Book Review: In the City of Bikes

In the City of Bikes - Pete Jordan

If you’ve followed Pax Plena for any length of time, you probably know that I harbor a long-suffering interest in cycling. In good faith, I can’t call myself an avid cyclist having ridden all of 21 miles since I picked up a road bike here in New Zealand. But it is fair to say that I’m a cycling enthusiast. Naturally, when I received word about Pete Jordan’s somewhat autobiographical history of cycling in Amsterdam, well, it didn’t take long to catch my attention and post a review, once the book had traversed the Pacific.

I usually don’t review works of non-fiction, but Jordan’s book In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist (Publisher: Harper Perennial; On Sale: April 16, 2013; Cost: $15.99), was a pleasant exception to the stereotype of the somber historical tome. Jordan ably makes the history of cycling in Amsterdam an entertaining read. As a survivor of high school AP European History, lo, so many years ago, I can personally attest to the fact that making history ‘fun’ is not an easy task. I’m honestly not really sure why this is the case. In most situations, history/reality are more entertaining than even the best of fiction, as recent debacles involving the Obama Administration indicate.

Even so, Jordan opens the book with a bit of autobiography explaining his love of all things bike and his incipient, young hope of making American cities more cycling friendly. It’s all quaint really. Like most urban planning majors, Jordan was without a permanent place of employ upon graduation. And, having recently gotten married, it apparently seemed a swell adventure to fold up shop, under the thin auspices of a university study abroad program, and move to Amsterdam, Cycling Mecca of the World.

Once there, however, Jordan tacitly adopts a mistress as he falls head-over-heels in love with the Venice of the North. The rest of the book follows suit accordingly, mixing an abiding love for Amsterdam with the honestly fascinating history of the city’s own love affair with cycling. I realize, having described the work so far, that it would be easy to dismiss Mr. Jordan as an overly libidinous Bill Bryson. This is my fault, not Pete Jordan’s. His history of cycling in Amsterdam is actually quite poignant in its own right. Consider this brief excerpt from the book describing the end of the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam: 

During their time in Holland, the Nazis had stolen everything that hadn’t been nailed down. If it had been nailed down, they got a crowbar, pried it free and stole it – then they stole the crowbar. Factories were picked clean of both finished products and the machinery itself. Hospitals, museums, laboratories, libraries, etc. were looted…and of the 4 million bicycles, only 2 million remained, most of which were – as one observe at the time put it – in “extremely poor condition.” p.237 – 238.

Though this excerpt isn’t exactly ‘fun,’ it is quite intriguing to gain such a pithy understanding of the depth and breath of the Nazi occupation of the Dutch and their principle means of transport. As Jordan describes the increasingly desperate situation of the Germans during WWII and the increasingly draconian regulations they placed on the Amsterdam cyclists, it’s quite easy to grasp and sympathize with their plight even though the events occurred some four generations ago. By the by, instances of history like this make me eminently thankful for America’s much maligned Second Amendment. 

Fortunately, not all of the history is entwined with the atrocities of World War II. Among Pete Jordan’s more autobiographical accounts, he explains his wife’s choice to cycle to the hospital to deliver their first-born son – who, incidentally, was not wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a bike basket:

Two weeks after the baby’s due date, we went to the hospital to have the labor induced. To get to the hospital, we could have taken a bus or a taxi. But since she’d been cycling pretty much every day since the baby’s conception – this day seemed no different – Amy Joy rode her bike to the hospital to give birth. Eventually…out came a baby boy. We named him Ferris. p.289.

Aside from the fact that his son enjoys a certifiably awesome name, the conversant style above is typical of the vast majority of the book. Readers not only gain a better understanding of the history of cycling in Amsterdam, but also a fine insight into the author and his family during what was surely a formative time in their lives. It’s enough to hope one can cycle down to the local pub and grab an Amstel Light with Jordan, et al. Well, certainly grabbing a brewski with Mr. Jordan at any rate. Amstel Light is crap beer. 

Review: The TiGr Lock

Back in February I wrote about the story of an interesting new bike lock that I had been following on Kickstarter. Today, I’m glad to say that my TiGr Lock finally arrived, and I’ve spent most of the afternoon reviewing it.

The first thing to mention about the TiGr lock is its size. The two feet long titanium bow was deceptively larger than I had expected. But upon picking it up, it was clear right away that the materials were solid, well-crafted, and quite sturdy. The bow itself even has a rubberized exterior to prevent scratching.

TiGr Bow

The end of the titanium two consists of two symmetrical prongs that fit into the locking cylinder. Naturally, the prongs are made from the same titanium that has been cast to produce the entire bow. This adds a degree of manufacturing continuity that gives the bow its overall stable feel.

