Saturday, September 13, 2014

The world's fastest micro-poodles

It's a gray day.  It started kind of light gray, but it's closing in as the clouds thicken. It seemed like a good day to do a park and ride commute to shake down the path bike before autumn really sets in.

On the Cross Check I may ride a lot of dirt, but once I get to Center Street I get back into traffic, even if I rode in the path from North Wolfeboro. The last section of path, along Back Bay, is often full of other users. The street route is more conducive to speed. But the path bike is such a wallowing slug on the pavement that I will stay on the path and be nearly the fastest thing on it rather than waddle down the road as nearly the slowest.

Bombing down the first descents from where I park, the path bike feels solid but maneuverable. Lower down, on the Cotton Valley Trail segment of the route, the wide tires demand a little less precision than the skinnier smooth tires on the Cross Check. But it's no sprinter. Come the frosty time I won't miss the speed. It's a mental and physical transition.
Path Commuter and Cross Check

Zipping along the shore of Back Bay this morning,  I slowed up a little as I approached a guy with a couple of small dogs.  I could hardly see the dogs, but I could tell they were there by the way the man moved.

When the little buggers saw me, they burst into furious yapping.  One launched a charge. I looked down at what appeared to be a rat with a perm, ripping along below my foot.  I mean, these things would need a small step ladder to bite someone's ankle. But the leader in particular was amazingly fast and persistent.

When I saw the mini dog was not going to quit I turned back to lead the chase back to its owner. That did bring me into range of the equally irate but less ambitious other dog, who had broken off pursuit after a few yards, but the responsible human quickly gained control. That's the thing about micro-poodles. You can hold quite an arm load of them.

Not much in the workshop today. One road bike with front derailleur problems. Its chain was a black, dripping mess. Someone must have told the owner,  "be sure to lube your chain." Judging by the rest of the bike, this was apparently interpreted to mean, "and never lube anything else." Everything but the chain is covered with grinding oxidation.

As I arrived at the shop, customers were adding another bike to the repair queue.  It had been on the rear rack of their car when it was hit by another vehicle from behind. It looks amazingly good. The customers already got new parts to replace the bashed ones. The rest of the bike hardly looks like anything happened.  I've seen much worse looking bikes that have never been hit with anything but their owner.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Muffin Doin'

Feeling a little under-breakfasted this morning, I decided to indulge in a sour cream coffee cake muffin from Lydia's Cafe. The recipe dates back to the original Lydia, around 1997. That's three Lydias ago. The current Lydia is a guy named Hunter, but he carries on the fine tradition of a cheerful welcome and worthy consumables.

The cafe's name may be its good luck charm. The original Lydia was pretty darn special at a time when that whole neighborhood could use it. She and her consort, Darrell, moved on to enrich some other place, but each successive owner has kept the name and carried on its pleasant legacy.

I've been getting the enormous scones Hunter introduced. Scones are totally cool. Everyone knows the cool kids get sconed. But I don't want to get sconed so much I need more and more to get the same enjoyment.

All the way in over North Wolfeboro
                                                              I thought about muffins. Muffin is a word with no dignity. You can't sound tough or cool when you ask for one. The word just sounds like you're trying to say "nothin'" with your mouth full -- as it would be when scarfing down a muffin, for instance. Muffins are just not badass. There's no warrior tradition of muffins. It's not the legendary breakfast or mid-morning nosh of conquerors.

"Finish your muffins, men! We're going into battle!"

I did crack 40 mph ripping down from the plateau where I took this picture over distant Lake Wentworth. Foolish risk is a hallmark of badassery. The paved drop rolls out onto a continuation of the dirt. With the right bike it's a fun rush. The low sun through trees that still have all their leaves makes it hard to see in some sections. Every time I get away with it I'm happy, but I wonder how many chances I have left.

From the top of North Wolfeboro it's basically downhill all the way into town, perhaps seven or eight miles. It's not all free fall; the trail levels out quite a bit. But there's nothing left to climb.

Got to work, changed clothes, assessed the situation and headed for Lydia's.

Muffin obtained, I settled into the morning's work. Jobs tend to drop in one at a time right now, allowing plenty of time to consider the details. If I'm lucky, they're jobs with details worth considering. I mean, everyone's details are important, but some of them are more interesting than others.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Horrible seats and cheap pedals

It's hard to spec a bike for industrial production. The seat and pedals on this 1994-ish Bianchi hybrid illustrate the point.

By the time step-in pedals became widespread in the 1990s,  bike manufacturers had already developed the habit of putting disposable plastic pedals on most new bikes. While toe clips were still a viable option, some mid- and upper-range bikes might have somewhat nice pedals in that style, but by the mid 1990s the toeclip was dead, as far as the industry was concerned. After a few seasons in which step-in pedal manufacturers got some OEM spec, the industry decided to save the money and go with disposable pedals on anything that came with pedals at all. They assume a serious rider will choose a pedal system and a casual rider won't care.


