Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Riding in the wrong direction

First off, congratulations are due to Alice Lethbridge on breaking Beryl Burton's 1967 record for longest distance cycled in 12 hours. A 12-hour ride is a serious physical challenge.

On a social media comment thread, I took some serious jabs for pointing out that the carbon fiber spaceship Lethbridge rode is a far cry from Beryl's 1967 rig. Some riders got what I meant, but the modernists called me an "armchair cyclist" and a "bellend." While I do love British insults, the modernists and the worshippers of competitive achievement miss my point, as usual.

Maybe the problem is the way records themselves are recorded. We get a name, a date, and a distance or time. The format itself implies equivalence in all other factors. If that were true, then the entire aero bike segment of the industry is a giant scam. If it's not a scam, then the bike needs to be featured prominently as a huge contributing factor. Yes, it diminishes the athlete. Athletes accept diminishment all the time for the sake of technologies that will make a grueling task slightly easier. One would expect -- all athletes being equal -- that improved technology would make records fall at regular intervals. But Beryl's record stood for 50 years.

Photo credit: Road cc.
took 50 years to beat this:

There have been plenty of intermediate steps in aerodynamic evolution. No rider in all that time managed to exceed the performance of the phenomenal Beryl Burton. That leads to another point: If records are the province of phenomenal people, what do they really mean for the rest of us? They indicate a high point attainable by the right person with the right training, and they give us something to say gee whiz about. But athletes will perform on whatever is available. I bet if you compared the relative prices of Beryl's bike and Alice's, Alice's would still be more expensive, even allowing for inflation. How does that trickle down to the majority of riders?

In automobiles, evolution led to vehicles that are lighter, faster, more fuel efficient (sometimes), flimsier, harder to work on, and basically disposable. Early cars were made to stand up to the abuse of the roads they had to use. Later, the makers still stuck to the old standard under which people built things to last. Only decades of consideration led to planned obsolescence and relentless marketing. I guess it makes sense, when an industrialist has invested in a factory to produce millions of units. You want to keep that line rolling.

Automobiles are very rewarding to the average consumer. You sit in a comfy seat. You control a powerful engine. You can have climate control, an entertainment center, and arrive at your destination smelling about as good as you did when you left home. We've been trained to expend thousands of dollars on our rolling couches, and designed a whole system of plumbing through which to flush ourselves at the best speed attainable by our mechanical conveyances. That speed is influenced by the number of other conveyances in a given pipeline, not just by terrain and weather.

Bicycle designers have taken up the idea that the bodywork should obscure everything else, because air drag is the ultimate enemy. Even in bikes not designed solely to race against the clock, as much as possible gets stuffed inside. Most riders don't do their own work. I've asked before, and still not answered, whether most riders who seem hard core and fully committed only do it for the ephemeral lifetimes of one or two of these modern crustaceans.

Conspicuous consumption is one of the great shames of industrial society. There's a serious parallel to income inequality in a recreational bike that costs thousands of dollars versus a sturdy, durable ride that can still offer a bit of sporty handling, but also carry a couple of panniers full of groceries.

This summer has brought me the whole range of the modern bike experience: chasing air bubbles out of hydraulic lines, seating tubeless tires, snaking cables through the unseen labyrinth of internal routing, and performing exorcism on some electronic shifters. Meanwhile, I hear the same thing all the time about actual riding in the real world: it's scary, it's hard, and a few hundred dollars seems like a lot of money to a lot of people.

The answer is not just swan-necked, step-through cruiser bikes and crushed stone paths. And it certainly isn't "categories." I have built myself several different bikes for different applications, but they all started from basic platforms. Got a chunky one for the roughest surfaces I considerable reasonable to ride. Built a fixed gear for wet and cold weather. Got a road bike for unencumbered sporty rides. Got a go-anywhere commuter/light touring rig. All steel, all simple, all readily maintainable. That's a lot of options, and I bet that all of them together cost less than one top-end bike in road, mountain, or time trial categories.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unwanted kindness

White supremacists can all go fuck themselves with a stick of dynamite. Their philosophy has no place in the government of this country. Their dream of a monoculture may draw on threads from our country's past, but those should have been stripped out of the weave a long time ago.

As I rode home yesterday, contemplating what I'd seen and heard coming out of Charlottesville, I thought about how I wouldn't mind busting an ax handle upside some neo-Nazi's head. I know we should be trying to set a better example for the hopelessly primitive bastards, but they're immune to reason and have no negotiable points. Many of us are facing economic challenges and a government that has long been corrupted by corporate influence, but white nationalism is its own separate piece of unadulterated shit. You can solve all the problems of government corruption and the glorification of greed, and pathologically white people will still find reasons to be assholes.

Don't think I don't realize that greater acceptance of diversity will lead to its own problems through the weaknesses of human nature in general. But, taking race and ethnicity out of the equation, we will be more free to react to someone positively or negatively just based on whether they're an asshole. It really will be better. It's one baby step closer to discussing issues on their own merits rather than labeling them and assigning them to one side or the other of a polarized political atmosphere.

Giant steps would be better. We may be making baby steps out of the path of an avalanche.

So there I was, thinking my hippie-commie-peace freak thoughts and pedaling my zero-carbon-emissions vehicle down the side of the highway, when a big, black, battered, loud pickup truck came up from behind, with a huge Confederate battle flag waving over the truck bed.

I heard the truck's tires contact the centerline rumble strip, indicating that the driver was giving me as much room as he possibly could with oncoming traffic. His speed was steady. He did not blip the throttle, downshift, cut in on me, yell, or throw anything. As much as the implications of the flag made me want to lob a hand grenade into the truck bed, the driver was being admirably responsible. He did way better than the little old lady with the Jesus fish on the back of her compact car, who had squeezed me to the curb the day before. Not that I trust any religious symbols to guarantee saintliness, but if you saw those two vehicles, which one would you expect more trouble from?

Experienced riders know to expect trouble from all of them.

With the Internet and broadcast news, people can take sides in real time and spread a conflict at least symbolically to every corner of the country, and beyond. Doing nothing does not make you neutral. But conflicts are laid over conflicts laid over conflicts. If I had looked brown from behind, would I have gotten as much room? Or was the flag display a misguided piece of "free speech" by someone young and foolish? Sure, you have every right to interpret a piece of colored cloth any way you like. But it's piss-poor timing if you want to wave that thing around the day after murder and mayhem in the name of racism, and don't want to be lumped in with the racists.

