Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time for a little activism once again

Congress need its periodic dope slap from the cycling public as yet another transportation bill comes forward with funding for bikes and pedestrians deleted. Take a minute for some clicktivism and send your representative this handy canned petition from the League of American Bicyclists.

Just as the weather seems to grab a little something from every season, so does the climate for bicycling seem to fluctuate wildly between salubrious and harsh. No matter what your interests in the world today, no one is on a mere mood swing anymore. It's a mad roller coaster that's being built even as we're riding it. Climbs turn into drops while you're on them. It zigs insanely from right to left, left to right, up, down, with the maneuverability of a crazed insect.

Anyway, give a click, pledge your life, your fortune and your sacred contact information and see how it goes.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Self Editing

A woman was just surveying our selection of energy bars, gels, beans and whatnot.

"You don't have Larabars?" she said. "I love Larabars. They're all natural. There's absolutely no added sugar, it's just nuts and dried fruit."

"Oh! You mean it's sterilized bear shit," I didn't say. But I wanted to. I really, really wanted to.

They really do sound great. I just have a warped sense of humor. When she talked about all natural substances and nothing but fruit and nuts all I could think of was bear patties I've seen so many times in the woods.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Way off season

Another bout of warm, wet weather wiped out nearly all the cross-country ski trail we had on life support. Here it is, late January and we're putting in some quality time with our rental bikes. Not that we have much to spend on early Valentine gifts for them. At least we can take note of the condition of each of them so we have an idea what complaints renters will have when they return them.

Big G and I are brainstorming as usual. So far we've come up with an idea to set up an aerial gondola over Wolfeboro as a tourist attraction and public transportation. We might end up doing a monorail instead. This was after we had some fun imagining where we could run zip lines from our building. That led to a gondola across Back Bay. The gondolas would have to have bike racks to make it easier to get to the bike path and other attractions on that side of the Smith River.

The discussion evolved to include Celebrity Blimp Tours along the waterfront of Sewall Road. Big G has dealt with the regulations governing carrying passengers by air. He started reeling off some of the things that would be required particularly for a route over water. I immediately thought of a marketing tie-in.

"In the event of a water landing, we will send you digital photos of yourself struggling in the lake as a complimentary souvenir of your memorable day!  In the regrettable event that they need to be sent to your next of kin they will be tastefully packaged in a suitably commemorative way." This is a class act.

Forced to rely on our imaginations for occupation and diversion we're looking toward the bike season because the ski season keeps teasing us and flitting away. It isn't really bike season. Winter holds title to the next ten weeks even if it never decides to take a firm grip. Rather than strap myself onto the Nordic Track -- the most effective and therefore the most torturous exercise machine ever invented -- I run the stairs in my house from basement to loft over and over and then ride rollers for 40 minutes or so. Follow that with some stretching and call it good enough. The stairs are steep. It isn't bad. Any time I'm home I can throw in a lap or two without having to put on special clothes. If March is more like spring than winter I can venture out on the road then. Can't think about it yet.

We'll just keep redesigning Wolfeboro.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Doing my own maintenance

I was going to change my violin cables today but I decided to wait. I'm told they will have to settle in with use and I have a class tonight.

I have a bad habit of playing this thing like some sort of bastard ukele when I'm trying to pick out a tune without making too loud a noise. Usually it's no big deal, but I had some skin repairing lotion on my hands to try to remedy winter's cracking and scaliness when I suddenly got an urge to track down a little reel that's been embedded in my brain because I keep grabbing the same CD for entertainment in the car. When I dared move on to the bow, it sounded all mooshy because I'd gotten goozh all over the strings. These strings are old anyway. The A looks like it could go any time. Just as I carry spare shift cables on my commuting bike, I wheedled a spare set of strings out of the cellist (who is also my dealer) so I could have them with me when I finally do need to put them on.

My ultimate hope is that one day I will be able to play well enough to play my own background music for cycling videos. That way I don't have to worry about using copyrighted material or have to sift through hours of public domain stuff to find something I like. Usually I have a tune in my head when I'm riding. Since I started trying to learn to play, that tune is often something I'm working on anyway.

Don't hold your breath. We could all be dead before I'm good enough to play anywhere but a locked closet. But you never know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cross Training Sucks

With the arrival of an unusable but significant amount of snow, followed by a deep freeze, it has become Nothing Season. Roads are icy while cross-country ski trails don't have enough base depth for the groomer to till the icy coating into skiable granules. This forces the working cyclist into creative training strategies.

Because the kind of weather we're having doesn't encourage anyone to come into our shop we have long hours in which to pursue other activities. Employees and our rare visitors track in a lot of sand and salt from the parking lot and walkways, so I decided to take a few minutes to vacuum it up.

