Balance Bike

Balancebike Seeing more and more of these Skuut balance bikes around – kids learn to balance with their feet from the get-go, and never have to go through the training wheel stage at all. Here’s a higher-end option. Seems like such an organic, natural process to me – wish I had known about these a few years ago. Just watching kids on them makes me jealous — wonder if they make them in grown-up sizes? Should hook up with the gang at woodenbikes, maybe they have a kit? I can just see myself hurtling down Hearst Ave., trying to stop with my feet.

Music: John Fahey & Cul De Sac :: Gamelan Collage

Two Wheeler

Two-Wheeler Miles has been riding with training wheels on his bike for half a year now. Somehow, a sunny summer evening seemed like the perfect time to try ditching them and flying free. He had a bit of trepidation, and after his first wipe-out he declared his “new” bike “stupid” – said he wanted to give it as a present to a 7-year-old. Then he said he wanted to try again. Riding on the grass turned out to be the magic ticket, and made wipeouts fun. Within half an hour he was flying free and ecstatic. Strange, almost comical coincidence – practically every crash was complemented by the ping of a baseball on aluminum bat in the diamond we shared a field with.

Bike Commute, Pushing Codecs

Had a few ideas about ways to present multiple views of GPS data in a multimedia project, part of which involved videotaping my bicycle commute along the Ohlone Greenway from handlebar-eye-view, then speeding up the 27 minutes of footage to a more watchable five minutes. Mounted a camera with a very sturdy professional cam clamp left over from a long-ago project and set off. Hit a bunch of snags, and am not sure whether they might be show stoppers for the whole project. What I had hoped would capture a lovely ride turned into a struggle with the outer limits of the most advanced codec technology, and ended up looking like total dooky.

Problem #1: Because camera is rigidly attached, it picks up every little bump in the road. This mounting method is inherently shaky.

Problem #2: Because camera is on handlebars rather than on my head, the camera view doesn’t track my line of sight, which is very disconcerting for the viewer (or maybe just for me, since it doesn’t match my experience at all).

Problem #3: Video doesn’t account for a human’s peripheral vision, which accounts for so much of the experience not shown here. Again, disconcerting (makes it seem much more dangerous than it actually feels).

Problem #4: The natural side-to-side pumping action of bicycling adds to a seasick, high-motion effect not actually experienced by the rider.

Problem #5: Once the footage was speeded up, pauses at stop signs pass by in a blink, making it look like I ride with total disregard for both death and the law. Not so! Though I do do some rolling stops, I’m actually very careful at intersections, especially because the Ohlone Greenway cuts across streets a ways away from the “real” intersections, so most drivers aren’t in the headspace to be expecting cross-traffic (despite zebra stripes and big yellow warning signs). I wear an orange safety vest and treat those intersections with kid gloves.

Problem #6: Video codecs rely on data similarities between frames, and none of them perform well under high-motion conditions. What could have more motion than shaky footage played back at 5x? Thought I could convey a beautiful morning experience, but this looks completely pixelated and smeared-out, even though I used the usually gorgeous h.264 codec. Of course, YouTube also apply their own compression, but my local version doesn’t look much better than this one. The only version that came out looking passable was the version with no compression at all — and it’s 750 MBs.

The footage is also a bit over-exposed, but that’s operator error rather than endemic. Hope to have access before long to a helmet-mountable lipstick camera, which should help a lot with problems 1, 2, 3, and 4, but will do little for problems 5 and 6. Back to the drawing board.

Music is “High Water” by Bruce Lash – Bruce gave me permission to use his stuff in projects back when I was at Adamation, and he now offers a bunch of downloadable music free for personal use.

Bikes Inherently Dangerous?

San Francisco is home to the world’s most aggressive bicycle activists. It’s also home to one of the world’s most aggressive anti-bike activists. Dishwasher and blogger Rob Anderson has succeeded in convincing a judge to put a temporary halt to construction of any new bicycle lanes in the city, on environmental grounds (the lanes allegedly have “not received the level of environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act”).

Anderson’s premise is that bicycles are inherently dangerous and will therefore never become a realistic mass transit option. Apparently it’s never occurred to him that bikes are inherently dangerous primarily because of the extreme proliferation of cars?

Only thing worse than an irrational person is a mean irrational person. With power.

Wooden Bikes

Woodenbike1 Surfacing one of my favorite highlights from the Maker Faire, sports a dozen or so bicycles with frames made from driftwood logs, 2x4s, hunks of plywood, and old patio furniture reconstituted as recumbents, unicycle variants, suspension units. The bicycle is a perfect low-tech hackable for beach bums and weekend welders, and for reasons I can’t put my finger, has got my cranks turning (pardon bad pun). Miles and I could have a gas on the Rear Captain Tandem. Looks like Dylan and Co. got to ride a few last weekend, though they weren’t allowing rides when M and I were there. Guess I’ll just have to MAKE one.

