Sunday, June 11, 2017

Retrogrouch in Texas

Welcome to Texas, Y'all.

The RetroWife had a conference for work in Austin and I literally tagged along for the ride. I've heard that Austin is a very progressive, bike-friendly city so I brought my Bike Friday travel bike so I could explore the city in the best way I know how - without having to take my chances with whatever rental bikes might be available.

The conference and our hotel were right smack in the heart of downtown Austin which is an incredibly active and vibrant city. We didn't bother renting a car, since there was so much to do within waking distance of the hotel. For me, with my bike, there was no part of the city that was beyond my reach, and while my wife was at her meetings during the day, I was out exploring on my bike.

Austin is a great music city - and the theater where they do Austin City Limits was just a block away from our hotel. There's a great statue of Willie Nelson out front. 
I packed a bike for the trip, but forgot to pack a water bottle - and it was freakin' hot and dry outside - so on my first day in the city I found Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop - AKA Lance Armstrong's bike shop. I stopped there and got myself a water bottle and a t-shirt. 
Mellow Johnny's is more than just a bike shop - as it's kind of a gathering place, with a cafe and a training center, and they have a lot of Armstrong's bikes and memorabilia on display. 
I rode up to the state capitol building. There's a lot of history here - and it's one of the more "grand" capitol buildings in the nation. Construction started in 1885 and it is all clad in red granite (which looks decidedly pink).
All around the capitol grounds are monuments to depict and honor the state's history. 
Of course there is a large monument to the Confederacy. As a Yankee with a strong interest in history, I can't help but chafe a bit at the wording on this monument: 

"DIED for state rights guaranteed under the constitution. The people of the South animated by the spirt of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the Federal compact in 1861. The North resorted to coercion. The South, against overwhelming numbers and resources, fought until exhausted. . . " Don't even get me started. 
At least there was a (more recent) African American History Memorial about a hundred feet away. 

I then rode up to the University of Texas.

I saw this gorgeous old Victorian-era home - the Littlefield home - on the edge of the UT campus.  Littlefield was apparently a regent and major contributor for the university, and his home was bequeathed to the school.

There's the university's famous (or infamous?) clock tower. In 1966, Charles Whitman, a former Marine sharpshooter, went to the tower's observation deck and started shooting people indiscriminately for about an hour and a half before police shot and killed him. 
All along the Colorado River, which flows through the city, there is a bike and hike trail that runs along both banks of the river. I'll admit it wasn't the best trail for cycling since it was incredibly crowded with walkers and joggers. Maybe that was because I was out there on a beautiful Sunday morning, I don't know. Some of it was paved (like this section that stretches out over the water), and some of it was hard-packed dirt and gravel. The little 20" wheels of the Bike Friday actually handled the gravel sections just fine.
I saw this really bizarre bike-themed sculpture by the river bank and the bike/hike trail. The bikes almost seem to go on for infinity. Looking at it too long could do freaky things with your vision.

There are so many fantastic restaurants in Austin, which is famous for Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex. There are all kinds of upscale places, as well as lots of cheap-eats, food truck kinds of places - and everything in-between. But while I was out exploring a grittier side of the city looking for a good and relatively cheap lunch, I spotted Juan in a Million with a line of people stretched around the building. I took that as a good sign.
You can't quite tell from this picture, but the tables are packed so closely together inside Juan in a Million that it almost gives the impression of being filled with long cafeteria-style tables. Everybody is elbow-to-elbow - like a big family. The salsa was extra spicy, and I had some really good steak fajitas.

OK, wrong kind of bikes, but bear with me. Outside the restaurant, there was this row of custom Harleys and choppers. A couple of these bikes had lowrider-style hydraulic lift kits in them. No kidding. When the guys went to start the bikes, you could hear the hydraulic systems start up first, then the ear-splitting roar from the engines (I'm not kidding - my ears wouldn't stop ringing for several minutes after these guys started their engines) and then the bikes lifted up from ground-dragging-level to not-quite scraping the pavement before they rode off.

Back at the capitol building, there was a huge protest and equality march to protest the Texas legislation's "bathroom bill." I joined in because these so-called "bathroom bills" really piss me off. I listened to the speakers and met some cool people. The subsequent march extended for several city blocks. 
As a reminder that this is a bike-blog, I kept my eyes open for interesting bicycles in and around the protest. This pink Atala city bike was a fun one.
I have to say that the Bike Friday is a joy to ride. It looks really weird - like clown-bike weird. I caught a full image of myself on the bike reflected in a big shop window at one point and couldn't help but think it looks goofy as hell. But despite the weird look, in terms of fit, it really feels like a well-designed full-size bike. In ordering it, I gave the folks at Bike Friday the measurements from my Rivendell and asked them to use that as a guide. It offers all-day comfort and feels totally natural.


  1. It sounds like you're having a great trip.

    One of these days, I'll get to Austin--and try not to wince at the Confederate monument.

    Interesting to read about your experience with the Bike Friday. The few people I've met who ride them seem to like them quite a lot.

  2. I agree with you entirely regarding Austin. I visited there many times when my daughter was at UT. IMO Austin is very different from the rest of Texas. Austin gets very, very hot for long periods of time. There are lots of great cycling opportunities just outside of Austin. I lived most of my life next door, Louisiana. In 2005 I escaped and now live in Montara, CA. Why did you select the BF over the Brompton? I went the other way. Just curious.

    1. The Brompton has the advantage of folding very small very quickly - but the Bike Friday has the advantage of fitting more like a good road bike. The relationship between the saddle, bars, and pedals is very similar to my favorite road bikes, and the gearing is very close, too.

  3. Is that a Pocket Crusoe? I can't seem to find that model on the Bike Friday site.

    I've been eyeing a Pocket Llama for light touring. Why did you end up choosing the Crusoe over other models?

  4. BF must have discontinued the Crusoe model. OK, why did I choose it over other models? If I recall correctly, the Crusoe was kind of in-between the Pocket Rocket and the New World Tourist in terms of "mission". The frame was very similar to the Pocket Rocket in terms of weight, etc., but had a few more touring-oriented amenities. The Pocket Rocket was designed around caliper brakes and ISO 451 wheels, while the Crusoe was designed for V-brakes and ISO 406 wheels. Both 451 and 406 are called "20-inch" wheels, but 451 is a more performance-oriented wheel/tire combination, while 406 is the same as common BMX wheels/tires. I figured that if I was far from home (I bought the bike for traveling, so I'd always be using it far from home!) and needed a tire, the 406 would be easier to find at whatever bike shops I might encounter. I got tires that have good width/volume (I think they're labeled 20 x 1 ⅛ - which is about the narrowest you can get in ISO 406 wheels), but have smooth tread and low rolling resistance so they still feel pretty fast. Small wheels can give a harsher ride when the roads are bad, so I appreciate the extra volume in those tires - whereas the 451 wheels generally take narrower, "racier" higher-performance tires. On the whole, it's a light bike that handles like a good road bike, but I can still put a rack and some panniers on it if I want to do some light touring. A good compromise.