Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#3). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Sunday Snippet – Degrees of Freedom

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

—- Bill Chance, Degrees of Freedom

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I am working on writing fiction on a regular basis again. Every Sunday I’ll try to publish something here on my blog that I wrote, for as long as I can. Here is something for this week. It is a pure first draft – written on my Kindle Fire tablet with an attached mini keyboard. Feel free to get back to me with any comments.

Sunday Snippet

Degrees of Freedom

Lucious pulled his bicycle out from the garage and swung a leg over the bright purple banana seat after admiring how the metallic flakes sparkled in the afternoon sun. He lifted his hand high to grab the almost-vertical handlebars and with a little push rolled down the driveway into the street. The tiny front wheel, upswept bars, and aggressive frame geometry looked really cool to pre-teen eyes but was not very practical nor stable and he wiggled on the verge of losing control until he picked up speed and began to pedal along the road.

It was new comic book day at Smith’s Drugstore and Lucious’ eyes watered both from the wind and the visions of the colorful characters and amazing stories that were soon to be his. Last month had been particularly thick with cliff-hangers and he was desperate to find out how his heroes would escape their dooms.

Doctor Strange was trapped in a twisted dimension, The Fantastic Four were trapped in preternatural ice, and Spiderman was trapped by a new cute redhead at school. His package was already wrapped and waiting for him at the counter at Smith’s. Old man Smith did this to minimize the amount of browsing that Lucious would do – he could monopolize the magazine display for hours. A wad of crumpled, filthy bills along with a carefully counted ringing pile of change dropped onto the counter and Lucious was on the way home with the plastic bag full of adventure hanging from one purple grip.

That night, after feverishly turning the pages and learning of the miraculous escape of all his heroes and then how they inevitably jumped from the frying pan into the fire – leaving even worse horrific dooms for next month – Lucious flipped the pulpy pages to the section at the very back. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that this crude part of the publisher’s art was his favorite. He began to pore over the ads.

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

Lucious was very familiar with these ads, had been seeing the same ones every issue for as long as he could remember – which was almost two years.

But there, on the very last page of Doctor Strange, was one he had never seem before. It even seemed fresh – sharp somehow – rather than the blurred text and crude drawings of the other, familiar advertisements.

“LEARN ALL ABOUT YOURSELF,” it read. The text explained that there were five dimensions of human personality and that it was of life and death importance to learn what point you occupied along these axes.

Lucious was twelve and suffered greatly from confusion about what was going on inside his own head. Thoughts swirled around deep mysterious eddies while confused desires and bizarre ideas crept in from the depths of his mind and set up camp in his head, refusing to leave. It was all very disturbing and frightened Lucious to the point that he worried about his future all the time.

And here, in front of his eyes, for the low cost of ninety-nine cents (not even a dollar) someone promised to explain this all to him. The mysteries of his own noggin would be cleared up and the future would open before him like a brightly-lit highway. He knew how disappointing the reality behind the wild promises could be – but this was irresistible.

Lucious carefully cut the little coupon out of the back of the book and filled out his name and address. He dug an envelope out of his middle desk drawer and taped three quarters, two nickels, a dime, and four pennies to a card (to disguise the fact the envelope contained cash and discourage the thieves at the post office). He relished the taste of the paste as he licked the stamps (adding an extra one, because of the weight of the coins).

He dashed out the side door and ran down to the next block to slide the letter into the big public mailbox (he didn’t want to use the clothespin on their own – didn’t want to answer his parents’ pesky probing questions) and watched it disappear forever into the black space beyond the slot. There was an ominous clang as he released the guard and it swung back over the opening. It was done – irretrievable –  there was no going back.

A twelve year old has no patience. Waiting was not one of his abilities. Every minute of every day was excruciating. Finally, after a hundred years (or maybe it was only ten days) a thick packet in a brown envelope arrived for him. He brushed off his parents’ questions and feverishly opened the package on his desk.

Inside was a cheap, mimeographed pamphlet of instructions, a set of computer cards with numbers and ovals, and a prepaid, preaddressed envelope. He was to read the instructions and answer a long set of questions, filling in the proper ovals on the cards that corresponded with the numbered questions and his answers. He was familiar with this drill – they did it every year at school to measure the children’s progress.

