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.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New Speed Hump

Dateline: Phoenix

For weeks the rumors had been circulating. A major change was coming. The next big thing. Standby, just wait, be patient. It would be worth it. Everything would change. One would mark the time and place when one first heard of it. What came before would be forever separated from what came after. Anticipation built, and then built some more. People gathered in crowds the night before in front yards, around makeshift fires and simmering kettles, sipping beverages and murmuring their theories of what was coming, what it would be like, and how life is changing so fast these days. Several social networks were overwhelmed with hashtags and check-ins and selfies. Rumors of collaborations with famous people who would come and speak about the significance of the occasion circulated. Local news held their opening spots free, sent crews, reserved satellite time to upload footage. Travel itself would be altered, the teasers suggested. Motion formerly restricted to the horizontal plane would elevate in verticality, the philosophers intoned.

After the ribbons were cut, the speeches made, the headlines written and edited, the crowds dispersed, and the "first humpers" drove back and forth across it many times to inaugurate it, only the quiet street with its new prominence remained. A lone cyclist commuter passed, momentarily transfixed by the shock of the new, before riding on to work.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Divertimento with Heat and Happenstance

Transit shelter, bicycle, car repair oasis, and one of the "Happenstance" markers on Scottsdale Road (Artist Tad Savinar)

When I was a kid on road trips with my family, I used to plead, or beg, to stop when I noticed one of those "Historic Marker Ahead" signs. Usually, you have no idea what history they might be marking, way out there wherever it may be. Sometimes we'd stop, sometimes not, pile out of the car, and run over to find out what the CCC built there in 1935, or what the date was when Meriwether Lewis explored the area, and so on.

When I found out that there were some marker-like objects along a auto dealership strewn strip of Scottsdale Road, I had to divert from my normal TCT (Tri-City Tour) path through the green belt over to check them out. Here's a list of them with themes and locations:

Themes and Locations:
Farm to Market: East side of Scottsdale Road, just North of Roosevelt/Continental.
Better Mousetraps: West side of Scottsdale Road, 1/4 block North of Roosevelt/Continental.
Sand and Snow:  East side of Scottsdale Road, South corner of Granada Ave.
Home: East side of Scottsdale Road, South corner of Oak St.
How I Came To Be Here: W side of Scottsdale Rd, Transit Shelter just South of Virginia Ave.
Water Has the Right-of-Way:  East side of Scottsdale Road, South corner of Earll Dr.

Remarkable little "Alice in Wonderland" style of jackrabbit on one of the markers

Riding my bicycle slowly along the sidewalk as the cars rushed by in the road, with the long shiny rows of angry-faced new cars parked in the lots on the other side of me, these markers evoked a strong feeling of the passing of time and the altering of place. Whether it's Rage Cycles moving out of their old location that I passed, or the stores that have gone out of business to be replaced with newer, generally more generic and more national commerce-oriented ventures (an old used book store gone, obliterated, replaced by the march of profits with I don't even remember what).

The heat hasn't quite given up yet in Phoenix--it was over 100°F for this ride--so I didn't see a lot of pedestrians out strolling to read the markers. That accentuated the feeling that these bronze and concrete objects are part of some probably losing battle between humans walking and cars roaring past. You really have to pause, lean in, read these markers, to appreciate them, but to do so is the be noticeably near to the passing roar of many people not doing that. This next one, for example, which has evocative words about the airport, and the Yacqui, and people moving into this area, has a precious little frieze of the rank and file, that you can barely see from the sidewalk, let alone from a car passing at 45 mph.

"How I Came to Be Here" with cyclist reflection

I got a feel of the actual dissonance these markers create when I stopped by the first one, which says, in part, "As you read this you are hearing the sounds of flowing water mingle with the sounds of vehicles passing by on Scottsdale Road. The water that passes below your feet through gate 24 is itself mingling from many sources..." The hot afternoon I visited, water could indeed be heard gushing through gate 24, but the sound wasn't so much mingling with the cacophony of the traffic, but rather murmuring to it unheard by everyone by this random cyclist stopping by to read it closely. Everyone else was too busy going elsewhere fast, not even knowing there was a moment to be had here at this spot.

I know there's a yearning for these moments though. It echoes in my memories of bouncing out of the car to go and look at historic roadside markers. These things are here. Time passes by, but some stories remain, even if the air happens to be so polluted that particular day that you can't quite make out the hole in the rock in the distance any more. These connections stretch out in bicycle time, I'm sure of that. I've felt it, looking at tiny statues of strangers in a line, staring their bronze stares at fleeting flashes of cars speeding by. I breathed, and I swear I detected the faintest wafting of creosote on the breeze, out of time.

Another kind of yearning on Scottsdale Road, another kind of movement that creates a different destiny in its own time.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bicycle Lock Enlightenment Chain

Not the strongest chain in the rack

Lamp chain: not typically associated with bicycles. It took all my willpower not to grab the seat post and pull hard just to see if this wouldn't fall apart under about twenty pounds of force. If tough looking cables yield so easily as we've seen previously, I wonder what kind of resistance this would offer. Not enough, I imagine. Could be time to break out the little yellow public service cards to share locking tips. But this is so extreme, there might be something going on beyond lack of knowledge.

