Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 Winds Down (or goes down the drain)

With the last storm, 2008 officially became the wettest year on record in New Hampshire. Three of the top five years occurred in the last four years. The record was formerly held by 2005, with 2006 in third place. Records go back to 1870 in Concord. The next two places are held by 1888 and 1897.

Last summer seemed like it never happened. Cloudy skies and chaotic storms dominated every week after the drought and fire danger of May ended as abruptly as it had followed the extraordinarily snowy winter. The air was warm and damp. Closets and drawers in the house grew rank with mildew.

Ugly weather discourages many people from playing outside. The early surge we got in the dry start tapered off to a steady flow of repairs and a light rhythm of sales.

As this winter gets underway it seems to take up where last winter left off. We've had early snow, but temperatures that have started to seesaw above and below freezing. Sure it's zero right now, but tomorrow we're looking at almost 40, with rain moving in. For the next week the forecast calls for mixed precipitation including snow at temperatures above freezing. There's a lot of water in snow like that. Sign of the times? Can we look forward to another non-summer after we crawl out of the snowbanks again?

One can never be sure, of course. We could slide just a few degrees farther to the warm side and get only rain for the rest of the winter. I don't wish it, certainly, but I've seen it before.

A snowless winter does not mean an early spring. It just means the local economy is further depressed because the businesses that depend on snow didn't get it. In this economy, how well are those businesses going to do anyway?

Nordic skiing is "the cheap skiing." That's a benefit if people feel they can afford to go skiing at all, but no help if people have no budget for recreation. Bicycling has transportation benefits, but only if people can and will take advantage of them.

Wet weather will discourage everyone somewhat, and some people completely, in any season. It's one factor we can't control on a day to day basis.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bike Shop Economics with a Twist

Here in our little northern refuge, our shop started as a cross-country ski shop. Long before I arrived, the owners added bikes as a summer line to carry them through their off season. It was 1972 or '73, a particularly good time to have a few ten-speeds kicking around for sale.

The 1970s treated shops that sold bikes and Nordic skis pretty well. The Baby Boomers were young and strong. Moving into the 1980s, many of them were chasing and catching the Almighty Dollar or at least running up their credit on the hope that their success would catch up with their spending sooner than the bill collector did.

By the end of the 1980s, when the cracks in the exuberant economy began to show, mountain biking rose to take the torch of the bike industry from the drooping hand of the road bike market. People's finances took a hit in the recession that began in 1989, but Nordic skiing was "the cheap skiing" and mountain bikes used human power, not expensive fuel. It wasn't great, but it was good enough.

The 1990s began with some shabby winters around here. At the same time, economic changes in the neighboring state to the south that we love to hate meant that fewer people were coming north in herds to spend their disposable income on winter recreation. But with mountain biking huge and getting huger we changed from being a ski shop that sold bikes to being a bike shop that sold skis. We all studded up our tires and hit the frozen lake and snow machine trails to show that nothing would stop us from playing outside.

Nothing symbolizes the desolation of globally warming winters better than a wide-open blue lake that should be frozen several feet thick. It looks so wrong after you've gotten used to the gray and white expanse dotted with fishing shacks and parked cars year after year. Winter has become wildly unpredictable since then, and winter cycling never really threatened to become the next big thing.

The stars our wagon was hitched to have become two lame mules. A tired, irritable and fat public pays lip service to the joys and benefits of cycling, but fears the road and lacks the cash and the will to construct better infrastructure. It is cheaper and easier to bitch about how there's no place to go and nothing to do than it is to do something about it. On the winter side, Nordic skiing isn't really "as easy as walking." It also requires snow, which has become a luxury, apparently.

Good snow has become a luxury anyway. Packed and packable powder that allows both classical and skate skiing on plausible waxes seems to show up less and less. We may get lots of snow in an odd winter, like last year, but it's bulk-packed, cheap discount store crap. We got feet of wet glop last year. If you got out at precisely the right time on the right days you had a great time, but the majority of the time the surface was maddening. The soft snow never firmed up into a good skate platform. The warm temperatures made grip waxing insane. Snow stuck to everything unless you lathered on some sort of chemical slop to prevent it. It was a year for no-wax skis. I'm sorry. That's just not a quality season.

Commercially, most customers only see white, think snow and buy whatever they choose for winter toys. But last winter would have had to be phenomenally lucrative to make up for the staggering canyon the whole northeastern Nordic industry went into in 2005-'06. No winter since then has been able to make up the deficit.

There's no summer savior like mountain biking anymore. We survive mostly because our mechanical shop has a decent reputation. That can only bring in limited money because it requires the mechanics to spend the necessary time to do a quality repair, assuming the mechanic in question is capable of it. We're not pumping out dozens of happy hardtails to new enthusiasts and equipping them with full accessories day after day. Biking has broken into niches and most riders are afraid.

In our enclave of the unimaginably wealthy, money never dries up completely. One can study the trickle-down theory up close and personal when someone who could buy out your entire net worth with the loose change in his couch cushions is asking if you can knock a few percent off your price for no other reason than that he asked you to. And even if the deep pockets toss a few coins our way without chiseling us, their business is not enough to keep us afloat.

Take note, my wealthy friends: I will happily continue to keep your bikes in fine working order if you want to put me on a retainer. Since the middle class is dying, the poor schmucks who used to subsidize your mechanical lackeys have mostly gone away. See that? The wealthy DO need the middle class.

For a starting salary of, say 50 grand a year plus a housing allowance, I'll travel with you as your personal mechanic.

We saw a little surge of interest and business last summer as fuel prices soared, the economy sputtered and coughed, and the scientific community assured us that we needed to lower our CO2 output as much as our cholesterol intake. But all the problems of cycling, combined with dreary weather, soon put that to rest.

We cyclists know that if major numbers of people started cycling, conditions would improve instantly. They really would. Each cyclist would be one less occupant of a car. Each bike would be one less car to park. Small vehicles powered by humans would flow more easily than ungainly steel boxes in the streets. Some steel boxes would remain, but we would outnumber and surround them.

We cyclists must admit that during the transition period, cycling accidents could increase as less skilled riders tried to use their bikes. There's a crossover point where increased bike ridership crowds the space with those still in their steel boxes. Carelessness and anger would generate conflicts and collisions. If it looked bad enough for long enough (perhaps not long at all), the new cyclists would shrink back, leaving only the memory of the bloodbath to make future adopters even more wary.

This is not a reason to give up. It's just something to prepare for. Can anyone in a bike shop anywhere tell me they haven't heard a customer say they're afraid out there? I've been doing this for decades, and I'm afraid out there.

No other sport is played in traffic. Any time you ride for any reason except a practical one, you're playing in traffic. Traffic is sometimes understandably resentful. Then we have to get into how many motor vehicle trips are frivolous and unnecessary to compare the score card between cyclists and motorists.

All this seems like a digression from the question of economics and cycling, but economics are a political force and a symptom of social structure. If people really wanted to bike they would bike, just as they did in the crazy 1990s, when times were tough but we couldn't keep enough mountain bikes in stock.

We cyclists know that cycling is great and affordable, good for the environment, good for health and fitness and peace of mind, but only if you make it out and back in one piece. Make cycling's built-in appeal obvious enough and the business side will take care of itself.

