Saturday, March 18, 2017

And then it snowed

After dwindling away to nearly nothing, winter jumped back into the game with 15-20 inches of snow. Depth varied with your location. I measured about 16 at home. The ski center claimed 18.

Before the snow, I could have launched the commuting season as soon as Daylight Relocating Time moved light to the evening. Yes, I have lights, but I've said numerous times that you could set yourself on fire and some drivers still would not notice you.

In the shop, we had to drag out rental equipment we had started to put into storage. This isn't a real money maker, this late in a mediocre season, but it's our core winter business, so we have to meet whatever demand presents itself. I hate when bike and ski stuff jam together in the workshop, because the substances they use are so incompatible. In that equation, bike lubes are worse for ski bases than ski waxes might be for most surfaces of a bike, but we're still trying to fit awkwardly shaped objects into a shared space without damaging any of them.

Timing of the snow and other items on the schedule meant that I did not shift seamlessly back to an athletic routine of workouts on the snow. Back to? I never established one at all, this winter. Muscling the snow thrower around provided a couple of days of exercise. Later there was some shoveling.

The strengthening sun hasn't made the snow miraculously disappear, but it does modify it much more quickly than the weaker rays of deep winter would. The surface becomes slow and sticky, while the full depth remains fine-grained. Skis pick up moisture on the way through the top layer before dropping down into the powder to clump up and slow down. Or you could go to the groomed trails, if you have time.

If we move relatively steadily into spring conditions, the roads will melt clear, the snowbanks shrivel again, and I'll be able to get out of the car. No doubt there will be a few bad jokes from the weather during the next month and a half. But the darkness and its attendant cold have to follow their fixed schedule. What we get may not be balmy and inviting, but it will probably be doable.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

In memory of Sachs Sedis

Ordering chains the other day, I sifted through the offerings from SRAM, KMC, Shimano, and others. Our default chain has been SRAM, because their chains are descended from the legendary Sedisport, the sleeper deal chain of the 1980s.

Very little can be seen of the original Sedisport in the SRAM chains of today.  The formerly flared inner plates are now straight.

The outer plates are shaped very similarly to Shimano's Hyperglide and Uniglide chains, which the Sedisport once outperformed. The change was gradual, and the chains are still functional and durable. But the reflex to choose them is probably more emotional than anything else.

Vintage Sedisport. Burly side plates, cleverly flared inner plates to facilitate shifting. Born when drive trains were moving to six speeds. My, my. What will be next? Gears that click into place?
Look at the opportunities for advertising, recklessly squandered. The side plates of the chain are completely blank. It's as if they expect their distinctive design to speak for them.

The 1990s saw the introduction of the Sedisport ATB. The links shown here date from after the merger with Sachs, as the stamping on the side plates shows.
The outer plates were straight, with beveled edges. The pins were starting to be riveted in ways that led to the development of closure links. Shimano, of course, had their persnickety special pins. Sachs developed a closure link shortly before they were bought by SRAM.

Ten- and eleven-speed drive trains need straight-sided chains because the spacing of the gears is so tight. Differences, if any, are subtle. Because I don't indulge, I depend on the feedback of those who do to decide what to supply them with. I know what I favor, but that can change every year as the industry removes options.

Chain shopping was tangential to larger games of componentry chess I started last fall, when a couple brought in their Seven touring bikes to be reconfigured with more practical drive trains, and another customer wanted to dress a new frame with an 11-speed racing group. His Specialized Roubaix had cracked, and Specialized had sent a warranty replacement. Same brand, same model name, but of course it had some different specs. That game was more a matter of cost-benefit analysis, working within his budget and a couple of specific requests.

Interesting indoor activities help pass the time as winter reclaims March. This happens every year. We complain that the mild weather won't stick around, but 20 years ago these conditions would have looked like the beginning of April, not the beginning of March.

The hard freezes after springlike warmth have pretty well wrecked the cross-country skiing, even in the nearby woods. This limits alternative training activities to things that are more boring, and therefore less likely. Despite the fact that I can literally feel that sitting on the couch is killing me, I still slouch in front of the computer, teasing my mind with little jabs of electronic stimulation. Old friends, new friends, hopeful signs, terrifying trends, ads for diseases you, too probably have...

Back to the hunt for bike parts. Look at that: Specialized has multiple road models that list for $10,000. Way to grow the sport! When civilization collapses, where will we charge our electronic shifters? I know, I know: personal solar systems will continue to work, as long as you can find a place to soak up some sun in between attacks by various desperadoes unleashed by the apocalypse. And you'll be able to scrounge hydraulic fluid for the brakes for quite a few years before things have reverted to more medieval conditions. Brake pads, on the other hand...

