Monday, January 28, 2013

Someone's always got a more rad ride

A recent article from the New York Times website highlighted long-distance bike commuter Christian Edstrom and his 40-mile journey from Chappaqua, N.Y., to the offices of JP Morgan in Manhattan.

Edstrom said he commutes by bike in part to put his cycling into a block of time when he would be away from his family anyway. He gets to ride a couple of relatively high-mileage days without having to carve out the time from work or domestic life. The article stated he rides the commute at least two days a week. We can only speculate how often he exceeds that and by how much.

I know from my own modest efforts that a commute verging on long distance demands commitment. A life cooperating with others, whether just a spouse or domestic partner or with offspring as well, calls for adaptability. It's better to ride some of the time than none of the time. Zealots and the very fortunate need to remember that a purely bike-only lifestyle doesn't work for most people.

Long-distance commuters make good entertainment. People who wouldn't ride can use us as another excuse not to. "Well, I'm not up to riding 60 or 80 miles a day, so forget it." We also gather experience and provide feedback so that other riders, prospective riders and planners can improve techniques and infrastructure to make bike transportation easier and safer.

I envy the riders with lots of route options including traffic-free alternatives. My projected traffic-free alternative for the coming commuting season will add at least three miles as I work my way over to the trail on the inbound route. In some places those rail trail corridors actually provide cyclists with a more direct route than cars and trucks use. Some municipalities are studying the processes needed to co-locate bike trails with active rail lines so that the improvement of one mode need not require the decay of the other.

If a train swerves to hit you everyone has bigger problems than one hot-headed driver. And what a draft you might get.

The long-distance commuter community does seem to exhibit a bit of early-riser arrogance. One rider from Ridgewood, N.J., Rob Kotch, said that the early group of commuters leaves at 5:30 a.m., but would leave at 4:45 if a critical bridge on the route was open earlier. He said there's a shift leaving at 6:30 a.m. "for the lazy people."

I'm going to blow an air horn outside his bedroom at 9 p.m. Send him right to the ceiling.

I'm sure he was joking. But living in rural New England one gets sensitive to the competitive nature of early rising. The customary greeting for each other any time after 8:30 a.m. is "Good aftanooooon!"

I lost my membership in the early rising club when I took up with a musician. I was barely hanging in there anyway. Do good work while you're awake and get good rest when you're not. Ideally, anyway.

Plenty of rest these days. The subzero cold moves out, admitting a brief bit of snow which will then be sluiced away by heavy rain on Wednesday. All that seems to end up sticking to the ground in most places is ice. You can stud your tires and even your shoes, but it's never the same carefree romp as riding on firm, dry surfaces or skiing and snowshoeing (or even fat-bike riding) on packed or fluffy snow. Ice anywhere but on a rink or a natural water body (or an ice climb, for those inclined) is just a pain. Oh yeah, and in your drink.

I always think cabin fever season will be great for creative pursuits, but the lack of activity slows all my processes down. It's always a challenge to find the slot in the day where physical activity won't displace something else equally important, especially when the convenience of bike commuting isn't an option.

Until society adopts my idea for phys ed for everyone, we will each have to come up with whatever systems we can. Phys ed for everyone is my shorthand for the idea that every person should be given a couple of hours of prime daytime to do something for their personal fitness. Bike commuters who are satisfied with their exercise level could opt out and use the time for something else, but everyone would have the option to get out in daylight and the best weather if they wanted it, with no penalty and no stigma.

Some people go riding or running on their lunch hour. That only works if you get a lunch hour. And someone who is regularly active will need the lunch as well as the hour. I would rather work less and enjoy life more, even if I don't make as much money, than work to exhaustion and hope I live long enough to enjoy myself some day, while others are out of work completely.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Weather and time

Just as November can break out during any month of what we used to think of as winter, so can Sunday break out during any day of the week.

Sunday is absolutely the most tedious day of the work week. A busy spell on any other day will move the clock forward miraculously, bringing lunch time or quitting time pleasantly quickly. The same level of activity on a Sunday ends with the clock hands frozen where they started. Through this fall and winter, Sunday's time has spread to the other days. The silence is deeper. The sense of abandonment more complete. The desperate feeling of being in some absurdist hell settles like a weight on the chest.

It seems funny to talk about attacks of November when we're locked into a week of subzero nights and bitter, breezy days, but the National Weather Service forecast calls for a warmup to the 40s by next Wednesday, with rain showers. This is the new climate: if it gets cold at all it gets ridiculously cold. Storm fronts bounce off the frigid dome of high pressure, dumping their bounty on places that would prefer to do without it and then blundering out over the ocean. The wind shifts behind the front and drags a moist southerly flow over us. The first bit of precip might fall as something frozen, but the temperature keeps rising.

Longtime residents of the area all said you never get two skimpy winters in a row. I didn't bother to remind them of 1991 and 1992. I should check my notes. As meager as those winters were, they may not have been as bad as the last one and the one we're in. And a few others have only been one snowfall away from being epic disasters as well.

This puts the cross-training cyclist in a tough spot. I don't have much enthusiasm for a dawn patrol on icy roads at 6 degrees below zero, which was this morning's temperature. My previous winter stand-bys, cross-country skiing and hiking, suffer from a lack of snow on one hand and a lack of time on the other. With good snow and somewhat normal winter temperatures I would ski around the woods at home with a headlamp just for a little something.

