Back in the Saddle

I’ve gotten back into the habit and hobby of bicycling after a 10 year hiatus. I’ve tried to do it at least five times a week, which I think I reasonable meet. Now, winter has arrived – sort of, it’s 10 C with rain here – and the cycling lanes are closes until April. So it’s a good time to reflect. I’ve read a variety of books on the subject, from introductory guides to history books. Perhaps later I will write reviews on them, but for now I will just leave a few uncollected thoughts.

I’ve been using two kinds of bicycles. First is a old and cheap mountain bike. It’s probably not best one around, but it’s what I have. Replaced the rusted chain, the cables and the grips, and got a two locks (a u-lock, cable and cable lock), rear rack, rack bag, handlebar and fenders. Hint if you want to get back into cycling with your old cheap bike: after making sure it is safe to ride (wheels are in reasonable shape, tires can hold air, brakes can stop with sufficient force, drive train is in good shape), make a budget for what accessories you need and want. If you don’t want to race, I would recommend a rear rack and rack bag for storing stuff and fenders to keep dirt and mud out.

I’ve also used the local bikeshare program here, Bixi. I am not sure how I feel about it. The bikes are adequate enough, although I do wonder how well maintained they are (I read they have gotten worse). They do their job, allowing people to ride for 30 minutes (45 minutes if you’re a subscriber). But I don’t most of my on-Island riding in downtown, which is probably even easier traverse by walking and using the metro.

Speaking of safety, I don’t like riding within the busy, or even the lest busy streets. I think it can be done safely, but from my few experiences on the roads, I find it just sucks all the fun and enjoyment out cycling, so why bother? The cycling lanes, of which there is a reasonable network here, seem good enough for me. Although, I must admit, my  only major accident thus far has been crashing to a light pole around a tightly wrapped bicycle. While perhaps there was a good deal of fault on my part, I still think the path was poorly constructed.

Bicycles are an odd thing. It seem simple enough, but they are actually quite recent invention, about 200-100 years old. It’s newer than trains (1830). It’s modern form (the safety bicycle, with pneumatic tires and chain-driven rear drive) is only about 10 years older than the automobile. My guess is for two reason. First, unless you’ve seen and done it, riding a machine with two wheels that does not stand straight while at rest sounds like an insane idea. Indeed, in the years before the safety bicycle, adult tricycles were popular for ladies as safer alternative to the ordinary (i.e. the high wheeler/penny farthing). More importantly, I think (I’m not an engineer) to make a good bicycle requires a high degree of engineering expertise. Particularly the chain, which need to handle the forces it needs to transmit from the crank to the back wheel. Once you able to build a good bicycle, you can begin to build automobiles and motorcycles. Also airplanes;  the Wright brothers began as bicycle mechanics. Within the context of the history of transportation, it is a bridge between the muscle-powered transportation to mechanized transportation.


A Life with Books

I’ve got too many goddamn books.

I have always been known a bookworm, and libraries and bookstore have always been my favorite places to be. My biggest problem is getting too many books, buying them and not reading them months or years later. While this is not a problem with bookstore, libraries have always expected their books to be returned in a timely fashion. I’ve always had problems with fines, often running into $10 or so.

It took me a while to realize that many scholarly tomes are best read in a piecemeal fashion, rather than in a page-by-page manner. More depressingly, it’s better to go in-depth with a few subjects rather  broadly with many subjects. The age of polymaths, even in an amateur fashion, has long pasted.

I also have an imbalance in my reading. I love any non-fiction books – histories, science, etc. I have even found reading grammar books to be interesting (yet I don’t have much aptitude in learning languages – I’m not that good a memorizer). Yet my fiction reading has atrophied over the years. The most recent fiction I’ve read was the collected original Sherlock Holmes stories – and I still haven’t finished them! Like Bart Simpson, I think TV has ruined my imagination. Maybe I just find it had to “see” the actions described in the books. I found similar trouble when reading military history and its description of battles.