Monday, June 29, 2009

Remind me, again

Gone are the mornings of the freezing 5:00 a.m. bike ride. The sudden cold jolt that makes you lean into your handlebars and pedal a little harder. Now we have warm mornings and warmer afternoons. There’s something about warm weather that makes you want to take a solid two hour nap, drive your car to work, eat junk food and get lazy.

This morning my girlfriend, still asleep, asked me, “Are you driving your car to work?” I tell her I’m riding my bike. She mumbled, “Good, I’m happy you’re going to ride,” and then she drifted off back to sleep. On my bike ride this morning I was wondering what she would have said if I told her I was driving the car to work. I’m sure she would’ve said, with concern, “I thought you liked riding your bike?”

There’s something about relationships or friendships that makes you smile when you’re encouraged to do the things you like but would rather put off for another day. Perhaps they saw the excitement in you for something you liked, the way you talked and gestured, and they liked that for you too. And so, this morning I mounted up and rode down quiet neighborhood streets, passed under street lights, and pedaled, wind blowing past my ear.

Funny how the Bike Gods smile on you when you least expect it. This afternoon I was devising schemes to not ride up Paseo Del Norte. I could dial-a-friend to haul me up the 4 mile incline. I could check out the company car this evening for a meeting tomorrow morning. Amidst scheming, my brother called to say he’s in town and wanted to ride up with me after work. He bikes everywhere.Problem solved. I’m riding up Paseo Del Norte.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm back in the saddle again

Tomorrow morning at 5:45 a.m. I'm back in the saddle again. The last week and a half I was in heaven: rural
evenings spent in quiet solitude with the smell of rain and earth; silent walks among morning dew and sage;
awesome Mother Earth and thunder, clouds and rain, and silence.

Aerosmith - Back in The Saddle; no better way to re-enter the bicycle commuting jungle of Albuquerque, N.M
than jamming out to Aerosmith!

In the next week here's what I've got lined up for posts:

1. Bike Shop Review: The Kickstand
2. Eating for the ride home
3. Bicycle commuter pleas: Rainrunner -hooks, velcro, anything except the straps and buckles!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Albuquerque bike shop reviews

After a visit to a bike shop this afternoon, I struck up the idea of reviewing bike shops in Albuquerque, and like a restaurant critic provide insightful comment on the quality of service and knowledge of bike shop employees and mechanics.

This should be fun as I've been to most of the bike shops in the area and have had some very interesting experiences from excellent service to poor service.

The first bike shop review:

Performance Bike Shop
1432 Mercantile Ave NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107

The first thing I noticed about Performance Bike Shop is the very competitive prices for gear, parts, and bikes. The second thing would have to be the amount of bicycle parts, tools, gear, clothing and bikes this place has. But, the best part of Performance Bike Shop is the set price for repairs, hourly repair fees included. Bike shop staff, while limited in numbers, are generally helpful. But, if you're in a rush and the place is busy, prepare to wait. As for getting fitted to a bike, that service is pretty much standard: "You look to be a large frame. Mount the bike. Do you have some room from your crotch to the top tube. Good." Before you can take a spin on one of their bikes you have to sign a form releasing Performance Bike Shop from any liability and also leave a credit card and your driver's license. And upon buying a bike, you also are read a standard "you have been informed of the hazards of riding a bike and that a helmet should always be worn." statement, and then you sign another form that releases Performance Bike Shop from any liabilities. Understandable, but it feels as if you're breaking up with your significant other, or signing a prenuptial agreement. The upside is that you get free tune-ups for the life of your bike. Which isn't too shabby. And their bike shop snobbiness is about a 3 and 1/2 on a scale of 10 if you come back at least three times buying gear and parts, or drop a bike off for repairs. However, if you are a first time customer, expect to be ignored like I was; just be persistent and you'll see the chill warm up a bit. On a scale of 10, 1 being the the lowest quality of service and 10 the best quality of service... I give Performance Bike shop a 7 (cheap prices added a point).

Work impedes commuting this week

The phone rings, an email comes in, or colleagues stop by the office. Their messages usually results in a meeting out in NM communities for which driving a car is necessary. Business travel is not so bad, riding to these places is out of the question because some meetings are too many miles. I've done meetings up to 15 miles away only to arrive disheveled and sweating from the intense heat of the NM sun. And this is not so good for the tie wearing crowd.

