Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Light Rail Snafus

I usually don't post on consecutive days like this but last night's commute really took the cake. The morning commute went off without a hitch other than the light rail took 15 minutes to get to the station unfortunately. The evening would prove a sore trial.

The first hint something was screwy should have been me seeing 3 trains go by within 10 minutes on the opposite track and my train still not in the station. I had left in plenty of time to catch the train and get to the express stop I had thought. The train was late and when it did come it was packed tot he gills and folks gave me lip about bringing a bike on board until I asked them what the stupid bicycle racks were for if bikes weren't allowed on the train.

The train meandered it's way down and people were turned out at several stations due to the full trains. Most folks were riding for exploration and pleasure. A few of us were honest to goodness commuters trying to get home. 5:00 PM rolled around and I wasn't out of the train so I figured since I missed the bus anyway I'd ride to the end of the line and catch the link and I would still beat the next express home. Big mistake.

Due to the volume of people the train was already running slow and after an 30 minutes or so we were stopped due to a broken train ahead. All in all a 50 minute journey turned into nearly 2 hours. There were a lot of unhappy folks. Most of them will likely not be back but they probably wouldn't have anyway. The folks who hope for a solution will wait for the kinks to work out I figure. After all, this system didn't start out easy, it got hit full force out of the door with the volumes they have been running. I figure they'll be troubleshooting things for a few weeks. I'll keep the faith.

I had to stand for about an hour in really squished quarters but eventually the pleasant older chap I had been chatting too left and I got his "seat" which was really just the flat spot under the other bike hanger but it was better than standing.

I finally got to the bus stop at 6:30 having just missed the link. I had a choice between waiting for the link at 7pm or catch the bus down university at 6:45. See as the link stops less frequently I figured I'd chance it with the link. 2 guys with bikes showed up to wait after I did. Being the nice guy that I am I let them have the rack and I folded my bike up and didn't even get any lip from the driver this time. I met lots of nice senior folk who were excited about using the train in the future despite the day's experiences. Goll durn it, just when I was getting a strong distaste for snowbirds along comes a couple of nice old couples and spoils it. I guess I should have expected it. I suppose the grouchy "we deserve the world" old crowd are still commited to their Cadillacs, and Lincoln Love boats.

I finally got home just before 8 PM having left just after 4pm. My mistake of not waiting for the other express bus cost me around 2 hours worth of time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Big Wheezy

It was a cold morning in a drab city that really knows how to sprawl if you know what I mean. The usual crowd was pretty thin. I suppose some people had better things to do on Christmas eve than hang around a little dive they call the park and ride. Standing on the curb are a few denizens of the dawn and a lonely soul with a bicycle. That's me there, "Pedalin" Paul, bike commuter.

I was waiting in the misty morning for an old aquaintance of mine. A sweet little thing I call "Miss Express". She was a pushy dame that was built like a bus but she could get you where you were going if you catch my drift. The usual crowd was more pleasantly engaged I suppose. Perhaps they had sheep they had forgotten to count or infomercials to watch. Still there were a few of us here doomed to ride the streets of the inner city, searching for meaning in a city lost in smog.

Suddenly out of the night like a stinking electric elephant on roller skates Miss Express was here and ready to take in the lost souls of the corporate conglomerate. I consulted my little black book as to the current situation of a man we'll just call "Captain Nemo" but I didn't have long to look. Miss Express was outdoing herself today. She had all the vigour of a spurned woman for all the fickle fairweather commuters who had deserted her on this chilly morning. In her fury she got me to my destination faster than usual. As She sped off into the night I wished her luck and all the guys she could handle in the year to come.

The deck park is a lonely place in the dusk of early morning. Homeless folks lay in cocoons around the supports holding Central avenue above. Unfortunately, no positive metamorphosis awaits them upon waking. The lights of the skyskrapers shine in the sky welcoming a new day and a million tasks laid out for the nameless masses soon to collect like a hive of smogged bees. I pedaled off into the gathering twighlight. I was searching for the elusive "Mr. Job".

