Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Gilford Run

The ride back from the mechanic's shop turned into a typical time trial racing sunset.

I had a headlight, but had not been able to find my blinky beacons. I suspected the cats had used them as hockey pucks. They like to swat things off my workbench. In fact, they like to swat things of any horizontal surface in the house.

I was probably 15 miles into the sprint when I realized I had left the beacons in the side pockets of my commuting bum bag. It was too late by then.

I didn't lose by much. The headlight came in handy a couple of times to alert oncoming cars. They're more dangerous in dusk and darkness because they'll hook turns in front of you. It wasn't even all that dusky, but dusky enough.

The Planet Bike Beamer 3 has a nifty flashing mode and a slightly bluish tinge. I love the effect of flashing blue lights on motorists. They all have at least somewhat of a guilty conscience.

My computer had mysteriously zeroed out, so I don't know what I hit for a maximum speed in free-fall down South Main Street into South Wolfeboro or what I averaged for my heroic efforts. Great! I can make stuff up!

Realistically, that hill is good for at least 40. As for the average speed, I doubt it was much over 16, with all the climbing and my natural slothfulness.

Pedaling a Solution

One of the cars urgently needs service. Fortunately, the weather has turned mild and the daylight is just long enough for me to give up my car so the other one can go into surgery.

Today I have to drive the ailing car to the mechanic, 40 miles away (he's that good), and then ride 25 of those miles to meet my wife and hitch home the rest of the way with her.

When the days are longer and I have more long rides on me I will knock off the whole 40 on these errands. It's just a little early, especially since we already grabbed a quick 12 going to the town offices on some other official business this morning.

The biggest question is which bike to use. I've been putting in most of my time on the fixed gear. It gives me the best control in the frost heaves, because I have pressure on the pedals whether accelerating or decelerating. That makes it easier to unweight to let the bike rock through the lumps and bumps like the kayak riding over waves. But the Gilford run is hilly and I'm doing it in the uphill direction.

The Surly is a tad heavy for a speed run, but it's set up for the lights if I decide to be that prudent.

The road bike is light and fast, but I haven't looked at it since last fall. After the Surly it feels downright flimsy, even though I know it isn't. The direct drive of the fixed gear makes it feel more solid.

Whichever bike I choose, I like riding with a mission.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Wonder, as I Assemble

Is SRAM a dummy corporation set up to make Shimano look good? These trigger shifters are lame. The ergonomics are bad. The lever throw is long. The return lever is badly placed... No wonder Shimano finally relented in court and let them produce them. Maybe it was all a put-on.

Think about it. SRAM absorbed Avid for brakes and Sachs for chains. If the shifting systems sink the company, will the suction take these valid Shimano competitors down with it? Rockshox would just be an unfortunate casualty. SRAM's demise would be one-stop shopping to put Shimano in uncontested control of the bike industry. It's nearly there as it is.

Shades of Suntour. It takes me back to the compatibility wars of the early 1990s. Cyclists lost a lot of choices during the mountain bike boom.

I don't see how SRAM can win. Shimano has better name recognition. What the hell's a SRAM? At least you can point to some guys named Shimano. So this has to run its bloody course.

The bike industry made it through its first century-plus using paying customers as product testers. That doesn't work as well anymore, since the industry got customers to expect a higher level of sophistication. You can't rush to market with a complex product and make in-season changes when you're dealing with global supply lines and so much proprietary product. You can't get a manufacturer to spec one or two pieces to showcase them, because the rival company is doing all it can to enforce compatibility only with its own line.

Brakes are still independent. Drive trains must be complete. So if SRAM doesn't have the financial muscle to make sweet OEM deals, they're as boned as Suntour was in the early 1990s. The stuff doesn't work quite as well as Shimano's and they can't get enough of it out there to get financial momentum to make improvements.

Maybe the other divisions of SRAM will be able to carry the drive trains for as long as it takes to get them really working. It better not be too long.

