PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

July 1st, 2006

Lucky, lucky PAgent

Although it had been my goal today to check out my bike, install my new fairing, and go for a ride, reality kept interrupting. The first reality check was when the wife and I slept late. I guess we needed it.

Then there was the reality of the malfunctioning sprinkler that was threatening to wash about one-third of our grass seed away. It had to be dealt with. Then there was draining the gas and oil out of the old lawn mower. And cleaning and putting away the vaporizer that we use in the winter. And doing a load of dishes so I could make a pitcher of ice tea. I’m sure you get the idea how the day just sort of ran away from me.

At any rate aside from installing my fairing, I wanted to follow up on something I had noticed when riding my bike home last Thursday. As I coasted into my neighborhood, the stage of the commute where I can take a deep breath and relax, I could feel a vibration in the bike. It was subtle, but it was in time with the wheel speed. It felt like one of my wheels was out of true. I definitely wanted to check that out before I took another ride.

I discovered happily that I could put a milk crate under the bike and rest my new underseat rack on the crate. This not only stabilized the bike, but it lifted the entire back end off the ground. I checked the back wheel carefully. It was perfectly true.

I then installed the fairing, which involved putting a couple of brackets on the front brake mounts, installed the ‘mustache’ bracket on the handlebar, and mounted the fairing in place.

On the plus side, it looks wicked cool. On the negative side, despite promises to the contrary, it definitely compromises the ability to pivot the handlebars up and out of the way. Oh well.

As the light was failing, I hurriedly put on some riding shorts and my SPD shoes and snapped my helmet on: I wanted to see how the bike rode with the fairing on it. But as I started pedalling out of my driveway, I could hear something rubbing near the front wheel, now much louder due to the curve of the fairing. I squeezed the brakes - no change. I reached down with a toe and nudged the fender - no change. Hmmm. What could it be?

So I turned around and rode back up the driveway and put the bike back on the milk crate. Then I carefully spun the front wheel. It seemed to be rubbing at just one spot, so I got my spoke wrench and started carefully and gradually truing the wheel.

I was making definite progress at reducing the rubbing, but something still didn’t seem right. That’s when I noticed the obvious.

Oh. Crap.

What was rubbing was a large bulge in the tire. Christ Almighty, my front tire was failing. These tires are not skinny little racers, but they make up for their large diameter by running at high pressure - 100 psi. I suddenly had a vision of a front tire blowout while I was trying to see how much faster my fairing made me. *Shudder*

So, tomorrow afternoon I will hie myself over to my local recumbent shop and get some new tubes and tires. Maybe I’ll just get the same ones I have now (Kenda Kwests), maybe they’ll recommend something else. Either way, I thank my lucky stars I found out about that front tire in my driveway, and not on the highway.

June 29th, 2006

The Security of Habit

After the mechanical hijinks of last night, I was fairly determined to ride my bike to work this morning. I packed a change of clothes and a pair of work shoes in my panniers, clipped them on the new rack, and headed down the street.

I was wearing my new recumbent cycling shorts, which are awesome. It’s like wearing conventional lycra thigh-length riding shorts, only without the chamois padding between your legs, and with a loose overshort over it. Very comfy.

Nevertheless, something didn’t seem right. The fenders weren’t rubbing. The panniers weren’t causing any problems. I checked to make sure I had put both sets of brakes back together again. There was nothing I could see or feel, nevertheless something was definitely wrong.

Then it hit me. I had hurried out without my gloves. I had often joked that I would rather ride without a helmet than without my gloves, and was disturbed to realize just how true that was.

When I was a kid, and I started riding a 10-speed, I had to get cycling gloves. Wearing cycling gloves was a statement. It said you were a serious bicyclist, like Eddie Merckx, or like Dave Stoller, the bike-obsessed ‘cutter’ from “Breaking Away”. Cycling gloves said ‘I spend so much time in the saddle that I need padded gloves to protect my hands’.

Of course, as soon as I started wearing them, I realized that cycling gloves served a completely practical purpose. The first time I did a header over the handlebars and saw how much gravel was embedded in the triple-thick palms of those gloves, I got downright attached to the idea of wearing them whenever I was on a bike.

