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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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cycling

Thunder and Rain

It was around 11° this morning when I woke up. The sky was gray and the clouds heavy. It was going to be a wet day.

Today, however, was also going to be a good day. It was my first “solo” ride with a guy I nicknamed “Thunder Thighs” because his thighs are as thick as tree stumps and the first time I ever saw him on a bicycle, he came up behind me so fast I was sure he was on a motorcycle. I even jumped at the sound of his tires spinning down the pavement. Hence, the thunder. It was during a group practice to E no Shima, an island in Yokohama that’s a little over 50K from the shop. Waiting for a stoplight near the turn around point, he leans on his bike and says to me, smiling, “If I had my way, I’d spend all my free time on a bike!” It was at that moment that I knew I had just found another with the Sickness.

A few weeks passed with practice being continually canceled due to weather. We are all training to ride the border of Sado island, a 210K loop, in mid May. I have never ridden further than 113K before, so I am more than a little nervous. Every time I would see him at the shop, though, we would end up talking about riding this or that and how there’s always more we want to ride. Practice was canceled again this week, so we made a date to ride duo.

We started out late as he got a flat and had forgotten his tire pump. Luckily he was close enough to my place that I rode out to meet him and we were on our way soon enough. We took a turn down a road that I’ve ridden past, but never had the nerve to follow. It ended up going to the top of a mountain with sections that were over 10% grade. By the time we reached the top I was breathing hard, my legs were wobbling and burning and I was going so slowly that I was afraid I would topple over. We soared down the other side of the mountain, a slightly harrowing but still beautiful ride, only to take a detour on the edge of town to ride up another mountain, you know, because. This second climb was true torture, except that I loved every second. We would turn a corner and my eyes would bulge with the realization of how much more we still had to climb, and how steep it was, and how, never ending, the road just went on and on into the mist ahead. This time, I started letting out a stream of f-bombs, wailing and begging for it to end while at the same time loving every painful, thigh-burning second. Twice I had to stop to catch my breath and let my legs recover. The second time I was so wobbly that I was worried I couldn’t unclip my pedals without tipping over. I just flopped limp over the handle bars.

We ended the ride at his place on the other side of town just as the rain was picking up. He drove me and my baby Pikuro back to my house and then we went for a soak in the local hot spring. The “onsen,” as it’s called in Japanese, is a natural thermal spring with water that feels thick and slippery against your skin. Outside the rain continued to fall, and between the sound of the river rushing below and the warm soothing water sending swirls of steam up over my shoulders, I nearly fell asleep right there in the bath.

I’m not a strong rider by any means. For all the hours I’ve spent on my bike, my body just doesn’t get faster. However, I’m hungry. I want to ride, I want to ride fast and strong. I want to feel the bike moving underneath me and if I see a hill, I want to climb it. If I see a tree root, I want to jump it. I love riding with my entire being. I said to Thunder, “My body is weak and always has been. When I started training in endurance sports as a college student, I couldn’t run a quarter kilometer without getting winded. My heart, however, is strong, and there’s no amount of abuse that I can’t take on a bike.” Later as we descended the second climb of the day, he aceded to me, “Yup. That’s 100% accurate. I’ve never met a girl who could take punishment like you do!” As he was dropping me off at my house at the end of the day, he had already started planning the next ride we’re going to do when “I get properly strong at hills.”

As if the day by itself, with the riding so intense and satisfying that we totally forgot that we were dripping wet, shivering and covered in mud, wasn’t fabulous enough, as if a long soak in a natural hot spring after a day on the bike wasn’t perfect enough, he had to go and acknowledge me as a rider, too. By the numbers, I’m nothing. I’m not fast. I’m not strong. I don’t ride long distances or place in races. But those who have the Sickness can recognize a kindred soul when they meet one. Thunder most undeniably has the Sickness and he acknowledges it in me, too.

Today was gray and wet. It was also magical. Today was a day spent in heaven.

