Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cannondale outsourcing to China

I've been riding Cannondale bicycles for probably 15+ years. Not because they are "handmade in USA," although I've always taken some satisfaction in knowing my bike is one of the few still made in the USA. (The frame, at least... dunno if any of the components are manufactured stateside.)

The main reason I chose Cannondale is their sturdiness. Those fat aluminum tubes are frequently criticized because of the "harsh" ride - by 150-pound riders. When you're 240-250 pounds, you tend to introduce some "flex" that lighter riders don't. I try to minimize the harsh ride by avoiding as many bumps, potholes, etc., as possible.

Last year, Cannondale was bought out by a conglomerate - a Canadian company named Dorel. (Besides bikes, they're in the baby-seat and ready-to-assemble furniture businesses.) And I wondered at the time if the American's domestic manufacturing would cease at some point in time. The answer is "yes." Story HERE. It's going to hit Bedford, PA, hard.

Would I buy a Chinese-made Cannondale bicycle?


But whatever incentive I had to "buy American" would certainly no longer be a factor.

Fact of the matter is... my T2000 touring bike is so sturdy it's likely to outlast me, unless I decide I want to ride a bike that's a different color or whatever. (My next bike might be a Chinese-made Cannondale tricycle, because old geezers aren't spoze to ride bicycles!)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Silence is underrated

My first car was a '67 MGB. A beautiful little machine, painted British racing green, with wire wheels. The black leather bucket seats were so close to the ground I could open the door and put the palm of my hand flat on the pavement while sitting. (I dearly wish I still had that car!)

It was actually my parents', but I was a primary driver and did the routine maintenance, etc., on it.

Some of the first "upgrades" I did were: 1) replacing the factory muffler with a "glasspack" to give it a more spirited sounding snorty exhaust note, and 2) installing the AM/FM/8-track.

(The tape deck install was pretty tricky - the MG had "positive ground" instead of the industry-standard negative ground; I used plywood to insulate the bracket from the car chassis, and if you touched the tape deck and chassis with a piece of metal - for instance a screwdriver - it would throw sparks. But I digress.)

With the glasspack and the 8-track, I was in business! I could "zoom-zoom" down the street, with the Beach Boys or The Doors blasting, to partially drown out the zoom-zooming.

Volume from the door-mounted 5-inch speakers was limited, so I put headphone jacks in the dashboard... that way, if we were top-down motoring on the freeway, my passenger and I could still enjoy the righteous tunes. (My hair was different back then, too... after a day of head-to-the-wind driving, it took some serious combing to get rid of the knots! The ringing in my ears took awhile to get rid of, too.)

Fond memories.

Times have changed.

Nowadays the kids still like replacing the stock (quiet) muffler with something louder. On the little rice-burner cars, they put a "resonator" on the exhaust. Some folks call 'em "fart cans." (Ironically, if it adds "performance" at all, I believe it's only in the high-RPM range. Of course, that same thing was true of my MG "glasspack.") They look different, too - those resonators are so big in diameter you could stuff CDs in the hole, and they seriously compromise ground clearance. Maybe if I was 16, it would be a pleasant sound, but to my geezer ears it sounds like noise.

And nowadays, the tunes don't come through two 5-inch speakers. Some of their setups have a trunk and backseat full of subwoofers, driven by literally thousands of watts. Spare batteries and alternators aren't unusual, just to handle the added electrical load of the rolling ghetto blaster.

Oddly, the neighbors sometimes don't appreciate the kids' taste in cars and music, when the kids can be heard approaching from a quarter-mile away. And it's annoying for fellow motorists when their noise is rattling all the hardware in their car... and yours, too!

Of course, it's not just the kids, or cars.

Lots of motorcycle riders of all ages seem to think the noisier, the better! (Both Harley and "rice rocket" jockeys.) Some of 'em are even foolish enough to buy into the notion that "loud pipes save lives." (What a load!)

And pickups! I swear, some of those pickup drivers must go to the dealer and say, "I want the biggest, loudest, stinkiest truck you sell! And if it's not big and loud and stinky enough, I'll take my business elsewhere!"

