Sunday, August 26, 2012

It's a Great Park, ok?

I've been riding the velo into (and often home from and back into) campus every day, and so far it's gone well. Sometimes getting back across Jeffrey (a pretty busy road that runs along-side campus) can be a trick, especially late at night or at odd times of day when no cars seem to be leaving campus to trigger left turn signals for me. It often seems like I wait and wait to make that left out of campus and then sometimes the traffic is suddenly so heavy I can't change lanes or have to wait a quarter mile back for all the cars using the bike lane for right turns. I've gotten pretty creative about maneuvering up to an intersection so I can hang a left, cross the street, then cling to the sidewalk until I can go straight across there (a rather longer process than the simple left, but you do what you must). There are bike-cross buttons sometimes, but I have to set the parking brake and climb up out of the velo to use them, so it's only in the most dire need that I'll make an arse of myself trying to smack the light while half out of my seat hoping it doesn't change before I can slide back in, release the brakes, and get my feet back on the pedals.

I've resigned myself, at least for the remainder of summer, to wearing actual moisture-wicking bike clothes in and taking a change of clothes for teaching. I don't like this arrangement because 1) I often run into colleauges and students before I've had a chance to change from my sweat-bleared gear, so what's the difference? 2) I have to get there earlier, then do things like hop on one foot in a bathroom stall while I switch from sneakers to heels, and 3) bike jerseys just don't look good on me. Granted, I only have the four I've earned from Ride for Roswell's extra-mile club, and maybe some other brand/style/size would look better, but it seems unfair that no one's invested in bike-friendly business casual attire yet.

While the commute to campus is pretty short, I did break the 1100 mile marker on the odometer today. I've been trying to run any errands within Irvine in the velo, so I've ridden up to Target and various grocery stores numerous times, and I've made plenty of treks out to various farm markets. I still think the Great Park might be my favorite, though I've only tried Irvine's weekend options.

The Great Park is an old air-force base that the city's converting into a giant public park, bit by bit. They have free concerts on the weekend, as well as free trips up in a giant orange tethered hot air balloon, and the farm market on Sundays (with a bonus antique market on the first Sunday of each month). I wish it was more bike friendly (seriously guys, all these bike lanes and paths everywhere and you don't have a single one that feeds into your biggest public park?!), but it's still a decent little five-mile jaunt, and worth it for the fresh produce and the food trucks.
Mountains on the horizon! You can also see my new blinky tail light (that's the third one I've lost/broken since getting the velo) and how sun-bleached my neon orange flag already is.

Nothing says bike-lovin' town like having no bike parking in your major park other than rolling up onto some bark and locking to a wooden fence. Psh. Still worth it. Check out those tents laden with excellent fruit and veg in the distance!

I oiled the chain recently. Things sound way smoother, but my leg comes out looking rather a mess. Oops. Will have to remember some wet-wipes or something for the next few days of campus commuting.

There's the balloon in the distance. It goes about 400 feet into the air, and rather than a basket, there's a big, circular metal walkway that can fit 14-18 people.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Things I Learned Today

So, this morning I got up at 8:30 planning to head to the farm market across from the UC Irvine campus, by velo of course. Somehow, it took over two hours for me to get myself together and out the door. Since the market ends at noon, I knew I'd have to push to make sure I flew along the nearly five miles of trail I'd mapped out last night. I was excited to get to do some exploring, with a reward of fresh produce (and possibly food truck fare) at the end (or middle, really, since you have to get home, too).

Thing I Learned #1:

If the bike trails on Googlemaps look a bit confusing, you should be suspicious about what they'll really be like. Also, if you own a bikeways map AND an area road map for Southern California, and you're riding to a place you haven't ridden before, you should take them with you. No. Really.

As you can imagine, I took none of my maps with me. Google got me lost within the first half mile, directing me away from the easiest way down to Jeffrey and sending me spiraling through another neighborhood. I righted myself and took the familiar way down to what I think of as one of the main drags. Now, I knew that this main drag would take me pretty much straight to the campus, and thereby the farm market. But I also knew there was Shady Canyon Trail, which would take me on a slightly more circuitous route to campus. But hey, when you've just moved to an area, and you want to get out for a ride, circuitous is good, right?

