Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dumb Numbers Make Me Happy

If I were more evolved I might be past the point of caring about numbers. There are a lot of numbers I don't care too much about. Dollars and cents seldom cross my cortex but over the years my wife and I have somehow managed to keep body and soul together. Age is another number I seldom think of and whenever I'm asked the age of myself or of some loved one, I'm caught up short and wind up calculating
But bike numbers have a hold on me, specifically distances. I track my rides, jotting numbers in little yellow notebooks. Over the years I've mostly lost interest in extremes of speed but distance riding is what still intrigues me and adding up the numbers is an annual tradition. I belong to a club called C-KAP which is composed of other kilometer accumulating cyclists. C-KAP is a Canadian organization but they are broad-minded enough to let those of us who reside in less metrically-inclined countries participate as well.

And so I track and report in kilometers but I am an American and I also do the conversions and watch the numbers roll by in miles as well. And last year when I totalled the numbers it was just a bit lower than I'd like. The total of 19,174 kilometers would seem to be a respectable enough number, but converted to miles it's 11,914 miles. Looking at that number it struck me that 12,000 miles would make me happier. A thousand miles per month for the year. That'd be a little nicer.

Or so I thought a year ago. But day to day I don't think that much about the numbers. I ride because I love to ride. I jot the numbers down because I always jot the numbers down. And December winds down and I'm adding up the numbers and it's just a little low. Coming into this final weekend I still needed 126 kilometers. No problem.

Except for my hacking cough. I spent Saturday whining. I'm really bad at being sick and my wife and kids will tell you that I do not suffer in silence. I hacked up glop, I whined, I moaned. I did creep out on the bike a bit Saturday afternoon for a very easy 11 kilometers of riding.

My pal Mark Vande Kamp and I had plotted a Sunday ride. I was feeling a bit better by Saturday night and paused my hacking and whining long enough to commit to a ride to the Black Diamond Bakery with Mark. Saturday night I dosed myself with the white man's cure for SARs -- chicken soup, Sprite and NiQuil.

And today we ride. My cough is pretty much gone but I still managed to shoot about 1/2 a gallon of snot out my nose over the course of the ride. The ride wasn't just about distance, of course. It's about chatting with a pal and riding fine roads on a fine day. And it's about great baked-goods and coffee and plans for adventures in the new year. Mark doesn't have quite enough time in his schedule to cover the full distance I need for the day but the run to the bakery and back gets the bulk of the kilometers taken care of. Back in Issaquah, Mark picks up his car and heads for home. I tack on a loop around Lake Sammamish and roll back home with 128.43 kilometers on the computer.

19,323 kilometers for the year equals 12,009 miles. A totally stupid number. A number that means pretty much nothing except that I spend a lot of time on my bike. A dumb number that makes me happy.

2007 will have more roads, more kilometers, more numbers jotted in little yellow notebooks. I've got a few adventures planned and a few more stories to tell.

I hope all of you out in the blogosphere have a 2007 that is filled with all the best kinds of adventures.

Keep 'em rolling,


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Snow Again in Issaquah

We got an inch of snow last night, not a big traffic-snarling storm, but enough to make things white and make me feel smart for having snow-studs on my bike.

I don't ride very far or fast, just up to Redmond and back. It's warmer and greener by the river. A heron stands patiently, eyeing the water, waiting for lunch to swim by.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Secret Worlds

Colin Fletcher writes of secret worlds, the places just a tiny bit off the tracks trod by most men. These are the places that restore the soul and if you are lucky or wise, you find that these place are never far away. While there is great adventure to be found in thousand mile summers and breath-taking beauty in the far distant mountains, the small places are within hiking or biking distance.

It is only a few hours on a Christmas afternoon. Christine and the boys and I share many adventures but we also know that loving someone doesn't mean that every moment is a family moment. Some paths are trod alone, some secrets must be found in silence so they can become stories for a later telling. I grab my bike and roll into a dry winter day. My plan is vague and my tires rugged.

The gate is just off the known road. This is an unnamed bit of county land. I feel, rather than know, that this is some old farm, a bit of creekside deeded to the county. There are no buildings here, but bits of old gates and fence posts hint of a time when there were more men than a lone cyclist on a Christmas day. The water and the trees have their time and tiny tracks tell me that something passed here whose life is more fleeting than mine.

I wander, I wonder, I ponder and I poke around. I grow cold if I'm too still and wheels are ultimately made for rolling. Eventually, of course, strange paths rejoin known roads.

I could give a report with more detail, a GPS track to guide others to this gate and that rock. But exact coordinates give scant guidance to the secret worlds. These lands are better mapped by poets than cartographers.

I don't know what lies out your back door, but I know that I find something new each time I roll out mine with rugged tires and vague intentions.

