‘DuaFire’ – How About ‘No Fire’?

adapter

I’m shopping for an adapter for our upcoming overseas trip but something about this one makes me nervous….

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

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I’ve been fortunate to be traveling around the West since March of this year – sort of a pre-retirement tour of places we already love or have always wanted to visit. Typically, we rent a house or apartment for 4-6 weeks and this gives us a chance to get to know the community. One good way to learn about a town is to volunteer – it’s a great way to meet the locals, learn what is important to them, and understand how they treat others in the community. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities from helping at a food bank to one-on-one literacy tutoring. My favorite volunteer activity has been working at bike co-ops. I enjoy the co-ops because I get to wrench on bikes and directly help people. Plus, I see immediate results from my efforts. I particularly enjoy teaching and helping others learn how to troubleshoot. I’ve worked with 5-year-old kids, families, retirees who use a bike as their primary transport, and a few homeless folks who hardly own more than the bike they rode to the shop.

I’ve helped at bike co-ops in Silver City, New Mexico (Bikeworks), Boise, Idaho (Boise Bicycle Project), and Missoula, Montana (Free Cycles Missoula). All three have distinct personalities that reflect the needs of the community, their funding, and the goals of their employees, founders and boards. You don’t have to know anything about bikes to help in any of these organizations – they will put you to work to the level of your knowledge and train you along the way. Some have structured volunteer programs and some assign you to where you are needed on any particular day. If you don’t have a lot of experience, you might initially be taking pedals off bikes or patching inner tubes.

In a typical day at Free Cycles Missoula, I would show up and start working on bikes they would later sell and also help folks who walked into the shop. In one day, I helped a Mom and her whip-smart 8-year-old daughter fix a flat, an Englishman on a cross-country bike tour, and a Sophomore at the University of Montana who was building a bike for himself in the ‘Build-A-Bike’ program. He was tearing the bike down to the bare frame and had a lot of work to do but was enjoying learning how to do it.

As a kid, I tinkered a lot and learned mechanical skills from my father, friends, and books but I think that in this era of ubiquitous electronic devices many kids don’t get the opportunity to work with their hands. Learning how to build and maintain a bike is empowering and fun for both kids and adults. Boise Bicycle Project has a great program for kids to teach them how to build up their own bike – they tear the bike down to the bearings and know every single part on the bike once they are done. At Freecycles, one 5-year-old boy let me help him build his bike. He was so proud when he jumped on it for a test ride that he giggled as he rode around. With that much pride, you know that he’s not going to leave his bike outside to rust in the rain.

During my time at the Boise Bicycle Project, I still remember what I learned from Charles Mitchell, the shop manager, and this theme is repeated at all 3 co-ops to different degrees; A volunteer or donor may initially see the co-op as a place that helps people fix their bikes, but the mission is grander than that. The mission can be about education in troubleshooting, self-reliance, patience, working with others and giving people control over a part of their lives. I also see that the co-ops can bring a broader cross-section of society together than many endeavors. In my work as an engineer over many years I was mostly around medium to high-income people, whereas at the co-ops I was fortunate to work with and learn from people across a much broader spectrum.

For a bike geek like myself, it’s also a chance to see different bikes from past decades since the co-ops get donations of all sorts of bikes and can be like a mini museum of bike history.

I had never seen this BMX bike with rear suspension but this almost mint example was at Bikeworks

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Every co-op has a large collection of donated bikes and parts and these ‘boneyard’ bikes are an important source of parts for repairs and new bikes

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These also provide an almost endless supply for art projects, parade floats, tall bikes, choppers and the like

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Or this parade float at Free Cycles powered by a side-by-side tandem

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One day in Missoula, I even met Erick, a fellow Tufts graduate, who had just finished his degree and was on his way to Seattle. It was great to help him a bit with his bike and see him get back on the road.

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I have never had a more satisfying volunteer experience and I strongly recommend you check out a bike co-op near you. Every child I’ve ever seen build a bike – it doesn’t matter how old it is, how bad the paint is or if the tires don’t match – EVERY kid has smiled when he or she rode that bike for the first time. I’ve seen down-and-out guys come in with barely functioning bikes and with a little help they walk out proudly knowing they fixed their bike and this means they can get to a job.

So, if you’re looking for a way to give back and at the same time learn more about bikes you can’t do better than to volunteer at a bike co-op. Have you done it? If so, let me know – I would love to hear what you learned.

Things I like about robot cars

google self-driving car


There has been a lot of press about self-driving cars, and as they come closer to public availability I find that people generally fall into 2 camps; either they are enthusiastic and think they will be a great time (and even money) saver or they are skeptical and can’t imagine an autonomous vehicle being as safe as a human-driven car. There is a small third group that likes driving, doesn’t like to give up control, and imagines they won’t get to places as fast as the law-abiding robots. That’s hard to imagine in many of our traffic-choked cities where commute speeds average something like 12 mph, but I digress.