TiGr  End of Bow

The locking cylinder itself is made out of stainless steel, with each cylinder uniquely matched to its keys by order number – should it ever becomes necessary to replace a missing key.

TiGr  Key in Cylinder

The craftsmanship of the cylinder lock is impressive in its own right. The picture below does not demonstrate this clearly, but the opening ring of the cylinder is actually narrower than the inside of the casing. This allows for the prongs to nestle into place before the steel pin in the center is depressed. Once the pin is depressed, the prongs cannot be removed from the cylinder because the opening ring entrance is too narrow.

Tigr  Cylinder

Once the prongs have been inserted, the lock looks like the photo below. The cylinder lock freely rotates around the prongs, but there is no way to remove them from the cylinder given the narrowness of the entrance.

TiGr Cylinder Size Comparison

Of course, what makes the TiGr lock a superb product is that it is incredibly light-weight and can be stored on the bike while riding. This is accomplished by two velcro straps that affix the bow to the tube of the bicycle.

If there is a down side to the TiGr lock, it has to be the velcro straps that secure the lock to the bike. Frankly, at $200 per lock, I expected something a bit sturdier – something akin to the quality velcro one might get from a Timbuk2 messenger bag.

Still, the velcro seems to do an adequate job. I haven’t really felt it coming loose on a ride, and it’s true that there are other alternatives for securing the lock should one really not trust the velcro straps that come with it. In the great scheme of things this is a fairly minor critique since the lock functions incredibly well. The picture below shows the straps and the lock on my bike.

TiGr  Stored

Since the bow is attached to the bike tube, I suppose it’s possible to lose a bit of leg room while pedaling, particularly on smaller framed bikes. But on my road bike, I haven’t noticed this to be an issue, even though the lock attaches and leaves a small gap in places.

TiGr  Stored Overview

Finally, here is a picture of the TiGr lock firmly securing my bike to one of my dining room chairs. I’m sure this picture will become too embarrassing to leave up at some point, but for now I haven’t thought to take a picture of my locked bike while out and about. You’ll notice that the lock is plenty long and flexible enough to secure the bike to the metal arm of the chair. Not only does it secure the frame, but it also secures both tires as well. The nice thing about this is that you no longer need to carry around a cable to secure that extra tire to a D-lock. With the TiGr’s flexible titanium bow, you can secure everything with only one instrument.

TiGr Locked

Finally, the TiGr lock comes with a pretty nifty key fob. And if you don’t like key fobs, then I’m pretty sure that makes you un-American.

TiGr  Key Fob

In all, I am rather impressed by the TiGr lock. It came exactly as advertised. It’s light, weighing all of 1.5 lbs. It’s secure, benefitting from both high-grade materials and excellent craftsmanship. And it’s extremely elegant in its simplicity – as all elegant things are.

Not bad for a product that was only in the concept stage one year ago. I love innovation.

Update: As promised, here’s a photo of the TiGr in action at my local Starbucks. 

IMG 0106

Innovation in America: The TiGr Lock Story

I’ve been staying up inordinately late the past couple of nights, devouring the Suzanne Collins series The Hunger Games Trilogy. I think my approximate bedtime each night has been between 3:30am and 4:15am. I understand that moderation is the appropriate virtue that I should be seeking to develop – particularly with Lent beginning tomorrow. Still, there’s something very satisfying about greedily reading a book into the wee, small hours of the morning.

After realizing that my long blinks were becoming increasingly longer, I decided to hit the sack. But a final check of my Email suddenly left me wide awake. Extricating myself from the vice-like snuggle of our pooch, I padded down the hallway as not to wake my wife. I fired up the computer, and in the dead of night I logged on to an obscure website called http://tigrlock.com/.

The TiGr Lock is a kickstarter project that I have been following for almost nine months. The vision of a father/son duo, their goal was to create and market a bicycle lock that hit the holy trifecta of cycling – a bike lock that is secure, light weight, and aesthetically pleasing. Anyone who has cycled will immediately understand how such a lock has the potential to change the game in terms of bicycle security.

The problem is that most bike locks on the market tend to be large and cumbersome – think massive chains, and weighty U-Locks. Needless to say, such prophylactic devices are hardly very convenient when riding around on a road bike that is engineered to be light weight and relatively minimalist in stye.

There’s also the unfortunate matter that bicycle security devices, in general, aren’t terribly reliable. Security cables can be cut, and the ever popular U-Lock can be easily picked. As the market stands today, locking up a bike is more about theft deterrence than actual security.

Enter the TiGr Lock.

