Monday, March 25, 2013

DIYBIKING.COM Presents: Cell Phone Safety

This is my phone: a Droid Incredible II.

Please understand that I don't need to do all of the cool, funky things you see in the Apple commercials. This phone makes outgoing calls. It receives them as well. And while the web interface isn't anything iSmug 5 owners would approve of, it was good enough for me to find Stacey and has a pretty good camera on it. 

Now you might own a phone that looks like this (rectangular with a glass screen) and you might ask yourself: what should I do with this when I go on a ride? You may be asking yourself this even more now, because the weather forecasts are growing less painful by the week so you may take a ride on a moment's notice. 

Suppose you are going on a simple road ride. You could slip it in your jersey pocket and travel light. But you could also attach it to the handlebars with one of these.

I forgot who makes this and can't recall where I bought it or why. I bought it thinking I would use it. I don't. 

I imagine it is for people who use navigation apps on their phone. I have no idea who these people are. On my phone there is such a glare I can barely see my screen under normal, indoor conditions. Besides, if I'm on a ride I want to make sure my phone will still have enough battery power to call for help if I crash. 

So I usually put it a bike bag or a frame bag. But still worried about how the phone would survive in the event of an impact, I bought this.

This is an Otter Box case. I was checking these out at Radio Shack one day when one of the clerks came over to see what I was doing.

"These cases are great," he said, pulling one for his brand of phone off the shelf. "Watch this."

In moments, he snapped his phone into the case and hurled it across the store. It bounced off the floor, paused (in mid air, mind you), and crashed into a display case where it knocked several items to the floor. 

Okay, the middle part didn't happen. But what did happen is I decided then and there I was sold on the value of the Otter Box while the clerk sheepishly ran over to retrieve his phone. I hope 'The Shack' gave that guy a raise. 

The upside of the Otter Box is that it worked. My phone bounced out of my jacket pocket while I was riding the Bike Friday down 106 from New Canaan a few weeks ago. It hit the ground at about 20 miles an hour and lived to call again. I also know that one fell off the roof of a Mini Cooper and survived - because I found the phone on a bike ride and, after interrogating Siri, returned it to its rightful owner. 

The downside of the Otter Box is the size. It makes the phone bigger, and as I've noticed by observing the last couple of years of phone development, the phones themselves are getting bigger. I don't need to carry a small flatscreen around with me, and I worry that whatever phone I get next will be so large I'll have to pull it along behind me on a small trolley. 

Still, as long as my phone holds its own, I'll keep happily using it in the Otter Box, and if you have a phone that looks something like this, you can probably get one too.

Now I'm aware that some of you may take your phones on rides that may involve wet conditions. Otter Box or not, you should make sure your phone can stay dry. Four ways to go about this: one is to put it in a Ziploc bag. Two is a marine-grade waterproof pouch, such as this one from Seal Line.

The third way is to put the phone in a waterproof top tube bag. Here's one I bought last year that I attached to the recumbent: it is in easy reach, isn't likely to pop out, and stays dry in the rain.

The fourth way is my favorite - and THE preferred method when mountain biking on rough terrain: it keeps the phone dry and in a lightweight, durable box that fits easily in a backpack or clips to your waist. All you need is one of these.

Yes, this is a Sony Sports Walkman (they still make it, but not like this). Known for its clamshell casing, it was used to house tape cassettes. Well, one cassette. Before humans were seemingly born with white cords hanging out of their ears, they had this. If you wanted to skip over a song, you had to push a button called 'fast forward' and try to use visual cues (for instance, looking in the window to see the tape cassette spin) to find out when the song you were trying to skip ended. And if you went too far forward, you'd have to hit a button called 'rewind.'

Music was harder to listen to back then. But it was also better, so go figure. 

Anyway, if you have one of these Walkmans, you're in luck. Because if you open it, you will find that the tape player part is held in place with several tiny screws. In minutes, you can hollow it out with a tiny screwdriver.

Then go to the hardware store and get yourself some green, self-adhesive shelf liner. It doesn't have to be green, but it does have to be self-adhesive so you can take a pair of scissors and cut pieces of felt to stick to the inside of the hollow box. Just like that: you've got yourself a water-resistant box.

Now granted, only a very large Sony Sports Walkman will accommodate a modern phone. So that's what I have. I don't even need to take my phone out of the Otter Box; it fits in  beautifully and is even held in place by some hook-and-loop straps I glued into place. Only Dr. Who has a cooler phone box than I do. 

Because I had absolutely nothing better to do one day but to watch an episode of the X-Files on DVD ('Drive' from the sixth season; a fantastic episode that also helped Bryan Cranston land 'Breaking Bad' years later) I made this one extra special by making the headphone port into a little extension cord, so I can listen to music when I use this with my iPod Shuffle: I just need to press play and close the lid to listen to music in classic 1980s goodness. I also used to never turn heads at the gym - but now, when I am clutching this while on the treadmill, I get noticed. 

But I mainly use this for stowing the phone when mountain biking - and if I crash and my belongings are scattered all about, the bright color makes it easy to find. 

