Posts Tagged ‘bicycle’

Regret Soup

9 August 2011

Dear J-

One of the tips they tell you to get better fuel economy is to make sure your tires are properly inflated (the correct pressure is set by the automobile manufacturer — the number on the sidewall is the maximum rated pressure of the tire itself and usually is double o more what the automobile will say on the driver’s door jamb or glove compartment). That goes the same for bicycles as well. There’s not a lot you can do with the uninflated though aside from hope that it’s not just a slow leak you picked up somewhere along the way as there’s not too many service stations open at five AM. Effort goes up and so does anxiety: is it the extra load, is it something I’m grinding into the tube even more?

What I probably should have done this morning is stoped and loaded stuff back into the car: I’d have arrived with no drama and not smelled like a goat in the bargain (the helmet probably needs to be replaced by now if for no other reason than the stink). I keep hoping that it has got to be a simple spontaneous loss of air but really, when was the last time you lost air from an otherwise functional tube without it being prompted by a thorn or some other puncture? Shoulda, shoulda, shoulda: picked up a self-sealing tube, checked for leaks, not proceeded in the face of uncertainty. These things will drive you nuts if you let them.

So worst comes to worst I’ll be stuck without a ride back to the house when we get back to the vanpool spot. And the broken glass and nails and screws I’m always paranoid about will have claimed another victim. But I do have a patch kit and a lunch break; there is an air supply at our on-site gas station (and a whole garage to boot) and I can fix the rear wheel without much difficulty. I’m not going to let the day beat me into submission or distraction. Do what you can about what you can do and don’t worry about the rest. Life is good. Regrets are only going to drive you nuts so let them go on their own way.



Want to Ride

15 February 2011

Dear J-

I read in the half-awake dreams of this morning that another bicyclist was killed recently in the neighborhoodClaremont Mesa and Genesee — by a street sweeper who fell asleep. Ignore for the moment that that’s a terrible intersection to ride through — I have done it on occasion, but only passing north to south along Genesee (there’s people who ride along Clairemont Mesa but that’s way too risky) — and focus on this: I can ride as safely as I can, wear as many bright colors and run lights all the time and it’s not going to matter. Bike versus car and the best the bicyclist can hope for is injury. It puts a huge crimp in my ambitions to shift away from a car and towards a bicycle for neighborhood errands.

I know, rationally, about all the share the road signs and ways to make yourself safe and visible. But the paranoia hits me every so often, as it does when the guy got hit by the police car while trying to get into the left-turn lane at Genesee and Governor* and I want to give it up, it’s too risky, right? And this last guy — not only in my neighborhood but riding at the same time of day as me — it’s like there’s a fender with my name on it out there. It need not be foreordained, does it? The more miles pile up the more comfortable I feel. I slip back into bad habits that are inconsequential in nonexistent 3:30 AM traffic and make far less sense at 3:30 PM.

So use the paranoia. Get a mirror, make it work for you. There’s helmet-mounted lights available now too, and helmets both reflective and obnoxiously fluorescent that can be had. Stick with roads with less traffic, which usually have more interesting cars parked alongside to boot (I switched a portion of Genesee out of my regular rotation and have discovered a classic Studebaker and a Porsche 914 with Civic headlamps). I think I’ve even found a way around having to deal with the intersection at Balboa and Genesee (by crossing Balboa at Mount Everest instead). I have to be confident to pull this trick off, putting the bike back onto the road safely.



* By the way the city was supposed to release the accident report on that, which they never did. I’ve rationalized it as that bicyclist’s own stupidity for crossing traffic without looking but I’ve done it myself and at the same intersection, no less. You want to compare stupids?

Bicycle Thoughts

26 January 2011

Dear J-

In all seriousness my next car is likely to be a bike. If it wasn’t for the vanpool it wouldn’t be possible but, save for those occasions when I get up to late (like today) that’s eliminated a ton of driving from my life. In the evenings the only regular trip is off to daycare to pick up figgy, and that’s close enough to the house that I could replace that with a bike ride as well. Saturday mornings to the library? Definitely should be a bike ride. Question now is which bike is best, and I’ve been looking around at some of the different options out there. It’s going to take a shift in the way I think about riding too — going from speed being paramount to riding for utility and safety. I’m not going to win any races on an extra-heavy bike and certainly not with kid(s) aboard.

