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Posts tagged with Bicycle

Risking his neck

Driving around town the other day, I found myself in a bad mood.

I was running an errand that all but demanded four-wheeled transport, but the conditions — there was about 14 feet of snow on the ground, and it was cold and blustery, and I was still in the throes of a kick-to-the-head upper-respiratory infection that I’m finally starting to think I’m over — would have kept me off my bike anyway.

I spied a guy on a bike. Good for him, I thought.

I drew closer, and my admiration turned to … morbid fascination.

The dude was rockin’ a scarf.

Now, I like a warm neck as much as the next guy. I’ve worn all manner of garments and apparatuses to keep warm during cold-weather commutes — lobster-claw mitts and balaclavas and ear warmers and insulated geegaws and doohickies — and while not all have necessarily been bike-specific, all have been bike-appropriate.

I’ll admit I’m a bit predisposed against guys wearing scarves. I reckoned if men are going to wear neck insulation, they should go ascot or go home, and if I man is considering wearing an ascot … well, no man should wear an ascot unless he’s a proper Brit.

But, whatevs. That’s in non-bike life.

On the bike, a scarf is just about the most ridiculous — not to mention dangerous — garment available, with the possible exception of skinny jeans on hipster men. But, again, that latter bit is personal bias.

Maybe I’ve seen “Faces of Death” or “Pet Sematary 2” one time too many (which, come to think of it, would be once, combined), but all I could see was that scarf flapping in the chilly bluster, flapping, flapping, licking at the back tire like a snake’s tongue, flapping, licking … then wrapping, wrapping itself around the stylish (but warm-necked!) scarfee’s rear wheel. He tumbles backward off the saddle, his airway constricted, fingers scrabbling at his throat, eyes bulging with fear … and I can look no more.

OK, that all happened in my head.

In real life, the dude crossed Clinton Parkway without incident, said scarf flapping — not licking — in the breeze.

I turned around as quickly as I could, but Sir Scarfsalot was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t want to be a know-it-all, but I thought I should warn him of the inherent dangers of be-scarfed cycling.

Or at the very least, I’d let him in on the wonders of … the turtleneck.

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Oh, my bleeding ears!

In my free time, I like to read whatever scientific treatises I can get my hands on — the longer, more jargony the better.

(OK, in the interest of honesty, I should confess that statement was absolutely false).

Flipping through my most recent copy of Journal of Neuroscience (another lie), I was drawn to a particularly interesting study by the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University. Normally I’m not terribly intrigued by neuroscience because, after all, it’s not exactly brain science (OK, yeah, it’s exactly that), but this particular study tripped my trigger.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a bunch of other polysyllabic words, researchers looked at brain activity in 13 healthy volunteers as they listened to 74 sounds. The volunt-ears ranked each sound from most annoying to most pleasant.

Thus, the scientists were able to — drum roll, please — determine the 10 most annoying sounds.

Should anybody like to go the source, I’d be glad to loan out my copy of the Journal of Neuroscience (yeah, another lie), but WebMD dumbed it down for the masses, though it did preserve such cool words as amygdala and auditory cortex. It also provided clickable mp3s of the top-five most-annoying sounds.

They are: 1. Knife on bottle. 2. Fork on a glass. 3. Chalk on a blackboard. 4. Ruler on a bottle. And 5. Nails on a blackboard.

Personally, I can think of a bunch more sounds that make those five seem like heaven’s house band — like the sound of crunching coming from the gaping maw of a cubicle-mate, with whom I’d politely broach the subject, but then that wouldn’t be nearly passive-aggressive enough to suit me, now would it?

In the interest of science, however, I clicked on all five with the volume cranked, and both my kids (and my wife’s cat) confirmed that all five noises were, in fact, annoying.

Go science!

My son is by far the most annoying Hartsock in the house (yup, another falsehood), and he seemed least perturbed.

My daughter doubled over and held her head in her hands. “Fork on a glass” was particularly distressing to her, though, it should be noted, she can listen to One Direction on a loop with no ill effects, so she’s not exactly a control group.

The cat didn’t last past “knife on a bottle” before lodging his objections by biting my daughter and running away. He never was one to do his part to advance science.