Friday, December 22, 2006

You Don't Need That

My wife, sons and I live with less stuff than a lot of Americans but Christine and I often reflect that we still have way too much stuff. The boys, so far, don't share these concerns and are currently spending a good bit of effort pointing out how much better our lives would be if we added a Nintendo Wii to our existing collection of stuff. So far, the Peterson household is Wii-free but I'm quite sure that state will not last. The boy's both have jobs and the Wii is far niftier than anything as mundane as cash.

I've written about this before but the stuff keeps rolling in. Joel Metz states it this way:

"in the endless cosmic game of rock-paper-scissors... desire is greater than need."

And perhaps that is what keeps this all spinning along. I do know that I accumulate stuff at an alarming rate and my particular weakness is for the better thing. Voltaire referred to this when he wrote (in French) that "the better is the enemy of the good." Perhaps I was happy with my 700c wheels, but now I will wonder if I'll be happier with 650B wheels. My Swiss Army knife has been fine but perhaps the Leatherman will be better? And the game of rock, scissors, paper continues...

I'm not alone in such thoughts and there is also the desire to support good folks doing good things. But if we support all the good folks doing good things, we can sure wind up with loads of stuff. Perry Bessas mused quite eloquently on this subject over on the iBOB list in this post:

I have no solution to this and we all do what we can in life. I know that I am happier now that I work for a non-profit and mostly what I sell to people is the idea that a bicycle can be a valid and fun way to get around. It's a good fit for me, better than when I worked at a bike shop. Don't get me wrong, I loved working at the shop, but when I told Mark I was leaving to go work at the Bicycle Alliance he said, only half-joking, "It's the $7,000 Serotta's that pushed you over the edge, right?" It wasn't really that. The Serotta's are lovely bikes and if someone wants to spend that on a bike and loves it, that's great. But my nickname at the shop was "You Don't Need That." Various times folks would come into the shop saying "I need a new bike." I'd get to talking with them, trying to find out what the have for a bike now and seeing what they like and don't like about it. And sometimes in talking with them I'd find that they really like their existing bike, but they'd get a stiff neck if they'd ride for more than an hour. And we'd chat some more and look at them on the bike and they'd walk out the door with a $30 stem instead of a new bike. Or if they would get a new bike I'd just instinctively turn folks towards a cheap, rugged and versatile Surly Cross-Check or Bianchi Volpe instead of one of the gleaming jewels from Colnago or Serotta.

Mark Thomas isn't just the owner of Sammamish Valley Cycle, he's also the president of RUSA, a friend of mine and he's also on the board of Directors of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the place where I now work. So I still see Mark all the time. A few weeks ago he stopped by the Alliance and I asked how things were going at the shop this year. "Great," he replied, "sales are up 20% since you left!"

One of the many things I like about bicycles is they are about balance. You keep moving to keep your balance. OK, some of you are really good at track stands, but in general bikes are about balanced motion. If you go bike touring you quickly learn that too many luxuries aren't really all that luxurious. Hauling all the comforts of home with you is a certain way to be uncomfortable. On the road, you will find your balance.

And so we roll on. We weigh our options. We balance our needs and desires and play the endless game of rock, scissors, paper. Some times at the end of the day, we hear a little voice that says "you don't need that" and other times we hear a voice that says "life would be better with X."

On this blog I often talk about this or that cool thing I've found. And I'll still do that. But mostly, I'm still trying to balance. I do have too much stuff. I'll be spending part of this holiday season packing some stuff up to give away. After all, I have to make room for new stuff!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pedal Powered Billboard

This is a nifty campaign by DDB/Vancouver and BC Hydro to encourage people to use LED Christmas lights instead of higher energy incandescents. The full story is here:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The TerraCycle Accessory Mount

Pat Franz at TerraCycle is a really clever guy. His company makes nifty things for recumbents and other bicycles. Pat recently sent me a TerraCycles Multi-purpose Accessory Mount and I'm really impressed with both the design and construction of this little device.

As shown above, I used the mount to attach a headlight low on the fork blade of my bike but you can get the mount with various clamps and a couple of different arm lengths to allow a wide range of options. TerraCycles page here:

shows a bunch of different configurations. Recumbent riders often have to be creative when figuring out ways to mount lights, cycle computers and other accessories, but randonneurs and a variety of gadget junkies face similar problems. The accessory mount is very solid because the twin arms let you form a nicely triangulated structure. I've found that having a second light mounted low lets my light cast a nice beam for illuminating upcoming potholes and other nasty things.

The accessory mount costs $29 and it's made in Portland Oregon by cool folks who care about bicycles.

Get Lit Washington

While reflectors do increase the visibility of night riding cyclists, reflectors alone are not enough. Lights are key to making the bicyclist a visible and safe user of the roads and paths. Washington law states that "For night bicycle riding, a white front light (not a reflector) visible for 500 feet and a red rear reflector are required. A red rear light may be used in addition to the required reflector (RCW 46.61.780)". Unfortunately, many cyclists ride without lights after dark. Get Lit Washington is a program designed to directly address the problem of unlit cyclists and raise awareness of the need for cyclists to use lights at night.

