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Dear City of Midland,

My wife and I are homeowners in Woodland Park, at the far north end of "A" Street. We are also bicyclists, and we were pretty excited when you re-striped "A" Street from Mockingbird south to Loop 250 and created a nice wide lane for cyclists, runners, and walkers. As far as I know, this was the first truly functional bike lane in Midland (those in the downtown area are, frankly, dangerous jokes, but I suspect you know that). It's only a mile in length, but it gave hope to us for what might come.

However...

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but simply creating bike lanes isn't really enough. They must be maintained. And the city is falling short in this regard.

Residential streets - especially those like "A" Street where a lot of adjacent development is taking place - attract a lot of debris: sand, gravel, miscellaneous trash. Before the bike lanes were installed, that debris was forced into the gutter by traffic. Guess where it collects now?

Instead of blowing against the curb and settling in the gutter, it tends to spread evenly across the width of the bike lane. It's actually a pretty interesting phenomenon - it's almost like a tractor beam for debris overlays the bike lane, and nothing remains in the roadway.

This is not too much of an issue for runners, and walkers probably don't notice it at all. But it's a really big deal for us cyclists. Bike tires are more vulnerable to flats than you might think, especially those skinny tires on so-called racing bikes ridden by those guys in colorful spandex. That's not my wife and me, but there are a lot of them out there. A blowout on a bike is a dangerous occurrence, especially in the presence of passing traffic.

The best way to avoid that issue is to avoid the bike lane, so, ironically, what we now have is the situation where people are cycling in traffic lanes that are more narrow than before, in order to avoid the problematic wider-than-before bike lanes.

I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but it seems to me that if you install a bike lane, that automatically comes with an obligation to maintain it. And maintenance seems pretty straightforward: send a street sweeper up and down "A" Street twice a month. That seems like a reasonable approach, doesn't it? We're not asking for someone to get up early every morning and hand-sweep the street (I've been places where that happens, by the way).

Let me be clear. I do appreciate the planning and effort that went into creating these bike lanes. I think it's a wonderful start to making Midland a better place to ride bikes, which in turn enhances the perceived quality of life for a lot people. I just wish the great start wasn't being subverted by the less than stellar follow-through.

Your pal,

Eric

Attraction Satisfaction
June 2, 2016 3:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Perceptive Gazette readers will recall our recent traumatic bicycle wheel failure, which necessitated the replacement of both wheels on our recumbent tandem (the rear wheel failed, but we also replaced the front one out of an abundance of caution as well as to make sure the two matched). I'm happy to report that after a delay of more than a month, we're back on the road sporting new wheels, spokes, freewheel hub,  and cassette, and everything looks mahvelous.

Bike computer magnet pickupHowever - and there's always a however, isn't there? - I overlooked the fact that the new wheels and spokes meant that I would also have to recalibrate our computers. We have a Planet Bike wireless computer on the front and a wired model on the back, and both rely on a small magnet (see photo at right) mounted on a spoke to generate a signal transmitted to the computer that allows it to measure distance and speed. Each revolution of the wheel moves the magnet past a pickup mounted on the fork, and when calibrated to the wheel's circumference, the time it takes for each revolution is the key component of the speed and distance algorithms. With me so far?

Obviously, when the bike mechanic replaced the spokes, he had to remount the magnet. But since he had only the wheels and not the whole bike, there was no way for him to know exactly where to place the magnet. So, when I returned home with the new wheels, I had to put the magnet back in the right place, so that the transmitting unit would generate a signal.

That was pretty easy for the back wheel, but I ran into a puzzling problem on the front. No matter how I placed the magnet on the wheel, I couldn't make the transmitter send a signal to the main unit. I even replaced the battery in the transmitter, to no avail. It was as if the magnet was no longer strong enough to generate the signal (and I say that as if I understand exactly how the thing works, which I don't).

I knew all along that I was stretching the limits of the wireless unit to their max; the computer was designed for a "regular" bicycle, not a long-wheelbase recumbent, and the distance from the main unit to the transmitter was now - for whatever reason - just a tad too far.

As a last resort, I contemplated just buying a wired computer, but then I wondered whether the magnet strength had any bearing on the strength of the transmission. Yes, that's right: we're gonna need a bigger...magnet. And I knew just where to find one.

I happened to have two magnets from an old hard drive laying around my workbench. [What? Doesn't everyone disassemble their old hard drives and harvest the magnets?] If you've ever toyed with one of those neodymium magnets you know that the size-to-strength ratio is incredible. If the bike computer transmitter simply needed a stronger magnet, the hard drive component would likely provide a transmission of length of, say, from here to the moon.

I tested my theory by removing the transmitter from the fork, and waving the hard drive magnet over it while standing a couple of feet from the main unit. Sure enough, the unit immediately displayed speed. All I had to do was figure out how to mount the magnet on the spokes, reattach the transmitter to the fork, and get the two aligned.

That actually proved to be a pretty simple task (and if you've followed my DIY projects, you know how truly amazing that statement is). The magnet's mounting holes were exactly in the right place to affix it to two spokes using thin zip ties. In addition, the strength of the magnet meant that the transmitter's alignment didn't have to be as precise as in the past, so that was easily accomplished. Here's what the final installation looks like (I've highlighted the magnet and transmitter in yellow to make them easier to discern).

Hard drive magnet mounted to front wheel of bicycle

Now, if this was a race bike, this would be a really stupid thing to do. The new magnet is quite heavy, and the last place you want to add weight on a bicycle is the wheel. But this wheel by itself already weighs almost as much as some entire bikes - only a slight exaggeration - so the additional rolling weight is just not an issue. The only thing I worry about now is whether we'll be picking up stray pieces of metal from the side of the road as we cycle along...you know, things like old car wheels, anvils, or lengths of discarded rebar.

The morals of this story are twofold. One, there's always a solution if you can get creative enough. And (b), always tear up your old hard drives and save the spare parts.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I haven't actually tested this setup to see if the accuracy of the computer has been affected. After our next ride, I'll compare the distance reading to that of the rear computer (and probably also to my Map My Ride phone app) to see if this really was a workable solution.

Good Customer Service > Bad Wheel?
April 27, 2016 8:38 PM | Posted in:

The rear tire went flat on our recumbent tandem during a ride a couple of weekends ago. This wouldn't be unusual except we never have flats. Well, except for that one time. Oh, and that other time. Anyway, it's rare that we get flats, because we run Kevlar-belted tires with heavy duty tubes on a wheel that weighs about eight pounds (some entire racing bikes don't weigh much more than that).

A flat tire is pretty much the worst thing that can happen on a bike ride. OK, I guess you could get run over by a jacked-up truck sporting mudflaps adorned with naked chromed ladies and that would probably be worse. Also, there's always the possibility of a rattlesnake jumping out from the side of the road and biting you on the neck and that would definitely qualify as a bad. Or, a toilet could drop on your head from a passing airliner. But otherwise, a flat is as bad as it gets.

It was only after changing out the tube (and unsuccessfully attempting to inflate the new one with five CO2 cartridges...that's a whole other story that I haven't recovered enough to share) that I found the cause of the problem: a failure of the rear wheel itself. It literally came apart at the seam - I didn't even realize it had a seam - which in turn sliced the tube, and voila! - our ride became a walk home.

Full disclosure: Since the wheel and tube were already ruined, and I had already resolved to replace the tire, we did continue to ride, albeit very slowly and with much wobbling, until we came to the dirt road that represented the shortest route to the house. This is not a recommended practice, except in the event of a catastrophic failure, but it did save us almost a mile of walking.

This is what an intact Velocity Aeroheat rim looks like.

Intact Aeroheat rim
 
And this is what our Aeroheat rim looked like.

Failed Aeroheat rim
 
It may be difficult to see, but that gap between the sidewall of the rim and the part where the spokes attach (there's bound to be a word for that but I have no idea what it is) should not be there. Here's a closeup view:

Failed Aeroheat rim - Closeup
 
Later that afternoon, I took the wheel to our local bike shop, Peyton's Bikes, where the mechanic was suitably impressed by the distressed wheel. I asked him to locate a replacement rim - preferably one that tended to remain in one piece - along with a new tire and tube.

A day or so later, I decided to look on Velocity's website to see if they made an alternative rim that might work better. In doing so, I discovered they provided a lifetime warranty on their rims, so I submitted their online form that described the issue. Within a few hours, the company's general manager responded by email, asking if I could provide photos of the rim. I sent him a couple and he quickly replied that they would honor the warranty and replace the rim. He also said that the owner of Peyton's Bikes had already been in touch with him to discuss the situation, and they had agreed that it was appropriate to replace both rims, to avoid any possibility of a repeat of the problem on the front wheel.

The bike shop owner did call that same day, and said that he had done some online research that indicated that this particular rim was prone to this kind of failure. Indeed, I found some discussions on a message board supporting this finding (here's one example; here's another). 

We counted ourselves fortunate that the failure of the wheel occurred on flat ground at a relatively low speed. The tire went flat, as opposed to blowing out...another blessing. I shudder to think about the implications of this happening while on a 30 mph downhill at Horseshoe Bay, where we were riding a week earlier.

Anyway, it looks like our bike will soon be sporting a new set of wheels. Surely a model called "Atlas" will handle anything we throw at it. The downside is that they won't be the sleek aero profile of the old ones, and they'll have the usual silver finish that most bike wheels have, but that's just cosmetics. The new rims will be as close to bulletproof as you can get on a road bike, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we'll be safer on the road significantly outweighs the appearance factor.

Also, it's nice to know that some companies are still willing to honor their commitments via responsive, unquestioning service. I hate it that the rim failed, but I commend Velocity for its customer service.

Roaming the Web
January 9, 2016 7:06 AM | Posted in: ,

It's been a while since we've wandered around the web, looking at some cool new tech. Here's a roundup of some things that have come across my Twitter feed lately.

Snap - The Flying Camera


I find it very interesting that the word "drone" appears nowhere on the Vantage Robotics website. This is likely an intentional strategy to distinguish Snap from its competitors, and perhaps to also distance itself from some of the negative connotations attached to the term. Regardless of the reason, the description of this device as a flying camera seems to be completely accurate, as it's all about the quality and controllability (versatility?) of Snap's video capabilities.

And for an unskilled pilot like me, the fact that it's held together by magnets so it's not destroyed by the inevitable crash is a huge selling point!

Zeiss Smartphone Lenses

One of the most vibrant sub-industries to arise in response to the increasingly high quality of phone cameras is the creation of lenses to extend the capabilities of those cameras. For example, a company called Action Life Media sells an adapter contraption that lets you use your Canon or Nikon SLR lens with your phone. It makes for a ridiculous-looking rig, and sort of defeats the ease of use and portability that make phones the most popular photographic devices in the universe, but I suppose there's a market for such add-ons.

The high-end lens maker Zeiss obviously agrees, since it's rolling out a suite of iPhone lenses (macro, telephoto, and macro) that attach to the phone via a special bracket. If you know anything about cameras, you know the respect that Zeiss glass commands, and it's hard to think of these lenses as gimmicks. Pricing has not yet been announced, but they won't come cheap.

Danny MacAskill - Mad Cycling Skillz

If there's a better trials bicyclist in the world than Danny MacAskill, I've never heard of him (or her). The preceding video is simply the latest in a long series, every one of which will make you rethink what's possible for a bunch of metal tubes suspended between two rubber circles. I get sweaty palms just watching it.

MacAskill rides bikes made by a company called Inspired. He also provides consultation to the company for its higher-end bicycles such as the Skye Team Bike (named after the Scottish Island Danny calls home). So, even if you can't ride like him (and you can't), you can have the bike that leaves you with no excuses other than your simple lack of skill (and guts). Oh, and it will also leave you several thousand dollars poorer.

In closing...

OK, so this isn't a tech-related item, but it's always good to end a post with an absurdity. If you haven't been in the presence of a physician after they've had a few drinks, you may not be aware of the new healthcare diagnostic codes...all 68,000 of them. This is but one of the most ridiculous of the new codes; here's a list of some others. And be sure to buy your doctor the next round.

Hotter'N Hell 16.09
August 22, 2015 5:28 PM | Posted in: ,

Bike Computer

The photo shows one of the computers on our tandem bicycle following our ride this afternoon. The number in the lower left corner of the screen is the temperature in degree Fahrenheit. No, it wasn't 10º in Midland, Texas, in August; the computer is obviously not designed for hot weather as the temperature readout only has two digits. So, it's actually reading 110º.

However, that's not accurate either. It's always read much higher than the actual temperature (Weatherbug said that it was really only 100º), at least in hot weather. It's fairly accurate in more temperate conditions.

Regardless, 100 was plenty warm. We don't normally choose to ride in this kind of heat but because of other obligations and errands, it just worked out that we didn't start until almost 4:00 p.m. We were out for only about an hour, and it wasn't horrible, but that's about our limit in these conditions.

We have Camelbak packs on our bike and so it's easy to stay hydrated. But even that's a challenge because the water in the short length of plastic tube heats up quickly, so that your first mouthful is bathwater warm. You quickly learn to spit out that first mouthful in order to get to the cold water.

It is possible to acclimate to the heat, and to some extent we've done so. You can't live in West Texas in the summer without getting accustomed to it. And while it's often said as a joke, it is true that a dry heat is much easier to bear. Humidity this afternoon was only 19%...and even that is a bit high; it's not unusual to have humidity less than 10%.

This isn't the worst heat I've ridden in...not even close. On June 27, 1994, Midland experienced its all-time record high temperature: 116º. I was curious about how it would feel to bicycle in that kind of heat and so I went for a ride - a short ride. It wasn't much fun, to be honest, and I don't recommend it.

But we've also ridden in a few Hotter'N Hell Hundreds, and the heat and humidity in Wichita Falls in late August is just brutal. Again, it's something that you might want to experience just to say you did it, but it takes a special kind of crazy to ride it year after year. If you fall into that category, you have my respect.
We had just pedaled - very slowly, with agonizing effort - our recumbent tandem up a 650' section of road with an average slope of 17.2%, and once things finally leveled out a bit, my wife wondered aloud whether we were getting too old for that sort of thing. I wanted to dispute that notion but I lacked the lung capacity to do so, and, in fact, had wondered that very thing.
 
Of course, we could have stopped, gotten off the bike, and walked the hill. That would have been an admission of defeat that we haven't experienced in 25 years, and to do so might be the admission that as far as riding over the hill, we're over the hill.
 
Horseshoe Bay has some killer hills, in addition to the one described above. If you're familiar with the area, you know there's a significant elevation gain between Ranch Road 2147 and the HSB airport. There are several roads to get you there, but they are all basically long and steep. You can take Hi Mesa, which begins with a thousand foot climb that averages 16.4% slope (with one mercifully short section of 41.7%!). Hi Stirrup is an alternative; it also has an initial thousand foot climb but the average slope is only 15.6%. Then, there's Nolen Drive - the most direct route to the airport and the one most people will drive. It begins with a 1350' climb that averages 11.3% slope (but the last half is 14%), with a brief leveling out before continuing another 800' that averages 14.7%. We've never ridden that section of road. I ran up it once, and that convinced me that a motorized vehicle is the only sane method of transit.
 
