Living Off the Griddle: Look At Me, I'm a Non-Conformist Too!

Like many people, I'm fairly conventional in my lifestyle, and I mostly adhere to society's conventions. I don't shoot at or stab my neighbors. I cover my naughty parts in public. I proffer money in exchange for goods and services, and I never preach loudly on the subway. I am, in short, your everyday conformist schmuck.

However, when I woke up this morning I immediately sensed that something was different. Casting aside my Transformers bedding and opening my Transformers curtains, the sun struck me in a way it never has before. It imbued me with hope, and promise, and a sense of adventure. Opening the window, I stepped out onto the fire escape still clad in my Transformers pajamas and issued forth the following proclamation:

"I reject your rules! I will not follow! There is no authority but yourself!"

Then I noticed my fly was open. Yes! Already I was sticking it to the Man.

Next, to underscore my new attitude, I clambered back inside, cued up a Crass song on YouTube, and spend the next 20 minutes shredding unsolicited credit card offers. It was exhilarating to finally be liberated from the system.

Inevitably though, after any epiphany, the exhilaration gives way to reflection, and the reflection then yields to bewilderment. "Like, so what am I supposed to do with my life now?" And that's when it it me: I will compete in the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships in San Francisco, California:

Costumes! Expensive bicycles without derailleurs! Sponsorship from Pabst Blue Ribbon! Each of these things alone is enough to strike fear in the hearts of the 1%, but when taken together they could very well bring the entire system to its knees! That was it, I was going.


First, I'd have to get on a plane, and it's a long flight from New York to San Francisco--and it feels even longer when you're wearing your Optimus Prime single-speed cyclocrossing costume. And not only is the flight long, but it's also expensive, and I'd just shredded all my credit card offers. Then, I started reading the itinerary for the weekend, and there was all this stuff about qualifiers, and "feats of strength," and a "no-holds barred pre-race party," and...oy, the whole business of irreverence just seemed so exhausting and expensive and, well, businesslike. And that's not even taking into account the time difference. I start crashing at about 8:00pm these days, which is like 5:00pm west coast time, which means I'll be nodding off before the rest of the irony-mongers are even getting started. Plus, I have all this stuff to do, and the holidays are coming up, and like where am I even going to stay? A hotel? Which hotel? I'd stay with the people #Occupying Oakland, but I'm liable to take a rubber bullet to the face. And I don't even think they have turn-down service.

Sigh. I guess I'm just not cut out to be a single-speed renegade. You win this round, Society.

Speaking of irreverence and bike racing, even professional road teams are getting into the act. Consider the team formerly known as Team Saxo Bank-SunGard, who are officially changing their name to "Team Saxo Bank Professional Cycling Team:"

The addition of that second "Team" is just the sort of subtle humor professional cycling needs right now, though personally I think they should have taken it even further by calling themselves "Team Saxo Bank Professional Cycling Team Team," or even "Bjarne's Ballet Ninjas." By the way, the "j" in "Bjarne" is silent, and the "j" in "Ninjas" is also silent, but it really doesn't matter since the whole thing would obviously be just pronounced "LAY-oh-pard Trek" anyway.

Also, in other Establishment Cycling news, Specialized have finally conceded that the bulk of what they sell is disposable:

Yes, today's hyper-expensive Venge frame is nothing more than tomorrow's laterally stiff and vertically compliant crabon coat hanger. The problem isn't even crabon's durability; it's that owners tire of the bikes before they exhibit so much as a single heel scuff on the chainstay. Sure, it's good that TrekCialized & Co. are addressing the whole recycling thing, but none of this addresses the fact that their approach to marketing is basically hyping a bunch of plastic blobs for a year and then coming up with a new shape for the plastic blobs the following year which suddenly makes the plastic blob you're currently riding totally obsolete. The bikes don't have to last. If they really want to be "sustainable" they might as well cut out all the shipping and just put them in the recycling pile as soon as they leave the factory in Taiwan.