Thing I Learned #2:
Circuitous may also include pretty severe changes in elevation. As you may know from earlier posts, it's absolutely a blast to ride the velo downhill. But the weight and the inability to stand up on the pedals make climbs a bear.

So I sweated and climbed and grinned as I whipped down the other side of rolling brown hills. I kept looking for signs on the streets I intersected, and kept finding none. But then I reached Culver. Culver I know. Except I didn't really want to turn onto it because A) straight ahead I could see Anteater Rd, and knew it would take me to the campus, because UCI's mascot is the Anteater and B) Culver turned into Bonita Canyon Dr at this point, and that's a little far afield. Still, up ahead, there was no bike path or lane on the left, and I didn't want to be riding against traffic in that situation. So I turned left onto Culver/Bonita Canyon.

Thing I Learned #3:
If you think you've made a wrong turn, turn around as soon as possible. Don't keep thinking you'll see a familiar street (in a neighborhood that is totally unfamiliar to you) and be able to just cut over. Just turn around.

But turning around in the velo is hard, so I kept looking for that promising right turn. Except none presented itself, and I soon found myself rolling toward Newport Beach. I briefly considered ditching the market all together and pretending I'd meant to ride out to the beach the whole time. I should also note that at this point, I even knew the market would be ending soon, though I was hardly stopping to check the time, or even take pictures (sorry). Eventually, I admitted to myself that I'd have to turn around, and found a handy church driveway to help out. Except that not many people come out of church driveways on Saturday mornings, so the light went through several cycles of allowing the people across the way to turn, but never turning green for me. I had to roll backwards (of course this was on a hill), set the brake and awkwardly climb half out of the velo to push the crosswalk button to my right. (People, please, just put that thing closer to the street!) I just made it back into my seat to catch the green, and finally was able to get pointed back in the right direction.

Thing I Learned #4:
There are no signs for the farm market posted at other parts of the campus. So even though you are riding through campus, you'll still have no real idea of where to turn.

Finally, I found Campus Rd, which I knew was part of the corner (with Bridge) where the market would be. Right or left? Well, easier to turn right, I thought. So I did. Which, again, was the wrong choice. I was within a stone's throw of finally finding the market, and I blew it. After a few intersections, including Culver again, I just gave up. I knew I wouldn't find the market in time, and I just wanted to get home and get some lunch.

Thing I Learned #5:
Even if the way you came out is less than perfect, it would be easier to retrace your steps than to trust in your random choice of roads to get you back.

Much of Irvine is on a grid, because it's a huge planned community. However, that huge planned community consists of neighborhoods, which are often in loops. For example, the neighborhood around Turtle Rock. Would turning right onto that road have gotten me home if it had been a grid? Again, it would have been circuitous, but eventually, yes. Is it a grid? No. Is it a circle? Yes. Is it a hilly circle? Yes.

Thing I Learned #6:
Don't tease cyclists.

So, as I crept up Turtle Rock Rd's first climb, I saw two guys on very sleek road bikes grow closer and closer in my rearview mirrors. This didn't surprise me; their bikes weigh probably a third of the velo, their granny gears probably work reliably, and they can use their body weight to help push the pedals around for climbs. So, of course, they passed me, and one guy rather disdainfully said, "Boy, that thing must be a lot of work climbing hills like this." "Yeah," I replied, "but the downhills are fun!" They made a show of pushing up the hill pretty quickly, and I creaked along, all the time watching for familiar street names. I kept thinking maybe I should have asked them the best way to get back home, but something about the look that guy gave the velo made me pretty sure I'd rather blow by them in a cloud of dust. Which became possible on a nearby downhill. I saw them grow from shining spots to bikes rather rapidly (they weren't even crouching into the wind!), checked for cars, then swung around them on the left, waving gleefully as a zoomed by. And then, wouldn't you know it, up came another climb, and the shining specks grew in my mirrors once more. A few moments later, I was staring at their spandexed butts, gritting my teeth over the guy who said "And that's all I have to say about THAT" as he stood on the pedals to climb past, and the other dude who simply extended his fist behind him. Maybe that was a sign of solidarity, but I took it for an insult.

Finally, I saw a road I knew I'd meant to cross earlier, Ridgeline, and turned right. Ah, glorious downhill! I hit the mid-fifties before tapping the brakes to control the shimmy of the velo, but didn't see a single spandexed butt in sight. What a shame.

