Sunday, August 28, 2005

Cyclist 101 (Satire)

As I wrote in “Walking 101”, with fuel prices increasing to heart-stopping levels, more and more people are looking for alternative forms of transportation. Some have discovered a novel means to get from point A to point B – walking. But walking is only one way to replace motorized transportation. There’s another called ‘bicycling’ or ‘cycling’. For those of you who’ve mastered the arcane art of walking, bicycles offer another challenge. My own son, for example, learned it’s possible to walk across the living room and change the channel on the television set, something he could not do without the aid of a remote control prior to learning about walking.

For some motorists, walking is too limited. It’s not fast enough, or it doesn’t get them across the vast distances they need to travel. Sometimes it’s nearly half a mile to the nearest grocery store, and that’s obviously too far to walk. There must be a better way.

For distances too far to walk, yet short enough to avoid driving, consider riding a bicycle. Riding a bicycle is much like driving a motor vehicle, though the speeds are much lower. However, cycling is unlike driving because the bicycle operator is required to maintain his balance on two wheels while moving his feet in a circular motion called ‘pedaling’, and he must do this while paying attention to road conditions, traffic, pedestrians, and wayward dogs.

This is difficult to believe, but the bicycle was invented long before the motor vehicle. Over a century ago, back in the Pleistocene, people used it for basic transportation. Cave paintings depict early men riding bicycles as they hunted mastodons. The popularity and low cost of bicycles put many livery stables out of business. Henry Ford saw the assembly lines churning out bicycles and applied the idea to the manufacture of automobiles.

If you’re determined to attempt riding a bicycle, remember this line from Samuel Clemens “Get a bicycle, you will not regret it, if you live.”

But before going into Bicycling 101, let’s review what motorists commonly know about cyclists. Most motorists see bicycle operators from time to time. From inside a motorist’s cocoon of steel and glass, the typical cyclist looks like any other potential axe murderer or wild-eyed maniac. Here are some of the more common types:

Sidewalk cyclist: A maniac riding on the sidewalk.
Vehicular cyclist: A maniac riding in traffic, obeying rules and regulations.
Wrong-way cyclist: A maniac riding against traffic (see Darwin).
Recumbent cyclist: A maniac riding a rolling lawn chair.
Mountain biker: A mud-covered maniac with a mud-covered bicycle hanging on an immaculate SUV.
Pack or peleton: A rolling group of maniacs.
Darwin: Possibly the patron saint of intellectually-challenged cycling maniacs.

Never feed cyclists. They’ll learn about the easy handout and return again and again. They subsist quite nicely on their regular diet of Gatorade and inhaled bugs so please don’t feed them.

Do not honk at cyclists. They’ll return the one-fingered salute, or on some occasions, all five fingers – for emphasis.

Keep your windows tightly closed when near a cyclist, especially at a red light. They smell very bad. They spit in all directions, though they can achieve good distance by spitting down wind, and cyclists ALWAYS know the wind direction. They are known to shoot ‘snot rockets’ from their nostrils. These are their GOOD points.

Never engage recumbent cyclists in conversation about their outlandish machines. They’re referred to as ‘bents’ for good reason. They’ll extol the virtues of their bicycles until your eyes glaze over. You’ll wish that, like a muskrat, you could gnaw off a limb in order to escape. Bent riders are the bicycling equivalents of Moonies. Do not get sucked into the cult.

Never ask vehicular cycling maniacs a simple question about bicycling unless you have a lot of time for a complicated answer citing at least three different studies, mountains of statistics, and the obligatory reference to John Forester. Trapped muskrats have it easier.

If at this point, you’re still committed to joining the ranks of socially-challenged, morally impaired bicyclists and become yet another Spandex-clad affront to public decency, I have just one thing more to say.


The first step is learning to balance. If you’ve mastered Walking 101, it’s likely you’re capable of mastering this skill as well. Most cyclists learned this in grade school and many of them haven’t progressed since. So despite having the ability to balance and the knowledge of how to drive an SUV the size of a small country, you may not be prepared to ride a bicycle in traffic.

Here are a few tips:

Stop signs and red lights.
If you regard these as merely ‘advisory’ when riding your bicycle, see ‘Darwin’ again.

Sidewalks are for pedestrians, people who walk as a means of locomotion. Cyclists ride on the street, safe from pedestrians.

Railroad tracks, trolley tracks, manhole covers, painted lines.
Very slippery, especially when wet. They cause cyclists to fall and collect patches of ‘road rash’. Pavement is also likely to tear away large sections of spandex, possibly opening the cyclist to an indecent exposure charge.

Seams, cracks, and grates in the road surface.
When wide enough, these can trap a wheel and cause a crash. See ‘indecent exposure’.

If you prefer to go without one, see Darwin. Helmets are not a substitute for common sense, nor do they protect against all hazards.

Pedestrians are capable of changing speed or direction in a single step. Their actions are highly unpredictable. Skaters, small children, and dog walkers are all potentially pedestrians.

Impeding traffic.
If you’re stopped by a police officer saying you’re impeding or obstructing traffic, refer him to the “Binary Instruction Handbook for Law Enforcement Officers”. It says that in a 35mph zone, for instance, you can be stopped for speeding if you’re traveling at 36 mph. You can be stopped for impeding traffic at 34 mph. The handbook is available as a hard copy, Word document, or pdf file. Additionally there’s a comic book version available for county sheriffs.

Dogs feed on slower cyclists. Try to stay in the front or middle of the pack. Of course, everyone else will have the same idea, leading to an impromptu sprint. If riding alone, you’ll discover the true value of sprinting. Think of dogs as meat-eating personal trainers planning to dine on your leg.

