Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mental Activity

My life's work has been riding to work.

I've ridden my bike to every job I've had since I graduated from college in 1979. I had no idea it would be such a controversial and political activity when I took it up. It just made sense: I got exercise and saved money. Why wasn't everyone doing it?

Whatever else I planned to do and still hope to accomplish, riding the bike is the most effective advocacy I can think of. Be seen on it. People will eventually have questions and ask them. They also take your opinion more seriously when they see you acting on it.

Winter is tough for cycling around here. Even in the warmer, lighter months I understand that many people have to rely on motor vehicles. Sharing the road goes both ways. Motorists do have a big responsibility because their vehicles are large and hard, but bicyclists have to balance their rights against the need to move people from place to place cooperatively. It's a balance more complicated than a few regulations can encompass. I spend most of the winter waiting for the next bike season. If I had only to deal with the weather and light my way through the darkness I could handle it. The vehicles with which I have to share the road create the vast majority of the obstacles. So I journey inwardly.

Winter used to be mountaineering season. Any cross-country skiing I did on the groomed trails where I work was only to build and maintain fitness for excursions to places that were harder to reach. These activities provided good alternative training to relieve the unbalanced fitness and possible overuse injuries a year-round cyclist might suffer. The upper body muscle came in handy for the season of splitting and carrying firewood. Now splitting and carrying firewood forms the majority of my winter exercise. I don't have the right amount of time in the right places in the day to do anything ambitiously athletic or to prepare for any expeditions. Some time after the first of the year I will probably start riding the rollers. I also keep saying I will start walking the path to work in lieu of riding it, but so far I just sleep too late and drive the whole way.

Depending on the amount and quality of the snow I might do a park-and-ski commute on the path. It's used by snowmobilers, so I have to worry about being buzzed by motorheads. It's a lot easier to dive off the path on skis than it is to bail from the roadway on a bike (should I be inclined to do that). In places it would even be fun, although the path follows a valley floor, so it provides no real opportunities to dive down a glade and crank a few turns.

The most practical ski for path commuting is not a very sporty one for fast striding, but conditioning is conditioning.

Skiing depends on a narrower range of conditions than cycling. If I ski in on a cold morning and a wet warm front moves in during the day, it could wipe out the snow completely. The trip back to the car would be a muddy plod. The reverse is also true: I might walk in the morning on bare ground and face a foot of snow in the evening. If the weather goes from dry and chilly in the morning to wet in the evening when I'm riding the bike I just ride anyway. I have fenders.  So winter is more finicky than the seasons that aren't winter. It's really easy to abandon self-propelled transportation entirely and go from car to building to car to building, day after day until suddenly you're a waddling doughball facing bike season with no fitness base. That happened to me last year.

I don't make New Year's resolutions. If something is a good idea, it's a good idea. Do or don't do. The date does not matter. Last winter was pretty crappy for a number of reasons. This winter has already delivered woes of its own, with death and illness around town. Quite often there's more to consider than the weather or the traffic when deciding when or whether to go out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Art, Footwear and False Economy

We save boxes to re-use for shipping. Cross-country ski boots especially call for boxes of a certain size to protect them properly without sending a bulky, space-wasting package.

I found this calligraphy on the perfect box for a pair of racing boots I was boxing for shipment today. Ordinarily we obliterate old marks so they don't confuse the shipper. In this case I figured I did not have to destroy something pretty since it did not convey misleading information to UPS. It was box 1 of 1 in our shipment as well as the one in which it had arrived. The number meant nothing but was harmless. I liked how whoever wrote it made it look nice.


This post started as a little report on winter cycling footwear. Opportunities to write are limited. So are opportunities to ride. Generally at some point in mid December I just take a deep breath, dive down and swim hard (metaphorically) toward the end of the holiday season. Maybe that takes me into the beginning of ski season or maybe we spend long dismal hours waiting for bankruptcy in an endless mud season. Ski season no longer represents much in the way of fun, because I don't get to ski consistently enough to call it a conditioning program. I might as well still live in Annapolis. But I digress. For the moment, I take the rides I can get.

The weather has been warm for most of the fall. The big snowstorms weren't particularly cold and they had warm weather before and after them. For most of my path commutes I have been able to wear an old pair of Diadora touring shoes that are great for toeclips. They have a smooth sole and a tapered toe, plenty of support and only light Velcro straps. Of course they are no longer made.

The touring shoes have the usual mesh uppers.  I have used neoprene toe warmers and even booties with them, but the lack of a cleat means the pedal wears more directly on the neoprene. Also, neoprene covers all have huge holes in them to accommodate cleats. That's a drawback even with cleated shoes because cold air and wetness can get in through these built-in leaks.

I put tape over the mesh in places, but it doesn't last and it doesn't cover enough. I have also used various combinations of liner socks and plastic bags.
*****

 With my cleated shoes the neoprene toe covers and booties work adequately, but I don't like to ride the trail with cleated shoes in case I have to walk. I also don't like to ride far from home in the winter with cleated shoes because a breakdown might force me to walk in all kinds of sand, snow and slush. It has happened. A short ride can be a rough, long walk when you are abusing your riding shoes with every step.

A few days ago the temperature was about 20 degrees. I skipped the cycling shoes entirely. I have a pair of North Face shoes -- called Snow Sneakers I believe -- that are insulated and waterproof. They're stiff enough. They fit into the toeclips adequately. They were gratifyingly toasty on the truly frosty morning.

Bikes continue to trickle in for repairs. This fork is from a cheap mountain bike called an FS Elite (made in USA!) that a customer wanted refurbished for some offspring living in New York. He pointed to the broken fork brace.

"That's not important, right?" he said. "I mean, it doesn't really do anything." He did agree to have the fork replaced when I told him I could scrounge up a rigid, one-inch fork with a threaded steerer from the basement. We used to do fork replacements all the time in the late 1980s and early '90s. Suspension technology has virtually eliminated the damage riders used to inflict by jumping. They can still trash forks, but in different ways. This one was just cheap junk.


The holidays continue to bear down. I might get one or two rides before January. Then it's mostly up to the weather and whatever disruptive events might lurk in the mists of the future. Last winter was kind of a bucket of crap. I hope this one is better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

It's Brilliant!

After nine months with the dynamo hub, I still love it. It adds weight and resistance that a removable battery light wouldn't, but you would have to remove the battery light to save the weight. So that just leaves resistance.

A transportation bike is going to weigh more than a sport or competition bike. Even mountain bikes are using exotic materials and evolved designs to reduce their weight compared to bikes with similar features from a decade or more ago. But the transportation category includes cargo bikes and heavy tourers, so we quit worrying excessively about every gram when we started down that path. Or road.

In 1980, when I worked at my first bike shop job and thought it was a temporary thing while I got a more illustrious career in order, our tribal elder and wise man -- he was 32 -- told us that a generator adds about a gear's worth of resistance when it is operating. He said this as he was installing the classic Union bottle generator onto the Motobecane he was configuring as a fixed-gear commuter with racks and fenders. We were all assembling different forms of the same thing. Most of us, with limited budgets and more of a focus on racing, used completely inadequate lights.