Thing I Learned #7:
There's a handy bike path that follows right along University Drive/Jeffery. It's worth just taking that, I think, unless you're in the mood for plenty of hills.

So, I made it home from there pretty swiftly, and even took a couple of pictures once I knew I was safely on the right track again.

Ahead you can see more big hills, though thankfully at this point I had a nice downhill ahead of me rather than a climb. Note the very deserty look to my right.

And voila, to my left, plenty of trees and shrubs to indicate a neighborhood. I like trees and grass, but I do wonder if Irvine's missed the memo entirely about water conservation when there's a drought on.

Thing I Learned #8:
If you ride in the velo in summery weather (even if it's less evil than what my poor east-coasters are suffering right now) for two hours, you will sweat a LOT. If you happen to be wearing green cotton shorts, the sweat on those will really show up.

And it will look like you wet yourself. And if you happen to check the mail despite being fairly sure that you have a big wet spot on your rear, you will see one of your neighbors for the first time ever. And then you'll get into your place, look into the mirrored wall, and realize there's a big wet spot on BOTH sides of your shorts.

So, back to black. Take the maps. Be wary of cyclist flack.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

VeloIrvine Just Doesn't Have the Same Ring

Well, few followers, thanks to my best pal, Liz, ABF U-Pack trailers, and a ton of boxes and bubblewrap, the velo and I are safely in Irvine, California where I'll begin as a professor at Irvine Valley College this fall. I should have snapped some pictures of the velomobile all "crated" up, but in the flurry of trying to get things ready for departure a mere five days after an out-of-town wedding, I failed to do a lot of things. Still, the basic process involved removing the nose cone, tailpiece, mirrors, lights, and all wheels. Then I wrapped the body in 100 square feet of bubblewrap, slid that inside a refrigerator box, and Frankensteined the box to be a weird triangle shape. I was actually pretty proud of my work. With the help of some intrepid friends (thanks Jenn, Zack, and Augusto!) we got all of my stuff packed into five feet of space on an ABF trailer (that's packed 9 feet high, 8 wide, and 5 deep).

See, that's the main body of the velo above my head, with the various pieces stacked on top in their own boxes.

After five days of mostly major highways, Liz and I arrived in Irvine. (We left Thursday, July 19 and arrived on Monday the 23rd.)  Liz flew back East on Wednesday, and on Thursday, I finally grew antsy enough to call ABF and say, hey, what's the deal? The trailer arrived that night actually, and the incredible co-chair of the English department at IVC and a history professor who played hostess to my apartment hunting visit, soldiered through putting the stuff on a U-Haul then getting it into my place on Friday. It took till Monday for me to work up the courage (and feel settled enough indoors) to venture down to the garage and unpack the velomobile. I'm happy to report, it suffered no damage during the journey! Huzzah!

So that day I took what was meant to be a very quick trip up a couple of blocks to the homeowners' association (don't worry, I don't actually own property in SoCal--this is an amazing job, but it's not the lottery!). Of course, I thought I should check out a trail or two on the way, so the trip ended up taking a bit longer than planned.

Today, I rode down to campus for the first time. It's just over a mile, and a pretty easy jaunt, though I'm still trying to figure out if it's best to take on-road bike lanes or stick to the bike paths only until I have no choice. When I visited campus police to get a faculty ID made up, everyone rushed out to take pictures. Then I met with the Dean of Languages and Humanities and the same excellent department chair who helped move, and they boggled over the velo too. I also talked to groups of kids, a few curious students, and various others who happened by. Word spreads fast on a small campus, and soon people I'd never met were identifying me with the velo. Give it a month and I'll be a household name around here, apparently.

After campus, I decided to take a trip up to Trader Joe's. Everyone's always raving about the place, so I figured I'd give it a shot. My overall impression was rather meh, especially since they didn't have bike parking, but I did roll along some new trails on the ride home. So, here's the Walnut Trail:
This one seems like it'll be handy as it runs through the center of town and bisects some major roads, but has overpasses so you don't actually have to cross traffic.

There are also plenty of "On-Road Bikeways," which are really decent bike lanes (except for the fact that they rather disappear and turn into right-turn lanes at intersections). Still, no one came even close to hitting me.

