Friday, March 23, 2018

Distracted driver, Uber driver, self-driving car ... pick your poison!

Mary Ward and Elaine Herzberg share something in common.

In 1869, Mary was a passenger in an experimental steam car, in Parsonstown, Ireland.  As the car rounded a corner, poor Mary became the first motor vehicle fatality when she fell out and the vehicle's wheels rolled over her.

On March 18, 2018, Elaine was pushing her bicycle across a 4-lane highway in Tempe, AZ, in the dark, when she became the first self-driving motor vehicle fatality. Story HERE.

There's disturbing video footage.  As the futuristic vehicle zips along the road, suddenly poor Elaine is lit up by the headlights of the guilty vehicle.  (Is the vehicle guilty, since it was driving itself?)  It's obviously an almost-direct hit, at highway speed... Elaine never had a chance.

There's also video of the "Safety Driver" in the vehicle.  Looks like she was probably fiddlin' with her "smart phone," and looked up just in time to see Elaine go flying.  So - her behavior was essentially identical to regular drivers who are distracted by their "smart phones," until the moment of impact.

In all fairness, it's doubtful that a fully-attentive driver would've seen this particular victim in time to prevent the collision.  She's dressed in dark clothes, and no apparent lights, reflectors, etc.  She also seems to be oblivious to the vehicle that's quickly converging on her in a traffic lane.  (What the?!!)  She's at least partially responsible for her own demise.  But it hardly fills one with confidence in all the futuristic technology (laser, lidar, radar) that's spoze to make self-driving vehicles much safer.  FAIL!

The car was an Uber vehicle.  (Imagine being the passenger on the ill-fated trip!!)

Details about Uber's minimum driver standards hardly fill one with confidence.  From the story:
- no violent crime convictions
- no felony convictions in the past 7 years
- no more than three non-fatal crashes (they say "accidents," but they are rarely accidents) or moving violations in 3 years

Would you feel better if you were run over by a self-driving vehicle, rather than an old-fashioned distracted-driver (or incompetent or impaired) vehicle?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Spin" classes - not diverse enough!

Washington Post style reporter Lavanya Ramanathan has noticed that "spinning" class participants are predominantly young, thin, and white.  Yet one more cause for the Social Justice Warriors!  (Her opinion piece can be read HERE.)

I've never been in a spinning class in my life, nor do I understand the appeal.  But I will add a couple of my own personal observations to Lavanya's ...

The girl in those "Peloton" commercials on TV is young and thin! ... Now that I think about it, the majority of (on-the-street) bicycle riders I see in Boise are relatively young... and relatively thin... and most are white.  I always assumed it kinda reflected the demographics of the people who live in the area, and are interested in bicycling.  But maybe more should be done to make it more diverse!

Hey!  And ya know... now that I think about it... when you watch a big-time bicycle race, like, say, the Tour de France... the racers are predominantly young, thin, and white!  What the?!!?

But... before I get too bent out of shape... I think back on last weekend, when I probably watched 10 or more hours of top-level NCAA college basketball.  And in that field of endeavor, the tables were turned!  There are fewer white guys playing college basketball, than there are black guys (and gals) in spinning classes, I'm guessing.  (Granted, us fatties were NOT very well represented, in any skin tone.)

Hockey ... football ... track and field ... marathon running ... volleyball ... polo ... synchronized swimming ... the list goes on and on.  Some seem to attract a more homogenous mix of participants, and some are quite diverse.  Should quotas be imposed or enforced, just for the sake of diversity?

(For the record... there's not a whole lot I can do about being white.  It's the skin I was born with.  BUT - I'm doing my best to skew the participation percentages to OLDER and FATTER!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Science of Gore

No - I'm not talking about Al Gore, politician, the inventor of the internet, and preeminent self-described "climate scientist."*

I'm talking about Wilbert Gore and his son, Bob (seen in photo, from the Science History Institute).  In 1969, the duo accidentally discovered what is now called Gore-Tex.  It is a micro-porous plastic membrane that can be attached to textiles; it repels water (precipitation) but allows water vapor to pass on thru.  These properties make it a godsend for people who spend time in the wet.  It's probably safe to say that Portland and Seattle would not be recognized as bike-friendly cities, if it weren't for Gore-Tex.  (It blessed me this morning... I don't often need to bicycle in wet weather, but I sure did on this particular morning!  Fortunately I had my trusty Gore-Tex handy.)

The Gore-Tex material has an even more amazing use... I didn't know before today.  According to the Wikipedia, "Gore-Tex is also used internally in medical applications, because it is nearly inert inside the body. In addition, the porosity of Gore-Tex permits the body’s own tissue to grow through the material, integrating grafted material into the circulation system. Gore-Tex is used in a wide variety of medical applications, including sutures, vascular grafts, heart patches, and synthetic knee ligaments, which have saved thousands of lives. In the form of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (E-PTFE), Gore-Tex has recently been used as membrane implants for glaucoma surgery."  Amazing!