Now I do have to point out I do not condone the use of the phone - in or out of the DIYBIKING.COM Signature Phone Box - while actually in motion. I get annoyed seeing people in cars talking on their phones (even more so at the ones who still insist on talking with their hands) so let's not be ridiculous-looking and unsafe. And let's face it: part of the reason to ride is to unplug from everything you are plugged into during the day - it's just good to keep the phone in a secure place so you can use it when you're done.  

And if you want to take a ride with me, call me sometime. I can usually get the phone out of the phone box on the fourth ring. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring, Kitchens, and Bike Time Capsules

We're getting closer to spring. You've probably seen the signs: Almost being run over by street sweepers. Facebook updates from bike shops you follow have more exclamation points than usual. A Friday ride to the beach that looks like this…

…is followed by a Sunday ride to the beach that looks like this.

Also, related to the phenomenon described above, your coatrack is overflowing with several seasons of outerwear since you have no idea what the temperature can be on a day-to-day basis. 

It's taken longer for me to see the signs of spring than usual, since, as you probably guessed by looking at the span of time between my last post and this one, I'm still working on a kitchen in my house, which has all but absconded with my freedom and sense of humor. 

Even though I have been subjected to one of the worst streaks of bad luck I've ever had - I'm thinking of having the phrase 'It'll have to wait another week' immortalized on the backsplash - and have managed this project so poorly Mike Holmes couldn't even rescue it, I'm still learning new things. For instance - and this is for those of you who know the 'measure twice, cut once' saying - there is actually a missing middle part to that expression: take the measure away, bonehead.

But in the last week, things finally began to break my way: I still don't have countertops, toe kicks or a working stove - I am why Hot Plate Futures are through the roof - and until we paint the room we're not going to move the dishes in there. But my parents visited and my dad helped me install 90% of the lower cabinets. That left just a small cabinet to level/install and a breakfast nook for me to make, and while I shuddered at the prospect of using my table saw alone (I practiced dialing 911 with my nose just as a precaution) I finished that assembly injury-free. 

So now the room looks like a kitchen, which has great psychological value. But now that we're moving on to the countertops phase, a thought struck me: there is a 'dead corner' on one side of the kitchen where the lower cabinets come together. Since it is an empty space unattached to anything, it will be completely inaccessible once the countertops go in. 

A sealed-off place that is secure but won't see the light of day for 30 or 40 years? Sounds like a great place to put a Bike Time Capsule, doesn't it?

Now of course, I can't put a whole bike in there even though that would be ideal. On second thought, I could put the A-Bike there but I'd rather not part with that one. So I needed to find some smaller bike-related items to give people in the future an idea of what bikes and cycling was like in 2013, so here's what I've got for the time capsule:

What it is: A chain

Why it should be in the time capsule: Chains are okay when they don't break, but I really like what I've been seeing with belts, which are quiet, light, and no-maintenance. Maybe we'll even go the shaft route like Dynamic Bicycles.  Unfortunately, we've stuck with the roller chain for so long I have serious doubts we're going to move far beyond it as a cycling people in 30 years. 

How a Future Person might describe it. "Look! A perfectly good chain!"

What it is: a derailleur 

Why it should be in the time capsule: Because in the future, we will have surely moved beyond the derailleur as a people. It's the hardest bike part to spell and it isn't easy to install or maintain either. 

How a Future Person might describe it: "Back in the day, they used to use an apparatus that you would control with a metal wire that would move the chain up and down these differently-sized rings, which gave a bike speeds. Weird, huh?"

What it is: A DVD on how you can build your own mountain bike trails (Sustainable Singletrack) published by the International Mountain Bike Association.

Why it should be in the time capsule: Because there are an awful lot of details that need to be known, understood and followed in order to make a fun and environmentally friendly single track. It should be watched by everyone who uses a mountain bike trail that they love, for they will appreciate the hours that went into a section of trail your tires may spend a quarter of a second on.  

How a Future Person might describe it: "Oh, no! I knew humanity was so, so wrong to get rid of the DVD player and store everything in that stupid, enslaving cloud! What were we thinking?"

What it is: Garmin Edge 205 Bike GPS sitting in a bag of rice. 

Why it should go in the time capsule: Because it would be nice to show people in the future how people like myself would ride and could know how fast we were going, how far, what our elevation was, and how we would attempt a rescue of electronics that had gotten wet (I really did this with my Garmin and it bounced back...but by then I had bought another, so I can put this one in the time capsule).

How a Future Person might describe it: "This was before the founders of Googlehoo got their court order to have Googlehoo Optic Nerve implanted into our eye sockets at birth that would display all kinds of - oh wait, I have a call coming in. Shoot, it's sponsored by Angry Birds."

What it is: picture of a guy in New York City repainting a bike lane.

Why it should go in the time capsule: To show people of the future how much hard, painstaking work had to go in to create a lane that cyclists would use to keep them safer from traffic.

How a Dystopian-Future person might describe it: "Wow, this must have been taken before they abolished bike lanes. Cyclists back then weren't even using them or fighting for them. Plus, they were being rude to motorists by running red lights and the like, so cyclists became abolished soon after."

