Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Good - Newly upgraded Sounder Commuter train service!

Bad - My train last night left Portland at 6:15pm. Arrived in Tacoma at 1:30 AM.

More tomorrow.

I'm not entirely sure how I should proceed here, but I know that I don't believe one should need to pay for a trek in which we were stuck, unmoving on the tracks, for 4 hours. With no food, and the bathrooms broken, I might add.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Some economists are fond of the phrase TINA, an acronym for, "There Is No Alternative." Okay, let me back that out.

They're using it in the context of macroeconomic frameworks and capitalism / neoliberalism, of course, but I'm using it to talk about riding my bicycle to work. The reason there's no alternative, say the philosophy's exponents, is because it's the only thing that's been proven to work. While I make no claims about THAT, I will say that anything apart from me cycling to work isn't going to happen.

Today, I thought it would be useful to not cycle to work, since I am leaving from the office for Portland immediately after work, and it'd be nice not to leave the bike here. I don't drive to work, and 17 miles is a walk too far. I considered, then, using mass transit -- after all, I work in a reasonably busy industrial area just a few miles out of downtown Kent, WA. Brand-new Kent Station, five miles away, is a regional transit hub, and at the intersection of West Valley Highway (called 68th in Kent, just outside my industrial district) and 190th, there is a bus stop.

How hard could it be?

After all, I live one mile from busy Highway 99, and there's a bus stop right at the corner.

This will work.

Unless, of course, you know how the mass transit system in the Puget Sound area works, and does not work. For one thing, I live in Pierce county, two miles from the border with King County. In Portland, a tri-county authority called Metro links up the downtown area and the suburbs. All buses, trains, streetcars, and cable cars operate under the Metro umbrella.

In the Sound, though, it's different: King County Metro and Pierce Transit are two separate authorities, operating separate bus lines, with separate tickets. Sound Transit, the regional authority, adds more complexity instead of less. ST operates inter-city "express" buses from the major down towns of Sound area cities, and its tickets are acceptable as transfers into the appropriate Metro systems, but KCM, PT, and ST don't really synchronize their schedules well.

The ST express buses offer service on weekdays, from either Tacoma or Seattle, to transit hubs in various other sound-area cities. Transit BETWEEN cities like Tacoma, Kent, Auburn, and Bellevue, however, is spotty at best.

All there transit authorities have separate websites, separate route maps, and separate "find a trip" engines, and interaction with the companion authority is weak to nonexistent. It was actually quite a process to figure out what I was meant to do.

NB - Google Maps has recently partnered with a number of transit authorities to search for directions "by public transit." It's a great feature, but it only works if all of the public transit systems you'd need to use are in their system. For the sound, only King County Metro is included.

After searching all three websites, If I wanted to bus to work, I'd need to:
1 ) Walk 1 mile to bus stop
2 ) Board PT - 501 north to Federal Way Transit Center
3 ) Transfer to a northbound bus, like the 564, to Kent Station
4 ) Transfer to the 150 north to 190th in kent.
5 ) Walk to work

IF I'm reading this right, I'd have to catch the 6:10 bus, meaning leaving home at about ten minutes to six. That means the bus takes more than half an hour longer than my bike, and there are two transfers to make or miss. I want to try it one of these days to see how it works out, but if there were any hangups, at the very least the gap between buses is 30-40 minutes, so, it's just not worth it.

What kind of sense does this make? This is a seventeen-mile commute, all within mid-sized cities in the Puget Sound.

With that, please see the link I'm just about to add to my blogroll for the SEATTLE COMMUTE blog. They are, among other things, a big proponent of effective, rail-based mass transit in the sound. My own commute is a good example about why the "band-aid on a bullet wound" fix that some politicos call "express bus" based transit is a non-starter.

I usually avoid political statements, but I feel like transit OUGHT to transcend politics. Sure, it doesn't, but, seriously, folks: Rail works. It's everywhere. Get some.

More soon.

Oh, and mind the gap.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Sojourn in Tacoma : Bicycle Review

I've been riding my 2009 Raleigh Sojourn for a couple of weeks now.

