Friday, September 28, 2012

Pedal Craft Volume 2: Phoenix, We CAN do MORE

Mayor Greg Stanton spoke, announced that Phoenix intends to implement a bike share program

Sometimes, commuting by bicycle in the Valley of the Sun seems like a solitary and uncertain affair, surrounded by vehicles with dark tinted windows approaching the boiling point above the broiling asphalt, with countless single-occupant SUVs filling the roads and emitting fumes. I typically encounter fairly decent drivers here, as long as I make eye contact and signal my intent clearly. We get along OK. But there's a lot more of them out there than there are of me, moving a lot faster than I am (usually, any way), and whether by their actions, or their words, it's clear that they don't understand what exactly I'm doing out there, you  know, riding my bicycle on the streets of this city.

Tonight at Pedal Craft Volume 2 at Kitchen Sink Studios in Phoenix, though, the feeling was entirely different. There, I was surrounded by cyclists who by all appearances love riding in this city, who do understand riding these streets. The free beer may have had something to do with their jovial spirit, I don't know. The mayor spoke, and announced the intention to send out a request for proposals for a bike share program in the city, then left the stage and mingled with the crowd. I stopped to talk with him for a few minutes, and the sense I got from him is that he sincerely wants to do more to make Phoenix a more walkable and bikable city, and to educate drivers about cyclists and cycling.

Then I talked with the city Bicycle Coordinator, Joseph Perez, about the bike share for a bit more, and he also gave a very strong sense of wanting to do more to make bicycles more welcome, and more used, here. Joseph talked about the possibility of making an easy connection between the Light Rail and bike share, which makes a lot of sense.

With this crowd of confident, enthusiastic cyclists at Pedal Craft, the feeling that we CAN do more was strong.

I am a little miffed that I didn't catch any of the free stuff that was tossed from the stage by the Bike Cellar's John Romero, but maybe next time.  

Posters posters posters!

Racks. I kind of need/want one, but of course I wanted the $3500 gear fish

Not sure what the neighbors would think, but my bike would just look SO RIGHT locked up to this

The mayor rode up on this, and mingled with the crowd

I was impressed by this young bike maker from Tempe, where he builds Boogood bamboo bikes

Grant Petersen holding forth on the negative influences that bike racing has had on non-race riding

I rode my bicycle about 30 miles today through these streets. I ended the day getting an autograph from Grant Petersen, then riding across town through the electric Friday night. On Third Street, I happened to pass one of the organized Pedal Craft rides heading back south, and they were something to see: what looked to me like an immense number of cyclists with twinkling lights and tingling bells riding along, with someone playing the song "Firework". It was so strange and wonderful to see a crowd of cyclists riding on that street together, happy and having fun on their bikes. That's the other side of cycling in Phoenix, the opposite one from acres of SUVs broiling on the endless pavement and filling immense parking lots: the human-powered crowd, rolling along, celebrating the cool night together.  

Thank you Grant, and Pedal Craft, I believe I will Just Ride

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Operations of the Affect Heuristic in the Cycling Realm

In a world of humans overwhelmingly governed by emotional response, let's cut to the chase

In his article on Slate, Why You Hate Cyclists, Jim Saska explains how the concept of "affect heuristic" applies to drivers' attitudes towards cyclists: the initial and possibly unconscious emotional reaction to an input causes (in this case) a sustained negative reaction regardless of subsequent empirical data or reasoned arguments to the contrary. 

The effect of affect is so powerful that researches have found, Jim goes on, that subsequent positive or contrary information regarding the subject is not sufficient to overcome the initial negativity. Haters, it seems, gonna hate. Once the emotional hooks are set, they aren't coming out: "When it comes to cyclists, once some clown on two wheels almost kills himself with your car, you furiously decide that bicyclists are assholes, and that conclusion will be hard to shake regardless of countervailing facts, stats, or arguments."

I found this article helpful and thought-provoking, which is a lot to get from a quick two-pager on Slate. He's certainly correct, to an extent, since it is or should be an obvious observation that most of what we do is guided by gut emotional reactions far more than by carefully reasoned thought processes. We could gather all the available information about the decision to be made, engaging our avid curiosity to follow up on information and track down data, correlate related facts and validate against reliable references and sources, weigh or score the various criteria, and after taking it all into consideration, make an informed decision, the best possible based on what we know or discover at that time. Yeah, right.

