Friday, December 27, 2013

Upgrades and Revolution Part 2: The Drag

This is a bit later than previously anticipated - I apologize, I got swamped. Now, to business. People for Bikes recently declared the 10 best protected bike lanes in the U.S. Check out number 3! BAM! That's us! Reading that article is honestly what prompted me to go photograph the new infrastructure so without further ado, the rest of my ride.

After I pulled off the Red Line Trail around Airport, I dipped into the neighborhood, connected up with Guadalupe and headed south. Right off the bat I saw something I'd never seen before. A bike shop!

This is Monkey Wrench Bicycles, the smallest, localest shop I have ever been in, hands down. A very helpful one, at that! About a week back, my bike had gotten knocked over and the front fender had literally bent back on itself. The fine folks at Monkey Wrench bent it back with a pair of pliers and sent me on my way, free of charge. The fender has a bit of character to it now, but it's back in business. They had KHS in stock but after inquiring, can order whatever you might need.

Guadalupe has at least SOME form of bike accomodation all the way down. As it gets busier and more dangerous, the accomodations change to account for the level of travel.

Just north of Rio Grande 
That said, there's one area that the infrastructure gets a bit....dodgy. It goes from the striped bike lane, goes green over the transition to Rio Grande, then becomes a lane with cars and buses. It does include Sharrows, but in the land of student drivers I trust those about as far as I can throw them. 
Because, for all you who are unfamiliar with Austin and her fair traffic is DENSE. I would (without any factual knowledge of whether or not this is true) hazard to call it the most densely populated city in Texas. However, the infrastructure available has not caught up with the population. Consequently, our traffic is absolutely heinous and the further you go towards downtown, the dodgier it gets. Sharrows are....laughably insufficient for safety down that way.

While this doesn't really tell you the scale of things, this is a small taste of what you're dealing with.

But then at 24th St, something absolutely magical happens

That right there friends, is a legit separated cycle track. Call it Amsterdam-style, a separated bike lane, a cycle track - who cares. It's a place to go down the road and you're physically separated from motor vehicle traffic by a line of parked cars. The bus stop is set on the traffic side of things, so you don't even have to share that. It's amazing. It's everything I hoped it could be and more. I'll just put up the photos and let you join me on my cruise through the Drag towards downtown.

Visiting an old friend
One little bonus issomething I've heard called the "Copenhagen left," though whether it comes from Copenhagen, I'm not sure. Basically, if you're approaching an intersection and need to make a left, you proceed through the green and stop in this box. Then, when the direction you need to go receives the right of way, you proceed in that direction. It sets up the intersection so a bike can successfully and efficiently make a left without changing into the motor vehicle lefthand turn lane. Neat, right?

I swung north, and visited another central Austin friend:

Then stumbled across a lovely surprise! Another fancy bike lane, this one on Rio Grande!

This one, while not as elaborate, is still incredibly helpful for getting downtown a bit further west between Guadalupe and Rio Grande and when combined with the very southern end of the Shoal Creek Trail, makes it easy as pie to access Cesar Chavez, The Lance Armstrong Bikeway, 4th St eastward - basically all of downtown.

After this, I lost the light. So I hit the pub with a friend, shared a few beers, then eased on homeward for the day. For the record, I took Woodrow. It does also have a bike lane.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Upgrades and Revolution Part 1: The Airport Bike Lane

A post in 2 parts. Some time ago (to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the comments section of the local paper) the city of Austin had some of our urban planners make the trip to Amsterdam. There was some meeting of minds, and here in our fair city upon their return, something remarkable is happening. They're putting in dutch-style separated bike lanes in some parts of the city that could DESPERATELY use the help.

Now for folks here who AREN'T from Austin, we are the 3rd-most congested city in the United States. We're also one of the smallest cities on the list of "most congested," which is it's own kind of special. If I leave my job in North Austin at rush hour, getting to my sister's house 19 miles across town is a 45 minute trip sitting in traffic, MINIMUM. Congestion relief is honestly one of the biggest challenges facing this city as our population continues to explode. 

