Bike Commuter’s Dream – February 19, 2008

Breaking Away movie scene

Breaking Away movie scene

Josh scanned the road behind. “Should be here in a minute,” he thought. Time 7:59, Highway 101 at University Avenue. Twenty riders queued up at the on-ramp. Metering light orange. The Daily Express was right on time, flashing red lights signaling the electric cars to move left and make way for bikes. Every 10 minutes during rush hour the Daily Express came barreling through at 50 mph, slowing down at on-ramps to pick up riders.

Metering light flickered from orange to green. Time to get moving. Josh and the other riders jockeyed for position as they pedaled hard, picking up speed fast…10, 15, 20, 25 mph. Their piezoelectric jerseys began charging lights, MP3 players, cell phones. Some riders were already chatting away, Bluetooth earpieces barely visible.

Josh looked to his right and saw a co-worker, Tom. “Should be an easy ride. No rain this morning,” Josh yelled, wind rushing by. “Yeah, I’m feeling strong today. I hope this driver puts the hammer down.” “Let’s switch to our cells,” Josh yelled as they reached the freeway. Some Daily Express drivers edged over the 50 mph speed limit when running behind schedule. The riders didn’t mind. This Daily Express was one of the new models – expanded windscreen, curving inward several feet to reduce side winds. With the exception of the on-ramp sprint, Josh barely broke a sweat at 50 mph.

Tom’s voice broke in. “Did you get the auto transmission download?” Josh adjusted the volume on his earphone, gave a thumbs up. “Smooth shifting now.” The Trektron 400 automatic transmission had teething problems when it came out six months ago.  Debug took forever, but the Xilinx FPGA upgrade was a 60-second download.

Twenty riders jockeyed for position in the slipstream. Josh kept an eye on the rider ahead, his bike making minor gear adjustments to maintain a safe distance. His legs felt the minor pressure changes as he stroked the pedals. Even though he’d been riding an automatic transmission for several years, he marveled at the technology. Crashes happened, but only rarely.

Tom pointed to NASA Ames Research Center. “They’re testing the closed-faring Trektron recumbent.” Josh nodded. “We’ll see.” World champion Phil Johnson recently set a land speed record – 95 mph. Josh preferred the upright riding position of the diamond frame.

A rider Josh didn’t recognize had drifted outside the draft. He instinctively knew what would happen next.   “Must be new,” he thought. His bike wobbled. He fought to maintain control, but it was too late. He flew off the back. Immediately his bodysuit airbag deployed. Josh couldn’t help but laugh. The rider bounced around like a balloon blowing in the wind, arms and legs outstretched. “Probably didn’t even get a scratch,” Josh thought.

Thirty minutes into the ride Tom and Josh prepared for the exit, signals flashing. They slowed gracefully to lose the slipstream and coasted to the exit. In another five minutes they’d be at work, following the Guadalupe River Trail. Josh waved goodbye to Tom. “See you tonight,” he said. Just another day in the Silicon Valley fast lane.

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