Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bikes Lift Cities. Art Does Too.

This Friday, June 27, Fairfield County is lucky to have two great events in both of its cities (and yes: this is worth interrupting the progress report of the bike generator I built last week).

One event is in Bridgeport, a city not thirty miles away from my front door and I've only ridden in it once. From what I can tell by what I've seen recently, that's a shameful admission. Especially since Cleveland is a tank-and-a-half of 87 octane from Stamford and I know that city better

Visiting BPT Creates the other day to drop some of my artwork off tells me I need to bring back my 'All Local Stops' series. 

Let me back up a second.

BPT Creates/Magnacon 7 is a gallery and workspace located at 1001 Main Street, Suite 14. What makes the first part of that address significant is the fact it is in the Arcade Mall (pictured above). All of the wonder of the mall in Cleveland with no five-state blend of bug pizza on the grill of my car to get there.

This Friday, from 6:00 to 9:00pm, the opening reception of BPT Creates' exhibit "I Want to Ride My Bicycle" is being held there. I submitted a few of my pieces (some of which you've seen at my exhibit at Lorca this past March) but from what I've seen on the BPT Creates Facebook page my stuff isn't going to be the highlights of this exhibit. 

It goes without saying, but attendees are encouraged to bike to the opening reception. 

In Stamford this weekend, we have ARTWALK, which turns downtown into an art exhibit. It begins on Friday and continues through Saturday afternoon. You can find out more details, including the calendar of events and the route map, at Stamford Downtown Special Services district web site. The weather looks like it will be good for riding and walking in the city I call home, and some of the exhibits, including some from artist Holly Danger (who was profiled in the Connecticut Post this week and has some of her art on display at Lorca) that may well stop people in their tracks as they pass through Kiwanis Park. 

I talk about bikes the way I do because bikes lift cities up. Art does that too. I hope you have a chance to visit both ARTWALK in Stamford and BPT Creates in Bridgeport this weekend - and tell your friends to do the same. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Playing with Power: Part I

Unless we're talking about Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, I hate riding indoors. It feels wrong, but I'm often forced to do it anyway. This past miserable winter was made more so because of the snow, and I would, hamster-like, pedal on the rollers. 

I tried taking a spin class, but I was literally century-sore for days afterward. Plus, there was a bit of a Clockwork-orange vibe going on since we were forced to watch weird music videos while pedaling. 

Also: If I'm going to pedal that hard for that long, I'd like to end up somewhere different from where I had started. 

But then I wondered: could a bike, riding indoors, actually provide something useful to the world? 

As usual, I found my answer near an imposing metal sign at the dump that reads: No Scavenging:

Yes, I found a discarded trainer. Somebody out there was even more disenchanted with riding indoors than me. 

Save for the missing adjuster bolt to control the pressure of the roller against the bike tire (I easily replaced it) this trainer of unknown origin was complete. Though it featured a way to adjust the resistance through a shifting cable one could mount on handlebars, I cut that part off immediately as I dismantled the housing.

I ended up with a metal plate that I thought would work for what I had planned. First, I went into my stockpile of old electric scooter parts (you mean you don't have one?) and was able to find the driving sprocket of one I vaguely remember spending $5 on at a tag sale 6+ years ago. Very carefully, I used a hacksaw to remove the wheel.

When I was done with the cutting, I ended up this.

I removed the metal plate from the trainer, dropped the sprocket evenly over it, and marked the four holes (visible in the above photo) with a Sharpie. Surprisingly enough, the result was exactly what I wanted.

Next came the tricky part: With the roller housing off the trainer frame, I put the whole works on a clamp and dropped on the chain and the 24V electric motor. It took a while to decide how I was going to fasten the two together and knew I had to be especially careful when welding: the chain couldn't have too much slack or be out of alignment in any way. I took the bits from one L-shaped piece of steel and cut them just so.

Once I was confident everything was aligned properly, I fired up my Lincoln Electric welder and let some sparks fly. 

Eventually, I had my result: a motor and the back of the trainer mounted on a solid piece of steel. 

Next, it was time for the moment of truth: I reattached the entire assembly to the back of the trainer frame and put on a bike. I attached something to the end of the scooter motor's wires so I could see if anything would happen when I started pedaling.

Sure enough, it did. 

I remember as a kid going to a science fair once and I saw two electric motors: one had a light bulb on it while the other had batteries. When the motor's gears were touching, the battery-powered motor spun the other and the bulb went on - just like mine did. 

It was nice to know I remembered that. In the mid 1980s, most of my brain was reserved to memorizing the plot lines of every 'Transformers' episode. Glad something useful made the cut (but the episode where Optimus Prime has to outwit a big game hunter was pretty awesome).  

