Fixing the Economy

I noticed as I was riding the other day that gas prices have fallen quite a bit lately. I had no idea that my consumption represented such a critical inflection point on the gasoline demand curve, or I would have started riding sooner.

You’re welcome, America.


The Riddle of the Man who Passed Me Twice

It is not uncommon for me to be passed by faster cyclists on my way to and from work. I try to make it easier for them, moving over to the right as far as I am comfortable. Often I will toss a “good morning!” or “afternoon!” at their receding backs.

Good mornings are more frequent than good afternoons, actually. Not sure why that is. Maybe I’m fresher. Maybe it’s the cooler temperatures in the morning. Maybe I’m just an asshole after 2 p.m.

Anyway, this story happens in the afternoon. I was rolling down Park street, which is a very pleasant part of my homeward ride, and doing pretty well. You know, for me. A rider passed me easily, an I noticed that he had some sort of fin attached to his helmet, like the dorsal fin of a long fish, presumably as decoration. He was past me before I could summon the breath for a greeting.

Because I have a Y-chromosome, and because Y-chromosomes are demonstrated to have a negative effect on intelligence in competitive situations — even situations that aren’t actually even remotely competitive — I started pedaling a little bit harder, to keep the guy in view and maybe catch a moral victory if he got stopped by an unlucky traffic light. Thus I knew as I rounded the bend in the road to head due east that he and I were still on the same track. After that, however, I lost sight of him.

I went under the tracks, took a right, and followed Bird street over the freeway. Not my favorite bit of riding, as there are ramps on and off, flanked by side streets, that make the whole situation bike-unfriendly. I’ve never had a close encounter along there, but there really are people coming at me from every direction.

The overpass safely negotiated for another day, I continued south on Bird. That’s when the guy passed me again. This time, he gave me the four-finger hand-still-on-handlebar wave as he went by. “Hey,” he said. To an outside observer, that might be all that happened. But he really said much more.

He wanted me to recognize him. He wanted me to remember that he had already passed me. I know a better way, he told me. Not a faster way, obviously, but a safer one.

“Thank you, mysterious stranger!” I called to him as he sped away. “I will solve the riddle!”

OK, actually I didn’t say that. I wheezed “Good afternoon”, trying to disguise how winded I was. By the time I got home, however, my brain was fizzing. I would solve the riddle of the man who passed me twice.

Just as in the days of Blackbeard, when one is searching for something of great worth, nothing beats a good map. I pulled the Goog up onto my screen and pored over the maps, based on my recollection of where I’d last seen the mysterious man after he had passed me the first time.

The maps let me down. I zoomed in closer and closer, but all there was was a jumble of ramps for the freeway interchange just to the east. Not a bike path, not a foot path, nada. Had the man who passed me twice merely paused on his trip, then followed the same course I had? Had I merely imagined the weight of significance in his “Hey”?


The next day was a Saturday, so rather than ride to work I rode to the awesome neighborhood bike shop to give them more of my money (this time for gloves — holy crap who knew what a difference they would make?). Before I left I checked out ye olde mappe to see if I could find a more scenic way home.

And there it was. The very northernmost part of Los Gatos Creek Trail, running along the railroad tracks as they passed under the freeway. The trail flirts with surface roads, making it hard to spot, but the real reason I hadn’t found it in my previous searches was that I’d assumed I’d seen the man who passed me twice after he’s passed that turnoff. But at that time I hadn’t known how significant that one data point would be.

Monday: homeward bound. A right turn before diving under the tracks, a spin through an industrial area, then onto the trail, tricky to spot if you don’t know where to look. A winding path, crossing a few streets (mostly quiet dead-ends), and blissfully under the freeway.

I had solved the riddle.

Another day will come, a day when the man who passed me twice passes me for a third time. Only this time, it will be on that hidden path, and when he says “hey”, he will really be saying “congratulations.” I’ll probably just wheeze “Good afternoon” again, and spoil the moment.


1 mile into my ride this morning…

Legs: Well, all right, if you insist, let’s do this.
Stomach: How ’bout a snack?
Pizza with crushed red pepper I ate last night: I want out. Like, now.


1,000 Miles

I’ve had the new bike for a little less than three months, and thanks to modern technology I know that I’ve now pushed it along for one thousand miles. I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve (re-)learned during all those miles in the saddle. Some of them might even be mildly interesting.