Lucious started to work. The questions were difficult – some were confusing, some were subtle, some were embarrassing to even think about, even more so to answer. But he knew that they were designed by professionals and were carefully and scientifically designed to plumb the very depths of his own personality – bring facts to light that even he had no idea about.

Hours later, feverish, sweating, and exhausted, he finished, filling in the last little oval. He packed the whole thing up in the provided envelope (the instructions said it was important to return the instructions themselves – not to let anyone read the questions other than him). It was late and pitch dark but he slipped out while his parents were watching TV and stumbled the two blocks to the same box, and slipped the envelope into the same slot of doom.

This time there was no impatience. He was a little nervous, but satisfied. He had done all he could do, now it was up to the experts on the other end to carefully examine his answers and to give him the self-knowledge that would change his life forever.

His only worry was that after all this work the whole thing was a ripoff. Maybe they were only gauging in some mysterious way the products that he was likely to want and to buy. Would all he get is some sort of a custom catalog full of items that he could not resist?

The days and weeks went by and Lucious mostly stopped thinking of the questions and the cards. He was only slightly haunted by the thought that he had probably wasted ninety-nine cents.

One day he was out riding his bicycle, going nowhere in particular. Suddenly, silently, three huge black cars were around him. One passed and pulled over in front, one behind, and one beside. He was boxed in and had to stop as the three slowed to a halt.

His heart raced and jumped into his throat as the door beside him opened and a huge man, with short dark hair, black business suit, and sunglasses stepped out.

“Lucious Lindale,” he said. It was not a question. “Please get into the car.”

Another man dressed in exactly the same way came out of the car in front, took his bicycle, and placed it in the trunk of the lead car. The trunk opened silently by itself and then closed with the same clunk as the cover on the steel mail box.

Lucious settled in the vast back seat beside the man in the suit. Another man that looked like the other two drove.

“Mr. Lindale, you filled out the multivariable personality assessment and sent it back.”

It took Lucious a minute to realize he was talking about the cards and the questions from the comic book. He nodded, although, again, it didn’t sound like a question.

“Out of the millions of responses, your answers indicate that you are exactly the person we are looking for. You will come with us and be trained This is truly the first day of the rest of your life.”

“But… but I’m only twelve years old.”

“Of course. You will receive very special and specialized training. You will be given unique abilities that a very select few are capable of. You will learn to look at the world in a way very different than everyone else. You will learn to see beyond the possible. For all this to be possible… well, thirteen is too old.”

Lucious looked out the window of the car. They were speeding along the old highway that ran out of town along the river. It had been a rainy spring and the river was up, angry and brown. The three black cars slowed and stopped along the shoulder next to an old railroad bridge. Lucious knew the bridge well, kids often crossed the river on it. It was a thrill not knowing if a train would come along before they could get across.

“Wait,” Lucious said, “I don’t now if I want to do this. I have to think. This is a big deal.”

“Sir,” the man said, very matter-of-fact, “This has already been settled. You have no input into the direction at this point. Did you read the fine print in the packet?”

Lucious had not. Still, it was a thrill to be called “sir.” He was certain no one had ever called him that before.

The two watched as the trunk of the car in front of them popped open. The man came out of that car, walked around and pushed the bicycle under the rear wheel. The car backed over the bike, leaving it a twisted mess of purple tubing. The man picked up the remains of the bicycle and threw it down the bank as if it weighed nothing. It landed half in the water below the railroad tracks on the bridge.

Lucious understood that everyone would assume he had been hit by a train and thrown into the river, never to be found. He turned his head to take one last look at the sun sparkling off the purple metallic plastic seat as the three cars sped away down the old highway to where it joined the Interstate.

