Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bridging Moments

Mill Avenue Bridge (1931), Tempe, AZ

I rode the exact same route two days in a row because the weather was so fine and the sitting beside the lake so peaceful. To sit here a moment and gaze at the bridge and its reflections on a warm November afternoon was bliss itself. Not a long sit, ten minutes only, perhaps, but ten minutes of solitude with the water and light. 

I know I've mentioned it before--the magic of the late afternoon light in November. It made the substance of this bridge glow. Pure rays of it flowed around me, hit and lit the creamy bridge. Nearby a family played on the sculpture while dad laid back and stared at the blue sky. A super-fit young woman ran back and forth across the grass, full of oxygen life fueling her muscles and glad to be in the moment of exertion, of power, of life itself graced by a feeling of unendingness even while facing the signs of ending: Autumn, a river stopped briefly in a lake, a lake stopped briefly by a dam, the dam itself being replaced by another just downstream since it did not hold up as expected, jetplanes roaring in lines overhead to land, falling water in sheets by the Tempe Center for the Arts running like time itself down reflective walls shining sky and now. 

Her breathing deep and strong but not labored. Steady, a heart rate at heart, wind at her back in every direction, she stops and the universe wheels into a water bottle that could make the Milky Way vortex overhead. Head down, run another sprint. How quiet it should be, to hear feet hit grass as she ran back and forth?

So many hot summer days

So many hot summer days I've ridden past the splash pad and wondered what a bike standing against it would look like. This day the splash pad was quiet of munchkins, but water running, so I parked a moment in the creamy low light, cast shadows long, and paused to think on it. Not on the slash pad exactly, but on the moments which have danced and vanished on its surface. Like shadows, no as shadows have played, so have the countless children and moms (mostly), shrieking in the cold showers, the droplets breaking from the streams and arcing between nozzle and pavement. A place that bridges these moments into days that run into winter.

Not that winter

Not that winter ever arrives here, not really. This warm November afternoon proves that triviality, even as this splash pad proves that moments bridged in a low slanting light sound like a shower of rain hitting pavement beneath steel palm trees and bent arrows or paddles. 

I rode the exact same route two days in a row. The TCT, the tri-city tour, down paths and lanes with a few other cyclists. To sit a moment beside water.  Tilted my head back, inhaled a deep mindful breath, imagined kindness, love, and understanding. 

The light looked like that timeless relaxed being I sought, but did I? It may have looked more like I was on a mission, some kind of fitness-driven time trial, pedaling down the path, like I was racing a heart rate or a pulse ox measurement, a personal best. I may have projected what I did not wish. 

What I wished was some grace-moment, some connection, some hopeful, idealistic exhale with my eyes to the sky. The kind young woman on the bike who told me to go ahead: was that because I seemed in a rush? But where would I rush to? What time would I be trying to beat? What could possibly be more important than a moment on the corner, waiting for the light, a moment at the intersection of before and after? 

A bright enough light will sizzle it all away. Like on Venus. All flesh is grass. Greenhouse. Every metal less than steel melting in relentless rays. Not this winter, though, not this gentle November light. My next exhale hits the splash pad like a shower of cold water on a summer afternoon, and in my center I shriek joyfully for this moment, anyway. A bridge I can cross on two successive days on the same bike to the same place, but different ways. "Only connect!" written in large letters across the bridge, reflecting glowing in the warm light. Each breath, the universe wheeling at the same speed as my bike.

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."-- "Howard's End", EM Forster

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cars in a Vivid Light

Little cars in a Grand Prix made me think...

The November afternoon light was low and sharp. The sun's low slanting beams cast long shadows, illuminating the scene with vivid clarity.

They erected separate infrastructure for the safety of the small cars. Some controversy erupted around the requirement to wear helmets, as the studies on their efficacy were equivocal. But, as more cars joined in the pack traveling within the cocoon of subjective safety shooting from the rear silk spinner of the mother caterpillar of the encouragement butterfly, the drivers appeared to relax into their assigned roles, driving more boldly from point back to the same point.

