Retroreflective Goodness

15 02 2011

Cyclists constantly hear complaints from drivers about how difficult we are to see (or more accurately, how easy it is not to see us). In response, some cyclists will feed an endless supply of batteries to a Xmas tree’s worth of blinkies while others repurpose dayglo highway worker vests into everyday riding garb. And that’s fine, it’s just not the way I roll.

My hoodie with a retroreflective owl in a tree and stars, plus a floral design on my calf. Being seen doesn't mean having to wear stripes. Photo by Chris Chan.

Geneva put a little bird on her hoodie.

The retroreflective silver returns the flash right back to the camera.

When I ride, I hope to encourage other folks to ride, too, and I think that presenting bicycle commuting as something you need an ugly uniform to do safely is contrary to that goal. “Cycling clothes” need not be discernible from street clothes, they’re just street clothes that happen to be suitable for cycling (which includes  everything but the trench coat).

Haydn put some subtle stripes on his parka.

Under headlights, though, not so subtle.

Still, some of the technology being developed for safety and athletic applications, such as retroreflective treatments are pretty cool, and I am very interested in applying it to apparel without it reading as safety wear.

As well as a pennyfarthing motif on his sleeve...

... Ian also created a turn signal effect on his gloves.

Perhaps I should begin with what retroreflective is, besides a cumbersome word that spell check won’t recognize. A retroreflective surface reflects light back to the source, no matter what angle the light hits the material. This is important for cyclists because at night it reflects the light from car headlights back to the driver, often allowing them to see a cyclist earlier than without a retroreflective sumtin sumtin. It’s no substitute for a good set of lights, but every little bit can help. In the photos throughout this post, the camera flash simulates the effect of headlights.

Orange is good color for daytime visibility.

With the addition of some retroreflective motifs, it's a good choice for night riding, too.

Over the last year or two, I’ve facilitated several workshops for folks to add retroreflective accents to their own clothes. The material we use is scrap from industrial production, the process is pretty simple, and the imagination is the only limit. All the pictures you see in this blog post taken in the red room (the upstairs lounge at EBC) are of folks who spent an evening with me brightening their wardrobes with this silver film.

Brendan's strategy for choosing his motif was one of my favorite.

"Eyes" like a moth to activate the "flight" response in the most primitive parts of the human brain.

This week I’m holding another workshop (Thursday, 7pm at EBC – register by emailing courses (at) edmontonbikes (dot) ca ) for anyone who’d like to increase their visibility without increasing their geekiness (unless you want to up the geek factor, and I’d be glad to help you if that’s your steez).

As well as using the retroreflective silver film for clothing, this workshop will have another exciting aspect (hey, I get excited by stuff like this). Inspired by a really cool tutorial on Giver’s Log, I’ve got my paws on some raw, traffic grade, tiny retroreflective glass spheres – think of it as high visibility glitter.

The retroreflective glass beads I added to this orchid for my bike look like a layer of sugar.

Outside, in the dark, this lovely orchid sends more light back to its source than the red rear reflector.

Having access to the raw material means we can now retroreflectivize a greater variety of stuff (specifically, anything that can be painted with acrylic craft paint) in almost any color.

These bracelets don't look like safety wear.

But in headlights no one will miss a turn signal when you're wearing safety bling.

I’ve barely begun exploring the possibilities of this stuff, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the workshop participants will create on Thursday. If you’re in E-town this week, come check it out! The workshop will be fun, it’s cheap and there’s still space left for last minute registrants.





River Valley Art Gallery

15 10 2010

Yesterday, I found that some art had popped up along one of my favorite trails in the valley. With no camera to document it, I was forced (riding in the river valley on a beautiful fall day – what a hardship) to return today.

Marjory does just fine on this path, thank you.

Along a gravel path, somebody (or bodies) put up a bunch of art that delightfully surprises anyone traveling over the crest of a ridge. I never would have found this spot had I not been traveling by bike.

To whomever did this, it makes me so happy to find such spontaneous awesomeness can still sprout forth from this gray burg. Thank you so much, it made my day, two days in a row.

Cartoon faces overlook the trail.

A bird hides in the trees.

Portrait on Reader's Digest.

I love how this art incorporates its environment.

With the reflection of its surroundings, this piece becomes pure magic.

Have I mentioned how much I love fall riding? No leaves in the valley means more sun as the temperature starts to drop as well as more wildlife sightings. While I was checking out the art today, I saw a pileated woodpecker and two downy woodpeckers, just pecking at trees & dislodging big chunks of bark. Every beautiful day from now until winter is a gift. When the winter comes, I don’t want to have any regrets about fairer days wasted and every cross town commute is another opportunity for a lovely river valley jaunt.

