Thursday, April 25, 2013

DIYBIKING.COM Presents: Protect Your Melon

This Saturday (April 28th) there is a children's bike helmet giveaway at Fairway market in Stamford from 9am to 1pm. It's an annual event that was first created been organized by retired police officer Glenn Coppola and his wife Peggy in memory of their son who was hit by a car riding his bike in 1992. I hope you let your own kids and your friends who have kids know about this if they don't have helmets.

Now I know that a lot of adults ride around without helmets and say they're fine not wearing them, but that's not how precaution works. It's all about the prefix, 'pre.' We don't have metal detectors at the airport with signs over them that read: 'All Terrorists Must Pass Through Here Before Boarding Plane' because we don't know where the danger is: everyone has to pass through the detector just like everyone should wear a helmet - if for no other reason than it gives you a place to mount your rearview mirror.

By now you may have noticed the watermelon. Let me explain. 

I wanted to see if there was a way to demonstrate the importance of helmets. I selected an old helmet I don't use anymore, then I settled on small, seedless watermelons.  If you ever try this, you'll have to bring your helmet into the grocery store with you to…you know…check the fit of each watermelon to make sure it'll go in the helmet okay. If other shoppers back up several feet from you while you're doing this, ignore them.

Now the first thing I did with the first of two watermelons that made the cut of my little fashion show is set one up to illustrate the proper way to wear a helmet: straight and true on the very top of your head and the straps underneath your chin: not too tight but not too loose, either.

You don't want to wear the helmet on the back of your head: too many kids I see out there look like the photo below - except kids are not watermelons.

The next thing I did was built a little diving platform in the basement workshop (still a terrible mess since the Kitchen Undertaking continues) where a watermelon could fall from: 68.5" from the welding room floor.

I do not know how to calculate the speed of the falling watermelon, but am fairly certain it has something to do with 'newtons.'

So I took one of my two watermelons and allowed it to fall gently from the height of 68.5 inches. Even though it seemed to fall in slow motion it hit the ground with what we call in the science community 'a loud and gross noise'

But this, my friends, is data:

I immediately regretted not bringing a clean fork into the shop before I started this. 

Next, I reached for my old bike helmet and strapped the second watermelon in. Holding it at the height of 68.5" I let it fall. 

I had never done this sort of thing before, nor did I have any idea what would happen. I can tell you that I did in fact put a disposable plastic hotel shower cap around the melon to avoid making another mess. When this melon fell, I ended up with a loud thud...and this result:

The top of the helmet, which took the full force of the impact, had shattered. I turned the helmet around apprehensively and looked at my results.

There wasn't even a trace of liquid in the shower cap and the melon/human head stand-in was completely intact, save for a small gash on top. Still, it wasn't nearly as catastrophic as the helmet-less melon's experience.

The helmet itself, on closer inspection, was a total loss: not only did the plastic top shatter, but there was a big crack in the foam. In other words, the helmet did its job in that it took the force of the fall - and needed to be discarded. Be sure to do the same if you ever damage your helmet.

So there are two lessons we can draw here: if you want to help protect your head from impact wear a helmet and wear it properly. The other lesson is that helmet manufacturers should diversify and sell melon protection kits to keep watermelons safe when picnicking in rocky areas.

Also, if your own helmet needs are covered and you want to help someone else's, you can support the helmet drive by sending check to the Timothy Coppola Memorial Helmet Giveaway and mail to the Stamford Police Association, 805 Bedford St, Stamford CT, 06902. And the nearby Pacific Swim Bike Run is having a sale this same week if you want to make a stop for other cycling supplies. Hope I see you at both. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chicagoans: Get On a Bike

I just returned from a weekend in Chicago, where I got to watch a friend get married and (naturally) look at the city through a cyclist's eyes. 

Due to terrible planning and general clumsiness - the Kitchen Undertaking continues - I didn't bring my Bike Friday to Chicago. But I was even more upset that so many Chicagoans didn't bring bikes either (more on that in a minute). 

