Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Training to be "not a cyclist"

Those of us who can't just light up a cigarette, push up the kickstand with our fashionably booted foot and zip off on our latest short-hop errand in all seasons have to keep our engines in shape even if we don't nurture competitive urges. We have to train.

Even an inanimate engine holds up better when it gets run occasionally. And when the engine is muscle it really deteriorates if it sits idle. When the riding season is limited and the distances are long, you have to tune the engine somehow.

The cellist has been home for the holidays. As soon as she got over highway fatigue she dug out her fixed-gear and suited up for a spin on one of the mild days we've been having. When I got a couple of days off we went out together. The days are their shortest, but just barely beginning to lengthen.

These outings used to feel heroic. Since I gave up on my legend it's harder to feel justified going out on a bike ride to nowhere in particular just for the exercise. But I know I'll wish I had.

Yesterday I shot a video on one of the climbs, illustrating two techniques, Stitch and Grunt.
I'm Stitching. The cellist is Grunting. The Stitcher has to keep an eye and ear out for traffic, but the rhythm appeals to me. I'm basically indolent, and stitching is less work than grunting. I grunt on the last bit because it's too close to the blind hill crest to keep crossing the lanes.

A little farther along we got to a nice fast stretch.
The fixed gears make you pedal the whole way. The single gear limits your speed, which is good for controlling wind chill as much as you can. You get a lot of value for your time. This is important when the weather is uncomfortable or dangerous.

Today the temperature was in the teens in the morning. It was still around 20 when I headed out alone. The cellist has a lot to do to prepare for her return to Maryland.

About three miles down the road I saw a small sedan stopped in the oncoming lane. In front of it was what looked like a lump of dirty snow. It was a small cat that had been tagged by a car, which had sped on. The occupants of the sedan had stopped and called the police. I stopped, called the cellist for a cat carrier and blankets and then called our vet. But it turned out that the police were going to take the kitty to the same vet, and have the advantage of police markings and flashing lights. We wrapped the cat in a blanket and placed it carefully in the warm back seat of the police SUV.

I held out some hope for the animal because it was sitting up, meowing, rather than lying there with insides hanging out. There was blood, but not a lot of it, and its limbs felt intact when I lifted it in its swaddling. I had petted it while we waited, slowly moving a warm hand down its back. I could feel it purring, which they do to soothe themselves when sick or injured. It was still engaged in being a cat.

I rode back to intercept the cellist and tell her how things had worked out. She had gotten out of the house too quickly for me to get her by phone as the whole thing was evolving. I thought about just going home, but I went on instead. These were going to be my last miles of 2014, for whatever that's worth.

It was definitely more like winter out there. I had gotten a little chilled while attending to the wounded. I rode hard to generate heat. At least the wind had gone down. I tooled dutifully through my old faithful 15-mile loop and home to a warm shower and some food.

Hard to say what happens next in the training department. I'll do a lot, including just say screw it and drink beer, to avoid spending too much time on a stationary trainer. The Wolfeboro Cross-Country Ski Association is making snow on a two-kilometer loop. I might just have to take my headlamp off the bike helmet and put it back on its headband for some laps of night skiing. We only just got the cold weather, so that won't be ready for a few days.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The strangest debris

The weirdest stuff to tumble out of the insulation in the workshop ceiling during the recent deluge has been these pasta wheels.
I keep finding them, one or two at a time. Right after I picked these off the floor I found another one.

We're guessing mice had concealed them in nests up there. I don't think any of the holes in the floor would have allowed them to pass from the many digestive disturbances we had to hear over the years. Or, for that matter, the ones we would not have heard because they occurred outside business hours.

Best not to think about it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Shimano temporarily made a good touring shoe (maybe)

Someone sent me a link to what seemed to him like a good touring shoe by Giro. It looked okay, but on the same page I saw something that was as close to a real old-style touring shoe as you're going to find these days.

Meet the Shimano SH-UT70. Closeouts are all over the world of e-commerce. 

You're not going to find a walkable shoe without a place for SPD cleats. The cover for this one at least looks firmly secured.

I'm always afraid to point out when Shimano makes a good product because then they'll notice and kill it. It's like in King Lear (Act III Scene VII) where Gloucester's loyal servant points out that he still has one eye left. Cornwall takes care of that in a hurry. "Out, vile jelly!"

Yeah, I was a friggin' English major. Certainly explains a lot about my financial struggles.

Go to Shimano's consumer site and they've never heard of it, because it's not in the lineup for 2015, but apparently it was out there for a couple of years. The Duke of Cornwall has already squished it.

A really good toeclip-friendly touring shoe needs a tapered toe without bulky bumpers. It needs a sole without a thick rand coming up around the sides of the shoe. It needs a stiff sole, but not a thick sole. It should have laces rather than a rail yard of Velcro or ratchet straps. The UT70 has all of that. It looks a lot like really old-school leather cycling shoes that died out in the early 1980s with the rise of step-in road pedals.
My brother, who has one weird leg, found he could not use this pair of old Dettos I gave him back when they weren't that old. He returned them to me. I might glue some rubber strips to the sole to improve walking traction and use them for summer day tours on the classic steel road steed.

Some day I will have to do a weight comparison between a light leather shoe like this, or one of its mesh-upper heirs with an alloy-cage pedal and a toe strap, and a reinforced shoe for step-in pedals along with a mid-grade step-in pedal. By now, of course, exotic materials have brought the weight down on the step-in systems. But I bet there was a time in the middle of the evolution of shoes and pedals when there was no weight advantage at all with the step-in system.

In racing the two times toes straps were inconvenient were at the start of a race when a whole peloton was trying to clip in at once, and just before an attack, when racers would check to make sure their straps were tight. Nowadays they check to make sure their shoes are tight. And nothing warns them if their cleats are a bit run down and are going to pop out under the explosive load of a sprint. Woo Hoo! We goin' DOWN! SMACK! SCRAAAAAPE! Human crayon. Massive pileup. And a whole peloton fishing around for the cleat interface isn't a whole lot smoother than a whole bunch trying to flip up their toeclips and snug the straps. The step-in is slightly more convenient because it's hands-free, but no one talks about the other costs. It's another thing that isolates The Cyclist from regular people who ride bikes and want to blend efficiency with off-bike functionality.