When I got a better job (relatively speaking) the following year, I invested in my own Union generator, and later acquired a Sanyo that drove off the tread face of the rear tire, rather than the sidewall. The increase in resistance never seemed as clear-cut as "a gear's worth." Does that mean a one-tooth jump or a larger increment? Even in the days of anemic incandescent bulbs it was great to have a fairly steady light. With Union's battery pack accessory it would even stay lit when the bike stopped. Any resistance it might have added was never enough to discourage me from flipping the lever to activate the light.

The specter of resistance still haunted me. When I moved to my present home and faced a 14- to 15-mile hilly ride each way for my commute I carried as little as possible on the bike or myself. The season of darkness ended my riding each year.

When powerful battery lights emerged as mountain bikers pushed into the darkness, they offered amazing illumination compared to any battery or generator light I had previously encountered. But then the problem of battery life became more important. When your light is already pretty feeble, its dimming seems less dramatic than when you start out with something that lets you read a newspaper at 50 yards when it's fresh, but leaves you groping in its dying glow when the charge runs out.

Rechargeable batteries needed careful handling to avoid over-discharging them and over charging them. As battery and charger technology evolved, we were told that running the batteries out was no longer a problem. So-called smart chargers eliminated the problem of frying the batteries if you left them baking too long as well. After using some of them I remain unconvinced, especially about the chargers.

At best, rechargeable batteries have a finite life anyway. They can only survive a certain number of charging cycles. So you go through a period of diminishing efficiency as the battery nears the end of its functional life.

Cold temperatures also diminish the power of many batteries. When I used my mountain biking light as a headlamp for night skiing I had to tuck the battery inside my clothing. When I took cold rides with the battery mounted to the bike it would suffer from the exposure. The battery lights I have on my helmet now don't work as well in sub-freezing temperatures. But then, who does?

The SRAM iLight hub dynamo I chose had very few reviews on the Internet compared to the Shimano, Sanyo and Schmidt hubs. Schmidt is the gold standard: expensive but excellent. Shimano is often rated as the next best choice. Shimano has prospered for decades making the second best item in many categories, bringing them to market at a price significantly lower than the top brand. Now they are recognized as a leader by many. Love 'em or loathe 'em, they do put out a lot of useful items along with container ship loads of technofascist whizbang garbage. I try to avoid them when I can because of that, but they're so huge that they end up providing things their major competitors won't.

Shimano made my job easier when choosing a hub because they did not offer a 36-hole hub that was not set up for disc brakes. SRAM did. So did Schmidt, but I work in a bike shop. I'm not pulling in Schmidt money. We have an account with Peter White, importer and distributor, but even with that it's an investment.

The SRAM seemed like it was a bit better than the Sanyo for comparable money. In particular it seemed to have lower drag with the light off. That resistance is the price you pay for unlimited light.

A 36-hole hub is probably overkill for my commuting routine. I went with something that strong in case I take a heavily loaded tour. Since I can imagine putting dynamo lighting on almost every bike I own now, I could see building on hubs with lower spoke counts for some of them.

Because I have not ridden with the Schmidt or Shimano hubs, I can't say if I would find them easier to push. The Schmidt certainly has impressive numbers, especially with the light turned off. However, I don't go without the advantages of the dynamo hub just because I could not afford the very best.

If you have a frame with a dynamo bracket already built onto the stays or fork, you can mount a sidewall generator like the Busch and Muller Dymotec 6 I used initially. I had problems maintaining alignment because of the tires I use and the way the add-on mounting bracket clamps the seat stay. Rather than continue to put a hurt on the frame tubing I went to the hub. With the sidewall generator you have zero resistance with the lights off. The downside is that you have to make specific arrangements to improve performance in wet weather. The wire-brush roller for wet conditions can mess up a tire pretty quickly if you don't have it lined up right. Also, most tires do not have a real dynamo track molded into the sidewall. German brands are more likely to, because of Germany's lighting requirements for transportation bikes. It's not a feature most tire makers highlight in their product descriptions in North America.

If you go with a dynamo instead of battery system you can get accessories to charge and power your small electronic devices so the electricity you produce during daylight won't go to waste. Some lights also come with daytime running lights now.

I have noticed that motorists show more respect when I run the big light. Something about its power seems to put me on a more equal footing. Fewer oncoming drivers leave their high beams on when I have a light that makes a bigger impact on them. It's aimed down where I need it, so it does not blind anyone driving toward me, but it clearly gets their attention even when I'm not running flashing lights on the handlebar to enhance visibility.

The wide Toplight Line Plus tail light probably helps for overtaking vehicles, but I never ride on the road without my full array of flashing tail lights as well. The Planet Bike Superflash pounds out a sharp warning that commands respect even when the sun is up. As the centerpiece of a night array with two flanking flashers it probably makes me look like an official vehicle. The bluish tint to the Beamers in flashing mode on the front of the bike may subliminally suggest police lights to drivers who chronically have a guilty conscience anyway.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Some things you have to experience for yourself

Riding out the path on Saturday night I was pondering how I (or anyone) could shoot a video that really presents the essence of a night ride.

It's hard enough in daylight. A ride appears linear, but travels through four perceptible dimensions on its apparently forward course.

Exceptionally talented fixed-gear riders might proceed an impressive distance on a backward course, but such riders are rare and even they usually have better things to do.

At night the most visible field narrows to the areas shown by whatever you are using for lights. When I was in my twenties, if my corrective prescription was absolutely up to date I might be able to ride at a foolish clip at night without any lights, but now I rely on powerful technology to make sure I see and am seen. With light comes shadows. But the world still exists in the darkness all around you.

The temperature was 27 degrees F when I started out. Some frost was starting to form. Stars glittered alongside half a moon. Things tend to glitter on winter nights even before snow spreads a luminous blanket over everything. The sky, if it's clear at all, seems exceptionally clear in the cold months. The bright stars quiver as if the frigid breeze reached them. Crystals form instead of dew as the night's chill settles. Reaching beams from a cyclist's light strike these minuscule reflectors that sparkle back.

As noted many times, the path I ride requires frequent zigzags to go between the rails or exit from them. The rhythm of the ride includes the sudden slowing, the well-practiced angulation, the sprint away. Each of these maneuvers swings the light. My comparatively weak helmet light probes for the course I plan to take while the powerful dynamo light splashes its radiance where the bike is actually pointing. Each pass through the rails is a tricky bit of peering to find the built-up crossing outside the brightest patch and get the bike lined up with it. When the fallen leaves are deep the crossings can disappear. I've over-run them a few times, jolting humorously down the uncovered railroad ties beyond the filled-in travel way.

Riding often leads to reverie. The rhythm provokes a meditative state that becomes even stronger at night. It can be nicely dreamlike.

On the road, a rider needs to be careful of motor traffic. Some roads are quite nicely desolate. Others are annoyingly busy. Off road it can be weird and lonely. But what you feel comes from inside you, so you can control it. If you are fortunate enough to have one or more compatible companions for the night ride that can hold any creepy feelings at bay. Remember, of course that in scary movies they often pick off members of a group one by one. The progressive disappearances add to the fear. So just because you have someone with you doesn't mean you won't be abducted by aliens or successively slashed and/or devoured by someone or something. So hey, you might as well go alone.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Wishbiking

This is the story of a project that may never happen.