Music: Radiohead :: How To Disappear Completely

Amplified Bicycle

Mallet On the second night of the recent Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, cellist Theresa Wong played an amplified bicycle, in a performance that brought many in the house to tears. Wong, who studies performance at Mills College, had been playing the amplified bicycle prior to having known of Matthew or his death. I had been storing the bicycle from which Matthew was struck in our garage for quite some time.

After the performance, I offered Matthew’s bicycle to Theresa to use as her instrument; she accepted. I spent Saturday afternoon getting the wheels rolling again, chain disentangled, brake pads unstuck, and cleaning up the road grit. Rested my hands on the grips – the last things Matthew ever touched – and took the bike for a spin, meditating on his life. Sunday I delivered the bike to Theresa’s Oakland loft.

Theresa found the bike resonant, full of surprising sounds. After a few minutes of orientation, she improvised a piece for Matthew. A wild dove had been hanging out in the loft for a few days, and we imagined it to be Matthew’s visiting spirit.

Pansy Bikes

Took out time with baald to test-drive a couple of scooters today: The Aprilia Mojito and the Kymco People — both 50cc, both a bit over my budget, and both totally anemic. Haven’t been on a bike since I cracked up the R1100R, and even though I knew a scooter would be a pale shadow of that magical creature, wasn’t prepared for just how pathetic a commuter scooter would feel. Head up an SF hill, open it up.

“Baby, is that really all you got?”

Sad, but that was the goal after all. Efficient, not fast. Of the two, was surprised to find the Kymco more peppy, and better handling than the Aprilia. Kinda fun, but felt like a pansy. Felt like I should have a cell phone with little baubles and tassles hanging from the handlebar. One of them even had a little hook for hanging your pink plastic grocery bag from. Kind of hoped no one I knew would see me on it. That’s not where I want to be. So, two lessons learned:

1) Can get a 150 or 200cc scooter on the used market for less than a new 50cc.

2) Want something that’s been through the mod wars. Original styling, not retro plastic, and with battle scars. Fixer OK, if it’s a proven work donkey.

Still, time well spent. Had to ride them to know.

Music: Nils Petter Molvær :: Kakonita

Matthew’s Ghost Bike

In June, I posted about Pittsburgh’s Ghost Bike project, in which activists memorialize bicyclists killed by cars. To create a ghost bike, an old bicycle is painted solid white and chained to a pole along with a sign designed to raise consciousness of passing motorists.

A couple of months ago, Matthew’s widow and I retrieved the bicycle Matthew was killed on from police storage, and discussed the possibility of making it a ghost bike. Then last week, passing through Emeryville, I discovered that someone had already put up a ghost bike at the site of Matthew’s death. Asking around, I heard it had been up for a few weeks, but still have no clear idea who set it up.

To whoever set this up: A heartfelt thank you from all of Matthew’s friends and family. I snapped a couple of images of the bike today:

Ghost bike

(Note: This is not Matthew’s bike – I don’t know where this bike comes from. Matthew’s bike is safe in my garage, spookily undamaged, or almost).

Matthew Sperry Remembered, One Year Later

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of our friend, musician Matthew Sperry. Matthew was run over by a pickup while on a bicycle on his way to work, leaving behind his wife and two-year-old daughter. His premature death sent waves of shock and sadness through our circle of friends, which resonate with us still. His daughter Lila is three now, and is beginning to better understand and articulate her daddy’s absence in sweet but chilling ways. His wife Stacia is coping as best as could be hoped, but is still suffering from his loss.

A large circle of Matthew’s friends gathered yesterday in the beautiful columbarium where his ashes lie. The bow from his bass was passed around as a “talking stick,” and people took turns memorializing him in words — so many different angles on his passing. It was truly touching. Matthew’s musician friends performed mournful pieces in the resonant, sun-filled chambers of the Chapel of the Chimes. Afterwards we gathered at Stacia and Lila’s house to eat, talk, and remember.

We love you, Matthew. You are missed. So missed. Blessings.

Music: Kahil El’Zabars The Ritual :: Another Kind Of Groove

Federal Bike Lane Funding Cut

Salon: A new congressional transportation appropriations bill will entirely eliminate some $600 million worth of annual federal funding for bike paths, walkways and other such transportation niceties in fiscal year 2004. Meanwhile, “highways would receive $34.1 billion in fiscal year 2004, which is $2.5 billion more than this year.”

Never mind the political fallout of U.S. oil dependency on the Middle East, or the fact that the average mileage per gallon for new cars and trucks in the U.S. is at its lowest level in 20 years.

We worked very hard to find a house within biking distance to work. The bike path that gets me 80% of the way there has turned out to be more of a blessing than I had imagined (when I’m not getting atomized on the remaining 20%). Being able to ride or walk to work through the city amongst green grass, away from threat of cars, is an experience I wish every American — and every congressperson — could have for just one week. Instead we encourage the problem and discourage the solution.

Music: Ray Anderson :: Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love