Tan calfskin fingerless gloves, with white crocheted backs. It was the classic bike glove. As you sweated, the leather turned your hands orange. If you wore a pair long enough, they stiffened into the shape of your hands, standing empty with fingers curled in a half-clench, like the Invisible Man was wearing them. And they had a characteristic smell, too. Leather, and sweat, and cotton, and effort. But the best part was the oval patch of tan skin they left on the back of your hands. That was the mark of a serious cyclist.

I never got on a bike without a pair of gloves. It was like wearing a seatbelt in a car, completely automatic.

When I started riding again as an adult, the aches and pains of cycling meant I couldn’t just use any old cycling gear any more. I started buying lycra gloves, with gel pads in the palms, hoping to stave off finger numbness and tingling. These were gloves you could throw in the washing machine. They didn’t have the character of the old tan classics, but they were more comfortable.

Then I got my recumbent. Some folks say recumbent riders don’t need gloves at all, because you don’t have weight on your palms when you ride a ‘bent. I couldn’t imagine being on a bike, of any design, without wearing gloves. I got a pair of Specialized gloves with only a thin pad in the palm, that are very comfortable. But I still wore gloves.

And I bought gloves for my kids. They didn’t always wear them, but I made sure they had them. My daughter tried to do a trick on her Razor scooter the other day, and ended up flying through the air and skidding to a stop on the asphalt on the palms of her hands. Fortunately, she was wearing her cycling gloves, and just dusted herself off and got back on her scooter. ‘Remember that,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s why you wear those things.’

And here I was, in traffic, riding bare-handed. I felt completely naked without gloves. The cold morning breeze blew across the backs of my hands, and the unfamiliar grooves of the rubber handgrips pressed against my palms. My hands grew damp with sweat, and I could feel the dampness, slick, against the grips. It was…very uncomfortable.

All drama aside, even riding barehanded I made it to work just fine. I still need to get home without my gloves, but I assume the ride home will be similarly uneventful. Then I can start working on going another twenty-five years without forgetting them again.

June 28th, 2006

Two smudged photocopied sheets in hand

Installing fenders on a recumbent can be confusing. This instruction sheet is provided as a general guide to help you with installing your fenders. The bike pictured is a RANS V-Rex with RANS 20/26″ fenders, so it is important to keep in mind that your fenders may have different hardware than what is shown, but the concepts involved in installation are similar.

Translation: The guidance provided in these instructions is similar to the guidance you actually need to install your fenders. By ’similar’ we mean that in both cases there are wheels, fenders, and a recumbent bicycle involved. The actual parts depicted are not the parts we have provided. The smudged and blurry pictures provided herein illustrate a method of mounting a fender that is completely inappropriate for the fenders and fender braces we provided for you. In fact, it should be apparent that your fenders do not even have the apertures necessary to mount the fender braces. We have confidence that you will be able to figure it all out.

And I finally did figure out how to put the damn things on. At least I think I found the right way to install them. The front fender can clip the pedal if I’m not careful, so I guess I’ll just have to be careful.

After my epic struggle with the fenders, I just had time to install my underseat rack before it got dark. That went a little smoother, thanks to some meaningful assembly instructions (thank you, Terracycle). With the rack installed, I can mount my new Ortlieb panniers, which means I can actually carry a change of clothes to work. The mind boggles.

I still have to mount my fairing. I say a little prayer to St. Gardner Martin in fervent hope that it will go smoothly and efficiently.

June 25th, 2006

Video Documentation

You may be asking yourself whether I managed to go for a ride last night. Why, yes, I did. I waited until it was a little cooler before starting out, and had a pleasant little ride.

I even took my camera along and shot some video. My apologies for how shaky it is, I was pedalling while holding the camera in my hand. And my apologies for how boring it is, but that’s just a function of my personality.

June 23rd, 2006

Defensive Riding

If I ever happen to come across as a wee bit defensive, or even paranoid, about riding my recumbent bike, there are good reasons for it.

I’ve been yelled at, laughed at, crowded off the bike lane, and nearly clipped by cars and trucks. And while you might think “Hey, ALL bicyclists get that kind of abuse”, I can assure you that there is some special hatred out there for recumbents.

Don’t believe me? This is an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

So I hope I can be forgiven for being a bit prickly about trying to keep my precious skin safe while having to ’share the road’ with such assholes.

