Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bicycle Art Show at Lorca This Month (It's My Art, But Don't Let That Stop You)

The other day I was riding my winter bike (which cost $8) and I came across this on Rt. 106. Ha, I thought as I reached to pick it up. Now I'm riding a $3 bike.

Let me back up a second.

Lorca, the little coffee shop on 125 Bedford Street in Stamford displays art from different people each month. And in March, some of my works will be on display and you are invited to the opening reception on Saturday, March 1st from six to seven PM.

I've had stuff displayed before - my late grandfather's old Underwood typewriter was turned into something else and somehow won best sculpture in the Rowayton Art Center's juried show last year.

That piece, called 'No Words,' will actually be on display again at the 'Speechless' exhibit in the Bruce S. Kershner gallery at the Fairfield Public Library beginning February 7th.

And the mask you saw last week I began making it in my class at the Silvermine Art Center isn't in my house anymore because it will be on display at the Greenwich Art Society's 97th annual juried show that opens this Friday night. The action figure wasn't part of the display.

I told my metal sculpting class instructor about the exhibit by starting with: "You know that thing I was making when I set fire to your desk last week? Well, it…"

(Bob: If you're reading this: I really am sorry about your desk. I hope the papers that burned to ashes weren't important and I will keep better track of my slag when welding from now on).

But the Lorca show is different; not only is it taking place at an outstanding coffee shop (the 'quiche of the day' posts on your news feed are among the most worthwhile things I read on Facebook) but all of what is on display is my stuff.

So Lorca wanted to put together a video called 'Coffee With the Creator' and ask me all kinds of questions. You can see the video here.

The first question asked me what my favorite Lorca drink is. That was easy. It's a cappuccino, because a cappuccino is the very first caffeinated drink I had the first time I traveled abroad.

I remember flying into London, then jumping on another plane to go to Slovenia. Barely conscious, I sat on a bus that took us from the airport to the hotel in Ljublijana. And on the radio of the bus - I swear this is true - was Ray Parker's 'Ghostbusters' theme. You're not really aware of how strange and beautiful international travel can be when you're looking at a foreign country for the first time through the windows of a bus with half-shut eyes while 'Who you gonna call!?' rings out.

(Unrelated: I too mourn the passing of Harold Ramis this week and believe we should honor him with a tombstone in the shape of a proton pack with a groundhog peeking out from one side and a gopher on the other).

But anyway: since that day I associate cappuccinos with traveling abroad, and most of the photographs on display at Lorca are shots I've made all over the world, and I'd be happy to tell you about them if you come to the opening reception on Saturday evening. In addition to the photographs and photo print art there will be one work that isn't like the others.

I'm also hoping the art inspires people to look out for cyclists - and pick up bicycles themselves. After all, this is March and this miserable winter is finally running out the clock. And you don't need to look at the just released annual report from the Connecticut Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board to know there will be a lot of cyclists on the road this season -  not just riding at night, either.

But anyway: the $5 I found on Rt. 106 this past Sunday I cleaned in a snowbank before I ran it to Lorca to buy a $5 gift certificate, which I gave to Leyla (Lorca's owner) and asked her to give it to a stranger. Just tell that person about the show, I said.

In case you're wondering, since I am still freelancing/between careers, $5 is about all I have to spend on any kind of marketing budget for this show, so any word you put out on The Twitter or elsewhere about the show would be helpful. Whether you do that or not, please come to Lorca on Saturday evening at 6pm for the opening reception. Failing that, come to Lorca at anytime anyway to have a cappuccino and think about traveling abroad, cycling, creating your own artwork, or all three. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, February 21, 2014

DIYBIKING.COM's Top Five Ways To Live Through This Winter

Breaking unspinnable news: This winter stinks.

Really, it does. I feel the same way about winter that Jon Stewart feels about Chicago deep dish pizza.

This isn't winter. Winter is when snow falls and lands in gentle piles on and around your home. It stays light and fluffy until you shovel it out of the way - and at that point it acquires exactly the right amount of consistency so one can make a snowman.

This isn't winter. It's a series of clips from a summer disaster movie. I half expect to see Dennis Quaid and Maggie Gyllenhaal's brother wandering into my backyard with snowshoes and dazed

This isn't winter. Getting a snow day and spending the morning sledding during Reagan's second term was winter. What is falling from the sky now and covering the landscape is paste that a kindergartner just spit back up. It is part Silly Putty, part booger and all misery. It's a pothole factory and Mother Nature is the plant manager of the year. It's…I just lost my train of thought there.