  • When approaching a stop, think about what gear you want to be in when you start again. Once you’re not moving it’s too late to change.
  • The last ten feet of a climb can kill your momentum just as quickly as the first ten. Don’t let up your effort when you’re “almost there”.
  • Around here at least, if you demonstrate that you’re fully prepared to stop at the 4-way, most motorists will wave you through.
  • There’s something about BMW drivers, and it’s not something good.
  • Songs that match your pedaling cadence can get really stuck in your head.
  • Fatigue + excited little dog + speed bump = road rash
  • Combining the previous two: If you’re riding for an hour, and you have the “stuck on Band-Aids” jingle stuck in your head, there’s nothing to do but pray for the salvation of an ice cream truck playing ‘Little Brown Jug’
  • On flat terrain, 14 miles per hour isn’t measurably harder than 13, after the first few pumps. Knock it up a gear!
  • I’m getting callouses on my palms.
  • Go ahead, we’ll wait. Done? Good.
  • The two worst things: headwinds and garbage trucks. It is likely that at some point I will go on at length about these scourges.
  • On the way to work, I have the sun at my back and (usually) the wind in my face. On the way home, I have the sun at my back and (usually)… the wind in my face. I call shenanigans!
  • Tomorrow marks two months since I put gas in my car. I have biked to work rather than drive 47 times this summer. By the time you read this, it will probably be 48.
  • I’m lobbying for Apple to relocate its headquarters to Australia for the winter. Already not looking forward to short days and dark rides.
  • Biggest snub from a member of the Spandex Crowd: outside my building, by a guy who works at my company. Ignored me completely. I didn’t think we were allowed to hire jerks here.
  • While riding, I’ve been composing the BOMB manifesto. It was “Bearded Overweight Men on Bikes, but I think I’m changing it to Bearded Older Men on Bikes, because I might not always be the former, but there’s not much one can do about the latter. We will be a legion based on the ideals of Courtesy, Friendliness, and Brotherhood. We Are BOMB!
  • I get a lot of stupid ideas while riding.
  • I’ve lost about twelve pounds, but I suspect several pounds more of fat. My legs are still skinny, but there’s definitely more muscle on them now.
  • By next summer, I might be ready for that Kilimanjaro trip Buggy invited me on fifteen years ago.
  • Mondays aren’t so bad when you have a good ride on rested legs.

One thousand miles! Holy crap! I suspect the next thousand will go more quickly; my stamina is greatly improved. 150 miles in a week is no longer as crazy as it once seemed. Today I actually began to wonder how many miles I could expect on my tires before they were worn out. That’s not something I’ve had to worry about before.

As the novelty wears off, I might not write so many episodes about bicycling, but then again that’s when I have time to think about blog episodes. So, sorry in advance.


Here’s Something I can be Proud Of

I use MapMyRide to track the miles I cover on my bike. It gives me a pretty decent breakdown of how I did, and for certain segments of my rides it compares me to other riders and to my past performance. MMR seems to believe that no accomplishment should go uncelebrated, no matter how minor.

Here’s the lowdown on one of those segments this evening:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.15.47 PM

To save you some squinting, here’s the part of the above I find most amusing:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.18.28 PM

Those colored circles are badges of honor, telling me how awesome my ride was. The blue one with the “G” means I’m the Guru of that stretch of road; I’ve ridden it more times this month than any other MMR rider. Then there’s the other badge, the one that says “5 PR”, meaning this ride was my fifth personal record — my fifth-best time ever on that course. Woo hoo!

Except, well, that would be considerably more impressive were it not for the “Times Completed” number: 5. My fifth-best time ever on that stretch of road is also my worst time ever. Now there’s something to celebrate!


Miles Per

As my bicycle miles per week go up, my miles per hour are going down.


Yesterday morning I had my best ride to work yet. I just felt strong, and my time showed it. Yesterday evening I thought I would be tired after the energy expended in the morning, but I crushed the ride, averaging 15 miles per hour over 14.5 miles (not counting time at traffic lights). For many, that’s not so spectacular. For me, it’s huge. 29 quality miles yesterday.

As I was pulling up to the house last night, my bike suddenly started making a funny noise. I thought one of my panniers was rubbing on the wheel; I thought little of it.

This morning I was ready to continue my streak. I had no illusions that I’d be able to repeat my performance of the day before, but the morning air was crisp, my legs didn’t feel heavy at all, and even if it wasn’t going to be a fast ride, it was going to be a pleasant one.

Except it turns out that funny noise was a flat tire. I drove to work today.

I’ve been really fortunate in my cycling career, I guess; back in San Diego I would ride to work a couple of times a week, and I’ve never had a flat before.