If you choose to use a toothy pedal cage and no strap system you will want a thicker shoe sole made of material soft enough to allow the pedal cage to bite in, but not so soft that the cage chews the sole away too quickly. All this has been covered extensively by far more revered experts well before my humble observations. I mention it because I like to cover a topic thoroughly.

Take away the strap and you no longer have to shun bulky rands and toe bumpers. That does not mean such details are really useful, only that they are no longer an inconvenience. Personally, I don't believe that every casual shoe has to look like some kind of hiking boot.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A mess of unreliable Styrofoam

This morning's park and ride started out promisingly enough. The dirt road had thawed and frozen numerous times, creating such continuous bumps that the video I shot is basically unwatchable. But it was firm and fairly fast.

I figured with heavy snow to end November and a couple of fresheners on top of it that the local snowmobilers would have been up and down the Cotton Valley Trail, packing it to concrete. We've had a lot of warm and wet weather as well, but the snow was so dense and the sun is so weak that the cover is still thick and durable in most places. If past snow seasons were any guide, the motorheads should have been out with the enthusiasm and loud buzzing of the first mosquitoes of springtime.

I figured wrong. The Cotton Valley Trail had one set of ATV tracks on it, making a pair of awkwardly spaced ruts down through the crunchy, collapsible snowpack. The ruts were each too narrow to ride in. Only a little wobble and I would catch the edge. The center wouldn't support my weight,...except when it would. The center was also narrow enough that my waggles as I tried to grunt my way down the unpacked snow would dump me into one of the ruts again.

I dismounted and tried running with the bike for a while, to see if conditions improved. They did not. I turned and ran the bike back to the paved road so I could grind my way back up to the car.


I'm not sure a fat bike would have fared much better. The stiff, crunchy snow would provide plenty of support, but the ATV ruts would be just as much of a nuisance. The fat tires might even make it worse, being more prone to catch the sides. I don't have access to a fat bike to test it, so I have no way to be sure. Because fat bikes have become something of a status symbol, I fear reviews will have at least a bit of bias. I prefer to do my own testing and draw my own conclusion.

I would not commute on anything that did not have lights and fenders. The already bulky fat bike becomes even more cartoonish when you start accessorizing. And then there's the expense, especially for a set of studded tires. It might extend the commuting season considerably, but the big challenge to the park and ride has always been the park more than the ride. If I'm going to ride all the way from home I might as well use one of the bikes I already have.  And I'm not going to ride all the way from home in the dark and the iciness with a bunch of half-hibernating drivers.

The ultimate utility bike would be a fat bike with an alternate set of wheels set up for wide 700c tires. But you'd still have to choose which set to mount that day. You could carry the alternate set along, but that goes way beyond ridiculous.

All the shenanigans on the bike meant that I did not get to work until after the Three Stooges had broken a light fixture in our clothing department and showered more debris down on the workshop as they smashed up a couple of bathtubs with sledgehammers. The rest of the day was pretty quiet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The aftermath

The workshop looked serene enough after Monday's chaos.

There was this pile of insulation,

This full trash barrel,

This jumble of rental skis, 

The upended rental ski rack, aka the lobster trap,

And the floor looking -- believe it or not -- cleaner than usual.

A faint tinge of a funky brown reek hangs in the air. Much of the wood in this building is more than a century old. The newer stuff has still absorbed grunge for many decades.

The crew from upstairs carried away the pile of insulation and the trash barrel today. They seem thoughtful and chastened.

I'm really glad we don't have gas lines up there. I'm pretty sure we don't, anyway.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh man! I always miss the good stuff

A crew has been remodeling the apartment above our shop. My first impression was that I would not want anything constructed by these people, but the units in the building are condos and the owner of that one has made his choice.

Phase one has been demolition. For days we've listened to the sounds of heavy objects being flung, big saws screeching, pounding, prying and heavy boots thumping across the floor. I would swear that they had brought in extra appliances to throw around. The heavy crashes would be accompanied by the light harmony of wire, like oven racks or refrigerator shelves. Maybe they liked the sound, so they threw the same things over and over.

I thought they hit their low point last Wednesday when they dumped over a toilet they were trying to remove, and sent several gallons of water down through the backshop ceiling above one of our fluorescent light fixtures. I leaped for the light switch and bellowed, "Hey! What's DRIPPING!?"

"Sorry! Sorry!" came back through the ceiling, apologetically.

As bad as that seemed, it was a finite amount of water. A couple of carefully placed trash cans caught some of it and we could mop up the rest. As I was checking things out with the stepladder I did discover that the thumping and banging had dislodged a tube in another fixture so it was about to drop to the floor. But the problems had mostly been limited to alarming noise and small bits of dust and debris that would shower down when they got really boisterous.

Last night Big G sent me this email:

"Someone told me looong ago,  there's a calm befooore the storm.
-I know,   its been comin' for sometime."

"I.....wanna knooooow, have you everrrrrr seen it rain?  Comin' down on a sunny day."

The shit storm:

This morning in the backshop I was getting a pair of skis ready for a binding mount when I heard this god awful pounding that shook the building and hurt my ears.  There were clumps of white powdery shit falling everywhere from the rafters.  It sounded like these idiots would be falling on my head real soon.  I grabbed my lunch and jacket and moved them over to the stool in front of your place.  Then I moved to the mail room the see if there were any internet orders.

The flood:
From the mail room I heard the sounds of water dripping on the backshop floor.  Then the sound was more like a hard rain.  And raining it was!  There was a monsoon from wall to bench!  I estimate about 25 gallons!  The "professionals " upstairs managed to cut through a water pipe!  El Capitain was screaming through the ceiling!  -And everybody heard him.  One of the pros came down to us and asked if we knew where the water main was.

It is absolutely amazing how many customers and phone calls there are when shit like this happens!
-I promptly moved my jacket and lunch to the mail room.

El Capitian told the pros that THEY were going to clean up the mess!  -Right after WE make a big pile of rental skis and move the lobster trap.

