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.

 

 

 

Bike Porn – Tribe

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Nice Tribe Urban Bike parked outside Braindead Brewing, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

That’s one way to store your cleated bike shoes while you go in for a beer.

Bike Corral

“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


Bike Corral, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Most people will say there isn’t enough parking – especially in a popular destination like Deep Ellum, especially on a weekend. I, however, think there is too much parking… at least too much car parking.

On a trip to Braindead Brewing for a late lunch with Nick, I locked my bike in the oh-so-convienient Bike Corral that eliminates one parking space in front of the Local Hub Bicycle Company.

Bike Corral, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

 

That’s my vintage 1987 Cannondale locked up between a vintage Peugeot converted into a fixie and a nice Jamis Beatnik urban single speed with a front basket.

Bike Corral, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Public Transportation

“The measure of a country’s prosperity should not be how many poor people drive cars, but how many affluent people use public transportation.”
Michael Hogan

A long time ago – five years or so, I rode my bicycle to the train station and the train to Fort Worth. I made that trip in order to buy some waffles.  There were repairs being made to the tracks for a few miles and everyone had to get off the train and ride a bus over the closed section. I had to attach my bike to the front of the bus and I wasn’t sure if I did it right. The ride was fast and rough and sitting in the bus I had a frightening image of my folding bike falling off the rack and crushed beneath the speeding wheels of the bus.

It didn’t happen – but I haven’t had the nerve to put my bike on a bike since. Shame, because the DART buses are actually nice and go a lot of interesting places. On item on my extensive list of things to do is to make better use of the bus aspect of local public transportation.

I was very happy at the public opening of the Greenville Avenue Improvements that the City of Richardson has been working on they had a DART bus on display so you could practice putting your bike on the front rack.

My bike on the front of a Dallas DART bus.

The rack on the front of the bus holds two bikes.

It was really easy. And quick – which is important, because I never want to hold up the bus and all the other riders while I fumble with my stupid bicycle. Most important, once you swing the little arm over the front wheel – it seems really secure. I can relax and not freak out every time the bus hits a bump.

So now I have no excuse.

 

 

Black As Night Sweet As Sin

“Black as night, sweet as sin.”
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

My coffee thermos.

Everybody gripes about Internet Ads and the little windows that pop up when you’re trying to find out who won the game last night.We are all bothered about lack of privacy in the online world. However, sometimes, you do find something interesting. When Firefox opens, a thing called Pocket throws up a bunch of article links that, I assume, some supercomputer somewhere examines your history and suggests especially for you. This is disturbing, yes, but sometimes these links can be interesting.

One the other day caught my eye. It was a semi-scolarly article about Coffee Naps. It talked about how caffeine competes with adenosine for receptors in your brain and if you take a twenty-minute nap right after you drink a cup of Joe – the receptors “open up” and allow the caffeine to work better. The upstart of this is that caffeine and a nap together is better than caffeine or a nap without the other.

So when I hit “publish” on this blog entry, I’m going to get my coffee (made in my Aeropress, of course) sip it down, and take a nap. Then get back up and go for a bike ride.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Opposites DO Attract: Coffee Naps, The Bulletproof Power Nap, Explained

Coffee Nap: Can Caffeine Before a Nap Boost Energy Levels?

I Tried a “Coffee Nap” Every Morning For a Week and It Changed My Life

A coffee nap? I tried it. Here’s how it went for me.

Science Says ‘Coffee Naps’ Are Better Than Non-Caffeinated Ones

How to Take a Coffee (Power) Nap The Right Way

A productivity expert says coffee naps — ‘nappuccinos’ — changed his life. Here’s how.

How to Take the Perfect Coffee Nap

 

 

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 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.