Brief tangent: Unpacking all the stuff I’d put in storage from my time in San Diego, I came across a pair of bike shorts. Back in the day, I realized I was overweight and getting worse, so I resolved to ride to work a couple of times a week — 17 miles and three significant hills. I bought the shorts mainly for the padding in significant places. The thought of putting on those shorts right now is laughable. My target weight is what I weighed the last time I started biking to lose weight. Sigh.

Now I just want to ride my bike. I’ve got the newbie enthusiasm and I’m not ashamed of it. In fact I intend to milk it for all it’s worth. First, however, I have to learn how to change a tube.


Yesterday as I was riding to work I was making pretty decent time when I heard “on your left”, which is what courteous bicyclists say when they are passing you. I get passed pretty often.

“Good morning,” the guy said as he breezed on past. “Mornin’!” I wheezed back to the receding member of the Spandex Crowd. Just ahead was another cyclist, one I was actually overtaking, and the man who had just passed me did not wish that dude a good morning. Another data point in my current study of human nature.

You see, when I ride for an hour in the morning and again in the evening, it gives me plenty of time to ponder the loosely-knit fellowship called ‘cyclists’. Under that umbrella there are several varieties of cyclist, including but by no means limited to Asian grandfathers riding purple little girls’ bicycles complete with white wicker baskets (that is a very small group), heavily-laden commuters (I’m in that group), hispanic men on fat-tired cruisers, and at the top of the heap, there is the Spandex Crowd.

Soon after I started my bike commuting regimen, the local Bike to Work Day went off, and I saw cyclists of every description. I watched cyclists interact with each other (myself included – I am inscrutable even to myself), and I observed a few patterns.

For instance, there’s The Nod. It’s a little upward head movement passed between cyclists who make eye contact. I didn’t get nods from the Spandex Crowd. Not because they’re snobs, not at all, but because they’re riding. Their heads are down and they’re locked to their pedals and they’re not at some high-school mixer where you say hi to every stranger who comes close. Heck, the design of the bicycles they ride makes socializing more awkward.

There was one group, however, a subclass of commuter, with whom I exchanged many nods. I have dubbed them Bearded Overweight Men on Bikes, or BOMB. In the days following Bike to Work Day, the BOMB population slowly dwindled, until I rarely see another BOMB anymore. For a while I was a BOMB, now I might be the BOMB.

So how did it come to pass that a member of the Spandex Crowd wished me a good morning? I think it’s because he honestly wanted me to have a good morning. I think he also remembered passing me a few days before, and a few days before that. I think he said ‘good morning’ but also said, ‘Welcome to the brotherhood, Bearded Overweight Man on a Bike. I hope to pass you many more times in the future.”

I’m looking forward to it as well.


The Cost of Driving

One of the justifications for my new bike was that in the long run it would save us money. But how much? How long will it take to recoup the large wad of cash I just jettisoned at the neighborhood bike store?

I spent a few minutes last weekend poking around on the Internet for help calculating the cost per mile I drive in the Miata. I found some sites that were helpful, and some that were disingenuous at best. They all come to a false conclusion after they do the math.

Let’s start with this site: The True Cost of Driving, which undertakes to find a per-mile cost that considers everything, including the economic impact of paving over stuff to accommodate cars. While I applaud the effort, let’s face it the numbers they use vary tremendously by where you live and are worthless without showing the math. Societal cost is really foggy. Important, but foggy. Apparently every mile I drive costs us all about a nickel for cleaning up accidents. And am I to take it seriously when it says that every mile I drive costs pedestrians and cyclists 1.4¢ for “barrier effects”?

Not mentioned is the value of the time saved by driving compared to alternatives. That’s why we drive. This assumes my time has value; arguable considering the amount of time I spent on this little research project. But if the time lost by inconvenienced pedestrians has value, my time should have value as well, and should be factored as a reduction in the cost per mile.

Almost all the calculators I found include the fixed costs of owning a vehicle in the cost-per-mile calculation. Makes sense; the cost of getting my car insured should be amortized over the miles I drive.

So then we have a cost per mile that includes those fixed costs. I can’t find the calculator page for the more level-headed AAA cost-per-mile estimator, but here it says the average is around $.60 per mile.

But here’s the problem: those same people who guided you through the calculation will turn around and tell you that you will save sixty cents for every mile you don’t drive. That is false. Your fixed costs are, well, fixed. It costs the same to register your car no matter how many miles you drive. Drive fewer miles, and your cost per mile goes up.

