Thursday, November 19, 2009

Objet Trouvé

Seen in Houston.

I swear to God that I didn't touch the thing; it was just right where I found it.

I have to admit, it's a little hard to imagine the circumstance that would allow a cyclist to just leave his left crank-arm and pedal sitting out there near the curb like this. I mean, clearly there was a missing crankarm-fixing-bolt, and I suppose that it's possible to lose one of those, (although I've never done it personally,) but how does this happen and you don't just reach down and retrieve the thing?

What's the most likely? Was it:
  1. the cyclist was walking his bike and didn't notice;
  2. the cyclist was walking his bike and too drunk to notice;
  3. the cyclist had his bike on the back of his car;
  4. the cyclist was riding and he and every bit of his bike except the left crankarm and pedal was hit big-time by an alien abduction ray;
When you figure it out, let me know.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Extreme Cyclist Holiday

I didn't really start out intending to have an Extreme Cyclist Holiday in Houston. I just meant to take my folder along and get some riding in, instead of spending all my time in a car, worrying about gas, parking, etc. Then things just sort of got out of hand.

Let's back up a little. At the last minute, I decided to go to the Rice University homecoming to hopefully see some old friends and hang out some with my older daughter Claire, who helps run a bookstore there. I booked a flight, and found my usual close-to-Rice hotel had some good rates, so I got a room. Then I thought, "Hey, I wonder if I can get from the airport to reasonably close to my hotel using mass transit?" Hopping on the Houston Metro website and entering a couple of addresses, I found that I could catch a bus right at the airport that took me to within a quarter-mile of my hotel with no transfers. Wow. Sixteen miles in Houston for a buck and a quarter. Double wow. (The image at right is from the Houston METRO trip planner, very convenient.)

So, that axed the rental car, which saved me about a hundred bucks, probably a hundred thirty with gas. Ka-ching. But it also meant that my in-town trips would be either by bus, by taxi, or by bike. (Now there's an easy decision.) Houston is flat, and the November weather in Houston is really perfect for riding (high 60's to mid 70's, and not terribly humid). And good weather (no rain) in the forecast.

So, to make a long story short, I spent an entire weekend (three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) in Houston, Car City USA, and not once did I even get into an automobile. It didn't seem strange until early Sunday when I realized that I hadn't been in one. Of course all my old classmates thought it weird, but I caught some whiffs of envy among the incredulity, when they asked, "You're kidding! You BIKED to the party?"

Good things: Saving money, great exercise, the flatness of Houston (my little Dahon folder is great for packing, but really not much for hills), Rice University bike parking facilities (basically, good secure bike racks everywhere), not having to worry about parking a car, Daniel Boone's Cycle Shop, and great weather.

Some people complain about Houston drivers. I was told by the bus driver (friendly guy) coming into town that Houston drivers don't respect cyclists, but I had zero bad experiences over about 60 miles in 3 days. Of course I was in a university part of town, where there are quite a few cyclists, but overall, no complaints from me about Houston motorists.

Not so good things: Houston has the world's narrowest bike lanes (where they have them), and the paving in Houston is the pits. Literally. Basically, Houston is built on the flat gulf-coast plains that have a lot of clay in the soil. This "gumbo" as it is called is just hell on pavement. I found myself weaving a lot more than I wanted to be to avoid really nasty potholes and large cracks.

I even had an accident because of the bad roads! It was late at night and I was riding back to the hotel from my daughter's apartment. I hit a bad pothole (hard to see) and went right over the bars (not hard to do on a short-wheelbase, small-wheeled folding bike.) Luckily, no injuries beyond some bruised kneecaps, as I wasn't going all that fast. Not even any torn clothes.

The funny thing is, I picked myself up and dusted myself off, determined the bike was rideable (it needed the derailleur hanger bent back into proper position) and proceeded home. The next morning, I got up early and looked at bike and saw what I missed the night before: my cyclo-computer was missing. Muttering under my breath at my obliviousness the night before, I hopped on the bike and went back to the accident site (I figured if I waited, there was more chance of it getting smashed by a car) and there it was, flung up in a driveway, fully operational. I clipped it back on and went back to the hotel for breakfast.

But it's been almost 30 years since I had an over-the-bars experience! I'll probably be sore for several more days, but the only cure for that is more riding. I really wouldn't mind not ever going over the bars again, ever. Good thing I was wearing gloves. But the accident seemed to underscore the "extreme" quality of the weekend.