In preliminary testing, the TiGr Lock outperformed the typical U-lock in a series of three tests, using common bike theft tools: a tungsten-carbide handsaw, an angle grinder, and a (massive) pair of bolt cutters. And aside from its security benefits, the lock itself weighs about 1.5lbs  (or 24oz as the manufacturers cleverly note). The video below shows a side-by-side demonstration of the tests.

Aside from the potential to revolutionize bicycle security, one of the things I find most exciting about this project is the way in which the TiGr Lock story so closely mirrors the adventures and misadventures of countless entrepreneurs. The scrappy idea began in the workshop of its father/son inventors John and Bob Loughlin. Realizing they were on to something, the two inventors first sought outside investment capital from grassroots supporters to get the project off the ground. In a matter of weeks, supporters funded the TiGr Lock Kickstarter program at roughly 300%.

Sensing the lock’s obvious momentum, the next step for the team was to follow their Kickstarter program by doing live product testing using complimentary product samples for the same supporters who originally backed the project. After mailing sample locks to supporters of a certain donation level, they obtained device feedback over a period of several months. In the meantime, the team formed its own LLC, and sought patent and trademark protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Finally, last night, the TiGr Lock website went live, offering customers the company’s first product run. Assuming the launch is a success, the rest may well be history. Already, the TiGr Lock story has been featured in a number of major publications including the Wall St. Journal, Forbes, and USA Today. Let it not be said that innovation in America is dead.

After my clandestine rendezvous in our home office and another hour of reconnaissance, I quickly ordered my own TiGr Lock before slipping back into bed. Seeing as I neglected to inform my wife of the purchase, the $200 question will be how long I can keep a secret…

Just a Typical, Tucson Bike Ride

Tucson had its first signs of fall today. Rather than topping out at 106 degrees, it was a balmy 103.

The weather seemed ripe for a bike ride since my trusty steed had sat dormant due to the extreme heat. I also needed to mail in the rent check, so a stop by the post office was on my to do list as well. As Uncle Dave Ramsey says, in a pinch, one can skimp on some payments, but rent should never be among them. I think his rationale is that it’s a lot harder to do without shelter than it is to do without an iPhone. I’m not sure that he’s entirely right. But it seems wise to pay rent all the same.

As I etched my name to the corner of the check, and sealed up the envelope, it occurred to me how antiquated the notion of check writing is. My landlord and I could easily set up a balance transfer, and she would have the money as soon as I authorized it. Yet, we opt to play the game of formalities once a month, and I write the check for her to cash.

I made my way out the door and realized that 103 degrees isn’t terribly different from 106, so I rode my bike a little slower. The post office is located conveniently along the River Bike Path so I took my usual route through the foothills. As the sun beat down on my back, and the cacti and lizards greeted me along the way, I wondered whether my experience was similar to the pony express riders who carried mail through the desert west almost two centuries ago. It probably wasn’t much similar at all, but it was a fun thought. After all, we have roads. And ponies smell.

In short order, I made my way out of the foothills, and headed toward the River Bike Path’s entrance. Access to the path isn’t direct for me, so I dutifully walk my bike along a twenty-yards stretch of sidewalk. It’s quite illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, and nothing annoys me more than cyclists who break the law. While walking my bike, I noticed an oddly clad young man who was himself walking in the middle of River Road. He was asking cars that had pulled up to the stop light for a ride to Campbell Avenue. The request seemed a bit odd, seeing as Campbell Ave. is less than a mile away from this particular intersection. I don’t think he was mentally stable. Still, I felt sorry for the man, until I re-remembered that it was a balmy 103 degrees. Of course, I then re-realized that 103 degrees isn’t much different from 106, and I silently re-hoped that someone would give him a lift – even if it was less than a mile away. Much to my surprise, someone did. The good samaritan was a surly looking man, driving a mini-van in such a way that he he told the world how depressing his life was. Still, I was glad the somewhat unstable young man had found a ride, even if his benefactor did reminded me a bit of John Wayne Gacy.

After reaching the post office, I noticed a postal worker schlepping mail from the curb-side mailboxes. I quickly rode up to her, gave her a bright and friendly greeting, before asking her to include my envelope with the other items in her cart. After making this utterly reasonable request, one of Jane Austen’s famous lines came to mind. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that an employee of the U.S. Postal Service is among the most miserable of human beings to walk this planet.” Jane Austen didn’t write that. But it’s a universally acknowledge truth all the same. True to form, rather than addressing me, or otherwise acknowledging my existence she pushed her cart past me, grunting in a way that only female postal workers can, and indicated that I should put my envelope where the sun doesn’t shine – presumably she meant in the mailbox, which as luck would have it had yet another pick up time at 5:00PM.

After dropping the check into the mail, I immediately felt lighter – around $850 lighter, in fact, and I quickly made my way to Gwyn. I rode quickly because I had a slight, nagging fear that Helga might come back with her Norsemen chums from the Post Office break room, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near the vicinity when they returned.