What IS that fucking stench?:
Is it from all the ladies figure skates with decades of foot sweat and fungus now brought to life after being thoroughly doused?  Is it the saturated insulation now dripping brown fluid?  MY GOD, there IS a fucking bathroom upstairs!  El Capitain and his first mate made it a point to tell me the water was clean.
What IS that fucking stench? 

The pros sent in their grunt equipped with a wet vac.   Their leader, Crazy Woman, told us she called a plumber and he would come over in the morning.  Meanwhile, the entire building has no water.  That's when I posted an "Out of order" sign on our bathroom.

The fix:

Crazy Woman told us SHE capped the pipe.  (Sweat fitting?)  She said it's okay to turn the water back on.  Meanwhile there is more loud pounding and sawing from above.  I removed our sign from the bathroom door.

Flood two:
I heard that heavy rain sound again.  Yep, another twenty gallons.  Vacuum Boy flew out of the back shop and down to the basement.  The fucking pros up above actually cut through a second pipe!  They turned the water off again and I replaced our sign on the bathroom door. 

I figure it's only a question of time when these chimps cut a live wire.  Which reminds me, do you remember were the fire extinguisher is?

This time our agitated leaders demanded the pros call in a plumber at once!

Aftermath:
Right now the rental skis are piled over the ski poles.  (I will check the Skiathlons for water in the morning.)  The lobster trap is on end, the desk is piled with boxes of bindings and customer's boots and your bike stand is moved to one side of the floor.  There is a pile of wet insulation in front of the girls skates.

The pros will return tomorrow morning to remove more insulation and clean up.
What IS that fucking stench?

"I.....wanna knooooow, have you everrrrrr seen it rain?  Comin' down on a sunny day."
 
The crew upstairs has turned our lives into a Three Stooges movie. I never cared for the Stooges, but it sounds like it was more entertaining and less awkward than the carolers.
 
I also feel a bit like the guy who was on R&R when the rest of his unit got hit. Dammit! I shoulda been there! Oh well. I'll be there tomorrow, and maybe they'll come up with something that will make me wish I wasn't.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Here they come a-wassailing

There you are, going about your normal day's business, when, suddenly, costumed performers troop in through the front door, assume their formation and start singing.

Caroling seems quaint and delightful in the movies, or when it's happening to someone else a comfortable distance away. But when you're staring at the uvula of an enthusiastic performer just a couple of feet in front of you the whole thing starts to seem weird pretty quickly. And it only gets weirder the longer it goes on.

Maybe its just me. I have a real problem being sung at.

Wolfeboro has its own group of Dickens Carolers. Search the Internet and you will find that it's probably a franchise by now. These roving gangs go about in Victorian garb, entering businesses at will to harmonize without warning.

At my usual post in the backshop I can usually bolt into a crevice like a frightened reef dwelling crustacean at the sound of the first note. Today I even found some skates to sharpen back there, so I had a legitimate excuse to put in ear plugs and operate noisy machinery. Cocooned in industrial noise I meticulously put a gleaming edge on two or three pairs of blades.

Big G had been trying to sell snowshoes. He said it was pretty funny trying to explain everything over the noise of loud singing. The Big Cheese had been caught manning the register, so he bore the brunt of expressing our corporate appreciation .

Am I ashamed for cutting and running? Not at all. Next time it could be me out there, pinned down with no cover as incoming merriment bursts all around me.

I vaguely remembered that caroling had at least some of its roots in wassailing, the practice of the lowly going around to sing for their social superiors, hoping to receive food, drink or perhaps a few coins to make them shut up and go away. So the Caroling Defense Kit will consist of a small bag full of scrap metal with a few coins on top. When the singing starts, wing it at the loudest one as hard as you can. Aim for the face or the solar plexus. Canned goods might work well, too. Be sure to wish them good health and holiday cheer as you do this. It helps your plausible deniability if someone complains about the ballistics of your donation.

Then again, since I'm really a peace-loving type, I could go with Plan B, which is simply to scream and run away.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good advice is good advice

The old tee shirts we get for rags sometimes turn up quirky bits of almost folk art. I liked the lines here, and thought the sentiment applied to bicycling well enough.

Apparently no one else shared my opinion. The scrap of shirt stayed pinned to a wall in an obscure enough location to remain for several years, but I recently found it among the other rags. Fortunately it had not been grunged up.

Other items in the gallery are totally commercial, but hey: Kermit.
And Tweety and Sylvester.
For a while, another mechanic and I had complete collections of every color of foil from Lindt chocolate balls. Collecting the foil and meticulously flattening it is the opposite of peeling the label off your beer bottle in shreds with your fingernails. And if you rip one you need to buy another Lindt ball and try again. Oops.

Sadly, the store downstairs from us, where we got the Lindt balls, has gone out of business. The fancier chocolate place in the building provides excellent specimens to eat, but no multicolored bait for the obsessive compulsive. Probably just as well.

The weather may permit a return to bike commuting before the end of the year. It will be good if things freeze solidly without any more clumpy, wet snow. Get the ground well frozen and then bring us something close to powder.  In New England that may not be very close, but something drier than applesauce would be good.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Off the bike

At least I got some use out of the studded tires before circumstances shut me down for a while.

For Thanksgiving I rode the rails to visit destinations along the Northeast Corridor. Hopped the Downeaster from Dover, NH, to Boston. Picked up the southbound train to Old Saybrook to visit my parents for a couple of days. Continued to Baltimore on Friday to visit the cellist in Maryland.

I considered bringing the Traveler's Check with me, but I did not think I would use it enough to make the awkward load worthwhile.

The train is good for musing. 

A snowstorm chased me out of New Hampshire. The storm dumped about a foot of wet snow on top of warm, moist ground. Power went out. My cat sitter had to burrow her way into the driveway, because I don't use a plow guy. Warm weather after the storm condensed the snow where it had been undisturbed, but plow drifts and shoveled piles turned into concrete.

Deep snow eliminates the parking for my park 'n' ride commute. Even if it hadn't, I came right back to a zoning board hearing after my first day at work. I wouldn't have had time to ride anyway.

