Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Turtle Flower Blog Lockdown!

Keeping his eye open, lock at the ready

Got to ride off and away from the blog for a little while for some family time. I'm leaving flower turtle in charge while I'm away, and he's got a lock ready just in case. Also, I've got some big bike things in the early planning stages for the next year, including one where I've already started joking around at work about taking nine weeks off in 2013. We'll see what if anything actually comes of that, but it's one of those things that may just have a way of getting worked out. My advice while I'm off-blog: go for a ride, enjoy the summer, and fly straight, cause flower turtle got his eye on you. Here, have some cactus, catch you when I catch you.

I'm of two minds regarding the symmetrically arrayed cactus designs

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Yellow Bike Riding in Sunshine

Almost always makes me smile

While there were several eye-catching objects in my line of sight, the one that seemed brightest and most at home in the sunshine looked like this. We rode together in and out of the light, through the shadows and down the streets. It's very quiet, this old bike, still tightened down and fitted to itself well enough that it rather floats along when following one of the thicker paint lines. These 700x28 tires at 100psi seem a little harsh for it though, although fast smooth and quiet. The frame and fork will admit significantly larger tire, perhaps I will tire up, and air down, a bit, to soft up that ride a skosh. Nothing too sudden, though, got to give these a chance, see if I settle into them. Sunny day rides like this one have a way of changing my mind.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Heart Can Hold Everything

Cormorants lining up, taking turns, passing time

I paused on my ride to quietly watch some cormorants lined up on the canal bank. My mind was overwhelmed, frankly, with everything trying to fire through it at the same time: threads from work that needed tying off, weekend planning, home stuff, personal stuff, a little bit about what to blog and what to say although that typically doesn't weigh much, the noisy derailleur that needs replacement soon (bent hanger? stuffed cables? capacity? cage length? frame alignment? chuck it all and go single permanently? etc). Plus, and not complaining here just observing, fatigue washing over my mind in waves strong enough to make me wonder if I was too tired to ride a bicycle safely.

So I focused on the birds a moment and breathed deep. What were they up to? Bored with lack of fish, possibly, they formed a line. Appeared to be taking turns. One at a time, splash into the water, swim past the line, flap back up onto the bank, next one goes. A very individual activity, it looked like, for what we often think of as flock creatures doing everything together. Do they have a concept of line-up, of taking turns, of counting? Is that how they keep track of large families, eight or ten swimming along, but no moving on until all ten are caught up and accounted for?

Sylvia Boorstein in Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake, relates an incident of walking along in silence with a group of fellow retreat members and coming across a family of quail with 12 tiny babies crossing the road, the parents squawking and somehow keeping track of all 12 until all were across. With minds similarly full as mine with stuff dredged up during the retreat, and compelled by the imposed silence to not talk about it, all of the people watching the birds seemed to have had a similar reaction to the quail family, and knew that the reaction was similar without speaking it: quail can count. Boorstein's conclusion, in a moment of clarity as she was working to collect up and bring perspective and perhaps sense to so much: the heart can hold everything, Equanimity is possible. This rings true for me. The mind thinks what it thinks, sometimes an exhausting laundry list of threads firing through and around, but always expecting itself, alone, to order it all up, collect tie up and terminate the threads in some kind of neat quiet end state, nice it all down, can itself become yet another thrashing thread, using up energy and cycles, consuming attention, fostering ill feeling, stress, discord.

Can birds really count? I don't actually know. But, calmed by them a bit, I know that it's probably time to stop worrying the derailleur and let my hands go to work. They know what to do, they are actually pretty good with making the chain go around the cogs, through the pulleys, up and around in a smooth and orderly fashion. Time to let hands do what they do. The heart can hold everything. The chain can chain smooth, and quiet.

Equanimity seeking, a balanced tension between linear motion, spinning gears, springs and chain


Friday, July 20, 2012

Hit the Road, Jack

Friday. You have a bicycle. There's the road. Any questions?

My view of Friday is that it serves as a bridge to Saturday, for preparing for the ride or rides that are planned for the weekend. When the sky is blue yet slightly overcast, the temperature medium-hot, and the road wide, flat, and empty like this, a swerve toward not-work would be understandable. That is, starting the weekend a day early, I mean, in the face of overwhelming evidence that it would be the Best Thing to do. Going straight means work, turning toward the mountain on the right, or the mountain on the left, early weekend!! Hello, work, it's me. Yeah, listen, I'm just not feeling it today. Not feeling it. Hey, thanks for providing me this neat smart phone so that I can check the weather, see that the conditions are perfect for a ride, map it out, then call you to tell you to fuggettabouddit. No, no, not a reflection of you in any way, listen, let's apply the reasonable person standard: ask ourselves, in this situation, what would a reasonable person choose? Joe Cyclist, just an average guy, sitting at this red light, I'm thinking of the fellow at the end of the movie Cast Away, where he's standing at a crossroad and the future hinges on the simple choice of which road he takes. For if I have learned anything, it's that the simple choices, which road, which direction, where to ride, with whom, that turn out to be the life-drivers, the changers, the directors. No pressure. Hey, light's changing. I think I'll ride...that way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Florist Sign in Phoenix

