A Year on the Strida Evo 3

Stida Evo3 resting on a large rock
Bluestreak in repose

When I resolved to rationalize and expand my bicycle stable, I realized that my trusty, elegant commuter and reliable little folding bike would have to go. Ivy Mike was a lightly modified 2011 Novara Fusion that met all my on-road needs in style. However, when he was in the shop, or I needed to be flexible with my transportation plans, it was Nightbeat, a 2014 Novara FlyBy that took up the slack. In order to make room for a folding mountain bike and a folding road bike to explore the many trails in Austin and the many long organized rides around Austin respectively, the roles of my two steed would have to be met by a single new bike.

What folds small for logistical flexibility, has multiple internal gears, disc brakes for wet stopping, fenders, and can mount panniers? I’d been pining after the Tern Verge S8i for some time, but at $2,100, it was simply more than I was willing to spend. I examined its features and picked what I could reasonably compromise on. Hydraulic discs were never that important in my mind; mechanical would be fine for my needs. I enjoyed the dynamo hub on my Fusion, but I’d been using high-quality rechargeable lights on the FlyBy for some time without issue, and besides, the Verge S8i has a handlebar mounted headlight, which would just be obscured by my rain cape when things get wet. With these considerations, I revisited the world of folding commuters and found a possible candidate in the Strida Evo 3 at a full $1,000 less than what I’d been looking at. My only remaining hesitation was that it has a mere 3 gear ratios, and I have hills to climb

Meeting Bluestreak

After several months of hemming and hawing and looking at my bank account, I pulled the trigger on the brushed silver Strida Evo 3 of my dreams on Amazon. It arrived in short order at the Performance Bikes near my house for assembly, and I drove on over to pick it up. With many non-standard parts, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the saddle mount was not installed correctly, but the absence or loss of the rear fender flap and QR seat mount locking lever retainer was disappointing, moreso as I realized it only after signing the release paperwork, and so found myself ordering replacements from Strida Canada West. Within a few days, everything was properly adjusted and secured.

I dubbed my shiny new steed Bluestreak after the first-wave Autobot (it is a transformer, after all) of the same color, mentally bracing myself for years of explaining why it’s not blue (‘Streak earned his name for being talkative, not by being sky-color), and set about getting used to its non-name-related quirks. I folded and unfolded, worked out how to attach my panniers and carry a lock, found a closet to stow it in and the best way to roll it around.

To put it to the test, I plotted a day-long sojourn of nearly 30 miles along fairly even roads, visiting a few local breweries along the way. By then end, I had a good feel for the very upright riding position, and the saddle was making frenemies with my bottom. I still could not, and after a year of pedaling daily still cannot, remember which of the three gears I’m in. Luckily, It’s never that far away from the best option!

Evolving

After a couple attempts, I gave up on the kickstand entirely. The stock stand was fine as far as it went, but in the manner of all one-sided kickstands, it made loading packed panniers a bit of an exercise in estimating how much I could rely on it before the whole thing tipped over. To remedy this, I replaced it with a scissor-action double-legged kickstand. When it worked, it worked beautifully – loading was easy, unloading simple and stable, and it proved rock-solid when Bluestreak was simply standing around unburdened. The problem arose from the unusual kickstand mount on the Evo3. Instead of having a place for a bolt to pass through the frame and into the body of the kickstand, there is a threaded hole on the underside of the bottom bracket, the surface of which is curved front to back. While I could affix the kickstand there, it invariably had some play to it, and worked its way loose over time, flopping into the line of the crank arm, which became very annoying. In the end, I abandoned it, and simply learned that leaning the bike against things was far better for pannier management than either kickstand had been, and that folded up, Bluestreak was quite at home resting on the rear rack’s tiny nubs.

Apart from the kickstand saga, my modifications have been minor – some screw-on loops for a barrel saddle pack, a regular Cygolite headlamp mount stretched to its limits on the stout front fork, and a tail light mount on the cargo rack.

Celebrity Status

A powerful, expensive sports car will no doubt draw attention from bystanders; some may even comment on it. If it’s a convertible, you may even be able to hear those comments over the roar of the engine. For far, far less, you can enjoy not only looks of curiosity, amusement, or awe from folks on the sidewalk, as well as shouted words of admiration for or interest in your ride, but also be connected enough to the street scene to later be identifiable on sight by those spectators and even reply in an appropriate manner to their reactions, depending on your speed and level of exertion. In the past year, I’ve demonstrated the folding mechanism countless times for coworkers and random folks present when I’m locking it up in public, learned to shout “It’s a Strida!” over my shoulder to the common “What kind of bike is that?” query often lobbed at me from park benches and sidewalks, and found a number of ways to gracefully accept a compliment for owning a thing rather than making or doing a thing.