See the other issue here is Austin has taken a very different course than most cities in Texas when the inevitable population explosion came. When it happened in north Dallas, the result was immense sprawl. Austin, however, is building up, not out. We're fitting so many more people into the same space and the result is Doctor Who-esque gridlock. 

The Red Line Trail is a proposed project for a trail that will parallel our metro-rail system from Leander to downtown Austin - if it's successfully completed the first thing I'd like to do is ride the full length of it. For the moment the first bit has gone in between the Crestview and Highland stations.

First thought: WHY CAN'T WE HAVE ONE OF THESE DOWN LAMAR?! Seriously. Here I am at Airport and Guadalupe:

And here's the Red Line Trail:

Facing southeast towards Highland Mall

Facing northwest - the greenish building is the Crestview station. There's a good pub in there, too.

Now, notice that there was actually a "traditional" bike lane along Airport and it's still for all intents and purposes there and available for usage. But I cannot imagine myself taking that option when something so obviously superior is obviously available.

This is technically not a bike lane, it's a multi-use trail for either pedestrians or cyclists. The location is brilliant, as Airport is a road that can be notoriously hair-raising to bike along. But it also has a lot of businesses and so on down it that I simply do occasionally want to bike to. Additionally, the Highland Mall is in the process of being converted into classroom space by Austin Community College, so adding transportation corridors into it now before it becomes an issue shows excellent foresight.

As you carry on southward, the bike lane along the actual road ends, leaving just the Red Line Trail.

All too soon though, the trail ends at Airport & Denson:

The neighborhoods surrounding this area provide excellent access - I approached it from the north coming down Guadalupe. From the west it could be accessed pretty easily from Justin, from the south via Guadalupe. To continue this ride I made the right at Denson, hooked back up with Guadalupe, and took that southwards, easy striking distance to Hyde Park, the Triangle, UT-Campus, and from there into Downtown. 

Overall I love this bit of infrastructure. It provides an entirely new and viable way for me to move in the city without worrying about traffic. It's brilliant, and I can't wait to see it when it's done.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coming and Going in the Dark

I work a pretty long day - a 4x10 schedule. Since winter is here, that means I am biking in the dark a LOT and it's starting to get to me a bit.

This is the very end of my morning commute as the sun starts to peek over the horizon. This is as light as I get.

Heading home. In the damn dark.

I miss having the sun on my face. To add to this, at some point someone or something bashed into my tail light, cracking the face of it and the light is now all flickery. I highly doubt this is a valid warranty claim since the light didn't break itself - it's quite likely someone just bashed into it while it was chained up somewhere, which is what caused the damage. 

Now, I know somewhere in Sweden there's a person giggling at me and yelling "AMATEUR!"at their monitor. I've gotta give props to people from the far ends of the world - you are way tougher than me in the face of the dark. So for the moment I'll just keep biking in the dark, figure out how to fix my tail light, and try to think of the wonderful spring sunrises to come.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Girlie Post: Makeup & the Bike

Guys (unless you wear makeup), turn back now. There's nothing here for you.

Ladies, let's talk about makeup. Because let's face it, whether you came by car, plane, bike, or train, usually you want to look put together and a very valid concern of many women involved in cycling is that they'll look sweaty and disheveled when what they need to look is put together. Many of my male cycling peers are baffled at the fact I regularly cycle in dresses, etc, but the real miracle of my appearance is that I can (usually) keep my hair and makeup together, even when the weather is working against me. It's something I've been working on for a while, so let's talk. I'm going to say up front that I am no expert, but these are the tricks I've learned through experimentation and a lot of time on the internet.

This is what I look like on a 90 F evening with 50% humidity immediately after getting off my bike, 14 miles later. This is a pretty "normal" makeup look for me, the kind I'll wear to work all day, then bike in.