We've ridden many memorable hills over the course of our cycling lives, including:
 
  • Vail to Vail Pass, Colorado - one 10.4 mile stretch averages 8.5% slope, with one short section of more than 30%

  • Freedom Trail Road, Kerrville, Texas - a 1,250' section averages 11.3% slope

  • Keystone to Montezuma, Colorado - a 5 mile ride with an average slope of only 5.3%, but it starts at an elevation of more than 9300' and ends a thousand feet higher than that, and has one section with a 36% slope

  • Road from McDonald Observatory Visitors Center to the summit of Mt Locke - this is perhaps the most infamous of roads for Texas cyclists. The entire distance is just over a mile, but the average slope is 13%, but one 700' section averages almost 19%, and the maximum slope is a ghastly 38%. Full disclosure: we rode this on our single bikes, not our tandem.

  • Bear Mountain (Fort Davis Loop), Texas - 1.5 miles with an average slope of 8.4%, but one 600' section averages 18%

  • Road from Fort Davis to McDonald Observatory Visitors Center - 1.5 miles with an average slope of 9.45, and one 200' section that averages 31% and a 700' section averaging 15%

  • Bear Creek Road (what is it about steep "bear" roads?) outside of Fredericksburg, Texas - 600' section averaging 10%, but the last half averages 14%
Out of fairness to ourselves, it's worth mentioning that on a recumbent, you can't stand up and pedal...you have to gear down and grind it out. Also, our tandem weighs around 60 pounds with our Camelbaks, loaded rack, and other accessories. Given those challenges, and the fact that we still haven't had to walk any grades, I feel pretty confident that we're going to be cycling the hills for a long time to come.

Note: All of these measurements courtesy of Google Earth, and I can't vouch for their accuracy but my legs and lungs can. 

Feel free to comment on this post via email or on my Facebook post. If you're a cyclist or runner, what's the most challenging hill you've faced?

Wrong Way Looking: Remedial Driver's Ed
October 6, 2014 9:34 PM | Posted in: ,

So, let me ask you a question. Is it just me, or have you also noticed that many drivers pulling up to an intersection tend to look to their right, and then back to their left after they start to move into the intersection?

I can't find any definitive statistics about whether the driver's side gets hit more often in side-impact collisions than the passenger's side, but based on my observations, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's the former...simply because drivers are engaged in that peculiar behavior.

It's not an academic question from my perspective. It's not unusual for us to spot this kind of strange driver behavior when we're out on our bicycle, and trust me when I say that inattentive drivers are a cyclist's biggest nightmare. I can't count the number of times we've had cars pull in front of us (or begin to do so) and then spot us at the last second, simply because they looked right and then looked left only after starting to move into the intersection. (To be clear, in all of these instances, we've had the right of way.) Cyclists are always advised to try to make eye contact with drivers to increase awareness, but it's hard to make eye contact when they don't look at you until it's too late.

My firm recollection from driver's ed was the admonition to "look left, look right, then look left again." That was good advice back when we were riding mastodons, and it's still good practice. I'm dismayed that more drivers don't seem to be aware of it.

Comments? Email them or post them on my Facebook page. We'll all be glad you did.
We recently returned from a vacation stay at Coronado, California (with an extended stopover at Las Vegas, but that's another story for another time). This was our fourth visit to Coronado, and we seem to be getting better with practice.

We stayed at the 1906 Lodge, a 17-room bed-and-breakfast named not for its address (which is actually 1060) but for the date of construction. It's a delightful place, within walking distance of just about everything on the island/peninsula/city (there's some confusion about how, exactly, we should refer to Coronado), yet far enough away from the main drag (Orange Avenue) that traffic noise is non-existent.

1906 Lodge
1906 Lodge

I'm planning on posting a more in-depth report of our stay (which I know you're dying to see, absent any accounts of oral surgeries done without anesthesia) but I wanted to start off with a video. On our last full day in/on Coronado, Debbie and I rented a tandem bicycle and toured the peninsula/city/island/whatever, and I recorded some of the afternoon on a GoPro camera attached to the handlebar. If you've never been to Coronado, you may not have a clear mental image of the beauty of the surroundings, and while the video doesn't necessarily do it justice, perhaps you'll get a feel of what we enjoyed every day of our stay. If nothing else, the Copland soundtrack might entertain and relax you.




A tree of unknown species
We have no idea what kind of tree this is.

It's not the miles, it's the feet
January 4, 2014 6:18 PM | Posted in:

Cycling in our new Texas Hill Country neighborhood is not like cycling around West Texas. For one thing, there are, you know, hills. For another, there are really steep hills. And a lot of uphills. Plus, there's the climbing.

I fired up MapMyRide yesterday in order to quantify exactly how much climbing was involved in our regular route. We've ridden it only twice, but it will be our regular route because it's just the right combination of challenge and scenery.

Anyway, here's what the iPhone app told us about the route:

Screenshot from MapMyRide

The total elevation gain for the 11 mile ride isn't as impressive as I anticipated; it felt more like 1000'. But a similar ride in Midland would probably have a gain of 50' or less.

Besides providing a great workout, the other advantage of riding around here are the views. Like this one:

Photo - Overlooking Lake LBJ

We're overlooking Lake LBJ (Apple Head Island, to be exact). The downhill following this vantage point was as thrilling as the view from the top.

The bottom line is that we don't measure our rides around here in terms of miles, but in terms of feet...uphill feet, that is.

A Bike Ride at Horseshoe Bay
October 31, 2013 9:40 PM | Posted in: ,

Lots going on lately. You'd think it would generate plenty of blog fodder, and you'd be right, but my next post may be entitled "10 Ways to Keep from Writing," because I seem to have perfected the skill of literary silence. Anyway, let it not be said that I missed an entire calendar month, because I'm slipping under the wire with this.

"This," by the way, is some video evidence of the sort of busyness that's kept me from blogging. I can't honestly say that I've chosen poorly, for a bike ride is almost always a superior alternative to just about any other use of time, especially when it's accompanied by the excellent scenery of the Texas Hill Country. Don't be surprised if more of these scenes start popping up on the Gazette.

Music is by The Lost Dogs, in case you're wondering, from their Little Red Riding Hood album.


Fall Fredericksburg Fandango
September 25, 2013 9:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We've just returned from a long weekend in Fredericksburg, where we were able to do many of the things we like to do best, including bicycling, dancing, and eating.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast on North Cherry Street, in a quiet neighborhood close to the western edge of town. It's one of the few B&Bs in the area that gives off a distinct Santa Fe vibe, both from an architecture and a landscape perspective. It also has the distinct advantage of being roomy enough to park a 10-foot-long bicycle inside without disrupting the flow of the space. I'd give you the name of it, but I don't want anyone else staying there so it will always be available for us. Well, that and the fact that I can't remember. That seems to happen a lot nowadays. What were we discussing?

Even though much of the Texas Hill Country enjoyed torrential downpours - and Fredericksburg got its share - we were still able to get in bike rides every day of our stay. I don't believe in karma, but one might make a convincing case that this was payback for our Memorial Day trip where we hauled the bike 300 miles only to watch it sit forlornly in the steady rain that kept us off it for the entire weekend. Anyway, we rode a total of 62 miles - a metric century, if you care about such things - and nothing fell off the bike, including us. That's always A Very Good Thing.

As an aside, we can remember when we rode that far plus a hundred miles on long weekend trips to the Hill Country. It would be nice to think that we could still do that, but as we get more miles on ourselves, getting more miles on the road no longer holds a great attraction. We just need to ride enough to justify eating well.

Following are a few photos from around the B&B. By the way, in the interest of accuracy in advertising, they should change the name of these facilities to "B&C," where the "C" stands for "coupons." Almost no one still offers breakfast. Instead, you get a coupon to apply towards a meal (generally breakfast or lunch) at a few choices of restaurants. Our hosts provided us with $7 coupons (per person), which we chose to use each morning at the Java Ranch Espresso Bar & Cafe where the kolaches, cinnamon rolls, and pecan coffee are highly recommended.

Photo - Passionflower
This passionflower was blooming in front of our B&B.

Photo - Green Anole
The geckos and green anoles (like this one) were busy
keeping the insect population in check.


Photo - Bugs on Cactus
Well, some insects were spared. These were getting ready to rumble.

Photo - Snails
Conspiratorial gastropods creep me out. They're talking about me, I just know it.

For those who are familiar with the Fredericksburg dining scene, we had dinner at Pasta Bella, Navajo Grill, and Crossroads Steakhouse, and lunch at the Peach Tree Tea Room, Bejas Grill, and Cranky Frank's. Yeah, that's right...not a German restaurant in the bunch. Oh, and we enjoyed fine al fresco dining at Luckenbach on Saturday evening; more about that later. I have to say that the lunches were uniformly superior to the dinners, although Pasta Bella never disappoints.

We made the obligatory side trip to the Wildseed Farms. It was nice to be there in double-digit temperatures. Seems like the last few times we've visited, it's been 100º+. And while it's no longer peak wildflower season, the grounds were in excellent shape, especially the butterfly garden.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
The Wildseed Farms butterfly garden was resplendent.

Photo - Butterfly Garden
We're getting toward the end of butterfly season in Texas,
but that just makes us appreciate those that are left that much more.


As I mentioned above, we played tag with the rainshowers during the entire weekend. We got in a two hour ride Thursday morning without getting out of the city limits (we were checking out real estate), and got back to home base about an hour before the rain started.

On Friday morning - the day that the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain - we contemplated taking a rest, but then decided to try to get in a brief ride. We had a very pleasant 45 minutes on the bike, and returned just as a light sprinkle was beginning. But within 20 minutes after pulling the bike into the house, here's what kicked in:



That's an awfully purty sound to a Texan's ears, especially if you're not hearing it from the soggy seat of a bicycle ten miles from home.

Saturday was clear and cool, if a little breezy, and we did a 30-mile ride into the country, where we enjoyed a number of pleasant and/or provocative sights.

Photo - Rushing river waters
It was good to see water in the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers.

Photo - Road sign
It was also good to know that we could squeak by on the weight limit.

Photo - Mushrooms sprouting in a cow pattie
You know that saying about blooming where you're planting?
Is this what they had in mind?


Photo - Turtle in road
This turtle was obviously disoriented by the rain, as he left the safety
of the mud for the danger of the road. (We rescued him.)


Photo - Rough green snake
This guy (gal?) picked a dangerous spot to catch some rays.

This beautiful creature is a rough green snake (some might refer to it as a grass snake). I had to look it up, because we don't have them in our neck of the woods, unless they're brought in with loads of non-native trees or shrubs. It was laying motionless in the middle of a rural road, one that was fortunately not well-traveled.

He didn't move a scale while I took a series of photos, and, in fact, I finally had to grab his tail to convince him to move off the road and into the pasture.

Photo - Rough green snake
She (he?) was wary but unmoving.

Photo - Rough green snake
Is this a threatening countenance? I think not.
(I've taken a lot of snake photos in my time, but this might be my favorite.)

One of the main reasons we like visiting the Hill Country are the plentiful and diverse choices of live music. There's no lack of dancing opportunities either, although claiming a spot on the dance floor is often a contact sport. (We're not averse to cutting the legs out from under our fellow dancers, provided they're older and slower than us. Which, come to think of it, never happens.)

On Friday night, we moved from the restaurant to the saloon at Crossroads, where a band out of Austin called the Debonaires performed a surprising variety of modern country and classic rock. Seriously guys, the ironic name is fine for those who know you, but we almost skipped it thinking you were a Fifties do-wop group. Not that there's anything wrong with Fifties do-wop, mind you. Crossroads has the world's tiniest dance floor, and some of the most inebriated young-women-whose-dates-won't-dance-with-them-so-they-"dance"-with-each-other. I'd insert air quotes around "dance" if I knew how, but I trust you know what I mean. Nevertheless, we weren't deterred.

Saturday had more opportunities than we could handle. Almost Patsy Cline was performing in Harper at 8:00 p.m., while Chris Story's CD release concert and dance was scheduled at Luckenbach at 9:00. Then, back at Crossroads, Del Castillo was also set for a 9:00 show. We've seen, heard, and danced to all of them, and they're each outstanding in their own way, but we decided to head out to Luckenbach.

We got to Luckenbach early enough to grab something to eat at the walk-up diner, and then got some prime seats inside the dance hall. It was eventually standing room only, and once again we had to fight for space on the dance floor. But that's sorta part of the fun of Luckenbach...it really is a family-friendly venue, and there were kids in strollers and octogenarians, and everything in between.

The band was even more awesome than usual. Chris has brought his band to Midland several times over the past few years, so we knew what to expect. But he's got a new guitar player (who also produced the new CD and wrote many of the songs) and he's absolutely amazing.

If you've been to Luckenbach, you know that the seating is at rows of picnic tables lined up perpendicular to the stage. The bench seating and limited space means that you'll likely be joined by strangers, and we eventually found ourselves surrounded by a group of folks who seemed to know each other, even though they were from different cities. As it turned out, one group was from Big Spring (just a few miles down the road from Midland, for you readers who aren't from our part of the state), and they were so excited to find some other West Texans that we were apparently made honorary family members (right down to the farewell hugs at the end of the night). In addition, one of the men in the group - Bryan Maynard - wrote one of the songs on the CD, which was pretty cool. And, on top of everything else, he gave us a copy of the new CD (entitled Chapter One...you can buy it here, but it's not available for download yet).

By the way, Chris Story and his band will be in Midland - along with Almost Patsy Cline - for the Wine and Music Festival in early October. 

So, that about wraps up our trip report, and...uh...what's that? Shopping? Well, yes, shopping did take place, and I even captured some photographic evidence. Sort of.

If you're a regular visitor to Fredericksburg, you probably know about Madlyn's, a women's clothing and accessories store that's well away for the main shopping area. It's been there forever, and I have no idea how they stay in business - we were there for an hour on Saturday afternoon and were the only customers during that time. But they do manage to stock some good stuff; Debbie seems to always find something and this trip was no exception. But here's what caught my attention:

Photo - Ceiling tiles

Recognize it? Well, sure, it's a section of ceiling tiles, but it's also apparently a part of the store's sound system. As far as I can tell, they've scattered their speakers around the store behind the tiles, so as you walk around the sound sort of fades in and out without an apparent source. It's really not a bad idea. However, it was sort of jarring to hear Texas rock from an Austin radio station coming from the ceiling of a store that caters to women who cut their musical teeth on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Shoe Blues
August 21, 2013 8:37 PM | Posted in: ,

I put on my cycling shoes yesterday and, boy, was I surprised to look down and see this:

Photo of cycling shoe with delaminating sole

Shocking, right? They just don't make shoes like they used to. Where's the pride of craftsmanship, the burning desire to create goods that stand the test of time? I mean, if a pair of cycling shoes will last only 18 years before the sole starts to delaminate, what will be next? A refrigerator that runs only 20 years?

Fortunately, situations like this are precisely why God invented duct tape:

Photo of cycling shoe repaired with duct tape

I think I can get another decade or two out of this.

Recumbent Bicycles for Sale!
June 17, 2013 5:45 PM | Posted in:

[Updated 8/16/13]

It's with greatly mixed emotions that I announce a clearance sale on the inventory of recumbent bicycles now inhabiting our garage. None of these bikes have been ridden in more than a year (and a couple of them have sat idle for about two years), and there's no point other than maudlin sentimentality for keeping them around. I'd rather they be owned by someone who will ride them periodically, if not frequently. 

Besides, it's hard to accumulate new toys when the old ones are taking up space.