But, as I make my car driven way to the meeting places I look out for new bike routes, fellow bike commuters and the bikes they ride, and new bike shops. When I started bike commuting, no one said that biking wold permeate most of my thoughts like this- on a drive to meetings of all things. And it's not all that bad. I saw a cool bike shop on one such drive and stopped in to discover cheaper prices than other bikes stores in the region. On another drive I saw a new bike route along the Rio Grande that meandered in and out of the Bosque. So, not too bad, driving a car and all, but I miss my morning bike ride.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


You've seen cheap bikes. One look and you know why they're cheap. Plastic rims. Plastic grips. Bright colors. Mass produced Big Box sellers.

I'm sad to say that my nephews and nieces have fallen victim to the Cheap Bike Syndrome, or CBS. When considering economics, it's easy to see why cheap bikes are appealing in an economic downturn; they're affordable. But do not be fooled. With CBS, happiness lasts only a very short while and then a deluge of sadness and frustration pours forth from a broken rim, slippery grips, sun baked dull color schemes, and no recourse for remedy from the Big Box Store.

Luckily for the little peeps, I grew up fixing and riding bikes. "When I was young..." you had to be resourceful with your pedal bikes because the bike shop was over 55 miles away and money was hard to come -by (and we walked in snow three feet deep with no shoes all the five miles to school every day, two times; coming and going). We would break down older bikes and swap parts. The most prized part was the ball bearing. Need a bearing? Check the cheap bike heap. Not there? Go through your neighborhood and check other cheap bike heaps. By doing so, you'll also find the seat nut you needed, a spare rim, of handle bar. Just writing this brings back great memories and improbable bike fixes (duct tape can, in fact, fix flat tires).

This past weekend was no exception. 30 years later I was rummaging through the bike heap in my father's back yard that miraculously survived the trash dump, the yard sale, or other 'hood bike scavengers. I was pulling nuts and seat posts, seats, and brake pads in an attempt to fix the little peep's bicycles. First up, my niece's green no-name BMX: tires patched, chain tightened, seat adjusted, crappy front brake removed, rear brake adjusted. Done. Second order, my nephew's "Hot Wheels" kiddy BMX: tires patched, seat straightened out, some weird plate on the handle bars with what looked like Transformers battling it out removed - because according to the little man, "It looks like my sister's." Translation: it looks girly. A morning of repairing bikes turned into an afternoon of one broken pedal, one cracked seat, a pretty good wipe out from slippery grips, and my nephew and niece down on their luck mopping around the yard.

Cheap bikes break down. Luckily for the three of us we had a sizable cheap bike heap to pull extra parts for a quick fix. Now, word is out that I fix bikes and kids from the 'hood are coming around asking my aging parents when I'll be back in town.

Matter of fact, my mother just called and asked when I'll be home, "Marcus and Tyrone came by this morning with their bicycles and they need them fixed. And yesterday evening Adriano stopped by with his bike and said something is wrong with it." I asked my mom to check their bikes out the next time the little people come around. This way I can visualize what parts I have in stock in the cheap bike heap and what part's I'll need to pick up at the bike shop.

I have a good idea that this coming weekend I'll be fixing bikes again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Death rides on my left, but I'm more afraid of the Girl Scouts

For such a dangerous activity you would think the narrator would be psyched up recording near hits and then narrating these harrowing moments. But no, this guy narrating "Death Rides on my Left" has ice running through his veins. That's how us bicycle commuters roll; ruthless!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sick on a bike

Riding a bike recovering from a head cold is not a good idea. Riding a bike like a lunatic with a head cold trying to make the train ride to work and facing the real possibility of missing the train to work… is not a good idea either.

Last night I laid out my work gear and bike gear with the simple plan to wake up, get dressed and move out for the train. But like all simple plans this one was blown out of the water right from the get go. Just as I was ready to mount up the phone rang. I spent way too much time talking to my mother about my brothers not attending church any more, about my father’s increasing forgetfulness, and about her efforts to bring the family together again. At that very moment I looked up at the clock and bam! I was officially late for the train. “Sorry Mom, I have to, must, absolutely got to go!”

Usually, my bike route to work takes 25 minutes. This morning I took the same exact route and made it to the train station just as the train was pulling in – in 14 and a half minutes, and this was with two stop lights! Where did the 11 minute go? Poof! 11 minutes gone in dazed and frantic pedaling, in the grit determination to not miss the train, and in the near barf-o-rama-black-out when I arrived at the train wheezing and panting like a rabid fox! Sweat trickling down my forehead like a condemned man facing a firing squad. But I made the train and that is all that mattered. Sweet Jesus, thank you for helping me get to the train on time. All the way down I muttered in between heaves of air, “God, please help me make the train. God, please help me make the train.”