Of course, all motor traffic is pretty noisy. Even a Lexus or a Prius in electric-mode drowns out the sound of a bicycle. Particularly when it's wearing studded snow tires - studs make a huge racket!

I'll sometimes ride extra distance just to get away from traffic noise. And when I'm riding with traffic, I'll frequently take consolation by realizing I'm dealing with it just momentarily, unlike that poor schmoe who's sittin' behind the wheel.

The "beauty of quiet" seems to be largely lost by the non-motoring public, too, however.

Have we learned nothing from Thoreau?

I'm amazed at the percentage of both cyclists and pedestrians who have the earplugs jammed in these days.

Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with good-quality sound. My motorsickle produces a throaty rumble that I find quite pleasant. (The neighbors don't seem to mind, either - unlike some riders, I'm quite deliberate in trying not to offend them.) And I bet I enjoy good music as much as anybody. (Of course, "good music" is totally subjective... most people have musical taste that is measurably inferior to my own. hahahaha!) And occasionally I can be found on the bicycle, or even motorcycle, with the earplugs. In certain situations.

But I also have come to appreciate silence... or silence punctuated only by the sound of birds chirping, or a chorus of happy frogs, or wind whistling through the trees. One of my favorite sounds is that made by my 2-year-old granddaughter, if she's chattering - or better yet, singing - as I pull her along behind me in the trailer.

If you keep your bike maintained (including oiling the chain!), and choose appropriate tires for the type of riding you're doing, a bicycle is remarkably quiet. It doesn't drown out the subtle tones.

Perhaps if your eardrums are bombarded every waking hour, you're desensitizing yourself. "Dymamic contrast" (louds and quiets) adds to the variety of life. Appreciate the loud passages and the quiet passages. You might hear something quiet that will surprise and delight you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bicycle-powered office

For Earth Day, the Jones Soda Company in Seattle switched off the lights, and powered their office using 9 pedaling employees.

More HERE.

Sounds like it was really quite "low-tech." The stationary bikes spun an old car alternator, which recharged a battery. The battery was used for whatever they had running in the office. (If I'm wrong, please correct me... I doubt a car alternator could provide more than maybe 1000 watts. Which wouldn't be enough juice to power a toaster or a hair dryer. They must've really been on "impulse power" in the office all day. But it's some interesting symbolism.)

Here's something for you to consider.

If it takes the efforts of 9 cyclists to spin a car alternator, how much bike-power would it take to spin the alternator, and maybe an A/C compressor... and also actually propel a 4000-pound vehicle down the street? It boggles the mind to think how much energy the typical car-commuter requires, to get from Point A to Point B. (And multiply that by the millions of car-commuters out there, on any given day.)

EXPENSIVE transportation!

This mode of transportation may rival the expenses incurred by somebody who chooses SOV* transportation in a Hummer H2 or big ol' pickup truck.

Here's the formula:
- Buy a high-MPG scooter to minimize the impact of $4 gas ($2500 or $3000, maybe?)
- Ride it over the course of the summer, maybe 2000 miles. Indeed, it gets 60mpg or so, and saves you significantly at the gas pump.
- When the weather turns for the worse in the fall, park it in the side yard and let it go "back to nature" over the winter.

It would've been much cheaper just to grit your teeth and spend $125 each time, to fill up the tank on that monster vehicle with doors.

* Single Occupant Vehicle

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day, Part II

I guess I've decided I ought to slap together an Earth Day Rant, after all!

It was on the Drudge yesterday... one more reason to ride a bicycle:


(The Sun UK news - click HERE to read.)

Yep - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Fat people eat more and are more likely to drive to get where they're going. It just takes too much energy to waddle. Dr Phil Edwards, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler."

Fat people should be ridiculed and made to feel inferior EVERY day... but especially on Earth Day!

(PLEASE NOTE... sarcasm and irony intended here! I am not skinny; I just hope people give me a pass, at least when I'm riding my bicycle...)

Happy Earth Day!

I've ranted about Earth Day before - in 2007 and 2008. (2008 has some perspective on the "evolution" of Earth Day, since the first one in 1970.) So I'll refrain this time around.