These bikes are being offered for sale as is. None of them are anywhere close to being new but they're all in good condition. Nevertheless, the new owners are advised to take them to their favorite local bike shop to get tune-ups (assuming they're not comfortable doing the work themselves), if for no other reason than they've been sitting for a while and the tires, tubes, and lube probably need attention. Also, I don't want to mess with shipping, so you'll need to be prepared to come to Midland, Texas to pick up your purchase.

Here are the bikes being offered for sale. Note: Click on each photo to pop-up a larger and uncropped picture.

Ryan Duplex Tandem - $750 OBO

(Priced new at $2700; no longer in production)

We bought this bike new in 1998; it was our 25th wedding anniversary present to each other. I estimate we've put around 20,000 miles on it over the years, and we accumulated some wonderful memories as a result. But we bought a new tandem recumbent last year and this one is now just gathering dust.

This bike was designed and built by Dick Ryan, the man whom many consider to be the father of modern recumbents, and he definitely built the first commercial tandem 'bents. Only 250 were made; I don't know for sure but I think ours is about #200.

The steel-framed bike features underseat steering. It's one of the safest, most comfortable bikes on the market, due to its long wheelbase, low center of gravity, relaxed seating position, and cool mesh seats. It has V-brakes front and rear, and the rear wheel is also outfitted with a drum brake that's controlled by the stoker (the rider in the rear). The components are Deore XT.

The bike as pictured doesn't have a front fender but I have one that I'll throw into the deal if you think you'll be riding on wet streets (not a huge problem in Midland, you know). The stoker also has a bike computer that's included in the deal, and who can resist the cute pink beeper?

This bike is ideal for cruising the neighborhood, but it's also comfortable and sturdy enough for all day rides (we did a couple of 75+ mile rides on it, as well as riding from Frisco, Colorado, over Vail Pass, down to Vail and then back in one day...one of the best - and toughest - rides of our lives). It has a 24-speed drivetrain and will handle hills just fine if you don't mind spinning up them. 

If you don't like to ride bicycles due to strain on your neck and shoulders, or pressure points on your hands and rear, you'll be delighted at how this bike solves those issues.

The downside to owning this bike is probably obvious: the challenge of transporting it. But we managed to haul it all over the country so it can be done.

Photo - Ryan DuplexPhoto - Ryan DuplexPhoto - Ryan DuplexPhoto - Ryan Duplex

Easy Racer "Black Gold" Gold Rush Replica Sold!

(New models available today starting at $3495)

My wife bought this bike for me in 1999 (I have a very, very nice wife!) and it's been one of the best bicycles I've ever owned. It's the only one of the bikes being offered that's still being manufactured. The Black Gold is an aluminum-framed recumbent and its awkward name comes from the fact that it's modeled after the version that Fast Freddy Markham used to become the first person to exceed 50 mph, then 60 mph, and finally 65 mph on a bicycle. And it is fast.

Components are top-notch (Shimano Deore XTR), with a 24-speed drivetrain, and the seat is even more comfortable than those on the Duplex, although the non-mesh bottom isn't as cool in hot weather. The frame size is L, and according to this document on Easy Racers' website, it will accommodate riders with x-seams ranging from 41.5" to 45".

The fairing is an optional add-on, and is pretty beat up. It doesn't do much for the ride except in a headwind and intensifies road noise, but it's easily removed without tools. But it looks cool.

Again, with its long wheelbase and stretched-out seating position, this bike is very safe and comfortable. However, it also has very quick handling - a characteristic of recumbents in general - so don't expect to do any "look ma, no hands!" tricks...at least, not any successful ones.

This is a versatile bike - you can keep up with the club rides, or outfit it with touring gear and ride across the country.

Photo - Easy Racers Gold Rush ReplicaPhoto - Easy Racers Gold Rush ReplicaPhoto - Easy Racers Gold Rush ReplicaPhoto - Easy Racers Gold Rush Replica

BikeE RX - Free Gone!

(Originally priced at $1800; manufacturer is no longer in business)

We bought this bicycle for my wife in 2001, and it's been ridden less than 200 miles since then, not because it's not a good bike, but simply because she prefers to ride the tandem and isn't interested in riding by herself.

If the preceding two bikes are examples of engineering prowess, the BikeE is the pinnacle of simplicity (but with a few cool design twists). You won't find a simpler frame than the aluminum beam on the RX. This 27-speed bike has SRAM components, a carbon fiber headset extension, and a padded-bottom/mesh-back saddle. It also has a tunable rear air shocks, which is helpful due to the very short wheelbase and stiff frame. The bike comes with a high-pressure pump made especially for the shock, and also a custom-made resistance trainer that attaches to the back wheel if you want to use it as a stationary bike.

The BikeE is best used as a cruiser, for neighborhood rides. While some may find it comfortable for longer rides, I never did.

Important Safety Disclosure - Read carefully!

"So, why so cheap?" you may be asking. The simple answer is that there were two safety recalls issued for this bike, and neither of the issues have been addressed on our model. I don't want to sell a potentially unsafe bicycle to someone else (and though we haven't had any problems with it, we also haven't ridden it that much, other than indoors as a stationary bike). If you'd like to take the bike as is, understanding the potential for risk, and either live with or try to fix the problems yourself, you're welcome to take the bike. In any event, the parts and components might be worth something to a bike-tinkerer. The previous link does contain additional information about the source for parts to fix the two issues. I just don't want to spend any time or money since we don't plan to ever ride the bike.

Photo - BikeEPhoto - BikeEPhoto - BikeEPhoto - BikeE


Smug /sməg/ adj. - Having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one's achievements. e.g. We were smug in the knowledge that we'd accurately gauged that very narrow window between "too cold" and "too windy" and had shoved our bike through it to get in a very pleasant twenty-mile ride.

As I type this, we're experiencing red flag wind conditions (20 mph, gusting to 35), with areas of blowing dust (and tumbleweeds). The winds have been in the weather forecast for almost a week, and we had written off any chance for our regular Saturday bike ride. But when the winds were still relatively calm after breakfast, we decided to take a chance and see if we could beat the forecasted weather front.

We didn't so much beat the wind as we outsmarted it (what is the IQ of energized air molecules, anyway?). We rode out in the direction that we thought the wind would eventually be blowing, and by the time we reached our turnaround point, we had a healthy tailwind. So, not only was the wind not a factor going out, it was actually beneficial coming back, at least until the last few blocks.

At one point, we were riding on smooth new asphalt, cruising easily at 20 mph, and still failing to overtake the swirling eddies of wind-driven sand (this is the place where I'd normally write something witty like "...and Swirling Eddies would be a great name for a rock band" but somebody already beat me to it) roused from the adjacent pasture.



We don't have hills around Midland, unless you count overpasses, which are just as well referred to as "suicide delivery mechanisms" given the traffic around here. Riding in the West Texas wind is a pretty good substitute for hill training, though. The downside is that the blowing dirt is not exactly conducive to healthy respiration. (See also Coccidioidomycosis, or the results of my PET scan.) And with all the construction going on around our city, blowing dirt is an almost daily occurrence.

But, after decades of living here, it's just something you adjust to while giving thanks that you're still able to get out and pedal a bike for twenty miles with your loving and lovely spouse.

Two Things: Venom / Dogma
December 2, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We're deep into the Christmas shopping season and some of you have been asking for gift hints. This post is for you. And by "you," I mean, of course, Warren Buffet or The Sultan of Brunei.

Hennessey Venom GT

Venom GT

Forget 0-60. That's soooo 1960s. Forget 0-100. That's for wannabes. The new gold standard for vehicular excessiveness is 0-200, and the Venom GT - billed by its manufacturer as the world's fastest roadster - will bridge that gap in 15.3 seconds. By contrast, the zillion-dollar Bugatti Veyron, the previous King of the Over the Top Hill is, well, several seconds slower (depending on whether you believe Hennessey's website, or Bugatti's). Of course, one could make a good argument that for normal people (aka, women), a few seconds slower getting to 200 mph is a triviality not worth considering, but for the rest of us, it's major.

The Venom (what is it with the letter "V," by the way, that attracts nasty cars: Venom, Viper, Veyron, Visigoth? OK, I made that last one up, but I would totally be in the market for a pickup called the Visigoth.) has an engine system that allows you to choose your sentencing guidelines: Misdemeanor - 800 hp; Felony - 1,000 hp; Death Row - 1,244 hp. The latter setting works out to about 1 horsepower per 2.2 pounds of weight, which is truly insane for a four-wheeled vehicle.

Hennessey is reportedly making only five Venoms in 2013, so get your order in early. You'll still be behind Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who requested a Venom in convertible form, and was willing to pay $1.1 million for the privilege of being the only person in the world to have one.

Pinarello Dogma 2

Dogma2

Shifting gears while remaining in the gear-shifting realm, the two-wheeled equivalent of the Venom might be Pinarello's Dogma 2, a $20,000 bike (when equipped with high-end components like Campy's Super Record electronic shifting package). Depending on what pedals you put on it, the bike weighs just a whisper over 15 pounds (yielding a HP/lbs ratio of...well, it depends on whether you're Bradley Wiggins or, um...yourself), which is flirting with the minimum allowable weight to compete in the Tour de France (~14.99 pounds). And, speaking of the TdF and Bradley Wiggins, he won it last year on this bike.

It does share a few traits with the Venom. Its primary frame material is carbon fiber, and its styling is guaranteed to distinguish it from your neighbor's Huffy/Pontiac Aztec. And it also represents an investment that's proportionately outrageous for those who can just barely afford one.

Also, both would fit in my garage. *hint, hint*

Two Things
September 29, 2012 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

This is the first in what I hope will be a periodic - if not regular - series in which I share, well, two things. Each pair may or may not have some relationship to each other; it's possible that the only thing they have in common is that they happened to catch my eye at approximately the same time. If that seems lame, you won't get any argument from me. I'm still gonna do it.

Thing The First: The FLIZ

The website is in German, and Google's literal translation feature is occasionally lacking in clarity, but the photos tell the story: you hang from a crotch-chocking harness and try to run/glide, for reasons that are inexplicable no matter what language is used to describe them.

The FLIZ in action

I will readily admit to being attracted to unusual forms of human-powered transportation, but this crosses the line between unusual and creepy/painful. Still, I can admire the quality of the build of this prototype, and the use of dual disc brakes on an apparatus that likely will never go more than 15 mph has a certain irrational appeal. And Schwalbe makes great tires, so it has that going for it. But even the sporty Tour de France-yellow paint job won't save it from being an eternal solution in search of a problem.

Tip o'the cycling cap to My Life In Recline

Thing The Second: The Kel-Tec KSG 12-Gauge Shotgun

Kel-Tec is known throughout the shooting community as a manufacturer of inexpensive-but-competent handguns. Its palm-sized P3-AT .380 Auto is extremely popular as a concealed carry weapon. I've owned one for years, but I only recently learned that Kel-Tec makes rifles, and is a new entrant into the market for tactical shotguns. And their first offering in that category is a fascinating piece of firearmory:

The Kel-Tec KSR shotgun


The KSG (Kel-Tec Shot Gun...they apparently don't spend a lot on branding research) is one bad-looking piece of equipment with its dual-tube magazine tubes (holding 12 rounds) and industrial grade Picatinny upper sight rail. This is not your father's quail hunting boomer, and you wouldn't be allowed through the gate at any trap-shooting establishment. But if you're a shotgun enthusiast, the KSR is almost too cool to ignore.



Got a suggestion for something that's Two Thing-worthy? Email it to fireant@ericsiegmund.com and you might extend your 15 minutes of fame by a nanosecond or two!
An Elliptigo requires a rather significant investment, and the next best thing to actually trying one out is to read some unbiased reviews by owners of the machines. I think I posted a pretty objective and semi-detailed report here, but I barely scratched the surface compared to what this guy is doing.

When I first visited ElliptiGo Galveston, it took me a while to figure out that the writer wasn't really a dealer. It's one of the most thorough product review websites I've ever seen. I can also relate to his experiences regarding the [literal] pains of traditional bicycling for men of - how shall we put it? - a certain age.

So, if you're undecided, or just seeking some additional input or resources about the bikes, I highly recommend spending some time on the site.

Bike Racked
July 22, 2012 6:38 PM | Posted in:

I'm back in town after about ten days of vacation. A day or so before we headed out, I took delivery of a new bike rack which I hoped would solve the dilemma of how to transport our recumbent tandem.

It's a hitch rack that accommodates up to four bicycles, so I figured that it would surely hold two halves of one bike. What I didn't count on was the challenge of mounting the bike given its rather unusual and unconventional arrangement of frame tubes. But I'm happy to report that after a little remodeling of the rack, the tandem pieces fit securely onto the rack. It's not the most elegant arrangement, but it works. Here's the proof.

Photo of bike on rack
Photo of bike on rack

Couple of things to note. These photos were taken just to prove the concept, as it were. So in  real life, the chain won't dangle, and I'll leave the front wheel mounted. However, I may remove the seat from the half that's upside-down. I don't think it's in the line of fire of any tire-launched debris, but I may not want to chance it.

I'm quite happy with the rack itself (and with the half-price sale at Nashbar). It's sturdy and well-built, and it came with a long heavy-duty cable lock, as well as a hitch receiver lock. I especially like the hitch tightening system that allows you to remove all the slack between the rack and the receiver, eliminating all wobble. And the rack folds down far enough to open the truck's tailgate to access both the bed and the "trunk" in the bed.

I'm also getting better at disassembling and reassembling the bike. Each process now takes less than ten minutes. And now that I've figured out that I don't have to break the chain each time, I have a lot more confidence that we'll be able to ride without fear of repeating a certain ugly incident that doesn't merit recital but you may know what I'm talking about.

Hot Trike
June 27, 2012 10:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Why didn't we have these when I was a mere yute?

Photo of souped-up tricycle

"Honey, I shrunk the bike"
June 20, 2012 10:28 PM | Posted in:

I finally got around to trying my hand at disassembling our new tandem and figuring out how to load it into the truck. I'm not entirely pleased with either activity, but I figure they'll improve with practice.

The biggest problem I had was removing the timing chain. For you non-tandemists, that's the chain that connects the front pedals to the rear pedals, and keeps the riders in sync (hence the "timing" appellation). Unlike with a normal bicycle chain that runs through a derailleur, there's absolutely no slack in the timing chain, and reassembling it would go smoother if I had a couple of extra hands. Fortunately, I have a special tool that allows me to squeeze the loose ends of the chain together and holds them in place while I reinsert the pin that holds the links together.

The actual couplings built into the frame are very easy to disconnect and reconnect, as are the cable couplings. There are two frame couplings and four cable couplings. I initially noticed only three of the latter, and had everything disconnected when I discovered that I'd overlooked one. Much hilarity ensued as I tried to hold the two halves of the frame together with one hand while attempting to unscrew the final cable coupling with the other. Also, certain words may have been uttered.

Here's what the bike looks like broken in two. In case it's not obvious, the first photo is of the back half, and the second photo shows the front half turned upside down.

Photo
Photo

The two halves fit in the bed of the Ridgeline...barely. I had to remove both wheels, and the tie-down job looks like something out of The Grapes of Wrath. I've decided that the optimal solution for transporting this bike is a hitch-mounted rack. I'll have to remove both seats, but that's a pretty simple process. (The extra-wide handlebars may present a bigger challenge, though. Where's my hacksaw?) The current system pretty much makes the truck bed useless for hauling anything else, and access to the storage compartment is blocked. Plus, it takes 30 minutes to strap everything down securely.

