Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Behind the scenes, moving and shaking.

As I'm sure most of you know, I am an insurance agent. As such, I think differently than most of you because I live, eat, and breathe insurance. I also love bicycles, and it's an exciting time for cyclists here in Dallas - aside from the cold. There are new bike lanes popping up all over and the cycling "scene" is booming. The epicenter of all of this seems to be in Oak Cliff, and one of the exciting things that is on the horizon is a potential car co-op. For many people, car ownership is not an attractive option, either financially or because they just looove the Earth so much. However, living in Dallas sometimes means needing a car. Often, what could be a two hour excursion using bus/train/and bicycle might be a simple half hour trip if one had access to a vehicle. There are plenty of cities that have for profit hourly car rental, but a co-op is something a little different. I have contacted the organizer and I should be working behind the scenes to make this dream a reality. Where there are cars there is insurance, and where there are multiple owners there is complicated insurance, and that is what I love.

In addition to co-op, there are also new bicycle related businesses popping up all over as well. One new business that I am excited about is Switching Gears, a new bicycle shop on Exposition, across from Fair Park. I rode down to Fair Park a couple of times last year, and I'm excited about the prospect of a new bicycle shop opening up down there.

I'm excited because they will be bringing some new brands to Dallas, and in a place where now there is no shop to service the people that live there. I'm also most excited because I am doing the insurance for the shop (and getting them a great deal). In this case again, I am the guy behind the guy, and am very pleased to be. I know that starting a new business is a huge, scary adventure. I'm glad to be able to help these folks get the insurance part in order, so that they can focus on the more important things that go along with opening a new shop. I'm looking forward to going down to the grand opening.

I did ride my bike in today, but this morning I just rode to the train station. I will be riding all of the way home, and I'm sure that will result in an "oh, I am out of shape and slow" post. Since it was cold this morning and I wasn't riding far, I thought I would try out the coffee holder that my lovely wife gave me for Christmas.

Here it is mounted on my High Sierra. I want to start by saying that I am a huge coffee junkie - I drink at least 6 cups a day and am afraid of what will happen to me when I stop. However, I have never been a coffee to go type person. If I have a long drive somewhere and we are out of joe at the house I'll stop and grab a cup someplace, but generally if we have it at the house or office I will brew a cup and drink it before I leave. This morning, however, I brewed myself a cup in the travel mug you see above. Once brewed, I put the cup in the holder, and away we went to give this thing a test. Overall, it performed very well, and is much more secure than the other holder that I already had. This Bell holder is a solid piece of metal, and it is lined with some sort of neoprene that holds the coffee cup securely. This is a very well designed cup holder, and if that is what you are looking for, I suggest that you go pick up one of the Bell Cruisin' Joe coffee cup holder - at $5.99 it does a fantastic job of securing your coffee cup on your handlebars. The cup is secure, the handlebar clamp is a very sturdy aluminum, and the only problem I had was going over a bump with the sipper spout of the cup open; I had a little splash that you can just see on the handlebars in the picture above. I will say it was nice to have a hot drink at the first stoplight I came to, and it was even nicer to have coffee while I waited for the train. At the same time, I question the need to have a coffee holder on a bicycle. You can't drink while you are riding, and I can just about guarantee that any driver that sees you sipping coffee at a stop light will be enraged by the fact that you are riding a bicycle and drinking coffee instead of being a slave to the oil companies like they are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blah blah blah

It's still cold and crappy, and I am doing nothing. I am riding indoors and sweating a lot, but it feels like the spring is a million years away.

I am still reading about Major Taylor, who was the first African American world champion cyclist. Taylor was actually the first non-boxing world champion of anything. At the turn of the century cycling was a huge as the NFL is now, and Taylor became world champion against incredible odds. It's a fascinating story, and I will be writing a full review of the book I'm reading soon, and I'm looking forward to telling you more about it.

I had a long talk about commuting and riding with my neighbor/commuting buddy yesterday where we both lamented our incredible lack of fitness, and how quickly we can lose it. Despite riding so much I am doing well to stay slightly less fit than I was in November.

