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.

And the Moon Rises

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Anton Chekhov

One of my favorite bicycle rides is the Full Moon Ride – put on most months by the fine folks at Bike Friendly Downtown Dallas. The idea is for a group to meet downtown and to ride down into the Trinity River Bottoms and watch the full moon rise over the buildings of downtown. here and here It’s a lot of fun – especially since the trails in the river bottoms are a blast to ride at night – but it’s not exactly a place where most folks feel safe riding alone in the dark.

I struggle with a desire to take photos of the moon rising over the city – or of the folks riding their bikes. It’s a struggle – the lighting conditions are not good (it’s dark) and I still have not figured out a good way to carry a decent tripod on my bicycle.

There was a ride last month, on Friday the 13th, and thinking about it – I went out and bought an inexpensive portable tripod. Unfortunately you get what you pay for and the thing was not sturdy enough for timed exposures with my heavy DSLR. Only one shot – taken before the sun had completely disappeared (and before the moon appeared) was even good enough to stave off deletion.

Downtown Dallas from the Trinity River Bottoms – click to enlarge

I see there is another full moon this weekend. Here are the details via MoonCalc. I might skip taking my camera this time and simply try to enjoy myself. That is always the problem with carrying a camera – you can get so caught up in taking a photo you miss the fun of life itself.

On the other hand, I need to take my good tripod out and practice night photography. Once I get the bugs worked out and some skills developed maybe I’ll give it a go again.

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.

Another Man’s Weeds

One man’s wildflowers are another man’s weeds.

—-Antonio Vitalis, From Hell’s Heart I Stab At Thee

Wildflowers, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

The City allows patches, often in vegetated medians or along the borders of parks, to grow unattended, unmowed, into patches of wildflowers. I stopped along one such patch on my bike ride and took a few photos. Mostly the ubiquitous Texas Bluebonnets, but also other, similar, wildflowers of various colors. On this patch there was a singular clump of these which stood out and above the others. I have no idea what these are (Black Eye’d Susans?) but they drew the eye. And the camera.