In all, I made fairly decent time getting to my wife, arriving five minutes early. This earned me only about a ten minute wait in the sun, and a quarter-mile walk to the truck, but I still call that a win. At least I wasn’t standing in the middle of the road asking errant motorists for rides.

Thoughts on Blogging, and Time

Wasted Time

Earlier this week my wife was twenty minutes late getting out of work. I took my typical 11 mile bike ride to reach her office by 4:30PM, only to swelter for twenty minutes in 106 degree heat. By the time she emerged from the cavernous enclave better known as Tucson Medical Center, the water in my water bottle tasted like a hot cup of tea, minus the tea.

To understate matters, I was upset. But not with my wife. The lone thought that came to mind over and over while I baked on my favorite bench was how much I hate wasting time. The situation was a bit like Dostoyevsky’s white bears, no matter how hard I tried not to think about wasting time, I ended up thinking about wasting time. This may seem a bit compulsive, and it really is, but I realized from a young age that time is the only thing in life that you can’t get more of. You can get more money. You can acquire more possessions. If you are lonely, you can fill your life with with more relationships. The super lonely, like former NY Gov. Spitzer, can even pay to fill their lives with more relationships.

But as ex- Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated yesterday, you can’t get more time, and that’s why time is life’s most important commodity.

It’s a bit dramatic to say that a few minutes in the sun profoundly shifted how I think about blogging. But in some ways it did. Over the past week I started thinking seriously about this blog, the time I’ve devoted to it, and most importantly what I hope to see from it – not only in the coming days and weeks, but in the months, and hopefully years still to come. While I have changed templates, and layouts many, many, many times, I have never tried to make the blog anything more than it is: a place where I can opine, and hold court on whatever topic strikes my fancy. And I’ve done this for nearly seven years, come December 24th.

In that time span, I’ve made just under 2600 posts. My traffic has gone from an anonymous voice crying in the wilderness (NH) to a voice with a slightly bigger bullhorn, crying in a different wilderness (AZ). Our readership is still fairly modest, averaging only about 2500 hits per month. But that’s still much better than when I averaged only about 40.

Given that our blog isn’t very topical, it’s probably a small miracle that anyone reads Pax Plena at all. The bulk of my posts concern politics, music, faith, book reviews, cycling, and the occasional Lolcat of the Week. But Pax Plena isn’t devoted to any one of these topics in particular. Still, in the greater blogosphere, the actual range of blogs and their topics is as wide and as varied as the internet itself. Some blogs are very narrow in scope, covering niche areas like the intersection of life and career building, and the affairs of a specific technology company (guess which company). Stiil, other bloggers cover broad topics like Indian Lawpoliticstechnology, cycling, faith, minimalism, sports, sport teams, etc.

I guess my conclusion is that that after seven years of blogging, it’s time to start narrowing down the focus here at Pax Plena. To be clear, I’m not worried about missing out on traffic. That’s not the point. But I am interested in developing the blog into something that is more engaging, more interesting, and more useful to readers. I want Pax Plena to maximize the effort and time I put into it. And I think I can do this with a couple of adjustments.

Let me add, I don’t feel these seven years have been wasted. (Although, I have, at times, been wasted during these past seven years.) I sincerely appreciate each and every hit that comes my way. You readers make the whole exercise worthwhile. My itch for change stems primarily from the fact that I don’t want to waste the next seven years of blogging because I didn’t create a vision for Pax Plena when I had the chance.

My task over the next few weeks will be to figure out what exactly this means in terms of content, and quality. I suspect it will mean higher quality pieces (e.g., no more short posts containing only snarky links for your perusal). And, in terms of content, I suspect that the blog will cover a narrower range of topics, in effort to become more topic-specific. Or at least more topic-specific. But for you the reader, this simply means what it always means. Stay tuned.

And, regardless of which direction the blog takes, let not your hearts be troubled. Lolcats of the Week are here to stay. Your blogger loves you.

Tucson’s Newest Cyclist

Gwyn s Bike

Years ago my wife Gwyn lived in an Amish commune where all forms of modern transportation were shunned. Alas, she never learned to ride a bicycle.

I kid, I kid. Gwyn isn’t Amish.

But it is true that for various reasons (viz. reasons I do not know) my Dear Wife never learned how to ride a bike as a kid.

