Monday, December 05, 2016

Sometimes the old days really were good

A couple of bike tourists have left me their Sevens to reconfigure with 9-speed cassettes, triple cranks and barcon shifters. This is after a few years riding with the carbon compact cranks, 10-speed cassettes, and SRAM Double Tap shifters originally installed.

They came in originally because one of the shifter paddles had snapped off on one of those SRAM Double Tap shifters, they way they are prone to do. SRAM offers the shifter paddle as a replacement part, but only below the point at which they always snap off.

Any of my regular readers will know how I scoff at the brifter concept for anyone but a dedicated racer. The fact that spell check produces the word "grifter" when it flags brifter as a misspelling seems highly appropriate. Oh boy! More expensive crap to break! And don't even think about fixing it yourself.

Accustomed to vehicles that can't be repaired and that use mysterious assemblies that function perfectly until they suddenly don't function at all, modern riders have been well trained to avoid doing much of their own maintenance and repair. You can still change a tire, dial in your index shifting, and lube a chain, but don't mess with anything else.

As part of the design process, I pored over gear charts to come up with cassettes that would offer helpful gear intervals int he ranges these riders will actually use. I came up with a good range on a 9-speed 13-36, with 26-36-48 chainrings, that had no duplicates (one, actually, but not in a combination one should use) and gave closer spacing in the low range than the high range. Unfortunately, we would have to buy at least four cassettes, plus eight or ten Miche cogs, to get two cassettes with the desired cog sizes.

Here's where the olden days were better than nowadays: When cassettes were introduced by Shimano around 1980, they offered a rider complete flexibility to spec and assemble gear ranges suited to individual need or desire. This could still be true, but some bean counter figured out that it was cheaper for the company to offer specific cassettes with unchangeable ranges. The free-range cog has nearly vanished.

Miche offers complete custom capability, but only from 11 to 29 teeth.

My customers could use some sort of dinky crank with a tiny BCD, but 64-104 or 110-74 are widely available in case of a breakdown in the boonier parts of the world. So topping out at 29 is not the best option.

Having discovered that the cogs for my ideal cassettes will be expensive to collect, I'll dig back into the gear charts and figure out how to make the best of what the industry forces on us. With the War on Front Derailleurs, some crazy wide-range cassettes are showing up. I sketched out a few ideas for an 18-speed cassette, just to try to get ahead of the trend by a year or two. Maybe out of all the horseshit and chaos I'll find something off the shelf that does most of what I had put together in my original design.

Crankwise, the workhorse Deore triple seems like the best choice. I like the old reliable Sugino XD 600, but I wonder when the square tapered bottom bracket axle will finally disappear. I should start stockpiling.

It's the time of year when the weather can change radically from one day to the next. It snowed all day today, only netting a couple of inches. The National Weather Service outlook for December sets up parameters that could bring snow, but their three-month outlook inclines toward more drought or possibly rain. Attempts to park and ride or park and ski fail because no one plows out places to park. The trip to work becomes all or nothing.

For the past several years I have put studded tires on my path commuter, and then either had bare ground or deep snow to deal with. Installing them is still the signal that winter is really here.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A lucky break and some chilling thoughts

When my house was broken into a couple of weeks ago, the investigating officer left his card and said I should call if I noticed anything that could help the investigation. I had little hope that the investigation would yield anything, but I did call when I noticed that a flashlight I kept near the front door had been stolen. It was a PeliLght Submersible light that I had used for kayaking. I had exchanged parts between this orange light and a black one of the same type, giving the light a distinctive appearance.

Three days later, I got a call back. Cooperating law enforcement agencies in several communities on either side of the Maine-New Hampshire border have been working on the burglary epidemic for months. They had just managed to catch and arrest a couple leaving the scene of another burglary in the next town to the north, which led investigators to a stash of loot in a town about 30 miles to the south. Among the identifiable items they recovered was my funky flashlight.

I may never see any of my stuff again. Some may have been sold or bartered. Some may have been tossed as worthless in the thief and drug addict economy. Recovered items will have to serve as evidence for an undetermined length of time. But it's nice to know that someone has officially connected names and faces to the crime.

Effingham's police chief told me that opioid users in this area may be living in the woods. Items stolen are often bartered directly for drugs, or used for survival. Thus the Gerber knife, the flashlight, and the binoculars taken from my house might go directly to support an encampment, wherever it might be.

Guess I'll have to go armed when I go bushwhacking now. What a drag. Fortunately, I do most of that in the winter, when snow will reveal the tracks of any forest dwellers. I already dress in muted colors. This may give me a better chance of seeing them before they see me.

What a thing to have to worry about. I think about it on the night commute, too. I'm riding along, brightly lit, a movable feast of useful and salable items on a deserted forest path. The illuminated person is the one at risk in the darkness. I've toyed with contingency plans for years. Now they seem more realistic. How do I escape? How quickly can I shuck reflective items, to blend with the darkness and escape or counterattack? I load my bike and personal pack with this in mind. I want my phone, a weapon, and one light in my possession, ready to run when I abandon the lighted bike and use it as bait. How I respond after that depends on how many assailants gather, and how badass they look. Certainly an open line to 911 is first. Then use the darkness myself to observe the enemy.

Probably nothing will ever happen. But you can't predict what a jonesing addict might think is a good idea. And the average lifespan of an opioid addict after the onset of addiction is 15 to 20 years. They don't instantly turn into frail twigs hovering at the edge of death. They may be sturdy, muscular people who have turned all their energy toward acquiring more of their chemical best friend by any means necessary. Whether they are truly bad or good is immaterial, if they are opportunistic, and driven by a craving.`

The path was my refuge for the night commute. If I leave it to ride the road, I'm exposed to narrow, rural highways in the darkness. That not only adds the possibility of a collision with an inattentive driver, it may increase the chance of being picked off by a "shopper" who would not have seen me if I was not right there on the public right of way.

All this is no more true than it was before I was aware of it. The opioid crisis has been building for several years. But any kind of personal contact with the effects of the crisis makes it more real. Is danger a reason not to do something worthwhile? Of course not. But new dangers add new elements to be managed.

In case you think something is too trivial to attract a miscreant's attention, consider the shaving kits: I had marveled that the thieves had taken mine when it contained nothing I thought they would want. I reckoned they had snatched it just because it might contain prescription drugs, and that they would toss it as soon as they had time to look in it. Nope. The investigating officer called to ask me to describe my shaving kit, because the people they arrested had a bunch of them. In light of that, and because you do hear about riders on urban paths getting mugged for their bikes, I figure it's only a matter of time before the light bulb comes on over some dirtbag's head around here, and they try to pick off a lone rider in a secluded setting.

Ideas like this reinforce people's idea that they are safer in their swift-moving armored vehicles than they are on a slow, wobbly bicycle. The fact that they would be safest of all on foot, efficiently but lightly armed, does not fit most people's work schedule and world view. I'm certainly not going to start hiking to work with a side arm and a medium-length blade. Not yet, anyhow. Ask me again in a couple of years, when the social order has collapsed because of disastrous economic policies and fully unleashed xenophobia. But at that point I will probably be self-employed and working from home. Or I will already have been killed while defending one or another of my less mainstream friends from the aforementioned xenophobia.

We have so much to look forward to in the exciting future created by at least 30 years of ignoring what were once soluble problems. Or maybe -- unprecedented though it may be in all of human existence -- our species will finally have that long, deep talk that we've fought countless wars and squandered millions of lives to avoid.

Friday, November 04, 2016

One person's home is another person's shopping spree

Home looked welcoming in the early darkness. I looked forward to a nice supper and a relaxing evening before tackling a full list of tasks to prepare for winter.

I let myself into the basement. The cats mobbed me as usual. I made my way upstairs with my pack in my hands and a cat on my shoulder. Life was simple and good.

When I reached the living room, I saw that my computer was gone. The cats could not have knocked it onto the floor. It was simply gone, power cord and all. I'd been robbed.

When this happens, you don't know where to look first. I scanned the room to see what was still there. Nearly everything was, including some things that surprised me.

I whipped out the cell phone and called 911. A few minutes' explanation got me connected to the county sheriff's office. The dispatcher said an officer was en route. I appreciated the use of present rather than future tense. It was like they read my mind.

Moving into the bedroom, I saw that they had taken that plastic bin so many of us keep on top of the dresser, where we toss things we might not need every day, but want to keep handy. That was more serious than the laptop, which was an arthritic Macbook, and password protected. The bin held my checkbook. No matter how dire the circumstances, you cannot reach a bank on Saturday night or Sunday.

