3 Bikes in the Back of a Toyota Matrix

“We have annexed the future into the present, as merely one of those manifold alternatives open to us. Options multiply around us, and we live in an almost infantile world where any demand, any possibility, whether for life-styles, travel, sexual roles and identities, can be satisfied instantly.”

― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Last weekend there was a local bike ride to three different local breweries. Both my sons wanted to go – and I was tasked with showing up to the starting point with all three bicycles.

I drive a tiny piece of junk Toyota Matrix – which is classified as a sub-miniature-station-wagon. I can get one bike in the back with ease (with the back seats folded, of course). I didn’t know if I could cram three in there – but after removing the wheels they all went it there with no room to spare. The resulting mess had a post-modern complex ridiculous sculpture look to it.

It was difficult getting everything out and reassembled – it was all tangled up. But, in the end, it was all good.

Three bikes (and shoes, locks, helmets, and a pump) in the back of a Toyota Matrix.

Something You Don’t Care About

“I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture — a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”

― David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

I am going to write tonight about something that you don’t care about… don’t pretend… I know you don’t. It is something that I care about – and that is a fact that I’m more than a little embarrassed and ashamed. Such trivialities.

At any rate, the City of Richardson (where I live) is in the middle of spending some taxpayer largess in executing the idea of an Active Transportation Plan. This is something that I am interested and involved in. All in all it is a good thing… a very good thing. However, it is not what I’m writing about tonight

One minor part of the plan is the putting together of an inventory of bike parking in the city. I became way too enthused about this – wasting a lot of time riding around looking for bike racks. These were then entered into an interactive map. I did win a fifty dollar gift certificate in a contest… so there is that.

But one thing really frustrated me. There is an LA Fitness – a health club/exercise place at the end of my neighborhood. Back when we had a disposable income the whole family belonged and we worked out there regularly. I have been there literally hundreds of times (though not in the last few years).

It always bothered me that the club did not have a bike rack. The gas station on the corner has a bike rack. The Mexican rotisserie chicken place across the street has a bike rack. The new Dunkin Donuts down the road has a bike rack. But this place – big and dedicated to health and exercise… did not have a bike rack. Not one in front… not one on the side where the parking is.

But the other day, I was out for a walk, trying to get some non-stressful exercise in, and strolled past the health club. This was the first time I walked to it – all the time, over the years I rode my bike (and locked it to the railing because there was no bike rack). Because I was on foot – I turned a corner I never had before and looked down the narrow alley-like space between the health club and the Korean Bar-B-Que place… and there, lo and behold was:

Bike rack hidden off to the side of the LA Fitness, Richardson, Texas

a bike rack. It has been there all this time. I never noticed it.

I don’t feel too bad – it’s really hidden, off to an obscure side and behind a pillar. I seriously doubt that there has ever been a bike locked up to this thing (though I’ll try to ride there this weekend and lock up… for no reason). But still…. I thought I was good at finding these things.

So there it is. The high point of my day. Now you all can go back to what you find interesting and important and leave my with my pitiful useless epiphanies.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part Seven – Leg Shield

“I had to ride my bike to and from their god damn plant way up north in the high-chemical crime district, and reachable only by riding on the shoulder of some major freeways. I could feel the years ticking off my life expectancy as the mile markers struggled by.”

― Neal Stephenson, Zodiac

My commuter bike

Winter is upon us – and here in Texas that means the two weeks of nice weather is in the rear-view window and the days of windy/wet/cold have begun. Winter is Texas is best described as mostly uncomfortable.

But it does mean I have to dig out my winter cycling gear which consists of two things: layers and long pants.

When I look at my supply of long pants I notice a couple of things – the cuffs of my right legs are shredded and there are grease stains on those same legs.

My bikes don’t have effective chain guards. I remember in the seventies we had these little metal clips for our right pants legs… they didn’t work well and were easy to lose. I am old enough to remember those times – pre-velcro, believe it or not. Then the metal clips were replaced with little nylon velcro straps – which didn’t work well and were even easier to lose.

As I was thinking about these things I thought to myself that there must be a better way to shield my right pants leg and, after a short web search, I found a solution – Leg Shield.

So, a few clicks, a bit of Amazon Prime magic, and I had a neoprene leg shield on my porch that afternoon.

And it works like a charm. Get one, it’s great.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Margaret McDermott Bridge

“It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.
What it’s going to be, I don’t know.
Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
And maybe knowing isn’t the point.
Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Let me check the date on this photo – sometime mid 2015… six years ago. It actually seems like longer than that. They had already been working on the bridge/highway complex for three years, they started in 2012. This was the base of one arch, down in the Trinity River bottoms, near downtown Dallas. I was down there on my bicycle, riding the muddy gravel paths. The other half of the arch was further along – reaching up into the sky.