After making a post on Twitter about our bike lessons last week, I was surprised to hear from various friends and readers that first-time, adult cycling is not an isolated phenomenon. Turns out, there are quite a few folks who have never learned to ride two-wheelers as kids. Growing up in Oklahoma, I just took it for granted that every child knew how to ride a bike. It was the quickest way to get to the mailbox from Grandma’s. It was the quickest way to get to school from Mom’s. And bikes were much easier for a ten year-old to drive than the Gator, although the Gator was driven plenty when it came for fishing. Suffice it to say, life on the farm was markedly different than life in metro-area, Tucson, and times have changed mightily.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I tried to help Gwyn learn to ride a bike, using my trusty steed. But the tires on my road bike were way too narrow for a new rider to learn on. She did a fine job of balancing, but when it came time to peddle, she ended up losing control, getting frustrated with a bike she simply wasn’t prepared to ride. To her credit, she never wrecked the bike, which is more than I can say for myself, and in fact, she didn’t even take a tumble. But after a few hours in the drive way, it was clear that a road bike was not a good way to begin learning how to ride.

Over the weekend, we decided that the best way for her to learn to ride would be to buy her a bike that was better suited to her comfort level. We considered three criteria in shopping for a new bike: 1) A bike with wide tires to make for easier balancing, 2) One that allowed for the rider to ride upright rather than bent over, and 3) A bike that was not so expensive that she would be afraid to wreck it in the event of a fall. For the record, the last point was made more out of practicality than a sense of fatalism of Gwyn’s biking ability. One’s wallet cries a lot less when wrecking a cheap Schwinn, than when one wrecks a Novara Verita Bike – at least my wallet does.

Given that our main concern was cost, our bike shopping took us to Wal-Mart where we happened upon the ladies’ Schwinn Admiral above. The bike boasts seven speeds, front and rear breaks, SRAM grip shifters, Shimano rear derailleurs, a bike rack, and a solid, steel frame. The bike seemed like a smart purchase, but what really sold her on this bike was its aesthetics – as you can see in the photo, it has a certifiably cool, retro look, coupled with extreme comfort while riding. Add to this a $149 price tag, and it was an easy purchase decision to make.

Gwyn will still need a lot of practice before she takes to the bike lanes along Skyline and Sunrise. But the change between a bike that was appropriate for her experience level, as opposed to my road bike, was remarkable. The last time we practiced riding, we spent at least two hours just learning how to balance on my road bike.  But within 15 minutes of getting the new bike adjusted, Gwyn had already mastered balancing on the bike, pushing off with her dominant foot, and pedaling unaided down the driveway. Before we called it an evening, she even felt comfortable making slow, 360 degrees turns!

Needless to say, I was quite proud of her.

I think there were probably two lessons that we took from the two bike-learning experiences.

First, a little patience goes a long way. This is an obvious lesson, but people have innately different senses of balance and caution. What works for one may not work for another, and this was difficult for me to remember. I just assumed that since it was easy for me to take up road biking, my wife would take to it as well. Really, what she needed was a bike that was better suited to her experience level.

Walk before you run, as they say.

Second, for adults learning to ride a bike, do yourself a favor and find a bike that you feel comfortable riding. Don’t ride a bike simply because it’s available. In terms of fit, Gwyn fell in love with her Schwinn hybrid because it allowed her to put both feet on the ground with ease. She also liked the comfy seat, and wide handle bars. At the end of the day, she loves her bike because it makes her feel comfortable to ride. And that’s the point really: if it isn’t fun, and it isn’t comfortable, don’t ride it. There are plenty of bikes available that can meet your needs.

Today we conquered the driveway. Tomorrow we might very well try the bike path. After that, who knows? Maybe one day we’ll conquer the world.

My First Bike Wreck

Lesson Learned

It was inevitable. My coordination and dexterity levels are somewhere around those of the African Bush Elephant.

Today, while riding down Tucson’s Ft. Lowell Road, near the intersection of Ft. Lowell and Dodge, I hit a rough patch of pavement that sent me head over handlbars, off my bike. Fortunately for me, the asphalt broke my fall.

When I got up, the first thing I did was look around to see if anyone saw me. I’m not sure why I do this every time I fall. It’s not as if I have any more dignity to preserve at that point. Alas, this spill must have been particularly nasty since a local businessman came out of his shop to check on me. Fortunately, only my pride was seriously hurt at the time. I’d give the man’s business a plug, but I was too dazed to notice where he came from except that it was out of one of the shops.

Once I had gathered my bearings, and feebly called my wife for a lift and first aid, I took a quick look at the scourge that caused my spill. Turns out, there’s a 15 yard stretch of bike lane, eastbound along Ft. Lowell Road that makes the infrastructure of entire third-world countries seem desirable. Unfortunately, while I was humming along about 20mph, I didn’t see the massive hole until it was too late.

Photo Aug 03 12 15 42 PM  HDR

In truth, the fall could have been much worse than it was. The bike lane at that point isn’t very wide, so a speeding car in the outside lane would have been a real problem for me. But the reality is that I escaped with only a swollen wrist, and a couple of gashes from the fall.