Just about the sign

There's some controversy about this sign in Phoenix, but this post isn't about all that. Vanishing Phoenix has more info if you're interested in the details. It's about the sign as a sign. Like the first time I saw the Tovrea mansion wedding cake lit up at night when I landed at Sky Harbor, or the pre-cast concrete Biltmore blocks, this sign for me is one of a few remarkable, memorable, and distinct markers of "Phoenix". Is anyone putting up anything comparable, anything which is both visually remarkable and a distinctive marker of Phoenix? I'm hard-pressed to think of anything on a similar scale and visibility. With that thought, I rode my bicycle over to get a picture for myself, and I'm pleased: My Florist Phoenix.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Appropriated Identities Light Rail Diversions

How I imagine a Mayan bicycle mechanic would appear, with wrenches

Right around the midpoint of the Oak-Encanto bikeway sits a light rail station with some cool public art. On a hot day at noon in the summer, those air conditioned light rail cars with the bike hangers can be a welcome respite, a way to cover some miles and cool down while doing it. The art at this stop is cool, centered around a bronze statue with some interesting details.

Public art at the Light Rail stop across from the Heard Museum

It seems like I see more and more bicycles on and around the light rail whenever I ride it. Sometimes, the bicycle hangers are even full, but no one seems to mind in that case if you stand and hold your bike. At least not on the weekends, not sure what a crowded work day would be like. I guess you could always wait for the next train while pondering the details of this bronze stele.

Compare with this stele from Copan (public domain image, from here.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Grouchy Sloth Face

On our Saturday bike ride, my daughter and I studied this visage carefully

This truck face is not random, or accidental. Someone designed it, someone built it, someone bought it, all on purpose. So it is not off base to ask what the intent was, of the designer, the builder, the purchaser, the driver who took it to the grocery store and parked here: what's up with this face? Tough? Strong? Macho? Bad-ass? Dominating? It's truly a caricature of these, coming across more as a grouchy sloth, or perhaps the Master Control Program from Tron, rather than an intimidating bad-ass road dominator. The hilarious profusion of projector lamps is the best part: this thing has more eyes than a spider. With 12 lights mounted in the eye positions, do the driving or fog lamps down low actually add something more? 12 wasn't enough, 14 just about does it? And wouldn't that unibrow wind deflector sort of work against the hood scoop?  My eleven year-old daughter sat right in front of this grill on her small bicycle, and laughed: Dad, is this for real?


Friday, July 13, 2012

Riding on a Morning Like This One

Foundations for the pre-ride weekend checklist

Warm and overcast morning preparing for day. Light winds, light traffic. Air fresh from the night's wicked thunderstorms. Bicycle tuned, lubed, fits like a glove, rides like it's invisible and silent. Legs good, knees good, lungs good, brain in serviceable (or nearly) condition, heart steady on. Quiet pictures from rides on a morning like this one. Summer morning, bright and hot, wrap me up.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Motorist Intuition Sweetens the Ride

Rough road, nice drivers

With the weekend winding down on Sunday evening, it turned out I hadn't found time for a ride all day. With some regret, I was putting the bikes back into their storage configuration, the one where there's not parts and pieces of them laying around being cleaned, disassembled, reassembled, lubed, or reassigned, where parts of the house, work area, and patio resemble either a bike swap or a very odd or haphazard bike shop, and was struck with the sudden urge to go for a quick night ride. Just a few miles of straight sprinting down the bike lane, just to feel the wheels spinning, just to burn off some nerves. I attached the two simplest lights I have, which take about 12 seconds to deploy, and took off. (PBSF clicked onto the Topeak rear rack light attachment point, Knog Skink wrapped around a handlebar. Bam! I'm off)

This particular stretch of road is that spider cracked asphalt like in the photo above, which on a road bike moving right along on skinny tires can be kind of rough, but I ate it up. Just pointed the fixed gear bike into the last light of the setting sun and pedaled hard for a couple of miles. Fun fun fun, glad that I did that before putting it away.