As a service to my readers - who may be every bit as bored and restless as I am - I offer this list of five things you can do to make the winter pass a little

5) Ride anyway on a winter bike

Not willing to get road salt on a good bike I found an old, 17.5" Trek at the recycling center. It was junk when I found it. It still is now, but I was able to make it ridable by spending a couple of hours greasing, tuning and adjusting. All it cost me was an $8 derailleur cable, and I now have a bike I can smear with road salt and not clean it off the next day. I'd be in a room made from Nerf if not for this thing…which, amazingly enough, played a key role in me finding yet another cell phone on the road  while I was off to Exhale Spa.

I was able to arrange to have the phone returned. If I had driven a car, the phone would have stayed lost, so the more junky bikes on the road - in winter or in any season - the better it is for people who lose things.

4) Take a class (metal sculpting if possible)

If you're unemployed, tired of winter (or both) take a class. It could be anything. The Silvermine Art Center (about a twenty minute drive from Stamford) has a lot of classes, and I'm presently enrolled in a metal sculpting class, which I love because it not only gets me out of the house (when storms don't close the school) but also gives me access to tools I don't have access to at home such as the completely awesome plasma cutter.

It's a tool I would write a song about if I had the talent. I love it but could never own one. Just look at the sparks. I couldn't use it even in my welding room since the risks of fire are just too great. However, if you ever get to use one the little bits of metal that are left over from some other project can be welded together to make a mask or just make about any shape you want if you have a  steady hand.

3) Visit a bike shop you've never visited before. 

Get out of the house. Travel to a city - by toboggan if necessary. Visit a bike shop you haven't visited before. The other day I was lucky enough to visit Adeline Adeline in Manhattan. It's a different kind of shop - not just because they are one of the few places that actually have a Bakfiets cargo bike right in front, but whoever runs the place did a good job editing the selection and showing off bikes and designs that are just cool.

I did wish I had visited this shop before I began my salute to the cargo bike, but stopping in during a cold February day was good for my morale. It'll be good for yours too. Get out there and visit a shop.

2) Trainers and rollers

I know, it's an easy one. If you have a decent road bike and a set of rollers (mine, as you know already, have homemade guides made from inline skating wheels to keep me from rolling off) you can ride in front of David Simon's The Wire or Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. It'll keep you in shape and the good quality television programming will distract you from the fact that riding outdoors is about 134,000 times better.

1) Just make things

I know, this is fairly obvious. But it wasn't until I gave a talk on welding at Ignite Stamford a couple weeks ago that I really was able to articulate the value of having access to tools you enjoy using. For me it's a Lincoln Electric welder. For you it may be that or wood, a paintbrush, a pencil or a big tub of clay. But just make things. Make things that are pretty, make things that are ugly, make things that are useful, and make things that are useless. But just make things and good stuff will happen - at the very least this ridiculous winter will pass by a little faster.  Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, February 14, 2014

(A Roundabout Way of) Making a Portable Bike Rack

This week was unusual for many reasons. Some of which I will get into later, but one of the bigger highlights was my participation in Ignite Stamford #5. The premise of Ignite Stamford is to gather several people who give a short presentation featuring 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. It's very much like scripted ad-libbing, since you create the slides yourself but you have to be on your toes throughout.

I talked about welding, and one of the features of that activity I highlighted was the fact that if I wanted to put anything on wheels in my house, it's going to have wheels on it. One day I was in my shop and realized that I had four massive casters that weren't attached to anything.

A sensible man would have put the wheels away until he knew what he was going to do with them. But you know me better than that.

A glance to the corner of the welding room showed me a big piece of 3/4" plywood that was leftover from a project I had made for my grandmother (which was a series of wooden discs screwed together and covered with carpet so her living room chair could sit on it and be at a more comfortable height). It was hanging around in the shop for more than a year, but at that moment I was compelled to cut it exactly so.

Next, I found myself a square piece of wood that was leftover from the one-sheet workbench project I made (it was one of the pieces that traveled six miles on the back of my homemade cargo bike) and attached a telescoping speaker stand to the center.

Before I put the two halves of the speaker stand back together, I dropped a spring in the bottom so in case the little thumb screw failed and the thing fell, the landing would be cushioned.

When I was done, I had myself the perfect rolling laptop stand.

As you can see I ended up reshaping the bottom with a jigsaw and painting the whole thing black to make it look nice. It was perfect, I thought: very heavy at the bottom so it would be impossible to flip over, it could be lowered to desk height, I could sit on a barstool and rest my feet on the base if I wanted, and it looked pretty good.

But then the next morning I found myself with a lot of post-build remorse; the workshop equivalent of looking at the person you met at a party last night early the next morning and recoiling at what you had done in between.

What was I thinking? I already have a portable rolling table made from a tag sale find, and casters heavy duty enough to support the weight of a Smart Car are completely unnecessary for a four pound laptop. Not only that, it was too big, heavy and awkward to carry up stairs.