A word to the industry: If you engage in the kind of elbow-throwing, criterium-style competition you did in the mountain bike boom you will screw it up again as badly as you did then. Bad enough when you hook each other into parking meters and litter barrels along the course, but you ended up crashing on top of bystanders and lower-category riders just warming up. If the money starts flowing again, be cool this time and see if we can keep it going for a long, long time. Biking is a lifetime sport, even though hard-core competitive cycling emphatically is not.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's the stops

In a comment on the post here titled "A Smoldering Rage," Anonymous said...

"I have to be devils advocate here and ask a couple of questions.

Was the problem the stops, or was it that the owner did not properly care for their bike? I understand you sweat, but can you clean it?

Also, was the problem due in part, or wholly, to the fact that you were using aero bars on the bike? Just curious."

Anonymous was referring to head tube cable stops, a recent and hopefully short-lived detail of road bike design. This photo shows the cable routing I used on the tri bike I was repairing.

Here is a photo of the typical and inevitable destruction of cable housing on a bike with head tube stops and conventional drop bars.

The aero bars on the black bike did complicate the problem, but the basic flaw affects any cabling. The curve ends too abruptly, too close to the pivot point of the whole assembly. It would only work well if the cables went into a ball swivel that allowed the ferrule to rotate freely without turning the threaded adjuster or fraying the cable over a hard edge. That's why I hate them. They make life worse in a small way and better in no way. The only way to work around them would be to remove them entirely.

The salt and sugar bath poured over the black bike only made the cable adjusters corrode into the stops. That can't be cleaned off after the fact without disassembling the bike to some degree. Salty water seeps in along the cable and down the threads of the adjuster by capillary action. Well-greased adjuster threads will guard against the damage for a while. Eventually, everything needs to be taken apart, hosed out with spray lube and put back together with fresh grease.

I suggested to the triathlete whose bike inspired my rant that she get a beater bike to stick on her trainer. Sweat on a real ride blows away on the breeze. That confines the sugar water to the vicinity of the water bottle cages and wherever the rider drools a significant amount. Much of the lip-drip blows away like the sweat. If the beater isn't an option, rig a towel or buy one of the prepared sweat catchers you can stick on your bike to catch the briny swill before it soaks anything expensive and delicate.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Surprisingly Intimate

Recent fixed gear rides with the cellist have turned into synchronized flights closer than any ride we've shared on multi-speed bikes. Riding identical gears, our rhythms match with every change of terrain.

I'm stronger and have decades more experience, but the fixed gear bike teaches technique unconsciously and rapidly. If you don't hate it in the first fifty yards you will love it within the first 100. So it seems to be with her.

I don't think she's just doing that thing I want that none of the other girls would do. She really seems intrigued. She gets it. If you get it, too, you know exactly what I mean.

She remarked right away on the pleasure of instant control through the pedals. I see her doing things she may not even realize she's doing. The bike shapes the rider if the rider is willing to let it.

After one training ride on the easiest ground, she wanted to go farther on a blustery, cold day. The longer flat ride went farther downwind than I thought was a good idea, so I suggested a shorter alternative with a bit of up and down. She was nervous about that, and the dirt section it included, but she went for it anyway. I knew she had the skills to master it. She had to find that out for herself. With that out of the way, that 15-mile loop can now be one of her standards and the longer ride, with more time on a milder day, will be that much more fun for her.

The turns, the climbs, the descents, the changes of surface called for all the subtle shifts of weight and cadence, the hip-steering and line-choosing a single fixed cog demands. In addition, I maneuvered around her, reacting to her movements in a coordinated dance. As she learns more, she will notice the pleasure of these synchronous movements herself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Pictures (Okay, some pictures)

Wednesday seemed cold at 21 degrees, but I had the time. I grabbed a dawn patrol. Thursday I let the work schedule and the 17-degree morning low convince me to skip a day. But then on Friday I had the later start time so I went out at 12 degrees. Double digits. That's not cold.

Yes it is.

You know it was a cold ride when you felt like sweat was chilling on your skin the whole time, but your clothes are dry when you take them off after you get home. You also know your layering was working perfectly. Moisture traveled out to the surface unimpeded. That hardly ever happens.

Riding at sunrise treats me to visual delights even on the same loop day after day. Unfortunately, riding in a very small time window, I don't want to take time to stop and set up a picture.

Ossipee River frequently looks like this. This picture is from a year or two ago.

On a mid-day ride Tuesday, I saw Huntress Bridge Rapid was up.

I acted as the Huntress Bridge Traffic Cam. This guy was hauling ass approaching the bridge.

Putting almost 100 miles a day on the car some days, I know I wouldn't be doing my job with a Big Dummy and strong resolve. I've changed for now from a transportation cyclist to a fitness rider.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Plug and Play

Here's the cellist on her very first fixed gear ride ever.

Because she rides a 54 cm Surly Cross Check and so do I, it was a quick and simple matter to change the stem on Blue for a shorter one and exchange her seat and post for mine. Voila! Instant fit.

I'm often frustrated when I try to ride with her in colder weather because I have to coordinate my rhythms on a fixed gear with hers on a multi-speed bike. Usually I just ride my Cross Check with multiple gears and put up with being cold and getting less of a workout. Since I have the Traveler's Check as a fixed gear, swapping parts to make it her bike took only minutes.

I run a gear most fixie fashionistas consider laughably low. The joke's on them, of course, when it comes to practical riding, because my 63-inch low and 73.5-inch high gear cover such a range of terrain and traffic conditions. When I did ride in an urban environment, I ran the 63 for winter and a 67 for summer. It's easier to do a track stand and bolt away from intersections in a lower gear. With a well developed spin a rider can take the 63 from zero to 25 mph for short sprints, 30 for short descents and cruise at 18-20 with city traffic all day.

Because of the low gear, the cellist had no trouble getting on it and staying on it. She instantly discovered how to control speed through the pedals. Aside from the time trial bars and the continuous drive, the bike was hers in all respects. She did not have to get used to twitchy handling.

Taking advantage of Effingham's excellent terrain, we could put together a ride of 12 miles with no hills. With a bit more time we could have stretched it to 15 or 20. Bending the loop differently, a rider can do everything from a total wall to a mixed bag of medium-sized grades in a range of distances from four to 20 miles. Today we kept her on the level so she could concentrate on developing basic fixed gear skills. She did a great job and was intrigued. Because the conversion is so easy, she can try it again any time she wants without significant inconvenience. I guess I should say I could reclaim Blue any time I want, because I'm going to leave it set up for her and ride the silver bike for a while.

Thanks, Surly!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


November tries to get its claws into me every year. I used to lean forward and train hard in November, anticipating mountain adventures. As I find no time for those, I have no physical goal. With the warming climate, no one can count on being able to do any particular thing in the winter. The skiing could be lousy, but nasty weather could still prevent biking.

In dwindling daylight, with various pressures on my time, I try to get a ride whenever I can. I'm not ready for the rollers yet, because I should be reshaping myself in case I do get to ski. Rollers come around in March. Late February at the earliest. By then I see the rising sun and imagine the open road. Right now I go on the fixed gear for 15, 20 or 25, depending on the available time.

Today was a good one. The temperature was in the mid 40s. The wind howled out of the west. I worked my way west on diagonal roads and then blew east on Route 25 for about eight miles. At Loon Lake Road I turned north into Freedom. From the village there I pushed my way back against the wind, sometimes nearly halted. I stood on the pedals with my hands on the drops, put my nose down on the front tire and grunted out one pedal stroke at a time. The route home crossed the wind except for that stretch coming out of Freedom and a short bit on Green Mountain Road back in the 'ham.

