking. Be strong. Yes, like a steel bicycle frame, but also like the aged farmer who still gets up early every morning to do chores and fix the roof before the rest of us roll over to hit the snooze button, strong like the third grade kid in the electric wheel chair riding the lift up to board the school bus all through the year.

Something will happen. Bring it. You can handle it. Until that last tomorrow until you can't, but that is probably a long way off, and even if it isn't, I won't go gentle. Something got nothin. I can live without owning a car. I may even enjoy it. It is an idea worth trying. It is an option worth exploring. 

There was a kind of fear stopping me from taking the step, but once my wife pointed this out to me, which was the crucial understanding I needed, I realized that without the kind of faith I talked about above, and without the strength to overcome this fear, freedom is not possible, because a choice freighted with fear is no kind of choice at all. Only a decision made with strength and the belief that tomorrow will be great, which overcomes that fear, is a free choice. Anything less means that the baggage, and the decades of being berated that owning a car is key, win, and is not a free choice. I make this choice freely.

Me, my expression, upon making the decision

I decided that whatever happens, happens, and I'll figure it out, together with my family, of course. The reasons in favor are greater than the doubts and fears against, and besides, who can't use a little cold, hard cash? Some of which could be set aside just in case of something, I suppose. Also some of which could be used to purchase bike related items like consumables, or a bike rack for the house. For example.

I decided to do good, to have faith, and to be strong. I have found a buyer for my car, and we've agreed on a price, so all that's left is to complete the transaction. I'm selling my car. I'm free, and now I better understand what that means.

Go for a bike ride and stack up some rocks

Go. Ride your bike. Stack up some rocks.

It's Saturday. Go build some cairns. Just go. Ride. And stack up some rocks. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Metal Thieves on the Arizona Canal: Signs of the Time

Before picture of Arizona Canal Diversion Channel plaques, on 8/8/2011

Same spot, 1/7/12

Close-up of missing plaque, left

Right plaque

I took some photos of these plaques along the canal back in August because I thought they were well done and informative. Someone else must have thought they were ripe for the taking, and worth more as scrap. I guess they could just be out for cleaning or something, but I got a strong "ripped off" feeling looking at those empty spaces. Signs of the times.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rear Rack Taillight Standardized Mounting Dreams Made Real

Flashy light at bottom must be adapted to mount to rear rack like reflector does, period.

I have a longstanding obsessive dissatisfaction with the poor mounting choices available for putting good, commonly available flashing taillights on rear racks. I know that hub generator lights permanently attach and have good alignment and security, but I am probably too paranoid to leave hundreds of dollars of lighting equipment exposed out at the bike rack, day after day, particularly to my semi-ugly commuter converted 22 year old mountain bike. I've tried various gimmicks, and I'm sure that somewhere out there is a Sho-Yabusa MegLED CRUXRak with custom pinpoint light mounting systemTM (that will be impossible to maintain or replace in three years, however, because nothing else will be compatible with its 2.7mm mounting studs), but look: the plain old reflector above attaches to the rack perfectly, although it's not easily removed. So I decided I would be OK with leaving a cheaper, yet good, flashy light attached out at the bike rack, if it could be attached firmly like the reflector, and, would result in good alignment such that it shines the light backwards in the right direction. 

A PBSF with LT7309 rack adapter is not a combination I have tried yet. It would have been next, if this didn't work. The light I'm trying here has the advantage of being about $10 cheaper (on sale, without the adapter, although prices vary wildly), and is also intended by me in this particular instantiation to be left on the bike when it's parked, which the PBSF LT7309 combo is not since the light only clicks into place. Perhaps I could epoxy it into the adapter. Oh, and I also like the looks/performance of the PDW lights, which also have a rear rack adapter available. Regarding the adapters, though: I own taillights from about four different manufacturers already, neither of which currently is PDW or PB, all of which appear to have slightly different clip dimensions, ergo, slightly different rear rack clip adapters. Arg: I own two rear racks. Should I buy the same manufacturer adapter for both racks and be doubly wed to that manufacturer's rear flashies? Or, buy different ones, and have my lights be non-compatible between my two bikes? Or, buy one with a light, then decide I want to try a different manufacturer's light, and not be sure if I need to spend the $6 to purchase the adapter for the rack, too, or if it would be a waste of money since it will fit the one I already have?

I don't know if you have checked, but there are not many modestly priced bright flashy lights available which come with a standard rear rack mount. Which is odd, to me at least, because I have several plain old red reflectors that came ready to mount on the rear rack like the one in the photo. One screw and it's on good. I think you can buy add-on brackets for some rear flashers, too, but they have some poor reviews. I have experience with one surprising example: the rack mount for my Nitrider Universal Taillight is almost impossible to adjust to point in the right direction. It would be much easier to just bend the rack than to point that in the right direction. All I want is a rear flasher with a good, solid, standard rear rack mount in the package. (By the way, I have several good seat post mounts that work well for rear flashers, but they are not useful when a bag is on the rear rack).