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington is currently soliciting donations to fund the Get Lit program in Washington state for 2007. For every dollar raised between December 20th, 2006 and March 30th, 2007 (up to a total of $2,500 in donations) the Bicycle Alliance will match dollar for dollar to fund this program. Checks payable to the Bicycle Alliance in any amount may be sent to:

Bicycle Alliance of Washington
Get Lit Program
P.O. Box 2904
Seattle WA 98111

Get Lit Washington is directly inspired by the original Get Lit program in Portland, Oregon. Created by Jeff Bernards, Get Lit simply and directly addresses the problem of cyclists riding at night without lights by providing front and rear LED lights to unlit bicycle riders. By directly giving lights to riders, Get Lit Washington will have an immediate positive effect on the night cycling safety of those riders. Additionally, Get Lit will raise awareness of bicycles as vehicles and draw attention to the legal requirement that cyclists have lights.

The bulk of the funds for this program will go directly into the wholesale purchase of lights. The distribution of lights will follow the model successfully pioneered in Portland, Oregon. Volunteers will specifically target low income bike riders who are currently riding at night without any form of lighting on their bicycles. Lights will be installed directly on the bikes and the bicycle riders will be instructed on how to use the lights, including instruction on how to remove the lights to prevent theft. A self-addressed stamped survey card will be given to each bicycle rider receiving lights under the Get Lit program. These cards will be used to gather various data needed to track and evaluate the success of the program.

Volunteers will work directly at dusk or dawn along various bike transit corridors to find bicycle riders in need of lights. Additionally, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington will work with various shelters and low income programs to identify low income cyclists in need of lights. It is important that the Get Lit program does not in any way undermine or seem to undermine the various bicycle shops in the community or the commercial concerns of the lighting vendor. To address this issue, the program specifically targets low-income bicycle riders, those people unlikely to purchase a bicycle light or even be aware of that lights are commercially available. Press coverage of the program will serve to promote understanding of the problem of unlit night riding bicyclists and should serve as a catalyst to spur increased use of lights in general, including those sold via the various local retailers.

Planet Bike has agreed to provide head and tail lights in bulk quantities at very favorable prices. While most of the lights will be distributed by volunteers there will be some printing and postage costs to create survey cards to measure and evaluate the success of the program. There will also be some small administrative costs in compiling the data and transporting the lights, but most of the funds will go directly toward the purchase of lights. For $2500, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington will be able to equip 200 low-income cyclists with front and rear lights.

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington will work with communities and local volunteers to make the program available in various locations across Washington state. If significant funding comes from a single regional source (ie. a county or town), the program can be targeted to that specific community. The main limit on the program will be funds and the availability of local volunteers. The program may scale up as needed, but because of the pricing structure of the light supplier, lights must be purchased in lots of 100 sets.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Sweetest Words

The sweetest words I heard today came from a robot.

"No one is available to take your call. Please leave a message after the beep." I was calling Christine to let her know that I'd be a little late getting off from work and then I'd be swinging by REI to pick up some candle lanterns and do some Christmas shopping. She'd said she'd call me if and when our power came back, but she'd probably ventured off to somewhere with warmth and light. But she didn't need to tell me. The robot told me. Our phone machine has power. We have power.

But I'm still picking up some candle lanterns on my way home.


After the Wind

It's a bit before 4:00 AM on Sunday December 16th. I get out of my semi-warm bed, where Christine and I have been sleeping, "wrapped up up like ornaments waiting for another season" to use Dar Williams' phrase. A huge windstorm passed through the Pacific Northwest on Thursday night, making my commute home rather interesting and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of households including the Peterson's.

Friday was kind of fun. All the downed trees and closed roads made it easy for me to skip work and no power means no computer and no computer means Christine's job at wasn't happening either. We made coffee and soup on the backpacking stove, read books by candle and LED light and listened to the news on the battery-powered radio. "It's like camping," I told Christine. "If we were camping, we could build a big fire to stay warm!" she retorted.

The cold is a problem. Night time temps are below freezing and as time goes on our normally electrically-heated place gets progressively colder. Saturday was a day for hunkering down. It's not clear how long the power will be out here, so we gathered in supplies from what stores are open and running on back-up power systems and generators.

Christine knows that the lights are on in much of Seattle and she's planning on taking the bus in there to Christmas shop and have "good food and a warm beverage somewhere where I don't see my breath." I'm also planning on getting out, following through on a plan I'd made earlier in the week. I'm riding up to Snohomish to have breakfast and ride in the countryside with my friend Mark Vande Kamp. The 4:00 AM start is considered "normal" for me.

What isn't normal, I reflect, is actually taking off clothes in preparation for going outside. At home, I'm bundled in many layers including my Montbell Thermawrap jacket, but the Montbell is a little too warm for riding. I keep my base-layer of wool intact but trade the Montbell for my Marmot windshirt. I add some reflective gear, turn on all my bike lights and head out into the darkness.

