My Fixed-Gear Experience

A few days ago I decided to take the plunge and try fixed-gear riding.

My daughter gave me a book for Christmas on improving your brain power; they call it Neurobics, exercises for the brain.  New research indicates that doing new things, unfamiliar things, produces new connections between the neurons and synapses and refreshes the brain. Riding with the wheel flipped around to the fixed gear side was a totally new and disorienting experience, like the first time I put on skis.

Starting and stopping are the hard part–maybe you’ve seen a cyclist at a stop light trying to balance on the pedals without stopping completely–chances are it was a fixed-gear bike. Once one gets rolling, it’s easy.  The direct connection between the wheel and the pedals results in a flywheel effect; the wheels keep the pedals moving and the pedals keep your feet moving as much as your feet move the pedals.  This effect makes pushing the higher gear easier than I expected, and the whole experience was smooth–until I inadvertently tried to revert to the habit of coasting; then the pedals gave me ajolt to remind me that things had changed.

I rode three or four miles out of town on the Scenic Mill Creek Road toward Alta Vista, enjoying the rolling hills.  One hill was a fairly long climb and a bit steep.  That’s ok, I thought, it will be downhill on the way back. A few minutes later I had turned around and was enjoying going down the same hill, with the pedals moving my feet in rapid circles.  I was doing fine until I hit some rough spots in the road.

From mountain bike riding I have developed the habit of rising slightly and briefly coasting over bumps and obstacles–did I say coasting?

My grandson Elijah loves to ride his sister’s big-wheel tricycle down the hill in his backyard.  On a tricycle, you remember, the pedals are connected directly to the wheels, so–no coasting is possible.  When the wheels get to turning faster than his feet can move, he lifts his legs in the air. When I hit the bump in the road and unconsciously tried to stop pedaling (ever so briefly) the pedals didn’t cooperate.  They bumped my feet off the pedals and up in the air.

Then the problem was, how to get my feet back on the furiously spinning pedals?  The answer of course was to keep my legs splayed out until I passed the bottom of the hill and began rolling up the next one until gravity did its work and brought me to a stop.  The only problem was I had planned to use momentum to help me get up that hill.  I had to get off and push instead. But as strange as the whole experience was, it is growing on me.

On MLK day, I celebrated by revisiting the same road.  I actually went a bit farther this time, about seven and a half miles out, past the Sunny Slope School House before turning around.  When I reached the bumpy patches, this time I kept my feet on the pedals and made it up the other side of the hill without having to get off and walk.

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More than a Reaction

Kit-Kat and I read David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions over the weekend.

In some ways, the title is unfortunate, because it gives the impression that the book is merely a reaction to Richard Dawkins and his buddies like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.  I suspect that the work was already underway when pop-atheism books became best sellers.  Hart does make some reference to these authors, mainly to point out their lack of philosophical sophistication as, for example, when Dawkins  asserts that

“natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.”

Hart responds,

The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all.

The real point of Hart’s book is indicated by part of the subtitle, “The Christian Revolution.”  The book is primarily a historical essay on the influence of the Christian Gospel.  Hart is not primarily defending the church as an institution or Christendom as an ideal civilization.  He is tracing the influence of the Gospel’s revolutionary ideas that each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.

Had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for his brethren . . .

Had we not inherited a civilization based on these beliefs, we would never have come to believe in human rights, economic or social justice, or the basic human dignity.

Hart describes the basic brutality and inequality inherent in the classical civilization that Christianity replaced.  Then he describes the unspeakable horrors brought by the secular societies that replaced Christianity–the more than 100 million victims of mass murder in the 20th century.

In the process of his narration, Hart corrects many myths about Western history, including myths about witch hunts, the ignorance of the middle ages, and the antagonism between the church and science.

One essential difference between the Christian vision of reality and the post-Christian version is the definition of freedom.  In the Christian vision freedom means the opportunity to develop one’s true nature, to become what one is meant to be.  In the secular, post-Christian world, freedom means the arbitrary and spontaneous exercise of one’s choice, free from all restraints.  When secular rulers began to exercise their will uninhibited by the restraints of conscience, the results became genuinely horrendous.

Simplicity

Like Johnny Cash’s Cadillac, I got it one piece at a time–

–the way I get all my bikes–but I can’t say, “it didn’t cost me a dime.”  I did pay for it one piece at a time.  I bought the bike frame a few months ago and began assembling parts.

I wanted to see why single speed bikes are such a rage.

It has a flip-flop, reversible wheel.  I got a big cog for the freewheel side, resulting in a low gear and tried it out on my local hilly roads.  It was a lot of fun.  The low gear makes it easy to make it up the hills and I can coast down the other side.  It’s the essence of simplicity.