We are so easily swayed into making an emotional snap judgment that even words can trigger it. LOVE, TREASURE, HOPE, HOME, MOM, all these can trigger the affect heuristic such that whatever they are associated with in time is colored by them, typically in a positive way, while HATE, ANGER, DEATH, PAIN have the opposite, and essentially unavoidable impact. I notice this all the time in conversations, and wonder if people are doing it on purpose, or just have unconsciously learned that it works: they casually work in "power words" into their speech, throwing people off track, invoking the affect heuristic to undermine their opponents. To me, the worst offenders, whether they're doing it on purpose or not, are those who casually invoke violent images (guns, artillery, explosions, blood, guts, gore, limbs being torn off, war, etc). Maybe it's just Arizona, but I run into gun imagery every day: guns blazing, using real bullets, firing both barrels, drive-by, those are just a handful I can think of recently. It's so strange, when you pause to think about it, that when discussing some mundane topic, a financial balance sheet, for example, or while discussing a preliminary engineering design, one of the participants will fire off, "Oh, so we're going to use real bullets in today's session." I interpret that just as the (likely successful) attempt to shut down rational thought, and invoke the affect heuristic. Welcome to the jungle.

I love this photo. And the word. Consider my positive affect heuristic triggered.

So given that the affect heuristic is more or less a pervasive factor in human life, it's a bit unhelpful to say that it also rules the judgement of cyclists without explaining how that fact is probative, or insightful, or somehow guiding. It's also a fact that cyclists require oxygen. "The reason that cyclists who drive into the canal fail to continue living is that water causes a lack of oxygen, which they require," is completely accurate, but applies to anyone who enters water and fails to continue to live. People, or cyclists, who overcome the water and continue to obtain oxygen will survive. Sure, but...

Basically, drawing the distinction between rational reflection and affect heuristic in the interactions between drivers and cyclists doesn't support why that's different from any other human interaction. Perhaps there's more to it if you look into the specifics of drivers and cyclists, as compared to other scenarios? What other dimensions are relevant? Fundamentally, can those negative snap judgments be overcome, altered, or sidestepped for a positive outcome?

Absolutely. Words are magic, for one thing. No? Here, check it out, and tell me you still think that. A driver yells bloody anger death at a cyclist, let's say due to affect heuristic. According to Jim Saska, the results are so determined that the bias can't be overcome. Really? "Excuse me, sir, my daughter was just rushed to the ER, and I'm trying to cycle to the hospital, do you know which direction it is from here?" Twenty-eight words, and the bias is gone.

I'm not suggesting you employ those specific words. I am saying: the next moment is open, filled with infinite possibility, and is yours to fill up however you choose. You can allow your emotions to govern it. Or something else. You chose. How about love and imagination? Hope and compassion? Equanimity and understanding? How about a creative and constructive response to a challenging situation? Language, humor, psychology, drama, poetry, music, these are all at your disposal, and more. Kindness. Use them. People are easy when handled creatively and not with rote response. Change the future in the next moment with your own novel, self-directed response.

The outcome which is rigid, ordained, and inescapable is the one resulting from allowing your own preprogrammed emotional affect free reign to power your heuristics and govern your responses back at the drivers, too. Then, yeah, I'll just go ahead and hand out Sad Little Monkey Awards all around. If we cyclists restrict ourselves to that narrow, one dimensional course, then everyone invest in Sad Little Monkey, Inc., because we'll make a million of 'em.

Often, humans dwelling in that angry place don't even really want to be there. They just don't know a way out, so they spin in hell. Invite them out into the sunshine. Smile and laugh warmly, melt their affect into honey. Cars may look like Skinner boxes, but they're not. Humans have many buttons you can press, many of which aren't even known yet. Let's ride, and find some.


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Benefits of Routine Maintenance

Eventually, on consideration, you may have to go back and trench something like this in

The maintenance slash upkeep slash fiddle factor on the fixed gear commuter is joyfully low. Pump up the tires once in a while, make sure the chain is not too slack, lube the chain when it starts making sounds or soon thereafter, make sure things are tight enough that nothing falls off. When shame overcomes me, wrap the bars with new tape, and wipe some of the most noticeable dirt off the frame. That's about it, and you start to see one of the the reasons I like it so much. The pannier bag I click onto the rack is probably more complicated than the bike itself.

