My Mirrycle MTB Bar End Mountain Bicycle Mirror mounted on my hybrid.

Bicycle mirrors: the eye on the back of your head you’ve always wanted

You’re coming up to an intersection and want to go straight, but suddenly realize that the lane you’re to the right of is turning into a right-turn-only lane.  You know  bike safety: you need to get to the left of this lane before the intersection, but you’ve only got a few yards to do so.

Is it safe to pull out into the lane?  Is there a car behind you?

A protected bike lane ends abruptly and turns into a right-turn-only lane. Do you know if it's safe to move left so you can keep going straight? (this is the intersection of Placentia and Adams in Costa Mesa)
A protected bike lane ends abruptly and turns into a right-turn-only lane. You need to merge left to keep going straight; is it safe to do so?

Like most riders, I started riding without a mirror.  When I was on bike trails and low traffic streets this was fine, but as I started commuting and utility biking more, I found myself wishing for eyes on the back of my head.  Turning to look behind me caused me to wobble left (into the cars I was trying to avoid!) and also only gave me a snapshot of what was behind me (did that car keep gaining on me, or did it slow down to let me over?).

When I finally bought a mirror, my cycling world changed.  All of a sudden riding on busier streets and navigating complicated intersections got easier: with a single glance I could immediately tell whether cars were behind me or not1.  And, even better, I could predict when the road would be clear – by regularly glancing in the mirror I could see, for example, that after one car passed me I’d have an open road behind me, allowing me to swing into that left-turn lane three lanes over.

Riding with a mirror has given me tremendous amounts of confidence in traffic, yet very few road cyclists use mirrors2, and that’s a shame.  They’re not expensive, they’re easy to mount, and dead simple to use.

There are two primary types of mirrors used on bikes: Continue reading Bicycle mirrors: the eye on the back of your head you’ve always wanted

As we approached the finish line we got our very own lane!

Ride report: A great first century at Tour de Palm Springs 2016

When I got my road bike last July I discovered that I loved to take it on 20 or 30 mile rides, and started dreaming of going further.  So, I asked around about good first centuries to aim for, and one event kept getting mentioned again and again: Tour de Palm Springs (with Cool Breeze in Ventura also getting many votes).

The timing was perfect – Tour de Palm Springs happens every year in January or February, so that gave me months to train up.  I followed a training plan from Burke and Pavelka’s The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling, which helped me slowly increase my cycling distances from ~50 miles a week about 3 months ago to 150 miles a week in the two weeks before the century*.

The route

The Tour de Palm Springs has 10, 25, 50, and 100 mile cycling routes, all of which begin and end in downtown Palm Springs.  I did the 100 mile route, which looked like this: Continue reading Ride report: A great first century at Tour de Palm Springs 2016

Fog at the Huntington Beach Pier.

Sights: Fog at the Huntington Beach Pier

One of the reasons I love cycling is that it gets me out, exploring the environment and seeing sights I otherwise would have missed.  Today was a great example of that.

I was on one of my usual loops up Huntington Beach and then down around Newport Back Bay; the weather seemed like nothing special (you know, it’s January and 70F outside).

As is usual of mid-week rides this time of year, the Huntington State Beach trail was nearly empty:

The Huntington Beach Trail midweek in the winter is a lovely place to bike.
You can zip along the Huntington State Beach Trail midweek – whee!

I rode past the pier, and paused to enjoy the view and snap a couple pictures with the sun barely visible through the clouds:

Huntington Beach Pier, when I first arrived.
Huntington Beach Pier, when I first arrived.

I went just a bit further on up the trail, then realized that the white blur in the distance and cold breeze I was feeling meant that fog was rolling in.  I turned around, and the pier was nearly gone: Continue reading Sights: Fog at the Huntington Beach Pier

Map for my Costa Mesa to Newport Back Bay loop. Map data from Google 2016; ride details from RideWithGPS.

Ride: Newport Back Bay loop from Costa Mesa

Introduction

Newport Back Bay seen from Castaways Park.
Newport Back Bay seen from Castaways Park.

Newport Back Bay is a gem of central Orange County.   It’s a wetlands estuary located just inland from Newport Harbor, and has roughly six miles of paved bike path that allow you to ride only feet away from nature.  The views can be gorgeous, and I’ve seen many stunning sunsets while riding it.

For years I suggested that my students do an outdoor project at Newport Back Bay, and many came back saying “I never knew this was there; I loved it!”

However, actually cycling around Newport Back Bay is more complicated than it should be because the bicycle path does not actually form a complete loop around the bay.  On the eastern side the bike trail ends about a quarter mile north of PCH, and then doesn’t truly start up again until about a mile and a half north of PCH on the western side.  Thus, riders wanting to do a true loop must fend for themselves and figure out how to get through PCH and city streets to get back to the trail.