We Can Only Scratch Away

“The worse the country, the more tortured it is by water and wind, the more broken and carved, the more it attracts fossil hunters, who depend on the planet to open itself to us. We can only scratch away at what natural forces have brought to the surface.”
Jack Horner, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

The bicycle bones are exposed yet slowly sinking into the muck along the flowing creek. Like a fossil from the recent explosion of eighteen thousand dockless shared rentals the bright yellow steel attests to the (possibly) well-intentioned  insanity that swept suddenly then faded even faster. No mastodon skeleton could be a better representative of the once-swarming extinct than this pile of tattered metal.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part Six – Cycling Goals For the New Year

You should ride for meditation for 1 hour per day – if you’re too busy, then ride for 2 hours

—- Old Zen Saying

My 1987 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park.

 

I have read that one thing that I can do to help achieve my goals is to share them. This isn’t easy – important goals are, by nature, personal and can be embarrasing. Plus, there’s the problem that nobody else really gives a damn and they (you) will be terribly bored. But by sharing them, against my better judgement, I hope to:

  1. Gain Clarity – I have come to the conclusion that I write primarily not to communicate my ideas but to discover and develop them.
  2. Accountability – Other people, even mysterious eyes on the internet, adds motivation.
  3. Feedback – Someone (you) might have some ideas or suggestions.

A primary goal I had this year is related to fitness – and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that it is a cycling mileage goal. The basic goal is ten miles a day. That works out to, what? Three thousand six hundred and sixty (leap year, remember?) miles for the year. That sounds like a long way. I used to have a spreadsheet to track my mileage, but now I use Mapmyride.com.

I do cheat in two ways. I know that sometimes the weather is simply too awful to ride. If I ride my spin bike at home I count one hour as ten miles. That seems fair – ten miles per hour is pretty much how fast I usually ride (though I average a lot less – in the big evil city I spend as much as a third of my time waiting on traffic) plus on the spin bike I never coast. The other cheat is a little more controversial (in my own mind). When I take the bus to work, I have to transfer, usually at the Spring Valley DART station. It’s about 1.3 miles from my office – which I can walk in thirty minutes (if I walk fast). If I do that – walk instead of taking the second bus route – I give myself five miles biking credit. It feels about right, the mile plus walk is about as tiring as five miles on the bike – it takes thirty minutes, so I’m sticking with an hour or so of exercise a day.

Is that fair? It seems OK to me and gives me another option and a little flexibility.

So… Accountability… how did I do in January.

My total in January was 314.02 miles – so I beat my goal by four miles. Good enough.

The breakdown:
31 Bike Rides – 199.02 miles
9 Spin Rides – 90 miles (eight episodes of The Witcher and one hour of watching music videos)
5 Walks – 25 miles

Looking at my Calendar – I had 7 days that I did nothing. That would be another goal – reduce those days.

January Map My Ride, Calendar – Click to Enlarge

One other interesting fact. I thought about a goal of, for the year, riding my bike more miles than driving my car (excluding long trips). I didn’t decide on that goal because it seemed impossible, especially in Dallas.

Well, as I think about January – I drove a car three times, twice to Love Field (once for work, once to pick Candy up) and once to Home Depot (to buy something too big for my bicycle). That’s a total of what? Maybe fifty miles? Everywhere else I went I either cycled, took DART (one other goal of mine for this year was to utilize the bus system – which I have been doing), or rode with someone else driving. I never drove myself to work (not always by choice). So I rode my bike two hundred miles and drove fifty. I didn’t think that was possible, and it probably won’t be for the rest of the year… but there it is.

My bike commute – the bike riding itself – is getting really easy. I told someone that, unless the weather is horrible, usually my bike ride to/from work is the best part of my day. They said, “How many people can say that their commute is the best part of their day.” I nodded, although I thought to myself that a big part of that is how unpleasant the rest of my day is. Unfortunately, changing clothes and such at work is the worst part of my day. My employer blathers on a lot about work/life balance – but it is all bullshit. They make it as difficult as they can to commute without a car.

Also, I have to be careful – when you don’t drive very much and live in a car-obsessed city like Dallas – on a tiny bicycle dodging giant killer hunks of steel that spew toxic fumes in your face even if they miss you or standing by the road waiting for a bus as the traffic roars by inches away –  you begin to hate cars. You begin to hate the people that drive them, especially people that drive fast/aggressively, yak on their phones, and honk their horns. It’s a good opportunity to practice mindfulness and forgiveness.

