Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In a Trice

I promised a report on my brief demo ride in my brother's Trice tadpole trike, so here it is.

Pedaling down at hubcap level really changes the balance of power in the car-bike equation.  Anyone riding these on the street has a great big pair in their comfy chair.

I did enjoy playing in the trike.  In a perfect world we would be able to get around in all sorts of human-powered vehicles without having to worry about what behemoth was going to crush us like an unnoticed insect.

On the plus side, you don't have to worry about keeping your balance at stop lights.  Once you reorient your style to accommodate the recumbent position you can work on smooth acceleration through the gears instead of a standing sprint to get clear of the intersection.

I only rode the trike in and around a parking lot.  The rest of the time I rode my conventional bike and observed my brother in various traffic situations.  We never ventured onto a very busy road, but it was late afternoon, so we had some commuter motor traffic working around us.

I kept waiting for a motorist to get angry or impatient.  The trike takes up a lot more lane than an upright bike.  Motorists seemed reluctant to pass even on clear, straight sections where we would prefer they get it over with.  It occurred to me that the trike gives the impression that it might be adaptive equipment for someone with a disability.  As miffed as a driver might be that someone with a disability had chosen to go play in traffic, no one wanted to be such a baby seal clubber as to honk or yell at the poor rider churning doggedly along, belly-up and vulnerable.

In a sense, my brother does have a disability.  He dumped his conventional bike early in the summer (or late in the spring, I forget which) and broke his elbow.  He can manage the recumbent trike long before he would be able to support himself properly on an upright bike. Devoted pedaler that he is, he used this as an excuse to pursue his interest in less commonplace pedal-powered vehicles.

I borrowed my brother's SPD sandals because the crank position on the trike requires secure attachment of the feet.  If you were to drop a foot at speed you would get seriously shredded.  Step-in pedals make more sense than straps alone because your feet are hanging from the elevated crank.  Slotted cleats would work, but I only prefer those for my regular bikes because they allow me to use different shoes I would not wear when riding a recumbent.  Secure foot attachment isn't a problem at stops because you don't need to get a foot out to prop yourself up.

Around 1981 I started sketching a fully-faired recumbent for commuting.  It was going to be a fully-enclosed torpedo,  but with a narrow track.  I was still thinking of the usual bicycle habitat rather than something that would unabashedly take a lane.  Living in Annapolis. Maryland, working for a sail loft, I shifted the design to a boat because I fancied my  chances better on the water than the street.  The project died for lack of funding. I was broke.  It didn't strike me as a business venture that would eventually pay for itself.

Fully enclosed, one of these trikes would make a dandy all-weather commuter.  The bodywork would help with visibility and lane presence.  You would still be vulnerable in a crash, as any small vehicle is, but such a vehicle could make a good car replacement.

The cellist tries the Trice.

Something about scampering around on the trike made me smile.  It may be an ingenious piece of design, but it's also just a little wacky.  With a fixed gear option you could even have reverse gear.  When I bogged down on a hill because I got mixed up with the shifting I used the hill to help me make a three-point turn so I could roll back down to the flats.  Playing the contours of the parking lot I could make other small-radius maneuvers.  I don't know what the traffic mix would be like with large numbers of recumbents thrown in.  Visibility is a huge issue, especially for overtaking vehicles.  On the plus side, if the speeds matched up right you could definitely pass clear beneath a tractor-trailer.

Imagine this scene in a movie: the recumbent rider slides under the big trailer and hooks into some downward-projecting piece of it.  Towed along out of sight, the pedaler is protected from attack.  At the appropriate time the rider releases the hook and slingshots out to A) a massive jump B) a white-knuckle downhill C) a sliding stop while motor vehicles collide in a spectacular fireball D) the possibilities are endless.

I should come up with a screenplay for each of the great scenes I've imagined over the years.  That's the bitch: I only ever imagine a scene or two.  They never go with any of the other scenes.  I guess that doesn't matter in an action film.  Just keep the chases and explosions rolling, with an occasional sex scene to provide a window from which to jump into the next action sequence.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Musical Interlude

A week ago I took a break from the bike scene to go to a music camp.  If I can find a simple enough tune and a large enough group to hide in I will play in public.  The rest of the time I do everyone a favor and keep that noise strictly under wraps.

The cellist had been talked into going to Fiddleheads Acoustic Music Camp by a violinist friend with whom she does gigs.  The violinist, Melissa, had been working some fiddle tunes into the repertoire and wanted to explore the realm of improvisation and playing by ear.  I went along because I heard there would be stuff for beginners.  Since I've only been doing this sporadically for the past nine years or so, it's like my seven years of first-year French.  I have little patches of fluency separated by huge deserts of embarrassing silence or unintelligible gibberish.

My teachers have, for the most part, followed classical tradition to develop sight reading skills.  Reading is a useful skill. I find it one of the hardest things to learn about music.  Mentally, it feels exactly like riding technical singletrack.  When it doesn't work, it feels like messing up on technical singletrack. Off you go into the weeds!

A tight, technical trail can have a rhythm and flow to it.  When I mountain biked frequently I would have days when I had "trail vision."  I could see exactly where to go at the exact moment I needed to go there.  You don't have time to stop and gloat while you're doing it, but at the end of the phrase or section you know you nailed it.

