Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dancing ladybugs

Today was atypically windy here. I took the opportunity to introduce our girl to kite flying with a kite we bought last weekend. She chose it for the ladybugs; one big ladybug with 9 little ladybugs in the tail. We had fun watching the kite weave and soar, spending most of an hour flying it in a nearby field.
The presence of the wind always returns me to thoughts of Wyoming, the state where I spent much of my formative years. Anyone who has spent any time there knows wind is not atypical in most parts. Sometime in the Spring of most years while growing up, my brother Chris and I each received an inexpensive kite kit in a plastic sleeve. We would assemble the enclosed sheet of plastic (almost always featuring slightly off-registered color prints of superheroes or cartoon characters), a few wooden dowels and a roll of string into something resembling a kite. The addition of staples, rubber bands and/or duct tape were sometimes necessary to get to a finished product.
We would then take our kites into the expansive and treeless landscape to fly them until something broke, ripped or was lost. Inevitably we would crash, make repairs and repeat. I don't remember any kite lasting much more than one day of flight, and usually a lot less. I'm certain we weren't exploring any new ground in aeronautics, but it kept two boys out of the house and occupied for a few hours at the end of a long winter. As a parent, I now see the intrinsic value of this activity from a different angle.
It seems that in the intervening thirty-some years that inexpensive kites have gotten a lot nicer. The ladybug kite came mostly pre-assembled, made of a durable nylon fabric and fiberglass struts. It even has a nice string spool with integral hand grip. These are all good factors that add up to the ability of this kite to fly another day. I'm pretty sure I'll have an eager pilot any time the wind returns.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Harbingers of Spring

A perfect day for a ride.
Spring starts tomorrow, but there have already been plenty of signs of its arrival. It would have been nearly impossible for anyone who spent time outdoors today not to have noticed. Green tendrils and crocus blossoms are peeking through the soil and a blanket of flowering trees will be bursting in no time.

Bikes are also popping up in more places with the arrival of warm, pleasant days.  Denver B-cycle is nearing the end of its first week of operation for the year, and bikes of all types are coming out of storage all over town.
Denver B-cycle number 056 is indeed good.
Sighted downtown: a bakfiets complete with rainshield and child seat installed in the box.
Wash Perk, a neighborhood coffee shop in West Wash Park is leading the way for bicycle-vended commerce in Denver. The Perk Cycle is now in action, and was featured in today's Denver Post. The bike is a very unique and amazing machine, but no more so than its pilot, Teri. Teri's Perk Cycle is the best combination of coffee and wheels in the city. If you'd like to have a look in person, the Perk Cycle will be in Washington Park much of the day tomorrow. Otherwise, look for the Perk Cycle around town, or you can always stop in at Wash Perk at the corner of Ohio and South Emerson to find out more.
The Perk Cycle in action: Teri (left) and Maddie (center) serve a fresh cup of coffee to a happy customer.
The doors of the bike form a sign board.
The Perk Cycle and its supply and equipment support bike, a venerable Xtracycle.
After a visit to a couple of parks and a seeing the Perk Cycle in action, the latter part of the day was topped off with some ice cream and a bit of bike riding, another perfectly complementary pairing. For those of you in the Denver area, tomorrow is the day of the BikeDenver Vernal Equinox ride, which promises to be a lot of fun. Check out the BikeDenver website for details.
Sporting the perpetually stylish ice cream mustache.
"Look Daddy, no fingers," is a natural predecessor to "Look Daddy, no hands."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Denver B-cycle opens for 2011

