Thursday, September 25

New Mexico Quickly

Looking at Texas From New Mexico. Glenrio's Seen Better Days
Recently, we made a little road trip and spent time in New Mexico on the route. We mostly avoided freeways, except for a stretch where I-40 provides good access to remnants of Historic Route 66. Always a sneaky one, I suggested that we pass through Los Alamos, site of the legendary blog “LosAlamos Bikes.” Unfortunately, thunderstorms were passing through the area and so my wife vetoed the detour.

Back Before the Interstate, You Might Have Stopped Here Before Crossing into New Mexico
Going from Texas, the tour begins with the border town of Glenrio. One might have stopped at a café or purchased gas on the Texas side of the border. The motel closest to the border was seen as the “Last Motel in Texas” if you were looking from the Texas side or as the “First Motel in Texas” if you were standing on the New Mexico side of the border. Apparently, all the gas stations were on the Texas side of the border because Texas gas taxes were lower. On the other hand, all the liquor was on the New Mexico side because it was a “dry” county on the Texas side. I was also somewhat surprised to hear about the “Glenrio Historic District” from the NPS website. One wonders how you have a historic district in an unincorporated town that has two inhabited houses and a dog.
 
San Jon Gas Station's been Long Closed Based on the Size of the Tree
Anyway, in New Mexico as you head west is the little town of San Jon. As you can see, some of these places have been declining for many years. The tree at the gas station was growing out of where they used to have a gas pump mounted. San Jon has held on better than Glenrio, with 300 souls remaining after the freeway bypassed it.
 
Tucumcari's Got Lots of "Still Open" Route 66 Architecture
Further west is “Greater Tucumcari.” Tucumcari was and still is one of the larger towns in eastern New Mexico. It was a rail stop, still is a county seat, and there are lots of “Route 66” sights. Still, the city has visibly declined in the last decade. When we moved to Texas, we stayed at the “Payless Inn.” It was not too wonderful a place, but “Tripadvisor” and “Yelp” and various other sites were not available on the road in those days before smart phones. As you can see, the motel never fulfilled its promise to reinvent itself as the Taaj, and it recently burned to the ground. What’s more, we saw two other buildings in Tucumcari that also burned down.
 
Motel We Stayed at on the Outskirts of Tucumari - It was Bad Then, but Worse Now
We also stopped in Las Vegas. Nope, we weren’t hoping to visit some “History Channel” reality show, but Las Vegas is an underrated place that has a much nicer central plaza than “Sundance Square” in Fort Worth. It has real history, as a(probably of several) place where Kearney proclaimed that New Mexico would henceforth be part of the USA. There used to be a water tower in the plaza where three outlaws were hanged/shot by vigilantes, but I didn't see it, so it is probably gone. It is a mostly well preserved and enjoyable piece of the “old west.” Las Vegas is fairly poor, based on the number of pawn shops and a continuing slow decline in population. For those that aren't really excited about seeing where outlaws got hanged, Las Vegas is also the locale where the motorcyclists met Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, and it was INVADED in the original Red Dawn movie (I guess New Mexico looks more like Colorado than Colorado)!
 
Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas - Across the Street from the Plaza

Well Maintained Las Vegas Main Drag - with Someone Going Through a Trash Can - Probably NOT a Former Dodge City Gang Member
The “Star” of New Mexico for tourism (at least in summer when there's no skiing at Taos) is Santa Fe. Santa Fe is the capitol of New Mexico and has about twice the population of Olympia in Washington State. For those that are not familiar with its history, it was well established when the Dutch first stepped foot on Manhattan Island and when the Pilgrims came to New England. I found the St Francis railroad crossings to be VERY interesting and worse than Khal portrayed them on his blog. The first time I encountered the distance between the “place to stop” and the actual intersection, we were confused and had a discussion about whether we were properly stopped or if there might be another place to stop that we hadn’t been informed about. Railroad crossings at shallow angles are rare enough that I can’t say I’m totally surprised that people on bikes get whacked or trapped. I imagine motorist collisions are not rare either.
 
Some Crossings Aren't Good for ANY Road (or Trail Users) - Images from Google Maps
 
 
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe - it is NOT near St Francis Drive!

We Stayed in a Very Nice Old Motel that Starred in a 1989 Documentary that Still Draws German Tourists
Motoring along further we went through the “four corners” area, saw the majesty of Shiprock (and the little town named same, and enjoyed the beauty of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado.

