Friday, January 29, 2010

Ah, Now That's The Stuff

I have long known that I am a Weather Junkie. One of my good friends and I often half-joke about becoming storm chasers in our retirement. I love wild weather and the times I love it most are when I'm on the bike, whether it be winter or summer.

Yesterday morning's ride in to work was the kind of winter riding I live for. It was fairly cold (-10 C), snowing, very windy (like push you around windy) and the streets had just a little snow and almost no ice on them. I could enjoy the wild weather with very little fear of slipping or sliding. Anyway, here's a video:

Riding in such weather always results in strings of questions from my co-workers. In case any of my readers have similar questions, here they are, with my usual answers:

Q: Are You Insane?

A: No! Well, yes. No. Wait, wait! Stop that! Woof! Grrr! Shut up! SHUT UP! (sorry, not you...)

Q: Don't you get cold?

A: Not at all. When you're working on the bike it is easy to stay warm, in fact a little too easy.

Q: But what about your face in that wind?

A: I wear a balaclava, ski goggles and my helmet. My face, ears and eyes are all toasty warm. I don't even wear the balaclava over my face most days.

Q: What if you slip and fall?

A: Believe it or not, I am way less likely to slip on ice while riding on my studded tires than when I am on foot, or in my car for that matter. On some snow, when I am not sure of my control, I stop riding when cars are anywhere near me.

Q: But what about the cars in general?

A: I have been riding with cars in the street for years. I know how to do it safely.

Q: Yeah, but do they?

A: Part of doing it safely is accounting for the possible actions of unskilled drivers and/or morons. It is something that can be done, winter or summer, and that any cyclist can learn.

Q: well, actually TS: (for testy statement) - There should be a law against riding your bike on the street in winter. It just isn't safe.

A: When did you last ride a bike in the street, let alone in winter? Get back to me when you've ridden to work and back every single day for three (or is it four?) winters without a scratch or even a close call with a car. Until then, I think I'll decide for myself on that safety thing.

Please note that this answer only ever happens after a discussion escalates to the point that I'm really getting ticked off.

Q: Don't you feel like a goof in that stupid outfit?

A: I used to but I just don't seem to care any more. Does that mean I have gained confidence? Or am I just old and ugly and happily married enough to know that how I look doesn't really matter? Is that in itself confidence, or just the words of a man too lazy to bother trying any more? Am I telling myself...

That was starting to turn into a therapy session. More on this in a future post perhaps.

Well, that's it for now I think. As always, thanks for reading.

Wishing you your favourite riding weather, I remain:

Yer Pal,


Monday, January 25, 2010

Civil Obedience

There's this other blog and online friend of mine called ChipSeal. Other than blog comments and the odd email, ChipSeal and I don't really know each other. ChipSeal has always been very kind in his comments on this blog and civil in every way otherwise. Anyway, ChipSeal rides a bike everywhere - no car for him.

This dude knows Texas traffic law backwards and forwards, particularly when it comes to bicycles. He chooses to ride in the left hand tire track of country highways because he deems it the safest place to be. He has every right to do so under the law. Motorists don't like it, and lately the police have been backing them up, despite the fact that ChipSeal has broken no law. Some might say that ChipSeal has been asking for it... in some ways I think he has in that he has remained steadfast in asserting his road rights fully in the face of much antagonism. The question is how or why obeying all laws can be considered "asking for it" in the first place, I guess.

ChipSeal seems to be without fear when it comes to police officers since he knows that he is on solid legal ground. He's been posting on some of his recent adventures with police officers from two counties. In every instance he praises officers for their kindness and consideration while they proceed to jail him for riding his bike. I don't know how he manages to remain so civil in recounting episodes that would leave most of us screaming blue bloody murder.

Hats off to you ChipSeal, you madman. I know I wouldn't have the stones to do what you do. I would do as I was told in the interest of making my life easier despite the fact that I would be facing greater risk on the road and failing to stand up for my rights and those of cyclists everywhere. I sincerely hope that the letter of the law prevails for you and for all of us.

If you want to read a little about ChipSeal's recent encounters with the law, you should probably start with this.

Yer Pal,


Friday, January 22, 2010

Living With WTF Syndrome

For those of you who don't already know, I suffer from Word To Form (WTF) syndrome. Some helpful commenters helped me to identify my peculiar malady before I even knew it had a name, when I apologetically published the results of my first episode of WTF:

click image to enlarge

Those nice people helped me to understand that I wasn't alone, and that knowledge allowed me to reconcile myself with my disease. So, what is WTF syndrome? It is characterized by thinking or saying something odd, followed by the thought, "I wonder what that would look like?" The next phase of the disease involves compulsively answering that question by manipulating existing images to provide an actual visual of some sort. The final stage of the syndrome requires the afflicted person to publish the aforementioned result online or at least show it to some friends or coworkers. Since I want to keep both my friends and my job, I have restricted myself to posting the results of my WTF online only.

