Monday, December 25, 2006

From the Beginning of Time

I just started reading David Herlihy's history of the bicycle.

The book begins with more detail than I had read before about the development of the Draisine, the ancestral two-wheeler without pedals. That style of locomotion never attracted me, though I guess the ultra-retro crowd has played with them. A friend sent me a link to videos from last summer's Wheelmen meet in Ontario, including some Draisine races.

What struck me the most was the fact that, from the very first instant that anyone ventured out onto the public road on two wheels, most of the public showered them with abuse. The two-wheeler was derided as a toy of the rich and idle, a novelty and a public nuisance. How could the act of propelling yourself on a pair of wheels provoke such hostility?

Exercise in general was looked down upon by the self-styled better elements of society. Yet even in the early 19th Century, editorials stated that some of these crazy new devices might be just the thing to get sedentary city dwellers out for a bit of beneficial physical activity.

Our machinery is better now, but the sedentary majority, now mounted in powerful coaches they never could have afforded then, still demands we get out of their way. What's your hurry? Most grocery stores are open late, if not 24 hours, flabbo.

The Ride Not Taken

Despite the warm December, I haven't ridden since the day I got to 4,000 miles. Remember how it says in my blog description that you can have a life as well as a bike? You can and should ride well when you ride, but don't beat yourself up if other priorities draw you away for a time.

Athletes are competitive even when they don't race. Cyclists compare themselves to each other on any number of criteria. Even the people who stress that they don't race or ride fast turn the competition upside-down as they vie to be the least competitive and the lowest performance. Your upright riders wobbling down the local path can be downright militant about how their way is absolutely fine, thank you.

Chill, chill, you people. I only argue with people like a mountain biker who posted to a forum years ago saying that he would run roadies down with his car as he drove to the trails, because he felt that mountain biking was the only valid type. Roads are for cars, he said. He didn't want any roadie Eurotrash wannabes slowing him down on the way to his favorite trail.

The Internet being the Internet, how do we know he wasn't some provocateur from Car and Driver Magazine trying to make it sound like all cyclists really weren't united?

Anyone can buy a bike. Therefore anyone can claim to be a cyclist. Like any religion, it develops its denominations. Those of us in the industry know that those denominations are frequently $20 or less.

So, today, a warm Christmas in New Hampshire, I am not taking a ride. A storm of mixed blessings is headed this way, and I need to split firewood and gather kindling before whatever arrives arrives. Will it put us back into the cross-country ski business? No doubt it will glop up the roads, interrupting cycling for days, maybe months. If it makes people believe in Nordic skiing again, maybe my paycheck will soak up some of that good stuff and recover its previous, already unimpressive, size. Either way, we have to keep the house warm. We're surrounded by wood, free for the taking. Propane costs money.

The clouds thicken. The sun cuts its shallow arc across the southern horizon, diving west almost before noon. Celestially, the new year has already begun. Happy New Year. The light is on its way back.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Four Grand

Another 20 today brings the total to 4,000 on the nose. The weather is supposed to turn more wintry in a couple of days. That might or might not last.

The dirt on Huntress Bridge Road was more like the gritty porridge I had expected. It was still tricky, because the frozen areas would give way abruptly. My tires would break through to the glop, but still catch the stiff chunks at the surface.

The sun gleamed through valley fog onto the dark, reflective surface of the river when I crossed it on Route 25. The mist shrouded the rapids when I crossed them on Huntress Bridge Road.

With the big round-number goal achieved I am more likely to vary the exercise. But cycling measures so nicely. By time, distance and intensity I know what I've done. When cross-country skiing gets going, it offers the same kind of fun flight through the landscape with exercise thrown in for free. Nothing else compares.

We're in the gap now. I'll take whatever I can get.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And Twenty More

A steady rain was just starting as I headed out on the fixed gear. The thermometer read 35 degrees.

I've been in worse.

At 35 degrees, nothing would be freezing on the pavement. What more can you ask?

Two sunny afternoons had passed with me at work, unable to take advantage of them. The mornings had been icy. Other events had encroached on the evening.

With all clothing zipped tight and my glasses already starting to fog I turned toward one of my familiar routes. Conditions outside drove me inside, where I lay back against the couch cushions of my brain and squinted out through my eyeballs like I was watching a television with poor reception. My legs chilled, then warmed, then chilled again as the rain soaked my tights, then my blood warmed, then the water gained the advantage.

My leaky old shoe covers presented only token resistance.

On a day like this you calculate the ride carefully. I probably should have folded the loop so the farthest point of the ride would be closer to home, but the terrain is basically flat on the route I chose today. You just don't want to get way out on the back side of the Moon and have hypothermia set in. Been there, done that. I don't like to ask for rescue. My problems should not be anyone else's problems.

The only problem I had today was that squirrels kept leaping at me because I was the biggest nut they'd ever seen.

The warming irony that propelled me was that my employers had imposed a new schedule on me two or three weeks earlier than necessary. On my old schedule I would have had the two nice days to ride and been back at work in this swill.

Strangely, when I reached the dirt section of Huntress Bridge Road, it was shiny and wet. The bike slithered because the saturated dirt had frozen during the cold snap and never thawed out. Today's rain just lubricated the surface. I angled shallowly over to the dull sand at the edge. As long as the tires scrunched I knew I was all right. Silence is a bad sign.

The next section of dirt, on LoonLake Road, had only skinny frozen strips between wide margins of sand.

Tomorrow is supposed to be much nicer for riding. That's freaky for this time of year, and economically ominous, but at least I'll get a ride.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's a Conspiracy

I dragged myself out of bed early enough to get out on the fixed gear before work. It was still dark inside and out as I dressed by feel. I know my wardrobe well enough to select attire for any conditions without having to see any of it. Good practice in case I go blind.

In the kitchen I turned on the lightning-addled TV set for a quick look at the weather.

"Freezing rain is coming down across many of the colder valleys of the central part of the state," said the meteorologist. The TV doesn't show color anymore, but some big smear on the radar kept rotating, over and over as he repeated the loop.

I poked my head out. He was right. Sleet pattered on the dry leaves, while liquid drops glazed istantly on the glass and sheet metal of my car.

We'd gotten a nuisance amount of snow out of the last storm, not enough to groom, but enough to spooge up the road margins with a slick mess. Any residual ice would welcome these reinforcements. I wasn't going out in that.

It's all turned to plain rain showers now that I'm miles away at work. This morning was my window. Maybe tomorrow morning will work out better. Forty miles separate me from 4,000, that tantalizing round number of annual miles. For what it's worth, it gives me an objective. Then it's Wind Trainer Winter until something better comes along.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Connoisseur of Surrogate Simulations

Excuse me for being a trainer snob, but the Elite Parabolic Roller defeats one major point of riding free-standing on open rollers rather than propped up on a trainer.

According to a product information blurb on Cycles BiKyle,"Riding on rollers has never been so easy! Rollers improve conditioning and riding technique because the bicycle moves freely under the rider. The unique shape of the Elite Parabolic rollers give you more control making it much easier to learn. For the more experienced roller-rider, the Parabolic rollers require less concentration so you can just relax and ride!"

The flared ends of the rollers will guide a straying wheel back toward the center. This makes smoothness optional instead of desperately necessary. True, one should learn to relax and ride. In fact, you will be supremely relaxed, once you have mastered the smooth, circular pedal stroke and wobble-free upper body you need to stay up on traditional rollers.

One of my favorite games on the old "rollers of death" is to ride near one end. Then slide across to the other end. Flared ends will reduce the playing field and change the possible hazard. With flat ends on the rollers, a straying tire will drop into the gap and stop. Then, to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, "excuse me while I kiss the floor." With flared ends, a gentle swerve will probably be met with a gentle correction. Sounds like an ad for a mild laxative. A sharper swerve could well result in a harsher laxative effect, as the bike high-sides over that lip. I haven't ridden the Elites, so I don't know where these thresholds might actually occur. I can tell from the promotional copy and by looking that the safety flange will take the edge off a beginner's anxiety and permit a higher degree of sloth from someone experienced.

Roller riding is an art. How can you live on the edge if the edge is fenced off?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wet Grit and Sweat

Fifty-five degrees at 6:30 this morning, and a fine mist upgrading itself to drizzle. But I didn't think the big stuff was going to come down for a while.

The whole day is better once training is taken care of. Even if I'm not training for anything in particular, it's a broad category that describes the pattern, the schedule and the daily importance of it.

I got a day's amusement out of ordering a touring frame and a bunch of parts for a customer. Building bikes for other people is as much fun as building them for myself, and I don't have to spend my own money or figure out where to store it. But this project is fairly straightforward. Now we have to wait for the parts before we can build the thing, wheels and all.

Rain is pouring down out there now. I need to shut this puppy down and drive an hour in the murk, then out to the grocery store.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's quiet. Too quiet...