I'd like to leave the video below playing on a loop at the rack to try to raise the general knowledge level about these basic principles. I think locking skewers and having an uglier bike also can help. The video covers the basics, though. Basically, don't use a lamp chain as a bicycle lock.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Best Laid Plans, Future Must-dos in Barcelona

At  Montserrat Monastery, outside Barcelona. I didn't ride up there, this time

I felt car-sick on the tour bus most of the way up the twisty road, and after we passed about the third group of cyclists, which the guide felt compelled to comment on, "Too dangerous," I wanted to be cycling and not busing it up the mountain. Next time. Then I saw this trio up at the top, with that great background, and thought it would fit here on the blog. Guy in red is saying, "OK we got up here, now it's time to go the other way. Fast."

Next time, by bike. And then also this next photo, too. That goes on the must-do list, too, "ronda verda," a 73km ride that circumnavigates Barcelona. What a great trip. Must ride bicycle more next time, though.

Barcelona bike share, super-popular

La Sagrada Familia, got to back and see it when it's finished

Bike with your name on it, 7 Euros.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Overcoming Barriers with Bicycles

After the storm

After the storm last night, after the wind howled and the rain poured, this scene was repeated in various forms in many places. Branches sheered off, trees felled by the winds, leaves and branches everywhere.

I paused here to ponder this fallen branch not because it presented an insurmountable obstacle, but just because I like to pause and ponder. How should I, a cyclist, deal with this? I realized that my options were many, indeed, were many more than a typical motorist in a comparable situation. I could:

  • Try to power through by riding just to the left of center there, to see if I could just lift it over
  • Duck under, pull the bike through, maybe a bit awkward, but no big deal
  • Lay the bike totally down on its side, and slide it under
  • If the previous failed, because of lack of room, and I really had to get through, I might be able to lift if over, or
  • I might be able to disassemble the bicycle to varying degrees, pass the pieces over or under, and reassemble on the other side. I have tools.
  • Fashion some kind of wood cutting mechanism with whatever I might have, in order to resolve the problem not only for myself, but for others who pass here.
  • Go around and carry the bike through the canal water. Completely not recommended, but not totally impossible.
  • Rope up to the standing limb, tie off on the fallen limb, hoist it up out of the way.
  • Hang off the road side and pull the tree down onto the street instead of the bike path. Also not recommended.
  • Use my cell phone to call the City to make them aware of the blockage, ask their advice, and check on how long it might be before they would come out to clear it. If not too long, just wait it out, enjoy the afternoon, chat with other cyclists who might come along and be of a similar mindset, before or after trying some or all of the above.
  • Wait in this spot until another strong wind of exactly opposite strength and direction comes along and blows it out of the way.
  • Think more. Write some poetry. Set up a lemonade stand here.
  • Ask the ducks what to do. They appeared utterly unperturbed by the fallen branch.
After these ruminations, I turned around and went back the way I came. I had no actual purpose in continuing beyond the fallen branch that was more pressing than turning around, so I just turned around.

Nearby, down in the street

Meanwhile, down in the roadway, I spotted this fallen tree pushed off to the side awaiting final removal. I imagine that if / when it was stretched across the roadway, there was less motorist pondering, and more honking. Think of it: honking at a fallen tree. I'm certain of it. DO SOMETHING I'M LATE AND HAVE TO BE SOMEWHERE. I guess.

Picture me there in the rain, on my bicycle, handing out suggestion cards.

Let's open a lemonade stand.
Please write a haiku about the storm.
Write down ten ideas for dealing with the tree which do not involve honking or getting angry.
Consider riding a bicycle instead. It opens up options when faced with fallen trees.

This is temporary. Perhaps going around a different way will pose little or no real inconvenience, anyway, in the large scheme of things. Why not be of a peaceful and contented disposition when doing that? Perhaps wherever you came from has attractions equal to where you thought you were going, and heading back is just as good as going forward. 

A bolt of lighting. Maybe it was lightning that blew that streetlight right off the pole.

Somehow knocked off a tall light pole during the storm. Possibly by the fallen tree.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How High Should We Stretch, How Far Should We Go?

Quieting the voice of limits and stopping

How high should we stretch? How far should we go? Are the limits a greater force than the demands to do more? How great could we be? How much could we do? How far could we ride? How fast could we go? How happy could we be?

This voice: you should stop. You're tired. Just rest. There's no need to continue. It's too much. Close your eyes. Give in. Where does that voice come from?

Another voice: keep going. Stretch farther. Do more. Help. Give. Grow. Be. Love. Go beyond. Limits are only in the mind. Reach higher. Each day is a gift. Connect. Challenge. Listen. Strength. Where does that voice come from?

Why? Do what you can do, but how do you know what that might be if you don't try? Keep trying.