I found “nails on a blackboard” to be especially hair-raising, though I did generate a universal heebie-jeebie (and a withering stare from across the table) when I recreated “fork on a glass” with “fork on dinner plate” at dinner.

Down below “female scream” and “disc grinder” — but ahead of “baby crying” and “electric drill” — on the top-10 list was this gem: “Squealing brakes on a bicycle.”

Cycling represent!

That’s a good (bad) one, but it’s not the most annoying bike noise, at least to my addled amygdala.

I can’t stand the sound of a rusty, dry chain.

A few years ago, I noticed wherever, whenever I rode, cats would come out from their little hidey holes and make straight for me. It was especially creepy in the dead of night.

I couldn’t figure it out, until I finally noticed the chain on my fixed-gear bike had become a little dry. The sound was barely audible to me, but to Mr. and Mrs. Whiskers, it must have sounded like a giant can opener, so they’d come runnin’, expecting some sort of canned fish treat.

Silly kitties.

But that’s nothing compared to the awful grinding of dry, rusty chain on dry, rusty cog, over and over.

I’ve often fantasized about riding with a tube of lube, pulling alongside the offending chain-grinders and leaning over to apply oil on the fly.

But it probably wouldn’t be received in the spirit in which it was intended.

Even that sound, however, pales to what I consider to be the most annoying on-bike noise: screeching car tires, from behind.

Fortunately, I hear that sound about as infrequently as the neuroscientists’ top five.

That’s about to change, though, as soon as I figure out how to make them my new ringtones.

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Mid-life crisis and a wandering eye

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a married man in attaining a certain age must be in want of a new, sleeker, sexier something-or-other in his life.

Usually, such mid-life crises result in said semi-old dude’s trading up either his wife or his car.

As I careen headlong into middle-lifery, I’m acutely self-aware of such common urges to “upgrade” and vow not to succumb to them.

And, in all honestly, it shouldn’t be difficult to skirt (see what I did there?) either pitfall because I have no desire to replace my already sleek and sexy spouse (and, yes, she is a regular reader of my blog; why do you ask?), and I have so little emotional attachment to my car I can’t imagine any four-wheeled vehicle could compensate for whatever manhood I’m sure to lose over the next couple of years.

Curiously, though, I’ve seen a bit of anti-mid-life crisis creeping into my bike life. While the stereotypical crisis involves yearning for sexy and sleek, my bike urges suddenly lean toward portly and practical.

Several years ago, after I had been cycling semi-seriously for a while, I had a hankering for a new bike. I roamed the aisle at my favorite downtown bike shop and was promptly greeted by a worker. I explained I had a mountain bike, but that I spent almost all my time on the road. Though I had put on narrow, slick tires and tweaked about everything I could to turn it into a road machine, it was still a burly off-road beast at heart.

The worker chuckled a sympathetic chuckle and said what I was going through was understandable.

He said there’s a normal order for cycling purchases. He said it’s common for someone to start with, say, a mountain bike, then, after a few hundred or thousand miles, to want to get into the roadie scene. After a few more miles, cyclists get a little more purpose-driven: perhaps a cross bike or commuter or vintage steel steed follows. Before long, the car’s on the driveway, and the garage still isn’t big enough to contain the herd.

Been there.

I haven’t had a hankering for a new ride in a long time, but I have found myself longingly eying two of the most ungainly steeds every to be shod with two wheels: cargo bikes and fat bikes.

Fat bike

Fat bike by Andrew Hartsock

Cargo cruiser

Cargo cruiser by Andrew Hartsock

Sometimes I’ll catch myself day dreaming about rolling along astride a longtail cargo bike, bags and parcels and boxes of groceries lashed to her sturdy, chromoly frame, birds chirping, the wind in my hair …

Or I’ll picture myself mounted on a fat bike, she with her huge, low-pressure tires, me wearing a balaclava that can’t begin to hide an ear-to-ear smile. Together we float, float over the foot of snow that covers the path ahead …

And my reverie will be interrupted by the need to drive to the store or to scrap another bike commute because Winter Storm Whatshisface dumped on us yet again.

But a man can still dream, right?

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Speed, justice and the American way

I was driving home from Kansas City the other day, with the cruise control set for a nice-and-legal 69 mph, when my venerable ride began to act a bit — please pardon the technical jargon here — wonky.