What’s likely to be the cheapest option is a conversion of an existing bike with an Xtracycle kit. Problem is even here everything comes in $200 chunks — FreeRadical extension is $240, V-Racks and FreeLoader are $250, and the PeaPod LT child seat is $170, so you’re looking at a minimal outlay of $660, and that’s before any upgrades to the donor bike. Gah, if only I’d been faster on the pre-converted bike. So at that point you have to consider the Kona Ute ($900 plus a child seat, but an aluminum frame) or the Yuba Mundo ($1200 plus seat, very heavy) or even a Radish (same price, but with little advantage over a convert-it-yourself), with the advantage going to the purpose-built frames for rigidity. I think I’ll keep my eye out for other pre-converted bikes, but consider building up a bike as well. Then again, for primarily kid-ferrying duties, the Madsen isn’t much more ($1500) and offers a better (lower) center of gravity, and then you can start talking front-cargo bakfiets-style bikes at the price of a used car. So it looks like conversion for me. Anyone have a cheap cro-mo frame they want to donate?

Is it safe? I’ve been wracking my mind over that too. I’ve been riding in our neighborhood traffic for three years now and have had only one spill, on the old 16″ wheeled-folder when the front wheel started to shimmy at speed. You can’t make people not hit you but you can make yourself visible and that’s easy enough with clothing, reflectors, and lights. And the other part of the equation is picking the right routes — some may not be as direct as others but avoid a good chunk of major intersections and arterial roads. I’ve actually been driving alternate routes to daycare in order to find low-traffic streets and have found a few, but there’s still a couple of major light-controlled intersections to deal with (and if it comes down to it, walking in the crosswalk is always an option)p. I’m excited but cautious. San Diego is no Davis or Portland for bicycling but our neighborhood is surprisingly compact and rideable. Now if only I could figure out how to move work closer to home …


Shopping Victim

24 January 2011

Dear J-

Over the weekend, subject to long nights and early mornings your judgment doesn’t get any better but in trying to calm down a crying baby you’ll resort to just about anything to stay entertained. Hardback books work well, as they tend to stay open to the page you’ve turned to. Put one up on a chest-high shelf and you’re set, so long as the kid isn’t exhausting to hold. While Calcifer isn’t exactly a heavyweight (down to I think 25th precentile in weight?) the arms do get surprisingly cramped so sometimes it’s nice to sit down (baby permitting) and rest your arms and knees a bit. It turns out that I spend far more time on my feet Saturday and Sunday than during the week. I must be doing something right. Other tricks include going outside (temperature change, nice for a sweaty baby), walking around (naturally rocking with a bouncy step), and white noise shooshing sounds — either you, or, for the adventurous, a vacuum cleaner drowns out the most ambitious screamer.

Between impaired judgment and spare time more often than not when he gets calmed I find myself on various shopping websites lately. If you have poor impulse control this can be a difficult combination of greed and bad ideas. At one point early Saturday morning I found myself reading up about swapping a Subaru 2.2L EJ22 into a Volkswagen Vanagon and eyeing old ones for sale on Craigslist, accordingly. Never mind that I have a car with that excellent EJ22, never mind that most of the time I’d be hauling around a big empty box of stuff, the inner hippie in me that’s lain dormant since Berkeley (co-ops), Cambridge (organic food), and Davis (dome people) was checking out the differences between a Wolfsburg Edition and a Carat avidly.

It does have me thinking that I should get another car, though the one that I have runs fine, and, with the investment in new tires and clutch, feels almost new again. Most importantly it’s already paid for, and the opportunity to take on more debt shouldn’t be considered lightly. As much fun as it might be to think about possible projects and uses the further ruminating sleep makes sense from the late night scream-addled decisions of last night (you get to a kind of tired point where all you can hear is the screaming but the simplest things — like talking and letting him hear your voice — no longer occur to you). I’m not sure I could replace all our trips with a bike yet but that’s an idea that has neither disappeared nor wilted under the scrutiny of good sleep and poor.