My "convenient truth" - I turned off our outside lights first thing this morning. (I swapped out the traditional bulbs for CFL twisty bulbs a few months back. They wouldn't be on at all, 'cept for the insistence of the Missus. She's convinced that they deter escapees from Maximum Security and the Mental Hospital.) I didn't let the water run while I brushed my teeth. And I hopped on the bike, just like every day, for the commute... through our picture-perfect Earth Day weather. Far as I can tell, so far it would take those CSI people to find any evidence of my having been here. Which is good - the best way to be a good steward for our lovely Home Planet is to "leave no trace."

I hope everybody has an awesome Earth Day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A personal anniversary

It's been one year since I "did my time." Time off the bike following a medical procedure; the doctor grounded me for 5 weeks. The "hard time" ended on April 18 of last year.

From April 18 to December 31, 2008 - 4368 miles.
From January 1 to April 17, 2009 - 1623 miles.
Total miles ridden, last 365 days - 5991 miles.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Change in the air for THIS bike commuter

May is going to be a monumental month for bike commuters at the office where I work.

The FIRST change is very welcome. For the first time, bike commuters will qualify for reimbursement of transportation-related expenses... up to $20 per month, for months in which a bike is the primary mode of transportation. (I've mentioned it before HERE, but it becomes reality in May. $240 will let me upgrade to some sweet goathead-resistant rubber, and probably a spare rim or two.)

Single-occupant vehicle motorists will still get more help - my company is picking up $50 of the $89/month parking tab. (Boy howdy! I'd sure hate to have to squeeze $89 into the monthly budget for parking... or even $39! It SUCKS to drive a car!)

The SECOND change... well, the jury is still out on that one.

On or around May 1, a new parking garage will open, to service people in my building. Incorporated into the garage is a secure "bike room." It will have racks, and will have a door that can only be opened by people with the electronic key card.

My main concern is capacity. They claim it should hold "30 to 40 bikes." Which is fine in April; I counted about 15 bikes in company-provided facilities yesterday. But last summer, there were routinely more than 50 bikes in the racks. If bikes are jammed into the new room like sardines or cord-wood... fuggeddaboudit!

Besides... for a year or so, I've been enjoying SUPER-PLUSH parking in the basement. If the CEO of the company was a bike-commuter, he'd have the same setup. I ride up to a ramp and swipe my key card. The garage door rolls up as I roll down the ramp into the heated basement, then closes behind me. I'm maybe 50 feet from the locker/shower room. I don't even need to use a bike lock! I can visit my bicycle, and lovingly caress it, during the day, without even stepping outside! I will be losing all that.

(They claim that riding up and down the ramp is a "safety issue." But if truth be known, the ramp-ride is probably the safest leg of my daily commute.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Haulin' my Stuff

I had to replace my ancient fanny pack. My old one was a Kelty... as is the new one. It has a unique feature that I've grown totally dependent on; it will expand into a lightweight backpack, for when I find myself with an unanticipated burden.

The new one is the "Cardinal" model. It has features I may or may not use, like 2 water bottle holders, a shoulder strap (besides the backpack straps), etc. And it doesn't have the capacity of the old one. (Actually I believe I like the old one better. It was very basic, but did its job well. I bet I've been using it for 15 years. It had faded from black to ugly gray... and the zipper has been failing for probably 2 years.)

I bought the "Cardinal" from an outfit called Backcountry Edge. I mention them because their price was BY FAR the lowest I could find (and I search diligently!). And their service was very quick and efficient. Recommended merchant.

Some cyclists use a courier bag. Some have the panniers, or a rack with a "trunk," or even a throw-over garment bag, to haul their stuff. I've eliminated all but the most essential stuff, and am able to squeeze it all into the fanny pack. M-F you will find me hauling a sack lunch, a small (Altoids-size) digital camera, an MP3 player and earbuds (just in case), a tube of lip balm, a pen and note pad, and a knife. (Sometimes my jacket takes the place of the sack lunch on the way home, this time of year. And the expandable backpack is invaluable, a time or three each month.)

