Friday, January 30, 2015

The Ducks Were Laughing

There's been a lot of this lately. AZ Canal near 60th Street, where the pavement ends/starts.

It's Super Duper Mega Epic Sports Event weekend here in Phoenix, and to welcome everyone to the Valley of the Sun, we've served up some gray, rainy days. Against the advice of others who may not ride bikes in the rain ever, I continued commuting by bicycle, which was no big deal. Put on a rain coat, carry some dry clothes in the waterproof bag just in case it pours, no problem.

Lately, I've been adding about two bonus miles onto my commute, just to get a little more exercise. It's a nice paved stretch along the canal. It's a good place to get a few extra minutes of exercise in, to burn a few more calories, to think things over, etc. On the ride home, though, it was getting cooler, and the ducks in the canal seemed to be laughing at me for willingly spending more time out there.

Laugh it up, waterproof funny guy

That's OK. I guess I deserve it. The ducks appeared to be enjoying the unusually wet weather, splashing around, flapping up on their legs and making a general party-like duck ruckus. With all the Super Duper Mega Epic Sporting Event Related Gatherings and Excuses to Drink Excessively going on, I was a little wary about riding on the streets. There are already some clearly drunk people swerving around out there. But, I stayed mainly to back streets and the canal, and everything went fine. I did notice that the TV people looked a little dejected in the rain:

The break in the clouds closed up again fast. I wonder if they know the Super Bowl is a fun ride about 25 miles down the canal from here.

I think the media showed up here expecting to see crowds of fans carousing in a drunken pre-game frenzy. Instead, there were just some dedicated cyclists and some tarp-covered vendor booths, along with a few hardcore visitors, probably from Seattle anyway, who felt that this gentle drizzle was nothing to stay inside for. 

I don't think the heavy stuff is going to come down for quite a while

The TV people looked like they were waiting for the rain to let up, but eventually when it became clear that the gentle ripping drizzle was going to continue, they shut it down, packed it up, and went back to their own preferred indoor drinking locations, to join the multitudes partying already in progress. I saw my favorite local weather woman here once this week, and kept thinking she would come back, but it seemed, perhaps, that the weather kept the weather girl away.

I kind of hope it rains hard all weekend. In the desert, we can always use it, but more than that, it would be great to come back here early Sunday evening to see if the ducks are watching the Super Duper etc. Epic Event on the big screen. I bet they would still be laughing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Circling the Mountain

Camelback Mountain at night, north side

Some days, in the normal course of commuting by bicycle and making some routine stops, I end up making a complete circle around Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. Not right around the base, but close enough to know it's near, and, exactly a full or complete squarish circle around it. On some of those days, the schedule causes me to be on the northern leg of the squarish circle at night. It's not an extremely bicycle-friendly zone, but on the other hand I do enjoy the stretches of riding downhill on a swoopy path in the dark.

This is one of my favorite views, which the photo above barely transmits but perhaps it gives something of the idea, of this great chunk of rock that looms up in the middle of our city. For reasons not entirely clear, it felt like a privilege to ride around it on my bicycle on this warm night, and to be able to stop with my bicycle beside a sidewalk in relatively quiet spot to look up at it. 

I circle the mountain, and these odd but grand notions that capture my notice take on significance beyond obvious or immediate concerns, but maybe tie me to others who have looked up at this chunk of rock on a quiet night within the last several thousand years and perhaps felt something similar that was also bigger than their own specific and transient details.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Trunk Bag Grocery Shopping: It'll Fit

Trunk bag, about 90% full (top webbing still empty, though)

The trunk bag is one of my favorites: easy on, easy off, compact when empty, holds a lot when full, expands to hold more when you need, has a place on top for the helmet to ride when I'm carrying it around. Still, I've been tempted to use a larger bag for grocery shopping, in order to make sure it all fits. But, after a few outings to tune the shopping list, it all fits.

Contents: 3 lbs of plain Greek yogurt, 2 lbs of chicken, cans of smoked trout*, smoked sardines, and salmon, macadamia nuts, two large bars of Noir Amer dark chocolate, Chia seeds, Uncured Apple Smoked bacon, tool kit in box, tools in red tool bag, cell phone. Not shown: mini-pump, lights, rain jacket (all packed snugly).

It only took me three or four trips to get the system down smoothly. This outing on a warm Saturday afternoon went fast and smooth. Easy lock-up and unlock at the rack, easy shop, easy ride in the sunshine. Total round trip including prep and unpacking less than an hour, I think (blogging overhead, photography, musing, and stopping to smell citrus being picked not included).  And no circling the busy parking lot looking for a spot: bike parking right up front, no waiting.

What is this thing in the middle of the sidewalk? Why do they do that? Why do they paint around it?

*Post-ride blogging fueled by one can of smoked trout, and inspired by Carina Round singing on the DVD version of "What is...Puscifer"

Friday, January 23, 2015

Almost Partly Beautiful

Morning sky blue and whispy

This world just before sunset. 
The hills robed in light, the sky all ready for any possible colors, for a moment.
In the morning the forecast called for partly cloudy, 
but all we had was this a single delicate whisp.
Just before evening fell, though, the artist's brush left impressions flung across the sky.
It was partly, it was almost, it was beautiful.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Three Little Bicycle Dramas

Will my bike with fender and rack made for getting groceries in the rain fit into the rack at the store?