Route

I’ve created a complete loop with detailed notes in RideWithGPS: Costa Mesa -> Newport Back Bay Loop, and embedded a live view of the route below.  When starting from Estancia Park in Costa Mesa the route is just about 19 miles round trip and gains a total of 450 feet of elevation. Continue reading Ride: Newport Back Bay loop from Costa Mesa

Laguna Beach: my new favorite city to bike in

Okay, the headline might be a bit exaggerated, but when I come across a sign like this in a city, my heart goes pitter-pat:

A sign on the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach saying "Welcome to Laguna Beach", seen on December 24, 2015.
Welcome to Laguna Beach
A sign on the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach saying "Welcome to Laguna Beach", seen on December 24, 2015.
Give Bikes 3 Feet

Thanks Laguna Beach!

And in case you don’t know what the sign is referring to, it’s referring to California’s 2014 “Three Feet For Safety Act” (AB-1371), which mandates that

21760. (b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass in compliance with the requirements of this article applicable to overtaking and passing a vehicle, and shall do so at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway.

(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.

(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.

So, basically, cars must give bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing them, or slow to a reasonable speed and pass without risking injury to the cyclist.  Given the frequency with which cyclists need to dodge debris (and just plain lose their balance), a three foot passing margin is really a good idea.

Of course it’d be nice if police actually wrote tickets for violations of this law … but hey, I’ll take a sign as a good start.

Seen on December 24, 2015 as I enjoyed a lovely ride down PCH.  

Gisler Ave. connects to SART via a cool little bridge, seen here from on the trail itself.

Entering and exiting the Santa Ana River Trail in Costa Mesa

The length of the Santa Ana River Trail in Costa Mesa. Image from GoogleMaps
The length of the Santa Ana River Trail  in Costa Mesa (highlighted in blue). Image and map data from Google 2015; click for a larger version.

I live in Costa Mesa and love riding on the Santa Ana River Trail (SART), a multiuse paved trail open to walkers, runners, bicyclists, skaters, and more (pretty much anything non-motorized). If you’ve never ridden it before, you’ve got to: the Santa Ana River Trail runs more than 30 miles inland from the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Huntington Beach, where it connects up seamlessly with the beach’s bicycle path. And for that length it’s 100% car and crossing free – you have dozens of miles of paved trail to roll on continuously without stopping.  Insanely useful for getting places in central Orange County while avoiding cars.

But getting on the trail isn’t always intuitive, especially as the trail crosses  from one side of the river to the other within Costa Mesa’s borders. Starting near the ocean and heading inland, here are all the entrances from Costa Mesa:

The Santa Ana River Trail between Victoria/Hamilton and the beach is beautiful at high tide.
The Santa Ana River Trail between Victoria/Hamilton and the beach is beautiful at high tide.

I’ve also included two bonus entrances for people coming from Huntington Beach:

And I also point out where the bridge is:

PCH / southern end of Huntington State Beach

The PCH and Huntington State Beach entrance to the Santa Ana River Trail. Image and map data from Google Maps 2015.
The PCH and Huntington State Beach entrance to the Santa Ana River Trail; entrances are circled in green. Image and map data from Google 2015.

Continue reading Entering and exiting the Santa Ana River Trail in Costa Mesa

A portion of Newport Beach's skyline at night

Newport Beach at Night

Lately I’ve started bicycling longer distances1, and as I’m riding, I’m seeing more of my local area. So many of the bicycle paths lead to stunning views, not to mention the gorgeous little parks.

But now that it’s winter I’m out riding a lot at night. Night changes so much about the landscape, especially in urban areas where a single bright point-source of light (the sun or moon) is replaced by multiple small light sources, many of which are different colors and intensities. Combine the change in illumination with a requirement for long exposure times and you have a recipe for a dramatic visual change.

I wanted to try to capture some of that changed beauty, so I recently biked to a couple of my favorite vantage points in Newport Beach to try my hand at it.

A moonlit view of Lower Newport Bay (and partially Upper Newport Bay) with PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to the right and Newport Center's many tall buildings that surround Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA.  Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak and Modjeska Peak) can be seen off in the distance, to the left.  This image is a minimally manipulated single-frame, long-exposure capture. (Marc Perkins/Marc Perkins Photography)
A moonlit view of Newport Beach’s Lower Newport Bay (and partially Upper Newport Bay) with PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to the right and Newport Center's many tall buildings that surround Fashion Island to the left. Saddleback Mountain can be seen off in the distance, to the left.
The view of west Newport Beach as seen from Ensign View Park (on Newport Heights).  Visible to the left is the Lido Peninsula and western tip of Lido Island with the Via Lido Bridge.  Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is visible in the foreground, as are many of the buildings on the Balboa Peninsula's western portion.  The two tall buildings on the left are the  the Vista Del Lido complex and the 601 Lido Condominiums; the two tall buildings on the right (that almost appear as one) are Newport: The Towers (3121 PCH) and Newport Surgery Center (3333 PCH).  This image is a minimally manipulated single-frame, long-exposure capture. (Marc Perkins/Marc Perkins Photography)
West Newport Beach as seen from Ensign View Park (in Newport Heights). Visible to the left is the Lido Peninsula and western tip of Lido Island with the Via Lido Bridge; Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is visible in the foreground, as are many of the buildings on the Newport Peninsula's / Balboa Peninsula's western portions. 2