Photo

On the upside, the bike clears the garage door opening. Not that I would ever drive under a low-hanging obstacle like, say, the entrance to a certain hotel in Amarillo, Texas.

Life with the new Elliptigo
June 2, 2012 7:11 AM | Posted in: ,

We've had our Elliptigo for about two months, and the Gulfstream recumbent tandem for almost a month, but we still have surprisingly little experience with either one. This is due to a combination of travel schedules, weather, assorted family issues, and, you know, just life in general playing hob with our leisure plans.

I have been able to take the Elliptigo out for a couple of extended rides, one for 10 miles and another for 12, plus a handful of shorter cruises around the neighborhood, and I can share a few observations for anyone who is contemplating an investment in this peculiar form of transportative exercism.

  • The Elliptigo has the aerodynamic precision of a dumpster (I almost compared it to the south end of a north-bound dump truck, but I guess there could be wind-cheating dump trucks somewhere in the world). The tiny wheels and inherent pedaling motion guarantee a workout in any conditions, but add a little headwind and you'll empathize with the Tour de France cyclists laboring up Alpe d'Huez.

  • The bike is not well-suited for rough pavement, or unpaved trails. The aforementioned small wheels, high-pressure tires (100 psi), and stiff frame transmit every bump and hole to the rider. The bike feels solid for the most part, but it's not something you'd want to jump curbs with.

  • Photo
    Not me. And not Midland.
    I'd pay to see a circus act featuring someone skilled enough to ride an Elliptigo hands-free, because I don't think it can be done. The handling is plenty stable if you have a good grip on the bars, but "squirrelly" is an understated adjective for riding with one hand. The rake (or trail? I always get 'em confused) of the front fork combined with the exaggerated "pedaling" motion is such that you need to concentrate on what you're doing. Now, I'm sure this will be less of an issue with practice, but it's never going to disappear. 

  • One important implication of the preceding observation is that a hydration pack is almost essential for rides long enough (or in hot enough weather) to require water. This assumes that you won't pull over for a drink...I've never seen anyone serious about exercising who's willing to do that. The act of extracting a water bottle from a cage with one hand, taking a drink, and returning it to the cage requires skill and balance that's beyond me, and I think I'm fairly competent in both areas. Plus, there's really no good place to mount a water bottle cage other than on the handlebar.

  • I'm not sure whether I've dialed in the proper riding position; the user guide is so intent on warning you about all the ways you can die on the bike that it neglects to talk much about ergonomics. Although, really, there are only a couple of adjustments you can make: the position of the handlebars and their height. The latter is the more important of the two. I think the first time I went for a long ride, the handlebar height was too low and I experienced some back pain as a result. I raised the bars for the second ride and that helped.

  • Did I mention that riding the Elliptigo provides a good workout? As in death-march-brutal-slog-cry-all-the-way-home good? Sure, you can coast (which turns out to be surprisingly uncomfortable until you find the sweet spot of body position relative to foot placement), but if you have only 30 minutes for a workout and you don't want to suffer through a boring indoor routine, this device will git 'er done. It stresses body parts that don't get much attention during regular cycling or running workouts, not to mention providing a powerful aerobic routine. [Disclosure: I've never been an aficionado of stationary elliptical trainers, so I didn't come to the Elliptigo with a relevant base of fitness. In other words, I have no muscle memory to help me; your mileage and/or pain threshold may vary.] 

    It does give one a deeper appreciation of what this guy is accomplishing:


  • For what it's worth, I averaged about 13 mph for the two longer rides. Both were on fairly windy days, which is par for the course in our neck of the desert. I haven't mounted a computer on the bike, but the MapMyRide iPhone app does a great job of keeping track of the important stats.
I realize this seems to be a lengthy laundry list of Things I Don't Like About the Elliptigo, but in reality, I think it's both a lot of fun, and an efficient way to get some exercise at your own pace. I like not having to wear special shoes or workout-specific clothing. But it's an expensive machine, so it's important to understand as many pros and cons before making the investment.

By the way, if you decide to buy one, please treat it as a regular bicycle when it comes to the rules of the road. Ride with traffic, not against it, and wear a helmet (which I do faithfully, despite what you saw in the video). And be prepared to return many smiles of passing motorists...even if you can't take your hand off the bars to return their waves.

And speaking of bicycles, I'll have a similar report on the Gulfstream soon. We've had some interesting challenges with it.

The Stupidity Cycle Pedals Onward
May 16, 2012 5:48 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't know why I waste my time reading Facebook comments (other than those left on my own posts; all of my friends are consistently intelligent and full of grace). The level of sheer stupidity and/or cluelessness is enough to make one weep for the future of our society. But, like a moth drawn to a nuclear reactor in full meltdown, I can't seem to resist, and so I found myself scrolling through the comments on a question posed by one of our local TV stations, to wit:

The "Ride of Silence" will start at 7PM tonight, from the UTPB CEED Building at SH 191 & FM 1788. What do you think needs to be done to improve bicycle safety?

The "Ride of Silence" is a bicycle ride honoring the memory of cyclists who have been killed in Midland county. (One of those, George Hoffman, was a high school classmate in Fort Stockton.)

I hoped to see some constructive suggestions in the comments, perhaps along the lines of "motorists need to exercise more caution," or "drivers need to stop texting while driving," but instead I saw a string of complaints about having to share the road with those idiot bicycle riders. Meh. I've heard all that before, but then I saw this comment, and couldn't help going into Mel Gibson Answering Machine mode:

Screen capture of stupid Facebook comment

I've blurred the name of the, um, fellow who left this stupefyingly inaccurate comment, to spare him the embarrassment of being recognized as someone who can't sit on a bicycle saddle because his head is in the way.

My response was simple and to the point (as well as utterly ineffective, I have no doubt): You don't have a clue about Texas vehicle laws, do you? Misinformed people help make bicycling more dangerous than it needs to be.

I believe that. If a driver sets out with the mindset that all bicyclists who ride in the street or attempt to exercise the same rights as a motorist are lawbreakers, he or she will be angry, and that anger will affect their driving, perhaps unconsciously but still in a real and dangerous manner.

I've ridden more than 25,000 miles through the years on the streets and highways of Midland and Ector counties, and can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt threatened by drivers. In every case, I could sense a tangible, if inexplicable expression of anger on the part of the motorist who was intent on putting me in harm's way, and I suspect they were driving under the same misconceptions held by the ignorant fool who posted the comment shown above.

I would have thought that by now we didn't have to re-plow the Texas Bicycle Laws furrow, but there's apparently a need for continuing education. For those who already know this, you can move along, but for anyone googling something like "idiot bicyclists who don't know the laws of Texas" perhaps you'll follow this link and learn something that will cause you to adjust your attitude. Based on what I see on Facebook, it's a hope held in vain, but I must try.

And if you're too lazy or disinterested to follow the link, I'll simply sum up the relevant law: Texas bicyclists are considered vehicles (NOT pedestrians, Mr. Used To Be A Bike Racer In Abilene), and as such have the same responsibilities AND rights as motorists, unless specifically legislated otherwise.

If I seem a little exercised about this issue, please understand that for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.

Bicycle Assemblage
May 12, 2012 7:30 AM | Posted in:

Ever wonder how one goes about assembling a 10-foot-long bicycle in nine minutes? Wonder no more. (Try to ignore all the shots of my butt. I'm apparently not very camera-aware.)

Cruising the Gulfstream
May 11, 2012 9:24 AM | Posted in:

Hi, Greg. Our 13-year old Duplex is starting to show its age and we're considering a new Gulfstream. We'd like to have a bike that's more convenient to travel with, and the option of having 8 S&S couplings with the travel cases is intriguing.

What is the upcharge for that option? Also, what is the lead time for building a Gulfstream with that option? We're planning to be in Colorado in mid-July and if the timing would work out, we could stop by and pick up the bike.

And, finally, what sort of deposit do you require?

Thanks for your help with these questions.

That relatively innocuous email was sent to Greg Peek, founder and owner of American Track Roadsters (which builds cars) and Longbikes (which builds bicycles). That message was emailed on May 17, 2011. Almost a year to the day, this showed up on our front porch:

Photo - Bike in box

It's our new, made-to-order Gulfstream recumbent tandem. I spent a couple of hours yesterday assembling it, and here are some photos of the almost-finished product. (Still to come: better pedals, fenders, computers, rear rack, and Hurst 6-on-the-floor shifter. OK, I'm kidding about that last thing.) Click on the little pics to see the big ones.




There's also a lot of tweaking left to be done. This bike has a lot more flexibility in setting up the riders' positions than our old bike, and I suspect it will take a few rides to get everything just right.

I haven't tried out the S&S couplings, the connectors that allow us to split the bike in two for easier transport. I hope it's easier than it sounds.

It's been a long and sometimes frustrating project. We almost gave up a couple of times because of the delays, but now that it's here, I have to admit that it's worth the wait. The quality of engineering, build, and attention to detail are impressive, and while these photos don't capture it, the dark maroon (surprise!) metallic paint job is going to rock in bright sunlight. Greg Peek has definitely improved on the design of the original model, Dick Ryan's Duplex, which has always been the gold standard for 'bent tandems.

Watch for us on the road!

Elliptigo Bike: First Report
April 6, 2012 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

We took delivery of our Elliptgo bike last Wednesday and we finally had some time today to play with it a bit. Here's a video of our trial runs up and down the cul-de-sac in front of our house.



I found the bike very easy to master; after about ten minutes, I felt completely in control. Debbie is having a somewhat steeper learning curve, but that's because she's been accustomed to riding on the back of a tandem bicycle for the past twenty years and hasn't had to worry about minor details like steering, shifting gears, and braking. But, as you can see in the movie, she's doing just fine.

The bike definitely provides a vigorous workout, which shouldn't surprise anyone who's used an indoor elliptical trainer. The motion is identical, although the bike has regular handlebars so you're not getting an upper body workout. (The thought of adding those moving bars to the bike is downright frightening.)

The bike itself is well-made, with quality components. The welds are thick and uniform, probably equal to the standards you'd find on a good mountain bike. The 8-speed gear systems shifts easily and reliably and the brakes are scary good.

Photo - Roller and railOne slightly disconcerting feature is the noise of the bike, caused by the rollers attached to the "pedals" sliding up and down channels (see photo at right). I can't think of an alternate design that would eliminate that noise, but you probably won't need a handlebar bell to let pedestrians know you're coming up behind them.

The bike comes with a owner's manual chock full of warnings and alerts about the dangers of riding this contraption. There are at least six stern warnings about the fact that you are very tall when astride the Elliptigo, putting you in danger of "serious injury or death" should you forget your height and attempt to ride under short things like power lines or taxiing aircraft. As you can tell in the video, I take those warnings seriously, donning my protective Fire Ant Gazette Anti-Trauma Baseball Cap. Don't be like me, kiddies; wear a helmet.

The Elliptigo owners community appears to be a large and active one, judging by its Facebook page. The sport is now spawning support industries, such as elliptical biking shoes (although as far as I can tell, they're just repurposing some athletic shoes for this type of riding).

I don't think this will supplant our regular biking equipment, but it will certainly be a viable cross-training (and pleasure cruising) alternative. It's especially welcome for those inevitable times that running is out of the question due to injury, something I'm dealing with right now.

Bottom line: the Elliptigo bike is cool enough, fun enough, and practical enough to warrant getting another one so that we can "ride" together.

A Vicarious Ride Across Texas
April 2, 2012 9:07 PM | Posted in: ,

I can't remember how I came across this blog, descriptively entitled "Southern Tier Bicycle Tour- 2012," but it's one I find myself visiting daily. It's the account of a couple traveling by bike across the US, and while a good number of people do this each year (and blog about it), it's pretty rare that they choose a southerly route that takes them across some of the most desolate parts of Texas.

Beginning with their entry into the Lone Star State from Deming, New Mexico, continuing past Van Horn and around the Davis Mountains, and on into the Hill Country, the couple is documenting their impressions of Texas (and Texans). Their photography is beautiful, capturing not only some of the freedom and adventure (and angst) of unsupported cycling, but also the dramatic range of experiences that we Texans might sometimes take for granted. I recommend it.

You can start here if you like, as they first ease their way into lovely Anthony, Texas. If you read far enough, you'll eventually learn the meaning of "PUDs" (which, for my petroleum engineering friends, isn't what you think).

Their experiences in the Hill Country are especially interesting as they ride over some of the same roads - and make some of the same climbs - Debbie and I have done for years. I never had the forethought (or patience) to stop and take photos, although some of those hills are indelibly etched in my memory.

Safe Bicycling Route in Midland, Texas
March 26, 2012 9:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: The overly precise and unimaginative post title is designed for maximum search engine-friendliness. This is more or less a public service article.

Several people have recently asked us where we ride our bicycle in Midland. They're either new to the city, or new to our neighborhood, and they haven't found a route that has the right mixture of safety, scenery, and mileage.

Debbie and I have found a route - with several variations - that provides that mix for us. It may not work for everyone, and it works best for those who live outside of Loop 250, but we've received enough questions about it that it seems worthwhile to create a post that will provide someone doing a web search for phrases like "Midland Texas bike route" or "bicycle route in Midland" with more details.

Below is a Google Earth screenshot; the route is shown in yellow. I've assumed a starting point at the intersection of north "A" Street and Mockingbird Lane. As shown, it's about 12 miles in length, and runs to Highway 158, on the western edge of the city. 

The route crosses a couple of busy streets, but not at busy intersections, if that makes sense. The busiest intersection (Briarwood and Holiday Hill) has a traffic signal and is relatively bike-friendly. Otherwise, the entire route consists of neighborhood streets and even bypasses all school zones and the associated congestion that occurs around them during certain times of the day.

Screen capture
If you want a more interactive and detailed version of the route, I've created a KMZ file that can be opened with either Google Earth or Google Map. If you use the latter program, you can click the "Play Tour" button and "fly" through the entire route. To use the Tour feature, click on the route title in the Google Earth sidebar to select it, then click the inscrutable icon beneath that title (see screenshot at right; said inscrutable icon is circled in yellow).

Opening the route file in Google Maps or Google Earth is easy. Download this file to your hard drive, then start up your preferred application and click the "Open" option under the "File" menu item at the top of the window. (In Google Maps, you have the additional option to import the file using its URL: http://www.ericsiegmund.com/fireant/MidlandTexasBikeRoute.kmz.) The route will be overlaid onto the map and the program will automatically zoom in or out to show the entire route. You can then zoom further for more details.

I've also inserted a few waypoints with notes about the route. There are some new sections of streets that provide cyclists with the ability to avoid some busier routes, and I've also noted some route options that you can use to increase your mileage or vary the scenery.

Screen capture

If you're new to Midland, I recommend riding through the Green Tree development, entering either from the west via Holiday Hill Road, or from the south via Oriole Drive. This will add a couple of miles of low-traffic riding to the route, if you ride the north and south loops of the development.

Incidentally, it's probably already obvious to you, but if you want hill training, you should consider relocating. Over this twelve-mile route, the elevation change is less than 70'. There's one point along the route where the grade is almost 3% (gasp!), but that's the closest you'll get to a climb. On the other hand, the West Texas winds more than make up for the lack of hills.

I noticed something interesting while reviewing the flyover. In more than 12 miles of riding through city streets, I counted fewer than 35 cars on the route. The date on the satellite photo was June 16, 2011, which was a Thursday, so there was no apparent reason for an absence of traffic. Regardless of the reason, it makes for happy cycling!