The power had gone out. I left the house dark when I started my ride. I saw the power company truck at a pole several miles from my house. They had the juice back on by the time I got home.

November is National Go Back to Sleep Month. I have very little energy. It's been a rough few years. Maybe that's about to get better, but it hasn't quite kicked in yet. I need the small accomplishment of rides. It's a simple thing, on equipment I already own. All I have to do is get dressed and go do it. I always feel better afterward, even if I got soaked and chilled.

November's skies and the mountain landscape change from one dramatic vista to another in a fraction of a second as clouds gather and shred, gather and shred. All around the continuum of the ride swirls the constant change of the turbulent sky. And then you'll get a day as flat gray and unchanging as the walls and ceiling of a mental institution. At that point, your motion seems to flow through frozen time. Nothing was. Nothing ever will be. You have only this ride, from home to home, for no particular reason. You flicker through a static world, a flash of color in defiance of gray.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't make it right, but I can make it work

I devised functional cable routing on the Serotta. It's not just outside the box, it wraps around it and sticks back in its left ear.

Does the box have ears? The walls supposedly do.

The internal route would not work. The housing crosses from one extension to the other and then curves around to enter the cable stop on the opposite side of the frame from the shifter. It's a variation on the standard cross-routing we're been doing for years. The cables cross back under the down tube to go to their requisite derailleurs.

Note that the cross attachment points are not symmetrical. This is not just sloppiness. It also allows the cable housings to flow as smoothly as possible past the front brake housing when the handlebars are turned. As smoothly as possible still isn't very smoothly, due to the inherent unforgivable inadequacy of the cable stop placement, but it's the best possible.
Sorry for the fuzziness in this picture. The complex surfaces and dark background really mess with auto-focus cameras.

Fortunately this rider does not want a water bottle hanging between the bar extensions. Even if she did, I could probably work around it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Smoldering Rage (Portions of this rant were previously taped)

Any company that sold a bike with head tube cable stops owes their customers each a new frame if the old one can't be reconfigured to put the stops on the down tube or top tube where they will actually work.

I spent hours last night trying to figure out cable routing on a Serotta Legend Ti that wouldn't destroy the cable housing within weeks. The longer I worked the options with no success, the more I hated whoever came up with the idea in the first place and whoever else thought it was good enough to slap on several model years' worth of what would have been decent bikes. The idiocy was industry-wide. Stupid, stupid, stupid idea. It cured the problem of cable chafe on the head tube at the cost of far greater functional problems with the shifting and steering systems.

The black bike defied my efforts to get a good picture of the setup in its mangled condition as I started the repair.

In this case, the problem is aggravated because the rider is a triathlete using aero bars with bar-end shifters. The pricey carbon aero extensions are drilled for internal cable routing. The stiff housing index shifting requires has to make two radical bends to get from the exit hole in the bar to the stop on the head tube.

The original housing, CD 4 mm, had broken through the alloy ferrule in the head tube stop. Incidentally, the ferrule was corroded into the cable stop because of the constant bath of salty sweat that poured onto it as the rider used an indoor trainer. The housing had twisted itself up into a strange curl under the wide wing section of the bar.

I had to drill the remains of the alloy 4mm ferrules out of the cable stops so I could install brass 5 mm. I still haven't solved the routing riddle. One option would be to remove the threaded stops and take the housing through the part welded to the frame, but that would look even more cluttered on the sleek road frame than the rat's nest of curled brake and shift housings at the head tube already does.

Trying to overcome gratuitously stupid design drives me INSANE. It's even worse when I'm trying to fit this repair in with a wad of other important stuff, for a rider who has trusted me numerous times with her race prep. So far, I've managed to come through every time. This is her last big race of the year, and it's in Arizona or something, so the stakes are high.

Like all tri bikes, it's crusted with sticky and salty deposits from the energy drink and perspiration that get poured over it day after day. The crust on the rear brake has actually hardened into rock candy. If she runs short of energy out in the desert, she can hop off and lick the brake for a while.

Speaking of sticky, this $5,000-plus marvel also had another of my nemeses, sticky-back cork bar wrap.

There is absolutely no reason to have aggressive adhesive on the back of your bar wrap. It just makes repositioning or reusing tape impossible and makes it more difficult to remove old tape to put on new. Unless you're some kind of twine-wrapping shellac-slapper, you WILL re-tape your bars. Just to change this rider's cable housing I will have to replace the little sections of cork wrap on the aero extensions because the sticky backing shredded what would have been reusable tape. I know this is just a nuisance, but it does add the cost and time of wrapping bars to a lot of repairs where it would not have been directly relevant.

Suppliers should say in the product description whether a model of wrap has adhesive backing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New Kind of Biathlon

In Nordic biathlon, competitors ski a course with shooting ranges at intervals, requiring them to hammer as hard as they can for time and immediately calm down to shoot accurately. Inaccurate shooting incurs time penalties.

This afternoon I had an appointment to meet the cellist and one of her adult violin students to work on a piece together. She left late in the morning in her car. I left in mid afternoon on the Traveler's Check. We planned to come home together by way of the grocery store. I had plenty of time to enjoy the ride and still cool down and change clothes before abusing the fiddle.

About a mile from home I realized I'd forgotten the rather extensive grocery list. I was still close enough to feel I should sprint back for it. Flip a U-turn, sprint sprint sprint. Yank the door open, stomp up the stairs in my cleats. Snatch the list off the refrigerator door. Stomp back down. Blow out through the door. Fling a leg over the bike. Jab feet into pedals. Sprint sprint sprint. My time cushion had evaporated, especially since I still had to stop at the fuel company to make a monthly propane payment.

The afternoon was sunny and mild. The sun comes in from the southern hemisphere, lighting us with its leftovers. The angled rays bounced off the dark lenses I cruised behind. Hurry. Push. Spin.

Into town I kept working cadence and stance, shifting on the saddle, standing at times, to keep up the pace. I pulled into the parking lot with only a couple of minutes to spare.

All pumped up, heart rate still elevated, I had to maneuver through a small room filled with fragile instruments and music stands. I changed my clothes, pulled my violin out of its case, tensioned the bow and tried a few notes.

Once the cellist got us down to work, I lapsed into concentration on counting, following the line of musical symbols like a singletrack. Mind you, I do not claim to be any good at this. Learning it still makes my life more interesting and brings me some new skills and perspective.

It would be interesting to set up a biathlon event with riding, running or skiing segments connecting music stations. But I guess listening to gunshots or watching archery is easier on the spectators than a whole bunch of bad sight reading.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Excited but Fearful

Surly has announced complete Big Dummy long bikes for next year, supposedly available in December. They also will have a complete Karate Monkey configuration. This is great news for those of us who like to promote the brand's quirky mix of affordability, versatility and performance, but it also means they have more and more inventory in the pipeline. They're getting big. Will they reach an awkward age and get a whole new bunch of cooler friends?

To make matters worse, they've given me dropout envy, too. They're redesigning the dropouts on the Cross Check and the Long Haul Trucker. The Check gets nice, long ones with double eyelets.

The Cross Check has always had some form of long dropout, but some years were longer than others. Initially they only had one eyelet, too, though the past several versions have had doubles. My green one only had singles on fairly long dropouts. The cellist's red frame has double eyelets, but fairly short dropouts.

The Trucker still has VD*, which limits my interest, but the upgrades to it sound nice anyway. I like building them for other people.

Probably many months will pass before I get to build any bikes for anyone. The shop has shifted over to Nordic ski mode. We wait to see how the season treats us.