After riding on the street, you may believe that motorists are maniacs in motor vehicles. Congratulations! You’ve come full-circle. While some cyclists believe that motorists are deliberately trying to kill them, it is not true. There’s seldom anything deliberate about it. Motorists may be distracted by a cellular phone, an AM radio talk show, screaming children on the back seat, an inflammatory article on the sports page, or a fumbled burrito that just landed in their lap. When they inadvertently run over a cyclist or pedestrian in such a situation, they inevitably say, “But officer, I never saw him!” They sometimes pay a stiff fine totaling several hundred dollars.

Welcome to the ranks of the cycling elite! You can say with pride that you’re riding a bicycle to save money/lose weight/shaft the multi-national oil companies/turn your back on consumerism/help the environment/cause wide spread panic/get rid of static cling/ or like I do, to take over the world! (With apologies to Pinky and the Brain, of course!)

(Seriously, if you’re thinking about taking up cycling as a way to save on fuel costs, please consider taking a League of American Bicyclists Road1 course. See for a course in your area. The goal of Road1 is to educate cyclists and make them safer, more confident riders in a short time. Many of us have learned the hard way – through long and sometimes painful experience – what Road1 teaches in a few hours.)

Ed sells out!

You've undoubtedly noticed the ads running in the right hand margin. Yes, it's true. I've sold out and joined the capitalist hordes. Or something like that. I wanted to keep this page simple and uncluttered, and I still intend to do so. The ads will be smallish, I think, and if not, they'll be gone.

Basically, if you click on an ad, you'll be feeding my Powerbar and oatmeal habit. This will never replace the income from my regular job - torturing small electronic devices - but it's another thing to tinker with.

Oh, one other change. To prevent comment spamming, comments require a recognition pattern (I think that's the right term, but I could be wrong.)

Finally, one last thing. There's a web filtering program I use to block most pop-ups, animated ads, banner ads, and the like. It also offers the option of clicking every ad on a page, thus enriching the person owning the page. Now, to be truthful, I've never used this, but if you REALLY want to shower wealth on a poor, starving blogger.....Well, with a waistline like this, I can't claim to be starving,but if you're interested, the filter is called Proxomitron and it's a freebie.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The perfect commuting bike…

There is no one bicycle that does everything well. Track bikes are fast and responsive, but the ride is punishing. Likewise, most racing bikes sacrifice comfort for speed. Touring bikes, like my Bianchi, are clearly comfortable, but don’t sprint or climb well.

Most people come into cycling for recreation, as I’ve said before. The vast majority of bikes in the shops are built with the recreational cyclist in mind. That’s what capitalism is all about, after all, giving the people what they want.

But those of us who ride for transportation have a different set of priorities. We start with a ‘normal’ bike, and add those things we need to get back and forth to work. Commuter bikes often need racks and lights. Fenders are a welcome addition to those of us who ride in all weather.

When I came in through the north gate this morning, the bike racks at that end of the maintenance base were almost full. They’ve actually experienced a bicycle-parking crunch at shift change when the in-coming crews cannot find space to lock up their bikes. The company doubled the rack space, and it’s still not enough.

Most of the commuters are on mountain bikes, many with slick tires rather than knobbies. MTBs are a good choice due to their rugged tires, but the upright seating position makes riding into the wind more difficult. Gearing is usually lower overall when compared to a road bike, but that’s not a big factor.

A few people commute on road bikes, often high-end road bikes. These are the same guys who do centuries on the weekends or use their commute to train for racing.

I’ve even seen a tandem on that north rack! How’s that for a commuter!

Depending on the wind and weather, I’ve been riding three bikes, two fixed gears and the Bianchi. One fixie is set up with fenders, lights, and a rack. It’s an ancient Centurion and I use it as my foul weather commuter. One big advantage of a fixed gear for bad weather is the relative ease of maintenance. This bike has sealed hub bearings and an old Campy bottom bracket assembly. It’s not light and it’s certainly not pretty, but it’s as reliable as a brick.

The Bianchi is getting to be high-mileage. It needs a thorough overhaul, and some parts should be replaced. The rear derailleur, for instance, is both bent and slightly twisted. The cogs and chain are worn. I love this bike because it’s as comfortable as an old armchair, so I’ll undoubtedly keep it on the road as long as possible.

But I was thinking about a replacement this morning, having an idle pipe-dream as I rode to work. I was speculating about the ‘ideal’ commuter bike, a bike specifically made to transport a middle-aged, slightly over weight guy to work and back in comfort and safety.

What follows is my opinion regarding a good commuter. Feel free to differ!

The frame geometry would have to be similar to the Bianchi with a slightly shorter top tube than down tube, and it would have to be equipped with dropped handlebars and a rise stem. This is a good compromise between speed and comfort, considering the ever-present wind here in Oklahoma. The seating position isn’t bolt upright like on an MTB, nor is it a racer’s crouch.

The ideal bike would have integral lights and fenders, similar to those Giant folding bikes with headlights integrated into the handlebar. Since I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I’d like dual power systems for the lights, perhaps a generator hub with a battery backup. Internal wiring would be nice too, because I’m always snagging wires on things. For that matter, a solar cell would be a good addition in order to keep the battery charged. The rear fender would have an integrated tail light/reflector.

Another idea stolen from motorcycles would incorporate an integrated baggage carrier molded into the back end of a bicycle. It would house all the electronics and batteries, as well as provide storage space. Additionally, it could have a retractable cable lock for modest security. Of course, shiny, nicely molded-in carriers presume that you will never drop the bike. That may not be the best idea for a klutz like me.

I liked the old Raleigh three-speeds with a locking fork, also similar to motorcycle practice. The fork turned to one side and locked, making it impossible to ride away on the bike. It’s possible to pick the bike up and walk away with it, but the DL-1 weighed 45 pounds! You could walk, but you wouldn’t walk very far or very fast!