In the 21st century, we can literally be protected from precipitation from head to toe.  I keep Gore-Tex jacket and pants in my box o' motorcycle gear, thus I knew just where to look for it this morning.  I've also got a sweet pair of boots with a Gore-Tex layer.  (A multi-day motorcycle trip is less predictable, weather-wise, than a 1-hour bicycle ride.)

The original patents for Gore-Tex have expired, which means there are alternative comparable products available now.  Some probably work just as well.  I've tried some that look like Gore-Tex, but are very noticeably inferior... they let precipitation thru and/or trap perspiration.

* Al Gore is one of the celebrities who has made a name for himself in the "science of global warming."  Is the globe warming?  Probably. (Based on my non-scientific observations, we sure seem to be getting "weather extremes" like never before.  But that's just personal observation.)  Previous commentary HERE.  I'd be much more likely to take Algore seriously, if his scolding were accompanied by practicing what he preaches!  If human production of carbon dioxide is indeed causing global warming, and it can be reversed, perhaps we should start by forcing Algore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Redford to give up their private jet transportation and huge utility bills, and adopt cave-dweller lifestyles.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Surly Long Haul Trucker, Chapter 2

... in which my personal customization is completed.

HANDLEBARS: The bike came with two sets of handlebars - the factory-original drop bars, and some upright bars.  Me being the fickle one, I wasn't wild about either option.  I rarely use the drops... but the uprights were too upright!  And, on a long ride, it's a blessing to have multiple available hand positions.  After considerable research, I went with the Jones bars... and I'm optimistic about that decision.  They seem very comfortable on my aging wrists.

The only other real change since Chapter 1... I installed a Surly "8-pack" rack on the front.  It'll be handy for grocery-store runs, but I envision being able to strap a little bag on there for day trips, with provisions, perhaps the DSLR camera, etc.

The beautiful day beckoned, so I took it out on a test ride.  20 miles, roughly, upstream on the Greenbelt to Eckert Road, and back home via Bergeson and Federal Way.  I also did a test run on the Surly-Bob Train... ran to the grocery store to shop the sales.

(My intention is to keep this bicycle pristine until my impending retirement... which is still a little over a year off.  But between now and then, I'm sure I'll go on the occasional "Sunday Drive" when conditions are really sweet.  And... I'm toying with the idea of another North Idaho adventure in late summer; we'll have to see if that materializes.  If it does, this would be my likely bicycle of choice.)

More photos of today's ride can be seen HERE.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Surly Long Haul Trucker, Chapter 1

I brought the new-to-me Surly Long Haul Trucker (2014 model, in "smog silver") home a couple weekends ago.  Today I let it see the light of day for awhile, as I installed some preferred accessories.  I put some new pedals on (with flat platform on one side, SPD clip on the other)... I installed a Cateye cycle computer... and most visibly, I installed some Planet Bike Cascadia fenders - in bright orange.

I'm quite pleased with the contrast between the silver frame and the orange fenders.

You will notice the upright-style handlebars, which were installed by the previous owner (along with the sweet Brooks B17 saddle).  I'll likely try some other model handlebar.  I don't think I'll go back to the drops - I hardly ever ride in the "drop" position any more - but I'm not delighted with the full-upright position, either.  I'm looking at the Jones "H Bar"; It has an almost flat profile, but offers multiple hand positions, when taped up for such.

This is my post-retirement bicycle, so I've got time to tweak.  Until then, it will probably serve as a "Sunday Rider" - I'll take it out for a spin on picture-perfect days.  (The Missus should be thrilled that this geezer is buying another bicycle for post retirement, rather than a sweet La-Z-Boy.  I'm a firm believer in "use it or lose it."  I'm slowing down, but hope it'll be at least another 15 or more years before I come to a complete stop... or my kids force me to give up bicycling because it's just gotten too crazy.)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New steed in the stable

In the next few days, I'll take possession of a "like new" Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle.  I'm pretty excited to make a return to traditional steel.  (I've been mostly riding aluminum bicycles for 25 years or so.)

I intend for the Trucker to be my "retirement bike."  Although the target date for retirement is still more than a year off, I can start fine-tuning my Old Man Wheels.  There's really not a lot to do... it has a Brooks saddle (which will come off and be my "spare" - I'm devoted to the Anatomica).  I've got some pedals to swap out; I'll put a computer on it to tally the miles.

The main thing I hope to get just right is the handlebars.  I've had "drops" for pretty much forever... but the reality is, I use the drop position maybe 3% of the time, so if it went away I wouldn't be devastated.  I'm eyeing some "moustache" type bars... or maybe some "off-road drops" (with a much smaller drop, and kinda flared out).  There are a couple outfits - Soma and Velo Orange - that make dozens of different-shaped bars.  I'm also considering the "Jones" handlebar, which is very popular among bicycle tourists and such.  (The Trucker comes with 2 sets of bars - the factory drops, and some traditional upright bars, with brake levers and shifters - that the current owner added.)

I'll post photos and reports on the Trucker.  I don't intend for it to become my "go-to bike" until I part ways with my employer.  But, I'll no doubt take it out for some "Sunday drives" on really nice days, to get everything dialed in nicely.