*Vertical Dropouts

(Late) Aftenoon (Chilly Weather) Delight

Snot rockets in flight!

Pinch your nostril tight --

Turn and aim your head just right!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Steely Skies and Slicing Wind

Sand bars and rock reefs break the surface of Lake Wentworth, drawn down for the winter. The west wind beat the surface into white-capped waves and flung icy drops that could have been sleet into my face as I rode along the shore this morning.

The battery died in my camera after I took this shot. Maybe it was just cold.

The forecast said the day would clear, though the temperature would remain cold. They got the cold part right.

Streams of white flakes flowed sideways on the relentless wind this evening. My clothing worked perfectly to keep the weather out, but the raw wind and deepening dusk still gave me a sense of urgency.

For the darkest commuting time I can reduce my exposure to traffic to just a couple of blocks in downtown Wolfe City to get to the DERT. Once the season turns dark and cold, I have the path almost entirely to myself.

My biggest worry is skunks. I could totally imagine running over one in the gloom.

Once I got away from town and open water, the wind was just a sound effect. I ran over branches, but nothing big. With no derailleurs, I had nothing to fear.

Snow accumulated on the trailside ground cover and on my gloved hands in a white rind. The plank bridges were coated and slick. The rails were treacherous.

On the morning run, I had hopped onto the trail after my Lake Wentworth diversion and gotten railed on one of the crossings, but again it offered slapstick comedy rather than a real smackdown. This time the bike went right down and I ejected off the left side. I ran it out slap-footed for a few yards before turning back to pick up the bike. I pulled a wad of compost out of one handlebar plug. That was the only mark on the bike or me.

Bike commuting days get really scarce after this week. I have to start the northern run, so maybe I ride a dawn patrol, conditions permitting, or maybe I turn to other training methods. The weather calls the shots.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pathetic Dependence on Auto Mechanic Provides Excuse for Beautiful Ride

I look back fondly at my completely car-free years. Unfortunately, my choice to live in a rural area with winters required something that would cross greater distances more quickly than a bike from time to time. As for fixing them, these days a mechanic invests not only in lifts and compressors and lots weirder tools than even my arsenal contains, but most deal with proper disposal of many hazardous substances. I look forward to the day we float around in shimmering bubbles fueled non-toxically by fairy farts. Until then, I'll see a neurologist for my brain tumors and an expert auto dude for my car stuff.

The way the intermodal sandwich came together today, the bike leg was only from Gilford to Wolfe City, a pleasant 27 miles.

After leaving the patient in the hands of the best surgeon, I pedaled off in the warmth of mid-day.

Mid-Monday after the peak of foliage season is the time to do this ride. I've never ridden the scary narrows of Route 11 with less traffic.

I resolved to take it one pedal stroke at a time. Even so, I found myself going 25 or 30 miles per hour in sections that give it freely. Of course in places that take it away I groveled along below 10.

Route 11 offers a scenic overlook at the mouth of Alton Bay. I couldn't pass up the chance to take a break there. It was hard to get going again. But I did. I thought about taking pictures of the quaint village of Alton Bay, but I was rolling pretty well through there. I swept through the left onto Route 28A like a solo breakaway. You'll have to settle for this shot from the saddle.

Route 28A is technically a climb, but for some reason it has some fast stretches before demanding its toll. Fast, slow, fast, slow, eventually I came to Chestnut Cove Road, which is a lot like a bike path.

Although the reds, oranges and yellows have faded toward the brown, in places they still have some power.

Joining Route 28 brought me back to wide pavement and many motorists. It has some fast parts. On one long grade I maintained 35 for a while before the next roller knocked me back to lower gears.

I worried about coming down L'Alpe de Suez. I'd ridden the waves of some ponderous logging trucks from the relative safety of 28's wide shoulder. I did not relish the idea of something like that snorting at my back as I tried to stoop like a dive bomber down the rough asphalt into South Wolfeboro.

When I got to the big drop, only small cars were behind me. I took the lane. They had to settle for my 42 mph.

The screaming descent gives way immediately to a grinding climb that crests about a mile later by the high school and pitches right away into a downgrade on patched and potholed pavement down to the town center. I was lucky. Traffic choked up enough to let me flow at 25-30 with it. The motorists accepted me among them because I could obviously hold my place.

I changed modes to motorized at the shop parking lot in Wolfeboro. I still had time to do some yard work, split wood and throw in some laundry before dark.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Taking a break on a warm day

Rain lashed the house overnight as a 60 mile-per-hour gale raked the treetops while we slept, vividly dreaming. Morning's gray-filtered light revealed surprisingly small pieces of tree debris for all the rushing noise the wind had made.

The clouds lifted as we ate breakfast. The day warmed rapidly from the mild 40s of the night to something in the neighborhood of 60. After a bit of this and that we headed out for a quick jaunt.

Pine River Road runs close to the river from which it gets its name, but you only see it twice: once at the bridge on Elm Street shortly before you turn onto Pine River Road, and again from a hill overlooking the flood plain back toward the Green Mountain massif.

The Hausberg in autumn gold

To add a couple of miles to the loop we went across Route 16 toward Center Ossipee so we could take Annie Nichols Road over to Dore Street. It's a short diversion, but Annie Nichols Road runs beside Beech River, which is both a pretty and an interesting stream. Beech River starts at the Beech Ponds on a ridge north of Wolfeboro, flows down into Garland Pond in a large wetland complex and continues through the glacial till of the valley floor through Center Ossipee to join the Pine River.

The cellist loops back under the railroad line to see what's holding me up. Conveniently, this puts her in the frame for the shot I wanted. Beech River is on the right.

Just past the railroad underpass we turned right on Dore Street. Along there we saw the homes of successful bowhunters with deer in various stages of disassembly hung out front. A dog charged noisily at us from an overgrown side yard, but must have been chained or fenced. A child giggled at the thought of us dismembered. We pedaled sedately through the balmy afternoon.

From the village of Center Ossipee we dropped down to pick up Route 25 east. We caught the tailwind there, too. It booted us about four miles down to where Green Mountain Road comes out opposite 153 north. We turned there to close the loop. The hilly contours and surrounding forest kept the wind from hindering us, so the tailwind we'd enjoyed was basically free.

To avoid a nasty wall, we peeled off to the left on Winter Road, a more gradual climb along a small stream ravine. It's barely more than 100 yards and well worth it. On Winter Road some friends passed us in their VW van to drop some friendly harassment. They turned left at High Watch Road. We wondered if they were going hiking up there or if they'd made a wrong turn.

Several miles farther around the mountain, we saw another friend of ours, standing in her front yard with her Airedale, so we stopped to chat. She had her pets out for a romp. Her smaller terrier and one cat came to join us. As we talked, we saw the van with our friends in it. They had made a wrong turn. For some reason, people don't realize they need to cut further back to the right to regain Green Mountain Road after Winter Road. Several people have told me they went left at that next intersection. Fortunately the paved road peters out into a logging road, so they don't drive all the way to Maine before figuring it out.

The sun keeps sinking. The weather keeps trying to turn cold. Riding days must get fewer and fewer or at least more logistically challenging. Even the warm days are short. Grab what you can get.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cars R Crap

Nothing is more awkward, useless and discouraging than a broken-down car. A beached whale might compare, but generally our interest in the whale is more theoretical.

On Friday my wife drove my car to town because it is (or was) our only functioning station wagon. She called me minutes after she left the house to say it was smoking heavily. About fifteen minutes after that she called to say it had lost power and she'd made a forced landing at a restaurant parking lot just outside town.

