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?