Archive | November, 2008

lonesome fuel for fire

26 Nov

I bonked but good today, on the last little bit of hill a couple miles from home. The lesson: sushi lunch, while delicious, is lousy fuel for a long ride. The other lesson: always pack a snack! While forcing my noodly legs onward, focusing on the faraway glow of Surlylad’s rear light, M. Ward’s Fuel for Fire got firmly lodged in my head. Such a pretty song. I’m always getting songs stuck in my head during commutes – it’s one of my favorite things about riding. Somehow the familiarity of the tune gets stripped away, and it’s like I’m hearing the lyrics for the first time. This is especially nice right now on the BG, with the seasonal stillness and dark giving my favorite songs a whole new context.

Oh wait, I’m supposed to be the bad cop here, and I’m just rambling on about the music in my brain – let me get back to business. Dudes! Listen to me. I don’t want to see you peeing in the bushes on the Burke. Stop doing that. If I can hold it, you can too.




When a Wednesday is a Friday…

26 Nov

… you know life is good. Surlylady towed me home tonight, early enough to have some light for a good bit of the way. At one point a chap stopped me in the middle of a stretch of the BGT and said excuse me, I stopped about fifteen feet away and turned to see what he wanted, can I ask what kind of light that is… I know, I’m going on about lights again but: I’m not making this up, it happened on the BGT, and I’m duly reporting it.

I was musing about dudes tonight as well. One dude coming from the other direction I think wins the prize for this short week: she had a red blinky on her handlebar, as in facing forward. As she whizzed past Surlylady chuckled and asked out loud what good that was going to do while I thought to myself it could actually be misleading to someone who may look up and see a blinking red light, assume it was a bike in the same direction, look down, and then suddenly have that blinking red light much closer. Exciting stuff.

The musing part is this: I was trying to come up with a descriptive list comparing biker types with car driver types. As part of the whole snob thing. The clever over-generalization and under-colonelization sort of thing. Here goes an initial coda, in the form of a ____ bike is like a ____ vehicle:

tandem = RV (hard to get around, tends to cause backups on narrow ways, if driven by older; if however the tandem is ridden by a relatively young couple you’ll likely get smoked)

pair of tricked-out track bikes with blinky lights = pair of tricked-out Subarus with fog lights turned on for an otherwise clear day

creaky ten speed with a rusty cog and downtube shifters = any Datsun other than a 240/260/280 Z

the six foot four guy on the hybrid = a delivery van that goes slow and is so wide and high you’re frustrated in not being able to see around or ahead of them

overweight lycra guy on the carbon bike = dude in a Porsche who’s going slower than your Grandmother in her Camry

real bike messenger with slung silver Ortlieb = a dirty Volkswagen Jetta

wanna-be bike messenger with slung silver Ortlieb = a clean Volkswagen Jetta

lycra-clad cyclocross rider with cyclo-knobbies on pavement = any SUV you like in a grocery store lot

ancient mountain biker that never changes out of the hardest gear = old International Harvester Scout

older rider on a carbon Orbea with time-trial/tri bars = Mazda Miata, any year, any color; it just looks fast

dude on a custom Davidson on the Centennial trail riding along with no hands because taking an important call on his cellphone = any BMW and certain of the Lexus models

randonneur stubbornly keeping his front bag attached to his decaleur during an evening training even though it’s almost empty = any older Land Rover or Land Cruiser with spare fuel cans mounted but empty

NiteRider Head Lamp

25 Nov

Tonight’s ride was a great laboratory in which to test the new NiteRider MiNewt USB Plus contraption. After spending way too long to get it attached to my helmet last evening, the first thing I noticed on tonight’s ride was that I had the light at an angle way too demure. That was easily fixed.

