Saturday, July 31, 2010


It's no secret that I really like electronic music. Last night, The Crystal Method came to town to throw down a 5-hour-long DJ set at Lucky Strike Lanes. I had to go, and I dragged commuterDude with me. We carpooled.

The Crystal Method at Lucky Strike Lanes

Scott Kirkland of The Crystal Method on the decks at Lucky Strike Lanes

Even though Lucky Strike Lanes is a bit of an upscale venue, it didn't stop the ravers from coming out to play.

Lucky Strike

The Crystal Method at Lucky Strike Lanes

And maybe cDude got into it a little, too...
Lucky Strike

It was a great show and of course they threw down some TCM originals mixed in with a lot of other stuff, like only they could.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perimeter Lighting

While I'm going on about things that have been annoying me lately, let me talk about one of the most sinister automobile features ever: Perimeter lighting.

That's the name for the feature that turns on a car's headlights, tail lights, park lights, and (most horrifyingly) reverse lights when the owner unlocks the car with the remote key fob. That means when I'm leaving my own apartment at about the same time as everyone else in the morning, I get about 5 or 6 cars that suddenly appear to be applying the brake and shifting into reverse. Thanks to dense parking and dark tinted windows, there's often no real way to tell which of them will back out in front of me or if there even any drivers in the cars to begin with.

If it wasn't for the reverse lights, I might not be quite so annoyed. I'm convinced that there's a front row seat in hell reserved for the person who thought it was a good idea to engage the reverse lights when the car isn't actually in reverse.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Have a better idea?

I've written much on the state of the horrible railroad crossings on my new commute route. This is my usual approach to crossing them:

When I see a break in traffic, I creep out toward the center line to make it abundantly clear that I absolutely need the whole width of the lane. As I approach the crossing, I pull a zig-zag maneuver that lets me cross the rails more or less perpendicular. If I don't do the first step, I get cars that give me barely enough room to cross them in the direction of the road, much less the ability to cross the rails safely.

Have any better ideas? This trick earned my my first angry honk this morning. I suppose it's not bad for having to do this twelve times per day, five days per week for the past 2 and a half months.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

18.3 MPH Average

... On the fixie. According to the little top speed calculator thingy I made, that means I had an average cadence of about 94 RPM. I plugged in the specs for the Wabi Special: 2090mm tire circumference, 46T chainring and 18t cog, and played with cadence until I got it right.

I was probably hitting 130 in some spots, and holding over 100 RPM for most of the way, dropping down to climb the three bigger hills on my homeward trip, which took about 5 minutes less than usual. This is a quick pace for me even when I'm on the road bike, where I can sustain 25 MPH for a good part of my trip if I feel like hammering it.

About a week ago, I got tired of the platform pedals and the ass-hatchet of a saddle. I swapped my SPDs and Bontrager saddle over from The Twelve. Those changes made the Wabi Special even more enjoyable to ride than before. The OEM saddle doesn't get along with me at all, and clipless pedals or rat traps go a long way on fixed gear. Without some kind of attachment system, high cadence spinning seems both disconcerting and dangerous. With clipless, I felt much more in control and more in touch with the pavement than before.

I'm probably going to be finished reviewing this bike at the end of this week. There will be a fixie-shaped hole in my life when I send this beauty back home to Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I like storms. I even like riding in storms. It's not often that I fear the weather; Your chances of getting sucked up into a Swirling Vortex of Doom or getting struck by lightning are pretty slim.

Last night, I got scared.

The skies were ominous when I left, and there was a strong wind out of the north. I didn't have my waterproof backpack with me, so I'd wrapped my phone up in a plastic bag. I was ready for rain and headwind. Some co-workers offered me a ride home, but their sedans wouldn't accommodate my bike, and I didn't feel like messing with the bolted front axle to remove the wheel so it'd fit in a trunk. They wished me good luck. That made my day, at least.

