2007/02/06

Out "Spoken"

I don't expect many comments on this post, as most active readers don't ride bikes (though many "lurkers" of this blog certainly do).

As I have commented before, when walking or riding a bicycle, one sees a whole lot more than when driving or riding in a car. To whit, this rusted, overgrown tricycle which rests just a few meters from the road we live on, not 100 meters from our house.

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I've known of its existence for a long time, as I walk past it with Momo or ride past it on my bike almost daily. K, on the other hand, driving by in her car for many years was unaware of it until I pointed it out. A funny looking machine, but I saw a newer one the other day as I rode from town to home. An elderly man was riding it at slow but steady pace with a big box in a basket over the rear axle, two big heavy looking sacks on top of that, a full backpack, and a basket full on his handlebars. Not fast, but very practical for trips of 5 kilometers or so. Around here the major roads have wide sidewalks to ride on.

Today I went for a short (I thought) grocery run by bicycle. I decided to visit a local store (20 minute ride) rather than ride into the "city" (40 minute ride). The store's selection and some prices are not as good as in town, but they have a farmers market out front where one can buy local produce. I followed a route that would form a loop rather than a simple "there and back". It would take me down the hill to the rice fields and back up the bluffs, offering more interesting views than simply following the mostly level highway. This old house/store is one example of the things I see along the way. I also spied a '61 Chevy Impala in someone's garage.

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Though the picture does not reveal it well, the old building is juxtaposed by a metal roofed addition on the back, the plastic rain catchment emptying into the old wooden tub, and a TV antenna on top. I am disappointed that the reflection of the sun on the tub of water, which played under the eaves, is not evident in the picture.

But such are the joys of bicycling and seeing the world at a slightly slower pace. One has time to notice a lot more and even say hello or talk to people you see. A more aware pace, yet not really a whole lot slower than that of expensive, polluting, gas guzzling automobiles. My trip should only be about 20 minutes longer than if I had gone by car, yet the cost of my bike was about 100th of the cost of a low priced car, I pay no insurance or inspection fees or annual license fees, or (gasp) GASOLINE. I also don't contribute to climate change, etc. and I get exercise in the bargain. Of course there are trade-offs, but obviously I accept them.

My 'sort of' trusty steed.

Unfortunately, I had a slight mishap today. There is a poorly maintained section of road near our house which leads down to the rice fields below our bluff. It is a section of road which has had several operations of digging trenches for drainage, sewer line, utilities, etc. leaving a patchwork of macadam and concrete. I did my best to take it easy going down, but along the bumpy way I heard a metallic "CRACK!". I waited for a crash as I thought the bicycle frame had broken somehow (not likely), but nothing happened except a strange squeaking sound which I couldn't precisely locate. It wasn't until I had crossed the flat rice fields and started up the bluffs again a few kilometers later that I noticed that the rear wheel was rubbing - off and on - against the rear brake pads. I noticed it because I was going up hill and it was slowing me down a great deal.

I had broken a spoke and as a result the rear wheel rim was bent. The last time this happened was on the way to a concert, which I missed. This time was not as severe, but it made it impossible to ride up a steep slope. I had left my tool kit at home, so I was unable to loosen the rear brake which would have temporarily solved my problem. Nothing to do but go on with the added drag of the out-of-true rim. I knew that K was going to Mito City today and that I had to be home soon to see her before she left. The added drag would slow me down enough to make that impossible - partly because I had misunderstood her schedule and partly because I had been optimistic about mine. Typical guy thing.

My mishap really didn't add that much time to my trip - perhaps 15 minutes. You may think that two broken spokes in a year proves a bike unreliable, but I've not experienced this with any bike in the past. I think it is due to one or more of the following: poor quality of my ahem "low cost" bike, poor maintenance of the roads (yep) and poorly "tuned" wheels (maybe). Bikes purchased from mass marketers (like mine) are not well adjusted by the store before being sold - I know, I used manage a sporting goods department in a department store. When I first brought it home I should have taken the time to "tweak" it by adjusting the spokes, wheel bearings, etc. Instead I've been doing piecemeal. Perhaps, if I find ANY readers interested (har har), I'll write a post about how to do that. The first broken spoke I simply removed, as replacements are hard to find in Kashima. For now, until I get new spokes, I'll probably have to "borrow" two spokes from the front wheel and put them in back. The rear wheel takes most of the weight after all. One thing I did not do going down that hill, which may have prevented this was to stand up on the pedals. Doing that when going over a bump takes some weight off the rear wheel and allows your legs to act as shock absorbers, reducing the stress on the wheels.

At one of my stops - a hardware store - I saw a brand new tricycle. It had a lithium-ion battery behind the seat post because it also had an electric motor assist to sort of level out the hills. When engaged, the electric motor comes on when you pedal, making it easier to go up hill. You may laugh at this vehicle at first glance, but get back to me in a few years when your gasoline costs $10 a gallon (if you can find it) and we'll see who is laughing. What about a retiree who can no longer drive? This trike had a package in the front basket and a canister of kerosene for home heating (weighing 30 pounds) in the back. How else would an elderly person get such a load home without a car? The clever little trike gives its owner a measure of independence.

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For distances of several kilometers or a few miles, consider the advantages of such a vehicle in terms of initial cost, operating cost, and convenience.

After shopping, I headed home on the straight and flat "highway". Along the way, K passed me going the other direction, slowed down and opened the window to say "hi". Well, at least we made some contact.