Another Bicycling Video
March 25, 2012 9:59 PM | Posted in:

Yesterday morning, Debbie and I took the recumbent tandem out for a 26-mile ride in perfect weather, through the streets of north Midland. It had been a while - OK, months - since I'd used the GoPro HD video camera on the bike, and I had a new mount purchased in San Antonio a couple of weekends earlier, so I decided to affix the camera to the head tube of the bike (that's the frontmost tube on the frame, over the front wheel, for those who aren't cycling experts) and record our ride.

Since I hadn't fully charged the camera's battery, I set it to take stop action still photos, one per five seconds. The following video contains those 1,400 some odd pictures, assembled on a Mac Pro in iMovie '11. I wish I'd added some background music, but I didn't think about it until it was too late.
 

If you have the patience to sit through the entire three minutes, you'll notice a couple of places where the camera seems fixated on the front tire and pavement. That happened because I didn't tighten the mounting joints enough and a couple of hard bumps knocked the housing downward.

Some interesting notes for Midlanders who are looking for cycling routes through the city. First, we discovered that you can now pedal through Grasslands West and exit directly onto Highway 158, without having to get on the 191 service road. It's going to be a welcome and safer option for coming back to Midland from rides along 191.

Also, Mockingbird Lane now connects to Garfield Street from Midkiff Street. It's not open to car traffic yet, but cyclists will find new, smooth asphalt.

Bicycle Built for Few
February 29, 2012 9:17 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the things I've always loved about bicycles is their functional simplicity. There's not much fluff on a bike; every component is present for a reason, and - generally speaking - Photo of rear derailleurthat reason is to direct and amplify the human body's effort to move forward. Feet connect to pedals, pedals to chain, chain to wheel, wheel to pavement. It doesn't get much more simple than that. Bicycles need nothing except a rider to complete them.

And so it seems almost outlandish to read a sentence like this:

Campy says future firmwear updates may speed the derailleur's reaction.

This was a comment in the latest issue of Bicycling Magazine, taken from a brief review of Campagnolo's Record EPS gruppo (which, for the non-cyclist, is the group of components that form the drivetrain for the bike: the shifters, derailleurs, gears, etc.). The hot new thing in cycling is electronic shifting, where a touch of a button relieves the rider from the dreariness of having to touch a lever to change gears.

You know me. I'm hardly a Luddite. But...seriously? Do we really need bicycles that need batteries and - heaven help us - firmware updates? Isn't it enough that our TV sets and coffee makers now have firmware?

Some of my fondest cycling memories were of riding my old single speed bike up and down the street in front our house in Fort Stockton, attempting to hit the coaster brake at just the right instant when my rear tire was directly on top of a flattened soft drink can, in order to elicit a barely controlled skid that not only sounded like an out-of-control threshing machine, but would also generate a flurry of sparks to rival any fireworks show. OK, I made that last part up, but in my mind, sparks were flying.

Such simple pleasures. Can you actually duplicate those things on a bicycle costing $15,000 (which was the price of the test bike in the article mentioned above)? I think not. 

Really. Electronic shifting on a bicycle. This is progress?

Umm. I'll let you know how it works. ;-)

The present tense of "brake" is "broken"
January 15, 2012 7:18 AM | Posted in:

Don't you hate it when this happens?

Broken bicycle brake

What you're looking at is the sad sight of a broken bicycle brake. I've never seen - or even heard - of this happening before. It appears to be metal fatigue; the aluminum casting just split. I would not have guessed that the brake housing is subject to such excessive stress. On the other hand, the bike is almost fifteen years old, and this is original equipment.

We were about halfway into our ride yesterday when we pulled up to an intersection and hit the brakes to yield the right of way to an oncoming car. The brake gave way and I thought a cable had snapped.

Fortunately, this is the control for the rear brake, and since our bike has a second rear brake which Debbie controls, we still had plenty of stopping power. But we'll certainly need to get a replacement.

This close-up photo also reveals the effects of sweat running off my hand and onto the brake housing. I need to run a wire brush over the metal, although I guess it's a moot point now.

TiGr Bike Lock
November 20, 2011 7:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Update (2/2012): The Tigr Lock website has launched and the locks are now available for purchase. They're not inexpensive, but they're also not cheap, if you know what I mean.

I took delivery of a new bike lock yesterday. I realize that sounds like dull news, or no news at all, but it's actually quite exciting. I've been anticipating this since I first found the project on Kickstarter. The inventor's fundraising efforts were quite successful, as he got almost three times the amount of money he initially sought, proof that his concept was attractive to a lot of people. I signed up as a backer, which is why I got one before they hit the general market.

That concept is simple: create a bicycle lock that's light and yet almost impossible to break, a combination that's the locksmith's holy grail. Most bike locks are either very bulky and heavy, or too flimsy to provide real security. And even the bulkiest locks are subject to breakage by a determined thief with a small hydraulic jack.





The TiGR lock overcomes these challenges in elegant fashion. In fact, the lock's slogan is "Elegant Bike Security." The lock consists of a 48" long, 1/8" thick strip of titanium bent in the middle. The two ends are brought together into a cylindrical lock that spins freely, meaning that it can't be twisted off. The flexibility of the long strip of titanium makes it immune to jacking, and the inherent toughness of the metal means that a thief would need a lot of time and some serious power tools to cut it. This is the sort of lock that makes thieves look for easier prey.

The length and flexibility of the lock's body means that it's easier to secure your bike to an immovable object like a light pole or parking meter.

The only downside I see to the lock is that transporting is less than, ah, elegant. It comes with a couple of velcro strap and the suggestion is to affix it to one of your bike's frame tubes. That will work, but won't look great. That's probably a small price to pay for peace of mind.

I'm not sure when the TiGr lock will be available to the public, or what the final pricing will be. I'm not sure they're set up for manufacturing in mass quantities but I suspect that will come once word gets out. The only other thing they need to fix is their QR code imprinting process, as shown in the third photo above. My phone won't scan it. That just won't do; I insist that my bike locks be scannable!

Seal Coating and Bicyclists
August 17, 2011 9:36 AM | Posted in: ,

The City of Midland's ACTSSC Program (Annual Campaign To Stop Safe Cycling) is well underway, as it seeks to identify the smoothest, most comfortable sections of pavement in the least-traveled neighborhoods. Those bucolic byways are then targeted for tar and gravel in mass quantities scientifically calculated to wreak the most havoc on bicyclists and their machines. 

It's a wonderfully effective program, taking all but the most foolhardy cyclists off the roads during the warm and dry months of the summer and early fall, and putting them back into cars where they belong.

The genius of the approach is in its multi-faceted implementation of impediments to bicycling. The seal coating obscures all striping on the roads, affirming the rights of SUV drivers to cruise any dang place on the road they desire. The tar melts and remelts throughout the summer, gumming up bicycle drivetrains and spotting carbon-fiber frames. The sharp-edged gravel works better than broken glass to carve up expensive tires. And the way the gravel inevitably organizes and collects itself in an almost sentient behavior, settling near the roadway gutter and at all intersections, assures that the cyclist will continue to encounter hazards for months after the seasonal end of ACTSSC.

I'm sure there's an award category for which I can nominate the City for its efforts on behalf of citizen cyclists...perhaps something under the auspices of the Marquis de Sade Society?
The post title is a little provocative but not technically inaccurate. See, MLB gave me one of these for my birthday and I finally figured out how to work it well enough to wear it on our tandem ride today through north Midland this morning. While the actual footage of the 22 mile jaunt is around 90 minutes (including some preliminary and post-ride scenes), I didn't figure anyone would actually be that interested in a tour of our fair city, so I compressed the timeline just the teensiest bit...well, by 800%, to be exact.

GoPro HD Helmet HEROIn case you're too busy to follow the link above, the "one of these" I'm referring to is a GoPro HD Helmet HERO video camera and housing, complete with a helmet mount. It's a wee little guy, weighing less than 4 ounces with battery, and under 6 ounces including the housing. It came with a couple of methods of helmet attachment, including a complicated harness that looks like something they'd put on Hannibal Lecter. I opted for the simpler - albeit no less nerdy-looking - "vented helmet straps" that weave through the holes in the typical modern bike helmet. The camera is snug and secure, but gives the wearer the appearance of, as Debbie put it, Marvin the Martian. Of course, that's a good look for me, so I went with it.

This truly is an amazing little tyke, capable of full 1080p HD video and 5 megapixel stills. With the right housing back, you can take it 180 feet underwater, and it comes with interchangeable backs that are rated for mounting speeds in excess of 120 mph on your car's hood or motorcycle handlebar. Video is recorded on a standard SDHC card (up to 9 hours on a 32 gig card). You can even program the camera to take a series of stills at fixed intervals ranging from 1-60 seconds, for that time-lapse masterpiece you've been planning.

I'd love to take it skiing, but I don't do that anymore, so cycling will probably be the most common application (although I'm considering mounting it on my lawnmower for a truly awesome view of lawn care). And maybe someday I'll have a chance to go scuba diving again. The HERO is totally coming along if that happens.

So, here's the vid from this morning, pretty much unedited except for that speeding up thing I mentioned. I might later post a more leisurely version of parts of the ride so you can see what our normal cycling routes look like, but this will have to do for now.


According to Wikipedia, there are about 200 bicycle sharing systems worldwide. Fewer than 10% of those are in the United States, and one of those is the B-cycle program in Denver

B-cycle is actually a multi-city program, with installations in six other US cities (including San Antonio). We checked out the Denver installation today and found it to be an impressive service, but highly dependent on the having the right infrastructure.

The concept is simple: check out a bicycle for a nominal fee (which is charged to a credit or debit card) and use the bike for short trips throughout the service area. If you use the bike for trips of less than 30 minutes, you're not charged any additional fees; longer usage times incur increasingly expensive fees. The idea is to keep people from tying up the bikes for long periods, thus making them unavailable to others.

You can buy a 24-hour pass, good for unlimited rides of 30 minutes or less, for $6.00. Residents can purchase memberships that provide more access, and also provide automatic tracking of mileage, average speed, time ridden, etc., thanks to the GPS and RFID technology built into the bikes and the checkout stations.

Denver has 500 bikes in the program, with 50 check-out stations scattered mostly around downtown and in the most popular retail districts that are accessible via the city's amazing network of bike trails.

And it's those bike trails, as well as a general overall bike-friendly philosophy that make the B-cycle concept successful. It's one thing to have access to the bicycles themselves; it's quite another to have a safe and enjoyable environment for using them. 

Denver has a quite laid-back attitude toward cyclists. For example, although cycling on downtown sidewalks is technically discouraged, as long as you're not out of control, nobody really cares. Cars give cyclists the benefit of the doubt, a refreshing change from the often hostile attitudes we encounter in West Texas. And, as I mentioned previously, Denver's system of dedicated bike trails, and clearly marked, wide bike lanes make it possible to get almost anywhere by bicycle without competing with auto traffic. 

Thus, while such a program sounds attractive for any city, it would be less so in practice than in theory for most locations. A successful bike sharing program first requires a culture of bicycle acceptance (or, better, encouragement), followed by creation of an infrastructure to support the program. For many (most?) cities in the US, I suspect this is never going to happen. More's the pity.

If you ever find yourself in downtown Denver for several days, I highly recommend trying out the B-cycle system. It's a great way to get around the area without worrying about driving or parking. The bikes are well-maintained and easy to ride, even for an inexperienced cyclist.
You know that bit of dialog in Joe vs. the Volcano, where the chauffeur, Marshall, (played by Ossie Davis) is giving Joe (played by Tom Hanks) some fashion advice? It goes something like this:

Marshall: What kind of clothes you got?

Joe: Uh, they're like these I'm wearing.

Marshall: So you got no clothes.

That exact line of conversation applies to Midland's bike paths. Technically, we have 'em (although they're just called "routes" and are indistinguishable from "streets") but from a practical perspective, we have no bike paths.

I suspect that if you were to poll all the bicyclists in Midland about their wish list for making the city more bike-friendly, the ability to safely ride from north of Loop 250 to south of the Loop and back again would be at the top of the list.

Of the nine major intersections along Loop 250, only three (Thomason Drive, Tremont, and "A" Street) are generally safe for cyclists. The Garfield intersection is dicey, depending on the time of day, and all the others are accidents waiting to happen. Loop 250 presents an almost insurmountable barrier to anyone wanting to commute by bicycle to a destination that's on the other side of that highway.

I've been giving this some thought and there's a simple solution: create a bike/hike path that connects intersection of "A" Street and Loop 250, and Airpark Road just west of the Claydesta Post Office. I chose "A" Street because it's the only "3-way" intersection with the Loop, meaning that it's got much less traffic, generally speaking, than the others. Plus, there's a pretty logical route extending from that point that has absolutely no intersections with traffic.

Having trouble visualizing how that would work? Here's a map:


View more details regarding the Proposed Airpark Bike Path.

The blue line represents the proposed route. It basically parallels the fence line of Midland Airpark. I'm sure there will never be any other type of development along this route as long as Airpark is operational, so that space seems perfect for a six or eight foot wide path.

I said the solution was simple; I didn't say it would be cheap. This route is almost exactly one mile in length. Depending on who you believe, the cost for a bike path is $50,000 - $1 million per mile. I suspect ours would be closer to the lower end of the spectrum due to the relatively flat ground, but that's still some serious change. And that doesn't include the required bridge over the drainage channel at the intersection of "A" and Loop 250.

On the upside, I assume that the City already owns all the property over which this route runs, as part of Airpark. If that's the case, the project would involve potentially messy easement negotiations.

I have no idea whether this project is feasible, or how one would even get it off the ground. I'm sure there are grants for this sort of thing. It just seems to me that opening up a safe conduit past Loop 250 for cyclists and hikers would be something the city would want to pursue, and it would finally allow us to rightfully claim that we've got a useful bike path Any thoughts or ideas you have would be appreciated; leave 'em in the comments.

And, as long as we're brainstorming and thinking big, consider how this could be the first leg of a path that would extend around the entire perimeter of the Wadley/Garfield/Loop 250/"A" Street square. This 4-mile stretch could become a real showcase for Midland's commitment to improving recreation and alternative transportation opportunities for its citizens.

Bike Shopping
May 18, 2011 2:15 PM | Posted in:

Our 13-year-old Ryan Duplex recumbent tandem is starting to show its age (aren't we all?). It's been a great bike and over the thousands of miles we've had it, we've had to walk home only once (well, twice...but the second time was my fault, not the bike's) due to a mechanical problem. And even that was possibly due to a less-than-perfect repair job by someone who should have known better. We've certainly gotten our money's worth, and it's still quite rideable, but technology has advanced, and we're getting the itch to update our steel steed.

Here's what we're considering: a Gulfstream, manufactured by Longbikes, based in Englewood, Colorado. The Gulfstream looks similar to the Duplex for good reason. In 1999, Dick Ryan sold his company to Longbikes and they took over the manufacturing. (According to this article, Ryan repurchased the company, but I'm pretty sure it's not in active business.) Longbikes has tweaked the design and components to produce a bike with cleaner lines and to take advantage of technological advances such as disk brakes.

Photo - Gulfstream Recumbent Tandem

Another reason for upgrading is that the transport of the Duplex has grown increasingly problematic. We'll solve this issue by having two S&S couplings installed on the new bike which will allow us to easily (uh, I hope) break the bike into two halves, which will solve our transportation issues. (The photo above shows the two couplings on the main tubes, just behind the front seat.) We briefly considered the option of eight couplings, which allows the bike to be transported in two suitcases, but changed our minds when the president of Longbikes dissuaded us due to the excessive complexity of the manufacturing (and the additional $3,000 had a little to do with the change of heart!).