If you want the short version, read this paragraph and then go look at some pictures: This is a great bike to do almost everything. It's a purpose-built tourer, with comfortable, all-day geometry and braze-ons galore. It's fast over long distances, is geared low enough to climb anything, and can carry a whole lot. Not a lightweight and not a small bike, the Sojourn feels out of place weaving in and out of dense city traffic, but will get you, and everything you need to bring with you, anywhere you need to go. Wide tires, big clearances, and full fenders mean it's equally at home on gravel and tow paths as it is on the road. For a rider that wants to do brisk-paced group rides and occasionally carry a load to work, one might be better served with its caliper-brake, skinny-tired cousin the CLUBMAN.


The Sojourn's simple, clean lines stand out compared with the flash graphics and loud style of most modern road bikes. Only the faux top tube protector, reading "Sojourn," and the headbadge with the classic Raleigh heron logo interrupt the plain Khaki tan of the frame and matching fork. Most noticable at a glance are the handlebars. They're WTB Mountain Drop Road bars, which have a shallow, wide drop that's perfect for commuting and touring. It's somewhere between a traditional drop and a moustache bar, and offers another hand position without taking one away. Nice. One other note is that WTB's website for some reason lists these bars as being "not compatible with bar end shifters." As the Sojourn has bar-ends and the MDRbars, it's clearly not true! The angle of the drops does make the barends exit pointing slightly outside the line of the bike's travel, which increases the overal width of the bike and makes them more vulnerable to damage in a crash.

(UPDATE - WTB says that the stock bars are, indeed, incompatible with barend shifters. The OEM equipment on the Raleigh Sojourn is slightly different than that which is available aftermarket. -- ed )

Road bikes with disc brakes are few and far between, but for the Pacific Northwest, they should not be. Yours Truly hadn't ridden a disc-equipped bike before, and so expected a dramatic increase in stopping power. I was surprised, then, just how little I noticed the Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes. Apart from a slight blade-on-whetstone dragging sound, the discs simply work. This is a big deal when I'm descending 15% Peasley Canyon Way, in the rain, with panniers of clothes and gear. They're easy to modulate and progressive, and I expect the pads will last quite a bit longer than the wet-weather Koolstop pads I'd been using before. Additionally, I won't eat rims as quickly, and if I did do a fully-loaded tour, I'd be happy not to risk overheating my tires down a big descent. Many racks are incompatible with disc brakes, but the Sojourn comes equipped with a heavyduty rack that bolts securely to the frame and clears the discs nicely.

Let's get this part out of the way: yes, the bike is heavy. It has to be. It's probably in the low thirty-something pound range, with racks and stuff. Whoever built the frame got to go to town with the brazing torch, though. The Sojourn sports a pump peg, a chain hanger, two spare spoke holders on the driveside chain stay, three bottle cage mounts, disc tabs, downtube cable guides, front and rear rack mounts, fender eyelets, and a clawfoot tub. I think the braze-ons put together weigh as much as a Scott Addict. You notice the weight when accelerating from a dead stop, but once you get rolling, the smoothness takes over. The 38mm Vittoria Randonneur tires roll reasonably well on road or gravel, have lots of puncture resistance, and reflective sidewalls, if you care about that.

The Shimano drivetrain is about as complex a mix as you can create from Big S's substantial parts catalogue, but it works well: 9-speed Dura-Ace barends, RC-453 (Tiagra-level) Octalink triple crank and Tiagra front derailleur, with a Deore Megarange mountain bike rear derailleur which lets 'em run a wide-ranging 11-34 SRAM cassette. The crank is both compact and triple, so it's got 30/39/50 rings -- a nice mix of gearing to climb anything, and a big ring that a heavy bike like that will actually use frequently. The downside is that there are big jumps in gears. For my purposes, using a bike like most use a car, I will probably switch to a 12-27 cassette to have more gear choices.

