Saturday, August 30, 2008

You're Welcome

Dry weather dominated the region today, despite the 30 percent chance of showers we'd been told to expect with the weak cold front passing through. The rain held off because I rode my heavy rain bike. Had I not done so, we would have lost the bet.

Don't thank me. I did it for all of us. Any of you would have done the same.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Further Information on Monday's Tragedy

The daughter of one of the riders in the group with Paul Lacaillade posted an entry on her own site with their account of the accident. It clarifies and corrects some points in the news reports.

On one hand you don't want to think too much about what happened, because you get angry and frightened. On the other hand, the non-cycling majority needs something jolting like this to get them to pay attention to cycling at all. It becomes a teachable moment. Whenever it comes up in conversation, we riders need to make the good points about infrastructure, driver education and public support from government in creating a safer environment for cycling. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it as positive as possible and keep saying it.

Lacaillade had a lifelong love of cycling. I thought about this rider I had never met as I rode to work this morning. I stuck an elbow into traffic with a renewed sense of purpose.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tragic Accident Follows Pattern Non-cyclists Think is Typical

A bicyclist, John Lacaillade II, 38, from Meredith, NH, was killed yesterday on Route 25 in Porter, Maine, when he lost control of his bike and fell under the rear wheels of a tractor trailer.

Read the news account here on MaineToday.com. Read a more detailed article here.

I know that section of highway. It has a shoulder, though not a wide one. Pulpwood trucks do use it, along with every other imaginable vehicle headed east toward Portland. It's never been as scary as certain sections of Route 25 on the west end of Lake Winnipesaukee between Lacaillade's own home town of Meredith, and Moultonboro.

It's always frustrating to hear fragmentary accounts of an accident like this. The pilot often can't give an account of the actions that led up to the crash. Bikes have no voice or data recorder to verify the typical motorist-centric report. No charges will be filed against the truck driver. But did he make every effort to give the bicyclist room? Or did he play tag, the way drivers sometimes do? Some drivers state very plainly that they put the burden on the cyclist to stay out of their way. I've had them throw high, inside pitches at me a number of times. The so-called professional drivers can have a very proprietary attitude about the road.

The driver in this case, Renald Morin, 30, of Quebec, may have given the cyclist a couple of feet and the cyclist could have actually deflected sideways far enough to go under the trailer. But any long-time road cyclist has had large vehicles go by way too close. The drivers don't think, don't care or trust their luck and the skill and cool nerves of the cyclist to prevent tragedy. Large vehicle drivers are quite confident they won't be charged unless witnesses can testify that they made an obvious swerve toward the bike. Such witnesses never appear.

As distressing as this recent accident is, crashes of this type are rare. Cyclists are not commonly struck by overtaking vehicles unless the vehicle makes a sudden turn in close proximity or the cyclist rides erratically. That doesn't mean it can't happen, only that it usually doesn't. Cyclists are more at risk in intersections where they or other vehicles are entering or leaving the traffic flow, and most at risk when they ride against traffic or maneuver haphazardly.

The worst part about Monday's accident, aside from the death of a human being and the loss to his family, is that non-cyclists will see it affirming their view that you have to be crazy to be out there at all. Those big trucks really will just crush you because they can't avoid you and shouldn't be expected to. The last part calls for only minor speculation, because I hear people say things like it all the time in the bike shop. Customers looking for a bike for exercise often declare that they have no intention of doing something as irresponsible as riding on the road.

On a highway like Route 25 a rider will not be able to herd traffic except possibly in the sections through towns, where the speed limit can drop as low as 25 miles per hour and the highway becomes a street. Even then, through-traveling motorists have their highway mind set and can't wait to resume their headlong charge toward the coast.

Route 25 east of Ossipee is actually a pretty bike-friendly highway. It does not have a full breakdown lane the whole way, but it usually has a foot or two to the right of the fog line. Porter is one of the places where it narrows, but not even through all of Porter. Other roads cross it, giving access to miles and miles of hilly but scenic touring. Some roads are better than others, but that's true anywhere.

Mourn the loss of one rider, but keep riding. It really is the best that we can do.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A week or ten days with nothing to say

For some reason, nothing prompted me to write all last week. It was a pleasant time, busy but not out of control at work, with a couple of different guest parties staying over a night or four. Because the weather had settled into a quiet groove, each day slid into the next.

Some themes and ideas will be developed in due course. For now I have to figure out how to protect the deck on the back of the house from the forces of destruction without poisoning the environment. The best option might be to let it rot off completely and replace it with one made of recycled materials impervious to said destructive forces. Another option might be to let it rot and replace it with native stone painstakingly gathered and shaped by hand. Not necessarily a good option, that. It would take a lot of BOB loads. Or a lot of money. I would have to locate good deposits on my land and dig a quarry.

It almost sounds intriguing.

Meanwhile, huge, noisy equipment chews through the forest on the neighboring land. It sounds like it should come crashing through the wall of the house any second, even though the machines themselves are some 300 yards away, maybe more. They're running a chipper big enough to grind up a school bus. They're cutting the trees with something that looks like a modified excavator with a giant circular saw and grabbing jaws on its tool arm.