There are any number of different recumbent tandem designs, and some are no doubt faster and sportier-looking, but I can't imagine any of them offer a better combination of comfort and stability than this one.

While we haven't definitely decided to pull the trigger on this new acquisition, it's pretty appealing. And if we could work the timing so that we were able to drive to Colorado for a vacation and pick up the new bike on the way, that would be awesome. Some of our best vacation and cycling memories are of riding the Duplex around Summit County, CO.

So, stay tuned and we'll keep you up-to-date. We still have to jump the biggest hurdle: what color should the new bike be? For some odd reason, maroon seems to keeping bubbling to the top.

Brain Wracking Rack
April 5, 2011 2:26 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the challenges of owning a bicycle with a wheelbase of more than 9' is transporting it. Conventional bike racks just don't work.

In the past, we've used a Thule roof rack system along with a Thule tandem carrier that I extended with a length of square tubing and a second welded-on "foot" for attaching it to the rack. Here's what the bike looked like mounted on our previous vehicle, a Dodge Durango.


As you can imagine, lifting a 50 pound bike up and onto the carrier was quite a job. Fortunately, I was able to effectively supervise my wife as she did the job and I thought it worked quite well. OK, you got me...this was a two-person job, one of which I could never farm out to somebody else.

Now that we have a pickup, you'd think the job would be considerably easier, wouldn't you? But the bike's wheelbase is only about a half foot shorter than the truck's, and the bike is several feet longer than the truck bed with the tailgate down. Nevertheless, by continuing to use the Thule carrier and enough tie-downs to moor the Queen Elizabeth, we can transport the bike in the Ridgeline's bed in effective, if ungainly, fashion. Click on the following photos for evidence.


Now, the issue should be obvious. While the bike is quite secure, I worry about it extending so far in back of the vehicle. There's little chance that someone would run into it during the daytime (it's apparently quite an eye-catching sight traveling down the highway, judging by the reaction of other drivers on I-20 last weekend), but night is a different matter. I'll mount reflectors on the carrier for nighttime use, but I'd prefer a completely different solution. We may have to revert back to the roof rack approach, which is unfortunate, as it will require both of us to load and unload. I can handle the current setup by myself.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but there could be a welding project in my future!

My next trike
January 29, 2011 9:15 AM | Posted in: ,

With a price starting at almost $4,000 (before shipping from the UK), it's not likely that I'll ever own an ICE Vortex, but that doesn't prevent me from drooling over it.


Photo - ICE Vortex Trike
This is one good looking, beautifully constructed trike. Carbon fiber seat, folding frame, dual disc brakes. 33 pounds is feather weight for a trike.

But I must confess that another attraction is the excellent design of ICE's website. If you take a minute to visit the above link, and click on the various controls to rotate the photos and view details, you'll quickly see what I mean. And the cool thing is that the site uses no Flash. The scripts that pop up the additional teasers, do the image rotations, and display the detailed photos and descriptions are all jQuery, meaning that it all works just as well on an iPhone as on a desktop with 27" monitor. And every photo can be viewed at full resolution; some of the detailed images are >12 megapixels.

It's a self-serving statement, perhaps, but companies should never underestimate the value of a well-designed website, especially one that works - and works well - on all devices.

Random Thursday
November 4, 2010 9:04 AM | Posted in: ,

A few observations while marveling at the fact that a "Random Thursday" post is actually getting posted on a Thursday.

  • I was reading the fifth chapter of Lamentations this morning (when's the last time you read the most depressing book of the Bible?) and a particular verse caught my attention. Now, keep in mind that Lamentations was written as just that...a book of mourning over the sad state of Israel, suffering God's judgment for the nation's willful sinfulness. Many, many bad things have happened to Israel, but verse four expresses dismay at one quite specific tragedy:
We have to pay for our drinking water.

My, how things change. Or not.
  • Today is the last time I have to give my father-in-law a daily injection of post-surgery blood thinner. I'm going to suggest that, given the level of shot-giving expertise I've developed, we celebrate the occasion by me doing it blindfolded. I'll let you know how that goes.

  • We were discussing grapefruit at dinner last night (yes, our conversations represent the pinnacle of human intellectual endeavor) and everyone shared their family's peculiarities when it comes to eating that fruit. Some opted for salt; others, sugar. My family fell into the latter category, although I don't recall that we ate a lot of grapefruit when I was a child. But I remarked that we probably went the sugar route because Ruby Red grapefruit probably hadn't been invented at that time, and so the grapefruit we ate was overly tart. Well, I was wrong about that; according to Wikipedia, the Ruby Red was patented in 1929, and despite what you think, I'm not that old. But I do wonder whether any Ruby Reds ever found their way to Evans Grocery in Fort Stockton in the late '50s/early '60s.

  • Let's talk bicycles for a bit, shall we? Below is a photo of what is by far the coolest recumbent I've seen in a while. It's manufactured by an Argentinian company called Hi-Bent and while its website doesn't have an English language option, it's easy enough to determine that the bike has an aluminum frame, front and rear disc brakes, and a unique front mono-fork. Cannondale has for years spec'd its Lefty mono-fork on its high-end mountain bikes, but I can't recall seeing this on a recumbent.

    Photo - Hi-Bent Recumbent

    The other thing that caught my eye is the unusual construction of the rear frame (go to the Gallery and scroll across to bring up the rear detail). It appears that there's no wheel dropouts; the rear axle skewer must be completely removed in order remove the wheel. This seems excessively complex and I don't understand the benefits, but it's certainly a different look.

  • And, finally, while we're on the subject of bikes, how would you go about introducing a new model called "the Diablo"? If you're the German manufacturer Neil Pryde, the answer involves setting the bike on fire...and then riding it. Makes perfect sense.

Monster Bike
September 11, 2010 9:03 AM | Posted in: ,

My assumption is that this creation was commissioned by an orthopedic surgeon looking to beef up his knee replacement practice:



Call me when they come out with a tandem version.

Link via Cool Material

Random Thursday
June 10, 2010 9:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you notice that I posted three times yesterday? It's almost like I'm a real blogger. It wore me out, though, so don't get used to it.

This Random Thursday post is going to be a little different than most, because I'm going to freestyle it, sort of like Kid Rock on the CMT Awards last night. Which, by the way, I didn't see because Debbie was off partying at the country club and didn't remind me about it, but I have viewed a few clips via the CMT website. I know most of you country music purists think that pairing Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. is blasphemy, but it's stuff like that that keeps the genre commercially viable and allows the more traditional musicians to keep earning a living. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. (Whatever happened to Collin Raye, anyway?)

Race Across America (RAAM - Motto: "Where'd that "M" Come From?") started this week (or continues to start...the women started on Tuesday, the men started yesterday, and the team race begins on Saturday). In case you're not familiar with it, RAAM is a bicycle race across...well, you know. People claim that the Tour de France is the world's toughest bike race, but I disagree. RAAM racers ride further than TDF riders, and they do it in days, not weeks. There are no rest days, no drafting, and no team support for the solo riders. Even the teams ride relay-style. The course features a horrifying 100,000 feet of climbing.

A couple of the solo women are riding recumbents. Barbara Butois hopes to be the first French woman to complete the race, and Sandy Earl is an American.

In honor of RAAM, let's check out a couple of cycling-related resources. There's something about the bicycle that makes people want to customize or improve on its style. I think it's the inherent simplicity of the basic form, and the direct connection between rider and vehicle that stirs the imagination. Here are two articles that showcase some beautiful and/or bizarre permutations.

I particularly like the model with the square wheels (in the second article), and also the bicycling monorail concept in the first article. Here's the demo video of the latter:



However, given the weather we've experienced lately, the thought of pedaling inside a plastic box isn't particularly appealing.

You'll notice that a lot of the futuristic designs incorporate spokeless wheels. I believe the more proper term would be "hub-less" wheels, as there are actually solid bicycle wheels, without spokes but with conventional axles, whereas the concept bikes have direct attachment and drive via the wheel rims. I think they could actually incorporate spokes for additional rim strength while still keeping the rim drive. Anyway, here's an article describing in more detail a design developed by engineering students at Yale. It looks overly complicated and heavy, but undeniably cool. I just can't figure out where you'd attach the playing card.

In closing, I guess I really do need to post more often, given the obvious influence I have over, well, society in general. Yesterday, I was a harsh critic of the traffic light synchronization in Midland. Mere hours after posting that, I drove down Big Spring from Loop 250 past Florida Avenue without hitting a single red light. (A couple might have been orangey as I went through the intersections, but, still...) So,
if you have any social injustices or personal pet peeves you want addressed, just send 'em to me via the Gazette and I'll get right on it.

Cruising for a New Bike
April 15, 2010 6:20 AM | Posted in:

I've recently developed a powerful lust for a so-called cruiser bike. I'm not sure if there's an official definition of the genre, but to me it's any bicycle that exhibits a combination of mechanical simplicity, out-of-the-ordinary styling, and an emphasis on comfort over speed. It's prettier than a commuter bike and less, um, focused than a mountain bike. A single-speed is desirable; fixed gear is negotiable.

Here are some potential candidates.

  • The Charge Plug Grinder meets the criterion of simplicity, with a rear hub that when mounted one direction is a single speed fixed gear and when reversed provides a single speed freewheel. You can also quickly remove the rear brake and cables to clean up the lines even more. Still, it's not the most stylish choice.
Photo of bicycle

  • The Firmstrong Urban Delux is a monstrous limo of a bike with a retro steel spring fork. I'm guessing it weighs about 80 pounds, and probably handles like a rhinoceros. But it oozes beach-cruiser style.
Photo of bicycle

  • Trek's District Carbon is an enigma. It costs almost four grand, weighs less than 16 pounds, and has high tech race-worthy features out the wazoo, like a handmade carbon fiber frame and 16-spoke aero wheels. But it's a single speed and sports a belt drive. (There is a cheaper sibling, the District, for a third of the cost, but its shiny aluminum frame doesn't match up.) This bike screams "richer than thou hipster."
Photo of bicycle

  • Then  there's the Nirve Cannibal, a bike that meets all the criteria. It's a mixture of high tech (front disk brake) and retro-nasty (3" rear tire, chopper-style chromed fork, and in-your-face graphics). Too bad it's currently out-of-stock.
Photo of bicycle

  • And, finally, for comparison purposes there's the tried-and-true Electra Townie. Most of Electra's bikes look pretty much the same, and they're really too mass-produced to be eye-catching...unless you live in a city like Midland, Texas. However, with a rear derailleur, the bike doesn't meet the simplicity criterion.
Photo of bicycle

I'd love to have the Trek but $3500 is a steep price to pay just to make a statement that most people wouldn't understand anyway. The Cannibal might be a bit too radical, and I've already got one bike that's 10 feet long so the Delux is redundant. The Plug Grinder is too utilitarian in appearance, and the Townie is a cliché.

Maybe I'll just stick with my 20-year-old Red Shred after all.

"That thang got a hemi?"
January 19, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in:

The following video will give you a great idea of what cycling in West Texas is like. Well, apart from the bike paths, trees, snow and ice, and attentive and considerate motorists...

This nine minute movie was taken in the Netherlands, where cyclists are first class citizens. The bikes are called "velomobiles" - essentially recumbent trikes with full shells. I imagine they're wonderful in cold weather, but I'd hate to think about pedaling one very far in 100° summer heat (of course, to be fair, I'm not particularly fond of pedaling anything in triple digit heat).

This does make me contemplate the idea of putting a video camera on my bike to document my usual cycling route.

[Video from David Hembrow's "A View from the Cycle Path" blog; link via The Recumbent Blog]


Racing Across America on a Recumbent Bike
January 18, 2010 2:41 PM | Posted in:

This is the time of year when bicyclists in Texas start getting cabin fever. Sure, there are six more months of subzero winter days for all the Yankees, but we've had our full quota of freezes (8) and snowy days (2) and indoor workouts (23 - OK, it's dark out there!), and we're ready to ride, baby!

And if we can't actually ride outside, yet, we can at least read about riding. Better yet, we can read about epic riding, the kind that takes a special type of obsession (don't confuse it with craziness; well, OK, if you insist) to pull off. The kind that causes an apparently otherwise sane woman to decide to ride from sea to shining sea on a recumbent bicycle, and not just ride, but race. As in, ride as hard as you can for as long as you can or until your front tire dips into one or the other of the oceans that's opposite from where you started, whichever comes first.

"Oh, there's no one who would do that sort of thing," I can hear you thinking. (Not really. We respect your thoughts here at the Gazette and would never - hardly ever - appropriate them for our own uses.) But you probably haven't heard of Sandy Earl, of Eugene, Oregon (State Motto: "Noah Was A Wimp"), an employee of Bike Friday (they make the cutest little bikes that you can fold up and put in your Hummer's glove box) and Officially Obsessed Person of the Recumbent Persuasion. Sandy is in training for the Race Across America (Event Motto: "Lose Weight on 14,000 Calories a Day!"; Event Sub-Motto: "Fudging Our Acronym Since 1982") which will take place in June. Her goal is to become the first woman to ride RAAM on a recumbent bicycle, and she's blogging about her preparations.

You don't have to be a cyclist to enjoy her journal. She's a very entertaining writer, and is approaching her upcoming ordeal challenge with humor and grace. I recommend bookmarking her blog, or adding it to your feed reader, or whatever it is you do to keep up with websites of enduring quality and deep wisdom. (Remind me again why you're here reading this?)

RAAM has always been a event of mythic proportions for me. I've never ridden more than 106 miles in one day (106 agonizing, demoralizing, hallucination-engendering miles, but that's another story), and I'm frankly in awe of anyone for whom that distance is a before-lunch training jaunt. Plus, my preferred bicycle is a recumbent so I can relate to the position if not the exertion. Anyway, some amazing stories of courage and achievement come out of every edition of RAAM, and I'm guessing that Sandy's will be added to that history this year. Give her some love, won't you?

Wandering the Web
October 5, 2009 6:27 PM | Posted in: ,

We spent the last few days in scenic Weatherford, Texas (if that sounds like sarcasm, you need to drive through some of the neighborhoods south of I-20 and you'll see that I'm serious. But be sure to pack a GPS.) and thus haven't been attending to bloggerly duties. Here's some stuff I hope will make up for that.

  • We don't live far from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but I've never seen the bats emerge from or return to the caves. I'll bet you haven't either, at least not like this:


The flight of the bats was filmed using an infrared camera which tracked their movements via their body heat. Amazing footage. I've watched it closely, and out of a half million bats (unaudited, I suspect, but still) I saw not a single collision. Drivers in Houston's rush hour traffic should be so skilled. (Via Wired)
  • From the sublime to the, um, not so. Here's how Terminator should have ended. (Via  Geeks are Sexy)


  • Wonder if Bruce Schneier knows about this?

  • Peace Frog is a Japanese motorcycle shop (manufacturer? customizer? hard to tell) which has assembled what appears to be a Royal Enfield with an Indian badge. Gotta love the minimalism; I'd ride one.

  • Speaking of bicycles (well, sort of) here's a lush new (to me) online-only cycling publication called The Ride (big honkin' PDF). It's mostly a series of one page essays written mostly by people unfamiliar to me, although Greg LeMond does recollect The Time Trial (surely you don't have to ask).

