Late November Assorted Thoughts
By Scot Hinckley
Winter’s now fully upon us in the Pacific Northwest, so things are slow and gruelling in the world of a practical utility cyclist. Not as boring or uneventful as things are for sport cyclists who’ve all just retired to their indoor rollers or trainers, but it is the time when you just put your head down and do your best to prepare well for the conditions and enjoy the looks of bewilderment drivers give you. It’s not the time for glamor, that’s for sure. Here are some assorted thoughts I’ve had swimming around my head.
I’m seriously starting to get interested in the world of “alternative” touring bikes, and that might be because I automatically respect things that kick back against the grain of disposable carbon frames/not enough spokes/way too skinny tires/stupidly low handlebars/uncomfortable saddles/no eyelets for racks or fenders. The two weirdo bikes I’ve been taking a hard look at are both from Surly, a company who seem to have no problem with being a little strange and who also have the financial backing to do some really cool oddball stuff. The first one is the Big Dummy, a bike with a super long wheelbase and platform in the back. Tons of room to haul whatever you like, and (I’d imagine) a great companion for long luxurious touring or weekend camping/fishing trips. The other one is the Ogre, maybe the most versatile bike I can think of. You could set it up for off-road touring, or as a pure mountain bike, or as a country picnic bike, or whatever. It would also be a great bike for heavier riders due to the inherent strength of the geometry (nice tight triangle), build materials (steel), and the nicely reinforced bits. I think the real appeal of these two bikes for me is that they slot in nicely with the things I associate with bicycling; long rides on country roads, trips to the farmer’s market, weekend camping trips, early morning sight-seeing through town. They’d be great in the Tour De France if the TDF was actually a tour through France and not a bike race. Imagine all the things you miss when you’re doing 40mph through some of the most breathtaking countryside in the world. You wouldn’t miss it on a Big Dummy, that’s for sure. I’m still not totally on board with disc brakes or indexed shifting, but I’d give it a sporting chance.
Lighting is a big problem, and by that I mean that actually being seen when it’s dark out is really hard. I live in a city that’s got a great system of street lights and I still have a terrible time seeing cyclists. The problem gets compounded when they’re riding against traffic or switching back and forth between acting like a vehicle and acting like a pedestrian. The actual point of light on most headlamps and nearly all taillamps is small and usually too directional to be easily spotted unless it’s pointed right at your eyeballs. My dynamo headlamp from B&M is about as good as it gets, but the investment to get a great lighting system is a hard sell when you can buy a $15 blinky instead. Anyway, we all know that “seeing” and “being seen” are two different problems to tackle. In the “seeing” department, street lights are usually all you need as a cyclist unless you live somewhere with bad roads and lots of debris. For darker places without streetlights, you can get by with a relatively inexpensive front light as long as you ride pretty slow. As far as “being seen”, I don’t think lights are a great solution by themselves. However, a combo of lights and reflective tape is astonishingly good. Add a bonus of some reflective material to what you’re wearing and you’ll be crystal clear to any driver out there. I have reflective stuff on my bags (front and rear), on my pedals, on my tires, on my seat stays, and on my fenders for good measure. A headlamp will always be brighter than your tail light, so why not just let it do the work for you and reflect those lumens right back at the driver? Oh, and there’s even black reflective tape for people who want to be “low profile” or whatever. Mine’s bright yellow because I got the same stuff they use on school busses.
I might give spinning classes a try, even though I think I’ll be as out of place as if I attended a weekend of LARPing. Do people wear spandex to spinning? If so, are they worried about aerodynamics in there? If I see someone applying Butt’r, I’ll just call it a day head out to the rain instead. My neighbor said she’d try it with me, but she’s a massive fitness buff and far less likely than I am to suffer a heart attack during the class. If I go, I’m wearing my LL Bean short shorts.
It’s a wonder that cars still exist in modern cities, and I mean that. I don’t know why anyone bothers to have one, even though I have one. If I could afford to, I’d just leave it in a private parking spot and worry about it once a month or so when I had to drive outside the city. Cars are great for that sort of thing, but not great for navigating a city during rush hour. I think Americans would perceive it as a denial of their freedom, but if you could outlaw cars within Seattle city limits and only allow walking, bicycling, trolly rides, and subway rides, we could probably have three or four times the number of people moving around at the same time without all the fuss and chaos. It’s not likely to happen, but I think it would be pretty pleasant.
That’s all for now because I need to do some online Christmas shopping like the responsible young adult I am. I’ve even got my Christmas sweater on to really enhance the spirit of giving.