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Fi’zi:k Antares Versus

Saddle Dimensions:
Specs: Shell: Nylon Carbon reinforced L: 274mm W: 142mm

The fi’zi:k antares versus for chamaleons is a great saddle. It made friends with my butt pretty immediately after hopping up on the bike. The padding level is enough to take the edges off, but not mushy. It has a pretty light feel, and a simple but effective shape.

Unlike the Mantra, the fi’zi:k was not love at first sit, but it also gave me roughly the same riding sensations for up to an hour and a half of pedaling. The saddle is flat on the top and gives good support to the sit bones. It doesn’t ride up between my pelvic bones like the Mantra, either. At the same time, the center cutout is not as effective as the Mantra’s. It runs the whole length of the saddle, which means that my clitoris was happily supplied with proper oxygen throughout my whole ride. On the other hand it is a straight cut out with no flare so while my clitoris got some needed pressure relief, my labia had to bear the weight in return.

fi'zi:k chamaleon side
Chamaleon side view: 8º, full forward position

One other feature of the Antares bears noting: the nose is significantly wider than almost every other saddle I’ve ridden. I wasn’t bothered by the additional width. It felt comfortable and secure. Whether the saddle is made of particularly slick material or it is just tapered very well from butt to nose, I didn’t notice any additional friction from the wide saddle, just a presence in my mind that I’m sure would go away if I could put in a few more hours on it.

The fi'zi:k chamelion is in the background
You can see (in the back) how the groove extends the whole way

Over all I wish I could have had more time with the antares. I put in one 25K ride and two 10-15K rides and didn’t have any difficulties at all. The cutout protects my precious clitoris even if it isn’t as kind to my labia, and the back of the saddle is very gentle on my sit bones. It’s a great saddle and I would almost say it wins over the Mantra except for the fact that given the choice between risking sexual dysfunction (Antares) and risking saddle sores and ass bruises (Mantra), I have to go with the latter. The discomfort levels are close, but the location is always going to have to err in favor of the genitals. That said I highly recommend this saddle to any female riders serious enough to put in the time and the distance and interested in protecting their lady-bits along the way.

Women’s Road Saddle Review: San Marco Mantra Racing, and a Rant

I have been hunting for a female pelvis appropriate saddle for three years now. Let me just say that if you want to see sexual discrimination in sports, look no further than your local bike shop. Women’s saddles are their own category as in you have “road racing,” “downhill,” “dirt jumping,” “mountain” and “womens” saddles in the catelogues and shops. So the first thing you learn when saddle shopping is that women don’t need sport specific saddles. We must not be serious enough about our riding to need a saddle that caters to our actual ground conditions or riding position. The second thing you learn is that women have pelvises made of rock and eyes on their butts because a women’s specific saddle is often just a fluffier wider men’s saddle with floral detailing. Now, I’m not a fast rider or a professional rider, but I am a serious rider and I love my genitals. I want a saddle that will not give me clitoral erectile dysfunction, which means I want a saddle designed to support a female pelvis that contains a vagina and vulva and clitoris, not a male pelvis with a dick and ballsack. Try explaining that to a bicycle shop employee and he will inevitably start fidgeting and averting his eyes

…because there are almost zero women in the bicycling industry that women can talk to about buying saddles for women! And it’s not socially appropriate to draw attention to your genitals in a cross gendered commercial situation, so how do you explain to a man that unless a saddle is made with female genitals in mind that it is, no matter what the manufacturer wants us to believe, in fact a men’s saddle designed to support a male taint and male genitals? Buying a saddle as a women is an eternally frustrating endeavor.

I’ve spent many hours searching the web for good bike saddle reviews, but I’ve come up empty handed. And without the ability to actually try a saddle out, it’s really quite impossible to know if a saddle is any good. What’s worse? Any halfway decent product is going to be upwords of $100 (US), so most people can’t afford to get the wrong saddle either. What’s a woman to do?

Well! A woman is to go to the great big bicycle shop in Shinjuku, then Shibuya, then Fuchuu, then Kunitachi and try out all the saddles in stock! I’ve tried two different models so far and as my gift to women cyclists everywhere I’m going to post my reviews to this site. First, however, I would like to describe my San Marco, which has served me well for two and a half years, but is starting to get a little uncomfortable around now.