I have made some changes to my High Sierra MTB to make it a better commuter rig, and I think I just about have it dialed in. However, I am having trouble with brake adjustments in the rear, so I'm still not exactly where I want. I need to replace the levers on the bike, and I'm thinking that as long as things aren't right I need to just go ahead and do it all at once. When I built my brother his singlespeed, I stupidly used the fairly rare Suntour levers on his bicycle, rather than putting them on my Schwinn where they belong. It's not a very hard job to replace them, but it means a lot of time just to do something for purely aesthetic reasons. Once I finish the job I will do a fairly long post about the bike, which I'm sure you won't find interesting at all, unless you are as sick in the head as I am - or have a casual interest in my mental illness.

It's supposed to be pretty nice on Friday, so I plan to ride then, at least. I am hoping to get a ride in tomorrow (Wednesday). I'm seriously considering making my commute a mixed one and riding the train in the morning and riding the bike all the way home in the afternoon when it's not so cold. It's a hassle to ride with a full sized bike, but I'm getting really tired of being trapped in my car for 45 minutes each morning, and I'm even more tired of putting $3 gas in the tank. I was filling up once a month in the summer, but it's a lot more now.

I'll leave you with the admonition to watch for cyclists when you are driving. While I have the luxury of driving, lots of us don't, and are out there in the nasty weather fighting with traffic every day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The most boring post ever.

I did an hour on the trainer.

I tried to get a picture of the sweat on the floor around the bike, but couldn't do it. My recovery meal was Macaroni Ham and Cheese casserole.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's official

I am out of shape. Perhaps my cunning plan of doing absolutely nothing other than drinking booze and eating holiday garbage from November until now was ill thought out. I had my suspicions after my two slow rides to work this year; I suspected the bikes I was riding (and the machines may have contibuted, for sure) but after getting on the trainer yesterday I have a better idea of where the fault lies.

My winter setup

I rode for about forty minutes yesterday, and that's laughably low. I'll be riding again today, and I'm shooting for at least an hour. It's hard for me to find stuff to write about when I am actually pedaling out in the world; finding stuff to write about in my living room is an even more daunting prospect. I will tell you that if you think your wife doesn't use that spare yoga mat, check first. When she notices what you have done with it, you might end up on the hook for a new one.

My dog is fascinated by my trainer. She is not a big fan of bicycles anyway (or any two wheel contraption) and she is unsure how to handle this one. While it is something she knows that she hates, it doesn't act like any other she has seen; it's loud, but only one wheel is moving, and I am sitting still. During my whole session yesterday she laid on the floor maybe two feet away, and was more attentive than I have seen her in a long time.

The only other time she isn't splayed out like a bearskin rug; when I am trying to take a picture of her.

It is going to be cold and rainy this week, so I'm only planning on riding on Monday. I also have several meetings that I will need to drive to, so even if it were nice I wouldn't be able to ride. I'm shooting for a few hours on the trainer during the week, but I have never been an exercise for exercise's sake type of person. I like cycling beacuse every ride is a little adventure. Cycling isn't really "fun" in the traditional sense of the word; it's partially about suffering and pain. Indoor cycling is all about suffering and pain, with any of the stuff that makes riding kind of fun stripped away.

In other news, I recieved my press credentials for the NAHBS show, so I will be in Austin on the 25th and 26th of February, looking at awesome handmade bicycles that I could never justify buying for myself. I'm fascinated by the whole handmade scene, and I'm sure I will enjoy the experience. In addition, as "press" I will be attending some parties that the public won't be allowed at, so hopefully I will get to meet some cool folks. Mellow Johnny's is throwing the official party on Friday night, so I'm hoping that Lance will be there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Show.

As a blogger, one rarely has the chance to play in "the show". In fact, one might not even understand that there is a "show" when it comes to bloggers. I hear you out there saying, "It could get more bigtime than a free Blogger account?" In the blog world, the show means paid magazine writing, and I am very pleased to announce that I will shortly have an article published on another local blog, albeit one with a few more readers than this one.

