Ride more bikes

In the severe hailstorm that hit Austin back in May, our car took a beating—some of the dings were so sharp that the paint cracked at the point of impact. When I took it in to get a repair estimate, they told me they were going to have to replace the hood and roof. In short, major repairs.

We finally got around to taking the car in to get the repairs done, and as of today, have been without a car for three weeks. The experience has been instructive.

I’ve lived in Austin without a car before. That was as a renter, and it definitely involved compromises. It would be much more difficult to live here as a homeowner without a car.

I’ve only had to bum a ride once during these three weeks. And there are certainly a few car-based errands that we’ve deferred. But for the most part, we’ve managed pretty handily, and more importantly, it’s been a reminder that most of the short 1/2/3 mile errands we run can be accomplished just as well by bike.

It’s a little embarrassing that we got out of the habit of using our bikes for errands in the first place. We didn’t quit riding them entirely, but we didn’t ride them nearly as much as we might have. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is. Too lazy to ride? Perhaps in part. Another dumb reason might be our garage door. When we moved into this house, the garage (where we store the bikes) could only be locked or unlocked from inside. So to get the bike out I’d go into the garage, open the door, pull the bike off the wall, put it outside, come back in, lock the garage, go through the house, go out the front door, and lock that. This is not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but it adds just enough friction to the process that we’re more often inclined to say “fuck it” and take the car. We had the garage door fixed a few months back, so we don’t have that trivial hurdle to overcome. And now we’ve been booted out of our bad habits by circumstances. I’m optimistic we won’t fall back into them.

Sheldon Brown, 1944–2008

Sheldon Brown has died. He created what may be the most extensive trove of cycling knowledge on the Internet. Which I hope will endure.

I encountered him on Usenet under the rec.bicycles.* hierarchy, where he was always a source of good information and good humor. I ordered equipment from the store where he worked a few times and was glad to have his advice. Cycling is poorer for his loss.

The Boston Globe on Sheldon Brown .

Technology on the bike

2007 hasn’t been a good year for cycling, at least not for me. I recently made a birthday resolution that in 2008 I would ride more.

Along with riding less, I’ve paid less attention to bike technology, which is something that’s always interested me. Lately I’ve been paying a little more atention. I just read about a prototype bike-computer/rear-view camera called Cerevellum. This looks like a great idea—plug-in modules for different functionality. One idea I’ve never seen implemented on a bike is a crash camera. Now, this might be more of a concern for me than most people, but the overhead would be slight and the potential benefits considerable.

I envision the system including rearward-looking and forward-looking cameras, an accelerometer, and some flash-memory storage. It wouldn’t need much—just enough to capture about a minute’s worth of video and audio (about 180 MB for good-quality uncompressed video—chump change by today’s standards). If the accelerometer detected any sudden movement (indicative of a crash), the cameras would save the preceding 30 seconds and the following 30 seconds. That should be enough to capture license plate numbers, the circumstances of the crash, etc. A manual trigger to save would also make sense, as would manual still photography capture. Equipment like this does exist for cars, but nothing miniature enough for a bike. With 1 GB memory cards as common as dirt, one could record several minutes of footage per ride, as well as a lot of still photos, which could be interesting in ways other than crash documentation.

How not to design a bike lane

bike lane diagram

A little while ago, I was riding to a downtown destination by way of San Jacinto Blvd, and noticed that they had striped it for bike lanes. Without wading into the controversy of whether bike lanes really are good for cyclists or not, I have to say, they really blew it here. The diagram above shows the lane striping at the 10th-Street intersection on San Jacinto.

If you’re on a bike and headed straight, what do you think you ought to do here?

If you stay in the bike lane, you’ve potentially got two lanes of traffic turning across your path. In order to avoid that problem, you need to swing across a lane and a half of traffic well before you reach the intersection. Neither is a good option. The latter is less bad, but will be counter-intuitive to a naïve cyclist. While I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of people on bikes who do dumb stuff that understandably pisses off drivers, I wonder how often drivers are getting pissed off at cyclists who are just responding sensibly to poorly designed situations like this.

