Sunday, June 27, 2010

Update on the Chipseal saga

Apparently, Reed Bates, the cyclist who blogs as Chipseal, was incarcerated by authorities in Texas for 18 days. Fellow cyclists finally gathered the funds to bail him out. Details can be found here. His next court date is July 29.

Bates has become embroiled in a nightmare of interpretive law enforcement. Most cyclists would just have grumbled and given way when confronted with motorists and law enforcement officers who did not know the law and therefore did not uphold the rights of the actual injured party. Cyclists are encouraged to have an inferiority complex, which most of us take on, even if we disguise it as an outlaw mentality. It stems in part from our sense of self-sufficiency, which inclined us to start getting around under our own power in the first place. Sure, give us crap. We're strong. We'll keep pedaling and put up with your crap as well. Just try and stop us.

The persecution limits the traffic cycling population to people who will endure the various artificially created obstacles placed in their path. People of greater sensitivity may make brief appearances as new riders take up transportation cycling for its obvious benefits, unaware of its most infuriating drawback.

Cyclists are actually less exposed to the full brunt of rude, self-centered motorists. I'll get to rude, self-centered cyclists in a minute. The fact is, most drivers just want to get past us and we want them to make it. How they do it is often up to us. But the techniques necessary to control passing motorists demand self-confidence from the cyclist. They can also lead to situations exactly like the one Reed Bates is going through, when law enforcement sides with motorists who don't believe in their own state laws permitting bicyclists not only to use the road but to maneuver in such away as to guide the motoring public safely around them. These motorists have the mistaken belief that cyclists are allowed to use the road only if they never cause a motorist to slow down or change course. Any accommodation a motorist makes for a cyclist is only an optional courtesy, in their philosophy. When it is not convenient, the cyclist must beware.

Self-centered behavior is our natural state. Civilization is artificial. But strip away the restraining behaviors we have chosen to accumulate through the millennia and you're left with just a grizzly bear with a chain saw. Self-centered cycling behavior has developed largely because cyclists feel abandoned by society. Those who ride in what you could call a very direct fashion feel they owe nothing to a society that feels it owes nothing to them. I've certainly felt that way when throwing elbows and sprinting for my life in a commuter criterium. If no one is really looking out for me then I'll look out for myself.

Funny that I was wondering whether the donation button in this blog's sidebar was now obsolete. It is not. So toss a few ducats toward the defense fund for Mr. Bates if you're so inclined. View it in context with the ban on bicycling in Blackhawk, Colorado, and other maneuvers to push cyclists off the road. We are born into a world of conflict. Everything you do, including efforts to work constructively, puts you on one side or the other of a dispute somewhere. No sooner does one end than another begins. It is the exhausting labor of every lifetime. That and cleaning up after slobs. Someone is always ready to turn things ugly.

Be beautiful, you beautiful people.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Racers collect scars. Tourists collect gear.

About the time the video of the nasty pileup and chain reaction crash in stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse was making the rounds on the Internet I was checking out a laptop pannier for a commuting customer who had changed bikes and needed to reconfigure his bag setup.

The crash video conjured up memories of various less spectacular but still out of control situations I'd seen or taken part in during my competitive years. Bitch as I might about the motoring public, I feel safer duking it out in traffic than rubbing elbows in a sprint with a bunch of charged-up racers. Most of my scars date from that era, although the deepest one does not.

Most racers collect only scars. Someone has to fill out the field.

Tourists have always been interested in equipment to help them carry loads. Tourists and randonneurs embraced multi-geared bikes earlier than their more overtly competitive counterparts. I love bags and widgets. I thought the Axiom Transit laptop pannier was so cool, I got one for myself. Then we ordered a third one for the shop. We've already had to reorder.

The Transit is a slim, well-padded single pannier with a removable padded sleeve for a notebook computer. The inner bag is a completely free-hanging, coated sack with a spindrift extension. The pannier has a skirted flap top closure for weather resistance. Outside the main compartment it has a medium-sized outside pocket with a hanging organizer section in it. I don't often ride with a computer, but I have wished for a slim pannier proportioned to hold documents.