Lucy Chaplin: Science Starlet, by Drew Edwards, April Guadiana, Evan Quiring, and Paul Tuma

When a superhero title spawns a spin-off, it can usually be expected that the loyal sidekick or even a prominent rival will be the one taking the spotlight. Always exploring new perspectives on traditional tropes, the new special from Drew Edwards’ perennial action horror series focuses not on one of his paranormally super-powered friends, but on Lucy Chaplin, nominally his girlfriend, but in the world of Solar City, a personality far better-known and admired than her half-dead hunk.

As a whole, the book has a zippy silver age feel to it, featuring a solo adventure with a new threat our heroine is uniquely suited to battle, a fourth-wall-breaking expository piece about Lucy’s professional life & interests, and an in-universe magazine interview with the science starlet herself.

The villain of the first piece, Lucy Chaplin vs the Sons of Samson, is the contemporary strain of toxic masculinity personified, which is to say, the sort of thing a woman like Lucy would deal with daily but with a more intimidating costume – wrapped in the flag, carrying an (iron) cross just above hs codpiece. Like the balance of the issue, this main adventure serves as a slice of super-science life, digging into Dr Chaplin’s public and private personas as she attends to the business of being a multi-axial talent. The action of the story is straightforward, leaving plenty of room to depict our protagonist in turns as an entrepreneur-inventor presenting new technology, a publicity-conscious celebrity, and a bare-knuckle adventurer. Solomon Hitch is not entirely absent, staying in touch while he’s having a very different sort of adventure with a very different aesthetic, illustrating as only the graphic medium can the distance between their respective worlds and the richness of their shared universe. Quiring’s art is a bit of a departure in style for these characters, employing a more detailed and less cartoony look, taking several opportunities to play with layout, perspective, and focus. Lest the audience forget that Dr Chaplin is known for her figure as well as her facility with figures, cheesecake poses in panels and splashes are sprinkled liberally throughout, as are visual easter eggs for fans of 80s animation.

Great Inventions of Lucy Chaplin harkens back to second-person backup features of the sort found in silver age annuals in its approach to worldbuilding, walking us through Lucy’s workshop as she demonstrates the panoply of gear she’s devised with her brand of ecto-enhanced super science and following her out into the field in snappy vignettes where she puts it to use. Tuma’s vision of applied weird science has a distinctly mid-century sci-fi feel to it, which when combined with the horror elements inherent in world that’s being built and Dr Chapin’s bold fashions has the distinct effect of having enjoyed a space opera/zombie double feature at the dive-in and getting the details scrambled the next day due to one’s date being the actual main attraction.

Following a series of fan & artist pinups of Lucy, the final feature, Lucy Chaplin Cosplay Photo Shoot, is framed as an interview in Super Science Monthly titled “Super Science Monthly Interviews Dr Lucy Chaplin”. The interview closely models how a mainstream weekly magazine might approach Lucy, and her responses dovetail neatly with her Halloween Man legendarium. But being a photo shoot, the real attraction here is the fun Jamie Bahr — Edwards’ wife, muse, and well-nigh real-life Lucy — seems to be having playing the role of her comic book doppelgänger.

Halloween Man vs The Invisible Man, by Drew Edwards and Sergio Calvet

The second entry in Drew Edwards’ series of Halloween Man specials, Halloween Man versus The Invisible Man melds emotional realism with the titillating and the fantastical to create a gritty and satisfying adventure. Solar City’s fetish community has been rocked by a series of unexplained deaths when the grand dame of the scene, Claudette, comes to visit her old frenemy Lucy Chaplin, or more precisely, Lucy’s beau, Solomon Hitch. Our hero is reluctant to engage in this sort of heroism; while he’s commonly called upon to thwart the ghastly and creepy, the problem is a mystery, and he’s no detective. While comic book heroes often express token reluctance in order to build suspense, it can usually be chalked up to a gruff misanthropic streak or false humility; in this case, Solomon is genuinely out of his depth and has good reason to defer, only taking the case out of a sense of solidarity with a subculture that is marginalized and sensationalized by the media in the same way he is.

