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.