A visit to Axiom's site indicates the Transit has been replaced in their current lineup by two even cooler-looking laptop panniers, the Pioggia and the Vancouver.

The Transit is set up to mount to either side of a rear rack. It has reinforcement at the corners to protect from heel scuffs, reflective trim and shoulder strap D-rings. The shoulder strap is included. A zippered flap covers the rack hooks if you like. It is a well-designed and nicely made bag. Great. An invitation to carry more crap. Actually, on certain days I wouldn't mind a little extra capacity. The slim pannier gives a nice extra 4-500 cubic inches (officially about 450).

I think of my commute as a summer-long tour. Working for eight hours in the middle of my ride kind of blows the illusion, but at least my fantasy life has a toehold.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The people who don't care if you live or die

The people who don't are if you live or die are here. Far more numerous and dangerous than the truly hateful and malicious, indifferent drivers operate as if their speed and direction take precedence over anyone else's.

I say, "If you don't have flashing lights on top of your vehicle or someone in the seat next to you giving birth or bleeding out, back off." But that's just me.

The population surge in the summer brings many more people than usual who drive like they're in a movie. They careen around other vehicles slowing to turn. They peel out of intersections. They blast through closing gaps. Cut! Take two! You didn't get close enough to that stunt man on the bicycle!

Yesterday when one lane of the street that runs past our parking lot was blocked by a large delivery truck, traffic diverted itself through our parking lot uninvited, like a river leaving its channel. Most of the drivers kept going at street speed. Anyone walking to the deli or test riding a bike didn't matter to these drivers who thought they'd discovered such a clever way around the blocked lane.

"I don't care if you live or die. I have an appointment to get my nails done."

"I don't care if you live or die. I need to make my tee time."

"I don't care if you live or die. I have to run these errands and get back to the lake house for a barbecue with the people I care about."

"I don't care if you live or die. I'm late meeting my friends to go jet skiing."

Most of these people would be shocked if they finally had the accident they caused. Some would be truly remorseful. Even if they escaped criminal charges, they would probably make an effort to be more careful in the future. All they require to become so thoughtful is a human sacrifice. Anything less is just a fender bender. Those happen all the time. Sorry about that! Gotta run!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reanimating the dead in various ways

Toast and coffee jostled in my esophagus as I doggedly pushed the pedals on the morning commute. I can't get by on short sleep like I used to. Awakening this morning was reanimation number one.

At work I discovered that Cane Creek had responded with potentially hopeful news of donor parts for the late Volos XL wheel that had expired on the operating table (or so it seemed) last week. It had apparently remained on deep life support, in a coma, as it were.

A freehub body and some bearings are on the way. The bearings are a standard item. The crucial issue had been the freehub. So Hoser's wheel will go back in the ring to fight another round. Ding!

I, too, have ingested sufficient caffeine to carry me at least to the late afternoon slump. It's alive! It's alive! More or less.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Don't Be a Hoser!

In the workshop we occasionally have medical show moments. You know the scene: doctors and nurses surging away desperately. One thing goes wrong. Then another.

"We might still save him," one might say, mopping sweat. Then some monitor starts beeping, they try the electric paddles a few times...people slump dejectedly. One guy pumps furiously at CPR until the senior doctor says, "I'm going to call it. Time of death such and such."

I had one today. A poor young road wheel, orphaned by its manufacturer, it can't have been more than two or three years old. Unfortunately it is owned by a complete hoser.

Yes, that's right. This guy hoses off his bike to clean it.

More fierce than the helmet debate, the bike lane debate or the bitter religious war over whether Lance is or was on drugs is the never ending harangue between the Hosers and the Dry Cleaners.

Hosers insist they know how to do it so they won't inject water into tender mechanisms. This is in spite of constant evidence to refute them. Today's hoser actually had the gall to ask whether a two-year-old wheel he admitted hosing was covered by warranty.

"I've always cleaned my bikes that way, for 20 years, and never had a problem like this!" he said.