I gave some consideration to another bicycle - a Priority Continuum.  It's a commuter-style bicycle, that would probably mesh nicely with my riding habits.  The main feature that caught my eye is the NuVinci constantly-variable rear hub, combined with a carbon-fiber belt in place of a chain.  And the price is an astoundingly-low $999.

I actually bought an (REI) Novara Gotham bike a couple years back, with the NuVinci/Gates combo.  I only had it for a month and returned it for a refund... not on account of anything mechanical, but because it was woefully small for me.  (To this day, I wonder if maybe they mis-labeled a medium size with a large tag or something; it always just felt way too small, even with an extra-long seat post that I sprung for.)

I really liked the NuVinci hub and belt... the shifting and operation was ghostly silent! However, I'm not totally sold on the long-term reliability of the NuVinci hub. It's filled with some sort of special oil that provides just enough but not too much friction... and my experience has been that: 1) oil tends to break down and lose viscosity over time, and 2) oil-filled mechanical devices that have moving parts and seals tend to start leaking. A bicycle hub would accumulate a lot of revolutions under less-than ideal conditions. I hope that ten years from now, NuVinci owner/operators continue to sing their praises... meaningful innovation is a good thing.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What a difference a year makes!

Last winter we had what us long-time locals would describe as a "20-year weather event."  It snowed... and it snowed and snowed!  Enough to collapse roofs of houses and businesses in nearby communities.  Enough to cause meaningful flooding as the snows began to melt.

Some photos from last winter and early spring:

This winter has given us a significant turnaround.  Below-average precipitation, and at least for the past week or so, unseasonably warm temperatures.  In fact, we're not even halfway through the month and I've already bicycled more miles than all of last January.

Here's what I'm talkin' about:

(The last photo in each group above was taken in almost the exact same place.)

Winter isn't over yet.  Some folks - the ones who haven't been around long enough to know better - will be disappointed when we get more nasty weather.  And, since we live in the desert, we appreciate how meaningful that snowpack in the mountains is - it's our staff of life!  But just the same, it's always a blessing to bicycle on non-slippery pavement!

Several stretches of the Greenbelt are still closed, as damage from last year's flooding is repaired.  Below are photos of the Greenbelt near Veteran's Parkway, in April '17 and today.  It looks like they want it to stay put this time... that concrete must be 2 feet thick!  (As compared with a thin asphalt slab, previously.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

When is a bike not a bike?

Happy new year!

I've posted a couple times recently, about the arrival and acceptance of "E-bikes" on the "no motor vehicles" Greenbelt and other bicycle infrastructure, and sidewalks, in our community.  I continue to have serious reservations about how it's all going to mesh, or not, during the busy summer months.  Time will tell.

We've had some interesting developments at the office "bike room" as well, over the past year or so.  (By "we," I really mean the people who manage the facility.  But most of them are friends of mine... and the majority are bike commuters as well.)

First it was the guy who rode his low-slung "tadpole trike."  You know... one of those contraptions with two wheels in the front, one in the back, and not quite as high as the hood of a passenger car.  (I worry about the safety of those things, in places where they share pavement with cars... but that's a different subject.)  The tadpole trike takes up three or more bicycle spaces, in the bike parking facility.  (NOT a problem in January... but six months from now?  That room gets pretty crowded on a nice day!)

Then a guy started riding this big "fat bike" with the pedal-assist motor.  The tires are too wide to fit in the bike racks... and I guess it's too heavy for him to lift up onto wall hooks.  (The bike room has some very nice custom features - a horizontal bike rack along one wall, that accepts tires of various widths - but it was built "BFB" - before fat bikes.  On the other walls, there are sturdy rails that bikes can be locked to, and hooks that accept a front wheel for vertical parking.  But you need adequate upper-body strength to hoist your bike onto the hook.)

And then... starting in the past week or so, some guy has been riding one of the biggest bikes I've ever seen, and parking it in the room.  At least I think it's a bike, in the same sense that a Hummer or Ford Excursion is a "car" - it sorta looks like a bike.  But - it occupies more space than either of my motorcycles.  Check it out!

Actually, it is a bike - a Surly Big Fat Dummy - and it has been customized with some interesting features - the big bike-mounted mitten thingies for the rider's hands.  Bags on the back.  Some sort of passenger accommodations... a seat maybe?  I can't tell because it's covered by some sort of thing that's apparently attached to the bike... it looks like a silver rain poncho with a hole for a neck.  But is it a child's neck that goes through there, or a dog's neck, or what?  Maybe at some point I'll get to see it, rolling down the pavement and loaded in all its glory... and I'll understand.

I'm sorta hoping this is just a "winter thing."  IMO, you don't need 4 1/2 inch wide tires to traverse what little snow we've had so far; I've been doing it mostly on 1 1/4 inch tires.  This thing would probably be better suited to Fairbanks, or maybe Minneapolis or Steamboat.  And there won't be room for it in our bike room that already gets very crowded in the summer.

On snowy days, my poor friend Dave rides a "fat bike" that looks pretty tiny by comparison.  You can see it - and the "tadpole"- in the second photo.  But it's pretty awkward for him to lift his fat bike down off the rack, when trying to maneuver around the "morbidly obese bike" (by comparison).