In Fiji, I'd opt for an electric assist mountain bike. If I stay in Japan for much longer I might look into a recumbent trike like this one. Some recumbents are bicycles, some trikes. Since, at 25 mph a rider uses 90% of his/her energy to overcome wind resistance, recumbents are very fast on level ground. In fact they were outlawed by bicycle racing authorities back in the 1930's. They are slower that upright bikes going up hills due to their additional weight, and for the same reason they are much faster going back down. They are also more comfortable than an upright.

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Or maybe a dream machine like this HPV (human powered vehicle) or "Velomobile" as they are sometimes called.

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Oh, yeah! Is this HOT or what? Basically a recumbent trike as above, but with an aerodynamic shell for speed and to keep the rider out of the elements. This one is a "go-one³" built in Germany. Most velomobiles are built in Europe, but I read that one is now produced in Texas and a Japanese firm has one under development. They too can be equiped with electric motor assist. Zoom zoom zoom.

15 comments:

Don Snabulus said...

I've been riding my bike at lunch time to aid in fitness and it has been quite nice. Riding bikes is good physical therapy for my bum knee.

My bike looks more like yours than those other snazzy models.

Pandabonium said...

That's great, Don. Bicycling can be zero impact on your joints. I too have a knee that can give trouble, but I haven't pranged it as badly as you did on that hike. Knock wood. I've read that Oregon is a very bicycle friendly place. True?

I'm blessed here to have lots of relatively quiet back roads to ride on as well as wide sidewalks in the busier areas.

Fritz said...

Yep, bikes are nice and a great way to slow down, enjoy the scenery and enjoy life.

Pandabonium said...

Hi Fritz. Thanks for visiting. I'll have to add your blog Cycle-Licious to my bicycle links.

Don Snabulus said...

I've read that Oregon is a very bicycle friendly place. True?

It is. 90% of the distance between home and work is bicycle path (even though it is a bit heavily traveled as well).

FH2o said...

Nice post.

I love to bike but unfortunately most cities in Malaysia are 'bike-unfriendly' and it can be a hazard riding one on the road here. A great pity actually. *sigh*

Pandabonium said...

Don - that's so cool. It is supposedly illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk in Japan (I've not been able to verify that, or where it applies) but it is certainly not enforced if true. Logically, bikes and pedestrians make a better mix that bikes and cars. Anyway, I use back roads usually, but it is nice to have a place to ride other than with motor traffic.

FH2O - thanks. Well, give it a few years. When gasoline is less available there will be a lot fewer cars on the road. ;^) Come back and check out my post after next.

The Moody Minstrel said...

It is supposedly illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk in Japan... Logically, bikes and pedestrians make a better mix that bikes and cars.

It may be technically illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks, but bicycles are still officially (and generally) considered "pedestrians" rather than vehicles.

I found that out the hard way soon after coming to Japan. Someone lent me a bike, and I rode it in the lane the way you are supposed to in the States (in the absence of a bike lane, at least), i.e. keeping to the side. I came to a busy intersection where I didn't want to turn, and since the signal was green I just kept right on going. Next thing I knew I was being serenaded by a barrage of horns. It turned out that cyclists in that area always rode on the sidewalk and always crossed at the crosswalk.

Every once in a while a gaijin newbie on a bike gets killed doing the same thing I did. Good thing I didn't...

I don't currently have a bike. My gut tells me I probably should rectify the situation.

QUASAR9 said...

Zoom Zoom
Pandabonium, love the bikes
It is not that we do not need cars planes and trains, it is just that we do not need themm everyday or every time we need (or want) to go this or that way.

Alas if everyone took to their bike for an hour a week, or better an hour a day - it be better much better than driving a car in a mad rush to the gym, or spending an hour stuck in some traffic jam

Fritz said...

thanks for the link love.

Given your nickname, you might like Panda Portraits.

Pandabonium said...

Moody - I ride the sidewalks and usually cross in the crosswalks (I took the hint from the little bike lane they paint on them), but occasionally I "do it in the road" if there is no traffic around. Not getting hit is the #1 rule on a bike. It would definitely ruin your whole day.

A really good safety website is in my links Bicycle Safety - How Not to Get Hit by Cars
It's a US site Japan riders have to reverse all the references to left and right - happily, they added pages that do that for you, just click the UK or Aussie link. (The latter has a more readable color scheme.)

Be safe out there.

Quasar9 - fuels depletion and climate change will cause us to change the way we live, particularly in the transportation area. Bicycles are a part of the mix that will grow. Europe and Japan are better poised for this and are already doing it. The USA, with its suburban sprawl will find it tougher, and they are dragging their heels for the most part.

Isn't it funny that some people drive to a gym and look for the closest parking space then go in and workout? If they biked or walked to the gym, they'd already get much of their workout done. :-)

Fritz - you're welcome. Thanks for the link to Panda Portraits - fun stuff, I joined today.

Old Broad said...

I have a mountain bike that I ride every single day, unless it's pouring rain or iced-up outside.
I love riding. It is good for the body. And the mind. And the soul.
When I'm on my bike, I can smell the wildflowers.

Pandabonium said...

Old Broad - yes, bicycling puts you back in touch with the sights sounds and fragrances of nature, and so yourself.

But wait a minute. You said "mountain bike". Shouldn't you ride a "Hill bike"? :^)

ladybug said...

I do like the 3 wheeler bike combination. Especially a vintage look '30's type. I've always wanted something I could use practically on a daily basis, (getting groceries, or running errands) rather than a regular bike just to ride.

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - those are used quite a bit in Europe and Japan, with or without electric assist. In Denmark and the Netherlands, cities are full of various types of trikes for carrying kids around, street vending, small business deliveries, etc. Pretty handy.