With approximately 1 death per hour in California due to cars, it’s hard to fathom just how computers could do worse, especially considering that so many deaths and injuries are due to inattention, distraction and DUI’s – failings which computers generally aren’t vulnerable to.

Having been around machine control and automation all my working life, I understand the challenges but also know that the control systems and sensor technology are more than capable of providing greater levels of convenience and safety than we expect today. And particularly, the greatest beneficiaries will be the pedestrians, cyclists and other road users who aren’t protected by the cocoon of a modern car with airbags, crumple zones and the like. This video from Google shows some of the strides they have made to operate safely around pedestrians and cyclists – check this out Self-driving cars on city streets.

So I look forward to the day we see these vehicles on the road and following are some of my primary reasons. Please let me know if you have others to add to this list.

Why I like robot cars:

  • Unlike humans, they CAN multi-task
  • Kids won’t have to run in fear when my Mom goes out
  • They WILL come to a full stop at stop signs, probably even for right turn on red
  • They will always use their turn signals
  • My Dad won’t have to yell ‘SLOW DOWN’ when they go down our street
  • They won’t get DUI’s but you can still ride in one when you’re wasted
  • They won’t participate in Sideshows
  • When I’m biking I’ll be safer than with human drivers
  • I can have one come pick me up at work if I’m too lazy to ride my bike home.
  • No more arguments with my wife about who has to drive
  • We can both sleep on those long drives

Multi-modal, Mixed-terrain Bike Adventure

Caltrain from MV

One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is the network of (mostly) connected public transit you can use to get to a ride or finish a ride. Integrating public transit into your ride has some great benefits:

  • It’s easier to do point-to-point rides
  • You can skip over the portions that are less bike friendly
  • You can push your limits a bit and still have a bail-out option
  • And, of course, you can leave the car at home

Two of the great enablers are the Clipper Card which allows you to take just about every type of transit in the Bay Area without taking any cash and Google Maps on your smartphone which helps you find the next transit option.

And surprisingly, transit helps mountain bike riders and not just roadies. Sure, you can’t catch a bus up to Skyline and Demo but light rail goes to Santa Teresa, Alum Rock and Campbell which puts you within a short pedal of some decent trails. I’ve also taken Caltrain to Belmont and pedaled the 1.5 miles to Waterdog.

When we lived in the UK for a couple years we used the extensive rail network on a few multi-day loops and more frequently on day rides. Sometimes it was just to get in a bit of variety and other times it was to get back home after we got caught in the all-too-frequent downpours. When we moved to Mountain View, one of our reasons to pay the extra rent was the easy access to 2 different rail transit options and the 22 bus going up and down El Camino Real which means we aren’t so reliant on the car.

My old friend Andy introduced us to the Caltrain, Golden Gate Bridge, Mt Tamalpais, Tiburon dirt loop with return to SF via ferry. Starting a ride like this with a sunny-day pedal along the Embarcadero with views of the Bay Bridge and a crossing of the Golden Gate would make any tourist jealous. It gets even better once you hit the dirt in the Marin Headlands and make your way to Mt. Tam. The trails aren’t very technical, with the vast majority being fireroads, but the scenery is as good as you can hope to get so close to such a dense urban area.

I did a variant of the Mt Tam ride the other weekend with my target destination being the Gestalt Haus pub in Fairfax. It has to be one of the most bike-friendly places in the Bay Area with bike parking INSIDE, a range of quality beers on tap and reasonably-priced food off the grill.

GH inside

I also thought my new route (carefully mapped out on ridewithgps.com) might be a bit easier since it didn’t climb all the way to the top of Mt. Tam. The stats said it would be 5000 feet of climbing but that COULDN’T be right could it?

My day started off with a quick ride to downtown Mountain View for a cup of coffee before I caught the first train North. There were a surprising amount of other cyclists on the train at this hour – maybe everyone had a big day planned.

I always like the first transit ride on any trip. Whether for a day trip or a month away there is a feeling of possibilities and excitement and never being completely certain what will happen. I arrived in SF just after 8:30 and was a bit surprised to find sunny skies and warm temperatures so early. All I needed was a light jacket for my pedal along the Embarcadero which was an easy cruise with just a few tourists at this early hour.

Bay Bridge fog

A huge cruise ship was docked just a bit further up the Embarcadero disgorging it’s thousands of customers into a long line of taxis that were idling in the bike lane. Not too much of a problem as I was going by but I had to wonder – when does ‘Bike Lane’ mean Bikes Only – just when it’s convenient?

taxis in bike lane

After this it’s a pleasant cruise through Fisherman’s Wharf, then Maritime Park where the swimmers are always out early and then the little climb through Fort Mason where I get my first view of Mt Tam seemingly a long way away.

Mt Tam across the bay

I had a brief second thought about the trip but considered what was waiting for me at Gestalt Haus, the perfect weather and the snowstorm my family was experiencing back East so I rode on towards Crissy Field. This was the first time I had ever done this ride alone so it was nice to stop wherever I wanted and not worry about time. I read a lot of the signs and stopped a bit longer than usual at every overlook.