Kissing off my afternoon's pay, I climbed on the Traveler's Check to ride out and assess the situation. On my way out the rail trail I discovered that the maintenance crew had dumped a bunch of that new fill onto the long causeway beside Lake Wentworth. My skinny tires sank into the loose sand. I stood and grunted to keep forward momentum until I wallowed clear of it.

The ride helped me calm down. This is not a good time for yet another expensive car repair, especially when I probably couldn't get the car to the world's best mechanic, our guy in Gilford.

I found the Ford alone in the empty parking lot at the end of its trail of vital fluids. With only a sketchy description of symptoms, the Gilford Guru had said it might be the water pump. A closer look revealed it was the automatic transmission oil cooler lines. These commonly fail in cars in northern climates, where road salt attacks them all winter. Northern drivers have months to consider the bitter irony of treating the roads with corrosive substances that actively destroy our most expensive and troublesome appliances.

If I was lucky, I would be able to pour enough fluid in there to limp the 25 or 30 miles to Gilford to leave the car in the most reliable hands. If I was really unlucky I would have to leave it with someone in a town where everyone I know is underwhelmed by their auto mechanics.

First I had to call in the choppers to get me home to get another car to deliver to my wife so I could attempt the Gilford run in the bum car. Not enough daylight remained for me to ride on home and complete all the other maneuvers. Better to try parking lot improvisations in daylight than dusk and a rapidly dropping temperature.

That accomplished, with the help of two friends, I tried emergency transfusion in the parking lot. Red oil poured out as fast as I put it in, so I stopped putting it in. What remained in the tranny would allow the car to move, sort of. I limped into town to a garage with the usual mixed reviews, but a couple of testimonials from people I know. Any choice would be a roll of the dice.

The problem for people who have limited funds and value quality work is not that the car mechanic might be corrupt. That certainly does happen. More often, however, the mechanic simply lacks the imagination shown by the Gilford Guru. The customer ends up paying for failed experiments, among other things. The other things include professionally cheerful greeters and other staff that some mechanical establishments use to try to create a welcoming atmosphere. These do not substitute for friendliness. I can't fake cheerfulness and charm, so I don't expect anyone else to do it.

In this case, the emergency room my car landed in was able to provide the option I hoped they would: a quick tourniquet for a reasonable fee. Now I have to figure out when to do the car-car-bike-car transportation sandwich to deliver the Ford to the other side of the lake and get myself home to wait for the call to retrieve it.

My bike could completely explode along a dark and lonely road and it wouldn't cause a fraction of the hassle this car thing did. Of course if my bike gets engine trouble I can't afford to get it fixed at all, but that's another issue entirely.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The "Winter Riding" Label

Some may have noticed the "winter riding" label attached to posts about rides that fall outside of winter's official dates and full conditions. Because winter brings a range of conditions to different parts of the United States and the world, I did not use a more generic label like "cold weather riding" because once the weather gets cold enough, riding techniques and conditions could produce winter-like situations.

Some riders are harder than hard core. They push their Pugsleys through blizzard-lashed tundra, putting us softer folk to shame. Kudos to them. Meanwhile, riders in mellower climes still push the envelope in which they find themselves. They might benefit from an autumn technique devised in a colder locale, which they could apply to their frostiest conditions.

Speaking of cold weather hazards, a rider in Wolfeboro reports that not everyone has turned off their automatic lawn irrigation systems yet. Beware of icy streets next to lush lawns. He said the black ice may be so subtle that you don't see it at all until you're on it. The mist forms icy droplets rather than an obvious sheet. Unless you really know your neighborhood and have noted who has such systems, you could find out the hard way.

Remember that the temperature may be above freezing in the sun and below it in the patch of shade next door. Even heavy frost on a smooth enough surface can bring you down.

At least in cold weather we're wearing a lot more clothing, so maybe we don't shred as much skin. But that clothing ain't cheap.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Almost got "railed"

On the DERT (Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail), the classic crash occurs when riders hit one of the rails at a shallow angle. This sweeps the front wheel right out from under them. In a common variation, the front wheel goes over, but the rear wheel doesn't follow.

I have developed a pretty reliable technique for getting over the crossings smoothly. The narrow space between or beside the rails prevents a rider from lining up perfectly perpendicular to the rails to cross them. Signs advise riders to stop and dismount completely.

I slow down at the crossings, setting up as open an angle as I can. As the front wheel touches the rail, I rock the bike toward the outside of the turn, standing it up and turning the front wheel more perpendicular than the overall approach angle of the bike. Stand on the pedals to let the bike rock over the crossing and keep your center of gravity low. If the rear tire gets swept slightly, weight on the pedals lets it move into a stable alignment with the front end and hop over. Because the bike is already leaned slightly toward the outside of the turn, the rear wheel does not get swept out from under me.

Speed is important. Going too fast has obvious drawbacks, but the bike wobbles and hangs up on the rails if you go too slowly.

This morning was my first trip down from Cotton Valley on Silver. Because of the bike's length, weight and slack angles, it holds its line much more strongly than the Cross Check. Heavy frost coated the rails as I bombed into the first crossing at too shallow an angle. The front tire slid, but then hopped over. The fixed drive brought my pedals around so that my weight shifted outward in time to keep me on top of the bike. The rear tire slid a little, but also came over, as one foot blew out of the toe clip. I flailed on down the trail, bouncing up and down on my one foot attached to the crank until I could get the other foot back in.

I slowed way down on subsequent crossings and all the plank bridges, which were heavily frosted.

Almost to town, I ran into another obstacle, apparently a gift from the trail maintenance authorities. New fill!
This is the view looking back at it I after I had ridden around it on photo left.

It was still there on the ride home tonight. The herd had developed a much more defined path on that left side.

As expected, the actual workday was fairly tedious. Riding helps tremendously. I just like seeing my bike hanging there while I'm working. I know I just have to hold out a few hours to get back onto it.

Frost my kneecaps

This is a frustrating time of year. Today the temperature is supposed to get to the upper 50s, maybe 60. The temperature now is 26. It won't be anywhere near 50 at the time I have to ride. And when I start for home, it will have dropped again.

Cold weather calls for a bike with a built-in heater. I mean a fixed gear. The fixed gear demands energy from the rider going up or down hill. The limited gear keeps you from going too fast through the freezing air. You can't hunch your shoulders miserably and shrink within your clothes, wishing it was over. You have to stay on top of the gear.

Riding in the cold is definitely tougher than riding in the warm. It takes about four times as long to pull on all the layers, compared to shorts and a shirt.

At this point I've taped over the front vents on my helmet and added toe covers to my shoes. For path commutes in the dark, I quit using cleated shoes, too. Even when I ride a longer road commute in the dark I would forgo the cleats because off-bike capability is more important than maximum performance on it. Night speeds are slower. If I hop off the bike for anything, I don't want to worry about clearing my cleats when I get going again.

Fall is a little better than spring, because the road side isn't as likely to be a quagmire of mud. But spring has the longer daylight.

Time to layer up and head out. The ride will definitely be more interesting than the day at work. The next ride at the end of the day will give me something to look forward to.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snitchin' a Ride

Before subjecting myself to trial by automobile I made an egg run with my sweetie. The temperature was in the upper 40s with a rising wind, but the sun did its best from its angle below the Equator. Somehow the wind never managed to give us any problems.

We discovered that the Highway Department is into stenciling.