The grand movements of nature and society have traditionally followed their own course regardless of the plans of individuals. This seems especially true when individuals lay those plans to adapt to those grand movements.

In the previous couple of years that I have been trying to use the Cotton Valley Trail to extend my bike commuting season into the dark months, the decision to quit has been mine to make, well before winter weather really shuts things down. This year we've had two significant snowstorms that forced me off the path before December even arrived. Each one melted after a while.

Between October's storm and November's I took a look at my old mountain bike. The Cross Check is an excellent bike. If I owned only one bike it would be that one. But I don't. I build to meet my needs. I quit riding the mountain bike completely after I built the Cross Check, because I no longer wanted to spend time looking for technical trails. But what if technical trails came to me?

 The basic bike starts with a 1996 Gary Fisher Aquila frame. Originally I switched over most of the parts from my 1991 Stumpjumper. Over time I added linear-pull brakes and a 58-94 crank so I could run smaller rings up front. Who knew 58-94 was going to be such a temporary thing? I mean, bike companies make perfectly good stuff disappear all the time, but some things really seem to have a very short run. I put on wider bars with a bit of rise because my technical mountain biking advisor told me they would improve the handling. They seem to, but I hardly rode the bike after the mods.
The shifters remain where they belong: on top of the bars.

When mud was a selling point and filth was fun we would charge out on the rotting ice of thawing snowmobile trails and laugh about our sprawls in frigid water and silt. As much fun as that sounds, it's not good if your ride ends at your place of employment. They don't care how I look when I arrive. We all used to ride in the gook together. However, I have to be ready to work with customers.

In the 1990s I tried studded mountain bike tires when they first became popular. They were novel, but I was more likely to skate or ski if ice or snow were good. If the winter was acting like an endless November I wouldn't need the studs to ride the trails. I sold my test pair to a local ice boater who used his bike to ride around on frozen lakes when he had left the boat offshore. Ice isn't the issue here, but cargo capacity, mud and water are. So is darkness.

Fenders and a rack are easy. Lights not so much. I'm really addicted to the power and limitless running time of the dynamo lights. Knobby tires make a hub dynamo a better choice. Since the entire evening commute takes place in the dark now, lights are not a luxury. For the short duration of the regular evening ride a battery light might be fine, but once I've made a technical-trail explorer it might as well have full night capability. Cha-ching! Honk! Honk! Honk! The unnecessary investment horn sounds. I've talked myself out of it...for now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What can I say?

The long lapses between posts don't indicate a lack of thought, they are the result of too many thoughts, too close together. Strangely for this time of year, when nature slumps toward hibernation, I have trouble finding time to sort and edit what occurs to me.

The weather has been erratic even by New England standards. The storm on the day before Thanksgiving brought eight or ten inches to the neighborhood. That stopped me from riding. By Monday the roads were clear, so I got back out. I still haven't done a commute. Friday and Saturday look good. Sunday the cellist and I have to do automotive maneuvers to get her car inspected and serviced before winter might actually arrive.

When I lived for ski season I would go insane when winter did not cooperate with my need to have deep snow in the woods. Since I refuse to let an unrequited desire drive me crazy I got myself over that fixation in a couple of seasons. Unfortunately, in a specialty shop you have to deal with some people who do not control their addictions well. You might think they'd be a great source of revenue, but they can actually be a little psychotic. They can also be highly annoying when they need endless therapy. Seems like the climate may be either killing them off or crushing some sense into them, though. I haven't heard a lot of chirpy bullshit about when and how much it's going to snow. Maybe they've just learned to keep it away from me. Either way, problem solved.

No doubt the season has affected my own mental processes. I take a strange pleasure in the last dark dip at the year's close. Sometimes that pleasure is hard to discern. It's best when I get the chance to contemplate it quietly without a bunch of people trying to overcompensate for what they perceive as the gloom.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Conflict avoidance vs. conflict resolution

My autumn adventures in side path land have been at once restful and disturbing.

The peace of a car-free path is undeniably restful. I worry about very little as I ride in the secret world of the path. Hardly anyone is on it this time of year. It runs through the woods, unseen from the busy road except at a couple of crossings in Wolfeboro and a couple of long views where it runs on causeways beside Crescent Lake and Lake Wentworth. After Route 109, no other major streets cross the path for the rest of its completed length. If anyone ever raises the funds to finish the route to Wakefield, as planned in the 1990s, virtually all of it will be in the woods. My biggest worries are skunks or the occasional moose.

When I imagine myself restricted only to the segregated path I start to feel as if I have been locked into a small room and left there. It's not quite like being buried alive, but it's a feeling of imprisonment nonetheless.

Every time I ride a path, whether it was the Potomac bike path and related Washington, DC-area trails in the late 1970s and early '80s or the B&A Trail from Glen Burnie. MD, to Annapolis in the late 1990s, the C&O towpath, or the Maine Mountain Division Trail, I have the same disoriented, unprepared feeling when I emerge and have to deal with the realities of traffic cycling as it happens in the vast majority of places. Paths are relatively rare. Well-designed paths are much rarer still.

Cyclists and motorists alike get spoiled by paths. Motorists have complained to me when they see me on a road near a path, because I'm not using what they consider to be a superior facility to the dangerous road. As a cyclist, I find myself less warmed up and alert when a lot of my route consists of largely-level, segregated path instead of hilly roads shared by everyone who really has somewhere to go.

A path that makes good connections feels like an advantage. The more I have to bend my route to fit the path into it the more obvious the artificiality of the path becomes. And, as I already noted, cyclists who need or want to ride on the streets near the path may hear more criticism from motorists there. When popular paths are very busy, a fit cyclist is safer riding among the motor vehicles than dodging the many obstacles on paths choked with strollers, dog walkers, darting children, and a variety of things with small wheels, moving erratically.

The mix of users on the trail in Maine last week did give me an idea for an event called strollercross, in which cyclists sprint up to people pushing strollers, singly or in groups, and have to dismount, run past the stroller(s), remount and resume speed. My colleague envisioned stroller derby, in which the jammers are small skaters who try to get past much larger blockers pushing double-wides. That is more of a closed-track event instead of the cross-country format of strollercross.

Traffic-phobic cyclists and non-cycling planners view the only critical user conflict as a problem between motorists and bicyclists. In a broader context, bicyclists are usually lumped with pedestrians. But who gets the stink-eye on multi-use paths? The bicyclists again. We are NEVER on top.

Motorists have been the focus of road planning for decades. Pedestrians are the focus of non-motorized route planning. Sure, paths are often referred to as bike paths, but they usually turn into bike and pedestrian projects, even though they are usually barely wide enough for a moderate to high volume of bicycle use, let alone bicycle use slaloming between people on foot. The main goal is not to provide genuine integrated routes that help bicyclists ride efficiently for transportation and pleasure. It is to get cyclists out of the way and show something that looks like progress to overseers who have no idea what progress really looks like.

