Tired With the World’s Weight

“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

A watermelon in my bicycle panniers.

I was on a routine trip to the grocery store on my commuter/cargo bike with the grocery panniers installed. I had “watermelon” on my list, but there were only two left in the big cardboard bin and they were both really big. Would one fit in my pannier? Could it take the weight?

I figured I could walk home lugging the watermelon if I had to. But it fit and it barely took the weight.

It was a slow ride home.

The Bottom Is Out Of the Universe

“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the repair stand from Aldi – getting ready for a fresh pair of tires.

 

I am not a professional bike mechanic. If I was, I would need a professional bike mechanic’s repair stand. I would have someone’s bike in said stand all day, every day. What I am is a person that has to fix his bikes because he can’t afford to hand them off to a professional mechanic every time something goes wrong… which is often, if not every day.

Still, I have always wanted to have a bike repair stand. There have been too many scratched handlebars while I tried working on derailleurs with the bike upside-down on the driveway. Too many hours sitting on the ground or a stool, bent over, trying to wrench something that doesn’t want to be wrenched. I usually end up wrenching my back.

Once, when we lived somewhere with extra garage space I built a repair stand out of 2x4s and large Home Depot bolts and screws. It wasn’t much of an improvement. A professional work stand can run up to 300 bucks… I paid less than that for two of my bicycles together (maybe that’s why I have so much repair work to do).

At the end of our block is an Aldi grocery store – and it has been something very nice. I remember when it was first rumored to go in (I don’t remember what was there – some third-rate fast food place… I think) the folks on the neighborhood mailing list went nuts. “Some tiny European grocery store.” “All their own brands.” “You have to pay a quarter for a cart.” “Bag your own groceries.”

All of it was untrue (well, except for the “bag your own groceries”) – the place is our go-to for consumables. If they have something – you should buy it there. It has actually been expanded once, though it doesn’t seem any bigger. I ride my bike there – it is uphill (a bit) from where we live, so I can buy milk, water, anything heavy, and coast home. I have a pair of grocery panniers for my commuter/cargo bike (a converted Giant mountain bike I bought on Craigslist for 90 bucks) and it’s always a game to see how much I can pack in.

The only thing I don’t buy on my bike is eggs – there’s a set of traffic bumps on the way back and I seem to break them some eggs often, even though my bike has a front shock.

One odd thing about Aldi is that, small as it is, it has this one aisle with completely random shit in it. I call it the “random shit” aisle. You never know what is going to show up there – but if it is something you need, it’s probably going to be cheap. I rarely buy much from that aisle, but I always walk down it… which I guess is the point.

One day there was a dry erase board there for… like six bucks or something. I had been wanting one and been looking at them for twenty dollars at other places. I didn’t know if it would fit in my pannier, but I decided to go for it. It did fit, diagonally and barely, but I rode off. As I crossed the parking lot, some guy yelled at me, “Hey! Is that a Beto sign?”

That brings us to a few weeks ago. I was getting ready for a week-long business trip to Boston when my Facebook started blowing up. I belong to a number of “Bike-Friendly” groups and they were all posting about the weekly Aldi ad having a bike repair stand for twenty-five bucks. These had come through about a year ago and I didn’t jump quick enough – they were sold out in a day or so. And now they were back. But I would be out of town.

So I made arrangements for Candy to stop by the Aldi on Tuesday and get a repair stand if they had one. I received a text in Massachusetts that she had been successful.

I was really curious about the quality of the thing. How useful could it be for twenty five dollars?

It’s surprisingly good. Not professional quality – but it’s got a big base, very stable, very tall, and a usable clamp to hold your bike. It isn’t something to use every day, but for the shadetree bike mechanic – it’s just good enough.

My only complaint was the rubber jaws on the bike clamp fall off – but some glue fixed that. Now, I have a crazy idea…. I’ve wanted a serious camera tripod for long exposure shots. The stand is rock-solid and I think I’m going to try and build a camera mount on a cross-pipe so this bad boy can do double duty.

 

 

 

 

 

The Inmates Made Jokes About the Chair

“The inmates made jokes about the chair, the way people always make jokes about things that frighten them but can’t be gotten away from.”
Stephen King, The Green Mile

Nic Noblique, Chair No. 3, Anita Harris Phelps Park, Dallas, Texas

There is a mathematical formula (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before) to calculate the number of bicycles you should own.

N = the number of bikes you have

X = the number of bikes you should own

X = N +1

I’m at three right now. One supposed advantage of having three bikes is that if one breaks, you have others that you can ride. This does not work, because of some divine sense of humor, all three will break at the same time.

Last weekend I wanted to ride the train and my bike down to the Design District West of Downtown Dallas for a birthday party for some of my kin at a combination Cidery and Video Game Extravaganza. The tire blew out on my folder the day before and the front wheel on my “road” bike needed truing.

No problem, I’d ride my Commuter/Cargo bike (a converted mountain bike with front and rear racks and fenders) – it weighs a ton, but is comfortable and works well as long as I’m not in a hurry. I took it out and started riding to the train station. I noticed that I was having a bit of trouble pedaling and stopped to take a look. The shift cable housing for the rear derailleur had come apart to pieces and the chain was stuck in high gear.

For a minute I thought about quitting, but really wanted to go for the ride. I have a toolkit that I carry and with a few minutes of work, I had the chain on a more manageable middle gear. I couldn’t shift, but I could move. The route to the Design District was mostly downhill… the only steep uphills I would have would be on the way back. I’d worry about that later.