It was an out and back ride. At the end of the out leg, as I rolled up to the red stoplight where I planned to u-turn to go back, I looked back over my left shoulder at the car I heard coming up behind me, but didn't change my line of travel. I was slowing down, thinking the driver would probably roll past me to the light, and then depending on where I wound up, I would loop around behind them and go back the way I came from, else wait for the light to change and traffic to clear before heading back. But the motorist saw my over-the-shoulder look back, and apparently giving consideration to the red light right in front of us, just slowed way down clearly indicating I should go ahead and do whatever it was I was looking over my shoulder checking for. So I waved and went ahead with the u-turn. 

It was one of those quick, non-verbal, direct human communications on the road that continue to amaze me. In one way of looking at it, the intuition of the motorist was directly connected to my wheels through my fixed gear, being driven by my legs, which were controlled by my mind, which in turn was processing perceptions coming from the car and its changing motion behind me, based on a total of less than a half-second of sensory input really, just a glance to verify what the motorist's perception and judgement of my actions were going to result in, leading me to keep on spinning, wave, and u-turn around. On a dark street with spider cracked asphalt, it sweetens the ride when all the neurons, perceptions, intuitions, habits, and reactions all click like that. Thanks for the road cooperation, Phoenix motorists, much appreciated!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

3 Cool Things on a Hot Phoenix Bike Ride

Phoenix Fillmore street sharrows bike boulevard

Bike route distance signage

Short Leash Igby dog at Phoenix market Saturday morning

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sometimes Riding in the Desert Feels Like This

Hot and dry, dusty and dessicated. Two or three months without any rain at all. Heat in the hundreds for weeks on end.

Then, as if by miracle, the clouds roll in, the temperature plunges, and a soft warm rain falls all day long. The family and I grabbed some foodstuffs for a rain picnic, jumped on our bikes and went for a long easy ride in the warm rain. We didn't wear anything except t-shirts because the rain felt glorious and warm. 

Kids laughing in the warm rain on a bicycle, racing me to the next puddle to splash through. Sometimes riding in the desert also feels like that.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Synchronization of Heart, Effort, Distance, and Mind on a Bicycle

Stem color in harmony with bike. I've always appreciated that.

On today's commute, I started contemplating the idea of synchronizing my heart rate with my cadence. 70 rpm and 70 bpm seemed like a nice easy starting point, but to do that would have to be a very easy gear spinning. Then I started calculating, if each turn of the crank was matched by one beat of the heart, if the HRM and the cadence counter both said 70, could I also find a unit of measure which would yield "70" something for each turn of the rear wheel in a particular gear? I'm seeking resonance here, numeric harmony, a balanced matrix of cycling parameters.

In my head, I actually became pretty certain that 70 decimeters per crank rotation would be very close, but that had a lack of symmetry about it, since I was shooting for minutes in the denominator--revs per minute, beats per minute, something-distance-units per minute was what I needed. And I wasn't sure what type of gearing would yield 70 decimeters, or 7 meters, not off the top of my head, anyway.

Getting back in front of the computer, I found that 70 rods per minute would be 13.125 mph, in a gear/wheel combination right at about 5 meters of development--not the absolute easiest gear on my bike, but on my triple ring road bike, one of the easier cogs in the middle ring. A rod is a unit of distance used in surveying, equivalent to 16.5 feet. Are you with me on this?

Since my resting heart rate is right around 70, I'm doubtful I could spin 70 rpm, even in an easy 5 meters of development gear, and keep my HR at 70. So do the calculation at 80 bpm, 80 revs per minute, 80 rods per minute, which works out to 15 miles per hour. Maybe I could hit that. It sounds possible.

The spinning intersection of heart, effort, and distance

But what about mind? I mentioned that in the title. How to sync that up, too? Breathe in, that's one. Observe that inhalation, then exhale, that's two. Repeat, three, four. Observe your breathing rate, while also maintaining synchronization between cadence at 80 rpm and heart rate at 80 bpm. Calculate your respiration rate per minute, on the fly, and add an extra "hold the breath for one count" count once in a while, such that you are counting breath-steps, ins, outs, plus holds, so that the total comes out to 80. You have to plan ahead, and also not affect your breathing, just observe it and count the steps you need to add up to the synchronization target number. This may sound like cheating but it's exactly the point: you are actually counting observations of the steps of your own breathing, and if you chose not to make an observation of one step, it doesn't count because you didn't observe it. If your exercise respiration rate is less than 26.6 you'll have to find another number to align on, or else, count breaths differently, perhaps in base-8 rather than base-10. That's heart-effort-distance-mind at sync-80 right there. If you can count breath-steps in base-8 and not crash at 80 rpm, 80 bpm, moving 80 rods per minute, I can almost assure some sort of altered mental state. Please don't crash though.