This morning's fog and low clouds made the hour seem earlier than it was. I was reluctant to charge out before sunrise because of the bad visibility. And anyone who has ever seen the locals drive a country road knows that fast, innacurate driving is not just an urban problem.

Even though we moved our opening time to a more genteel late hour until business picks up at the northern outpost, I missed even that. But I got the ride.

Here at the shop, not a single customer has interrupted my quiet vigil. But two golf carts just whizzed by on the course that should be frozen solid and beginning to support our snowpack for the coming season. I should bring the 'cross bike to ride laps on the cart paths. With the building on its little knoll, I could set up a few challenges to make short outings interesting. Every few minutes I can duck in and see if anyone is waiting. The cordless phone might work quite a distance out from its base.

The gray light reflecting off the road this morning made it look dry, so I took the road bike instead of the fixed gear. It wasn't too bad, especially since I was in a hurry, but the tires stayed black and shiny for the whole ride, while wet grit accumulated on my backside. Now the sun is sort of out and the temperature is around 60. It's not natural.

No one can say for sure if this warmth is a bad sign for ski season. I've seen conditions turn from this to blizzards in previous years. I've also seen it just continue like this, pummelling the economy mercilessly. Sad to say, that is the more common scenario. But absolutely nothing is guaranteed. Is the snow cloud half full or half empty?

I'd rather ski in ski season, but I'll do whatever conditions require. Off-season cycling has a nice lunatic feel to it. Even when I dabbled in racing I got more out of challenging training conditions than from most of the races I entered. Those stolen rides in winter were a sweet taste of spring, a hint of the promise that faith would be rewarded. In a place where winter was more likely just a raw, wet interruption of the riding season there was no point in getting hooked on snow sports. As the north acts more and more like the south, I fall back on southern methods.

Economically, it's tough. Many more people will play on the snow than will defy gray, wet chill just to give the weather gods the finger and keep riding. I am doubtless more fond of the finger than is good for me, but the attitude keeps me going, mile after mile. There's glory in victory, but there can be deep satisfaction in persistence. Wax up the skis or pump up the tires, I'll see you out there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gray Waiting

The best November days are gray and still. A dome of stratus spreads sourceless light over the stark sticks of the leafless forest. No silence is more profound than on a windless November day.

I flowed along beside the Ossipee River. A flight of hooded mergansers burst out from below the river bank and cracked the swirled mirror of dark water as they dashed to gain air speed. White wing patches flashed with rapid beats as the formation took off, wheeled and headed upstream.

Further on I crested a rise into a cloud of scent that reminded me why I came here. I came for the chill air, the scent of wood smoke and sight of weathered houses, one of them mine. I came for the mountains rising up, inviting exploration.

It's easy to forget these simple things when civilized life makes its own constant demands. The wilderness here is reconstructed, reclaimed by the forest as family after family gave up the fruitless task of trying to eke sustenance out of smaller and smaller subdivisions of the original stony farm.

Lacking the character and full range of practical skills to cut loose and have a subsistence farm of my own, I try instead to live a lightly civilized life. Nibble and sip instead of gobble and guzzle. Just that much would have gone a long way to slow down the crises afflicting us. Oh well. It's not too late, but grows later.

I ride in the gray stillness and wait.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

You Go to Ride with the Weather You Have

When stacking mileage like firewood, to see how big a pile you can get before the weather really shuts you down, you go out in all sorts of stuff you would pass up in a milder season.

Speaking of mild, this fall has been ominously warm. If things don't turn more seasonable, there will probably be a couple or three nordic ski retailers hanging from the rafters in their empty shops.

I take my mind off it by snatching rides between or during rain showers in the ever shorter periods of dusk that pass for daytime from now until mid-January. Besides, you never know what could happen. For instance, the winters of 1990-'91 and '91-'92 went from bad to worse, two of the worst I can recall. Sure we got a bit of snow, but only a bit. We endured many gray days of rain and mud. Then December 1992 looked like it would usher in more of the same.

Early in January 1993, someone flipped the winter switch. We got pounded with snow well into March. The next winter, 1993-'94, took up where that left off. Buildings collapsed. Snow piled up to the windowsills.

It all turned to crap again in '95. But we've had our years, and could have another one at any time. Or not.

Today's special was a fixed gear ride in the drizzle with temperatures in the 50s. Niiiice. I had the day off, so at least I could wait for the rain to let up around mid-day. Tommorow it's back to dawn patrols. The forecast calls for low clouds, but little falling from them. Good enough.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Riding in the Margins

Now that I can't commute regularly by bike to work, either because of too many scheduled events or the long drive to my winter location, I have to fit the rides into the early morning.

Dawn patrols feel virtuous. Even though I miss the sleep I lose to them, I feel a different energy, fueled by the satisfaction of having ridden at all. It keeps me going through the day and into the evening, helped no doubt by the quart or more of coffee I will suck down in the course of a normal day. I'm such a pawn to my two addictions, fitness and caffeine. It could be worse. I could be addicted to cheap sex and hard drugs, or drunk driving or just plain aggressive driving.

It's early in driving season. By February I will be completely fed up and I'll still have the long month of March to endure before I can return to bike commuting for another blissful six months. But all that lies ahead. The problem is that every year puts more young drivers on the road and a solid 30 percent or more are assholes.

Karmically speaking I can't bitch. I was just such a punk. I followed too closely. I thought I passed other cars carefully, but only as carefully as a punk driver who loved corners and curves and would do almost anything to put clear road in front of me going into them. In fact, the best four minutes of the hour drive to Jackson are the tight curves along a set of ponds on Route 153. The rest of it has become a chore. The route could be worse, but it's still an hour of my life I won't get back. I have not figured out how to combine the drive with some other necessary activity I can do from the driver's seat. Of course there are outrageous options for non-essential activities I could do while driving, but the need for them is decidedly limited. But yes, I did think of them.

I'd rather be biking.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Night and Day in Wilkinson Swamp

On a short ride to test my lights, here is where I turned back on Wilkinson Swamp Road, because I just didn't feel like going further, alone, into the darkness.
Here's the same spot, in daylight. I know the road, close-held between dark conifers, frequented by moose, deer and bear, as well as smaller mammals and, if we are to believe the increasingly strong rumors, perhaps even a resurgent population of mountian lions. It's all easier to believe in the dark.
Laurie forges ahead.
Here is a portion of the wetland. Wilkinson Swamp fills several hundred acres around the long horsehoe-shaped course of Wilkinson Brook, from its headwaters on the southern slope of Effingham's own mountain range, down and around to Pine River. The biologist who recently traversed it as part of the ongoing natural reources inventory described its heart as "primeval." He guessed that few, if any, other people had crossed it except when it was frozen and buried in snow. It's nice to know such places still exist, especially closer than the Canadian or Alaskan tundra. Posted by Picasa

Hero Gear?

Check out that chainring! It looks like a massive gear until you examine the rear cog. Then the gearing looks downright reasonable. This bike was waiting for the Madison, CT Fourth of July parade a few years ago. It may have been one of the many that Jim Spillane pulled out of his barn, but I don't think all the vintage bikes we saw that day came from there. It's amazing what people have tucked away in sheds, barns and basements. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

Check out this weirdness

The top picture was shot with my Olympus Stylus 720SW just using room light. It's a little fuzzy because of uncontrollable camera shake, but well lighted.

The bottom picture I shot with the flash, still hand-held. The reflective strip on the tires caused the camera to tighten up the aperture, so the overall picture is darker. Posted by Picasa

Feel Like a Deer?

Here's how it would look to be caught in my headlights. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

Oh Yeah: "Freeroading"

Exploring Specialized's website to look at the Armadillo line I was reminded of another thing they did to annoy me. They tried to put their brand name on exploratory riding by calling it Freeroading and acting like they invented it.

Unfortunately, in order to attract enough revenue to survive, an industry has to try to attract the kind of consumers who fall for marketing slogans. Otherwise the activity remains too small and the consumers too intelligent to spend money freely enough to keep suppliers afloat. We who know better should all just nudge and wink about it. Sometimes I just get tired of disentangling some innocent by-catch from the marketing net as a newer rider progresses up the information stream to clearer understanding.

Regarding Armadillos

Tire durability includes several components. These are puncture resistance, cut resistance, wear resistance and resistance to aging and weathering.

I haven't had a chance to road test Specialized Armadillo tires for all these qualities. For some reason, our shop does not stock the Specialized tire line at this time.

A few years ago we had a bundle of Armadillo tires in about 700X25. They had an incredibly stiff sidewall and thick tread. Unfortunately, they were too narrow for the kind of rider who could really use them around here. The bike path in town is not paved, and most riders don't feel secure running a skinny tire on it. The road riders who wanted a flat-resistant tire decided thay wanted something lighter and more supple more than they wanted the bullet-proof puncture resistance of the Armadillo.