It's really dark, and mostly quiet. I work my way north through dark intersections. Here and there I hear the growling of portable generators. Microsoft's Lake Sammamish Campus seems to have emergency power and I smell woodsmoke coming from the chimneys of the big, dark homes along the lakeshore. Up in Redmond there are pockets of power and darkness. As I climb up 208th Avenue I work my way around downed tree limbs and power lines. At the crest of Novelty Hill the recently sprouted sprawls of Redmond Ridge and Trilogy gleam as if celebrating their powerful good fortune, but just past these glowing islands Novelty Hill plunges steep and icy to the dark Snoqualmie Valley.

I work my way north up the eastern edge of the valley, my studded tires rumbling reassurance on as the frosted pavement gleams beneath the beams of head and helmet lights. There are lots of fallen limbs along the road and dire signs of destruction. A sliver of a red-orange moon hangs low in the eastern sky and the stars twinkle in the smoky air.

I know that "Road Closed" signs do not always mean a road is impassable and I've ignored a few of these signs in my time. But some times, times like now, those signs are true. The sign in front of me is backed with barricades and the barricades have police tape extending to the very edges of the roadside forest. Of course, I have to make certain, so lift the tape and slip my bike under. By the light of my helmet light, I creep forward. "Gee, the road seems dark ahead," I think and then I realize there is no road there. What had been a tiny tributary, a capillary creek is now it's own river, charging headlong to join the Snoqualmie. What had been the road is now empty space, a chasm I could only cross if I had E.T. himself packed in with my bike supplies.

I retrace my tracks, riding south to the Woodinville-Duvall Road where I cross to the east side of the valley before resuming my northward trek. Duvall wrapped tightly in darkness but as I roll north on SR-203 I start to see lights. It's 7:00 AM as I roll into Monroe. The mountains to the east are beginning to show hints of sunrise and the town is lit with Christmas lights and neon open signs in the cafes and coffee shops.

I now roll east again on the old road to Snohomish. I roll up to the Twin Eagles Cafe a few minutes past our scheduled 7:30 AM meeting time but Mark is understanding when I tell him about my reroute. We feast on big, fat-laden breakfasts and catch up on details of each other's lives. We opt to ride a loop north and east. Mark has to be back in Seattle by mid-afternoon and both of us are here mostly to make sure the other gets out and gets some miles on the bike. Snohomish is pretty much equally inconvenient for each of us, which is why it is the ideal meeting place.

We ride and chat and solve many of the problems of the world. Between the two of us, we have an impressive array of opinions and trivia but sometimes we find things that stump us. Today's mystery is the white stuff on the branches. We pause to investigate.

It looks like snow, but it's not snow. It only shows up on dead branches and we see quite a bit of it along one section of Woods Creek Road. Mark investigates while I photograph it. This is one of those times I wish I had a better camera to take close up shots. It seems like some kind of fungus. Mark dares me to taste it but I decline. "Put it on your blog," Mark suggests, "somebody will know." (Now that I am somewhere with an internet connection and posting this, Google tells me that there is a thing called Snow Fungus but I'm not sure if this is the same stuff.)

Our loop takes us back to Monroe where we split up. I roll south down the valley. It's light enough now and a bit warmer, so I stop to take some pictures of birds,

downed power lines,

fallen trees,

the layer of woodsmoke on the hills,

and abandoned pumpkins in the field.

I'm home by 2:00 PM. I've got 168 kilometers on the bike computer and there still is no power in Issaquah. But the crews are out there working and more and more homes are coming back on line. Soon it will be our turn.

I hope.

Stay warm folks,


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How To Give Up Cycling

Sometimes my friends forward me stories that are shoot-coffee-out-my-nose funny. This is one of those stories:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Heart My Bike Bell

Elly Blue posted a pretty nice article about the usefulness of bike bells over at the Bike Portland blog here:

Now if you're a serious racer or spend all your time in the back country with nobody else around, a bell is probably not high on your list of bike accessories. But if your commute is anything like mine and you wind up spending at least part of your time on paths where you'll be interacting with other humans, a bell is a handy thing to have. And they don't all look quite as dorky as the one at the top of this post. Velo Orange has some nice ones here:

Monday, December 11, 2006

Craptacular Bicycle Lights

My friend Tarik is fond of describing items and events as being craptacular. As near as I can figure, Tarik uses craptacular in two related but slightly different ways. In the first sense, craptacular refers to something that really didn't live up to the advance expectations. In this sense you would say something like "our trip to Moab turned out to be a craptacular fiasco." But the second sense of craptacular, the one that I find more interesting, is when you have something that you assume will be total crap but it in fact turns out to be better than you expected. In this case you would say something like "the fake latte from the coffee robot in the Quickie Mart is actually quite a craptacular beverage."