San Marco TopI bought the San Marco in 2012 as a replacement for the stock seat that came on Pikuro, which was more like an instrument of torture than a seat, really. It cost me a good $200+ at the time. Pikuro is a 2012 Giant TCX2 cyclocross bike with some serious attitude and a lot of pink and I use her for mostly everything and for commuting in particular. At first, the San Marco was love. Riding around the city (3 miles and shorter spurts), I never needed a pad and sometimes I would even forget that I was sitting on a saddle at all. It really fit me well. I never experienced numbness or tingling in my legs or my clitoris/labia and when I leaned forward to use the drop bars the saddle actually became more comfortable. I attribute this comfort to the amazingly wide and smoothly tapered center cutout. For some reason a lot of guys have been telling me that cutouts haven’t proven to be beneficial in terms of blood flow to the pelvis and perineum, but I think they’re just talking about their own ballsacks again because it doesn’t make sense to me how not pressing on the vulva with the full force of your body weight for hours on end can fail to be good for the genitals.

In addition to commuting I would occasionally take her for a 40-mile loop around Valley Forge national park. This was where the San Marco’s true strengths and weaknesses came through. On the out leg of the trip I never had any difficulty. In fact, I could ride out in a thin layer of spandex running capris and experience zero discomfort whatsoever. The problems only ever arose on the return trip where the bare padding of the saddle would start to cause hot spots on my taint and sit bones. I would try wearing padded cycling shorts, but I found that shorts with padding over the genitals would relieve the butt pressure, but cause numbness in my clitoris. Ultimately the San Marco is a great saddle for medium length rides, but at its best it could only ever give me 30 miles before the discomfort would set in and become intense enough to seriously affect the quality and pace of my ride.

Recently I’ve noticed a serious change in the way the Mantra fits my bum-region. San Marco Mantra Cross SectionWhile it still provides the fantastic and so far unparalleled blood flow critical to the continued functioning of my genitals, it has started to cause pain in my sit bones at much shorter distances than in the past, and now requires the use of cycling shorts at almost all distances. Specifically, the Mantra will actually ride up between my pelvic bones, forcing them apart and creating hot spots against the inside of the bones, towards the anus and taint region. I attribute this to the sharp downcurve that the saddle displays towards the back as it wraps around and under the carrier posts. It’s still a great saddle and it’s possible that with some more aggressive butt padding I might be able to overcome this small fault. However, this new trend in discomfort is in fact the source of my renewed search for a saddle capable of supporting a female pelvis.

Because the San Marco has served me so well for so long, I will be using it as a basis of comparison for my other saddle reviews. My goal: a saddle that is wider or flatter in the rear than the Mantra, but with an equivalently large relief zone towards the nose. Updates will be posted and tagged “saddle review”

The tyranny of the majority

Why do some mountains have stairs in them? It’s because people want to pretend that they are hiking through nature, but they don’t want to experience the icky bits of real hiking through nature that involve things like getting sweaty, or dirty, or actually having to touch the nature.

Peace!
Two mountain bikers obviously just wrecking this busy mountain trail

I was out riding my bike yesterday, and one of the guys I was riding with commented that he used to have a lot of trails available to him back at home in Yokohama, but in recent years they have all been chocked full of stairs and are now unrideable. This is on top of plans by the Tokyo prefecture to outlaw riding mountain bikes in any of its public parks because they are “dangerous” and “damaging” to the trails.

I love riding mountain bikes. There’s nothing like it! I love riding my cyclocross bike, too. I have been a voluntary bicycle commuter for working on four years now and every year my commute gets longer. This year I’m up to twenty-five kilometers (around twelve miles) in each direction.  When I lived in Philadelphia I was an active member and supporter of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and between my personal experience and their research, I have come to the conclusion that bicyclists are the middle child of society. Everyone hates us despite how hard we try.