The next half-hour on the train was spent focusing on my breathing and trying to block out the dizziness and the urge to yak all over the place. Finally, systems restored, I opened my eyes and gazed upon a sweet red and white Lemond Zurich road bike. Like a complete zombie I stared at the bike for at least 20 minutes while the bike’s owner sat straight across from me. Every inch of that bike was awesome from the Rolf Vector Comp rims to the Ultrega everything. As I looked the bike up and down, side to side, I could see myself 100 pounds lighter, attacking the twisty back road leading up to the Sandia Crest (11,000 + feet, baby). I could also see myself on the descent, the world blowing past in a blur. I had that thousand yard stare, hardcore, when I looked up and he saw me checking out his bike. I’m sure he thought I was a weirdo. In truth, I’m sick... with a head cold.

Monday, June 8, 2009

One sick puppy

It started as a minor itchy throat.  Then watery eyes followed by nasal congestion.  I am one sick puppy. Running nose, hacking, plugged up ears and headaches.  I'm over the tough part now and on the road to recovery.

Speaking of roads; I haven't hopped on the bike in a couple of days. It stands there now, by the window mocking me. Wheels up like dead dog legs sticking straight up. I will get back in the saddle tomorrow morning for the "Electric Feel." The mind game and joy.  The wind and the leaning into curves.  

In the fog of my miserable head cold I replaced the rear flat inner-tube.  The mysterious culprit ended up being the constant rubbing of the valve stem against the rim valve hole. The edges around the hole were sharp. I filed down the sharp edge with a small rat-tail file and smacked some gorilla tape around the valve.  I don't think I'll have the same problem.  

Sick days include a healthy dose of the internets and reading different cycling sites and blogs. Some awesome stuff out there like Bike Snob NYC. Hilariously sharp observations about cycling and the cycling life, culture, fashion, and stupidity. One of my favorite BSNYC-isms is the "Filth Prophylactic" pictured here and made out of what appears to be half of a water bottle.  I also enjoyed his evisceration of the "Epic" bike ride and Rapha "Performance Wear."  Like I said, awesome stuff. 

Sick days totally suck, and sick days make the hissing sound of air coming from a hole in your tire in the middle of an "Epic" ride.      

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flat tire blues

There's nothing quite like a flat tire first thing in the morning to really get your day off right.  People talk about getting up on the wrong side of the bed; try getting up on the right side of the bed in excited anticipation of the morning bike ride/therapy session, your every morning activity shadowed by the glorious thought of the morning bike ride, and then you notice the flat tire!  

Your day suddenly turns to crap and you in-turn turn in to Henry Rollins; your turned inside out, screaming at the top of your lungs, eardrums ready to explode from elevated blood pressure of 100 psi.  And all of this at 6:00 a.m.

You look at the flat tire and try to understand just what has happened.  It was pumped up last night when you kissed your bike good night after reading a bed time story to it.  In the middle of the night you woke up to get a glass of water and you affectionately looked at your bike and, content, returned to sleep. Then the morning comes.  You're rushing to shower, to get dressed, check your bag and its contents: pump, check; bike lock, check; protein shake mix, check; book on biking, check; train money, check.  You strap your helmet on, don your bike gauntlets, roll your right pant leg up.  You are ready.  

And then you notice the flat tire.  You start to cry like a baby. Why God, why?  And then you realize your anger rush over you like this morning's semi luke-warm shower.  Beginning from the top of your head, to your trembling lips, toyour throat, your gut, and finally washing down to the tips of your toes. Hello anger, old friend.  

There's no really good way to explain the displeasure of being denied something you love to do every morning: ride the bike.  Riding the bike isn't like driving the car. No. Riding the bike is therapy.  Wind in your ears, pedaling, breathing, and thinking.  Your working life is put into perspective. Relationships are finally understood for the joy they are.  You fantasize about what it must have been like to make the gnarly ascent up the Gavia on June 5, 1988. And on your morning ride, when your legs begin to burn and your mind starts to doubt, you remind your over weight self that it is possible to do it because Mike Magnuson did it. All of this from a simple 30 minute bike ride.  

All of this gone, momentarily, because of the damn the flat tire!    

Albuquerque the bike friendly city? New Mexico a bike friendly state?

While surfing “the internets I came across the League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly States/Community List(s) for 2009.