Mid-September in Texas is still summer

I'm a little shiny (because holy fuck, humidity), but nothing that can't be cured by patting myself off in a bathroom with some paper towels to absorb the sweat. For something a bit (a lot) more elaborate:

Sugar skull!

This was Halloween, and I biked something like 15 miles in this makeup. And I got it to stick and not run everywhere. Here's how I pull this off.

Basically, if you're planning to bike in makeup, you need to put it on the same way you would if you were going out to a club. Here's the order of products, from start to finish.

Cleanser -> Exfoliate -> Moisturizer -> Sunscreen -> Primers (eye and whole face) -> Makeup -> Setting powder or spray.

Just to be clear, I've only started using the setting sprays/powders recently, and those products are not fucking around. I probably wouldn't trust them to let me jump in a lake or in the pouring rain, but for regular usage they make your face stay where you damn well put it that morning. So, the point of all these products? Let's review.

The first four steps are all about protecting your skin and setting your self up for success. Clean your skin, get rid of all the nastiness on it, moisturize it, and protect it from the sun. The sunscreen is a really, really critical step for those of us who spend a lot of time in the sun - if you're on a bike, THAT MEANS YOU.

Primer is what makes the stuff stay in place. It's sort of like applying gesso to a canvas before beginning a painting - it fills in some spaces and smoothes everything out so your makeup has something to adhere to. There are a lot of fancy products available to do this but if I'm completely honest I use an anti-chafing gel (seriously, check the ingredients, it's the same stuff).  I use a separate primer on my eye makeup, which in the case of the Halloween makeup above, meant I used it all the way round.

Once you've got all these base layers down, you're 90% of the way to having bike-proof makeup. Do your face up like you usually would. Once that's done, setting it will take you the rest of the way. There are a LOT of products on the market for this, both powder and spray-based. The sprays are essentially formulated to be like hairspray for your face.

After getting all this on your face and set DON'T TOUCH IT. Let me repeat that. STOP TOUCHING YOUR DAMN FACE. I know, you're a stone-cold fox. But your makeup will look JACKED UP if you sweat in it, then touch it - this is a big cause of smears. It's the whole reason you put an anti-friction product between your skin and your makeup. So once it's on, leave it alone.

Waterproof products help a lot, especially in the eye area. But I don't use them as often as you'd think one would because they are a HUGE pain in the butt to remove and by priming and setting everything they're not really necessary in dryer weather (even if it's pretty hot out - I've biked to dates in 95 F weather and looked fine with regular products).

Last thing - once you're done for the day, take the makeup off, girl. DO NOT pass out with it on if you can't absolutely avoid it. The combination of sweat, makeup, and whatever was in the breeze smacking you in the face (dirt, pollens, and pollution) really doesn't need to spend a night getting ground into your pores. I use olive or coconut oil to remove my makeup and I'm pretty fanatical about it because I have learned the hard way that biking in a face full of makeup then sleeping in it will wreck shop on your face.

So there it is - this is how I bike to the bar and still get my cute girl on despite the fact I rightfully should be a sweaty wreck all the time. I'd absolutely LOVE to see some pictures and hear some tips and tricks from my fellow makeup wearing cyclists too, so feel free to comment or message me!

Monday, November 18, 2013

What I Wore To Bike To Work Today, Pt 2

I forgot to take a picture yesterday, but I remembered today! Yesterday was both warmer than anticipated and insanely humid (the daytime high was in the 80s), so I wore a pretty comfy dress. Today was less humid and a bit cooler, so it's back to jeans and just whatever top was clean:

Goofy face.

Getting my caffeine on
Once again, notice that I do not dress any differently than I normally would. These jeans just went through the washing machine and were a little stiff this morning for biking but are otherwise quite comfy up to moderate distances (20 miles seems to be the comfy-in-jeans daily maximum for me). I brought a hoodie in case I got chilly, but it was a beautiful day for a ride other than the rudeness of the cars around me. Yay biking in ALL your clothes!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

A new series! This is what I wore to bike to work today.