Many mountain bikers will, of their own accord and because no one else will do it, go out to trails to reinforce them against runoff and erosion. To clear them of fallen logs and to add stones or other solid objects for safer and less environmentally damaging water crossings. Many road cyclists go out of their way to signal to other road users, stop at stop lights, give the right of passage to pedestrians. On the whole, I think people who really love bikes are pretty damn awesome citizens. And yet on the trails we are banned because most people don’t want to have to share with us. They don’t want to have to learn trail manners, wear lights or bells to make their presence known to other trail users, or walk through passes that aren’t boarded up with stairs. On the roads, we are banned from sidewalks because we are dangerous to pedestrians (pedestrians don’t move as fast as bicycles. Simple physics), but are we protected from cars when we ride in the streets? Of course not! Cars are busy being driven by busy people who are too goddamn busy to pay attention to whether or not their actions could kill someone.

It doesn’t matter that bicyclists have been shown time and again to benefit the environment and to benefit the economy. The reality is that most people own and drive cars and most people do not ride bikes. What happens is that an activity which is good for everyone but only practiced by a few, an activity that is beautiful and healthy and clean and provides thousands and thousands of humans a critical sense of freedom and exhilaration in their life, is being snuffed out by the tyrannous majority of lazy, pampered, but most importantly obediently consumptive humans the world over.

Well, if you want to live in a world where the only way to get around is by gas guzzling carbon belching automobiles, a world where the closest you ever get to nature is through the bullet proof glass at the gorilla exhibit in your local zoo, a world where everything is dumbed down and sterilized for your convenience, go ahead and have at it. If you want your stairs, go to a fucking park.

Just stay out of my mountains.

It is Not the Humans, It is the System: On Bike Messengers and Wage Abuse

There are two reasons why I like this article by Mr. Stromberg on Vox. The first is that the cover photo is of someone on a bicycle who clearly understands and appreciates that Pink is the fastest color.

Cover image from Vox's article on bike messengers
Bike messengers know style.

The second reason is that this article clearly explains why a persona in our society is not a villian, fundamentally evil and worthy of disdain, but rather another victim of the greater inhuman, indeed machine-like system in which we all operate. Economics is all about understanding incentives and if we give people the permission and the incentive to abuse each other, they will. Moreover, because the system is so big and removed from any individual’s choices, those of us who are hurt (pedestrians and drivers who are startled and annoyed by cyclists) don’t even know where to direct our anger because even though it’s the cyclist, or the cashier, or the customer service representative that sends us the message that we are not valued, it’s the manager, and his supervisor, and the owner of the company who operates inside a system that cares only about money and nothing of honor or dignity that is truly at fault.

Modern markets remove our control over our lives by limiting our options for employment and consumption. What might be worse, though, is that also remove our ability to express righteous anger at the injustice because the “market” isn’t something we can ever meet in person.

Have a read: Bike Messenges Pay

It seems like a silly realization, almost a waste of bytes to record, but yesterday it occurred to me that friends are very good. They restore me after my lonely hours spent in my head at work, they calm me, they energize me, motivate me, encourage me and give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Just the chance to see my friends is enough to turn an entire day around.

Friends are good.

A Little Girl Discovers a Hero

I’ve been looking for a female role model for years. I think I found one.

A Local Commuter Goes Long

Last week I decided to take my lovely bike Pikuro out for a very long ride. I have a friend who is “woofing” in Delaware at a local organic farm. Essentially, woofing is an unpaid internship in organic agriculture and farming. I don’t have a car and I’m too scatterbrained to plan out a trip with buses and transfers and schedules, so naturally I decided to ride. I learned many things on this trip, things about myself, things about public transit and things about people in general. It was a wholly worthwhile adventure.

I planned my trip with the help of a friend and google maps. I started by taking the SEPTA regional rail to Newark station. I didn’t have trouble loading Pikuro onto the train, but there was a very awkward moment where I had to ask the passengers in the handicapped section to move to make room for my bicycle. From there I rode approximately 65 miles along a 55 mph state road. The Delaware roads were good quality and the shoulders were wide. I didn’t have to deal with much debris and I don’t think I met even one pothole.