With tightening guts and a sudden and increasing headache, I continued to inspect my home. The cellist's tray of jewelry was gone. Two little cabinets above each of our dressers had been yanked open and plundered. My top dresser drawer, that other traditional repository of handy odds and ends -- in addition to socks and underwear -- had been searched and cleaned out. They even took my traveling toiletry kit, which contains absolutely nothing you could sell or get high on.

I won't say what they didn't take, but I will say I was deeply glad they hadn't taken any of it. They had neither time nor cargo capacity to ransack and strip the place.

Getting ripped off reminded me forcefully that I am in the working poor. I had accumulated things over time, and taken care of them meticulously, knowing their value as tools. I cannot afford to replace things on impulse.

The cash value of the objects taken probably barely exceeds $500. However, because the stuff they sucked up like a giant bottom feeder slurping up a wad of mud included material that they could use to get into my business from off site, the damage was greater than the initial cost.

The deputy arrived while I was still milling around in a thickening daze. He had a calming manner. No crime scene team showed up to grime the place with fingerprint dust. There was no yellow tape, no crackling radios, no bustle of investigators. In a major city, I probably would have waited at least another couple of hours to see an officer at all. This is a minor break-in.

I'd heard that the things that bother you most after a break-in are the weird little items of sentimental value that get caught up in the bundle with the high ticket merchandise. That's true in this case. The bin on the dresser contained scribbled notes, cards from loved ones, a seam ripper, a couple of flash drives, the USB cord and charger to a camera they didn't take, some owner's manuals... I can't produce the whole inventory from memory. They got the keys to every bike lock I own, so those locks went straight into the trash.

Then there's the famous "sense of violation." Rage wells up when I think of people who feel entitled to enter my home and take whatever appeals to them. Because they dug that little bit deeper to get material that could be used for cyber crime later, I can't say, "it's just stuff." Because they plundered my wife's tray piled with earrings and other inexpensive, daily-wear jewelry, I know they were limited only by their haste, not by any merciful scruple to disrupt our pitiful lives as little as possible.

The anger extends to myself. I know such people exist. I know they operate around here. On the other hand I know people on this same road who do not lock their houses. I had good reason, and imminent intention, to install deadbolts to augment the basic knob locks. But, after 27 years crime-free, I thought I could clean the chimneys and woodstoves, winterize the lawn mower, and other chores more urgently mandated by the change of seasons, before investing the money and time into installing more locks.

The thieves entered without breaking anything. They locked the house when they left. I rack my brain to recall whether I might have left a door unlocked, or the latch not quite engaged. This has happened a few times in 27 years. Rural innocence seemed to indulge those errors. As a test, I was almost able to open the locked door with a slim kitchen knife. Someone with more experience and determination could have done it and left no trace.

They stole the joy of homecoming. Before I even get to the driveway, I feel the tension rise. What will I find? Did I hide my surviving electronics sufficiently well? Having seen the candy store, did the dirtbags come back with a truck or two, to load up on bikes, tools, and musical instruments?

The way these professionals hit the most common places for quick and easy concealment warns me that those places can never be used again. Wherever I stash things has to be so much less convenient that no thief will take the time to root around for them. Inconvenient for them means inconvenient for me. I no longer own my own house. I share it with amoral sleazebags who will very likely kick the door off its hinges next time, now that they can't slip gently past the original feeble defenses.

As I notice more things stolen, I can piece together their probable path through what used to be my home. It was a short one, from the living room door to the bedroom and back out. I would be surprised if they were in here for ten minutes. If they are the type who only skim the cream, they won't bother to come back for heavy hauling. But, if they are local -- and don't die of an opioid overdose first -- they might drop in after a few weeks or months, when they could assume I had replaced the laptop and relaxed my vigilance.

The thing to remember about serious criminals is that this is their job. Most of them are not geniuses, but they develop their skills and learn, like any predator, the habits of the herd on which they feed.

Inner cities get all the press, but rural areas are great places to be a criminal. Law enforcement is often laughably under-staffed, covering large areas that are often rugged and wooded. Seasonal residents leave properties locked, but unattended, for months. Year-round residents might have to work such long hours, in far-away places, that their chances of stopping a burglary are essentially nil. On the day my house was hit, I was away for 10 1/2 hours. That's an ample window for someone devoid of conscience to wreak a little quiet havoc.

This morning, the TV news reported that this little town has the third highest burglary rate in the state. Mention your tale of B&E and you will hear an answering story from everyone in the room. If it hasn't happened to them directly, it's happened to someone they know.

Before the wonderful convenience of the internet, stuff was just stuff. Now physical objects from your home can be a gateway to your entire financial existence. So, every morning I gather what seem like the most attractive and dangerous items, and squirrel them away in several weird locations. Upon returning home, I have to remember where I hid everything. The thieves are right. Eventually I will tire and begin to scale back the precautions.

Then there's the expense. Being poor but honest is expensive. I've put at least $300 into the doors, and another chunk into the first installment of surveillance cameras. Every dollar I spend reminds me that poor people don't deserve to own stuff. To fit my financial station in life, I should throw all my remainning possessions out by the road with a "free" sign, and live in the stripped-out shell of my house. Because my checking account is FUBAR, I have had to put everything onto a credit card. Emergency circumstances or not, the credit card company is going to do what credit card companies do, if I'm not able to pay the full amount when the statement comes due: they'll pound me bloody with interest and fees.

So much for fixing up the bathroom and getting new snow tires. And if we don't get lots of snow this winter, I'll be out of work well before spring.

Restlessness and increased vigilance are inescapable symptoms, especially in someone living alone. The single person already has to manage every detail of life. A crisis is a flood of new details. A crisis that is an actual attack and carries the threat of future attacks is an explosion of stress and depression. There is no closure, only the dark and unknowable future. And piecing together one's digital existence on a motley assortment of devices, trying to stay ahead of a hack that might never come, takes hours a night.

A tip from someone on social media led me to the dozens of little buy, sell, and swap sites on line. You have to join each one to see what's offered. The organizers pointedly take no resposibility for the items offered by individual vendors. It's the perfect thieves' market, just because it would take so long to dredge through every possibility.

The advantage lies with the thieves. No one has the time to trace individual fish through teeming oceans.

I will say again: all that is necessary for good to triumph is for evil people to do nothing. Human existence is this inescapable battle between light and darkness. Perhaps we represent in our fretful little organisms the cosmic swirl of light and dark that appears to power the universe. The second half of the 20th Century saw a surge of interest in the conept of a world at peace, but the darkness has fought back. That happy world of bikes and renewable energy and mutual respect has absolutely no appeal for a large number of people, apparently.

I'm going to keep promoting it anyway. It would work. It should work. That remains true, even if we keep getting turned back.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Asshole Dog, Sit Up Guy, Jumper Dude...

For hours a day, the world is defined by the frame of the workshop windows. They look out over the back parking lot.

We call the desk where we take turns eating lunch the Bayview Cafe.
This was the view yesterday afternoon. You could get a clearer shot of the actual scenery and dramatic light by going down into the parking lot to avoid the clutter of window dirt and power lines, but this shot illustrates the view through the actual windows: what we can see without stopping what we're doing.

One day, a hawk landed on the trash hut.
I don't have a camera with a long lens anymore. But you can see it if you click on the picture.

The parking lot also serves the very popular Full Belli Deli. During a busy lunch service, cars might fill the lot, with some double parked in the center, and more circling. It's an overflowing buffet of people watching.

Asshole Dog is a magnificent German shepherd, who rides in his owner's truck. He likes to explode in ferocious barking if anyone walks within 20 feet. When the lot is crowded, unsuspecting walkers come into range quickly. Almost invariably, they are too cool to flinch or jump when the dog's muzzle thrusts out the gap at the top of the window.

Sit Up Guy does not show up every day. He looks like an aging athlete, perhaps a coach now, of something that involves cleats and slamming into each other. He goes in, orders his sandwich, and then comes back out to do crunches on the ground next to his car.

Jumper Dude isn't a deli customer, but he will occasionally flash through during lunch rush to launch his bike off the bank at the edge of the lot.
The route goes just to the left of the tree. Jumper Dude was a mountain biking instructor. His age is indeterminate. He tells many tales of good and bad landings. He's graying, but still lean and fast. For a long time we did not know who he was. We just saw him on the part of his lunch time route that came through our field of view. His skills speak for themselves. He has since become a customer, with an actual name, but Jumper Dude will always be his middle name and shorthand designator. We should probably tell him that.

