Monday, September 30, 2013

The off season

In our area there are really two off seasons, although the demise of winter is blending everything from Labor Day to Memorial Day into one long off season. For the moment, enough people still want to believe in the coming of ski season to keep it gleaming somewhere below the horizon, a mythical land of promise.

We get our odd jobs this time of year. What they are and when they'll arrive is completely unpredictable. This year it's been a handful of repairs, some rentals to people who specialize in vacationing when other people don't, and assembly of three weird tandems for an adaptive sports program.

I get an extra day off during this period, because the shop closes on Sundays. While I love the extra time for my own use it actually crowds the work week when someone does need service. They see how quiet things are and nudge for quick completion, but I have one less day to get parts I need for them and complete their job. It's better than sitting around with nothing to do but sweep the dirt from one side of the floor to the other and try to figure out why our air compressor acts so weird. It's just funny how it's all or nothing.

I made the transition to the park and ride commute a little earlier this year. Things I had to do on various evenings made the full distance inconvenient. Shortening daylight makes me a little concerned riding the highway, even with my great light system. So I've retired to the forest. I'll have to dust off the old helmet cam and take a few videos of the rides as the foliage gets brighter. The file videos I tried to post from last November didn't work for some reason.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Musing on a quiet day

The nice thing about working with a guy who has traveled to many distant countries with sketchy sanitation is that you can produce the worst fart in the eastern North America and he doesn't even bat an eye. He's hard of hearing, not hard of smelling. But experience has brought him worse olfactory experiences.

I would worry about offending customers, but there are no customers. The day turned sunny, but no one has even rented a bike. We've done about $2.50 in business. Okay, maybe more than that. But dayamn is it slow today.

I'm waiting for a tool to arrive from Stromer for an electric bike I've been working on since August 29. Two of the e-bikes arrived that day in boxes for assembly. One was good.The other was cursed. They both seemed ready to go by Friday that week, but the cursed one barely got a couple of miles (if that) before it went dead. The two sisters who had ridden out on the bikes walked back.

Thus began a long diagnostic process. I had already replaced a main power cable in a bike of the same brand for another member of the Seasonal Resident E-bike Society. He used to be number 368 on the Forbes list of richest people in America, although I did not see him on the list last I checked. Suffice to say he has the funds and corporate clout to get results. We get parts shipped overnight-Saturday delivery for e-bikes belonging to the S.R.E.S. I say this not to brag, merely to marvel at the level of attention enjoyed by the rich and powerful. It's not US they're shipping the parts to. It's the agents of the former #368, who just happen to be us. Us be them. Take that, grammar!

For some reason we don't seem to get real overbearing wealthy snobs in here. The rich we do get, while prone to occasional outbreaks of unbecoming chiseling, have largely learned that we don't respond well to that, and we do provide competent, conscientious service. The ones who just want to sling their money around never bother to come in here. What do they need from a bike shop anyway?

There are some riders in town who simply must own better bikes than we sell. We are but yokels after all. Some of those riders we only see when we chance to look out the window at the precise moment they ride by. Others of them might come to us to get a shift cable or have a flat fixed.

I've learned one thing about e-bikes from my encounters with them over the years: Every part of them is heavy. And you will have to lift the heaviest parts over and over in the process of figuring out what's wrong and fixing it. The Stromer rear wheel, with the motor in the hub, weighs 23 pounds. I know that because I just installed the new one Stromer sent after we isolated the problem that kept the bike from working at all. It had other problems we fixed en route, but that hub motor had definitely stiffened right up. I had not been looking forward to muscling that thing around, but you do what you have to do.

Now I'm waiting for the special freewheel tool required to change the gear clusters, because the replacement wheel came with a 9-speed and the shifter on the bike only goes to 8. We didn't have an appropriate 9-speed shifter hanging around, and it should really be on Stromer's dime, not the customer's, so I called the hot line one more time. The tool is on its way. At least I hope so. I'm looking forward to taking this hot rod for a derby once it's fully functional.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Congratulations on your purchase

You've just bought an expensive, high-tech bicycle component. Thanks for your business. Now here are all the ways YOU COULD DIE!!

Packaged with the handlebar stem for the recent bar-and-stem change I did on a customer's titanium Serotta was a thick, black booklet with the word "WARNING" in distinctly unfriendly letters on the cover. When I photographed it I noticed that camera motion had given the images a nice jangly, alarming look, so I made a collage of a sequence of them.