I've gotten out for a few fixed gear rides. The return to cold weather puts me back to scrounging kindling and pine cones to start the evening fires in the wood stoves. Scavenging wood is best done on skis, as long as there is any snow cover. It's not a high-intensity workout, but it combines some basic exercise with a practical need. That's been my guiding principle for my entire adult life.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bike commuting is to train for

Whenever someone tells me that something basically trivial is "to die for," I am briefly tempted to make them do it. But the vapid assertion provides a take-off point for more substantive ones.

Here it is, the end of February in northern New England. Around my house and in the woods, the snow is anywhere from six to 24 inches deep, except in places where it is deeper because of windblown drifts or created piles. But these are the remains of the much deeper snow we received in two storms very close together just before the middle of the month. That was before the temperature went above 60 degrees for a couple of days, in the middle of a longer period when the nighttime lows hardly got below freezing. The jet stream giveth and the jet stream taketh away. That's not to mention the other factors making New England's typical gyrations even more bizarre.

The thaw has shriveled the snow away from the road edges, clearing the bikeable area. At the same time, it destroyed the groomed trails on which one might have laid down a winter rhythm of alternative training.

While I have not seen riders, some of them have reported to me that they have been out and have seen others out. Calls to the shop for bike tuneups began while the snowbanks still slumped into the lanes. Road salt made those puddles as briny as the ocean. But people fixate on the temperature alone. Warmth is the deciding factor, even when they'd be better served by cold.

We did need the thaw to shrink the snowbanks back. But once the whole travel surface is clear, a freeze keeps things dry. I know a couple of things from years of experience: first, someone who gets their annual tuneup now will need more work by May or June to deal with the effects of salt and wet grit; second, when the weather turns cold again -- and it will -- bikes brought in for early service will be forgotten until June. Most of them will be forgotten in our shop, where we will have to work around them until their owners feel the urge for them again.

Riding in the grit and brine is probably only a little more abusive than pounding on a trainer, with a rain of sweat flowing down over the machinery.

I surveyed the route on my way home from work yesterday. If the roads stay this clear, I have no excuse not to launch the commute as soon as Daylight Relocating Time kicks in. With that in mind, I headed out for some base miles on the fixed-gear today.
The first hundred yards reminded me what a crappy winter this has been for exercise. But then I also did several sets of squats yesterday, in anticipation of the anticipation of the beginning of riding season. So the fried quads owed a little to that, as well as the time spent on the couch in a pile of cats.

I used to dream of glorious endeavors when I trained, especially during the first heroic rides coming out of the winter. Now I dream of surviving and thriving in my commute. The commute was always there, but I took it for granted. It's not good to take anything for granted.

The weather may change again. March can be snowy. Once we pass the equinox, however, the sun really gains the advantage. Even now, it is much stronger than it was a month ago. It quickly attacks late-season snows. And if the pattern remains dry, or the wetness comes on warm air, the road will remain clear.

Freedom isn't free. To be free from the car, I have to be strong enough to claim it. It's to train for.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I hate sharing the road

Driving season is grinding me down the way it always does. Sitting behind yet another ambling piece of flotsam as I'm trying to get the hell to work on a two-lane highway with lots of curves and steady traffic, I pine for the freedom of bike commuting. The vast physical, emotional, and psychological benefits outweigh the little bit of death fear that always accompanies cycling among motor vehicles.

Every year, I explore the motorist mindset. I absorb and radiate the impatience of the throttle-pusher forced to curtail speed because other legitimate users are on the road. The idiots staring at their phones, who somehow think that their weaving and speed changes aren't totally obvious make me wish I had a device with which to break in and blast them with a loud reminder to pay attention to piloting. One guy was so bad, I flashed my high beams at him repeatedly whenever I saw his face turn downward toward the touch screen. Flashflashflashflashflashflash! It seemed to work. He may have hated me, but at least the finally gave up on his phone until our paths diverged.

Critiquing other road users has become more dangerous this week, since New Hampshire did away with concealed weapon permits, releasing any gun owner to carry a concealed weapon with no restrictions or oversight. Hell, everything became more dangerous. Gun lovers like to say, "an armed society is a polite society," but fear creates reticence. The idea that anyone might be armed means that  speaking up when you see an injustice now calls for a higher level of courage. No one need fear that they will be stopped and questioned because law enforcement caught sight of a corner of a gun butt.

I've considered packing heat in the past. I had a concealed carry permit under the old system, but I did not renew it when it expired. Now I don't have to worry about the permit, but the reasons to forgo armament remain. If you pull it out, not only do you have to be ready to use it, you will have increased the chances that you will have to. Anyone even catching sight of a weapon you are carrying may use it as justification to take preemptive action. And guns weigh a lot. I'll be better served by an extra bottle of water.