One afternoon we saw Assault Weapon Kid. A nondescript car pulled in during a not-too-busy time. The first person out was a teenage boy wearing some sort of tactical gear and carrying an assault rifle. I had a moment to wonder if we were going to be on the evening news, but the next people out of the car were a dad-like adult and a younger kid. Everybody went trooping off stage left. We heard no shots or screams. Just another day. Assault Weapon Kid has never reappeared. The weapon itself was probably a super-realistic paintball gun, or they could have just come back from a fun morning at the range.

A guy we dubbed Go Kart Dude was showing up at lunch time almost every day this summer. Last we checked, go karts weren't street legal, but somehow he never got bagged. Of course we don't know whether he has now vanished because of the cooler weather, a seasonal change of residence, or an arrest.

Sometimes the parking lot characters' fame precedes them. Mitt Romney appears to have picked up lunch at the deli on Monday or Tuesday. Back before he was Somebody, Jimmy Fallon used to show up fairly regularly out there during summer visits to his future in-laws. Since we're pretty unhip, other celebs could pass right under our noses unrecognized, but Wolfeboro isn't the magnet for them that it used to be. And then there are the titans of finance and industry whose names are not familiar, who each, from time to time -- sometimes quite a few times -- home in on the beacon of the Full Belli Deli.

Even at our height of popularity, our shop was never a celebrity magnet. At best, one might occasionally drift through so they can say they left no stone unturned. When finished, though, they drop it back on top of us, curiosity satisfied. And I think they tell their friends not to bother.

No hard feelings. People are into what they're into.

The exception is Estelle Parsons, who usually needs us at least once a summer for some sort of bike issue. She and her husband fall into the category of regular customer, since they have a summer home on the lake, and spend at least a couple of weeks there.  They have a couple of hybrids. Before that she had a sweet little European mixte from the 1970s. Nothing super exotic, but a nice example of mid-grade riding stock of the period. In her case, her occupation is incidental. She's a born and raised New Englander. More of a native species than a visiting exotic.

I often wonder how people with multiple homes decide to allocate their time among them. I know the Mittster has several. I would always be stressed, trying to make sure that I got enough use out of a place to justify possession. But I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about stupid shit like fairness and the greater good. Life is actually just a fight to the death, which may be more or less active at any given time. May your luck always hold.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tubes of Mystery, 2016

Every bike season, we accumulate a bunch of tubes that won't stay inflated in a tire, but remain pumped up for months after we remove them. We are never able to detect a puncture in any of them.

This season brought us relatively few of them. The bike biz wasn't exactly bustling around here, in sales or service.

I added 2016's haul to our weird collection in the basement, still holding air after a couple of years.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

No regrets

As I cleaned up tops and slash on Sunday, I kept waiting for Ed Begley Jr. to fly over in a solar powered plane and shit on my head. But I stand by my reasoning in cutting at all, and then in cutting so much. Since the very best thing you can do for the environment is kill yourself, most of us settle for second and third best and call it exemplary.

Around 2002, this is how it looked. As of last Wednesday morning, it looked pretty similar, except that we built a sunroom/music studio off the front of the house in 2012 in a final effort to give the cellist's teaching program a base of operations.
This is the music room when it was brand new. Note the shadows. This darkness bracketed the day, day after day. I would look at the aerial photo of the place on Google Maps and realize what a tiny slice of sky we had.

The trees won't protect you from the government satellites and the black helicopters. They've got thermal imaging and all kinds of weird heinous classified stuff we can barely imagine.
By the end of Thursday, this had happened. Ain't no point in buyer's remorse now. It's barely an eighth of an acre, if that, but it's still a hell of a jolt after 27 years in the shade of forest giants.

White pines are a very assertive species. They thrive where the cycle of fire has been interrupted, overspreading the pitch and red pines that need fire to propagate. I've been tempted to torch a few yards of another part of the property to give those other pines a new generation. In the meantime, taking out this stand seems to have excited a lot of the bird life. Insects, too: because we have not had a real frost yet this fall, dragonflies were patrolling today, and cicadas buzzed in the remaining treetops. But for the sun angle and the color of the leaves, it could have been a summer afternoon. It isn't right, but it's how things are.

Pushing the edge as far back as I did, I can put in a margin of spruce to create thick, low screening from the neighbors, whose logging activities precipitated this whole upheaval. The property line shaves surprisingly closely, within the margin of the trees that are still standing. I want to make damn sure we are not looking at each other's stuff when this is all over. I did not move to a place like this just to stare into my neighbor's back yard. If I could put up with that, I could do it someplace that actually has an economy.

Living in a place like this and caring enough about a bunch of stupid trees to shed a tear over them relates directly to my bicycling activities. I hoped to inspire interest in non-motorized transportation and recreation, starting way back in the 1980s, when you actually had to get your stuff printed on paper and physically distributed to readers. The sprawled-on world I left behind has continued to fester, spawning more and more land rape as the human population burgeons. Even here, things are way more built up than they were when I moved into the little shack from which this house has grown. Fortunately, we have few resources for outside interests to extract, and we're not near enough to anywhere for industry to locate here. Unfortunately, we have to trade on our illusion of wildness, combined with our convenient proximity to the northern margins of sprawl. It's a constant battle between commercial interests that want to rape a little more and a little more to bring in more chumps, and the good stewards who have to remind residents over and over that we lose it all a little at a time.

New Hampshire is among the most forested states in the country. However, the reversion of farmland to forest has been offset by heavy development in the more urbanized southern part of the state. When it comes to wildlife management, clearings and fields have an important role alongside forest stands in various stages of succession. It's all part of the big mosaic. The hard part is waiting for stuff to grow, which it won't start to do until next April.

It would be ironic if Hurricane Matthew blasted in here in a few days and took out a bunch of trees. On the plus side, fewer of them are located within falling distance of the house. If the wind diminishes, we could definitely use the rain. But it would wipe out a holiday weekend's tourist influx.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Oops! I forgot my pants!

Once in a while, on a summer day, with a pair of shorts that is near the end of its useful life, I'll have a momentary stab of anxiety a few seconds after I start to ride, because I can't really feel my shorts and have no distinct memory of putting them on. We do so much by reflex, without focused attention, that I wonder if the right distraction could lead me to forget them.

If it ever did happen, they would send large people with big nets to whisk me away to a nice facility, where I would not disturb the public.

I was distracted this week, because I actually brought one of my own nightmares to life. Ever since I moved to my little shack in the woods, I have had regular nightmares about neighbors doing destructive things that spill over onto my land. These dreams often involve bulldozers, skidders, chainsaws, excavation, deforestation, and utter disdain for property lines.

About three weeks ago, whoever now owns the little cabin next door turned loose a logger on a lot that has been peacefully forested since before I moved here 27 years ago. I heard the chainsaws,  the skidders. I ran out several times to check the property lines. They were unviolated.

A little over a week ago, I got a note. The logger working the neighboring land was someone I had talked to about removing some trees that threatened the house and garage. The Eastern White Pine is the tree most likely to drop something on you. With a height of 80 feet easily in reach, these lovely forest monarchs  are basically a time bomb near your house. I had two actually leaning toward the house from about 20 feet away. They'd been good -- more or less -- since I'd lived there, but one of them had shed a couple of major limbs during snowstorms.

Pine trees can develop majestic structures when they have plenty of space around them. When they don't, they form an interdependent grove. The two leaners near the house were the outliers of a group of four. Cut two and you'd be well advised to cut them all.

I started scrutinizing all the trees in that area and realized that one was falling to pieces, and another pair were immensely tall. Not record setting, mind you, but the taller of the two would easily hit the house from more than 50 feet away. Even if it didn't, it could drop a major chunk on things that would suffer for the impact, such as the leach field.

In a natural forest, clearings occur by cataclysm: fire, hurricane, tornado, major ice storm. These are notoriously hard to schedule and direct. Trained people do controlled burns in managed forests, but not when the stand of trees comes within twenty feet of a house. And the burns are to control undergrowth, not remove full-sized trees.

I realized as I surveyed the grove that I had managed this area like a timber stand, not a yard. When I moved here, I quickly developed a New Englander's clinical practicality. When I had to clear a bit of space for various things over the years, I thinned the stand to favor larger trees. Ultimately, those have to be removed before they start to age and really fall apart.