I used to like rainbows. Then those colors in that order became a symbol of a movement. It's one I happen to support, but now every rainbow is suspect. The fucking spectrum has been politicized. We all have to make adjustments in the constant debate over our past, present, and future beliefs. The Nazis were sharp dressers and had some cool hardware. Not every member of the armed forces of the Third Reich was a foaming fascist fanatic. But the gang in charge was rotten to the core, and the cause was unjust. No piece of regalia can be separated from its origins. 

At some point, we have to quit arguing over how wrong the wrong sides were in past conflicts, and in what ways, and declare that from this point forward we will quit being shitty to each other. The parents in the front seat have to tell the kids in the back seat, "I don't care who started it, both of you shut up or I'm pulling this car over right now! Keep your hands to yourself!"

It's either that or ax handles, machetes, firearms, Molotov cocktails, IEDs, and never sitting with your back to a door or a window.

For hours after the incident -- or lack thereof -- I felt the conflict of suspended outrage. As a rider, I want every driver to pass thoughtfully, generously, and smoothly. Before the election, when the odds seemed to favor a different outcome, I wrote about the strangely good behavior of drivers displaying stickers supporting the candidate I hoped would lose. At the time, I hoped that basic humanity would prevail, and that we would get past the eruption of ugly sores that had become a trademark of the campaign. The months following the inauguration have shown that my hope was in vain. We're going from ugly to uglier, en route to ugliest, which could be terminally ugly. It does not have to be, but anyone close to the levers of power seems disinclined to prevent it.

Those of us opposed to racism tell ourselves and each other to confront it at every opportunity. I've done my share, working for years with someone who might, with little provocation, spout sexist, racist, homophobic drivel like some waste product no longer adequately contained by aging sphincters. When it's right there in front of you, you can have the conversation.

Most of the bigots I've known personally are passive aggressive. They would not go to a rally, burn a cross, or even openly discriminate against someone coming into their business. A small business can't afford to lose any sales, even from Satan-worshipping communist lesbian baby-murderering ****ers. Your average bigot, in addition to the truly destructive practice of voting for candidates who turn those beliefs into policies, will just say shit to be annoying. If they know that you don't like their point of view, they'll throw out remarks just to get rise out of the opposition. Because they find your outrage amusing, the best reaction is deadpan.

On the day after the inauguration I wrote about the possibility of escalating violence. We seem to be getting there. I wouldn't ride a bike to a tank battle, so I'm still relieved when the tank gives me a wide berth. But if I plastered my jersey with inflammatory symbols that courtesy would probably evaporate. Not one for pointless sacrifice, I'll separate the rules of the road from the rules of engagement.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why Mechanics Drink

When I arrived at work yesterday, there were about 15 bikes in the repair queue. We checked in a new one about every 20 minutes for the rest of the day, leaving us more buried at closing time than we were at opening.

Anyone who wants to blurt that it's great to be busy should try being force fed.

Highlights from the past couple of weeks include:

This rider wanted to sit up higher, so he raised his threadless stem and left this gap. Front end noise? What front end noise?
The upper bolt is clearly completely above the top of the steerer tube. Let's go trail riding!

When a roadie complains about funky shifting, the answer is frequently within:
Internal cable routing has turned a routine task into a time-consuming chore. Thanks, Bike Industry!

The new fashion for routing the shift cables under the bar tape has not eliminated the problem of cables fraying inside the shifter.
Shi-no has made access to the mess a little easier, reducing the chances that leftover fragments will jam an expensive mechanism permanently, but I did find pieces of an old cable inside a brifter that I was servicing. They had been in there from a previous break. That explained the intermittent crunching and imprecision.
OEM cables all seem to come with this bullshit coating on them. It quickly scrubs up into lint balls inside the undersized 4mm cable housing that the industry is trying very hard to turn into an inescapable standard. Many high end bikes won't accommodate an upgrade to 5mm.
Here's what came out of this brifter: potential Strands of Death, plus wads of scuffed-up coating. Thanks, Bike Industry!

Someone thought it would be a good idea to shove a stack of cable doughnuts onto the shift wires inside the sleek, black Trek in which I spent close to an hour spelunking. You have to run your guide tubing up the old cable, if it's still there and not too frayed. Otherwise you do a lot of blind fishing to get cables to feed. And hurry up! Someone's waiting to have a flat tire fixed immediately, and six people are renting bikes.
Hire more staff, you say? I'm writing this in stolen minutes before scampering off to work, so I don't have time to explain the particular economy of scale that keeps us from heeding that logical suggestion.

People don't need us until they need us. Then they need us right away. This customer bought this bike on line and assembled it at home. Hey! The left crank arm fell off! Is it supposed to do that? Gosh, between on line sales and You Tube experts, why does anybody need a bike shop anyway?

The forced adoption of disc brakes brings its own time-sucking extra steps. On bikes with adjustable bearings, the rotor bolts almost always block the wrench flats on the inner cone. The mechanic can try wiggling a worn cone wrench in there at a slight angle, or remove the rotor, complete the proper adjustment, and reinstall the rotor. Or, as most likely happens, fudge it in some way and send it down the road.

Yesterday, parts had finally come in for yet another improvised ride that some kid had bought used. The parts, individually, had at one time been decent, but the way in which they had been combined, and some of them mangled, left me zigzagging through the underbrush in search of a path forward that was safe and reasonably priced.
It had obviously been built by someone with only the beginning of an idea how things go together, who pummeled it for a while and then scraped it off on its current owner. Its problems can be summed up nicely by the fact that the crank arms were two different brands and two different lengths.

Looking through the archives for component compatibility information, I found this piece of copy editing I did in 1998 or '99:

The pile awaits. I have to rip out of here and go burrow into it again. Grease be with you.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Gunslinger Fantasy Land

A young man with a bushy chin beard, lots of body ink and a glittering galaxy of facial piercings was examining the display of tires that we offer. I recognized him as someone who had been a regular in the 1990s. Back then he had only started on his personal body decoration project. He was one of those people with pent-up energy that hinted at the possibility of fireworks. He didn't seem angry, but he did seem unhinged.

He must be somewhere either side of 40 now. The energy coming off of him as he stood at the tire display was somewhat cooler. Unfortunately, he is not much more coherent than he was back then.

