Friday, January 27, 2012

Baggin' it

This is one of the most detested consumer products anywhere. The disposable plastic bag has a vile reputation — much of it well-deserved — as a wasteful use of resources and a huge source of litter that isn’t just ugly, it’s dangerous to sea creatures and wildlife.

It also comes in damn handy. You can stuff a couple of these puppies inside a bike jersey to block cold wind, or wear them over your socks to keep your toes from freezing. (Don’t forget to trim away the excess material that sticks out of your shoe, lest you blur the lines between frugality and homelessness.)

But my favorite use for these evil little things is moisture protection for my camera. Cold temperatures cause camera batteries to barely function. Often, they’ll completely fail to work until they warm up again. The best solution I have found is to carry my camera against my body to keep it warm. But that subjects the camera to excessive moisture from body heat and sweat. On top of possibly damaging sensitive electronics, this causes the lens to fog up when it is moved from a warm, moist pocket into cold air.

I need a way to keep my camera dry but accessible for quick shots. Discarded grocery bags are perfect. I drop my camera in the bag, roll the bag up around the camera and then stuff it in a jersey pocket under my jacket. As long as my clothing layers allow reasonable access to my inner pocket, I can grab the bag, let it quickly unroll, then snatch out the camera and turn it on.

Once I’m done, it’s only a matter of quickly wrapping the camera again, then stuffing it in my pocket and riding away. Even if I keep it out too long in sub-zero cold and the battery is dying, it will usually be warmed up and ready to go for at least a couple of shots at the next stop.

Green groups encourage us to “reduce, reuse, recycle.” This is one nasty, disposable plastic thing that can be reused in several ways by cyclists, and it's free.


Phil B said...

I've heard of using these as vapor barriers before, but have never tried it out myself. As a bike commuter who likes to bring a thermos of coffee to work with me, I wrap my thermos in a plastic bag and then cover that with an old gator when it is below 0. My coffee stays warm for the whole ride and I am a happy man.

After today's ride, I might have to start carrying one of these to use in collecting the doggie bags that people seem to think magically disappear if the just leave them on the side of the trails... but that is a completely different topic.

Anonymous said...

Just found your Bicycles/Icicles article on winter biking in Alaska. Living in Massachusetts it came as a complete surprise to learn that you folks are riding in Alaska during the winter months, in subzero temperatures. Wind chill must make for some bracing rides.

Your post reminded me of reports of Tibetan yogins chopping ice holes on frozen lakes in winter. Reportedly, they dip sheets into the water and drape themselves, having contests to see who can dry out the largest number of sheets in a single night doing strenuous yogic breathing exercises.

Most of the limitations we place on ourselves are "manomaya" (Pali="mindmade"). Thank you for reminding me of that fact. I'm motivated now to start doing some winter riding in New England, which, I imagine, is equivalent to springtime riding in Alaska.

Your post brings me to wonder whether anyone is doing the trans-Canadian route in January. Last time I visited a friend in Mannitoba, the temperature dropped to as much as fifty below zero (farenheit) in January-February, with a wind chill factor. A biting Artic air mass sweeping down across the Canadian praries makes for some daunting headwinds. In such conditions I can imagine one might benefit from riding with a plastic bag over one's head, with eye and breathing holes, of course... covered with a woolen ski mask, held tight with lightweight goggles... with a surgical mask over the mouth and nose to protect the delicate air passages.

Just thinking....

Thank you for your emboldening article. Have you ever considered winter biking to Paris from Vladivostock? What about high altitude cycling in wintery Tibet?

Vik said...

There is nothing wrong with a plastic bag. The problem is all the crap people buy and throw away. Since stopping the buying and throwing away of stuff is unpalatable we've decided to focus on the plastic bags we carry the stuff we buy home in.

Making the bags evil gives us something to do so we feel good without having to actually do the thing that would actually be useful yet would ruin our fun.

safe riding,


Bruther said...

There are videos on Youtube on how to make heavy duty shopping bags out of multiple layers of these. We have made durable sheets of 8 ply plastic with many of our old bags but have yet to sew them together to make reusable shopping bags out of them. Check it out.