The tale unspools slowly, with setbacks and false leads as the nature of the threat is revealed to be Mr Griffin (his name filled out to “Herbert George Griffin” by Edwards, attributing H.G Wells’ first and middle name to his creation), the original literary Invisible Man somehow resurrected and gone mad from sensory deprivation. Combined with his mysterious return to life and the sadism evidenced in his original appearance, he is convinced he has become a god. Bringing judgement on those he deems perverts and fornicators for their excess of pleasure-seeking provides moral satisfaction in place of physical sensation. Of course, from the perspective of regular mortals, he’s become a monster, an aspect that Solomon recognizes and identifies with, as he is monstrous in appearance and sometimes manner after his own resurrection. However, although he experiences alienation from humanity, it is an alienation born of being rejected by humanity, while Griffin’s alienation is a result of his own rejection of humanity.

Through it all, despite the pressing crisis, the personality conflict that drove Collette and Lucy apart proves authentic, sustained on both sides. Collette’s well-intentioned but abrasive monomaina for her community and by extension her business motivates the story, but her manner is subtly contrasted with Lucy’s relentless inquisitiveness and problem-solving using every available fact. Although they share a bond as strong women at the forefront of their worlds, and end up making an effective team at times, it’s no surprise that they do not enjoy each others’ company for long.

Sergio Calvet’s art, a staple of Halloween Man’s regular issues, works very well here. For most of the story, Griffin is fully covered or completely invisible; when he’s in between, though, is when things get interesting. A pair of apparently empty pants walking around is to be expected, but the instances of mist, fog, or blood revealing his partially-transparent outline are especially well executed.

Ride: An Urban Cycling Overview

As part of Bike Month, and a few days ahead of National Bike to Work Day, I gave a presentation focused on best practices for transportation cycling and aimed at allying misgivings potential bike commuters might have about giving the pedal life a try.

 

Halloween Man Christmas Special, by Drew Edwards, James Figueiredo, and Kevin Richardson

Fred Rogers counseled that, in times of tragedy, one should always look for the helpers as evidence that all goodness is not lost, nor in vain. Drew Edwards’ Solomon Hitch and Dr. Lucy Chaplin are just such heroes. As Halloween Man, Solomon doesn’t patrol the streets fighting crime, journey toward a goal or away from danger, or planet-hop in search of adventure. He’s beholden to no overarching mission, working in service of no agenda more elaborate than fixing the problem at hand. Lucy’s science may be a bit on the mad side, but it’s usually on the problem-solving end of things rather than stirring them up. Trouble seems to find them, delivered either directly by the troublemakers themselves or by those desperate enough to turn to Solar City’s creepiest and brightest for help.

Fairy Tale, the first story in The Halloween Man Christmas Special (available, for now, exclusively on comiXology), finds Halloween Man called to the bedside of the freshly departed Max Kilgour, only to be set on a Christmas Eve quest by St. Nick to retrieve the decedent from an afterlife overseen by King Finvarra of Celtic folklore. Edwards speeds our hero efficiently into action, but not before an exercise in raw emotion that invests reader and protagonist in a situation both have just been introduced to. James Figueiredo’s art ably conveys the very human distress and tension about the deathbed, while not stinting in depicting the supernatural gruesomeness of Solomon’s appearance in otherwise mundane surroundings. In classic Halloween Man fashion, things soon turn whimsical before returning to grimness. The tale rides a series of similarly effective waves of light and dark through to the end, as monsters, gods, and mortals defy and conform to expectations in their turns. The pacing is economical, but affords plenty of space for wordless passages to develop effectively while color bleeds & gutters, split & composite panels, and expressive borders leaven the steady pace and guide the tone of their pages. For all the ways such figures as Father Christmas and Halloween Man might cross paths, this proves to be an intimate and grounded adventure.

Rounding out the second half of Christmas Special, Like a Ghost features Solomon’s better half Lucy (Dr. Chaplin if you’re nasty) fending off an assault that’s not what it seems. Opening in medias res, we don’t get to see the bestial minions burst in to disrupt the solemn proceedings of the Miss Super-Science Christmas Pageant she’s judging, nor exactly when or how her friend Forrest Spextre ends up sheltering under the buffet table with the contestants; rather, we start with our heroine delivering a powerful slobberknocker to one of the intruders. Taking up weapons even more effective than her left cross from the invention portion of the competition, the shapely scientist and her sidekick respectively brawl and cower their way to discovering the mastermind behind the attack. Along the way, Edwards explores how admirers near and far view an independent and capable woman and how the choices she makes in life and love are judged and found wanting at every turn by friend and foe alike. Rather than turn from the path she’s blazing, she serves up rebukes of both the harsh physical variety and more gentle verbal sort as necessary. The style of Kevin Richardson’s art is well suited to the brisk story, evoking the figure and facial style of Golden Age Dick Sprang with touches of the line-heavy horror work of Don Heck. Richardson is joined by artists Riccardo Desini and April Guadiana in a pinup gallery featuring Dr. Chaplin that serves as a tidy bow on this holiday treat.