Could a sunset on my ride home be more glorious than this one portending storm but not delivering?

Is it fair, just, right, or reasonable to compare sunset A with sunset B, or is each glorious unto itself?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

People Are Broken But The Ride is Perfect

The System, is down, the system, is down, the system, is down (no water=no power) (go listen to this while reading)

People are broken. I am people. I am broken. The system is down. All amounts of engineering and debugging are only bandaids to those inevitable truths due to entropy imperfection and the limits of a finite selfish and irrational mind.

But the ride is perfect. Go, hard, into the afternoon, push the muscles and breathe the air, feel the sunshine and wave at everyone. The nice people and the mean bastards. The downtrodden and the rich percenters. Wave hard as they whoosh behind you and watch your perfection in motion.

It's momentary. It's fleeting. But in the ride, perfection may be found. In the flow and balance, the arc and turn, the wheel and excellent quiet. Wind and sun. Pedals. Muscles that go when you require it.

Imperfection parts like a sea of craziness. The system may be down, but it is but a speck fading in the distance behind you, because the ride flows out in front like infinite possibility, unlimited, unknown, but pulling you into it.

People are broken. But the ride is perfect.

See me? I'm the molecule-sized bicycle rider going like crazy down that wonder-tube

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fines Double in School Zone

Double may not be enough

This is a short school zone, right in front of the school only. It is crowded with kids on foot and on bikes, as well as other pedestrians, a few bicycle commuters, a lot of vehicular traffic. Limited or no sidewalks, either, with kids often walking in the bike lane or on the shoulder, depending.

I do not revel in the misfortune of others, including those who get traffic tickets, but perhaps this is a good lesson in slowing down when it should be very obvious that you ought to slow down. And pay attention. And put the cell phone down. And perhaps just leave the SUV home and walk or bike on this mild Arizona January morning, rather than speeding through a school zone full of kids, and receiving a doubled-fine ticket. Or worse.

There was in the recent past a kid who sometimes came to this school on a horse. That's more like it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Awake! Arise! Ride Out O Cyclist!

Contemplations of Sky, Oleander, Cloud and Mountain Reflections

During my years of former car commuting, I frequently expended tens of minutes of precious life each day moving at the speed of a crawling toddler through the former environs of the Hohokam native Americans who spent their days in and around the Salt River digging canals, and tending their small plots of beans, corn, and squash. The freeway which tears through their archeological heritage is named after them, and is decorated with large-scale ground art meant to evoke hints of this heritage. East of Sky Harbor Airport from satellite view is a good way to see this.

In my car, I frequently turned the music up very loud, I think in an attempt to penetrate and excite senses otherwise dulled by the repetitive, stressful, isolating drive I did twice every day. One day blended into the next, one traffic jam bled into another in my mind, until the string of days tightened into one continuous blur of loud music and the numbing, angering view of taillights and bumpers in front of me as far as the eye could see.

Although I was certainly moving through a historically interesting and evocative zone, important for understanding the context of this area, all I remember is cement, vehicular steel, heat, and frustration. I wanted to be anywhere else but there, twice a day, for an hour every day.

Sunlight catching a load of trusses far ahead in the fog

In contrast, I can't wait for my bicycle commute. The chance to slow down, to actually smell flowers and listen to birds each morning, to pause just a moment to contemplate reflections of sky and mountains in the puddles, to meditate on my way to/from work about place, history, neighborhoods, and the local environment, is priceless to me. To breathe the air, to pick citrus in season right next to the street, to feel my muscles propelling me to work, changed my life. 

I broke out of my car. In an infinite yet transient moment, when I pause to look into a puddle as far as I can, I see the reflections of the blue sky, white clouds, and brown mountains written as if in a chasm opening in the ground before me, and in one breath I feel whole and happy. Try that in a traffic jam some time.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Old Yellow Bike at the Arizona Falls

Below the power plant falls--have they changed?

There was me, long-ago me, trying to imagine a future day when I would be at ease and could go where I wanted, do what I please, ride my bicycle out where I wanted, return home whenever I felt like it.

Tricky light with the gloomy clouds, a fill flash might have worked better

There was me today, riding my flatland commuter fixie project bike with the new handlebars on my easy ten mile get-up-go-ride route, my mind kind of at ease, my destination wherever I wanted it to be, my schedule pretty open, my time due home unknown. It seems like this was that ride that long-ago me imagined. Apparently, on reflection, this was the day.

So many holes...

There will come a day when I can't ride any more. When knees fail, when back goes for good, when lungs or heart begin to struggle, when the physical plant wears out. This day, I suppose I will look back on, to remember when I could do these things. When I did them. When I close my eyes and hear the water of Arizona Falls cascading over the dull hum of the generator. I will look up at the lights, hear the machines beeping, and think, this power was made from water.