Coming home by way of Trinity Street, I discovered bike lanes there as well. Although I didn’t notice any intersections that were striped as egregiously badly as the one on San Jacinto, the oddity on Trinity is that the location of the bike lane relative to the curb changes from block to block. One block there’s a dive-in parking lane between the bike lane and curb. The next it’s immediately next to the curb. After that there’s a parallel parking lane between the bike lane and the curb. Unless you know in advance where you should be aiming, you will find yourself out of the bike lane after crossing almost every intersection. And the street is just hilly enough that in many cases, the bike lane on the far side of the intersection is invisible behind the crest of a hill.

It seems impossible to me that these bike facilities were designed by anyone who rides a bike.

Hill Country Ride for Aids

Gwen and I finished the HCRA this past weekend.

We had gone to a mandatory orientation for the ride (apart from packet pickup) that suggested the organizers took a patronizing and paternalistic attitude towards the riders. No drafting, no riding double-file (even if the shoulder permits it), lights-out at 9:00, etc. My enthusiasm had waned long before we showed up at the rollout.

I hadn’t been on my road bike at all in three weeks. Gwen and I have been very busy with the house, buffing up that curb appeal and trying to make it more saleable. We didn’t even start packing for the ride until 9:30 the night before.

Rollout was supposed to be at about 8:00 AM Saturday, and we were encouraged to get there well before that, to allow for setup and general confusion. So we were out of bed at 6:00 AM after a poor night’s sleep. Weather was not agreeable: cold, rain, and lightning. By the time we arrived at the starting point, the lightning had abated, but conditions were no more inviting. The organizers delayed rollout repeatedly, until about 10:30, to give the weather a chance to clear. It still wasn’t clear at 10:30, but it was less bad. My mood was foul.

Once we got moving, however, it wasn’t so bad. As event rides go, this is a small one–something like 350 riders–and the patronizing attitude of the organizers had led me to believe that almost all the riders were beginners. This was not the case: there were plenty of competent riders out there, and some damn zooty bikes. Once we had a chance to warm up, and the field thinned itself out, riding wasn’t too bad. Within an hour or so, things were drying out, and by lunch, the weather was actually quite pleasant.

The route on Day One was shortened by about 15 miles, to 50 miles, because of the delayed rollout. That turned out to be quite sufficient. The course was divided into 4 legs, with lunch at the end of leg 3. I knew that, despite my lack of training, I’d be able to grind through the ride on willpower and my lifetime mileage base. While I was gratified to be proved right, I was definitely riding a lot weaker than I felt I should be, and on the third leg of Day One leading into the lunch stop, the combination of little sleep, little training, and energy drained away waiting in the cold left my vision closing in a tiny bit as I jammed along. At the stop, it took me about 10 minutes before I could contemplate food. At some point late in the course, (leg 3? leg 4? It’s all a blur) we ran into a hill that had at least 4/5th of the riders walking–it’s not so much that the hill was itself terribly steep, but that it came at the end of four miles of gradual climbing. Gwen and I both managed to ride up it (and I managed to hold my 23 in reserve).

Once we rolled into camp in Krause Springs, we pitched camp, got cleaned up, hung out, and ate barbecue. By the time we were done with dinner, it was getting dark and cold (and we hadn’t packed enough warm clothes), so bed turned out the best place to be. Davey, the eponym for our team, had tweaked his knee, so he headed back to Austin after dinner. I realized I had risked the same, by riding in a nearly new pair of cleats (Nikes with carbon-fiber soles. There’s too much hype and fashion with Nike, but if I can get their shoes for 1/3rd retail or less, I’ll hold my nose and buy them. The carbon-fiber soles on these really are nice.) that I hadn’t quite settled into. As it turns out, the shoes didn’t give me any trouble, but that wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

Day Two started off chilly but dry apart from dew. We got up a little late, giving the sun a chance to warm things up for us a little. Breakfast consisted of breakfast tacos and insufficient amounts of insufficiently strong coffee. We struck camp and rolled out. The course this day seemed to mostly trace back Day One’s course. The same hill that had people walking on Day One had them walking Day Two going the other way. Over the course of this ride, I was definitely moving a little slower, my ass was sore, my hands were sore (I had forgotten my gloves), but I managed to avoid the tunnel vision of the day before. Gwen and I both finished pretty strongly and without incident.