Another snowstorm greeted me when I returned to New  Hampshire. It was no 12-incher, but it added two or three. Then another small one tossed on a few more. Drizzle saturated everything, making it sticky, heavy and slow to move. The snowblower would only eject it a few feet at best, a few inches at worst. Packed-down masses under the newly fallen stuff stopped the machine. Some of them I could hack with a metal shovel. Others I had to leave.

I cleared the mouth of the driveway and about a quarter of the total area in about the time it would take to do the entire driveway if I had been able to get rid of the Thanksgiving accumulation when it arrived, rather than a week later.

December's low sun means even a day above freezing doesn't melt a lot of snow. The ground beneath it is not frozen, but the snow is thick enough to preserve itself. It encroaches on the road. Riding becomes impractical, even though this kind of snow doesn't do much for winter alternatives.

Now that I'm back from my brief wander I can figure out the winter's routines. Got no money right now, but I've been there before. I feel pretty rich just to have a warm house, a hot shower, enough food and some interesting beverages.

If I don't get to do something outside I guess I'll have to dust off the rollers and do some other exercisy type stuff. And there's always firewood to split.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fighting for your life in the fun business

A friend and customer is in the fitness business. She's ferociously active, and energetically generous about sharing her knowledge and support with the people who come to her for training.

In a small town the ugly aspects of business competition come to the surface the way rocks gash the hulls of smooth-sailing boats in shallow water. The fitness industry is a busy one. Lots of people try to find an angle and work it. Businesses that attract enough clientele to meet their overhead will survive. In that arena, business owners will pursue any advantage, including propaganda, disinformation and the weaponization of zoning regulations to take down a competitor.

My friend managed to set herself up in a niche with a clientele that seems to like her methods. But it's yet another plucky little crew that can't spare too many members before the implacable forces of finance make survival mathematically impossible.

It's made my friend a little crazy. She goes into a bit of a spiral whenever one of her clients does what customers so often do: they go shop around.

In the bike shop we've been through these waves many times. Each time you wonder if the receding tide will leave you high and dry  forever, your bones to bleach on the parched sea bed. And I watched the cellist go through it with her 15-year effort to establish a steady flow of students through her music studio.

Each business, the fitness center, bike shop and music studio, is offering something that has practical benefits, but which is more publicly categorized as merely fun. The people who work in those businesses depend on them for the practical necessities of life. But in each case the business and the activity it represents competes against many other activities that provide the same benefits in different ways. They also compete against activities that offer completely different attractions.

People will only do things that seem like fun as long as they seem like fun. If it's something clearly not fun, like emptying the garbage, cleaning the cat box, or going through chemotherapy, there's still a perceived benefit. But when the benefit includes fun, you'd better be fun.

There are ways to get away with being a bit of a grouch, but you'd better remain a lovable grouch. Most people don't want to be dragged through the rough by a stern taskmaster for something they consider optional. So whatever frustrations you may feel, you must project a positive outlook. At least be entertaining.

If you have a large population to draw from you might have better luck finding "your people" to join you and support your endeavor. In a small town that number might be too small to sustain life.

From the consumer's point of view it can be as bad. What if the surviving provider of whatever it is you want strikes you as an a-hole? Maybe the locals don't care or a lot of them are a-holes too. In that case you get in and get out as quickly as you can. If an alternative comes up, you check it out.

Even if the local (insert business here) isn't run by jerks, even if you actually like them, an inquiring consumer, advancing in knowlewdge and experience, is liable to explore anyway. They should. And when times are good, even the small business owner will have a bit more equanimity about these walkabouts. In the end, a business can only keep doing what it does best, to the best of the collective ability of its staff.

The game changes. In the 1990s our shop fought it out with competitors here in town as well as shops many miles away. The Internet hadn't brought point and click shopping, but people were willing to travel a long way to check out trails. Going a long way to check out a shop came naturally. In that regard we made out well a lot of the time. Customers might come to us from shops that did not have the advantage of trails right nearby on which to train the sales and repair staff.

Now that mountain biking has shrunk to a small and dedicated subculture, we don't even get the chance to audition. The cool kids, some of whom we used to cheerfully trounce on group rides, mostly go to one shop in a nearby town where the owner represents the religion more to their liking. From his end, he needs the few devotees who are willing to keep investing the money and time to have relatively contemporary mountain bikes in order to meet his survival expenses. It's a good thing he likes to work at his business, because he needs to till that patch for all it's worth. We miss our old clients, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

It's easy to be a motivational speaker and tell people to adapt and change. Motivational speakers have been drawing from the same basic repertoire of bullshit for thousands of years. Of course they're always happy and upbeat. They've figured out how to get by without needing an actual job. That never changes.

Small operators in the fun business usually get into it because they like or love the activity in question. If it's love, and it's unquenchable, you can only follow it and hope it does not lead to misery and ruin. Misery and ruin seem especially cruel if you'd had a good thing going for a while. And they're particularly inconvenient when they're setting in just as you think about kicking back a little, perhaps easing into something resembling retirement.

Love or not, your willing shift to another livelihood may face steep obstacles if you're a little on the old side or lack the funds to pay for retraining.

For now my friend gets by. The shop survives. The cellist, my beloved, is a disembodied voice on the telephone, calling from where she found a toehold on the inhospitable cliff of her profession.

We fight for our lives in the fun business. To all of you out there like us, as alone as you are, you are not alone. We can't really do much for each other except commiserate. But that's something.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Antiques Trainer Show

This portion of a 1970s Peugeot PX 10 came in a couple of days ago. It was repainted in an anonymous version of period colors --or lack thereof --so its identity can't be verified. The lug work is a trifle crude. The tubing sounds more like gas pipe than Reynolds 531 when you ting it. But it does have a forged alloy Stronglight crank. More on that in a moment.

The owner bought it used for  $170. After a couple of years he had to store it in a bad location, so it rusted. It also suffered from the attention of a mechanic who did not understand crank tapers or chain line. 

