Those Killer Minivans

It’s one thing to ride on a mostly empty road, even at speed. It’s another thing entirely to ride — even at low speed — in traffic. On the open road the main risk factor is you and your ability to spot road hazards and the occasional vehicle entering or exiting the flow.

In traffic the threats are everywhere, and frequently come at you simultaneously from different directions. Even sedate minivans take on a whole other aspect when they’re bearing down on you, driven by a stressed mom late getting her kids to their next appointment :).

I experienced all this today when I rode out to see how the other half lives, taking El Camino Real south to Atherton. I figured I needed the practice. You can’t always ride on lightly traveled roads, after all. In the end, it all worked out fine; not even any near misses.

Cruising Atherton was… interesting. I’m not used to seeing homes on acre-plus size lots. Nor seeing such a wide variety of architectural styles on the same (admittedly long) block. Aesthetic conflict is probably less of an issue when the homes are spaced that far apart.



Oh, The Ignominy!

Today I rode out to Skyline Drive (basically the spine of the Peninsula) and went down to Woodside via Huddart Park. The traffic was stop-and-go up Highway 92 to the Skyline turnoff because of everyone heading over to Half Moon Bay and the beach. Once I turned south there was almost no one else on the road. Just me, the forest, and some beautiful vistas to both the west and the east.

Descending into Woodside involved taking Kings Mountain Road, a reasonably steep and pretty twisty route. I was in second gear on that section for most of the way, and rarely exceeded 20 miles per hour. Better safe than sorry, after all, when you’re a new rider and you’re on an unfamiliar road.

But the end result was I got passed.

By two other riders.

On bicycles.

Oh, the shame! 🙂

Actually, it was almost comical. But only almost. Because one of the bicyclists rode parallel to me through some very twisty bits for long enough that I turned my head to him and said “dude, what do you think you’re doing?” In any kind of unfortunate interaction between me, my 30 pounds of protective gear and a 430 pound bike — and him in his biker shorts — I’m pretty sure I know who would end up on the short end of the stick. And it wouldn’t be me. I guess he just didn’t want to wait for a straighter stretch.

But that was only a brief annoyance on an otherwise beautiful ride. Punctuated by relaxing with a cappuccino and a lemon bar at Woodside Bakery & Cafe. Definitely a ride worth repeating.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning to ride my new motorcycle. Yesterday I cruised through Portola Valley — very pretty horse country — which I don’t recall ever visiting before. The day before I checked out parts of Hillsborough and came back along Skyline and Canada Drives.

I had my first experience with not being heavy enough to trip the signal light switch at the Skyline/Canada intersection. A bit of a heart-in-the-throat moment turning left on red (lawful in California after two complete cycles of the light), but it all worked out fine.

Today I tried to squeeze in a ride before the rain showed up. I thought I’d do the Hillsborough/Skyline/Canada/Edgewood loop…but by the time I got to Hillsborough via Crystal Springs I realized “this is not a good idea” — rain coming! — and turned back.

I managed to miss any heavy downpour (that arrived after I got home). But as a result of being relieved to get home in one piece I forgot to put the kickstand down after I shut off the bike in my driveway…and I didn’t forget to get off the bike :(.

It turns out (for me, at least) you only have about one second to realize you’ve made a mistake before that 430 pound piece of equipment is so far off vertical that you can’t stop it. Fortunately, I was able to make it a controlled fall — one positive result from all those hours in the gym — but even a nice-and-easy lay down is a lay down. Sigh.

It took Caroline and me working together to get it back upright (Thanks, Caroline!). Except for the shift lever getting bent a bit there wasn’t any damage. A few minutes with a heavy pair of pliers fixed the shifter, at least temporarily. But I think I’ll run it by a real bike mechanic to make sure it’s okay.

Memo 5,913 to file: always put the kickstand down before you get off the bike!

You Just Think You Know How to Fill a Tank

For day 2 I rode around Redwood Shores — great place to practice shifting, as there are few cars and a LOT of stop signs — Belmont and Emerald Hills.

I learned first-hand how motorcycles are invisible (they are, even when a driver makes eye contact with you). Not by a near miss, but by being passed by another biker whom I did not see behind me, despite frequent mirror checks. Interestingly, he didn’t do the secret wave as he went by. Then again, he was weaving among cars, splitting lanes, etc. Clearly a moral degenerate :).

I also set a new personal speed record, hitting 45 mph on one stretch. Not that I’m trying to set records — believe me, 25 mph on a bike feels very fast! — but because that was the speed limit, and it was the speed at which the traffic was moving. And if you’re going to ride roads, you have to be able to keep up with the flow.

The gyroscopic balancing effect of the spinning tires was much more pronounced at higher speeds, making the bike more stable. But it also became more resistant to turns, requiring “formal” countersteering rather than just leaning.

Unfortunately, I also picked up a shard of rock on my rear tire which is going to have to be repaired. The tire’s not leaking, or if it is it’s doing so very slowly. But it’s not safe to ride with a tire that may go out on you. I have no desire to practice the emergency procedures they taught us in the Basic Skills class.