Funny how they want to flared side plates on the 9-speed chains. We're calling them "Sramano."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Signs of Spring

It's carbon fiber bike season! The brightly-colored warning labels stuck all over frames and parts are like early flowers. Lovely, lovely.

Assembling a Cannondale Synapse I noticed that it comes with 60% fewer warning labels than similar models from Specialized. Then Ralph pointed out that if you pronounce "synapse" sloppily it sounds like "snaps."

Test pilots! Prepare! Your high-tech steeds await.

You'll be fine. Really.

Early adopters of emerging technology make the world safer for those who follow. We salute you.

Shifting Problems?

I'm on a personal campaign to eliminate 4 millimeter shift cable housing, especially with cheesy plastic ferrules on the ends.

Installing 4 mm housing is like purposely having your arteries surgically narrowed. Actually it's more like having your tendon sheaths constricted, but the artery image is more vivid.

Modern super-indexed sifting systems, upwards of eight speeds and completely dependent on perfect functioning of a proprietary lever assembly, rely on smooth cable movement. Yet time and again I find original equipment cables on new bikes burly enough to moor a ship, running through these dinky, skinny housings.

True, most mechanics just pass this along to the rider. In all likelihood, professional teams use 4 mil housing, too. Of course they have professional mechanics to go over the bikes daily during important events. And most bikes that go through our shop without the housings changed work well enough for months. But 5 millimeter housings help a lot when a customer brings in a bike with balky shifting. Metal ferrules resist splitting better than plastic and also hold up much better to the pressure of the linear inner wires in the stiff housing. You'd be hard pressed to feel the difference in weight between a 4 mil set of housings and a 5 mil set.

Cable routing and housing length make a big difference too. I'm really glad manufacturers seem to be backing away from putting shift cable stops right on the head tube. That did not solve the problem of interference between the front brake cable and whichever shift cable was routed past it. The housing actually arcs more cleanly when the cable stop is mounted down the down tube a little way. Miraculously, the industry seems to have picked up on that.

Crossing the shift cables in front of the head tube eliminates a lot of head tube chafe. This is critical with carbon fiber frames, because they are so much more vulnerable to abrasion damage. Unfortunately, just because the cable housing stops are on the sides of the down tube does not mean you can cross the cables. The stops need to be far enough down the circumference of the tube to allow the cables to cross back again under the down tube to reach their respective derailleurs.

Some of this is old news. Cable crossing has been done for a long time. Some bikes even come from the factory that way. I repeat it in case anyone was absent that day or just came in.

Important Detail

The lowly chainstay protector, once just a nice vanity detail to protect the paint job, has become a matter of life and death for carbon fiber frames. Place that puppy carefully to avoid dangerous nicks and gouges.

Most people put the protector on with the wide end forward, over the wide part of the stay. Don't do that.

Put the wide end toward the rear, thinner end of the chainstay, because that's where the chain line varies through its widest range. Wrap the protector toward the inside of the stay, where it will really protect. Don't just center it on top of the stay. On top of the stay, most of its area is wasted.

On a carbon bike, mount the protector far enough back to intercept the chain near the cluster, where it comes closest to the frame. The front derailleur cage will probably keep the chain from hitting the stay easily at that end.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

This Isn't Helping

On Sunday, as I drove to the last day of my winter job, I approached an intersection where I was going to turn right.

I had the green light. I could tell by the pattern of the lights that I could turn right without stopping and that people going straight could go, but that the left turn lanes had red lights.

A cyclist was coming from the opposite direction in the left turn lane. He would have to stop. I flowed smoothly into my right turn.

The cyclist didn't stop. He blew through the red light like it wasn't even there. That brought us close up side-by-side in the street we had both entered. The street has double lanes right there, but one turns into a right-turn lane immediately.

I rolled my window down to explain to the cyclist that what he'd done was not only illegal, it was stupid, but I realized he'd just think I was a jerk in a car. We didn't have time to get into details. He probably did not notice the bicycle stuffed in the back of my small station wagon. I rolled my window back up and sped up to get past him with plenty of room before the road narrowed.