Yesterday I was in a store called Fred Meyer, which is one of those big everything stores like Wal-Mart or Target and I saw that they had all their bike accessories on sale for 20% off. Now there are various companies out there making good bike lights, companies like Planet Bike and Cateye, and I use and recommend those lights. But when I saw that I could get a Bell Night Trail headlight and taillight set for $12.79, I had to give them a try. I also splurged on a pair of flashing ankle bands at $6.99 each.

I'd actually gone to the store looking for battery-powered Christmas lights, which I didn't find at Fred Meyer but I did later find at Lowes.

A string of 10 white Christmas lights costs 99 cents at Lowes, but of course the 2 C batteries needed to power the lights cost a lot more. I bought 4 sets of lights and the batteries to power them. I also got some AAA cells to power the taillight. I did spend a fair bit of time contemplating just how screwy it is that this stuff can be made in China, shipped half way around the world, sold for so little and this is completely thought of as normal business. It is screwy, screwy as in somebody is getting screwed. And, of course, I'm part of the problem. But I'm also trying to help poor people here. My office at the Bike Station is half a block from the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle and some of the homeless folks there have bikes that we help keep going. And they don't just ride in the daytime. So part of me can say I'm checking out cheap alternatives for poor folks and part of me is just mucking with lights because I like to muck with lights and part of me is writing about this just so I'll get some comments about better sustainable solutions. But enough of this geo-political angst, let's talk about the cheap lights.

I used all this stuff on my dark and rainy commute this morning. The Bell headlight worked surprisingly well. I'd loaded it up with freshly charged NiMH AA cells and for part of the commute I used the Krypton bulb in the light and for the better lit sections I switched the light to use the lower power LEDs. This really cheap light actually has a high and low krypton beam and a solid or flashing setting that uses two white LEDs. If your batteries are too low to power the Krypton bulb, you can use the LEDs which draw much less power. The plastic of the light is pretty flimsy and I could see myself accidentally breaking the case while changing the batteries. I could also easily see water seeping into the electronics and mucking everything up but the light did survive this morning's commute. As for weather-proofing, I think I'll employ a trick I've used with other lights, dripping candle wax or silicone sealant over the sensitive electronics. I'll probably supplement the fragile case with some duct tape.

The taillight is very bright and can be set to solid or a variety of flashing and chase modes. It's actually a really nice little light. Both the head and taillights come with fairly decent mounting brackets for placing them on your bike, but I tend to supplement every bracket with an additional band cut from an old inner tube. In the case of the taillight, instead of mounting it to my bike, I kept my existing Planet Bike light on my bike and zip-tied the Bell taillight to the back of my helmet. The Bell taillight is definitely brighter than the several year old Cateye taillight it replaced. In general, the current crop of LED lights are brighter than the best lights from a few years ago, so it's worth checking out some of the new stuff. Planet Bike has a 1/2 Watt taillight that is amazingly bright. But for a cheapo light, I'm really impressed with the little Bell.

The LED ankle bands also seem pretty darn nice. I have no idea how long the coin cells will last in these things, but ankle band that both reflect and light up are a good idea. I rode into work with the ankle bands flashing.

I wrapped the 40 Christmas lights around my frame and secured them with red and green zip-ties. I tucked the 4 battery packs into my bike's coroplast trunk. If I was really going to do this right I'd wire them all up to a single pack of NiMH batteries and maybe add a flasher circuit and I may do this at a later date. For now I'll see how long the 8 C cells last. I'm really not too worried about going fast in the winter and the Christmas lights really do give my bike a craptacularly festive look. You'll have to take my word for this, I tried taking a picture of my bike in the dark, but my cheapo camera is too craptacular to really capture the spectacle!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Two Pictures from Friday Morning's Commute

I've never claimed to be much of a photographer, but I do live in a very pretty part of the world. And I've gotten into the habbit of carrying a very cheap Aiptek PenCam SD with me on pretty much every bike ride.

The picture above is the view looking east at Mercer Island with the Cascade Mountains in the background and the stream of cars coming over the floating bridge. The picture below is the view of Mount Rainier of to the south. I took both these shots at about 7:30 AM on Friday December 8th, 2006.

I often tell people that my commute is a part of my life that I really love. Some mornings I see the morning light as it just touches the Olympic Mountains. Sometimes in the dark I'll see deer or a coyote or a raccoon heading home. I've seen eagles soar on the air currents above Mercer Island drifting over multi-million dollar homes built by software and airplanes and expensive coffee. I see ribbons of light painted by thousands of my fellow commuters. Every day I roll by people looking at the world through windows and I'm happy that I'm on my bike.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sleeping Owl