So, sorry to bore you with my stupid little story – one month down, eleven to go.

Better finish this off and go for a bike ride – get my ten miles in. Don’t want to start February off behind.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 5, Gonex Garment Folder

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

My 30 year old touring bike in The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

 

It didn’t take long and now the actual bicycling part of my bicycle commute is the easiest part. As a matter of fact, on most days the bike ride to and from work is the high point of my day. The low part is having to change clothes at my work. We don’t have showers or a locker room (Some runners and I have been lobbying for lockers and showers – work/life balance and all – and everybody agrees it would be a great idea but the budget keeps getting cut at the last minute) and I have to change in the handicap stall. No fun at all. The ride is five miles each way which is too far to ride in my work clothes (sweat, rain, grease, heat, cold…) so I have to carry my clothes and change each way.

I’ve tried taking a week’s worth of clothes in on the weekend and that didn’t work. It takes up too much room and I still have to change – plus there’s a lot of unnecessary walking around (bike area to clothes storage area to desk to bathroom to clothes storage… back and forth).

So I have to carry each day’s work clothes with me. But I have never been a good clothes folder and my shirt and pants were always terribly wrinkled. A lot of bike commuting sites recommend rolling your clothes – but that doesn’t work. They still come out wrinkled.

I kept on doing research until I came across something that I had never heard of before. Something that turned out to be an amazing, perfect solution.

A Pack-It Garment Packing Folder.

It’s like a big nylon envelope with a plastic board printed with folding instructions. I ordered one and, after messing with it for awhile, learned to fold a shirt and pair of pants and store them away.

The most common brand of these things are Eagle Creek. I ordered one of those first, and bought the smaller size (thinking that I only had one shirt and one pair of pants). It turned out that was too small – my shirt and britches are pretty big.

At that point I discovered that less expensive knock-offs were starting to appear so I bought one from Gonex – a Gonex Garment Folder in Red to be exact.

Next I had to figure out how best to carry the thing. I was surprised to find it actually fit inside my new backpack. It takes up a lot of room in there though, and is an inconvenient shape – so that if I had to carry a big lunch or laptop – it was pretty awkward. I worked out a secure way to bungee the thing onto the top of my rear rack with a piece of elastic and a couple of carabiners.

The thing works like a charm. It only takes a minute to fold and pack and it keeps my clothes wrinkle-free. Take a good look at these things, even if you don’t commute on a bicycle. They are great when you travel – you can get a few days’ worth of clothes in a small space – in a carry-on. It’s always a good thing when a weird gadget works like it is supposed to and actually helps in some odd way.

I still hate changing clothes at work though.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 4, A New Backpack

“I’ve got my full rucksack pack and it’s spring, I’m going to go Southwest to the dry land, to the long lone land of Texas and Chihuahua and the gay streets of Mexico night, music coming out of doors, girls, wine, weed, wild hats, viva! What does it matter? Like the ants that have nothing to do but dig all day, I have nothing to do but what I want and be kind and remain nevertheless uninfluenced by imaginary judgments and pray for the light.”

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Osprey Talon 22, in red

I have never liked wearing a pack while I ride my bike. In the summer I sweat too much anyway and a pack makes that so much worse. Plus, they are uncomfortable – I rode home from work one day with my laptop in the backpack the company gave me to carry it and by the time I made it home my shoulders were killing me. I had to stop every hundred yards or so, get off, remove the pack, and stretch – the pain was unbearable.

But commuting every day without a pack proved impossible. I have panniers on my bike but they don’t always cut it. I have to carry my stuff from my bike to my office. Plus, it’s not only about capacity, it’s about organization, and a backpack can be kept loaded… simply grab and go.

I began to realize my problem wasn’t with small backpacks per se – but with the shitty packs that I had. There was the pack the company gave me – which was designed to carry a laptop from a car to a desk. The other packs I had (and I had more than a few) were all giveaways from various conferences or cheap sacks I found at Goodwill. I had some Christmas money left over after I bought my hi-viz cycling jacket – so I started to research small backpacks/daypacks.