I'd seen his truck outside. Among the splatter of window stickers was the inevitable Gadsden snake. He is apparently a fan of the young adult fiction of the Tea Party.

When he turned, I saw the handgun stuck in his belt. I thought at first that the gun was naked there, held in only by the webbing. Then I made out the tidy, minimalist holster.

Since New Hampshire did away with the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, we've had to get used to the sight of armed men in places one would not normally have expected to see that level of combat readiness. As it was explained to me by a police officer, even an open holster constituted concealment, because the weapon could not be seen from every angle. A long gun over your shoulder would be A-OK. And now, with permitless carry, a handgun is a fashion accessory among those who love to be considered armed and dangerous.

At a public meeting in June, I noticed that the self-styled government watchdog who records many meetings on video and posts them on line also sports a handgun to demonstrate just how free he is. It's a thing now.

At its inception, the Second Amendment was symbolically important as a demonstration to authoritarian governments that, in this new Land of the Free, ordinary citizens would have the right to carry weapons and gather to bitch about whoever was in charge. Even so, I can imagine lobbyists from the National Musket Association jostling elbows at the Constitutional Convention and pestering incessantly to make sure that their interests featured prominently.

America was settled at gunpoint. But someone has to put down the weapon and pick up implements for farming and construction, or else you're all just chasing each other around the woods with guns. As a lifestyle, it could work. Sleep in a lean-to made of sticks. Shoot some animal for food. Shoot people with whom you disagree. But someone, somewhere, has to be a gunsmith, to keep all the trigger-pullers equipped.

America eventually relied less on hot lead and more on inventiveness, resource exploitation, and financial acumen. Into this more varied social environment the bicycle was born.

Growing up, I had the naive impression that we were trying to have a society in which people didn't look forward to shooting each other. I know people even now who don't even own guns, much less carry them everywhere. But my Second Amendment supporting friends assure me that I am living a dangerous fantasy and that a bloodbath could happen at any time. Don't you want to be able to return fire? Personally, I could, until my meagre supply of ammunition ran out, but I still don't think it's a good idea. And I never carry either the .25 caliber handgun that I got in the divorce or the shotgun when I go out. I was advised that the handgun is a better paper weight than a weapon. If the shooting starts, I guess I'll just have to elbow-crawl behind available cover and go in search of clean underwear.

Should I be admitting publicly that I'm not packin'? Now everyone will know that I'm no threat. But I could be lying, to fake y'all out.

If I was planning to make trouble, the first person I would take out would be the guy sporting the obvious gun. Do they think about that when they put on their costume in the morning?

Once I knew the gun was there, I could not forget about it. We looked at tires and wheels for a cheap old road bike he's fixing up, but half my mind was imagining circumstances in which one might whip out the gat and start blasting. Not that I expected him to do that right there and then, but that only fueled my swirl of speculation. If not here, where? If not now, when? I go for months at a time without wishing that I had a gun, and when I do, it's probably a good thing that I don't.

A gun is the very definition of dead weight. A hefty chunk to carry, it's only purpose is to kill. Wearily, its devotees remind us that humans are wild animals and not to be trusted. When they walk among us, armed, the point of view is more than theoretical. They've taken their fantasies out of their imaginations and forced the rest of us to take part. We're in their theme park now.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Focus on the essentials

To get through the average work day, I break it down into the high points and whatever I have to slog through to get from one to the next.

The high points are: the morning ride, mid morning snack, lunch, mid afternoon snack, and the ride home.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New England, where trends go to die

Fads and fashions in the rest of the country tend to take a while to reach northern New England. By the time they're hip and hot here, they're on the way out everywhere else. So here it is, 2017, and some idiot in a truck finally tried to roll coal on me as I rode to work on Sunday.

Rolling coal is the practice of setting up your diesel truck to spew out copious quantities of thick, black smoke in defiance of the prissy wussies who give a shit about clean air. It is childish, vindictive, and one of the clearest indications that the human species might as well kill itself off now as later.

After laying down a rather thin smokescreen, the brave road warrior appeared to try to tail-whip his truck at me, but he was too far past. Off he went in triumph, having put me in my place. I rode in the fumes for a half-mile or so before the air cleared or I got used to the higher pollution level.

I have to remind myself that evolution is a long-term thing, and that I have no control whatsoever over the outcome. A human lifespan is too short for the big trends to matter, unless your span happens to line up with a sudden accumulation of the consequences of a few generations of ignorance and greed. Even then, you can't do anything about it. If massed ignorance and greed wants to keep going, thoughtful people can do nothing but endure the spectacle of destruction that so many people seem to embrace and enjoy. As much as I feel a surge of rage at the antics of destructive idiots, I have to remember that human existence is itself pointless, and that life has been fairly cushy in spite of the looming collapse of a nation that has chosen to live up to its potential to be a nest of spoiled brats rather than the thoughtful, diverse and interesting culture that the advertising led us to believe was possible.

I can only hope that the arrival of coal-rolling in northern New England signals its rapid decline elsewhere, and that the trend here falters and dies out in the face of ingrained cheapness and practicality. When it comes to flamboyantly destroying motor vehicles, however, the famous New England frugality goes right in the crapper. The American love affair with smoke, flames, and loud noises overcomes any restraining convention in this age when restraint is scorned. And the belief that the best expression of freedom is to offend as many people as possible guarantees that offensive behavior will enjoy rampant popularity.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Man on vacation buys fried dough

New Hampshire's only television station devoted about 30 seconds to tell the viewing public that comedian Jimmy Fallon had ventured down the lake from Wolfeboro to Weirs Beach, where he purchased fried dough. The hardworking Mr. Fallon has had to singlehandedly support the Lakes Region's summer celebrity needs for the past several years. Everyone has to work harder and take shorter vacations these days.

After 20 years in Wolfeboro, former Massachusetts governor and unsuccessful Presidential candidate Mitt Romney finally found his way into our shop this week, to have a flat tire repaired. The day before that, the shop owner had found himself behind Mr. Romney in the line at the Rite Aid pharmacy. He said that Romney looked comfortable and relaxed, dressed for lakeside recreation, and casually groomed. He did not think it was funny when I suggested that one could say, "Eye witness reports unshaven and disheveled Mitt Romney seen buying drugs!"