The seats present a more complex problem. As I looked at the deterioration of the seat on this Bianchi I thought about what options a bike manufacturer has with that particular piece of the bike's equipment.

The part of the bike that goes between your legs has been a sore point, if you will, since the earliest days of straddled transportation. Among equestrians, saddle toughness is a point of pride. But somehow, among cyclists, the seat has become the bad guy. The sore rider is just an innocent victim. If you look at a lot of OEM seats you can see why. Cheap saddles are almost all really awful. And the high-performance saddles on expensive bikes are more than the untrained ass is ready to withstand.

Unfortunately, the seat is an ambassador for the activity of cycling. How much of the general perception that bike seats are incurably awful is fed by the fact that the cheap original seat on most bikes is incurably awful? And because cyclists don't aspire to saddle toughness anymore -- indeed, many of them never did -- a lot of people feel aggrieved pretty quickly when the ride is uncomfortable.

I see no easy solution. Butts are like snowflakes: no two are alike. So even changing the OEM spec to a higher quality saddle will fail to please a large number of customers because they're simply shaped differently. The bike manufacturer is out the money and the new rider either slouches away grumbling or has to invest in a new saddle for their new bike right away.

The best a retailer can do is acknowledge problems quickly and accommodate changes readily. And that's basically what we do. The process is generating quite a few orphaned and unloved seats, however. Someone needs to come up with a good use for them or a recycling program. Maybe they could be used as part of enhanced interrogation.

"No, please! Don't make me ride that trainer any longer! I will tell you everything!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Morning Fog

The approach of autumn brings some brooding skies. This morning's fog was thick enough to rise grudgingly as a thick overcast that only burned off much later. Later rising sun at a lower angle brings less power to bear on the vapor that collects overnight. The day eventually became somewhat sunny, as predicted.

Once I turned off the highway I saw almost no one for the next eight miles or so. The one car I saw coming in on a side road must have turned the other way, because it never passed me.

A customer brought her bike in for us to pack so she can ship it to the start of the Climate Ride from New York City to Washington, D.C.  Every packing job is a unique art project. She rides a little Richard Sachs touring bike from the 1970s or early '80s. Its proportions and our limited supply of boxes led to some interesting challenges. I may be a finalist for this year's Golden Shoehorn Award.

Here's her donation page. Her name is Susan Fuller.

Here's a page listing the beneficiaries of the ride's fundraising efforts.  There are multiple rides and events under the umbrella of Climate Ride.

The rest of my day consisted of odd little repairs as I waited for time to get back on my bike to ride home. Tune in again tomorrow for more diddly crap. But you never know when something good might happen. Remind me of that when the alarm goes off tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Slow Ride

My older brother visited over Labor Day Weekend. He's the guy who got me into cycling (beyond normal "kid cycling") in the mid 1970s. His pursuit of varied interests has had him in and out of cycling ever since. So he knows what he's missing when he's missing it, but he's not always in peak form to pursue an opportunity when he gets it.

He showed up with his thrift store Raleigh road bike. I made a few modifications to it at his request a couple of years ago. It's a nice lugged frame road bike from the mid 1980s: simple, reliable and sporty. Unfortunately, his busy work schedule has had a bad effect on his power to weight ratio.

For our first ride we did a 15-mile loop in the late afternoon on Monday. We'd been thinking we'd go out earlier, but the night before he'd pulled a sweet little ukulele out of his sleeve. Not only did we stay up stupidly late plinking and dinking on the uke' and my mandolin, I also promoted the idea that he grab a quick lesson with expert ukulelist Shana Aisenberg, who lives nearby. Aisenberg literally wrote the book on ukulele -- co-wrote A book, anyway.

My brother is into all sorts of musical esoterica, and Shana earns her living at it. They hit it off, so the lesson went way overtime. Even though I could have taken him out for back-to-back days of long tongue-draggers over hilly but beautiful rural roads, he had a great time at Shana's and got some good stuff to work on in the coming months.

So there we were, heading out into the golden glory that precedes a September sunset.

Ordinarily I can cruise the Loon Lake Loop in under an hour. I'm not obsessed with average speed, but we weren't riding our bikes with full lighting, so sunset mattered. We did beat it, but I kept dropping him. I even COAST faster. What's up with that? He's got about 40 pounds on me. I don't have some kind of miracle bearings in my hubs.

The next day we got out earlier on a longer route around Effingham, to deliver some concert flyers for the cellist's gig in September. She's doing a program with a violinist and a pianist as part of a fundraising concert series to support the preservation of a local historic building.  The building is the Lord's Hill Meeting House. Our route took us up Lord's Hill. It's only moderate by local standards, but pretty stiff for a guy from the Washington, D.C., area especially when he hasn't been riding much. And on the way we did a lot of smaller climbs, which gave me plenty of time to compare the experience of riding painlessly slowly as opposed to my typical more assertive pace.