But anyway: I have electricity coming out of the contraption, but I'm not sure how much (it's enough to burn out the light bulb in the previous photo) or what I'm going to do with it. The voltage tester I have in my shop was built before the discovery of Radio Shack, and if I want to do something like build a way to charge cell phones while pedaling I'll have to, you know, learn how to do it. I'll also appreciate any suggestions on what to do with my newfound power. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bike Lanes on High Ridge Road: Easier Than Anyone Thinks

This is a picture I took last week when driving up High Ridge Road in Stamford. I must have driven on that road hundreds of times before I looked at the picture and realized how horribly wrong it is.

Now as you know there is a rally to support bike lanes on High Ridge Road this Saturday at 1:00pm at  the Rippowam Middle School. Bring your bike, bring a friend, and go.

And do the equivalent of padding your list of friends. If you're a roadie, bring your mountain biking sister-in-law. If you're one of those cyclists who have a wheel set worth more than the Blue Book value your car, bring that weird friend who rides a Schwinn with 27" wheels and those annoying brake levers too low to see or reach easily.

Bring the friends that don't understand the difference between PSI and bar (to be fair I'm not really sure what bar is. I know that 'barre' is a legally sanctioned form of fitness-based torture administered by excellent gyms like Exhale in the South End, but I'm not sure what bar is in the context of tire pressure).

And bring the petrol heads. Yes: your non-cycling friends. Bring them too. And I can explain why with the following photograph:

That photo, which you may have seen earlier this week on my column on Stamford Patch, is all you need to know about what it means to install bike lanes on High Ridge Road. Cars give up space they don't need while bicycle commuters gain space they do. And if more people leave their cars at home and take the bikes, that means more room on the motor vehicle lanes for you. Come to the rally on Saturday. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Story of Bikes, Bike Lanes, and Stamford's High Ridge Road

I was going to end this post with that picture. Really, the most complicated things can be expressed by the use of HO scale miniatures. As a matter of fact, President Obama today placed an HO scale miniature of himself punching Vladimir Putin on Putin's knee while in France celebrating the D-Day anniversary. 

That actually didn't happen. But it would have been great if it did.

What did happen today, is I took a 13 mile bike ride: I needed to take about three gallons of old paint to Keough's to get it recycled (details on that great program can be found here), drop off a basket at the post office (here seen being used as a substitute kickstand) and stop by both Trader Joe's and Hobbytown USA's Stamford location.

All four of these places are on High Ridge Road (the same road I pedaled up with the same bike and a different trailer eighteen months ago to pay tribute to the Sandy Hook victims).

So I rode the recumbent with the trailer and made it to the post office fairly easily. For the first part of the trip, I had a shoulder.

But a couple of miles later, the traffic got heavier and the shoulder got narrower. 

I arrived at Keough's moments after that photo was taken, where I again wondered what the place would be like if it had bike parking right in front.

After I dropped off the old paint, I headed toward Hobbytown USA and was greeted to another plaza that didn't have bike parking. I hoped the tree didn't grow too fast, I thought. 

At Hobbytown, I bought exactly what you'd expect me to buy. Leaving the bike parked, I walked over to Trader Joe's and bought whatever I thought would fit in the rotisserie chicken-ready bike box. Have you ever actually grocery shopped and selected bread based on what would fit in your bike? It's a surprisingly pleasant feeling. Never mind.

Of course, walking out to the bike, I remembered I had an entire (now empty) trailer that I could have filled with bananas, canned coffee, miniature tacos, milk, eggs, animal crackers, canned coffee, instant oatmeal, lemonade, frozen orange juice, broccoli florets, goat cheese and vanilla almond crunch cereal. 

Oh well. 

I headed home and ate lunch. Later in the afternoon I returned to High Ridge Road in my car. If any militant, fixie-riding, meat-avoiding hipsters are upset about this, please understand that driving a car up High Ridge Road is what most people, including me, normally do. 

I get infuriated at people who use cell phones when they drive (and I wasn't using mine) so only once I held up the camera to take a picture without looking. When I got home and finally uploaded the photo, I saw this…and there are no filters and no special effects. 

Look at the SUV just in front of me and then at the pickup truck to its right. It's pretty striking at how much space cars have on either side. The Wayne Industries Tumbler would have room to spare on either lane of High Ridge.

Bikes? Not so much. The little narrow band in front of the minivan is all any cyclist has, and it's a big reason why so many people don't ride bikes on a lot of roads. 

When you're in the same room with a car they're big, but when you're with them on the road, it's a different story. Cars and trucks not only don't need that much space on either side, but motor vehicles also tend to drive faster when they have wider lanes. A major component of Complete Streets (and the plan to put bike lanes along High Ridge Road) is to make lanes 11 feet wide instead of 12 feet, which opens more space on either side for bike lanes, which will encourage more people to choose the bike and more motorists to drive a little slower. 

I'll be talking about this a lot more from tonight all the way up through June 14th. Mark your calendar for that day and spread the word. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.