I never know what I'm going to find out on a bike ride. Today I got up at an insanely early hour, rode to the ferry terminal in Seattle, met up with a bunch of other Seattle Randonneurs and rode the South Hood Canal 200K,. Actually this ride is more like a 215 kilometers long and by the time I was back home I had 278 kilometers for the day. All day long the temperature was in the range that you'd find inside your refrigerator (or freezer) but it was beautiful along the canal, with great views of the mountains. But the absolute coolest thing was this owl. I was rolling along and zipped right by him and about half a second later my brain went "hey, was that an owl?" After making sure that there wasn't any traffic about to clonk me, I pulled a u-turn and and came back by the owl. The owl was sleeping peacefully on one of the posts supporting the guardrail. I could see it breathing and it stirred a bit when the camera beeped as I took this picture. Until today, I've never been this close to an owl in the wild. That silver thing in the foreground is the bell on my bike's right bar-end. I left the sleeping owl and continued on my ride.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Embracing Winter

It's often easy, too easy, to look out the window, see the world as hostile and decide to stay inside. It's warm inside, the coffee is on and you really should catch up on whatever it is you're sure needs catching up on. I do this often and often times it is the perfect thing to do.

But then there are days, days like today, when the temperature is just below freezing and the fog is still hiding the mountains. It's early, but I am like a kid on Christmas morning. For, you see, I have these tires now, big rugged studded tires that flew here from Peter White's shop in the frozen northern lands of New Hampshire. Last night the UPS man dropped them off. "You're not going to do anything stupid with those tires now, are you?" Christine's question cuts to the heart of the matter. "No, of course not!" I lie. The truth is that yes, I do stupid things like ride my bicycle on ice. The studded tires certainly won't prevent me from doing this but the theory is that they will let me do this stupid thing in a less stupid manner. This morning is the test.

I'd worried that as soon as I had the tires in my possession things would warm to the point all the ice would be gone but the cold, crystalline air and pale patches of frost reveal a perfect morning. The studs rumble on the pavement and crunch on frozen leaves. I approach the first ice patches with caution but studded tires at 50 PSI grab both bare road and slick ice with equal aplomb.

I ride up to High Point on the trail and then ride the frosty road to Preston. I fill my mug with coffee in Preston and roll on to Fall City. Passing the Dead End sign that is a lie, I roll up to the Snoqualmie Trail and ride up to the fog-shrouded Falls. I descend and turn onto Fish Hatchery Road, past another lying sign alleging that the road is impassable. Two wheels have fewer limits than four and two studded wheels are tools for nearly infinite exploration. But today is not really an exploration, it's a celebration. This winter will not be endured, it will be embraced.

I'm home by noon, with 52 kilometers on the computer and a silly grin on my face. Some folks worry about the rolling resistance of big studded tires, but I'm happy with the way these tires resist. They resist the urge to stay inside, to say "I'll wait until a nicer day."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bicycle Quarterly

Bicycle Quarterly is a really wonderful magazine. I'm pretty sure I'd say that even if I wasn't friends with Jan Heine, the editor and publisher of the magazine and also if I wasn't friends with several of the other folks who write for Bicycle Quarterly on a regular basis. But I am friends with those guys in great part because we share a common interest in and love of bicycles. Originally Jan called his magazine Vintage Bicycle Quarterly and it was an astounding source of great information about bicycles from an earlier time. But Jan's interests aren't just historical and while the magazine still has lots of historical information, it also contains reviews of contemporary bicycles, stories of epic rides, tests of modern tires and lights and a wealth of other great information.

Unlike most other magazines, Bicycle Quarterly, is not just a bunch of slightly reworked ad copy designed to make you buy the latest this or that. A lot of thought and work goes into each issue and the quality shows through on every page. Each issue of Bicycle Quarterly (at least every issue I've seen!) is one of those all too rare items in this day and age, a genuine treasure.

More info about Bicycle Quarterly can be seen here:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Studded Bicycle Tires

I wish I could get in touch with Al Gore and have him direct some of that global warming to my neighborhood right now but I understand that he's a busy man and it's a complex issue. While my friends and family back in the midwest are having warm temps with rain, there's an inch of ice on the roads in Issaquah and the temperatures are rather nippy. I took the very crowded bus to work today.

Peter Jon White has the answer: fat studded bicycle tires. He's got a wonderfully grumpy and informative page here:

and it really makes me want to send him $104 dollars (plus shipping) for a set of Schwalbe Snow Stud tires. "The perfect tire if you want one tire to do everything." That Peter knows how to write ad copy that hits me right in the "reach for wallet" reflex.

But then I think "hey, it never really ices up here and by the time I get the tires, this freak cold snap will be gone and I'll be back to normal riding." This sounded like a rational, save your money argument until I talked to my pal Ken who pointed out "if you have tires like that, you'll seek out the snow." Damn, he's right. We've got all those mountain passes around here and every winter I sulk in the low valleys, waiting for spring. These tires mean more adventures. More stories for the blog...