My bike came out of the incident relatively unscathed as well. The only battle wounds that resulted were scrapes on my left Shimano Shifter.

I suppose if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that the City of Tucson still has work to do to make its cycling infrastructure both convenient and safe. I suppose if I had broken my wrist I would be less forgiving, but as they say in basketball, “no harm, no foul.” The problem with this view, of course, is that the next bike rider who comes along and wrecks in the same spot may not be so lucky.

Bike Ride Along the Rillito River

I suppose in a perfect world, a river bike path, would run along side an actual river with water in it. But this is Tucson, and things are seldom perfect in the desert. Truth is, calling our Rillito River a “river” is a bit misleading. In reality, it’s a dry sandbar where a perennial river once flowed.

By way of introduction, history, and hydrological erudition, centuries of groundwater pumping, coupled with a population explosion in the last decade, all but drained the water table of Tucson’s alluvial plain, leaving the rivers in the area dry.

Oops.

Even though the river long ago ran dry, the City of Tucson nonetheless opted to invest heavily in the river’s infrastructure, creating a bike path that has expanded to more or less to run the entire length of the Rillito River within the Tucson City Limits – making lemonade out of lemons if you will.

To state matters simply, Tucson’s basic approach is that if you can’t have a bike path along a real river, well, why not have a nice bike path all the same? And that’s more or less what the City has accomplished with the Rillito River Park.

My route along the path begins where I would normally take Mountain Avenue to head south toward the U of A campus. But instead of heading south, I continue eastward toward Craycroft Road. You can see the entire route here – I’ll spare you the embedded video as an act of good faith.

I’ve posted pictures of where I catch the River Path before. But the photo below shows an unexpected problem I’ve had in bike riding the past few weeks. We are entering the rainy season here in the Sonoran Desert, and the annual monsoon rains usually arrive in the late afternoon, and early evenings. This makes riding to my wife, who gets off work at 4:30pm, a bit tricky.

Photo Jul 12 4 03 38 PM  HDR

Anyway, after catching the River path, rather than taking the bike and pedestrian bridge toward Mountain Ave., my journey yesterday went eastward for about six miles.

Photo Jul 12 4 05 25 PM  HDR

On balance, the path is made of extremely high-quality, rubberized asphalt. This makes the ride remarkably smooth, and allows riders to enjoy the quite of the desert. And, in truth, this is how the path runs for the vast majority of its length.

Photo Jul 12 4 13 05 PM  HDR

If there is one portion of the River Path that deserves a word of criticism, it’s where the path swings away from the river, as it nears Dodge Boulevard. You’ll notice in the photo below, the only marker for two-wheelers is a faded, green bike box, and a minuscule sign alerting motorists to a bike crossing. It’s not exactly an encouraging investment in bicycle safety.

I’m sure money is an issue in developing this portion of the path. When is money ever not an issue? But it would make a lot of sense, both in terms of liability lawsuits and infrastructure costs, just to continue the path eastward, underneath Dodge Boulevard. The City does this at Campbell Ave, Alvernon Way, and Swan Ave. Taking the path underneath Dodge too, would insulate it from city traffic entirely, allowing the route to be even more family/bicycle/pedestrian friendly.

On the off chance a City of Tucson acolyte stumbles across this post, consider this paragraph a formal Planning and Development request. You can name it the “Pax Plena, Rillito River Family/Bike/Pedestrian Underpass.” No royalties necesary.

Photo Jul 12 4 20 51 PM  HDR

Shortly after Dodge, but before Swan, the path descends into the riverbed itself. Most of the path runs along the erstwhile bank of the river, so riding in the actual riverbed is an interesting experience. It’s a bit like taking a trek through the wilderness, armed with knowledge that the wilderness has a fixed end point in less than a mile. Photo Jul 12 4 22 50 PM  HDR

Once the path descends, portions of the route, roughly 75 yards or so, look like this.

Photo Jul 12 4 27 21 PM  HDR

To state the obvious, the road is almost entirely covered with silt, carried along by the annual monsoons rains that create a sporadic water flow in the river during the summer months. Even this section of the route really isn’t that bad. My road bike navigated this part of the path just fine, but it can look deceptively treacherous on the first bike ride or two.

Soon, the path climbs out of the riverbed, as you approach Craycroft. I was excited to see some storm clouds in the distance.