It was one of those match my bike to my outfit kind of days. Come winter they'll be few & far between.





Fall Critical Lass

6 10 2010

Last weekend, on a beautiful sunny day that may be the warmest we see until spring, a group of lovely ladies donned their most summery fall frocks and went for a little ride.

Wheee! There was hardly a car on the street.

Critical Lass is the brainchild of the ladies from Loop Frame Love. In a bicycle culture where the boys make the most noise, this ride is a time where the ladies can get together and do cycling our style: pretty, relaxed, elegant, fun!

A golden moment.

Stopping for pictures near the Faculty Club.

Monie & Selene

I was so happy to see Selene’s vintage Raleigh back on the road. She was hit by a car a few weeks ago and has since spent many hours at EBC bringing that bike back to life.

Micah throws leaves up into the air!

Corby strikes a pose.

Hitting the road again.

We rode down Saskatchewan Drive around Belgravia and Windsor Park (one of my favorite routes in the city for a leisurely ride), ending at bicycle bottleneck, where we checked out the latest accessories at Red Bike, and refueled at the Sugarbowl.

Lasses on the move.

After the ride, some of us went to a sunny stoop nearby, where vegan corn dogs were being fried up. They were ridiculously awesome, stuffed with Daiya vegan cheese and bacon bits, then generously battered & deep fried. I ate two.

Megan and a vegan corn dog, fried on the stoop.

Be sure to check out more (and better) photos from the ride, including the group pictures, from Deborah at Loop Frame Love and Judy at the Penner Chronicles! Thanks everybody for a great way to spend a Saturday! I’m already looking forward to the next Critical Lass.





Summer, We Hardly Knew You

19 09 2010

With relatively early hard frost the last couple of nights, there’s no denying the slightly cheated feeling of the end of a lackluster summer. To put things in perspective, (or at least quantify the crappiness of the weather) the last spring snowfall was on May 30th, leaving E-ville with 98 frost free days in between. Hey summer, you better have a great encore, or I’m demanding a refund!

But I won’t stop riding, I’ll just wear more clothes. Fall has always been one of my favorite times of year, perhaps because of the need to get out and enjoy every fair, sunny day, because it could be the last.

Fall - changing leaves, pants, scarf & sweaters.

This was also my first pictures with the (probably stolen but whoever lost it hasn’t filed a police report) bike I recently found near my house. If you (or someone you know) is missing most of a Transend Ex, you should either contact me directly or put up a notice on Stolen Bikes in Edmonton (and do it soon, before I become more attached to this beauty, and name her or something). Even if you don’t have the serial number, a detailed description of its unique modifications (some of which I’ve already changed in case anyone was getting any ideas) should suffice. I’d love to keep this bike, I’ve already built a sweet new wheel for it, but I do want to exhaust all avenues to find its proper owner. I’ve spoken with a cop about this, who informed me that there wasn’t much else I could do, and that if I turned it over to the police, it would just end up being auctioned off as the serial number is not in the system. The cops only keep found bikes for thirty days. I’ve had this bike for more than half that amount of time already. How long do I keep searching for the person who lost it?





24 Hours in the Slow Lane

21 08 2010

It was one of those restless summer weeknights where adventure and responsibility fight for the attention of the insomniac mind, when I decided I needed to ride. I often feel that I have to go farther away to find fresh scenery, and to push myself to go harder and longer, but this night I felt bored with that prospect, and instead opted take Poplar (my 1950’s loop frame bike) for a tootle.

The University of Alberta campus is close to home, packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and is delightfully abandoned and quiet after midnight, making it the perfect place for a slow late night ride (so long as campus 5-0 didn’t bust me for riding without lights or a bell).

View from a parkade top. Also, check out the reflective design on my hoodie!

I wanted to top a parkade on Poplar mostly because I wanted to feel what it’s like to do it on a single speed with a coaster brake. Turns out it was no problem at all, and I therefore have no reason to feel bad about any time in the past where I may have “encouraged” anyone else on such a bike to do it. 😛

I wonder if, in the 70's it was some art or design student's project to paint large circles at the top of a parkade...

Coasting down the ramps of the empty parkade, ducking my head because the ceiling seemed too close, I inadvertently rode into a photo shoot for a shiny black SUV. What an ad that would’ve made – sleek new car in huge empty space-age garage, and suddenly appears yours truly, smiling and rattling and rolling on a rusty 60 year old cycle. That image kept me giggling as I rolled down to street level and set off to explore more of campus.