Originally, there had been suggestions that the tiny cars would be driven on the streets, in a lane delineated with paint, or perhaps by sharing lanes with the full-sized cars. But fears of being overtaken, of being outmuscled, or just unseen in the tide of cellphone wielding SUVs led to the separate track being mandated. The helmets remained.

Round and round they go

In a vivid November light, I rode the fixed flatland commuter project bike for an easy Saturday afternoon spin, and glimpsed the future. Little car hobbyists and their followers, gathered on a beautiful Fall afternoon to celebrate with nostalgia the day of the internal combustion engine motorcar. Round and round they go, inside walls built just for them, keeping them safe, encouraging drivers to enjoy the space set aside specially for their unique, vanishing hobby.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

50 Fishing Rods Not For Fishing

Spotted next to the bike path: boxes of 50 fishing rods (Scottsdale Public Art)

These boxes of 50 fishing rods sitting next to the canal are not for fishing. They are for assembling into floating artworks called "Bloom" by Bruce Munro in the canal along the Scottsdale Waterfront. Now that's settled, the bike commute can continue on its normal schedule

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Avoid Cars

For paths and trails away from the noise and power of cars

Some rides, I set out to avoid cars. To evade the noise, the grinding, the stopping and starting, the glare of the sun off the glass, the glint of metal, the rushing to the red light, the cut-offs, the inattention, the constant unacknowledged nearness of the possibility of death and mayhem. Some rides, I just want to spin along in a peaceful bike revery. It's not typical, it's not commuting, it's what I seek when I want quiet and calm.

When I set the bike down on the grass to rest a moment, this was the spot. The dull drone of traffic was still audible from across the way, but here, it was just me, the ducks, the quiet, and a few passing cyclists on the path. 

I don't mind commuting with traffic. Through it, across it, with it, in it. Even seeking out back streets and quieter routes, commuting several miles through Phoenix is going to involve engagement with traffic. So I ride defensively and alertly, studiously observe the traffic laws, take every intersection as if someone is going to run the light and have the chance to kill me. I try to stay reasonable in each encounter, for example, not standing hard and fast on the rule that I won't ride ahead through a traffic circle when a driver stops in the middle of their circuit to wave me through when they see me waiting: on the one hand, it's not a safe or normal operation of a traffic circle to do that, but on the other hand, it's a nice gesture and I don't want to seem like a jerk. This happened to me twice in one day on Friday, and I took it both times. They see me waiting at the yield line, stopped in the circle and waved me through, and although it runs directly against my "You're not doing it right" reaction, it's a sweet and humanizing gesture, so I waved back and rode ahead.

But sometimes, particularly on relaxing non-commute rides, I avoid cars. With a purpose. To get away from all that riding a bicycle around traffic involves. Even if I am OK with traffic, I can't say that I feel that riding in, through, across and around it for hours is my first choice. My first choice, when the option is open and I follow my bicycling heart, is something like the photo above, quiet paths around still lakes with trees and ducks.

Indian School Road in Scottsdale has a bike lane and stoplights. The lights are timed such that on a Saturday morning, in traffic, a determined cyclist can usually stay ahead of the traffic between lights since the bike lane enables passing up to the front of the stopped mass at each light. Timing it right and riding hard, I pack more cars into the mass that builds up behind me. It's fun, kind of, but the best part of the ride begins when I can veer off the bike lane onto the path. The tension slips away, and I just ride.

Indian School Road is just through the trees there to the right

From this spot onwards, it's all path, trees, shade, water and desert, almost, if you're familiar with the area, as far as you could possibly want to ride. By connecting with other paths from here, you can spend the better part of the day in places like the one in the picture above. Even though just before entering the path I passed a Lamborghini close enough to reach out and touch and added it to the mass of cars stopping and starting behind me, which is kind of cool, I prefer the quiet path bike ride life. If it's quiet enough to hear the wingbeats of ducks and herons as they take off from the water's edge, it's quiet enough for me for me to ride far and peacefully on a calm Fall day.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Calling the Whole Enterprise Into Question

The broken Park Tool chain tool with the broken piece in the center

I turned the stout handle on the seemingly well-built chain tool to press out the rivet on a new chain I was installing. I had measured the new chain to match the length of the old, and was cutting it shorter. This was perhaps the fifth or sixth time I used this tool for this purpose. The chain didn't seem to fit over the horns to the right. Since it's an 8 speed chain, I was thinking maybe the fatter chains go over the outer horns to press out rivets. Maybe that's wrong. Because with just a couple of turns, the horn snapped off with a soft little click.