Photo Jul 12 4 28 28 PM  HDR

Shortly, my excitement waned, as the clouds darkened, making me regret that I had both left my rain slicker at home, and that I didn’t spring for tire fenders on my trusty steed. Naturally, I didn’t like my odds in a race against the weather. Photo Jul 12 4 32 10 PM My fears were unfounded though. My wife works at Tucson Medical Center, and by the time I pulled up from the River Path at Craycroft, there was an inexplicable break in the clouds. Photo Jul 12 4 39 36 PM I sidled up to my favorite bench, just as the wife got off of work, and picked me up. Photo Jul 12 4 40 24 PM  HDR

In all, the River Bike Path struck me as an excellent way for new riders to get used to riding in the city. It’s not a very taxing route spare a couple of steep, paved inclines.

Lest anyone be fooled, not all of Tucson’s streets, are as accommodating as the River Path. But what makes it good for new riders is that it’s a nice, mostly safe way to get used to biking in general without having to worry about the odd motorist and their temperament on any given day. It also boasts some great views of the city.

First Bike Ride in Tucson

I just completed my first spin around Tucson on the new bike. Seeing as it’s a balmy 93 degrees today with a chance of rain, one might rightly question the wisdom of such a trip.

Most of my morning was spent fighting with the u-lock mount on the Kryptonite lock I bought. Once this was completed, I did battle with the bike computer I picked up to track my stats. The remainder of my morning was spent selecting a route and praying I didn’t have a flat.

Interestingly, the challenging part of the route was the straightaway a long Mountain Avenue. For those not from Tucson, the street is a fairly wide boulevard with a huge bike lane on either side. It’s also incredibly flat so there was a lot of opportunity for me to build my calf and hamstring muscles, pedaling for some 3.5 miles.

Seeing as the most active thing I’ve done in months is play Call of Duty, I was naturally pretty exhausted by the time I reached the Student Union.

Tory s Bike Route

I didn’t have the courage to snap photos along the route, but I did capture a few stills of my stats once I sat down here in the Student Union.They’ll be laughable to anyone who is an experienced rider. But given that it was my first ride in Tucson, and given that I had no idea where I was going, it didn’t turn out too bad.

I’m alive at any rate. All’s well that ends well.The trip took only about twice as long as it would have by car. Door to door, the whole it took me 53 minutes, this presumably includes having to stop twice along the way to consult Google Maps.

Photo May 23 1 21 48 PM My top speed was 19.4 miles per hours. I achieved this feat as I descended a one of the many scary hills in between Skyline and River Road. Only a couple of hills were scary. Mostly, the foothill neighborhoods were just confusing. I may need to rethink this leg of the trip.

Photo May 23 1 25 27 PM The route covered some 8.9 miles from my front door to the bike racks outside the Union. Photo May 23 1 22 13 PM In all, not a bad afternoon. I plan to get some research done now, before making the trek north. I enjoyed the bike’s simple functionality, and the fact that I can take a very purposefully trip on it within the time frame it would normally take me otherwise.

The hard part, of course, will be the trip home, which is basically all up hill…

Why I Chose to Cycle

After many weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to take the plunge and give commuting by bicycle a shot.

The move is purely pragmatic, so let not your hearts be troubled. I won’t be buying organic or driving a hybrid anytime soon. Neither action will save the planet anyway.

Photo May 18 2 36 33 PM

So Why Cycle?

With gasoline, nigh, $4 per gallon, and but a lone pick up truck between me and the wife, cycling seemed like a reasonably inexpensive alternative form of transportation. Whether this proves true is a separate matter. More on this later.

I realize that I’m not alone in this regard. According to USA Today, bike sales are booming across the country, while even the fattest, and laziest among us succumb to the evil that is big oil.

Interestingly, this sales spike translates into only a modest increase in actual cycling. But at least we haven’t gone the way of the Brits. One in six of their poor, little prats can’t ride a bicycle at all. God bless America.

A second reason I wanted to give cycling the old college try is a matter of simple exercise. After spending the past few weeks on exams, and traveling, it’s safe to say I could stand to “get back in shape” – which is really just a polite way of saying that I need to lose some weight.

The problem is that I’m generally not fond of exercise. While I am a thumb warrior on Call of Duty (5th prestige!), my L.A. Fitness membership has gone unused since about November. Being the reasonable chap that I am, I figured if I can incorporate exercise/fitness into my routine, then I might be less inclined to hate it. Enter cycling, and my seven mile commute.

UA Bike Path

Last, I am curious to see what all the fuss is about. Tucson has dropped a considerable chunk of change on its bicycle infrastructure. But, as Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists noted, much of this is used by lycra-clad cyclists, sporting $3,000 bikes. And poor students. Given that my own foray is somewhat by choice (like my lycra-clad friends), and somewhat of necessity (like my colleagues at the U of A), I’m curious to see how friendly Tucson, and its drivers are to cyclists who ride for commuting purposes rather than recreation.

