Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Spiders of the I-90 Bridge

I've ridden across the I-90 floating bridge more than 3000 times. It's part of my workday commute and you could say it's part of my routine, but every day reveals something new. Sometimes it just takes a look in a slightly different direction.

Last night, when coming home from work, I happened to glance down and north as I crossed the bridge, looking towards the water but the focus of my eyes fell short of the water and I saw, clearly for the first time, the gaps at the base of the protective side rails of the bridge. And in the gaps, in almost every gap, a spider had spun a web.

On the trip this morning I had my camera ready.

I walked slowly beside my bicycle, taking pictures of the spiders repairing and rebuilding their webs. Halfway across the bridge, I heard a familiar voice behind me, "Did you get tired of riding or what?" It's my friend John Duggan. I explain to him about spiders and the webs and point them out. "You know," he says, "I've ridden across this bridge thousands of times and never noticed them."

"Me neither," I agree.

John and I go our respective ways and the spiders continue with their work.

I'll still marvel at Mount Rainier looming to the south and thrill to the eagles that soar over Mercer Island. I'll still watch the morning sun crest the Cascades and light the Olympic Mountains. But sometimes now, I look down and a little to the north.

Keep 'em rolling


Monday, April 27, 2009

So I bought my son a Hummer

When you raise your kid like this:

There's a good chance he'll end up like this:

Actually that first picture is of Eric, but it's too good not to share. The rest of the pictures are of my first born son, Peter. Yes, by naming our son Peter Peterson, Christine and I made sure he had a head start on learning to write both his first and last names, which gave him a big jump over his peers.

Obviously, Peter inherited a great fashion sense from his old man, but he also got a lot of smarts from his mom. Last spring he graduated with dual degrees in Chemistry and Physics from Eastern Washington University and now he's teaching and doing grad work in Ice Physics at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Like the hero of a Zelazny novel, Peter has figured out that if he just stays in school forever, he won't have to pay back that massive student loan debt he's wracked up because his parents are poor hippies.

Christine and I are very proud of both our boys (I should brag about Eric in some other post) and I wanted to get Peter something that would be useful for him in the wilds of Alaska. And when I came across this killer deal on a barely used Hummer, I just had to get it for him. You know Alaska is the great frontier, wild country. Bears, glaciers, Sarah Palin and all that. A man needs a rugged vehicle to get around.

So I bought my son a Hummer.

I'm sure it's going to cost more to ship it up there than I paid for it. It's a good thing it isn't one of the really big ones like this:

It's the one that looks like this:

Now I have to find a box and figure out the best way to ship it north.

Keep 'em rolling,


Synergy Conference -- May 6th thru May 9th

The ironic thing about being enough of a bike geek that you eventually manage to make it not only into your full-time job, but in fact a full-time dream job, is that it's very easy to spend all the best biking days in the shop, building up bikes for other folks and making sure cool old bikes are ready to roll. I've managed to make sure I get in 37 miles of riding in each work day by the clever use of geography, living at the base of the Issaquah Alps while working at Bike Works in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. And while my daily three hour tour is a clearest and treasured part of my day, there still are times when I long to ramble farther.

Next week, I'm rambling to Olympia. The bike shop will survive and thrive in the able hands of my colleagues while I roll off to visit the state capitol. I'll be attending, speaking and giving a seminar at the Synergy Conference at Evergreen State College. From 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM on Wednesday May 6th, I'll be talking about Bike Works, the Bikery, the Village Bicycle Project and how the synergy of various non-profit groups, individuals, businesses and government agencies work together to turn trash into transportation. The second part of the session will be hands-on work making bike fenders and luggage out of coroplast campaign signs. The folks at Evergreen have promised to have plenty of old signs, zip-ties and tools on hand. It should be a good time.

Aside from knowing exactly where I'll be for three hours on Wednesday, my schedule next week is pretty loose. I'll probably be attending some of the other seminars and talks at Synergy and I'll be doing my touring/hobo thing between Issaquah and Olympia. I'll consult my buddy Dr. Codfish to get his take on routing advice but if any of you cyberspace folks are in the Olympia area and want to meet up, drop me a note. And if any of you can make it to my seminar, I can tell you that if you like this blog, you'll probably like my talk. And you'll get to play with coroplast, which is always fun.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vickie Believes In Bicycles

The radio series This I Believe has been collecting essays for several years and while they've broadcast a few hundred essays on the radio, they've posted thousands more on their website at:

You can search the site in a variety of ways, including searching for words contained in the essays. Searching for the word "bicycle", I found quite a few essays, but this one by Vickie is a great, personal statement of why one woman rides:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pedaling Revolution

Jeff Mapes will be at the Seattle REI Tuesday April 14th, 2009 reading from and signing his book Pedaling Revolution. Details here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Footage of a WOMBAT in her natural habitat

Despite her shy, reclusive nature, intrepid film-makers managed to capture this footage of my pal Jacquie. (25MB)

If you’re having playback problems due to bandwidth, try one of these smaller versions

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Any Bicycling Hypermilers Out There?

