Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ridin' In A Ghost Town: Crying Over Spilled Coffee

Welcome back to Flashblog, I'm your long lost host, Flash, checking in from a dimly lit booth in a roadhouse located on a dark back road in the middle of nowhere.  Hey, at least they have wifi here, always look on the bright side.
Flashblog recently went on assignment to points north---Oregon, Portland specifically, then Washington---Olympia, and points even further north, nearly to Canada.  Then back again via the awesome spectacle that is Crater Lake.

But the roadhouse I speak of is not along that 2000 mile route.  It's the Roadhouse of My Mind, where the coffee costs 10 cents and the refills are unlimited.   By the way, I'd like to thank all those people who, upon hearing about the 2000 mile trip, piped up with " and you did it on your bike, right?"  I do appreciate that.  It shows you know where my priorities are.

Almost all those people know me as "Jim", my alter-ego, they are not familiar with Flash.  Yet.  However, this month is Commuter Challenge month, when companies sign up to compete with one another and for prizes by using any transport other than their cars to get to work.  So far for September, I am 100% alternative with two work days biked.  Yeah, ok, I know, only two days.  But I'm fired up for this, and for a brief window of time at work, Jim will be overshadowed by Flash.  Flash can be devious, using tools such as carpooling to keep his stats high.  Stay tuned for more on that.

The Tragic Coffee Incident:

So I have been night riding a fair amount the last few months.  I've installed something like 8 different lights on my Opafiets Dutch bike, primarily for visibility but also for artistic cool.  I was heading over to San Fransisco last night for a Bike Party, and decided I needed a coffee to boost me after my two days of bike commuting to work.  (hey, its 10 miles and 1500' climb to where I work, it ain't even possible in the minds of ordinary non-bike people)
I had installed a cool old-timey handlebar mounted water bottle cage on my bike, and after purchasing the coffee, black with cane sugar, I wedged it into the bottle cage.  It was too hot to drink anyway, so I thought it a good plan to let it cool an the way to the BART station.  Soon enough, every crack and dip in the road was causing hot java to spurt up out of the sippy hole in the cover, and the cover was getting  a steady pool of dark brown liquid pooled in its recesses.  So I stopped and sipped some coffee to reduce the level.  Mmmmm.

I was climbing the Fruitvale bridge, looking in my mirror at approaching cars and did not see the asphalt lip ahead of me.  When I did see it, it was too late---my front wheel hit it popping up in the air, transferring energy up the frame, to the cup of coffee, which instantly popped it's lid and emitted a geyser of steaming hot  dark liquid.  The geyser, erupted into a 10mph headwind, flew back onto my knees, the front lights, the Indian brass horn, the front fender, the pedals, my feet.  A coffee tsunami!

My thoughts, in order were:  " NO!!!! MY COFFEE!"  then "AW CRAP, ITS ALL OVER EVERYTHING!" then "WHY DID I HAVE TO PUT SUGAR IN IT???"  I pulled off the street and stopped and just started laughing, I really cracked myself up.  What an idiot thing to expect the coffee not to spill!  ( engineering analysis shows that the cup was too short to bottom out on the cage, thus putting stress on the lid, which was just ready to blow)  BTW, I did finish the now cold coffee on the BART platform, waiting for the train.  I'm a rule breaker alright, drinking cold coffee and bringing a sticky bike onto the train.
Stickin' it to the MAN! so to speak?

Next time I shall purchase the Large cup of coffee.  Problem solved.

Flash caught in the act of turning on the lights  (photo: Nelson Planting)

Bike Party # 6, San Francisco:  Theme: Ghost Town

The fog had come in, with a blowing wind, not the best weather for night time outdoor adventures.  But what the heck, I was over there.  Not as many people as the East Bay rendition, maybe 2-300 total.  By their own admission, all the hip, cool people were out of town at Burning Man, thus Ghost Town.  Now, here's the thing with any Bike Party:  It's only as good as what people bring to it.  The people who bring sound rigs are, shall we say, instrumental to the successful vibe.  Secondly, people who light up their bikes.  Thirdly, people in costumes.  These three things set the tone.  I noticed the sound people were out in good numbers, but the light displays and costumes were much weaker compared to East Bay.  Thus I got a lot of attention.

The Kaptein Dolphin as fitted out now has a super bright Redline 200 lumen led torch for lighting the way, a Planetbike led light for alerting oncoming cars, a rear red 3 led blinker, a 3 led rear solid light, red, blue and white downward aimed lights for ground effects ambience, a blue light over the rear fender, and the neon green Bikeglow framelight.  Compared to some East Bay BP neon light setups it looks kind of weak, but in SF I was something of a standout.  That was my contribution, that and walking my bike up the hills.

(This one petite young woman was riding a big cargo bike towing a big sound rig that was pumping out deep bass riffs.  The whole thing must have been near 200lbs.
She was effortlessly rolling along, passing by , which puzzled me because I was really working hard, and then it occurred to me---her bike had an electric motor in the rear wheel!  She smoked us all on the big hill, the big bass beats receding into our future.  Awesome!)