Inside the black cover was the same information in about 27 languages. There was about a page and a half of fine print covering all the ways you could mangle or kill yourself, and about three-quarters of a page of warranty information.

The makers of the carbon fiber handlebar took a more low-key, upbeat approach. You had to pay attention to see them tell you that the bars you just paid $250 (US) for should be replaced every three years. If you race a full season on them, they should be replaced after one year.

To be fair, even in the days of aluminum alloy the manufacturers recommended replacement every three years. After about 17 years I started to wonder about my old Cinellis when they started to creak a tiny bit, so I swapped them out for a new pair. I've been running those for probably a dozen years now.

No manufacturer wants to take a chance and recommend a customer grind their product down to a nub. They'll gladly use the story of such long-term endurance in their advertising, but it's never official policy.

When you're talking about a material like carbon fiber, known to fail abruptly when it finally goes, you may want to abide more closely by the manufacturer's recommendation.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feelin' No Pain

The rider who brought this bike in has added not one but TWO gel seat pads to the original saddle on her Schwein.
And I didn't even know that La-Z-Boy made bike seat pads. If they're in the bike biz, where's the adjustable recliner recumbent? I would totally ride one of those, especially on the way home from work.

Hamfisted stupidity or crash damage?

A customer requested new "wing" bars for his trusty Serotta road bike because the top section is more comfortable on long rides. When I unwrapped his old handlebars I discovered that either some muscle-headed idiot had graunched down so hard on the anchor bolts that he'd cracked the lever bodies or the levers had been damaged in some kind of crash. I would hate to have been on the bike in an endo that would damage the levers like that. Maybe it was a roof rack crash into a low overhang.

The levers are nine-speed Dura Ace. Ancient history. You won't find a nine-speed road brifter of equivalent quality.

I hate waste. I also hate the expensive scavenger hunt to put together a working drive train after the untimely death of one crucial component. This bike could have continued to work for many more seasons with proper care. The owner is meticulous. That made this hidden damage more of a surprise.

The owner decided to go with Ultegra 10-speed. I thought at first I could make it work using his existing rear derailleur, but now I'm afraid I won't really be able to get it to work around the 12-30 cassette. We didn't discuss gear range, but I liked the idea of getting a little lower low for the hills around here. His other bike is a very recent Felt, which probably has a compact crank. It would have a 34 inner ring, automatically providing a lower low gear than his current 39-27, even if the Felt has a low cog of 25.

There is apparently only one Ultegra 10-speed rear derailleur in the entire eastern United States. I may or may not have successfully ordered it.

We may have another compatibility issue with the crank. The narrower 10-speed chain might wedge between the rings on the 9-speed crank. I thought I had a perfect work-around there with a discarded Dura Ace crank from another customer's bike, but it would mean replacing a 172.5 with a 170. My other candidate, an FSA similar to the older model on there, has 175mm arms. To do better than that I would have to order a crank from one of our suppliers.

The cost mounts. The customer can afford it, but that's not the point. I did not go straight to a worst-case estimate when I laid out the problem for him. Because I've had some success getting Shimano crap of different generations to play nicely together I gave way to foolish optimism. I should have known that the Big S almost always wins. And the rider's wallet loses.

I'll never convince the cycling population to refuse complex technology and stick to what works, year after year, mile after mile. And that disturbs my peace of mind if I let myself think about it. So I try not to. I just keep doing my best to keep the tricky crap running, while the industry feverishly produces trickier and crappier crap.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Are group rides bad for cycling?

A lot of cyclists seem to enjoy riding in large groups for fun and to support good causes. It seems only benign. If one cyclists is a step in the right direction, a large number should be a huge leap that way, right?

Critical Mass took the concept much farther to demonstrate the numbers of cyclists and their power to take over the streets. CM is overtly political, so controversy arising from it is not surprising. But every large gathering of cyclists spawns complaints and conflicts.

I'm sure this has been exhaustively discussed by the Experts in Cycling. I was simply inspired by  a piece I read this morning about a petition in England to shut down a ride due to the objections of residents and businesses along the route. It reminded me of what a Gilford, NH, resident told me about how the residents along a certain stretch of road feel when they're penned up in their neighborhoods during the weekend of an annual triathlon. He actually found this picture amusing.