My car surged a bit, then slowed. Then, much to my surprise, my speedometer plummeted from 69 to 0 in a split-second. Though my momentum had begun to slow, I was still eating miles at a pace considerably faster than the goose egg my speedo displayed. Not the quickest SUV in the fleet, I finally figured out what had happened. My speedometer (sorry, more jargon) broke.

So I tucked in behind a car I had just passed and finished my drive home at an unknown rate of speed.

It has been nearly a week now, and though I haven’t driven much, I have motored a bit around town, somehow, miraculously, making it to my destination despite never having gone any faster than 0 mph. My odometer hasn’t budged, either. You could say I’m going nowhere fast. Or everywhere slow.

Until I can get it into the shop to make the repairs later this week, I’m rather enjoying my time as a speedless wonder. Though I suppose I could extrapolate my speed based on gearing and engine RPM, I simply make a point not to be the fastest driver on the road. It’s all relative.

The most amusing aspect of my speedlessness is the effect it has on my kids.

I think my daughter, a by-the-book type, is genuinely uncomfortable riding around at mysterious velocities, which is just fine with me. She’s a teenager, after all; it’s her sole mission in life to be uncomfortable.

My son, however, is a bit more of a free spirit, and I think he sees it as a grand adventure.

The other day, we were driving downtown, and he kept bringing up my speed-nometer.

“So, if you got pulled over right now,” he asked, “you’d be in big trouble, right?”

I explained that, no, I might be fined for faulty equipment and ticketed for speeding, but it wasn’t exactly cause for a blindfold and cigarette.

He wouldn’t let it drop, so I launched into a screed about laws and lawlessness.

I explained that though speeding is absolute — 26 mph in a 25 is speeding, period — punishment is somewhat subjective. I explained it’s only speeding if you get caught, and even then is at the discretion of the representative of the law.

I asked him, What if you were on a deserted road, rushing to the hospital for the birth of your first child, and you’re pulled over after having gone a mere 1 mph over the limit? That’s not the same as doing 65 in a school zone at dismissal time.

Taking his silence as mark of his interest, I plowed forward.

I suggested it is that gray area that determines the nature of a society. With apologies to St. Augustine and all those other smart guys, sometimes the justice of a law is only determined by its application.

Hearing what I assumed to be a snore of rapt attention, I continued on.

I told him it’s kind of like the reasoning some cyclists use to justify running red lights or rolling stop signs. Though all vehicles are legally bound to stop, some cyclists think it’s OK to roll on through because their mode of transportation is morally superior. Or because the intent of such laws is not to bring vehicles to a complete standstill but to instill a sense of order for the protection of all, and cyclists can maintain that order while ignoring the laws.

I explained to my son that, as much as I can understand those sentiments, I always stop, not out of morality but practicality. As much as I might want to stick it to The Man by rolling his stop signs, I don’t want to end up as a hood ornament because I did. And I honestly believe if I want to have all the rights of a road user, I have to adhere to all the laws of one.

Now that I’m not bound by some absolute number on my dashboard, I’m not going to go all Speed Racer. I do think some speed limits are a bit arbitrary, but I follow them. And as long as my speedometer is on the fritz, I’m likely to drive even slower than normal to make sure I’m not butting up against the limit — not out of fear of punishment, but because I’m a good law-abider. While I appreciate the right — the need, even — to rebel against unjust laws, I don’t think 25 on the street in front of my house is unjust.

I could all but hear his eyes rolling, or perhaps rolling back in his head, but I think I saw a little glint, too, and I realized too late my mistake.

Rather than instill in my son a sense of righteousness and justice and a quick lesson in civil disobedience, I instead gave him a blueprint for excuses not to clean his room.

Oh, well, I guess our next trip in the car will have to include a little lesson in various forms of government, particularly dictatorships.

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The REAL Lance Effect

A couple of my friends have approached me recently, asking what I make of “this Lance mess.”

I usually reply with, “Well, Arthur’s a sap, but I don’t care how cute Gwen is, you can’t back-stab your bestie like that.”

Yeah, I don’t have a lot of friends.