But I do own other bicycles, some with gears slash derailleurs, and those tend to be much fussier about things like dirt, bent derailleur hangers, worn out cables, slightly worn chains, on and on, and if I want to have the other bikes be usable, well, eventually, on consideration, I may have to go back and do something about the stuff that doesn't work. So I jumped in, got my hands dirty, cut some cables, fiddled with limit screws and adjustor barrels for a while, and voila, Yasuko would appear road-worthy, commute-worthy, once again.

But not before concluding that one has not fully appreciated the questionable necessity of a derailleur until one has guessed at what the L limit screw should be set at, tried shifting up past the big cog again, and ended up having to fish the chain out from between the cog and spokes (again). My fixie was resting in the corner snickering at me: what are you doing with your Sunday afternoon, man? This derailleur time is time you could be out riding, spinning down the road, eating up these late summer afternoons like warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream dripping off the sides. With whipped cream. Some sharp cheddar, and slash or a strong double espresso on the side. But no, give the L limit screw another turn, try again. Part of me wants to believe this precise mechanical exercise of fine manual dexterity is like the apple pie, too, but the fixie laughs at my rationalization. Apple pie is apple pie, riding on afternoons like this one is like apple pie, and the tools are a means to an end. One which the fixie seems to represent at the express line to the dessert tray.

Post redo
OK, while that sweet old derailleur is spinning like silky new after a certain amount of rehab, the rear brake still needs some help, and the headset, well the headset is going to be a grungy mess once I get in there, I'm sure. But now that the derailleur hanger is straightened out, and the control cable made shipshape, and the chain adjusted to the correct length, all is well in shifting land, anyway. 

And in case there are any lingering doubts, of which I had many, in fact had begun to question the very notion of a rear derailleur on a commuter bike here in flatland, yes, this 9-speed XTR RD-M952 works great on a 7-speed drive train. Several sources of an authoritative reference nature caused all sorts of doubts in my head about that, specifically, that the amount of cable that the shifter would pull to index a gear would not be the same as the 9-speed derailleur was built for, but in this case, that's poppycock. Or that the chain wouldn't fit between the cages, also poppycock. I went ahead anyway, because the thumb shifters on Yasuko click out of index mode quick as you like with a flip of a lever anyway, so either way I was going to finish this job with a smooth, working, swap meet booty derailleur. I also had a couple other alternate chains standing by to try, another derailleur just in case, although not as nice a one, and, in case it all ended in tears, was wondering what Yasuko might look like as a single speed. Or a 3x1. Triple chain ring, one cog in the back. Hmmm. Oh, and while out on the test ride through Scottsdale, found a way to ziptie down the part of the rear fender bracket that was rattling on every crack in the expansion-jointed concrete path, so that I could listen to the silence coming from the drive train. Sweet. Maybe derailleurs aren't so bad after all.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Palmhenge Equinox

Similar photo, totally different topic
Summer is slipping away, although slowly and yet with still more 100 degree days, but when I see the sunset line up with our east-west streets, I know I'll be having coffee with Autumn soon. Shorter days, had to start using the lights recently. SABS is still the theme for night cycle commuting here at OSG, still rocking the Expilion 350 / Radbot 1000 combo, easy on, easy off, super bright, I am definitely seen. Also started taking alternate routes, looking for new ways to/from work, taking spontaneous right turns and unplanned lefts just to see where they go. Do new routes make me ride faster? Do the people who used to see me every day wonder what happened to me when I take a different route? Does the Internet care that I have made some changes with the blog theme? Most importantly, will I locate and consume divine mobile food truck products this weekend? Will Pedalcraft get here soon enough? Should I rewrap my slightly askew bar tape or just let it be? Fix the derailleur cables on my geared commuter which have been double-procrastinated since I'm loving the fixie commuter so much? Did the texting woman who u-turned right* at me even notice she almost killed someone, and did she sense the love and goodwill I overflowed back at her? 

What if a rainstorm dropped all its water in a single giant raindrop?

Also, the ruellia are blooming, got some water color painting to go figure out.

