Thursday, September 1, 2011

Of Rods and Cones

Photoreceptors convert electromagnetic radiation into stimulants that trigger biological processes involved in sensation known as sight.  Rods and cones absorb photons and turn them into information used to form a representation of the visual world.

Not long after purchasing a Trek 820 in 1988 I discovered that it was necessary to ride in environments deprived of sufficient photons to be considered safe.  Yep, Che was night riding.  I fell in love with it.  Never seemed a burden.  Perhaps I loved to be cloaked in darkness.  Most of the time, however, it was a not a choice if I was to ride with my friend and bicycle mentor Robert Prunty.

I think the northern regions of Iowa have less daylight and more winter.  But these conditions forged great nachtjager biking skills.  I always had to wait for rob to get home from work, placate his wife and children before venturing outside.  We road mountain bikes. 

We did not have lights or flashers.  Wilde Sau as the Germans would say.  Reliance on whatever ambient light the world offered and a keen ability to see in the dark.  Winter riding was easiest.

During the night in winter "white" usually meant trail.  "Black" usually meant tree.  The learning curb is quite easy.  And I think it still holds true today.  After moving to Fat City (DSM) in 1991, Rob and I rode the Raccoon Trail one winter night.  It was snowing.  Beautiful scenery.  So peaceful.  The exception to the rule of the first two sentences of this paragraph was experienced that ride.

While the trail was white and trees and bone breaking obstacles were black there were rideable portions of the trail that were not white.  The approaches to every bridge were black.  About a 3 foot stretch every time.  So here we were, I on a stealthy black Trek 7000 and Rob on a twitchy super fast Windsor road frame with flat bars and a set of knobbies (dangerous at slow speed but get that bike rolling with speed and the rockets were lit).  Testosterone edging us faster until the black patch appeared.

Always the leap of faith, jumping the Abyss, trust whenever the eyes report one thing yet the brain says that aint true keep going.  Like riding through a mirage of a brick wall.  See the bridge and see the black and heart rate jumps dramatically as the brain fights with itself.  "Stop you fucktard, you are going to die!  This will hurt BAD!!!"  Yet the rational hemisphere says "the trail elevates ever so slightly before the bridge and the snow does not accumulate there.  Go on, do not slow down.  Speed up, it's cold out here and there is a warm bar with food ahead."

After that ride I decided to acquire lights.  My first lights were those Specialized ones that looked similar to a Star Trek phaser.  4 AAs, shit output.  Needed two of them.  yet I used them for a few years.  Vetta rear flashers soon were obtained.  The big leap was in 1996.

That year I purchased the Stealth + Secret Weapon system from TurboCat.  Bright bastards with 3+ hours of run time.  Rechargeable lead acid batteries.  Flood light, high beam and a helmet mount.  3 lights at once to provide excessive amounts of protons to help my rods and cones represent the outside world to my brain.  I fell in love with them and have used them for over a decade.

One drawback.  They need to be recharged after every use.  And entropy, the more the batteries are recharged the less charges they have left.  Finite.  The latter issue is not really a BFD.  Interstate Batteries have gladly sold me replacements for $25.  It is just the fact that I cannot put the bike away "wet" as it were.  Gotta take the F'ing battery off and plug it in.

I only use these lights for "serious" night missions.  I went back to AA fun.

Sure, I could fork out $500 for a generator hub wheel lighting system.  But I have other priorities.  Probably cheaper to wait for Bike World's Warehouse blowout sale in the spring and purchase a bike with that system and take the desired parts off and put it on the nachtrad.  Or replace AAs a few times a year.

The only issue I have commuting is with joggers.  They are stealthy.  They RARELY wear reflective clothing or have lights.  Easier to spot deer.  My head lamp (AAAs) spots deer eyes quite well.  Now I thought about riding every morning with the retina burning TurboCats, hit the bastards at maximum wattage (lumens) and say "I only use these because you dress like ninjas."  But that would be mean and I'd have to recharge the battery and the Second Law of Thermodynamics would be bothering me.  Winter is coming.  Only the professionals will be out there.  I can live with AA flashers til then. 

White is trail, black is jogger.

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