This is the problem I have with ALL clip-based bag mounting flashy light attachments (in addition to the varying clip size and shape): they do not result in the light pointing backwards within a few degrees of horizontal and vertical, for optimal visibility, when bag mounted. I have tried, and also seen, many schemes for flashy light bag or helmet mounting that end up with the light flopping around and/or pointing every which way but backwards. I grew weary of my earlier hacked bag mount, which was much fussier than I liked. My flashers need to mount in a sturdy manner to my rack where they belong. It's not airplanes, police choppers, or worms who need to see your red flasher, it's cars behind you.

Adapted! Sturdy!

I used the small screwdriver to remove the clip, then used a rotary tool to cut holes the right size for the mounting bolts. Insert bolts, remount clip, done!

For no good reason whatsoever, I chose to add rubber washers as bumpers. Hmmm.

Mounted to rack. As it should be. A taillight rack wrong has been righted.

Very happy with the result. Road test in progress. You can recognize me from among the handful of other bicycle commuters in Phoenix as the one with the rack-mounted flasher which points directly backwards, as it should. No plans to buy any add-on manufacturer-specific rack adapters, ever. Instead, it's drill baby drill, I'll standardize 'em myself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tucson City Standard Explains Why These Racks Dinosaured Out

Hey, more of the same type of racks I saw at the Phoenix Zoo

On a previous post about bad cable locks and nice bike racks that I saw down at the zoo, I included some photos of a style of rack that I don't remember seeing in other places. On one of my recent explorations about town, I ran across some more just like them. These are located in the Rose Mofford Sports Complex, which appears to be some sort of temple built by devotees of softball and tennis, with a few other sports thrown in.

Trying out the racks
As soon as I tried to use these racks, though, I recognized the problem: first, they appear to have been designed for skinny road bikes with skinny tires, or perhaps kids' bikes. The back of my mountain bike frame was a tight fit, and it seemed like the prong unit would barely fit it, and might bang against its lovely bluish-purple paint if I forced it. If people are deterred from using it for that reason, I understand.

A rack design that faded into oblivion
I had to look no further than the Pima County and City of Tucson Development Standard no. 2-09.0 Bicycle Parking Facility Design Requirements, p. 10, to get a clear idea of why this rack design faded into oblivion, to be seldom seen any more. It said, in Figure 5, Unacceptable Bike Rack Designs That Poorly Accommodate Bicycles, "These designs are made to accommodate traditional 'double diamond' frames with small diameter steel tubes. They don't often fit modern bicycle designs, large diameter aluminum frame tubes or full suspension bicycles. These types of racks can cause paint and frame damage to bicycles and can be a hazard to persons with visual disabilities."

It makes complete sense, when you put it that way. I also like that document because it gives clear pictures of which racks are acceptable, and why. Which could help me pick out a bike rack for my own use at home. It's good to note, for example, that "Artistic designs that provide two-point support and do not have sharp edges are acceptable."

On the other hand, man, that's a relatively generous bicycle parking provision, compared to many other places. I believe there's a total of 20 positions. It would be even better to see all 20 full with shiny bike parked by happy cyclists, certainly, in the course of a typical warm January day in Phoenix, with nothing more going on than families gathered to play softball. I guess it's a clear reflection of the current low state of bicycling in Phoenix that it would be an exceptional situation to see even ten bicycles parked there, and that it's much more normal to find this empty rack. It appeared that none of the hundreds who went to the park rode a bicycle to get here, which has excellent connections to the nearby Arizona Canal Diversion Channel path.

A fun exercise, left to you, the reader, is to use the Internet to figure out, for certain, what "Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3" really mean when they refer to bike racks. Just when you think you have it, it slithers away. I'm still not sure, after checking about a dozen sites, since they seem to mix them up. Just when I think I figured it out, that Class 1 is the best, I found the site that includes "capture/lock protection" which would seem to be like these racks, as class 2, I decided to leave it as an exercise. Check out the Class 1 designs in this document, they look beautiful, and don't seem like they would scratch or dent your frame, or be a hazard to others. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

On Bicycles: 50 Ways This Book Can Improve Cycling

Capsule review: 5/5 manatees, go get a copy immediately (unless you want to win the TDF, it's not for that)

But the real draw [of Portland's first Sunday Parkways event] was nothing fancier than residential streets temporarily free of vehicle traffic. They turned into an instant park that attracted thousands of people with the sheer novelty of being able to walk or pedal down an ordinary street without having to worry about cars. -p.238

I finished reading On Bicycling, 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life, (OB50) edited by Amy Walker, the same day that I received a spam email from Buycycling magazine which urged me to purchase the new Big Book of Bicycling because "Professional Cyclists' SECRETS [will be] Revealed!" Being familiar with the magazine, as well as the profession in question, the spam was meant to compel me to click BUY NOW! under the assumption that I, the spam recipient, harbor deep-seated aspirations to be a professional bicycle racer, or if not an actual racer, to ride like one, or if not to ride like one, at least to train like one, or if not to train like one, at least to identify with them via buying the expensive carbon fiber bicycles, sponsor-branded lycra clothing, powertaps, GPS training devices, helmets, performance nutritional products, unguents*, and other gear that the professionals use as they practice their SECRET craft (and advertise in said magazine).