One truly comic moment from today’s ride: Having run the gas tank down to about 1/4 full (I left the dealership yesterday with half a tank) I wanted to fill up before going home. No big deal, right? I’ve filled gas tanks on cars thousands of times.

Only it turns out motorcycle gas tanks are different. You can’t stick the nozzle in particularly far. Certainly nowhere near as far as you can with a car.

Which is a problem in any state, like California, which requires vapor recovery systems at gas stations.

After a few frustrating minutes I gave up and rode home. A quick goggle search showed that the easiest solution is to pull back the vapor recovery sheath — which normally happens automatically when you press the nozzle into your car’s filling tube — by hand. Simple, but not obvious.

A Long Sought Dream Realized

Today I took my new Honda CB500X for a spin.

Actually, no spinning was done. Nor any falling or slipping, for that matter. There was a bit of chugging/lugging on a few hills — have to relearn how to deal with a manual transmission on steep hills — and a little bit of tipping at one point. But that’s all.

Which is a good thing.

Overall the experience was a blast! I can’t wait to get back out on the road again (weather permitting; rain is a big turnoff). Turns out that 25 miles per hour on a bike feels much faster than 25 miles an hour in a car. More like doing 50 or more behind the wheel.

There were a few funny moments during the 20 miles I put on the bike today. As I drove off on my test ride I realized I’d never used the turn signals on a bike before. All the signals on the training bikes at the course I took were broken. I had no idea how to cancel a turn signal after making a turn (they don’t automatically cancel like in a car). Do you just slide the switch back? No, that just signals for a turn in the opposite direction! I’m sure I confused the drivers behind me: he’s going right…no, he’s going left…no, he’s going right again!

It turns out to be pretty simple: just press the signal switch in. That cuts off the current signal.

I wonder what I’ll learn next?

Sox (1999 – 2014)

The cycle of life took another turn today. We had to put down Sox, one of our two kitties, because she had gotten into bad shape, and was suffering. Actually, considering she was 15 years old, give or take, she wasn’t in that bad shape. But fifteen is pushing it for cats.

Besides, Sox was a fighter, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted to go out totally enfeebled. She always reminded me of a line from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, about Batman coming out of retirement: surely the fiercest survivor, the purest warrior. She started out life as a stray and had to be re-adopted, by us, because her first family developed an allergy to cats.

Shortly after Sox joined our family Caroline came up to me while I was getting dressed for work and said “Daddy, there’s a dead baby fawn outside our side door.” To which I responded, “Right, Caroline, of course there is”.

But when I went downstairs — holy !#$!$#!!! — there really was a dead baby fawn on the side deck. And Sox, looking very prideful. Now I doubt she killed the fawn. Even as a newborn it was bigger and heavier than she was. But I have no doubt she dragged it from wherever she found it up onto the deck to share with us. She had that kind of determination.

She was also the only cat I’ve lived with which my neighbors used to greet when she trotted after us on walks. Why? Because she apparently hunted down and killed every gopher in the area.

But she was friendly and outgoing and cuddly and loved to play, too. Her reflexes were blindingly fast, as I experienced, painfully, on several occasions while teasing her with a string or cat toy. But if you respected her, she would respect you, and sit purring in your lap for hours.

We miss her.

In Praise of the Sky

We’ve really been enjoying living in our rental property adjacent to where our new home is being built. As I’ve written about before, we love having a back yard again! It was something our prior San Carlos home, built into a hill, didn’t have.

Today I realized it’s not just the backyard which is so wonderful. Or rather, there’s an aspect to having a backyard which isn’t part of the yard per se, but is definitely part of the experience.

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It’s Not a Pejorative

Recently my brother Art confessed to being a dinosaur because he dislikes web video snippets which would work much better as an article (I share the  same feeling).

But that got me to thinking: why is being a dinosaur a bad thing?

Sure, they’re extinct. But:

  • They ruled the Earth for hundreds of millions of years.
  • They supplanted early mammals, or at least mammal-like creatures, and kept them suppressed for eons.
  • It took a giant 10 kilometer diameter asteroid or comet impacting the Earth to knock them out.

There’s nothing shameful about being a dinosaur. Except for the being extinct part. And, hey, everything dies eventually :).

Hummingbird Photos

I’ve been having fun taking pictures of hummingbirds at our feeder.

I must admit to being surprised at how territorial these little guys are. There’s one hummer in particular who chases every other bird away from the feeder when he’s in the neighborhood.

Taking Flight

Over the last few months I’ve heard several hummingbirds use our feeder. Usually I don’t see them; all I get to experience is the sound of a giant bumblebee, because they don’t spend much time feeding.

But today I managed to watch three different hummers feeding. It was cool to see them at a standstill in mid-air with their tiny beak jammed into the feeder tube. A small bubble would drift up through the nectar reservoir and they’d be gone.

The most interesting one, though, was when I was close enough to see the action but far enough away not to hear the bass hum. The lack of sound made it all the more magical.

Maybe one of these days I’ll get the chance to photograph one of these amazing creatures refueling themselves.