I’ve thought about mounting a small white light on the back of the bike. It would be very low power and it would be aimed forward. This would illuminate my back and helmet, giving perspective to an overtaking motorist. A simple light or reflector bobbing along in the dark doesn’t convey distance information to a driver, but a human silhouette certainly does.

One big factor with any commuter bike is maintenance and reliability. The two go hand-in-hand. A well maintained bike is less likely to strand the rider somewhere between work and home, and I’ve always been a fan of the KISS approach. (Keep it simple, stupid!) That’s why I like fixed gears. But there’s another drive system that should offer low maintenance/high reliability, and that’s the Shimano Nexus internally geared hub. Think of it as a Sturmey Archer for the new millennium.

When last I checked, Nexus offered both 4 speed and 7 speed hubs. Laced into a good quality aluminum rim, these would be ideal for a commuter bike. They also offer the ability to shift when stopped, and since the chain doesn’t have to move side to side, it should last a very long time. A fully enclosed chainguard would complete the drivetrain

One last thing about the drivetrain – ordinary pedals or those Shimano PD-M324 double-sided ones, with an SPD clip on one side and an ordinary pedal on the other – offer a good spot to mount the humble pedal reflector. These reflectors really catch a motorist’s eye because their motion instantly identifies the vehicle up ahead as a bicycle.

I know there are some Sturmey Archer fixed gear hubs available on E-Bay from time to time. These are multiple speed fixed gear hubs, but frankly, they’re considered big time collectibles and fetch astonishingly high prices. I wouldn’t want to use one on a daily commuter. It’s just not right. There are some other fixed gear conversions available for internally geared hubs, but I’m not at all familiar with them.

Also, it wouldn’t be right to take an old, high-end bike and put it into service as a commuter. I know the collectors love pristine old bikes, and I’m afraid that if one fell into my hands, I’d ride the snot out of it.

One last thing, and it’s on every cyclist’s wish list: I’d want all the above and I’d want it to be as light as possible. (Talk about wanting your ice cream toasted!) The Bianchi with lights, fenders, and baggage, weighs about 45 pounds, just like one of the old Raleigh DL-1s. I’m no lightweight, but it would still be nice to have a lighter bike to slog up the hills on the way home!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Twilight of the demi-gods

Here’s some good advice – never wash down sausage and sauerkraut with a couple of beers right before bedtime. I had this dream, see…

I stood in front of a pair of huge wooden doors at the top of an endless staircase. They opened slowly, creaking on rusty hinges. Inside was a huge chamber lined with columns and at the far end, a raised dais. I walked slowly toward it, slowly because there was some nameless horror sitting behind that bench. Even now, I can’t describe it adequately. My fear and loathing wouldn’t allow my eyes to settle on any one part for more than a second or two. I had only a general impression of teeth and tentacles, pustules and oozing slime, and thick clumps of rank, foul-smelling hair.

Instantly, I knew who he was. I’d read Lovecraft back in high school, and this passage from “The Call of Cthulhu” popped into my head:

“If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings... It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence…”

There was a long silence. The creature bent over his bench, apparently reading some papers. I screwed up my courage, and hesitantly asked, “Sir, why am I here?”

“SILENCE!” he bellowed. The word echoed through the vast chamber.

I stood quietly and waited, not daring to look at the monstrosity. Finally, he put the papers aside and addressed me. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” he roared.

“Y-yes”, I stammered, “You’re Cthulhu the all knowing and all powerful, capable of bending time and space. Am I dead?”

He laughed, and I pray to never hear that laugh again. It held nothing but malice, a laugh that held out the prospect of eternal torture, degradation, and despair.


“I thought I was dead and this was Judgment Day”, I replied. “Please, could you turn down the volume a bit because the echoes make it difficult to understand.”

“VERMIN, YOU ARE NOT DEAD! Oh, sorry.” He turned the volume down. “You’re in Traffic Court.”

“Traffic court?” I started laughing. “Cthulhu the all-powerful is in charge of traffic court!”

I laughed again. His gavel banged and I spent an eon as an insect chittering in fear under a rock.

Suddenly I was back before the bench. “I DEAL STRONGLY WITH CONTEMPT!”, he bellowed.

“OK, your honor, I’ll act respectfully.” I really didn’t want to be an insect again. “But how is it that the all-knowing Cthulhu became a traffic court judge?”

“Well, there was a change of administration, you know, and the Texans and Southern Baptists got all the good jobs. I was demoted”, he said, a little shamefaced, if you can call that thing a face. “Now, as to why you’re here. You’re charged with impeding traffic, a heinous offence that can bring the death penalty if I’m feeling lenient today. Otherwise, well….” His voice trailed off.

The ‘otherwise’ got my attention. Cthulhu had never been known to show mercy. And there was that rock to consider.

“Deputy Buttkiss states that you were impeding traffic by riding a bicycle on a busy city street. A bicycle! Are you out of your mind? What do you have to say for yourself?”

I thought quickly, then replied, “Your honor, it’s true I was riding on city street, and I was riding with traffic. But there’s no way I was impeding that traffic. I’m part of traffic. I was doing the design speed of a bicycle and…”


“Wait a minute, your honor.” I was starting to get angry. “Is it illegal to do less than the speed limit, and if so, by how much?” He was fingering his gavel again, so I didn’t push.

The silence stretched out as he thought about it. Finally, he said, “Don’t confuse the issue with facts. Facts, however interesting, are irrelevant! I should throw the book at you! For that matter, you could become a book, one with something lurid on the cover and the word ‘vixen’ in the title! Then the Baptists could ban you to the nethermost region of ...well…Heck. I’m not allowed to use that other word anymore.” He looked sullen.