I Am Alfonso Jones, by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings

 

The public’s current awareness of dubious law enforcement killings of black Americans seems to date from Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, and the rise of Black Lives Matter in the ensuing protests. Medina’s story synthesizes the details of about a half-dozen of these tragedies into the vessel of Alfonso Jones, and uses the journeys of his shade to unlock a greater, longer, sadder history than most are aware of. Set to play the Old Hamlet in a hip-hop inflected high school production of Shakespeare’s play, Alfonso Jones is killed by a security guard who claimed to mistake the suit hanger in the teen’s hand for a gun. Instead of playing a ghost, he becomes one himself. The severed threads of his life – the crush he was shopping with and about to confess his feelings to, the soon-to-be-released incarcerated father he’d never met, and his friends and frenemies at school – carry on in various ways as he watches his name become famous around the world even as it’s dragged through the mud by the usual suspects. Recalling Stoppard’s exchange in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead about the potential for the afterlife to be a form of transportation, here death is still not a boat, but rather a subway populated by those unjustly slain by police. Between following the lives of his survivors and trying to influence them in his limited way, Alfonso learns that he is the latest in a long line such casualties that extends well before his birth.

 

Medina weaves a compelling story out of disparate elements and scales, handling home life, school life, public life, and afterlife in their turns with exceedingly brief chapters of only a few pages each. Although the story presents a distinct point of view about its events, it remains well-rounded, using the Alfonso’s newfound omnipresence to show how his death has affected everyone, even his killer, in emotionally realistic ways. The rapid shifts between storylines can make the story somewhat choppy and difficult to resolve into a whole at times, but as plots resolve and interconnect, the forest becomes evident despite the trees. Individual characters are well-realized with distinct personalities, even for those mainly in the background. Medina also makes the community a character in its own right, with its own rhythms, symbols, and folk practices, inviting a possibly alien audience to experience Alfonso’s Harlem as a new neighbor might.

 

The art of Robinson and Jennings, even in its unfinished state, is fluid and varied, contributing to the different speeds and scales at which the narrative operates: often intimate, sometimes sweeping, and in a few places, kinetic. Layouts are largely regular, showcasing the setting during long conversations, with occasional inventive splash pages breaking the rhythm for effect.

Afar, by Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton

In a future wasteland, a family of four contends with familiar obstacles to make ends meet, eventually leaving the teenage children to care for themselves while their parents travel to find work just as their eldest discovers a wondrous ability and their youngest gets into trouble. Leila del Duca’s Afar draws from many recognizable sources and lovingly twists them into something unexpected that should reach new audiences. The parents, facing both the father’s unreliability and the mother’s bouts of depression, recall overmatched caregivers from fairytales whose struggles open the door to adventure for their offspring as well as well-meaning but often helpless parents from emotionally realistic sci-fi young adult graphic novels like Space Dumplins. The tale woven for Boetema and her brother Inotu is interesting in that it could easily play out in a more familiar world; the specific sci-fi elements have very little bearing on their relationship or how they interact with their world. They could just as easily be siblings left to their own devices in a contemporary city, forced to flee due to a chance encounter with a less exotic gang, leading to conflict with a corrupt public figure with a non-cyborg bodyguard, and deal with mutual alienation arising from her having a non-metaphysical talent that give her access to a more metaphorical different world.

The story is well-paced, and I often found myself wondering how the plot would manage to resolve in the number of pages left. It doesn’t tie up all the threads, clearly leaving room for another volume or more, but it does get our protagonists to a satisfying place after their journey. The characters feel authentic as brother and sister, and the adults are neither cartoonishly obtuse nor improbably credulous; rather, common motives of self-interest and social norms direct their actions believably.

Boetema’s astral projection sends her sleeping mind to many worlds, some populated by beings clearly inspired by familiar species, while others find her afloat as a vaporous cloud-person or inhabiting an Escheresque rock-giant. Kit Seaton’s art is adaptable to all these, displaying expressions of bewilderment, fear, and awe on alien faces of every description, even when they have more or fewer parts than we’re familiar with. Scale and focus are used to great effect to shift the tone from character to character, or from Boetema’s native world to other realms. Panel layouts vary and are used to convey the context of their content. Earthbound events are shown in panel structures with sharp borders, accommodating the flow of the story with varied shapes and sizes. When Boetema leaves her body, her brief visits are often shown in panels finished in a different manner: sometimes with borderless panels fading into the white gutter, other times with a hard edge against a black gutter. Her longer stays are shown in much the same way as when she’s in her own form. The characters’ own tales get unique treatments, too; when a story arises within this story, it’s shown in rigidly regular panels, an elementary grid highlighting the artifice of storytelling.

