Saturday, April 12, 2008

Swifty brings home the bacon - and more

Up early today and out to the supermarket on a somewhat hung-over Swifty. Misery loves company. Walking through the aisles, I warmed up from the more-than-a-little-breezy ride. I kept seeing things I "needed" and forgot that I would have to put everything in my backpack. No matter. Bacon, shrimp, hamburgers, bottles of soda, sausages - can you guess I'm on Atkins? But I was a bit dubious after stuffing everything in my Rick Steeves knapsack, which had survived Istanbul, Plovdiv and Sofia. Would a groggy Swiftcurrent carry me up the daunting hills between Publix and home with forty pounds of provisions? Not to worry. She (hmm - have I decided the bike is female? Interesting) zipped right along and I could sense the enjoyment in her heart as we swooped down Morningside, a very steep hilly street nearly covered in trees. Excellent job, my dear.
Not yet there aren't

The above was my reaction to this news story about unusual seismic activity off the coast of Oregon. I was especially taken by the following statement by heavily credentialed geophysicist Robert Dziak:

"It looks like what happens before a volcanic eruption, except there are no volcanoes in the area," Dziak said.

I was paying attention because the kids and I are planning to head out to Montana in June. It would be too bad if a new volcano chose to make its presence known just at that time. I shouldn't worry. We'll stay on the other side of the Rockies from the critical area. If it's big enough to get us there, we're all for it, anyway. You think global warming is bad? Try dealing with a couple of decades of volcanic ash-induced global freezing!

In the spirit of always looking for the good in fearsome events, we may be able to get in an early bid on some nice new oceanfront property in Idaho.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Swiftcurrent survives!

Yes, the strong and the brave and the wise survive. Even after a few brandy-sodas. And so as the sun went slowly down Swiftcurrent V. (for voltage) Electrobike (Swifty for short) brought his master home from the fancy totally jam-packed French restaurant halfway across town. Oh, yeah, the voltage bars were flickering on the last mile or so but there was no need to worry. Even after commuting three miles each way in heavy traffic to work another four or more miles each way was no problem. The e-go bike has a plentiful supply of reserve power, just like those old VW's with no gas gauge. I was flying down Apalachee Parkway. Of course it had been a tad nerve-rattling. There I was with Bill and my old friend Joe Albright and some new friends Cesar and Gigi talking about Cadillacs and Sofia. And all the time I was thinking, hmm, I wonder if Swifty has enough juice to get me back home with the light on. So I left early like a doofus, before it started to get really dark so I didn't have to use the headlight. I am getting better at using the mirrors, though. And I only had one little incident where I forgot to let off the throttle and jammed the bike into the kerb (Brit. spelling). I learned a lot.
Swiftcurrent goes out and gets drunk?

So here's the first big test for Swifty. My friend Bill is going to this fancy French restaurant tonight - Chez Pierre's - not to eat snails, but to drink. So he wondered if I would like to come along. The truck's still hors de combat, so it's going to be Swifty or nothing. After an exhausting day carrying me to work and back, with no time to recharge, will Swifty still be able to get me to Thomasville Road and back? In the dark? Somehow I think I'm going to give it a try. It's so crazy, it just might work. And it would prove that an e-go bike is a practical vehicle for more than just commuting.
First electro-week

So I've completed my first five mornings of riding to work on Swiftcurrent. It has become routine to find ways around traffic, zipping in and out of parking lots and side roads and parking right at the door nearest my office. Swifty is still banned from the building. I'm thinking of protesting but may not bother. This morning I nearly forgot my helmet, which I don't legally need anyway, but I decided to go get it. Then I did forget my knapsack, which wasn't a real problem. I was definitely cold in short sleeves this AM. Monday I had better wear a jacket, since it's supposed to be in the thirties, which may break a cold record.

Overall I am very pleased with my first commuting week. It's getting a little boring but I am relaxing into the process of riding, even having fun with it. I love the surge of power when I take off from a stand. It always surprises me. And sometimes going uphill I'll call for more power and it will be there, which is a pleasant surprise. I've had many waves and comments and questions, making me feel like a pioneer and daring individualist. All I really am is a bureaucrat looking for a cheap and fun way to go to work.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So many different roads home

On my fourth day of electro-commuting, I'm realizing that there may be easier ways to get to work than the main highway I have used for five years with my pickup truck. So each time I'm trying a different way, like The Who and their magic bus, except this isn't magic, it's electric. I'm finding that I can get to work by about a dozen routes using mainly quiet residential streets, just crossing busy streets. The trip may take a little longer than blasting down Apalachee Parkway with all the other traffic, but it's a lot easier on the nerves, and maybe better for the bike, too. I can wave to joggers and mothers with baby carriages and check out all the "for sale" signs, since I'm kinda sorta looking for a good house.