9-speed was probably the right choice for this bike, since it allowed the use of the mountain bike cassette and derailleur, but it also means that chains are easier to work with, the drivetrain is less sensitive to minor adjustment issues, and the 9-speed barends have a friction mode if all else fails. All of these things come in handy if you should suffer a mechanical problem in the middle of nowhere. So, too, will the included pair of spare spokes! Just remember to bring a wrench. While on the subject of field repairs, the Lezyne Pressure Drive pump, also included, is so awesome it'll get a review on its own behalf. It's a seriously good idea, retails for $35, and why didn't anyone make these sooner?

(Flat tires simulated. No inner tubes were harmed in the production of this review.)

Yours Truly had never ridden a Brooks leather saddle before, but the Sojourn has a B-17, plus Brooks leather bartape. It's comfortable enough for me! Saddle choice is of course a personal preference, and I'm not too picky, but, these things have legendary followings, even if they ought to be conditioned from time to time. Mostly I think the thing looks cool. You also get some high-quality pedals with metal toe clips that I promptly removed and put into a box in favor of the eternal Shimano M520 SPD MTB pedal. No bell, though. (The Raleigh One-Way has a bell. Ding!)

What else?

Next: On the road

Monday, September 22, 2008

Taking it back.

Long live random philosophical graffiti!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just to get this out of the way: Avast! Yarrrrr! Shiver me timbers!
(it's Talk Like a Pirrrate Day!)

Okay, also, I'm getting a DVD from my photographer this evening of the Sojourn photoshoot we did, so, I'll be able to put those with a review up on Monday.

And the word of the day, ladies and gentlemen, is MORAL HAZARD.

News at eleven.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This one speaks for itself:

Immediately as I leave the Interurban Trail in Kent, I come upon the headquarters of American Piledriving Equipment. If you go to their website, you see pretty much what you'd expect from industrial equipment, but if you actually go past the building, you see what happens when you turn American Piledriving Equipment into an acronym:

Click for a larger view. I especially like the bandana around his head that says "APE." Very nice.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A first grainy glance, shot with my iPhone:

First impressions --

This will make a great daily driver, rain or shine.

Brooks saddles are super-comfy, though they need breaking in!

Mechanical disc brakes are smooth and sure, but not dramatically more powerful than high-end rim brakes. The big difference is the quality of their modulation and their consistency in weather conditions.

The builders had a lot of fun with the brazing torch. Disc tabs? Sure. Three bottle cages, a pump peg, downtube cable routing, spare spoke holders, a chain holder, front and rear mounts for racks and fenders, the works.

Compact triple is a great idea. 9-speed mountain bike rear cassette would be excellent for touring, and 30x34 is a serious bailout gear. For commuting and city riding, a road cluster might serve better.

Full report to follow in the coming days. We took a bunch of better pictures of the bike on Saturday, they'll be processed by Wednesday or so.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Advice and Information for Drivers in interacting with Bicyclists:

In commuting every day on my bike, I've been by approximately 8.2 gajillion cars. 8.19 gajillion of these have been perfectly nice and respectful, I might add, though it only takes one car to make my day end very, very badly.

I find myself giving cyclists advice about commuting often enough, so I decide to publish this list to give drivers a bit of advice on how to share the road safely and conveniently for everyone. Before the advice, here's two Golden Rules for commuting.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER ONE : Bicyclists are human beings. Car drivers are human beings. The only difference is how we're getting to work. That's it.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER TWO: Car drivers are individual human beings. Bicyclists are individual human beings. This means that some of us will make good decisions, and others of us will make bad ones. If another driver makes a bad decision, I promise not to take it out on you, if you won't take out your frustrations at another cyclist's choices on me.


* Thanks, but you don't need wave us through at stop signs. The gesture is appreciated, but, practically, it just slows everyone down. Mostly I treat cars like the ones in FROGGER -- you know, fairly predictable objects that spell certain death if they touch you. If you wave me through out of turn, it's just confusing, and stands a good chance of pissing off the drivers behind you. Of course, they won't be mad at you, they'll be mad at me. This is a recent situation that illustrates this:

You, 1, get to the intersection first, then 2, on the right, then Yours Truly is 3. Behind you is 4. It's your turn, but you wave me through, and I have no choice but to go, which gets in 2's way. This causes 4 to honk, yell, and shout obscenities at me. You can just go ahead on your turn, and I'll go on mine.