The character-driven narrative combines with tropes familiar to readers of young adult urban fiction and the complexions of the main characters to openly appeal to audiences that might not otherwise pick up a sci-fi graphic novel; the post-industrial future setting and fantastic sci-fi elements, in turn, make a similar entree to comic readers less likely to pick up a book featuring brown faces than green ones. Both potential readers are in for a treat.

Couri Vine, Issues 1 & 2 by Vanessa Shealy and Leah Lovise

IMG_20170510_214804Couri Vine #1: Young People for the Leader

This is a fine introductory outing for Couri, combining tropes of children’s literature with good old-fashioned pulpy sci-fi. An outsider ripped from her everyday school & community life by revelations about her family and her world that she alone can resolve, Couri follows in the footsteps of Monica Huges’ Olwen in Keeper of the Isis Light with many of the lunar trappings of Paula Danziger’s This Place Has no Atmosphere. Lovise’s character designs are distinct and her linework approachable without being overly cute; rendering of sci-fi stables like robots and spacecraft bear recognizably classic influences, often with a whimsical twist. Panel structure is regular and easy to follow, generating some of its own vernacular for communicating speed and flow.

Couri Vine #2: Journey to the Planet Earth

Couri’s adventure takes her far from home in pursuit of her history and a way to rescue her grandfather as they tale takes on both the timeline of ecological disaster and the family drama which has created the world she inhabits. This issue incorporates more action and intrigue, expanding the mystery by explaining part of it. The map endpapers, which will hopefully continue throughout the series as a world-building supplement to the text, incorporate more than what the plot touches on and bring contemporary elements of ecological concern into the sci-fi setting.

Maps to Taps

I was selected by my supervisor to attend the annual ESRI User Conference in San Diego this past June. Much geospatial fun was had, as was a surprising amount of fun with the marketing crew. Story Maps were on everyone’s lips, and I set out to collect material to make one upon my return. Life ensued, as did laziness, but I’ve finally produced my first original Story Map, combining my interests in mapping, transit, beer, and some fun writing to string it together. View it below or click here to view it in a new tab.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

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In the tradition of graphic novel journalism such as Sarajevo, Fixer and Palestine, Rolling Blackouts takes the reader into a world touched on only lightly by the nightly news. Glidden chronicles her travels with friends in a journalism nonprofit as they follow the aftermath of the Iraq war from Kurdistan to Syria, picking up stories from those they meet along the way as well as from the group itself as they contend with what it means to be journalists, friends, and Americans in the modern era.

The key to the tale is transparency; it seems that practically everything makes it onto the page in one way or another, and Glidden scrupulously details when dialogue comes verbatim from a voice recorder, and when it is condensed from multiple episodes into one. This comports well with the general behind-the-scenes nature of the action taking place. Even as the author discusses the challenge of making the work itself, she is presenting her journalist friends grappling with similar issues of the ethical complexity of crafting a narrative from the plotlessness of life. Even the seeming promise of a tidy arc in the form of an Iraq War veteran travelling with them fails to materialize in the way the reader, author, journalists, and in fact the vet himself expect.

As a result, the drama is low-key and frustratingly diffuse, a situation which is echoed by the characters themselves. There’s little by way of action, and little more tension apart from the anxieties of doing a good job in an ever-more poorly defined field. Much of the appeal comes from the plainspoken outsider perspective on journalism as a trade, hearkening back to its popular conception in the pre-Watergate era. There’s a good deal of discussion about journalistic ideals, but the degree to which the practice of the craft is revealed is a surprising highlight.

The art, which in this copy was still mostly uncolored, suits the workaday ethic of the story well. The focus is on faces, which are simple, expressive, and well-differentiated, which is a vital factor in a story where the characters are fairly average folks mostly talking about stuff in normal clothes. Nonetheless, the depiction of the middle eastern streets, homes, and scenery where all this talking and thinking take place are not given short shrift, but are detailed worlds in their own right. The panel breakdowns are highly regular, with occasional wider vistas for context. One choice in depicting the real mechanics of reporting in a distant land does stand out and serves to further emphasize the author’s commitment to showing the process of journalism: when speaking to subjects through an interpreter, the speech of the subject is represented as a speech balloon overlapped by one from the interpreter, at once showing the voice of the original speaker and illustrating how it is, for the interviewer and their audience, well-meaningly eclipsed by the words of others.
More comics journalism by Glidden and many others can be found at Cartoon Movement.