The course was challenging and beautiful–I love the hill country. I’ve done some riding out there before, and was prepared for some of the stuff this course had in store for us. There was probably at least one support volunteer for every rider on the course, and they had plastered the sides of the roads with signs to encourage us that made me feel a bit like I was in fifth grade. But they had also looked after, well, just about everything: feeding us, transporting our gear, minding things on the course (I had occasion to borrow a track pump from one of them when I flatted early on Day One). We just had to ride, eat, and camp out.

I’ve posted a few pictures at Flickr.


There’s been a lot of death in the news lately. Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash. I recently mentioned Walter Richter. And today I read that Ken Kifer bought the farm, run over by a drunk driver while riding his bike.

I used to hang out on the rec.bicycles.* Usenet hierarchy, and Ken was one of the regulars, and one of the most prolific writers on bike subjects I know of. I never met him in person, but felt that in a small way, I knew him.

Warren Zevon’s impending demise had been public knowledge for over a year; Johnny Cash’s mortality is unmistakable on his last album. My neighbor Walter Richter had been in decline for some time, and had a good run. Reading about Ken this morning was like a punch in the gut.

Manor back-loop

DuShun came by after work and we rode the Manor back-loop, racing the setting sun. 34 miles, average speed 17.0 mph. That average includes a lot of in-town riding–when we were out on country roads, DuShun mostly rode point and set a fast pace of 22-25 mph. It was all I could do to hang onto his wheel.

Now I need to eat. A lot.

Tuesday-night course ride

Got together for my first ride with both DuShun and Caeasar in over a year. DuShun took us on a loop he’s been riding–halfway to Buda, then east to Nuckol’s Crossing to make a circuit around the Tuesday Nighter course, and then back home on Slaughter Lane. 32 miles. After a long-ish hiatus from the bike, and a 30-miler the day before, I wasn’t feeling too perky, but with them taking it relatively easy, I managed to hang in there.

Afterwards I met Gwen and her gang at the Springs. Gwen convinced me to get into a yoga position to stretch out my bad hip. I tried to be a good sport and went along. I did not achieve enlightenment before my extremities fell asleep.

Today I am toast.

360 ride

Rode 360 today, my first serious ride in a while. 30 miles, and I’m not saying what my average speed was. I felt really out of shape.

Various observations:

  • There is now a bike path that allows cyclists to bypass a hairy section of Barton Springs Rd. If you are riding outbound, go straight across Stratford when you get to the end of the pedestrian bridge. This will run alongside Mopac and deposit you close to Rollingwood. I imagine it’s accessible if you are riding inbound (which would be good, because you could avoid that awful left turn later), but haven’t tried that yet. The city did a good job with this–kudos.
  • There is a shitload of new construction on 360, to my great dismay. I noticed a bunch of new apartments going up on the bluff over 360 northwest of the bridge. Not sure who is going to live there.
  • What had been Cycles 360 has been replaced by 360 Bikeworks (or something like that). Apparently Richard, the original owner, couldn’t run the place profitably, so the managers bought him out and re-opened the store. Glad to see it back.

360 ride

With no work on my desk today, I decided to get out on my bike.

I started rambling in a generally southwest direction without any plan in mind, not following any of my usual routes. I eventually wound up on that path next to Lamar, which took me as far as 12th St. I felt unaccountably nervous on this path–I’d never ridden on it before, but that shouldn’t be enough to make me feel wigged out. At the southern end of the path, I did run into a few obstacles that justified some nervousness–a few dips, swerves, and one really bad bump in the pavement. I took the bump hard, but thought I got over it without incident.

Eventually I decided to ride 360, and made my way over towards the Town Lake pedestrian bridge. After crossing the bridge, I noticed that the city seems to be working on a new path that will connect the south end of the bridge to Rollingwood, which will be a boon to outbound cyclists–but in order to take advantage of it on the inbound side, one would need to ride against traffic for a few yards.