But those are just general overviews; the image I’m happiest with takes just a piece of one of those and lets your eye linger on the details:

A view of west Newport Beach's Newport Harbor as seen at night from Ensign View Park.  In the foreground are buildings surrounding the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH); the back of the 2436 Pacific Coast Highway office building (that looks like a motel) is prominent, as is the Bayport Yachts round turret and Joe's Crab Shack.  Behind that are buildings on Newport Peninsula / Balboa Peninsula that front Newport Harbor, most striking among them is the multi-story Blackman Ltd. building at 3388 Via Lido Drive, with the parking structure at the Lido Marina Village on the right.  Behind those buildings and the palm trees lie two open-ocean oil platforms (one above the Blackman building, and one above the parking structure), which almost look as if they're floating in space.  This image is a minimally manipulated single-frame, long-exposure capture. (Marc Perkins/Marc Perkins Photography)
A closer look at a portion of west Newport Beach's Newport Harbor as seen at night from Ensign View Park. Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is in the foreground; behind that are buildings on Newport Peninsula / Balboa Peninsula that front Newport Harbor, most striking among them is the multi-story Blackman Ltd. building at 3388 Via Lido Drive, with the parking structure at the Lido Marina Village on the right. Behind those and the palm trees lie two open-ocean oil platforms (one above the Blackman building, and one above the parking structure).

All of these are single-frame exposures with minimal manipulation in post processing. A few more images can be found in my Newport Beach at Night album.

1 I’m trying to get in at least 80 miles a week, and am hoping to build up to riding a century in a few months.
2 The two tall buildings on the left are the Vista Del Lido complex and the 601 Lido Condominiums; the two tall buildings on the right (that almost appear as one) are Newport: The Towers (3121 PCH) and Newport Surgery Center (3333 PCH).
Fritillary hiding in the (lemon) grass

Gulf Fritillary: butterfly of many costumes

While out in the garden this weekend I spotted a gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae incarnata. They’re stunning butterflies:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] hides amongst blades of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.].  It looks like it's hyper aware; stalking prey (even though it's looking for nectar …).  The bottom of this species' wings have beautiful spots that reflect silver in bright light (as you can see in this image), but are white in the shade.  The forewings are also partially red. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary hides among blades of lemongrass.

What first caught my eye was the silver reflections of the spots on the bottom of their wings. In direct sunlight it looks like they’re metallic; very eye-catching. But when the same butterfly is in diffuse light, those spots look white:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] stands on a [Ficus] leaf.  The spots on its wings when closed are white in the shade (as in this image), but reflect light to appear a beautiful silver when illuminated.  When its wings are closed, the bright orange and red colors of the butterfly are completely hidden. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary stands on a [Ficus] leaf.

Compare the first and second picture, and you’ll see that in addition to changing from metallic to white, the butterfly can also choose how much color to show on its underside. When it spreads its wings (as in the first picture), the bright red/orange coloration of its forewing is revealed; but when it rests with both wings pulled together and upright (as in the second picture) it can completely hide the red/orange color, thus showing only brown and white/silver. It can also partially separate the wings, to reveal just a bit of color (as it liked to do when it was annoyed with how close I was getting).

And speaking of color, check out the top of those wings:

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] stands amongst blades of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.] with its wings outstretched, showing off its bright orange colors. The bottom of its wings have silver spots on them, not visible in this picture. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary stands amongst blades of lemongrass with its wings outstretched.

This butterfly only held open its wings for a few seconds after each flight attempt, so spotting the true colors of the wings takes finding one in flight and then watching it land.

For a fourth, and final, view of the gulf fritillary, how about a head-on look?

A gulf fritillary [Agraulis vanillae incarnata] rests its foreleg on a blade of lemongrass [Cymbopogon sp.]. (Marc Perkins)
A gulf fritillary rests its foreleg on a blade of lemongrass.

Sleek and slim, complete with a coyly resting forelimb.

And in case you didn’t realize, all four of these images are of the exact same individual. It’s surprising how different it looks depending on angle and lighting.

The larvae reportedly only eat passion flower vines; I wonder which of my neighbors has one.

More pictures

To see more of my insect pictures, head to my Insects gallery.

Bee on marjoram

It’s a bee!

It’s been a busy summer without much time for photography, but today I grabbed the camera and headed for my garden. I was happy to capture this closeup:

A bee (likely a honeybee; [Apis mellifera]) climbs a marjoram ([Origanum majorana]) inflorescence.  The bee's eye, antennae, wings, legs, and fine body hairs are all in focus, as are the pistils and stamen of some of the marjoram flowers. (Marc Perkins)
Bee on marjoram. Macro.

That’s a bee (likely a honeybee, Apis mellifera) on a marjoram (Origanum majorana) inflorescence.

Look at those antennae (I love the ball joint at the base), those big eyes filled with ocelli, veined wings, and all those lovely little hairs. She’s a beauty!

Many thanks to my good friend Hannah, who gave me a set of wireless flash triggers that played a key role in capturing this image.

More pictures

To see more of my insect pictures, head to my Insects gallery.