Depending on how and which list you read, Albuquerque, N.M. is the “third most-friendly bicycle city in its population group, behind Portland, Ore., and Austin.”  On the other hand, if you read the LAB Bike Friendly State List, New Mexico is 46 out of 50. Not so “most-friendly” if you ask me. 

And despite the glowing remarks of Albuquerque Journalist Rosales that “the Duke City is a crown jewel for cyclists,” the LAB notes “While New Mexico has a bicycle advisory council that has meetings scheduled every quarter, the state still has discriminatory mandatory sidepath and mandatory bike lane laws, no bike master plan or accommodation policy, and no League Bike Ed classes have been taught in New Mexico within the last year.”   The LAB, a fine group of folks I’m sure, appear to base their analysis on a review of municipal laws and Bike Ed classes.  A quick review of Bike Coalition of New Mexico’s website or Bike ABQ’s website by LAB would reveal more than the depressing analysis they give for New Mexico’s dismal ratings. Or better yet, LAB could review the quarterly meeting minutes of the New Mexico Department of Transportation Bicyle/Pedestrian/Equestrian Advisory Committeee! 

But then again, LAB would have a heart attack if they quizzed a 505 rider Rosales quotes in his odd column, Mr. Stephen Williamson, “When I first got here, I had bottles thrown at me. I had guns and knives drawn on me,” Williamson said. “That doesn't happen too often anymore. Fifteen, 20 years ago, it was like I was an alien on the street. People would look at me as if I was crazy. I would ride the trails and be the only one out there. Now you can see 50 or 60 riders in one hour.”  And those are “trails,” not Duke City streets. If you’re worried about guns and knives, check out the street scene where soccer moms are armed to the teeth with over sized SUV’s and bent on making the yellow light no matter what while talking on her cell phone and eating a breakfast burrito. Nowhere in Rosales’s column are the deplorable driving skills of Albuquerque drivers noted.  My experience these few weeks in the saddle makes me think that guns and knives are more preferable than the Albuquerque driver passing within three feet of me going 20 to 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. At least you see the knife or the gun.

But, to be fair, I agree with Rosales’s angle: Albuquerque is a good biking community, sort of.  I differ with his cheery opinion that the Duke City is the “Third-most bicycle friendly city.”  Yes, there are bike paths littered throughout the city, some connected, others illogically ending only to be taken over by signs with a bicycle and an arrow directing you to “go this way” to the next bike path that, amazingly, pops up out of no where miles away.  The moral: trust the signs and ye shall arrive. And I also agree with Mr. Stephenson.  While I haven’t had a knife fight or gun battle while biking, I’ve had a driver throw a beer bottle at me.  Which makes me wonder, whether LAB’s bike friendly state/community analysis considers drunk-driving data.  It doesn’t appear LAB does, I just checked.  If they did… New Mexico’s bike friendly stature may suffer a blow, or perhaps be elevated.  Who knows?  If the drunk driving data was included, how do we explain Rhode Island’s #35 bike friendly state ranking when that state is #1 in drunk driving fatalities? New Mexico is ranked #11.  This according to the rankings provided by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. 

Perhaps, the quandary is in the way LAB ranks states:

All 50 states will be ranked annually by the League of American Bicyclists staff based on their responses to the ranking questionnaire.

In addition to the annual rankings, States can also apply for further recognition through the BFS award program. Applications are reviewed and scored by a committee of experts, League staff, and local cyclists in the state.

One problem right off the bat is that LAB Staff rankings appear to be the primary basis upon which the BFS/C list is established.  And if they’re based in Washington, DC and not in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, just how much faith are we to put in their remote viewing skills?  I couldn’t find a list of the “committee of experts” nor of local cyclists they consult.  If the “committee of experts” is LAB’s National Advisory Group, it appears none are from New Mexico, based on the information provided at LAB’s website.  However, LAB listed Mr. Tim Rogers of Santa Fe in a congratulatory mention for assistance provided.  Mr. Rogers was the New Mexico State Bicycle/Pedestrian/Equestrian Coordinator based in New Mexico’s dusty version of Palm Springs: Santa Fe. FYI: Mr. Tom Trowbridge is the new state bike/walk/horse coordinator and a member of the board of directors for Bike Coalition of New Mexico, along with Mr. Rogers.