Once in Taylor City we discovered that Cloverleaf Farm's chickens were finally producing, so we got a dozen from there instead of Earl's store. While the cellist talked with the farm folks, I grabbed a few pictures around the City.

Bill Taylor's store

Earl Taylor's store

South Effingham Church. Zoom in on the patterned shingles. I seem to recall Bill Taylor told me they used to be different colors to accentuate the different shapes.
Detail picture from a different day, showing shingle patterns

Looking into Taylor City from the south on Route 153.

Don't fight City Hall

Although I had a list of things to knock off before the delight of four hours driving south with the lemmings, it was hard to hurry.

This leaf-covered pond caught our attention
Quite a contrast between the pleasant bike ride and the door handle-to-door handle motor racing action driving south. Despite my best intentions to stay out of the way and flow peacefully to my destination, some hothead always brings the battle to me. In the restricted spaces of tight traffic, there's often nowhere to go but forward at 75 or 80 just to get to a clear spot to pull aside. It's better really late at night when no one pushes me. Some cruise missile might come by at 90, but not a whole raft of them. The schedule didn't suit a late run this time.

I brought a bike in case I get to tool around down here a little. Then I have to get back home through the northern fringes of Megalopolis.


Wet Leaves and Frosted Rails

The track was firm and fast on the DERT yesterday morning at 31 degrees. Fallen leaves completely covered the trail in places, including at some rail crossings. In other sections the rails shone dully with a coating of ice crystals waiting to trip the unwary rider. Of course, at 31 degrees, there were few riders at all. Maybe just me.

Humming a song of praise to the inventor of wind briefs, I pedaled through the frosty morning air down the corridor of molting trees.

After eight hours at my creativity-crushing, spirit destroying job -- yes, it's much like yours -- I headed out into the gathering dusk to ride back out on the journey home.

Before the sun had disappeared below the horizon, I came upon this strange, perfect line of red maple leaves drawn casually across the trail. These photos don't show how distinct the line was. Most of the other leaves on the ground were yellow with a few red mixed in.

Is it like a crop circle?

It began (or ended) with this curl.
The line led straight to a cleft tree...
And ended (or began) within it.

After taking these photographs I continued on into the growing darkness. With no overtaking motor traffic, I didn't turn on the rear blinky lights, but snapped on the Beamer headlights one by one. Sometimes I'll meet another commuter inbound. So first I snapped on one Beamer in flash mode, then switched to two in steady mode. Finally I reached down to add the Beamer 5 mounted below my handlebars. The head of it popped off and it spewed its batteries into the leaves and acorns covering the path. I had rolled yards past the drop zone before I was able to stop and turn back.

I found the light head and one battery. I had to give up on the other one after several minutes groping around with one of my other lights. Maybe I'll spot it on Thursday, which is my next likely bike commuting day. Or I could get insanely motivated and bust out early enough on Wednesday to ride the bike to my pre-work dentist appointment. My dentist frowns on tardiness as much as tartar. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the guy with sharp implements and power tools in your mouth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"My husband wants his front brakes fixed"

According to the woman who brought this bike in, her husband has been riding it this way for a couple of years.
The front brake was disconnected, but could be hooked up and function back there, provided the rider does not turn too sharply to the left.
For extra credit, the quick release was wing-nutted tightly in this position.

Visit YOUR Local Bike Shop today, for the relief of these and other complaints!

A public service message from wrench nerds of America.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Working Three Jobs

Working in this shop is like having three jobs. In bike season it's all bike shop (except for the clothing). In the winter it gets more complicated. Nordic skis are our core business, but Nordic skiing suffers more than farming from adverse weather. The weather IS the crop. So the winter division spawned a couple of alternatives, most notably hockey.

Each transitional season, fall or spring, has us moving heavy objects and boxes of merchandise and equipment, enduring days of tedium, trying to cling to sharpness and information related to the season ending and the one beginning.

In the transition from summer to fall, biking dwindles, but does not disappear. The dedicated cyclists want to see us as bikey as ever. Hockey starts to pick up. Ski merchandise arrives like a few stray flakes followed by an avalanche. Our main shop serves as the headquarters for a non-profit that oversees the local trails, so that revs up as well. Later in the fall we start to work on setting up the Jackson seasonal shop. And that's where it really gets another personality.

The J-town shop is 50 miles from Wolf City. After just a few days there I feel like a colonial governor in a remote posting. I go from spending a nice hour on the bike going each way to spending a mostly tedious hour in the car. The situation has its pluses, but has its own unique demands.

Jackson is a pure Nordic monoculture. We have a token array of snowshoes, but for some reason they don't seem to move well up there, even though the touring center rents them. Mostly we sell skis, skis, skis, and clothing and peripherals to go with them. That was nice at first. When we were the new flavor of the month a lot of people checked us out. As the seasons go by, customers make up their own minds year by year or week by week about whether to stick with us. They travel to sample newer entrepreneurs or settle into long-term relationships with shops that can be open all year up there. We're a bit like a Nordic convenience store or an airport gift shop, except we have to price match with every low-ball warehouse on the Internet, just like in the bike biz.

Well before the end of ski season I've settled into Jackson's little, little world, like it or not, and nearly forgotten what a bike shop is like. Then spring comes, somewhere between January and late April. I start pulling shifts back in the 'boro. The tips of my fingers turn black. I start getting those little knuckle wounds common to mechanics. As the weather dictates, I start to trudge the weary road on my bike again.

Scenes from the DERT

Across the channel between Crescent Lake and Lake Wentworth

A family from Israel renting bikes reminded me not to hurry through the annual color show. Shooting from the hand on a clouding evening, I didn't get calendar shots, but here they are.

True colors are hard to capture. This will have to do.

Riding (between) the rails

Across Crescent Lake

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Seven or 666?

Still working on the $12,000 beater bike, I finally achieved smooth front shifting after four derailleurs and four bottom bracket configurations on top of the new chain rings and several shift cables. I started to think the bike was possessed.

The funniest part is the derailleur. What works? Not the modernest marvel I could order. No, what shifts cleanly is a Deore from about 1991. It matches up with that misapplied Ultegra brifter like it was born to do it. But is it worthy of a $12,000 bike? I put the question to the owner. He says he'll try it.

The new XT derailleur I was trying to install to replace the worn-out XTR would fray the shift cable every time I tightened the anchor bolt. I burned through five or six cables while trying different configurations. Remember, kids: bad design is not a manufacturing defect! No warranty for you!

Our parts bin now has an XT front derailleur and an XTR Octalink V1 bottom bracket (116.5) that we may never use. We'll probably place the derailleur, but who is going to need that BB?

I ordered the wide BB after I couldn't get the chain to drop to the granny with the old one, because the front derailleur was already folded up as tightly as it would go. Only moving the chain rings outward would put them under the dreailleur in that position. Since it's hard to find detailed dimensions on current componentry, let alone obsolete stuff, I didn't find out until the new BB arived that the axle only sticks beyond the end of the bearing cartridge as far as it does on the 109.5 mm Ultegra BB that was already in the bike.

The XTR unit came with spacers for different chain lines. Interestingly, neither chain line listed in the spec sheet that came with the BB matched what I measured on this bike, so I was on my own. The BB that finally worked was the original one with 1.5 or 2 mm of spacers behind the flange of the drive side of the bearing cartridge. The new one would have worked as well that way, but his left crank arm would have been dangling way off the left side, making the tread measurement of his bike much wider than before. Since Seven supposedly chooses every dimension of their bikes to match customer specifications, I didn't want to widen the stance of the pedals when it was supposedly carefully calculated. So we ate the new bottom bracket.