Two Wheels

17 January 2011

Dear J-

After we dropped the bike off Saturday monring — this, a family affair, with figgy hanging off my leg and theVet gamely swinging Calcifer and trying not to look too put-upon — I went and got it by myself yesterday afternoon, after everyone had collapsed into tired puddles on the floor (strange how a relatively light day turns into an exhausting one). The litany of things that were wrong and put right for ninety-three dollars was startlingly long: they had to replace a broken spoke in the back wheel, the headset was also replaced, all the clamps were tightened up, and of course the steering column/handlepost assembly was replaced — they said, with grim warning, that the new piece was an aluminum not steel like the old one, and that forebodes sudden, catastrophic failure, not the gradual decay of the last one. Having your handlebars detach at speed isn’t a good development so I’m looking at new bikes.

Call it an object lesson in greed, then. In trying to be cheap I’ve ended up spending money on things I don’t — or can’t — keep. First there was the magnesium-framed folder from Kent (which is mercifully no longer sold) billed as ultra-light (it wasn’t, even for a 16-inch wheeled folder) but cheap (true, in all senses). Next came this bike, which was fast and unreliable to start off with (to be honest I should have taken it straight to the bike shop before it left the box, as the loose spoke kept flatting the rear tire) but proved to have components not worth the metal they’re made from (I have replaced the deurallieur cable twice, the chain once, and now the handlepost which was poorly designed to begin with and possibly even weaker now), sort of like the kind of bike you’d buy at a department store, only it folds. When all is said and done you end up spending twice as much as you should have before you find something that works well enough to keep — this happens with tripods, cameras, and bikes so far.

For a new bike the first priority has to be the fold, although I wonder if I could instead wangle my way towards a cargo bike* of some sort and cut out a few car trips in the area. Next I’d need it to have adequate range in the gears (which this bike does have — I almost never have to drop into the lowest cog, unless I’m feeling particularly lazy) and besides that I want something that shrugs off abuse, which means internal hub. So for the commuter — compact wheels and probably an 8-speed hub. That’s my list of needs and I think I’d be pretty happy. I’m now far more willing to pay, too, knowing that it’s a game of pay now or pay later. What are you finding fits your lifestyle?


* I love the bakfiets with the carrier in the front. But with all products imported into the States — ideas or bikes — the price is a huge sticking point. Homegrown solutions (even if they were incubated by Stanford students) may be easier. Some guy is selling a built-up Xtracycle built off a Specialized mountain bike frame locally for not much more than the FreeRadical itself which may be a good way to go. And what would you use it for? We have so many different stupid little weekend trips we take in the neighborhood to parks, stores, restaurants, and the library in the car that we could save the gas on. I’ll ask. It never hurts to ask, right?

Stem Flow

28 December 2010

Dear J-

The bike is well and truly kaput for now; the part (which Dahon calls a handlepost) is subject to some of the biggest stresses on a folding bike, as you never realize what the magnitude of the forces on that part are until you get a chance to examine them minutely. In my case, the stem/quill adjuster bolt appears to be the last to go; there’s the characteristic smooth perimeter and then a sudden pop. The surrounding weld let go long ago and so I’ve been steering this thing through a combination of dumb luck and fastener preload. Had this happened when I was bombing down Genesse, though, there’s no doubt what would have happened next: me testing out how good the helmet’s protection is, coupled with sliding to a stop for man and machine both. I know. Inspect your ride, right?

This isn’t the first thing to go wrong with the bike but I suppose it’s part of what you pay for — I’ve now had to replace two derallieur cables, countless rear tubes (finally got the loose spoke nailed down, so to speak, and that particular gremlin went away), a chain, and two sets of pedals, much of which can be laid at my feet and indifferent maintenance. And it’s not as though you don’t get ample warning: if things are loose and squirrely there’s a reason for that and it should be asking you to stop to figure out what and why. It should not, as yesterday was, serve as an excuse to look at other bikes*. I may make the excuse that look, here’s something that I can use as a kid taxi, but the truth is that’s unlike to happen or be approved, even in this relatively bicycle-friendly city**.