Dear Big Book of Bicycling spammers: I don't aspire to any of those. I am grateful for all that racing does for the technology and engineering of cycling, absolutely (except for the recumbents ban, of course). I enjoy watching bicycle races and my admiration for the elite few who practice it is immense. Sometimes I even enjoy riding "fast", although not a "fast" that any racer would acknowledge. I don't totally exclude myself from the target market(s) of this spam, since I do own three bikes with drop bars, including one with some carbon fiber tubes. Also, I have a framed poster of Miguel Indurain (which I just spelled correctly without looking up) hanging in my bicycle maintenance area. But, at best, I am only on the fringe of the target markets of the spam.

The market segment I do identify with is one that seems very under-everything to me: under marketed, under served, under estimated, under analyzed, under appreciated: everyone else who just wants to ride their bicycle, or would if they weren't intimidated or mystified by the SECRETS. Those of us who commute to work by bicycle, or who use bicycles for 1001 other uses besides racing, and who also often happen to enjoy the ride.

I receive precious few spams targeted to that market. I've seen countless books and magazines targeted at racers and racer-wannabes, some of them very good, but very few for everyone else. And of those other books, very few, possibly none, that I felt like I could hand to my mom**, for example, or a friend who doesn't cycle at all, and who doesn't understand why I ride, and say: here, read this. It's a great book, and it explains Everything Else that is not bicycle racing for the rest of us. This is not an idle distinction, either, since my mom does appear to think that I still aspire to win the Tour, based on the evidence that I commute to work on a converted mountain bike with fenders and a rear rack.

OB50 is the bicycling book for the rest of us. Even those of us who don't cycle. I also found it to be a well-made book, with those rounded corners, and some sort of magical silky coating on the cover. I don't know what it is, but I believe it to be the same coating used on the obelisk in "2001: A Space Odyssey". I did have a few minor areas for improvement in the book that I also want to mention. 

Although you probably wouldn't think so if English is your first language, the title of this blog post is ambiguous. On first reading, you might conclude that this review would be a list of improvements, parallel to the way that the book 50 Ways to Save the Planet is a list of ways: recycle, save the rain forest, don't pollute,etc.

However, due to the flexibility of the language, it could also be about the "can": since the book is upbeat, it can improve cycling, since the book is longish, it can improve cycling, since the book is thorough, it can improve cycling, since the book presents a variety of perspectives, it can improve cycling, and so on, for 46 more ways. Preferably numbered: 1) upbeat, 2) longish, 3) thorough, 4) variety ... 50) fun, if for no other reason than to throw the reader a bone to keep track of where they are as they make progress through the list, since 50 is a lot of ways to track without a running tally. But then, I suppose that a post title which clarified the ambiguity and also provided a strict enumeration, like "36 Ways This Book Can Improve Cycling, with 14 Reasons Why It Will Succeed in that Quest" is a bit unwieldy, but more importantly, lacks shelf luster.

This is foreshadowing for the minor discombobulation I experienced when I opened OB50, and noticed that there were 50 chapters, but saw that the first one is entitled Bicycling is Contagious, and the second, Because It's Fun!. This confused me. These seem more like reasons cycling can change your life, rather than actual changes it could bring to your life. But then the next chapter possibly makes up for that by compressing three possible life changes into one: Cycling for Health, Wealth, and Freedom. Other chapters, like The Case for Internally Geared Bicycle Hubs (which I found very interesting by the way), seem like neither ways or means. I gather, simply, that the actual tagline was chosen for its shiny market attractiveness rather than for clarity's sake. I would have gone with something that described the book's rich and abundant content for the rest of us normal, non-racing cyclists, as well as a clear enumeration scheme which supported that theme, but I'm not a book marketer. As a reader, though, I suppose I could finish the book and feel like I may have missed something: what were those 50 ways exactly?

And one last nit to pick before closing. A few of the chapters need additional editing. Chapter 3 almost seems like she meant to go back and finish editing it later, but forgot to. There's a paragraph on p.20 about dropping a big rock into a river, and I'm still not sure what happens to cyclists if you do that, how that makes bikes faster than cars, or what part of New York City traffic doesn't include as many large vehicles as rural areas.

But those negatives were quite minor to me when reading this book. I plan to give On Bicycling to close friends and family members, and I need to pick up a few more copies, too, since I have a few ideas about other people I think might enjoy reading it. I'm not sure there are actually 50 ways this book will improve cycling. I am sure that it's the cycling book for the rest of us, however. Even if we might miss out on the expert gear-rocking SECRETS on tap in that other book.

*Although there may be an untapped market for commuter-specific unguents

**I did try handing her Bicycle Diaries, to which she replied, "Isn't that the fellow from Talking Heads? She's pretty hip, even if she doesn't understand cycling.   

This is an unsolicited review of a book I purchased myself, see my FTC verbiage if you have any other questions about my reviewing policies.