One of the points endlessly hammered upon by people attempting to encourage others to bike is that you genuinely don't need too much specialized equipment to do so. A bike, some lights, and a lock, and go. But I rarely see folks putting their money where their mouth is on that point. So, without further ado, this is me right after walking into my office today (admittedly, at my office we don't have a dress code).

Today's weather: 61 F (16 C) and intermittent rain. I have a rain jacket bundled up in the bottom of my bag in case I need it. 

As far as "What I'm wearing" goes, it's a sweater from H&M, Levis, the shoes are Clarks, and the socks are from the pack of 5 that they have at CostCo. Because I'm high fashion. Here's my bike exactly as it appears when I commute in:

Unless I'm worried about theft, I never really remove the lights or anything, and my locks live attached to the back rack. I add air to the tires when I remember, and clean it when I look at it and go "HOLY CRAP my bike is filthy." So it's pretty "grab and go." Every day I bike in, I'm going to try to remember to take a picture of what I wore that day because the point here is that you don't have to be even a little bit "Extreeeeme" to bike to work. Happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, October 25, 2013

North Austin Social Bicycling!

Austin is a pretty unique city in many ways. People like to compare it to a lot of other places (Portland springs to mind), but we definitely have our own vibe down here. One of the things I love most about this city is how easy it is to find like-minded people to do stuff with, ergo - Social Cycling (or social kickball, or ultimate frisbee, or underwater basket weaving. Whatever floats your boat, really). But that said, Social Cycling Austin's rides are usually focused around the downtown area, east side, and south side of town. Meanwhile, I live up in the north. There ain't much going on up here, not because there's not stuff to do, but because people from south of the river like to refer to north Austin as "South Dallas," among other equally unwelcome and snarky remarks.

Enter North Austin Social Bicycling, the most welcoming bunch of people I've had the pleasure of riding bikes with in a hot minute! Their rides meet within a few miles of my house, which is an intensely pleasurable sensation. As I've been in recovery recently, I'm really not as fast as I once was and it's nice to know that IF I have to bail, I'm not 25 miles across a shitload of hills from my house.

The NASB has a Tuesday Night Ride that meets at Balcones Park at 12017 Amherst Drive, 78727 around 7 o'clock. It is no-drop, and they really, genuinely mean it. The ride we did was a total of about 12 miles, and the whole ride periodically stops so that everyone can catch up.

Because these are smaller rides than the biggies done by Social Cycling Austin, there's a bit more of a local feel, but all are genuinely welcome. There's a lot of cross-pollination among social cyclists in Austin and even though my first time riding with them was a couple weeks ago, there were familiar faces.

Ready to roll out.
The rides themselves follow a familiar formula - meet at a park, hang out, bike to a park, hang out, then head to a local watering hole for some beers and camaraderie. It's a good time, everyone's nice, and the rides are fun. If you live in the north Austin area and like to bike, there's no reason NOT to come chill with the Hammerheads.

Gettin' some dranks at the Hideout

All photographs provided by the awesome folks of the NASB. If you want to come out and ride some bikes, more information can be found at their Facebook group, here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Caught out!

Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons by a longshot, but they're fraught with error every single year. They're basically opposite syndromes - in Spring, I wear clothing that is a hair too warm for the temperature, and in Fall I have real difficulty letting go of wearing shorts and sandals everywhere. At some point am invariably caught out in the weather with clothing that is just all wrong. That was me, Monday.

There's a saying here in Texas that there are a lot of places in the world where it can be tough to go outside because of the climate. But we don't have "climate" in Texas, we have WEATHER. The state of things can change incredibly fast, and no more so than during the transitional seasons. Monday, I rode into work and it was just lovely out. All day, I watched clouds roll in and out and with a 30% chance of rain, felt my paranoia rising. I went and put a plastic bag on my bike seat. On my last break I went outside to take the photos of my lock for my last post, and seeing that it was a bright and sunny day, said to myself, "Oh, you're just being paranoid again!" and removed the bag. 