WTF is a funny thing. I can go for months without an episode. When it strikes, I am caught completely by surprise, like with the bizarre and moronic PSA about cement trucks:

click image to enlarge

WTF can also be sneaky. I didn't even recognize it the time it caused me to create a freakish movie poster:

click image to enlarge

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I have been stricken by WTF again. On a recent post of mine, frequent visitor and commenter Steve A, owner of the blog dfw point-to-point, thought that one of my videos would have been even better had it featured dwarfs and squirrels. I think he was referring to what has become my personal White Whale, the racing dwarf I met once, and a video in which I spoke of squirrels' love of bikes as opposed to cars. He also teased me a little about the relatively warm weather in Texas. His taunting prompted me to threaten him with a squirrel and dwarf attack squad, and WHAM! WTF syndrome hit me hard. What would a squirrel and dwarf attack squad look like?

click image to enlarge

original image links here and here and here and here and here and here.

Sadly, I know just how this looks. Pity me. I must publish it, even when I fear it might cause people to think me mad, stupid or weird. WTF requires it!

Well, thanks for letting me get that out. I do appreciate those who travel with me as I continue to live and learn from my syndrome, sharing in my journey of pain and healing and lunacy and joy and hunger and laziness and stupidness and sleepiness. Before I go, I need to show you two pictures that showed up when I did a google image search for "dwarf warrior":



Good God! WTF syndrome? Hah! I am way boring, almost even normal.

Have a Great Weekend,


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


In a recent post I recommended riding "almost as fast as you can" on snow covered streets because momentum is good. That remains true when it is all snow, but as you can see below, carrying bare pavement speed into a patch of snow isn't necessarily recommended...

When I'm losing control, I instinctively drift right, in this case right into a snowbank. I was gonna say it was nice that nobody saw me, but that wouldn't make much sense after posting a video of the event, would it?

Yer Pal,


Monday, January 18, 2010

Nuthin' Doin'

It is once again Monday, and I once again find myself with nothing to say. Thankfully others are hard at work posting exciting bike-related material on youtube...

Now THAT's a Monday kind of video, don't you think? Please forgive me for making you suffer through it too.

Nowhere to go but up from here!
Yer Pal,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Patently Joyless

Yes, I've been back at the patent office again. It is a sickness, I know. Just the same, it is a treasure trove of great ideas. For sneering judgemental blog posts by yours truly, mostly. And to add to the already psychotic excitement of a patent search, I scooped a patent that was issued today. Did you catch that? TODAY! It is a proud and indescribable thing, kind of like the day you learned to ride a bike.

Remember the first time you successfully rode a bike? Odds are you were thrilled by the feeling of accelerating away from Mom or Dad or whoever, finally able to propel yourself into a brave and exciting new world. I remember my brothers and sisters "teaching" me to ride... it did not involve training wheels or anything. They would push me along on a bike a little too big for me, get me pedaling, give me a good shove and see how far I got before I crashed, which I did quite a lot. I was fond of heading for somebody's lawn as soon as I felt too wobbly, so most of the time I just wiped out on the grass. Helmet? Nah. Quiet street with no cars? Yah. I consider the first time I made it to the end of the short block and successfully turned around to make my way back without crashing the day I learned to ride a bike. I was proud. I was relieved. I was elated. I felt like this:

I'm a sucker for laughing babies, but I used the above clip because I couldn't find any video of really happy kids on bikes. I wonder why? I may have found a clue... in today's climate of fretful and fearful parenting, letting a kid even get out of reach is a frightening loss of protective control. So, rather than allowing a child to feel in any way capable or free or, or God help us, unsupervised, somebody figured out how to suck all of the joy out of learning to ride a bike.

click image to enlarge

I don't know why they didn't picture a modern kid's bike. I guess patent diagrams are not the right setting for levity or youthfulness, and neither is learning to ride a bike.

Go Johnny, go! Ooh, Johnny, you're doing it! Well, wait, don't try to go fast! Hang on, you're more than 30' away from me! What, do you expect me to run or something? You ungrateful little risk-taking lunatic! You could have been hurt! There's got to be a better way... ahah! (Insert light bulb here)

I'm all for protecting children from real dangers. I would suggest teaching your kid to ride a bike someplace safe that allows them to actually get away from you a little bit. My guess is that if you're the type to put a leash on a bicycle, they might really like that.

Keep It Under Control until next time,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Snowy Street Riding - A Pointers Page

Here's a little video of what can be the most difficult kind of snow condition for bicycle commuting in winter. The snow that remains after a decent snowfall that doesn't quite justify sending out the plows can be tricky stuff when it has been driven on by only a few cars. When snow has been packed down by lots of cars or hasn't been driven over at all, it is relatively easy to ride on, unlike the aforementioned difficult stuff:

As you can see, a straight line is nearly impossible, at least for most people. It is, of course, even more difficult when the snow is deeper, but at least here in London Ontario the plows run and create some good riding streets when there is a little more snow than pictured in the video.