Shiprock in Northwestern New Mexico
 
Out of New Mexico and into Utah
 

Sunday, September 21

Too Much Junk


Kermit Crowds the Light Bracket
Frankenbike has never been about simple elegance. Instead, it is a conglomeration of various parts from around the world that mostly work pretty well. Still, I think I’ve passed the point where things start to simply represent too much junk. This happened when I added a cup holder to the fork that holds the gear shifter so I can carry two cups home from the local espresso stand. To avoid whacking my knee, I moved the fork forward and now I can’t toss the cable lock onto it. I also notice that only my smallest headlight can clip onto the handlebar bracket without interfering with Kermit.
 
Perhaps Kermit needs to retire.

Handlebar Tape is Getting a Bit Ratty as Well

Wednesday, September 17

Scotland Vote

Saw this last week at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup and it reminded me of the Invisible Visible Man's recent post about the upcoming Scottish vote...



Wednesday, September 10

Banned From Bike Shops

Old Reflectors Looked Like This One, Which Was Made in the USA
Way back when, people bought rear reflectors for bikes like the ones in the photo above. It was all that was available. It was basically made to the same SAE standard as automotive reflectors. Unfortunately, these reflectors had poorly engineered attaching hardware that caused the metal to fail as shown in the photo below. In addition, reflector technology is better than it was 40 years ago. In the normal course of events, this would have been no big deal, since better combinations would have evolved. Unfortunately, government got involved, namely the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Instead of doing the sensible thing and requiring a rear reflector using an existing standard, they required ALL new bicycles to be equipped with their own standard which compromised rearward reflectance in favor of “all direction” reflectance. You can see discussions about reflectors here, here, and here, as well as many other places. I’m not going to repeat all that.
 
Old Reflectors Failed Like THIS
The practical effect was that every manufacturer and every bike shop stopped selling SAE reflectors in favor of the CPSC variety. I have never seen a SAE reflector at any bike shop. It’s sort of like the Snell bike helmet standard, which has been eclipsed by the inferior CPSC standard. I can’t say that I’m happy with an inferior standard legislated for cyclists when better exists, but government DOES get influenced by industry as well as the public, and we might not always endorse the outcome. Perhaps I’ll cover this in some future post or posts.
 
However, things are not all bad for those that are willing to do a little extra work. SAE reflectors are readily available at auto parts stores and RV supply stores. In Ocean Shores, people also frequently buy them to stick to posts and mailboxes. Following is the story of how I adapted better reflectors for my bike. Better reflectors than you can currently buy at almost any bike store.

First off, current SAE reflectors are not configured to make them real easy to attach to a bike rack or rear fender, much less any other bike part. Fortunately, I was able to find a “Tie Plate” that was just big enough to mount two reflectors and even had holes in it that matched the spacing I needed. The only item I needed to buy that cost over $3 for two reflectors were the tin snips I needed in order to cut the tie plate to a “good for a bike” size. Interestingly, the tie plate was located for me at Ace Hardware by a clerk that caught on after he realized I did not want to attach my reflector to a car, RV, or post. Thanks, Ace! You may not have a bike rack, but your people know their stuff.

STEP 1: Cut the tie plate in two with the tin snips.

Tie Plate is Cut into Two
STEP 2: Cut each half of the tie plate with the tin snips so that the sharp metal edges won’t extend past your reflector. A Sharpie pen helps here to mark enough of the metal to trim, while leaving a lot left for the reflector adhesive to stick to.


Tie Plate Trimmed to Suit the Reflector. Excess is at Upper Right. Fasteners are at Upper Left
Ace Hardware Part Number is on the White Tag
STEP 3: Attach the modified tie plate to your rear rack. The photo shows it attached to a Topeak Explorer rack which has two holes that conveniently EXACTLY match the holes already in the tie plate. If you have an old Pletscher rack, it’ll only have one hole, so you’ll have to make a choice between a less solid fastened installation, or reinforcing things with glue. If you have other racks, you’ll have to improvise, or not. Either way, it’ll be FAR better than either an ancient reflector or anything the CPSC would endorse.