It's great to take advantage of some corridors, like old rail lines, that are not being used and that can connect some portions of a transportation network. Other paths follow corridors defined by things like power lines or wherever route designers can stitch together a strip of land left over from development that had a completely different focus over the centuries. This elaborate, frustrating work is all to avoid upgrading the existing rights of way used by vehicle traffic to truly accommodate the non-motorized user on a travel way appropriate to each type of propulsion: sidewalks for the walkers, lanes and intersections configured to reduce motorist-pedaler conflict, secure parking and general acceptance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rides in November: Fact Finding and Favorite Spots

Last Sunday the cellist led us on a field trip to the Maine Mountain Division Trail. It parallels a portion of her route to Windham, Maine, where she teaches orchestra in the middle and high schools three days a week. She was thinking the trail might provide an opportunity for her to do some park and ride commutes when the days lengthen again in the latter part of the school year.

The first part of the trail in Standish, from Route 35, is a dirt road of compacted glacial till. The fine-grained sediment looks sandy, but was not loose and treacherous the way sand can be. The bad news was that the till contains cobblestones about the size of a potato, which stud the surface with endless bumps. They're not the jagged tire-slicers we have further inland, but the jolting was relentless. The cellist decided years ago she did not like anything resembling mountain biking, so this initial surface aggravated her considerably.

The Cross Checks are well suited to handle rough bits, but their forks are not as robust as real mountain bike forks, whether rigid or sprung.

Once the trail descended to the rail line we reached the paved part that looks like your typical multi-use path. On the dirt, multi-users included people on horseback and many dog-walkers. The horse folk advised us that their mounts were calm enough for us to ride past, but they couldn't guarantee other horses would be as accommodating. Most of the dog walkers just looked at us like something someone else neglected to put into a plastic bag for proper disposal.
 I didn't take a lot of pictures because we needed to keep moving to complete the route well before dark. I had my well-lit bike, but the cellist would have to make do with Beamers and blinkies if we let sunset overtake us. Beside that, the scenery was nice but not outstanding enough to make me interrupt the ride.
 This bridge over the Presumpscot River brought us to a stop while traffic cleared from the pathway. The center strip of the wooden deck has been reinforced with that recycled plastic lumber stuff, creating a one-way path where tight two-way passage might have been possible. The raised edges of the plastic planking create a tripping hazard even if the rider has the whole pathway to use. The plastic slabs are warped, presenting an undulating surface with some raised seams even down the middle of it.
A stupid idea. I hope they get rid of it. If you notice, in the pictures of the bridge on the trail's website the decking does not have this added reinforcement.

On a warm Sunday, albeit a cloudier one than the forecast seemed to promise, the trail saw a lot of use. Planners must feel gratified when people prove the popularity of a project like this. On the other hand, it can lead to other problems of conflicting styles of use. Other problems arise as users try to get on at access points where the planners might not have anticipated as many people trying to leave vehicles, for instance.

In Windham we left the segregated world of the path and joined the rest of vehicular traffic.  No one went out of their way to bother us but it does raise the stress level when motor vehicles are buzzing by. Anyone who has ridden with traffic for a few years has had enough encounters to know that anyone at any time could decide to inflict some bullshit. They probably won't. But they might. The bicyclist is an oddity in this country. Some of you may live where these oddities are more numerous, but the cyclist is still in the minority, perhaps well tolerated in places (better in some than in others) but almost nowhere welcomed and encouraged. We are encouraged to drive to side paths to enjoy our little hobby out of everyone's way. When we ball up our little fists and insist on having our piece of the road we may be granted it, but some of our fellow travelers will express their opinion. Traffic riding calls for extending the senses while simultaneously thickening your hide.

The total round trip, including about four miles each way on the roads, came to about 18 1/2 miles.

The next day I went out to do one of my favorite routes, taking in Huntress Bridge Road. Huntress Bridge Road traverses a tamarack swamp on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. I missed the peak golden  color of the tamarack needles. There are still a few pale ones left. They made delicate compositions with winterberry shrubs splashed among them.

The red berries hang in the dun-colored framework of leafless branches.
The day was unseasonably warm again. You wouldn't know it from the sky. It was a typical November gray. The beech and oak leaves have turned russet brown. The sun slides cross the southern horizon, lower each day. I prefer clouds because they eliminate blinding glare.

Riding didn't fit the the schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday or today. Tomorrow I'll be back on the commuting trail, finding out if the rails and fallen leaves on the Cotton Valley Trail are merely wet or actually icy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pivot Rivets and Marvin Bolts

The repair tag said, "Bike fell over on drive side. Trouble shifting to big ring." The bike was stopped, so it wasn't a serious slamming, sliding crash. There were no major or even minor impact marks.

The front derailleur cable felt a little slack. I thought maybe the cable had simply gone out of adjustment and the bike's fall had been a coincidence. Snugging the cable did not fix the shifting, but it did change the problem enough for me to notice that the front derailleur was not swinging in a smooth arc.
This picture was taken after I noticed that the rivet on which the derailleur cage pivots had backed out about three millimeters. When I tapped it back in, the derailleur then functioned properly. I have no idea how a minor topple could have caused this problem, but there it is: something else to check when normal adjustments aren't bringing the desired results. The rivet could have been backing out already and the minor fall either helped it the rest of the way or had nothing to do with it.
Shown at the center of this shot, the pivot rivet. Derailleur is Shimano 105.

Some older front derailleurs were held together with bolts that can loosen. Check your derailleur and snug these bolts every so often. The term Marvin bolts comes from the particular repair on which I failed to remember them soon enough.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A real advocacy opportunity

The Lakes Region Planning Commission is updating the regional bicycle-pedestrian plan from the most recent version issued in 2006. They have scheduled four public-input meetings around the region. They also have an on-line survey so you can record your opinion within the usual cumbersome limits of such surveys. Take a few minutes to fill out the survey here.

The first meeting was in Wolfeboro last Thursday. The next one is in the Tamworth Public Library tomorrow night at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, November 9 they'll be at the Bridgewater Town Office at 6:30 p.m. The final meeting in the series will be Thursday, November 10 at the Belmont Corner Meeting House at 6:30 p.m.

I'm sorry the notice is short, in case anyone reading this blog is in the region and would like to attend. I've had trouble finding writing time of late, so I didn't post anything at the instant I found out. I'm not sure how much difference it would have made. Whether you get to a meeting or not, fill out the survey. Use the "other comments" blocks to try to make up for the misleading nature of the over-simplified questions. Surveys are a woefully blunt instrument. However, a large number of respondents will indicate that people are interested, so funds are worth expending.

Eric Senecal from the LRPC and Seth Creighton, who works in the planning department for the city of Laconia but was not attending in that capacity, have prepared a short program to introduce their project, but stressed early and often that they really want to hear from the public so the updated plan responds to citizen needs and wants. They're not coming in as experts to tall people how it ought to be.

The Wolfeboro Public Library had provided plenty of chairs. Most of them were empty. The people who showed up for the meeting, perhaps a total of a dozen, were the usual suspects. They were the people who have already been working for years in town to create such facilities as the Cotton Valley Trail and the upgraded sections in the Sewall Woods and Abenaki trail networks. Every one of us was over 50 years old. Other people, most of a similar age, will show up for volunteer work days on various outdoor projects.

The age emphasizes the graying of the self-propelled demographic. Cross-country skiing, for instance, tends to draw primarily from the middle aged population looking for beneficial exercise to stave off the effects of aging that can no longer be denied. Some might have started in their twenties or even in childhood, but many enter the sport after they have to give up sports that cause more impact, or after years without significant daily exercise. The same is true among the customers looking for a comfortable bike for path riding and a path without motor vehicles on which to ride it.