When Romney dropped the bike off, I was talking to another customer about building up some wheels. I was all too happy to let upper management handle that check-in. At first glance -- as so often happens -- I wasn't even sure the man was actually The Man. I just thought, "hey, that skinny guy looks kind of like Mitt Romney."

The next morning, Jumper Dude fixed Romney's flat tire and did a few other adjustments before leaving to work on the mountain bike trail he's building on Wolfeboro Conservation Commission land adjacent to the Cotton Valley Trail. He reported that, late in the afternoon, he met Romney on the Cotton Valley Trail. I guess that's that for another 20 years.

I had been totally unaware of the Wolfeboro mystique before I accidentally ended up here in 1988. You really never know who might drift through. Sometimes they do it in groups or close enough succession to make it seem like a regular thing. So it becomes part of the economy, while still not solidly reliable enough to lead to motor coach tours and paparazzi. People walk around with one eye out for possible sightings.

Celebrities have a big responsibility to venture into unlikely places to give as many people as possible the chance to act unimpressed by their presence.

Because so few of the A, B, C, D, E and F lists ride bicycles, my reflexes go mostly untested. And I always wonder whether a public figure is relieved or disappointed when they get treated like anyone else in line. I'm sure it varies from figure to figure and day to day. If they catch me at the right point in the afternoon I'm grumpy and semi-dormant anyway.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

It's showtime

Wolfeboro's Hollywood heyday is long gone, and the rockin' party of the 1980s and '90s has dispersed. But any summer resort has to put on its act when the season arrives.

The bike shop is a lot like a Disney attraction based on a movie most people have forgotten. When I worked at Walt Disney World in 1977, I was assigned to the Enchanted Tiki Room. The audience consisted of people who didn't know what else to do with a D ticket, grandparents, and couples looking for a dark, air-conditioned place to make out. It was also  -- based on analysis of the evidence left behind -- a pretty good place to change the baby's diaper and leave the turd burrito for the servants to pick up. The bike shop, while we have adapted, has a similar feeling of being left behind in a dusty past.

I will admit that segments of the bicycling economy do seem to be proliferating in their separate subcultures. Instead of a single invasion riding on hundreds of muddy beasts, riders arrive on a weird array of machines related only by having pedals attached to a crank. The general configuration is still based on the "safety bicycle" of the 1890s, but from there it can go anywhere. Since Friday we've had a gravel bike with electronic shifting, two smokeless mopeds that crashed on the rail trail, one while-you-wait hydraulic caliper overhaul, and close to 20 rentals. It is still far below the flat-out pace of the 1990s, but on most days we only have two people on duty.

Our new trainee seems to be more of a body shop guy than a mechanic. You know body shop guys, whose cars look stunning and run like shit. He did a restoration-quality cleanup job on an old Schwein, but can't seem to get the hang of basic adjustments to shifting, or the plodding attention to details like tight stem bolts. And he has two or three other endeavors in full swing, so he keeps having to go to another job. Mechanical skill is part nature, part nurture. His nature is hard to assess when his nurture keeps getting interrupted.

The summer to this point has been mediocre. The town seems busy for the Fourth of July weekend. No telling where it will go from there. Wolfeboro's slogan, "The Oldest Summer Resort in America," used to refer to its historical roots as a summer retreat for a colonial governor. Now it aptly describes the graying demographic as the town becomes a big retirement community. Tourists come and do whatever it is that tourists do. We put on our outfits and play our roles, happy that anyone shows up at all.

Places, everyone!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pretty, messed up

A few days ago a rider brought in a beautiful Peter Mooney road bike with a broken rear shift cable.  Because it was a brifter, it was at risk for "strands of death." It was the second one we'd treated that day.
Because the cables inside brifters always break under tension, the stub remains inside the mechanism. The frayed ends can snag and prevent the shifter from returning to the position where everything lines up for removal and installation. Depending on the model of brifter, you may be able to dissect it somewhat to manipulate the broken strands, but any broken cable inside a brifter, particularly a Shimano brifter, could turn into an expensive problem.

This one's life was spared. I could get at the stub and coax it around as I shifted the mechanism to line everything up.

The bike was beautifully made, but flawed.

It was built when people who should have known better were slapping cable stops on the head tube. Crap like this shows you that the spirit of trial and error is still very much alive in bicycle design, especially the error part. Cable stops at the head tube were never a good idea, never would have worked, didn't need to be done, and could have been avoided after a few obscure experiments proved that point. However, they swept the industry, leading to exquisite custom frames from high-end builders with incurable cable problems due to beautifully crafted stupid design.

I can see how they thought it might work, but how many times do you have to hit yourself with a hammer to prove that it hurts?

The frame details are really impressive. 
Check out this groovy pump nubbin. It's not really a pump peg, being a round ball and all. Beautifully worked into  the seat lug, isn't it?

Head lug

Fork end

Bottom bracket shell

Most overrated headset.

Aaaand the world's most annoying bicycle computer.

I realized after the rider left that I had not taken a picture of the complete bike.

In a perfectly timed example of the advantages of primitive componentry, on my ride home, I grabbed a fistful of shifter and heard the telltale snap of cable strands breaking. I was near a spot where I planned to stop anyway, so I performed a routine roadside repair on my nice, simple barcon shifter:
No need to dig in a panic for Strands of Death. I carry spare cables because they usually break in the middle of a ride.

Time to write has been hard to find. I have to scamper off to work now, to fix a couple of smokeless mopeds that the Millionaire Motorbike Club crashed on the rail trail. I wondered when the smokeless moped crowd would start to banzai down that path. It's congested enough with dog walkers, baby strollers, people fishing, and cruisers and mountain bikes with absurdly wide handlebars. Now we have to deal with the 20 mph crowd, trying to maneuver through the tight rail crossings on sluggish, 50-pound bikes that surge forward with electrical assistance whenever you poke at the pedals.

This should be interesting.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Gravity's Revenge

Mountain biking in the Wolfeboro area has had a tiny little scrap of a hint of a renaissance in the past couple of years. Not to say there have not been a faithful few who dutifully dumped their 26ers for 29ers and abandoned us without a backward look when a cooler shop opened in a nearby town, but those are the kind of people who will give up a marriage before they'll give up adventure recreation. They follow the gear.

Our new mechanic, Jumper Dude, was an instructor at a downhill park. He described the riding style of the 1990s as "roadie." The idea of riding point to point or on large, meandering loops that covered many miles, he said, was a result of roadie influence. As suspension evolved to make downhill riding smoother and huge tricks more feasible, riders gravitated toward that style. "People were just tossing their cross country bikes to get a downhill bike," he said.