Denver B-cycle number 422 was my ride for my first official trip of the 2011 season.
After a little over three months in hibernation, the revolutionary red bikes of Denver B-cycle were back on the street today. I took several rides taking me from the Convention Center to LoDo, to part of the Highlands, and eventually to near the Auraria campus. I was grateful to have the bikes back in operation, saving me the trouble of having to retrieve one of my bikes and/or walking some sizeable distances.
Number 532 is the highest numbered Denver B-cycle I've ridden to date.
I always notice the numbers of the B-cycle bikes that I ride. I saw some old friends, such as Denver B-cycle numbers 422, 002, and 218, but I also met some new numbers that weren't part of the fleet last year, such as numbers 528, 531 and 532, which happens to be the highest number I've seen so far.
National Velvet seems as reasonable a title as any for this sculpture by John McEnroe near the Highlands Bridge. People probably have various reactions to this unusual artwork, but as for me, I like it. Besides, it's B-cycle red.
The weather was perfect for riding. From what I saw, a lot of people didn't let the opportunity slip by without taking advantage. Even the wildlife in the area seemed to know not to pass up the opportunity to take in the sun.
I spent a few minutes watching this contented little fox stretch and preen in the sun while waiting for a train. Just before the train arrived, the fox ducked into the culvert next to where it had been sitting.
A bit later, the Big Dummy hummed right along on our regular route. When the school bell rang, nobody had to remind the kids to get out and have fun. 
A happy co-pilot is a good co-pilot.
Just a reminder, folks. About this time of year I start to notice an increase in the numbers of creaky or squeaky chains on bikes I meet on streets and trails, so please remember to keep those chains well lubricated. Thus ends my public service announcement.

Perk Cycle

Phil taking the Perk Cycle for a spin.
Last night Wash Perk celebrated the arrival of the Perk Cycle into the family. Hosts Teri and Debbi invited members of the community to the coffee shop to meet the new bike, and to enjoy food, drinks and camaraderie. Phil from Metrofiets of Portland was in town to make some adjustments and answer questions about how the bike was built and how it works.
This eager rider will have to grow a bit more to be able to pilot the bike.
Teri is as magnetic as her bike.
It was great to meet and talk with a lot of people, many of whom were learning about the wonderful world of cargo bikes for the first time. The bike has been out and about in the public only twice now, but it has already displayed a propensity to draw people to talk and think about how the community. It's going to be very interesting to see what develops.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When bikes were called wheels

I ordinarily only post content that I have generated myself; a simple formula of bike-y photos with accompanying text. However, I will bend this self-imposed pattern for the moment, foregoing the former and creating a commentary on content generated by others through the latter. I've been swayed to this action because in the course of research I came across some old editions of a bike magazine at that were just too amazing not to share. The magazine is so old that it's not from the 21st century or even the 20th century. These archived issues of Cycling Life date from the Victorian Era bike heyday of the late 19th century, when bikes were called 'wheels' and a broad segment of people became acquainted with personal mobility to a degree unprecedented in history.

In terms of raw innovation, influence on infrastructural advancement and, in particular, social impact, there was exponentially more going on in the U.S. regarding bikes in the late 1890s than even the most impressive whiz-bang gizmos or Portland-esque policies of the present bike-related swell of interest. Enormous, lasting changes were ignited at the time, such as the development of light-weight alloys, pneumatic tires and high quality steel in pursuit of building ever better bikes, as well as improved roads demanded of public officials by crowds of bicyclists. It is too often forgotten that nascent motorized vehicles benefited disproportionately from, and later almost entirely usurped these advancements originally championed by bicyclists.

The story of the revolutionary impact of bicycles on U.S. culture and infrastructure begins to emerge with each successive page of the archived editions. There are gems at every turn, such as the fact that in 1896 the U.S. exported a substantial amount of bikes to a number of countries including Holland, Denmark, France and Belgium, that railroads were developing improved ways to carry bikes on train cars, and that the benefits of physical activity for women were being discussed in an open forum, perhaps for the first time. There is even photographic evidence that a multiple rider three-wheeled ancestor of the Surly Pugsley once existed with astonishingly large dimensions. All of these items and more can be found in just the first few pages.