The handlepost must be a notorious source of failure, as I see that current models of my bike have switched to a much better design, with the weld and hinge well away from the point — due to mechanical lever arm — of greatest stress. This almost goes back to thoughts of steel versus aluminum for bicycle frames — aluminum being lighter and stiffer, while steel (generally 4130 cro-moly) is heavier but more forgiving, ride=wise and failure-wise as well. I had a failure in both materials — the welded aluminum steerer tube, which was abrupt and silent, and the steel bolt, which held under the daily stresses I put it through and only gave up after a few years. There’s something to be said for weight, but obsessing over that is as fruitless as pursuing the nth degree of optical excellence — you’ll run out of money long before you run out of ability.


* Some of the Dahons in the $6-700 range are pretty interesting like the Vitesse D7HG, Mu XL, and Speed TR — though I’m pretty sure if I do get another bike it’s going to come with a rear hub: I’m done with derallieurs on small wheel bikes.

** Now if we were still in Davis it would be a completely different story.

Dashboard Confessional

23 December 2010

Dear J-

Bless me, bicycle, for I have sinned. It has been thirty-six days since my last ride, so long that my young son has never known his father to be a bicyclist. No arriving home in a conquering nimbust of sweat and dust, no cheery ring of the bicycle bell, just the cold reality of pulling up in the driving rain with the memory of the infernal combustion engine resounding in everyone’s ears. I have hidden from the rain, I have hidden from the weather, I have hidden from the sky’s indifferent benevolence and inconstant blessings. I have chosen life in the cage of a car, gulping down draughts of air force-fed by a fan I haven’t shut off since 2000, led by the tug of a wheel and the tromp of a pedal, pointing the way down the highway and poins beyond without a thought for the theories of Peak Oil and Global Warming.

I have also neglected to reduce the fuel I use for thee, bicycle. From the brownies (with peanuts, peanut butter, and marshmallow fluff stuffed inside) of Monday to the tacos (both crispy and rolled) of Tuesday to the pizza (jalapeno-pepperoni-pineapple*) of Wednesday this week has been typical of the junk I have stuffed in my mouth the entire time I have been off thee, bicycle. I know that it’s the immutable laws of physics but here I feel I’ve performed penance this morning, feeling every last one of those brownies as I labored up the hill (which has grown no steeper)p on thee, bicycle (which has grown no less able, nor sprouted changed gear ratios) by myself (who has undoubtedly gained mass these past thirty-six days). Why is it so easy to backslide, yet just maintaining a goal should be so difficult?

I know I lied to myself when I promised thee I would ride thee, bicycle, in the time I had off and yet failed to get up any earlier, or even as early as before. Thy siren calls paled beside the appeals of remaining in bed, under warm covers (we switched to the heavy winter comforter, bicycle, and it has been all the difference). The joy of speeding down hill in the dark was outweighed by the pain of a return trip. In your infinite wisdom, bicycle, I hope you see fit to whip me back into shape. Shall I take thee for a tune-up so that more of your gears may be employed? Or would you rather I punsih myself by continuing to work in the inappropriately high/low gear you self-select going up hills?

I ask forgiveness and beg guidance,

* JPP pizza is surprisingly good; I had the chance to try it back-to-back with the cheaper variant of jalapeno-pepperoni, and the pineapple is definitely needed to moderate those two strong flavors.

No Excuse

9 March 2010

Dear J-

I did get to ride my bike this morning; I just got to ride it more than I might have wanted to start off with. I left a little late (there were a ton of distractions that kept me around, from reading one last section of the paper to checking the weather one last time) and I got to the pickup spot correspondingly late — maybe a minute or two — but late enough: as the cliche goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Thus I got to watch the sun rise over San Clemente Canyon this morning — and I got on the road an hour after locking the door the first time, the one hour drive stretching before me.

An hour and a half is a long time to stew about things, but the truth is I’d already decided there were a thousand things I’d done that morning that would have made me on time if I’d done things slightly differently, so I’ve only myself to blame. I have a real tendency to externalize problems — at work today I felt myself backpedaling and making mealy-mouthed reasons why things couldn’t get done. For as many opportunities that I had to get things done, there I was reading about something intriguing on wikipedia, like California switchblade laws (balisong trainers are legal) and the secret identity of Simpsons guest star John Jay Smith. I am fond of citing distractions, but I’m plenty capable of distracting myself, right?