Wisely, the owner now uses it only on a trainer. He brought it in because the upper derailleur pulley had broken. Given the rust I can see under the spray-can paint job I'd say it's not worth investing in much more than the absolute minimum to get it back to basic functionality. It's a shame, because the frame represents that rare breed, the sporty general purpose road bike.

Exhibit A: the long horizontal dropout. Remove the positioner that holds the wheel forward in "sporty" position and you can grow a longer chainstay for lightly loaded touring, or move the wheel just a little way back to take a bit of the slap out of rough roads. You can also make a single speed or fixed gear on a road frame with long dropouts.

On the left is the bearing from the broken derailleur pulley. On the right is a current bushing-type pulley to show you how large that bearing assembly is. And it's really smooth. Too bad the plastic ring with the teeth on it broke away. Those are serviceable bearings.

Here is the plastic Simplex derailleur. This is the good one, vernacularly known as "Simplex silver," to distinguish it from the derailleur ordinaire Simplex red. I replaced the broken original pulley with a non-serviceable ball bearing pulley I had kicking around in the bins.

Here's the crank Velo Orange has knocked off as the Rando. Their version has JIS tapers, so it matches currently available bottom brackets. The original here has been stuffed onto a JIS axle - nutted, no less - that's wildly too long. The straight chain line runs between the small ring and the 14-tooth hardest cog on the five-speed freewheel. 

Here you can see the nutted spindle sticking way too far through the crank arm. The tapers don't match the shape of the crank arm closely enough. And nutted spindles simply should never have happened. Sheldon Brown says French cranks can go on JIS spindles no problem. But Sheldon walked on water. Something clearly isn't right with the setup on this bike.

Other period details include the nadcatcher stem,

Plastic brake lever bodies on narrow bars,

And the notoriously squealy Mafac  Racer  brakes.

It's always fun to look at a bike from the era of white frames with black lugs. It was a thing. And as much as I bitch about compatibility issues these days, the ones between the various European countries and companies were definitely more esoteric than the straightforward corporate warfare of today.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fool the eye

Yesterday's rides featured visual phenomena.

It was the first day of the regular firearms deer hunting season. Pickup trucks were stuffed off the sides of the road everywhere. It's not a day to wear your brown coat and white mittens and prance around flapping your hands. I wore my usual school bus yellow jacket and added a blaze orange flag to my trunk pack. Nothing on my usual ensemble suggests the color of a deer, but a bit of orange helps seal the deal.

Nothing you can do about a stray shot. But that's true in any season.

A few hundred yards down rail from where I enter the path I saw a couple of runners ahead of me, out at the limit of sight. They both seemed to be sporting please-don't-kill-me-yellow vests. A wise precaution.

In due course I caught up to them. I discovered that only one of them wore PDKMY. The other one's jacket was merely a light color in the yellowish greenish whitish family. My brain had assigned the same intensity as the other runner's much brighter clothing when I saw them from the farthest distance. The illusion persisted until I was just a few yards behind them. Then the duller jacket suddenly faded, like a wet gleaming gem turning into a plain dry pebble.

If you aren't wearing real high viz, apparently you can stay near someone who is. Or perhaps the duller jacket was from Chameleon Wear, Inc., a company about to launch its line world wide. It would be nice if the eye-insulting PDKMY would moderate to a gentle hue when you got close to it.

The evening's optical trickery was less benign. I don't think I broke any ribs, but one arm was under me when I hit, concentrating the force and creating bruising that makes every breath painful.

It was one of those crashes where you get up giggling like an idiot afterwards. Sure it hurts, but it was also too stupid to take seriously. Here I am, well up in my 50s, stuffing it in a corner in the dark.

The only real turns on the Cotton Valley Trail are in the vicinity of the Allen A Beach. The path leaves the rail line to go over to the beach parking area, parallels the parking lot and then winds its way back to the railroad corridor. I guess I don't know those turns as well as I thought I did.

The powerful lights on my night-equipped bikes throw enough illumination to provide more context than the average battery-powered groper. The lighted area goes far enough ahead and spreads to the side enough to alleviate the illusion of being stationary in the dark behind a patch of light with things suddenly appearing in it. But in the Allen A turns the trees are close. The variegated brown leaves now covering the ground break up the light, reducing its power to provide a readily interpretable image. They camouflage the outline of the trail. Suddenly, in one of the bendier bits, I was headed for the weeds.

The trail is not wide. In the instant that I recognized the problem and tried to snap back into the proper line I was only able to avoid riding off down the little dropoff into the rough and land my crash on the smooth -- but hardened -- trail surface. After the initial impact on my arm and chest I somehow ended up on my back. I felt the bruising of my chest, but I knew I wasn't going to see any bones sticking out through my flesh or anything. The laughing set in as I checked over the bike and my small cargo before resuming my journey. Ouch! Ha ha ha ha! Ow! Snort!

I don't know why it seems so funny, but I continued to stab myself in the chest with mirth for the rest of the evening whenever I thought about it. There's something peculiarly funny about certain ways of biffing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Snippets of Effingham

On my days off I can spend the whole time hanging around my house if I don't make a point to get out. The cats need to go out and come in, laundry needs doing, little and large chores beckon. And a certain amount of time simply goes to sloth.

On Monday I used a trip to the post office as the basis for a ride. Yesterday I had to tell myself the ride itself was important.

The day was mild. I won't call it unseasonable, because I have hiked shirtless in November, and climbed ice two weeks later. It's just New England.

I threw on the helmet cam just for grins.

A lot of town looks like this. 
This part goes across the tornado swath from 2008.
Here's a nice fast bit down to Route 153
Bustling downtown Center Effingham - also known as  Lord's  Hill  -  boasts the bandstand, the meeting house and several other historic structures. 
The payoff for grinding your way up to Lord's  Hill from the south is that you get to scream down this descent. 
Not my personal best for this descent, but zippy.  I know I should be more conservative, but once you hit a certain speed you might as well let it rip. A crash would already hurt a lot. So tuck and fly. 
Route 153 levels right out after that. You pass through the Farm by the River. Say hi to the sheep.
And then you reach the river the farm is by: Ossipee  River. I've watched the retaining wall along the road get lower and lower over the years. 