Back in my big buck software industry days, I'd already have those tires Fed Exing their way here. Now, in my non-profit professional bike advocate days, I ponder my purchases a bit more.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Winter Wonderland

Yesterday the forecast was for snow but my morning commute was actually icy but clear. At the end of the day I rode through the Seahawk game traffic (My office is a couple of blocks north of the football stadium and last night was game night). By the time I crossed Mercer Island, a few flakes were coming down and once I climbed up to Newport Way, which skirts the northern flank of Cougar Mountain, the snow was coming down in big heavy flakes.

I felt like Andy Hampsten on the Passo Gavia in 1988. Except, of course, I was going a hell of a lot slower than Andy did. And Andy didn't have to worry about dozens of SUVs slipping and sliding along the same narrow road. I might have had about the best traction of anything on the road and my traction was minimal at best. Fortunately, most of the SUV drivers seemed to quickly learn that their advertising induced confidence was misplaced and aside from seeing a few Explorers fishtail widely and wildly through some turns the ride home was pretty much without incident. As soon as I could I got onto lower traffic roads and trails. The snow was coming down thick and wet enough that it would form a layer on my helmet and then when enough mass accumulated a big clump would whooph off in a solid sheet.

It was dark and I was too busy to take pictures last night, but I snapped a picture of my porch this morning. Temps are still below freezing here and all the schools are closed. I normally spend one day a week working from home on documents and things. I figure I used up all my luck on the ride home last night so today I'm staying put with my computer and a cup of hot coffee.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Momentum Is Your Friend

My friend Joe "Metal Cowboy" Kurmaskie writes wonderful books that are both funny and wise. His latest book, Momentum Is Your Friend, is the story of Joe bicycling from Portland Oregon to Washington DC with this two sons, second-grader Quinn and five-year-old Enzo, literally in tow. Joe has a reporter's eye for detail, a poet's way with words and a genuine interest in the people he and the boys meet along the road. Over the course of a few thousand miles and a few hundred pages, Joe and the boys take the reader on the ride of a lifetime. I really felt like I'd met the watermelon whiz-kid, the grumpy and grizzled bicycling vet, the midwestern cheerleader in the mysteriously empty town and all the other people too real to be called characters.

But of all the real people in this book, the one we get to know the best is the one telling us this story. This is not a mid-life crisis book but it is a good story, well told, by a man in the midst of his life. With his kids in tow, his wife in grad school and the ashes of his father in a Tupperware bowl tucked somewhere in a pannier, Joe wonders about the things we all wonder about. Am I being a good dad? A good husband? A good son? And can I make it up this hill with this 250 pound contraption? OK, maybe not everyone wonders about that last one.

B. and Roy, a kind-hearted couple in a huge RV voice the concerns of many about Joe and his cute kids, "you wouldn't want anything to happen to them." But Joe explains that this isn't categorically true.

"I want all sorts of things to happen to my children. I want them to smack line drives during clutch moments of baseball games, smell the sweet bite of creosote bushes in the Arizona desert after an August monsoon, eat a pile of messy short ribs dripping in Kansas City's best BBQ sauce, then sleep off their food comas under the whispery shade of a willow tree. I want them to stick up for themselves when it really matters, and someday slow dance with that girl, the one that makes them uncool and cotton-mouthed, at the junior high school mixer. I want them to find themselves at a loss for words from the beauty of the world, and make up fantastical names for constellations under the open sky this summer."

"What I don't want is something horrible happening to them. That's what he really means. It's a small distinction, but, when magnified through the video black magic of Madison Ave. and filtered by the unfounded fears of parents fueled by the nightly news, it's what cheats us all of so much."

Joe and Quinn and Enzo not only survive, they thrive. They remind us all that life is for living and adventure is everywhere if we are not afraid to roll out the door and see what's around the next corner. If momentum is my friend, then I guess that inertia is my enemy. Thanks, Joe for wonderful book that's a kick out the door. I'll see you on the road.

BTW, if you get a chance to see Joe in person go see him. He's a great speaker as well as being a terrific writer and if you buy a book straight from him, he'll sign it. When you buy a book straight from Joe (either in person or via his website at 80% of the profits go to Joe's latest venture, Camp Creative. Of course, Amazon and other bookstore sales are a great help as well but Joe's trying to raise a big chunk of money for Camp Creative (details on his website) and direct sales earn more direct cash.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

One General Purpose Bike

Despite my Dad's observation that "a Swiss Army Knife really isn't much of a knife," I've always preferred the mutts to the purebreds. While some folks delight in having the ideal knife for cutting, a set of perfect screwdrivers for every fastening chore, the right cork screw for that vintage bottle of French wine and so on, I've always liked the idea of one gadget that does a lot of things. It doesn't have to do everything perfectly as long as it's enough to get the job done.