Here's the random thought from last night's commute. There are automobile drivers who identify themselves as hypermilers, who drive in such a way as to minimize their fuel use. Now I know there are many speed-focused cyclists and stop-and-smell-the-roses types but does anybody know of a hypermiling cyclist out there? I picture somebody who uses a Power Tap hub not to maximize their power output and workout, but rather to minimize their energy expenditure. Someone who brags not that they rode from here to there at some fast speed but rather at some low caloric burn rate.

While this isn't the kind of thing I'd obsess over, I can picture it being the thing somebody would obsess over. So I'll ask, are there any hypermiler cyclists out there?

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Sunny Sunday in Seattle

I have this theory that whenever folks from out of town visit, the weather improves in Seattle. The day last week that Meade Anderson flew into the city for a geology conference, I had to wipe the snow off my bike saddle before I rode to work in thirty-something rain, but by this weekend the "visitors get nice weather" effect had kicked in.

I've known Meade virtually for a few years via the iBOB list and when I found out that he'd be in Seattle for a few days, I'd told him I could hook him up with a bike. Running down my list of bikes, I quickly realized that Mark Thomas was right, I don't have any "normal" bikes. Figuring that Meade might like something more than a fixie, a tringle-speed, a three-speed folder, or a retro-direct to tackle the Seattle hills, I stripped the retro-bits off the Trek and made it into a slightly more normal bike with a single front chainring and a fairly wide range 7 speed cassette. The rear derailleur is shifted with an old thumb-shifter.

I hooked Meade up with the bike, a lock and a Seattle bike map on Friday night. I was working on Saturday, but I pointed him to Bainbridge Island and told him about Classic Cycle. It turns out he had a great time exploring Bainbridge on Saturday.

I emailed various pals proposing a mellow Sunday ride, but while many of my buddies used up their allotted cycling time riding the SIR 300K on Saturday, Mark Canizaro came through with enthusiasm.

Sunday proved to be stunningly nice. We met up at Pert's Deli at 10:00 AM and rolled north along the lake to the UW. Plans to show Meade the Burke Gilman trail were thwarted by what seemed to be thousands of MS walkers, so we wisely stuck to the roads. Mark is an absolute encyclopedia of Seattle history, geography, politics and general lore and he's one of the few guys I know who can talk more than I can, so Meade got a pretty much non-stop Seattle Chautaugua as we passed by Kurt Cobain's house, Gas Works Park, the Freemont Troll, the Lenin statue and other touristy sites. In Ballard we test rode the Conference Bike at the Dutch Bicycle Company before crossing over the locks, rolling through Magnolia, past the train yard and along the waterfront. Then it was off to west Seattle and the crowded Alki trail before heading back downtown. Mark wanted to make sure Meade got to roll on the floating bridge, so they accompanied me as far as Mercer Island before we went our separate ways.

Sometimes it takes a long, dank winter to make you appreciate the first really nice days of spring. And sometimes it takes a visitor from out of town to get you out in that sunshine and remind you how lovely it is to live in this part of the world. Thanks for the ride, Mark and Meade. It was really a great day.

Keep 'em rolling,


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bicycle Gearing: A Rant

There are plenty of good, rational words about bicycle gearing out in the world. Dave Hood's page at:

covers the subject quite well and, as usual with all things related to bicycles, Sheldon Brown generously wrote a wealth of wise words on the subject here:

And, for those of you who love history and like seeing words on paper pages and not just computer screens, Frank Berto and some other very smart folks wrote this book:

While the folks I've mentioned above cover the subject quite thoroughly, the one thing I'd like to add to the discussion is something of a rant. While I'm not as skilled at ranting as some of the pros like Lewis Black or Dennis Miller, my kids will tell you I can still get up a good head of steam now and then, so hang on folks, I'm just getting rolling here.

When I was a kid, we had bikes. You get on it, you turn the pedals, you go. You want to go faster? You pedal faster. That was the story.

Now the fancy bikes had speeds. What we called "English Racers" had three speeds and shifted with a little trigger or a twist grip like a motorcycle throttle. The gearing was built into the rear hub and the wonderfully clock-like mechanism was sealed away from the weather and mostly wasn't something you'd think about. One was the easy gear, Two was harder, Three was hardest. You'd use One when going up a hill, Two when cruising around and Three when you were hauling butt. That was the English Racer story.