It was not a particularly scenic trip and I do wish there had been more trees lining the highway — more trees and fewer car dealerships. However it was a pleasant trip in the way that riding through Philly has never been.  The drivers on the road gave me an unheard of amount of space on the road. Even passing me at 70+ mph, which was unnerving for sure, I found that many drivers edged over to the left side of their lanes, or even slowed down or changed lanes as is required by Delaware state law when passing disabled vehicles. When I came to an intersection I noticed on more than one occasion that the people waiting to use the right turn lane gave me over two car lengths of distance as they waited for me to clear through. At first I was confused because I have never been given this much space on the road before. Once I realized what they were doing I was grateful and pretty shocked at the same time.

Twice I met with other cyclists along the way. We waved at each other and I felt as if we were two of a kind traveling through a world that only we could see. We were exposed to the wind and the sun and the wispy corn fields that we passed. When you ride in a car you are sheltered. You can look out the window at the things passing by, but you are never a part of the world you travel the same way that you are on a bicycle.  At one point I also rode by a motorcycle gang of about a dozen or so people. Every single one of them turned their heads at me from across the road. That’s right. We’re all on two wheels, here, but mine are powered by muscle, grit and sweat. I think they were impressed.

As a very passionate advocate for cycling safety in Philadelphia, I could not help but notice the difference in attitudes down in Delaware versus at home in the city. People were much more polite and patient with me. I felt like a person, a real human on the road. At times I was definitely uncomfortable, for example when I had to ride over a covered bridge with no shoulder. People can be polite all they want, but when you’re driving at highway speeds on a tiny bridge and you don’t expect to see a cyclist puttering along at thirteen miles per hour, death can happen pretty quickly and it’s not going to come for the one in the steel safety cage. But most of the time I sensed that there were people inside the cars one the road and that they understood that I wasn’t trying to make their life difficult, just trying to get along on my bicycle. I waved a lot.

In Philadelphia people are very impatient, rude, and downright dangerous to cyclists. When I ride in the city I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can protect myself better, how people are being jerks, and how the city neglects to take the proper measures necessary to protect the precious and vulnerable cyclists that are trying to make their way around. I also do a lot of deep breathing and counting to 10. What I realized when I was riding was that people in Philly aren’t nasty because people in Philly are nasty, they’re nasty because it’s a tight city where nothing works the way it should. Philly has a problem with broken promises and wrong expectations.

Think about this scenario: You have an appointment on the other side of town at 3:30. You’ve made the trip in under fifteen minutes before. It’s 2:00 pm and you need to pick up your dry cleaning before you go, but it’s on the way. Plenty of time, right? First hangup: you’ve been parked in. It takes ten minutes of wiggling to get your car out of its space and onto the road. Next, you’re on your way to the cleaners and you find out that the road is under construction. You want to make a detour, but there’s a park in the way (Let’s say Rittenhouse, just for fun) and anyway, you’re already stuck between two solid block of other cars who didn’t know about the construction. Another ten minutes passes as you try to wiggle and ginch your way through. Next thing it’s a taxi double parked on Pine street. Now you’re starting to stress. You just wanna get to the cleaners and it’s only another three blocks, but when is this car gonna move? You’re tempted to go around, but the other side of the taxi is a bike lane. You take a deep breathe and wait. You’re a good citizen. You make it to the cleaners and there’s even parking right out front, but just as you get to the light a woman thrusts her baby carriage out into the street without looking your direction. You slam the breaks, miss the light and watch miserably as your precious space, and another five minutes of your preciously dwindling lead time, disappears to the volatility of the city. The next time you come to a yellow you don’t even wait. You swing around the corner quick as a …quick thing, and bam! Down goes the cyclist. You might have had a chance to make your appointment, but by now it’s hopeless. You have to wait for the police to show up and make a report. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to wait for an ambulance. Even though it was every facet of city living that lead you to your final moment of poor judgment, your anger is at yourself, and at the cyclist. Why the hell wasn’t he looking? Didn’t he see that you were obviously trying to turn?

