Bike Collection & Gear: Surly Bill Trailer

This is the first set of a few short posts I’m writing up detailing the bike gear and rides I currently use on an almost daily basis. This first, part gear and *part* bike, is the Surly Bill Trailer. I purchased this trailer a few years ago and have, over the years I’ve owned it done some of the following.

  • Moved from a location in Seattle to another location in Seattle. It took about 9 loads but it got done.
  • In Portland moved from downtown in the Ladd Apartment tower downtown to Precott & Interstate Avenue. Another moving adventure of about 4 loads.
  • Ikea pickups, ranging from a mere ~30 pounds to almost 260 pounds for the biggest load I picked up. Which, at Ikea, considering much of the stuff is pretty light, 260 pounds is a lot of furniture to assemble!
  • More MMRs (Midnight Myster Rides), other party rides during pedalpalooza, and related events than I can even count a this point.
  • About 15-20 different trips to and from the office with computer gear, music gear, and other related things like guitars and whatever as sometimes I want something at the office, and sometimes I want something back at home – or elsewhere.

All in all, it’s been a few tons of actual weight carried to and from all at a mere price of about ~$900 for the trailer, and it still had years, if not a solid decade or more of life to go!

Specifications

  • Long Bed
  • 16″ Wheels
  • Gray
  • 300 lbs load
  • 37 lbs weight
  • 63″ x 24″ (length x width)
  • 16″ load height

Note: I am not sponsored or paid by any of these related companies. I’m merely writing these up out of interest and a desire to log what I use for reference. For more information check out Surly’s link on the trailer.

Traveling Trackball, AKA “GSD Better!”

Recently I purchased a trackball and a hardshell case for that trackball, which I then wrote a review of over yonder “A Review of the MX Ergo Advanced Wireless“. The hardshell case primarily because I displace a lot during the course of the day. Whether traveling far away from home or just within the city in which I live (i.e. Seattle these days, but in the past Portland, Memphis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Krakow, etc) it’s been very important to have computer gear that holds up well to these movements during the day. Here is a video that details the trackball, hardshell case, and some of the different places I’ve used it since purchase. Below the video I elaborate on two of the scenarios I use these devices.

Trackball Travels

Coffee Shop Cycling Displacements

Often during the day, at least a non-pandemic day, I work coffee shop to coffee shop. Meeting other coders, working alone, or having meetings in person in coffee shops. As I move from coffee shop to coffee shop, sometimes I use transit (bus/train/tram/streetcar/etc) but more often I bike from shop to shop. During these displacements computer gear can get banged up heavily. That’s where the hardshell case for the trackball is hugely important!

Here are some detailed “product” shots from Amazon/co2CREA, and the link itself to the product if you want to pick it up.

While cycling all sorts of things can happen. I could biff it (i.e. *wreck*) on my pack (i.e. messenger bag, or backpack) and things are safe from direct impact in there, but can still be squished. I could toss my bag down or set it somewhere and it gets kicked, hit, or falls. The number of impact scenarios are numerous. But it doesn’t stop there while out cycling, since most of my packs are waterproof it’s nice to have individual elements packed in water resistant packages for when I pull them out of their pack. You get the idea, there’s a lot of potential oops scenarios, and for maximum gear lifespan it’s best to keep them safe.

Railroading Baggage Pannier Packing Style

Alright, using panniers for bike and train combo trips is another one of my specialties. I take a lot of train trips. Sometimes I ride coach, sometimes I get a roomette or bedroom, and on some trains I may end up standing. Whatever the case, traveling means luggage of some sort and luggage gets banged around. Again I’ve got my packs, but also in this scenario I routinely use my panniers. The combination is great as the survivability of devices – Apple Laptop + hardshell case for pointing device plus tough packs with panniers holding the remainder of things means surviving insane things like train wrecks (i.e. my experience of the train wreck of 501), or just regular travel trips like my trips to San Francisco for QCon, or my trip to Olympia, Washington to speak at a users’ group.

In summary, if you want to enjoy the bikey life combo powered with the rail life and keep your gear intact, it’s a good idea to pick up a hardshell case.

Talking Tacoma on The Train

Ever been to Tacoma, Washington? Ever ridden the Coast Starlight, or Amtrak in general? How about with a bike. A little bit about all those things in this video. Join me for a trip south out of Seattle past Tacoma with a few key pointers, that soon, you will never get to see by train again! I’ll show ya the Tacoma narrows, plus a few other suggestions. Give this video a watch to learn how wrong I can be about what is or isn’t an island, learn about whether the Tacoma Narrows bridges have fallen down recently, and also whether they do or do not connect to an island!

So many things to know, all fascinating, give a viewing for a ride along the Tacoma waterline. Until next time, may your transiting be a most excellent experience.

