Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Random Cyclists Give Me Hope

The Posey Tube 2 way "bike lane"

So today was jury duty day. I overslept by 15 minutes, and upon making my cup of coffee and checking the court website for details, I read that the parking garage fills up by 8am, and then you are on your own, at the mercy of the Oakland parking meter system. Read: expired parking fines.

So at 7:30 I made the bold decision not to drive but to ride my bike there. This required some hustling on my part, a 2 minute shower, skipped breakfast, got dressed , stripped my bike of stealable parts such as computer, saddle bag, and pump, but made sure I had U-lock, helmet, gloves, and most importantly, I had to invoke the transformation of Flash, a very Power Ranger-like event, and set off in street clothes on my Miyata.

I turned west instead of east. East goes to Park St., west to Webster St. Webster St. means one thing- The Tube. But I realized in a Flash that cycling the tube would save me valuable time---I had to be checked in at 8:30am. So west on Santa Clara I rode, and I found myself flying along. Not sure if it was just the freshly imbibed coffee, or that plus adrenaline, but I was riding like a bike messenger, taking on Constitution Way in the rush hour traffic. The sun was out, the air was crisp, I felt in my element. Soon I approached the gaping jaws of the Tube. Traffic was backed up to a crawl so I was actually making better time then the drivers.

It's a giddy feeling surmounting the sidewalk and coasting down into the bowels of the beast. Not long after entering this traffic intestine, I saw my first encounter up ahead.

Encounter #1 was a scruffy looking dude riding a crappy mountain bike. As we approached each other head on, I was unsure if he was going to stop. His bars looked too wide to pass me without stopping. I pulled over and stopped, almost leaning against the black sooty tiles that comprise the tube walls. The dude stopped, got off his bike, and walked around me.

"Hey, thanks man, I appreciate that" said I
The dude looked at me a moment, then said,
"I've always thought for bikes that the other tube should be one way towards Alameda and this tube should be one way towards Oakland"

I was struck by the irrefutable logic of his thinking. So unexpected at that moment. I pressed on, and soon saw my 2nd encounter approaching me.

Encounter #2 was a petite woman on a hybrid bike. Again, I was not sure if she was going to stop, so I stopped again almost against the wall. She stopped alongside me.
"Thanks so much for stopping! There's this other guy that doesn't stop at all and yesterday he actually clipped my pedal while I was near the railing and scared the hell out of me, so thanks for stopping"
At that moment I felt a kinship to her. She was pretty, but without a helmet. I could almost visualize her being knocked over the railing into the traffic. I wanted to hug her like a daughter.
"I'd feel much better for you if you had a helmet" I said.
"I had one but it was stolen. I'm saving for a good one." I nodded and pressed on. So this young woman is a Tube Regular. I respected her immensely at that moment.

Encounter #3 was a repeat of 1 and 2, an older Asian man on a mountain bike. I stopped once again, he dismounted and lifted his front wheel up in the air to pass me. Nice display so I thanked him and he smiled.

The second half of the tube was encounter free, and I chugged my way up the grade breathing nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, thinking at least this is not northern Japan. I made it to the courthouse by 8:25, and have to admit I felt superior over the other 89 jurors who drove there.

But what impressed me this day was the kindness and cycling humanity I encountered inside the tube. The last place I would have expected it. And that my friends, is what makes it so sweet. Comrades in cycling, unknown to each other, but committed to making each other's passage safe and above that, civilized. It made me feel proud to have met them, however briefly. I have the utmost respect for those who have to ride this noir gauntlet everyday.

Ride On my friends


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So it's raining still. There was a nice sunny window this morning which inspired me to formulate an Oakland cafe plan, one that I would ride to...504 over on Wesley St. A bit risky yes, but worth it. So I got my locks together, put my laptop in a plastic bag inside my backpack, put on a weatherproof jacket (over my street clothes) and wheeled the Miyata out the door. Of course it started showering at that exact moment. Of course. I dashed under the roof of my backyard deck and sat there a while watching the half hearted rain, imagining myself getting wetter and wetter riding over to Lake Merritt, so I bagged the whole idea.