How a Non-Dystopian Future person might describe it: " Wow. This must have been before we had the good sense to make bike-friendly roads, bridges and tunnels everywhere and we didn't need a designated lane for cyclists because cyclists and motorists live in harmony today."

And that's all I have for the time capsule; let me know if you have any ideas. However, because all of these things are items that I get a lot of practical use out of, I may not seal the time capsule after all. I may leave something else in the empty space - something I bought in Mexico and provided a great deal of amusement for the guys working the X-ray machine at the airport. I know it doesn't serve as lofty a purpose as the time capsule, but it is a sign my sense of humor has returned - and I'd like to scare the heck out of whoever dares renovate my kitchen in 30 years. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Biking Nations: Ottawa in February

Smack in the middle of the soul-crushing, creativity-robbing exercise known as getting a new kitchen - hot plate futures are still up, if you get my drift - my wife and I loaded up the car and headed up to Ottawa for the weekend. We had planned this because she wanted to go to Winterlude, their annual celebration of all things winter.

This just happened to be the weekend when the winter storm (the one named after the famous animated Disney fish) was barging into New England. I usually ignore meteorologists when they use words like 'strong' and 'big' to describe storms, but once the word 'historic' is thrown into the mix, I pay attention.

You know nature is pretty messed up when you escape winter's wrath in Connecticut by going to Canada. 

But that's what we did: While fistfights were ensuing in northeast grocery stores over the last box of Cheez-Its, we peacefully headed north and spent the night just north of Syracuse, New York before pressing on toward the Canadian border. During which time, we felt Nemo's breath on ourselves and the other travelers that morning: here's one my wife took from the passenger seat of the Element. 

Now if you ever become downtrodden in the middle of winter, when your bike is hooked up to a hamster wheel/trainer for one watt too many, when you have to dress like Randy from A Christmas Story to pedal anywhere at all, I recommend that you go to Canada and ride there. It is stuff-your-unconscious-friend-in-the-belly-of-a-dead-Tauntaun cold, but the bike scene is still thriving. 

We arrived in downtown Ottawa around lunchtime, just as Nemo was closing up businesses and sending people home early in the states. I wouldn't have believed it with my own eyes if I didn't see it myself, but I saw more cyclists in five minutes of blizzard conditions in Ottawa than I did in three days of riding in the tropical conditions of the Dominican Republic. 

I was in awe.

Wrapped head to toe with protective winter gear, we trudged through Ottawa. From time to time, we'd hear dispatches from friends - mostly in the form of whiny Facebook status updates - and see news reports to see how the state we called home was faring. The contrast was astonishing as Connecticut and Massachusetts seemed to be shutting down while we were surrounded by people who often didn't even seem aware it was snowing. I had to hand it to them. 

Curious about the equipment the Canadians had to use bicycles to go about their everyday lives, I visited a bike shop called Pecco's in Ottawa to see what gear they carried. 

Now I would have thought that, of all places, Ottawa would be the place one would find bikes like the Surly Pugsly in great numbers. Here's a couple I saw in a shop in Maine last year. They're the ones on the left with the nearly four-inch wide tires. 

Ottawans, as it seemed, were having none of it. The bikes I saw looked like they'd be at home absolutely anywhere during the other three seasons of the year. A clerk at Pecco's showed me the assortment of studded tires available for bikes but said most people just use the tires they have. Pecco's also sells an assortment of other common winter gear like ice skates and curling equipment like the little brushes. 

Yeah, if you want to own a successful bike shop, you must know your market. 

I imagine Pecco's was doing a brisk business in ice skates, for during Winterlude a common activity was to ice skate along the frozen canal that runs for several miles through the center of the city. We did this, and it was quite nice.  

The celebration also included an ice sculpture exhibit. Not some three-foot high swans melting all over someone's wedding reception buffet, but room-sized works of art.

Finally, you never truly understand the contrast of Canada during a blizzard and Connecticut during a blizzard until you visit an outdoor Winterlude concert. The drummers were drumming and the dancers were dancing as though nothing was happening. Some of the attendees were so rapt during the performance snow was piling up on them. 

We stood in the snow admiring the performance until we could stand the cold no longer and we trudged to the hotel.  The way these people celebrate rather than be frightened by freezing temperatures is something to be admired, as is their willingness to bike through it. Sadly, I was unable to join their ranks as an unfixable hole in the stem of the bike I brought (South Norwalk) kept me from pedaling anywhere. Even though it was a big disappointment, I did begin to wonder if it meant I'd simply have to return to Ottawa at a later date - perhaps when the weather is warmer. The last morning of our trip, my wife sketched Parliament Hill while I crossed the bridge into Quebec - on foot - so I could look back at Parliament Hill. 

Shortly after, a nine-hour push got us home, where it took ten minutes to shovel our way into the house.  It wasn't until a few days later, during a bike ride on the recumbent in Bridgeport, that I finally understood just how much snow we got. It made me hope the Canadians would visit New England to teach us a little bit about how to deal with winter, and it made me wish New Englanders would visit Canada to learn how to see the fun side of a cold season. Clearly, some are. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.