“Wait a minute!” I replied hotly. “I was riding safely and legally! Are you trying to tell me that the law doesn’t apply when…”


I was angry and spoke too quickly. “Look, sport, I don’t give a damn about your demotion or how you feel about it. Sure, you’re pissed off, but I won’t be a whipping boy for your anger! So you can take your courtroom and your gavel and your smelly judicial robe and stuff it up your…whatever that is.”

Some of his eyes bugged out and the rest glared at me. He roared again and leaned toward me over the bench, his jaws yawning open with too many sharp, pointed teeth. It came closer and closer, about to engulf me in its maw, the stench of his breath overpowering…

I woke up sweating. Next time I’ll switch to light beer.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Walking 101

Our local paper had some gas saving tips on Sunday.

Avoid quick and sudden stops.
Organize a car pool.
Maintain tire inflation pressures.
Consolidate errands with the daily commute.
Eliminate extra vehicle weight.
Use public transportation.
If you own more than one vehicle, use the most fuel efficient one.
Compare fuel economy labels when looking for a new vehicle.
Install a clean air filter.
Tune the engine.

Note that none of them recommend walking or bicycling. Perhaps the writer was simply unaware of these practices, so with that in mind, I’d like to offer a primer for those thinking about leaving the car behind. I call it “Walking 101”. With fuel prices increasing to heart-stopping levels, more and more people are looking for alternative forms of transportation. Some are discovering a novel, slightly subversive means to get from point A to point B.

Stand up. Now, look down. Those appendages at the end of your legs are called ‘feet’. Often, feet are encased in ‘shoes’, devices for your feet that are similar to tires on your car. These shoes come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, and the ‘soles’ are designed for different types of terrain. Soles perform the same function as the tread on your tires. For example, boots with deeply lugged soles are perfect for climbing mountains in a manly, outdoors manner, while crushing small animals underfoot. Just imagine one of those SUV ads showing a four-wheel drive vehicle scaling a pristine wilderness trail, and you’ll know what I mean. One big difference is that it’s not necessary to remove the occasional hiker from your boot soles.

People who use their leg-end appendages for locomotion are called ‘pedestrians’. By putting one foot in front of the other, they perform an act called “walking”. Walking can be surprising effective. In fact, through the simple act of walking, people have reached the top of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth’s surface! They have also reached both the North and South poles, all without the aid of an SUV or other motor vehicle. And as incredible as it may seem, men have even walked on the Moon!

You may notice that as you walk uphill, walk rapidly, or walk in hot weather, your skin develops a layer of moisture. This is called “sweat”. It is nothing to be alarmed about. It’s your body’s cooling system, like the radiator in your car. It does need fluid replenishment, but do not under any circumstances drink antifreeze thinking it will be superior to plain water. ‘Death’ is the result of drinking anti freeze. Be aware that your body does not come equipped with a check engine light. Ingesting antifreeze will set the heart to the ‘off’ position and it will not re-boot.

Walking very rapidly is called “running”. While it will allow you to reach your destination more quickly, running causes profuse sweating, rapid breathing, and an increased heart rate, similar to revving your engine. Experts are divided about the safety of running, particularly if you should decide to run 25 or 30 miles to work on your first attempt. Honestly, though, you can receive an award for this from someone named Darwin.

Interestingly, traffic lights can serve a dual function, both controlling motor vehicle traffic and permitting ‘pedestrians’ to cross safely, or not. They perform a sporting function as well, often being timed so that the light changes before the pedestrians are completely across the street, forcing them to ‘sprint’ ahead of a charging mass of motor vehicles. This is great fun for spectators in nearby coffee shops and restaurants, and it guarantees that emergency medical technicians will keep their jobs until retirement.

For your first ‘walk’ attempt, select a nearby destination, perhaps your mailbox. Open your front door and carefully place one foot in front of the other, directing them toward the mailbox. This can actually be performed without a map, heads-up-display, or GPS unit! Imagine the adventure! When you reach the mailbox, carefully turn your feet back in the original direction and walk back to the door. If you remembered to bring the mail along, give yourself some bonus points. Otherwise, repeat the adventure.

As you gain skill at walking, you’ll find you can travel further and further, all without a motor vehicle! Within a few weeks, you’ll be able to reach the mailbox or even a nearby house and you may not even feel tired. Keep at it! You’ll be the envy of your friends and neighbors, a pioneer on the cutting edge of a new transportation mode!

Next: Bicycling 101…when I get around to it!
In one of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” books, Arthur Dent tries to learn to fly by throwing himself at the ground and hoping he’ll miss. It seems I’ve taken a few inadvertent flying lessons like that too!

No, I’m not going to write some horror stories about crashes I’ve had. Nor am I going to write about someone else’s crashes. There’s a strong temptation to write about BikeEd and its goal of teaching cyclists to avoid common crash situations, but I’m going to resist that temptation too. Believe me, I don’t resist temptation very often, so I’m not very experienced at this.

(As an aside regarding temptation, I give you Ed’s Law – it’s easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission. I’ve stuck with this for years, and it almost invariably puts me in hot water, particularly with She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. This may indicate that instead of having a learning curve, I have a learning flat line.)

So I’m gong to resist all of that and write about helmets. Is there any topic more boring than a helmet thread? Well, yes – bikelanes – but I won’t go there either. I don’t object to the nanny-state requirements for helmet usage in those states that have such requirements. I wear a helmet every time I ride. It’s cheap insurance against some types of head injury. And the most expensive helmet on the market is still cheaper than a visit to the emergency room and a set of x-rays.

What is objectionable is the over-emphasis on helmet use. Almost every bicycle safety article begins with a wear-your-helmet admonishment. They go on to say that X percent of head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet. What's maddening is that this percentage changes from time to time. That’s all fine, but when you think about it, a helmet is only useful when you’ve already screwed up and you’re falling. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to teach people to avoid common crash situations? (I know. I said I’d avoid bringing up BikeEd, but I blew it!)