And while my reply might seem to carry a hint of smart-aleckery, in truth I mean it as a poignant, thoughtful social commentary that lying, cheating Lances go back at least as far as Arthurian times.

In truth, however, I’m worried about the fallout from this century’s Lance malfeasance.

I’m speaking, of course, about former cyclist Lance Armstrong, who appeared on a talk show recently — I believe it was Maury, or perhaps Judge Judy — and admitted to cheating on his taxes, or somesuch. I didn’t really see it, nor did I have any interest in it.

I have about as much interest in professional bike racing as I have skill in it, which is to say, slightly less than none. I recall one year I tuned into several stages of the Tour de France and was rather impressed with the pretty scenery and lovely fans and that funny fat guy who dresses up like a pitchfork-wielding devil and chases cyclists up nearly vertical ascents, but you can only see so many shots of cows in sunflower fields and funny fat guys in devil suits before you feel compelled to surf on over to Maury and his latest episode of, “I’m my baby’s daddy and grandfather. And uncle. And sister.”

Throw in the fact that you have to go back to something like 1492 before you can find a Tour champion who hasn’t had to vacate his championship because of some performance enhancement of some sort, and, well, it becomes wearisome.

Which brings us to the Lance Effect.

Back when Armstrong was pumping his body full of illegal, dangerous drugs to get an unfair advantage over all the other illegally doped-up cyclists in the pro ranks — sorry; I mean, back when he was winning his seven Tour titles — interest in cycling surged nationally. Something like .00000125 percent of the population had heard of him, and at least half that many people admitted to having seen a bike at one point in their lives. This huge surge was referred to as the Lance Effect.

Now that his name has been dragged through the heaps of discarded needles and stadiums have been stripping that name — or that of his cancer-fighting charity, Livestrong — off their marquees and folks have been burning their yellow Livestrong bracelets, and cycling again is being relegated to the fringe (just kidding; it’s never been anywhere but), there’s a new Lance Effect that worries me.

I’m referring, of course, to the insipid way noncyclists — usually upset motorists, or folks hanging out on their front porches — liked to bellow catchy phrases like, “Way to go Lance!” or “Pedal faster, Lance!” or, my personal favorite, “Get out of the #&%ing road, Lance!” at cyclists who bear no resemblance to his Lanceness.

My fear is, what clever sobriquet will take Lance’s place in the noncyclist bellower’s vernacular?

I’d have to guess the second-most-famous American cyclist after Sir Dopesalot would have to be … Pee-wee Herman, who pedaled his way though a movie in search of his beloved stolen bike. Then he got busted in real life for, ahem, indiscretions with himself in an adult theater, and the charm of the childlike actor lost its luster.

But that movie was eons ago, and I’m afraid there’s a whole generation of bike bellowers who have no idea who Pee-wee was.

I guess those who feel the need to address us will have to resort to the tried and true. After Lance, the most popular nicknames for cyclists include various and sundry bodily orifices, several variations — the gerund, and a laundry list of prefixes and suffixes — of the root word for what happens when a man and a woman love each other very, very much, and, for some reason, questions about sexual preferences.

Or maybe they’ll fall back to the first — and, now that Youknowwho has been wiped off the rolls, last — American winner of the Tour.

Maybe next time out I can look forward to hearing, “Get out of the $*%ing road, Greg.”

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Beware Gandolf (and Nemo and Walda and … )

A bit of winter weather kept me off the bike for a week or so. Instead I lounged around on the sofa eating bonbons and pondering the imponderable.

At some point in said pondering, I puzzled my puzzler over The Weather Channel’s decision to begin naming “noteworthy” winter storms.

It was, I believe, Draco that (who?) dumped on us our first measurable snowfall in over a year, back on Dec. 20ish. The dusting we got just before winter break was unnamed.

Euclid tore up the South around Christmas, spinning up tornadoes.

Freyr — a Norse god associated with fair weather — was powdering the East as recently as Sunday.

Up next: Gandolf. (“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!”) (And, yes, I'm aware Gandalf with an A is a Hobbit's best friend, but since this is purely an exercise in phonic fun, I, Ondrew, declare them one in the same.)

The Weather Channel — which should not be confused with a real scientific agency so much as “Entertainment Tonight” with isobars and dry-bulb hygrometers — assures it has begun naming winter storms for all sorts of good reasons.