We see little business from the resurgent ripple of mountain biking, but we did sell a full-suspension Specialized to a guy who used to ride with our group in the 1990s. He always favored the downhills, though his inherent cheapness kept him from investing in full suspension's early incarnations. He'd just let it rip on his moderately decent hardtail Stumpjumper. While the best climbers in the group would do their best to survive the downhills, the gravity crowd would launch into them, after we let them catch their breath for a few minutes.

Jumper Dude's observation about roadie influence has some merit. When our mountain biking group broke up, it was because the climbers had decided they would rather ride on the road. The downhillers flaked away to things like fly fishing, and paying more attention to their families. Our technical mountain bike business evaporated in the course of a single season.

The road crew has either stuck with the road or developed medical conditions that keep them from riding much at all. Or there's me: I quit the road group because it was cutting into my commuting. I lost interest in mountain biking because it was starting to seem like a good walk spoiled.

Unseen by us, mountain biking was becoming the province of Red Bull athletes and their ilk. The riding style changed from cross country to stunt man. Jumper Dude credits the BMX influence brought in by a wave of riders who entered the bike world through parks and tricks. Add them to a culture that already had a love affair with gravity and you get the bikes and riders of today. None of them will put up with some aerobic monster schooling them on a climb. It's all about the descent and the aerials you can pull off on the way. Ha! Take that, lycra snobs!

Hey, I'm just commuting and exploring here. The hard-core roadie crowd sneers at me just as much as  the technical mountain bike crowd does. I'm fine with that.

I rely on field observers and researchers to keep me up to date on the latest ways to abuse yourself on a bike. JD confirms my own observation that people seem to get into intense forms of cycling only as long as they can sustain that flame. Gear up, go all out, burn out, quit. Logically, lower intensity levels are much easier to sustain. I've seen it in road riders who went mad for the sport and then dropped it. And some of it is driven by the human propensity to blow up any interest into a fad. A fad is just one letter away from a fade.

When it comes to mountain biking, you can fade or you can crater. JD tells some gruesome tales of mutilation when landings did not go well. He describes some riders as "crashing out" of the sport. They took one hit too many and walked -- or in some cases wheelchaired -- away. They're as bashed up as NFL veterans. Gravity giveth and gravity taketh away. Or sometimes a regard for personal safety and a new awareness of a dwindling bank account inspires a more orderly retreat. In either case, cycling loses a rider. Maybe they'll sidle back in later and take up a different form, but the most intense participants seem to disappear pretty completely, except for the ones who get into course design, or some other supporting role.

For me in my greasy lair, age guarantees that I will never establish credibility with the "intense" crowd. When I could drag them out and put a hurt on them, riding up the many nasty climbs around here, they would overlook my caution coming down the other side. If the climbers had treated the rides as a race, we would have rolled over the summit without a pause, and made the downhillers chase us.

I rode two long mountain bike races in the late 1990s. One was 35 miles. The balance of climbing and descending was such that I could stay ahead of riders I caught on the climbs, and make it to a third-place finish in my category. In the Vermont 50, however, the descents were long enough to let the downhillers either latch back on or pass me outright. Course configuration makes a big difference. The riders who were fit enough not to blow up completely on the climbs, and skillful and daring enough to capitalize on the gift of gravity could have their revenge. I finished somewhere deep in the anonymous rabble that arrives late to the barbecue and makes do with stale rolls and dried-up hot dogs.

Mountain biking has broken into categories as badly as every other sector of the pedaling market, so the compleat mountain biker will need the downhill bike, the enduro bike, the trail bike, the dirt jumping bike, and a couple of different tire sizes for optimal performance in varying conditions in each discipline. Just as gravity took its revenge on the climbers who rode high in the 1990s, so has the industry taken its revenge on everyone's wallet. We have seen the future, and it is "categories." Of course the rank and file will not invest in several bikes.

Gravity's ultimate revenge is a bike with a 25-pound motor and a 10-pound battery attached to it. We've already been informed by a member of the Millionaire Motorbike Club that he will be dropping off his smokeless mopeds on a specific date and that we will have them tuned and ready for him by the next day. Summer's heat (if it ever gets here) brings with it the usual trickle. It runs downhill, getting licked by countless parched tongues as it passes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The gift of car trouble

Just as some customers drive a considerable distance to have me work on their bikes, I drive a considerable distance to have a particular mechanic work on my car. He's been worth the trip since 1988.

The route to his shop is a long and challenging bike ride. Any route from my place in Effingham to his shop in Gilford has to get past a mountain range and a big lake. Winnipesaukee is actually known as "The Big Lake" in New Hampshire, because it is the state's largest. The mountain range, the Ossipees, is roadless. It's an ancient volcanic ring dike, nearly circular.

When I have to deliver and pick up by myself, I ride a bike rather than bother anyone to drive more than 80 miles to indulge my customer loyalty. Every route has some terrifying nasty sections. The one with the fewest of them runs along the south shore of the big lake, down around the pointy end of Alton Bay. Going up the other side, a rider can use back roads to reduce the time spent on Route 28. The shortest version is 42 miles.

Because I now know someone who works near the mechanic's place in Gilford, I can sometimes hitch a lift to pick up the car. If that doesn't work out, I'm back to my own resources.

When I was young and immune to fatigue, I would hit the road at 5 a.m. and ride all the way to Gilford to get the car before work. When daylight gets a little shorter, an early start means riding in the dark. It works out better to ride to work, work the day, and crank out the last 27 miles after quitting time. Since my mechanic is self-employed and basically nocturnal, he'll still be there at 7 p.m. or later. Don't look for him early in the morning, however.

A Gilford run by bike is an expedition. I only plan on a couple a year for specific things in spring and summer. The distance isn't so bad, but the narrow parts are very stressful and there are a couple of nasty climbs.

This spring, after getting almost no exercise all winter, I had to pull off a Gilford run with less than 200 miles on me. The muffler fell off the car. The stub of the exhaust was up under the car, gassing me at every stop. So off I went, at a steady plod.

Two weeks later, I rode it again, when the rear brakes jammed up. The car is 14 years old and has spent the last 8 or 9 years dealing with New Hampshire road salt.