The Surly, enjoying the new bike rack at work, immediately before the monsoon.

About 30 minutes later it started to monsoon. I had a wet leather saddle, no rain jacket, and it was rush hour. I called for a ride. Which made me feel like a huge sissy until from the perspective of my friend's dry car, saw what I'd have been riding through to get home. The drivers were acting insane, and the whole right lane of my main artery home was flooded.

That said, a little more preparation and paranoia would have saved me the embarrassment and inconvenience of getting caught out. But this time of year the weather can be hard to anticipate. And I hate carrying everything but the kitchen sink "just in case," so sometimes one will misgauge things. It's just something to take in stride and handle the smartest way possible, I suppose.

Monday, October 21, 2013

When Things Wear Out

Welp, I need a lock. Here's what happened - over the last few years I've been rocking an OnGuard Pitbull in Medium (they've since drastically updated their product line). It's the lock featured in damn near every picture of my bike I've ever put on this block, mild-mannered, doing it's job without drawing attention to itself. Considering the thing has worn out before someone successfully managed to get through it and steal my bike, I'm considering framing it.

Here it is, faithfully securing my steed.

For my needs, it was the perfect U-Lock, an ideal combination of size, weight, and security. But it lived a long, brutal life. It's been hot, cold, wet, blasted with dusty wind, and dragged through every conceivable condition and it's just kept on trucking until this past week. I was out social riding, like you do, when suddenly the rotating plastic dust cover bit suddenly decided it no longer wanted to rotate. Meaning I couldn't put the key in the lock. I'm just really glad it wasn't locking my bike to something at the time.

My poor, jacked up bike lock.

I spent a while fucking about with it, and handed it to a friend to have a try. His solution was to smash it on the ground until the plastic covering the shackle came off. So it works now, sort of. It locks. But I probably should replace it, and I haven't lock shopped in a really long time.

Still faithfully limping along

When lock shopping, let's face it, the array of choices is dizzying. Being that I live in a metropolitan area with a lot of bikes, we also have a lot of bike theft. So cable locks are laughably inadequate. I need either a U-Lock or a chain and I'm not sure which direction to go. The newer version of the lock I had is now goofy looking as hell:

I'm also not sure what the difference is between this one and their "Brute" series, which apparently features the same locking mechanism but costs $25 more. 

There's also multiple brands! Kryptonite has an excellent reputation, as do Abus (though I know next to nothing about their products). While I enjoy getting new stuff, the act of locking up my bike is such a part of my routine that it's almost irritating to have to change it up. So, I'm looking for a lock that's a good combination of weight, security, price, and durability. So I guess, into the depths of Amazon product reviews I go!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

And there it has sat.

Ongoing medical drama is a huge pain in the ass. Both physically and mentally speaking, it's draining and painful. Consequently the last 3 weeks have been a no-fly zone in the world of my cycling. So my bike has been chillin' out in the garage, and there it has sat, forlornly staring at the door to the outside world. And since being out on my bike is my inspiration for this blog, as my bike has sat, so has the blog.

This past Friday though, was my last doctor's appointment for what is hopefully the next many, many months and I am cleared for takeoff! It is time to get back to normal. Again. So, who wants to go for a ride?!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Things No One Tells You: Roadkill

This morning on my way into work I nearly ran over an armadillo so freshly killed and intact that from a distance in the dark it looked like someone had dropped a large purse in the middle of the bike lane. I then spent the next mile or so unsuccessfully trying not to throw up. And it got me thinking - no one tells you about roadkill when you start cycling.

In the US the majority of bike lanes aren't segregated from the roadway - it's a stripe of paint, and the shoulder of the road. The fanciest ones look like this:

All the detritus of cars ends up in the bike lane - this includes the wire bead of car tires, shattered glass, and whatever bounced out of the bed of a pickup truck. Many of these items present a pretty significant hazard, especially for punctures. Street cleaning helps, but to a point there's only so much they can do. But roadkill is fairly unique because it's not an actual feature of cars, but a consequence of them. And it's WAY more common than you think until you're out in the world without any separation from cruel reality.