Luckily, a few weeks later, I was able to convert this ridiculous build into something useful. Or, at least, more useful than a massive rolling laptop stand.

It all started when I was sorting through a tub filled with metal bits in the welding room and came across this gem which, as you may recall, I found on a bike ride to New Canaan nearly three years ago.

Yes, it's the back of a trailer hitch, and I fit it in my bike bag and carried this heavy chunk of steel with me for the rest of the ride.

It's where you and I differ. I know.

The first thing I did was cut a beefy L-bracket and make heavy duty metal tabs that could fit on the sides.

Then I did a little welding - some of the neatest beads I ever made, in fact - because I was using the proper welding tip (more on that later).

Next I removed the speaker stand from the base - I practically needed a spotter to help me flip the thing over - so I could center and attach it properly to the bottom.

As I did this, I played around with an old Rhode Gear trailer hitch bike rack I have and never use (thanks to the interior bike rack I made for my Honda Element) to make sure everything would fit the way I thought it would fit.

When I had my found piece of metal bolted to the bottom, I summoned up my adrenaline glands and flipped the base back over so I could put the hitch rack into place.

Yeah, this is more useful: I have a few more bikes than normal these days (don't ask) and it's more important for me to have bikes on a rack I can roll out of the way anytime than it is for me to stand at a computer while watching 'Breaking Bad' with commentary on DVD.

So the build - or rather, use of the casters - was salvaged for now and I was again reminded to never, every throw anything away. I picked up that trailer hitch bit in 2011 because I knew it would be useful someday, and it was. I can use the Rhode Gear trailer hitch that was otherwise being unused…and I didn't have to modify it in any way. And finally: inspiration for what you make tomorrow could come from something you made yesterday - even if you have post-build remorse. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, February 7, 2014

DIYBIKING.COM Presents: Staying Safe While Riding at Night (Part III)

(click here for part one)
(click here for part two

Today we continue DIYBIKING.COM's series on staying safe while riding at night by studying yet another reason why being seen as soon as possible is important.

The answer involves math. But first, let's look at the human brain. We need it to get to the math part. And to do the math part, now that I think about it.

For this segment, I want you to imagine that your eyes, brain and legs are being portrayed by actors. Because this is my site and I am the casting director,  Michael Cera of Arrested Development fame will be playing the role of the eyes, the brain will be portrayed by Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill, while the part of the legs will be filled by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

If it helps with the visualization: all three of these guys starred together in one of the best comedies of all time: Superbad. Please proceed to your nearest FYE and buy it on DVD. Or Blu-Ray, if you feel like counting pores.

Now even though I consider fan fiction to be the non-alcoholic beer of literature, I here present a short play featuring the characters each of these three played on Superbad. All three of them are in the front seat of a moving car wearing plain T-shirts featuring their body part names (eyes, brain, legs):

EYES: Dude, what is that?

BRAIN: Oh…I can just…it's…it's…that's definitely a cyclist. (Expletive)! I think we're coming in way too fast! Hey, Fogel!

LEGS: What?

BRAIN: Take your foot off the gas and hit the brake, (expletive)!

LEGS: Okay…Got it!

(car stops)

BRAIN: Great, we're stopped! Whew!

LEGS:  I am McLovin!

That entire exchange between the eyes, brain and legs takes about one second if a driver is not distracted.

When you're in a moving car, a second is a very long time. If you're going 25 miles an hour, you're moving about 36.6 feet per second.  So while your eyes, brain and legs are having their little discussion, the car is still moving.

The period of time when that exchange takes place is known as the 'reaction distance.' I first learned about all of this, believe it or not, in an educational Disney cartoon featuring Goofy that was produced in the 1960s which I watched sometime in the 1980s.  A series of Google searches found it and I couldn't believe how much of 'Freewayphobia' I remembered.

Nice work, Disney.

Stuck indoors thanks to this snowy nonsense, I set to work with the miniatures. The first thing I needed to do was build a 1:87 scale model road and mark distances with it.

Next, I placed a cyclist - the same one featured in my eventually-to-be-published children's book - about 71 feet away from the start line, which was a match for the distance I found I could see a cyclist with no reflectors and no bright clothing in the full scale experiment.

I then placed a car at the start line. In case you're curious, it is a Citroen. I can't recall the model but it's the same kind that Clark Griswold got wedged in a stone opening in European Vacation and what the taxi drivers use in Back to the Future Part II.

