Thursday, December 10, 2015

Getting Lit for Christmas

A few houses have lights along my route out of town. One in particular has a fascinating net of lights over the whole facade on the side toward the trail. The lights are subtle, green or blue, rather than bright and dominant.

My attempts to photograph it have all failed so far, for various reasons: my phone camera is too cheesy for such low light. My trusty Olympus hockey puck (a first-year Stylus 720 SW) decided to quit on me after years of thumping and banging. Last night I tried again with my older Olympus C 3040Z, which has awesome low light performance and is very easy to adjust manually while shooting at night.

The older Olympus is not heavy, but it's an odd shape. It's not shock resistant like the hockey puck was, so it travels in a Lowepro bag that's nicely designed, but a bit of a Nerf football to carry around.

I knew. I knew I should have a tripod. I knew that. I hoped I could fake it with the camera mount on the handlebar or by bracing the camera on the rear rack pack, so I wouldn't have to lug a bulky tripod for just one shooting location.

With the camera on the bike, this trippy image is the best I got. It's neat in its own way, but I still want to capture how weird the lights look without special effects. Don't know yet whether I want it enough to drag a tripod for 15 miles, 7.5 of them uphill.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Freeze and thaw cycling

My winter route follows mostly dirt. In the morning, it is usually frozen. With the mild days we've been having, it has been thawed for the evening run.

The tracks on the rail trail indicate that a lot of people (for this time of year) have been waiting until the mild part of the day to take their rides. Why do people choose to slog through inches of glop just so they can wear a bit less clothing? I could understand if the ride was on pavement, but this is all dirt.

You do get quite a workout, even when the soft layer isn't deep. The stickiness and suction of the wet silt drag you down at least a couple of gears. The bike sucks to a halt unless you keep constant power to the pedals.

Some mornings have followed mild, wet nights. My route is basically a 7.5-mile descent in the morning. Some of it is steep enough to push up to 30 miles per hour on firm track. The freeze-thaw cycle might leave frost a couple of inches down, with the sticky layer on top. A longer thaw softens the ground more completely. Either way, you don't have a fast, firm track. And the grind back up at night is as much work as you might imagine.

What strikes me on a frozen morning is how many people went out when it was soft, and how most of them took suicidally shallow lines through the rail crossings that plague the Cotton Valley Trail. The ruts they leave present a special hazard to the hurrying commuter pushing the pace on the downhill run when they freeze overnight. They'll suck a tire in before you can pull out, leading you into the same flat line that the rider took to make them.

Riding requires observation and analysis. That's part of what makes it fun. It's a bummer that frozen ruts might disrupt the fastest line through a particular trail feature, but that's one aspect of public trails. The challenge is to find the best line through conditions as you encounter them.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fat. Tired. Biking.

Fat. Tired. Biking. That sums up my commute Friday morning.

Thursday, I made a marathon one-day road trip to have Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and my older brother. It was a four-hour drive each way, with a seven-hour visit in the middle.

The meal wasn't huge, but somehow I found myself after pie and coffee, feeling like a full tick. I indulged in a brief coma before reviving to take on more caffeine and head out to see how many other idiots were on the highway. This turned out to be a surprising number in some places. And the drivers in Massachusetts acted like they were fighting over the last drumstick.

I made it home after 10 p.m., wanting only to wind down and get into bed.

Ah yes, the bed. The cats had thrown up on it. If I hadn't had to work the next day I might have crashed in the cat puke and dealt with it in the morning. Instead, jagged with caffeine and driving nerves, I rampaged around, changing the bed, cleaning out the overflowing litter boxes, and trying to get the temperature above the mid 50s in the house. Amazed to find I had an appetite after the meal I had engulfed hours before, I ate a couple of bowls of cereal.

Six a.m., the alarm went off as usual. I lurched around, assembling lunch and eating some sort of breakfast. The forecast called for a mild day, but the morning was in the mid 30s.

The ground had been frozen a couple of days ago. Now the dirt was sticky. The bike would suddenly drag as it rolled into a gooey area. Nothing was deep, just grippy.

The middle aged man on the old mountain bike, plodding to work.

Fat. Tired. Biking.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Patchitubi Bird

Sighted this non-endangered species this morning after pumping up the tires on the MTB commuter. Patched the chafe areas on either side of the valve and there it was.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November light

This has been a bizarrely sunny November. It provides an unusual opportunity to think about the angle of the sun. It hangs in the southern sky, throwing glaring light and long shadows before dipping to the horizon for another long night. This is a great time to groove on the ride we take around it on this little rock whirling in frigid darkness.

The more we live in built environments and artificial light, the easier it is to forget we're flying through space, with nothing between us and the endless void but a thin little layer of atmosphere. There's no seal, no hatch. Just this rock, cruising around a nearby star, with all this life clinging to it.

On a cloudy day, a gray light grudgingly grows for a couple of hours before sliding over to a twilight that subsides into murk. The short days seem to suck the life out of the world. What light there is comes from the gray dome above us. Hey, maybe it's even foggy, bringing the funk right down to ground level with you. This inspires various coping strategies, each with its costs and benefits.

Given the chance to ride, that forms the basis for a good one. Snatch the passing daylight or invest in really good lights, if you have a safe enough riding area. How safe is safe enough is your call. You can indulge other seasonal disorders when you get home. Take time to ride first.

Yesterday's reason to ride was a short errand to pick up a small object about 8 miles away. Today's reason is to relocate a mouse that I trapped after it wouldn't quit nesting in my kitchen stove.

Not wanting to splatter it in the bowels of my cooking stove, and not knowing how many might be in on the game, I got a live-trap with a rated four-mouse capacity. Only one went in last night. No other traps I set last night were sprung.

I tried to imagine what kind of mice would nest in a space I regularly heat to 350-425 degrees.

The ubiquitous endorsement of peanut butter as mouse bait got me thinking about how Troy suffered from a pest control problem with invading pesky Greeks.

I feel like a bit of a bastard throwing a fellow mammal out into the cold, but they won't learn to live quietly without gnawing and shredding and relieving themselves wherever they happen to be. Time to live free or die, ya little bugger. I'll pick a nice spot and leave a little bird seed. Yeah. I'm a hardass. Yep.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saturday night's all right for lighting

The town had turned on the lights along the path on Saturday night when I headed out from work. The wind was still gusting over 20 as the temperature dropped. The deserted path, all brightly lit, looked like a stage set.

It's only lit along a short section. Beyond this corridor I rode in the usual solitary darkness. The wind was mostly behind me, which only mattered in the few stretches where the path is not sheltered by trees.

The wind also carried the smells of two Asian restaurants and some other delicious dinner odors across the path. Since those were concentrated close to town, the rest of the 7-mile grind up to my car seemed extra long.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Hang 'em high

I brought more serious tackle to work to handle the dead weight of the last pair of electric bikes I had to work on. It had been a boom vang at one time, on a boat I no longer have, which had already been reconfigured, leaving this handy unit as surplus.


After I placed some hooks in the beams above my stand I hung the purchase and secured it to the moped.

Playing with the rope was way more fun than any work I did on the bike itself. I left it hanging there for a while just for the fun of it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fat bikes on the cross-country ski trails

'Tis the season for winter event planning, so the fat bike impresarios have started trying to line up venues. They'll be the first little wave of fat tire enthusiasts who will ask cross-country ski trail operators why riders can't roll where the skiers slide.

These requests inspired a post last February about fat bike ethics. Since then, more inquiries and reports from ski centers that have experimented with the mix bring more information.