After that it was just a short bumpy ride on the chip seal of Route 25 to get back to Green Mountain  Road. 

There was still time to let the cats play some more. Missions accomplished. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

Just a few miles to Freedom

Because the cellist went back to Maryland in search of career survival I have been doing a lot of mailing.

Frank Zappa tried to warn people what would happen if they chose a career in music. FZ was referring to popular music, but the general idea that it will lead to mental, emotional and financial ruin holds true no matter what. I don't know any musicians who aren't working hard for slim margins, "successful" or not.

Recorded music and a lack of widespread, ongoing music education in schools have led to a culture constantly immersed in music, yet utterly taking it for granted. It comes out when you throw a switch, like turning a tap for the water we also take for granted. It seems simultaneously too hard for the average person to learn and yet so ubiquitous as to have no value. The professionals make it look easy and sound slick. Of course they do. If you can, you should. But if only the aspiring professional ever takes it up, only they will understand what's involved. And besides, making music is fun even if you aren't a professional. It does something for you that the often less than polished sound will not convey.

The few stars who do bring in mega bucks as musicians are the exception. And they're not responsible for more than a bit of the immense amount of music that takes place every day.

But I digress.

Where I live, no post office is convenient. The one that serves my actual zip code is the farthest away of the four I would consider local, at about 8 miles. The closest one is about 4 miles, but it's not a super nice ride. The nicest ride goes to the post office in Freedom, NH. The route I like runs 15 miles round trip.

Freedom is not named for freedom from Great Britain or the general quality so dear to Americans. It's named for freedom from Effingham. In the beginning, Freedom was North Effingham. Apparently, the powers that were in Effingham were such a-holes that their northern suburb broke away, using the Ossipee River as a natural boundary and moat. Either that or the Effinghamians were such coarse louts that the refined Freedomites simply couldn't bear to associate with them. I have not read up on it.

My route goes into Freedom on Loon Lake Road, past a tree I used to try to catch at peak foliage for Rantwick's foliage contest.
HEY, RANTWICK! Who would've thought that any tree would still have this much pizzazz this late in November?

The route also includes one of my favorite places to conduct a "forestry inspection" when the need arises. In the following clip I go from trail to highway to dirt road in two minutes:
Following the post office stop I headed out a different road to complete the loop. This took me west, into the sun. Sunshine in November and December is basically pointless. It's barely here anyway and it's mostly just blinding.
Sunshine in November is so pointless.
Sunshine in my eyeballs makes me blind.
All I see is spots in front of my face
And they make my way home hard to find...

Shine. Don't shine. Whatever. Come back and see me in late January. Then things really start ramping back up again.

Clear nights, on the other hand, are awesome. Bring on the stars, the moon and the aurora borealis. In the season of long nights the sky has full value when the sun is down, whereas in daylight you can see you're getting remainders of someone else's sunlight.

The route looks like this:


It's a great little ride with few hills for around here.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Less rich fat


As fat spreads across the country, it oozes into more approachable price points. This Framed Minnesota 1.0 goes for  $799. You can get an optional 29er wheel set with street tires to expand its capability. That's one thing about fat bike clearances and disc brakes: you can run two different rim sizes without a problem.
FAT! 

Original 26-inch mountain bikes were able to spread virally because they exploited an existing tire and rim size. Tire designs proliferated once the category took off, but there was rubber available even before the beginning. Fat bikes do not enjoy the same advantage. But offering  mid-priced bikes like this one will encourage more people to consider adding one to the stable or even choosing it as a primary mount.

Tires may still be an issue. Generic fatties are showing up for around  $60. I haven't searched extensively to see if anyone is offering anything for much less. How cheap a tire can you afford to trust?

You can also shell out  $250 per tire for high-end studs.

I rode this bike around the indoor track at the shop. Gotta keep it clean for its eventual purchaser. 


The fat genre has a long way to go to establish global dominance. They can go anywhere but it will take you a long time to get there. But you could throw on a set of disc brake road wheels with 700x28 tires and have a faster, albeit absurd looking,  ride.

Aero bars, anyone? 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Dog crap and dirt bikes

The Cotton Valley Trail has become outlaw country. Tracks reveal that dirt bikes -- the motorized kind -- have been cruising it regularly now that the permitted users have thinned out to nearly none.

The dog walkers have quit picking up after their pets. The way a knobby tire flings the feces must be rough on the dirt bikers. It explains why the tracks show them riding side by side rather than one following directly behind the other.

I'm grateful for my fenders. However, I did grab a big handful of dog dookie that was stuck to the down tube when I hoisted my bike onto its hook at work.

Dog crap is much more of a path problem than a road problem. Dogs seldom stop for a squat on a road. They might hit the gutter or the sidewalk, but not usually the travel lane. But I constantly encounter dog crap on the fat tires of people's path bikes. It's an occupational hazard. And when I ride the path I'm in the same minefield.

Today I saw something else to think about.

This morning, about a hundred yards out from the first bridge I cross on the trail, I spotted a dark-clad figure on it. It was suddenly joined by another, and another, the way a flock of wild turkeys will file out of the woods. As I got closer I could see three cheap bikes and assess the attire of the bearded young men. They looked like they might be living under that bridge. Homelessness looks different in a rural area, where the dispossessed can disperse to many more unobserved campsites than in an urban setting. Or they could have been a few dudes out groovin' on the woods on the only bikes they can afford.

If people are living under that bridge it could make the ride in the dark a little creepier. I have sympathy for the down and out, since I fully expect to end my days among them. But I also don't like to meet new people by headlamp on a dark trail by myself.

Guess I'll find out tonight.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Sudden Realization, decades late

We could get some serious corporate clout behind improvements in cycling infrastructure and support if we could get management to realize that workers would live much more happily on a lot less money if they could get around without cars.

If American industry had not been dominated by the automobile industry for so long, some bright bean counter might have noticed already. And now that the American automotive industry is facing serious challenges they might figure out how to make the transition to a broader-based transportation system. They might even get into the bike business, where many of their great-great-grand daddies started, and show the current bike industry a thing or two about mass production and promotion. Can you imagine bike parts stores all over the place like NAPA and VIP and the other chains? Hell, bring on the disc brakes. I don't mind technology as long as you can get the parts.