The bike has been picked up by the owner's staff, to await its rider's return in the spring. He's off to wherever he winters, whether that's the mercantile centers of Megalopolis or Utah ski country.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Old Fart on Fixed Gear

A young couple came through on Saturday riding back to Boston. The woman, on a Trek hybrid, had some shifting problems. While my associate worked on that, I discussed route options with the two riders. The woman said, "avoiding hills would be nice, since my boyfriend is on a fixed gear."

His bike was a black KHS track bike with flat pedals and drop bars. I didn't ask what his gear was, but I bet it's higher than mine. We started talking about fixed gear bikes in different configurations. Fortunately, I'd ridden the blue bike that day.

He got to see the quick-release rear axle and the two-sided hub. His bike had a two-sided hub, but only one side cogged. I see this a lot on Fixed Gear Gallery, too. That, and people with their wheel pulled almost all the way back in the dropouts.

The fact that I could tell him I'd been riding fixed gears since 1975 gave my methods more validity. I've tested them thoroughly. Being an old fart has its advantages.

Egg Ride

We buy our eggs from a store eight miles away in a part of town called Taylor City. The state line runs right through it, so one side of Route 153 is Maine. If you ever wanted to see the arbitrariness of political boundaries, this is the place.

According to legend, there are houses in the area split by the state line. So maybe half of our dozen eggs came from Maine. Maybe the whole thing did. Earl Taylor, the "mayor," could tell me.

In 1988 I stopped at Earl's store on my way from the coast to Canada on a 200-mile day ride. At that point in the ride I didn't have 100 miles on me yet. Earl's dog peed on my bike, but Earl himself was encouraging. When the photographer traveling with me told him what I was trying to do, he said, "Make it, boy!" I've never asked him if he remembers that. I didn't move to town for another year after that first encounter, and I live on the other side of town.

The egg run makes a pleasant little ride. My wife has devised padding for the trunk pack on her Cross Check to protect a standard egg box on the trip home. If she's going to get a few vegetables from the farm stand across the street she throws the panniers on, too.

Yesterday's egg run was just a nice excuse to go out on a beautiful, warm day. The hardwoods have not reached peak color yet. A lack of hard frost has made the colors a little dull, same as last year. But the pines have shed their needles in a rust-colored shower, turning the ground a golden orange. The low sun angle side-lights every scene. We enjoyed cycling's blend of practicality and play.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Good News from Surly

According to an email I just received, the new batch of Cross Checks will be shipped with uncut fork steerers. This will make adjustments to front end height as easy as can be. I can't wait to see the new rear dropout they mentioned on their blog, too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The $12,000 Beater Bike

A wealthy summer resident dropped off his Seven Odonata at the end of Labor Day weekend.

"Give it a complete overhaul and anything it needs," he said.

With all that titanium I worried that I might not be able blast some things loose. The bike is about ten years old, but he's never asked us to go further than a tuneup on it. I don't know what care it might have had at the owner's other homes, or if this is just his New Hampshire ride.

I found good news and bad news in the BB shell. Whoever assembled the bike had used enough anti-seize compound to keep it from welding itself in. That was good. When the first cup came out, about half a pint of water poured out of the frame behind it. That was bad. I would have thought so, anyway, but I have trouble understanding how it is to have immense wealth.

This bike isn't as abused as the Seven that came through our shop a couple of summers ago, with the stem held into the steerer tube entirely by corrosion, without even a bolt in place, but it clearly gets ridden as obliviously as any Schwinn Varsity. The steerer tube was rusted, but nothing had rusted solid. I haven't seen him ride in the rain, but maybe he has the staff hose the bike down when they're washing the extensive fleet of family cars.

The chain has worn halfway through the cage of the XTR front derailleur. The owner rides with headphones, so he wouldn't hear the chain rubbing. The damage has made shifting in the front almost impossible.

Strip away the enormous price tag and the image of the brand name, and it is just a bike. Within the owner's economic bracket it's a fairly minor purchase. In 1998 or'99 he probably paid about six or seven thousand for it. The $12,000 in the title refers to the upper end of the price range for Seven's current corresponding model, the ID8.

This bike is so old, XTR was eight-speed. The XTR drive train is controlled by Ultegra 9-speed brifters with no discernible extra click. It's a strange expensive mutt. I was able to track down a new set of chainrings. The front derailleur is giving me more trouble. I have not turned up a top-swing, bottom pull derailleur that will fit into the tight clearance between the rear tire and the seat tube. The carbon section of the tube feels less substantial than on full carbon bikes designed to accept a derailleur clamp. The original derailleur clamped the titanium section closer to the bottom bracket. On Monday I can call Seven to see what my options are.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Snot Rockets Alfresco

Allergies or a cold slammed me in the sinuses early this week as I hurried to stuff the season's firewood into the shed before heavy rain moves in this weekend. The bottom of the pile in the driveway had gotten moist and moldy over the summer. I could have huffed a lungful of spores. Either way, I felt like crap, so I wasn't doing any more than I had to.

Wednesday I drove because of another municipal law lecture. This one was about the tremendously controversial Shoreland Protection Act, so I didn't want to miss it. People sitting near me when I lost control of my coughing fifteen minutes before the finish line might have wished I'd skipped it, but I'm still glad I went.

Yesterday was the last nice day on the forecast before the tropical deluge. I didn't feel up to the whole standard commute, but I needed something. The zoning board had a hearing at 7 p.m., but I can usually sprint the distance in time to hit my chair in time. Surely I could do a mild DERT commute and make it in time.

My home is in a river valley. Fall mornings it is always shrouded in fog, ten degrees colder than the open country a couple of miles down my route. I left the house somewhat bundled up, with the bike stuffed in the back of the car.

The path commute helps me salvage bike time and reduce car use somewhat as the autumn schedule, weather and shorter daylight makes the full route less practical. I don't like having to involve the car, but we don't have public transportation at all, let alone buses with bike racks. Get your own ass to work or die.

A good load of phlegm can be an asset in traffic or a tight racing field. In the car I just fill up the passenger side foot well with used tissues. On the bike I can use that ejecta tactically to claim space in the lane.

The path removes the tactical aspect of chucking a clam or unloading a snot rocket, but I don't have to worry about letting them fly, either. No need to roll down a window and put some extra oomph behind a clam to get it clear of the car's 40- or 50- mph slipstream. Just let 'em rip! Freedom!

The path runs gently down grade into town. Early in the morning, few riders are out. I did pass a dog walker every 100 yards once I was halfway to town. Fortunately,the dogs were leashed and well behaved and the owners weren't visibly hostile. Different user groups on a multi-use path can get territorial.

In the fun turns at the Allen A Beach, I smelled skunk strongly in two places. Imagine whipping around a blind turn and startling one of those on your way to work. I was lucky and only encountered the smell.

The worst thing about a path commute is that I pop out into traffic without the long warm up I get from the normal route. Especially yesterday, being sick and all, I felt ragged and weak as I stuck my elbow into the flow on Center Street. Traffic was light, probably because I was late.

Even a little ride is better than no ride at all. This morning, the clouds hang low. I might manage to sneak to town on the rain bike before the heavy stuff hits, so I can ride a half-carpool with my wife. She's enjoying the allergies/cold now, but that doesn't prove it was an infectious disease. She finished the wood pile chore and encountered the same moldiness.