I hadn't frequented this town much but rumors of where I might find "Mr. Job" pointed me in this direction. He was lurking in the shadows of an area code named "Piestewa Peak". The local propietors still refer to it by it's former alias of squaw peak. I suppose "Mr. Job" preferred the anonymity of a location unsure of a name. No matter what the reasoning was, I had found "Mr. Job" after many long weeks of searching and today I would find out what makes him tick.

Alas but "Mr. Job" had a few tricks up his sleeve. Apparently he too was aware it was Christmas Eve and cut me loose at noon, sending me out alone with my bike, like a lone sailor on a borderless sea. Having dealt me a mystifying blow I didn't know how to act other than to head back to the inner city no longer asleep.

I searched for Miss Express but finding no gentleman in need of mobility she had abandoned the area until the commuters of the evening came out in search of a good ride if you get my meaning. Questions hit me like plates thrown one after another into a brick wall by a six year old. Where was Miss Express? Why was Mr. Job being nice to me all of a sudden? How many dames around here knew about a little dive called the park and ride? What kind of joint could sell me a device to control Batman in an amusing way hour after hour but was familiar with a gentleman called "Mr. USB"?

Suddenly, in front of the Bus Depot a rather short little Lady sauntered through the intersection. She gave me a look as if to say, "come over here big boy, I'll take you home tonight". I could see she was a pushy dame. I had heard of her before. The boys who knew called her the "Red Line". I knew she'd take me home, the question was who's home. Having no other choices I took her line. She'd lured many a man off the street by the looks of her clientelle.

They were a vast collection of motley types. I sat next to a Lady who had a mouth like a sailor, a body of a manatee, and the breath of a tailpipe. Miss Red Line had none of the class of Miss Express I found. She kept stopping every block to see who else wanted a ride on the Red Line.

By the time we reached Mesa I had had enough of Miss Red Line and her entourage so I cast her off like a crumpled up piece of Christmas wrapping. I watched her leave into the afternoon. Alone, I surveyed my situation. It was time to dig out my old friend "Mr. Bike" again. I recently had acquired "Mr. Bike" in anticipation of my pursuit of "Mr. Job" to the big city. He was a bit on the heavy side but he got the job done. Then, as I was riding "Mr. Bike", the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. If anyone knew of a way to control Batman and was cruel enough to force labor on Christmas Eve, it must be old man Walmart.

Old man Walmart was a difficult place for "Mr. Bike" though. Lots of envious eyes roamed around him like jackals surrounding the slaughter. Fortunately for me "Mr. Bike" had a few features he hadn't counted on. I would soon have Mr. Bike folded up into a shopping cart and left the enhungered jackals upon the doorstep. Perusing the endless maze of old man Walmart's location I stumbled upon the answers to my questions. The controller was here and he would work with "Mr. USB" with a little something for his troubles of course! The mystery solved, nothing was left but to take "Mr. Bike" home and wait to unwrap Batman in the morning and show him who the boss was.

Case closed, I sat back and toasted old man Walmart with the holidays first indulgance. A small bottle of Shamrock's finest Egg Nog. It was tough stuff, but then again, I'm a tough guy, "Pedalin" Paul, Bike Commuter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Urban Traveler