*I've been asked how that would even be possible. Often the inadvisable becomes feasible thru sheer unawareness, like flying by forgetting to fall down.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Santa Ana Connection

Wind oh wind

Long ago, in a place far from California at an age far from now, I was walking around my neighborhood with my crazy, beautiful, world-traveling aunt. She's no longer with us, and the world is less luminous because of that. It was a cool autumn evening, just that temperature where a kid doesn't quite want or need a jacket, but almost. I think she was telling me stories about her extended trip to Japan (she had brought me stuff, a fish kite, some toys, hanafuda cards). Then this hot, dry wind started blowing. Steady and strong, almost relentless, and the contrast of it across my skin, which had felt chilled just the moment before, then warmed by it, startled me, in a good way. She noticed it, too, and said to me, "That reminds me of the Santa Ana winds in California." 

I had never been to California at that point, so coming from her, my crazy-beautiful aunt fresh in from Japan, this Santa Ana wind feeling took on even more significance for me. It's a boyhood memory that has stuck with me, and I suppose is connected with ongoing addiction to hot, dry winds, either those encountered while walking around the neighborhood, or, those hot, dry winds easily created by riding a bicycle in Phoenix. Tonight on my bicycle commute, I felt those self-made winds flowing over me, and thought, "Santa Ana." Missing my aunt, loving the memory of her, I bent lower, and made the wind blow stronger.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I bonked my helmet on grapefruit

Mid-week local flavor contemplations

Some events on my morning commute which greatly narrow down, funnel in, focus on, specify, distinguish, my locale and choice of transport from the gazillions of generic car commutes taking place around the globe:

--I had to weave around some palm fronds that had fallen in the bike lane. These are great ten foot long whopping spiky things, to be avoided on a bike, but one common local feature,

--I had to duck under the palo verde tree which overhangs the sidewalk where I cut across the strange non-right-angle corner, and divert around the oleanders (similar to the ones in mid-photo) which are cut back constantly but grow out over the sidewalk as if it is their mission to cover it,

--I bonked my helmet on some grapefruit which hang out over the bike lane and which have grown into ripening green globes now large enough to hurt if you're not careful. I'm usually careful with these particular trees, but the branches are drooping a bit more as the fruit grow heavier, juicier, so I will have to be more careful so I don't get bonked.

Palm fronds, palo verde, oleanders, citrus bonking my helmet: they mark my commute as a cyclist in the largest city in the wettest desert on the planet. With freaking gorgeous high-90s ultra low humidity afternoons, that's where and how I commute.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What I Could Do Up There

Tree house among the palms along the Arizona Canal

What I could do up there:

1) Stare at clouds.

2) Write poetry.

3) Read stories to my children.

4) Read stories written by my children.

5) Work on bikes. Not so farfetched. Rope hoist, good ventilation, excellent view, quiet. Good security. Solar-powered lights and rechargeable batteries. Workbench logistics. Used rim wind chimes. Handlebar test: if you can hang from them comfortably for ten minutes while suspended 25 feet above the backyard, they should be good for a ride.

5A) Braze a bike frame. See (5)

6) Plan a cross-country bicycle tour on my self-brazed bicycle, stopping in for coffee with blog acquaintances.

7) Have some coffee and plan an S24O. Create a secret map code for the S24O which only I can decipher.

8) Hide a secret stash of fine dark chocolate.

9) Have an unlibrary of unread books, and un-unread them, one by one.

10) Create a watercolor journal of items 1-9.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scottsdale Belle Art SWING: Push (Don't Punch)

This Scottsdale Belle Art Tower installation presents a challenge to those of us raised in the PUNCH school

We live with contradictions and tensions every day. To a great extent, this defines the essential task of a human animal living in a nominally civilized society: the social contract requires that we feel one thing, yet do another. Go see Hobbes, Rousseau, or even Daniel Bell for more on this.

However, a glance at the news of the day (and our history to date) will also show that the human animal is terribly bad at this. A miserable unqualified failure. In fact, we are so very bad at this that I find that the language lacks sufficient adjectives and intensifying adverbs to express the extremity of our failing without falling back in linguistic frustration on vernacular and swear words, which goes against the tone and level I try to set with this blog, but which also, very precisely illustrates the point: one thing you can rely on with us humans, when push comes to shove, we'll act on the impulse we feel rather than observing the constraints of the social contract, and without any concerns for the consequences. It's what we do, people. That's how we roll.