First of all, fat bikers need to remember that cross-country ski areas owe them nothing. Fat biking started as a way for self-reliant pedalers to take a slow but capable bike across terrain where a conventional mountain bike could not go. They were conceived as earth-crawlers, expedition bikes for riding in areas without trails or on surfaces that required as much flotation and traction as a rider could push. Of course this got them onto snow. But they went there on surfaces that formed up naturally or were packed by fairly imprecise methods for users whose enjoyment did not depend on a very smooth surface.

No tire has yet been fat enough to distribute human and bike weight as well as a pair of skis will do. Skis and snowshoes are still the more versatile tools for getting around on varied snow conditions. Yes, some skis are adapted to firmer or softer conditions, but in the middle lies a general shape and size that really can handle anything. When it comes to snow, no bike can say the same.

Even within the range of marginally to perfectly usable conditions, bike tires will leave bigger marks, and different marks, than skis. Size matters, but difference matters more.

The second factor after trail damage is user rhythm. Along with this comes user speed and things that happen in a crash. People on skis move with different rhythms than people on bikes. The speed range is different when the two users are on the same terrain feature, and the methods used to move over those features will cause interference. How wide a highway would a ski center need to groom so that several skate skiers and several fat bikers could tackle a steep climb at the same time?

Going down, skiers or bike riders may be faster depending on snow conditions and the headlong craziness of the people involved. But imagine being a skier in a downhill turn when the rider on a 30-pound bike with sharp chainrings and spiky pedals wipes out next to you and takes your legs out from under you.

Even on mild, rolling or flat terrain, skiers and riders move so differently that they eat up a lot of trail width under the best of conditions. Say it's a hard, fast day, so fat tires are not gouging deep ruts. That still means that riders will be passing -- or passed by -- skate skiers in their wide V. Cross country trails needed to be widened drastically in the 1990s as ski centers adapted to the influx of skate skiers. That width would probably have to double to accommodate a large influx of fat bikers. Not only does this beg for a cost-benefit analysis for the ski center operators, it massively changes the aesthetics of the experience. Imagine going for a nice country drive on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Classic skiers complained about the loss of an intimate and woodsy feeling when elbow-width trails were blown out to 12 feet wide so that skate skiers -- and the big groomers they require -- could fit on them. Now double it.

To someone who is not a skier, it all seems so simple. There's a trail. You're grooming it anyway. Why can't we have our fun, too? Maybe it's just a one-day event. Even so, the costs and complications are far greater than you might imagine. And, by inviting fat bikers onto the system even for one day, the trail operator creates an impression that it would be okay.

Fat bikers who still cleave to the ethic of self reliance cut and pack their own trails or use durable venues that are already more of a free-for-all, like logging roads, snow machine trails and frozen lakes. Maybe they find a sympathetic ski center with the time, personnel and budget to accommodate them on a temporary basis. But the skiers and riders themselves will have to work out all their issues on the trails. If riders pay, they will demand their due. If they don't pay, skiers will rightly be resentful. So you see, it isn't simple at all.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The walking dead? Or raccoons?

Riding through the woods this time of year, it's easy to understand how this part of the fall got to be associated with ghosts and the restless dead. The sun rises late and sets early, but the trees still have most of their leaves until late in October. The darkness in the forest is more absolute than at the middle of winter.

As darkness deepens, the landscape dies more and more. Skeletal tree crowns rise above obscuring foliage on lower branches and smaller saplings. The leaves come off from the top down, giving the smaller plants some bonus photosynthesis time. Everything doesn't just blaze up and fall off in a day or two. Meanwhile, animals are still foraging. You will hear all sorts of footfalls in the dry leaves below the trunks and branches beginning to show like the bones of a decomposing body.

Imagine going through this time of year with no artificial light except a burning branch or a flickering candle. It's weird enough with a powerful LED headlight. Whatever your light source, it is only a patch in front of you. If you are walking, your own footsteps make other sounds harder to hear. Riding, you have the crunch of leaves beneath your tires and wind noise over your ears. Other sounds filter through. Or did you imagine them?

Last year, a bit later than this, I had stopped to attend to something, and heard a pack of coyotes start howling back and forth. They weren't really close, but they were close enough to suggest that they could come sniffing around pretty easily if I hung around too long.

I'm in more danger from skunks than zombies. I have also almost run into deer crossing the path. The modern mind can dismiss the myths and legends of phantoms and monsters. But the creepy feeling doesn't give up easily. You can substitute serial killers, rabid animals or hungry predators, any of which could take advantage of the privacy of the autumn night. Popular entertainment and gruesome news provide plenty of inspiration.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ruth doesn't want to quit

Ruth is 92 years old. Her husband and two of her sons are dead. She lives in a cottage her family built in the 1930s -- if not earlier -- on the shore of Lake Wentworth. She stacks her own firewood and shovels her own roof. All the way through her 70s, if you saw her from behind, walking down the sidewalk in her tennis dress, you'd take a minute to admire the view.

Great laugh seeing young strangers in town speed up a bit to pass her and see her face. She does not pretend to be young, beyond an excusable use of hair coloring. Wrinkles to the contrary, she has somehow managed to make that work.

At 92 she shows the miles now. She's fought off Lyme disease, cancer, and been treated for rabies after an animal bite. I joke that other people say, "oh no, I got an illness!" Illness says, "Oh no! I got Ruth!"

She's not one of those annoying sunshine-pumpers who are just so dang positive about everything that you need a nice salty shot of tequila after being around them. She just doesn't want to quit. She gets out and about. And, until some more medical challenges got in the way, she rode her bike nearly every day.

When she tried to resume riding, she discovered she could no longer lift her leg high enough to get over the dropped bar of her 1995 Univega step-through hybrid. She had had her bike rack modified several times as she had more and more difficulty lifting the bike onto it to drive to safe venues for an older rider, but now she couldn't get on the bike, even though she could still get the bike on the car.

She started getting depressed. She grumbled about her physical infirmities. We were used to hearing about her various mishaps, but now she talked of little else.

We hunted around for quite a while to find a new, deep step-through model that weighed no more than her old bike. Then we did, so she was ready to go again.

But she wasn't. The position on casual bikes these days is way more upright than on her old bike. We had to figure out one problem after another. Each time we though we had it nailed, she came back again looking sad.

With every setback she seemed more discouraged. She talked about how old she is and how many friends she's outlived and all the things that are wrong with her, not in a raspy, carping way, but in a weary litany of hopelessness.

We changed the stem to get the bars lower and closer to her. We cut the seat post so she could get the seat lower until she got used to things. Then the seat itself had such a wide and sudden flare that it shoved her forward of the pedals. I switched her old seat over to the new bike. And we had to modify her car rack some more to fit the new frame.

I forget the last rabbit I pulled out of the hat, but she came back from that test ride with a tentative smile. Twice more she went out to test further adjustments, each time returning with a bigger smile and more of the old Ruthie vigor.

The bicycle is a machine for rejuvenation. The change in her as she realized she could ride again was astonishing, even as it confirmed my belief. Old Bill, cancer stricken and knowing he was dying, had said, "whatever else happens that day, you get on the machine." No one knows how long Ruth will last. All we know is that the time has been made brighter by getting back on her bike.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Do you carry electric bicycles?

"Do you carry electric bicycles?"

"Are you nuts? I can barely lift one."

A customer called to see if we had, or could get, 20X3-inch tires for a couple of electric bikes someone had given him. Scraped off on him would be a better term, but we didn't know the full extent of the annoyance for many weeks.

Just finding 20X3-inch tires that matched the ones on his bikes was a treasure hunt.
These things look like motorcycle tires. No one had them in stock on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe they didn't have them in the UK either. We didn't bother to follow up with those vendors. NYCewheels in NYC listed them, but told us they were unavailable indefinitely. They offered a substitution. Hey, whatever gets this guy's rims off the ground and his three-ton pieces of crap out of our basement.