That surprised me. Overall this thing is built very stoutly. Those steel outer shells seem much stronger than they might need to be, for example. You could bang on them with a hammer and nothing would happen. But that little chain horn, it snapped right off. I'm sure there are one or two guarantees or warranties I could take advantage of in response, but honestly, it's not really worth the time it would take to pack it up and ship it somewhere. A) I have another chain tool and B) I definitely don't want another one with horns like this one. Even if you're not supposed to put the chain over the left one to press out rivets. You're also not supposed to bang on those outer shells pieces with a hammer, either, but you could. If/when I buy another one, I'm looking for a design without little fragile horns that break off, even if you line up the chain wrong or try to use it on one rather than the other.

Events like this call the whole enterprise into question, though. If the engineers behind this tool, who must have decades of practical tool engineering added up to make this design, still turn out something that does this, when faced with real world forces and usage, what chance does any of us have when facing the same types of dynamics in our own day-to-day activities? 

This was a systematic fault, where the system consisted of this tool, my hands, the chain mounted on the horn of the tool, and the torque I was exerting on the handle converted into linear pressure against the pin which transferred to the base of the horn and snapped it off. By extension, I suppose, to the makers of the chain, the makers of the tool, the designer(s) of the tool, the steel mill, the miners who dug the ore, the sailors who carried the ore in the ship, the coal miners who mined the coal that made the coke used to make the steel, on and on, all of us in a related system, my muscle power (very little of it, in fact) turning the handle and disappointingly snapping off the horn. The locus of the fault was the base of the horn, the right angle corner where it joined the body, but the factors which met in that moment to press the fault from latency to actuality were vast.

This is one reason why I resist simplistic, scapegoaty answers when stuff like this happens. All those things, all those connected, related, and distant factors, don't convert from latent fault to actual fault on 18 Oct 2015 except by my agency in making it so. Perhaps another time, another place, another person, another chain, also this horn would snap off, but who knows the odds of those potential, non-factual non-actuals?

This one, I just learn from. No more chain tools for me like this one, no more snapping off this type of horn in this type of operation for this or similar reasons. A better, a stronger, a stouter, a different design, will all be in my future chain tool plus chain plus torque systematic meetings. I blame no one for this but me. I want nothing else from this experience but experience. Data to learn from. Future chain horn snappings to avoid, by me, with my particular, peculiar, but my own, combination of movement, force, agency. I don't plan to break any more of these, not like this.

I always carry the old ones, which I noticed are now marked "8SPD" which helps. E2 vs. C2 I need to learn.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

You Must Smile at Me, Crazy World

This made me 12% happier to see

I'm reading "10% Happier" by ABC newsman Dan Harris, which I got because it's only $1.99 on Kindle now, but it's selling well and getting good reviews and seems to have the potential to make a difference. Whatever resonant magic the title did inside his head it also does in mine, I think. More importantly, the idea that the most common default mode is reactive aversion, and that we would generally be much better all around if we could change the default to responsive compassion, stuck a deep chord for me.

Once I started observing people to try to understand what their default mode might be, I saw reactive aversion all over the place. Including in myself. Upon making a conscious effort to switch to responsive compassion myself, I noticed the alterations that a different perspective and attitude naturally bring to social interactions. Thanks, Dan Harris. Let's go for a bike ride some time, and talk meditation.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Brooks Cambium Saddle First Impressions: Equipment Hierophanies

Cambium, an exchange, see "cambio"; also the layer of active cells between xylem and phloem 

Things testify*. They give sense and shape to our understanding of the world as embodiment of our projects. Not only do their forms speak (to other humans) of their intended purpose, but also about who made them, and how, with what materials and techniques, and to what end. We imagine what to make, we make what we imagine, then later someone else finds what was made, and imagines what must have been imagined to make such a thing.