The vacuum cleaner seemed suspiciously heavy. When I extracted the bag it felt like something you could pile on top of the levee to divert flood waters. When I searched for a replacement I found an empty package. Apparently one can't just nip down to the hardware store to get new bags for this model. Even though it was obviously full to capacity I would have to use it anyway. I did extract the big hair and lint wad hanging from the inlet before placing the sand bag back into the vacuum.
When I finished the bag weighed 12 pounds. I would have thought it was heavier. The floor is somewhat cleaner. On the plus side, I burned more calories and got a bit of an upper body workout maneuvering the overweight vacuum around the sales floor.
Late last week, temperatures plunged below zero for two nights. It was so chilly in the shop that I wore my Bob Cratchit gloves while doing inventory. The heat seems to operate by its own rules. Some days are chilly, regardless of whether the day outside is particularly frigid. Other days it pays to dress in layers you can easily shed. This does not seem to correspond to solar input or the compressors operating in the basement. Sometimes the wind direction seems to make things colder, but the same wind direction does not always have the same effect.

Who really cares?

Over the holiday weekend the place was so dead I was running up and down the back stairs. Then I was walking up and down the back stairs. Then I had to stretch my legs to keep from cramping. My colleague George wants to set up a trainer we can ride when things are quiet. That's starting to sound good. Usually I listen to motivating tunes through headphones but I might work up a good spin by pretending I can get away from the "easy listening" station that gets pumped through here all the doodah day. Sirius makes the computer get stupid and the CD player is busted. We can't get really sweaty, though.

I did order another light set from Peter White. For the moment I can install it on any bike that will take the dynamo wheel I already have. Later I can build the 26" version to get the trail commuter fully operational. I'm really starting to groove heavily on the racks, lights and fenders thing. It does raise the stakes in case of theft. That bothers me as it would bother anyone who was making beater car levels of investment in what is far from a beater bike. Theft is not a huge issue around here, but I do think globally while acting locally.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rational Daylight Saving Time (or none at all)

When the start of Daylight Saving Time was moved to early March it really screwed with everyone's body clock around here. It shoves sunrise back to the equivalent of early January and brings a weirdly unseasonable light to the evening. As much as DST caused a certain amount of jet lag when it started in April, the effect of changing in March never seems to wear off. Daylight doesn't make it springtime.

I've started a petition to the US government to return Daylight Saving Time to a start in April. By April the day length is over 12 hours. The change does create a bit of disruption even then, but the longer day in general makes it much easier to manage. Please sign it and publicize it if you agree.

The petition reads:

"The current early onset of Daylight Saving Time in March creates more problems than it solves. It is far more disruptive to people's systems than when the change took place in April, when day length was already over 12 hours. Move the start of DST back to April and end it in October or just shift the day a half-hour later and leave it there all the time."

In the past couple of lackluster winters I have launched the bike commute in March with the advantage of evening daylight. The price of that is the morning darkness that pushes us mentally back to midwinter. The morning and the evening don't go together at all. Add the usually fickle and fretful March weather and you get a very strange mental state. It's just not worth it.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Some bitching and a bike ride

Ha! Check it out: I go all gloom and doom in this blog and that blog, dredge one of the fixed gears out and take a ride and presto! A storm that was supposed to deliver rain on Thursday has shifted its track to a snowier one.

I feel confident in saying it will dump something significant, because I had made up my mind that I didn't want it to. If it does, I will dutifully and gratefully serve any members of the cross-country skiing public who show up. Money is good, survival is great. Winter is supposed to be winter, after all. Just because things around here look a lot like winter in Maryland used to 30 years ago doesn't mean they can't revert however briefly to New England's more traditional conditions. As far as that goes, the forecast still falls within the range of temperature and precipitation that would have seemed normal in the Middle Atlantic region. The climate, it is a changin'.

Thirty years ago in Maryland I would have commuted by bike all winter, interrupted only by the few days on which frozen precipitation fell too heavily and lay around too long for me to ignore it. I became pretty adept at tiptoeing across some slippery patches on the fixed gear. When snow was deep and sloppy the slithering was too dangerous, but your average winter street was just interesting.

Up here the commute is too long and too much of it is on the highway for me to venture out. In Annapolis I could switch to walking and still not be too horribly late. On the days when I didn't want to ride I usually walked anyway.

The ride today woke up a few muscle groups and reminded me to cut back on coffee.  The old cardiovascular system feels like it's lugging pretty hard when my basal caffeine level is over five cups a day. At least that's true when I'm coming out of a long layoff. When I get into the regular riding groove my system can support a long, steady caffeination if I hit it lightly at breakfast and then nurse a big cup through the middle of the day.

The roads were eerily deserted. Some cars passed, but I had things to myself a lot of the time.

I stopped at the town offices first. It's time for one of the most important and highly-anticipated rituals of New Hampshire citizenship: buying a new annual dump sticker. After that I continued on one of my convenient short rides to log 15 miles.

This snow thing is going to throw a hitch in the mix. Maybe I can commute on skis on part of my rail-trail route. Commuting time makes the most convenient exercising time. That's why I started doing it so long ago and why I hold onto it so tenaciously.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Saturday, 3 p.m.

Three p.m. Two and a half hours to closing time and by this hour it's highly unlikely that anyone will bring anything interesting to us. We've used up the jobs we had on hand. The boss is understandably a bit grouchy, so we don't want to look unacceptably idle as we brainstorm about things the business can do with its future or things we can do with our future if the business proves not to have one. Am I serious? Time will tell. But such is the precarious nature of life.