Because I haven't seen recent versions, I don't know how much Specialized has improved the line. Very early tires with the Armadillo designation were much like the other high-pressure road tires at the time, in shape and feel. This is in the 1990s. I don't know if they were as durable as the newer versions.

The really stiff ones we had in stock just before the turn of the century, with red sidewalls, were a little hard to mount and remove by hand because of their stiffness. Again, I don't know if that is still true.

Armadillos we mounted then did not seem exceptionally resistant to weathering and age. We replaced one set for a woman who had not put a lot of mileage on them, because the tread rubber was separating from the casing. This happens with many tires if they get left to dry out. When different rubber compounds are used, you will see that they often age differently, even if they're the same color.

The best way to get your money's worth out of a tire is to ride it a lot. Failing that, hang your bike indoors, preferably safe from extremes of temperature and humidity, and direct sunlight.

The IRC Tandem tire has performed extremely well for me in all aspects of durability. I've gotten long mileage, ridden over a fair amount of sharp stuff, and had it on the bike for more than a year (Possibly much more. I can't remember whether I put it on in spring 2005 or the fall before that.) I always park indoors, so it's been babied to that extent, but it also sees a lot of dirt roads, occasional trails and miles of pavement. So keep it in mind as a possibility, even if it's not your first choice.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Best Commuting Rear Tire

I've been running the IRC Tandem tire on the rear wheel of my Surly Cross-Check for several years now. The oval shape with thick center tread seemed like it would wear and handle well, and it has.

After I wore the first Tandem down to nothing, I tried a pair of Panaracer T-Serv for Messenger tires. They seemed like a sportier option. I've had good results with Panaracer tires. But within the first week I hit some metal debris and gashed the sidewall of the rear tire. I booted it, but the gash was too long, and at such an angle that casing cords just kept giving way. I had to toss that tire. When I did, I couldn't resist going back to the Tandem.

The Tandem I have on there now must have at least 5,000 miles on it. I've racked up at least 3500 miles of commuting, two years in a row. Of that 7,000-mile total, I might have done a total of 1500-2,000 on the road bike or the fixed gear. Adding early and late miles outside the full-on commuting season, I think 5,000 is a conservative guess. And the tire isn't completely toasted yet.

Front tires seem to last forever. The surviving T-Serv is still rolling along. It will probably die of dry rot before it wears out. I should rotate it to the rear, but I don't want to run the Tandem on the front. The oval shape feels a tiny bit weird dropping into a corner. It's not too bad on the back, with 55% or more of the weight flattening it out, but I prefer a rounder shape on the front.

I guess I need to build another bike on which to wear down my retired fat front tires. 700X32 is too plump for my road bike, and I run 27-inch wheels on the fixed gear.

The IRC Tandem is a 700X30 that takes 100 psi for all you roadie types (like me) who have a mental block against riding with less than three-digit tire pressures.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Familiar, but it never gets old

Laurie turns toward the iron bridge on Huntress Bridge Road.
The pavement ends where the road begins to traverse the bog.
Tamaracks turn golden yellow while the similar-looking spruces remain dark green. Blueberries and other shrubs turn red. Stunted birches turn yellow, their leaves dancing in the breeze.
The classic rural road picture. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 13, 2006

That's Good Bad

Peering into the depths of a Shimano Nexave shifter yesterday, the whole issue resolved into one crystalline concept:

Don't mistake an impressive piece of engineering for a good piece of equipment.

Engineers are given parameters. They're told to make a device do certain things. That doesn't mean the qualities they were asked to provide were chosen well in the first place. Take Rapid Rise, for instance. Rapid Rise describes what my lunch does whenever I see a derailleur in which the spring operates opposite to the normal way.

The only good Rapid Rise derailleur is a dead Rapid Rise derailleur. In most cases, when the RR derailleur suffers its terminal injury, the rider notices little difference when I put on a normal one. The shifter operates in the opposite direction, but the new motion soon becomes a reflex. Only if the shifter has a gear indicator will the rider be reminded that things ever worked another way.

Maynard Hershon wrote, more than a decade ago, that he loved his STI road shifters because he didn't want the shift levers on his late-twentieth-century racing bike held in place "with a nineteenth-century wingnut."

Not afflicted with such technological vanity, I'm still getting a lot of mileage out of the wingnut concept, here in the twenty-first century. Show me something good, truly good for the long haul, and I will embrace it. Show me clever, proprietary gadgets and I will admire how they are put together on your bike.

Monday, October 09, 2006

When she laughs, water comes out her nose

Dress up YOUR water cooler! We had a little spare time yesterday, and "made ourselves a friend."

This morning she got all modest on us. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 06, 2006

On a bike, this wouldn't matter

Here I am, stuck behind a dumptruck crawling up a grade on Route 28. If I had been able to ride my bike this morning, the truck would have gone by, or I would have hopped into the pocket and drafted it until it turned off. With the load this guy was carrying, he wasn't about to drop me in a sprint. Nor would he lock up the brakes abruptly. A perfect subject to draft. Ah well. Next time. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Clean Bill of Health, followed by a Healthy Bill

The hospital called to tell me they had a cancellation and I could take the stress test today. It showed my heart was fine. The ominous symptoms had been caused by a combination of minor complaints popping up together. Better safe than sorry, I suppose, but CHA-CHING!

When you think there's even a slightly heightened chance that you might drop in your tracks and wind up in the hands of paramedics, or perhaps even die, you think more about what you're doing, what you're wearing. The phrase, "I wouldn't be caught dead doing that" has more significance when you think you might.

I wore my cleanest, newest underwear every day.

Well, back to work.

Tomorrow, we ride!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Health Care Labyrinth

If I had taken the expensive hospital overnight Sunday, I would probably have gotten a stress test on Monday and then been cleared to return to full duty. But, because I elected to check myself out and wait at home, I played three days of phone tag with my doctor and won't get the test until next Tuesday.

I was finally able to get someone to tell me that all the other work looked good, and I could probably go at "80 percent."

Eighty percent? Does that mean I can ride 24 miles of my 30-mile commute, or ride the whole thing at 80 percent of my regular speed? Of course they can't say, and I won't push it, on the off chance I'm not really Superman. But there goes my 4,000 for the year. I was a couple of hundred miles up on last year. Now I'm falling behind. There's more to life than mileage, but why not get the mileage too? Something always seems to happen to trash an outstanding year.

Basically, I get to dub around in the car and work overtime this weekend for the Columbus Day sale. Well, it beats being really sick.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sugoi Stealth Jacket

After trying it on all spring and summer, I finally bought the Sugoi Stealth Jacket in yellow.

My old Cannondale rain jacket is pretty good, but it's noticeably heavier and bulkier than the Sugoi. It also has Cannondale's chronic sticky zipper, which is why I have it at all. It was returned for warranty and the rep gave it as swag, along with two others similarly returned. Three of us at the shop got them.

I wanted a more visible wind jacket than my Pearl Izumi Zephrr in navy blue. That one had been hanging around the closeout rack for a couple of years before I picked it up one afternoon when the weather turned unexpectedly harsh on a spring day.It's a nice piece, but the dark color wasn't so good on a day when the weather might make things dark already.

I hate shells. They make me sweat, even if they aren't supposedly waterproof. So in cold dry conditions I wear extra fuzzy layers with no shell. But sometimes you want a little extra at the start or end of a ride, and extra fuzz would be bulkier to carry. Then a stuffable shell comes in handy.

The Sugoi rep said that clothing designers are also finally accepting the fact that waterproof breathable fabrics don't transmit heat and body moisture fast enough for cyclists, so we get wet with sweat. The Stealth jacket uses fabric treatments to repel water on the outside, and is very breathable to let moisture escape from inside. This isn't manufacturer propaganda, it's the experience of one actual sweaty cyclist. The Stealth jacket works better, over a wider range of temperature and humidity, than any other shell I have used for cycling.

In an actual steady rain I might still grab the heavier Cannondale jacket, but partly that's because it's older and already scuzzy, whereas the Sugoi is bright and new. Also, the Cannondale has side zipped pockets where I can stick a bandanna to wipe my glasses. The Sugoi has a nice zippered pocket in the back, but it's not as easy to dip into quickly.

The Stealth jacket has extra-long sleeves, so they won't ride up when your arms are forward. The cuffs are cut pretty tight. I haven't enjoyed trying to take the jacket off while riding no-hands. If your hands are smaller than mine, that might not be a problem. I might let out the seams on the cuffs and insert a gusset to make passage a bit easier. I guess Sugoi was trying to avoid the constriction of elastic or the bulk of hook-and-loop closures there.