This trail follows the waterway that runs through Irvine, and is only a couple of blocks from my house.

And home again, home again, jiggity jig. The car gets parked outside. This garage is just for the velo (well, it's shared with other residents, but this garage parking space is just for the velo).

Tune in next week for more updates (hopefully with posts about farm markets and a visit to the beach, which is my prize once I finally get all of my stuff put away).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trip to Apple Hills & a new feature

Today was the first day the wonderful Apple Hills (a farm with a country store & cafe and fantastic you-pick fruits) was open for picking strawberries. I resolved this morning to ride the velo up there, despite knowing the horrible hills that awaited me.

Using the handy GeoContextProfiler, I learned just what I rode today (as the crow flies).

The biggest trouble was that the front shifter refused to hit the granny gear. Seriously. At one point, it got bad enough that I got out and moved it with my hands. The problem, of course, is that the landscape doesn't just go up, it's full of dips. So if I'm stuck in the teeniest cog up front, I can't make as much use of the downhills before I hit the next big climb. Seems like a trip to Chenango Point Cycles might be in order again. Nobody likes getting up a hill by pushing the pedals forward a half turn, hitting the brakes, then spinning back to shove them forward half a turn again. Ugh.

Here's my "why do I do this to myself?" face.

Still, I got to pick just over a pound of fresh, sweet strawberries and enjoy a tasty lunch of Buffalo chicken soup and a chicken fontina panini on the porch (and snagged some powdered donuts and a super-soft, super-huge molasses cookie to boot). And heck, the views are pretty glorious, too.

And of course, there's the ride home. See, rather than taking Dimmock Hill back, which would be more downhill than not but would still involve some grueling climbs, I take county route 104 (Chenango West Rd) down to 11 South then skim along the relatively flat loop back to the velo's home. And when I say take that road down, I mean take it down. I'm convinced my cheeks may have been flapping today as I flew along the shoulder around 50 mph with no pedaling. And that lasts at least four miles. Glorious. It's enough to make you forget the moments when you curse under your breath as you slam into the pedals in a desperate attempt to creep up a hill more slowly than a tortoise with a walker and bad knees.

Once again, someone accosted me about getting a flag. The woman was friendly enough, of course, but she kept saying "Those roads are kind of narrow. You should really get a flag." I'm not sure how a bit of orange plastic flapping well above my head would widen the asphalt, but I've actually had a flag in my car for a while, and figured today was a good day to finally suck it up and install it.

You see, I'd purchased a flag pretty soon after moving the velo to Binghamton. The drivers here are often less than attentive. But, I velcroed it onto the side of the velo, and it lasted maybe two rides. When I asked the guys at the bike shop for recommendations, they said, you'll have to drill a hole. So, about a month ago I bought another flag, and today I finally bit the bullet and drilled into the body of the beloved velo. It didn't go too badly, actually, except that I couldn't find my drill bits and had only the tiniest one, which didn't appreciate being used to widen the hole, causing the drill to quit working entirely just shy of me being able to slide the flag in. Thankfully, the owner of the house who allows me garage space popped out and offered me his own power drill, complete with reasonably-sized bits. So, now I have a flag. And man, does it look stupid.

Tune in for future posts, including a Ride for Roswell report, the story of How the Velo Moved Across the Country, and adventures in velomobiling in Southern California! That's right. Somebody finally finished her doctorate and will be moving to a tenure-track position in Irvine, California. Exciting adventures await us.

Monday, March 26, 2012


All that delightful, if unseasonable, weather we've had was wiped from my mind today. I looked out the window and saw bright sunshine and resolved to ride the velo in to campus for a panel on professionalization. I'm still nervous about riding in the dark, so I try to limit campus trips to times when I know I won't be trapped there beyond sun down.

Not only do I have to keep topography in mind, but I guess I ought to look more closely at the weather. I checked and it said WINDY and 40 degrees. Well, that's nothing like 70, sure, but the velo's nearly all enclosed and quite aerodynamic, so I figured I'd be fine. When I left my apartment to walk to the velo's house, I quickly congratulated myself on packing gloves, a scarf, and hat. But I still talked myself into going and getting into the trike and riding my butt to campus.