It occurred to me as I jotted a few notes before the meeting that bicycling has never -- in its entire history -- been necessary.

In the beginning, humans walked. Before they were even humans, they walked. To cross water, they grabbed floating logs and then began to shape those logs and use other materials to invent and refine boats. They domesticated animals to carry loads, and pull carts and whatnot. Eventually, along came steam engines and railroads.

The bicycle was the greatest idea never to catch on. It had its fashionable periods, even before it had pedals, but most of the public considered it an annoying nuisance. It seemed like a plaything for the idle classes to zip around on. Sure, the Wheelmen may have made a stink about improving road construction, but not because massive numbers of people were depending on the bicycle to move people and things in a unique and vital way. As conditions improved for bicycling, and industrial practices pioneered by the cycle industry improved to make bikes easier to build in quantity, the motor vehicle industry was already surging ahead with a more publicly-desirable product. Roads got better, but bikes were already being run into the ditch. We have no strong sentimental connection to a great period in which the bicycle was a huge force advancing our civilization. Conestoga wagons, clipper ships, railroads, cars and airplanes covered the major distances. Few made a big whiz-bang deal about how the bicycle helped people of fairly modest means cover more minor but more common distances.

The bicycle belonged to childhood in this country. I say belonged, because kids don't use it the same way anymore. The normal childhood of a kid born in the 1950s would probably be considered abuse, neglect and endangerment today. On a summer day I might disappear from the house right after breakfast and not return until dusk. The bike was the first set of wings. My friends and I rode everywhere. Yes, we nearly got into trouble in various ways. I don't remember losing any schoolmates to those dangers, though. The first one to die succumbed to bone cancer when I was in sixth grade. That had nothing to do with our common practices of playing on active railroad bridges, bushwhacking along jungly creek banks for miles, or sneaking up on guys target shooting with a .44 magnum in a vacant lot. He was at the top of a steep river bank, practically a cliff. I'm sure he never expected ten-year-old boys to scramble up it like little commandos because they homed in on the sound of gunfire with an uncontrollable instinct to go toward anything that sounds like it might be blowing up.

When it came to the bicycle, that which did not kill me I would get back on as soon as I healed sufficiently. Kids didn't even think twice about it. Get back on the bike or be that poor whiner going "guys, wait UUUUUP!"

Regardless of the bike's place in kid culture, we were also meant to outgrow it and get into cars and cigarettes by our late teens. As generation after generation got its driver's licenses and hit the road, those roads looked less and less like a place to send the kids to pedal. As a nation, we let that get away. It's easier to sell the idea of protecting a vast tract of wilderness hearkening back to our pedestrian and equestrian past than it is to get plans approved to upgrade the roads in any major city or suburb so that people can walk or ride their bikes without fear of getting mowed down by a motor vehicle or at least annoyingly and frighteningly harassed by bullying drivers who want only clear running room.

The bike may finally see its time as a world finally paying attention to its resources starts to try to use them more wisely, including human energy. It's too early to be sure.

For millions of years, humans never had to plan very far ahead. Every generation could duke it out for money, power and sex without thinking about the kind of world they would leave for their children. A few aggravating prognosticators might go on about how we were going to hell in a handbasket, but never for the real reasons that we WERE going there. A very few thinkers started to catch onto that mess in the late 1960s and early '70s, when the terms "ecology" and "environment" trickled into common use. It was still the first time in the entire history of the human species that anyone started to realize just how carefully we might have to think about the future if we really cared about the the little yard-weasels some of us were raising to inhabit it. Of course the offspring born in the 1960s and '70s have had their own offspring and probably become grandparents by now, all without doing a whole lot to improve the outlook for their own little squirts. Someone is always looking back the glory days of the late 19th Century or one of the economic peaks of the 20th, with or without glorious bloodshed, and trying to get us to go back to the good old days even though they weren't really a good idea at the time, and they certainly aren't now. Humans simply make things up as they go along and then look back and call it wisdom.

Friday, November 04, 2011

OK, so it snowed


I measured about eight inches of snow at my house. Someone told me Wolfeboro logged 16. I don't know about that. Warm weather immediately started taking the cover away. Because of other necessities, four days passed before I could even think about trying to ride my dark-time path commute.

Snow survives in many shaded places. However, really shaded places didn't receive as much snow because the trees intercepted the sticky snow on the way down. The sun then melted it the next day, so it fell as warm water onto the thinner accumulation under the trees. Where we find deep drifts is in clearings that filled up, but where the low sun of late fall can't penetrate easily to bring the most warmth.



 The parking lot didn't look too promising, but I needed a ride after several days without one.


 Zoom! After the first ugly bit, the path appeared completely clear.
 Luck ran out, but for how long? I was committed to the route by then.
 This section made me work. Someone had been training a sled dog team with their off-season wheeled rig.
Woof! This was just one snowy section. I was running late, so I didn't stop to document every obstacle. Some were deeper than this, but for a much shorter distance.

The work day was pleasant and unremarkable. In addition to various employment-related tasks I also installed a helmet mount for a Beamer light to see how it might improve my lighting options.  The Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp I've been using as my "zombie spotter" is light and affordable, but I thought I might like to add a light with more range. The Beamer helmet bracket was cheap enough. I figured I could use the Beamer as my zombie spotter and the Cosmo as my dashboard lighting, aiming it down toward the computer on my handlebars while the Beamer sends its light out along my line of sight.

The term "zombie spotter" came to me as I rode alone through the spooky woods on a late October night. You know, you hear a noise from the dark forest and whip your head around to see what made it. Usually I don't see anything. Whatever might be crunching and crackling is headed away from me and that's just fine.
Zombie spotter and dashboard light

The day never felt warm, with a high in the 40s and a gusty wind, but it was above freezing. The snow had not miraculously vanished between morning and evening commute, but it was better at the end of the day. I never got sent sideways on the evening run, but I nearly did on the morning rush to town.

The augmented helmet light array picked up glowing eyes from the brimming swamp beside the path several miles out from town. If I lived in the south I would guess it was a 'gator. Up here I'm thinking it was a beaver. Can't think what else might be looking up at me from a pond when it's 38 degrees and dark. I suppose any northern aquatic small mammal is as likely. In any case it was just a glint as I hurried past. That section of the path was clear to the dirt, so I was taking advantage. No point giving the zombies a good fix on me by going slowly. I've gotten this far in life by making myself a moving target.

