Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Messing around in Seattle

Most of my readers already know I'm in Seattle for the month. If you didn't... Now you do. I got in yesterday morning after the usual crappy United flight. United has committed some additional sins against human dignity in air travel. They now give you only one free checked bag. The second bag is $50, and overweight bags are $100. They've switched their fleet to Airbus planes, with their less-reclining seats. They try to talk their travelers into spending extra money for two more inches of legroom when they send the "confirm online" e-mail. And they even ding you $2 for having a skycap check your bag from outside the terminal instead of choking up the lines inside that are already long and choked. I totally fail to understand this last.

So I got into the airport a little early, met my friend, and we went to pick up my rental car. It's a Dodge Caliber. These things suck. It's a five-door with incredibly poor visibility, kind of on par with a box truck except that trucks have bigger mirrors. Supposedly it's got incredibly cool folding seats, but I haven't played with that yet. It's basically Dodge's more expensive answer to the Honda Fit, down to being front wheel drive (and feeling it) and having drum brakes on the rear wheels. Anyway, it's not like I'm going to have the car for that long, and when I'm shopping for a real one I'll try for a Subaru.

After that was lunch with friends and a pilgrimage out to a park that not only has a velodrome but has some freestanding climbing walls and a spire. They should change the name from "Marrymore Park" to "Andrew Park." My friend taught me how to use the ATC device I've had kicking around with my climbing gear since February, so that was cool. It was kind of embarrassing to only know how to use the automatic, cam-locking, idiot-proof(ish) but non-versatile device that my gym in NY uses.

The pre-dinner conversation was something along the lines of "we should ride bikes to the park" "Andrew doesn't have a bike" "we still have your old hybrid kicking around." Following that, my friends made the mistake of letting me and my multi-tool attack the aforementioned hybrid. I didn't get too crazy about performance tuning, but I thought the riding position was completely unacceptable and turned it into this.

I only did a couple of things to the bike. I lowered the stem all the way, then adjusted the angle to 90 degrees (it wouldn't go smaller, unfortunately.) Then I took everything off the handlebars and flipped them over - they're on the bike upside down now. If they were riser bars before, I guess one might call them dropper bars now? Or faller bars? In any case, the riding position is slightly lower than on my mountain bike and feels longer, but I think it's not because I had to put the saddle as far back on its rails as it can go and I still feel like I'm sitting too far back on it, so I think the top tube's too short for me. I also through on my venerable Time ATACs, so it's got clipless pedals. The trip there and back was quite amusing - this bike is definitely the silliest non-Burning Man bike modification I've ever done. It does ride better, though.

After dinner, we went to the park. The park in question is a beach on Puget Sound. There were lots of people there, even though it was fairly cold, and some people were practicing on a slackline, kind of like a tightrope but without the tight. Riding over on the hybrid was funny. It's got a sprint speed kind of like a real bike, but I had to lean back because it's got a garbage suspension fork on the front that can soak up energy. Its cruising speed, however, is much slower.

This morning I rode further into Seattle with my friend and had breakfast before she had to work. I figured it would be good to get started semi-early in the morning and there's also the whole jetlag thing. I'm glad I modified the hybrid because trying to do that ride in an upright position would have been pretty unpleasant. After that, I rode around for a while.

Seattle has a mountain bike park under I-5 that I wanted to look at. I even tried to ride parts of it, but I had a lot of trouble with the 40mm tires on the bike. For comparison, my mountain bike has 54mm tires with a large tread mounted on wider rims than the hybrid, so the whole system can run at a much lower pressure without pinch-flatting or wallowing, and the contact patch is much bigger. It's also a much lighter bike, and while I recently discovered that the suspension fork hasn't been functioning correctly, even when it only half-works, it's superior to the one on the hybrid. I decided that I didn't need to kill myself, so I left. It's a cool park, though - lots of stuff isn't finished, but they have a neat switchbacking section that would give a rider excellent low-speed stability and a great pedal-up if they practiced on it some, lots of log rides, a couple of teeter-totters, and a small hanging bridge. I couldn't get the hybrid through any of this stuff, but I'm promising myself that I'll revisit it on a real mountain bike at some point.

Next I rode north across one of the bridges and poked around the University of Washington. It's a more urban feeling campus than UC Berkeley, and not all that attractive. The surrounding neighborhood is nice, though. Most of what I've seen of Seattle, at least north of the canal, seems to be a lot like Berkeley - densely packed houses, narrow streets, lots of traffic calming devices. The main drags are nice, though. They seem to have mainly local stores - there's some character. After that, I found my way home along the bike path that runs the length of the canal, with a stop for coffee (served in a real mug) along the way. It's really nice here. As best as I can figure out on Google Earth, I did 15.2 miles. But that involves some guessing about turns.

My friends insist on the importance of using fenders here, and the one who commuted all winter says he actually wore out a set of rims too. So between that and the hills, I think that if I move I'll leave Skank in New York and put together a light touring-based commuter here. I think it would be really cool to do a disc front/cantilever rear braking system to reduce wear, at least on the front rim, and have full fenders and a rear rack. The distances involved here seem to be longer, and the streets are long enough to get a decent flow going, so it would be cool to get the load back off my back and into panniers. Also I haven't built up a load-carrying bike in a while.

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