For some giant portion of the population of planet Earth, in statistical terms let's just say EVERYBODY, daily life consists of wondering if things couldn't/shouldn't be better, more peaceful and more prosperous, richer and more lush, while individually we act like psychotic self-centered apes armed with AK-47s looking over a flimsy fence at another band of slightly better off apes who have everything we think we need. Any time our greedy band has access to sharpened sticks, a rampage can't be far off.

If we're honest, every single one of us feels this because we have consciences and know better. In some this sense is much more blunted than others. In some it is burned out through the training and conditioning of ritual, institution, or circumstance. But whether it's what we're doing or what we're reading about others doing in the news, at least some part of us knows better, and so we feel the tension, we live the contradiction. Living like that, it's always a bit jarring when someone, artists let's say, puts it on a sign and sticks it in our face. It's the obvious unsolved awful thing about us: we could be so much more.

Humans are designed for you to gently interact with.

Down at the Scottsdale Civic Center, Belle Art Cycle 2 installation 6 is up for a couple more weeks, so I wanted to spin by and check it out before the next installation (7) goes up. What should I find but punching bags that you are not supposed to punch. Speed bags, I think, like in Rocky, and every other boxing movie ever made, bangety-bangety-bangety- bangety goes the rhythmic whacking of the bag, so fast it blurs, an exhibition of one aspect of the sweet science in which hands and body do something so fast, beautiful, and destructive that we wonder if it can even be so. 

Boxing, similar to football, the structured and permitted release of the animal-in-us within a confined and refereed space, measured and limited but promising blood for us ravening masses. It's supposed to perform a limiting function by exhibiting someone much better than we are doing it right up to, but stopping short of, the line of mortality. Dance up to the bleeding edge, then pull back. We have those sports, yet that's not enough for us, no, not nearly enough to feed the animal. So we take sports where violence is specifically proscribed, baseball, soccer, cycling (W.E. Becker/Major Taylor), cricket for god's sake, and turn even them into blood sports when push comes to shove. Cricket hooligans. Really? REALLY??

They don't bump, they turn and make sweet musical sounds

Plato, Saul Bellow, Ghandiji, I'm pretty sure we'll just never get it

This art not only has a sign (sticking it in your face) telling you to chillax and restrain your punching impulses, but also seems built in such away to frustrate punchers and bangers-together. This is no carnival strong man bang the bell type machine, although it has all the visual parts to be one: if these were free-swinging punching arms set on ball bearings that banged together when punched with sufficient force, there could be a satisfying (temporarily, all such satisfaction is fleeting) bell at the top which would ring if you hit the bottom ones hard enough. But no. Weaklings and Rockies, aggressors and peacemakers, knuckle-draggers and petite readers, we are all one before this thing. PUSH (DON'T PUNCH).

I love the "don't climb on it" addition to the sign. Did the Romans have something like this in the Colosseum, with captured gladiators armed with swords fastened on each rotating table? Like cricket hooligans, the op-art hooligans show up here and have to make it something it is not? Not for me. For me, out on my solo art bicycle ride, the signage and the quiet musical tones, the disconnected and easy kinetic spinning of this work, is enough data to fuel quiet reflection for hours. PUSH (DON'T PUNCH). I'll try. I keep on trying. Please keep reminding me, though.

Sign out in the civic plaza in front of the Belle Art Tower

We live with contradictions and tensions every day. Signs and rules which tell us one thing, news items and human actions around us which slap us with the opposite reality. We attempt to resolve the disparate data points, move forward, and hope for the best. Ride a bicycle far and wide. Hug family members. Post up photos on the blog. Do what we can do. Keep on laughing, and endeavor to do better. Because that much I am sure of: we surely can. Because we know we can, and because reality always seems to have a way of showing us something we didn't expect.



Friday, September 14, 2012

My First Visit to the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel

Come on in, have a look around, perhaps you'll see something you like...

My first visit to the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel in Bisbee, AZ, left me feeling both morose and elated. Morose: roads not ridden, trips not taken, races never run, regrets, missed connections, sunsets long gone, beautiful lithe racing machines I'll never own. Elated: beautiful machines that might actually be possessed and ridden, some of the most excellent steel tubing ever formed by the hands of man into machines you can ride, graceful bicycles that take your breath away. Expertly restored. With many miles ahead of them. Turning my attention to the rides and miles yet ahead of me.