To wit:

“Naming a storm raises awareness. Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress. A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness. In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication. A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.”

In other words, when Jim Cantore is standing out amid some thunder-snowpocalypse and The Twitter is all abuzz about #winterstormnemo, guess who gets mentioned as much as the storm itself? Yep, The Weather Channel.

It’s like corporate sponsorship, only cheaper.

Remember that when Winter Storm Triton Brought To You By TWC is howling around your door.

I guess I don’t have a problem with it. Truth is, it’s good marketing. Folks love talking about the weather (when it’s bad), and giving every “noteworthy” storm its own hashtag makes conversing about said storms with your thumbs that much easier. And, invariably, somebody is going to ask, “What the heck is a ‘Xerxes,’ or, ‘Since when did they start naming snow storms?’ And, of course, somebody will inform it was the Weather Channel’s idea, starting this year, and … voila: instant pub.

My only beef is the names.

I guess Brutus and Draco and Gandolf (The White, no doubt) and Jove, Saturn and Zeus are awesome enough to send folks into a batten-down-the-hatches-lay-in-the-stores-and-curl-up-with-the-dogs panic (and, coincidentally, drive up the TV ratings), but I’m not in the least bit afraid of Helen, Khan (Kirk totally put him in his place), Luna, Nemo, Q, Ukko, Walda or Yogi.

All of the aforementioned names, by the way, are on TWC’s list of sobriquets for this storm season.

The more that I think about it, however, the more opposed I become to the anthropomorphization of weather systems.

In addition to the ease with which we can dismiss certain names — I can’t help but wonder if Superstorm Sandy had been, say, Superstorm Gozer the Gozerian, maybe folks would have taken it (her?) more seriously — it can give some names a bad, well, name.

Maybe I’m taking it a bit too personally. After all, Andrew was one of the costliest (but not deadliest) hurricanes in the history of weather, and I feel I’m still lumped in with that meteorological bad boy more than two decades later.

I did collect a bunch of headlines — “Andrew bears down on coast” and “Residents flee ahead of Andrew” and “Andrew wreaks havoc” and “Dewey defeats Truman” — until I deemed it a bit morbidly narcissistic.

Maybe that’s why The Weather Channel went with all of the monikers from ancient Greece or Norse or Disney movie mythology.

I can’t imagine there are too many Iagos or Orkos walking the earth just counting the days until their winter-storm namesake makes buses plunge and cripples cities and wraps entire communities in its icy grip just so they can tack some tacky headline on their cubicle wall.

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Crack kills, or at least smarts

City street crews have been in my ’hood lately, sealing the countless cracks that mar our fair roads, and I have to admit to a little thrill of anxiety whenever they’re around.

I’ve road-geeked out a bit watching them.

As best I can tell, first the fine fix-it folks blast those blasted cracks with high-pressure hoses to clear out the pebbles, glass, organics and, in a few cases, small children and large dogs that have collected. Then they follow up with a super-cool blowtorch, I’m guessing to light the way so they can make sure none of their co-workers accidentally fell into the fell fissure. Then they follow up with a molten lava flow of — pardon the scientific jargon here — black goo that seals the deal, keeping water out and preventing additional water damage until they can return sometime next century to give the road the resurfacing it really needs, by which time, of course, our cars will hover on a cushion of air and roads will be superfluous.

I’m guessing the whole endeavor is more about saving money than suspensions.

Of all the roads I regularly ride on during my commutes by bike, mine seems among the worst, just like it’s always the last one to be cleared of snow (remember that stuff? Yeah, me either). The unmistakable ka-WHOMP, ka-WHOMP of car tires thwacking the cracking pavement rings out every time a car drives by.

On a bike, I find the Grand Canyon-esque “cracks” are a real pain. Literally. Take your eye or mind off the road ahead, and before long you’re guaranteed a real shot to the, um, undercarriage.

The sealing helps a little, but not much. Essentially, it acts kind of like rubber, a pavement prophylactic that provides a bit of cushion, but only a bit. The crack’s still there.