My plan is to take it to work and ride it to the Rec center in the afternoons for a workout of the rest of my body.  It will give me a good warm-up and warm-down ride.  It’s all part of my weight loss, save my life plan.

My uncle John died at a younger age than I am now.  He was the one who introduced me, my brothers, and my cousins to Baskin Robbins–I never knew there were more than three flavors of ice cream.  Diabetes is the family curse, and uncle Johnnie suffered badly from it.  He had a leg amputated when he was in his thirties.

My uncle Warren staved off the disease until he was in his seventies.  He attributed that to his practice of following his coon hounds through the woods nearly every night most of his life.  I don’t have a pack of hounds, but my pack of bikes make up my plan to save my life.

My freewheelin’ single-speed is fun and easy.  No gears to worry about, no special shoes, just hop on and go.

But I had to try out the fixed-gear feature, so after re-packing the hubs with new (and better) grease, I flipped the rear wheel around and disabled the rear brake.  The fixed-gear side has a much higher gear ratio (46:16 vs. 46:22), capable of attaining a higher speed but requiring the input of more torque from the twin-piston bio-powered engine.

Fixed gear means the wheel is connected directly to the pedals (via the chain, of course); one can’t move without the other moving.

I’ll report later on my first riding experience.

Where is the Outrage?

Does anyone remember Terri Schiavo?  She had suffered severe brain damage and was unresponsive: her husband asked the hospital to remove the machines that were keeping her heart pumping, but her parents clung to the hope that she would recover.

Pro-life conservatives were outraged that the courts finally ordered the hospital to follow her husband’s, rather than her parent’s wishes.

I am pro-life.  I don’t believe in killing people unless it is absolutely necessary, or in letting them die due to neglect when it is in our power to save a life.  I don’t believe in unnecessary abortions, unnecessary wars, capital punishment, the excessive use of force by law enforcement, or passing by on the other side of the road when someone is dying.

I think we should always give the benefit of the doubt to life.  I don’t believe you can put a financial value on a human life.  I don’t believe we as a nation (or any of the the fifty states) will ever be in such economic distress that we will have to make the decision to let people die.

When Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, many political commentaries called it an “execution.”

What do you call it when the state of Arizona cuts off financial support for people who need transplants? These are people who want to live and are capable of making their wishes known.  One is a father of six children.  Wouldn’t pro-life, pro-family people want to keep him alive?

If the state of Arizona is too poor to keep him alive, can’t the federal government step in with a minor bail out?

I don’t think anyone should exploit the tragic massacre in Tuscon for political purposes.  But maybe we could take the opportunity to express our support to the state and say,

We are all Arizonians now.  Let us help you take care of your citizens who need life-saving surgery.

Bike Salvation II

Salvation in the Bible ultimately refers to eternal life with God–but there are many references to salvation in a secondary sense; i.e., to healing, wholeness, or deliverance from temporal, this-world dangers.  I am thinking of salvation in this secondary sense, when I speak of “Bike Salvation.”  Riding a bike is one of the keys to my own health and well being, and it could be one of the answers to the dangers facing our planet.

It’s been about five years or more since I saw a program on television about the new superhighways that are being built in China.  One Chinese man proudly announced, “We used to ride bicycles, now we ride motorcycles, soon we will be driving cars.”

The problem is, there are three or four times as many people in China as in the United States, and a similar number in India.  There is not enough oil in the ground to fuel all those cars.  I don’t know if there is enough steel, aluminum, and plastic to build the cars.

We have created the wrong role model for other developing economies.

The most popular material for building bicycles now is carbon fiber–scroll down a little and see the Pinarello beauty.  (I’m old-school, I like steel, but that’s another story.)  So it’s a good thing that all that carbon is being used to build bikes rather than being released into the atmosphere.   My I don’t understand the science here, but it’s got to be a good thing that all those bikes are powered by carbohydrates rather than hydrocarbons.

I’ll be writing a little more in the next few days about my recent adventures with bicycles.

It’s not too late to save the 96

I’ve heard that prolife people are supporting the vote to repeal healthcare on Wednesday.  My suggestion is that we instead rally to help the citizens of Arizona repeal their cut-off of funds for transplants.  Maybe in a show of solidarity each of the other 49 states could pledge 2% of the funding needed.

Does anyone know of any charitable funds to help the transplant patients?  This is a serious question.  I would send a modest contribution, and I’m sure other citizens would.  I know a lot of people have been saying it should be the job of private charities or churches to help poor people get the help they need.

If there is a fund, I would be willing to contribute.

Death Squads in Arizona

Two of the 98 citizens sentenced to die by the Arizona legislature have died already.  These were people on a transplant list.  The state legislature sentenced them to die when they canceled state funding for the procedures.

Story and You Tube here.

There are no nuances to this story, no “spin.”  The legislators made the decision to let these people die, to save money, and the governor signed the bill.