After four days I feel lots better than I did on Monday and Tuesday. Whatever this thing is, it doesn't hang around. If you have to be sick, that's the best you can ask.

According to the radar, the rain is on the doorstep. Time to make some strategic decisions and head out.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dude, that's what the "do Not Disturb" sign is for

A man in Scotland has been arrested for allegedly having sex with his bicycle.

According to a story on the BBC News Service, a 51-year-old man was surprised in the act by housekeeping personnel at the hotel where he was staying, after he failed to answer repeated knocks at the door.

The witnesses reported that he was naked from the waist down, moving his hips suggestively over the bicycle.

He has been placed on probation and placed on the sex offender registry for three years.

Excuse me? How is it anyone's business how a guy loves his bike in the privacy of his home, however temporary that home may be?

Attempting to figure out where the sex offense comes in, I can only conclude it was because the bike has a men's frame and may be new enough to fall below the age of consent. What is the age of consent for a bicycle? It should be fairly young, a year or less, considering how so many riders frack their bikes up within a few weeks after buying them. If only we knew we had statutes under which to charge them. But no one seems to enforce outmoded sodomy laws anymore, so the fact that the frame had a high top tube instead of a dropped one should never have been a factor.

Perhaps the new two-piece cranks, that come out almost instantly with a couple of simple tools, present too much of a temptation to susceptible members of society. One more simple wrench for the outboard bearings and you've got even more room to rock and roll.

Voice of experience? I admit NOTHING. But I did sketch ideas for a humorous photo montage back in 1979 involving a Cinelli frame and satin sheets.

The bike has been placed in a safe house and now enjoys a temporary restraining order against its owner until this whole thing is sorted out.

(actually, a second look at the date stamp on the news item shows it's from November last year, 2007. The privacy issue immediately came up. See follow-up story.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The DERT, my guilty pleasure

When daylight gets short after summer's end I risk riding the Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail on my way out of town in the evenings. I used to call it the SERT, for Sorry Excuse for a Rail Trail, but its intentions are good. Just the execution falls far short of what can handle the kind of volume the trail can expect.

For the past couple of years, traffic has dropped way off as dusk encroaches. This year I started earlier, though, so I've had to dance past oncoming riders or wait patiently for pedestrians to clear a narrow causeway.

For now, I ride the inner section from River Street to just past the Allen A Motel. That includes the only twisty bit, where the path detours to the Allen A Beach. That was donated to the town in the 1980s. It became a destination for the path as the path supporters pushed construction out from the center of town. Now it's just one more stop on the route that extends about six miles out into Cotton Valley.

Yesterday, Arf put in a guest appearance at the shop. I persuaded him to ride out the DERT with me as part of his route home. He'd ridden his Cross Check to work. I did a double take when I saw my bike's larger twin. Arf had arrived while I was in another part of the building. I noticed he'd pulled the fenders off and put on knobby tires since the last time I saw the bike.

On this last weekend of summer, people were partying on Saturday evening. The DERT runs through back yards along Crescent Lake. People in those cottages often gather on the path itself. They seem oblivious to cyclists trying to pass through. Arf had taken the lead just before we got there. We floated through, nearly in a track stand as we wiggled among the group looking down toward some party activity closer to their cabins.

Arf took a harder line than I have with oncoming cyclists and walkers. I've been hopping right off the path to let them clear the narrow parts. Arf rode the balancing act along the right-hand rail, as I used to do. His handlebars are wider than mine. I followed in the gap.

At the fun part, Arf was still ahead. The twisty bit is a continuous series of blind S-curves. I usually wing it through there, but I hold back a little in case I meet someone. It has happened. Arf went for it like the expert mountain bike racer he used to be. I could not have held the turns at that speed on my 32 mm road tires. On the other hand, I figured I could let it rip to the limit of my traction, because Arf would hit anyone first. I would hear the screams and be able to slow down.

Luck was with us. The bendy bit was all ours. I'm tempted to put knobbies on for the last fall commutes, because I'll do more on the dirt and I won't be flying into any corners on the pavement. Not yet, though. There's about a week or ten days of open road left before I have to decide about night maneuvers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Exploding Rims and Derailleur Hair

Yesterday this wheel came in on a mid-1990s Gary Fisher. The rider reported that it exploded AFTER he had completed a precipitous descent.

"I felt a thump-thump-thump and stopped, but the spokes were all tight, so I started up again. A minute later, BLAM, it blew," said the rider.

I'll guess it did.

He did not crash.

In case you don't know, this sort of failure started becoming common during the mountain bike boom. Powerful rim brakes in an abrasive environment wear away rim sidewalls probably ten times as fast as road rims used to wear.

Today my associate across the bench drew this piece of pubescent componentry on a vintage Columbia road bike. Sorry the pictures are fuzzy. So is the derailleur.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The surreptitious return of the four missing spokes

As I assemble bikes these days I notice that more of them are coming with 36-spoke wheels. No one has said anything. The bikes just come with more realistically beefy wheels.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where's my good citizenship award?

I'm giving up a beautiful day of bike commuting tomorrow because I'm going to a municipal law workshop in the evening in a town 25 miles from where I work and 35 miles from home.

I might make the start of the workshop by bike if I sprint out the door exactly at quitting time and hammer as hard as I can. Then I could sit and stiffen for a couple of hours before trudging home in the dark. I would probably pull in close to midnight. It's hard to match daylight average speeds by headlight. Bike transportation isn't always practical.

Wednesday looks like the best day of the week for the last few days of official summer weather. I can't think about it.

Thirty years ago it was just me and a bicycle. I was just about to sell my car. Shortly after that I took my bachelor's degree and my unrealistic dreams into the Real World, as we called it then. After years of carefree drifting I got to the point where I thought I ought to help with the grunt work of running things. Citizen government needs citizens who will give up some of their own time and learn how to make government by the people work. It's easy to fork out tax money and bitch about how it's spent. But how else are you going to pay the professionals who will do what you can't or won't? It's easy to declare that we need smaller government, but let me tell you from first-hand experience: three people can make government gridlock. Two either agree too readily or constantly stalemate each other. One makes a dictatorship. So you're going to have some frustrations no matter what. Want to do something? Get involved. And bring a constructive attitude with you.

I don't get paid. I'm elected to one board and appointed to one commission. Because so few people have the time or inclination to get into town government, almost everyone works two boards, and some town functions remain unfilled.

Sometimes I wish I was still a cynical and hopeless drifter, free to take off whenever I felt like it. I could still enjoy the beauties of our dying world and the pleasure of a few good friends. Conveniently, even though I labor with the cynical belief that degeneration will prevail despite our best efforts, I'm not much of a drifter. As a cynical and hopeless homebody, I figure I might as well take a stab at staving off the inevitable catastrophe, since I'm hanging around anyway.

I'm still doing my best to avoid being put in charge of anything. I'll do the metaphorical equivalent of shovel work for now. My body may not wander, but my mind still likes to. Some unrealistic dreams live on.

I just have to hold on for Thursday's ride.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bike racing may be hard, but it's easier than growing up.

Why rush to a more relaxed lifestyle while you've still got the fire inside you? Apparently Lance Armstrong really is going to take a shot at Number Eight.

It's a no-lose proposition. Just as no one expected him to do well in 1999 as the gaunt survivor of a horrific disease, who expects him to kick butt now as a fossil of 38? It gives him something to do, pulls in publicity money and gives hope to the "elderly."

Rock on, dude.