Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sport Utility Vehicles?

"...the new V6 is a guilt free pleasure because in addition to its brisk acceleration, fuel economy climbed to 21 mpg..."
 --Jan, 2014 Consumer Reports review of the new Mercedes-Benz GLK350, which gets 14 city/29 highway, real world driving

On the weekend when everyone is supposed to be out buying yet more crap to support the economy, I did my best to avoid being mauled, er, malled, at least the big box variety.  I started out Black Friday walking the hounds back towards the stables on North Mesa. Ran into another guy walking his two pups and we marveled at how much nicer it was to walk dogs in peace rather than try to rush the counters to buy CSFC (cheap s*** from China). I did have a few groceries to pick up and a couple errands to run in Bombtown, so I put the panniers on the Long Haul Trucker and daisy chained my errands for a 20 mile Tour de Cat Food (Smith's), Art Shoppe (Village Arts), and our Food Co-Op.
Back in the '80's when I was working on my dissertation, 
I pulled a roll of freshly developed black and white film 
out of the developing spool wet and slipped with the tongs, 
gouging the end of the roll. That created this weird pattern 
that I called "llama" so I printed it.  Found the damn thing 
the other day while cleaning out old files and framed it.
The "art" made it back in one piece in the LHT pannier.
Long Haul Trucker in typical form
Today it was time for a run down to Santa Fe for some stuff I can't find here in easy bicycle striking range. Rather than use the car,  I put the travel luggage on the Large Two Wheeler and headed off the hill, filling the saddlebags and top box with groceries (and, of course, locally brewed beer) from Trader Joe's as well as picking up some maintenance parts I need down at the Santa Fe BMW shop so I can do some winter maintenance on the big bike.

Providence shines kindly on two-wheelers
Sun rays courtesy of a late afternoon return to Bombtown
Frankly, although the ride was glorious, it was not so much fun in the City Different. I was sitting alongside the bike in the Trader Joes et al, parking lot eating an instant lunch bought at Trader Joe's and it seemed every third motorist in the parking lot was beeping and muscling for a space. They have hired parking lot attendants at the TJ's shopping center to keep the peace between aggressive, careless motorists.  I finally decided to pack up my rollup sandwiches and find a more peaceful place to eat--perhaps the business end of a machine gun range would be an improvement.

A beautiful weekend to be on two wheels, at any rate. Enjoy it while you can. Next weekend should bring significantly more cold.

WARNING: Foaming Rant* follows. The title? Well, the Surly and BMW are extremely sporty and yet can be quite utilitarian, scaled to their size, as well as frugal in their operation. This weekend, I had no need for heavy hauling capacity, if you don't include my fat ass in that calculation. Furthermore, I'm not sure I agree with CU that 14/29 mpg in an age when it is well accepted that anthropogenic impact to climate change is driven by fossil fuel emissions, can in any way be "guilt free". Nor do I think CU even knows what consumer "guilt" means any more--they have become part of the consumer-as-glutton problem. Hence I may cancel my subscription. Why one needs a "small" (4200 lbs) SUV with minimal storage space and an engine powerful enough to accelerate "as quick as a Porsche Boxster", to quote Consumer Reports (and with worse gas milage than the Boxster), is a question I don't have an answer to, esp. since its emergency handling and avoidance maneuver capability (and probably its brakes) undoubtedly are not as good as the Porsche, which means the untrained bozos pushing the limits in the M-B Narcissist's Special are likely a little closer to the ragged edge.

Sure, bicycles and motorcycles don't fit the picture of a stereotypical SUV, but neither do they guzzle gas, take up a lot of space, or hit with 4200 lbs of impact. Either can carry a week's worth of groceries, at least with me eating.  How about an SUV that sacrifices blinding acceleration while providing for other people's safety, some real utility, and some fuel economy instead? I suppose it wouldn't fly very far in the Benz market. Besides, maybe its better to go whole hog and just hasten our extinction. (I used the Impreza as an example because Subaru shrunk the engine and vehicle weight to improve gas mileage while maintaining respectable performance. Yeah its still a "cage", but Subie did go marching in the other direction compared to the "bigger, faster, meaner" crowd.)

The Real Long Haul Trucker
Environmental Footprint?
In the final analysis, and if I recall correctly, Steve Avery has said this, riding a bicycle doesn't necessarily provide you with environmental saint status because one's lifestyle in totality and the energetics of food production trump mere riding efficiency. A good discussion of that is here. Depending on how and where your food was grown, that bike can look an awful lot like an SUV in its real environmental footprint. Indeed, perhaps driving an Excursion and dying young and childless of cardiovascular disease is better for the planet!