The Cosmo and the Beamer put out very comparable illumination. Neither one had a longer range, but they joined forces if I angled the Cosmo to place its light patch adjacent to the Beamer's. If I really want range and power from my helmet light I will have to invest in one of the modern super-lights. I don't know if I care that much. The dynamo light does a great job by itself down the road or trail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

11-1-11

 I suppose I should have gone out on skis yesterday so it would still have been October. I was ignoring the snow, hoping it would go away. Heavy, wet glop over unfrozen ground on Sunday had mutated only slightly by Monday, so it didn't look inviting. By today, though, I'd taken note of the beginning of the winter flab roll that has taken the place of the redistribution of muscle that used to mark the transition from cycling to cross-country skiing and climbing every winter. In the fall I would start weight-training and other exercises designed to make muscle migrate to the arms, and get the legs used to supporting body weight instead of just providing power through the pedals. It's all great athletic fun, but you don't do much else when you also have a full-time job. So that side of life has suffered as I spend time trying to draw and write, and other pursuits of the mind that also can't happen during the work day.
 The woods look strange with the fall foliage above the snow. The trees are trying to cover the snow with leaves and needles. Winter does not officially start for seven more weeks. Locally we're usually ready for snow by Thanksgiving and at least not shocked by it in mid-November. We've also waited entire winters for it to fall, seen it arrive early and take off for a midwinter break or make its first appearance anywhere from late December to early April. This is certainly the earliest any of us have seen this much snow around here.
 The golden canopy gives no hint of what lies on the ground. The snow melted off the trees on Sunday. As with Hurricane Irene, the dramatic effects of the big snow storm hit elsewhere. Parts  of New Hampshire got more than 27 inches of snow. Some people are still without power.
Thursday night, before Saturday's big storm, we got a more seasonally appropriate test snow. It was solidly frozen onto things on Friday morning when I took this dash-cam shot. The ice and snow kept me from incorporating the bike into my commute at all. I can only imagine that the trail I use this time of year is inconveniently covered over much of its length. Warm days may clear it, but night meetings on Wednesday and Thursday will keep me from checking.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Shot from the Saddle

 This picture falls under the heading "why I live here." Rural life presents many inconveniences, but they are the reason the area remains relatively undeveloped.  This picture shows the Ossipee River from the bridge at Effingham Falls. I stopped to take it on Tuesday morning when I went out to try to get a shot for Rantwick's foliage contest.
 On Friday I stopped on my way out the rail trail to look out over Lake Wentworth. The Olympus camera I carry is such a great light collector that it makes the dusk look more like a cloudy afternoon. Some ducks were impersonating loons out on the lake, swimming and diving in the big bird's signature style, but then quacking to each other after they surfaced as if enjoying the joke. They were too far out to be sure. Maybe they were multilingual loons instead.
 The rail trail, showing the notorious rails.
This little twig off the other side of the path was putting out its best colors.

I resumed the ride out toward the far end of the path as dusk deepened. The dynamo light continues to do a great job. The hub dynamo is much better than the tire-driven model. The tire-driven model did a fantastic job when everything was fresh and new, but it was extremely sensitive to alignment. I have not found a new application for it yet.

I tried to shoot a video of the headlight in operation once the night got really dark. Unfortunately the low resolution of the camera made it grainy and unimpressive.

October brings a feeling of solitude. Summer's crowds are long gone. I rode several miles out the path without seeing anyone. When I reached my car where Cotton Valley Road turns to dirt and the pavement takes a hard left to go up Cotton Mountain the area was deserted. I thought it might be a good opportunity to strip right down and put on dry underwear and jeans. No one was around. Only the  mysterious creatures that make weird screeching noises showed any sign of life. I was alone. Who would be out in the chilly night when most people were home having supper?

Of course this triggered an instant rush hour. I had to laugh. Fortunately I was not caught putting on a headlight strip tease. Unbelievable how many people suddenly needed to pass through that one obscure rural crossroads at just that moment.

Soon I was alone again at least long enough to finish the change and drive away.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Foliage and stuff

Monday was nice. The cellist mentioned that we hadn't taken a spin through South Effingham in a while.  I forgot to shoot any pictures on our way out. Most of the ones I grabbed on the way back either came out fuzzy from camera motion or the color was muted because the sun was so strong. It's hard to capture the full sensory experience of a nice day's ride in a few quick photos. And if you're taking the time to produce really good photos, you're not having that great uninterrupted ride.
 New England pastoral scenery.
 The tornado swath from 2008 is growing in. The damaged area was logged to salvage the timber, evening up the edges of the scar in some places.
This is actually a climb. Here it is, October, and we're riding in shorts and a jersey.

We got another couple of nice days before the rain moved in. Rain, fog, darkness and rural highways all put together definitely kill my enthusiasm for bike commuting. They make nice visual effects with the fall colors, though. And they really make you appreciate a snug house and a new woodstove in the living room.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Driving While Intoxicated

Your point of view changes when you get in the car.  Your sense of speed changes. Your sense of responsibility changes.

The car is an intoxicant. It makes some people aggressive. It makes others stupid. Use becomes a habit, then a dependency. May cause drowsiness. Side effects include weight gain, shortness of breath, tunnel vision and in some cases injury or death.

Try to quit. See how hard it is.

As with many strong substances, it has its uses as well as its risks. Some people seem to manage its effects better than others. Its power is insidious. It must always be used with caution. Excessive use always leads to increased risk of dependency.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Click! What?

I appear to have updated my template. I was doing a bit of housekeeping in the ol' HTML. Thanks to the new Blogger interface something must have crawled under the mouse when I was saving the changes I had intended to make. Oh well. The content all seems to be there. Maybe this new setup will make it easier to put interesting features up here. I can't worry about it right now. I have to get some sleep.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gratifying wizard fix

A customer had a mysterious shifting problem on his cyclocross bike. He has some mechanical knowledge. He has raced for years, so he has switched between racing and training wheel sets many times on different bikes.

On the cross bike he could not seem to get the gears to work on the race wheel. They were dialed perfectly for the training wheel. Ten-speed cassettes have to fit so much into the space originally designed for eight that manufacturers can't block each other out with proprietary spacing the way they had done when they had more room for those shenanigans. So why wouldn't one ten-speed wheel work as well as another?

He had already explored cable tension. That adjustment failed to dial in the lower gears on the race wheel. Unfortunately he only brought the bike with the wheel that worked when he first presented it to me to solve the problem. It wasn't broken, so I couldn't fix it. I did have a flash of inspiration as I stared at it.

To work with a ten-speed cassette on a road frame the wheel has to have a freehub body the proper width and an axle that measures 130 mm over the locknuts. That is all. What if the race wheel was spaced very slightly differently, so the limit screws of the derailleur still allowed it to span the whole cog set, but the start and end points were about half a cog off? I suggested he measure from the axle end to the outer face of the cog set on each wheel.

Guess what? The discrepancy was .6 millimeters. Six tenths of a millimeter. It was, in fact, enough to cause the annoying shifting problem.

Here's the tricky part. Spacers to fit that particular region start at one whole millimeter. Who has ever needed less than that? The industry yet again fails to catch up with itself as it pumps out temperamental sifting systems that can be disrupted by small tolerance issues and does not readily provide the curative shims.

A 1 mm spacer at least got the shifting in range of cable tension adjustment. The racer will have to remember to dial in the tension from one wheel to the other. This is fairly common. Meanwhile I have a .7 mm bottom bracket shim on order that should fit over the freehub body and reduce the discrepancy essentially to nil.

Perhaps I'm not so old and useless that I need to crawl out on the ice floe yet. It's often hard to stay interested in my job anymore. When it's just a parade of greasy, abused junk I take scant comfort in the "job security." Real satisfaction is so much more satisfying.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Expertise lives everywhere

Back in the 1990s there was a brief surge of interest in "buying American." This trend in patriotic consumerism seems strongest during recessions, when citizens suddenly care who is getting paid to make the things they buy. This does not stop them from chiseling the retailer mercilessly, by the way.