* Yes, I did just run that red light. You see, many red lights are not sensitive enough to change for a 20-pound bike and a 150-pound rider, and so we'd NEVER get a green. Other lights turn from green to red once the "line" of traffic clears. This usually doesn't include me, and so I have to enter the intersection on yellow, and run the red light. For these reasons, some jurisdictions allow cyclists to proceed through red lights as though they were stop signs. Yes, I know this is not technically legal in all areas.

* I really appreciate you giving me three feet of space. However, it's not necessary to divert entirely across the road into the oncoming traffic lane. Mostly, that scares drivers around you, and you're more likely to cross back over the fog line as you head back into your lane, which could endanger a pedestrian or cyclist on the shoulder in front of me.


* If you want to say something at me, I suggest you learn what the Doppler effect is. I get yelled at daily -- most of the time it just sounds like someone's best Fred Flinstone impression. EeshayyYAAAAABADabadooooo!!!!! You need to be travelling at roughly the same speed as I am to be understood.

* I probably don't need to say that shouting obscenities is undesirable. If we're going up a steep hill, and you'd like to offer a little encouragement, it is acceptable to say "go, go!" If you are feeling euro, "Allez!" is also acceptable. However, "Go Lance," is not really very creative, whether you mean it as a compliment or insult.

* If you're going to pass me, it's acceptable but not really necessary to give a quick double-beep on your horn. However, if you know me and are trying to say hello, please don't just honk. I will probably think you are the 8th jerk today just sitting on your horn because you're mad at the world.


* Yes, I do know it is raining / cold / windy -- I'm still riding my bike. Thanks, but I don't really need a ride in your car. If I am pushing my bike instead of riding it, then maybe I do.

* I'm riding a road bike. Especially if this is a downhill, we're going pretty fast -- probably almost as fast as a car. Human eyes don't do very well at estimating the speed of rapidly approaching, head-on objects.

* Yes, I am riding on the road. I am not riding on the sidewalk, because I am not walking. Additionally, sidewalks are unsafe because they are home to sudden emergence of cars from driveways, bumpy and broken pavement, pedestrians for me to run down, and off-camber curbs to crash me INTO the road.

* I dodged into the traffic lane from the shoulder or bike lane not just to make you mad, but because there was a big pile of glass, or maybe an oil slick, in my way. You didn't see it? That's okay, you're going forty miles an hour with a dash and firewall and hood between you and the pavement. Also, little things like a storm drain won't cause you to crash.

Finally, I'd just like to point out that riding bicycles is, well, just like riding a bike. You can do it, and so can I. You're more than welcome to join me out here, even some of the time. If you think it's not fair that I ride up the shoulder while you're stuck in traffic, well, you can ride up the shoulder, too, on your own bicycle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Good Morning.

Today I didn't ride to work. I took a carpool, having the positive problem of getting two bikes with just one rider. Yes, my Sojourn is in. We rolled into the office just moments before the shift started, grabbed coffee, and climbed into my desk.


The calls started coming in, and my mind sputters to life. The coffee isn't working quickly enough, and my eyes feel like they're made of glass. I blink, I type, I make keying errors.

Seriously, is this how most people feel at the start of every morning?

I try to dimly recall what work was like in my pre-riding days. I remember falling out of bed, rushing to work, and feeling ... well, just about like this. I remember working in the perishables department, the chill of the freezer and the pace of the stocking at last getting me started. I remember how desperate I was for the coke that I drank on my first break, since I was no coffee fan in those days.

How did I do it?

All right, I'll admit it, yesterday I was tired in the morning. For a few minutes, I didn't want to get on the bike! I woke up at six, got my gear together, and get on the bike. It's mostly quiet out on a dry morning, and a light haze of fog rolls off of the wetlands in the valley. A couple of cars are pulling out of my complex at the same time as me, which means I don't have to hike around the bushes to get past the gate, which won't open for bicycles.