High Visibility Update

As I was digging out the fossilized comments I discovered stuck in the moderation queue, I noticed this one from Jim Seisfeld, on an October 2005 post about Please-Don't-Kill-Me-Yellow clothing:

The other day while I was being a motorist I observed a roadie in traffic on an expensive DF wearing equally expensive “name brand” lycra from head to toe, and it was all black (including shoes and helmet). What struck me most was, I didn’t see the cyclist until I past him going in the opposite direction. I remember at the time I saw the cyclist I made a mental note that if all black is a new trend, it is a dangerous trend that will result in more vehicle-bicycle accidents, and had he been wearing Hi-Viz gear I would have seen him much sooner. The thought didn’t come back to me until I read your “High Visibility” blog.

As a cyclist, I am aware, and keep the attitude, that motorists don’t see bicycles. As a cyclist, when I drive I am very aware of people on bicycles. As an Environment, Health, and Safety professional in the Transportation and Utility industries, I have seen Hi-Viz strategies help save lives. I advocate Hi-Viz gear should be part of all bicyclists’ safety strategy while on roads that might be shared with motorists and that PDKMY-type gear is a vital.

While I think we are on the same page, I wonder a little about your comment “PRETTY SOON NO ONE PAYS ATTENTION ANYMORE”. Do you think anyone pays any attention in the first place? For the most part, I don’t think motorists pay any attention to bicyclists. I feel bicyclists must make motorists pay attention to them, and Hi-Viz gear is an important part of the attention-getting strategies.

Color choice depends somewhat on cycling environment. I ride in a small town with two-lane streets and overall moderate traffic density. The narrower streets put me into the motorists' field of view automatically. I create my image by how I act there. But I did buy a nice yellow jersey last fall and wore it all summer. I also bought a Sugoi windbreaker in the same nice yellow, and have used it frequently this fall.

Riding in a small town I have the opportunity to hear more extensive reviews than the Dopplered profanity hurled at me in more urban environments. People talk to me in shops and around town. For the most part they are supportive, though sometimes they'll have a suggestion. Seldom are these suggestions unprintable, though some of them display the ignorant fear many people experience when they try to imagine cycling in traffic. I mean some people recommend that I quit entirely, because a gruesome death is inevitable if I keep trespassing in the Kingdom of the Cars.

No one has said they thought I should wear brighter colors. They saw me. Even the ones who get ugly in traffic see me. If they hadn't seen me, how could I have pissed them off?

I don't say that these observer comments weaken the argument for high visibility clothing. You have to make your own decision. But Seisfeld himself says he doesn't think most motorists pay attention anyway. So while high visibility clothing probably can't hurt, it is not a magic shield.

This summer I was as reluctant to ride without my yellow jersey as I was to ride without my helmet, once I got used to wearing that, years ago. But I am equally as reluctant to grab the garish PDKMY wind vest unless the weather is foggy or I will be riding in deep dusk.

If all drivers were gentle, kind, sensible, sober and undistracted, cyclists could wear anything they liked. Such a world will never be, but it makes a nice dream. Meanwhile, I'm a shade closer to PDKMY, while still trying to maintain some aesthetics.

A Link from Down Under

Check out this blog and the link thereon to a YouTube video of an intriguing urban folding bike.

Wow. S-s-s-something from the comments

I just went to Comment Moderation and found months' worth of unposted comments. Apparently Blogger is a little sketchy about informing me when one has been posted. I have approved and posted the comments at long last. Sorry. I really can get the feeling no one is out there, and the few notifications I receive are just from the rare passer-by.

Rest assured I will check the bin more frequently now. I'm psyched to have any readers, let alone any willing to chime in.

Thanks, guys!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yeah, do it for your health

We read or hear regularly enough about endurance athletes keeling over from a heart attack to realize that even with the supposed health benefits of exercise, nothing is guaranteed.

Several years ago, my doctor, a marathon runner, told me that studies had shown that exercise seems to add about six years to your life expectancy, but you will have spent the equivalent of six years exercising. So do it because you like it, and because it improves the quality of the years you do have, not because it adds more. Exercise increases your capability. It helps you be more independent if you do manage to get old.

All this went through my mind this morning as I felt chest pains begin to radiate upward into my lower jaw. And I wasn't even exerting myself. I was sitting on the bed, petting a cat.

I could think of a number of excuses for some portion of the discomfort. I split firewood last night, stressing my upper body muscles in a way they haven't put up with since the end of the woodstove season in the spring. Maybe I had gas. (okay, no maybe about it). But the referral to the neck and jaw was straight from the list of scary symptoms you should not ignore.

The episode lasted a couple of minutes before going away completely. The anxiety lingered, though, because it was too much like an ominous scene in a television show.

I wasn't going to call an ambulance. I was scared, but not that scared. I hate to make a scene. Laurie drove me to Wolfeboro. I walked into the emergency room and quietly described the situation.

Sirens did not go off. Lights did not flash. Doctors and nurses did not charge in with stethoscopes trailing in the wind. A very pleasant triage nurse asked me questions and took vital signs. Resting rate in the 40s. Low blood pressure. No lifestyle or hereditary risk factors. Chest pains only, followed by a room-clearing, dog-quality fart and we would have chalked it up to something I ate and the minor risks of manual labor with a body a half-century old. But that damn jaw pain kept everyone interested in playing this thing through.

The nice part of small-town life is that you know people and people know you. After I was moved to a treatment room, the nurse who took over for the triage nurse turned out to be someone I had worked with when I lived on a farm and worked off part of the rent. She and her husband had managed the farm for its owner. Then they had moved to Maine for 14 or 15 years before coming back to this area a year or two ago. I knew they were back, but hadn't seen them much.

The cardiologist said, "You're the technician from the bike shop!" Then she looked at Laurie. "You're the violinist! And you used to make the bread for Nadine!"

"Cellist," corrected Laurie. "But I teach violin, too."

"The bread was marvelous," the doctor continued. "What was it? Oh yes. Oatmeal sunflower."

It was all very comforting. But the medical side couldn't be ignored. After all the immediate tests showed me to be an athletic, healthy person with low blood pressure and resting rate, good cholesterol numbers and no family history of heart disease on mother or father's side, there was still that damned jaw pain.

"We'd like to keep you overnight," said the doctor. "It might help get your stress test expedited. We need to do further tests to see if you have some little abnormality or damage to a valve or an artery."

Here's where it not only gets real, but it gets real expensive. Here's where the bedrock reality of my overpriced, do-nothing health insurance forces me to choose between paying for a hospital stay I have been advised to take or having that money to pay the exorbitant premium to keep the policy in force in case I have to pay much bigger money later.

Welcome to the land of the free, where nothing is.

After signing a release promising no one would sue them if I die tonight, I was allowed to come home, provided I do absolutely nothing until I contact my regular doctor and get that stress test. After that, who knows? This could be an expensive over-reaction to indigestion or something really ugly.

As long as I was willing to walk out of the supportive cocoon of the hospital, I could sleep in my own bed and eat home cooked food. I wanted to go home.

You can tell yourself over and over that life expectancy is just a number, but some things still emphasize how instantly things can change. You're lucky if you get that heightened sense of life's fragility without a nasty, graphic demonstration of it. Some people need to be told that things are going to be all right. I know better than to ask for that assurance, much as I might like it.

It is what it is, whatever it turns out to be. You can try your best to get what you want, but sometimes you just have to take what you get.

Good luck, y'all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

May I help you?

"I'm looking for a bike. For my husband. He's not a biker, he just wants a bike. Just a regular bike."

Autumn Experiment

Since my rechargeable light has become unreliable, and I don't really want to install the old generator light I used to run in the flatlands 20 years ago, I'm going to try a new approach.

The other night I noticed that my newer Planet Bike Beamer 3 puts out a pretty good beam. Nothing will overcome oncoming car headlights except something expensive and heavy. The LED lights burn brightly so I can be seen. The only question is whether I will be able to see well enough to ride efficiently. I did not feel like I was groping the other night, with just the new spot 3 and the old flood 3, but it was a quiet country road with few cars to blind me.

I added a Beamer 5 to the lineup today. I hope it will stab just a bit further than the 3, giving me a staged light patch. With the 5, the new 3 and the old 3, I should have adequate coverage. The lights use AA batteries, which means spares are easy to find and compact to carry. I can put one or more of the lights on flashing mode to attract more attention if I don't need them for road illumination right then, such as in the dusk.

We'll see how it goes. I don't know how intrepid I feel about the whole haul in the darkness anyway, but some new path construction has given more options for dropping a car partway.

Glaringly Invisible

Time once again to remind riders in the north that even if the sun is still up, its low angle may blind drivers so they don't see you.

With the sun at your back you may forget that an oncoming driver will have to squint into that glare. Just as an oncoming driver may turn in front of a cyclist in dusk or darkness, so might a dazzled driver hook a turn in the middle of what looks to you like a clear, bright afternoon.

As funny as it sounds, be extra alert when the weather is really nice. As the autumn advances, the sun stays at low angles for more and more of the day. A little light overcast can be your friend.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Looks Like Heaven. Smells Like Hell.