A tactical matter: Am I right not to stop at all the stop signs I come to? I find myself coasting into intersections with four way stops, checking quickly for other cars and then blasting on through without fully stopping if the way seems clear. Seems safe enough to me. My gout-medication wooziness made me fall over at one busy intersection, but I recovered soon, realizing I had to be more aware. I continue to be surprised at the massive acceleration available in the first few seconds after a stop. Makes life easier when you're worried about holding up traffic.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ridin' in the rain

Bummer. I came out of Publix with a knapsack full of food and it was raining. So what do I do, cry and call for a taxi? Nah, not with Swiftcurrent right there to get me home safely. Of course, Swifty's seat was wet, but what the heck, I was going to get wet all over anyway. I am becoming a careful, skilled electro-cyclist. I never take anything for granted. I shut off the power switch before walking the bike across a busy road. I find my hand has a tendency to twist the throttle when I'm walking along beside the bike, crossing a street. I've got a big bruise on my shin to prove the hypothesis. So I try to turn the e-bike off whenever I'm not sitting on it.

I survived the rain, obviously. It was pounding into me when I was going fast downhill. But it would have been the same on a bicycle. And worse, since it would have taken longer to get home. I was quite aware of the warnings in the user manual about the slickness of wet streets. The tires did seem to have good traction, though. And I had observed how little attention many auto drivers pay to dorky electro-bikers. But, gee, don't I have a right to the road as much as them? Of course not. Rights don't come out of nowhere. In fact, Nietzsche would opine that they don't exist. Only power exists. But when you're riding a 2-horsepower battery machine, you try not to think of things like that.
Swiftcurrent exiled!

I've been pulling my electrobike Swiftcurrent into my office building during the workday, locking it to a railing near an outlet from which I can recharge it. This morning a maintenance functionary told me that the head maintenance guy noticed it and said that it had to be kept outside. I asked the guy if he knew it was electric. Apparently he thought it was a gas scooter. Now I can see a possible reason for being forced to keep a gas bike outdoors - fumes and explosions and all that. But what possible danger was there from an electrobike? More to the point, how can one convince dubious bureaucrats that an electrically-propelled vehicle poses no risk? It would be reassuring to know Swiftcurrent was inside safe away from prying eyes and close to an outlet in case I needed to recharge it during the day.

Then I looked at the door through which I brought the bike in. It was for cripples, with their wheelchairs. And weren't some of those wheelchairs electrically propelled? Would an electric wheelchair be banned from the building? Somehow I don't think so. How un-PC would that be? So maybe when I talk to the head maintenance guy I can use that argument to get him to let me keep Swiftcurrent inside. Worth a try. Also, maybe I can guilt-trip him with "save the earth" nonsense.

That brings up all the enviro-weenie reasons for wanting to have an electric bike, none of which are my reasons. Global warming is an absurd delusion. Oil companies are not great big meanies pushing everyone around. There will be plenty of hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future. Cars and trucks are not evil, in fact they're some of the best things ever invented. So why do I want an electro-bike? Mostly because I enjoy it more than a car. I had been driving my Mazda pickup truck to work and back, maybe three miles each way. This was costing me almost $50 a month in gas, at the latest $3 plus per gallon price! I am, after all, at least half Scottish. And I guess I like to be different. I've discovered it's also quite a bit cooler on the bike at 20 mph compared to standing in traffic. No a/c needed! That coolness could come in handy this summer. Today I was positively cold riding into work, even though the sun was shining and it was over sixty degrees.

I can do just about everything on my bike that I was doing with my pickup, and I don't have to worry about finding a parking place near to a store I want to go into. Even at the Publix grocery store they have bike racks. And I want my shiny new bike to be protected from wet and hot weather. It would not be cool to get out of work and have to sit on a wet bike seat all the way home. So I think I should be able to keep it inside. We'll see if the powers that be agree.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I bought an "E-go"(!) electric motorcycle at "All about scooters" to go to work on. Is it just a coincidence that I made a reservation at a place in Glacier National Park called "Swiftcurrent"? For that seems to me an ideal name for this contraption. So Swiftcurrent it is. It has fifty-five pounds of lead-acid batteries, which I am sure in a few years will sound awfully obsolete. By then I'll have installed a micro-mini black hole power source. Millions of miles without refueling.
But for now lead-acid it is. It gets up to a pretty good speed, especially right off the mark. I do have to plan my route smartly, avoiding canopy roads and older roads without a bike lane. My morning commute isn't noticeably longer than before. The bike seems rugged enough.