Thursday, May 25, 2017

Getting Laid back with Recumbent Bikes

High Tech 1970!
Every spring, it seems I take on a new thing, and invest myself in learning, testing, or building something I’ve never done before. This time last year I took on rebuilding a teardrop trailer. This year I joined the recumbent bike crowd, a small, elite troop of people who would rather ride like they are in a recliner instead of balancing on a two-by-four. I didn’t do it just to be different. I did it because I wanted to keep bike riding. Over the last few years, bicycling had become increasingly difficult for me. After a short ride my butt is sore, my hands go numb, and my back hurts anytime I ride more than a couple of miles. First, I replaced my mountain bike with a street bike with a more erect position. No help, then I adjusted the handlebars and wore padded gloves. I was still not happy.
To be fair, I am not a dedicated, long-distance bicycle guy. But I have always enjoyed bike riding. The first thing of any value I ever purchased was a yellow Schwinn Varsity ten speed that I rode all over Anchorage 45 years ago. That was a sweet ride with skinnnnny tires and those racers handlebars that swooped down so my noes was practically touching the front tire. I felt like a jet pilot on those wheels. Twenty years ago, I was biking the trails on the Kenai using one of the early mountain bikes. Then I figured out how little I was seeing traveling that way and moved my biking back to the road. But now my frame needs a different mode if I’m to keep riding. 
I have been ogling the recumbent bikes for sometime but was too cheap or scared to make the leap. This winter I did some reading to help figure out which way to go because recumbents differ greatly. Some have the rider nearly prone, and steering with levers at hip level and the sprocket out in front of the front tire. Others are tricycles, some with a single wheel in back and others in front. A guy could get lost real easy and none of this is cheap.
But first, why a recumbent?
And what the hell is it? 
“Those wheels are really small!”
Ok, a recumbent bicycle is one that is set up so the rider is seated with the shoulders behind the hips and the feet out in front. This puts almost all the weight on your ass, which for means that my hands won’t go numb from the weight of my head and shoulders pushing down on them. It also means I have a seat back to support my spine and big cushy seat for my rear end. No more pressure on my scrotum. I miss riding to town to pick up the mail and maybe now I can do that again. So, the answer to the why question is comfort and (I will admit) novelty, I like trying new things. Learn More about Recumbents
Once I started searching Craigslist I found that I could buy a used recumbent bike for anywhere from 300 to 1500 dollars. Guess where my budget lay! Back to the Internet for more research and comparison shopping.  I decided I didn’t want a tricycle because they are heavy and bulky and the cheaper ones are slow; I didn’t want one of those extreme sprocket-forward models because the learning curve is too high for my patience; so I settled for the LWRB, long wheelbase recumbent bicycle. This style is the easiest to learn and use. My search put me on an Ez-1 Super Cruiser by Sun Bicycles that I found at Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage, an outdoor gear commission store. — Nice store, helpful staff, check it out—
This particular model is a few years old and no longer sold, but Sun still offers similar bikes. The Ez-1 has a comfortable seat, twenty-one gears and a chopper motorcycle style handlebars. It sits low to the ground and, as my grandson said, “Those wheels are really small!” Twenty inch on the back and sixteen inch in front. The bike is heavy and most of that weight is in the stern, but when I parked myself in the seat, I smiled. The seat is wide below and high in back, and I can sit on the bike with both feet flat on the ground.  This is going to be a whole different thing!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May is Going to the Birds

Spring has come to Bear Lake and, as the snow recedes and the ice begins to melt, the waterfowl are returning. The first were the goldeneyes, plopping down in the puddle of open water in front of the neighbor’s sauna. Twice I saw swans come and land on the ice as if trying to decide if the tiny pools of open water were worth the trouble. Eagles have returned and are already nesting, and Lucas, the eagle my grandson named, has taken his post on the cottonwood branch overlooking the muskrat tunnels. Usually by now, we are seeing muskrats squatting on the edge of the ice, sharing open water with the ducks. The muskrats have tunnels in the bank along the shore where we left a tangle of alder and willow growing in the wetlands. I imagine the muskrats find room and board among the roots and grass mats there beside dock, another place they hangout especially the young ones. I haven’t seen them yet this spring and I worry that our resident population didn’t make it through the winter.
Each day, more life shows itself along the lake border: the varied thrush and robins on the shore and mallards, scaups, and teal in the waters that open along the shore.  Until the ice in the lake is reduced to small pans drifting mid-lake, the ducks parade for us in the narrow strip of lake along our part of the bank. Here, the north wind deposits tons of organics to build a rich food cache for these spring visitors, and we can anticipate several pairs of swans and dozens of migrating ducks to spend part of May with us. The golden-eyes and mergansers will spend the summer and raise their ducklings here as will some mallards.  Last week the gulls — Mew gulls I think— showed up in a clamorous mob to play, court and feed in what little open water they could. The seem to have paired up and dispersed quietly across the south half of the lake. Any day we’ll hear the call of the loon, announcing their return from the open sea.
My dogs keep pointing their noses across narrow part of the lake, and I wonder if they smell a bear moving along the paths on the opposite bank. They are due back too as the snow clears away under the trees and warm long days wake the plants and signal the flurry of chlorophyll explosions that comes to our northern forest each year.
We have entered the month of May, and we count on lots of sunny days with temperatures in the sixties to dry and warm the soil and paint us green again, for May feels brand new every year.