I know this is a fairly morbid train of thought. But it's unfortunate cruel reality, and I can't think of an animal that's exempt from becoming potential roadkill, from tiny squirrels all the way on up to deer weighing hundreds of pounds. And if you bike for long, you're going to see it.'s definitely one of those things no one tells you.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rolling Averages

I think I actually rode more before I was ever a bike blogger. You see, when I lived in California, I got into cycling basically as a way to spend time with the guy I was dating at the time. But, then we broke up and two weeks later I was back in Texas. I was heartbroken, depressed, and my entire life had vanished in a blink. Life was pretty much sucking, and that would have been a great opportunity to say screw it to cycling.

But instead, I decided that I was just going to ride until my heart stopped hurting and life was good again, so that's exactly what I did. Over the course of the next year, I put in many, many long days in the saddle on my Cannondale, and as sure as the sun rises, my mental state improved. I also lost a ton of weight and got into amazing distance cycling shape.

Time passed, I moved to Austin. Since I've lived here I've converted from a skinny-tire road cyclist to riding the Surly just about everywhere in a mostly utility function, and stopped tracking miles. For one thing, I don't have a bike computer any more. I also hate a lot of the roads here, which have high speed limits and TONS of cars (lookin' at you, 360. And you, Parmer).

However, in the aftermath of my most recent ridiculously traumatic event (the whole pulmonary embolism thing), I seem to be back to tracking miles, and my rolling average has been going up ever since I got out of the hospital. I hit a new milestone in the last week, 50 miles. While admittedly I used to ride that much in a day, 50 miles in a week is far more than I've done in a long time. So I'm pretty happy with myself!

Next week I intend my "recreational" ride to be a bit longer, around 20 miles, bringing my weekly total up to around 60 miles. Then just add a bit at a time, and by Wurst Ride, I should be able to cruise right through the 40 mile distance in high comfort and style. I'm not training for anything, but I'm not NOT training for anything. Just seein' where my legs take me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A-Tisket, A-Tasket, I've Got A Couple Baskets

I'm must confess, when it comes to bike baskets, I turn into a consumerist version of Mary Poppins. I love bike baskets. I own a couple, and actually bought them for the same purpose before settling on the one I prefer.

Here they are. On the left we have the Linus Farmer's Basket, on the right is the Wald 139 in size "Huge", procured from Rivendell Bicycle Works. They are both awesome, but for totally different reasons.

Now, in the wide world of bike baskets you have as many choices as there are ways to weave rattan. I tend to prefer rectangular baskets, because I can shove more stuff in them. My rack does not offer any integrated systems, so I do have to get a bit creative. I originally started buying baskets because I was getting a small dog and wanted to go on Puppy Bike Adventures.

The first basket I purchased was the Wald, both for the price and because I've never bought anything from Rivendell that was unreliable. And indeed - it's an awesome basket. The dimensions are 13" x 18" x 6", large enough to hold a case of beer or two large grocery sacks side by side. When it's empty the loose mesh allows air to pass right through it and it provides no discernible wind resistance. It's sturdy without being overly heavy.

It looks really good on the bike and is easy to mount with zip ties (though this does mean that putting it on and removing it involves cutting zip ties). However, for the purposes of putting my dog in, there were two limitations. The easily surmounted limitation was the bottom - I cut a piece of stout cardboard in the proper dimensions, then put a towel over it and created a solid floor for the dog to stand on. However, the 6 inch depth of the basket is too shallow to provide an adequate enclosure and even as a tiny puppy Shiner was prone to jumping right out. I was unable to locate a similarly constructed basket that was any deeper and so had to move on to another option.

My search led me to the Linus Farmer's Basket, an excellent compromise of dimensions and price. I didn't realize when I got into this, but wicker baskets are DAMN expensive. This one wasn't cheap, but the picture on their website showed an adorable puppy having bike adventures, and the dimensions were as good as I was able to locate, so I forked over the cash. I'm easily sold.