Riding across 113th, there were a few times I was nearly blown straight off the road by crosswind. Once I got myself into a headwind situation on Santa Fe Trail Drive, I was okay. I had to put my sunglasses on because the wind was blowing debris at me with stinging force. Then came the first few sprinkles and even more wind, clawing at my forearms and calves. All while trying to hold a straight, assertive line on the road. A kind man in a pickup drove next to me for a while and asked if I needed a ride. I thanked him and waved him on. I'd later regret that.

After a few miles, the deluge set in, and it was like riding into a sandblaster nozzle. There was zero visibility and the driving rain caused burning pain on all my exposed skin, even my scalp as it drove its way through the vents in my helmet. Lightning strikes were landing way too close for comfort and finally drove me to find the nearest overpass to wait under for a while. It's easy to write off a lightning strike as a one-in-a-million probability until you've heard the sharp sound of arcing electricity right before you feel the thunder a few times in a row.

Shortly after getting back out on the road, I would find myself being passed far-too-closely by a lane-straddling semi as I tried to go over one of the gnarlier railroad crossings. Despite my assertive lane position, I didn't get nearly enough room, and I couldn't make a perpendicular cross like I usually do. The rear tire hit the second rail, lost traction, and tried sliding right out from under me. I managed to stay shiny side up without stopping, thanks to fixed gears' natural tendency to be easier to control in low-traction conditions. I would have looked for the plate number of the truck, but it had stopped to wait for a left turn and I didn't feel like waiting around.

The rest of the trip was uneventful as can be when you're dealing with storms. At least I felt refreshed when I got home, even if I did have to wring three gallons of water out of my backpack, clothes and shoes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July DSR - Unofficial Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride alternative

I opted for a smaller group this time, as you can tell. Almost half of the people who had initially said "Yes" to the ride bailed out yesterday (for completely legitimate reasons), leaving eight intrepid souls to take the ride. I'm bad with names, so I can't remember Drew's guests names, but there was also Badger, Darius, Eric, Ben and myself.

Eric was rocking his brand new Surly LHT, which he's just picked up. I'm jealous. More and more of my serious commuting friends have some kind of nice steel touring bike.

I met Ben on the bus last year. He normally rides the whole way (College and Quivira-ish to Downtown) but had gotten a flat and retreated to the B bus, which I happened to be riding. It wasn't even my normal route. He brought this fixed gear bike out for the ride. I noticed that it wasn't just painted white, but it's almost completely covered in reflective material:

Outside the cave entrance.

Ben, Eric and I hit IHOP afterward, then parted ways. It was a really late night.

Also: Substation with a half-moon over it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride

The Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride changed its route again. It's coming up this Saturday night.

There are rumors (started by me, of course) that there will be an alternative to this ride that promises to be more fun for experienced cyclists who like riding at night. This is the official Dark Side Ride for July. This is the closest I'm going to get to announcing it publicly. Contact me via email for details. I will not respond to in-blog comments about this ride.

Just take the lane.

A few things combined prompted this.

  1. Dave Moulton had a nice rant.
  2. St. Charles county wants to ban bicycles on certain roads.
  3. People want to debate about bikes on roads and where they should ride.
  4. I posted about "Gutter Bunnies" on
  5. Someone in Johnson County got injured badly by riding into an under-construction gutter seam.
  6. Eric points out this awesome animation about the perils of a shy, cowardly curb-hugger vs. a savvy, confident cyclist.
Click the links. I don't have a lot to add here, other than to say that I generally ride my bike about where a car's right wheel normally sits in the lane, or 18-24" out from the gutter seam or fog line most of the time. I rarely have any problems riding here, and in the past few years of riding like this, I can count on one hand the number of times it's actually resulting in someone honking at me from behind in anger.