Cheating Hills

Ever since I moved to Seattle some years back, I’ve ridden all over the city pretty much all the time, any weather, by bike. But even amidst all this riding combined with tons of requisite hill climbing, I do enjoy cheating a hill climb every now and again. These are some of the ways I do this, and a giant thanks to KC Metro and Sound Transit for providing solid, reliable, and kick ass services to be able to pull off these hill cheats!

Capitol & First Hill Cheats

The easiest ways when riding to get up to the top of Capitol or First Hill, or mostly to the top of Capitol or First Hill, is to use the LINK, and secondarily the Capitol Hill Streetcar (which is by no means fast, but it’s real easy). The reason I bring up these two modes as the easiest, is because you can just roll on and roll off with a bike. No need to rack anything or go to any trouble, just on and off, with an ORCA swipe off of the vehicle. Let’s take a further look at the map of these two options, but first we should look at where the tops of Capitol/First Hills are here.

The two hill tops.

On this map above there are the two red rectangles, 1 is of the first and largely most populace and business heavy area of Capital Hill and First Hill. The 2 rectangle is of the higher, and has less business and more residential part of Capital and First Hills. Both areas have things anyone in Seattle will generally want to swing by on a semi-frequent basis if they’re into food, art, music, parks, or what not. It is, after all, pretty much the heart of downtown here. To the right of the 2 rectangle leads to Central District, Madison Valley, which is a huge drop from the hill tops. The other directions, such as westward into downtown Seattle are both huge drops from areas 1 and 2.

That leads to the first of several maps for the Capitol and First Hill cheats. First up, is the Sound Transit LINK light rail service. The downtown segment of course is just a small snippet of the overall line, but that’s perfect as it gets us up the hill pretty quickly and easily. One can board at Westlake Station (2 below) or anywhere south really, and then ride to the stop designated by 3, the Capitol Hill stop. Then just take the elevators up to the service. Boom, you’re now at Cal Anderson Park (the big green park there near 3) and can get about easily to anywhere in box 1 from the map above. The other hill here, is climbing from point 1, in the Pioneer Square area up to any point north. Since between 1 and 2 is also a significant, albeit less severe hill, just like going from point 2 to point 3.

The Sound Transit LINK Service, that red line on the map.

Next up, the Capitol Hill Steetcar.

Capital Hill Streetcar

This is a great option, the downside being it is really slow compared to the LINK and even when exhausted, it’s probably faster by leaps and bounds to just ride. But hey, we’re talking about being super lazy here!

Starting in the Pioneer Square are, start at 1 to 2 is almost no hill, but provide two stop to board. Then 3 is up towards the midway point on the hill and near some pretty awesome asian food places! As is, of course 2 and the not shown stop between 2 and 3. Getting to 4 reaches the top of First Hill near the hospital zone. Which is great to deboard and then just downhill it to 12th, Broadway, or over to 12th to swing into any of those joints. Staying aboard though, while piddling the day away reading a novel or something, you can climb the next hill to point 5 and onward to the end of the link on Capitol Hill for the easiest of access via all downhill at that point.

Except of course for the final peak, of the second red rectangle from the first map. That one, is only accessible via hill cheats by boarding a bus and racking the bike. Some I tend to refrain from doing except at my most laziest (which is still pretty frequent). That’s where this next map comes into play, it’s a soup of buses and all that which King County Metro operates.

King County Metro Busses

On the above map, the busses that’ll get you to the very top (rectangle 2 in the first map), include 10, 11, 12, and 2. To get to the top of, if for example you don’t want to swing into the tunnel for the LINK or board the Capitol Hill Streetcar, First Hill board the 2, 12, 3, or 4. They’ll all get you up the super steep hills! Two other bus options that will get you into the 1 rectangle in the first map, include the 48 and 49 busses. If you’re aim is to just cheat yourself into a nice lazy ride to the 1 rectangle, any of these busses will work. Which means there are multiple places downtown that you can board, or from other points in downtown, to get up the hill without needing to put in any excessive amount of energy!

As a freebie, it’s also fun to just take the transit up, then have a downhill ride for the hell of it! 🤙🏻

That’s it for my Capital Hill cheats, I’m thinking about writing up Phinney Ridge or maybe Magnolia or Beacon Hill cheats next. Let me know if you’ve got a hill in Seattle you’d like cheats for and I’ll build up a list of routes.

Conference @ SEATAC Trips

A few months ago I attended a conference out at SEATAC and haven’t, until now, managed to get a trip report written up. This is simply the story of my trips to and from the conference, with a little added context and information Transit Sleuth style.

Outbound to SEATAC

Let’s talk about the strange town of SEATAC. First thing, SEATAC stands for Seattle-Tacoma, and is the combination zoned area between Seattle and Tacoma. This area is where some people in yesteryear decided there ought to be a shared international airport. In creating this airport they also decided to incorporate and turn it into a self-governed geographic region. Eventually this self-governed region with an airport became a self-governed town with an airport.