And research I did. I started online with searches like “best backpacks for bike commuters” or “best cycling daypacks.” I made lists, winnowed them down then bulked them up. I wrote down pros and cons and quoted review after review. I watched youtube videos until I was sick.

Actually the selection narrowed down pretty quickly. The most popular pack was the Osprey Radial – which was specifically designed for bike commuters. I talked to a cyclist friend that worked at REI and carried an Osprey Tempest 20 with her everywhere she went. She explained the philosophy between different types of packs (hiking, biking, travel,etc.), the importance of proper compression straps,  and where each type would be found in the store.  So I went down to REI and poured over the wide and deep selection that they offered.

I did look at pack brands other than Osprey – but it didn’t take me long to figure out that they seemed to know what they were doing. I liked the Radial – it was designed for the exact purpose that I needed a pack for. But it was very technical – it was complicated with a lot of bells and whistles. It had a laptop sleeve but no slot for a hydration bladder. It seemed perfect for what I wanted, but wouldn’t be very useful for anything else.

But over in the hiking section I found the Osprey Talon 22 and realized that it was exactly what I wanted.

For me, the biggest thing was comfort. I didn’t want a pack that caused me pain like that horrible laptop bag.

The Osprey Talon (and the Radial) had an innovative design with mesh suspension and die-cut foam back panel and curved straps. Plus the Talon had a wide, contoured hipbelt – and I know from years of backpacking that suspending a load on your hips feels a lot better than hanging it off your shoulders. Though it does have a few do-dads (water bottle pockets, large front stretch pocket, trekking pole attachment, ice ax loop, helmet keeper thing, external hydration bladder sleeve, slots for blinking light) basically, the pack itself is one big panel-loading compartment – which is what I wanted. The helmet keeper might even be useful sometime.

So it was the Osprey Talon 20. I chose one in red (for road visibility).

And I love the damn thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy with a purchase, especially one that I researched and agonized over so much.

The suspension actually works. No matter how heavy it’s loaded I can barely feel it on my back. We’ll see how cool it is when summer gets here – but they obviously put a lot of thought into the way it fits. It is customizable (there’s this weird Velcro panel inside the back that goes up and down to adjust to how long your back is) and after some fiddling I have it fitting me perfectly.

I was a little worried that at 20 liters it would be too small but since it is one big flexible space – it holds more than it looks like it does (I’ve even been able to fit a full-size photo tripod in there -which won’t go in anything else). I really have no negative thoughts about it at all. I take it to work every day – rode to the grocery store today and filled it along with both panniers. I even dug out an old hydration bladder and on one not-so-cold day rode around sipping water (it worked great).

I never thought I’d be so tickled pink over something as simple as a day pack – but it makes me very happy.

 

 

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 3, A Christmas Present

“I had to ride slow because I was taking my guerrilla route, the one I follow when I assume that everyone in a car is out to get me. My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That’s why I don’t even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you’ve put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe–to see you, and to give a fuck–you’ve already blown it… We had a nice ride through the darkness. On those bikes we were weak and vulnerable, but invisible, elusive, aware of everything within a two-block radius.”
Neal Stephenson, Zodiac

 

Santa doesn’t seem to bring me things any more – maybe I haven’t been a good boy – so I tell people what I want for Christmas. And what I want is gift cards.

In this day and age – Amazon gift cards are best.That way I get what I want and I get the fun of figuring out what I’m going to order. Also, a lot of times what I want is too expensive for someone to buy me (such as a new camera), I can save up cards over Christmases and Birthdays until I have what I need.

For this Christmas, I cashed in a gift card and bought a new cycling jacket.

Cycling Jacket

There were myriads to choose from, in all price points, but after a lot of looking I decided on an ARSUXEO Winter Warm UP Thermal Softshell Cycling Jacket. In that crazy internet way things happen now – the next day it was sitting on my porch.