When I headed out to Gilford one recent morning, the sun had not come over the horizon yet. Its light colored the clouds in luminous pinks. The blue between the clouds deepened from the pearlescent sheen of pre-dawn to the richer hue of hopeful morning.

If only the air at ground level could match the sweetness of the play of light above it.

Commuting morning and evening for decades, I've verified one thing. Breakfast time does not smell nearly as enticing as supper time. While the evening commuter often floats through clouds of cookout smoke in summer and savory sauces and stews in the cooler months, breakfast any time does not put out the same quality of mouth-watering odors. Eggs any style tend to have a sulphurous tinge. Boiling oatmeal steam can't compete with barbecued spare ribs. Frying bacon does its best to overcome the weak players in the breakfast lineup, but one strong player can't carry a whole team.

Worse yet, there's no delicate way to say that most people experience another digestive event in the morning, evidence of which joins the steamy funk drifting from most residences on the early breeze. Don't believe me? Put in 30 years commuting on the early shift and then we'll compare notes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Customer reports: I keep getting flats

Mechanic thinks: Maybe customer overlooked a small thorn in the tire. It happens. Fortunately, mechanic felt very carefully inside tire casing. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 08, 2006

Stopping by Woods to Shift the Fixed Gear

I always shift in the same place on the way home. It occurred to me I could bolt a Park work stand arm to a tree in the woods there, so I can flip the wheel and perform minor adjustments as easily as at home.

The Calm Before the Leaves

Things are deceptively quiet right now. Looking for something to do, we might put all the bike rental stuff in the basement, but as soon as the leaves turn color we will have many weekend visitors looking for those rentals. We just have to endure this lull.

This is local summer. The days are still warm and more than 12 hours long, but the visiting hordes have departed. We get a couple of weeks at most before the equinox. By early October the foliage tourists will come, working their way south with the color.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trust Rust Follow-up

I was not in the shop the day Famous Coach picked up his corroded Seven. I understand he acknowledged that he had no stem bolt, but took the bike anyway to go ride some group tour. He should be required to wear a jersey that says, "Keep back 50 feet" or, "Destruction Vehicle. Do not follow."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In Rust We Trust

A renowned coach in a sport other than cycling brought his bike in yesterday to have a few things done. He has a Seven Axiom, a drool road bike of the mid 1990s. And he has treated it like absolute crap.

I don't worry too much how someone treats their own bike unless they're tyring to ride with me and their mechanical problems are slowing us down or endangering me. But when I have to work on a bike as a professional I receive a certain level of responsibility whether I want it or not.

Titanium is notorious for welding itself to to other metals if not properly protected. The cable adjusters at the top of the down tube are permanently set because of this. But that's minor.

The Coach said his stem was corroded in place. I love a challenge, so I removed the black electrical tape he'd placed over the top of the stem to see if I could work some magic and restore some of the luster to this formerly enviable bike.

There is no stem bolt. The crowning glory of this tour de force of abuse and neglect is that The Coach trusts his facial bone structure, and perhaps his very life, to RUST. His Time carbon fork has a steel steerer, which has bonded to the alloy quill of the handlebar stem. In all likelihood, it will never budge. But no bolt at all? And he's using aero bars, putting further leverage on what started out as an undesired chemical reaction.

What rust hath joined, let no one put asunder. But 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Think of that superfluous bolt as your pre-nup. If everything goes to hell, it will limit your losses.

What say we hacksaw that bad boy right off there and let you start fresh?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Time Flies

Between the last post and now I was working extra to get ready to go to a cartooning workshop in Vermont, and then going to it. I started out to be a cartoonist, not a bike racer or a mechanic. Forget the decades that have intervened. Forget the skinned knuckles, black fingernails, hours on my feet and widely varying levels of thanks. For three days all I had to think about was cartooning, in the company of people who know their craft.

It was great to find out that even with all my years in obscure isolation I can hang with the field in a bunch of cartoonists. I may be a little ragged, but I wasn't off the back. Clearly the Cat Ones in the bunch were the real professionals, but they weren't out to stomp us.

When I got back to the shop I was exceptionally aware how tedious it is to have to get through a day of work to get to your own time, when you can do what you really wanted to do with the day. And you only have a scrap of day left in which to do it.

I was planning to be Jef Mallet. I even thought of it first (1979). But he showed up with the goods, while I was off having some other weird life. It all gets used at some point. No one is really on Easy Street. Step one: stay alive. Steps two through whatever: like nuts and bolts in a drawer. Sort 'em, stack 'em, combine 'em, or just et 'em rust. Every day you have to make the best choices you can. Either way, the day ends and another one follows.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just Another Day

Walked in first thing to find the typical home mechanic who has completely disassembled his freewheel while trying to figure out how to remove it. He has the parts in a plastic bag: a thirty-gallon garbage bag. Except for the little galaxy of eighth-inch ball bearings. Those are all stuffed inside the hub shell.

"Doc, I tried to take my own appendix out. That's not my appendix, is it? And is this much bleeding normal? Am I in trouble? The room is getting dark."

Actually, this guy was a really good sport. We figured out how to straighten out his situation, but then he decided to just buy a new bike instead. He'll bring in the mutilated body of his old one for me to reanimate at my leisure.

Short Honeymoon

We didn't get to enjoy Floyd Landis's accomplishment for long.

Maybe he is a manlier man than most. One could hardly doubt it. Testosterone flows in his veins.

I'm going to try to round up sponsors for a pro team called The False Positives.

"It's a chemical imbalance, man. I was born this way."

Just raise the thresholds on all the banned substances. Keep nudging it up until rider use plateaus or they start dying spectacularly from side effects.

Create a Pure Health and Nutrition League for the riders who either really want to ride clean or really want to keep working really hard to preserve the illusion of it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Componentry Chess

When Shimano first introduced their cartridge bottom brackets, they made one core size and put different ends on for 68 or 73 bottom bracket shells. Parts suppliers like Quality listed the end pieces as repair parts, so a mechanic could theoretically turn one size into the other. But just as we planned to stock only one size run of complete BBs and a handful of adapters, Shimano noticed what they'd done. They built the drive-side threads into the body of the BB cartridge.

Once in a while we can play our old game with some old stock, but we have to scavenge.

Fight the corporate power, man.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hope (and Floyd) Springs Eternal

Emotional rollercoasters like the last three days of the Tour keep me from developing favorites. Landis is on top! Landis is crushed! Landis springs back in one of the most amazing rides in Tour history!

This is a great year for the race because there were no powerful favorites. I actually read someone's blog or forum post early in July complaining that the race would be too boring to watch because of this. But a wide-open race is anything but boring.

I'll be at my parents' this weekend, where they have steadfastly resisted getting broadband. I may just have to go hang out at the local telegraph office and wait for the Morse code to come in. They might have OLN, but I've gotten hooked on the internet feed.

Teaching the power of the pedal

On the morning commute I had to stop for a small work zone just inside the built-up area of town. Right in front of me was a school bus. Just hand it right to me, why don't you?

As soon as the traffic controller turned the sign I started winding up a big gear. My coworker Adam had met up with me on the commute, but he was a little too slow to catch the pocket. Sorry, Adam. A good draft supersedes camaraderie.

I saw Adam reflected in the bus windows for a while, but he couldn't quite bridge the gap. I felt a little guilty, but you know how it is. Once you start you don't want to stop until it's over.

Kids gathered at the back of the bus. Don't try this until you're old enough for society to consider you disposable, kids! But take note: I'm doing 40 mph, coasting. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Landis finishes under Karpets

Not to make light of what had to be a hard, agonizing day in the saddle. I just can't resist the pun.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Remember it's a drama

It's too easy to get sucked into the agony of someone else's struggle. You may forget that it's their business, not yours, how well they do at the challenge they have chosen. No matter how much you want it for them, they have to do the work to get it.

I don't follow any sport very closely. I've got my own ups and downs, thank you. But a long story like a stage race, particularly one as conveniently packaged as the Tour, is an allegorical play in 20 acts. I may not watch them all, too tempted to choose a champion, but the spectacle is there to enjoy in manageable doses.

(Go, Floyd.)

Oh, Schleck!

Way to hammer! Frank Schleck of CSC joins the roll call of stage winners on L'Alpe d'Huez.

Floyd Landis back in yellow.

Tomorrow they get to tool up the Col du Galibier to start their day.

It's a long way to Paris. One pedal stroke at a time.

Comparing Coverage

Eurosport says, "Voigt crashes! The German slides in the rain!"

OLN simply says, "Voigt dropped from the lead group." Yawn.

Lookin' in on Le Tour

According to OLN's website, the leaders averaged faster than 31 miles per hour racing toward the Col d'Izoard and maintained more than 28 mph in the second hour of riding. By the third hour the average had dropped to a hair under 25. Slackers.

They ride in a different world.

Egoi Martinez crashed, was treated by the team doctor and resumed the race. Later, Maxim Iglinskiy of Milram crashed and also resumed racing. According to the report, a radio car missed him by centimeters.