Then there’s the helmet requirement on group rides. Show up without one, and the nannies will scold you. (These are the same nannies that yell, “CAR BACK!” then dive for the fog line, expecting you to do the same.) Personally, I think that adults be trusted to make that decision for themselves without any outside assistance. Children are a different story.

My kids were told that a helmet was required every time they rode a bike or went roller-skating. In my son’s case, it was very tempting to require that he wear a helmet whenever he was awake. Both kids ruined helmets in routine falls. So while I support choice for adults, I’m an unyielding dictator as far as my kids are concerned. I told my son that if he went without a helmet, I’d disassemble his bike right down to the spokes.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Woven nanotube technology

(Here's something that caught my eye in the local paper. Think of the possibilities! You could have a bicycle frame that changed properties as you climbed, descended, or sprinted. The ride quality could change depending on road conditions. And eventually, the UCI will have to come up with a test for nanotube enhanced muscles. Mary, the love of my life, has an adult form of muscular dystrophy, so the idea of increasing muscular strength through mechanical means could be very appealing, not only to athletes.....Ed)

News Release

News Contact: Steve McGregor, UTD, (972) 883-2293, smcgreg@utdallas.eduU. T.

Dallas-Led Research Team Produces
Strong, Transparent Carbon Nanotube Sheets
Numerous Electronic, Optical and Structural Uses Demonstrated;

Advance Reported in Aug. 19 Issue of Prestigious Journal Science

RICHARDSON, Texas (Aug. 18, 2005) – University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) nanotechnologists and an Australian colleague have produced transparent carbon nanotube sheets that are stronger than the same-weight steel sheets and have demonstrated applicability for organic light-emitting displays, low-noise electronic sensors, artificial muscles, conducting appliqués and broad-band polarized light sources that can be switched in one ten-thousandths of a second.

Carbon nanotubes are like minute bits of string, and untold trillions of these invisible strings must be assembled to make useful macroscopic articles that can exploit the phenomenal mechanical and electronic properties of the individual nanotubes. In the Aug. 19 issue of the prestigious journal Science, scientists from the NanoTech Institute at UTD and a collaborator, Dr. Ken Atkinson from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a national laboratory in Australia, report such assembly of nanotubes into sheets at commercially useable rates.

...The nanotube sheets combine high transparency with high electronic conductivity, are highly flexible and provide giant gravimetric surface areas, which has enabled the team to demonstrate their use as electrodes for bright organic light emitting diodes for displays and as solar cells for light harvesting. Electrodes that can be reversibly deformed over 100 percent without losing electrical conductivity are needed for high stroke artificial muscles, and the Science article describes a simple method that makes this possible for the nanotube sheets.

...The applications possibilities seem even much broader than the present demonstrations, Baughman said. For example, researchers from the Regenerative Neurobiology Division at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dr. Mario Romero, Director, and Dr. Pedro Galvan-Garcia, Senior Researcher Associate, and Dr. Larry Cauller, associate professor in UTD’s neuroscience program, have initial evidence suggesting that healthy cells grow on these sheets – so they might eventually be applied as scaffolds for tissue growth.

Baughman said that numerous other applications possibilities exist and are being explored at UTD, including structural composites that are strong and tough; supercapacitors, batteries, fuel cells and thermal-energy-harvesting cells exploiting giant-surface-area nanotube sheet electrodes; light sources, displays, and X-ray sources that use the nanotube sheets as high-intensity sources of field-emitted electrons; and heat pipes for electronic equipment that exploit the high thermal conductivity of nanotubes. Multifunctional applications like nanotube sheets that simultaneously store energy and provide structural reinforcement for a side panel of an electrically powered vehicle also are promising, he said.

The Bicycle Bus

Yesterday, I wrote about meeting Pete as we commuted to work in the morning. When I left in the afternoon, a cyclist was about half a mile ahead when I reached 46th Street. I thought it was Pete. The light was against me, of course, so the distance kept increasing. When it changed, I put my head down and hammered, thinking I could catch him fairly quickly.

I pushed hard for almost 3 miles. Just short of 76th Street, I caught up to….her. It was definitely NOT Pete. I never got her name, but she works at the Tulsa Zoo in Mohawk Park.

I asked if she rode through 66th Street and into the north end of the park, rather than along Mingo Road with all the traffic. She was hesitant about 66th, partly because it’s been used as a meth lab dumpsite. There’s been one murder and a body dumped there too. It’s lonely. And when I though about it, I realized I’d be very nervous if my daughter wanted to ride there alone.

So here’s a problem. We have a countywide trail plan that connects most neighborhoods with parks, shopping centers, and employment, yet if people are afraid to use the more remote parts of it for fear of crime, is the plan really a good idea? It would be like building a turnpike between nowhere and nowhere, a concept we’re all too familiar with here in Oklahoma.

There is a solution – the bicycle bus – a group of riders who meet and travel to a common destination. This is the perfect introduction to commuting for new riders or fearful riders. Think of it as an opportunity for a traveling version of LAB’s Road1/Commuter class.

Owasso had a bicycle bus for a while. It was a group of 6 or 8 guys who met on a corner of Main Street and rode together to the AA maintenance base. But the group disbanded with the onset of cold weather, and didn’t resume the next spring.

I return to this idea now and then. And it’s true that when I wear the yellow and black jersey, school kids line up on the curb as I approach. When Joni Mitchell did “Big Yellow Taxi” she was singing about me. What can I say? I’m a big guy and I could be the bus driver.

The sticking point is how to publicize this thing. With the spike in fuel prices, more people are turning to bicycles. We want to educate them in safe road practices, and what better way than by demonstrating those practices?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Adventures in Commuting

(Note: I'm temporarily posting in Cyclelicious too, while Fritz is away...Ed)

This morning, as I rode south along Mingo Road, I saw a guy up ahead on the shoulder fixing a flat tire. I stopped and met Pete, who works on west side of airport at BizJet. He's been commuting for a couple of years, trying to ride year-round as I do.