If I had it to do over, I would have cut more 20 years ago, and started managing it for hardwood trees that hold together better and don't get as tall. It would have made the change less wrenching.

Somehow in the years after 1999, I lost more and more of the hard practicality that survival in northern New England requires. The big pines became familiar. I knew they could literally break bad on me at any time, but they were also soaring and majestic and made that beautiful sighing sound in the wind. That's why I wished I had dealt with them decades back, when I was more human.

On the eve of the logging, I cried. I sat in my dark house and felt waves of loss. I had unleashed the Death Star. Each of these trees is a natural community. I've seen the interdependent plants, birds, and animals that work with the tree throughout its lifespan. Who was I, an ephemeral creature that would be lucky to surpass a century on this Earth to kill off something that could live four times that long? If I truly love nature, I should burn down my own house and live in a little hut of cast-off branches.

True as that may be, I remain too much of a child of civilization to take that drastic a step.

Twenty-seven years ago some of the trees were already quite large. Others gained in stature, subtly enlarging until I looked up in astonishment last week at the potential energy hanging over me. They were the scenery to all that was good and bad in my life here. Even though the practical New Englander in me knew not only that they had to be pushed back but that the space could be managed to nature's advantage as well as my own, the actual destruction filled me with an ache that replaced my appetite and my ability to sleep for several days. I replayed the reasoning over and over.

The logger had said it would only take a day. It took three. He may have done this on purpose. He'd told me that he had stopped short on the neighbor's land, so that the guy could see it and call a halt or permit it to continue. His first break point let me see the grove half cut. I could see that my reasoning had been sound. Saving the remaining trees would not leave a strong stand, nor would it allow light in to promote successional growth. We had to continue.

It was the morning of the third day when I forgot my pants. The clearing that had been a tall forest was a raw cut, sweet with the smell of pitch and scarred by the passage of skidders. This was a logging operation, not the surgical ministrations of an arborist. And the trickiest cuts were yet to come. Trees, commercial size trees, next to and behind a building and overhanging a power line still had to be cut. This was the ultimate trust.

I had been getting up around 5 a.m. and bolting out of the house as close to 7:00 or 7:30 as I could manage. With the shortening days and the fact that I didn't want the loggers dropping a tree on my car, I've been doing park and ride commutes. That meant loading the bike and driving away.

For a normal park and ride, I'll wear my bike clothes to drive to where I park. Even the shoes, uncleated, are fine for driving. But there's no one to see me on a normal day.

I'm a reasonably secure person, but I just couldn't bring myself to wear lycra in front of a bunch of loggers. So I would put cargo pants over my shorts, stuffing the other bike clothes in the car to put on when I parked to begin the ride.

By day three, jangled by all the stresses, my system broke down just enough for me to forget the tights on the coldest morning of the week. I had the shorts, just not the warm tights to put over the shorts.

I briefly considered wearing the rugged cargo pants for the ride, but I knew the climb back up from Wolfe City in the evening would be a chore. I went ahead and chilled my kneecaps, and picked up a new pair of tights when I got to work. There was no exciting indecent exposure.

I got home to find that the precision cutting had turned out perfectly. Precision with chainsaws, skidders, and trees that probably weigh couple of tons apiece still leaves a pile of debris, but that was never in doubt. This happens when you hire someone to be a tornado for you.

The vast majority of the 13 acres under my control will remain undisturbed -- at least by me. Natural cataclysms are nature's business. In the new clearing, we hope to encourage some berry bushes of various types that had been working the margins. And the sky is a welcome sight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Alternate routes

Back in 2011, I took advantage of dry summer conditions to explore a discontinued section of road in North Wolfeboro as part of my ride home from work. I kept meaning to get back and do a little pruning to clear the smoothest line on some sections. It's only taken five years.

This summer is even drier than that summer was, but two days of tropical humidity with passing downpours activated some muddy areas and slickened up the slime on mossy rocks.

While much of the route would be no problem with the 700X32 tires on the Cross Check, there are a couple of significant eroded bits that would call for precision bike handling or a portage. It's a short cut that would not be faster.

It doesn't look like much of a road...which is good. Locals have obviously put trucks through it regularly, taking out major obstructions. Blowdowns and other obstacles have been cleared, while side growth encroaches to discourage casual use. But then somebody went through and snipped a clear line through the most bothersome vegetation.

No idea how that happened. I carry an implement in case I'm attacked by pumas, but the pumas were all busy elsewhere.

Past the unassuming entryway, the road line becomes obvious, if not clear.
This is one of the eroded areas, so it's a bit of a dance to get the bike up to the better surfaces further in. I documented the trail pretty thoroughly in the post from July 2011.

Today turned out to be another muggy one. I made a slow trip down from the top of this road, performing botanical sampling. The return trip took less than half the time.

Here's a little rare mud in this droughty summer. Beyond it was a rocky section that would probably call for a dismount on the Cross Check.
As noted in 2011, this old road bypasses both nasty climbs on the maintained roads, Stoddard and Haines Hill. It might make a nice addition to a park-and-ride using the mountain bike, but it doesn't look like a great option for regular use on the full route with the more roadworthy bike.

At least now I know.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stuff no one needs to know

The bike business isn't a career choice. It's something you get sucked into and trapped in.

Small shops have traditionally been owned and operated by bike enthusiasts who wanted to share what they liked. This is, apparently, a terrible business model if you want to be profitable. The ragtag survivors of the industry press have produced thoughtful articles about how we should all be more businesslike.

As true as that may be, the far reaches of the bicycling universe are still served by small shops staffed by poor idiots who didn't know when to give up and move on. We've stuffed our heads with things no one needs to know.

In the 1990s, our shop's advertising tag line was, "we really ride!" The mountain bike boom had brought a lot of weak players to what looked like a feast of easy money. The happy salesman chatting you up in a big shop might very well have to go find a caustic grouch in the repair shop just to put air in his tires. While some top racers were notoriously mechanically inept, you do much better as a rider if you know something about the machinery, and much better as a problem solver with the equipment if you really ride.

Experience comes with time. It's vital in a repair shop, where the equipment coming in could be weeks or decades old. You can learn a lot from books and videos, but they're not as good as personally witnessing the evolution.

Imagine being a veterinarian and the animals are evolving visibly, drastically, from year to year. The old ones aren't dead yet, but the newer ones have extra eyeballs, or six legs, or you have a dog with gills...

It takes more than intelligence, and lots more than theoretical engineering to keep the nation's bike fleet operating. Newer isn't automatically better. I know, I beat the crap out of that concept relentlessly, but I do it because it is true. It is the most important truth about bikes. Old stuff -- not ridiculously old, but not fresh from the mold -- can keep going for years, and serve you well. You just have to know how it works. And that's where you need that witness to evolution.

My colleague in the repair shop is a fully grown retired engineer. He missed the runaway evolution of bicycles in the 1990s. He's constantly getting ambushed by weird problems with old componentry that can be nearly impossible to diagnose if you didn't go through the maze with it when the industry first inflicted it on the riding public. Some of it never worked and never will, but most of it can be coaxed to function far longer than the manufacturer ever wanted it to.

Just as the dead vastly outnumber the living, so do the old bikes vastly outnumber the new ones. The continued popularity of fixed-gears indicates how the old ways can persist and be built into new machines. If you know where to look, you can find friction shifters. You can assemble your own cassettes, for ultra-personalized gearing, as long as you are willing to forego brifters, and relinquish forever the idea of a manufacturer's technical support. We don't need no stinkin' tech support!

People pay huge money for a 300-year-old violin because the qualities that make that human-powered musical instrument great have been worked out for a long, long time. Machinery like a bicycle cannot age as gracefully as a fine violin, but the qualities that make a well-fitted bicycle the perfect machine to convert human effort into forward motion have been worked out for a long, long time...relatively speaking.

Well below the Stradivarius level, your basic bicycle can provide decades of use with proper care. Perfect for a courtesan or a priest to ride after supper.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Another side to Trump supporters

In this year's dismal race for the presidency of the United States, supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump have been portrayed as violent, bigoted, ignorant thugs. While he does seem to poll very well with that demographic, that makes my roadside observation all the more thought provoking.

You might expect a violent, bigoted, ignorant thug to drive in violent, bigoted, thuggish ways. But on my bike commute, where I am exposed to every passing vehicle, cars and trucks emblazoned with Trump stickers have been among the most careful and polite on the way by. That's not to say they have been the majority of the careful and polite, only that they have been notably so.