But any kid would tell you that the really fancy bikes, the really fast bikes, were ten-speeds. Five gears in the back, two gears up front and you shifted the gears with these things called derailleurs. Since there were ten different ways the derailleurs could connect the chain between the gears (five times two is ten) the bikes had ten gear ratios, but everybody just called these ratios "speeds". In practice some of the ratios might work out to be very similar or identical and it was best to avoid cross-chaining, where the chain has to go at an extreme angle connecting the small ring up front with the smallest cog in back or the big ring up front with the biggest cog in back. Real gear geeks would know all their ratios and serious bike shops would have a board with different cogs for your freewheel. Dick Marr, wrote the standard book at the time, a slim tome called Bicycle Gearing: A Practical Guide.

Around the time I got into bicycle racing (the late 1970s), ten-speeds were being supplanted by twelve-speeds. If five gears in the back were good, six would be better. The folks who made bicycles figured out a way to squeeze an extra cog in the back. Oh and if you're into touring, they put another chain-ring up front. That set-up was called a triple. So you could have 18 gears! (three times six is eighteen). And before Jan and other historians jump in with "oh but the French had X speed in 19XX") I'm talking about the general perception of things as I saw them as a kid growing up in the Midwestern United States. I know now that all kinds of bicycling technology existed many years before, but in terms of a bicycle you'd see in your local shop, it was at the end of the 70s when six cogs in the back became common. And racers rode double rings up front.

Hmm, if six is good, seven must be better. It's around this time that the folks who make bikes decided to increase the width of the rear triangle from 126 mm to 130 mm. That let them squeeze that 7th cog in. Racers got 14 speeds, tourists got 21. Moving the bearings out caused more strain on the rear axle and it was a while later that the cassette hub replaced the old freewheel mechanism. Sheldon explains the difference here:

By the way, the rear spacing standard for Mountain Bikes is now 135 mm. Track hubs and BMX are 120 mm. But in the road bike world, going from 126 to 130 mm gave that extra four mm to let that 7th cog fit in nicely.

Now here's where I kind of start ranting. When I worked in the software business, I learned about what we call feature creep. Microsoft Word is a classic example of a product that has suffered feature creep. Back when Microsoft and Word Perfect were duking it out, product reviews would always point out if one product had a feature the other was lacking. So as users we got a thesaurus and auto-capitalization and annoying animated paperclips that would pop up and say "it looks like you're trying to write a death threat to Bill Gates, would you like to use Helvetica for your font?" and other such dubious features. And now Word is packed with all kinds of things that very few people need, use or even want. But that's the way feature creep works.

Well, I'm sure many people will disagree with me, but I think around the time bicycle and component manufacturers slipped that 8th cog on the back of bikes, we were well into the feature creep side of things. Because if seven is good, eight must be better. Except when they kept packing more cogs into the same space, they started making things thinner. And things didn't stop at eight cogs.

Nine speed cassettes and chains became the norm. And then ten. Yes, now when we talk about ten speed drive-trains, we mean ten cogs in the back. Your bike with a double ring up front would be called a twenty-speed if we still used the old nomenclature. And your triple-equipped bike? It's a thirty-speed.

Unless you have the latest drive-train from Campagnolo. Campy goes to eleven. No, I'm not making this up. See:

And if you want all those gear combinations, go for it. I'm not going to stop you. But this "progress" comes at a price. Narrower chains and narrower cogs don't hold up as well. In the damp part of the world where I ride, I see nine and ten speed chains and cassettes wear faster than the older stuff. And that newer stuff costs more, sometimes a lot more. I can replace a seven speed cassette for twenty bucks and a SRAM 830 chain (which will work fine on five, six, seven or eight speed cogs) sells for $13 at my shop. Nine and ten speed stuff is more expensive and wears out faster. And the Campy eleven speed stuff? Well, you can check out the prices here.

Now admittedly, my shop sells refurbished used bikes. We're a non-profit and our stock is all bikes that have been donated to us that we've refurbished. All our proceeds go into our kid's programs. So most of what we sell are bikes from the pre-nine speed era. But as near as I can tell, everything past seven cogs in the back is not a real gain for most folks.

I tell people that you need a low enough gear to climb what you want to climb, a high enough gear to go as fast as you want and enough gears in between that you don't feel that something is really missing. For some people, that's just one gear! Others will be happy with a three speed. Or a bike with seven gears in the back and three up front. And I'm sure there are some folks who really need a bike that goes to eleven. Maybe pro racers or the guys in Spinal Tap.