The ride up 360 was fun and uneventful, but with a wind out of the north, was a lot of work. I noticed a couple of deer grazing right out by the highway, which I had never seen before. Gosh, I wonder if they’d been displaced from their usual habitat? [he said, with great sarcasm] When I got to the convenience store at Steck & Mesa, I discovered it had been more work than I knew: my back wheel had been knocked out of true and was intermittently rubbing against the brakes. That would explain why I had been averaging 14.5 mph. I headed over to Nelo’s, my favorite shop (fortunately very close at this point), and once there, we discovered I had actually broken a spoke. I’ve done that only once before, in a really serious accident, so I was very surprised. Nelo had built that wheel, and I joked to him “you built this wheel–it should be bulletproof!” He put a loaner wheel on my bike and sent me home while he worked on my wheel.

I made it the rest of the way home without incident. Coming in on Shoal Creek, I caught up with a guy on a really fancy mountain bike–full suspension, disc brakes, the works. Except he definitely wasn’t dressed like a cyclist (gym shorts and Keds), and the one serious telltale: cheap quill pedals. Normally, someone with a bike like this would be riding clipless pedals–bikes at that level usually don’t even come with pedals, on the assumption that the rider will want to put on the clipless pedal system of his choosing. If they do come with pedals, they’re cheap throw-aways–like this guy had.

A lot of cyclists are snobs about their sport, and I’ll admit I’m one. There are levels of snobbishness: Some won’t condescend to wave at anyone–I assume this is either because they don’t want to break their perfect aerodynamic position, they view everyone else as a competitor, or at that moment you aren’t in their road/mountain/commuter clique. Some will only be friendly towards someone with a fancy bike that shows they’ve made a monetary commitment to the sport.

What turns my snob-knob up to 11, though, is a rider who isn’t as good as his bike. There’s nothing wrong with being a recreational rider of modest abilities and aspirations on a modest bike. There’s nothing wrong with being a great cyclist on a humble ride or a superbike. But when a guy in tube socks, who considers five miles to be a real workout, is riding a fancy bike, he is a fred.

Manor back loop

Rode the Manor back loop with DuShun. 34 miles; 17.7 mph average. Not bad–faster than it would have been if I were riding alone. The back section, on a stretch of road where the name changes every three miles, was wonderful–new pavement, few cars, and just enough of a breeze to take the edge off the heat.

360 ride

I stopped hitting the reload button in Friendster long enough to go on a good bike ride today. The 360 route northbound. 30 miles, average speed 15-point-something. It’s been too long since I went for a ride, but I felt pretty good and had fun. Traffic on 360 was relatively mild. I noticed a new stoplight had been installed (I can remember when there were none on 360).

One of the many good things about cycling is that it exposes one to so many little blog-worthy tidbits.

At Steck & Mesa, I stopped for a giant soda at the kwik-e-mart there. A Coke delivery man was making his drop-off–an entire pallet-load. Some observations: Lots of Dasani, only one crate of Evian. Bottled Coke and Diet Coke were roughly even, but in cans, there was only Diet (or Diet+Caffeine Free), ie, if you want a regular Coke, you get it in a bottle. There must be some sort of weird demographic phenomenon behind this. Harebrained speculation: Bottles are larger than cans (I think the smallest are 20 oz, vs 12 oz for a can). Larger quantities probably appeal more to guys. Diet Coke probably appeals more to women.

I stopped by Nelo’s shop and ogled a Merlin Cielo, an exercise in technoporn costing about $7400. I don’t dispute that there may be $7400 worth of technology, materials, and craftsmanship in that bike. But the law of diminishing returns must apply to this sucker in spades. My own bike was hardly cheap, but I can’t imagine getting a 2x or 3x advantage riding that thing.

Shortly after leaving Nelo’s, I (barely) heard my phone ringing. It was DuShun, calling to say he had just seen me from his car and congratulated me on getting out to ride.

At the end of my ride, I stopped by Chango’s for one of their excellent burritos. As I was eating, three EMTs stopped by to grab a bite. Two lit up cigarettes. I found this extremely bizarre and funny. I wonder if dealing with life and death crises every day gives them a cynical view of their own mortality.

Manor ride

Rode out to Manor on Saturday with DuShun. About 30 miles total, though I forgot to reset the cyclometer until we were a little ways into the ride. Much less hard on me than the last ride we took together. He wanted to go farther. I told him “Look, I don’t want to ride so much that I don’t want to ride anymore.”