But it's wrong to blame the bike companies, since the mid-category mid-pack middle-aged American cyclist is a highly competitive athlete who demands state-of-the-art equipment that can not only withstand up to a dozen months of racing and training but that can also provide him with the technological advantage he needs to finish in 46th place because nobodyelsewouldworkigotboxedinatthesprintididn'thaveanyteammates. But it will all be different next year, because the bottom brackets will be marginally beefier, and we won't have to waste all our energy pushing those mechanical shift levers.

Of course, this is the point at which owners of custom steel bicycles start to feel unbearably smug, but from an environmental perspective the truth is they're even worse. See, even though they're ordering "the last bike they'll ever buy" they still manage to find a reason why they need a new one in relatively short order, which means they put their exotic custom on eBay, which means it gets shipped somewhere, and then the process repeats itself ad nauseum, and since the steel bike is so durable it means that within 10 years the typical custom frame will have changed ownership like 50 times and traveled via UPS the equivalent distance of going from the Sun to Pluto, and in so doing it will have produced enough carbon dioxide to choke 20,000 polar bears.

Yes, trying to be "green" can be maddening, which is why Craig Calfee lost his mind years ago and now spends all his time lashing together pieces of bamboo.

But when it comes to sustainability, you can't beat a solar panel filth prophylactic, and one man wants $50,000 to make this glorified pancake griddle a reality:

Here is his video pitch, which is what film critics call "unwatchable:"

So why would you want a solar panel on your bike? Well, to charge your smart phone of course:

Does it Work?

Last May, an early prototype of the Solarcycle Pro (without a battery) was tested on a 300-mile supported bicycle tour from New York City to Washington, DC. During this ride, the Solarcycle Pro kit kept the smart phone charged the entire trip while everyone else had to rely on finding a wall to plug their smart phone in to. Even when it was raining, there were a few hours when the sun broke through the clouds and it was enough to charge the smart phone. So the answer is, yes it works incredibly well!

I will allow that the typical American cyclist does tax his or her smart phone in a way that few people do. This is because, in order to ride a bike, you have to do all of the following:

--Take photos of the ride
--Take video of the ride
--Take photos of your bike
--Take video of your bike
--"Tweet" about the ride and your bike
--Upload the ride to Strava or similar
--Upload photos and video of the ride and your bike to Facebook or similar
--Order new clothing and accessories for yourself and your bike

I should stress that this is the bare minimum of what you must do, or else the ride didn't happen.

Still, even under this sort of heavy use, your smart phone should last you at least a couple of hours, which should be long enough to get you where you're going. Even if you're riding from New York to Washington, DC, it's not like your motel room isn't going to have an outlet in it. Do you really need to carry a huge waffle maker along with you?

And what about theft? Well, the inventor does address this concern:

Can thieves steal it easily?

This question comes up many times. Protecting any bicycle component, and the bicycle itself is always a matter of judgement. For commuting, after you lock up the bicycle, the solar panel can be detached easily and you can take it with you to charge your USB devices away from the bicycle. If the bicycle is kept in a secure outdoor bicycle facility, then the Solarcycle Delux kit can be left outside to charge the battery in the sun. On long distance touring rides, it is less of an issue because for the most part, your bicycle is with you and/or with your friends at all times.

I can charge my USB devices away from my bicycle now thanks to the miracle of outlets. As for leaving it on the bike because I park in a "secure outdoor bicycle facility," I'm pretty sure the fantasy world in which such a thing exists also has perpetual motion machines, so I'd just use one of those to charge my smart phone instead. In fact, you probably don't need to charge smart phones in that fantasy world. You probably just place them on the horn of a passing unicorn with the face of Steve Jobs and then they work forever.

Granted, though, the solar panel is perfect for my job in the fantasy world, which involves sitting by a pool in the sun all day:

The time on that phone would explain a lot.

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