Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Car Becomes Lawn Ornament (for the most part)

Pumped up the tires and dusted off the Cross Check for the first week of bike commuting.

The forecast indicates I might need the rain bike at least one day this week, but I promised two potential Surly customers who would be good fits on a 54cm that I would ride mine every day I could so they could do some testing on it. They're actually interested in Long Haul Truckers, but the top tube on the 54 Cross Check splits the difference between the 54 and 56 LHT. Those are the two candidates they had picked just from reading specs.

They're launching their transcon tour late in the summer, so we have time to make good decisions. After that they get to dress the bikes with saddles, racks and all the other fun bits.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A table full of the local working class and pretend-working-class athletes were chatting over lunch today at the other end of the lodge.

"I've seen some people out on their bikes already," ventured one.

"Yeah, way too early for that. You want to tell them, 'slow down, not so fast,'" said another.

"Yeah, I've been doing really well holding myself back," said the first. "I'm still skiing."

Too early for what? Too early to expect balmy breezes on your shaven legs, but not too early to show the steel in your character by venturing forth on beater bikes and fixed gears in pursuit of virtuous early miles.

Ski if you like, but the handwriting is scrawled large on the dirty slush. Even if we get the usual April Fools gift of glop, the groomed Nordic thing has gone down the tubes. If the high ranges (relatively speaking) get a heavy load of late-season bounty, that's a ski of a different shape and heft, let alone color. That's the signal for the infamous multi-sport days, shooting couloirs for part of the day, racking up road miles in the other part. Which goes where depends on the temperature swing and the consistency of the original snow.

If you really do have to fit a lot of things into your schedule you will have to choose. The sun is rising on the bike season. It's a good time to play "spring classic" with some quality masochism on the sandy, chunked-up asphalt.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How will you stand it?

Ham, in the UK writes:

I have a question for you - I am about to join the ranks of the carbon fibre road bike brigade, courtesy of the UK government bike scheme and Greg LeMond's fight with Trek. (I'm getting the equivalent of 2,000GBP of Trek Madone for 600GBP). Thinking about this, I need to get hold of a bike carrier for the car, and a workstand. Do you have any thoughts of the suitability for carbon fibre, please? I'm thinking of a fork-holding roof carrier for the car, but I can't choose between the BB holding sort, or the seatpost clamping sort (recognising that I need a steel seatpost in there) for the workstand.

All thoughts appreciated

Welcome to the ranks of the test pilots! You'll learn to ignore those snapping and cracking noises.

I jest. Right? Heh heh heh.

Regarding work stands, I never met a BB mount work stand I liked. The bike never seems stable. The parts intended to stabilize it always seem to interfere with some aspect of the work. Seatpost clamping racks hang the bike with all the operating systems unimpeded.

For clamping in a seatpost type stand a steel post is overkill. An alloy one will do. Or you could invest in the Park ISC-4 internal seat tube clamp. That is designed to provide a secure clamping area on fragile frames. A bit pricey, but solidly built.

A torque wrench will become like a crucifix to you. It will be a sacred object never far from your hand. Carbon riders live and die by the small windows of correct torque, aiming to ride that straight, narrow path between a component that slips and the one-way trip to the junkyard that follows the ominous crack of over-tightening. This applies to the seat post you clamp in the frame for repair operations as well as the parts with which the bike is built.

Speaking of torque, beware of twisting too vigourously on the bike in the work stand. No matter how the bike is supported, you can load it in directions for which it was not designed. Have my brother tell you about the jolly night we wrenched the seat tube right out of his favorite touring bike, trying to get a frozen seat post loose. That was a steel frame, so the shop's frame guru just torched out the remains and put in a new seat tube. Then I painted his frame a rather experimental color. He rode it for a few more years before it vanished in the mists of the larcenous underworld.

In the case of carbon fiber, consider all mistakes terminal. It isn't strictly true, but no manufacturer will risk telling you how much of a ding they think a carbon frame or part will withstand and still be ridable. Officially, anything that goes through the gel coat is a death sentence.

Back in 1982 or so, a shop owner in Maryland took a big honkin' crescent wrench to the top tube of his Graftek to prove its durability. But the Graftek was not a true, pure carbon fiber bike. It held up well to the wrench, though. Not like these modern egg shells. Can't so much as brush them lightly with a ball peen hammer...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Out of the car! Now!

Scheduled for a shift in Wolfe City, I seized the opportunity to fire off a bike commute. With the early onset of daylight saving time I had just enough window if we didn't have a closing time pest.

The closing time pest arrived deceptively in advance of closing time. I was working in the repair shop when our Supreme Leader brought in a pair of roller skis to be mounted and a pair of excruciatingly expensive skate poles to be cut. I drew the skis as my colleague selected Carbon Fiber for $300, Alex.

These V2 roller skis have too short a shaft to accommodate a regular jig. You have to build the hole pattern in three steps after determining the proper binding placement from V2's specifications based on ski type and boot size. You have to glue the screws with epoxy. Everything takes that much longer. Then one of the bindings in the first pair had a broken plate I didn't notice until I had already screwed it down.

To complicate matters, a critical bridge I use on the back way out of town has been demolished for rebuilding, so there's no way anyone's going out of town that way. I have to take the busy way, on Center Street.

I come in on Center Street every morning. The way the road pitches, I can maintain speed fairly well to wrangle the traffic. Everyone is forced to slow down as they enter the congestion of town. I quit riding out that way after several ugly incidents in the evening rush hour. Going out, the cyclist fights the grade all the way, with motorists eager to escape the crush of town. They can smell open road ahead. "Born to be Wild" cranks up in their heads. They will kill anyone who gets in their way. I've avoided it for at least 15 years.