Early commute

Server maintenance this morning. Wet roads. Took The Twelve.
Renner Blvd & W 116th St

Random Tunage:
Energy 52 - Cafe del Mar (Kenny Hayes Remix)
Coldplay - Talk (Junkie XL Remix)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Weather Rage

Back in late July 2008, I rode home from downtown KC to Lenexa with an ambient temperature of 101°F, relative humidity of 37% and a heat index of 108*F. That was my hottest day on the bike of all time.

Today's ambient temperature wasn't nearly as hot, but at nearly 60% relative humidity, the heat index blew my previous record out of the water.

Let's ask Rage Guy what he has to say about this.

Rage Guy?
Renner Blvd & W 116th St

Yeah. That's about how I feel, too.

Random Tunage:
Orbital - Desert Storm
Libra - Anomaly

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Behold, the watt.

"In terms of Classical mechanics, one watt is the rate at which work is done when an object's velocity is held constant at one meter per second against constant opposing force of one newton."

Blah, blah, blah. What the hell is a newton anyway?

Just kidding. I'm a nerd. I know what all of this means. Basically, a watt is a way to express the rate at which work is being done. When you're dealing with electricity, volts x amperes = watts. I actually think that transposes to mechanics easier than the crazy jibberish above.

The weight you apply to the pedals is like Volts. The speed you're cranking on them is like amperes. The combined work being done can, in fact, be expressed in watts.

I mentioned this a few days ago: fixed gear doesn't seem to have slowed me down at all. When I first hopped on the Wabi Special, I gave myself twice the time to get to work, just in case. I figured that I'd have a hard time climbing hills. I also figured I'd have to take it slow going downhill. To me, this whole thing sounded like a recipe for a slower commute. I got to work as fast as usual. Maybe faster. I didn't have a cyclometer, but total elapsed time with stops was 25 minutes, which is par for the course. This has been puzzling me for a few days. I keep leaving a little early. I keep thinking maybe I'm just hammering it harder than usual to make up for the time. I keep getting to work in 25 minutes. The return trip home is also about the same. What's going on?

When I'm riding on my own, I tend to fall into this pace. It's not particularly fast, but it's not very slow, either. I always thought this had something to do with my pedaling cadence. I'd adjust my gearing to keep my cadence somewhat stable.

Riding fixed gear, though, I've found out that I have settled into roughly the same pace, even though my cadence is all over the place. I'm now starting to understand how this all works. It's not about cadence, it's about watts. Without being able to trade-off effort for crank revolutions with dozens of gearing combinations, I still exert roughly the same amount of energy per minute regardless which bike I'm on. I just push harder on the uphills than I normally would, and spin faster than usual on flat land. The same amount of energy exerted moves the bike roughly the same speed on average.

Bonus: the fixed-gear drivetrain is actually more efficient and feels more connected to the road. You'd have to try it to know what I mean. The end-result is a remarkably simple, efficient and fun way to get around, so long as you don't have many steep hills around.

Mystery solved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Danger Panda

This shot from a few weeks ago got me a finalist spot in a photo contest on Brightkite, a service I use to help me blast my pictures, announcements and whatnot onto various social media platforms. The prize? A Brightkite T-Shirt.

Danger Panda time.

Renner Blvd & W 116th St

Friday, July 09, 2010

Remember the burn?

Those of you who started riding a bike in the last 5 years or so will probably remember with a certain fondness how badly the muscles in your legs hurt the morning after your first ride. My first few times riding 2 miles each way to the bus stop felt like huge journeys. When I woke up in the morning, my feet would ache. My quads and calves would burn.

For me, riding 6.2 miles each way now feels like a short and easy trip. It's highly enjoyable. When I wake up these days, I feel refreshed. Bike commuting does that to you. It gets you into better shape and changes your mood. And if you ride every day at a pace you enjoy, you really won't tone your muscles any more. They'll get used to it.