Well, the week of Christmas finds me with a new job and a new commuting route. Due to a lot of rain last week I didn't start bike/bus commuting until Friday. This gave me a few days to make the modifications I needed to my bike and for my new Arkel "Commuter" pannier to arrive. I have always wanted a pannier that held a laptop and since my commute was to become such a precise affair in order to keep time to a minimum I sprung for it. Arkel does not make cheap bags. They are high quality though. I must say this one was a little bigger than I thought and I had heel strike issues as I rode. On Friday I lived with it and was dismayed to find that the bike ride from downtown Phoenix to my job was around 45 minutes as it was uphill most of the way. Other things that I found out on Friday was that it took over thirty minutes to head back despite it being down hill. Around 35 minutes to be exact. In my consternation at being late on the way back I decided to try and catch the express bus just before it gets on the freeway to save a half mile on hope that it had been delayed by passenger loading at the central bus station. Well, in further consternation I grabbed the first bus, arguing with the driver about how the valley metro website says folders are allowed on busses despite my missing the fact there was only one bike on the rack and the other cyclist at the stop was waiting for what would turn out to be the right bus. Yes gentle readers, despite my arguing, hurry, worry, etc. I had caught the wrong bus and was trapped in traffic on the wrong express bus heading over 20 miles into the great unknown. Fear siezed me for a moment, and then the person sitting next to me who had been nice enough to let me stow my bike under his feet informed me that the bus serviced a stop at Gilbert and Broadway which is a point only 5 or 6 miles from my home. So, though my knee was hurting a bit, I had a bike, I had a full light setup with a light that could go as far as I could, and energy to spare. I ended up making it home before I would have if I had caught the 5:20 bus if I had missed the 4:50 so the damage to my schedule was fairly limited.

Saturday I took all the things I noticed on Friday and went to work. First, there was the issue of the heel strike to deal with. Determining there was no way to adjust the bag to get out of the way of my heel it became evident I would have to work on the rack and with a few zip ties I found if I rotated the rack back a few inches I eliminated the heel strike in must positions of my foot but still had just a bit. Well, I fashioned some aluminum extenders to allow my rack to mount that far back and turned my attention to the pannier itself. Determining that if one of the top hooks that grabbed the top of the rack were raised this would have the effect of rotating the bottom of the bag back an inch or so I proceeded to dig out the drill and modify my very expensive pannier with some trepidation.

Next, I was determined to address the issue of the wide handlebars. Mountain bikers like a wide spread but being from the road cyclist crowd lately they were a bit wide for my taste. So, digging out my pipe cutter I proceeded to trim 1.5 inches from each side arriving at a width closer to that of typical road bike handlebars. They were much more comfortable as well as aero, not that this bike was necessarily to be configured for speed, being primarily a utility vehicle for me. Still, every randonneur requires a certain amount of utility for their needs.

This morning finds me pedalling down the street to make the 6:30 am bus. My headlight cuts the night and I am there with time to spare unlike Friday where I had to race the bus (which had a few more lights than me since it can't cut across the mall parking lot). A five minute wait and I am loading my bike on the rack, and in a seat on the bus. Now to dig out the cell phone and read some of those stories I put on my phone last night. I start with 20,000 leagues under the sea since it has been ages since I have read it. Next I will return to Smoke Bellew written by that no good pink commie scum Jack London :p , maybe I'll have some freedom fries while I read it.

Back to my commute. After a half hour of pleasant reading I am standing on 3rd street and moreland getting my bike ready and soon I am off. Passing under central avenue in the deck park I swerve around a homeless man snuggled deep within his mummy bag sound asleep as there is not so much as a wiggle as I cruise through. It is in the upper 30s, I have camped in colder but I wouldn't be too crazy about doing it every night. This area is the worst neighborhood on my commute but somehow I am not too worried. I don't think anyone knows how much my bike is worth, and since I am wearing mismatching gloves and have a huge bag hanging off the side of my bike, I likely fit in a little. All in all the neighborhood really isn't that bad. The house along the street I turn at are small but the yards are well maintained, they may be poor but they care about their neighborhood apparently. Soon, I am passing St. Joseph's hospital and the UnitedHealth Group building. I work for a subsidiary of Untied health group and it is a bit of an irritation that I still have 6 miles to go to get to where I work. Still, I am glad to be on the bike. I have not ridden much lately to get my knee feeling better. Friday's ride caused it to act up a bit but today it is fine. Of course I am not pedalling as hard either.