Most of my objections to the bike industry's attention deficit disorder are based on the way they throw customers and their equipment aside, leaving all their older product, good or bad, to rot, rust or otherwise gather dust. Because bicycling remains a minority activity, even when parts are available you may have trouble getting them because they aren't available near you. Imagine going into any parts store and giving year, make and model, and having the guy go in the back and return with what you need.

Customers already come into the bike shop and give us year, make and model, as if there were comprehensive reference sources we could consult. The bike companies don't make copious amounts of technical information available for current product. You're mostly out of luck trying to find information on anything old. You can, and we do, but it's always a bit of a treasure hunt. We used to save old catalogs and tech manuals, but they started to take up most of the space in the shop.

On a bicycle we have the advantage because we can make a lot of substitutions. That can get expensive, depending on what you're trying to substitute. Downgrades are the cheapest, of course, but sometimes just trying to maintain your quality level can be prohibitively expensive.

People tend to trade in their cars more often than their bikes. How much of that is motivated by the fear of being stranded somewhere with some massive pile of useless automobile that has suddenly decided to quit on you? If the bike breaks you can probably hitch a lift or, at worst, wheel the machine along until you get to some kind of refuge. There are exceptions, of course, but for the run of the mill breakdown the consequences don't have to be as expensive and inconvenient as a lot of automobile scenarios.

We really need to promote the idea that cycling makes happier poor people if the people who run the economy insist on making so many of us. It will be so much cheaper in the long run than having big goon squads to slap us back into line, and bulging prisons overflowing with the uncooperative. Build us Biketopia and all that expensive repression becomes unnecessary.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween tricks

Heading down from my parking spot this morning I was shooting a short video of the scenery when I spotted heavy equipment up ahead. I left the camera on for the pass.
Stuff like this illustrates why I use the mountain bike for these commutes. The Cross Check could handle the majority of conditions, but when I'm on a schedule I want to be ready for any likely complication.

Close in to town I came to the next trick for the day, this fallen tree.
The real trick is that it was still there at dusk. It had sagged lower, so I couldn't fit beneath it while pedaling. Probably no one will ride in the dark, but if they did they would pile into this thing for sure. I wrestled with it for several minutes trying to figure out some jujutsu that would let me shove it aside, but I got nowhere. Someone else's efforts may have lowered it from its morning height.

On the ride out as dusk deepened to darkness and I left behind the two or three other human beings I'd seen on the path I got a solid whiff of brimstone. Nice touch. No idea where it came from.

I rode undisturbed by human or wraith until I reached the long straight stretch of track leading to Bryant Road, where I leave the path to head up hill. Far ahead I saw a white light. I could not tell whether it was on my side of Bryant or beyond. Below it I saw a strange shimmering. I was headed toward it anyway, so I knew I would get a better look. It held my gaze the way a light in the darkness does. The upper light was no doubt someone's headlamp, but what was that wavering business down below it?

Finally I was close enough to tell that the shimmery bit was the legs of a dog walking in the edge of the high intensity light, fur gleaming silver as the legs moved. Cooool.

Oh, snap!

At the end of the day yesterday a customer brought in this early 1970s Viscount fork. This was the sinister fork of death from the ten-speed era. Tim McNamara and Sheldon Brown already wrote an article about Lambert/Viscount, so I won't go into detail. They offered a lot of value at their price point compared to the rest of the industry, until you found out about the forks that snap off. The steel steerer would separate from the aluminum crown. They were recalled in 1978 after Yamaha bought Viscount, and replaced with steel forks.

Just a few hours earlier I had phoned Shimano to get a Crank of Death recall kit. The new and the old in irresponsible design.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This simple chart should make things clear

Disc brake pad selection made easy. Sort of. 

Obviously you need to match the make and model of the brake. Beyond that, where you have a choice of pad compound you should try to match it to the customer's riding style and venue. If the customer can't give you clear answers you have to figure out which compound will produce the least amount of annoying noise...from the rider.

Bass ackwards weather this week. The forecast for today called for, "Drizzle. May be heavy at times." How heavy does it have to be before it no longer qualifies as drizzle? What's the next rung on the promotion ladder? Probability ranged from 20 to 40 percent depending on when I looked. I took the odds because my schedule requires me to drive tomorrow when the forecast is completely dry. Friday looks okay so far, but Saturday picks up a 40 percent chance of precipitation including snow. 

Sunday continues the wintry theme. I'm volunteering at the Castle in the Clouds Half Marathon that day. Mountain runners are a tough crowd. They'll love it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wet leaves

After shooting a few hours of boring video of commute after commute I quit using the helmet cam again. On the path I come face to face with pedestrians. The camera seems extra intrusive after I already intruded by riding through anyway. And it wasn't capturing the essence of the experience. But I should have had it on Saturday morning.

After four days of rain and wind, wet leaves littered the ground, drifted into piles and shoals in some places, swept away in others. I entered the path with due caution, crossing a rail because the path runs between them there. The rails were wet, but the ground was clear.

The path exits the rails a few hundred yards down. Wet leaves were piled on the slimy wood of the crossing platform. I slowed way down and shifted my weight to stand the bike up for the tight, low-speed crossing. Ordinarily, when the rails are the primary obstacle, you cross by leaning the bike to the outside of the turn, cutting the front wheel as far as you can in the space you have. Shift your body weight to the inside of the turn as you enter it and bring the bike after you. It's a fluid snap. Too fast and you can't articulate the bike properly. Too slow and you wobble, unable to maintain the proper angle.

Add wet leaves and it's a whole new game. Doing a reasonable speed to cross rails, even wet rails, I never even reached the rails. When I cut the front wheel to the left the bike kept going straight down the track out from under me. I had already projected my weight into the turn, preparing to twitch the bike through the crossing and resume speed. Instead I ejected as the bike went its own way.

Helmet cam and at least one external point of view would have captured the maneuver for enjoyment over and over.

Without knowing how I did it I landed on fingertips and toes, unharmed. I picked up the bike, also unharmed, and continued my journey.