These Ultramotor A2B bikes are the heaviest smokeless mopeds it has ever been my misfortune to try to lug around. Getting them into the shop from our basement storage area was easy enough: just wheel them around to the main door and through the shop with only a few stairs to negotiate. The main drawback to that approach is being seen in public with the thing as I walk around the building. I avoid eye contact and move as quickly as my shreds of dignity allow.

Getting the cursed hunks of scrap metal onto the work stand is another matter. Previous electric bikes, while grossly heavy and poorly balanced, have still been light enough for me to grunt them into position with a solid stance and a little luck. Bikes of a convenient height allow me to put one end on a footstool so I can pivot the other end up and clamp the seat post.

The A2B monstrosities defied such simple steps. I scanned the overhead for some place to rig some sort of cord system to lift them. In our old and heavily mutilated building, I did not see anything overhead that I would trust with the dangling weight of this ridiculous contraption.

Eventually I settled on using the stand itself, tying the lower end of the rig to a low point on the bike to try to get the seatpost up to the height of the clamp. But how to increase my mechanical advantage, which was the whole point of rigging a hoist?

Thanks to my father's taste in nautical widgetry, I had a fully functional Harken dinghy block on my key ring. I could have used a couple more, but it gave me something along with the high-friction upper end going over the work stand arm. I could at least lift the behemoth.

It was still an awkward wrestling match until Beth came through in the middle of it and brought the stability of a woman's touch.

"This must weigh a hundred pounds!" she said. "Why is it so heavy?"

In typical electric bike fashion, even a simple thing like a tire change turns into a twiddly fiddle with bullcrap. I had to trace the motor wiring back to detachable connectors, one of which had been heavily mummified with electrical tape, and then drop out the rear wheel, which weighs 19 pounds. The front wheel is pretty simple, with a normal hub and disc brakes. It still managed to hang up in the forks for no obvious reason. Maybe it just didn't want the rear wheel to get all the attention.

I disassembled the lifting tackle before I went home. The bike is still in the stand. I have more Harken blocks and other handy bits at home to make a smoother-running purchase for lowering this bike and lifting the other one.

I'm debating whether to leave a tackle system at the shop all the time, carry the pieces with me when I commute, or bring the parts each time the need arises. The shop should probably have a lift on hand in case some e-bike victim comes in for emergency repairs during the more active cycling season. As Baby Boomers age and younger generations who think electric things are cool come along, we will probably see more hefty two-wheelers on which the pedals are more decorative than useful.

The industry already offers lifts for heavy loads like this. They're not cheap, of course. If I can set a good anchor overhead, it will be cheaper and almost as easy to keep lifting tackle on hand, rather than lay out the coin for a fancy new work stand. There's added satisfaction in hoisting someone's electric monster like a dead animal carcass rather than investing in a fancy, high-tech lift that exalts it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rushin' dressing

Things were kind of busy last week. Nothing too weird, but I had to coordinate some variables outside of the usual rut. It ramped up through Saturday, which has been the last day of my work week lately.

For the park and ride commute, I wear Diadora touring shoes with a smooth rubber outsole that goes easily into a pedal with a toe clip. I bought them years ago. I forget how many. Because I can walk and drive in them, I can put them on at home and have one less thing to worry about when I get to the parking spot.

When I'm in a hurry, I sometimes tie my shoes too tight or unevenly. I hate that.

On Saturday, I left the house in some haste and disarray. I got to the parking spot, made final adjustments to the load on the bike, and launched down the dirt road. It's basically a continuous descent for more than a mile, with some entertaining roughness and a bend or two.

I noticed that my right foot felt funny in the pedal. Like all walkable bike shoes since the late 1990s, these can be converted to use with SPD cleats, by cutting out a defined patch on the sole. A previous pair of wonderful shoes from Specialized became much less wonderful after the SPD patch on one of them spontaneously detached. I really hoped the Diadoras hadn't just gone the same way.

I had to check. Something was definitely sticking down off the right shoe.

It was the cleat. I had put on my right road shoe and my left touring shoe. I had bought them at the same time and they have nearly identical uppers. I had grabbed the  mismatched pair out of the milk crate where I keep my riding shoes, and hadn't noticed.

I don't know how I managed to load the car, drive several miles, get the bike out of the car, make final preparations, and take off without realizing something was up. That's the power of a full and jumbled mind.

The worst part was having to ride out in the same mismatched footwear that night. The cleat doesn't fit that pedal very well. At least I did have a pair of beater sneakers in the car so I didn't have to drive with the cleat on.

Mildly amusing, no?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dogs in the morning, bears in the afternoon

On the way to work this morning, on a dirt road in North Wolfeboro, I had to get past these dogs. I almost always hear barking when I ride by this particular little farm. Occasionally, I have been chased. Today, two dogs I had never seen here before were already out in the road, long before I got there.
I talked to them until I got a clear shot at the downhill to escape.

I didn't remember turning the camera on. I was surprised to see that I had. I noticed it when I got down to College Road.

After a pretty placid day, we knocked off at 4. Back out in North Wolfeboro, nearing the top of Bryant Road, I spotted bear cubs trotting out into the road. I stopped to let them go on through, figuring the mother was somewhere nearby. That's assuming some intrepid gunner didn't blast her over a pile of old doughnuts last month, or chase her down with baying hounds after baiting season ended.
This time of year, one hears the truckloads of howling bear dogs passing on the road, usually very early in the morning. Being intrusive seems like it might be part of the appeal for bear hunters. It does help me get the cats back indoors so I can have them safely contained before I leave for work.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Nothing new about driving

As we roll into the part of the year where I have to do more driving, I see all the usual things.

A trip that takes less time feels more tedious.

Driving may be faster, but it isn't instantaneous.

Being in the lane with other motor vehicles is way more stressful than being able to let them go by or thread their tangles on a small two-wheeler. When you're driving, you might go for miles on a bendy two-lane road with some impatient jackass six inches behind you because you're speeding, but not speeding enough. You may impede the progress of some superhero who can see in the dark, or through fog, and wonders why you can't.

You might be on a straight road and still end up tightly followed by some lonely person who wants to be close to you.

Then there's the other side of the relationship: the driver in front of you who does 45 miles per hour for the whole stretch in which 60-plus would be totally fine. This is usually the same driver who continues at 45 once you get into town and the speed limit drops to 30. It's not a good idea, so you can't say it averages out unless you have terrible judgment.

The best driving in driving season is during a big snowstorm. Little snowstorms are dangerous. Big snowstorms are just a pile of fun, especially if the snowbanks have lined the road with frozen guardrails. I don't mean one should let it rip with no sense of responsibility or personal safety. But big storms finally reduce motorist numbers, provide an entertainingly slithery surface and attractive visual effects. It's really peaceful, wallowing along by yourself.

I'm not impatient for snow. It comes when it comes. Sometimes it doesn't come at all. Other times we get more than we need, and at totally inconvenient times, too. Last winter, for instance, our customer base was too buried to leave home, and each major earning period was either wiped out by warm weather (Christmas Week) or buried by a blizzard (every other holiday period).

The car creates a false sense of security along with very real creature comfort that can be downright tranquilizing. I'm glad I don't drive too many places. There are compensations to relative poverty. One of them is fuel rationing. If I don't have to go somewhere, for work or a utilitarian errand, I don't go.

After a couple of months I'll be a pretty typical Type A asshole behind the wheel. I control it, but I can't deny it. That's always been a big reason I keep going by bicycle. I can let out pent-up emotions to the limits placed by my physical condition. When I can get out to flail around the ski trails, that serves the same function. I've even observed that I act like the worst kind of Boston driver sometimes out there on the trails. Pass left, pass right, follow too closely until I get to pass... total jerk.