Traffic laws aren't government repression. You don't make a bold revolutionary statement by defying them. You just put yourself and others at risk. True, if bikes were unjustly barred from a road I would be among the first to engage in civil disobedience by riding on it, but only in a sensible manner, with traffic, respecting traffic control signals.

You're not sticking it to the man by shoving yourself in front of a car when it's not your turn. You're just being a jerk.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dutiful Commuting

My bike commuting season is about to begin. This year I will have some good base mileage, because the cross-country ski season was so lousy.

The shortest route I can take requires just under 30 miles for the day. The more pleasant route is more like 32-33. That may not seem like much, but it turns into a time trial more often than not. A typical commuter, I'm usually running late on the way in. On the way home I just want to get there. It's really easy to fall into the half-fast overtraining pace.

When I was younger I would stretch the commute on some days, to make the 30 feel shorter. If you can't shorten your short ride, lengthen your long ones. But I want to do more with life than just ride, and I actually have one or two friends and loved ones with whom I'd like to spend time.

I consider commuting an expression of responsibility. I know I would ride no matter what. I have raced and toured. I liked to train because I liked to go out and ride. So if I'm spending the energy anyway, I might as well use it to make my part of the world a slightly better place.

I also hate driving. Actually, that's not quite true. I just hate most other drivers. I hate parking hassles. I hate the way car culture has sealed us into our little armored vehicles. But I love flinging my car through a nice set of turns.

Bicycling provides more opportunities to play with the vehicle than driving does. It also helps, rather than hurts, my physical condition. The same route over and over can get boring, but it's better on a bike than stuck in a car.

Before commuting season I get to ride some of the other roads around here. There are many miles of excellent cycling on either side of the Maine-New Hampshire border. The Cross Check is the perfect vehicle to explore them. I keep planning to find the time to fit in a few rides just for fun during commuting season. Maybe this year I will. But the commute comes first.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Part of the Plan

As I rode east on Route 25 this afternoon, I passed a minivan from the Lakes Region Planning Commission at the intersection where Green Mountain Road comes in from the south and Route 153 turns off to the north, directly opposite it. Several motor vehicles were making various maneuvers as we all came to the intersecion, some turning, some going straight. There I was, The Cyclist.

About 45 minutes later I came back into the same intersection, this time southbound on 153. I crossed straight over 25 to continue on Green Mountain road. The LRPC van was still there.

I'll bet the regional planners were observing the intersection. There's been some agitation for traffic control there, because flamebrain drivers scream down 25 like they're piloting jet aircraft. They have caused some grim accidents.

Route 25 is about as flat as a road gets in New Hampshire. It's pretty flat by any standard. For several miles it sweeps straight or in gentle arcs past pine forest and wetland held at a respectful distance behind wide breakdown lanes and a cleared right-of-way. Sociopathic speeders pay no attention to the yellow blinking light above the intersection at 153 and Green Mountain Road. Drivers like that only slow down when they actually hit something. So now we may get a traffic light or a land-eating cloverleafed interchange to protect us from them and them from themselves.

The great part is that cycling was represented today. Maybe they'll figure that if they see one cyclist in March there must be dozens in the warmer months. Whatever plan they make has a better chance of including us. At least I like to think so.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nature's Perfect Gear Size

Here's an interesting link from Surly: 63xc. The title refers to the 63-inch gear you get with a 42-18 or 49-21 gear combination.

A section of the website praises the silence of the fixed gear and the feeling of direct connection the rider gets when riding trails not only with a single speed, but with a fixed drive.

Funny. Back in 1980-81 I was doing that on my commuting fixed gear, cutting through the back ways to get to work from my residential neighborhood. Any time I wanted to ride sub-par surfaces I used the fixed gear, until I built my first 'cross bike on my old Peugeot frame. That was followed by a version on a Trek touring frame, and finally by the excellent Cross Check.

I don't know if I have the kneecaps to push a heavy bike with a 63-inch gear on some of the climbs we have around here. I feel pretty confident that a light bike wouldn't hold up to the pounding of a descent on glacial debris. But I salute their purist sentiments.