The cellist and I have errands in opposite directions. We should saddle up and get moving.

Friday, August 15, 2008

An Interesting Kind of Deadly Danger

Here's one to look out for if you have low spoke count wheels:

One of our local riders came in with her late-1990s LeMond Z├╝rich. It has original Rolf wheels.

"It started having this terrible speed wobble on descents," she said. "It got so bad on my last ride that I thought I was going to have to jump off."

She pointed out that two spokes of the 18 in her front wheel had come completely unscrewed. The nipples had just fallen into the rim. No wonder the bike wobbled. The spokes did not break. They came undone.

Like many athletes, she's got quite a motor, but she's relatively oblivious to her equipment. A lot of good riders just hammer until something goes sproing and then seek out their mechanic.

If you have an older set of low-count wheels, particularly Rolf or Bontrager, take a good close look at the nips and squeeze the spokes. They're supposed to be very tight. If they don't feel painfully resistant to your squeeze, have someone throw a spoke wrench on there. Otherwise it could get ugly.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quick! Send for a Border Collie!

One small, determined, skillful animal controls and directs a herd of larger beasts. The border collie sets another example traffic cyclists can use.

Yesterday on a narrow country road with a fairly low traffic volume, two or three vehicles were coming up behind me as two or three vehicles approached from the opposite direction. I could tell by the way the oncoming motorists were maneuvering that the ones behind me were slowing down because no one knew exactly what to do. Large, confused beasts would all end up clustered in the same piece of road with me unless I took control of the situation.

Ever notice how that almost always happens? Left to sort things out for themselves, motorists approaching a cyclist from opposite directions always synchronize their speed so that all road users pass at the same time, uncomfortably squeezed. It's not malicious. The motorists generally want to slow down to make things safer. They just don't realize that both sets of drivers unconsciously match approach speeds because they're afraid that everyone will converge, which they inevitably do.

When traffic volume permits it, herd the beasts. Yesterday I swung into the traffic lane as soon as I saw how things were shaping up. This blocked the drivers behind me, forcing them to slow down sufficiently to let the oncoming motorists come through. The instant the oncoming motorists had cleared, I snapped back to the right to release the overtaking set.

No one honked. No one yelled. No one stomped the gas pedal and made a big fuss about resuming their speed. They all got it. I thought so they didn't have to.

On high-volume streets a bicyclist can't herd this way. A very fit rider can do some directing, but the metaphor shifts to running with the bulls or charging down white water when the motor vehicles are close together and numerous, but not yet numerous enough to get seriously in each other's way. Just keep the border collie in mind in case you can use the technique.

De-Earwax Older STI

Older STI road brifters that are losing their clicks have been responding well to forceful and generous sprays of PG2000 spray lube. The road mechanism is typically more closely shrouded than older MTB units. This has discouraged a lot of exploratory surgery. Fortunately, experimental treatments with PG2000 have yielded these positive results, giving new hope to older victims of Shimano engineering.

PG2000 treatments have brought about full recovery in RSX, 105 and older Ultegra units. We have no long-term results yet, so the patient may relapse. Still, even a bit of borrowed time is better than no time at all. A brifter with no brains doesn't even make a good fishing weight. You can at least delay the inevitable expensive replacement.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Modern Anonymity and the Urge to be Antisocial

Our decades spent transporting ourselves in sealed cans shooting down a conveyor belt have given us the habit of ignoring each other in transit. Even using mass transportation by bus or rail, how often do you strike up a conversation with people in forced proximity?

Bicycling puts us in an odd position. As individuals on individual conveyances, we pursue our own schedules at our own pace. No longer sealed safely away from unwanted communication, we can't just keep the windows rolled up and avoid eye contact with other cyclists we might pass or who might pass us.

If passing speeds are fast enough, the encounter can be handled with a quick greeting, a wave or non-committal grunt. But what happens when speeds coincide? There you are.

I don't have a lot to say when I ride. True, I have ridden with friends and chatted away, but if I start a ride alone I settle into a solitary groove.

When I went to a university where throngs of cyclists filled the car-free streets, we mostly ignored each other except to react to the flow of traffic. You could try to start a conversation if you wanted, but no one expected a lot of camaraderie. But in the outside world, where cycling for transportation makes you weird and different, cyclists tend to develop some level of group identity. Like any minority, the accidental group becomes something of a subculture. Subsets within it lay claim to leadership roles. In some cases a siege mentality sets in. Members of the subculture expect solidarity and conformity from all other members. As each group competing to define the whole expresses its different expectations, conflicts can occur, but all the sub-groups accept the notion of a greater subculture. We cease to be people and instead become Bicyclists.

To wave or not to wave? To chat or not to chat? As people we don't think too much about it. We act according to our personal level of sociability. As Bicyclists we have to decide how to reach out to fellow two-wheelers.