When you race you know you will go down once in a while. The scars on elbows, the sides of your knees, your hips, they're all just like Bondo on a race car. Fill in the dings, touch up the paint, see you next week. Yeah, but it's also like driving the race car to work or racing the family car, hard, in a tight field when it's your body taking the dents. You have to live the rest of your life between races.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Speaking of Toe Clips

Listening to the Eurosport audio feed of the Tour the other day, I heard one of the commentators say that the Mavic neutral support bikes have clip-and-strap pedals because they can't provide all the different step-in pedal options the different teams use. With a toe strap, the rider in need can have some sort of connection to the pedal, however uncomfortable.

Fancy that.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Short, Clear Messages

Most of us riding on the road are not racing as professionals or even amateurs. Why should we wear the logos of companies and teams that don't even know we exist? We can put that space on our jersies to better use.

Remember that you only have a few seconds to get your point across. Keep it short.

Crowded New England roads inspire phrases like, "It's not my fault your car is too big," or, "You CHOSE to drive."

For protective coloration, how about logos from Smith & Wesson or Sturm, Ruger? Or just settle for a big NRA logo with the words "Armed Citizen" wrapped around it. It doesn't have to be true any more than the threatening color patterns of certain insects mean that they really have the exaggerated features they simulate.

How about a jersey that says "Undiagnosed Psychopath"?

How about "Run! The pin fell out!!"

Or, "Caution: Projectile Vomiting"

Or you could wear an ad from a local personal injury lawyer, with the words, "do you feel lucky?"

The possibilities go on and on, but I have to charge off to work.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Look what the cat dragged in

 Posted by Picasa

Smoked E-Bike, Anyone?

 Posted by Picasa

Where to begin when you can't even remember the beginning?

Raise your hand if you can remember what you were doing on Monday.

Everything I've worked on has been weird this week. The most normal jobs were two tuneups for a couple of members of what we call The Sliding Board Club. They're both middle-aged gentlemen, quite tall, who ride with their saddles tilted down about 40 degrees at the nose. They absolutely forbid us to change the angle and refuse to discuss the matter. It makes their bikes incredibly uncomfortable to test-ride after repairs.

A portly lawyer brought us his trusy Cannondale hybrid for an overhaul. When he rode off on it afterwards, he returned immediately to say it skipped. I asked him a few questions about shifting under load, and whether he might be torquing on the Gripshift while riding up the steep hill headed out of town. He assured me he was not.

I could not make it skip. Ralph, pushing 190 pounds, couldn't make it skip. Our customer could make it skip, but not in front of us.

I wondered whether he might just have Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy through his bike, but it turned out his shift cable was just the tiniest tad too snug. Why he could get it to cause problems when Ralph and I could not is still a mystery. It was the faintest bit out of adjustment. We do aim for perfection.

We also continued to deal with the ongoing saga of a Cannondale T2000 with a treacherous shudder caused by the front brakes. The problem appeared after its first ride in wet conditions, following 600 trouble-free kilometers in France, during which time the weather had happened to be dry. After trying three or four different sets of brake pads at all angles including the absurd, two or three different wheels, disassembling and reassembling the brakes, cleaning rims, checking and rechecking the headset and pretty much anything else you could imagine might be remotely related, we had decided the problem was simply demonic possession. We asked Cannondale to recommend a brand of holy water and a good exorcist.

You don't make any money on a situation like that. It was a new bike. Cannondale is now willing to issue a replacement fork or complete bike, but we have hours into this job. We'll have more hours putting in a fork or assembling a replacement bike with all the racks and doodads this genuine tourist uses on his bike.

Into the midst of this chaos came an E-Bike owned by a captain of industry who has a summer home in town. I guess he's buddies with Iacocca. He started amassing a fleet of E-Bikes starting back in the second half of the 1990s. Someone said he has about 14 of them now. The one he brought in had an undetermined electrical problem that cropped up after he changed a battery in it. He gave us the number of his electric bike guru in New York City and said the man could talk us through any repairs the bike might need.

I got into bikes because they didn't have electrics or hydraulics. Everything was simple and straightforward. Ah, that was then.

Bear in mind that E-Bikes weigh about 65 pounds. I would start the job, hit a snag, put in a call to Bert Cebular at NYCEwheels, put another repair on the stand, get a call back from Bert (who is also a busy guy), write down his suggested procedure, try to finish the repair I'd started when I set aside the E-Bike, move it off the stand, bring the E-Bike back over, delve a little deeper, hit another snag, make another call, as the other mechanics went through their own maneuvers in the tight confines of our workshop.

At one point I was trading back and forth between the ungainly, massive E-Bike and a delicate, featherweight Cervelo triathlon bike. All in a day's work.

When I got deep enough into the E-Bike, I could see where flames had actually shot out from inside some piece of circuitry. Bert has not returned that call yet.

This day followed yesterday, when I got up at 5 a.m. to get out of the house by 6. My car had started making that smell you always hope is coming from someone else's car, so I wanted to drive it over to my auto wizard with enough time to ride the 27 miles from his shop to mine by 9 a.m. So, out the door just after 6, drive 42 miles to Gilford, drop the car with a key and a note, hop on the bike, ride back to Wolfe City as fast as I can manage, work the full day and ride the last 17 miles home.

Actually, before I could leave town I had to ride back and forth across the village on a couple of errands. As I came up Main Street the final time, just as I set up to turn onto the side street that would take me out toward the highway headed home, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a car out of control. It wasn't the shrill screech of locked brakes, it was the low moan of tires overloaded sideways. I looked up to see a small black pickup truck just getting launched into the air as it hit a car in front of it. The truck came down on its left-side wheels and careened across the lane. It looked like it had to flip over. Because I was already committed to my turn, I did not get to see it land. By the time I popped back out onto Main Street the truck had come to rest upright in the front yard of the Wolfeboro Inn. A cloud of dust and tire smoke spread over the scene. Bystanders gathered from the large crowd already on hand. It was amazing none of them got mowed down.

I moseyed up the street for a closer look. A Cadillac sedan sat crosswise in the end of Sewall Road. The pickup had apparently slammed into the corner of its trunk, launching the truck and spinning the Caddy right around.

No one appeared to be injured. I called Ralph to see if he wanted to get some news photos. Then I trudged off toward my own home. I'd had enough for one day.

The fun continues tomorrow.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Special Bonus

Flipping through the channels last night I discovered OLN on the free sample channel my cable provider uses to tease people into buying upgrades. There was Stage 6 of the Tour de France.

Ignoring the hype and Trek ads, it was great just to watch the riders. It's nice to be reminded that the pros are human. They twitch and fidget, stand up for a few pedal strokes, stretch their legs and chat with each other. There is obviously no perfect position in which a rider can remain constantly while grinding out the miles or kilometers of a long day.

At a quick glance I saw no one with the saddle nose down, and many with it slightly up.

I wasn't paying much attention to who was who, so I'm not sure who I was watching as the middle rider of a group of three sat up to take off a jacket. He continued to follow the rider in front of him, less than a foot off his wheel. The last rider in line continued to draft the one riding with no hands, all of them straight and smooth. Just another day at work. Professional rider. Closed course. Do not attempt.

Of course they do crash, for reasons both obvious and unclear. Just not right then.

Maybe it will be on again tonight.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cars RULE....right?

Don't you just love those motorists who see you on your bike in front of them and automatically assume they can get out of a stop sign or a light faster than you can?

I had one behind me this morning when I got to Route 16 at the end of Elm Street. This honky just had to lay on the beeper to try to get me out of his way. I gave a big goofy wave and a sarcastic "Hi there!!!", spotted my gap and shot away.

I imagine the lesson was lost on this motor moron, but it was fun to give it anyway.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


We keep getting these repair jobs that are like the Vietnam War. We start them thinking they'll be straightforward, if a little complicated. Next thing we know we've suffered heavy losses we can ill afford and we're no nearer victory. Meanwhile we're honor bound to stay in and try to win.

We also call these Bikes from Hell.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Workload, part deux

Even with high ideals in mind, the full frenzy of the summer overload is like having a dump truck full of derelict bikes emptied over you. Using only the tools and parts you can find close to you, you have eight hours to turn the crazy pile into neat rows of repaired bikes so you can climb out.

The pace will slacken from time to time, but you hope to hear the backup beeper of the next truck before too long. If you don't work too hard in summer you may eat too little in a cold house come winter.

It does put the summer on fast forward. That part stinks. But all you can do is keep examining the balance sheet of your life. Everything has drawbacks. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Is it still worth it? Yes? Carry on. No? Bail out. Meanwhile, keep working. That tangled heap of distressed wreckage in the basement isn't going to fix itself.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Workload

The big problem with a seasonal work load is not that we get a bunch of work dumped on us. I hate that it's a banquet of perishable delights, some of which must surely spoil before they can be savored.