I realize this is more about the bike porn than words. Take a look at this first one, which my eyes settled on with lust and yearning as I entered the store:

Alex Singer Touring, 1972

may I....touch your lugs?

And that was just the beginning of my bicycle brothel adventure. The French one a bit too much perhaps? Out of reach? How about this one, also worthy of unbridled adulation?

Bridgestone MB-1. Looked a little small for me, else I would have been $900 poorer instantly. But maybe...

Monsters of the sport, riding their monster machines, covering the wall

Just in case you want your shifting to feel as if your derailleurs are perfectly connected to your mind

Oh the saddles!

Bates diadrant front forks

Ken Wallace, Bicycle Brothel Proprietor

On the one hand, browsing these classic machines, my own minor 20k daily commute on my own minor machine tends to pale in comparison. On the other, a visit here raises so many possibilities, opens so many avenues, inspires and offers confirmation, validation, and of course, purchase opportunities. There's nothing wrong with a dream to ride something like this along back roads in France some day. Or just to sweeten my daily 20k. I'll be back. With $900 in my pocket. Thinking of Eddy and Alex.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Reluctant Butterfly Effect

Decide, and do, don't wait!

For a long time, I have known that it's often the seemingly small decisions which, in the end, turn out to be defining moments in life. This is tragicomic, since we want the opposite to be true, that our defining moments are pinnacles of careful reasoning and balanced reflection, and that these deep sessions of consideration determine where we wind up. But it's not the case, if we're honest. We know it's often been the quick, offhand, spontaneous choice which started the journey that we find ourselves on still.

For example, on December 30, 1993, I was standing in a corner near the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in Mexico, chatting with a French couple. They mentioned that they were heading to San Cristóbal de los Casas in their rental car, and asked if I wanted to ride along. It was still early in the day, and only a couple hundred kilometers, and also, it was a place I wanted to visit. I had already checked out the bus schedule. They seemed kind, and fun, and to this day I can't really say why I declined. It would have been more in my character to hop in and go with them. If anything, it may have been my vague plans for the connections I had mapped out to get where I was going, and San Cristóbal was sort of in the opposite direction, although I wasn't in any real hurry, and could have easily rerouted. So I said non, merci, and the next day the Zapatista uprising began. I had a 35mm camera and a bag with many rolls of film. The photos I took of the ruins on that trip are some of my favorites. But I always wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to take the ride with the nice French couple to San Cristóbal, and filled those rolls with uprising photos instead. A path not taken, one tiny choice.

The small choices add up. This is my version of the butterfly effect, the idea that a butterfly moving its wings causes distant effects. This is true, uncomfortably so, but is more apparent in retrospect. After all, it's not like every small choice turns out to be a life-changer, so in looking back, the ones that had significant consequences stand out, while the other ones retain their minor status of little significance. Although, a corollary to the butterfly effect is the unknown consequences domino chain, where small decisions you make have some major downstream effect that you never know about, for someone else. But that's another post.

For this post, I want to connect up with concept of activation energy. I was reminded of it by a motivational speaker on a PBS fundraising drive, but I've heard it, and similar ideas, from Leo Babauta, who somewhat amazingly has a latest post up on almost the same topic(!), as well as other speakers and bloggers. The activation energy version for getting started on something basic goes like this: there's something you want to do, go for a bike ride for example, but somehow you just never do it. Perhaps it's learning a new skill that seems interesting to you, the speaker on PBS was telling about trying to learn how to play the guitar. What he found was that he wasn't starting the course to learn the guitar because he had stored the guitar in a closet that was twenty or thirty seconds away from the chair where he had pictured himself practicing. He found that by taking the guitar out the closet and putting it in a guitar stand next to the practice chair, he began practicing. Simply by removing the twenty second delay that was acting as some kind of barrier to getting started.

I thought about this a lot, and it seems like a deep aspect of our psychology: that a twenty second delay of some kind, typically of distance or inconvenience, serves as barrier for us to starting some new thing we want to do. The bicycle which is blocked by boxes of junk. The tool you know is there but you can't quite put your hand on. That twenty seconds acts to feed some resistance or reluctance to change, and rather than starting, we fall back on the older, more convenient habits. That twenty seconds, in fact, often serves to kick off a much longer process of rationalization and negative self-dialog which far outgrow the seedling twenty seconds, and often the time and effort of the Thing Not Started itself. 