Up the Sonoran bikeway I continue to pedal. It doesn't strike me as very sonoran with it's palm trees, shrubbery, juniper bushes, trees, and bamboo. Yes fair readers bamboo. I suppose perhaps they call it the Sonoran bike way because it ends up somewhere you can see the desert but the section I traverse rides the edge of Phoenix's downtown concrete wasteland. The neighborhoods are pleasant enough and the traffic is slight. Add to this a minimum of stop signs and lights and it makes a great commute route. My typical beef with bike routes on secondary streets is they are deluged with stop signs and other devices to stop traffic which unfortunately stop bicycles as well. The bikeway makes use of speed bumps and neighborhood breaks with bike paths connecting them to keep thru traffic away and works amazingly well I am discovering.

As I turn East into the final miles of my commute the sun is about to rise and Piestewa peak (recently squaw peak) is silloueted in the morning dawn. I pass apartments and business which still bear the "Squaw Peak" name, not having guts to put their long earned name and it's reputation at risk by changing it to match the new name of the mountain.

At work a member of the building management sees me folding up my bike outside. This is the ultimate litmus test. If no signs or emails come out, then I am good. I have heard stories of commuters harassed by building management elsewhere. If I had know the managements office was right there I probably would have picked somewhere else to fold everything up. Oh well. The second commute is in the bag and I am an old hand. Now to catch the right bus tonight.

It wasn't that unpleasant an experience, really! I think I took the picture before I was ready.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A light wheel

Now that is what I call a light wheel. Being Jealous of the light I had built for Bruce I decided to make one for myself. On the Mt. Lemmon brevet there was a guy who had his light mounted to the end of the quick release bolt and I thought that might be a good thing to try so try I did. The beauty of the design is the light is attached to the wheel/axle and not the bike so when you remove the generator wheel the light automatically comes off to making it very easy to remove the light. I'll be the first to admit the light is not pretty. That being said it is bright and the beam is very focused. The lower light really accentuates the deformities/rubble in the road making it easy to avoid them at speed. I have to confess I used a lot of JB Weld and silicone sealer. The light is perhaps not the most aerodynamic but with the 4 leds I don't think it could be much more aerodynamic than it is so I am not too worried there. Now I just need to get my knee healed up so I can let loose and give this thing a serious long night ride.

On another note, I can't remember if I mentioned on here or not that I have a new job or not. So, I have a new job. It is at Americhoice up in Phoenix making for a 30+ mile commute one way. I think I have a few good plans to make it possible to bike it still though. A few factors are coming into play in the next few weeks that will facilitate my commute. Here are my assets-

Good fitness

Express Bus Routes to downtown

Light Rail coming online on the 27th with a station 3 miles from work and a station at the express bus station downtown.

A brother inlaw who works a few miles away.

A new park and ride 16 miles away from work right about where the bad traffic starts.

So I have a few options and I will list them here with time estimates for total commute time and gas/bus cost.

Xport modesTimeCost
Xpress bus + train + 3 mile ride160 minutes$1.75
ride in mooch ride home160 minutesfree
Park and Ride + 16 mile ride160 minutes$4
Ride both ways 30 miles x 2220 mintuesfree
Ride 12 miles to light rail station220 minutes$1.25
Drive in100 minutes$8

I am leaning toward the express bus option with perhaps a full commute once a week to get a longer ride in. I will keep you informed.

With the buses, trains, and carpool with brother inlaw involved I decided to break down and get a folding bicycle which I ordered yesterday. Folders have come a long ways in the last few years. They are a bit heavier but not too much and the one I ordered comes with a generator hub and a light so I can save money there. It also has fenders and a rack. Granted fenders are not something we use a lot here in Arizona but they are handy when it does rain. If you remove all the extras from the bike it would only be a pound or two heavier than my roadbike so it is not too bad. It should arrive on Tuesday and I am eager to give it a test run.

I start work on Monday and I will probably work a few days before I start the bike commuting just so people get to know me first before I start showing up dressed like a superhero and having to change.