I've done some long rides on minimal gear, like riding the GDR on my Monocog or touring back to Minnesota on a fixed gear but when I think about riding fast with my pals on the road and climbing the steepest stuff I can find on the mountain trails, then even I can see the value of those Disraeli gears. I mucked around a bit with a little mountain bike but those cyclocross bikes have always had an appeal for me. I've never been tempted by cyclocross racing, mind you, it's a little too muddy and the races are a little too short for my tastes, but some of the bikes are just so darn versatile. Something like a Surly Crosscheck has always been high on my list of bikes I recommend. A cross bike would be a little faster than the mountain bike and be at home on the road or the trail.

Have I mentioned that I have this weird bike karma? Some bikes just find me and some bikes I have wind up finding their way to more fit owners. The Kogswell Model G is a great bike and in it's three-speed configuration I think it's perfect. Well, perfect for everything but that really steep back country trail. But perfect for my buddy Ken. Ken who rides on roads and stays off the steep trails. Ken who takes forever to decide to buy a bike but who has the Model G on a semi-permanent loan now. And my son Eric got his bike stolen but I happen to have this mountain bike to give to him. So now I can explain with a straight face to my very understanding wife (who really just rolls her eyes at all these velo permutations) that we really are simplifying things here.

My latest bike is an old steel Novara CX. Novara is REI's house brand and this old CX is kind of workhorse bike like a Surly Crosscheck. It's not at all fancy, it doesn't have lugs, and there are lots of chips in the paint. Reflective tape and stickers do wonders for covering up a dinged paint job. I swapped the bars and shifters for something I like, but that's why I have a big parts pile. The stem is the ugliest thing I had in my parts box but it's the right length and somehow it just seems right. The CX can take massive tires but for now it's fine with 28 mm tires for commuting. A guy on the iBOB list is selling me a set of 700*40 Specialized Hemisphere tires for twenty bucks. That twenty bucks is the only money I've sunk into this bike thus far. Once I have the fat tires I'll see how this bike works in the backcountry. The low budget also explains the funky color of the bar-tape, it's what I had laying around. Of course the fenders and rear trunk are custom coroplast specials.

Is this bike the one? I don't know. I never know. Could I come up with a better bike to ride to work? Probably. Could I come up with a better bike to bomb down the back side of Tiger Mountain? Sure. But do I carry the perfect knife and a set of screwdrivers and a wrench and everything else in the front pocket of my shorts? Nope.

I've got a little red knife in my pocket. It does a pretty good job on a lot of tasks and I carry it with me every day. And now I've got this bike. It's kind of ugly but that appeals to me. As Stuart Smalley might say "it's good enough and doggone it, I like it!"

Friday, November 24, 2006

One Way To Burn Off That Turkey

Mark Vande Kamp and I figured we needed to burn off some of the Thanksgiving calories we'd piled on yesterday and we thought that a ride out to the Olympic Penninsula would probably do the trick. My son Peter was home from college and he decided to join in the fun. Our buddy Jon Muellner lives over in Port Townsend and the plan was to meet up with him somewhere near the Hood Canal Bridge.

So in the wee hours of the morning Peter and I rode from Issaquah to meet Mark in Seattle and catch the 6:20 AM ferry to Bainbridge Island. Peter had been worried that his jacket might be too warm, but en route he informed me that this wasn't a problem. It was 37 degrees when we left home.

The sun was just coming up as Mark, Peter and I rolled across Bainbridge Island and in Poulsbo the thermometer said 32 degrees. "That can't be right" we all agreed and then we noticed the white layer of frost on the roadside leaves. On Big Valley road the temperature seemed to drop a bit more and parts of the road had a rather ominous sheen. As we neared the Hood Canal Bridge, things warmed up a bit.

I got to watch Peter do an impressive bit of bike handling as he hit the edge of a metal plate on the bridge but with something that looked like a cross between a ballet move and muscle spasm he managed to keep the bike upright.

On the road to Port Ludlow we met up with Jon and he suggested a hearty breakfast at the Chimacum Cafe. This proved to be a wise decision. Over breakfast we discussed various weighty world matters and why we all loathe flying because we all hate being without a Leatherman or a Swiss Army knife.

After breakfast Jon headed back to Port Townsend and we rolled back towards home on Beaver Valley Road. Back in Seattle Mark headed for home. Pete was cutting things close on time so he got in touch with the college buddy who was also his ride back to school and they to met up in Factoria. So Peter's ride was little shorter than mine, he only had 106 miles for the day. But considering that he's been busy with school (he's double majoring in physics and chemistry at Eastern Washington University) and has ridden zero miles in the past two years, I was pretty damned impressed.

But that wasn't the most impressive thing Peter did this week. Yesterday morning, when Christine got up early to put the bird in the oven, it was already cooking away. "It's a Thanksgiving miracle!" she reported to me as she came back to bed. No, it was Peter. He made the whole meal and he did a great job. The green beans with bacon and onions were amazing. It seems when Peter's been away at school, he's become quite the chef. "The chicks really dig a guy who can cook," he explained.

This is the time of year when we give thanks. I'm thankful for so many things but mostly I'm thankful for the many fine people who are a part of my life, my family and friends.