I like the minimalism of 504. My previous visit on a Wednesday, on my way to work, it was pouring buckets and a torrent of raging curbwater was coming up onto the sidewalk in front of the cafe. There was a city bike parked against the window, seemingly cowering from the flood. Inside 504 are a few round tables, and the cafe prep area. It's a small hole in the wall kind of place, but this is precisely what appeals to me. The barrista that day was a young woman, hip, attractive, and distant. The music playing was something really cool I've never heard before... part female angst vocals, part hypno-electronic trance vibe. Perfect. They do "pours" at 504. I'm discovering that "pours" are the new cool thing in coffee. Yeah, well...

I've been doing pours for 30 years, but didn't know it...I've always called the method "filter cone". Simple, makes excellent one cup brews. I didn't know how ahead of the curve I am on this. For once I can celebrate my prescience in this matter. The big difference in my pours and coffee house pours is the 1000% markup in price, I mean, they charge more for this service than regular vat brewed java. Hand made, right? Ah, I know I am really paying for the ambiance and free internet anyway. 3 bucks for inspiration to write a blog is good dineros invested in my opinion.

So I mentioned I almost took a ride today. Man, it's been raining a lot lately, more than last year if my memory serves me. There is always that nagging worry of falling out of shape and becoming a fat, gelatinous blob. Don't worry about it. Consider the spacestation astronauts, who after 6 months of weightlessness, return to Earth as weak as someone who has been in a coma, for crying out loud. It comes back fast.

Besides, it's a good thing to sometimes get out of the same old routine, to resist your usual habits, do something different. Yesterday I helped my old folks---fixed their shower head, their broken washer faucet, their bedroom telephone that wouldn't work, their "Helping Ears" TV headphones that were not plugged in and had dead batteries. And just spent some time visiting. That almost never happens on Saturdays, I'm always off riding. There is that nagging little voice that says perhaps I am too self involved in my own interests---LALALALALALALALA---there, it's gone now. Back to blogging.

The only aspect of cycling that stirs any interest in me right now is SRAM's Apex groupo. Apex is in a nutshell a compact drivetrain with a mountain bike rear cassette, meant for road use. Not that they had a lightening strike of inspiration. I've modded my bikes this way before, and many of you on the team, MacGyver for instance, have a similar, even lower geared Shimano setup. SRAM's tagline on their ads for Apex is: "Kills triples dead". Hah. That's not too original, in my mind that's a direct steal of Black Flag's insecticide ads which boldly proclaimed "KILLS ROACHES DEAD". Kills triples dead. I don't think so.

Their claim to superiority over triples is the lighter weight of their system with essentially the same low gear ratio, or better. Granted. However they totally avoid the fact that you can do the same thing as Apex with a triple, and more. As I have on my Lemond. I have much lower gearing than Apex as I have a 28 on the front whereas Apex uses a 34 compact ring. But my setup is costly in terms of weight, if you want to argue that a half pound makes all the difference on a bike. I think light weigh only goes so far. Why am I able to ride up hills faster than people with bikes that are 5-10 lbs lighter than mine? Lower gears and higher power to weight ratio.

Sure, a super light bike feels great, but when the road starts going up, your body weight plays an ever greater factor in your climbing speed. That's why some of our team's small thin women can outclimb the big muscular guys. Overall, the total weight package is lower. It's as simple as that, and that is why I think spending thousands upon thousands for slightly lighter bike gains is something that I'm not going to be doing soon.

So, back to the cafe. I'm sitting in Spritzer's here on the Island. I drove here after doing some errands. Got a nice cappuccino, which is now lukewarm. But the inspiration has been provided. Good middle road rock music playing, internet is fast and easy to connect to. Couch is super comfy.

Lastly, I got a text message from Thailand last night From Z_rider. You will recall a group of Team Alameda cyclists are on a tour over there. It read like an old fashioned telegram and simply said something like "had a great time, thinking about all you could blog about here". Got a similar short email from McNulty last night as well.

Nice. There they are on the other side of the world, just having had an adventure of a lifetime, and they are thinking of me. Of how I would have written it up. A monumental epic ride report done in Flashblog style. That means a lot to me. Thanks guys.

Ride On My Friends