This is the problem with cycling in Philly. At the beginning of the day you start out with every good intention, but with all the things that happen along the way due to poor traffic infrastructure and general neglect on the part of enforcement, your patience wears thin. Cyclists are guilty of it, too, don’t get me wrong. I once yelled at a man who was legitimately crossing the street on a green in the crosswalk and almost ran him down because I had just been attacked by an old lady walking excessively slowly and unpredictably in the bike lane only seconds before. I felt like a complete ass. I’m sure the man I almost ran down is now a solid opponent of bicycle lanes in the city. There is only one way to make cycling safe in Philadelphia and it’s to close down the gap between people’s expectations and the way the city’s streets actually flow so that the frustration, irritation and frayed nerves that are always a side effect of a crowded metropolis can be soothed to the point that people are actually capable of sharing.

To this end, I think Philadelphia needs to set some priorities. First of all, a visible police presence that actually knows the rules of the road is absolutely critical. Police don’t necessarily need to give out tickets, in fact I think that information is more important now than enforcement, but they should correct everyone’s use of the streets from pedestrians to motorists, with cyclists and skateboarders included. Jaywalking should be taken more seriously as it is a major danger to cyclists from a civil as well as a physical perspective. The notion of “don’t block the box” should be enforced vigorously, and for this I think tickets should be handed out as this kind of behavior is a nuisance to all users of public pathways. And for everyone’s sake, no stopping zones should be enforced with a passion!

Second, I think the city should recognize that no one is going to get through quickly. Speed limits should be set at no more than 20 mph for the safety of everyone, and if at all possible the lights should be timed everywhere in the city as they are on Lombard, Spruce and Pine. On the side of the drivers, a lower speed limit is not actually restrictive so much as it bring their expectations of how fast they can travel through the city more in line with the actuality of it. On the side of cyclists, it lowers the gap between what leg power and what fossil fuel can do. This means that cyclists are less of a hindrance to drivers and also that any accidents will have lower expected damage.

There are a number of other things that the city can do to make cycling more safe. Many people might argue that it is not a priority, but protecting cyclists goes hand in hand with increasing everyone’s welfare. Cyclists are known to shop locally much more than motorists do. Everyone loves supporting local businesses, except, perhaps, politicians and major corporations, but those are not actually people, so we shouldn’t mind them. Cycling also connects people to the world around them. A connected city is a healthier city as people care about their environment and want to protect it to the extent that they feel it is theirs. And people are happier and healthier when they have solid human connections. But even setting aside the benefits that are specific to cycling, the steps the city needs to take to make the roads safer also move its entire population towards a more peaceful, harmonious coexistence. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, benefits from lower stress, and do I even need to explain why?

Coming back from my adventure I carried with me a calmness that I had lost somewhere between the Ben Franklin Parkway and Washington Avenue. Or perhaps I left it on Cecil B. Moore? I believe that Philadelphia can raise itself up from the filth and the crime and the anger that pervades it, and I think that the road to protecting cyclists runs parallel to the road to being a better, healthier, happier city. There is an abundance of energy here that I had lost sight of, but one long ride out of state gave me the perspective I needed to find it again.

Wishing for Role Models

Dear Penn Public Safety,

This evening at approximately 9:00 pm on 45th street just south of Chestnut, I was riding in the bicycle lane when a uniformed University of Pennsylvania security officer came riding in the bicycle lane against the flow of traffic. I hope I don’t have to explain how dangerous this is.

I have been a cycle commuter in Philadelphia for six years. I am a member of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and I take pride in my identity as a cyclist. I like to believe that my choice to ride instead of drive helps alleviate pollution and congestion problems in the city, and I make a point, however difficult it may be, to demonstrate good cycling etiquette on the road. Nonetheless, I am constantly exposed to carelessness, aggression and abuse on the roads which puts my life in danger every day. Both on campus and off I am acutely aware of the tensions present between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

I like to believe that the University of Pennsylvania is making a positive impact on the community that I have called home for the better part of a decade. However, it absolutely destroys my spirit to see university representatives blatantly disregarding the rules of the road. Cyclists have it so hard in this city because really, everybody hates us. I want to believe that at least we cyclists are trying to do our part to better the circumstances, but when even security and law enforcement refuse to respect the road and their fellow cyclists, I simply lose hope.

Here’s to hoping tonight’s incident was no more than an oversight.

Sincerely,

xxxxx

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