The arches of a second Calatrava designed bridge rise in the river bottoms. The Horseshoe, Dallas, Texas

These massive arches, designed by Santiago Calatrava were never intended to support the roadway. That would be too expensive and unnecessary – a simple concrete causeway was all that was needed. The immense, soaring arches would cost 125 million dollars and support a bicycle/pedestrian bridge – and look good.

As a cycling advocate I had very mixed feelings about this. Of course, another route across the river was welcome – but 125 million dollars was way too much – that money could do a lot of good in man other places. Well, nobody asked me – and they went ahead and built the Margaret McDermott Bridge – way behind schedule and way, way over budget.

And then things went from bad to worse. When the thing was finished, it was discovered that corners had been cut, the bridge cable fasteners were not properly tested, and the thing was in danger of falling down in high winds.

I had resigned myself to never having the bridge opened… after all these years, but I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago I received in invitation to ride my bike across the bridge during a grand opening ceremony. Now, truth be told, most of my cycling friends had already rode around the safety barricades and crossed the bridge over the last couple of years – but I never did. So I was excited to go down there and ride across.

I rode up right when a news camera was running.

There were about a dozen bike riders – we picked up our… what do you call them? The things that you pin to your shirt at an event? Running bibs? Yeah, that must be it – it says “Printed by Boulder Bibs.”

And off we rode. It was fun – I’ll be back. There are steep spots – especially on the north (pedestrian) side. I need to look at moonrise – the bridge will be fun at night – the view of the downtown skyline is spectacular.

Folks at the ribbon-cutting. The arches are spectacular from the bike/pedestrian lanes – maybe they are worth the money.

View of downtown from the bike lane on the bridge.

The ceremony made all the news shows. Here’s a good one – you can see me from behind riding my bike near the end, at the 1:56 mark.

What I learned this week, January, 9, 2021

Margaret McDermott Bridge

The arches of a second Calatrava designed bridge rise in the river bottoms. Margaret McDermott Bridge, Dallas, Texas

After all these years, the bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Trinity River here in Dallas is being fixed and will open at the end of the year. I’m happy about this – but what an incompetent shitshow it has been. For 125 million dollars you should be able to put in a hell of a bike bridge.


Bicycle Drag Races
Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
Dallas, Texas

Strava Heatmap

As I’ve mentioned before, now that I’ve switched to Strava to track my bike rides, I am fascinated with the Strava Heatmap. If you don’t know – the Heatmap is where Strava collects information from everyone using its service and presents the runners, bikers, watersports, and/or skiers aggregate routes on a map.  Here’s the heatmap (running and biking) of the area around my house. The bright yellow horizontal line is the bike trail behind my house. Across the street is the oval where people run the track next to Apollo middle school (this disappears if you click on Biking alone). To the Northwest, along Plano Street up to Arapaho, then diagonally along the creek to Collins, is a new bike trail the city just finished. There are only a few folks using it now – and there is only a thin purple line on the heat map. I intend to ride it with my Strava as much as I can and want to see how the line becomes brighter over time.

The Heatmap is international and I like looking for odd or surprising things.

For example, can you guess what This Odd Shape represents. I was able to, even though I’ve never been there.


Acedia

I love discovering new words. Here is one, Acedia – that, unfortunately, is very useful right now.

 


Decluttering Is Hard—But There’s One 2-Minute Way to Make it Easier

One of my goals for the year is to up my decluttering game. I need all the help I can get.


The 7 types of rest that every person needs


Really Great Writing Prompts

I found this collection of writing prompts from Poets & Writers Magazine. They are more sophisticated than the usual ones. There are three weekly (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) but their archive goes way back. Cool.

Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

If you like visual writing prompts, take a look at this collection of links to museum art collections. Be careful, though – this can be a rabbit hole waste of time.

 


Pulp

Here’s a collection (from archive.org) of Pulp magazine, books, all sorts of stuff. Again, beware, it can be a rabbit hole. Also, rather spectacularly politically incorrect (which can be a good thing, IMHO).

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover


Dance Mashups

I have found that watching these YouTube videos of dance mashups – uptempo songs with bits of dance from movies or filmed folks – makes the time on my exercise bike go by quickly (that and POV videos of people riding in beautiful places). I have a big TV right in front of my spin bike. It’s embarrassing when someone catches me watching these – but what the hell.

Here’s some examples:

Safety Dance? I actually liked this song back in the 80’s. Yeesh! Still, the remix has a good beat.

Can You Spare A Square?

“The worst job in the whole world must be recycling toilet paper.”
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I always stop at a handful of Little Free Libraries on my bike rides around my ‘hood. I don’t pick up books (though I look to see if there is an especially interesting one – there hasn’t been) – rather, I drop books off. That helps me deal with my natural bookish hoarder tendencies.

Today, at one near my house, I spotted this extra addition.

Little Free Library near my house – with extra goodies.

Little Free Library near my house.

Six rolls of precious toilet paper tucked in among the tomes.

So if you live on the east side of Richardson, and are desperate for a roll, contact me and I’ll give you the location.

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.