We rode side-by-side (with me looking over my shoulder for Officer Friendly!) and talked about commuting. Since he was bound for the west side of the airport and didn't like the traffic on Mingo, I recommended another route that goes through Mohawk Park. I ride that way regularly because it has little traffic and I get to see a lot of wildlife.

But of course, I couldn't resist trotting out some of those hoary chestnuts about commuting. "I see that same drivers day after day", I said. "They come to expect a cyclist somewhere on the road." And that really is true. What's more, some of them can be very nice.

I was riding in the dark one morning when I hit a pothole hard enough to knock every light off the bike! Honestly, it's only happened once. My headlight and tail light bounced into the weeds and turned themselves off. I was searching for them with a flashlight when a pickup stopped.

"Hey! Are you all right?" the driver yelled.

"Yeah", I replied, "My lights just fell off and went out!"

"Well, if you ever need a lift to work, just stop and wave at me", he said. "I pass you every day!"

He drove off. Later, I wondered how I'd recognize his truck in the pre-dawn darkness, but fortunately I've never needed a lft to work.

I mention this because Justin commented "...the drivers in your area are flat out mean S.O.B's". It's true that Oklahoma has its share of dunderheads and fools, but on the other side of the ledger, there are some truly wonderful people.

I was one of the volunteers supporting the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City after the Murrah Building bombing. Afterward, I was invited to an emergency response seminar put on by the city of Tulsa. One of the speakers highlighted the differences between the responses to the bombings in OKC and NYC. Remember, this was long before the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. He said that the responses were like night and day. In New York, people were pissed off at the disruption, the added traffic, and the perimeter security. In Oklahoma, people offered whatever was needed to help the teams, the victims, and the support personnel.

For instance, SA put out a message saying they needed to set up a counseling center in a nearby office building, but they didn't have enough furniture or telephones. Within an hour, a semitruck pulled up at the loading dock, filled with office furniture! People brought anything they thought would be helpful, including lots and lots of food. Believe me, if you've ever had to subsist on the meager fare SA offers, outside food is very welcome! We filled a gymnasium with donated equipment and clothing.

That spirit of generosity extends to most Oklahoma drivers. Like I said, that pickup driver offered to get me to work. And every time it rains, someone offers to drive me home. So far, I've only needed to be driven home twice, both times when I was getting sick. Better than 99% of the motorists out there are safe, careful drivers, and of the remaining 1%, most are inattentive or totally ignorant of safe cycling practices. Malicious drivers, like the one I wrote about last month, are thankfully rare.

So what I'm saying is that the majority of motorists out there are good, conscientious people. Perhaps I focus too much on the fools I encounter, but that in no way is meant to imply that all motorists are fools. I just don't pay much attention to the GOOD drivers.

And that's wrong.

There has to be a way to recognize the good ones. Someone wrote about giving a thank-you letter to a local trucking company that he passed every day. The drivers were courteous and safety-conscious. The firm's manager was happy to have it, and he posted it where all the drivers could read it.

I pass a quarry every day. In the years I've been commuting by there, I've been honked at maybe 4 or 5 times. The drivers are professionals who know how long it takes to stop or pass. They know where the corners and sides of the trucks are. They're so much better than the amateurs over on Mingo Road!

So I really should write something to recognize their professionalism and courtesy. When I do, I'll post it here for the rest of you to use. Courteous Mass, indeed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Monday Musette

First, in response to an earlier comment, I want to say that I generally will not use private correspondence here, unless I have the permission of the originator, or I’m certain he or she will not object. I don’t believe it’s ethical to post private email in a public space.


For anyone wondering what a musette is, it's a small cloth bag used for handing up food to professional bicycle racers. I use the term as a 'grab bag' of items too short to post alone.


A front came through here late Saturday afternoon, bringing much needed rain and some 60+ miles per hour wind gusts. The rain continued through Sunday, and it may continue for some time today (Monday).

Yesterday’s cooler temperatures allowed me to tinker in the garage awhile. I cleaned and lubricated the drivetrains on 3 bikes, the Centurion, the Pennine, and the Bianchi. The Bianchi needed much more work. The fork was bent and both wheels were bent in that incident I covered in “Where to Begin”.

First, a word about the fork is necessary. It was bent to one side. I talked with Tom Brown at Tom’s Bicycles about it. He said he could probably straighten it, but he didn’t have a jig. He planned to measure carefully and bend judiciously. Now, I trust Tom’s judgment. He’s a fine mechanic and a good friend, so if he said he could do it without the aid of a jig, I’d believe him. A few weeks ago, I took the fork to his shop (conveniently located at 68th & Peoria in Tulsa – how’s that for a shameless plug?). Since I’d talked to him, he’d discovered a fork jig lying somewhere under his bench! He set it up in a vise, and slowly worked the fork back into alignment. I stayed out of the way. I didn’t even kibitz!

I owe Tom a big thank you, and lunch sometime. He’s a magician!

So yesterday, I reassembled the Bianchi. I trued the wheels, ran new cables, and lubricated the drivetrain. It was ready to ride by early afternoon, so I took it for a short trip up the hill and back, riding carefully in the rain. I would really like to take it out for a longer ride of a couple of miles before commuting on it again. Cables will stretch and the wheels will probably need some touch-ups. I hate having to deal with that somewhere between home and work.

My original plan was to ride the Pennine to work today, but the continued rain changed that. Instead, I got the Centurion with its fenders and lights down from the hooks in the garage. It was a good choice. The roads were wet and there was light rain when I left home. About halfway to work, it changed to moderate rain for a couple of minutes. The light stuff was evaporating from my skin and jersey almost as fast as it fell. This is one big advantage of synthetics like Spandex or Lycra. Really, riding in such conditions is not unpleasant. It’s a welcome change from 100F and scorching sunlight.