Knowledge is power. Once the realization dawns I know I have a responsibility to control myself. The metaphor of driving helps there. Be cool, be cool. You gain nothing worth having by acting like a jerk.

The bridge periods are the hardest. I treat the need to flail with bad fiddling and whatever scraps of my old conditioning program I can force myself to perform.

Monday, October 05, 2015

An update on my crotch

A leather saddle is a long-term relationship. Most people seem concerned about the initial break-in period, but my experience with the Brooks Colt on my Cross Check started deceptively comfortably. I did not have discomfort until early this season.

Sometimes, patience pays off. I rubbed in some extra Proofide in the trouble area and kept riding. The saddle seems to be altering further to reduce the pressure down the center, which has given bike seats in general a very bad reputation among riders and non-riders alike. The narrow saddle is one of the first things a new bike purchaser wants to change without even getting on it.

I picked up a B-17 Narrow in case the Colt did not improve. Now I'm not sure what to do. Put the B-17 on the Cross Check and move the Colt to my road bike? Hold it in reserve for a bike yet to be named? The B-17 has a flatter top profile than the Colt. The Colt was more like the Turbo I was replacing. The difference is the all-leather construction of the Colt versus the plastic shell with dense foam and thin leather cover of the Turbo. A modern saddle wears out. A leather saddle wears in.

I hope things continue to go well. The Brooks saddle wasn't cheap, and it isn't going to wear out anytime soon. I'm prepared to work at this marriage.

Details

The Bike That Never Was rides again.  Handlebar tape was the last detail.

Wind the spiral inward so when you reach the brake lever your figure 8 wrap will give you a straight piece up the outside.
The V on the inside is usually shallow enough to be covered by the brake hood. You never need those short pieces wrapped around the back of the lever clamp. Just always remember to spiral the correct way on each side.

The bike has interrupter levers, so I finished with the housing emerging a couple of turns before the end of the tape. 
Yellow tape shows this nicely.

The owner arrived to get the seat put on and do a basic fitting. I forgot to get a picture of the finished bike. Despite its age and some incipient rust issues, the frame is basically pretty sporty. The parts make a good basis for another bike should this frame fail. Primitive stuff lives on and on.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The life of my tire for the life of a snake

South Effingham has some beautiful, rugged terrain. I used to ride it on my mountain bike, but I got out of the habit. Every time some business takes me through there in my car I make a note to go back on a bike.

The last glacial period left its indelible mark on the terrain. The route I planned starts on the valley floor, undulating glacial till covered by mixed pine and hardwood forest, and wetlands. It then climbs through wild ravines covered with dark conifers.

I looked forward to taking the trusty Cross Check on a little more dirt than usual.

These 700X32 Panaracer T-Serv tires have handled a lot of unpaved surfaces. I tried running some 38s early on, but they felt really bulky.

My phone is earnest, but not smart. The signal can be pretty sketchy in the boonies as well. So I carry a paper map to refresh my memory at intersections that often turn out to be unmarked.

After a couple of miles on pavement I got onto Wilkinson Swamp Road. Nice afternoon. Dry, cool air. Sunshine.

They call these glacial erratics, but I've always found them to be steady as a rock.

Things usually get a little rougher when you pass a sign that says this
Things apparently got rough here at some point in a different way. Larger caliber bullets than usual were used on this mailbox.

Beyond the bullet-riddled mailbox the road descends a series of gentle grades, eventually reaching Wilkinson Brook. Wilkinson Brook follows an almost circular route from its origin on the slopes of the Green Mountain massif down to its confluence with the Pine River. The wetland around most of its length was described as "primordial" by the wetland scientist who traversed it as part of a research project several years ago. The road is rustic, but hardly primordial.

Coming down the last little grade before the brook, I heard the sharp hiss of a large and drastic sliced tire. I pulled off at what turned out to be the scene of someone's luau.
All that remains are discarded Tiki torches. They did not help me fashion a backwoods work stand. None of the trees had projecting branches at a good working height, either.

I had known by the sound that the news would not be good. The tire had a slice up the sidewall as fine as a knife cut. I wondered what I could have hit. This would need a reinforcing boot to keep the tube from bulging through the slash. I knew I had brought my wallet for some better reason than mere identification.

There's something bitterly appropriate about stuffing actual money into a nearly-new tire you know has been ruined.

My plans to spend a couple of hours riding the less-traveled roads bled into the sand as I fit the tire, laboriously inflated it, saw that I needed to re-position the the folded dollar bill inside it, deflated it, worked one bead off, corrected the problem with the boot and laboriously re-inflated the tire. Even if I could have gotten it to full pressure before nightfall, the deformation of the casing showed that this would not be a good idea. The idea of riding even farther from home and having another flat seemed like an even worse idea.

Feeling silly and defeated, I trudged up the little grade where the puncture had occurred, hoping to see a jagged fragment of broken bottle, or twisted sheet metal. Instead, all I found were some pieces of blue stone with sharp edges that still did not seem capable of the blade-thin slice in the tire.

In all the times I've banzaied down a gravel road, using exactly the same type of tires, I have never had tire damage like this. But maybe Effingham bought singularly vicious gravel. Stone age people fashioned cutting blades from rocks of the right composition. Seems like a stupid choice for a road surface, even for car tires. Must have been a good price.

I needed to get home so I could fix the tire properly. I hopped on the bike and pedaled slowly, savoring the forest. I had reached the section where houses and cabins appear again, when I spotted a garter snake stretched out straight in the dirt and gravel. It was so sluggish when I poked it the first couple of times, I thought I might be too late. I almost always am. But it came abruptly to life when I picked it up.

It was hard to photograph, because it wiggled so adamantly. I warmed it in my hands for a couple of minutes before carrying it to a sunny rock away from the road, in the yard of an unoccupied camp.
The rare Northeastern Pretzel Snake
If I had not turned back because of my tire, I would not have happened upon that snake. Since I usually arrive too late to save any of the small creatures whose bodies I see along the road, I felt slightly compensated for my loss and inconvenience. I'm still pissed about the waste of a good tire, but it's not the first time and probably not the last. And the stupid snake might crawl back onto the road today, or tomorrow, or next week. I'm not going to argue with the momentary happiness of saving a creature who probably found the whole encounter very disturbing and feels no gratitude. For some reason I like animals.

Hands black with tire grime and smelling of snake urine, I wended my way back out to the paved road, and onward to home base. After washing up and having a bit of food, I pulled out a new new tire I had not expected to need until some time next year. I always try to have one around.

The damaged tire had a version of the classic Titanic Puncture. The true Titanic Puncture is a sidewall gash you get in a brand new tire on its first ride. This tire wasn't on its maiden voyage, but it hadn't been on the bike for more than a few weeks at most.
First step: asset recovery
The gash crossed enough sidewall cords to ruin the casing. The slice is three times as long as the part that actually cut all the way through. It cut through the tread almost to the crown of the tire. I don't want to be ripping down some steep descent or drafting a truck on that. I see trucks I want to draft a lot less often than I used to, but what if? I tested it with more air pressure after I got home and saw the slice spread wider, showing the folded bill. The tube would stay in, but the tire itself can't be counted on to be stable when I need it the most.

The Titanic Punctures I've gotten in the past were all on the road and came from pieces of metal I was able to find, even though I had not spotted them soon enough to avoid them. The somewhat mysterious origin of this one makes it more disturbing. I've ridden that bike through that road a number of times.

If it had just been a snakebite I would not have had to turn back. So I'd get the bite and the snake would die.