To be sure, I realize the severe weaknesses of this plan.

For starters, this is the hottest time of the year to begin two-wheeling around town. In fact, I have it on good authority that there are coals in hell next to the Devil himself (or herself) that are cooler than Tucson is during July.

Second, I’ve never done this before. Given that local cyclists have annual “Rides of Silence” for cyclists who have been killed by cars, maybe Tucson isn’t the safest place to learn how to commute by bicycle.

Last, I’m not sure that cycling is actually a less expensive way to get around town. At least not so far.

But life is what happens while you’re doing something else, and the benefits seem to out weight the costs, so away we go.

My Bike

Readers may recall that I had a lengthy dilemma in deciding whether to bike at all (see here, and here), and ultimately a separate dilemma regarding what bike to buy (see here).

I wanted something that looked vintage and minimalist, that could navigate the hilly terrain near my house, that could handle a 7+ mile commute – all on the budget of a poor graduate student.

After visits to local bike shops, and BICAS, I discovered that the nice bikes were out of my price range, while the rebuilt bikes did not meet my terrain and distance needs.

Brief aside, this is really quite a good argument for some entrepreneur to open up a used bike shop, selling refurbished, reasonably priced bikes. I’m not sure I’m that person. But for those looking to make money, the idea is yours, gratis.

Super Pawn

In the end, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my journey took me to Cash America’s Super Pawn Shop where a source from BICAS told me that they had road bikes for sale at half-off.

The pawn shop seemed a bit sketchy. But, being the cheap bastard that I am, even this did not subsume my desire to find a bargain.

And, sure enough, I found my bike nestled among a throng of bicycles outside the shop, all marked at half-off. For the curious, they also sell gold!

My steed ended up being a 2009 Schwinn Fastback with Shimano derailleurs and brakes, and a super light, aluminum frame. It cost me all of $67 thanks to the good folks at Super Pawn. The bike normally retails for $432.08 on Amazon, and $499.99 on Ebay, meaning I saved either $365.08 or $432.99 – but who’s counting.

Schwinn Fastback 2009

What makes me question the cost effectiveness of cycling, however, is the money I spent getting my bike road-ready.

I should say from the outset, that I am not complaining about the actual prices. I took my bike immediately from the pawn shop to There and Back Bicycles to let owner Steve Vihel take a shot at fixing it up. Steve did a great job, and charged eminently reasonable prices for all of his services. But the bike just needed lots of fixing up.

The biggest cost was an Velo Orange Saddle, made of Australian cowhide, with a chrome-plated rail finish. The saddle, its attendant care products, seat cover, seat leash, and the brown bar wrap I bought for the handlebars to match the saddle ran $125.96.

Saddle model 1 1This was, absolutely, not a necessity. While I settled for a newer road bike, I still wanted something that looked somewhat like a classic, vintage bike. As you can see from the living room photo at the top, I think it turned out quite well.

The total cost for a mechanical tune-up, and bike maintenance, ended up being less than $200 – and this included the cost of a new tire, tune-up, new cables, new tubes, housing, installation, and labor. I also had two, additional final expenses for a Kryptonite Kryptolok Mini U Lock, and a 7ft Sunlite Cable. After all, it would be a shame to have my bike stolen after all of Steve’s effort.

My complaint about the cost effectiveness is really about the upfront cost that I had to spend on the bike. The initial purchase was $67, but with the saddle and maintenance factored in, the entire bike ended up costing some $366.99. In sum, my quibble is that the maintenance costs, and upgrades I made were 5x’s the price that I originally paid for the bike.

But, even this expenditure was less than what I would have paid retail for a brand new Schwinn on Amazon, and a new bike wouldn’t be nearly so cool. Although, I still need to buy a helmet, a mini air pump, extra tubes in case of a flat, and lights.

Summary

I’m still pressed to finish my exams, having left in the middle of them to return to Oklahoma and be with my sister last week. So, I hope to take the bike for a proper spin over the weekend – once I acquire a helmet, lights, etc.

Right now, I’m a little disappointed in the upfront costs associated with cycling. I was elated to spend $67 on the bike. I was less than elated at spending five times that amount to get it road-ready. Maybe I will earn back my investment over time?

Mostly, I am excited to see what it’s like to commute around Tucson. I’ve spent the past few years mocking cyclists, and the past few weeks trying to learn basic traffic rules for bikes. It’s been quite the turn around.

I guess I see this going two ways. I’ll either love it – for all of the reasons people love bikes. Or I’ll hate it – for all the reasons people hate bikes. I understand this isn’t terribly insightful. But it does reflect that commuters are rarely ambivalent about sharing the road bicycles.

I assume this will be a running category of posts, so stay tuned for updates!