Bike repairs wander in one or two at a time. My work stand is wedged into the rack of rental skis.

We rang the dinner bell for some off-season repairs. Maybe that will fill the queue. And if Murphy still has any clout with the winter precipitation, an influx of bikes to fix will surely trigger a major snowstorm and a flood of pent-up ski renters. So, either way, problem solved.

This weather does make the MTB commuter look more and more tempting. Again, this presents an opportunity for winter weather to make a mockery of that investment. That's okay, so far I'm not planning to make it. But it's harder not to think about it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Inspiration and encouragement

My brother gave me two books by Jan Heine this Christmas. The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle, a Photographic History are luscious picture books of fascinating machines.

The hand built bicycles draw mostly from the world of randonneurs. The bikes are sturdy and capable but many are surprisingly light, as are some of the "primitive" competition bikes from the 1920s and '30s. My long commute has always had more elements of a day tour than a race anyway. As I add equipment for bad weather and darkness I appreciate the technology used by riders going long distances without support.

I rode my first and only double century with a support car. I had never envisioned it as a supported ride but when I finally did it I needed to document it as efficiently as possible because I hoped to sell magazine articles about it. I needed the income because I was unemployed after the magazine I was working for as a staff writer was unable to produce a paycheck I could actually cash. I came up with a route and a concept that seemed like it would sell. It did, though never for enough to make a significant dent in my expenses.

On my second double century attempt, a companion and I got dropped off in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and set out for Effingham by a route we hoped would come out to 200 miles. I had measured on the only maps I had. We only rode 180 that day, but we did not feel like going after the other 20 when our shortfall became obvious as we came down from Crawford Notch. The important thing to us was that we did it without support, even dealing with one or two minor mechanical issues.

The rider who came with me on the Sherbrooke ride came with me on a number of other rides longer than 100 miles, all but one of them completely unsupported. We would start at my house or his and end up back there, hours later. On one ride we finished in Bridgton, Maine, where someone met us with a car. It was prearranged that way, not a result of rider or machine breakdown.

We had a racing mentality and racing bicycles. Some of the discomforts we endured would have been less of a problem if we had equipped our bikes with lights and fenders. My road bike is comfortable for long days, because it's vintage steel and not excruciatingly tight and steep like modern racing steeds, but it's still a racing bike. With the 700X28 tires on it, there's no room for fenders. It does not have rack eyelets the way my old Eisentraut Limited did. The Eisentraut was only a little tighter than the Cross Check. The 'Traut doesn't have the tire clearance that the Cross Check does, but it certainly had all-day comfort. Of the original frame, the chain stays and seat tube have each been replaced once and it's on its third fork. A split in the underside of the lower head lug has been filled with brass. I got the 1975 frame used in 1979 and rode it a lot until 1995. My torch wizard recommended after the last repair that I retire it to ceremonial use only. She provided the Tim Isaac Trek that now wears my motley assortment of heirloom components.

The constructeur bikes in the Heine volume take the concept of proprietary products farther than Shimano ever dreamed, yet somehow it's nowhere near as offensive. The bikes were unabashedly pricey. On the other hand, the builders did not turn around and try to yank more and more big money out of their customers with short warranties on fragile crap and constant changes to drive trains that made repair expensive and difficult. The bikes were built for endurance. The riders who bought them planned to own them for a long time and ride them long distances.

As my colleague George and I turned the pages of the book devoted to competitive bicycles he noticed what I had, that the bikes seemed less and less interesting as we approached the most recent examples. The art was replaced by an industrial feel, as if the engineering, the cold, hard numbers had taken the humanity out of the bikes. They are something to clip yourself into with mechanical latches and switch on a machinelike part of yourself to push them and yourself to your physical limit. It's glorious, but  -- in the execution -- joyless.

Even as I write that I recall exultation in a strong racing performance. Much of the time, though, it only feels really good after you stop. Then it feels better and better in recollection. When you're actually hammering there's a lot of re-swallowing puke and trying to control fear in tight corners in a large field or swooping down a steep descent with a bunch of suicidal maniacs.

The rando and camping bikes provide a lot of ideas for the budget-conscious rider to add to a practical bike built on a mass-produced frame. Options include vintage bikes from the 1970s and early 1980s, expensive and affordable steel frames from custom and production builders today and current examples from constructeurs working today. One approach to economy is to buy something truly first-class and take great care of it, like a man I know in Maine who bought a diesel Mercedes in 1974 and still has it.

I can't say how much endurance riding I'll get to do beyond my commute. For various reasons I can't even predict how much I'll be able to do my commute. I certainly  hope to, but you really never know what's going to happen to you next. The perspective of middle age has killed off the ignorant optimism of young adulthood. You can train and plan and say what you hope to do, but the resolve, however strong, may not be the strongest force in your life when the actual time comes.

In the meantime, the beautiful bikes of builders who cared about every detail reassure me that such people exist and they value some of the same things I do. The bikes are also just nice to look at.