We stopped at the Manor grocery, and DuShun noticed, alongside all the usual “pigs for sale” signs and such, that someone had drawn a | inside a circle on the back of their receipt and taped that to the window. He speculated this must be some cryptic signal for a secret society. Anyone have any idea what that means?

On the ride back, we saw a truck in the ditch. It was hitched to a trailer fully loaded with 2x4s; the truck was perpendicular to the road, nose-first, and the trailer was jackknifed past 90°, digging into the side of the pickup. As we rode by, we marveled at this feat of vehicular contortion and wondered how, exactly, it had gotten into that position.

Webberville-Manor loop

After too long off the bike, and a long run of foul weather, we had a nice day today, so DuShun and I agreed to go riding. I wanted to do something relatively flat, so we headed out towards Webberville. With the wind at our backs on the outbound leg, we made good time, hitting the Webberville convenience store 17 miles out at an average speed of 19.2 mph.

We stopped at the convenience store in Webberville. I was surprised to see a display-case full of bling-bling crapola in front of the counter. There was a large dog-run next door where some guys were training pit bulls to be attack dogs. What has happened out here? Webberville = gangstaville?

Anyhow, I thought it would be prudent to turn back at this point–after all, I hadn’t done a serious ride in a couple months–but DuShun must have been feeling his oats, because he pushed on.

We wound up putting in 42.5 miles. Our average speed at the end was…considerably lower. I was starting to wish the ride was over around mile 30, meaining I am badly out of shape. Which means I need to be doing this a whole lot more.

360 Southbound

Rode 360 southbound today. 28 miles. Hot hot hot. Ugh. I haven’t been riding enough and wasn’t prepared for the heat (nominally 99°F–actually a lot more out on the road). I was reduced to my bailout gears by the last couple hills on 360, grinding along at a miserable 6 mph, under a cloudless sky and atop egg-frying pavement.

360 ride

30 mile ride with Caesar today, northbound on 360. Wind out of the south. Fast. Whee. Light traffic. Caesar showed me a shortcut that I like.

Webberville-Manor short loop

Rode the Webberville-Manor short loop today. 36 miles. Managed to keep my average speed at about 17 mph, despite very strong winds that seemed to be against me for most of the ride (funny how that works). The weather was otherwise beautiful, though.

360 northbound

Rode 360 northbound today, solo. Beautiful warm day. Hard to believe the winter Olympics are going on. Saw plenty of riders out on the road, stopped by Nelo’s shop, where there was a rep from Nimble showing off some impossibly lightweight wheels with carbon rims. He had one unlaced rim and invited me to sit on it. I did, and it didn’t seem to flex at all. Pretty amazing. Now all I need to do is rob a bank…

When I got home, the 5,000-meter speedskating event was going on. Those guys were averaging about 30 mph. I have a hard time doing that on my bike on level ground. Pretty amazing.

Buda ride, verbal altercation

Rode to Buda with DuShun and Caesar today. 43 miles. Beautiful day–warm, sunny, clear. But a stiff wind out of the south, which we cursed loudly on the way down, and enjoyed quietly on the way back. At times we wound it up to 30 mph on the flats, which felt great.

The ride was excellent, but was somewhat marred when we were getting back into town and a motorist heatedly berated us for not keeping to the bike lane (which was heavy with gravel, debris, and parked cars), and other imagined violations. I countered (not heatedly) that we hadn’t done anything wrong (I know the law on this), and if he didn’t know that, he shouldn’t be allowed to drive. This riled him even more–he got out of his truck and threatened me, but didn’t actually hit me. We continued with a lively exchange of views. Dushun stepped in at this point and goaded him just a bit. He apparently felt exposed, and decided to retreat to the safety of his truck to yell at us some more. I suggested that if he were really that angry at us, he should have just run us over. At that point, the quality of his insults took a nosedive: he retreated to the old ad-hominem standbys of saying nasty things about our parentage, sexuality, and in DuShun’s case, color. We had to laugh. DuShun asked his 10-year-old son “Are you proud of your dad?”. The son realized his father was being ridiculous. When the light turned green again (he had been holding up traffic through a couple of cycles of the lights), he drove off.

Once we got through the intersection, Caesar (who had ridden across at some point) was talking to a woman who was about to call it in to the cops. We told her not to bother, but once we got back to DuShun’s place, we did.