Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year Zero

With the start of the new year, my mileage stands at zero.

The road out front is covered with slowly drying brine. Scant snow with a glistening crust presses in from the edges.

I celebrated the arrival of 1981 by riding around in a snowstorm at midnight with two good friends in Alexandria, Virginia, on our beater fixed gears. The old year ended with a ride that crossed over into the new. Midnight was a barline on a piece of music, a division that passed without a pause.

My beater fixed gear has survived enough years to become a classic, so I don't dash out and laugh as I pilot it through the corrosive soup. I need to build a new beater. The problem is, I don't beat. I respect my equipment. If I build something I dislike enough to abuse, I won't like it enough to use it at all.

Life is too short to ride crappy bikes. They can be cheap and eccentric, home built and hacked together, but if they don't have good ride qualities, forget it. The world has enough boat anchors with pedals. I don't need to be on one.

For short hops in the city a rust-and-black Muffy with bent steel rims and no brakes has a certain humorous appeal. Where the roads are prettier, I want to have a riding experience at least as pretty.

The wheels take the worst punishment from the salt. They're right down in it, every spoke end swishing through the salty stew countless times. The salt water works into the junction of the spoke nipple through the rim and the threaded joint between the nipple and the spoke itself.

The current fixed gear has survived more than two decades of winter use. The wheels have been through more than that. I built them in 1979 for a commuting bike on the Super Course frame now built as the fixie. It was a five-speed until I flipped over the back of a Mazda I was passing on the right when he turned right. The rim got tacoed in the crash. The friend I was chasing came back to find me surveying the damage. He stomped the rim basically flat. At home I tensioned the spokes and stripped the bike down to a single cog and no rear brake.

To be honest, I did replace the stomp-and-tweaked rim a couple of years later. Other than that, the wheelset is original. Oh, wait, then I replaced the rear hub twice. The first time I laced in a flip-flop Atom. When I rode the bearing cups right out of that I laced in a flip-flop Suzue. It's like the story of the best axe I ever owned. Replaced the head three times and the handle six. Same damn axe.

Come to think of it, the low-flange Atom front hub croaked, too. I rebuilt the front wheel with a high-flange Campy Tipo hub, 1970s vintage. I ponder the fatigue life of aluminum sometimes, when I'm all spun out on a bumpy downhill.

Today I think I'll do some weights and rollers. I'd let the weight workouts slide. Then on Sunday I was finally ski skating, when I hooked an outside edge, crossed up and ploughed in on top of my right arm, yanking at the old shoulder separation. It's definitely a little looser than it was. Time to bear down on those supporting muscles again.

Ah, healthy exercise. It'll kill you in the end.

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