I made this video tonight in the garage to try to analyze the rail crossing waggle. It's a pretty standard low-speed turn. You have to imagine a slightly protrusive rail at the apex of it.
video
I'd already spent a couple of hours trying to draw illustrative cartoons of the procedure. It was harder than I thought, even to doodle a crude rendering of the positions. I'll keep fooling with it, but not tonight.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Red, ready to rock

The red Rockhopper presented no obstacles during its renovation.
I replaced the original substandard rear brake with a salvaged set. Now the pads actually line up with the rim.
I already mentioned what a pleasure these shifters are. A progressive shifter is much more intuitive than one where the lever or levers return to the same position after every shift.
The suspension fork messes up the handling a bit. The original fork crown would have been down about where the brake arch sits on this Rockshox Indy. Riders learned to live with it until manufacturers made frames ready to receive longer forks. The longer forks themselves made mountain bikes feel less nimble even with an adjusted head angle. That became the new normal. With properly set up suspension a bike rides down in the travel more than it sits on top of a specific geometric relationship to the ground.

If this was my bike I would find a rigid fork to match the main frame.

Another period feature is that 135mm stem. It was the age of the long stem. Because I liked dinky little frames, my 15.5-inch Stumpjumper had a 150mm stem. When I shifted to a 16.5-inch Gary Fisher in the mid 1990s it had a longer top tube and shorter stem, reflecting the improved geometry that had evolved. Better it may be, but it took some getting used to.

When we sold this bike our shop supported pretty full representation of at least three bike lines. Not only were there a lot of customers during the boom, there were fewer categories of bike. We could create a lot of variations starting with the basic mountain bike platform. It was a lot easier back then to maintain stock levels and put together bikes modified to individual customer specifications. The categories were mountain, road, hybrid and kids.

There are pluses and minuses to anything. You can get a lot of cool stuff now that you couldn't get then, even to customize a rider's personal setup. The vast array of models within category put a huge strain on a small shop. A small shop has to narrow its options, sometimes painfully, to maintain a niche.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New glove design

Your faithful reporter has found this prototype of a cycling glove that puts the high viz where you can really use it.
The manufacturer's name has been obscured because they have not decided whether to release the product. Obviously it has its controversial aspects.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the golden age of the rigid frame

Just before good quality friction-option top mount shifters disappeared in the beginning of the 1990s we were able to remove the under-bar shifters and saw off the shifter mounts to retrofit the old reliable shifters onto mountain bikes with butted chromoly frames, nice all-around frame geometry and cranks with the newly reinvented round chain rings.

The Rockhopper pictured above would have come with a rigid fork. Rockshox were still an after-market modification adopted first by aggressive riders who were beating on themselves and their equipment in the quest for speed on rough terrain. The $4,000 wonder bikes of today were not even science fiction back then. Riders rode bikes of steel over landscapes of natural stone and dirt and mud. Within a couple of years we would start to hear about the aerial mazes and jungle gyms in places like the Pacific Northwest, but for the moment we rode on what we found nearby, adapting our tires, riding style and expectations to local conditions.
These shifters will not be temperamental no matter how long they've been sitting around. I remember Maynard Hershon whining about primitive shifters in an essay just a couple of years after this bike was new. He was praising the new brifters Shimano had inflicted on the world as a step long overdue to bring bikes out of the 19th Century. I admit I do not long for downtube shifters on my road bike, but I've halted my evolution at barcons.

If this bike had every piece of technological puke the industry had available the refurbishment could cost another $50 or $100 to put on seven-speed compatible parts much cheesier than the original equipment. Seven speed is now below the sludge in the bottom of the barrel in the era of ten- and eleven-speed cassettes.

Check out the forged crank with individually replaceable chainrings. This on a bike that cost about $500. By mid-decade, Specialized was leading the way in cheapening once sought-after models like the Rockhopper to extract extra profit from customers who bought the latest version on the reputation of the earlier ones.

Not everything on this old beauty is pure gold. The original brakes represented an unfortunate mutation on the way to better cantilevers and even better linear pull brakes. When we put the suspension fork on, we replaced the front brake with a decent low-profile cantilever, but the rear set are original. And the brake levers themselves are still the old full-hand type, not the two-finger levers that came to prevail.

The one-inch steerer tube limits options for a new fork, but if someone wanted to return to a rigid fork I bet there are nice castoffs kicking around. The frame was built for a shorter fork than the Rockshox Indy it has now. All the good old chromoly forks can't have been melted down for paper clips already.

It's nice to see something come out of mothballs besides dead moths. New rubber, a couple of cables and a set of brake pads and this thing will be ready for fun.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Jigsaw puzzles and more

Do you like jigsaw puzzles? If so, the bike business may be just your thing.

Here are the pages showing derailleur hangers in the Quality  catalog.


Every time a bike comes in with a tweaked derailleur hanger we have to check it against the reference pictures, the way you consult the picture on the box when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle. As with jigsaw puzzles, we compare all angles, swoops, curves, cuts and protuberances to pick which one of several similar hangers will actually fit.

Disc brake pads are a less detailed jigsaw puzzle, but still important to get right.

The bike in front of me takes a Wheels Manufacturing  number 43. We have plastic tubs full of Wheels  Manufacturing  number 27, accumulated from Fujis that came with two in the box. The 27 looks somewhat like the 43, but not close enough to tempt improvisation.

Because most hangers are alloy, they often snap when you try to coax them back from what looks like a minor deviation. They're meant to fail to save the frame and possibly the derailleur. A wise off-road  rider should buy one or two spares ahead of time. I can't imagine too many shops bother to keep every style fully stocked.

Yesterday and the day before I spent bringing a 1991 Specialized Hardrock back from the dead.

Here's what I found inside the left shifter:

That's some kind of old bug nest. 

This thing was profoundly cruddy. It went well with everything else that was rusted to a lump.

 The derailleurs wouldn't even move. A day and a half of penetrating oil actually loosened them up. Hard to believe the bike functions, but it does. I was about ready to declare it dead when eyelids fluttered, metaphorically speaking.