Overall I’m very pleased with the light. It was on for over an hour and a half, and never seemed to waver. The reported burn time is 3 hours, so I can’t speak to that. But the CygoLite I have on the handlebar won’t go for the entire hour and a half on full burn, and so it’s pleasing to know that between them one seems capable of going the distance (what I do with the CygoLite is pick and choose when I use the full beam, such as on the dark parts of the BG trail or in heavy traffic; otherwise I leave it at half or sometimes 3/4).

In tandem with the CygoLite (Dual Cross Li-on) I was very happy with my see/be seen ratio. I should also point out I have a white Planet Bike blinky attached to the crown of the front fork that acts strictly in be-seen mode, making a total of three lights up front now. In back are two more Planet Bike lights, one set to solid and another small but red blinky attached to one of the panniers.

The Dual Cross has a very nice dispersal ‘full picture’ vibe. When set to full blast and at a sufficient angle it feels almost as revealing as a car headlight. It allows me to go relatively fast by being able to see far enough ahead to avoid potholes etc. The MiNewt on the helmet is much more focused, with a bright center dot of light and then that sort of softer halo around that inner dot. This makes it an ideal companion for the handlebar-mounted light.

Some of the benefits I had imagined as coming with a helmet-mounted light were very much the case: allowing me to ‘point’ a light with my head, such as pinpointing oncoming dudes* who even in a sideways-driven Seattle rain don’t seem to think it’s important to gear up with a light. Curious about something on the side of the dark path? Point your head that way while continuing forward. Want to catch the attention of a nearby driver? It’s as simple as looking at them.

Some of the unanticipated benefits: being able to look at my left hand while signaling, to accentuate this action to the drivers behind me; make sure I’m indeed putting the water bottle back in the holder (have been known to drop the wottle in the dark ‘cuz I done misjudged); and even the simple reassurance of looking down and illuminating your hands, feet, knees, almost a way of reaffirming your physical presence in the weirdly uncertain darkness, where you think you’re pedaling but you’re not sure until you can see it for yourself. There’s a philosophy or maybe even an algebra problem lurking in that thought.

The only downside to the MiNewt on the helmet is the weight of it, while remarkably slight, does become noticeable over a longish ride. Toward the end tonight I found my helmet constantly slipping down into my eyes. Thank god for the cro-magnon brow. I think I need to either slip the light backward on the helmet, centering it better, or adding balance by mounting the battery in back (tonight I kept the battery in my jacket pocket; there’s a fairly long tether cord that would probably even allow you to put the batter on the bike frame, if you were short enough). The only other downside is more in the nature of a helmet light generally, and not so much the NiteRider: having a head lamp in driving, lateral rain had me thinking I might either ditch the light for the ride or at least turn it off, as there’s a bit of a snowstorm-in-a-headlight effect.

*Side note: dudes will be an all-encompassing term used interchangeably for idiots, annoyers and other bad, bad people I run into on the BGT; such masking will be in place because I, Surlylad, don’t want to become Bike Snob Seattle; and speaking of which, when it comes to recumbents I have to admit “There but for the grace of the hip and knee gods go I”; plus I’m usually nice; plus I don’t want retaliation; plus Surlylady will be the bad cop, I think.

Bad day sometimes causes a good ride

25 Nov

A very bad day at work, meetings that ran late, all led to taking off in the complete dark… however, in spite of the crappy day and end-to-end darkness I managed to break my all-time record: 1 hour 19 minutes. Surprised the heck out of me. I got a new seat post from Velo Orange and, while putting the Brooks B-17 on it, I left the overall height maybe a quarter inch higher than before. Doesn’t sound like much but I can feel a difference. Seems like more power and less knee pain. So far only two rides, but so far so good.

On the ride itself had one pedestrian who was about to cut across the street in front of me say “Nice bike light” which ish good feedback, but then a few blocks later was nearly hit from the side by an SUV. Tonight I’ll try riding with a new NiteRider MiNewt USB, mounted on the helmet, so I’ll ‘see’ how that goes.