Then maybe eventually I can make it to the show.

In the meantime, I am not writing a lot for this blog for two reasons; it's cold (bitterly so) so I am not riding, and I am busy writing posts for other people's blogs. I'm not neglecting you guys here though, and I will certinly link to what I am writing elsewhere, or republish it here. (I make sure that I control blogging rights; it is in any contract I sign.)

Two of the articles I will be writing will be book reviews. My wife got me the Bikesnob book and a book about Major Taylor and I plan to review both, probably for Biking in Dallas. I haven't written a book review since I was in college, and even then I'm not sure if I was any good at it. I know I never graduated, so take from that what you will.

There will be another, probably collaborative article about converting a 1990's era steel mountain bike into an around town type bike, so if that's something you are interested in, keep an eye out for that article. I may just be the mechanic and featured hands in the article, but nonethelss it is EXPOSURE, and that exposure could bring me one step closer to my own reality show.

Finally, I will be attending the NAHBS this year, so I'm sure that will be worth a few posts in Feb. I'm hoping to spend the day looking at really cool handmade bicycles, see some blogtacular celebrities, and then spend the night riding bicycles around Austin with some friends. I'm very interested in meeting some of the builders at the show, because I'd like to build my own frame someday. It should be a great weekend in Austin, and the blogging outlook is favorable all the way around.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pushing outside my comfort zone

The picture above was taken at sunset in Richardson, TX, about halfway to my house on the way home from work. About ten minutes after I took the picture the sun was behind the horizon,and I was riding in the dark. I will preface this post by saying that I'm no stranger to riding in the dark and quite often if I am awake at midnight (or later) I can be found riding around my neighborhod, just enjoying the silence. When I was riding my fixed gear to get my fitness level up last year, that happened almost exclusively in the dark at 4am. Those rides, while physically intense, were also very peaceful.

That being said, once the sun went down on my commute, it was nothing like those peaceful moonlit rides. I still had a few miles on the bike path after I took this picture, and they were just fine. More work and a lot slower than I would have liked, but that was because of all of the garbage I have hanging off of the steel mountain bike I was riding, and my very low fitness level after my long break.

On my ride home, there are two places where I have to contend with traffic; at one point I have to ride about a block on Spring Valley road in Richardson, and on the home stretch, my route runs about a mile along N. Plano Road. Other than those two spots, my entire route consits of either small residential streets or protected trails or lanes. Unfortunately, after the sun went down, I had to contend with N. Plano Rd. The part that I ride is 3 lanes in either direction, and while it is busy, it's not terrible - though I had never ridden it after dark.

Getting on was no problem, I got into my turn lane, and when the light went green I shot across the intersection and into the far right lane. I didn't hug the curb, because I wanted to make sure that I had the entire lane, and no one would try to share the lane with me. I had plenty of lights on the bike (2 blinkies in back, 2 large high power lights in front) and my reflective jacket and vest on. I was visible, I have no doubt. Apparently after I made my turn, the lights changed, because there was a lot of traffic around me very suddenly, and in fact, someone who passed me revving his engine and swerving into my lane - only to swerve back out as soon as he got past me. I pedaled my little heart out after that, and made pretty good time, depsite the slowness of my bicycle. As I passed under George Bush, I had a second jackass in a large black truck also swerve into my lane. He honked as he swerved, then sped away honking some more. My rage fueled me to the light, where I ended up next to him at the interesection. Because he was still in the middle lane, I knew that the whole honking/swerving show was purely for my benefit. I gave him my coldest stare, but as it was dark I'm afraid it might have been wasted.