This fact does not shed any kinder light on the rhetoric and leadership potential of Trump, or the greater wisdom of his supporters. If I rode long enough on the right roads, I might well encounter some of the more violent and thuggish ones. But it does indicate that a significant number of the voters who have chosen The Donald in fact possess a level of human sensitivity that gets bleached out in the harsh stereotyping of political propaganda. Not only is this unfair to them, it also oversimplifies the issues any candidate -- and eventual leader -- needs to deal with. It turns diverse humanity into a homogenized lump, to love or loathe, to join or eradicate.

Beware the dehumanizers. Once you put all the bad stuff under a label and apply the label to a bunch of others, you can too easily develop a false sense of immunity to your own evil. You lose the ability to consider all the human psychology that leads to these concentrations of destructive tendencies.

Starting well before the Trump phenomenon, I have noticed exemplary passing behavior from people whose bumper stickers make me despair for the future of the human species. The stickers still make me despair for the future of the human species, because they reflect beliefs that are going to tear civilization apart, but in the meantime the people themselves seem strangely kind.

I don't know what I look like to a motorist. Maybe I'm so obviously a white guy that the bigots figure they'll cut me a break, even though I am clotting up the motorway with my bicycle.

Nearly everyone thinks they're doing the right thing. Maybe some of the more egregious sleazeballs know on a deeper level that they are fooling themselves, but at least they go to the trouble of rationalizing their behavior on a conscious level. The leaders who send their minions to do hideous, hopeless things tell their followers that it serves a greater good. The greater good of an evil cause is still evil, but below the leadership level it can be hard to sort out the level of zealotry in the ranks. The leaders might well be cynical manipulators, using their followers like toilet paper. The toilet paper stays neatly rolled in uniform squares, loyally waiting to be pulled off and expended.

The fact that Trump can appeal to people who are not violent, bigoted, ignorant thugs could help to propel the violent, bigoted, ignorant thugs to publicly visible levels of power, rather than functioning as the dark and deadly undercurrent they've been up to this point. More likely, they will be turned back at the election, and subside into the jagged landscape scarred by philosophical fault lines, to be forgotten until they snap. The fact that they are so numerous today proves that you cannot force people to evolve by mandating certain behaviors. You can stigmatize the behavior so that a wise bigot tries to blend in just to get by. Over time -- a very long time -- the quality of alienation may fade. But humans have many centuries invested in our differences, and really only decades in pursuit of something more inclusive.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Speed at all costs

A triathlete friend of mine is making her final campaign at full Iron Man  distance, in November.

Endurance athletics serve a therapeutic purpose for her. She has also worked as a professional trainer and event organizer, because she wants to share the benefits that her obsession has brought her.

For this last big race, she asked me whether she should invest in a state of the art time trial bike. But the budget she set would not get her a bike at the quality level of her venerable Serotta.

The arms race behind the bike race goes unacknowledged.

A lineup of TT bikes featured on illustrates the most evolved wind-cheating machines to enable a well-trained rider to go slightly less pathetically slowly compared to any vehicle people are actually impressed with. An absolute nightmare to work on, these ultra-sophisticated machines will set you back thousands of dollars -- in some cases upwards of $10,000 -- to get the full wind tunnel tested package of aerodynamic benefits. And you will still get dropped by a rusted-out Nissan that burns a quart of oil in 50 miles and costs a third as much. Much less than a third if you bought a really expensive bike. Or some twit with an e-bike will come tooling past you, vaping.

When Greg Lemond unleashed the aero on Laurent Fignon in 1989, it made aero bikes socially acceptable. It launched the movement to quit making bikes that looked like they were made by meticulous artisans and more like something engineered by the military-industrial complex.

At first, aero enhancements consisted of streamlined helmets and removable aero handlebars. Bike frames still had round tubes! And lugs! Rider position made a huge difference, established by the clip-on aero bar.

Soon, of course, bars were specifically designed and bikes were specially constructed to adopt each aerodynamic enhancement allowed by the governing authorities. This was also the age of the triathlon, where very little cycling tradition weighed down the innovators, and a free-spending population of willing test pilots purchased the latest implements to gain whatever advantage they could.

In any arms race, whoever develops a weapon first enjoys a clear advantage. Once everyone has the widget, that becomes the new level playing field, forcing further advancements to gain a new technological edge. At the same time, the old ways have been obliterated. When the competition is unlimited and existential, the rising tide of technology represents advancement for the whole species. This is also true in non-military contexts. Take transportation, for instance. Ships evolved sails. Sailing ships evolved through various shapes, swifter or more efficient for their given task, until powered vessels set a new standard in speed and maneuverability. On roads, the bicycle initiated the age of mass-produced personal transportation, but the automobile and its variants soon eclipsed pedal power.

Since we're only racing against each other on our bikes, we could set the standard anywhere we want. Does it really make a difference if average time trial times are a minute or two faster now than they were 20 years ago? It doesn't make the event any more exciting to watch, just more expensive to conduct. When everyone has only the slickest bike they can afford, the margin of victory could be in the wallet, not in the training, skill, and determination of the athletes. Or, if everyone has equally slick bikes, the equipment disappears from the equation. Everyone could be on Raleigh Choppers, or vintage Schwinn Paramounts.

The time trial position is not comfortable. The bikes are not versatile. Some are more aerodynamic than others, in ways that may be hard to tell by looks or price tag. And, as I said, they're absolute nightmares to work on. Humans have their urge to excel. There are worse things to blow money on than the pursuit of a few seconds over 40 kilometers. But if all the expense is just to be equal, the problem is artificially induced.

Economies run on induced problems. And maybe the aero bike of today will lead to the pedal-powered personal aircraft of tomorrow. I doubt if even that would spawn an industry strong enough to shape whole political systems and the course of nations, the way internal combustion has.

For now, my friend has to make the best of the equipment she has, with a snazzier back wheel and a new aero helmet, because she lacks the coin to place a much heftier bet on a bike that will turn heads in the transition area. The spacelanders
 she'll be sharing the course with present an intimidating army. The ones that live up to their advertising will actually confer an advantage upon their well-funded (or tapped out) riders. How much of an advantage is hard to say. And is it worth it? That's even harder to say. Ten grand for the ephemeral satisfaction of standing on a podium that will be gone forever, ten minutes after the award ceremony? Or maybe just to achieve a personal best time, down in the anonymous wad of barely differentiated finishers? Look! Here comes that vaping guy on the e-bike again.

Monday, September 05, 2016

It's hard to ride with turtles between your fingers

A bicyclist gets a good look at all the road kill. Sometimes we get to rescue a small creature before it gets flattened. Once I directed traffic around a beaver that was crossing Route 28. A few times I've snatched a snake or a turtle from the traffic lane. Most of the time I'm too late.

On Saturday, I was in a hurry to get to work before opening time, to lug clothing racks out to a pop-up tent set out to entice holiday weekend shoppers. But then, on 28, I noticed snapping turtle hatchlings doing that flappy-footed baby turtle walk from the roadside into the lane. One had already been flattened. I saw one, two, three more as I scanned the shoulder. There's only about a foot or foot and a half of paved shoulder, and then a guardrail, where the turtles happened to be.

The wetland that probably served as the mother turtle's home is way down a forested slope. Dozens of yards may not seem that far, but when the slope is covered with trees and undergrowth, and you're wearing hard-soled road cycling shoes, it's too far to go. And the baby turtles had been headed the opposite way. I tried to remember what other streams and wet areas lay along that section, perhaps more convenient for all of us.

The babies' instinct to keep moving meant that I could not cup them in one hand. I had to wedge each of them between a pair of digits, with just the right firm but gentle pressure to keep them in place without squishing their soft little shells. All the while, they kept flapping their flippers.

After walking for 30 or 40 yards on the northbound side of the highway, I crossed back to the southbound side. I knew that a stream flowed very close to the road within perhaps an eighth of a mile. It feeds into the wetland where the rest of their family probably lives. I figured if I could get them to water they could work the rest out for themselves.

Still confined by the guardrail, I remounted to ride, turtles in hand. One finally wiggled free just as I stopped. I picked it back up and hoisted a leg over the guard rail. I could hear the stream trickling thinly, even after weeks of drought. I bushwhacked down a short distance and set the turtles as near the stream as the tangled shrubs and weeds allowed.

I had switched on the video camera, or so I thought, as I dismounted, to record the little guys, but I had not pushed the slide far enough. It hits resistance just before it actually switches on, so it can look  and feel like it's on when it isn't yet. I can't always hear the beep when things are noisy, as they are when cars and trucks are hitting the centerline rumble strip. So I got no visual record.