In the meantime, though, more rides, ride the day, I say, live these moments and know them for what they are, now. Also necessary, important I think, to know that others may be on some similar journey, from the first mode, in the second, middle mode, moving inevitably, eventually, to the last. Solidarity in understanding this contingency while holodecking the now as if it were hyperreal.

Ride the day, be home on time, though.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bike Racks for Utility Trips Psychology

It's an open, everybody is welcome kind of rack

I'm surprised at the significance to me of a nice bike rack when I think about cycling to a particular destination for a utility trip to pick up groceries, or something similar. There are usually signposts or fences that work for locking up when there's no rack. But, for some reason, the thought of this decent rack just invites me to shop over here. Vehicle parking and traffic in the lot were kind of hectic, but I know this rack is up front, near the store, best spot in the lot, I guess. 

It's a little hard to see in the photo, but the back part of the rack kind of has a half of a parking spot, which generally keeps it open for bikes on the other side, too. I often park over there, because it seems less likely that someone will bang a cart into my bike there, and if there's already a vehicle blocking in that spot where the SUV is in the photo, all the better for a feeling of compartimental security.

Restaurant on the corner with inviting bike racks front and center (hoop racks are great)

The psychology of inviting and convenient facilities fascinates me. Something about the activation energy of cycling, the get-up-go-ride booster that gets you on the bike and out the door to go and pick something up. Easy peasy. Two or three miles on a pleasant January afternoon. What's the big deal? Yet, the usable racks, perhaps the site of a few others also utility cycling, makes the simple and easy feel simpler and easier. 

Also, some day, I will sport a wicker basket for grocery-getting. It will have a baguette clearly visible as I roll easily along.

Night rack for a quick stop


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lemonade Stands in January

When the bike ride gives you lemons...

Last week's cold and rainy weather has given way to high pressure steady warmth. This often results on weekend days in neighborhood kids setting up lemonade stands beside the bike lane. When it's January and the neighborhood kids are setting up lemonade stands next to the bike lane the only thing sensible to do is to go for a long, lemonade stand touring bike ride. Of course, the weekend is still a few days away, but that's the plan. Bonus points if you can see the lemon tree the fruit came from behind the stand.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stainless Steel Cable Ties for Bicycle Usage Part 1

Tools for this investigation: steel cable ties, multitool pliers, diagonal cutters. Greenlite tool roll for contrast.

I don't think I've ever heard of stainless steel cable ties until this morning. I'm sure they've been around a long time, and that people who use them for exhausts and actual maintenance tasks are well aware of them, but I had never come across them before, at least not in a way that they registered. But today, while searching for some wider-than-normal "heavy duty" cable ties to fix up my Carradice Bagman rack, I happened to see some photos of stainless steel ones, which naturally infected me with an irresistible urge to try some out.

Close up of the fastening end

I quickly learned that for $6 minus a 20% off coupon plus a quick trip to my neighborhood Harbor Freight store, a back of 25 12" long stainless steel cable ties could be mine. The first question I had was, how do they hold tight? And the second one was, could I tighten and cut them with the multitool that I always carry in my tool roll?

The answer to the first question, I found, is that there's a ball bearing entrapped inside that fastening head which forms a happy little friction and pressure jam alliance with the band as you pull it tight. It says it has 115 lbs working load, and I'd guess that would be the band itself, since that jammed-up ball seems very stubbornly stuck once the band is tightened. Apparently, there's also an alternate type that fastens differently. If I get hold of some of those, I'll include them in part 2 of this topic.

To try them out, I thought I would simulate the field repair I did on my old rear rack when one of the welds broke loose. When it broke during a commute, I wrapped two plastic cable ties around, pulled them tight as I could with the multitool, and they held for a long time. Could I do the same with steel ties?

Simulated field repair of broken rack weld with stainless steel cable ties

The good news is, tightening the straps with the multitool using a method similar to the one shown in this helpful youtube video worked great. You just use a needle nose to wind up the tail end of the band underneath, and tighten it against the fastening end.

The sort of bad news is, cutting the steel with the multitool pliers did not work so well. First try, rather than cutting the steel band, it sort of bent in between the pliers and jammed them shut. Since they bend easily for folding in the opening direction, there was not an easy way to unjam them. I ended up using another needle nose pliers to pry the multitool pliers open, which was not ideal. Out on the road, I think I could have worked them open, but no use banging my knuckles at home when another pliers did the job. The loose end of the cable tie seems to be capable of being wound around something or itself, too, so in the event of a field repair, the unused length doesn't seem like a big deal. It's very flexible, bendable stuff.

Stainless steel pliers jammer upper

So, next question, would the 7" diagonal cutters do the job? Yes! They worked well, with low to moderate effort, cutting right through. Not that I really want to add a 7" diagonal cutters to the tool roll.

These stainless cable ties seem light, strong, and potentially useful in many different scenarios. I'm going to throw some into the bag for future use, and will let you know if/when they come in handy. 

Ever used them for a bicycle, or something else? Perhaps what they're actually intended for?