Travel

Trying out Bike Sharing in San Diego by Erin Wade

We’ve had the opportunity over the past weekend to spend some time in San Diego. If the Bay Area of the city is representative of the overall, this city has readily embraced the bicycle as an alternative to automotive travel. In the bay area we’ve counted at least four different bike sharing services - OFO, LimeBike, and Mobike offer dockless bike sharing services, and a Discover (card) branded bike using a docking station is also present. In addition, there are a handful of electric-supported or simply outright electrically operated options - LimeBike offers e-bikes in the area, as well as electric scooters, for example, and there appear to be a couple of other scooter options in the area as well. This appears to reflect a flavor of the city in general, which also sports pedicabs and electric transports, and within the first two days we’d already seen a couple of tandem bikes in operation.

bikes ready to go

What this means is that it is a simple thing to grab one of these machines when one is wanting to move about the area. Literally, once one has navigated the process of setting up the app to interact with the cycle (which does take a few minutes in each case - entering a credit card number is still a pain in the ass) getting up and running is really as simple as opening the app and scanning the QR code on the machine. Then you are off and rolling.

The volume of bikes and scooters in the area is such that one can reliably trust that there will be a machine within a block or so when one is in need. I can easily see a system like this being a reasonable transportation option for a person living in an urban area that also does a decent job of supporting cycle-transport with its infrastructure.

limebikes and mobikes and...

For my part, I have primarily been using the OFO bikes. These are easily identifiable given their bright yellow color. They are a standard three-speed “cruiser” style bike. The model is selected with an eye toward durability - internal gear hubs and drum brakes make for limited maintenance. Each bike has fenders, a chain guard, and a front basket to make them friendly towards the utility rider. The OFO app also offered the first week for free which meant, given my time limited trip, I would pay nothing for my usage on this particular trip.

OFO

The city itself does offer cycling lanes in some of the streets, but otherwise offers a somewhat confusing picture of where cycles can be ridden. In the gaslight district, for example - an historic potion of town offering multiple shops and restaurants - where to ride is unclear. There don’t appear to reliably be bike lanes in the streets, but the sidewalks offer no visible prohibition on bikes either. There are areas where signs are placed forbidding cycles, but these often occur suddenly in pathways that appear to have welcomed the machines just prior, leaving one with uncertain choices. In addition, when one dismounts to walk a bike, and is then passed by multiple people on electric scooters riding along on the same path it’s hard not to feel a little bitter - do they not qualify for the same restriction? (spoiler alert - they not only qualify, but more so...)

This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune from this spring suggests that non-electric bikes are allowed on sidewalks, but that electric items - scooters and e-bikes - are not. That article was published in March of 2018, suggesting that the dockless Bike sharing programs are a relatively new phenomenon for the city.

In general, it’s better to ride in the street where one can, to be certain, and I’m honestly surprised to find that San Diego doesn’t ban bikes on the sidewalks - this is certainly common practice in the Midwest. It will be interesting to see how the city adjusts to the influx of casual riders (who, one suspects, are probably more likely to want to be on the sidewalks) having ready access to a bicycle at whim. One suspects that the local laws may be adjusted as their experience with these questions increases.

For my part, it was nice to have a ride readily available while away from home. Of course, it would have been ideal for me if one of the companies would have offered a recumbent trike to rent, but that might be a bit much to ask. I suppose I can get by on an upright for a few days.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 - Six(ish) Month Update by Erin Wade

Back in December of 2016 I purchased a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 and, after a couple of weeks of ownership I wrote up an initial review.

I've now been using this backpack for over six months, and that time allows for a few additional observations on it. When I first ordered it, it was in part because I was traveling more, and wanted the ability to carry more things in a single case. My primary concern, then as now, was things like workout clothes, and it has worked nicely for this. But I also bravely predicted:

The central compartment swallows a lot of stuff. I can easily fit a martial arts uniform and basic gear (belt, ankle brace, mouth guard) or winter biking gear along with a bag of trail mix or a lunch bag. In fact, if you aren't a heavy packer I suspect this bag could easily be used as a carry-on for flights.

I've had the opportunity to use the Synapse for multiple overnight trips, and the central compartment readily manages everything that is needed for such a trip. What's more, having the single bag to keep track of simplifies the travel quite nicely.

And the carry-on question? That turned out to be more interesting than I expected.

In my relatively limited air-travel experience, it seems that most airlines will allow you both a carry-on item - generally a small luggage item - and a "personal item" in the cabin. The dimensions of the carry-on luggage are pretty well established - there's usually a metal frame at the gates you can stick your carry-on bag into in order to see if it fits, and several luggage companies make specific pieces designed to fit within that size window. The size of the "personal item" is less well defined, but as a general rule seems to involve being able to fit under the seat in front of you. In the past I've used my Ristretto as my personal item, it being able to carry my iPad, iPhone, wallet, etc, nicely enough.

For our recent trip to Detroit - a five day adventure - I decided to put my previous prediction, as well as my minimalist packing skills, to the test, and use the Synapse as my carry-on luggage. I also brought along my Ristretto, figuring I would pack my iPad and such in it after I arrived at the airport and use it as my personal item.