Seattle Forecasters Must Live in a Suspended State of Despair

20 Nov

For a day that was supposed to have a 90% chance of rain, mostly in the afternoon, I thoroughly enjoyed the bit of sun on the ride home tonight. True, it did start raining briefly. Today the Burke was even more deserted than last night.

Interesting sight: an older fellow that I took a while to catch up to and pass, in jeans, on a flat bar road bike, pedaling along entirely out of the saddle, in a harsh up-and-down pump rhythm. As I passed I couldn’t tell if it was some sort of Spartan-ish work out regimen (i.e. deliberate) or if maybe his saddle had spikes sticking out of it; either way it seemed more like torture.

My ride was quite the opposite. Last night I think I pushed it too hard, trying to keep up with the Surlylady who seemed lost in her own reverie. Tonight I concentrated on breathing through my nose (I’m a mouth breather usually) and settling into a relaxing, fluid spinning zone. And it worked, amazingly: no sore knee, no sore shoulders, and overall time was about the same as last night. Tortoise and hare stuff. I think it does help to ride a good part of the way in something better than total darkness. Last night, in such darkness, it can be rough on your body when you can’t see bumps or holes underneath the layer of leaves.

Realization: turning your head to look behind you in while in complete darkness can easily lead to a wavering line.

Tip of the helmet to: the dude on the mountain bike, with no helmet, no lights, with headphones on from the iPhone being carried in his left hand while he surfed or texted. Kudos to you sir! I knew you were going to swerve around the walker and you did exactly that.

Fender advice: it’s prolly not a good idea to take part of one rear fender and bolt it on to another in order to extend to the assembly to the ground; one of the virtues of a rigid fender is that it blocks most if not all of the ground water spume, whereas a frankenstein fender that acts more like a windshield wiper wagging back and forth nets you maybe 30%. Plus it’s like a mesmerizing metronome for the folks behind ya.


20 Nov

No dramatic stories, near misses, observed douchebaggery or any of the usual commuting experiences, just an exceptionally nice ride. It was dark, and cold, and I started out extra-eager to get home, but then near the university I stopped to let some pedestrians do what they do and another rider turned out in front of me. And he signaled, and kept a respectful distance from the guy in front of him, and stopped when he was supposed to stop. Clearly I’m getting soft, but it was nice to see common courtesy in action. Once Surlylad and I hit Sand Point it was almost completely isolated. So dark and quiet, just the sound of pedaling and breathing (and okay, the occasional air hankie) – just one of those world-stands-still episodes where you can’t help but think about how lucky you are to be where you are and who you are, with legs that like to move and lungs that let you. It was a really nice ride.

Rain, rain, go away (or at least the wind)

11 Nov

Last night’s funny moment: pitch dark on the Burke Gilman, just starting that one stretch in Sandpoint where it’s relatively straight and you can see quite a ways ahead. I saw a blinky off in the distance and said, out loud, in an Elmer Fudd voice, ‘here blinky bunny bunny’… I needed motivation as I was slowing down, is my excuse. Anyway, I moved up a gear and started cranking. Then I had a feeling. Looking over my shoulder, I saw another rider with an incredibly bright headlight coming up fast. I said Ah out loud, not the ah as in acknowledgment but ah as in surprised, panicked. This led to quite a merry chase. I was really pleased when I was able to pull away decisively. Riding in complete darkness is such an odd thing. One loses one’s sense of motion or progress; I could be going 12 mph or 19 mph and not really know the difference, other than perhaps a lack of air in the old lungs.

Tonight was quite different, in that there was no lack of air whatsoever. Several gusts were strong enough to knock me off course. I could attribute it to the longer wheelbase of the Trucker, or the twin panniers in back that act like waterproof sails but I’ll be honest, it’s more likely my clydesdale-ish profile. Strangely, although I felt very pokey due to what seems to be an onset cold, I made nearly record time. But for the record, I can with some confidence say that while strong rain doesn’t dismay me, strong rain and even stronger wind is an unhappy combo.