Putting these two concepts together, I picture a butterfly sitting on a leaf with its wings folded. It wants to start, to fly somewhere, to begin, but its wings remain still. It waits twenty seconds to see what happens, but nothing new does. No flapping occurs, no distant effects are triggered. It is reluctant, it has doubts. It remains. It seeks out no nectar, pollinates no flowers, does not reproduce. Self-conscious, anxious about those distant, possible storms, it does nothing. Another twenty seconds pass thinking of distant thunder. By not flapping its wings, by not causing that weather event on the opposite side of the world (I think that's the base case "butterfly effect"), it also does not cause thousands of seeds to be made, or create thousands of offspring by reproducing, thereby not causing thousands of further downstream butterfly effects. I want him to move his wings. I want him to fly, to cause those unforeseen distant effects. But the twenty seconds of reluctance has overcome him.

The new, improved, redesigned, primary fixture of urban improvement (these things are everywhere)

What's awe-inspiring, humbling, and even wacky about the reluctant butterfly effect (rbe) is when you consider its implications for your own future, your own path ahead. It's sometimes overwhelming when we face major decisions to start something major, and that's probably understandable, when they involve a career change, major amounts of money, significant change, all that. Some level of procrastination is understandable when it amounts to a strategic delay in preparation for major action.

But the rbe is not primarily about those, merely this: overcoming that twenty seconds of reluctance to start something new can turn out to be a life-changing event, even when the new thing is seemingly minor or small. Because we won't know until it plays out if that turns out to be one of the small life-changing decisions that in retrospect are turning points. 

That realization suddenly became a force for me to overcome those twenty seconds of reluctance whenever they occur. I am jumping into seemingly small action without hesitation; I'm jumping into the work even when it seems trivial, because you never know. You may see me in constant rearranging mode. I am making the future by removing small barriers to starting small new things. I'm making seeds, I'm gathering nectar, I'm flapping my wings. I'll not get caught on the boring end of the rbe.The weather on the other side of my future world, baby: I'm making it, with trembling wings. No rbe here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Trail Ahead

Riding thoughts for a Monday

In between spaces, between a freeway and a residential zone, a narrow green area and a path to ride along. Snaking between the greenery, duck under those branches, dodge to the right around those, to the left around the next ones. This path, except after work, or before, with lights, and cooler weather. Quail that scurry across. Surprising a coyote. Chills. Take a turn a little to sharp, scatter gravel, catch it, correct, ride on. The gulch I seldom get through cleanly, indicating the need for more practice time.

This is within the city. I am within the city, with my bike. Potential for a match-up, there.
What lies beneath, revealed
Urban riding, Phoenix style

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Quick Stops on a Fixed Gear Commuter Bicycle

On my bicycle, I often stop on a dime to look at something I find visually arresting

One reason I enjoy cycling (and alone, I guess) is that I stop whenever the mood, or need, strikes me. I roll easily off the road to a place to pause and look, or, if on a quiet road, just stop right where I am, to examine something close up, sometimes to take photos.

This leads to a related topic that it seems like I might be able to stop shorter on my fixed-gear commuter when it is loaded on the back with my work pannier/bag than any other bike I ride. The combination of front brake plus weight in the back plus shifting my weight backwards while putting back pressure on the pedals is a powerful non-skidding quick stop method. I haven't measured stopping distance or anything precise like that, but, for example, when I stopped as fast as I could so that a mother and two kids would clearly know that I intended to let them continue crossing in the crosswalk rather than waiting for me to ride through, I went from full commuting speed down to zero smoothly, quickly, and without skidding. Perhaps some actual measurements are required to see if there's anything to it.

Stopped at this one, too
But motor vehicle drivers, don't try this! To stop at random times to contemplate a pretty leaf, or a bunny rabbit, or bizarre campaignvertising signs, is not recommended in a motor vehicle, no. Doing so would be clearly unworkable. Unlike on a bicycle, or as a pedestrian, where we can stop to absorb the world whenever it catches our interest. Or whenever we want to pause to consider how to appropriate a specific campaign sign on the day after the election to make the world's greatest coroplast pannier. Suzy Stingray, I do enjoy your sushi by the way, but I feel your signage would create a pannier of ultimate power. Not only brightly colored, but matching my yellow bike, and helpful for weight distribution for quick stops, too! After election day, of course. Yum Yum!

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