Speaking of water, I've been hydrating desperately since the kidney stone. Unable to afford the defective product known as health insurance, I have to treat myself for things as much as possible. When I consulted my primary care provider a couple of weeks after the stone passed, because I still had residual twinges and wanted to get at least a cursory examination, she did not recommend investing in the expensive and inconclusive imaging procedures that might detect remaining stones until I had pursued many weeks of assiduous hydration. I had told her that the twinges were gradually subsiding. They ramp right up when I let myself worry. Those with the most to fear in America's pay-to-play health care business have the most incentive to suppress those fears, so that stress does not trigger the illness that will ruin everything.

The good news is that beer turns out to be a health beverage. Do not exceed the recommended dosage.

Lacking the resolve of my younger years, I find it hard to get my 10,000 steps a day. We're about two weeks away from Daylight Relocating Time. Depending on the weather, that may enhance exercise opportunities attractive enough to overcome my depression. I have to hope that the hits have outweighed the misses in this hit-and-miss winter, when I begin to lay down a more regular rhythm of effort and recovery on the bike.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Commuting like your life depended on it

As a person ages, regular exercise becomes more important to keep the body moving and the mind engaged. Well before you reach the point where someone is holding your elbow and guiding you gently across the carpeted floor of the nice facility in which you spend your last days, you'll get around better if you do as much as you can under your own power.

Wolfeboro is full of old people. The median age in New Hampshire is rising in general, but certain towns attract retirees, meaning that the population is not only aging in place, it's recruiting people who have left the work force. This provides a lot of subjects to observe.

As I watch the retirees through the years, I see that the active ones  -- not surprisingly -- do better than the inactive ones. The local working-age commuters also enjoy an automatically better fitness base. Because of my foolish life choices, I'll be in the work force until they dump my body in an unmarked grave. So it's vitally important to me to stay in shape and save money. Transportation cycling, even for half the year, makes a critical difference.

The bike path system in town draws the largest percentage of locals who pedal. Anyone not fortunate enough to live within a half-mile or less of an access point is very likely to drive to the trail, unload the bikes, perform their obligatory exercise, and drive off to whatever is next. This is also true of many riders who are not yet retired, especially in tourist season. The Cotton Valley Trail is about to be completed all the way from Wolfeboro to Wakefield, fulfilling a plan published back in the 1990s. This makes it a destination journey for people who like to drive around, sampling different paths and trails.

The trails also attract walkers, some with dogs, some with strollers. During peak usage periods, riders have to negotiate this crowd, and the non-riders have to put up with the cyclists.

Walking is actually the best way to get around the tight center of Wolfeboro. I use the bike to get to town, but for any errands right in downtown I will walk, making better time than anyone on wheels when the traffic is at its height. Even when traffic is sparse, a cyclist will have to negotiate left turns and hills, and then find a secure place to park. If the distance is a half-mile or less, hoof it.

On trails or on the road, the vast majority of riding is done for recreation and exercise, separate from the utilitarian needs of daily life. A tiny handful of people use bikes for transportation. Most of them have an athletic background of some kind. We slip through Wolfeboro's legendary summer traffic with ease, but the prisoners of internal combustion all have their reasons to stay sealed in the can, barely moving on a really bad day. They're right: the blockage only lasts for a little over two miles at its worst. Then they can rip along, formation flying with their fellow motorists, far faster than some sweaty idiot pushing on bike pedals.

In the winter, I do not push bike pedals. With access to the cross-country ski trails, and a love of winter hiking and mountaineering, I have always set aside the bike when icy roads and encroaching snowbanks made it an unfair imposition on the road users who really truly can't get around any other way. Loggers and tradesmen need trucks. People who have to cover a lot of distance need to go faster than 15-20 miles per hour. We're all in this together. Yes, many road users could benefit physically and economically if they left the car home and pedaled on the errands on which you see them out there, but a lot needs to be done to make that easy and inviting. Right now it intimidates them.

In winters with little or no snow, the roads are as clear as in summer. Then I will ride, because I am not fenced in by a snowbank.

At some point, even a fit and healthy person starts to get physical problems. A slowing metabolism means that the pounds pile on much more quickly when the exercising stops. If people have walkable and bikeable routes to routine destinations, they have the option to leave the armored wheelchair in the garage, and get a little more conditioning without having to think about it. They'll never believe that they could change the traffic mix in their favor if they all just went for it. They stay in their vehicles, scaring themselves and each other so that only a few at a time ever give it a shot. And then it scares them, so they go back into the car.

Some people love their cars and would never consider getting around by bike. And they don't automatically rot away after age 70 as a stark warning of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Some people manage to live long lives of happy smoking. There's no guaranteed formula. But the odds favor someone who remains active. I feel decrepitude eagerly hook its claws into me when I'm forced to be inactive. Even though the commute sometimes just feels like a treadmill grinding me toward my anonymous death, I know that it is helping me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lighter bikes mean weaker riders

When you get a lighter bike, it feels unbelievably agile and quick. For weeks, you feel like a superhero. For months you smile at the sight of that exceptional new extension of your personal power.