June 21st, 2006

Learning to Ride a Recumbent

The first time you try to ride a recumbent, it’s an interesting experience. You see, your body knows how to ride a bike. It’s an almost entirely automatic and reflexive process. Unfortunately, a lot of those reflexes don’t work on recumbents.

The first time you push off, the bike falls over. Your body is used to having a lot more help in staying balanced than it gets on a ‘bent. So you try again, and use your steering to stay balanced, but the steering seems hypersensitive, and you start over-correcting madly. Then you try to turn around, and everything goes to hell.

It just feels completely odd, and even though most folks are wobbling around successfully in just a few tries, it takes quite a while longer before it becomes natural.

Nestofdragons, a Belgian recumbent homebuilder, filmed a coworker attempting to ride one of his bikes for the first time. It took him a few tries.

Try number 1:

Try number 2:

Try number 3:

If you are interested in riding a recumbent bike, keep trying. It’s worth it.

June 20th, 2006

I am not a leaf on the wind

When I lived in the midwest, one of the things I hated most was how hot the nights were in the summer. Some nights it never got below 85 degrees in my apartment. I never slept well in the summers, and would wake up dripping with sweat. Here in the northwest, even during the hottest part of the summer, it cools down at night so you can get some sleep.

Of course this also means it starts out freaking cold when I want to ride my bike to work. It’s supposed to be 70 degrees and sunny today, but when I left this morning it was in the low forties and I could see my breath. Brrr.

There’s something you need to know about recumbent bikes. For all their comfort and efficiency, they do offer a few drawbacks. They aren’t as stable at low speeds as an upright. The center of gravity is much lower, and you can’t shift your body weight like you can on an upright. Plus, the little tires don’t offer the same gyroscopic stabilization until you reach much higher speeds. The result is that at low speeds, like when you’re starting from a stop, you ride like a drunken chimp for a few pedal strokes.

This morning I was just starting out, not quite warmed up yet, and had turned onto a one-block stretch of sidewalk that I take to avoid a particularly busy intersection with no bike lane. I only ride on the sidewalk to get to the entrance of the bike path, and only in the mornings. On the way home, I ride in the traffic.

Unfortunately, this morning I looked up to see an oncoming cyclist on the same stretch of sidewalk. While recumbents aren’t necessarily wider than an upright bike, they look wider and they feel wider. I slowed down and moved as far as I could to the right to let him pass. Unfortunately, I slowed down to drunken chimp speed.

He let out a cheery “Good morning!” as he passed me, and my tires started rubbing the turf at the edge of the sidewalk. I tried to correct, but down I went, like a narcoleptic elephant. *THUD!*

Do you remember on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In when Arte Johnson would put on a yellow slicker and ride a tricycle? And the skit always ended with him falling over? That’s exactly what I looked like this morning. Fortunately I landed on the grass on my elbow and hip, and the only thing injured was my pride.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I felt good this morning, and the ride seemed a little less strenuous than usual. Maybe I’m getting in shape?

I’m finally breaking down and getting a bunch of bike gear to make my commute more comfortable. I’m getting fenders, a fairing, an underseat rack, and some panniers so I can actually carry a change of clothes.

When I get the bike all kitted out, I’ll post a picture of it.

April 27th, 2006

A Penny Saved…

My desire to bike to work has virtually nothing to do with saving money, or saving the planet. While those are laudable goals, they are not mine. I’m mostly interested in not dying prematurely. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes this rationale for bicycling seems terribly ironic (see “Dear Idiot” below).

However, as the price of gasoline begins creeping skyward again, keeping the petroleum industry’s profits nice and fat for another year, I began to wonder if my commuting by bicycle would have any practical impact.

The last time I gassed up the Corolla, I spent $29.51 for 10.5 gallons of gas. I generally go about 280 miles between fill-ups. Let’s call that 10.5 cents per mile. My commute is a little less than ten miles, each way. Let’s call it 19 miles round trip. That works out to about $2.00 a day in gas I save when I ride my bike.

Wow, that’s … more than I expected. Mind you, I don’t think of it as ’saving’ money, more like deferring payment. I will still drive to work, and I will still have to fill up my car, but every day I ride my bike pushes that trip to the gas station off by two bucks.