For just a moment, I feel the cloudiness in my head, the slowly warming blood in my veins, and I think that it'd be nice, comfortable, to get into a car today. A cup of coffee in my hand would be nice, too, since I don't like to drink any just before I cycle -- I'd just listen to the radio and cruise on in.

The thought doesn't last long.

First thing out of my door is a hill, for which I'm grateful. Yeah, fine, so I like hills, but it's free heat on a chilly morning, and four hundred feet is no mountain. By the time I cross the highway, I'm comfortably warm, just enough to unzip the collar of my long-sleeved jersey. The dawn's brightening the horizon, but no sun yet over the tree-lined hill. Down the other side of the hill, into the valley, alongside the cars for a couple of miles, everything comes into focus.

I hope they protect the trees on the west side of the hill, the firs whose outer branches just drape over the side of the old valley highway, its pitted and lined pavement telling the lack of attention it gets from the dozen little cities it connects. Since the freeway came through, a hair before yours truly's cycling days, the old roads get scant attention, but still a solid flow of traffic.

I ride past a bizarre mix of neo-industrialists looking for cheap land, and the last vestiges of farms trying to hold out. Here's a container-storage facility, there's a childrens' play-structure shop. A little farm offering fresh-cut flowers is next, and then an old farmhouse that's been turned into a salon. A few rows of something green comes before the next highway interchange, and then a protected lowlying wetland, where it seems all of the dawn's fog has collected, a cinematic little blob of a cloud.

Then it's a turn to the east, the sun cresting the hill on the far side of the valley causing my eyes to blink and water as I cross back over that same new valley freeway. WA167 is crowded, recently expanded with new toll lanes, and I smile as I think of the traffic that I'm NOT in. It's easy to say that, of course, on a clear, sunny September morning. Then it's back north onto MY highway, the Interurban Trail that parallels the railroad in the center of the valley. Here, traffic is light, a few handfuls of commuters cruising along to keep my attention. By winter, it'll be an empty strip of pavement, shared only with the rabbits (thousands) and coyotes (less, after the rabbits.).

The whole trek is seventeen miles, takes just about an hour, and gets me to the warm shower and hot coffee that awaits your fortunate narrator at work. A shower, change, and I'm up to the desk, ready to go.

This is the right way to start a day, as I'm sure I've told you countless times before. On days like this, though, I am reminded again how much the little day to day decisions affect my overall life experience.

Since posts need illustration, here's the dock at the waterfront in Old Town Tacoma last weekend. What else do you need?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A nice place for lunch

This is just 5 minutes' walk from the office. This makes the transition to cubicle life a little easier...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Don't Fuck This Up, Kid

It's big time now.

Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP

Monday, September 01, 2008

Coming Soon:

More updates, and, more reviews!

Officially, I've got a Raleigh Sojourn headed my way this week. This is the bike that will serve me the way that most people's cars work for them. It'll be nice to commute on a bike that, among other things, actually fits me. Also, I've never ridden disc brakes before, but I suspect I'll fear death a little less coming down Peasley Canyon Way in the wet mornings. Regular caliper rim brakes just don't cut it.

Expect reviews of both the Sojourn and the gear that makes it go, including the sneaky little ace that Raleigh throws in with it: a Lezyne Pressure Drive pump. Heard of Lezyne? Honestly, neither had I, until I saw them on all of the new Road Steel bikes. Seriously, these are worth their weight in gold.

Also, I've gotten a tentative greenlight from the good folks a Raleigh to do some weblog reviewing of a few of our other models, and first on the list -- or, I suppose, second, after the Sojourn -- is the Detour Deluxe. Somehow this thing is hiding in the "hybrid" section of the website, into which no self-respecting cyclist would even venture, right?

But, look at this thing a little closer. Full fenders? Rack? Dyno hub -- and dyno-powered lights? Disc Brakes?

This is no hybrid, at least, not the low-brow, redheaded stepchild of a "ten-speed" road bike an early mountain bike. It's just a bike. A euro-style citybike, pretty much, although I do have my reservations about the aluminum frame. When I went to Germany last summer, this type of bike was essentially everywhere, but in the US the '80's seemed to pretty well kill off the "bike." Here's hoping it's back.