At least when I arrived late at work I had a more interesting story than usual.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You'd be wise to stay out of the way

This video of a massive icebreaker cruising into Helsinki in the 1920s stirred up all kinds of thoughts and feelings.

The first thought was, "What is wrong with those idiots? Give that thing some room!" How could the crowding spectators know that the ice would not crack laterally, dumping them into the frigid water? How could the ones skipping beneath the bow know that they would not slip or trip and go for an unplanned dive beneath that charging hull? The propellors would not be kind.

It must have been amazing to stand that close to the beast as it cut through the ice. But it's also the stuff of nightmares.

Whoever was conning the ship wasn't wasting a lot of concern on the people clustered in the vessel's path. That kind of mass is not going to stop or swerve sharply. It was up to the crushable, but highly mobile, people on the ice to keep themselves from being crushed. If one or more had failed to evade, no one would have blamed the icebreaker's skipper and crew.

To the non-riding majority, we who ride our bicycles on the street look like the idiots playing chicken with that icebreaker. Whether an onlooker is rooting for us to fail or hoping that we don't, when a rider gets crushed it seems inevitable, unavoidable, and entirely the responsibility of the small person who should have known better than to impede the great machine. The critical differences are lost in the glaring and deceptive similarities. And not all the similarities are deceptive.

Machines like big ships and railroad locomotives don't have the maneuverability and stopping power of even a large tractor-trailer. The people running around that icebreaker knew it would not accelerate sharply or swerve abruptly. They could calculate its speed and direction intuitively. The little people and the big ship's crew seem unconcerned about each other because they can be. The disparity of the relationship imparts its own stability, barring an unfortunate crack in the ice.

Elements of traffic on a street, road, or highway are closer in size and highly variable in speed, mass, and maneuverability. The aquatic analogy is demonstrated on any crowded lake on a summer weekend: swimmers, paddlers, sailboats, and motorized vessels in a range of sizes dart around like water bugs. The biggest vessels move ponderously compared to the smallest, but everything is more fluid, if you will.

This summer, a bicyclist was crushed by a tractor trailer in Conway. The driver left the scene. The story was misleadingly reported in all media. Initially, the cyclist was portrayed as avid and experienced. The vehicle was not described. The stark facts were that a cyclist was run down and it was hit-and-run. As details emerged, the rider emerged as somewhat less than meticulous in his riding tactics. The truck driver may not have been aware that his vehicle hit someone. A cyclist has to know something about the limitations faced by drivers of various-size vehicles and take the initiative to stay out of danger zones as much as possible.

When drivers talk about cyclists on the road, some of them display a blanket prejudice, while a handful of others display an undiscriminating concern. In between are all the ones who sound like someone trying to describe how they're not a racist, but... They have my sympathy, because cyclist behavior plays a huge role in safety. It will not protect you from someone who has decided you deserve to be killed just for being out there, but it will keep you whole in nearly every other circumstance. Riders who do dumb things provide talking points for the haters and huge anxiety for the compassionate.

Dumb things. On one level, it's dumb to be out there at all, just as it was dumb to run right up to a massive icebreaker charging ahead with its bow designed to crush whatever is in its path. Let's assume also that none of those people needed to be out there to use the ice for their own purposes as the ship came through. That's a critical factor.

When we're using the roads we all pay for, we all have a stake in the infrastructure and deserve benefits from it. These are your tax dollars at work. The methods we use to move greater numbers of people and volumes of cargo have led to the different size vehicles using the public right of way, but it is public, and putatively designed for the use of all.

Debate simmers, seethes, and occasionally rages about who should be included in "all." Money drives. It has a disproportionate voice in design discussions. Meanwhile, in the real world, people find very good reasons to use a bicycle or to walk from place to place. Intelligent life is not always displayed by complete embrace of the most elaborate technology. But money talks. Whether we're talking about preserving the environment that supports all life, caring for the sick, or creating safe walking and biking accommodations in our entire transportation network, if you can't show a monetary gain you will not get anywhere. Tell me again about intelligent life?

A rider in traffic, or on a road where traffic could occur, takes a calculated risk. Any traveler takes a risk, but the cyclist or pedestrian is particularly exposed to other people's judgment. On the other hand, we are particularly free to bend and break rules to improve traffic flow and enhance our safety. It's a thoughtful dance at all times. We are also able to bend and break rules selfishly in ways that unnecessarily antagonize other users, whether we're on the street or a separated path. Bicyclists are in the middle, between those on foot and those in motor vehicles. Did you have any idea that something as simple as riding a bike brought such responsibility with it?

Responsibility is optional. Everything in life is optional. You may choose to stop, rot, and die at any time. You may choose to be a flaming asshole and call it a blazing torch of liberty. Responsibility can be ducked. It can be chucked. It can be ignored. We could go out in a blaze of selfish anarchy. The universe doesn't care. Why should you?

That's a question you have to answer for yourself. Evolution will note the results.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"What's a hacksaw?"

A guy walks into a bike shop and he asks the guy working in the bike shop if they sell kickstands.

The shop mechanic says yes. So the guy asks if they have one to fit an 18 inch bike. The mechanic shows him the Greenfield 285mm generic model with the cutting scale marked right on it.

"See here on the package it tells you how to figure out the length and then cut it with a hacksaw," he tells the guy.

"What's a hacksaw?" the guy says.

I  was not a mechanically inclined child, and I knew what a hacksaw was by the time I was ten years old. I don't think I knew anyone, male, female, or other, who did not know what a hacksaw was. It was just part of the culture passed on without a second thought by adults who either fixed things or at least knew that they should.

Society has failed this man who has reached at least his thirties without knowing what a hacksaw is. I should have figured out a way to run through a short hand tool questionnaire with him to see what other items he's missed. It would tell us a lot about how far we've come from being a hands-on, can-do population to being served at all levels by people we hire to know what was common knowledge 30 years ago.

Granted, when I was a kid, geezers grumbled about skills being lost. It's part of evolution. But degeneration can hide among the thickets in what looks like evolution. No electronic marvel has superseded the hacksaw.

The kickstand is made of aluminum. You could probably shorten it by beating on it for a while with a sharp rock. Kind of funny to direct someone too modern to have heard of a hacksaw to use a stone tool instead. Even better if he worked that out for himself.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Visibility liability: look-away lighting

On the park and ride commute on Saturday, I was riding on one of the causeways of the Cotton Valley Trail. It's dead straight, dead flat, contained between the rails, and highly popular for the morning exercise of dog walkers, joggers, strollers, and the elderly.

Up ahead, coming slowly toward me, I saw an elderly woman using a walker. We've passed before. She lives around here. She's actually a really good sport about accommodating riders. Depending on the distance between us and options for pulling off, she or I might stop. She moves v-e-r-y slowly, as you might expect.

Beyond Walker Woman my eyes were assaulted by a strobe so bright, with a flashing rate so rapid, it was like being tasered in the retinas. The rider with this light was as far behind Walker Woman as I was in front of her. We were both riding slowly. Walker Woman made the call to pull aside at a bench. I made my way carefully to her and onward toward Taser Strobe Guy. When I reached him, I remarked on how annoying his light was, but I had no time to linger and elaborate. I was on my way to work.

I wanted to ask why he felt he needed such an aggressive and hostile light on a path where he would encounter no motor vehicle traffic. I also question in general the effectiveness of a light so nasty that you want to avoid looking at it and whatever it is attached to.

A study of lighting on snow removal vehicles determined that flashing lights make it harder for an approaching vehicle to judge distance from the vehicle with the flashing light. I've also observed that the fiercely aggressive, bright flashers on emergency vehicles make it very hard to see where to go when passing through an emergency scene, even at a crawling speed. I use my flashing lights very sparingly now, and use steady mode for cruising. To be noticed and dismissed is about like not being noticed at all. A bicyclist should assume they have not been seen and plan accordingly.

If the strobe is a conscious act of aggression, I can understand it even if I condemn it. We all get frustrated at times. Some of us are frustrated at all times. But something that is of dubious value in traffic is of no value whatsoever on a separated path where you are only pissing off fellow non-motorized users.