Okay, we're good to go now, right?


Last Thursday, the front brakes got jealous and seized up hard. On Friday I limped the car to Wolfe City because the weather was nasty and I hoped to avoid riding. By the time I got there I knew I wasn't going to take the vehicle home. As luck would have it, the boss had his truck in Laconia, next town over from Gilford, and agreed to take his loaner back over during the afternoon, so I could drop my smoking hulk and hitch back to Wolfeboro with him.

Halfway to Gilford, my car blew a radiator hose, so I left it for AAA to drag the rest of the way. So now I have to retrieve it. Meanwhile, I went into Memorial Day weekend without a motor vehicle. Sweet!

I love getting in and out of Wolfeboro without a car, especially in summer. Motor vehicle traffic typically backs up for a couple of miles on any road through town. Then you have to find a place to park. As the middle class dwindles and no one has as much disposable income as they used to, the traffic and parking jams don't last all day, every day, from May to September the way they used to, but the busy parts are as busy as ever. And I've always gotten a strange good feeling from getting around without a car. So when circumstances "force" me to rely on pedal power, it's more like extra permission than an extra burden.

On Sunday, I hit the grocery store for a few necessities before heading home by a quiet route avoiding the highway most of the way.
Stoddard Road has some well-established colonies of lady's slipper orchids.

It's easy to stay home when I am home. Evening will come and I will realize that I have not gone outside for more than a few minutes, and I might not have spoken to another human being. While I don't prefer it that way, I've ended up that way. The cats are happy to have me around.  I get to observe the life of the woods.

Phoebes are nesting on a shelf on the side of the house.

Hummingbirds nest in the dense pine forest. That's a phoebe sitting on the hook above the hummingbird feeder. Phoebes are flycatchers, constantly snatching insects wherever they spot them.

Today I wanted to get some produce I had not found in Wolfe City, so I took the fixed gear out to the grocery store nearest to my house, about 3.5 miles away.
Hannaford has added this official bike rack as part of their renovation over the past year. It's even under cover, which was nice when the drizzle started up while I was in the store.

Exercise is not only an effective antidepressant, it may be the only truly effective antidepressant. Despite two gray days and a moroseness that has only increased since the turn of the century, a stupid little errand by bike felt really good. I have a huge amount of difficulty getting myself to exercise as a separate activity, so whenever I can work it into the practical needs of life it is all the more gratifying.

I need the car, as any rural resident does. But being without it can be a real gift.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The magic number is 300

When I dabbled in bicycle racing, the training manual we passed around recommended laying down about 300 miles of low-gear base mileage before beginning differentiated training. This was in a climate zone that did not offer a strong alternative training activity like cross-country skiing on a regular enough basis to count as a real routine. Even if a rider took up speed skating, which was available and had a small following, the change in muscle use at the beginning of regular riding season required some adaptation.

In a climate that shuts down outdoor riding pretty completely, base mileage is vital. I don't do any competitive sport riding, but any open-road commuting is part criterium, part time trial. Lacking the discipline to ride a trainer with the religious devotion necessary to provide a real fitness base, I need to get those base miles before launching the commuting season. Alternative outdoor activities have nearly vanished in the changing climate, so I'm coming off the couch with only good intentions.

Last week I hit the 300-mile mark and noticed an immediate improvement. I'd been trying to go easy, but you can't hold back when you're sharing the road with motor vehicles. If a traffic situation demands a quick sprint or a longer interval, you do your best.

Even before the 300-mile mark, I noticed that my whole body worked better now that I was using it as it was meant to be used. We're built to propel ourselves. Obviously, walking and running are our natural forms of locomotion, but the genius of the bicycle was that it adapted those motions to the circular pedal stroke. The bicycling position has evolved so that it places some potentially destructive demands on the upper body, but the general concept remains completely benign. If you ride a lot in a forward-leaning position, you will want to do some stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent neck and shoulder pain. And a little core work is never a bad idea.

I wonder who first came up with the idea of strength and flexibility training. There we were, scruffy hominids scrounging in the landscape for things to eat, devising tools of various kinds. Life was an endless camping trip. We walked, we ran, we climbed. We picked things up. We figured out how to build things. It was all based on walking, running, and moving things into useful configurations. Some people were stronger than other people. Who first figured out that strength and physical efficiency could be enhanced with specific exercises?

It doesn't matter. We know it now. Ignoring the whole noisy industry and marketing campaigns promoting specific programs and products that will make YOU, yes YOU, STRONGER, HAPPIER, SEXIER, AND MELT AWAY EXCESS POUNDS LIKE MAGIC, we know that using your own power to get from place to place will make your body work better. Rest is a vital part of the training cycle, but you can actually be too rested. Crawling toward this year's bike commuting season, I wondered if my accidentally sedentary winter might actually have shortened my life. In a country that considers health care a luxury, who can really afford to live an unhealthy lifestyle?

People who try to live gently, self-propelled and modestly housed, end up looking like parasites in a consumer-driven, wealth-obsessed economy. We slip through the small spaces, gleaning our sustenance like mice. We don't have much of a wallet with which to vote. It makes us an easy target for the contempt of the worshippers of hard work and self advancement. No one is questioning those sacred precepts. Hard work in the service of destruction is not a virtue. But voices of reason are drowned by the noise of traffic, industry, and broadcast media.

Many hands make light work. We could be taking turns doing short stints at the destructive labors that need to be done, rather than trapping some people in those destructive endeavors until they are crushed, and letting others evade that contribution to the general welfare. Like any simple solution, it's too complicated to arrange, so we will continue to live haphazardly and let evolution take its course. I just thought I would throw the idea out there. We could have arranged things in that way and coasted our population gently down to a sustainable level. Instead we live by instinct, as always. The result will reflect our true nature and potential, as will be evident from the ruins we leave behind.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Tool in Tamworth

Big G has retired from the bike game. Working in the business was interfering with his riding. He also has a private pilot's license, and the demands of shop life were really cutting into his time for that.

He put the knobbies back on his Cross Check so he could explore the many unpaved roads around here. Today he instigated a trip in Tamworth, starting at Chocorua Lake, just off of Route 16.

Mount Chocorua is a beautiful, craggy peak, frequently photographed from the shore of Chocorua Lake.