  • On a less light-hearted note, I continue to be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, by the names appearing on the petition to have Roman Polanski released. Wonder how many of them would be OK with their 13-year-old daughters being raped? Ah, don't answer that.

  • Last, and probably least, here's a list of 50 large corporations whose PR departments dropped the ball, social-media-wise, and allowed their names to fall victim to cyber-squatters. It's interesting that Chevron's fall-back name, @chevron_justinh, makes it sound like they've assigned their Twitter campaign to an HR intern. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
This post at the Freakonomics blog cites a Canadian study that found that 90% of accidents involving bicyclists in its sample were caused by "clumsy or inattentive driving" by motorists.

The only surprise about this is that the author is apparently surprised, writing: When it comes to sharing the road with cars, many people seem to assume that such accidents are usually the cyclist's fault -- a result of reckless or aggressive riding.

Really? Perhaps he runs with a cycling crowd with a heightened feeling of invincibility or an enhanced death wish, but pretty much every bicyclist I know hits the road with the fear that it and its motorized occupants will hit back. In addition, that 90% figure stated above is probably accurate with respect to the accidents leading to cyclist deaths in our area. Many of them occurred on flat straight roads with no visibility issues; the drivers just veered over and struck the cyclists from behind.

Findings like these are all the more reason why a safe passing law is needed in Texas, especially if accompanied by an education campaign.

An interesting footnote to the study is the finding that the third leading cause of cyclist accidents in the study was from drivers opening their car doors in the path of the bicyclists. I find this interesting because I don't personally know of a local bicyclist who has experienced this. I guess it's a function of cycling in a heavy urban area with lots of on-the-street parking. On the other hand, I suspect that at least a few of these "accidents" were actually caused by frustrated drivers stuck in gridlock who noticed cyclists moving through the line of cars.

Link Love
August 28, 2009 8:24 AM | Posted in: ,

Ran across a few interesting links I think you might enjoy as you contemplate the wonder that is Friday.

  • Now, about that cover... is a post from the author of the book by the same name, and it deals with how the quite striking cover of his book came to be. The photo shown on the front cover depicts a book that has been soaked in water and the pages arranged into a striking organic shape. This technique is the brainchild of Houston-based photographer Cara Barer, who is quick to point out that no valuable books are harmed in the making of her pictures.

    I feel compelled to note that my wife has at times created this effect by nodding off in the bathtub with book in hand.

  • And speaking of bending paper to your will, check out these amazing origami creations by Won Park. Given the value of the dollar lately, this is as good a use as any for a bill.

  • I'm a sucker for panoramic photography, because I can't figure out how to do it myself. Here's a great example, taken at Shoshone Point in the Grand Canyon National Park. If you have a fast internet connection and faster computer, click the "full screen" link to get the full vertigo-inducing effect.

  • And, last but not least, I was happy to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry garnered Bicycling Magazine's "Wheelsucker of the Month" award for his veto of the Safe Passing bill at the end of the last legislative session. Perry claims to be a cyclist, and, indeed, recently injured himself during a ride, so you'd think he'd have more empathy. But he's a politician first and foremost, and thus can't be counted on to do the right thing. Anyway, BikeTexas, the state's cycling advocacy group, has an online petition urging passage of the bill (while simultaneously expressing displeasure at the veto). If you're a Texas cyclist, pedestrian, farm equipment operator, or "concerned motorist" (which should pretty much encompass all of us), please consider dropping by to sign the petition. It may not accomplish anything more than making me feel better, but this is, after all, all about me.

    The more perceptive among you may also notice a large button on the right side of this page that links to the petition, in case you weren't able to read this far.

So you think you can bicycle?
August 27, 2009 7:49 AM | Posted in:

I didn't know there was such a thing as an Indoor Cycling competition, but it's an amazing thing to behold. What's even more impressive is that the girls in this video are doing these stunts on full-sized bikes instead of the little BMX-style bikes you normally see used for such cycling "gymnastics." (If they want to truly impress me, though, they'll switch to recumbents for the next competition.)

Link via Levi Leipheimer, who happens to be a pretty fair cyclist himself.

TDF 2009
July 1, 2009 1:36 PM | Posted in:

The Tour de France starts this weekend and the overarching storyline is whether Lance Armstrong can win an eighth yellow jersey at age 37. If he can pull it off, the victory would not only make him the oldest TDF winner in the 100+ year history of the race, but it would extend his record victory total. No one else has ever won more than five times.

He's not the experts' odds-on favorite; his Astana teammate, Spaniard Alberto Contador, is favored along with last year's winner, Carlos Sastre. But Sastre at 34 is no spring chicken himself, and he doesn't have the team firepower that backs Contador. In fact, from the team perspective, Astana stands head and shoulders above the rest (despite questions as to whether the Kazakh team can meet its payroll). In addition to Armstrong and Contador, the team also has American Levi Leipheimer, who is podium-capable, if not an actual challenger for the yellow jersey.

It's never that simple, of course. Having too many powerful riders can be a problem as well as a blessing, especially if the talent comes with equally oversized egos. Team manager Johann Bruyneel will need to have superhuman diplomacy and nerves of steel to discern which of his stable is the rider most capable of overall victory, then somehow convince the rest of the team to buy into that premise. The Tour is unique in that regard: it's a team effort wrapped up in individual achievement...or vice versa. I never can decide. Why I do know is that at some point during the race, each teammate will be asked to sacrifice his own prospects of winning in order to help the Anointed One to victory. Most of us have never been asked to make that kind of professional sacrifice and so we can't imagine the psychological and emotional forces at play.

But back to Lance. I don't doubt that he's still got the competitive fire to do great things in the TDF. And despite his assertion that (1) he's a team player and (2) he's come out of retirement primarily to raise awareness for cancer research, he's still approaching the race like someone who intends to win it. He's spent the past week out on the actual course, riding the key stages as he does the tedious prep-work that sets elite riders apart from the peloton. It really comes down to whether his body will cooperate - and whether luck (or fate or God's blessing or whatever else that intangible force might be that makes your tires stick to the wet pavement when everyone else is going down, and keeps at bay the stomach bug that's decimating the rest of the pack, and stops that wobbly chain link from snapping until just over the finish line) is once again his friend.

Am I pulling for him? As a fellow Texan, I should say so. But not just because we share state citizenship. If the only reason you root for Lance to win the Tour de France one more time is the spirit embodied in this commercial, then that's plenty reason enough.

"Breaking Away" and Jumping Off
April 3, 2009 9:27 AM | Posted in: ,

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Breaking Away, the movie that launched a million wannabe bike racers. 

I wasn't one of them, but I was still captivated by the story, the characters, and, yes, even the cycling. In 1979, my wife and I were living in an apartment in Richardson, Texas (on Prestonwood Drive, near the intersection of Spring Valley and Central Expressway, for the benefit of those who are familiar with that area). While that location at that time wasn't saturated with development as it is now (we had a huge pasture just across the street), it still wasn't a cycling paradise. We had a couple of 3-speed cruiser bikes, and we went for leisurely rides perhaps once a month. I felt like a high-tech cyclist when I bought a water bottle cage and a matching screw-top metal bottle. 

We didn't become serious about bicycling until a couple of years after we moved to Midland. Our first "serious" bikes were a matched pair of Fuji touring bikes which we purchased for the princely sum of about $350 each. The state of consumer cycling technology at that time included toe clips (upgrade to nylon from steel to save precious grams) and straps (the most coveted were leather, with the imprint of an Italian company), non-indexed shifting with the levers on the downtube, 12 gears (a vast improvement over the 10-speeds that, admittedly, I never had) although our touring bikes actually had 18, thanks to the triple cranksets, and solid chromoly steel frames (Vitus was making those exotic aluminum frames; titanium and carbon fiber were only props in science fiction stories about bicycling, not that I've ever actually read one of them). Our Fujis were, we thought, state-of-the-art because they had "triple butted frame tubes," whatever that meant. Suntour was the big Japanese name in componentry, while Campy was still the standard by which all others were judged. 

Over the years, I upgraded a few components on those bikes, like the seats (remember those ghastly gel-filled touring saddles that made you feel that something weird was going on down there?), derailleurs (I invested in a rear shifter that had a couple of Ti parts, and at gatherings of cyclists, I always tried to turn the conversation in that direction. Yeah, it's got titanium in it. No big deal.), and pedals and aforementioned toe clips. Nothing changed the basic fact that the bikes were still heavy and we were still slow, but we had some great adventures in cycling. 

Cycling technology has changed dramatically during intervening years, but at its core, the act of riding a bicycle should still be about adventure and making memories. That's something that transcends technology. 

By the way, Breaking Away was nominated for Best Picture in 1979, as well as for Best Screenplay. It won the latter Oscar. The movie that won the Best Picture award was Kramer vs. Kramer, proving that Hollywood was, even then, out of touch with the really important things in life. Like bicycling.

Book Review: "Chasing Lance"
November 25, 2005 5:42 PM | Posted in: ,

How significant is the Tour de France to its namesake country? On Bastille Day, that most French of all holidays, the only financial institution permitted to conduct business is the mobile bank that accompanies the bicycle race as it moves across Europe.

That's one of the many behind-the-scenes tidbits served by Martin Dugard in his chronicle of Lance Armstrong's quest for a record seventh Tour de France victory. Of course, there's little suspense, as we all know that Armstrong was successful, but Chasing Lance is about the journey, not the destination.

Dugard has authored a number of books about human achievement and adventure, and has written articles for magazines like Outside and Sports Illustrated. In Chasing Lance, he capitalizes on his securing of a coveted press pass to bring us an insider's look at the 2005 Tour de France, the race in which Lance Armstrong not only secured his place in the permanent lore of cycling but which was ostensibly his last competition as a profession racer.

Dugard has covered the Tour before, has followed Lance's career for years, and has a love for the sport and a deep appreciation for the challenges of riding in what is billed as the world's toughest competition. He also loves the country of France and has taken the time to study its history. (Don't be fooled by his name; while "Martin du Gard" is a French author who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1937, this Martin has not a drop of Gallic blood in his veins.)

He uses the descriptions of the historical significance of the towns through which the Tour traveled as context for the athletic drama being played out in the race itself. Each chapter is devoted to a stage of the race, with Dugard providing insight as to the individual and team strategies for attempting to master the difficult course. The Tour de France is replete with obscure traditions; it's also a masterpiece of modern logistical achievement as a veritable army travels more than 2,000 miles over the three week course of the race. Chasing Lance provides an entertaining education about the details of both aspects.

The pacing of the book mirrors that of the 2005 version of the race. The early and middle stages are where the heart of the battle for the yellow jersey (the symbol of the overall race leader) are played out, and that's where Dugard concentrates his attention. The strategy for the latter stages is generally centered around not making any mistakes, and there's rarely much drama in terms of the placement of the top riders. But there are still as many subplots playing out as riders in the race, and Dugard provides a look at some of those that might otherwise be overlooked, including some attention to the lantern rouge (the reference to "red lantern" coming from the light that hung from the caboose of a train), the term applied to the rider in last place. In 2005, that distinction belonged to Spaniard Iker Flores, who found no humiliation in his placement. After all, 34 other riders had either dropped out or fallen so far behind as to be disqualified from continung the race.

Dugard is well enough connected to have gotten an interview or two with The Man himself, as well as getting to spend time with other personalities well known to those who follow the Tour de France. The strength of the book comes from his access to those stories and insights, and to the fact that he covered the race from beginning to end, giving him the ability to put into overall context the daily drama (and, yes, even boredom) that played out on the road (and after the day's stage).

In the end, his attempt to equate cosmic significance to Armstrong's achivements borders on hero worship, but that's not to take away from those achievements or the effect they've had on people around the world...and especially other cancer survivors. And I don't fault Dugard for his enthusiasm for Lance, someone who, if not exactly a close friend, does at least have his cell phone number and has called him for a chat. I suspect that for any cycling fan - or for a fan of human endurance and achievement - that's pretty heady stuff.

If you're a TdF fan, this is a must-have book. Even if you're new to the sport or the race, Dugard's clear non-technical descriptions of the action and his human-oriented anecdotes make for an interesting and fast read.

Oh, and in case you're wondering...according to Dugard, Lance told him that he will not be racing again. Lance's explanation of why that's so provides the perfect epilogue for the book.

As always, I want to thank the good folks at the Online Marketing department of the Time Warner Book Group for providing a review copy of this book.

Easter Hill Country Tour - April, 2004
April 13, 2004 4:05 PM | Posted in: ,


[Editor's Note: The following post is the longest by far of any published on the Gazette. At 4,000 words, it violates the most basic tenet of blogging: keep it short and to the point. I apologize in advance for imposing this endless travelogue upon you. Perhaps the photos that accompany it will ease some of the burden. Nevertheless, forewarned is forearmed!]


As I mentioned earlier, MLB and I spent a long Easter weekend in Fredericksburg, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. It's been our tradition for the past two decades to participate in the Easter Hill Country Tour, a bicycling event alternately sponsored by the bike clubs in Fort Worth, Lubbock, Houston and San Antonio. This year's event was organized by the Fort Worth club.

Unlike many similar events, the EHCT is a self-paced event that allows for a lot of individual creativity in scheduling and participation. Routes of various lengths and difficulty are mapped out in advance for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You can generally choose from mileage that varies from 25 to 75 miles, with a century (100 mile ride) each Saturday thrown in for good measure. The Sunday rides are shorter...25-40 miles. However, you can also make up your own routes; there is a seemingly infinite number of combinations of backroads around Fredericksburg and Kerrville, and the fun is often in trying to come up with new variations that still allow you to enjoy the periodic rest stops (complete with food and drink and -- most important! -- Porta-Potties) that are placed along the "official" routes.

After more than 1,500 miles of biking through this countryside, we're pretty comfortable doing our own thing. In fact, we don't enjoy riding with large groups of people that much anyway. For one thing, pacing is problematic, and there are some associated hazards (watch any Tour de France video to get an idea). We usually arrive early and ride on Thursday, before the Tour begins. We'll then generally ride one of the organized routes (or a variation thereof) on Friday and Saturday. Depending on how we feel, and the weather conditions, we may or may not ride on Sunday morning before returning home.

This year, we rode with the Tour only one day, on Friday. We rode alone on Thursday and Saturday, and the weather kept us off the bike on Sunday. We ended up with just over 125 miles of riding. More about that in a moment.

Front view of the B&BThe EHCT is actually based in Kerrville, which is about 22 miles south of Fredericksburg (hereafter referred to as "Fburg"). But we stay in a bed and breakfast just outside of Fburg that's so wonderful that we're willing to tolerate the drive to Kerrville as needed. Fortunately, in most years the Tour has one day of routes that all begin and end in Fburg, so that's one less car trip we have to make.

[Note: Hereafter, the thumbnail images are linked to larger versions of the photos...some are much larger, in case you're on dial-up. You can also click on the first image below and begin a photo tour without all my boring narrative if you wish. But you'll have to backtrack in order to return here, as there are no links leading back to the Gazette.]

The B&B (which shall remain nameless in order to protect our ability to get future reservations...it does not suffer from a dearth of business! ;-) is a couple of miles out of townView of the river and has about a quarter mile of riverfront along the Pedernales (see photo at right). It's got its own nature trail, and we've spotted deer, armadillo, rabbits, fox, snakes and turtles while wandering through it. You can sit on the screened-in back porch and watch the deer wander past in the morning and evening, or relax in an outdoor hot tub with the same view. It's a one-family B&B, so we have the run of the place to ourselves; the proprietors live in a separate house 100 yards distant. The breakfasts are hand-delivered each morning by the owners, and range from German pancakes with peach syrup, to poached eggs with bacon, to fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits. Yep, we really rough it.