Tie Plate Installed on Topeak Explorer Rear Rack Prior to Reflector Installation
STEP 4: Stick the reflector to the tie plate. I used nails as a guide, as in the photo, to ensure that the holes lined up before the adhesive contacted the tie plate. That ensured I’d be able to put fasteners in afterwards. See “Belt and Suspenders” post recently.

Reflector Getting Stuck to the Tie Plate - Nails Act to Line the Holes Up
STEP 5: Install the fasteners and you’re all done! A better reflector than is available in any bike shop, or from any bike manufacturer, all for about $2 in parts per reflector. This reflector is installed strongly enough that I expect it to last for decades to come.

Finished Installation on Topeak Rear Rack. Cowabunga!
NOTE: I selected a RED reflector. If you read literature, such as here, you might wonder why I picked a RED reflector, rather than an AMBER one that has double the reflectivity of a red one. Well, it is because most local laws require RED. While I typically ride in the dark with a red rear light as well as my reflector (meaning I comply with the law even if I had an amber reflector), should the light fail (not uncommon with bike lights), only a RED reflector would comply with all state and local laws. Sigh…

Monday, September 8

Round About the Roundabout

Google Maps Satellite View of Ocean Shores Roundabout
More About The Bike Lanes Later...
Not long ago, the Bike League instructor email list had a discussion about roundabouts. Roundabouts are an up and coming feature of roads that allow traffic flow without the disruption of four-way stop signs or traffic signals. They work quite well for motorized traffic, but cyclists and traffic engineers do not seem to understand how they can also work quite simply and well for cycling. The Ocean Shores roundabout is a case in point. The roundabout replaced the only traffic signal in town.


Uneventful Traffic Flow Through Ocean Shores Roundabout
The Wrong-Way Motorist Wasn't Using it Today!
If You Ride a Bike, The Bike Lane Striping Appears to Direct You into the Crosswalk
At the beginning of this post, you can see a “Google Maps” overhead view of the roundabout. Mostly, traffic flows through it without incidents of any kind, though I heard a motorist tried to go through it the wrong way a few days ago. Most motorists are competent enough to go around in the right direction and mostly they also pay attention to the signs. Ocean Shores is a tourist town, and so a lot of these motorists that do well have not encountered roundabouts prior to their visit.

I’ve ridden through this roundabout many times now and, up until a week or two ago, it’s been the height of simplicity to simply follow the signs that apply to the rest of traffic. Basically, if you plan to turn right or go straight, you stay in the RH traffic lane. If you plan to make a left or U turn, get in the LH traffic lane and exit into the street appropriate to your destination. As with most well-designed roundabouts, traffic entering the roundabout must yield to those already going around. This works well for motor vehicles OR for bikes, since bikes can go around in a circle at least as well as the typical motor vehicle. It is a simple case of elementary destination positioning. For those not recalling this principle, it states “stay in the rightmost lane that serves your destination.”

Simply Follow the Arrows and Get in the Lane that Goes Where You Want to Go
HOWEVER, recently, the city restriped the bike lanes, creating needless conflict. The approach reinforced my belief that traffic engineers are often clueless dweebs that are ignorant about how to keep all people safe. In short, remembering that Ocean Shores made it ILLEGAL foranybody to ride on city sidewalks (even little kids on bikes with trainingwheels), these traffic engineers striped their bike lanes to direct cyclists on to and off of sidewalks into their painted lanes. You might wonder how this puts anybody in danger, considering that there are few crossing driveways on these sidewalks. Well, once so directed, people on bikes then use the pedestrian crosswalks across the roundabout. This IS a problem, since pedestrians without wheels travel fairly slowly and have the equipment to stop without problems. On the OTHER hand, people on bikes are going much quicker and they cross the roundabout in a manner that is unexpected for motorists using the roundabout. Personally, I also have a problem with city-installed infrastructure that encourages behavior that the same city has made illegal.

Following the Striping "Suggestion" Leads a Cyclist onto the Illegal Sidewalk and to Cross the Road at Right Angles to Traffic
Once again, traffic engineering in action – creating danger and encouraging illegal behavior when doing NOTHING would have been far better AND safer. I look forward to their next folly, when they create problems on the street immediately north of the roundabout…
Odd Striping Strategy for a City that Made it ILLEGAL to Ride Bikes on Sidewalks. I Guess They Expect Everyone Will WALK Their Bikes for a Block?