Life is weird.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Another "Valley of Death" rim

This is a Bontrager AT550 hybrid rim, 622X20 mm. It has the troublesome Valley of Death, where inner tubes meet a premature end. The skinny rubber rim strip can slip aside, uncovering a tiny fang on a spoke nipple. The inflated tube distends down into that deep channel, stretching unevenly. Sometimes tubes fail just from that. In other cases, the thinned part in the channel is more vulnerable to chafe.

Throw in the life line!

Ordinary clothesline fills the ditch. You have to allow for the valve hole.

Then top it with rim tape.
This cumbersome process brought to you by The Bike Industry and the fine re-labelers at Trek.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm getting too old for this

The bike business does not respect age. Not surprising when you consider that a young adult can propel and maneuver the vehicle to its greatest potential. Not too young; the best riders need seasoned muscles and honed skills. But at a certain point a rider can no longer keep up.

Bicycling in general encompasses an array of machinery and techniques suitable for all ages. Bikes for children are mostly toys, or perhaps prepare them for what they might some day achieve in bicycling's real theater. Bikes for older riders reflect what people past their prime can still manage to be.

Certain elders achieve the status of wise men. Owners of companies, famous innovators, retired racers all can manage to make the young pups shut up for at least a minute. But put one of these silver-tops in a greasy apron in a little shop in some nowhere town and the young guns would not know to be impressed. And if the greasy old geezer turning wrenches has never been one of those luminaries in the first place, the world really passes them by.

In what passed for the glory days, my physical prime happened to coincide with the mountain bike boom and my skills and style happened to be slightly better than average. This is no modest understatement. My edge was very slim. Mechanical skills and analytical ability made up the rest of my powers, but these were certainly enhanced by the number of people I could leave puking behind me on a long climb. The fact that I was puking to stay in front of them, and chasing faster riders, was excused by the fact that nearly all of us were chasing someone faster. If I could stay ahead of two thirds or three quarters of a ride group, that was solid enough. I knew that all the riders ahead of me were puking to stay out there.

There's a lot of puking, actual or metaphorical, in the prime of cycling. And a lot of acid reflux in your declining years.

Briefly, the local mountain bike crowd shifted to road riding before succumbing to the various ailments of aging athletes. Mountain biking itself went off a cliff, literally. Even if I was in my prime, I would not want to ride in the modern style, on the modern arthropod.

The fragmented bike market does not need hard-driving, monomaniacal riders as much as it needs experienced observers and interpreters. But some of its segments still feed on the intensity of the competitor. Lots of riders claim to understand their lower place in the hierarchy, but when they ride you know they're listening to the narration of their private video, or at least feeling the savage satisfaction of chasing down their quarry, real or imagined. An awful lot of people who come into a shop look at the people who work there and mentally assess whether they would be the chasers or the chased.

Actually, an awful lot of people don't come into bike shops anymore. Not in Resort Town, anyway. Even when there was money to me made, it was not easy because it attracted a lot of competition. We left all of them in the dust eventually, but now the dust settles on us, on a course nearly deserted. The segmented market seeks asylum in enclaves of its own disciples. You're either a big shop or a specialty shop.

We're an outpost, in Resort Town. We're that palisade far from civilization where a traveler hopes the blacksmith can knock together something to keep the wagon going long enough to get them home. We'll never be a big shop, because we've chosen to live beyond the edge of big civilization. The place is hardly remote. The lifestyle has evolved from north country lite to rural suburban. But the rough and rocky land refuses to support much of an economy. When people no longer come from away, the locals can only do so much to keep each other afloat.

The model for New England -- particularly northern New England -- is the subsistence farm. Now that the party is over for cycling, our shop is a subsistence farm. The woods are full of the weathered stone foundations of subsistence farms. The inhabitants of them gleaned whatever sustenance they could before they gave up and moved on, or simply dropped.

In the bustle of civilization, life is less of a struggle against indifferent nature and more of a brawl. There may be more activity in the lands of urbanization and sprawl, but it's no less strenuous. The specialty shop is only as good as its reputation. The big shop has to find the right size for its economy, and maintain a staff that will help it flourish, or at least not embarrass it too badly. If a specialty wanes, the little boutique must shift its focus or wither. The big shop or small chain can grow or shrink categories as long as the staff can keep up with the technology.

Technology is driven by desire. Perceived necessity is the mother of invention. Desire breeds an image. An image is an emotional construct. Emotion responds to first impressions. First impressions can be shaped by prejudicial beliefs. We look for what we hope to see, and often see what we have told ourselves to expect. Does this slightly limping, unkempt mumbler really know what he's doing? Why is someone that age still doing this job?

Because I can. Because the craft needs people who respect the craft. Why waste all that experience?

Like any writer, I console myself with the idea that I may yet figure out how to produce and sell something popular, or at least be discovered after my death and become influential then. Beyond that it's probably better not to pick at things too much. You can't do much more than what seems like a good idea at the time, whatever you're into. Good luck out there. If you need your bike worked on, you know where to find me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Bike that Never Was

A woman in town wanted a road bike to leave at a place she regularly visits in Maine, so she wouldn't have to transport her regular bike back and forth.

A good used bike is like a glass slipper: it's no use if it doesn't fit. We don't see the flood of trade-ins we used to get in the 1990s, when everyone was dumping their road bikes to get mountain bikes. Some places probably do a brisk trade in used bikes, but few of them make it all the way to our backwater anymore.

I had a couple of frames hanging around. If one of them fit her, I said I would try to scrape up the parts turn it into a bike.

The frame that fit had a bent fork. But I had a fork that would probably work. The frame had a crank, derailleurs, a headset and seatpost.

We got pretty lucky with wheels and brake levers. I kept running into blockades and then surmounting them somehow. The only things we had to buy new were the handlebars and interrupter brake levers. Oh, and a chain and cables. And she wanted a good women's saddle. That was the most expensive item.

On second look, my replacement fork didn't look all that great. I remembered I'd bought the Park Big Honkin' Pry Bar, so I figured I would take a shot at straightening the fork that was on there.

The Park BHPB-1
Lacking a fork jig, the straightening process was an art project. The first time through it looked pretty good until I put a wheel in it. Even then it wasn't too bad...until I tried to make it better. The quest for near perfection, as always, was a trapdoor into Hell. I tried to quit at least a half a dozen times before it somehow ended up better than some 1970s production bikes were when new.

The bike isn't ready to roll out yet, but we're down to the rigging and details.

I don't even remember where I got the frame. As I worked on it I noticed things that make me think it had been improvised by Bill, a mysterious man who had been the team mechanic for cantankerous old geezers around town until his death from cancer several years ago. The frame before me might have been ridden by Crazy George. Crazy George's riding habits did not kill him. He was run over walking in a crosswalk one early winter night, going from the library to the church across the street. A van hit and dragged him. He lingered for weeks at Maine Medical Center before finally succumbing. This is how it is to be elderly and non-motorized.

Crazy George would have ridden the bike with its bent fork, helmetless and headlong. Bill would have kept it running as best he could with parts he scrounged. I am only doing the same thing, with better parts and tools. The improvisations I have upgraded were all cleverly done. They showed knowledge of how a bike should be, not just superficial applications of whatever hardware-store bolt will sort of fit the hole in need of filling.

Because a bicycle is a collection of parts, I can keep an eye out for a better frame and fork while my client rides this one. Nearly every part will transfer to any decent frame that comes along.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bye bye to Summer

I don't know what these plants are, but I love how they look like a forest of upraised middle fingers by this point in the summer. Long years in the service economy will do that to you.

Actually, I encounter many people who present baffling and sometimes unpleasant challenges, but few I would wave off with an aggressive digital salute. I still love these flowers, though.

A few more days remain before the northern hemisphere officially goes to the dark side. Already I have to hurry on the way home. I don't really have to hurry. I have great lights. But months in lavish daylight lend urgency to the last little portion of it. Mornings are cool and foggy.