There’s only one problem – my glasses get covered with water and I can’t see very well. Master Po’s voice whispers, “Be the road, Grasshopper!” but who wants to take driving advice from a blind guy?

There are several railroad crossings on my commute, one of them at an angle across the road. Those rails are very, very slick when it rains. I’ve had the bike slide out from under me twice on that crossing, so I’m cautious. Today, as I approached the rails, I had a couple of cars behind me. I signaled that I was slowing, then turned slightly to the left to cross the rails at a right angle – the safest way to cross wet tracks. But the woman behind me must have thought I was moving over to the on-coming lane. She decided to pass on my right, just as I was straightening out on the other side of the tracks! I’m sure she got to work and bitched about the crazy cyclist weaving all over the road.

She’s a regular that I see nearly every morning. Maybe I’ll get lucky and catch her at a red light so I can explain my actions.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A FIRST!!! (part 2)

My friend Brian responded to the “A FIRST!!!” piece with the following:

… the impeding charge leveled at Paul was dismissed in court. Even the officer that ticketed me for not riding in the gutter was afraid to use that old tired nag of a charge. (Ironically, that officer was also concerned about me backing up traffic, and his maneuvering was the primary source of congestion! If he'd just passed me, everyone else would have as well.)

While we're on the subject of impeding, I think the League's literature betrays a leisurely, recreationalist bent when it discusses riding two abreast. In lanes too narrow to be safely shared, two abreast does the triple service of forcing the motorist to pass widely, compelling the motorist to clear more thoroughly for oncoming traffic, and reducing the overtaking distance (read time spent in the opposing lane). The League's Motorist Ed pdf makes it sound like any cyclists who don't immediately jump into single-file are being inconsiderate.

One of the problems with having a professional educator as a friend and fellow advocate is that he hands out the occasional reading assignment. Now I have to go find and read the LAB piece on Motorists Ed!

I was curious to read the ‘impeding’ section in the Oklahoma vehicle code. I found it via the Massbike law webpage, an excellent resource for locating the various state laws. If you haven’t visited the Massbike site, I highly recommend it. (You may have to cut-and-paste this into your browser. I’m not a computer techie, so I may not have the hyperlink working right. Paraphrasing Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy, “Dammit, I’m a mechanic, not a doctor, Jim!” - a line that I used on my non-Trekkie doctor once, confusing him.)

Here’s the link for the state laws:

The Oklahoma law pertaining to impeding traffic:


(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to
impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when
reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with

One thing about that jumps out at you – it says “no person shall drive a motor vehicle…” It seems pretty self-explanatory, but then, “I’m a mechanic, not a lawyer, dammit, Jim!”

It turns out the officer may have a hard-on for cyclists. An alert reader sent this link, showing one of TCSO’s finest lecturing a bunch of cyclists on safe bicycle practices. The photo is a hoot! If it weren’t for that big SUV, this guy wouldn’t move at all!

So far, I’ve sent emails to three local police chiefs. The only one who hasn’t responded is Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, whose deputy stopped me. But the emails went out just yesterday, so I’m not too concerned. When I contact police officers, public officials, or the news people, I always tell them about the Road1 bicycling education program, and I invite them to ride with me or a group.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I've been riding a bicycle on the road for well over 30 years, and a cop has never stopped me. Until today, that is.

As I was riding home this afternoon, a county sheriff's officer came up behind me and switched on his lights. I was northbound on that infamous stretch of 129th just south of 86th Street. The officer told me he could cite me for impeding traffic. I replied that I wasn't impeding traffic. I'm part of traffic and I was at the design speed of a bicycle. He said that traffic was backed up behind me "for a mile", an innocent bit of hyperbole that I ignored. He said that his supervisor told him last week he should have cited two cyclists for riding abreast and impeding traffic, and he would do so in the future. I pointed out that first, I was riding alone, and second, that in Oklahoma it's legal to ride two abreast when the lane is too narrow to safely share with motor vehicles. He said that if I had been driving a motor vehicle, I would have been cited for impeding traffic. I asked if it's legal to drive at less than the speed limit. He said that it was obvious that he wasn't getting through to me, and left.

As near as I can tell, this officer wanted to substitute his personal opinion for the law. When it was obvious that I wasn't going to defer to his opinion, his choice was to cite me or back down.

Actually, I believe it was the presence of his marked police vehicle that contributed to the backup of traffic. Drivers will usually pass regardless of the presence or absence of a passing lane along 129th, but when a police car is sitting in the queue, they're afraid to do so.

I suppose the next step is to contact the county sheriff, and try to get his officer educated.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Death of an eyebrow...

There isn’t a solitary cyclist I know who can be described as ordinary or average. Something about the sport selects against meek, quiet people and instead, gives us loud, boisterous ones. What I’m getting at is that many of the people I know are definitely well out of the mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it does provide me with some good stories.

I have a co-worker who’s a gym rat and a cyclist. I’ll call my friend Jules, because he’s a truly nice guy and I wouldn’t want to embarrass him in any way. Jules may have a bit of a problem with impulse control, though. He came to work one day and everyone noticed almost immediately that his eyebrows were missing. This provoked a lot of comments and questions, all of which Jules deflected. He really didn’t want to talk about it.

The questions eventually tapered off. Weeks passed. Months passed. Jules was asked about his eyebrows now and then, but he was still very reluctant to talk about it. Finally one day he relented, and allowed that the eyebrows were ‘bothering him’.

Now, as anyone who reads this can tell you, I’m prone to drinking entirely too much coffee. It cranks up my imagination and makes it possible for me to type very fast. Imagine that. My friend, Rich, sparked this line of thought, and I readily admit that I’ve stolen much of this idea from him. But I’ll blame the embellishments on the caffeine!