I enjoy just about any bicycle related material. I look forward to the latest Rivendell Reader or Bicycle Quarterly as much as any self-acknowledged bike nerd, but the breadth, depth and scope of Cycling Life, not to mention its deliciously borderline pedantic writing style make anything produced today pale in comparison. A favorite recurring line in each issue:
Cycling Life does not relate unimportant events at great length. Quality outranks quantity in Its preparation. Its contributors are men of sound judgment.
Anyway, enough from me. If you've read this far, consider yourself in the target demographic. Do yourself a favor and check out this treasure of the ages. However, be forewarned; the archive has 1,326 juicy pages just waiting to whisk you away from your responsibilities. You're welcome.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Denver B-cycle St. Paddy's Day parade extravaganza

Greened up and ready to go. Note the guy wearing the Dan Maes shirt in the background. Photo thanks to Sandy.
Although it's not yet St. Patrick's Day, that little temporal detail didn't stop the Denver St. Patrick's Day parade from happening today. It was the first time I've ever been in a parade, and although the route was short, the experience was enlightening. There was a lot more wandering around, hanging out, talking, and waiting in the staging area than I anticipated when envisioning what it meant to be in a parade. In hindsight, waiting is logically a big part of the event from a participant's point of view.
Denver B-cycle number 088 was my ride for the day.
The day started earlier than I'm used to being awake on a Saturday. Julie says I appear to be more compelled to get up and go when bikes are involved. I give her credit for a well founded observation. After a train ride to Five Points and a 10-minute walk I was at the Denver Bike Sharing headquarters at 7:40 am. When I got there, I saw a number of friends and colleagues, as well as this long awaited machine:
The bike is full of cool details, such as the gracefully curved fender stays that wrap around the tail light.
The bike above is a sneak peak of the new Perk Cycle, the two-wheeled distribution vehicle of Wash Perk's coffee, always served with a free side of good cheer. Owners Teri and Debbi are entrepreneurs who, among other things, are working to envision a bicycling focused business community in the city. The bike will be the subject of its own much more detailed post in the near future. Suffice it to say for now, the bike is an impressive feat of engineering and craftsmanship from Jamie and Phil of Metrofiets in Portland.

Debbi and Teri with the Perk Cycle.
After fueling up with some of Wash Perk's delicious coffee and pastries, a couple hundred Denver B-cycle riders mounted their bikes and took a short ride to the parade holding area.
The bikes are back!
The observant reader will notice that, in the spirit of the event, I'm wearing my green Rivendell cap. Once again, thanks to Sandy for the photo.
Jay was more daring than most, sporting shorts on a deceptively cool day that peaked at about 55F.
In no time at all, we reached the staging area, and subsequently found ways to entertain ourselves for 2.5 hours in the vast parking lot. Many of us made several laps looking at sparkly and colorful things and/or somewhat staggering people. A few riders even displayed some trick riding prowess on B-cycles. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos, which may be fortuitous for some of the riders.
In lieu of trick riding, I give you the Mantruk of the International Order of Rocky Mountain Goats.
A megaphone and green mustache are natural extensions of Ben's persona.
Emily and Sandy were a couple of my charming companions during the wait for our turn in the parade.
Steve surveys the action. Appropriately, his key green item is a Starbucks apron. Actually, I'm surprised that Starbucks hasn't had a suit tailored for him. He'd certainly wear it.
At many levels, it's difficult to have much more of a commitment to green than Parry.
It turns out that we were about the third to last group in the parade. Eventually things started moving and we actually started parading. By the time we passed by, most of the parade viewers had seemingly shed many of the inhibitions they might have had, which is probably not uncommon for a St. Patrick's Day parade.
Serious parading under way.
Going past Coors Field.
Nearing the end of the route as we approach Union Station.
I discovered that parading is hunger inducing work for participants and spectators alike. After I checked my bike in to its assigned station, my personal allotment of spectators and I made our way to Taki's for a late lunch. In all, it was a good day for green people on red bikes.
Coincidentally, the cap is the same color as edamame, her favorite.
If you missed out on riding in the parade, you can create your own red bike adventure in a couple of days. Denver B-cycle will be open to the public once again starting Monday morning. It's quick and easy to sign up online, or to give it a try by signing up at any station in the system.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another go with a red bike