Chocorua Lake Road used to be called Fowler's Mill Road all the way from Route 16 to Route 113A. Now it's Chocorua Lake Road from the Route 16 end and Fowler's Mill Road from the other end. Must be a 911 thing. It's dirt, and some of it is not maintained in winter, which can mean it's pretty rough. We're a couple of months out of winter now. Everything was pretty firm.

My own Cross Check is set up for commuting. I didn't want to risk slicing a tire on a sharp stone when I have to ride it to work the next day, so I brought the trusty mountain bike. It has commuting conversions as well, but it also has some nice old gnarly Continental mountain bike tires.

Almost the entire route was unpaved, so I figured I wouldn't get dropped. Besides, we were out to enjoy the nice weather and spring scenery.

Fowler's Mill/Chocorua Lake Road climbs steadily, and then steeply, to a plateau with enhanced views where land has been cleared.

You get another angle on Chocorua, across this field full of big, honkin' rocks.

Looking down the road, you can see Whiteface and Passaconaway, two more peaks in the Eastern Sandwich Range. Those are both on the 4000-footer list, for you peak baggers. Poor little Chocorua isn't even on the Hundred Highest list.

What goes up gets to come down. Continuing westward, the road dropped off the plateau and we dropped off with it. Where it levels out, the road to the Liberty Trail parking cuts off to the northward. This also provides access to the Brook Trail, another route up the mountain, and the Bolles Trail, which ascends to a saddle west of Chocorua, and descends to the Kancamagus Highway.

After a side jaunt to check out the trail head we resumed our meander on Fowler's Mill Road. That brought us to Route 113A for a few yards to pick up the Old Mail Road.

Old Mail Road to Gardner Hill Road. Gardner Hill Road to Route 113 (as distinct from 113A). Route 113 to Philbrook Neighborhood Road (depicted simply as Philbrick Road on this map). Then we were supposed to take Loring Road, but we stayed on Philbrook all the way back to Fowler's Mill Road instead.

Down near Chocorua Lake are some classic New England summer homes. Tucked among large trees, they evoke the era when families with the means to do so would go to their summer retreat, to rough it, canoeing and hiking in the wholesome atmosphere of the mountains. Generations carried on the tradition, but I wonder now how many can maintain a place, or would be satisfied with such simple pleasures. I know the practice is dwindling, just as the real rural life of year-round inhabitants has mutated with time, technology, population pressures, and the rolling waves of the economy.

It's a relief to disappear on a back road and think about geological time, surrounded by surviving scenes of slower times.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Murphy in the Workshop

Saturday was a busy day, by current standards. As we relish our last couple of Sundays with the shop closed, we also face the mounting pressure of repair work without that extra day to do it. I hate that part. When we go back to full weeks, my life goes on fast forward until I flop out into September with another summer torched to a cinder. Days shorten and chill. Winter's uncertainties, always seeming more dire than those under generous sunlight, gather their forces.

With that in mind, I was preparing to stay late to finish two jobs that customers had hoped to get back before the end of the weekend.

The first was a road bike that needed some straightforward things like shift cables and housings, straightening up the handlebar angle, and a set of front brake pads. Oh, and by the way, the cable adjusters on the down tube have gotten mangled, so please replace the damaged adjusters with new ones.

The mangled adjusters were broken off. This is not unusual. I cleared away the loose parts as I removed the cables I was replacing anyway. But the stubs proved to be so severely corroded into the mounts on the frame that I was unable to spin them out by any of my normal methods. I flooded them with penetrating oil and left a message on the customer's phone to let him know that this job was now a couple of days out.

The next job was a wheel rebuild for a guy's fat bike. He brought it in because the alloy spoke nipples were all crumbling.

I hate alloy spoke nipples. I will tell you this plainly and repeat it as often as anyone brings the subject up: Do not use alloy spoke nipples. Do not let anyone try to convince you that they are an upgrade. They are a disposable item of crap componentry providing a dubious advantage of minuscule weight savings. And this was a fat bike! It was built for rough use in abusive conditions.

Here's where everything that could go wrong really started to pile up. Removing the cassette, I got the lock ring and the detached cogs off, but the block of riveted cogs had burrowed deeply in the aluminum freehub body. I've encountered this a lot. I can usually jostle the cogs loose with a couple of chain whips or a well-aimed tap here or there. So I tried one thing and another, finally snaking a long screwdriver through from the other side so I could give it a little nudge with the rubber hammer. Boink! The whole freehub body popped off, cogs still firmly embedded in it. Well, no harm, really. The axle cap just presses on anyway, and the pawls came out intact. The axle itself remained in the hub, so it would provide the correct spacing in the truing stand. I removed the brake rotor from the other side, so I could install the new spokes to go with the full set of brass nipples.

Back when the Surly Pugsley first came out, we got some adapters for our truing stand, to accommodate the unusual wheels that bike required. The original Pug was designed to use existing componentry in a non-standard way, specifically to allow a rider to use a rear hub on the front wheel. This was so that a rider on an unsupported expedition, far from tech support, could have a spare rear wheel. It was a limited use, esoteric option that made perfect sense in many ways: pure Surly.

As the industry has tried to make fat bikes a rage, the original practicality has disappeared under megatons of image. If fat is good, fatter is better. A mere 135mm rear hub long ago ceased to be good enough.

Because fat bikes really aren't a rage, shouldn't be, and probably won't be, we looked away for a bit, and failed to catch the truly ridiculous dimensions of things like...rear hubs, for instance.

There was absolutely no way that the hub on this wheel -- which was also filthy, by the way -- was going to fit into our truing stand.

I forgot to mention that this poor slave to modernity is also running a tubeless tire, which, of course, had to be removed to get all the way down to the spoke bed of the rim. So this wheel is in just about as many pieces as it can possibly be, and there's no way I can put it back together right away.

We priced the new truing stand that will accommodate hubs up to 215mm. It seems to list pretty consistently around $372 retail. Our price would be less, of course, but it's still another poke in the eye from the bike industry to small shops everywhere.

It's getting to the point where the bike biz is perhaps like the airplane biz. The guy who can do an annual on your Piper Cherokee might not be set up to work on F-18s or an Airbus. Hey, they're all aircraft, what's your problem? There was a brief period when the universe of available bikes could conceivably find succor under the roof of a small shop with a good staff and decent basic tools. And I ask you: is per capita bike use significantly higher now that we have all these increasingly sophisticated and disparate options? Or are we just collectively the victims of technological masturbation?