Headlands view

The Golden Gate Bridge crossing is always spectacular and since cyclists are on the West side you get a view of ocean and wild lands that the pedestrians on the other side don’t get to enjoy as easily. Soon I”m across the bridge and up the road into the Marin headlands. Fairly stiff first climb of the day but hard to notice my effort with the view of the Pacific and the coast wrapping around to the South. Where the climb levels out I get my first taste of dirt on a downhill fireroad that’s fun and a little loose on the cyclocross bike. A great feeling since I know I’ll be on dirt for several hours now before returning to pavement just above Fairfax. Bottoming out in the first valley I have a view of green hills and lots of Poppies. Marin had a pretty good rainfall a few weeks back when the Peninsula got very little and the green hills and wildflowers are the evidence.

Poppies

After a 15 minute fireroad climb out of the Valley I hit a little bit of singletrack and at the exact spot where I planned to take a short break I notice that my rear tire is going flat. Not a bad place to fix a tire

flat repair with a view

From here I dropped into Tennessee Valley and just to the North I got great views of the Coast

coast north of Tennessee Valley

followed by some steep roller coaster climbs as I ascended to about 2000 feet on the West flank of Mt. Tam. Then it was a fast, steep descent towards Fairfax with views to the North with San Pablo Bay just barely visible looking East

Almost in Fairfax

And then suddenly I was at quiet and very still Lake Lagunitas

Lagunitas

and from there I had just a bit more dirt until I was in Fairfax.

There might not be a much more welcome site after a long day in the saddle

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I had about 2 hours to hang out in Fairfax since the Larkspur ferries don’t run as frequently in the off-season so I enjoyed a couple of beers and a large Kielbasa piled high with sauerkraut. My day could have happily ended here but I still had a flat 7 mile pedal ahead and the 30 minute crossing back to SF. The Larkspur ferry is absolutely worth the price of admission with views of Tiburon, Angel Island, San Quentin, Alcatraz and seemingly the entire Bay Area on this sparkling day.

ferry view

At the SF ferry building with still an hour to wait for the ferry to Oakland so I decided to take BART to meet my honey and the rest of her group in time for dinner.

So that gave me 3 different transit modes and about 42 miles of mixed terrain goodness for the day. And best of all, my mini-vacation helped me see the Bay Area in a whole new light.

What about you? Do you have any favorite transit-supported rides?

 

 

Complete Streets, Hanoi Update

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After the relative traffic calm of Laos & Cambodia I absolutely wasn’t prepared for Hanoi. As you can see above there are no lanes or obvious flow in the fairly typical intersection shown. It’s in the center of the Old Quarter which is busy all day and night. An easy fix to the above would be to make it a roundabout so that vehicles were forced into a predictable flow. There’s a small fountain that acts as a bit of a traffic circle off to the left of the picture but the main traffic flow doesn’t go around that. However a new roundabout would only work if there was enforcement and I don’t see much police presence.

It would have been great to see some police attention to keep scooters off the sidewalk behind us but that didn’t happen as you see below. This was pretty common behavior in the afternoon commute we witnessed. For those turning right at the worst intersections, the easiest time saver was to jump on the sidewalk for the right turn then get back on the street. So we were watching our back the rest of the walk home.

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For walkers it’s pretty intimidating. The shear density of the traffic and the almost complete lack of accommodation for pedestrians makes it truly dangerous for walking. The best thing you can say is that vehicles don’t seem to get much above 30 kph so an accident probably won’t be fatal.

I used Google ‘My Tracks’ on 2 different taxi trips (one 7 km and the other 6 km). The first trip averaged 14 kph (yes kilometers/hour not miles/hour!) and the other 12 kph. Just about anyone could maintain that speed on a bike so I don’t think it would be too hard to get people back on bikes if you could somehow reduce the terror of mixing it up with heavier vehicles. However, all the vehicles are much more tightly packed than I’m used to in the US so it’s intimidating to ride a bike. I would think the quickest way to convert people to riding bikes would be to ban all other vehicles from the most traffic-impacted roads. Of course, I don’t imagine cyclists have much lobbying clout since they are likely poorer than the car and scooter users.

Pedestrian safety is enough of a concern that hotels provide advice when you check in on how to cross the street

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Ideally you find a bit of a gap in traffic and slowly cross while keeping an eye on the vehicles coming at you. It’s OK to stop midway across but NEVER back up since that’s unexpected. Mostly the scooters and cars will drive around you but that assumes they are paying attention and not engaged in their smartphone which is quite common. It mostly worked for me but it is not a relaxing city for walkers and quite stressful. In 3 days I saw 3 accidents right in front of me. They looked to be mostly cuts and bruises and thankfully not worse. Pretty bad considering I rarely witness accidents in the US. My wife was much more intimidated than me. She probably would have taken a taxi or 2 just to CROSS some of the worst intersections if I hadn’t been acting as a human shield. I don’t know how the infirm or elderly could navigate here.