Then there's the drafting issue. I'll take a little shelter behind almost anyone, though not super close if I don't know them. I just never know whether to say anything. When I draft a motor vehicle I assume I am invisible. I must take care of my own safety, but I'm not obligated to socialize.

On the rare occasions when I encounter other riders going the same direction I am, I generally flow through them at a slightly higher speed, with a nod, a smile and a greeting in a mild tone. If other cyclists are faster, I won't catch them or they won't hang back with me. Only occasionally will someone's speed fluctuate within a range that extends the encounter. Or they might jump in my draft.

These questions probably only arise on country commutes with long stretches of open road. In city streets, cyclists are too busy with basic survival to worry too much about their own social dynamics. And when cycle transportation reaches the tipping point and becomes a majority activity Bicyclists become people again. We can all just be our sunny or grumpy selves.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dope!

Outside the bedroom window I could see the morning fog had light above it. The sun would break through.

I rolled off the bed and levered myself upright to go in search of coffee and food. Once I had something in my stomach I dropped a couple of ibuprofen to take the edge off the creakiness.

As I left the driveway I saw a cyclist approaching from my right, still far off. I pulled out, but rode with no hands, sitting up, arms crossed against the morning chill. I rode that way through the right turn onto Elm Street before lowering myself to the bars as a truck passed me. Seconds later, the pursuing cyclist ambushed me with a loud "How ya doin'?"

"How's it going?" I said. He might or might not have given some stock reply before he grabbed a gear and stomped away.

Great. Congratulations. You caught me and you're blowing my doors off.

I continued to ride at my warm-up pace while the other rider pushed hard on the gears of his Marin road bike. He looked like a commuter, wearing a bulging day pack high on his shoulders. No geeky rack on his bike.

Interestingly, for all the effort he seemed to be putting into it, he wasn't opening the gap too rapidly. Since he hadn't made much of a social overture, I wasn't going to hurt myself to close in and try to get a conversation started.

He kept looking back. I kept looking casual. Every time he looked away from me I dropped a gear and surged forward a little. Every time he looked back I was a little bit closer, but managed to be sitting up. He would look ahead again and push a little harder.

These races are best controlled from behind. I had the biggest advantage because I didn't care if I caught him, but he obviously wanted to stay in front of me. Whether he broke his rhythm by looking back or just pushed too hard because he didn't know if I was gaining, the strain was still going to squeeze his lungs and bump his heart rate up by an extra six or eight beats per minute.

Two miles out I had nearly reached his wheel. Thing is, I didn't want to reach his wheel. But he lagged on the last little hill. We closed the formation in the final curves approaching Route 16.

An SUV had to pass us in the last yards before the intersection. Motor vehicles must be in front of bicycles. Drivers consider it an unalterable law of nature. We all clustered at the stop sign. The SUV peeled out into a dicey gap. The jumpy roadie made the suicide plunge with it. I waited for the sole vehicle coming south before making a leisurely entrance behind it.

The jumpy roadie had opened up 90 yards or so. I spun up a moderate gear and closed the gap, but the lead rider flung out his arm in a left turn signal. There wasn't really any place to go over there. He wasn't lined up with a driveway or street. Before I had long to wonder where he was pointing with that outflung left arm, he cut across the highway to ride down the left shoulder against traffic into an intersection with commercial driveways beyond. The maneuver made no sense. He even had the green light if he had stayed in the proper lane through the intersection. If he wanted to go left, the road was clear enough for him to do it properly. If the road hadn't been clear, he would have been in much more danger riding down the wrong side of it.

What a dope. I didn't know Marin was pronounced "moron." I lost very scrap of respect for him at that point. I doubt if he could understand my disapproving yell. It doesn't really matter. The road will deal with him eventually. Hopefully he won't torpedo me on one of his wrong-way jaunts.

Playing with his head for the first few miles got me up to a quicker pace than usual. I had one of my fastest commutes all season.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Endless Wet

does this vest make me look fat?
Commuting calls for some unusual specialized equipment these days

That's a mayfly. This is August.

Day after day the temperature hangs in the 60s while humidity bobs up and down between 75 and 100 percent. The sun may peek out for a few minutes or a few hours, but more showers can't be far behind. Yesterday just brought a flat-out downpour. Today I rode in through a thick misty drizzle and sprinted home under the spreading mushroom cloud of yet another churning mass painting psychedelic hues on the weather radar. Never saw a flicker or heard a rumble until I was safe in my own neighborhood.

Met the cellist outbound on her bike, warming up to ride some hill intervals before the storm. She just managed to squeeze in one round before the crack-a-booms chased her in.

We hope the weather dries out for our little micro-tour to the Maine coast in a few days. Places a short drive away feel much more exotic when you get yourself there in a new way. If we'd been smart we would have chosen a route that we could follow by bike if the weather is dry and by kayak if it's rainy. If you're wearing immersion clothing, rain just makes you laugh.

Maybe next year.

Friday, August 01, 2008

It Lives!

Quality lists the FSA Orbit UF headset once again. Ball bearing upper, needle bearing lower, reasonably priced and runs forever.