There is so much to learn about in this world; there are a million books worth reading, thousands of useful tools that we would find useful. Part of the reason I like what I do and, on the flip side, part of what I detest is the research that goes into every little piece of work we churn out. You get to play detective and hunt down the clues (they’re out there) but it’s not always interesting, and fatigue sets in quckly. You can eat ice cream all the time, but you’d get sick of it pretty fast. Yet it’s what I do, and I make no excuses for it.


Weather Watch

10 February 2010

Dear J-

Even though my bike has fenders on it, it is not weatherproof; the weak link (as it often is) is the rider. I could list a long litany of faults (I need to replace my second set of pedals, now that the chainguards have fallen off the chain has a disconcerting ability to jump the chainwheel under any kind of pressure, and I still haven’t figured out the best way to get the rear fender attached — it just sort of flops around), but the main issue lies with the rider, specifically the laziness (I made a deal in my head: any kind of rain today meant I was driving, never mind that it’s supposed to be nice after noon).

You can get the finest equipment but the operator is the usual limitation, whether it’s computers that spend most of their CPU cycles idle as you’re digesting wikipedia articles, pohnes that do everything but tuck you in bed at night, cars that can drdive at illegal speeds all day (seriously, you can buy 400 horsepower engines for full-size trucks, but why?), or cameras tasked with making something picturesque out of the usual junk I point it towards. The bike fenders are there to keep me from wearing the dust of the road; they’re remarkably effective in the wet, but I also hate being dripped on, so they’re doing their job and I just need something like waterproof clothes to augment; at least I don’t have to commute in a place where it really rains, but then I might have more junk to manage instead.

Of course if we only got the perfectly adequate, we’d all be driving sensible-shoes cars like a Honda Fit/Jazz and brands like Ferrari would never have gotten off the ground; somewhere along the line we’ve convinced ourselves that either we may need it later, or our wants are just as valid as our needs. Since starting the bicycle commute in 2007, I’ve been caught in at least one rain shower per year, which finally convinced me that even if I only need the fenders a few times a year, it’s well worth not having to wipe mud off everything after a wet ride; it doesn’t stop me from looking enviously at folks in warm cars or regret not paying better attention to the weather.


Just Maintain It

5 January 2010

Dear J-

At this point the bike is waiting on a lot of deferred maintenance: the right pedal has lost a fair number of bearings, though I haven’t had a pedal fail on me outright, that will be the second set of pedals I’ve gone through on this bike. It’s still better than the first one, which broke at the bottom bracket, but I’m breaking things I never did when I was riding to school: one chain, two right pedals, and the stem. The answer is not, as I might want, a new bike (my imagination, or does the Abio look a lot like the Beixo?) that I’ll just end up breaking like this one.

The Sube’s got a lot of miles on it (although thanks to carpools and vanpools, not as many as you might think for a 1997: 130K, give or take. It is the car I learned to drive stick on and consequently that first month filled with burning clutch smell is now starting to catch up as even mildly aggressive throttle will result in the clutch slipping, revs building, and me petrified of trying to get up to speed. It’s another vehicle that deserves more than it’s gotten (the tires are probably marginal now, as I haven’t replaced them since they got slashed in Davis nearly ten years ago, and if I keep putting off replacing the battery it’s going to strand me somewhere through no fault of its own).

We live in such a disposable society; it’s cheaper to discard than mend. To impress a girl I liked once I fixed her Panasonic-branded Walkman; it was easy to crack open and diagnose (the single-layer circuit board had broken a corner off; all I had to do was bridge the gap with a few soldered wires. Another friend found out and brought over a Sony, which I struggled to get open, and then failed to fix as the build was even more compact. I’m still amazed at those who can open us up and tinker around with the insides — we can transplant organs nearly as easily as swapping engines in a car now. Yet in the end it seems the body heals itself, and the maintenance we end up performing is on our own (exercise, reflection, resolution) which makes us a perfect target for New Years hopes.