Upon arrival, my wife and I quickly discovered that it isn't the easiest city to see on your own terms. It took two hours to use public transit to get from O'Hare to the Hotel Acme. Though the name may suggest otherwise, they did not provide tools to help catch the Roadrunner. They did, however, have a showcase of snacks wired to an electronic tray: lift the snack, you are charged automatically. It made me think of the opening scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' when he tries to swap a bag of sand for the idol.

The room also featured a glassed-in fridge that we couldn't use for our own stuff; just a small, overpriced vending machine was all it was. But it was a fine location and the staff was always friendly.

But we didn't stay in the room long, for we set off on foot to see some sights, among which was the Erie St. location of Kozy's Cyclery, which features a mirrored ball on the ceiling (it had been a nightclub years earlier) and a good selection. A worker there directed me to a cycling map of the city. 

I thought the city was made for cycling since it is quite flat. There were some bike lanes about but, like every city, they weren't on every street. 

It wasn't until we set off in a taxi to Yusho that I became fantastically, remarkably discouraged about Chicago. We caught a cab outside of Hotel Acme.  And we hit traffic. It was the kind of traffic where the word 'traffic' isn't enough to describe the glacier-slow procession of automotive cholesterol squirming through urban arteries. I took the first picture on this post while sitting in the cab, mostly because I was tired of watching both the meter and pedestrians move faster than us.

What made it particularly ridiculous is every block seemed to feature at least one parking garage that would keep shooting out cars like a Pez dispenser even when there was absolutely no room on the streets for them. Money set aside dyeing the river green on St. Patrick's Day needs to go to bike infrastructure and convincing people who live in the John Hughes-inspired suburbs to ride into the city instead of drive.  Rahm, please yell at people until they go to Kozy's or some other local shop and buy a bike.  I even found a web site called in case Kozy's isn't convenient enough for them. Seriously, Chicago: I want us to be friends. 

But I digress.

Now I did befriend Yusho, which was a very nice restaurant that features outstanding food - and the thing that looks like a science experiment on the bar is actually the result of about a year and a half's worth of candle wax.

Chicago tried mightily to get on my good side the next day, when we began our day by eating at Eleven, which scored some points for having a Worksman industrial trike chained outside. 

While walking, I also came upon the Palomar hotel, which had an advertisement out front that made me think that the management of this hotel Gets It.

On another taxi ride to the museum circuit we were able to admire the extent cyclists ride along Lake Michigan. I know, it's a lake so it isn't nearly as cool as an ocean - the East Coast Snob within awakens -  but it still looks okay.

Through the windows of the cab I also could see that Chicago did have a few things that made me realize the bike culture here, while obviously not big enough to influence the people who insist on driving into the city, did have a presence.

Our first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, which has a couple of bike racks out front. We had chosen to visit first based on an exhibit we had learned about on their web site. 

I was very happy visiting this, particularly a bicycle from the American Star Company, which is notable not just because the design reminds me of my Turner recumbent, but because the bicycle is so similar to the Eagle Bicycle which was made here in Stamford, Connecticut. This style of AMC bike was once pedaled down the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate its stability in 1885 - too bad the GoPro HD Hero wasn't popular back then. 

The Art of the Bicycle, which runs through 2018, was worth the admission price alone. But there's so much more to this place: I grew up on day trips from Connecticut to the Boston Museum of Science (and the Astronaut Ice Cream sold in the gift shop) but Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry brings serious competition. It's a Must Go, and the train exhibit, featuring the largest HO scale model railroad I have ever seen, contributes to its Must Go status.

The train set is fascinating to look at from a few paces away, but it's also cool to lean as close as you can to take in the details, such as a bear attacking some terrified campers and The Hulk rampaging on a city street. 

The gift shop is also unusually worthwhile, for in addition to some pretty nice T-shirts promoting the bicycle exhibit they have some reasonably priced American Made owl vomit.

I'll leave you to guess which one I left the museum with.

Later, we went to The Art Institute of Chicago (the one where Cameron was transfixed by a painting in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and then to the wedding. And although bikes weren't featured at all it was still a fun occasion I was happy to be a part of. Now that the wedding is over, I really have no reason to go to Chicago again. But if I'm in town again, I will definitely bring a bike, and if you travel to Blues Brothers country at any time, bring a bike yourself. And try to talk some sense into the people who still insist on driving their cars into the city. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.