Earlier in the summer, I've posted a picture of Shiner rocking out in his new basket, here. In case you forgot how adorable it is.

It's taken a bit of training but this basket is both more "solid" and deeper than the Wald and he'll stay in it quite nicely. Puppy bike adventures are a go! That said, this thing currently lives on my bike full-time and does need to function in more practical situations and it performs admirably in everything I've asked of it. The wicker has some flex to it, and it's amazing how much stuff this basket readily swallows - yesterday afternoon I had both of my locks, my backpack, and two largish tupperware containers in it with room to spare. However, the fact it's more solid than the Wald does catch the wind some so it is a bit more noticeable in windy situations. But it's quite lightweight and when empty, you don't really notice it's there.

See?! Practical!

One thing I am realizing about baskets has nothing to do with the individual basket and more with it's placement on the bike. The back rack is not the best place for a basket (which, I guess, is why they're traditionally mounted to the handlebars). If I can ever get the cash together, I'd like to get a front rack and move the basket to that end of the bike. For one, this will enable Shiner to have the wind in his ears, and for two it will free up my rear rack for panniers, etc.

That all said, a basket is a super-utilitarian accessory for getting around town. The permutations are nearly endless, and they can always be removed so I'd definitely recommend giving one a go.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Busch & Muller 4D Toplight

Sometimes I ride a bike after the sun has gone down. Recently I was out with some friends seeing a movie, and somewhere in the course of cycling home my tail light vanished. Maybe it was stolen and I didn't notice, maybe it fell out of my backpack, who knows. These things happen. For the last couple weeks I've been lightless, and feeling very insecure.

While out bike shop hopping recently, it was brought to my attention that the Tubus rack I have installed on my bike has a light mount which is drilled to German legal standards for tail lights. I don't know what I was thinking, it's German. Of course they have a standard for that. Further more, there are lights available which are built to mount directly to the rack, and must also comply with the German standard for tail lights - during my Munich trip I did notice some pretty solid tail lights cruising around town. So rather than replace my tail light with another removable one, I decided to do as the Deutsch do and try out the light meant for my rack. Thus cometh the Busch & Muller 4D Toplight, which I ordered from Amazon.

On to the light itself. When I received the light, my first words were "JESUS that thing is huge." It really is. The lights themselves are two LEDs pointing in a clever triangular configuration, which makes the whole enormous thing glow like a big bug zapper.

Installation instructions are pretty much the same as any German product I've ever had the joy of installing. That is, they don't have nearly as many specifics as I would like. In this case, the back of the light is a solid piece of plastic and you're meant to punch out the pre-stamped plugs for the width of the mounts on your rack, a choice of 80 mm or 50 mm. I, not sure of what the IKEA-like instructions meant, punched out all 4 plugs. The light only comes with 2 bolts, which are apparently somewhat proprietary and not available from the bolt store. So I had to configure a new plug to keep moisture out of the light due to my own dumbness. Make sure to check which plugs you need to punch out, and only do those two.

Once I got the thing put together, installation was really straightforward - you pretty much put it where it goes and screw the nuts onto the bolt. Stealing it would require a very small hex wrench, so it's way more theft-proof than my prior lights.

As you can see here, this thing really is pretty gigantic - the rear of my rack is 120 mm wide and the light takes up ALL of that space. In 'Murican, that's about 5 inches. Per the German standard, it does not have a blinky mode. Your choices are "On," or "Off."

 I turned on the flash to my camera and even in broad daylight, this thing lights up like a Christmas tree. It meets all legal requirements for a rear reflector, in addition to being a tail light. The mounting position on the rear of the rack means that panniers, baskets, and other cargo will not obscure its visibility.