"Buy American" is back. The 21st Century version is more potent, the same as all the partial solutions rigidly demanded as complete philosophies in society and politics during the last few years.

When I posted a comment on someone's Facebook link pointing out that buying only American items would eliminate the vast majority of bicycles and their parts and accessories, he replied with a link to American bicycle products that contained few surprises. Least surprising is the fact that Buy American consumers are perfectly happy to buy a frame made in America, festooned with parts from all over Asia.

Even many American cars are stuffed with foreign parts. My Dodge van had a Mitsubishi engine. The Pontiac Vibe was a joint venture between GM and Toyota.  And Toyotas (to name but one foreign brand) are made in several of the United States.

While it is true that customers putting money into American companies on American soil will keep that money in somewhat tighter circulation in the domestic economy, it does not assure that American products will meet every need or be the best in their category. If the primary attraction is an American flag on it, that lowers the bar considerably. Look at how long the Big Three bike makers -- Huffy, Murray and Columbia -- pumped out truly reprehensible crap in their American factories until finally moving offshore before the turn of the century.

Matters get more complicated when the American worker, wages eroded by decades of pressure from other economic factors, has to flock to places like Wal Mart to find products they can afford. Consumers want to consume. If the goal of life is to make as much money as possible and get as much crap as possible for it, price is a factor. In fact, if you simply need to outfit yourself with clothes and appliances on a very tight budget, price is a factor.

Value is not the same as price. Whenever possible I buy a better-made item because it will work better and last longer than a flimsy, cheap one. I appreciate being able to shop from a world-wide selection. When the American product is the better choice I will choose it. The economic anomalies that have made it cheaper to ship things all the way across the Pacific Ocean to this country will continue to give a pricing advantage to certain items. That decision is controlled at the top management level. Company owners send jobs overseas. Take it up with them in strong language.

In olden times one might argue that you got better product support from a company that wasn't spread out across half the globe. These days, product support is a bad joke in nearly every industry. You call a support number or send an email assuming you will spend a long time in a telephone labyrinth or get a reply email from someone who signs the name Chad or Cynthia, but whose use of English betrays that it is not their first language.

The bicycle is a world traveler and a world citizen. It knows no boundaries any more than birds and animals do. It is a human creation shaped by contributors from many lands.

To consumers I say, "Insist on good stuff." To manufacturers I say, "Make good stuff." The rest will take care of itself.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An American Bicycle


 
 A man brought in this 1950s Columbia for us to pack so he can ship it to someone who bought it from him on eBay. He has brought in reproductions before, but never the real item.
 This type of bike has never interested me except as a historical curiosity.
 I love the suspension fork.
 
Then there's the headlight

The Delta Super Rocket Ray: guaranteed to make the owner of this bike the second largest purchaser of D-size batteries in the country. I'm not sure who would be the largest purchaser of D batteries, but I tend to reserve the top spot because there's always something greater.


 FIVE Star Superb.

 Place tushie here
Place friend here.
 
 Adios! Admire my mud flap.

This bike sums up the American attitude toward pedal powered transportation pretty well: it's gaudy, impractical, and you'll only want to ride it a short distance. It's built like a 1950s car. The sheet metal is a gauge never seen on later Muffies. Mufolumbias, actually. The paint, the chrome and the machining show care and investment that also had diminished by the next decade and disappeared in the decade after that. When better bikes were built in this country they borrowed from European designs. Meanwhile the old-school American method rolled on with Huffy, Columbia and Murray. Schwinn had their own twist on it.

While I was down in the back parking lot doing this photo shoot, two brothers on Surly Long Haul Truckers came in the other door to see if we could take care of a minor shifting issue on one of the bikes. The older brother, Scott, couldn't get the indexing to work even though the barcon shifter still clicked. The shifter can be switched to friction. Sometimes the switch gets bumped just enough to move it from the index position. It still clicks but the clicks don't line up with the gears.

Younger brother Jim keeps his shifters in friction. Scott said he would practice that. Meanwhile, we got the shifter working so they could continue their tour. I may see them on my commute this morning. Their route comes up this way.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Roadside Emergency Kit

Riders often ask me what they should carry with them on the bike in case of a minor mechanical problem.

My own seat bag is a dense mass containing a spare tube, patch kit, chain tool, multi-tool hex key set, individual 8-, 9-, and 10-millimeter box-open wrenches, a spoke wrench and a little scrap of rag. I ride a rural route and sometimes venture onto roads much less traveled. I like to get myself out of a predicament rather than ask anyone for help.

The comprehensive tool kit developed during the time when our shop held weekly mountain bike rides. Many of the participants did not have tools or know how to use them. But I was always the guy with the tools, even 30 years ago when I raced. On the training rides I bothered to carry the stuff other riders just hoped they wouldn't need.

Not all the riders who ask my advice take it. Some of them just carry a cell phone so they can bother a willing supporter to come fetch them back from wherever they broke down. Others want to pick their emergencies. Most often they prepare for a flat tire. They get a tube and a pump or CO2 inflater.

"Should I carry a patch kit?" they ask.

Absolutely. Not only might you patch a minor puncture if you have already used your spare tube, in case you have a serious mechanical problem or -- god forbid -- an injury, you can sniff the glue in the kit to amuse or anesthetize yourself until help arrives.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How close is too close?

During my first year as a working class bike commuter I also started bike racing.  You learn right away to relax with other riders almost touching you. In fact, you'd better learn to keep your wits about you when you actually bump another rider or a bunch of you may be hitting the pavement.

When I commuted back then, the space around me among the motor vehicles seemed generous by comparison to a crowded criterium field.  I appreciated a little elbow room, but generally did not freak out when vehicles greased past me in a tight squeeze. It was the way of the world. As long as I was still up I had few complaints. Plenty of drivers gave me ample cause for anger by doing aggressive things like honking, yelling or throwing things. I wasn't going to sweat the average daily squeeze play.

Over the years my perception changed as motorists took too many chances with my safety and I began to imagine the point of view of riders who had not raced in large groups.  A motorist has far less at risk than a cyclist. Sitting in the La-Z-Boy, piloting their rocket sled down the road with only their own schedule in mind, it's too easy for a driver to decide that a maneuver is acceptably safe when that driver definitely will not be paying the price for miscalculation.

Riders who don't have the strength, speed and experience to play racer games with the motoring public deserve their space. But how much is enough?

Many states have enacted safe passing laws that specify a distance motorists are legally required to maintain. These are virtually unenforceable even if law enforcement officials were interested in enforcing them. Some agencies or certain individuals might be more sympathetic than others, but you can't have a cop in every car and truck to make sure the driver stays sober, doesn't play with electronic devices and stays the proper distance from cyclists, passing only when it is clear enough to leave the mandated margin. The laws make two statements. Overtly they acknowledge that a cyclist is a legitimate and vulnerable user of the road. By implication they make it clear that the operator of any vehicle has the ultimate responsibility to operate safely on the honor system, without supervision. The safe passing law is a "best practice." Since you'll probably never ever see anyone ticketed for violating it, it is purely advisory.

With the number of substance abusing, tired, angry, depressed, distracted or fatigued people in the population, it's a wonder we don't have more collisions of all kinds out there. It's a testament mostly to luck.