It's indoor training, running or nothing. I'm cool with nothing. Reading, writing, bludgeoning the fiddle, maybe some drawing, not to mention sitting around under a cat all seem worthwhile enough as long as I move around a little during any given day. As bike season seems like more of a possibility in a week or a month the more focused training will seem more like it's worth the trouble.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The invisible bike

On a sleepy weekday last week I brought the helmet cam and a fixed-gear bike to work so I could shoot video while I rode delicately around the tight course on the sales floor. I'd ridden the rollers a couple of days, but it's more fun to ride where you can maneuver.

Because my netbook and the shop computers are too feeble to handle high definition video files I couldn't view my clips until I got home to the Macbook. The results surprised me.

Helmet cam videos shot in the outside world convey the movement of the bicyclist through familiar or plausible environments, on road or off. Depending on where the camera is mounted you might even see a bit of something to suggest the actual presence of the bicycle. But often it's really just a camera flying through space. We know it's on a cyclist because we've been told that. The movement matches what we know from our own cycling.

In my indoor videos I might as well be walking. On second and subsequent viewings I can start to pick up a bit of the fluidity of being on wheels, but for the slow bits where I'm tiptoeing through a narrow space nothing really indicates I'm riding a fixed gear dextrously down that alley except for my claim that this is the case.

As you may hear on the video, we're always trying to come up with revenue-generating ideas. I proposed a time trial around this indoor course. Riders could win discounts based on their times, but they have to pay full price for anything they break.

This next video is titled "Trouble in the Far Turn." That 180 down by the bikes has taken out many a rider. Okay, it's only taken me out, but it's done it many times. When the ski waxing station is set up you can easily nip the end of one of the waxing profiles and get thrown off your line.
Maybe next week I'll try a handlebar mount for the camera to try to get more of the bike perspective. I'm sure y'all can't wait.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Passing the Time

Two or three days at 50 degrees got rid of all that pesky snow we were planning to use to earn a meager living for a couple of months.

The shop is running on a skeleton crew. On many days we see no more than two or three customers.

Last Sunday I brought my rollers to work. Big G wasn't ready to try them, but he observed. I would hop on for a few minutes just for something to do. I brought them again today.

At least no one interrupts while we do inventory. It's a monumentally tedious task. One benefit of a bad economy is that we have fewer things to count. This means we also have fewer things to sell, although slow categories still show large stocks of things like ski wax.

Ski wax has no other uses. It makes lousy candles. Trust me, I tried. They burn really fast. So maybe we can melt down all the wax blocks and dip scrap lumber in them to make fire lighters for people with wood stoves and fireplaces. We won't recover our whole investment, but we can get something.

Looking out at the half-frozen lake I just had an idea for a pedal-powered amphibious vehicle. I was trying to imagine a pedal-powered hovercraft when it morphed into a pseudo-hovercraft. Imagine an inflatable boat around a bicycle. The pedals drive a wide, flat paddle wheel that also functions as a drive track on land or ice. It would be sort of like a pedal-powered half-track with pontoons.

Anything crazy has already been invented. The crazier it seems, the more likely you can find it in a You Tube video. I'll have to poke around a little before I waste time sketching anything.

In the early 1980s I drew up some concept sketches for a fast pedal boat for commuting by water in the Annapolis area. I had no money, so I never tried to build anything. This new idea is less elegant but might offer a new vehicle for the kind of mixed glop winter has been delivering.

It's something to think about, anyway. Beats wondering when the flu epidemic will slam us.

I swear I remember a time when winter was fun. Now we just stand around in our store waiting for someone to want something we carry and hope they're not carrying something we don't want. Slim compensation for the lack of customers: no one is coughing, sneezing or otherwise exuding pathogens on us.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Whole lotta not much

Timely snow and a Christmas vacation week that lined up conveniently to weekends injected a bit of cash into company coffers, staving off outright panic for a week or two. Warming temperatures and a lack of helpful precipitation in the multi-day forecast indicate that the respite may not last. We did not get the epic amounts of snow promised in sensational forecasts. It already suffers visibly from wear and tear.

Warm temperatures are great for the heating bills and lousy for pretty much everything else. It's still not bike season to most people. We don't have the money to invest in fat bikes, which might generate some interest this time of year. We have received regular inquiries about fat bikes, but all we can offer is some happy conversation and an earnest offer to order one if we get a sizable deposit in advance. You can guess where that leads.

Winter roads do not inspire me to ride. Road sharing can be stressful at the best of times, let alone when snowbanks and ice patches encroach on the travel way. Motorists feel more put out maneuvering around a rare lunatic in the winter than they do negotiating with larger numbers of cyclists in the months they consider more normal. I used to appreciate the winter because I could take a break from all that and disappear into the woods, where I might not see another human being the whole time I was out there. Certainly I would not have to deal with an irate driver piloting a lethal weapon. I'm not one to ski on snow machine trails. I go where I hope I will not see or hear them. At least I used to.

Thin snow and tight schedules pile on with a certain amount of emotional inertia to keep me doing things like splitting firewood or processing laundry on days I'm not at work. Time spent playing outside is great, but when you're doing that you're not doing something else. It works much better when I can fit it into commuting time.

I'm thinking about a new route to work that jogs over and joins the park-and-ride route. I've generally ridden the shortest route in the morning because I'm slow getting going, but adding this pleasant variation may provide a little morning boost. And because much more of it is in the woods, I have many places with which to deal with issues I might have shortchanged in my rush to leave the house.

How quickly I can implement the new route depends on how much snow needs to melt off when spring gets here. Economically I need to hope there's a couple of feet of it. Historically, such snow packs can turn to floods surprisingly readily, clearing the stage for the next season's conditions. They melt and rush away. The ground drains and dries. Failing that there's always the old route. But all that lies a couple of months away.