By November, the ends of the day will touch each other. Late fall and winter days have no middle. Early comes late and late comes early. Right now we still get a middle.

I was contemplating the tedious task of relocating merchandise for the seasonal changeover, because there was nothing else to do. Then this happened:


The owner of this bakfiets had developed gear trouble. She had ridden in from a neighboring town to take one of her kids to a sports practice. She had observed the exploding cable housing at the shifter. She hoped I could repair it in time for her to ride home after practice. We had about an hour and a half left to closing time. 

The vehicle uses a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub with their Revo shifter. This made life more complicated at both ends of the cable.

I hoped to be able to change the cable without replacing the full-length housing. Only the cheesy plastic ferrule at the shifter had actually failed. The housing itself remained salvageable. 

As usual, yanking stuff apart was easy enough, even though you have to take the cover of the shifter apart to get at the cable. 

I used a metal ferrule in place of the crappy plastic one. I had dialed up a PDF service guide so I could keep checking on the anatomy of this beast as I went along. This proved very useful as the process slowly spun out of control.

The cable needs to be exactly the right length to work with the limited length of the threaded adjuster on the shifter. In a classic Shimanoism, their PDF specified that the distance from the end of the cable housing to the center of the anchor bolt must be 101 millimeters. Not "about a hundred." A hundred and one.
Anyone else out there remember the cigarette jingle, "a silly millimeter longer, 101?"

At first I hooked the cable up and adjusted it as simply as I'd hoped I could. But as I ran it back and forth to seat the cable and confirm the adjustment, it kept wandering. The oscillation increased.

I checked the hub. Things were all afloat. With a roller brake as well as the internal gears, removing this rear wheel wasn't a trivial prospect, especially as the time seemed to race toward closing.

I kept checking the PDF. As usual with these documents, they left a few questions unanswered. That delayed things further with experimentation.

I had to reattach the "cassette joint pulley" and the "cassette joint bracket" with their sketchy plastic lock ring. That meant dropping the wheel out of a vehicle that probably weighs more than 100 pounds. It has a pedal-assist motor and battery, in addition to its considerable size just by itself. I hoisted it with a cord system hung from the arm of the work stand.

The rider showed up at closing time. She said she could call for a lift home and leave the beast so I could do a few more odds and ends in the morning.

The few repairs that do come in all seem to be weird in some way. Guy came in for a flat tire repair. Said nothing about the right crank arm falling off. Another rider wanted the rear (and only) brake bled on his Trek mountain bike, set up for jumping. He also casually mentioned we might throw pads in it while we had it.

His old pads turned out to have a paper-thin layer of lining left on them. New ones are almost $50. He's cool with that.

To allow for bar spins, the bike had an extra loop of brake line wrapped around the stem. The line went down to the chain stay, creating numerous bends in which air bubbles could lodge permanently. I ended up taking the lever off the handlebar and stretching the line out. I clamped an old handlebar in the adjacent work stand and mounted the lever to that. I also had to detach the line from the frame to pull it into a gradually rising path. Merely elevating the front of the bike did not eliminate the air trap caused by the loop around the stem.

The Monday crew got to program a Shimano electronic road shifter. Because, yeah, you have to program your shifters. That bike also had wheels with some weird nipples buried in the rim, and piano wire spokes. I know the cool-kid shops in the big market areas are doing a lot more of this. I still think it's absurd. We've let the complicated bullshit creep in and creep in as an accepted norm. Almost no one (mostly just me) fought back against it in the early 1990s when it really started to foam up like a runaway science experiment.

I know bicycles have always been popular with experimenters. From the 1990s onward, the industry has been completely devoted to pickier equipment for dubious advantages. I'm not even sure it makes racing better. That's usually the excuse, that the new gear gives a competitive advantage or supports athletes better, leading to higher levels of achievement. But competitors would compete on Draisines, if that's all they had. Competitors compete. And when they're finished competing, they quit and don't look back. Why should the rest of us, devoted to pedaling for life, have to put up with the debris left behind by a bunch of egotists into it for short-term glory?

Then there's mountain biking. The quest for a light weight, sturdy, but basically traditional bicycle gave way to hulking crustaceans optimized for bashing. They're really good at what they do. What excuse does anyone have for clotting up the roads when you can get a wonderfully sophisticated machine for going out into the woods, where you bother no one? Be sure you keep up your maintenance schedule.

I enjoy the challenges of trying to fix this crap. Sometimes it's a pain, but for the most part I can just laugh at the folly and try to keep it working. Once in a while, something really cool comes in. As long as people pay their bills, it's an okay way to contribute to society.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life's Little Victories

Trying to fit a snazzy new front derailleur to a customer's 2012 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR full suspension bike, we had discovered that the attachment bolts matched no pattern currently offered. After a lot of research and treasure hunting, we finally reached the right level at Specialized to get an adapter they no longer make. From the traces of dirt on it, I'd say it was salvaged off someone else's bike.

It arrived with a packing slip designating it an "obsolete accessory item." Yep. A 2012 bike, purchased in 2013 as a closeout, and already dogged by unavailable spares by 2015. The message is clear: either take such great care of your stuff that you never need to replace anything, or beat it to death completely so you can buy a whole new bike.

The customer had been in an unrelated accident after we replaced other parts of the drive train on his bike. A pickup truck left-crossed him as he was riding to work. He received a spectacular gash in the gut. Like a real unsponsored rider, he took the worst hit and spared the bike, for the most part. His seat and the clamp of the seatpost were smashed because of the way his body had been driven into it, but the rest of the bike came out looking remarkably unscathed. Total damage added up to a few hundred dollars, but it was all in easily replaceable parts. The little victory there is that local law enforcement is citing the driver who failed to yield before making the left turn across the path of the cyclist. Even though it is legal and correct, it's still unusual for a cyclist to receive the full measure of respect due to an equal user of the road.

With the rider sidelined by injuries, we had a few more days to track down the magic piece to make his new front derailleur work. He's surprisingly durable and irrepressible. I never knew how many things he'd smashed into, on how many different modes of transportation, until he was relating his current injuries to his impressive catalog of pre-existing scars.

Monday, September 07, 2015

September Driver Aggression

Big G sent me an email last week to alert me to a bully in a pickup truck on a road we both use for the morning commute. The driver had apparently pulled up beside George and matched his speed, squeezing over to the right even though there was no oncoming traffic.

Every year I report on September's increase in motorist meanness. I'd noticed precursors in late August, but only increasing speed and slightly closer passing. As with the retraining period every March or April, you just have to get through it. Late September and October bring early dusk, with its own set of hazards, whereas the spring session usually gives way to the broader minds and expansive daylight of the warm season.

Duly warned, I put the camera on my helmet for my first commute of the week. I shot a bunch of completely unremarkable videos I erased when I got home. Each day I mounted the camera and captured nothing exciting. I'm not disappointed. Yes, drivers seemed to go faster and pass tighter, but not in a way that had much visual impact.

Earlier this summer I did get brushed back by a hearse. I wondered if he was trying to drum up business. Or maybe the refrigeration had gone out at the funeral home and they really wanted to get that corpse out of their car and into the ground.

I hear a lot of revving around the neighborhood. In the twilight of internal combustion, hot rodding has lost none of its popularity. The local rods seem to know me. I do my thing, they do theirs. I continue to believe that the world would be a better place if more people did my thing and fewer people did theirs, but I gave up on changing the course of history a long time ago. Whatever's going to happen happens. Evolution observes.