This summer I decided to rely on luck a little more in some of the tight places.  I opened the gate on more sections of road where I had been taking a strict view of the bicyclist's right and duty to control passing vehicles. Obviously it was okay. I'm here, undamaged.

I still held the lane where it really mattered.  Except for a couple of aggressive idiots back in April or May, drivers seemed to understand why I was out there.  As soon as I could slide to the right without putting anyone at risk I would release anyone who had not already shoved past me.

You can't call what I did an experiment. It proves nothing except that the bad event never happened.  I would not let a big vehicle like a tractor-trailer squeeze past me, but few large vehicles came along in the spots where I would have had to make that decision. Meanwhile, a bunch of people in smaller vehicles were happier because they had an easier time getting around me. They might not have been perfectly content, because I was there at all, but they were able to move on quickly enough to prevent them from wanting to stick around and get ugly about it.

All this time I noticed I was still riding with a speed and efficiency uncommon among people who don't study the craft of cycling at least somewhat. I hesitate to call us serious riders, but you know who we are. We are into biking enough to consider it an important -- if not vital -- part of our complete lives. Maybe you might like to sit more upright, ride with flat pedals and have a basket on your bike, but you're not going to take crap from anybody and you're not going to quit riding just because some driver wishes you would. Right? Bikes --all bikes -- belong. A rider who is not set up like a racer can still ride efficiently. Why waste energy? It's your own personal energy, not some cheap, dirty fuel we pump out of one smelly tank into another and burn with seldom a second thought except to bitch about the rising price. So we ride mindfully.

The people I dodge when I'm walking on the sidewalk and they're riding down it probably see the street in a different way.  It is a hostile environment where they do not belong. Or perhaps some of them are just too lazy and think of the bike as a law unto itself, so they're taking a short cut. They're never in the mood to be interviewed.

As we move into autumn the mood becomes darker with the days.  The teeming summer population of visitors and seasonal residents dwindles, but the locals have bred in plenitude. Until those kids become young adults and leave the area to experience life in the wider world they drive for several years as teenagers. Some of them never leave, so they work through all their young adult issues right here on the road beside me. It's been interesting to observe over the years, especially as mountain biking ceased to be a rite of passage and the Fast and Furious movie series added more and more episodes. They are remarkably benign in spite of that. But I may benefit from my own legend, since I've been riding the same commute on a local highway for 21 years. Your results may vary.

I've also been using the rail trail to get out of town in the evening. It turns out to be pretty clear during supper hour, so I don't have to squeeze past too many other users in the long narrow stretches between the rails. I have about a 5 -minute video I shot on the trail. I just have to find time to put some music to it, Rantwick-style. Or I might just post it with all the rattles, bumps and heavy breathing as it is.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Before the Storm

The shop is closed tomorrow. I thought the sign on the door should say, "If you're reading this you are an idiot. Go home!" The management opted for something else.

Yesterday was stunningly beautiful. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky. The air was warm but not hot. The Chamber of Commerce had decreed Sidewalk Sale Days, so we had a couple of pop-up tents over some racks of clothes and a couple of tables of sandals and other odds and ends to whet the appetite of a surprising crowd of shoppers for so late in August.

One of our tent minders passed a few boring hours by counting cars passing on Main Street. He came up with an average of more than 560 per hour for about seven hours. He did not figure out how many might have been the same car over again. In terms of traffic volume it doesn't matter whether there are 560 different cars in every hour. If you're out there with them you still have to negotiate with 560 of them.

During my short stint out there I watched cyclists doing what they thought was right. A posse of about ten teenage girls rode on the sidewalk up the opposite side of the street, against the flow of vehicle traffic but separated from it. They were all duly helmeted, on bike shop bikes. The way they rode the sidewalk showed that they were familiar with it and completely comfortable, utterly unencumbered by any doubt or guilt. They rode into crosswalks at intersections at the same slow but steady pace they exhibited on the sidewalk itself. They obviously felt they were where they belonged.

A short time later a man in his fifties or early sixties rode by on a Rolling Rock beer promotional cruiser bike. It was really cool, with a top-tube tank and full fenders, a real 1950s - early '60's retro ride. He rode down the sidewalk in front of the shop, apparently oblivious to the critical commentary several of us exchanged as we watched him ride by. He passed again on the sidewalk on the other side of the street in just a couple of minutes.

I could not imagine any of these riders holding their own in the actual traffic flow. They just didn't have the temperament to take a place in the lane. I could imagine them as drivers encountering vehicular cyclists, wondering why any rider would subject themselves to the abuse, and why any rider would victimize the motoring public by getting out there IN THE WAY.

I've been watching raw video for the bike piece I've been working on. Despite my hope that I could enlist some other riders to take part, so far all the riding footage is of me. I look very efficient. In fact, I look fast. This is funny, because I don't feel fast, but I guess I only know that because I've been around riders who really are fast, so I know the difference. I do know that my view of the road is shaped by decades of riding and a period of racer-like training. I did race for a time. After a few seasons I decided I could put that energy to better use as a transportation cyclist. Transportation cycling is safer than racing and makes better use of resources than a recreational quest for ephemeral glory. I basically just wanted to be able to snack freely as well as saving money and having a lighter environmental impact. But over the years I became an efficient partner with my machine in ways many less experienced cyclists might view as beyond them. Or maybe a lot of them just don't think it's worth it. Who am I to choose their values? All I can do is share what I have learned with anyone who wants to know it.

Learning can be an endless process if you keep yourself open to it. So I watch other riders wherever I see them. I think some of them really do belong on the sidewalk. They'll never be up to the rigors of vehicular cycling. Of course that does make them the terrorists of the sidewalk the way motor vehicles are the terrorists of the roadway. Perhaps most of them will not consciously ride in a malicious fashion, enjoying their dominion over mere pedestrians, but they still beg the indulgence of the walkers for whom the sidewalk is constructed. Why should the pedestrians have to accommodate them any more than cyclists should have to step aside every time someone wants to shove a motor vehicle past them?

The bike industry is happy to sell anyone a bike. You want to hang it on your car rack and let it bake in the sun? You want to ride on the sidewalk? You want to dedicate yourself fully to mountain biking and run roadies into the ditch with your SUV when you see them? No problem. At least you bought a bike. Business is business. Advocating too forcefully for "correct" cycling would probably reduce bike sales. You're telling me I can't ride on the sidewalk? Fine, I quit. I'll get a Segway or an electric scooter. You can't order me to get out there and block traffic like some selfish idiot.

Another rider, a man in his 30s, rode his hybrid in the lane with traffic until he came to the corner. He cut deep inside to turn left, yanking his bike quickly across in front of some oncoming traffic to cut into the cross street on the wrong side of the road. If a car had been coming up to the stop sign it would have peened him. But there was no car and he was not peened and so he will recall that the maneuver worked. He was not close enough to the oncoming drivers on Main Street to make them slow down, swerve or honk. But does he think about how he rides? Does he critique his tactics, acknowledge his luck? Or does he just run like a squirrel until his luck runs out?

Today the clouds built up steadily in advance of Hurricane Irene, or whatever will be left of it by the time it gets here. People still came to shop. Since most of them come from places the hurricane is supposed to hit harder than us, they might as well stay here.