I've rebuilt the rear wheel bearings in his hosed cyclocross bike at least twice in the past three years or so. He's just fortunate they are conventional bearings, cheap to rebuild. The wheel that died on the operating table today was a Cane Creek Volos.

Volos is an Esperanto word meaning "Run away! I have to vomit!"

Cane Creek disavows all knowledge of any road wheels on their website. I could find no technical information whatsoever for this wheel and no sign of repair parts. Admittedly the search was quick and desperate as the wheel gasped its last, dismembered on the workbench. I await an answer to the email I sent them this afternoon.

Hoser had created an environment similar to the bilges of a fishing boat inside the rear hub. Two of the three bearings we were trying to replace came out in crusty fragments. The bearing puller just yanked the middle out because the rust had attacked the structural integrity of the bearing cartridges.

Only the bearing furthest inside the hub shell came out intact and relatively easily. The bearing that had been the most crunchy, furthest outboard on the drive side, not only spewed its insides when I tried to remove it, it left its outer race welded into the freehub body.

I have to say, the freehub body is a nice unit. Under better circumstances it would have been a pleasure to work on. Too bad it is set into the typical modern weird-spoke wonder-wheel, but that's another matter. I kind of like how the ratchets were set up. Unfortunately, the part that holds the cogs is made of aluminum. Hoser hammers hard. He had dug the cogs into the splines pretty badly. The softness of the alloy warned me that tough love on that last piece of bearing was going to be risky. But his wheel was unusable anyway.

No penetrating oil, tapping, or prying made any impression on the rusty circlet so firmly embedded that I wondered if it was even supposed to come out. I examined the anatomy of one that had already come out to confirm where this beast began and ended.

In the past I have had to use a Dremel tool to grind through parts that have rusted to other parts. Ideally, you make a slot or two that give you purchase points to chisel the pieces away from the part you want to retain. It is a tricky piece of surgery. In this case, the bonds of illicit corrosion proved too strong and the soft alloy proved too weak. The remains of the rusted race held firm. The lock ring threads of the freehub body cracked.

I stepped back wearily. It had been a hard couple of hours.

"I'm gonna call it," I said. "Time of death 3:30 p.m."

I went to inform Hoser of the demise. That led to his hopeful chirping to the manager about warranty and his assertion, yet again, that hosing is a perfectly legitimate bike-cleansing procedure.

Oh, lord, how many more components must we lose? End this madness! STOP BEING A HOSER!

Or at least quit your bitching when we have to charge you a chunk to undo what you have done and take our copious ball-busting like a man. Because that ain't gonna stop.

Motorcycle Week

This is a great week to be on two wheels. It's Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire.

Thousands of motorcyclists converge on Central New Hampshire. The vast majority of them are very good around bicyclists, even if some of them poke a little fun by pretending to pedal as they go by. You're a riot, asshole. I flip those morons off subtly, with the middle digit casually draped over the handlebars, but it's all in fun.

In the past couple of years some of them have seemed more aggressive. Last year the weather was horrible, so I blame their irritability on that. Also, the ones who ride rice rockets with nasty screechy engines tend more often to be complete male appendages of reproduction. And some of the ones set up like road racers like to whiz by kind of close. I guess they haven't really thought about what would happen to them if we tangled.

The invasion of the two-wheeled horde keeps the four-wheeled population pretty well boxed in. There are always a number of fatal accidents. In the ones involving cars and trucks, the cars and trucks always win. Others just involve motorcycles, high speed and chemical impairment. Generally when the motorcyclists ride in groups they rule the road. It's the loners that get picked off.

If it went on longer than a week it might get really tiresome. As it is, I witness the herds moving through with a sense of wonder. At night I can hear big groups miles away. It's much less disturbing than the noise of a single ATV living near me. They come. They roam around. They leave.

It used to be just a weekend. It used to be a lot rougher and dirtier. It can still get rowdy. But it's entertaining.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shimano's Design Philosophy

Make a pretty good product. Price it to undersell the really good products. Make it vastly easier to buy a new one than fix an old one.