The purpose of this post is to be a good online resource for pointers on street riding in difficult winter road conditions. As such, this is an open invitation to winter riders to share what works for them on snow like this. Useful comments will be added to the main body of this post as they come in (if they come in).

To get the ball rolling, here are some pointers:

1) Eyes Up - It is natural to want to look at the snow that the front wheel is going to encounter and seek the best line. However, balance is improved by focusing on a point in the distance whenever possible.

2) Stay Loose - When the front wheel tries to slip one way or another, a common reaction is to tense the arms and shoulders and grip the bar tightly. Better control can be achieved by consciously relaxing the upper body and grip as much possible while still maintaining control of the bars. Resting the fingers on the brake levers helps to prevent a "panic grip".

3) Stay Put - If at all possible stay on the saddle even when trying to power through stuff. Rear traction pretty much goes away when standing.

4) Keep Pedaling - Keep those legs moving even when things get dicey and ride almost as fast as possible. A little momentum helps a lot in maintaining a line while the snow tries to knock the bike around.

5) Walk Sometimes - Walk the bike when necessary, including when cars are anywhere near and control is not 100%. It is not safe or fair to slip and slide around while vehicles are trying to overtake or when space is tight. It is OK to slip and slide down roads like these, but dismount or stop on the side for a moment to let cars go by when they approach. It is more safe, and will minimize the animosity drivers show toward winter cyclists in general. With this one it is not about whether one could proceed, but whether one should in that context.

6) Skip the Sidewalk - The sidewalk is a terrible waste of time and effort and is even more dangerous than in summer thanks to high snow banks, etc. The surface is also usually much worse thanks to foot traffic.

That's it for now. All should feel free to disagree or offer other helpful ideas like the following from the comments:

Big Oak adds: prepared for varying snow and ice conditions on the road all at the same time. Sometimes the snow is loose and not frozen to the road, and right next to that there are frozen car tire tracks, and next to that might be perfect, unpacked snow. Thanks Big Oak!

Rollz adds: I read one time to try to hold a golf club like it was a baby bird and you don't want to crush it. I found this useful when riding streets like the one you were on in the video. I hold the bars light and put my massive weight back on the rear wheel. I also ride a MTB in winter. Thanks Rollz!

These bits are just excerpts. For everything these contributors had to say, check the comments.

Thanks for reading, and please slide on by any old time.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some Idiot Stole My Shovel

I just finished watching the gold medal game in the World Juniors hockey championship. It was a fantastic game, as most juniors games in recent years have been, except for the fact that USA won in overtime.

Having been robbed of some Canadian pride, I ventured outside to clear the driveway of snow, which is a tested and true method of reclaiming my zen. Turns out, some jackass had made off with my best shovel, bought just last year. I live in a neighbourhood where you wouldn't think you would need to lock up your shovels... I leave Mutant Winter unlocked on the porch all winter long. I leave the car unlocked most of the time, much to the annoyance of Mrs. Rantwick.

I wish they had stolen my crappy car. Stealing a man's shovel is more than a $20 loss. They robbed me of my right to a traditional heart attack, my ability to catch up with my neighbours snow clearing efforts and my ability to recover from a horrible hockey loss. Shame on you, shovel pincher, shame.

I hope that excellent shovel was taken by a member of some poor family with a frail granny who could not leave the house thanks to uncleared snow, because if it wasn't, the person who took it is just a dork.

I'll try to shovel some more your way soon,


Monday, January 4, 2010

I Finally Got Some

Snow. I got some snow a few days ago. I saw the snow begin to fall the night before and knew that the forecast was calling for more. Despite having stayed up late, I got up early next morning. Eureka!

No work. Good snow. -11 C. Perfect. I made my way to bike paths that were the direct opposite of my commute routes. The snow was fresh, there were some footprints but no bike tracks, and everything looked beautiful, at least to me.

Riding in powder is kind of like running in sand. It feels good, but it is tiring. I overdid it, riding in the deep snow and working harder than I have in a very long time. I have read about serious cyclists "bonking" during a ride. You may have noticed how slowly I was riding near the end of that video. Shortly after that, I bonked. In my excitement to get riding I had skipped breakfast and that hurt me for sure. My version of bonking included getting off the bike and walking because I was afraid my heart might explode and losing the helmet and goggles because I was overheating badly. After catching my breath, I was able to ride for about 20 more minutes in the deep stuff.

The usual beauty of riding among trees and beside the river is heightened by the snow's muffling effect. There is almost no sound from the bike. My breathing, birds and the sound of rippling water are all I hear, except when I try to resume my ride and nearly fall over:

I hope none of the birds were offended.

I rode the return leg home on the street, which seemed ridiculously easy compared to the trail. It had re-schooled me in bike handling on snow in a hurry. Another big snowfall is happening as I write this on New Year's Day. I am looking forward to the challenges of street commuting now that winter has finally arrived in London Ontario. Happy New Year everybody!

Yer Pal,