Jules was sitting in his apartment one quiet evening, reading a book, when he heard a small voice. “Jules! Hey! Jules! Listen up!”

He looked around, but he was alone. No television or radio disturbed the quiet. But he’d distinctly heard a voice.

“Jules! Hey! Up here! It’s us, Moe and Larry, your eyebrows!”

Jules gave careful consideration to the state of his mental health. He was just possibly having a breakdown.

The eyebrow seemed to anticipate this. “Hey! You’re fine! You’re not going nuts. But you gotta understand, us eyebrows usually don’t talk much. In fact, Larry here rarely talks at all.”

“I’m not going insane?” Jules spoke aloud.

“No! Like I said, you’re fine. But we had an idea we wanted to run by you. Larry and I have been thinking about branching out, opening franchises here and there. You’re getting old enough that it’s time to consider it.”

“Wh-what? Franchises? What are you talking about?” Jules stammered. He still couldn’t believe he was having a conversation with an eyebrow.

“Have you noticed your middle-aged buddy, Ed?” Moe asked. “His eyebrows opened franchises in both ears and one nostril. That guy has hair sprouting out of places that have never seen hair before! He really wanted some on his chest, but he’s not gonna be blessed in that department, if you know what I mean.”

Jules rose from his chair and walked into the bathroom. “You want to make hair grow out of my ears? Why?” He stood before the bathroom mirror, peering at his eyebrows.

“It comes with age, pal. Eventually, all guys start growing hair in odd places.” Moe’s voice changed, becoming slightly alarmed. “What are you doing, Jules?”

Jules had his electric razor in hand.

“Jules, you don’t need that now. You always shave in the morning. Please put it down. You’re frightening me!”

The razor buzzed as Jules switched it on. He raised it toward his face.

“No! No! No! Run, Larry, run!” Moe’s voice was anguished.

The razor quickly removed one eyebrow. Larry never moved, stoically accepting his fate.

“Murderer!” Moe screamed. “Oh you might get us now, but never forget this – we’ll be BACK!”

The razor buzzed, and in an instant, Moe too was gone.

But from somewhere, Jules could hear a faint echo of his voice saying, “We’ll be back!”

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Those very polite drivers...

On the way home one afternoon, I was going up that stretch of 129th that I wrote about in “Where to Begin”. Now, since that incident, I’ve been wary of motorists over there and let’s just say I’ve been more alert than usual.

So when a car stayed behind me all the way up the street, I was very aware of it. The motorist wouldn’t pass even though there’s a short passing zone just south of the school. In fact, many drivers pass me through the dedicated left turn lane in front of the school, a lane that’s meant for oncoming traffic. But this driver just sat back there a couple of car lengths, not even tailgating me. It was weird.

Some motorists are hesitant to pass a cyclist in a narrow lane. Perhaps they’re overly cautious, but I’m not complaining. Sometimes someone further back in the queue will get impatient and pass several cars and me. And there’s always a horn honker back there somewhere. But not this time.

I reached the school, and the motorist still wouldn’t pass. I rode further up the street, and expected that someone would pass on my right through the right-turn lane. It didn’t happen. Finally, I reached the four-lane section and the woman behind me passed, only to be stopped at the red light.

That’s when I discovered the source of all that politeness. There was a Tulsa County sheriff driving behind her!

The rest of the queue reached the intersection and fanned out across the lanes. No one honked. No one yelled. No one revved an engine. It was very pleasant. This tells me that drivers know how they’re supposed to behave on the road, but like little children without adult supervision, they’re likely to forget all that when the adults are absent.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I'm melting! Melting!!!

It was 104F when I rode home yesterday. Heat rose up from the pavement in waves, feeling exactly like opening an oven door. I drank an entire water bottle before leaving for home, then drank 2 more on the way. And it’s only about 10 miles.

The kids gave me a heart rate monitor for Father’s Day a few years ago. I use it as a rev limiter when it’s hot. My heart rate hits about 110-120 just walking across the parking lot, and climbing or sprinting send it up to the alarm limit in a matter of seconds. The weird thing is that I don’t feel like I’m working hard, but my heart certainly is.

Most of the dogs along the route simply can’t be bothered to chase a cyclist in this heat. The only ones that take an interest are some little, yappy ones that are comfortably caged in the shade. There’s one larger dog that chases back and forth along the inside of a fence. He takes too keen an interest, and I suspect that if he were loose he’d be very aggressive. But he’s got to be as dumb as a stone, running at full speed in the heat.

I’ve been riding the Giant since the Bianchi is still hanging in the repair stand out in the garage. (More about the Bianchi in another post.) The Bianchi has three water bottle cages, but the Giant has only two. When it’s been really hot – and I’ve been out there on the bike when it was 115F – I carried two bottles to drink and another to pour over my arms, legs, and chest. That caused an immediate ten beats per minute drop in my heart rate.

It’s not much exaggeration to say that if a cyclist falls on the pavement, he may cook if he lies there awhile.

I have a couple of Camelbacks, and I’ve used them for long day rides. But water bottles are easier to care for, and they’re more convenient for commuting. I can’t squirt a Camelback at a charging dog, for instance, and I can’t easily pour water onto my arms and legs. Oh, I suppose I could just spit some, but that’s too gross even for me. This from a guy who takes perverse satisfaction in shooting snot rockets in traffic!

When it’s this hot, a tailwind isn’t necessarily a blessing. Without some wind going by, it feels so much hotter. Granted, a headwind or a cross wind doesn’t offer much cooling and it certainly makes me dehydrate that much faster, but I’ll take any cooing I can get! I’ll even slow down to linger in the shade of some trees, or scan the sky for a small cloud to ride under.

On the other hand, I could drive to work.