Next, it was time for some math. Since I was using a cyclist traveling on a road for this, I had to make an estimate on how fast he or she would be going. For the purposes of this post, the cyclist is moving at 10 miles an hour, or about 14.6 feet per second, which isn't too bad for level ground on a dark road. I used a piece of plastic marked with a red Sharpie to show how far a rider would go in about one second and about three and a half seconds.

As I was setting all of this up, I had an email exchange with Christine Yager of Texas A&M University. She and others did some pretty incredible research on distracted driving and the impact of hands-free devices on motorists. Their research indicated that reaction time doubled when a person is using a cell phone, which, on paper anyway, would mean that instead of Seth, Evan and Fogel's conversation taking one second, it would take at least two.

To keep any invincible imbeciles from decrying the findings of science and boasting of their abilities to multitask faster than others, I decided to use a slightly more conservative estimate of the additional time needed by a distracted driver to react to something: 3/4 of a second.

So a non-distracted driver needs one second to react while a distracted one needs at least one and 3/4 seconds.

Got that? Good. Let's look at the numbers.

Let's say you're driving at night at 25 miles an hour and first see the cyclist at 71 feet. If you aren't distracted, your car will travel about 36.6 feet before you hit the brakes, and you'll travel another 26.5 feet. If you're distracted, you'll go about 64 feet before hitting the brakes, and you'll stop when the car just pushes past 90 feet.

I've been in the research world most of my adult life - and have found there are a lot of 'howevers' involved.

Even though this, on paper, means the rider is safe (because he or she was traveling at 14.6 feet per second while the driver sees the cyclist, reacts to the cyclist, and stops for the cyclist) it doesn't take into account the condition of the road, the cleanliness of the headlamps, the quality of the brakes, the quality of the leg muscles used to lift the leg from the gas and apply it to the brake,  other things or objects that the driver sees before having a chance to see the cyclist…and so on. We're also assuming the cyclist is the ONLY danger on the road.

We're also assuming the car is going at 25 miles an hour. Motor vehicles go faster than that through the drive-through at the bank, so let's look at what a higher speed means.

At 35 mph and no distractions for the driver (and assuming the cyclist can still keep up 10 miles an hour and not fall off their bike at the sound of the squealing brakes behind them) the car may just stop short of hitting the cyclist, giving both driver and cyclist a big scare and an exchange of expletives - possibly culminating in a Twitter war.

A distracted driver at 35 miles an hour will hit the cyclist before the car comes to a complete stop. That wasn't an easy sentence to write. A distraction - and the extra 3/4 of one second reaction time before the motorist hits the brakes - seriously injured or killed the cyclist.

And then we move to 40 miles an hour - where things get even worse.

I would have to guess that 40 miles an hour is known as 'ramming speed' on Shippan Avenue, which is a busy road near where I live.

At 40 miles an hour, it literally doesn't matter how much attention one is paying to the road since a cyclist, riding in the dark with no lights or reflective gear, is going to be hit no matter what. Even though I did the feet per second calculations all the way up to 90 miles an hour, I didn't bother setting up props or taking pictures.

But as long as we're being freaked out by mathematics, I'll offer this:

I was able to calculate the exact speed a car would have to be going in order to hit a cyclist 71 feet away before they have a chance to react. It's 58.4 miles an hour, which means that driver will go just over 85 feet and be right on top of the cyclist before either of them realizes there has been an accident.

The photo above does not show what would actually happen, but it does show my unwillingness to break any of my cycling miniatures. In real life, we'd be looking at a closed casket funeral.

Now that we're all properly watching-a-Rob-Zombie-movie-alone frightened, let's add just one more number to the mix.

The number: 4.6, which, according to government research found at, is the estimated number of seconds a person's eyes are not on the road when they are sending or receiving a text message. Christine Yager pointed out the figure in our exchange, and indicated it would be like traveling "the length of a football field essentially blindfolded" if a car was moving at highway speeds.

So that made me wonder: what if a person was sending or receiving a text going just 25 miles an hour? How far is that in feet?

168 feet. Oh, and four inches. Not that the cyclist cares, of course.

To briefly break away from the usually light and cheery tone this site has had in the three years it has been in existence - and perhaps to channel Will McAvoy from Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom - I offer this:

'Being online at all times and multitasking aren't values, they're slogans from companies who want you to be online and multitasking at all times. When you're not staring at a four-inch screen, you're not valuable to marketers, but you are valuable to to your family, your friends, and anybody you want to look in the eye. If you're behind the wheel of any vehicle, put your phone away. If you're in a car, don't be distracted and drive slower. If you're on a bike, the more lights and reflective clothing you have, the better.'

Hope all of this is an incentive to dress a little brighter, pick up a few lights at your local bike shop, and to stow your phones when you're behind the wheel. If you already practice this, please forward this post to friends who might need a reminder.  Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.