The conference for various reasons was being held in a space out at the airport, directly across the street from Airport Way. This made it an obvious transit trip that would involve the light rail. The only question for me was would I connect at University District or in downtown Seattle at Westlake. I could take either the KC Metro 44 Bus from Ballard to University District or KC Metro 40 to connect downtown at the Westlake stop.

I opted for a trip to University District to start the two part trip for a simple reason. There would be numerous places that would be open early to get some coffee and food at.

I departed downtown old Ballard at about 5:25am on the 44. The Starbucks stood open at this hour in Ballard but the Ballard Coffee Works was not open. There were a few people milling about at Starbucks and a few getting on the buses coming through, but not anywhere near the number that would be in the area in about one more hour.

I boarded and we made good time, with few people boarding between Ballard and Wallingford. I write a few, but by many US standards there was a lot boarding, numbering over 25 between the two town centers. As we made our way through Wallingford however, in just those several stops, another 30 people or so boarded.

Once me made the turn in the central city area of University District I got off and walked the block over to Cafe on the Ave. It’s a coffee shop that makes a decent breakfast and other items, plus has a pretty chill environment in which to eat. At this hour, now right around 5:50am, there were only 3 patrons in the cafe excluding me.

I ordered a cap, which came in sizes, again a coffee snob alert that clearly the definition of what a cappuccino is has eluded the establishment. But I digress, it’s pretty good espresso so no complaints! I ordered the 8oz size but inquired if I could just get a traditional standard cap size, which unfortunately they didn’t have available.

I sat and did some banging on the keyboard while waiting for breakfast. In short order, just a few minutes, my eggs, hash browns, ham, and English muffin arrived along with the “8oz” fake cappuccino. The plate was the standard American foray into a plat that was as big as my side torso with a splattering of food everywhere. Far more than one should reasonably eat, even if going out to work the fields or do hard labor. Thus, I ate about 35% of what was on the plate and was a happy camper.

Finished, I departed and found a Limebike, rented it and biked over to the University District light rail stop. On my way in, like a good sleuth, I made a number of happy little observations.

Inbound observations

The beauty of the sunrise was on full display over the eastern horizon. Glimmering with an blinding brightness, impossible to view except looking askew of the rising fire orb. To the left or right however the run of light along the Earth’s surface, scattered with buildings, trees, mountains, and water screamed a gorgeous expanse. The golden tips of trees and the yellow and orange interlaced among all this was striking.

Back to the Trip

As I rolled through the southeastern intersection of walkways, a couple sat embraced as the sun rose, looking southeast toward Mount Rainier. Smiling and looking in each others eyes, budding love giving off a clear aura around those cutesies.

I rolled on as the Limebike battery started to sputter as I rolled onto the pedestrian overpass that connects to the University District station. I made it before it became a brick, locked the bike, confirmed it since sometimes the Libebike locks flake. Then I stood among the group of fellow transit riders to take the elevator to subsurface levels.

I watched the surface disappear from the elevator windows as we went down. A few seconds later the platform came into view and two LRT Vehicles stood ready for passengers. I checked which departure was in queue next and boarded the train. This departure, at 7:25am was boarded to approximately 35% capacity already (that’s about 60% of seats taken, considering a large % of capacity is standing room).

The LINK LRT rolled forth at 7:28am toward Capital Hill. In precise timing, minutes later, we rolled into the Capital Hill Stop. With short order we continued and onward through Westlake Station, University Station, Pioneer Square Station, International District Station, and onward through SODO, Beacon Hill, and the remaining stops.

More Sleuthing Observations

I’ve noted more than a few times, that something about LINK LRT is dramatically rougher in ride quality than Trimet’s MAX LRT. The thing that seems to come up as the issue is the tracks are laid funky. The few sections on MAX that had this ride quality issue in the past were replaced and haven’t had the issue since.

This issue I speak of specifically, is when the flanged wheels of the LRT vehicle hunt for the center position. This causes a jarring back and forth of the vehicle as it travels forward, and thus a somewhat rough ride. It also seems compounded, that maybe these vehicles are lighter and bouncier, suspension is bouncier, or something is causing these vehicles to hunt back and forth like this versus some of the comparative light rail around the United States.

One thing that might make this even more evident is the fact that a lot of the tracks are on raised right of way and when a vehicle is hunting between each flange at 50 or 60 feet, or higher, up in the air it’s a bit unsettling.

Last observation for this run, was the peculiar nature of the path the light rail runs out of downtown through Beacon Hill, heading east, then southeast along various neighborhoods in the street but then raises up again heading west across the interstate and rail lines. As this turn to head back south again is made one can face north and see the city in the distance and Boeing Field in the foreground. It makes it very clear that the most direct and efficient route to the airport was not the route chosen. Another one of those odd US traditions of disabling transit by purposely choosing inefficient routes so it would theoretically connect to points where people are located. It’s always seemed like one of the most inefficient methods of transit planning and operation.

…the day continued… but I just went and posted this without completion of post. Maybe I’ll be able to wrap this one up one day.