In an added twist, Taser Strobe Guy came into the shop a couple of hours later to have us check out his rear derailleur. I did not check the bike in, but I did do the repair. I also did not preside when he picked the bike up. He had a scornful attitude toward the skill needed to adjust his shifting. I did overhear that. Maybe he overcompensates for a mechanical inferiority complex by insulting the people on whom he relies to keep his machine working. There's another poor strategy to go with his aggressive overuse of strobes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mountain groan coffee

The friend who started me roasting my own coffee beans put together a little group to buy beans in bulk. She lives at the top of a hill with only steep and steeper approaches. When the latest shipment came in, I had to figure out which of these I wanted to take.

The most direct route had always seemed like the steepest, so I had avoided it. But that straight line on the map finally convinced me to tackle it.

Haines Hill Road leaves Route 28 to the right as the highway bends to the left. You turn right by going straight instead of going straight by curving to the left. The climbing begins almost immediately, but not drastically. The forest looks like some place further north and further from civilization, though not uninhabited.

The pavement ends in a couple of miles and the road starts to descend. You think it might not be so bad, even when the unpaved part climbs again. Then you see it.

Beyond the screening trees, pavement angles up like a rocky ledge. In the car it had seemed parabolic, a brutal challenge. I paused to take the picture, hoping to capture the contrast between the approach and the initial slope.

To complicate matters, there is occasionally a psycho dog running loose at the farm at the bottom of the hill. The driveway is on the left. If that monster was out, I would be trying to start this climb with about 90 pounds of furry death snapping at my tendons.

The things we do for coffee.

Head on a swivel, ears straining for the sound of dog claws scrabbling for traction, I rode beneath the concealing foliage to view the whole climb.

It's not that bad. It's steep and continuous, but not as steep as the wall on Stoddard Road that I had done many times, even on a fixed gear. Barring attacks by the psycho dog, this could be the elusive quiet alternative to Route 28 that I've been pining for since about 1990. Funny how an impression can change when you look over the handlebars instead of through a windshield. I'm embarrassed to have waited so long to give it a shot. In my defense, it is a little longer than the Route 28 direct route home.

Bear in mind that I was fresh after two days off the bike. I don't think I would tackle this route every day. On the other hand, if it really has as little traffic as I encountered, it makes up for its gravitational challenges with the peace and quiet.

After a nice visit with my friend, I headed downhill with my seven pounds of coffee beans. The compensation for any of the North Wolfeboro routes is that the rest of my ride home is basically downhill. The few little nuisance climbs are trivial.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Put a fork in's done

A friend had a mid-1990s Iron Horse with a blown-out Marzocchi fork. After brief consideration of rebuilding or replacing the suspension fork, he went for a basic rigid fork.

Step one: prepare the mechanic.

The frame has some classic 1990s bullshit frame details

"Innovation" was the word of the decade. Setting aside the innovations that were actually from the 1890s, there was a lot of weird looking stuff marketed as technical advancement. Before the suspension revolution obliterated the old world, mountain bikes were a lot like any bike. They started out as beater bikes, after all. So the facade of innovation was decorated with tweaks to the traditional diamond frame, some of which did enhance strength and performance. Others either did nothing or were outright wrong turns. In any case, their days were numbered, as the spring-and-linkage crowd worked in their secret labs on the new species that would change the sport forever.

With a fork in it, it's done.

The new mountain bikes can take more pounding and eat up gnarlier terrain, at the cost of more moving parts and more systems to maintain: hydraulic brakes, pivots pivots pivots, shock absorbers, seals seals seals... Yes, the riding experience is either more comfortable or more rad. You also need a heftier budget in both money and time to keep one in top shape...or even just functional. Or you can ride it into the ground, as many people do, and replace it -- or abandon the activity -- when the bike finally fails completely.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Customer Appreciation

Humans are wired to remember the negative more than the positive. This characteristic probably began as a survival-enhancing trait, because our ancestors who catalogued and avoided negative experiences had a better chance of reproducing and bringing their next generation to breeding age.

As the eons have passed, the survival value of a negative focus has diminished, particularly as our technological society puts out crash pads around every sharp object and nurtures helplessness, but it remains vestigially. Any of us can notice things and connect dots to make small or large patterns that alarm, anger, or depress us.

I riff on customer behavior a lot, because I have absorbed so much of it over the decades. We in the theme park/specialty retail business should wear dosimeters to indicate how many assholes have irradiated us in the course of our careers. Given the bias toward retaining negative impressions, the collection of crap rays builds up and hangs around with more force than the accumulation of happy nice rays. I'm not excusing, just explaining.

Some people have higher susceptibility than others. You'll meet career sweeties in service positions. You'll meet people who have enough self control to contain an appropriate but ill advised response to a customer's radiation. You'll meet snarling burnouts who should change jobs, and would if they could. You'll meet people who are learning that they don't have what it takes to put up with the demands of an unfiltered public surging in with their needs, wants, and attitudes.

The seasonal fluctuation in our particular businesses, bike and ski, create high work loads and deep lulls. Each of these brings a specific kind of stress. And the devotees of one season consider the peak of our other season to be down time, so they come in to chisel and waste time when we are most busy with the other half of the clientele.

Specialty retail has its own challenges. We get chiseled during cross country ski season, because cross country skiers are basically cheapskates. I am one of you. Cross country skiing appealed to me because I could use skis for their ancestral purpose, to go from place to place, and because I could ski for free, limited only by available snow and my own skills. So I share the desire to pay less and ski more, compared to lift served skiing. Bicyclists cover a much broader spectrum, because bicycling can be done over a vastly greater range of conditions. But, because machinery is involved along with physical exertion, bicyclists not only encompass pathological bargain hunters, but mechanical and athletic arrogance in the spectrum of behavior. There's a little of that in cross-country skiing, but among skiers the chiseling dominates.

What does all this mean to customers and shop staff? Last week, with a staff chronically one person short for the workload on any given day, we had bored skiers, tired of summer, coming in for the off season deals, deals, deals. This draws a qualified staff member to sell stuff at suicide margins while in-season repair work continues to pile up. We should make them hold a gold-plated chisel as their emblem. At the same time, we got the out-of-town smart shoppers who will loudly tell their friends not to buy anything from us because they know some place down home that is going out of business and is basically throwing stuff out. That guy should wear a headdress made out of a dead vulture, to proclaim his devotion to feeding on the death of others.

I see from the condition of things people finally bring in for repair that they don't care whether it was properly set up the first place. The things they manage to survive make me wonder why I ever cared so darn much about doing a good job myself. Gone are the 1990s, when thousands of people took to the trails and actually tested products and our workmanship.

Weirdly, the current trend to know nothing and shop entirely by price manages to coexist with a culture of helplessness in which customers depend more than ever on products not only meeting but exceeding their specifications. Take that guy who rode the Mount Washington Century on a 23-22-21-20 spoke front wheel and did not end up in some hospital with his spine pinned together and his whole face in a cast.

When the shop fills up with loud, confident, and wrong experts explaining our products to their friends, while I scrub away at some greasy, rusty, neglected and abused piece of disrespected equipment, it can be hard to summon a feeling of noble justification for my occupation. We in the back shop turn to dark comedy. Occasionally we indulge one or two of those appropriate inappropriate responses.

All this is what we have to survive to be there for the truly interested, interesting, and appreciative riders. It's no one's fault that the pleasant lift from them can be eradicated in the next ten minutes by some behavioral fart. It's just people being people. And we are people laughing at people being people. We'd miss the jerks if they went away. It's fun to come up with ways to bitch about them. With negativity bred into us, our choice is to take it too seriously or to mock it.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Day of the Hyenas

For a while this morning, everyone who came in seemed to have a yelping laugh, which they freely shared.

Hyuk hyuk hyuk. Hyuk hyuk hyuk. Hyuk hyuk hyuk.

They get extra points when they shut up and peer owlishly at something we have posted that we think actually is funny.

Other days, the crowd is like a swarm of mosquitoes: a constant, annoying whine, punctuated by occasional pricks.

August has brought the closest thing we've seen to full summer activity.

On Sunday morning, a guy came in singing the praises of his electronic shifting. "You never realize how much time you spend trimming your front derailleur until you have a shifting system that does it for you! Man! I'm never going back!"

At the end of the day, we had the perfect bookend to that:

"The battery died in my shifters and I lost the charger! Do you guys carry the charger for these shifters?"

Alas, we do not. And, of course, the battery is proprietary.

The smokeless moped crowd is here. There's another thing you don't want to be stuck on when the battery dies and you have miles - or even yards - to go.

Here's a question: If you had a front wheel with only 24 spokes, and one broke, would you go ride a century over mountain passes on it because it still seemed true enough? The guy who did this broke more spokes in the course of the Mount Washington Century, before deciding he should get things looked at. Weirdly, he and the wheel survived. I reused the rim and hub when I respoked the wheel today.