Every repair that comes in, every assembly to be done is a chance to do something perfect. But I can't work any faster than the speed of accuracy. Some of these jobs will slip through my fingers.

I used to get really wound up over quality control for the whole shop, but I burned out on that last year when I was forcibly reminded that I have no real power except over what is right under my hands. Who knows, I may lose even that. It certainly demands all my attention. If I let myself get distracted by what anyone else says or does I will make mistakes I can't permit myself to make.

In tourist towns we have two positions: overworked and unemployed. I wish it could be spread out more evenly. I actually don't mind a little leisure when the rush is over, but I hate missing an opportunity to do good work on all the work that comes in. Even if a customer is an unreasonable schmuck who treats us like the hired help, I can't enjoy cutting corners. Ultimately, your work speaks for itself. Months later it will be miles away, but it will still have your fingerprints on it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Here comes Fourth of July weekend

The repair shop has been at capacity since early May, but the dam is really about to burst now. The first pleading and demanding customers of the full-on summer rush have arrived.

We know that the Fourth of July marks the first charge of a siege that will last for the next couple of months.

The occupation brings convoys of large vehicles to choke the streets and highways. I will ride in any conditions sooner than drive my car.

The locals try to plan every move around the tourist hordes. We know which stores jack their prices during the height of summer. We try to buy groceries mid-week, to avoid the locust plagues on Friday and Saturday, and the picked-over shelves on Monday.

It's time to put on the "Kiss My Ass, I Live Here" jersey and draft Escalades and Suburbans with giant boat trailers until they join the clots of other fat globules in the town's traffic arteries. Then just sprint around them and disappear. My transit time does not change.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Another work week begins with clouds gathering and a flood watch for parts of the state. Unrelenting humidity has made everything in the house damp.

We are developing the ability to breathe through our pale, moist skins. Our eyes grow larger to gather in more of the dim, greenish light.

Time to pack a lunch in the dry bag and set out on the fixed gear.

At least the weather is warm.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Classic Urban Assault Bike

This fixed gear was built on a 1970's Crescent frame. It was parked in the Old Port section of Portland, Maine. Posted by Picasa

Nice Color

I couldn't pull this out of the rack, but I loved the paint job. Even the chain used to lock the bike has been sprayed gold. It was in the pile of commuter bikes in the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal in Portland, Maine. Posted by Picasa

What is this "chain lube" of which you speak?

On, Crusty! On, Grimy! On, Foul and Disgusting!

On, Muddy! On, Slimy! On, Rotting and Rusting! Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006

Can You Tune My Bike?

"This has been hanging in the barn for quite a while. Can you tune it up for me?"

Swallows or pigeons had been perching on this thing for years. It was so gobbed with guano that none of us wanted to touch it. We looked at it for a while, but we figured the customer would never pay us what we'd need to get to clean it and then address its mechanical problems. The rest of the bike was only slightly less crusty than the area shown here.

This is just one of the worst things ever brought in. The legendary Earwig Bike had been in a chicken house for long storage. In addition to various chicken residues, it turned out to be harboring hundreds or thousands of earwigs inside the frame and other spaces. They came pouring out when disturbed.

Tuneup: $49.99

Delousing: $99.99 Posted by Picasa

Thundering Herds

New Hampshire's annual Motorcycle Week is over for another year.

My cynical emergency responder friend calls it "organ donor week." The death toll stood at ten as of this morning.

It used to be just a weekend. Some of the rowdier editions of it have been woven into tourist-season legend. Back in the day it involved a lot more open flames and public lewdness.

I had not lived in New Hampshire a year when I stumbled on Motorcycle Weekend. It was 1988. I was training for a double century. My schedule had been interrupted because I had to move from Tamworth, tucked into the southern flank of the White Mountains, to Tuftonboro, on a broad point sticking down into Lake Winnipesaukee.

Early on a Saturday morning I set out to ride around "the big lake" to try to get some kind of longer mileage before the really long ride a week later. It's only about 65 miles around Winnipesaukee by road, but it was all I had time to do.

As a tribute to the challenge of a 200-mile ride, I decided to shave my legs. I'd shaved when I was racing, but grew out the fur when I quit competing. Shaving helped me psych up for the discipline of the big ride. I set out around the lake the morning after a really exemplary shave.

When I raced, my race results were unimpressive, but I always won the shave. No razor rash or missed spots for this boy. I figured if I was going to risk being seen as a freak because I shaved my legs I should at least do a damn good job. No women would razz me. Anything you can shave, I can shave better. Anything below the panty line, anyway.

Off into the cool morning I pedaled, down into the quaint town center of Wolfeboro, out Route 28 to the south, bending down toward Alton. In addition to my freshly-shaved legs, I wore a brand-new set of lycra shorts out of the local shop's bargain bin. I'd gotten a great price because they were red. Hey, I had no money. I was hoping to earn some by doing my double century and then selling articles about it to whatever publications would buy them.

As I got closer to Alton I started to notice increasing numbers of motorcycles. I knew the state attracted a lot of them because the roads are so beautiful. I had never heard of Motorcycle Weekend.

Every motel and restaurant had rows of motorcycles parked out front. Even with all the parked ones, hundreds still cruised by me. As I neared Weirs Beach, at the Laconia end of the lake, they reached herd-migration numbers. At the Weirs they simply dominated everything. There were young studs on Jap screamers, prosperous-looking middle aged types on Gold Wings and Aspencades, BMW heads and tons of Harley-Davidsons.

Vendor tents offered food, drink and souvenirs, and probably tattoos and piercings as well. Four-wheeled vehicles were scarce and I was the only bicyclist.

Only the women -- and not all of them -- had shaved legs.

Interestingly, I never felt threatened. The motorcyclists just treated me like a retarded cousin. This proved to be the pattern through many years to follow. This year was the first time I encountered any passive aggressiveness or hostility. That's probably because motorcycling has attracted a lot of neophytes and posers. Only insecure people need to pick on people they think are vulnerable in order to feel tough.

Until this year, the most static I might get from a motorcyclist would be one of them pulling his feet off the pegs and pretending to pedal. I always got safe passing clearance and often got friendly waves.

The red shorts are long gone, by the way. I did make enough money to get some more presentable biking threads.

This year was different. I got passed close and revved at by a few riders. In one group of six, a couple of them brushed me when they could easily have made more room. Their indifference or insensitivity revealed their inexperience. I was on my way to work.

When I got to town, I found that the ongoing bridge construction had created an epic back-up out Center Street. I floated carefully down the outbound lane, which was currently unoccupied, because the construction crew had everyone stopped, both directions. It was a great time to be on a bike.

It was especially great when I saw the rude motorcyclists embedded in the traffic jam. Without comment, I rode smoothly past them.

"Hey!" yelled one, then "HEY!", perhaps as he recognized me.

Showers threatened soon after I got to work. We looked down from our windows onto the parking lot behind our building as a group of Hell's Posers loaded their shiny Hogs into a box trailer behind a chunky SUV. Real bikers don't box up the bikes and hop into a four-wheeled vehicle at the first sight of a gray cloud. It could even have been the same bunch from the morning commute.

We started coming up with poserwear for the faux biker. How about press-on greasy fingernails? Or a gray ponytail wig that hides a helmet? Stone-washed black tee shirts simulate the wear and tear of days on the open road.

So the official Motorcycle Week fades into history. Motorcyclists will continue to tour up here, because it's a great place for it, but now we'll just have week after week of Boneheads in Cars and SUVs Week until summer finally ends. At least some of them have racks full of bikes hung on the family tank.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sorry my blog is late, but my cat ate my router

After the disruption caused by the lightning strike early in the month, and a busy work schedule, then the internet connection went down again last night. As I poked around the cable modem and wireless router, I discovered that one of the antennas of the Linksys WRT54G was not standing up as straight as the other one and it had teeth marks near the tip of it.

At least two of our cats like to chew on pens and pencils. The antennas on the router must be even more fun to chew, because they have a softer outer coating.

I really don't know if the cat bites had anything to do with the interruption of service. I suspect the lightning did cause a little slow-acting brain damage, because the router showed normal indicator lights even when it would not allow traffic to pass through, and a night's unplugged rest seems to have cured it at least temporarily. The cat bites are funnier, though.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Don't Grin, Don't Laugh, and Don't Breathe with your Mouth Open

How many tons of insect life are hovering over Effingham at this moment?

I rode home from the Conservation Commission meeting in the dusk. Unexpectedly heavy showers earlier in the evening had prompted me to take the fixed gear, but they had passed. The last pink drained slowly off the bases of the drifting clouds as I flowed smoothly through the dusk. The fixed gear's continuous drive creates an endless connected series of overlapping circles through the air.