The wheels spin on this little animation while you wait. The processing time to check out a bike was so quick that I had to do the procedure a few times before I was able to capture a photo.
It's only a few days until the Denver B-cycle system will be rolling again. Today I helped out with another round of tests to ensure the system is working well. The people who manipulate everything behind the scenes had already incorporated changes to improve functionality from findings of the previous tests.
No need to type in a dock number as was the case last year; just tap a number and your bike releases. Of course if you have a B-card, the check out process is lightning fast directly from a dock.
The new kiosk screens are vastly superior to those of last year. Annual B-card holders don't need to use the kiosk screens, but the improvements make the walk-up user experience much smoother. The interface is slick and easy, the colors make the screens more clear to read, and the touch functionality is effortless.
Denver B-cycle number 044 was my ride for part of the afternoon.
Today was much warmer for riding than the day of the previous test. This was the kind of day that makes it difficult to think of any good reason to stay inside.
Northbound on Lawrence. Stephanie, just ahead of me, was my testing partner for the afternoon.
This Saturday morning will be the Denver St. Patrick's Day Parade, in which 250 of the Denver B-cycle bikes will be ridden and later delivered to B-stations throughout the city. The Denver Bike Sharing mechanics have been working steadily to prep the bikes for the parade and opening day. As you might imagine, so many bikes take a lot of space to store and manage.
Phil and crew deftly juggle a lot of bikes in a limited work area.
Some of the bikes are all set to go. All that is needed are riders.
I'll be riding one of the 250 bikes in the parade. It will be the first time I've ever been in a parade of any sort. I suppose I'll have to practice my demure wave and toothy smile.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The first red B-cycle of (nearly) Spring

Denver B-cycle number 157 was my steed for much of the day.
Denver has a new indicator of the arrival of Spring. Although the season of budding flowers is still days away, today I was fortunate enough to be one of a small number of people who got to test ride the Denver B-cycle system as it prepares to emerge from hibernation for the 2011 operating season. It seems like these sleek crimson beauties have been absent from the streets of Denver for a long time. I was glad to have them back, at least temporarily. However, lest anyone think these bikes have been quietly languishing in some warehouse since the system closed on December 6 of last year, the good people of Denver Bike Sharing have been anything but idle. They've been working tirelessly to improve and upgrade parts and functionality. Each bike has received annual maintenance and a variety of new parts to keep them performing at their best.
The new single-legged kickstand is more stable than the old design.
New grips, re-dingered bell, and new brake lever.
The stations have also been fitted with improvements, and now feature color screens with a much improved touch interface, as well as a more streamlined checkout procedure. The objective of all the changes is to improve the user experience and assure reliability of the system.
John and Keith conducting tests.
Although today was a bit chilly and at times seemed to threaten some sort of precipitation, spending a few hours riding around always beats sitting behind a desk. My ride testing partners for the morning were Keith and John. We diligently tested the system, repeatedly checking out and checking in bikes according to prescribed directions at several stations. A few issues surfaced, which were recorded and reported, and are targeted for resolution.

With continuing hard work and a bit of luck (not the least of which concerns the weather), Denver B-cycle will be ready for the public once again on March 14, after which there will be a lot more sightings of the red B-cycles of Spring.
Testing concluded, I'm on my way back to the Denver B-cycle mothership.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sure it's nice, for now...

Plenty of sun and a tinge of green on lawns and trees. So why am I still suspicious?
It's a good thing that February ended yesterday, because today's terrific weather would have been even more suspect had it occurred in a month that doesn't at least have the courtesy to end with the vernal equinox. I can't really complain as it's been a mild winter, with the exception of a rather cold stretch this past month or so. However, I'm not going to let myself become accustomed to sun on bare arms quite yet.

After living here for a long time, I recognize a beautifully warm day in winter for what it is: a ploy of nature to induce false complacency, while Arctic elements conspire to hurl a late season snowstorm when least expected. I hope to be proven wrong, but I won't be riding far without cold weather gear at hand. That said, as with any reasonably sane person, I enjoyed the day anyway.
Enjoying an after school snack while telling an engrossing story about the adventures of recess.