I have to say though, I wouldn't hesitate in the least to do a pure "bike holiday" again (except for the accident part). A little planning can yield a lot of riding, and a lot of fun.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weather Wuss

A weather wuss is what I am. When the rain is coming down solidly, I still go for the car. Look at that map. We're socked in from Tropical Storm Ida. I still just can't find the motivation to go out when it's really raining. A light drizzle, sure, no problem. But real rain, man. It's just hard to gear up to go out into a situation where the visibility is poorer, the road surfaces are worse, and the drivers are ultimately more dangerous to me.

I'd really like to hear from commuters out there who manage to go out in inclement weather. I'm really just talking rain (not sleet, snow, or ice) here, and rain that is coming down, not just drizzling (like Seattle rain, which I've also enjoyed riding in.) How do you do it? What has made the difference for you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blighters Rock

No, it's not really writer's block, I've just been, ah, busy. We're in busy season at Nemetschek, meeting our design deadlines for the next great version of Vectorworks, and I've had my head down.

I've had my head down cycling, also. As I knew would happen, I "made my year" and met my goal of 3300 miles last week. In retrospect, it seems kind of ho-hum. We'll see how many miles I make by the end of the year and I'll try and do some kind of estimation of what percentage of work days I rode to work. I have to say, though, my utilization has got to be really high, if you deduct for business trips. I think I use my car to get to work no more than 2 days per month, at least for the past 3 or 4 months. Good weather (that is to say, reasonably clear weather) helps.

When it comes to understanding urban cycling, there's nothing like statistics. The city of Fort Collins, CO has just released a compilation of statistics about cycle-auto accidents over a 30 month period and I'm working on some analysis of that as well as accident stats from elsewhere. But the news item I've read recently that has I think the most significance is new bicycle usage stats from New York City. Since 2007, the ridership is up 66%. (That is to say, cycling levels in 2009 are 166% of what they were in 2007.) Wow. Check out that chart. (That is a zero-based chart!)

What can account for this? It's pretty simple, really. There's a serious commitment by the NYC DOT to get people bicycling. The city has substantive programs in:
  • Bicycle education and safety;
  • Bicycle parking;
  • Bicycle/Mass Transit interface; and
  • Bike street infrastructure.
The city has created 200 miles of bike lanes in 3 years and is committed to 50 miles of lanes per year until it completes its bike network. Check out the main NYC-DOT page on cycling and drool. For anyone outside of NYC, it is just enviable, to live in a city that has resources and uses them to Make Things Better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Patch Kit Zen

I've been in some tough deadlines at work, so no posts late October. I've been enjoying riding in the cool autumn weather, enjoying the color, the wet leaf debris on the shoulder not so much, but hey, can't have it all.

Here's a bicycling koan (of uncertain provenance) that has seen a lot of coverage on the Web:

A Zen Teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, "Why are you riding your bicycles?"

The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the student, saying, "You are a smart boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do."

The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path." The teacher commended the student, "Your eyes are open and you see the world."

The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant, 'nam myoho renge kyo.'" The teacher gave praise to the third student, "Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel."

The fourth student answered, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings." The teacher was pleased and said, "You are riding on the golden path of non-harming."

The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher went and sat at the feet of the fifth student, and said, "I am your disciple."

Why do I post this? It came to mind late last week. I had done my usual morning preparations, (made breakfast, made coffee, made and packed lunch, packed my change of clothes,) and, as I was just ready to go out the door, loading my backpack/laptop bag into the other pannier, noticed that my rear tire was flat. I cursed under my breath, because I should have seen it the first thing, but wasn't paying attention. I considered changing clothes and driving in to work for no more than 2 seconds, and then got my agitation under control and realized that what I had to do was to do the very best job of fixing that tire that I could.

So I took my time and was careful. No obvious leaks, no hissing. A slow leak. Putting it in the kitchen sink, no leaks the first pass. Added a little more air, passed it slowly through the water, and turned up the very slow leak (about 1 small bubble every three seconds.) Put a peel-n-stick on it, looked for but couldn't find any persistent hazard in the casing, aired it up, got my kit back together, made it to the office only about 20 minutes late.

The payoff? At the end of the day, ready to ride back home, the tire was still rock-hard. I just love beating a leak and (especially) not having to go back and revisit it.