No avoiding it tonight. On my longest day of the new season, on my hefty silver fixed gear, I pulled onto Center Street in the little shopping district. This time of year I hoped traffic would be light. It was. I had a lot of energy, too. The luck can't hold, but I had it this evening.

The closing time pest had me crowding dusk. Fortunately I had thrown in some lights in case of something like this.

The ride in had started at about 29 degrees after a morning low of 23. The day was supposed to warm above 40, but never did. It was dropping through the mid 30s when I started for home. I had plenty of clothing. Really, the defining characteristic of the ride was its pleasant uneventfulness. It was chilly, but the wind was light. The roads stayed dry because cold temperatures didn't melt loose a bunch of water. I can't complain.

Back in the car for the next two days, working back up north. Back on skis for those days. In a strange, bass-ackwards way I fell into a career as a sort of professional athlete who never has to win anything.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Kick in the Tail

Amazing how 11 easy miles yesterday gave me something to remember it by when I started today's ride. I shouldn't be surprised.

Another beautiful day today. I got to go out closer to the balmy center of it for a steady 18+ miles of fixed gear in this teaser of early spring. Something nastier has to come along, but it's not on the scope yet. Sure, we get a little something tomorrow into Thursday, but it doesn't push us back to a week of winter.

Silt and Silver softly in the springtime sun

The view from the controls

Warm roads and snow banks

Not much to worry about on a day like this. I was overdressed as usual, but not enough to overheat dangerously. My biggest problem was a constant temptation to stop and sunbathe.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the Road

We couldn't wait for the warm afternoon, because she had to go to work, but the temperature was just poking above freezing when the cellist and I headed out on the family fixed gears for a quick jaunt. This was her third ride, so she's that far ahead of me on the butt-bruising process of saddle toughening.

I had the camera, but never pulled it out. We just rode. Under clear skies with light wind we pushed an easy cadence.

Ordinarily, the transition from skis to bike feels strange. On the bike, upper body muscle does nothing. The pedal stroke's forced circle feels very limiting after the wide variation of either skate or classic ski technique. However, at a mellow pace on relatively flat roads I settled into the familiar motions of pedaling without noticing it.

At one point I'd stopped while the cellist rode on. Spinning up over 20 mph to chase her down I finally felt the difference. To ski faster I will push harder, but glide longer. Cadence increases, but not as directly as it does when fastened to bike pedals, especially in a single gear. It's all good, just different.

Skiing isn't over yet. The two activities will definitely overlap for a few weeks. The cellist also has pushed for some early kayaking, so we may get into the kind of balanced but spontaneous conditioning program I prefer. Just go play outside and let fitness take care of itself.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Shared Pleasure

While I grabbed another quick outing on skate skis during a break at work, my only wife and one of my bikes were having a lovely fixed gear ride here around the home turf.

The cellist went for 16.5 miles on Blue. I haven't had a chance even to begin assembling her own Traveler's Check. Fortunately we left mine configured for her late last fall when we rode together. All she had to do was dust it off, inflate the tires and go.

She glowed with the energy she got from a beautiful ride on a beautiful day. It really does make life better.

Monday, March 09, 2009

False Spring

Last week ended with four days of increasing warmth. Even a storm that brought a rind of snow to parts of the area ended in a warm day. The sun is strong now. Daylight Saving Time adds to the illusion that winter is over.

Now I look out at steady snow falling from a quintessentially wintry mat of light gray clouds. The artificially late sunset makes wintry conditions look out of place, but this really is their place. March is a winter month in northern New England. Forget the Spring Equinox. We chuckle indulgently at the notion, except for the ones who are laughing maniacally because winter has finally crushed their psyche.

I know I should start going over the bikes for the first fixed-gear forays when the glacier finally relaxes its grip for good. I'm just still wrapped up in the endgame of our final season in the winter shop, so on my days off I tend to nap a lot in between chores necessary to prepare for the next work week. It's all kind of drifty and timeless. Endless winter rules the land outside. I hop out for quick back-country jaunts on the convenient mountainside out the back door. Yes, I know how lucky I am. I can pull an hour of short runs after a few minutes trudging up and across the logging cuts and groves of hardwood and evergreen, and still get the laundry done, firewood split and gear assembled for the following week.

Spring tends to be late and short here. Riding begins well before things look lush and pretty. Change seems like it will never come. Then it arrives abruptly. We pack the seasonal shop in a day. Refugees fleeing an onrushing army got nothing on us. The commute will cease to be an hour of incarceration in a motor vehicle at either end of a long day and become an hour of cycling at either end of the break between rides, during which I happen to work.

With the end of our seasonal operation every winter I will once again be able to poach the occasional bike commute in winters to come. That's just one of many things I'm looking forward to.

This week I may have to go in a day early. Our skeleton crew of two is down to one. Some hideous respiratory plague has been hammering the inmates at Jackson Ski Touring. It even put one of them in the hospital with pneumonia. Others are dragged out and beaten down pretty far, too. Several of them run grueling schedules. The visiting public comes in coughing, sneezing and dripping. The staff who serves them is trapped in the building in clouds of their infectious airborne droplets. Some have to spend more time indoors than out. The ones who work outdoors still have to come in some time. It isn't always a festering germ pit. But it certainly can be.

Maybe I'll go dust off some bikes.