The Synapse worked quite nicely as a carry-on item. In most respects this is not surprising - it's measurements are just below the standard size requirements for such an item. What was more surprising was this: it actually appears to work as a personal item.

Which is to say that, tightly packed with clothing and hygiene supplies sufficient for five days of stay in The Motor City, as well as my iPad, and all of my usual supplies (minus my Swiss Army knife and nail clippers, of course) the Synapse fit under the seat in front of me. While I packed the Synapse in the overhead and used the Ristretto on the way to Detroit, I set aside the Ristretto for the way back and simply slid the Synapse under the seat in front of me at the required intervals.

Your mileage may vary, of course - this one example may not be indicative of what other airlines, or other circumstances, might allow. But it did mean that I had access to all my stuff while in my seat, and did not have to experience the relative risk of my bag being in a compartment which may or may not have been near me.

This trip also allowed some additional comparison. LB and I were flying together for this trip, and we used similar backpack packing strategies. One of the things I noted, however, particularly on the way home, was that LB kept taking their backpack off and carrying by the handle strap, or simply setting it down. When I asked why, LB said that the pack was making their shoulders sore. I suggested we swap bags for a bit.

LB was using the backpack that they also use for school. It's a standard, big-box store bag that one might typically see as a part of a wall-o-backpacks. It's approximately the same size as the Synapse, and LB has been using it for the better part of the past year to cart books and such back and forth.

About five minutes into wearing it, it started to make my shoulders sore.

Whether it was the angle of the straps, or the amount of padding, or how they were designed with respect to the weight distribution of the bag, I can't say. What I can say is that the bag provided a cutting sensation into my upper shoulders that I've never experienced when carrying the Synapse, and it took virtually no time at all for the discomfort to present. At the same time LB pronounced that the Synapse was significantly more comfortable to carry than their backpack. I suspect I may have to keep a vigil to prevent its disappearance...

As for the rest at six months - the bag shows virtually no wear and tear at this point. The central water bottle holder still works very nicely, and I've only managed to spill my coffee in it once (so far). The only complaint I might have in that regard is that the bottle pocket is not water- (or coffee-) proof, so this event (which involved me carelessly setting the bag down and walking away, not realizing that it had fallen over with the travel mug inside) resulted in coffee filtering down into the adjacent pockets.

This may have, possibly, been more my fault than that of the bag. Maybe.

I can say that it cleaned up quite nicely with a little stain spray and then wiping down with a wet cloth, and no longer bears the signs of this unfortunate event. I do have a fair amount of practice dealing with coffee stains, but I was surprise at how completely they came out of the material. Going into it I was resigned to going from having an orange backpack to now having a backpack best described as "orange with coffee highlights"...

As with all of the Tom Bihn products, the Synapse is not inexpensive. However, as is often the the case, where the extra cost reflects thoughtful, careful design, it readily turns out to be worth the difference in price.

Detroit by Erin Wade

Over the Fourth of July weekend we were in Detroit for the 2017 National Tae Kwon Do Championships. Aside from the martial arts extravaganza, one of the things I've always enjoyed about these types of events is that it can provide an opportunity to see places you otherwise might not.

But seriously - Detroit?

We all know that Detroit is The Motor City, and the home of Motown. But honestly, most of my mental picture of Detroit is formed from the movie The Crow and the various works of Eminem.

Still, that's where the tournament was, so that's where we were going. I pictured spending a lot of time in the hotel room in-between formal events (the hotel was a different story - is there a Crowne Plaza in the nation that has been re-decorated later than 1987...?).

Turns out that Detroit - or at least the broad downtown section that contains the Cobo Center - is under revitalization. And it shows. While there are a handful of buildings that are in very poor condition, those that we encountered are under construction. And the city has built a downtown park - called Campus Martius Park - which puts a lovely central focus point on the region.

Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument

The Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument sits at one entry point to the park. The park itself contains many of the things that one would expect - trees, tables, fountains, a bandshell, people reading, talking, playing chess. It also contains a huge sandbox (called "the beach") and an outdoor bar. This, as one might suspect, makes it a lovely space for people of all ages to congregate, and the park was well attended. This was lovely enough that we chose to spend time there on a couple of different days that we had open.

This area is also very bike-friendly, and the city has recently incorporated a bike-sharing system similar to that found in other cities. There are multiple restaurants within a short walk of the park, including a Hard Rock Café, a marvelous breakfast place called The Dime Store, and a little further down, the Detroit Beer Company, a local brewpub.

Detroit Beer Company

We also took a ride on the Detroit People Mover, did a walk-thru at the General Motors building, and spent a short period of time walking through the small Greektown the city offers.

The experience wasn't flawless. The city does have a homelessness problem, and when walking to breakfast we encountered one man laying splayed on the sidewalk such that it was unclear whether he was sleeping, or waiting for someone to make a chalk outline around him. He was gone when we passed back that way, so it was likely the former.

The city probably benefitted somewhat from low expectations - I wouldn't recommend it as a vacation destination by itself - but all in all, the experience was much different than I expected, and far more pleasant.