Big G claimed another prize observation on his next ride to work. He came around a bend to find himself face to face with a runner proceeding lawfully and correctly against the flow of vehicle traffic. But the runner was being overtaken by a bicycle rider also proceeding against the flow of vehicle traffic. As George pulled out to avoid the oncoming pedestrian and wheeled pedestrian, he heard a clashing downshift and roaring engine as a woman in a BMW convertible punched her way through. Everyone was lined up at once, basically filling the roadway from ditch to ditch. Fortunately, no motorist appeared from the opposite direction.

Monday, August 24, 2015

All or Nothing Town

Summer resort towns survive on the frantic seasonal surge. The residents hope that the blur of activity leaves enough cash behind to weather the many months in which the whole outside world forgets we exist, except for the occasional mention on the Tonight Show.

Wolfeboro squeezes a bit more income out of fall foliage and winter tourism, but summer is the big money maker. All. Then nothing.

We're teetering at the edge of that drop into nothing right now. The only reason the shop has seemed busy is that we are running with two people most of the time, and never more than three. We used to need a daily staff of three, with four or five on busy weekends and holidays.

Why do people ask, "How's business?" When I start to tell them, their eyes glaze, they fidget, and they change the subject.

Your obvious capitalist high roller types look delightfully uneasy when some shop clerk starts to lay out detailed observations about the vanishing middle class.

From now on, when someone asks, "How's business?" I'm going to say, "What are you, an economist?" Or I'll just say "F#&k off!"

When Wolfeboro was really booming, in the 1980s and '90s, the resident middle class was mostly land pimps and contractors. It was filled out by school district employees, some professionals, and the few small business owners who were actually generating some profit. There was also a smattering of super-commuters driving to Concord, southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts every work day. All this so their children could be raised in the small town fantasy of a cultural backwater devoid of real opportunity. But it's pretty, and there's virtually no street crime.

Young adults drive any economy, and they can't thrive here. When the boom was big, young adults were servicing it. They raised their families and spent optimistically. But now the kids are grown, the young adults are aging and the money seems harder to get, and wiser to hold, if you can.

The same aging has taken down the seasonal residents. Extended families used to come here for weeks. They might come and go during the summer, but there always seemed to be a contingent around. As age and economics attack those numbers, fewer people come. Some families even sell the lake place. The new buyers don't seem to have the mindset or the finances to fill the region with hustle and bustle from the end of May to early September. The town is turning more and more into a retirement area. The third world economics of the region help a little, just as they do in foreign countries renowned for affordable retirement fortresses. Just keep the poor folks outside the compound and you'll be fine. New Hampshire may cost a little more money, but you're still a tad less likely to get carjacked or invaded here than in some banana republic. Between the residents who remain unwilling to give up basic courtesy, and the ones who still believe in "job creators," most of them will touch a forelock or at least nod pleasantly to the silver-haired benefactors who dribble out a bit of their investment income in return for a secure place to lay their heads.

Even Jimmy Fallon, for all his enthusiastic lip service, really only shows up for Fourth of July weekend. This year he didn't even do that, because he was having his finger sewn back on. I'm not sure if Mitt was around. They're not where the money is made, anyway. The rare birds just provide some color and excitement for those inclined to be excited by such things. The anonymous masses with moderate means used to bring the real lifeblood. Big flocks of quail provide more meat than a handful of eagles. A lot more.

If you're capable of intellectual detachment about your plight, you can see that the rich -- who really are better than the rest of us -- only need so many flunkies. Everyone else is just a drain on society's resources. I have operated under the hope that the culling will be gradual rather than cataclysmic, and that I can continue my modest, comfortable life of genteel poverty by scurrying along the baseboards to fetch my crumbs unnoticed. Writing inflammatory crap like this might seem to run counter to that philosophy, but I hardly expect anything I write to go viral. I have the sense not to blow the gig by getting into any pointless arguments with visiting plutocrats. Even though most of our summer plutocrats have taken up the smokeless moped, they still come in and trickle, and their machinery is amusing. I just have to avoid getting a hernia, lifting one of those behemoths onto the work stand. I would rather work on an e-bike than a gasoline-powered moped, so that's something to be thankful for.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Busy, crazy, hazy days of summer

Your handlebar tape should not smell like a sweaty sock. And maybe you should see your dermatologist if it does. At the very least, burn your cycling gloves and get some new ones, because they're beyond washing at this point.

I did not say this to the customer who came in with a sudden case of skippy gears on Saturday. I think he'd already headed off to drink and snack in a nearby cafe while we performed whatever instant miracle we could devise. I doused the tape with Lysol before getting near it again. It was white tape, a little grubby but not outright grimy. Something must have been fermenting under the brifter hoods, though. I resisted the urge to set the Lysol on fire.

That rider's gears skipped in the mid range because the rear derailleur pivot was corroded, so the derailleur stuck in the fully-extended position when he rode in the Ned gear. The Ned, named for its most famous proponent, Ned Overend, is the full cross from big chain ring to biggest rear cog. Here was yet another newish road bike suffering from abuse and neglect. The left crank arm had a coating of orange rust all over it because of the rusty water oozing out of the bottom bracket bearings.

Fancy-zoot modern frames with internal cable routing and inset headsets and whatnot have all these entry points for water. It checks in and it doesn't check out. It flows to the lowest point. It gets in from riding in the rain. It gets blasted in from driving in the rain with the bike on a rack. It forms inside from condensation when a bike is stored in a space with wide swings of temperature and humidity. Because no one has to do overhauls anymore, it remains undisturbed for months and years.

I was able to flush out the crud with floods of spray lube and restore full function to that derailleur. The customer was laudably appreciative. He did not say anything about the disinfectant odor hanging over his slightly damp bar tape. Perhaps his pungent gloves kept him from feeling or smelling that anything was afoot. Or no longer quite so much like a foot, anyway.

Some time after that I was doing a "tune up, rear brake pads, call if anything else" repair. I had knocked off the major points when I noticed one pedal seemed to be unthreading from the crank arm. This sometimes happens. If you're lucky, you can thread it in and it will stay. If not, the wiggling pedal has gouged out the threads in the crank arm.

Closer examination revealed that the other pedal was also protruding. Even closer examination revealed that someone had managed to thread the left pedal into the right arm, and the right pedal into the left arm. Things had jammed up about five-eighths of the way in, so they called it good enough.

I was able to extract the pedals. Then I had to run taps through the threads from the back side, starting in the undamaged threads, to establish the proper angle. I should have added to the charges for this, but I did not want to play phone tag and try to explain a weird problem to a customer who wouldn't understand it anyway, so I got through it as quickly as possible and ate the labor on it.

Mid-week a woman rented a road bike. She had brought her shoes and helmet, but forgot her jersey with the handy pockets in the back. When she left the shop she had all her little items stuffed in her bra and the waistband of her cycling shorts. She was a humorous person, and obviously practical in a quirky way. She rode off, oddly bulgy.  When she returned the bike on Sunday morning, she had what looked like a nice piece of banana bread in a plastic bag, stuffed into her cleavage.

In a companion to Bike Shop Gynecology, I had male customer looking for a saddle that would not only support his pelvic bones properly, but also keep his genitalia from "flopping around." I asked if he wore proper cycling shorts, whose constrictive fabric famously inhibits "flop." He said he did. Fortunately, he did not try to show me the problem. I tried not to imagine what sort of hefty, flaccid apparatus could still manage to flop when constrained by the well-constructed 'nad prison of proper bike shorts. I urged him to pursue his own research program.

About an hour into Sunday morning, a rider came in from the road, with the bike in one hand and the chain in the other. His rear derailleur had been yanked around to the top of the dropout when the chain jammed in it after it parted at the "speshul pin," as they so often do. Because he had the chain, I was able to gauge it and determine that it had been worn past the end of the scale before the pin popped. That meant the cassette was toasted. The middle and outer rings were also worn to where they would not properly engage the chain. The rider agreed to a full drivetrainectomy and replacement, if I could dig up the parts from what we had in stock. He did not want to wait for anything to be ordered.