Awhile back, I decided to start a project. I planned to try to find the alphabet spelled out in the creative sealant jobs around town. At first, I was going to try to find the letters in order, but decided before long to find — and photograph — them as I found them. I recall finding E and S and J and L and O and P. I found a smiley face so distinct it had to be intentional. I found various other designs, and then I found my senses. My whole idea was to compile one compilation of road-sealant photo thumbnails, like a poster I saw a few years ago a photographer made by taking pictures of letter patterns on the wings of butterflies. It really was quite pretty. And I finally had to ask myself, Why on earth would anyone want to look at a picture of dried, black goop on dull, grey pavement?

I abandoned that project.

Now, about that anxiety.

I’m sure the sealant is a good thing, but as a cyclist I tend to tread over the street stopgap lightly.

Immediately after the high-pressure-hose portion of the process, the road is filthy. All that crud has to go somewhere, so it collects on the road for an unwitting cyclist to ride through.

I’ve felt the heat of that torch as I’ve ridden by.

But most worrisome of all is the prospect of the sticky, black goo.

I’m always afraid I’ll ride through a fresh batch and coat my tires with it. As I roll, I envision the gummy crud attracting all the left-over gunk on the road, thus my tires gain junk and circumference as I go until they eventually become unable to turn and I ground to a halt.

Or, worse yet, I picture myself riding into a freshly-glopped gap and disappearing, never to be seen again, like a sabre-toothed tiger into a Midwestern La Brea tar pit. Perhaps some future generation will stumble upon my remarkably preserved remains, still perched atop my bike, hose off the goo and puzzle over what a strange being I must have been.

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Sphere factor

I’ll admit to more than my share of irrational fears off the bike, but I like to think all of my from-the-saddle scares are warranted.

Of course, it could be argued that such rationalization is precisely what makes a fear irrational, but I fear I digress.

Among my most gripping two-wheeled terrors: getting sucked into the vacuum created by the rush of a passing semi; drunk drivers; texters/drivers; oil slicks overlooking rocky, razor-wire protected obsidian precipices (precipi?); clowns in little clown cars.

Lately, though, I’ve been cold-sweating a whole new irrational fear as I pedal merrily along: spheres.

Let me explain.

A couple of weeks back, I was riding home, and a vehicle veered a bit, forcing me toward a curb. Lining said curb were a dozen or so hedge apples. You know, those gnarly, green, goopy softball-sized orbs of evil that fall from osage orange (hedge) trees? I didn’t actually contact an ’apple. In fact, I wasn’t even all that close. But as I pedalled away, a hedge apple lodged in my mind’s eye, and I envisioned myself colliding with one of those awful globes of gloppy gunk.

Known enemy to cyclists everywhere: Behold, the evil hedge apple.

Known enemy to cyclists everywhere: Behold, the evil hedge apple. by Andrew Hartsock

As I saw it in my worst road nightmare, my skinny tire would meet up with an apple, start to climb, then — SLAM! — down I’d go in a violent heap.

See, round on round isn’t a good pairing. I’m no geometrist (or geometreer, for that matter), but there’s something about the meeting of two unstable surfaces that gives me an unshakable heebie-jeebie.

Hedge apples aren’t the only sinister spheres.

Walnuts can do a real number on a moving bike, though they do make a satisfying pop when they’re crushed under the wheel of a car.

Also along my regular commute is a house rife with sweet-gum trees. These gems produce oodles of sweet-gum balls that aren’t nearly as innocuous as they sound. They resemble old naval mines — round, spiky balls — and, as any sweet-gum-tree owner can attest, they outnumber sweet-gum leaves by about 1,500-to-1. Fortunately, they’re not particularly stout, or they’d be little tree-ninja deathtrap caltrops, dropping cyclists like black ice.

I’ve never pedaled in the tropics, but I imagine a coconut could be absolutely beastly.

I’m also terrified of encountering an in-the-wild, unavoidable smattering of marbles or ball bearings in my path. Because, you know, those darned things are everywhere you look.

I did encounter an odd orb just the other day.

Not far from my home, I looked to the gutter to see, in all its yellow, striped glory, a croquet ball. At first, I thought it might be a bocce ball, but as I drew near I saw the terrifyingly telltale concentric grooves.