It's all here now. There's nowhere near as much of it as there used to be, but there are nowhere near as many of us to deal with it. It takes less water to fill a small boat than a big one, but swamped is swamped.

I need some sleep before I go back to bailing.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Make fun what needs to be done

The Big Lake, driver of our region's economy, can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. It attracts hordes of motorists. The roads around it are not consistently well designed for safe cycling. Its sheer size and convoluted shoreline create meandering routes in the finest "can't get there from here" tradition. But it retains some of its primordial beauty, if you can look past the houses. There are loons and stuff.

I had to get past that big wet spot this evening after work, to get my car back from the most excellent mechanic. I'd hoped to make it a multi-modal trip, hitching a ride on a friend's boat, but a threatening forecast scared the skipper.

The ride can be a little intimidating. I doped for it: ibuprofen and the last of my afternoon coffee.

The route has some scary nasty parts, but a lot of it is pretty and fun, like the rolling descent to Alton Bay.

After I rounded the bottom of the bay, I turned the camera toward the water to catch a bit of the lake scenery.
From there, it gets pretty grueling after a long day of work. But the cloudy evening kept solar glare from being a problem. The threatening storms never arrived. I felt pretty thrashed when I finally got to the mechanic's shop. Feeling good when you stop is still feeling good.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Try to be nice. Try to be nice. Try to be nice...

Home Mechanic Week continues. On the stand before me is a Cannondale Flash 29er with Avid Elixir hydraulic disc brakes. The customer got mad when the rear brakes acted up out on the rail trail, so he ripped the pads out and flung them into the undergrowth. He also managed to lose the screw that secures the pads in the caliper.

He had tried to make things work better by blasting both brake calipers and the bottom bracket area with spray white lithium grease. Wasn't I just talking about grandpa grease?
The front caliper still has pads, but the customer says, "They don't work very well." Apparently, a blast of lithium grease does not enhance brake performance.

People feel free to mess with their bikes when they wouldn't dream of ripping into their car, their electronics, or the plumbing in their house, because bikes are kid stuff. Has anyone told the bike industry this? That whole Tour dee France thingie is just a bunch of overgrown kids in short pants who have figured out how to get paid not to grow up. It ain't a real man's sport, like football,  or NASCAR.

The customer says he only rides on the path. I will recommend that he ditch the hydraulics completely, in favor of a mechanical system less vulnerable to abuse. Grandpa grease will still contaminate the pads, but he won't have to worry about caliper pistons. I'm having to reseat the pistons and bleed the system as a result of whatever was wrong in the first place, compounded by his completely unhelpful intervention.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Internet knowledge

The customer who dropped this off at the shop today said he read on the Internet that if your shifter isn't working, put grease in it. I didn't get to hear this first hand, but our fearless leader texted me the pic.

The Internet can be a great resource, but it is also a fantastic vehicle for experienced misinformation and profound misunderstanding.

People frequently ask us to grease their chain. "Grease" is their shorthand term for any kind of lubricant. These are often the same people who say their tire needs to be trued, or that their bike needs a new rim. They don't usually apply their terminology literally before turning things over to us. One exception would be Grandpa Grease, which is our own term for white lith in a spray can. At least half the time, when a grandfather comes in with a bike he's fixing up for for a grandkid, the chain has been blasted with spray grease.

Sunday was a great day for walk-in experts. One guy was explaining to his buddy that you only ever want to ride in a gear that gives you a perfectly straight chain line. He had learned this from his own guru, who apparently rides almost more than humanly possible, and knows everything. At least they were interacting in person.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wolfe Disney World

The old theme park ain't what it used to be, but summer is trying to get going. Even though only a handful of people come in, they all want what they want right now.

You don't make a living in vacation country by telling people to chill out and wait. Especially now that numbers are way down, you need to score all you can -- ethically, of course.

In the peak years, we could come in an hour early and stay an hour late, and still fall behind. The instant gratification crowd had to be patient because of their own numbers. If someone decided not to wait, someone else was right in line behind them. Even then, that intensity would only last a few days at a time, for a few weeks.

These days, work does not back up enough to demand an extra hour or more, but if things come in late in the day, late in the week, closing time may not be quitting time. The few people who still show up don't seem to have noticed that nearly everyone else is gone. They come in with the same urgency the whole crowd had when the town was a party from late June through Labor Day. Things kept perking fairly briskly to the final peak on Columbus Day weekend.

No more.

Today I could have put in a little extra time, but I wanted to sprint out from under the leading edge of a line of thunderstorms the weather service is calling a cold front. Pretty funny cold front: the high today was in the low to mid 80s, and tomorrow, after the front, it's predicted to hit 90. I guess the key here is the humidity. It will be a relatively dry heat, after a couple of days of jungly mugginess.

I wonder what the town would do for an economy if tourism died out completely? Back in colonial times, when Governor John Wentworth had the summer place that established Wolfeboro as "The Oldest Summer Resort in America," the area was known for timber, furs and fish. Now there's much less demand for wood, people don't wear much fur, and you can't eat more than a little of the fish for fear of mercury contamination.

If we have to rely entirely on the super rich and famous, how many lackeys do they need to keep their toy village looking good enough for the few weeks a year any of them are here?

I wonder if there's a good dystopian fantasy story in this. If I can come up with a screenplay, I can cruise Main Street until I run into someone in the biz.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

No deal with the devil

A guy who used to ride mountain bikes with us in the 1990s, before the needs of family life took him off the trails, wandered back into the shop a few weeks ago with a neighbor's garden cart wheel in need of a tire. While he was there, he spotted the fat bikes and was intrigued enough to test out a couple.

He decided he really liked the Fuji Wendigo. He was going to go home and lobby for it. Meanwhile, because he had mentioned serious neck issues, we put together the parts we would need to raise the handlebars to accommodate his fused vertebrae.

He'd been a ghost for years, so we did not fret when he submerged again for a week or so. Then, suddenly, he popped back in today to say he couldn't buy the bike.

I expected it would be the usual spousal veto. This frequently hinges on the release of funds from a family budget that may be strained by all the boring bullshit of real life. But no. He's come up with an angle we had truly never heard before.

"Do you know what a Wendigo is?" he asked. Steve said he did. He'd looked it up on line when we got the bikes. It's some freaky demon of ancient North American legend: Exactly the sort of thing a bike industry enthralled with their badass image would name a bike model. Think of the Surly Krampus. At least the Krampus is only a seasonal demon.

"I can't buy this bike," said our customer. "If I believe in God and good and stuff, then I have to believe in evil and Satan and all that. The Wendigo is a horrible creature. I can't support that."

When the discussion moves from componentry to theology, the ramifications of the sale become cosmic. It's all fun and games until you believe you are actually living on a planet with supernatural monsters that eat people's flesh. Our buddy Bob's observation shoves religious faith smack into the middle of modern consumerism in the age of science. I have to refuse to believe in such monsters, because I ride a lonely commute entirely in the dark, once autumn arrives. What am I going to do, load up on silver weapons and crucifixes? That shit weighs a ton. But I'm not going to mess with Bob's concept of his immortal soul just to cleave him away from some coin and move a bike off the sales floor.

This is hardly an issue to trouble the bean counters of the bike industry. Guys like Bob are scarce enough to ignore. On the other hand, some marketing idiot's choice of a badass name for a bike model will likely cost us a sale. Bob may be rare, but I doubt if he is unique. How many other potential customers turn away, perhaps without saying anything to anyone, because they're turned off by the juvenile embrace of an evil image?

Krampus at least rides shotgun with a saint.

The badass crowd will say if you can't stand the names, don't buy the bikes. "If you don't like what we're sayin', we ain't talkin' to you!" It's fun to have your group identity and sense of pride. If you're okay with who you offend and why, keep it up. It's a free country. It's silly and pointless, but so much of life can be described that way that it doesn't really matter. I was just fascinated by the intersection of supernatural belief, marketing bullshit, and inanimate machinery.

Bob went home to contemplate his options, because he really likes the bike. Only after he had left did I think that he might justify the purchase by being the man of God who tames the demon, and bends it to the will of good. But that might be considered prideful, and then he'd be in worse trouble.

I am not mocking his beliefs. I don't share his beliefs, but the issues are his own to sort out. If he is concerned enough to tell us all this, we're not going to brush it off. People can be very serious about the care of their souls.