April 27th, 2006

Dear Idiot

Dear Idiot,

I’m the cyclist you cut off this morning when you made your right turn from Barbur onto Hamilton. I’m sure you remember me. I was on a blue recumbent bicycle, in the bike lane, and I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting your piece-of-shit blue car.

I’m just curious: What were you thinking? Were you in such a hurry to get to work that you couldn’t slow down for the three seconds it would take me to clear the intersection? It would be a tiny bit comforting to think that you didn’t see me, but when you accelerated into the turn in order to get in front of me, it became pretty obvious that you knew I was there.

I realize that I can appear more svelte on my recumbent than I really am, but let me assure you that I’m a pretty solid guy. Combined with my heavy steel ‘bent, we represented a considerable mass moving at a pretty good velocity. I assure you, if not for my hyperactive awareness of traffic, catlike reflexes, and the fact that I had recently adjusted my brakes, I would have hit your piece-of-shit blue car.

I wonder how you would have explained the sizable PAgent-shaped dent in your passenger-side door to the police. Or your parents. Or your parole officer. I mean, when a cyclist riding in a bike lane manages to T-bone a crappy car like yours, it doesn’t take CSI:Portland to put together the sequence of events. Of course, it may strain credulity to believe that you actually accelerated in order to cut me off, but I suppose such behavior isn’t unthinkable when dealing with a driver who has the IQ of an anesthetized mollusk.

I’d like to believe this was a simple miscalculation. That you realize what a close call you had, and that in the future, you will give bicyclists a wide safety margin, instead of playing chicken with them. Unfortunately, I suspect you and your piece-of-shit car will continue to careen around the Portland Metro area until you manage to either total it, or lose your license.

I just hope nobody gets hurt in the process.

April 22nd, 2006

Deep Thoughts

I rode my bike to work yesterday. In order to accomplish this miracle, I had to remember to bring a change of clothes into work the day before. I remembered everything I needed — pants, shirt, socks, underwear, shoes. Everything except a belt.

After a morning spent pulling my jeans up every few minutes, I broke down and bought a new belt at the downtown Meier & Frank. At least it’s still Meier & Frank right now. I don’t know when it will become Macy’s. It will be sad to see such a venerable institution go.

The ride in pretty much sucked. It was raining lightly, and a bit chilly. I don’t like riding in the rain, not because I don’t like getting wet, but because of the tendency of my bike to slide out from under me on wet pavement. I slid a little bit crossing the streetcar tracks downtown, but I was watching for it, and managed to avoid going down in a heap. If I’m going to do this sort of commuting semi-regularly, I think I’m going to have to get some fenders. I got to work covered with grit.

The sun came out shortly after I got to my desk, and the rest of the day was quite pleasant. This made the ride home much more enjoyable. Except for my poor aerobic conditioning, that is. That long uphill grind to the top of Barbur really sucks.

One of the nice things about biking, rather than driving, is it is more conducive to Deep Thought. The rhythmic pulse of the cadence, the pavement sliding by underneath, the constant sound of your own wheezing, it all contributes to a zen-like state of concentration. And what sorts of things do I think about? Well, just this once, I’ll share some of my deep thoughts with you:

When PAgent is an omnipotent and benevolent despot:

-Anyone who presses a crosswalk button more than twice will receive an electric shock. The strength of the shock will be proportional to how hard the button was pressed on the third or subsequent press.

-Monitors will roam the aisles of supermarkets, and any non-handicapped person who leaves their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and wanders away from it will have their cart seized, their groceries will be reshelved, and they will have to start over.

-Anyone who is observed striding confidently into the path of oncoming traffic, assured that their special place in the universe will shield them from harm, will be forced to attend a year of classes in both basic physics and human psychology.

-Anyone observed actually accelerating toward stopped traffic will have their sports car/luxury sedan confiscated, and they will be forced to drive a Yugo for at least one year.

-Any driver observed putting on makeup by peering into the mirror on their sunvisor while in motion will have their makeup permanently applied via cosmetic tattoos, so that they need not suffer such a distraction again. The particular nature of the makeup tattoo applied will be determined by government committee.

-Any driver who changes lanes more than three times in thirty seconds while driving in commuter traffic is clearly a frustrated NASCAR driver, and will therefore be forced to race professionally (at their own expense) until they succeed in winning a race at a premier NASCAR event.