But there's no reason to stop there. In fact, pick the gear that you feel comfortable with, one of many where you can sync your heart rate and cadence. 92 bpm at 92 rpm? Perfect. Stick with that gear. When you get home, go here and figure out the meters of development with your wheel and tire in that gear. Let's say you were running your 52X18 fixed gear with 700x28 tires (my personal preferred heart/effort/distance/mind synchronization combo): 6.2 meters per rotation of the crank. Therefore, 6.2 meters is my unit of measure for synchronizing heart/effort/distance and mind on my fixed gear bicycle. Let's call that a JRAkometer. 92 JRAkometers / minute, 92 bpm heart rate, 92 rpm cadence, 92 in-hold-out breath counts base-10. (92 JRAkometers / minute is 21.2 miles per hour, just to close off on that.) That's synchronization of heart, effort, distance, and mind on a bicycle.

Of course, and here's the secret, it's not about a particular number, or unit of measure, or speed, or distance, or base. It's about the focus, concentration, and power of observation that yields the synchronization, and the ability of the human mind to both conceive of such a thing, and achieve it in reality. Like the JRAkometer, you could make up your own units of time, and distance, and chose the number base of your liking (base 60 anyone?), and sync it all up from that direction, at whatever gear you happen to find amenable to spinning. Go forth and synchronize. The time-space continuum awaits.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What If It All Felt Perfect (on my bike)?

It's all about the set

What if I was riding my bike, and it all felt perfect?

The hot city headwind, the traffic moving around me, the day's worth of stress broiling in my belly.

The creaky knee stiff from sitting at a desk inside all day. Back too.

The uncertainty of tomorrow, of the next moment, for that matter.

Not knowing. And not wanting to know.

Nearly getting squoze off the face of the planet between two single-occupant SUVs racing to the red light to get home thirty seconds earlier to enjoy more their massive one day mid-week holiday. 

Then: sitting at the red light above the shimmering hot asphalt, hearing an old familiar tune coming from an open car window next to me, which on side glance turned out to be a white 1967 Mustang, the familiar tune being "American Pie," the refrain I have to sing. So I began singing along, and looked into the window, at the same time the driver, an attractive middle-aged brunette, also looked at me. She was also singing. And this wasn't meaningful, or poignant, or chemical, it was merely perfect. All I wish for her to think was, there goes someone having a perfect ride.

The light changed, we all drove off, and everything stayed perfect. Yes, I kept on singing that song, but beyond that, everything felt just right, completely due to the bike. Or rather, to my mindset and perception of the sensations coming from riding the bike.

At the stop sign I did a track stand because I felt as if touching the earth with my foot would cause the perfection bubble to burst. So I kept my feet up and everything stayed perfect. The wind in the trees, the sun in the sky, the black Mercedes flowing past me at the mouth of the traffic circle in a perfectly timed entry ballet, first him, then me, right through without delay, a split second apart.

What else I saw. Everything. What else I felt. Everything from birth to dying. As I said, not knowing, and not wanting to know. But seeing. The imagining that we might be this better self, in motion, not along for the ride, but being the ride, making it, seeing that this life may be all too short, but has its moments. It does. I put my foot down in my own driveway and it all just went away. Except the memory of it, some words, and the fading music of an old song coming through a car window at a stop.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Those Silvery Gears

Maintenance that glistens in the light

Performing some maintenance this weekend on the bikes, I set this new cog cluster for the cruisemuter down on a black surface, and was struck by how pretty it was. Even though it is older, seven speed technology, I also wondered if that isn't more gear combinations that I ever need, or use. Even on somewhat hilly rides, I end up using about five combinations, or six: the smallest two or three cogs in the middle ring, a couple of those in the big ring, then a couple of the biggest cogs in middle or smallest ring for bailout combo on a really steep hill. Not even close to 21, let alone 24, or 30. So in that respect, an internally geared hub with 8 speeds should be more than enough for me, generally speaking. But on the other hand, derailleurs are pretty easy to work on, easy to maintain, and reasonable to replace. I don't have to rebuild a wheel when the cogs wear out, or if the derailleur needs replacing. 

Does it make sense that I enjoy my single speed, my fixed gear, and my multi-speed bikes in their own ways? That some times when I'm riding the fixed gear I miss the granny gear, and some times when I'm riding a derailleur bike I missed the single speed? Between fixed, seven, eight, and ten speed setups, right now, the eight speed chain would appear to represent the sweet spot of cost, technological evolution, and longevity. Ten speed chains cost too much and wear out too fast. Most single speed setups work fine with an eight speed chains, and they are believed to last longer. The point of mentioning the chain discussion isn't that I am sold on one particular size, but rather that I think it would be better if I could just settle on one size that would work on all my bikes. That's going to be tricky as long as I keep the road bike with 30 speeds. So maybe two sizes. Depending on how many speeds I really need.