Anthropologists and archaeologists find dusty artifacts buried in the ground of long-gone civilizations, and from these artifacts derive the world that was. Or, not the world precisely, but rather the human image of the world as held in the minds of the people who fabricated the found objects. Such is the connection of mind to mind, even across thousands of years, that through studying a few scrapings on a stone, a few carvings on a chunk of wood, a few presses of a stylus into clay, a few dabs of paint on a wall, one might conceive the dreams of someone dead 5000 years ago.

The Brooks Cambium bicycle saddle, if discovered by some future archaeologist with even a hint of understanding of what bicycles were, who rode them, how, and why, will prove the point: it testifies to the project of crafting a fine interface layer between human and machine, one both durable and comfortable, effective yet invisible during its task.

Close-up of the cotton covering, and the torx-secured fastener bearing the model name

In case you haven't already heard the Cambium story, I'll just mention that Brooks wanted to create a saddle not requiring break-in like their traditional leather saddles do. So they came up with this innovative form of cotton and vulcanized rubber with that goal in mind. They are not cheap, with a normal price of around $150, but I've been wanting to get one for a while, and kept my eyes open for any sale or coupon that might help a little. Finally seeing a weekend sale, I bought one**. 

The underside showing the suspended rubber saddle. It all comes apart with a torx driver, if you like.

Out of the box (maybe the finest cardboard saddle box ever made), it seemed firmer that I expected. Solid. Not very giving to a finger press, or hand squeeze. But once mounted, and under my full weight, I got the idea right away. It's not soft, not at all. But it is compliant. It seems to deaden out road rumble, vibration, and roughness, to take out the small continuous bumps. Sidewalk expansion joints almost gone. The cotton cover looks rough but doesn't feel that way. I didn't find undue friction when moving slightly forward or back while riding. In a more upright position, it feels supportive and comfortable. In a lower position, hands on the drops, pedaling hard, the saddle...disappears. These are my initial impressions after a few rides. We'll see how it feels after a few hundred miles.

Adjusting it is interesting. After the first ride, I felt like moving it just a small amount further back would make it better (see photo below). This small adjustment did make a difference, and feels like just the right place to leave it for a while.

I just want to move it back that much

I've often written in this blog of how bicycle riding sometimes seems meditative, uplifting, inspiring. Others have expressed similar thoughts. That potential seems impeded when the bicycle is broken or clunky, contrariwise enhanced when it's operating smoothly and comfortably. The saddle, this key contact point or layer between rider and machine, is a key component that has to be right for the mind to ride to that more open place. 

You ride far and fast to the Cambio, wanting to exchange daily cares and worries for flow and clarity. The girl behind the thick glass wearing an old-fashioned visor counts out the currency, taking out a huge cut, and hands you back a modicum of sacred sight. The shimmering edges of average objects indwelt by the ground of all being become apparent for a few moments, the cosmos and "now" turn inside out are and equally huge. 

My face not far above the stem, my legs pedaling as hard and fast as they can, the sound of even breathing and the slight wavelike rocking side to side. 

This saddle they find one day with the cotton cover well worn and its vulcanized body well used will testify: he rode as one imagining that someone would unearth this saddle one day, in some distant better future in which pure bright hierophanies would be as common as excellent bicycle rides on fine fall afternoons.

*The introductory thought was triggered by some passages in a book by Daniel Boscaljon, "Vigilant Faith: Passionate Agnosticism in a Secular World". For example, "The second type of testimony offered by things is as signs to the surrounding cultural world; this form of testimony is unique to equipment, and no sense of the world would be possible without the ability of things to embody the projects of humans."

**I paid for this saddle myself and received nothing in return for this post. See my blog disclaimer for more info about that if interested.