Well, I can say this: my calves and upper body were warm. I find that even in warm weather my feet sometimes get a bit tingly from elevation, and coupled with coldness and the blood hanging out in my leg muscles, they were quite tingly today. And then there's my face. Talk about cold. When you get going 25-30 mph, you generate a fair amount of wind. When there's already an icy wind, that gets quite frigid. Oh, sure, the velo has a spiffy little roof and windscreen. I've only tried to ride with it on once though, and it presents two problems: 1) claustrophobia and 2) no hand signaling. I imagine with time I could get used to being cozied up in that small space, especially since I know I'm "trapped" by nothing more than velcro, but the hand signals seem important to me. Even if the drivers around me don't always understand/pay attention, I like to at least try to let them know what I'm up to.

So, some goals for cold-weather riding: neoprene booties, a balaclava, and/or learning some basic electronics so I can rig up some turn signals. That seems like it would be a good idea regardless.

Sorry for all the pictureless posts. I know they're less exciting, but taking photos of oneself in a velomobile is no easy task and I'm shy about asking random people to join me in the photog frenzy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Captured again

So it would seem I'm now a photog favorite. Not only did the Press & Sun Bulletin snap a photo of me (which a student mentioned the other day, but I am completely unable to locate) but I also showed up on the Binghamton University Insider page. We'll ignore the fact that the guy got my field wrong (English-Creative Writing rather than Comp-Lit) and that he called it a bike rather than a trike and just say more people should wear sun hats and ride human-powered vehicles so these camera hounds will stop hassling me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Time

Well, I fail as a blogger as usual, but not quite so much as a velomobilist. Since winter never properly fell on South Central NY, I've been able to get out more often. Someone asked the other day how long it takes me to ride to campus. "It depends," I said, "how many people stop to ask me about the velomobile." "Well how about if no one stops you?" "I don't know," I replied. "It's never happened." But today I did make it in without being stopped. Except I forgot to check the time when I left, so it didn't do me any good.

Taking the velo to campus is an interesting endeavor. For one, I go about ten miles out of my way because I'm convinced it's safer to go over the pedestrian bridge than to try the flyover (which is marked for bicycles, but would be mighty harrowing). Secondly, there's so many more people. Especially with this streak of lovely weather--trees are in bloom, we've seen the sun more often than not--students are thronging any open spaces. Oddly, though, I get mostly looks or hoots rather than questions. That surprises me. It's college. Aren't you meant to be inquisitive young people? I'm a friendly looking sort, generally, I think. But many, many people walk by and don't ask anything, though I can tell they're curious from the gawping, shuffling, and many phone photos. Even if I wave or say hi, most shuffle away as if I was panhandling. But hey, I guess that gives me more time to work if I'm hanging out on a bench right next to the velo.

Today I met a couple of people who'd heard of human powered vehicles or at least knew not only about recumbents but about people who race them. Mostly people who know about these things already stare starry-eyed at it, tell me repeatedly it's cool, but don't have as many questions. Still, it can sometimes make the spiel easier. Often, I feel badly that I've had the chain taken up and set the pedals specifically for my frame, because it really limits who I can offer test rides to. Of course, that doesn't stop some people. Among the students who did stop to ask about the velo on Wednesday was a tall, broad guy who insisted he be allowed to climb in and actually did so as I protested. Not cool, guy. Not cool. In the end, he couldn't even get his feet in front of him to sit down and try to operate the pedals, so he climbed back out looking rather smug and I didn't have to chase down and club anyone.

Interestingly, the single most common question is: How much does it cost? Since most people never follow that up with a question about where to acquire one, I wonder whether it's people looking for a status symbol. Man. If only all the people driving giant SUVs so they could look cool decided to invest in velos instead, it would be a much happier place around here. Well. Maybe not for the folks who seem to think my being on the roads is offensive. "SUICIDE!" someone yelled at me the other day.

Granted, it would take us all a little longer to commute. I get stuck at turn lights if there's no car behind me to trigger the weight sensors, and it simply takes longer to pedal somewhere than drive, but you notice more along the way, you get the exercise, and trust me, after a day of work, feeling the wind on your face and burning some calories away helps you burn stress too. We have more clouds and rain in the forecast for the week, but hopefully I'll be out spreading the velo-love more and more as the semester continues.