I have grand ambitions on bike commuting in 2020. I need to lose weight, up my fitness, and we’re short a car – so it’s on the bike to work I go. The ride is getting easy enough that the actual bike riding part in the best part of my day (the getting ready and changing clothes at work is the worst). Dealing with weather is tough – and even here in Texas, there are cold, windy days in the winter time. I’ve had a few days of riding around the ‘hood, and a couple of commutes in already.

The jacket works great. The key to getting in miles when the weather is whipsawing around is to layer effectively. I can go three or four layers under this thing, and peel some off if the sun comes out and the day warms. The jacket has some areas that let in the breeze – I can feel it when it is really cold, but necessary to evaporate out the sweat.

The best part is the visibility. That geeky green-yellow color is a lifesaver at dusk and dawn in Dallas rush-hour traffic.

So it’s time to charge my lights for tomorrow, make sure my tires are good, and get some sleep. Dawn comes early.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 2, Cockpit Storage

“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.”
George Bernard Shaw

As I worked on commuting the 5 miles to work on a regular basis – I realized I needed storage attached to my handlebars to keep some stuff that I could reach without getting off my bike.

First, and most important, I needed a place to keep my badge. I work on the big Texas Instruments campus at Hwy75 and 635 (though I don’t actually work for Texas Instruments) on a little peninsula of Dallas sticking up into Richardson, Texas. I need a badge as I ride past the security gate to get onto the campus. I can’t really ride the whole way with the thing banging around on my neck (for safety and comfort) so I would stop a block short of the gate, dig around in my pack or panniers and put my badge on. Although the quick rest was good (help my heart slow down and a little less sweat) I didn’t like wasting all that time looking for my badge mixed in with all the rest of the stuff. I realized I needed something small on my handlebars to keep my badge.

Also, after trying a lot of lights, I prefer some knockoff lights with a USB on the end that I run from portable cell phone battery packs. They are cheap and I can carry extras as backup. But I needed something on my bars to carry the battery. I had been running the wires all the way to the bag on the back of my bike and it kept getting caught on stuff. Finally, I wanted a place to keep my phone and wallet that I could keep my eyes on. Peace of mind, you know.

My cockpit is crowded with lights, bell, plus interrupter brake levers and a standard handlebar bag would take up too much space. So I started looking around and asking other cycling commuters that I know what they use. They all recommended a feed bag style of stem bag.

Feed Bag Cycling Pouch

These looked useful and I was leaning this way. However – I didn’t like the shape – they seem designed for a water bottle and I already have three cages on my bike. What I wanted to store was flat in shape. Also, these seemed a bit pricey (I know, you get what you pay for… I am horribly cheap) – so I held off and kept looking.

After looking around I came cross these things – Toughbuilt Fastener Bag – Heavy Duty Mesh Window, Hanging Grommets

Toughbuilt Fastener Bags

These were inexpensive – 3 for around twelve bucks. I knew they’d be strong and well made. People (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) that use these things don’t fuck around with stuff that breaks. Plus they were flat in shape, you could see into them, and had a stout metal grommet. So I bought some.

When they arrived I mounted one on the stem of my bike with a carabiner clip and an old bracket from a bike reflector that I had laying around. It worked great.

Toughbuilt Fastener Pouch on the stem of my commuting bike. It holds a battery pack, my badge, and usually my wallet and phone.

I know that my love for cheap gadgets and using things not for their original purpose is often self-defeating – but this is perfect – just big enough and it moves sideways through the wind without much resistance. I can keep an eye on my badge, phone, and wallet while I ride and get my badge out when I need it. In hot weather I keep a small paper towel in there too to wipe sweat or clean my glasses while waiting at a stop light. I’ve learned that with bike commuting – when you have to get out that door every morning – it isn’t only about what you carry – it’s about how you organize it.

These little indestructible pouches are a big help with the small things.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 1, Overview

Looking back over old journal entries I realized it has been over seven years since I first rode my bike to work:

I Need a Victory

Not long after that I wrote a detailed description of my ride home from work (at that time I was only commuting one way):

My Commute Home from Work

Over that vast span of time I have been up and down on the bike commuting… mostly down. However, lately, to aid in recovery from my sickness this summer and because of various things we now have three people at home with only two cars, I have been bike commuting more and more. Things have changed a lot since 2012 – I am riding a different bike now (a vintage Cannondale 1987 touring bike) and have recently done some serious route tweaking….