The commuter tracks in downtown are being replaced, so I was spit out by the train at the east end of the central city. I used Google Maps to find a route through uptown to the American Airlines Center and on under Interstate 35 to the Design District. That’s were I found the nice little unexpected pocket park with the three Nic Noblique sculpture. It was a welcome peaceful spot to rest in the middle of the crazy city.

The trip back was mostly uneventful – without my low gears I did have to walk the bike in two spots – but I have no pride, so that was OK.

When I caught the train (the Blue Line this time) back to Richardson via Garland two women with five kids, including an infant in a stroller, tumbled on and took some seats in front of me. The kids were really hyped up and the women yelled at them constantly. At the Mockingbird station, one of the women suddenly shouted, “This is our stop!”

They herded the kids to the door where the four of them ran out the egress. The two women were maneuvering the stroller around when the door suddenly shut and the train started off. They were still aboard the train and the kids were on the platform. The two women panicked.

“Call the driver, push the red button,” another woman on the train said.

“We need to go back!” they said.

The voice in the metal grill was riddled with static, “This is a train lady, it doesn’t go back.”

I figured I needed to help. “Get off at the next stop, White Rock, and then take the next train back. You’ll be there in twenty minutes. Does your oldest kid have a phone?”

“My battery is dead.”

“Use mine, call him.”

She told the kids to wait on the platform. Then I called the emergency number and asked the police to watch the kids.

“What train do I take back? We’re not from here!” – she was still on the edge of panic.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “There’s only one train on this line – it goes back there.” When we pulled into White Rock another woman made sure they crossed the tracks to catch the train going back the other way. I looked up at the display and one would be there in ten minutes – so I’m sure it was fine.

It was only four miles from the Garland Jupiter station to my house – a lot of spring parties were going on in the yards on that route, I rode through clouds of bar-b-que smoke the whole way. It was nice.

Matcha

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground

Matcha Tea, Berkner Park, Richardson, Texas

I am having success with my plan of riding my bicycle some every day, even if it’s only a short ride (though the average length is slowly increasing). I make it as interesting and enjoyable as possible – one way is to take goodies (hopefully healthy) along with me to consume while I take a short rest. Since the Texas summer is pretty much already upon us – my treats usually take the form of cold beverages.

This is some Matcha Green Tea, in a bottle with ice. It is supposed to be healthy, and doesn’t taste all that bad.

Bad Coffee Is Better Than No Coffee

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
David Lynch

My Xootr Swift Folding Bike, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

I had a tough winter – my allergies, despite my best efforts, knocked me out. The worst part of it was I have not been able to ride my bike as much as I wanted to and have lost a lot of fitness. So now I’m working on the long road back.

One thing that I have found is that I especially enjoy riding my bike if I have a destination. It’s no good to always be riding to a store or a restaurant or a brewery… so sometimes I create my own destination. For the three day holiday weekend I decided to get up as early as I can (which is not always particularly early), pack up what I need, and then ride out to some spot where I can stop for coffee, breakfast, read my Kindle, and maybe write a bit. I decided to ride my Xootr Swift folding bike – it is perfect for short rides.

I didn’t plan on riding very far, maybe five miles or so around the ‘hood, the weather is already getting hot, the wind hard from the south – but otherwise it was a beautiful day.

The only problem with this plan is the amount of stuff that I have to put together for such a simple thing.

  • Thermos of coffee
  • Bottle of iced water
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Kindle
  • Notebook
  • Fountain Pen
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Helmet
  • Cycling Glasses with mirror
  • Reading glasses (my cycling glasses aren’t bifocals)

And it goes on and on. It took a long time to get everything ready… too long… and I forgot some things. So now, I make a checklist, make a pack with what I can put some stuff together ahead of time. The best part, though, is to plan where I’m going tomorrow morning.

Stuff on a picnic table in Huffhines Park, Richardson Texas.

 

Crossing The Brazos

“During dry spells, the whole river used to dry up into sandy bed, leaving only a faintly damp white trail. Years ago, on my walks I’d trace that trail upstream, searching for where the river had gone”
Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

Crossing the Brazos River alongside Interstate 35, Waco, Texas

One of the cool things you can do with a folding bicycle is to keep it in the trunk or back of the car on long road trips.

I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

That way, if you feel like taking a break – check Googlemaps on the phone and see if there are any bike routes or trails in the area (there usually are) and you can park and go for a little ride. It’s a great break from driving.

With All Their Speed Forward

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls.”
Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

A while back, on July 26, 2012 to be exact, I wrote a blog entry called Bicycle Lanes. In it I wrote a bit about Richardson’s attempts at improving its cycling infrastructure. I praised the bike trails and especially the bike lanes (while noticing some dangerous flaws).

But I also mentioned how dangerous some of the railroad crossings are. For example, at Arapaho (a very busy street that is necessary for me to get to the library and a few other spots) I took this photo:

Rail crossing on Arapaho road – July, 2012.

I wrote:

There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the north for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.

The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.

It’s been almost seven years now, and the city has done something. Here’s what that exact same railroad crossing looks like now:

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

It’s really only a couple of concrete plates, a bit of asphalt, and some sidewalk work – but it makes all the difference. To almost everybody – those that only drive – this is something completely unnoticeable. But to people that cycle for transportation (and for pedestrians) this sort of thing is a game-changer. To think that the city and the transportation departments are actually, finally thinking about people that aren’t in hurtling steel boxes is a breath of fresh air.

I know, by the way, that it isn’t a good idea to ride on the sidewalk – but that is a rule that sometimes, like along fast moving arterial streets – is made to be broken.

They did the same thing on the other side of the road – going the other way. That makes it not only possible, but easy, for me to ride my bike to the library. Little improvements.