Of course it turned into a scavenger hunt. To duplicate the gearing he had, I was going to have to take apart a 10-speed cassette and re-space it to make a tighter 9-speed than what we had on the shelf. The rear derailleur had to be scavenged from a trade-in road bike we'd put on rental. We had no new chainrings to match his old ones. We'd have to hope the old ones would last the week so he could get home and get new ones. The used rings I found did not seem worth the trouble and expense to install if we did not absolutely have to.

When I called to explain his options, the customer liked the sound of the even easier gearing he would get with the 9-speed cassettes we had on the shelf. He'd had a 12-24. The cassette I was going to improvise would have been a 12-25. Our stock offerings were 11-28. Since we were putting on a new chain, the 11-28 was no problem. So that saved some time and fiddling.

With about 20 minutes before the shop closed, I had the bike back together. On my test ride it functioned well. I called the customer. He came right down, paid and rode off.

Minutes later, he rode back. The chain was slipping on the chain rings. I ride pretty lightly, so I had not gotten it to do that. He was misidentifying it as skipping in the rear. It was pretty dramatically slipping in the front when I rode it after he brought it back.

The chainrings I dug up were going to give him problems shifting, but they would at least hold the chain once it was on there. The middle ring was stamped steel, so it needed those annoying spacers that Shimano used in the 1990s when they were making thin chainrings. The crank was an FSA, so it had those annoying Torx chainring bolts. I didn't want to open any more Pandora's boxes by pulling the crank to replace the rings, so I was trying to do it with the crankset on the bike and the inner ring only loosened, not removed. The spacers I had were a little too thick to put the rings at the optimal distance apart. The drop to the middle was a little wide and from middle to little was a trifle skinny. I showed him all this on the work stand before turning him loose. We had to charge something for the fix, but I kept it as low as I could.

To add interest, increasingly frequent, increasingly strong thunderstorms were moving through the area. The customer had to wait for a gap after I finished installing the chainrings, while a downpour played out.

I'm sure there has been more, but I can't seem to find all my scribbled little notes to jog my scrambled little memory by the time I get to the end of a week. There's no time to post anything from work these days. As the work load shrinks so we can't afford ample staff, what remains is still more than enough to string out the couple of people who work on any given day. Even our crew of three on weekend days is fully occupied with the backlog and the walk-ins. So funny stuff happens, but it rushes downstream and is lost in the river mist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A time to herd, a time to let 'em run

Even with a massive investment in road improvements, a lot of places in this country will still have narrow roads shared by all users. Terrain, geology and well-established land uses encroach on rights-of-way.

On my commute, Route 28 gets narrow and bendy as it comes into Wolfeboro. The token shoulder disappears. In theory, no motorist can safely pass a cyclist without putting themselves and oncoming traffic at risk.

As I developed my own theories about traffic management a couple of decades ago, I started taking a position further and further into the lane. When the law in New Hampshire made that formally legitimate I experimented with strict herding in that twisty section.

After a couple of seasons I abandoned that method. It made impatient motorists do hideously dangerous things and cranked up the flame under hotheads. Now I ride to the far right through there. It's as close to serene as it will ever be. Granted, I've had some big stuff breeze past my elbow. But when I herded I still had some big stuff go by my elbow, and they weren't breezing.

I would rather have a driver skinny past me, knowing that they don't want to waste time on an accident, than have them seething behind me, wanting more and more to kill me. In nearly every case, I get a bit more room when I let them slide. Because the road is twisty, they aren't screwing around with their phones or other distractions. I figure my odds are about as good as they're going to get.

Further in, where the road straightens and is further constrained by curbs, I move back out into the lane to inhibit stupid passing behavior. The pitch of the road allows me to maintain a speed around 20 mph -- faster when I'm fresher -- so I don't feel like I'm imposing quite so much. Mind you, 20 mph in a car feels wretchedly slow, but soon enough we get to a wide place where I can release the herd to run freely again -- as freely as anything gets to run in Wolfeboro in the summer, anyway. What really happens is that I let them go and then hop in behind them as we all tool along at a very bikeable pace, with them happily in front of the "slower" vehicle.

In a region of narrow, country roads, I ride nearer the right than the center most of the time. I want to be in the forward field of view, even for someone with windshield-induced tunnel vision, with a little wiggle room to the right to ease a squeeze. That one's tricky, though. One squeezer at or near the head of a line can open the space for a convoy to come through in a flying wedge. Even with a rear-view mirror you can't always tell how many vehicles are building up back there. You have to watch the road ahead more than the reflected view. You also have to make some psychological assessments before you open -- or close -- the gate.

The simpler method is to hold that right-of-center, left-of-right position tenaciously. If a driver really pushes the point, use your wiggle room and look for a place to slingshot as many followers around you as you can.

When you get swept aside you may have to slow down a lot. In congested areas with driveways, intersections and parked cars, if you can't stay out in the flow you have to go slowly enough to be ready for ambushes from the side. I hardly encounter urban congestion at all. Where I do, I can keep up with the motor vehicles well enough to stay in the lane. In Wolfe City it's only for a few blocks. In the height of summer's crowds, a bike rider needs to be ready to stop in an instant anyway, because the next bonehead could come from any direction, on two wheels, four wheels, or walking.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

What's lunch like where you work?

Someone in management thought Mimosas would enhance their parade viewing this morning.

She left the fixin's on the Bayview desk.

As much as I say my job drives me to drink, actually doing so at work does not improve either my day or the ride home afterwards. But the Mimosans today were not on the clock. They just didn't clean up after themselves.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Devise and Conquer

A bike mechanic should do more than absorb and repeat the industry's latest technical information to keep pushing the wave of product rollouts down the long shore of history. The master of the craft knows you have to deal with a lot of other stuff that washes up in front of you after drifting derelict or perhaps breeding in the depths.

A minor challenge that has bubbled up in the last decade is, "where do I put the blinky light on this bike?"

The lights themselves usually come with various mounting options. Some of them actually solve the problem effectively. But the combination of seat height, seat bags, and other factors can make the mounting more of a token gesture. Why have an in-your-face flashing light when you end up mounting it down around hubcap level?

Yesterday I had to put Superflash lights on two low-priced bikes with sprung seats and suspension seatposts. This is a combination that makes on-bike mounting difficult, especially with the trend for frames with low stand-over clearance. The suspension mechanism on the post and the thickness of the cushy saddle mean that the solid part of the seat post may be buried in the frame. Even if a bit of it shows, it may be so low that the light is practically eclipsed by the rear tire.

Your average blinky user will not clip it to their clothing. That's too much to remember. They want the light on the bike. There it will remain, while its first set of batteries dies, bursts and destroys the circuitry. So I should not care whether the light is in the best possible location. But I can't help trying to do things in a neater, more functional way if I can.

After studying the bikes yesterday I realized I could take a bolt out of the seat spring assembly on the left side and devise a mounting point that would take the seat stay clamp provided with the light.

Step one: longer bolt. The nut has a step on it which will engage the hole in a washer that will form the top of the mount.
A metal washer and a rubber faucet washer go on the bolt next.
At this stage the bracket is assembled with a section of aluminum ski pole, a bottom faucet washer, a bottom metal washer and a nut to hold the whole thing together.
Here is the light bracket in place.
It's Superflash!
And there you have it. Ready to blink.
 
The rear rack limits how low the seat can go with this rig, but that would be as true with any other seat post mount. Mounting to the seat stay just puts the light down in the ground clutter.

Not a momentous accomplishment, but a nice little craft project.