We arrived mid-afternoon on Wednesday, following a drive of unsurpassed beauty. The wildflowers began appearing just south of Midland, and for the next 300 miles we were treated to a visual feast that only occurs in those infrequent years where copious spring rains combine with an early final freeze to bring out the best in the landscape.

What we viewed is essentially the legacy of one woman, Lady Bird Johnson, whose tireless campaign to beautify America beginning in the 60s still pays dividends to highway travelers across the nation. Texas has perhaps benefited the most, as one might expect given the Johnsons' roots in the Hill Country. The Texas Department of Transportation has an ongoing wildflower seeding program, and maintains a website providing up-to-the-minute reports on flower and foliage status across the state, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a native plant education and research facility located in Austin. Thanks to efforts from these organizations, one can view bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and many other native wildflowers in a literal non-stop parade for hundreds of miles through Texas. (However, some believe that events -- natural and otherwise -- are conspiring against the continuation of this legacy.)

In any event, our drive to Fburg was wonderful. I insist on taking a route that most Midlanders eschew: I head south to Rankin, then on to Iraan, meeting up with I-10 just west of Sheffield. It's a slightly less direct route, and it puts us on the interstate for most of the trip. However, I really enjoy the drive from Rankin to Iraan because of the vastness of the scenery, and I'm always interested to see how the condition of the landscape compares with previous years. The windfarms atop the mesas west and north of Iraan are also pretty spectacular in their own right. The juxtaposition of the old energy sources (the 75+ year old Yates oil field, active but declining, provides Iraan with its raison d'Ítre) against the new (the hundreds of shining white wind turbines generating electricity 24/7/365 give area ranchers a new and badly needed source of revenue) is fascinating to consider.

We unloaded the bike and I got it ride-worthy while MLB unpacked and Abbye attempted -- unsuccessfully -- to make friends with the farm cat. Abbye is the epitome of eternal optimism. She's convinced that the cat will eventually become her best bud, given enough time and effort. The cat remains skeptical.

The weather forecast called for a cold front to move in on Saturday, with possible thunderstorms. We decided to do our long ride on Friday, and the wisdom of that decision was later confirmed. Before that, on Thursday, we headed out on our own to ride some of our favorite roads as a warm-up. MLB on bike in woodsWe cycled through some densely wooded areas (see photo at left; as I was taking this photo, we were rocked by a blast from a nearby granite quarry...so much for a pastoral setting!) where we've spotted deer and wild turkey in the past. We didn't see any wildlife this trip as our midday arrival was not the best time to catch the critters out and about.

Longhorn cattleWe broke out of the woods and into some cultivated pastureland, occupied by the obligatory herd of longhorn cattle (photo at right). We then headed back to town, making a side trip to the local bike shop to replace MLB's "hydration system" (water bottles are so old school). Total mileage for the day: about 30.

One thing we discovered was the coolness of MLB's Garmin Forerunner, which is a GPS you can wear like a sportswatch. I had bought it as a Christmas gift, thinking she'd primarily use it during her snow shoe outings and hikes, but we discovered that the altimeter and grade computation feature were perfect for cycling through the hills. There's something reassuring about knowing that the reason we're moving only four miles per hour up a hill is due to the fact that it's a 12% grade. I mean, we always knew that hill was steep, but now we knew how steep. (It was also interesting to learn that Midland's elevation is actually higher than Fburg's, and by a thousand feet, no less.)

My parents came into town that evening, completing another tradition where they join us for the weekend. In the past, they've pulled a camper and stayed at the beautiful Lady Bird Johnson (she's everywhere!) city park, but I think their camping days are now behind them. They stayed instead at a new hotel built on the grounds of the local airfield, and named, appropriately, The Hangar Hotel. It's very nice, and recommended if you can't get our B&B (which, of course, you can't). Dinner that night was German cuisine (Rind Roulade with pan fried potatos and sauerkraut for me) at Friedhelm's Bavarian Inn. One can't spend a weekend at Fburg without eating German food.

We were in a quandary concerning our Friday ride. If the weather report was to be believed, it was likely that we wouldn't be able to ride on Saturday afternoon, so we'd need to keep that day's route short. That seemed to call for a longer ride than usual on Friday. We had four choices of routes for Friday; the longest was about 75 miles and we knew we weren't adequately prepared for that (we'd been able to ride only about 150 miles this year thanks to bad weather and other schedule disruptions). The next longest ride was 62 miles (a metric century...100 kilometers), and that was probably at the outer edge of our capabilities. However, the shorter routes covered territory we'd ridden on Thursday and just didn't look that interesting.

The bad thing about the 62-miler is that it included what's known locally as the Willow City Loop. This loop is one of the most beautiful, treacherous and difficult courses in the area. It's beautiful because it has the most dense concentration of wildflowers -- primarily bluebonnets -- to be found in the area. It's treacherous because it has a number of blind curves and steep drops which are often made worse by sand on the road from recent rains (and, yes, it had rained recently). In fact, we'd had a bad experience on this route a few years back, when we were still riding our upright tandem. Coming down one of those steep hills, we hit a cattle guard and flatted both tires simultaneously. Fortunately, I was able to maintain control while we came to a shaky stop. We had to be trucked off the course, the first (and only) time that's happened to us. We had not only punctured both tubes but also ruined a tire, making an on-course repair impossible.

To compound that unnerving experience, we came to a halt just a few yards from a low water crossing where a short time before we arrived a cyclist had hit some sand and taken a nasty fall...nasty enough, in fact, to be awaiting the arrival of an ambulance. That served to intensified our shakiness from our near miss, as we saw how bad it could have been.

The treachery of the course is made worse during this time of the year by the non-stop vehicular traffic of flower-gawkers. People come from miles around to view the wildflowers, and, of course, their minds and eyes are not necessarily on the cyclists with whom they are presumably sharing the road.

I mentioned that the route is also difficult. Most of the terrain is gently rolling, but at the end there's a long and steep climb out of the canyon that completely destroys whatever goodwill has accrued from the beauty of the first part. And, to set the proper context, it should be noted that the end of the Willow City Loop comes with almost 30 miles left in the overall route, so you can't leave it all on that climb.

So, MLB wasn't crazy about the idea of re-visiting the route but she let me make Long line to the johnthe call and I decided we should go for it. The first part of the ride was uneventful, covering some of the same roads we traveled the day before, but in the opposite direction... a minor physical change that makes a world of perceptive difference. The weather was perfect... cool, mostly cloudless and nearly windless. The only disruption to our enjoyment was the long line in front of the Porta-John at the first rest stop. This was poor planning on someone's part; there should be at least two of those units at the first stop of the morning, for what should be obvious reasons.

If you look at the larger photo linked to the thumbnail above, you'll see the usual brightly colored, Lycra'd-up cycling crowd. MLB and I are drab dweebs compared to these folk: no Lycra, baggy shorts, cotton t-shirts...decidedly lo-tech apparel, in keeping with the usual recumbent rider's reputation as the geek of the cycling world. OTOH, you'll never overhear us complaining about aching shoulders, necks, backsides or hands, thanks to our relaxed riding positions, and we get to see the world around us as we ride, rather than staring at our front wheel or the pavement six feet ahead. Yeah, we're slower than the rest, but we like to think that we get superior sensory input, overall. (Although I sometimes wonder when we're still out on the course an hour after the others have loaded their bikes and headed for the hot tub!).

We pedaled onward, and at the end of a long downhill, we came to the start of the Willow City Loop. There were no surprises. The flowers were just as beautiful as advertised. At times we rode past such thick patches of bluebonnets that the air was heavily perfumed with their scent. The following photos are just a sampling of the scenery, and fail miserably in doing justice to reality.

WildflowersBluebonnets are, of course, the state flower of Texas, despite some early attempts to assign that honor to the cotton boll, of all things. There are actually five species of bluebonnet, all of which are designated as "State Flowers." Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to dig up a bluebonnet (although there are often right-of-way restrictions on any such activity along public roadways).

WildflowersThe photo at right is one that really fails to convey the amazing display of wildflowers. The field in the background appears to the casual eye to be a nice pond or small lake, the blue water contrasting nicely with the surrounding green vegetation. Of course, in reality, this is a large stand of wildflowers...a literal "sea" of bluebonnets.

WildflowersMost of the trees along this route are live oaks and mesquite. If there are any willows along this route, I missed 'em. (Willow City is actually a tiny hamlet -- the proverbial wide spot in the road -- at the beginning of the route; I'm sure it's overrun with willows.) Mesquites are the Rodney Dangerfields of the tree world, but I find them to be amazing and beautiful when allowed to assume something other than shrublike proportions.

WildflowersIn the photo at right, MLB consents to be a part of the tableau. Actually, that was a role we played throughout this part of the ride. The other side of the road was lined with people taking photos of the flowers, and more often than not their cameras swung around to us as we came upon them. After all, bluebonnets are a common sight, but how often do you see a tandem recumbent? And, at that point early in the ride, we were still somewhat photogenic, at least compared to the mewling, quivering, debilitated creatures we would soon become.

WildflowersIn this photo you can see rows of white flowers that formed a natural backdrop for the bluebonnets. MLB thought they were a mallow of some sort; she's much more knowledgeable than me about such things. They looked like weeds to me, but that's the general nature of most wildflowers anyway.

We rode deeper into the Loop and the terrain got more challenging. Through the pedals, I could feel MLB tensing up as we swooped into the draws and around the aforementioned blind curves, and I kept a close rein on our speed to reassure her. At one point we were passed by three young women who were obviously serious about their riding -- and their lycra. A couple of minutes later, we dove into a particularly nasty-looking curve and spotted some sand at the bottom. I braked well in advance and we eased through it, to find that one of the women who had just passed us wasn't quite as observant. She was stretched out across the road, bike on top of her and a nasty bruise already appearing along the entire length of one leg. Her partners were turning around and coming back to check on her. We asked if she needed help and she waved us on. It was a reminder of the consequences of inattention and/or bravado.

On we went, passing an endless stream of cars and motorcycles making the Loop in the opposite direction. That was a blessing...the bicycle route ran the opposite of that of most of the motor-driven vehicles, which greatly minimizes the chances of unfortunate encounters. But it still took some of the luster from the beauty of the surroundings.

It finally came time to climb out of the valley, and we could see clearly what lay ahead. I stopped to take a couple of pictures (and to try to summon some extra energy), then we made our slow way up the hill.The long climb out.

It might be edifying to understand what it's like to climb a really steep hill on a bicycle. Unless you have the legs and anaerobic threshold of Lance Armstrong, your climbing success will be directly proportional to your gearing. If you can gear down low enough to spin up the hill, even at very low speeds, you can likely climb any hill of reasonable gradient and length. Of course, the definition of "reasonable" will vary.

This applies to all bicycles, recumbent or upright. However, the advantage the latter holds over the former is that the rider can, as needed, stand up on the pedals and bring the whole body's weight to bear for additional power. This advantage can be significant.

The only glaring weakness of the recumbent riding position comes to the fore in these climbing situations. We have no choice but to use our legs and only our legs to spin up the hill. Standing up on the pedals is not an option. This particular hill was long...perhaps a half mile...and steep; the grade was 11-12% for much of the climb. We were undertrained, sweating profusely in the midday sun, and had the incredible pleasure of being passed at low speeds by a long string of Harleys going our direction. At one point, we were struggling to maintain four mph. It was torture...for me, anyway. Did I mention that MLB was just chattering away on the back of the back, describing the flowers on the side of the road and the view of the canyon below?

Without belaboring the point, let me just say that this was the closest I've come in over 15 years to hollering calfrope and getting off and walking the hill. We've ridden up Vail Pass from Vail, and that wasn't as painful as this climb. But, we made it, even as my legs started flirting with cramps.

The rest of the ride was almost anti-climactic, a blurred series of steep ups and downs that eventually led back to town. We ended the day with 67 miles, thanks to the fact that we were staying a couple of miles from the official starting point and elected to bicycle in rather than load the bike on the car and drive in. In hindsight, given our lack of training mileage coupled with the difficulty of the route, it was a very foolish thing for us to attempt. We perservered, however, and emerged exhausted but somehow gratified by the experience.

Dinner that night was at Pasta Bella, a competent little Italian restaurant just off the main drag in Fburg. I had a very good Veal Parmigiana (although, frankly, I'd have eaten boiled shoe leather by that time and enjoyed it), followed by homemade strawberry, peach and pecan ice cream at the Fredericksburg Bakery.

We awoke to heavily clouded skies on Saturday morning, and the weather forecast seemed confident in the mid-afternoon arrival of the cold front and rain. We elected to skip the rides originating in Kerrville, and set off on our own route, hoping to get in a couple of hours before the weather intruded.

Scenery from the ride on SaturdayI'll forego the excrutiating detail of the Saturday ride. It was much less demanding than the day before, and we covered some roads we'd never before seen, which is always fun. However, one downside of doing that kind of exploring is that you sometimes find yourself confronted with uncomfortable decisions about which way to turn, and during this ride we ended up traveling down a very busy State Highway 87 with no shoulder for about five miles before finding the bailout road that I knew existed...somewhere. "I'm sure it's just over this next hill...and around this next curve..."

A pastoral setting, indeedWe eventually found our way onto a familiar backroad, and enjoyed riding past the full ponds that dotted the pasture through the entire route.

In the meantime, the clouds got heavier and the winds calmer, and we couldn't help feeling that this was a sign of impending change. The long climb out.We came upon the water crossing shown in the photo at right and took that as a sign to turn around and head home, which we did, and without incident.

About an hour after getting back home, following 25 miles of riding, the calm came to an abrupt end as the front blew in, with gusty winds out of the north. An hour after that, the skies opened up and it rained...and rained...and rained. Other than an occasional lull while the front regrouped, it rained until we left for home mid-morning on Sunday. We had guessed right, and beat the weather. We hoped that no one got caught miles from home in the middle of the Kerrville rides when the front hit. Been there, done that, and it's no fun.

As soon as we finished our Saturday ride, I trekked down the nature trail a ways to get a photo of the tree shown at right. A scary tree This gnarly oak tree is probably 100 years old, and I've always intended to take a picture and try to do something artsy with it. One variation of my Photoshopping is shown here (warning: the big image is really big). I tried to capture some of the inherently spooky quality of the tree with its moss-laden branches and Blair Witch Project-starkness.

Dinner that night was forgettable...a decent but not compelling chicken-fry at the Plateau Cafe. I would have preferred to drive to Kerrville to eat, but the weather had everyone skittish and we elected to stick close to home. Another bowl of that wonderful ice cream made up for the less-than-stellar meal.

Sunday morning came in wet and cold, and we loaded up in a steady drizzle. We ran in and out of rain all the way to Sheffield, with occasional sprinkles during the last 100 miles. We were out of bluebonnet country, but even the normally drab landscape just south of Midland was still yielding surprises. I'll leave you with this field of yellow flowers, set out for no apparent purpose other than to enthrall passers-by, in the middle of nowhere 40 miles south of home. I don't know the species of the flower, but we'll take all of it we can get every spring, since it means that God has again blessed our parched land with some life-giving rain.

Flowers along the Rankin Highway

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Cycling category.

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