 He  said it's what he felt like doing during the time he lived in the area affected by the race.

Motorists might agree in theory that bicyclists have a right to use the roads, but they would all prefer if we could do it without actually seeming to be there at all. An individual cyclist can maneuver freely to try to manage the traffic flow as necessary, whereas a group of riders may have trouble getting drivers to pass in a timely fashion when it's safe. And those places of safety need to be longer and clearer to get motorists past a string of riders on a constricted road. Most of the time, riders and drivers take their chances and hope they get away with it.

When motorists gather in large numbers they create congestion as well. But "group drives" seem a lot less common than group rides. If it's an event like New Hampshire's Motorcycle Week, the sheer excess does lead to friction, frayed tempers and many accidents. But the motorized cycles can travel at traffic speed (when they're not blatantly exceeding it), so they increase volume and may cause decreased speeds, but only in places where any large number of vehicles would slow things down. The upper limit of the speed range requires no accommodation from other motorists. Bicyclists can't claim that. Our cruising speed only fits with motorist speeds where the motorists are held back by imposed limitations.

I like to imagine what popular perception of other sports would be like if they were conducted on the roadway. "Oh no! Another goddam football game! I won't get out of here until half time!" "Augh! I hate basketball! All those idiots dribbling frantically down the street, chasing a hoop hung off the back of a truck!" "Oh for ---! Not Centerline Tennis again!"

I know. It's absurd. But what other sport besides competitive cycling holds its official events out in the road? What began before the dawn of the motoring era as crazy challenges to human strength and endurance have evolved to the modern sport on roadways vastly more crowded with other people living their routine lives. Cycling fans love the spectacle. People who are not cycling fans have to wonder how the road to work, school and the grocery store became a sports arena.

Non-competitive rides can generate more congestion than races. They can also generate a lot of business along the route. What seems to happen a lot of the time is that the complainers complain, the defenders defend and the event goes on. So what's the harm?

Institutionally the harm might settle in the minds of decision makers who individually don't care for cyclists on the road. If enough of them collect in one place they may start to change the rules. In the general population, drivers who dislike cyclists will collect their grudges generated by frustrating encounters with groups and take it out on lone cyclists they see as targets of opportunity on unwitnessed stretches of highway.

Technically we have as much right to hold a group ride as the motorists do to hold a poker run, a rally, a scavenger hunt or just take out their favorite machines on a group joyride. Only the difference in horsepower calls our right into question. But it's a critical question. Not only must we continually explain ourselves to the lawmakers and regulators, we have to deal with the emotional issues of throttle-pushers who won't give us a fraction of a second to explain anything when they finally decide they've had enough.

If humans were truly a violent species there would be a lot fewer of us and I doubt anyone would travel on a two-wheeled vehicle of any kind. We would probably all drive real tanks on the rare occasions we left our fortress homes. I guess in some parts of the world it's more than a bit like that. But I like to think that the momentum is on the side of peaceful pedalers.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Cars are people too

Owning and traveling in a car have become prerequisites to full citizenship in this country. Anyone who walks, rides a bike or uses public transit is viewed as transportationally impaired rather than drivers being viewed as transportationally privileged.

I've seen nothing in the media about this phenomenon. It's at least as burdensome as the cost of a college education -- if not more so -- because every working stiff needs wheels to get to the job, no matter what the job pays or what education was needed to secure it. Owning a car has become the norm. Therefore, anyone who does not go by car is subnormal.

Plenty of people go to their jobs without using an automobile. In cities the carless don't stand out as conspicuously, although the bicyclists among the carless do.  Bicyclists always stand out, except when someone doesn't see one before, during or after a collision.

With the least bit of open driving room, motorist domination takes full effect. The road is almost a sacred space, consecrated to their unimpeded speed. Many of them do accommodate cyclists, but in many places it takes a special effort to do so. If there were no cyclists, motorists would not miss them or invent a substitute.

If we had gone straight from four legs (equine) to four wheels (automotive), the evolution would have been methodical and complete. In rural areas one might have to drive past someone riding a horse, but equestrians are rare on the public right-of-way. The old way would have been neatly eradicated by the new. The bicycle screwed everything up. It was much cheaper to have and to house than a horse. It proliferated before the automobile did, and has refused to disappear. It has many practical and fun applications. And it's far less expensive to have and to house than an automobile.