By walking my bike up Scott street, which kept increasing in tilt until I could hardly even push it up on foot, I made everyone else look REALLY GOOD as they rode past me.  Hey all you SF riders, you're welcome!
I knew I would end up doing this so it was no ding to my ego.  The thing I didn't consider at all, and I don't know why, is that there were equally steep downhills.  I've never tried the Dutch bike on a slope like that.  In the dark.  In the fog.  Surrounded by dozens of other riders.  Not even knowing where I was going.

So suddenly I am plummeting down Scott street, grabbing fistfuls of brake handles, and I asked myself, "Self, how long will these drum brakes, designed for the flat waterways of Amsterdam, hold up under this kind of gravitational stress?  Self had no idea.  Really.   I figured they could hold out or just as easily start smoking and fading, and then things would get REALLY exciting very quickly.   You know what?  They worked like a champ, smooth, like a car.  Awesome!

The party rolled onto Crissy Field and during the mild descending roads through the empty Presidio, I noticed the Kaptein is one fast downhill bike as I was reeling in everyone ahead of me, even folks on road bikes.  I chalk it up to all that weight.  But it was a hoot to find a performance area it is not light years behind in.  I love this bike, I really do.  It is truly unique but it just does not do what most people would want a bike to do, which is: be light, pedal effortlessly, go up hills like a goat, and leave the rider refreshed feeling at the end.  This bike makes up for all those things in one area:  Class.  It is a classy ride and makes me feel like a classy rider.
Actual film of actual Flashblog interview in progress with the Grilled Cheese Guy, East Bay  Bike Party  8/11
GC Guy carried the table, gas stove, skillet, loaves of bread, cheese on his bike, providing free sandwiches for the asking.  Awesome!  (photo: Nelson Planting)

I left the ride early and proceeded back to the BART station where an extremely interesting social experiment developed.   To my utter dismay, as I was by then weary in mental and physical state, I saw the train platform crammed with Giant's fans.  NOOOOOOO!!!!  I've been in this situation before.  It can get ugly jostling for train space.  So when the train came, and I saw people already standing in it, I thought I had no chance for this one.
However, after the baseball fans entered the train car (last car)  there was a hole.  Just big enough for me and my bike.  There were people on the platform who did not enter the car and were just standing there, so I went for it.  I was on the train!  YES!  Hardly 10 seconds passed before the train conductor came on over the PA and announced "YOU BIKE RIDERS FOLLOW THE RULES----NO BIKES ON BART DURING COMMUTE HOURS----YOU KNOW THE RULES!!!"   I was like "What????"  I looked at my watch:  10:40pm---Commute hours?  What??  The standing people in the car looked at me wondering what I would do.

So, perhaps in my weary state,  beaten down by the conductor's beratement,  I backed out of the train onto the platform.  A lady on the platform said to me "There's room on that train, get back on there!"   I replied, " but she said its commute hours...."  and the lady replied " She ain't seen you, she talking to those people at the front" , and I looked at the length of the 10 car train, and the front was WAY far away, and I knew she was right.  The Giants fans started chiming in " Come back on!",  " Quick, come back!"  So I did, I made a quick forward move just before the doors closed.  YES!!  I was back on the train.  Giant's fans ROCK!

What the Cop Said To Me:

So I rode home from 12th street, and when I approached the Park St. Bridge to Alameda, I saw a police car parked in the right lane of the bridge, it's two officers interviewing a "person of interest" who was standing against the bridge's sidewalk railing.  Officer 1 had a notepad and was taking notes, Officer 2 had his back to me and was standing in "ready position", which if you saw it you would know what I mean.  He was blocking the sidewalk.  So I gave them my Dutch Ice Cream Truck bell jingle.  As I rode up the bridge ramp...

Officer 2:  "  Evening Sir"

Me:            "Evening Officer"

Officer 1:   "Now THAT'S a bike with lights!"


That made my night, it really did.

Ride On My Friends, 


  1. Another fantastic read. So happy you're back, I was aching to read new post on Flashblog. You fascinate me and educate me with your blog.

    Glad you didn't get burned badly from your coffee and you had some left to drink, albeit cold. Nothing worse than needing a caffeine fix and losing it all over the ground and yourself. Sounds like you had fun at the bike party.

    I met a couple who invited me to a future Bike Party a few weeks ago coming back from Tunnel and Skyline. I told them it would drive me crazy being around all those people without helmets. Oh, well, at least I wouldn't have to drive too far! ;-)

    Keep your adventures coming. You are a class writer and rider.

  2. So, Outlaw, did you ride right past the "Walk Bikes on Bridge" sign as you approached the coppers?

  3. "aching" thanks debi, well said.
    Outlaw...I guess so as I forgot the walking rule and just pedaled on by. The front light was on S-O-S strobe pattern and perhaps they were a tad stunned by it and forgot to arrest me for outlaw riding.