My 30 year old touring bike in The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

As a matter of fact, my two main bikes from 2012 – a Yokota Mountain Bike, and a vintage 1986 Raleigh Technium – have both been broken in the meantime and replaced.

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.

Adios Technium

The ponds at Huffhines Park along my bike commute route. This is my old, long gone, Yokota mountain bike converted into a commuter.

Craigslist Commuter

My goal for 2020 is 3,000 miles – my commute is five miles each way – so if I commute every day for 300 workdays I’ll hit my goal. I won’t be able to commute by bike every day (weather, laziness, I often need to drive to other sites for work) so I will have to ride extra on the weekend and in the evening, plus I will count an hour on the spin bike as ten miles.

Like I mentioned, I have been doing some serious route tweaking – mostly for safety purposes. I’ll write later about what I’ve learned about bike safety riding daily in big city traffic – some of it is counter-intuitive. I was a bit peeved that, after working on my route, it turned out to be something like 4.95 miles each way… and that is less than my 10 miles per day goal. So I tweaked it a little more to add a couple tenths of a mile. I know that’s nuts – but a goal is a goal.

Here’s my current route home from the Texas Instruments campus to East Richardson – I’m pretty happy with it.

My bicycle commuting route home from work – 5 miles from the Texas Instruments campus at 75 & 635 to East Richardson

 

I’ll have to duplicate my 2012 entry and document my route. I can’t take photos on my commute – it’s dark now both ways – so maybe I’ll ride the route this weekend and take some pictures, then write it up.

Summers are tough, it is so hot here and I don’t have a shower available at work. I arrive drenched in sweat and have to towel off and change clothes in a handicap stall – not a lot of fun. The key is to get up really early, before dawn, and take my time.

Now, though, is another kind of problem. I hate being cold. But I’ve been working on my cold-weather gear, my layers. This morning it was right around freezing, which is pretty cold for Texas. I was nervous last night, I have ridden in the cold before, but never commuted in these temperatures. When I went out of the garage the ground was rimed with frost and clouds of vapor pulsed out of my mouth. I glanced at my car as I clipped in my pedals and noticed the glass was covered with ice.

At least when you bike commute in the cold, you don’t have to scrape your windshield.

As it turned out, I did fine. I was wearing multiple layers of various kinds of clothing and once I was moving and working I warmed up and was comfortable. Changing into my work clothes (and back again for the ride home) was a pain, but it is what it is.

This time of year I’m riding home in the pitch dark (on my trip in the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon). Today was bad because there was some kind of wreck at Beltline and Greenville and traffic was spilling out onto all the neighborhood roads – the drivers were in a bad mood – angry and fast. That makes for much unpleasantness when you are on a tiny unprotected and vulnerable bicycle.

But I made it home, checked the forecast (cold again) and set out my gear for tomorrow morning. Another day, another ten miles.

A Pink Floyd Reference

Lime and limpid green, a second scene
A fight between the blue you once knew
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground
Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania
Neptune, Titan, stars can frighten

—-Pink Floyd, Astronomy Domine, from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

 

One of the order boards, Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Elllum, Dallas, Texas

Nick and I took the DART train towards downtown with our bikes. He got off before me and went for a longer ride – but we met up at Braindead Brewing in Deep Ellum for a late lunch and a beer. Braindead has a lot of taps with their own unique brews displayed on the wall. I ordered a number 14 from a very young-looking waiter.

“That’s a Pink Floyd reference,” he said, with pride.

“I’m old,” I said, gesturing at my gray hair, “I know that album,” (although I was only ten when the album was released… Actually I think I heard it on re-release in the 70’s).

“I’m just showing off that I know what it is,” the waiter replied.

And I was suitably impressed.

And the beer – a strong dark Scotch ale, brewed with coffee, was good… worthy of classic early Pink Floyd – with Syd Barrett.