*Foaming Rant borrowed from Patrick O'Grady, without permission. I'll buy him a beer.


Ian Brett Cooper said...

I saw an Escalade in a parking lot today - all 3 tons of it. I said to my wife, "What on Earth does a person need a car that size for?"

She gave no answer, as she knows it's a rhetorical question.

Like you, I have a Surly LHT. It weighs 0.0125 tons. I like that number a lot better. Unlike the Escalade, my bike can't carry 8 people, and I'm sure its luggage and grocery carrying capacity is a lot less, but I reckon it's all anyone should need.

There is no such thing as a "guilt free" 2+ ton gasoline-powered vehicle. Such vehicles are shameful: they stink, they pollute and they waste precious resources. People should be embarrassed to own them.

bikeolounger said...

I like the Surly product line, in general, but particularly the LHT and Big Dummy models (I have one of the latter).

The Big Dummy is my human-powered SUV.

Khal said...

Our neighbor has an old (mid 1990's) Ford F150 that sits by the side of their house and is basically the "community truck", i.e., he lends it out to whoever needs it, providing they are not lunatics. We use it once in a while to haul crap to the town dump, etc. Its a good solution, i.e., no one needs to drive such a big vehicle all the time, but its good to have one handy when you actually do need it.

That truck is getting pretty long in the tooth and no one trusts taking it off the hill for fear it might need to be pushed back. I might be the next person "elected" to provide the community truck. I've got my eye on a late '90's Toyota Tacoma with 300k miles on it that the owner, who owns a construction company, told me he would sell soon for something newer for his business and I was welcome to make him an offer.

A friend of mine in Honolulu put it well with that old expression--if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's what's wrong with the American transportation paradigm. Everything looks like an SUV.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

That's why I never learned to drive. I've noticed that everyone who owns a car has some excuse to justify it: they need it because they live too far away from work, shopping, etc.

In many cases, the reality is that they chose to live far from conveniences because they own a car. The whole problem with motorized transport, from my perspective, is that it makes wastefulness seem attractive and it encourages people to travel far more than they need to.

Khal said...

Lazy? Yeah, I admit that.

Actually, I made a related argument about our inability to keep retail business in Los Alamos. The state built a very fast, convenient four lane highway from here to Espanola and Santa Fe, which are bigger population centers with more economic amenities (and in Santa Fe's case, far more cultural ones). That, along with modern cars, has made capital flight off the hill inevitable. Its simply impossible with such a small market for BombTowne to compete with the plethora of stuff one can buy off "The Hill" when its so easy and fast to drive there. That was not the case when Los Alamos was a secret city with a primitive road; and took hours to get here. Apparently, this place used to teem with small business when we were a captive audience.

With the building of yet another shopping mall in progress, LA is trying to keep the money here. I wonder if that will work unless we tear up the road and turn off our computers. I still can't find a No. 6 coffee filter up here and only recently, with the food co-op opening, can we get decent vegetarian fare. So its often either the Internet or Santa Fe. I stockpile stuff to minimize driving.

I suppose one could go car free up here, but that's a bit of an overstatement. Everything one needs in BombTown arrives by truck. One is stuck with motor vehicles in America, unless you go off the grid and raise your own food.

Steve A said...

It hadn't occurred to me, but Ocean Shores has some of the same problems as Los Alamos - small place with a bigger one down the road. Similarly, OS has trouble keeping the local businesses going.

Khal said...

The various businesses our county government tried to get to come here kept saying the same thing--economy of scale made it more practical for them to locate in Santa Fe or Espanola and have us go to them. They knew that we would, of course.

My argument about the county trying to lure business is that first, it should not be government's job to pick and choose between retail and two, that aside from providing good infrastructure and a decent planning and zoning process, its up to business to decide it makes sense to move here.

Its rather funny. LA is a GOP county and a majority on the Council is GOP, but they keep wanting to dick around with retail. I call it the "GUM Syndrome" after that old USSR State Department Store.

Khal said...

Oh, I should have said "good infrastructure, a decent planning and zoning process, and competitive tax base"

Larry and Heather said...

Two explanations for the USA love affair with ridiculously large motor vehicles. 1. Motor fuel is too cheap 2. People buy a car/truck for that rare use rather than for what they do 99% of the time. Remember the ads for some silly SUV that said, "not that you would, but you COULD"? Sadly, buying decisions are too often based on that, as in the ability to haul 4 X 8 sheets of plywood - how often do regular folks do that? If motor fuel was $10 a gallon like in Europe, this silliness would soon stop - but I won't be holding my breath!

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