Truing a Shimano wheel requires two tools at once. The spoke nipples are placed so that you cannot keep the affected area of the rim in the calipers of the truing stand as you make the adjustment. You have to find the error, rotate the wheel to allow wrench access (one for the nipple, the other the immobilize the straight-pull, bladed spoke), adjust the spoke, then rotate the rim back down to the calipers. Repeat as necessary while the acids of cynicism thicken in your circulatory system.

On at least a couple of their shifters you have to open the housing to replace a cable. Maybe they felt people missed the ridiculous process of changing a cable in classic Gripshift, so they tried to recapture a fraction of it.

If Shimano made inner tubes they would have invented their own valve and they would change it every year. So things could be worse.

Shimano isn't the only one designing stupid wheels. They just didn't go out of their way not to. Personally I can't wait for straight-pull spokes to go away. They were just one piece of bullshit to bubble up during the mountain bike boom along with threadless headsets

Oh well. Back to work.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

It's sometimes darker after the dawn

The sky outside has turned a dark olive color at least an hour after the official sunrise. A downpour replaced the restful, gentle rain that had been falling since the earlier thunderstorm moved through several hours ago.

The National Weather Service warns of possible severe thunderstorms with hail up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, heavy downpours and excessive cloud to ground lightning.

I can picture Rantwick at this point gleefully rubbing his hands but I don't share the durable and irrepressible Canadian's love of riding in severe weather. It's all fun and games until a million volts of electricity actually connects with you or a tree happens to come down as you are passing under it. I ride under a LOT of trees. I also labor up some lengthy grades. Crawling along I feel like I'm just awaiting the cloud's pleasure.

The most intense weather is scheduled to cover both commuting periods today. The morning segment is supposed to give way to a steamy center with some hazy sunshine to set up another batch of severe storms in the evening.

I usually let the weather win a round or two. If it goes on too long I get aggravated and defy it.

A full repair queue awaits. Yesterday I finished a tuneup on a vintage ladies' Raleigh 3-speed with a fully enclosed chain. The bike is in good condition, so it took a nice shine. I even Simichromed the better bits of chrome plating. In contrast, I followed that by doing a repair estimate on a Raleigh 40 years newer and far more battered. The owner bought it at a yard sale. Fortunately, he is realistic enough to accept about $200 in repairs as part of the cost of his bargain. Other yard sale shoppers come in with higher expectations and lower budgets.

The three-speed looked like a great ride for a short commute. I could envision riding it on a rainy day with a nice classic rain cape keeping my work clothes dry. We're not talking about 14 or 15 hilly country miles, though.

Friday, June 04, 2010

June Looks Interesting

As the summer repair season really ramps up, one technician departs for a month in Nova Scotia. The other one will be heading off to Alaska for a week or two later in the month.

That leaves me.

One day last summer when several people were away and the waiting area for repairs was full, some dingus came in on a cloudy, showery day with no customers in the store. He wanted me to drop everything and go dig in the basement junk piles for a fork he could use on a hobby project he was doing. When I told him it wasn't a good time he said, "It's not like you're busy or anything," as he gestured to the sales floor.

I did not split his scalp with a flying wrench. I did throw him out.

If the Gulf Stream carries the Gulf of Mexico oil slick to New England's beaches quickly enough it may encourage people to vacation inland. We could be very busy in the latter part of the summer. Oh boy oh boy. I'm trying to put a good economic spin on things.

Every disaster is really an opportunity, even one that decimates the food chain on which all life depends. Actually, certain bacteria eat oil, so their outlook is quite good. However, a byproduct of that metabolism is carbon dioxide, so it's hardly a free lunch, if you will. Also, the process takes time and I don't know what follows the massive proliferation of these microbes. Perhaps we develop a slew of new recipes for oil-eating bacteria soup. They would technically be sea food, replacing the more familiar tasty fare we have come to expect. The critical question is, "how do they taste deep-fried?"

No time for further musings right now. I have to rush off to the greasy box in which I spend irreplaceable hours of precious life.

And they called it "employment."