After the intersection, I part ways with traffic and ride through a commercial development and to my house. The final part of the ride was quiet, and gave me a chance to reflect on assholes, and why people are so angry with cyclists. Truly, I can't fathom why someone would see a much smaller vehicle on the road and decide that it's a good idea to try and intimidate it, or maybe even cause him to have an accident. These weren't my first encounters with people like this, and I'm sure they won't be the last. This was my first commute after dark, and I think I'm going to have to look at altering my route a little. It may take longer, but I don't like mixing it up with that many cars after the sun goes down. This is the second time I have had a "first" this year; riding in the early morning cold was the other. My mother in law has assesed me as someone that likes to do hard things, and I think that is a pretty good way to describe me. I like to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and I think it's good for me (and everyone else) to do just that every once in a while. I will ride more often this year, as I have said, and in order to do so, I will need to ride at night, and when it is cold, and so on, and so on. I have never reallly ridden very far in the rain, so you can look for a post on that at some point I'm sure. Theoretically there will be snow on the ground Monday, so I might push myself to ride Monday morning. We will see.

Since riding (and writing) this post, I have stripped some of the extra stuff off the bike I was riding, and changed the gearing to a more road friendly setup, as opposed to the mountain gearing that was on it. I'm hoping that the now lighter better geared bike is a better rider than it was. I finally have a good saddle, and now I can really ride this bike and figure out what I need to do to make it what I want it to be.

Monday, January 3, 2011

First ride of 2011

Justinh's Activities | RunKeeper

If you click the link above, you will see the details of the first ride of 2011. a little over 14 miles at a very slow pace. Unfortunately it took a couple of days to get my ass onto the bike, but I like riding to work more than I like leaving the warm cocoon of my house when I don't need to. I knew that if I went for a ride on either Saturday or Sunday that it would end up being a token ride of a few miles at best. Today's 14 mile extravaganza was a ride that had a purpose, and one that I really couldn't bail on 3 miles in. I know myself pretty well, and I know the kind of shenanigans I can get up to when left to my own devices. Despite my own best intentions when it comes to exercising, I am still that 12 year old kid who hates to get sweaty.

I rode most of my commuting miles from the spring into the summer this last year, including riding on the hottest day of 2010. That was a miserable ride, and in fact I had to stop and cool off at a gas station about halfway home. I would take that ride over yesterday's ride any day. When I left the house it was 38 degrees. I know that there are guys (and girls) in places like Minnesota and Alaska and other far flung climes that think riding in the snow is the best thing since Babybel cheese, but I am not one of those people. By the time I got halfway down the block, my nose was flowing like a river, and my feet were chilled. By the time I got into Richardson, I had forgotten what my feet felt like, and my face was like a block of wood. When you ride a bicycle, obviously you are exerting yourself, so everything warms up fairly quickly. I did have layers, arm warmers, leg warmers, and etc. on, but my feet were too cold. I am certainly glad I have clipless pedals on my bike, because by the timeI reached the Waterview bike lane, I could no longer feel my feet at all.

In addition to the deep chill that I got, the ride was made worse by mechanical issues. When I bought my GT, I really didn't do a tune up on it - in fact, the only thing I really did was change the saddle and replace the brakes and brake cables after a very close call; I had to make an emergency stop at an intersection and very nearly didn't. After I recovered my saddle from where it had been sucked into my backside, I replaced all of my stopping gear posthaste, and then rode the bike hard the rest of the summer. On this first ride of the year, my lack of maintenance came home to roost, and neither one of my shifters was working well at all - I couldn't shift the rear derailleur, so I was only able to shift the front three gears. I have said before that I live in Dallas, and really don't have any hills to speak of, so a single speed bike is fine for getting around town. That's very true, but it's not as true when you expect to have gears. If I had gotten my Falcon out of the garage and intended to ride all the way to work on a singlespeed, I would not have a single word of complaint about lack of gears. However, when I get a bike out of the garage that has 24 gearing options, and I am limited to three gears, none of which are quite right, then I will complain. The mind is a very strange thing.

So what did I learn from my first ride of the year? First, I learned that I don't like cycling in the cold at all. I had my suspicions, but this ride confirmed it. Second, I learned that if you haven't ridden a certain bike for a while, then you need to check the mechanical condition of that bike before you take it on a ride. Third, I learned that it's ok to ride all the way in, and then decide to take the train home. No shame in that at all.

I hope this picture conveys how cold I was. My brother took this in the office as I rolled the bike through the door.