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April 24, 2006

Skyblue Sequoia

So here, at last, is a picture of the new bike, resting in front of the garage after Saturday's 25-mile ride (she was ready for 25 more, but I definitely wasn't):

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The rack and small panniers are definitely not typical road-bike accoutrements, but I'm far too attached to the convenience and utility of being able to carry a lot of stuff not to have them. My penchant for carrying too much junk has already come in handy: after our lunch stop during Saturday's ride, I was able to run into Whole Foods, pick up the few items we needed to make dinner, and stash them in my panniers for the ride home. That saved us a trip later.

So far, I love just about everything about this bike, but I'm particularly enamored with a mere cosmetic feature: the color. While it was not a factor in my decision to buy this bike, I do love the pale blue brushed aluminum. It reminds me of the color of the sky just before dusk, when I'm often heading home following an after-work ride. Coincidentally, one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs, "Sky Blue," has lyrics which are surprisingly descriptive of the psychological and spirtual elements of bicycling:

Lost my time lost my place in sky blue
Those two blue eyes light your face in sky blue
I know how to fly, I know how to drown in sky blue

Warm wind blowing over the earth, sky blue
I sing through the land, the land sings through me, sky blue
Reaching into the deepest shade of sky blue

Sky blue
So tired of all this travelling
So many miles away from home
I keep moving to be stable
Free to wander, free to roam

Posted by at 3:30 PM

April 11, 2006

Oak Street woes

I've been haphazardly following the saga of the Oak Street Cinema over the last few months, as it has struggled not to go under. I think of the Oak Street fondly, since some of Dr. Dregs's and my earliest "dates" involved seeing a movie at the Oak Street. We saw Michael Moore speak there years ago, when he was only known for Roger & Me, and Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 were not even twinkles in his eye. My first exposure to many great classic and foreign films was at the Oak Street -- and even the movies we saw there that we didn't particularly like still always offered plenty of fodder for discussion (and post-film drunken laughter).

So I was a little saddened to read that the Oak Street has (at least temporarily) gone dark. But only a little saddened. We haven't actually been to a movie at the Oak Street in a long, long time. I'm sorry to admit that, on the one hand, but on the other hand, we've run out of reasons in recent years to go there. The facilities are substandard, with uncomfortable seats, a small screen, and (the last few times we were there) indifferent projection. And it costs $8 a pop to get in -- which means we could see a first-run film in a nice theater for the same amount of cash.

But it isn't just the Oak Street's flaws that caused us to stop seeing films there. It was also the advent of DVD and Netflix, which have made it possible for us to see classic, foreign, and art films in high quality on our big-screen HDTV in the comfort of our own home. This just wasn't an option back in the mid-late 90s, when we used to go to the Oak Street with some regularity. Seeing a poor-quality VHS copy of a film on a small screen could not compare to any movie theater, even one as modest as the Oak Street.

It's clear that the Oak Street's problems have been brought on by a combination of circumstances, many of which have nothing to do with the ability of the audience to simply rent a DVD and watch films at home. But rep theaters everywhere must be suffering because of DVD and the ready availability of high-quality transfers of the kinds of films that have been their bread and butter. I know that the Oak Street and its parent organization, Minnesota Film Arts, have done very good work in sponsoring and providing venues for local film festivals -- and these festivals continue to show films that often can't be seen elsewhere. But when there isn't a festival, a theater like the Oak Street has to find another way to attract audiences, and I'm sorry to say that I don't think they've done a very good job of that in recent years.

Posted by at 8:34 PM

April 5, 2006

Elaborate justification of a self-indulgent purchase

Well, Dr. Dregs and I took the plunge and spent way too much of our hard-earned cash on a couple of road bikes. I won't speak for Dregs, but I am quite thrilled with mine so far. It's a Specialized Sequoia Elite (I can't seem to get a link to work, so you'll have to go look it up yourself if you want details), a "comfort" road bike with a more upright riding position. It's also just a little bit practical: a rear rack and fenders can be added to it. So it is not a racing bike -- but I'm not a racer, and I see no reason to torture myself on one of those things when I could have something so much more comfortable. And it is comfortable -- surprisingly, it is nearly as comfortable as my much-beloved hybrid. It is also fast -- much, much faster than my other bike (I'm not going to call it "my old bike," because I plan to keep it and continue riding it when the weather's bad or I need to go off-road a bit). Maintaining a certain speed is infinitely easier, and climbing hills is also much easier.

How much faster and easier has been a bit of a revelation to me, and also (so far) a source of pure joy. I am a cautious rider under any circumstances, so while I expected certain things to be easier on a road bike, I thought that my instinctive reticence would temper how much difference I perceived compared to my hybrid bike. I was wrong. The road bike provides me with more of everything that I love about cycling, everything that makes cycling virtually the only form of exercise I've ever really enjoyed. I didn't expect my enjoyment to so intensify solely because of my equipment, and naturally, I'm delighted.

The things I love about cycling (and that I just don't get from other activities) are not unique to me and have been well documented and eloquently described by many, many other people: the sense of freedom and possibility, the sense of accomplishment achieved from traveling under one's own power, the deeper connection to one's environment that riding safely requires, the increased opportunities to appreciate the beauty of one's surroundings, whether the landscape is urban or rural. The spiritual "benefit" of cycling was almost immediately apparent to me in a way that it never has been for other athletic endeavor (I know that others find spiritual benefit in different sports/physical activities, but it has never worked that way for me). There is a particular kind of magic in bicycling that makes me a happier and better person -- mind, body, and soul.

I hope the magic lasts, because the Sequoia will be my last new bike for a long while -- I already feel a bit guilty and overly extravagant for having bought it. But I can't really regret the cost or think too much of ways the money might have been better spent (or saved). To others, the cost-benefit might seem wildly out of whack. But for me, it's just right.

Posted by at 4:47 PM