Yesterday, I rode 13 miles on the Fixed-Gear Wabi Special. It took me about a mile to get used to riding fixed gear Wednesday night. Yesterday's commute went great. Fixed gear is fun! Although I had to hop out of the saddle for some of the hills, It's really no more total work to get around on a fixie than it is with any other bike. Gears just trade effort for time and distance. You don't need to mash as hard on the pedals to climb in a lower gear, but you have to turn the cranks more times to get to the top. Total work done to climb a hill is roughly the same either way you do it.

One thing I noticed, though, is that fixed gear forces you to use a bunch of muscle groups that, as far as I can tell, most normal cyclists don't use too often. I could tell yesterday that some new muscles were being worked. This morning, I hurt in almost the exact same way I used to hurt when I first started riding. At least this time I know that this phase only lasts a few days.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Trains of Santa Fe Trail Drive

I go over six distinct railroad crossings each way on my commute. That's twelve per day. Lenexa doesn't really know how to maintain these crossings, as most of them are rough to ride across. This is amplified by the fact that these are local spurs with a very odd angle-of-attack, leading off the siding next to the mainline and into small yards where only a few cars at a time get dropped off to local businesses across the street.

Some people believe these crossings are vestigial rails, no longer used. Two of the six crossings have derails off the siding track. They are smooth and easy to cross because asphalt is butted up directly against the rails. Every so often, though, I see something like this on one of the remaining four spurs:
Renner Blvd & W 116th St
Hey, look! A caboose!

Cabooses are still often used on local deliveries such as this one, frequently book-ending the train with the engine somewhere in the middle. A conductor acts as the eyes and ears for the engineer. The caboose also contains a gauge showing brake line air pressure and enables the conductor to initiate emergency braking for the entire train.

In case you wondered, the little blinking red light (FRED, or Flashing Rear End Device) at the trailing end of most freight trains is a computerized device that provides roughly the same function as a conductor in a caboose. It monitors brake pressure through to the back of the train and has a blow-off valve to allow the engineer to expedite emergency braking from both ends of the air hose.

At any rate, I really wish someone would do something about these horrible crossings. The angle of these crossings plus the general blighted condition of the roadway near them often makes it uncomfortable for everyone. Cyclists have to find (and memorize) a safe line through each crossing, and motorists have to be patient, as it's one big no-passing zone. Santa Fe Trail Drive isn't terribly wide, but motorists and cyclists get along quite well. I've only been honked at one time and it was friendly (meep meep!) The right part of the road is in great shape with ample room for the Kansas-mandated 4-foot passing law, except at these crossings. There, I just take the whole darn lane as needed, but many cyclists are far too sheepish to do that.

Lenexa keeps piling asphalt into these crossings, but the locomotives keep rolling through, crushing and distorting it. I'm pretty sure Lenexa's doing it wrong, and I don't think it's anyone else's responsibility (e.g., land owners, railroad companies, etc...)

On a side note, today was my first commute on the fixie. I went on a little 3-mile jaunt last night, making a mock trip to the grocery store using small residential roads and mostly-empty parking lots to get myself familiarized with fixed-gear riding. Once I broke myself of my coasting habit, everything else fell neatly into place. It was an enjoyable ride to work this morning, and it didn't really take me any longer to get here.

Update: dvicci just linked me to this gem on Dave Moulton's blog via Google Reader. How timely!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Teaser: Wherein Fixed-Gear Apocalypse Draws Near

Test Mule 0x02.
The Lab-O-Ratory

The Lab-O-Ratory

The Lab-O-Ratory

I thought monsoon season was over...

I shoe-horned this 32mm tire onto my rear wheel last week (Thanks, Karen!) but I had to ditch the fender on the back. It just wasn't going to fit.

The Lab-O-Ratory

It'll be nice to get a front fork that can take something wider than 28mm, too. Next thing you know, I'll be year-rounding this bike with cyclocross tires. Of course, just as soon as I got rid of my rear fender, the rain picks up again. I rigged up my mountain bike's old mudflap a different way this time. Photos coming soon. It keeps the road grime off my back, but does very little to keep the backsplash off of my calves. I do like the way the wider rear tire rides, though.

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