My morning commute starts before sunrise, so I had ample opportunity to assess it's effectiveness in the dark. I have to say, cars gave me a wider margin than I usually receive, and my theory here is that the size of the light, it's relative position on the bike, and fact it's not a blinky makes the cars relate to me something like a motorcycle or scooter. I took a lap around the block with a friend after dark and he reports that it is extremely visible from a couple blocks away and looks more like a car tail-light than a bike light, which corroborates with the behavior I've experienced with motorists so far.

For the brief week I've had it, I've been extremely pleased with it's performance, and at $35, it's priced right in the middle of other reasonably bright tail lights. I haven't seen it available in a physical bike shop, so it must be procured online, but it's pretty readily available from the internet. Two thumbs up overall.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where the Sidewalk Ends

I wish this post were less literal and more of an homage to Shel Silverstein. But it's not - it's pretty literal. I've been working at the same campus about 2 years now, and in that time there has never, ever been a good way to enter it on a bike. It's bordered on two sides by roads with 60+ mph speed limits, one of which is a freeway, and the other is 3 lanes of flying traffic on either side. In short, it's moderately terrifying to bike into and a huge pain in the ass.

Recently I was browsing the Google Maps, like you do, to see if there was anything new in the world of north Austin worth biking and lo and behold, a route took me DIRECTLY through the Riata campus, but on a bike trail! Ecstatic, yesterday morning I set out to try out a new route to work.

But here's the thing about the bike directions on our dear Google Maps - they ain't always reliable. So while the route they gave me into work certainly exists and is to a moderate extent functional, if I were the kind of girl who wore heels and suits to work this is a complete no-fly zone for commuting. I'm snooping around to see who I need to contact to increase accessibility into this area because this one little trail has HUGE potential if they just fix 'er up a bit. All that said, I present to you a comedy of errors I like to call, "Where the Sidewalk Ends, or How I Commuted into Narnia."

Here we see the approach to the trail, from the north. Notice how the sidewalk completely stops for several yards and has been replaced by a trail beaten down by the pedestrians who actually use this as a walkway. The bit going off to the left is the entrance to our trail. Additionally, notice how there is not a ramped entrance, just a curb and so you must enter via the sidewalk.

We make our left onto the trail. We are faced with a paved trail, though it does seem to vanish into a wall of vegetation, but we're brave, bold bike commuters and this isn't anything we haven't seen before.

We proceed forward. Holy shit does it ever get overgrown back here - the usable part of the pavement is about 12 inches wide. It also seems like a great place for the local teenagers to get stoned with little fear of discovery and the art we see on our right is a testament to the privacy of this space.

Where the sidewalk ends. Seriously. The pavement just stops in the middle of Hoboville back here. Notice that the trail continues onwards, but it's pretty much just scrubgrass, nothing so fancy as crushed gravel or anything that receives any maintenance, ever.

To exit out into the neighborhood and proceed home, you take the branch of path to the left. From here you must descend into a dark, steep ditch which is concrete, but also strikes me as another prime "gettin' stoned" spot. I'm calling it Narnia.

My, how steep you are, grandma. I mean ditch.

From the perspective of standing down in the ditch, it's not bad. I'm curious, however, what this low spot looks like during a bad rainstorm. I bet it looks like a flash flood.

Up, out of the ditch, we climb. Once you summit that peak, you're faced with more unpaved trail lined on either side by what I strongly suspect is poison ivy. Or something else equally itch-inducing. This path is about 18 inches wide, and while you may notice the street on the opposite side, from the street looking in, you would never see this path without knowing it's here because of the giant mass of vegetation protecting it from the stares of the outside world.

We emerge on the other side, victorious in our conquest of the path. Somewhat scratched up from all the vegetation. Notice again how there's no real indication there's a path here - no signage, pavement, ramp up from the're basically walking through an open space between two houses.

I put these pictures up not to be a pain in the ass, or a whiner. But my point here is that with really minimal upgrades and a bit of maintenance this humble little path could create non-motorized access to an business and residential area that sees 6000 people in and out of it a day. These kinds of small upgrades go a HUGE distance to making the city bike friendly for 25% of the money of much showier projects.

So....who do I send this to, exactly?