I’m seeing some mysterious holes in the LAB ranking system, like the one that flattened my tire yesterday afternoon.  Albuquerque has some awesome bike/trail paths. Don’t get me wrong.  The problem is that they pop up here and there with no apparent order. And, when you really need them, like a best friend who is an alcoholic, they are not there. You have to go extraordinary lengths just to reach them.  Accident and driving records and DUI data should be a part of the ranking system because these contribute to biking safety.  New Mexico is notorious for drunk-divers even though the state’s drunk-driving laws have been revamped.  There are still too many drunk drivers.  Add the notorious driving habits of Albuquerque drivers and we have much to be desired. 

My point after all this sardonic rambling: more work can be done to make biking in New Mexico an even better and safer experience.  The good work that has been done to make biking more enjoyable and safer should be recognized by LAB through more interaction with local riders.  And, an accurate analysis of bike friendly measures, including all pertinent data should be used to accurately rank states.  This would help us all be better bike advocates, and perhaps better columnists.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Adventures in bike commuting

My bell says it all.  Bicycling has given me a new perspective on many things, and this usually through various adventures.  For example, today's lesson on preparation was reinforced by a flat rear tire.  Thankfully I had a pump in my bag.  This is the second flat tire of the summer.  The first flat tire was caused by a small triangular piece of sheet metal at 7:15 p.m.  I walked the remaining mile and a half home in the dark with my bike.  The second flat tire's culprit wasn't discernable. After my meeting this afternoon I went outside, geared up, and noticed that the rear tire was flat. I checked the tire over. Nothing. The valve cap was still on.  Total mystery. I don't like thinking that a colleague was playing a practical joke, or an enemy was attempting to stymie my ride home.  I'd rather think human nature is inherently good, and we prefer to laugh and be peaceful, and that air in inner tubes sometimes just completely disappears with no reason what so ever; air can be tricky like that.  

On my ride home I reflected on the various adventures I've had these past weeks.  Top of the list is the broke down ankle.  Next, perhaps the daily thrill of crossing the Paseo Del Norte/Jefferson intersection.  There's always adventure there.  The most dangerous adventure has to be the one where an 18 wheel diesel truck passed within three feet of me as we both crossed train tracks on La Puebla Drive.  The lamest adventure had to be the flat tire at night.  The best adventure: figuring out my path to the Railrunner train stop.  Side roads, side walks, narrow walking trail, excess highway asphalt separated from Paseo by a concrete barrier, field of rocks, and finally, a bike path.  Going down this path to work is fun, but coming back up is... shall we say... less fun.  But, even then, through the pain, the work, and the eventual last few yards home, I enjoy the ride.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Decision to Bike Commute

I decided to bike commute after I turned my car over to my parents.  They needed a reliable car that wouldn't stop on them in the middle of nowhere within the rural Navajo reservation... more than I needed a car here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Not having a car for the first time in my adult life was weird.  I was weaned from driving and the entire culture and industry surrounding the American automobile: red lights, traffic, oil changes, gas, road rage, speed, etc.  On a quiet Sunday afternoon I dusted off my old Kona Hahanna mountain bike and took it to the bike shop for a tune up.  The first thing that struck me was the fact that biking was so less expensive than keeping a car.  But the cost of pain, as I would eventually learn, was priceless. 

For the first two weeks riding my bike was tricky.  Relearning how to time my shifting up hills, or down them for that matter.  It was trial and error and slow going.  Eventually, I read that street slicks were more economical in the power exertion/effort/speed equation.  So I bought some Michelin City Tires.  These City Bombers, as I call them, easily added another 10 to 12 pounds on my bike. But man do these tires go, and they are quiet too.  I noticed the pedals were too small; this after I snapped the tendons in my left ankle attempting to hop up onto a sidewalk only to have my foot slip sideways.  So I bought Wellgo platform pedals.  These wide pedals worked out nice.  In time, I also upgraded the bottom bracket, which after several years of on and off riding, and many, many years in storage, eventually wore out and started sounding like grinding teeth every time I pushed on the pedal. 

Snapping my ankle did hurt as much as it sounds.  Just a quick "snapping" sound and then you find you can't walk.  I biked to urgent care and the doctor said, "You have separation of the tendons." I hobbled out of that joint with an "air cast" (I asked Nurse Ratchet if I would get an air guitar as well.  She didn't laugh), and with industrial strength crutches to boot. Let the healing process begin.  

After two weeks I was back on the bike.  Which is to say that the whole bike commuting thing has grown on me. Big time.  Now, I've been bike commuting for, ah, let see... nearly eight weeks. And I love it.  There's nothing like an early morning ride to clear your head.  There's nothing like a grueling afternoon ride back up Paseo Del Norte to put all your other problems into simpler perspective.