Launching off one dropoff into a steep descent I know well, I reflected on how often this same brother had seen me get squeegeed up when things didn't go well on a hurtling descent, starting when I was eight years old. Perhaps the fact that I continued to ride after that indicated that I did suffer brain damage.

It can't have been that bad. I never lost my sense of self preservaton. Sporty fast is one thing. Crazy fast is another.

"Remember, kids! Brain damage causes downhill mountain biking!"

Twenty-one miles took us almost two hours. This was beyond LSD. I felt antsy, but I also felt how nice it was to meander. To amble. To take in the sights.

Too often I feel pressed by my fellow road users to keep up the pace. Also, in commuter time trials or squeezing a ride into a full day's schedule I speed up to a half-fast pace neither full race nor relaxing. When I trained with a bit of knowledgeable guidance, my mentor warned against exactly that. He explained the value and the difference between hard days and easy days, and the various kinds of interval workout. But when one is not training, to be tested by fellow trainers at competitive events, it's easy to fall into slightly breathless haste most of the time.

No one hassled us riding slowly. Maybe we were fortunate in our route and the motorists who happened to pass. Different paces attract different types of criticism. Some occupants of motor vehicles may feel extroverted contempt when they see someone doodling along at a casual pace. Others may find a faster cyclist much more irritating because the motorist has to speed up so much more to complete the pass. Heavier motor traffic on more of a main road will breed more impatience.

I seldom ride slowly unless I'm with someone who forces me to do so. But any change of pace can be instructive. Maybe when I was 20 years younger I would have felt just as well rested doing the route at 18 mph instead of 11. But left to pick my pace I would have pushed for 20 back then.

I did notice years ago the difference between riding a pushy pace and an easy one. But my easy one seemed to attract more bullies than my faster one. I didn't have time to slow down even more to see if I could find a peaceful zone down there. I would invariably speed up to gain whatever respect I could. But I wondered at the time what my riding would be like when I could no longer speed up enough to get into the faster groove. On some roads it doesn't matter much. On others you really see the difference.

Going into the commuting week I resumed my normal pace. I don't ride impressively fast, it's just that the rides with my brother had been impressively slow. I'll be thinking about them for a long time.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A classic case of a well tuned bike

A customer brought in a pair of Trek 930 mountain bikes from 1993 or 1994. He said they had been in storage for a long time, so he wanted them looked over and tuned up.

The bikes have been ridden, but not a lot. All parts are original. So I'm guessing that they reflect how well they were assembled, since they probably did not see enough use to have gotten a comprehensive tune up before they went into storage.

They were assembled really well.

1993-94 was the height of the mountain bike boom. That height lasted until about the turn of the century, but by 1993 it was full on. Old shops battled hard for market share. New shops sprang up. Sports shops diversified into biking even if they had little or no prior experience. Work quality ranged from superb to disgusting.

Whoever worked on these bikes knew how to do it. The hubs are not only smooth, the lock nuts and cones are firmly secured. The threaded headset is adjusted and properly locked. The derailleurs are adjusted and the cables snugged at the anchor bolts, not just tuned by running out the barrel adjusters.

Twenty years later, my job turns out to be easy. I have to check all the adjustments, but only to confirm that they are tight and right. Twenty years, people. This is why I have such a seething contempt for half-assed mechanical work. Do your procedures and things will run smoothly for a long time.

"The bikes were stored," you might object. True, but that means I'm probably getting an accurate archeological picture of the quality of the original assembly. Observing well assembled and well tuned bikes over the long term I can confirm that they stand up to regular use better than something slapped together.  Remember: if anything is correctly done straight from the factory, it was an accident.

I appreciate good work. It takes no longer and is no harder than crappy work, and it makes my job easier. It makes everything better at no extra cost. Then we can all concentrate on having fun.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Snazzy graphics

Dire warnings really add something to the look of a bike. There you are, you've shelled out a couple of thousand clams for your hot new rocket and it's covered with colorful stickers advising you to up your insurance and write a will.

When I was growing up, every kid knew the world was a dangerous and deadly place. We didn't need stickers on our bikes to tell us we could get splatted. Most of us developed first hand experience.

Back then, Mom was usually home to attend to minor casualties and do triage to determine if the wounded one rated a trip to the dreaded emergency room. Perhaps today's protective parents are motivated as much by economics as by a fear of harm to the little yard schnauzers. When you have to hand off to the pros early in the process your bill mounts quickly,  even for something that turns out to be minor.

Or maybe we truly have become a nation of wussies who can't figure stuff out for ourselves.

Bikes seem to baffle people. Or maybe I just see the baffled ones because the self sufficient ones are all out riding. In any case, the bike industry sees the need to cover its ass and its products with copious warning labels. This one had a restrained total of four: one on each wheel and one each on the frame and fork.