I ride the elevator at the office with people who are lugging two large, bulging briefcases. Or even some folks with a courier bag, a large purse, and a roll-behind big ol' suitcase-looking thing. And I can't imagine having to have all that stuff in both places, each and every day! Wow! Some of 'em probably can't drive an economy car, because it doesn't have enough room to haul all their stuff back and forth from the office!

(I'm a computer geek by trade. And occasionally I have after-hours stuff to do. But fortunately I'm able to sit down in front of a computer at home and access essentially everything I can get to from my desk at the office.)

While on the topic of "stuff," I present the enlightened wisdom of the late George Carlin:

Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

Sometimes you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff, when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house. It's the second version of your stuff. And you're gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu and you open up your suitcase and you put away all your stuff. "Here's a place here, put a little bit of stuff there, put some stuff here, put some stuff--you put your stuff there, I'll put some stuff--here's another place for stuff, look at this, I'll put some stuff here..." And even though you're far away from home, you start to get used to it, you start to feel okay, because after all, you do have some of your stuff with you. That's when your friend calls up from Maui, and says, "Hey, why don'tcha come over to Maui for the weekend and spend a couple of nights over here."

Oh, no! Now what do I pack? Right, you've gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The third version of your house. Just enough stuff to take to Maui for a coupla days. You get over to Maui--I mean you're really getting extended now, when you think about it. You got stuff ALL the way back on the mainland, you got stuff on another island, you got stuff on this island. I mean, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain. You get over to your friend's house on Maui and he gives you a little place to sleep, a little bed right next to his windowsill or something. You put some of your stuff up there. You put your stuff up there. You got your Visine, you got your nail clippers, and you put everything up. It takes about an hour and a half, but after a while you finally feel okay, say, "All right, I got my nail clippers, I must be okay." That's when your friend says, "Aaaaay, I think tonight we'll go over the other side of the island, visit a pal of mine and maybe stay over."

Aww, no. NOW what do you pack? Right--you gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The fourth version of your house. Only the stuff you know you're gonna need. Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubber and change. Well, only the stuff you HOPE you're gonna need.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where we all belong

Yesterday afternoon, I was bicycling on Orchard Street. (For those not familiar, it's a 4-lane, 30 mph arterial road that has substandard-width lanes... a 4-lane road where there's only room for a 2 or 3-lane road.)

Bicycles aren't abundant on Orchard; it's just not very comfortable. Some folks try the sidewalks, but they aren't uniform... there are places where sidewalks don't exist, and many places where there's a curb instead of a ramp, making it hard to get on or off.

I ride on Orchard regularly, because the street I live on is just off Orchard.

I'm not afraid to "take the lane" when I feel it's prudent for my safety.

By "taking the lane," I mean riding out in the lane far enough that overtaking vehicles will have to change lanes to go by. Rather than trying to squeeze past me while going 30mph, in the same lane. I just don't have that much confidence in other roadway users. Now and then somebody honks, or guns his big pickup-truck motor menacingly. But well over 90% of motorists have no problem with the practice. And even the idiots don't run me down!

Anyway... as I was braving Orchard yesterday, I had a conversation with a motorist regarding the practice.

I was at a red light, and a young guy came up next to me in a Jeep.

He said something like, "I ride a bike, too. And I'm wondering why some of you guys ride way out in the lane, so other road users have to change lanes to go around."

If he was a transportation cyclist, riding in places like Orchard Street, I'm thinking he wouldn't have to ask. I'm assuming he rides his mountain bike offroad, or rides on the Greenbelt bike/pedestrian path. Whole different dynamics.

I told him I ride where I feel I'm the safest.

He said "Good luck with that."

I don't want to count on luck. And nobody will convince me I'm at a bigger risk to get run down from behind, than to get hit by somebody who thinks they can squeeze by.

(Dwight's "riding in the roadway" ticket is still pending, last I heard. Going through the "speedy trial" gyrations.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009


I saw some nice graffiti on a wall near my place the other day. Thankfully I got back over there and snapped a photo before some do-gooder came along and painted over it.

(It was probably painted by skateboard punks... but I liked the sentiment.)