I admit that sitting on my ass in a car and hopping out at my destination in normal clothing can be seductively convenient. When I took to the bicycle I lived in a town and had no money. I needed to travel cheaply and I could ride my short hops in regular clothing. Only when I moved to the boonies did my commute turn into a longish open-road ride. Bike clothing is important for comfort and efficiency.

Anyone who has not gotten hooked on cycling can't possibly understand how compelling it is. Normal people, normal drivers and the young tads who yearn to become drivers, find us incomprehensibly stubborn and willfully stupid to forgo the vast benefits of motorized transportation.

As summer ended I noticed the seasonal uptick in motorist aggression that comes every year. SADS, September Asshole Driver Syndrome, occurs as everyone gets back to the humdrum grind of school and work. A cyclist seems to mock these toilers. They can't understand how anyone gets to go play around in the street, blocking traffic on a wobbly two-wheeler, when everyone else is getting back to virtuous labor.

Even those who get paid to enforce the law don't really understand the ones that pertain to cyclists. One of Wolfeboro's finest actually hit the lights and yelled at a cyclist to "use the crosswalk" after the rider legally entered traffic from a side street onto Main Street. Down in Rye, the police chief raced out to stop a group ride on Route 1A, an immensely popular cycling route, because motorists had phoned in to complain that the bike riders were impeding traffic by not riding single file to the far right. The RSA he cited is only a fraction of the laws relating to cyclists, but it's the little piece of scripture he held firmly to support his point of view. The cars must get through.

We all need to get along. The public right-of-way and the transportation system in total need to work for all modes of human transportation. The system needs to be adaptable enough to accommodate shifts in usage, too. If a whole lot of people suddenly decided to ride a bike or walk, they should be able to do so. At the same time, those who really must drive -- and even those who merely choose to -- should not be grossly restricted in their ability to take advantage of the capabilities of their machinery. Maybe the answer is to adjust the capability of the motorized machinery to restrict it to cooperative sizes, speeds and maneuverability.

I would be willing and happy to put my car on a train for the long cross-country hauls, rather than put up with the hours of driving required to travel faster than the speed of enjoyment across hundreds of miles. I would be equally happy -- more happy, in fact -- to be able to roll onto a train with my bike when time does not permit me to pedal a long distance to a place where I might like to have my independent wheels when I get there.

I realize that surrendering the speed and the schedule to a mass transit system makes it harder to peel off at that enticing exit to see something that catches your eye. This is more a concern for the motorist than the cyclist. If we had roll-on access to all passenger rail systems a cyclist could ride the rails for only the selected portion of any normal rail route and hop off to explore various destinations. An auto-train would be much more expensive and restrictive because of the size of cars. Those trips would need to be much more fully planned. A car-train would have to maintain speed and limit stops in order to get antsy drivers across the wide-open spaces at a speed as good as, or better than, they could make by themselves.

Meanwhile, I have to go annoy people by pedaling to work. I'm late as usual.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Take your dog to work day

Because the cellist had a 15- or 16-hour work day ahead of her, I agreed to drive instead of ride, to limit the amount of time our geriatric terrier would have to wait to go outside. He's on a diuretic medication for congestive heart failure, so he doesn't get really great mileage between stops. For example, he's been getting me out of bed between 1 and 2 a.m. every night and is still barking desperately at 5 a.m. to go again.

Since I was driving anyway, and work has REALLY slacked off, I brought the little dude with me.

When I went for coffee I left him tied out in front of Lydia's Cafe. I thought he might bring in a little cash to help offset the expenses of his upkeep.
Unfortunately, tourist traffic has plummeted, so no one came by. I took as long as I could, filling a couple of cups and paying. Then  we both had to go begin our hours of incarceration.

We waited months for summer to get going and now it's over. August was a little hectic, but it's been years since we had a summer like they were in the 1990s. Last summer was close, but this year we only seemed busy during the few peak periods because the shop can't afford to have a full staff. When it's dead there's not enough income to pay for one person. When it's busy, two or three people have to do their best. Those rushes haven't lasted long. They started late and ended abruptly.

Pretty weekends may bring some activity, particularly when the leaves turn.