Learning music by ear is a more natural, primitive approach.  Music is made by playing with sound.  The metaphor changes to a group ride, especially on a fast piece.  Certain traditions sprint away as ruthlessly as an aggressive club ride, leaving the stragglers for dead.  As with any group ride, the fastest set the pace, so the rest of the group relates to them.  If they're not that fast, a less trained group might stay together longer.

All the professionals were holding back the pace in the workshops at Fiddleheads.  I was still well off the back most of the time.  Since it was a learning rather than a performing environment, everyone still remained accessible.  This was true from featured expert Darol Anger through the whole teaching staff of professional musicians from around the region and the players of all ability who had come to participate.

The camp lasted from late Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  We didn't sleep a lot during that time.  For the next two days, when I was still off from work, I spent most of my time practicing what I had learned. I barely even looked at a bike.

Wednesday I was back in the saddle and had a long zoning board meeting after work.  I didn't start catching up on sleep until Thursday or Friday night.

This coming Tuesday, night begins to grow larger than day in the Northern Hemisphere.  My bikes have sprouted light brackets on the handlebars.  I've tested my Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp as a helmet light.  The commute changes as I start to mix modes by driving part way.  Among other things, this allows me to stash a fiddle in the car, because the route home passes conveniently close to the home and studio of two of my teachers.  We'll see how that goes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bags of Bad Brakes Land in My Parts Department

In the mid 1990s, Shimano produced the Altus CT 90 cantilever brake, a masterpiece of flawed design.  Out of the box it worked reasonably well, but the return springs were anchored in plastic collars.  In a fairly short time, the stress of the springs and the deterioration caused by sun and weather weakened the collars so they cracked, rendering the return springs useless. It was part of the component group that included the cranks that snap off.

Shimano never publicly acknowledged their mistake, but they made collars available free of charge to bike shops that bothered to call and ask.

I asked constantly.  I don't believe in looking the other way when riders get stuck with an inferior product.  If the manufacturer will take the hit and provide repair parts free, I will be first in line.  I still spot Cranks of Death.

A few years ago, Shimano stopped offering the collars for free.  I immediately stopped fixing the old CT 90 brakes.  Tektro and Shimano offer a cost-effective replacement brake for little more than a couple of sets of collars.

When the Tektro and Shimano brakes went out of stock at our regular suppliers late in the summer, we picked up a couple of sets by Alhonga. BAD MISTAKE.

Alhonga has cloned the crappy CT 90 brake, complete with the stupid plastic collars!

We used a set on a repair, but only with full disclosure.  I have been advising customers to wait for the return of the good products if they can.

Things took a serious turn for the worse when the parts buyer brought me six bags of the Alhonga pieces of crap.

"We need to have something in stock," he said.

We already had a set of the Alhongas in stock, which was plenty enough to gather dust as far as I was concerned.  I refuse to install these brakes when I know I'm setting the customer up for the same problem caused by the CT 90s.  We're supposed to be CURING the customer's problems, not giving them second helpings.

A certain amount of shit will hit the fan when I have to blatantly refuse to install this ill-chosen crap.  It won't be the first time.

Ultimately it's for the best not to use inferior components to bail yourself out of a jam.  Installing parts you are pretty sure will fail WILL bite you on the ass, AS IT SHOULD.

I'm not looking forward to this discussion.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Confirmed: Punctuality can be hazardous to your health

Answering the call of duty I launched early enough this morning actually to be on time at work.  As always when I do this, I was throwing elbows with an aggressive swarm all the way to town.  From school buses in my neighbirhood to a steady stream northbound on Route 16 when I needed to cross to the southbound lane, all the way down Route 28 and into the approaches to town.

Speaking of swarms, a wasp stung me on the side of the face out on 28.  The venom does interesting things as it spreads.  Pulses of stinging pain blend with a mild numbness over about a three-inch radius from the point of entry.  I'm not allergic, so it's just an unscheduled science experiment.

One dump truck deserves special commendation for an exemplary patient pass in a narrow, twisty bit known for the opposite kind of behavior.  I did not have the pop to sprint into the pocket, though I tried.

In town, an oblivious pedestrian walked straight out in front of me.   He was probably ten times the age at which children are taught to look both ways before crossing the street.  I locked the brakes and wished him a cordial good morning.  Seconds later I held the door for him at the post office.  He might or might not have realized I was the same person.

And so here we are. And the dang coffee shop is closed.  I- I- I'm coming down!  Ack!

Soon I hope to post my brief review of a ride on my brother's Trice.  For one who earns so little I manage to find many things to fill my schedule.  It's cut into my time to do justice to posts on topics that should have good links in them.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Cap and Trade!

I wish I'd had a camera ready on my ride home tonight.  Coming at me in traffic was a Smart Car. Immediately behind it was a Hummer.  Do you suppose the Hummer driver buys credits from the Smart Car driver?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

They Said It Couldn't Be Done

Today, my first day back at work in more than a week, I reconstructed a 7-speed Shimano LX rear Rapidfire Plus shifter pod and got it to work.  Sorry I didn't get any pictures.  I was stacking the parts to see if I could, and they started going together well.  Since the process involves two springs and one ratchet pawl, as well as stepped washers of different thicknesses and a keyed washer that anchors one end of one spring, once I started I had to keep pressure on each layer and move quickly to the next.

The parts had not been completely stripped off the main shaft, but the owner had removed everything that came off easily.  Miraculously, he'd managed to keep all of them.  The trickiest bit was keeping the flat coiled springs in place while I laid on whatever layer went above them.

That was the most interesting part of the day.