I gave that bad ball a wide berth, and as I pedaled away I kept my head on a swivel, frantically searching for croquet’s close summer-fun cousin — which might be the well-meaning cyclist’s worst nightmare: lawn darts.

They’re not spheres, but those things can really do some damage.

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Here, kittty, kitty

The other day, I was driving somewhere with the family and pointed out to my kids a fellow road-user.

A man riding a scooter had caught my eye. He had strapped to his chest what appeared to be either a backward backpack or a baby carrier. Inside said satchel was a small dog.

The kids laughed, and we went on our merry way, but it made me think about the possibility of traveling by bike with the family pet.

I’m not sure when I ever have been or will be in a situation where I have to take ours out for a spin, but I suppose it could happen.

On a couple of occasions, I took my (wife’s) cat for a ride in the car to pick up my son after elementary school. Mr. Kitty (not his real name; it has been changed to protect his sense of haughty, self-righteous aloofness) was a big hit with the preteen set. The kids’ faces lit up when Mr. Meowers pressed his little wet nose to the window as we drove past.

But after a couple of uneventful (for me) trips, Whiskers developed a bit of a sensitive stomach. The next couple of rides were punctuated by the putrid stench of cat puke.

Kitty doesn’t get to ride in the car anymore.

I can’t imagine he’d dig a bike ride more than his car trips.

I sure as heck wouldn’t tote him around in a chest pack. Dude would freak and disembowel me before I made it off the driveway.

I suppose I could wear him like a little kitty ascot — an ascat? — but no way would I want those talons anywhere near my jugular.

To the ’Net I went.

Sure enough, a couple of places market ways to take small pets along for a ride.

Most appear to be variations of the typical Toto basket: a front, open basket to hold a small, well behaved dog.

No way my (wife’s) cat would stand for that.

I did find, however, a couple of covered totes that attach to the handlebars and claim to be the perfect way to haul a cat or small dog on two wheels.

Best of all, they seem to be made of easy-to-clean vinyl. If Cat Masterson can’t stomach a ride in a four-wheeled cage, I can’t imagine he’d be able to contain his Meow Mix while dangling off the front of my bike.

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A tale of many tails

My thousands of bike miles in and around the city have provided me with dozens of tales, from captivating accounts of derring-do (or, in my case, derring-don’t) to location humor (you had to be there) to the kind of stultifying insipidity that, once it spews forth from my mouth, makes my kids — by far my favorite victims, er, audience — roll their eyes back in their heads and take on the appearance of a fine holiday ham, which is to say, glazed.

Recently, I had an unusual run of encounters with, of all things, tails.

It started with a run-in with a fellow wearing a coonskin cap. I guess there’s nothing all that unusual about that … if we’re kicking about a Davy Crockett-era Alamo. I didn’t expect to bump into that particular chapeau in downtown Lawrence circa, well, now, but I did, twice in the span of a couple of days.

Then a few days later, I rolled up on a three-foot dragon tail. At least, I think it was a dragon tail. There was a safety pin attached, so I assume it became detached from a Halloween costume (as an aside, I also happened upon a wicked skull-encrusted scythe thing, a bandana or two and a creepy, intact long fingernail. I have a head start on next year’s costume, should I be inclined to dress as a cowboydragonreaper … with a nasty coke habit).

But my latest tail tale takes the cake.

Riding home from racquetball the other day, I spied something in the middle of the road. As I approached, I realized it was a disembodied squirrel tail, maybe three inches long. It’s previous owner was nowhere in sight.

I could not, for all my pondering, come up with a scenario that would explain how a squirrel’s tail could come to be discarded in the middle of a street. I don’t believe squirrels shed them, and I couldn’t imagine an event so traumatic — a run-in with a car or coyote? — and so violent that a squirrel would be separated from just part of its tail.

Then I remembered, on my way to racquetball, I had marveled at a hawk that swooped low overhead and landed on a tree not far from that perplexing tail. I looked but did not see the bird noshing on a tree rat, or anything else, for that matter, but perhaps the hawk — fittingly, a red-tail — had somehow caused squirrel and tail to forfeit proximity. I guess it’s possible.

Regardless, when I pedaled past several hours later, the tail was gone.

To me, that’s even more mysterious. Now I’ll never know how this tale — or tail — ends.

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