So, while recognizing that driving less will benefit society as well by a difficult-to-measure amount, how much actual pocket money do I save for each mile I choose a bike over a car? (Note: all the bicycle folks out there apparently consider each mile on a bicycle to be absolutely free, even the advocates who have $10,000 bikes or who have had insurance-funded knee surgery.)

I found myself going back to the drawing board. I know that with my older, smaller car, my out-of-pocket cost per mile will be lower than average, but maintenance is the big variable. I’ve saved a few hundred bucks doing some repairs myself, so if you don’t count the intangible value of my time, maintenance costs are under control — for now. There’s a clutch out there with my name on it.

I had a long, rather tedious paragraph here showing my math, but to summarize: fuel, mile-based depreciation, tires, maintenance, and “other” comes out to about 25¢ per mile in savings that go straight to my bank account for each mile I don’t drive. That’s a little over six bucks per commute.

The answer to “how long will it take to recoup the investment?”: a long time.

If driving less extends the life of my car by a year, however, then all these calculations are moot; I end up saving a ton of money. The cost per mile of my next car will be MUCH higher — at least for the first few years. Delaying that uptick in expenses is also money in the bank, but harder to quantify without a time machine.

Remember, 25¢ per mile does not include the cost of repairing (or adapting to) the harm I do to our planet for each mile I drive. I may well save the world as a whole more money than I save for myself.

Finally, if all this riding extends the life of my heart for a year (a reasonably likely outcome, actually), the savings go off the chart. But that’s a different sort of calculation.


So, the Bike

I’m a hippie at heart, and not ashamed to be one. I’m also a cheap bastard. People seem surprised sometimes that a fiscal conservative can be a social liberal, but to me that spells ‘rational’.

I formulated a simple plan: get a decent-but-not-too-expensive bike, emphasizing durability over performance. After all, a heavier bike means more calories burned. Ride that bike to the train station each day, where a company-sponsored shuttle will scoop me up and take me through the worst of the traffic. A few calories burned, about 10kg of greenhouse gas avoided (minus the 100+g I emit while pedaling), and lower blood pressure when I sit down at my desk. Before long the bike pays for itself.

Well, unless you get big eyes at the awesome family-owned bike store and spend far more than you planned. I bought a really nice bicycle that cost more than I have spent on all other bicycles over my entire life. But dang, it’s a treat to ride.

For the curious, I got a Giant Escape 0, and paid thirty of the smartest dollars of my life for a cushier seat. After all the accessories (on-bike pump, home pump with gauge, helmet, water bottle cage, water bottle, big-ass lock with extra cable, rack, bags that attach to the rack, and I’m sure there was more) I was looking at more than $1300. It’s going to take a while to pay that off in savings.

In my defense, I could have spent a lot more. My “really nice” is another person’s eye-roller. No suspension? No disk brakes? Pf.

Greatest fear: plunking down all that lovely lucre and having my knee veto the whole plan.

I bought the thing on a Saturday, and rode it home from the store. I took a test trip Sunday to the CalTrain station and back, to get an idea how much time I should budget in the morning to get where I need to go. Monday and Tuesday I was a bicycle commuter, logging a sweet 13 miles each day.

My legs were pretty tired after four straight days in the saddle, and when I got up the next morning I recognized that I could ride, but that I probably shouldn’t. I gave myself a rest day. This is an offshoot of the “don’t be stupid” part of the plan.

On that topic, that day while driving to work I saw a kid on a bike do something stupid and get bumped by a car. He wasn’t hurt, but his front wheel didn’t work anymore.

Repeating the note to self: don’t be stupid. Left turns at large intersections are the most important times to heed that mantra.

I’ll leave my discussion of fitness apps for another day. There are a lot of apps. But if you’re into the whole social media thing, we can hook up at

My knee has been quiet, but I try to remember to ice after each ride. I have an ice pack at work and more at home. I think the fact I forgot to ask for toe clips is actually good for my knee; the part that gets sore feels like it would be unhappy when I pulled up on the pedals. Unscientific, but if my knee is happy, I’m not changing a thing.

So now I’m three weeks in, almost 200 miles logged, butt and knee not complaining. I’ve driven to work four times, and ridden all the others. Ten more miles will go on the bike today, as I ride it over to Ye Olde Bike Shoppe for a free tune-up (and to buy some more accessories).

So far, so good.


Fun with names

My ride each morning and evening takes me through a sprawling cemetery. The other day I spotted a name on a headstone: Hai Du.

If I ever write a comedy with a wedding, Hai Du will be the pastor.