Then you get used to it.

If your goal is to hang with and beat out a peloton of racers or serious pretenders, and if your budget extends to regular upgrades, you can get the genuine advantage of lighter and lighter equipment as it hits the market. But most of us have to stick with a bike for a long time, and may prefer that.

I don't suggest that riders should seek out the clunkiest chunk of gas pipe to push around. I do suggest that weight weenies are deep in addiction. I'm also waiting for a bike so light that the rider has to be on it just to keep it on the ground. You have to tie it down when you park it. I mean something less bulky than what Albert Santos-Dumont already made. Looks like he's pedaling it, right?
He famously tooled around the skies of Paris, visiting friends while avoiding traffic congestion and on-street parking issues. Thinking of an e-bike? Consider a personal dirigible instead. Talk about flying up the hills!

Unfortunately, history bursts my balloon on this one. All accounts I can find say that the airships were propelled by small engines of some kind. I feel quite deflated. But modern inventors have taken up the cause.

Parking over public transportation might get very interesting.

Headwinds would be a new kind of hell when you could actually get blown backwards for miles.

Meanwhile, here on the ground, I look at the industry's annual offerings, and the adoring press that lauds latest and lightest and then return affectionately to my longtime companions, grateful for their simple needs and rewarding company.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Agony and endorphins

Since my last post, I have started a couple of entries, only to be dragged away for long enough to lose the thread of them.

As this strange winter began, we seemed to be getting a reasonable amount of snow for cross-country skiing. Way back in 1980, when I was dedicated to training, I heard about cross-country skiing as a winter sport that integrated well with competitive cycling. I now know more about how that works -- and doesn't work -- but that isn't the topic today. The point is, I've valued snow and the things you can do on it for many years, rather than wishing it away or going out pedaling in it when there are far older and better established ways to use it as a transportation and recreation medium.

Then the weather broke. I don't mean the weather broke in the classic sense of a sustained period of one type giving way to another. I mean it really seems to have broken into chunks of April and January, shaken together and dumped out in a cycle of warm wet followed by cold dry.

The transformed snow pack, combined with a few scheduling issues, threw me from the regular rhythm of the bike commute into a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Drive. Work. Drive. Do domestic tasks. When I did manage to get out to poke around the woods for anything, it was at very low intensity.

The deeply cold air is very dry. Heat that air inside a house and it becomes even more dry. I wake up in the middle of the night with absolutely no moisture in my mouth, even if I was not sprawled on my back, snoring. I keep a bottle of water by the bed, and drink most of it by morning. Even so, dehydration sneaks in, because I seldom sense thirst. And so, for the first time in my life, I had to pass a kidney stone.

Dietary factors contributed, I'm sure, even though I try to eat a fairly plant-based menu. I like meals that are made from scratch but easy to prepare. Ideally, they spin off leftovers I can carry for grab-and-go lunches. As I writhed in agony on the couch on Friday night, I researched factors that contribute to kidney stone production, and found a few of my regular items on the suspect list: nuts, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran…any and all of these, combined with inadequate hydration and sedentariness, could have played a part in the waves of pain that ramped up steadily as my little rock made its way through the ureter.

Worse than the pain is the unknown, especially for someone with no health insurance.  Even though health insurance is a deceptive product that is actually one of the reasons all medical things are ridiculously expensive in the United States, it is the accepted norm when you present yourself for care. And it was Friday night going into a holiday weekend. Not only would I be unable to get anything but emergency care, I had to be at work the next day, and the next day, and the holiday Monday.

If all I had to face was the mind-blowing agony of the stone's passage, I could deal with it. I thought I was going to puke or pass out or both, as it reached its crescendo, but then it was over, and the aftermath was bliss. But if I had an infection or had developed some weird chronic condition in which this was the new normal, I would have to consider suicide, because I am too poor to indulge in long-term illness and decline. As soon as I can no longer take care of myself, I have to go. And I don't want to go. But the reality of a market-based approach to human value is that you have no value when you are not creating cash flow.

The middle of a winter night, racked with pain, is a perfect time to swirl down a dark whirlpool of mortal anxiety.

This time, I got through the pain and a day of fasting and water, facing a light tourist load because they all thought the weather had ruined the skiing. I have no signs of infection, and will return to the forest to forage until some other crisis comes along. Whatever I can do with diet and exercise, I will do. When the thing comes along that is finally too serious for that…I'm not looking forward to it, but there's no good alternative. Something takes you out eventually. It irks me to know that I could easily go down from something that would have been treatable, but since we ration care on the basis of ability to pay, someone has to be left out.

The bliss that followed the pain reminded me of the same peace that follows a good workout or a serious bike crash. That's how it ties to the theme of this blog. And the blog is about the life of a person, not about obsessive compulsive cycling.