I stopped briefly to chat with my friend Lee. He's biked every road, hiked every trail and bushwhacked every glade in all four seasons around here. Lately he's been doing some trail work up in Conway. He keeps trying to get me to ride my mountain bike again. He's also an incredible boat handler, having been a boat jockey for Outward Bound at one point in his youth. He's pretty much your all-purpose outdoor traveler. The kind who never brags and whose advice is always short, quiet and dead on. He was chuckling because his daughter, home for a visit from Manhattan, can handle all-night city noise, but can't sleep through 4:30 a.m. birdsong.

It's all what you're used to. Actually, I sleep like a log anywhere, but I definitely prefer the birdsong and the unbelievable silence this place can produce at nght.

Once I left Effingham Falls and headed up the steady grade into the woods to skirt the shoulder of the Green Mountain massif I started to feel the impact of something like dry raindrops. Little motes of winged protein smacked into me as thickly as the earlier shower had peppered me with droplets. I wanted to laugh, but I knew I shouldn't open my mouth. I was glad I wear glasses.

All the wet weather has helped produce a crop of mosquitoes like something out of a horror movie. The shrieking swarm condenses around you the minute you venture into a vegetated area. They wait on tall grass and billow up in clouds. They hover in the forest and the undergrowth. Add to this all the other flitting and flying things that have to do their thing in the short warm season, and all the others that feed on them. Shake and pour out into the summer evening. Bip, bap pip pap pippity pap pepper the face of the night rider. How can you tell a happy cyclist? By the bugs in his teeth. Don't laugh. Don't grin. Don't breathe with your mouth open.

Assembling a Bike

Assembling a new bike out of the box involves more than just slapping on the parts that aren't already in place.

To do it right, you have to take it apart some more before you put it all the way together.

At this point, shop owners all over the world are giving thanks that I don't work for them. Or maybe not. It depends on their long-term view.

A fast mechanic can slap a bike together for the floor in less than an hour, maybe much less. It will probably work for a test ride and make it to the free tuneup a week or a month later.

If you figure the free tuneup only needs to be worth as much as the customer is paying for it, you can breeze through that in short order as well. Make sure the crank arms aren't going to fall off, the brakes don't squeak and the gears shift smoothly.

The mountain bike boom made me take a more critical look at assembly and tuneup procedures. In our area, people were really beating up their bikes. Anything less than battle-ready equipment would come back in embarrassing pieces. It was like a laboratory experiment in rapid aging of a bike.

A thorough assembly will help make the free tuneup a breeze, because properly assembled bikes won't come apart as fast as quickly assembled bikes. A carefully assembled bike is less likely to embarrass the shop. This is just self defense, people.

Most of our customers are regulars. Over time we collect a lot of history on their bikes. If we do good work from the outset, our job tends to get easier and the customers trust our opinion more, because their bike works better after it has been in our hands. Sure, we make mistakes, being mere humans. But overall a meticulous workshop costs less than a shoddy one.

When I assemble a bike I start by pulling the rear wheel off, removing the cassette or freewheel and adjusting the rear axle cones. Most factory-assembled bikes come with over-tightened hubs. Often the locknuts aren't properly locked, so this tight hub could very well turn rapidly into a loose one after hard riding. Then the bearings will get pounded into the cones, fracturing them. Or the hub might stay tight, grinding the bearings uniformly into the cones, digging a trench.

Grease and reinstall the cassette lockring. With a freewheel, grease the freewheel threads on the hub before reinstalling the freewheel itself.

Repeat the adjustment process with the front hub.

On both wheels, grip and squeeze sets of spokes to produce a crackling noise as the spokes de-stress. We nicknamed this procedure "cringling" because of the noise it makes. Do this until the spokes are quiet. Then true the wheels.

Inflate the tires before adjusting the brakes. Rims will flare very slightly when tires are holding full pressure. It's not too critical. I often forget to inflate the tires and seldom have to readjust brakes on a new wheel. Older rims, sidewalls eroded by brake pad wear, may bulge considerably, but new rims usually don't react too much. It's just a nice touch.

Set cantilever or linear-pull brake pads near the outer edge of the rim. As the pads wear, they will strike the rim lower and lower. If they're too low to start, they'll drop below the inner edge and develop a lip.

Road-type caliper brakes actually pinch inward and upward. The narrower the rim, the more noticeable the upward movement will be. You don't have to set the pads radically low, but avoid setting them too high.

Grease the threads on the top cap bolt of a threadless headset. I've seen these rust into the star nut threads. I've also seen alloy headset spacers corrode onto steel steerer tubes on mountain bikes that have been taken on many jungle cruises. If you are taking your bike apart frequently, this corrosion has little chance to develop. If you happen to leave an assembly together undisturbed for too long, you may get a rude surprise.

Remove water bottle bolts and other accessory bolts and grease the threads on them. Retighten them securely.

Grease crank bolts. You'd be surprised how often they come through dry. They will not tighten smootly or torque properly without lube.

A touch of grease makes a big difference over the lifetime of the bike. I will grease threaded adjusters on brake levers and derailleurs, cable anchor bolts, brake shoe posts, pretty much anything with threads, if I have the time. Many of these have a token amount of grease from the factory, but it's often that brown, semi-dry earwax, if anything.

If you decide you are going to be this thorough, you can develop your own streamlined procedures to knock off each step, rather than waste time trying to talk yourself out of it.

On high-end bikes, especially special orders, I will grease chainring bolts. Those are always dry.

All this extra care is in addition to the normal assembly activities, greasing pedal threads, seatposts and quill-type handlebar stems.

Time spent on assembly is time you won't have to spend getting a bike ready for a test ride or to be handed to a happy customer so they can take it right home. Thorough assemblies mean you don't have to tie up shop time on free tuneups when you could be doing paying repairs. Thorough assemblies mean you can slap on accessories like bottle cages or racks faster. Sales go more smoothly. Profits go up while customer service improves.

We all get tired and overworked. We fall short. But high standards at least give us something to shoot for.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Death Match: PG2000 vs. The Cheese

A large portion of the time spent tuning up a bike for a White Lightning addict goes to cleaning the cheese off of everything.

White Lightning cheese is powerful persistent stuff. Those polytetrafluoroethylene particles gather around the drive train and in gobs on the frame. They may land as far afield as the upper seat stays and forward of the front derailleur if the bike's owner just can't stay away from the stuff.

Solvents like Finish Line Ecotech and citrus degreasers do work, but using a degreaser around a drive train means you have to chase it with replacement lube. And The Cheese has proven pretty stubborn.

PG2000, the spray lube from Pro Gold, melts The Cheese faster than a blob of Velveeta in a hot frying pan. Just wipe away the excess after cleaning. The residue enhances the lube on derailleurs or chain, rather than thinning it as a degreasing solvent would. You don't have to use extravagant showers of it. Start with a little and add a little more until it cuts the cheese to your satisfaction.

Put your White Lightning addict into a 12-step program as soon as possible and get them on the Pro Link. They'll thank you for it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rigged for Rain

The faithful fixed gear, fenders in place. Note the dry bag used as a rack pack. This weather is really getting tiresome. I can't complain, though. My house didn't get flooded, and the lightning bolt that nailed a tree right outside only destroyed a few appliances. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hear No Evil, See No Evil and Damn Sure Speak No Evil

Sometimes the grunt in the backshop faces a moral dilemma when fragments of the talk on the sales floor filter back.

Yes, we need to sell some bikes. And maybe the deal in progress is fine. But it sounds like it skirts the edge. To know is to be responsible, at least to object if something isn't right. But having endured a number of excrement typhoons over the years when I piped up, survival takes precedence. As I said, it may turn out fine. And I've learned to implement corrective measures in stealthier ways when the frontal approach meets the blustering defense.

For now, I have earplugs and my meditative powers until I can delve deeper into the facts of the case.

Fix It or Sell It?

As cheap as human life is in a bike shop, repair costs still mount up quickly. As beer costs rise, so does the cost of labor. And parts aren't getting any cheaper, either.

Faced with a repair estimate of a hundred or two hundred dollars, customers will say, "for a little more I could have a new bike."

Yes and no. If you paid about $300 for your bike 15 years ago, it may have componentry as well made as on some bikes selling for $500 today. And if you get your bike serviced by a shop you will definitely spend more on repairs over its lifetime than you plunked down to buy it originally. You can't think about it just in monetary terms.

The more you can fix yourself, the more money and time you will save. Buy tools and parts.

I suppose most readers here know this, but I'm used to writing for papers where I hope the less sophisticated rider will read. I want them to outgrow me. I want them to stumble on this blog as source of information and a slice of life.

Bikes aren't like cars. For all the efforts of Shimano, there aren't a lot of mysterious, complicated systems in there. If your Wonder Shifting bites the big one you can always put on Stone Age Shifting and still have a bike to ride. That's not an option with your car. So in bike repair you have many routes to the single destination of a ridable bike. It may not be exactly the way you got it on the first day, but you will be able to get around. You have to decide how much you want to cling to the original configuration, or how close you can get to it with available parts when it does break.