Sculpture garden in the FAB courtyard, where steel goes to rust.

With the huge amount of construction on campus, routes are constantly changing, getting blocked off and detoured. The amount of change certainly keeps things interesting, and the temporary walkways can be a blast.

So, you're not supposed to ride through here, but when it's the middle of the night...

Not long after, with a big yawn I returned home for a second chance at sleep.

The next morning, the city was blanketed with smoke from forest fires 1000km away. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining abut the haze? Well here’s how bad it has to be for an air quality warning:

High Level Bridge disappearing into the smoke.

Everybody’s eyes and throats were burning, and everything smelt like campfire. Worse yet though, is the thought of the destruction in BC causing all this. The pressing question for me was whether or not I should bicycle commute. Sitting across from me in the living room, the answer was obvious, “Poplar, you’re going to work!” (Doesn’t everybody keep their vintage bikes in their living rooms?). There is no way I could ride that bike faster than 15km/h, therefore I wouldn’t be tempted to over-exert myself in the nasty air. I gathered some tools in case the bike acted its age and set off on my longest (non snow storm) commute.

I noticed more people taking it easy on slow bikes than ususal, and so many more people smiled and waved, more cars stopped for me – I’m not sure if was the haze or the bike. Not long after I left home, I realized I had brought neither a water bottle nor a lock, and started worrying I couldn’t safely leave my bike while I picked up something en route to soothe my burning throat. My remedy awaited in Churchill Square in the form of people giving out free mini cans of Sprite. Cold, fizzy, sweet, free liquid? Yes please! I was very happy that my coaster brakes allowed me to drink and cycle safely at the same time. Slow riding was looking better with every revolution of the wheels.

After work, where better to go for eerie, smokey pictures than a cemetery?

Baby graveyard, for extra creepiness.

I like riding in cemeteries. They’re quiet, green, with empty meandering paved roads, plus I find old gravestones fascinating.

Looking for the sun. Looking at the sun.

Next stop, a slow ride to 118th Ave for a gallery opening and some farmer’s market goodness. The guy at the fruit stand really liked my bike. I appreciate that the 118 market is chill enough that I could keep my bike with me, and that the Nina Haggerty allowed me to leave my bike inside.

Loaded up with fresh fruits & veggies and my pink tool bag, riding into the haze again.

After more errands, and some unexpected run-ins with friends, I headed back towards the bridge and the south side.

The sun was just a cold orange disc. I wonder if this it what sunshine on Mars would feel like.

The view of the river valley in the strange orange light was spectacular.

Or maybe this is just a prelude to some sort of post apocalyptic Earth.

Over 48 hours, I rode about 50 slow kilometers on Poplar, and maybe I’m just projecting, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. My 10km commute, not including the extra stops, was only 10 minutes longer than usual, and was far more enjoyable than I expected. I may have to take the slow bike to work again…

Smoke on the water, and fire in the sky...





Haze

6 08 2010

Air quality warnings are pretty rare in prairie cities. Where there aren’t hills to trap the pollution of daily city life and it all just disperses over the plains, it takes fairly specific meteorologic circumstances for enough to build up to cause a problem. This past week featured the first warnings I remember in ages, and today was the haziest day yet.

Hot, humid & so hazy you can't see the downtown skyline.

Rather than last week’s temperature inversion, today’s haze was blamed on forest fires, and Environment Canada says that it’s not bad enough to issue an advisory. I wonder how much my throat and eyes would hurt if it were warning-worthy. Alas, I can’t do any more than complain, and wish that the haze will subside so that I can see the stars and enjoy the northern lights (biggest solar storm in a decade and I can’t see ’em for the brown haze) during the last hot nights of summer, and ride home from work under a blue sky instead of a brownish glare.





Class & Sass at the Mass

16 07 2010

I’m a little bit late posting photos from last month’s Critical Mass, mostly due to the sheer volume I had to wade through and edit out out of the many blog worthy pics. June’s Critical Mass is usually the largest of the year in E-Ville (’cause it’s bike month), and there were around 200 people in a mass a block long, in one of the biggest rides this town has ever seen.

This guy is really stoked!

Hawt!

Taking over the High Level Bridge is usually the best part of the ride.

A rare moment to enjoy the view, the breeze, the peacefulness of the ride while there are no cars on the bridge.

Jasper Ave, cyclists for a solid block.

These two had just pulled a bike switch-a-roo on their equally rockin' bikes on Whyte.