In the very beginning of the bicycle era, each brand was the product of a different shop, exploring uncharted areas in design and manufacturing with their own proprietary approaches. Standardization across brand lines occurred gradually. Bicycles paved the way, quite literally, for the mass-produced wheeled vehicles that followed. As those other technologies took over to drive innovation to greater complexity, bicycles languished, perfecting the artistry of the machine rather than breaking a whole lot of new ground in the use and processing of materials. Then, in the late 1970s, technological backfill began with test pieces like the Teledyne Titan and the Graftek. Those were merely modest precursors to the avalanche of engineering getting ready to thunder down on us when mountain biking exploded.

After mountain biking established the standard of having few standards, and adopted the shifting sands/seething lava pool technological landscape of virtually every other technology popular at the time, every form of biking felt the full brunt of technological attention, as a desperate industry continued to try to throw equipment at social problems.

A cutting edge is an instrument of pain. It is a surgical tool, amputating riders whose commitment is not strong enough to make them want to fork out the dinero to fund their addiction. If your needs and wants are modest, the industry has decreed that you don't deserve their best. With every cog they add, your old stuff drops a whole step lower when you go looking for replacement bits and pieces.

None of this will matter once civilization collapses to the point where the road system degenerates once more into wagon ruts, and we're lucky if we can rebuild the rail network for rapid transportation between major hubs. Sure, the bicycle was born in that environment, but it served a human race that had never known anything better. Riding a tall wheel with solid tires down a muddy track between farms was a new and desirable experience, face plants and all. But there's a good reason that the next phase of two-wheeled evolution was called "the safety bicycle." Who knows where we'll be able to land, once our obstinacy and superstition have assured that we can no longer maintain what we have. Maybe we'll all be walking, and eating "paleo."

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Immune to Utopia

In 1979, I emerged from the 16 years of schooling considered normal for middle class young people, and started trying to make my way as an adult in what we referred to as The Real World.

For practical reasons, I chose to use a bicycle for transportation, and to shape my life around that, rather than automatically assume that I needed a motor vehicle, and all the expenses that go with it. At the time, you could actually come through a basic college education without debt, but I knew I could not guarantee my income in an uncertain job market. Why load myself down with living expenses?

The 1970s bike boom was nearing its end, but I didn't know it. In Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, bikes had been a dominant mode of transportation when I arrived at school in the mid '70s, and were still going strong when I left there in the early spring of '79 to journey north.

I hit the streets of Annapolis, Maryland, and firmly believed that I was better off on the bike than in a car. My friends and I took a lot of risks, but we got away with it long enough to refine our skills and develop better judgment.

The motoring public could be quite hostile. Occasionally the encounters would escalate from verbal (or salivary) to actual physical combat. Being young and idealistic, I could not understand why the vast majority of people was so blind to the Utopia in which we could all be living if more people took up bike pedals instead of the gas pedal.

The bike represented strength and freedom, but it also represented mutual trust. Strength meant personal physical energy, built and maintained by an activity I found entirely fun and beneficial. Freedom meant freedom from the massive expense and logistical hassle of owning a motor vehicle. Trust was a key element because the bicyclist is balanced on those two wheels, vulnerable to the accidental or purposeful incursions of nearly everyone else. A motor vehicle of any size can crush you, but even another cyclist can take you out. For that matter, a pedestrian could do it, too. A well-timed shove, a quick thrust with an umbrella or a stick, and the bicyclist goes sprawling, to the amusement of onlookers.

At the very end of the 1970s, widespread mutual trust still looked like a societal goal, nationally and globally. Sure, there were international tensions and we could be taken out by a nuclear holocaust at any moment, but most people seemed inclined to avoid it, not solicit it. We were getting better. Weren't we? Meanwhile, I was going to keep showing how it could be done, making the bike transportation thing work, and living a comfortable life on modest means. When I look at my tax returns from the period, I'm pretty horrified at my casual acceptance of a cockroach existence, but such is the nature of idealism. I was not wrong, but I was in the minority.

In the minority I may have been, but I was not alone. Baltimore and Washington had a lot of bike commuters, messengers, and recreational riders. Advocacy groups managed to keep us on the road against various legislative challenges. Of course we still fight the same battle over and over, because the motorist mentality has such a firm grip on all aspects of life and infrastructure, but progress inches forward. It would do more than inch, if people felt more welcome on bikes in the transportation system, but that goes back to the curious resistance to Utopia. Concerning bicycling and nearly everything else, people seem suspicious of happiness and of each other.

I'm the last person to want to be all huggy touchy feely, swaying in unison and singing some stirring anthem of universal siblinghood. You be you, I'll be me, hopefully we'll each find some people to hang with. But I sense and absorb the increasing general paranoia that has grown out of decades of alienation, as we drive like hell on our vital errands of personal advancement.

Many institutions seek to divide us. Certain devotees of certain religions eagerly try to connect the dots of prophecy to bring about the final bloody battle between their version of good and their version of evil. To the dividers and the faithfully divided, there are no innocent bystanders. If you are not with them, you are against them, or at least disposable. If you have not chosen the right path, you shall be cast down, and rightly so. It isn't rational, but rationality itself is prideful and a sin. Add in greed and a whole smorgasbord of bigotry and phobias, and you have a species running in all directions to find some sense of security.

By the late 1960s, it was commonly accepted that we were moving toward a more inclusive and tolerant humanity. Obviously that was a misconception, and the resistance to that point of view has been virulent. As with other virulent things, it may only resolve through a high fever and convulsions which could prove fatal. There's a chance that other treatments will reduce the inflammation, but it's really in the hands of evolution now. It would be funny if our evolution was violently ended by people who don't believe in evolution, but who would be left to laugh about it?

Riding a bike really does symbolize the benefits to be gained from finding your own balance and not interfering with the balance of others. It is among the best of human inventions.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Scavenger hunts

In the struggle to survive, our shop still clings to its precarious holds above the bottomless pit. Since the turn of the century, customer count has dwindled. The whole bike industry has felt the effects of numerous pressures. Meanwhile, customers who do come in still expect the same basic goods and services.

Service especially sets the independent bike shop apart from other sources of merchandise. You don't see people shipping their bike off to an internet merchant to get a tuneup or an overhaul. Customers look for a bike shop when they need someone to do actual wrenching.

Because cross-country skiing is also stagnant or in decline, our winter revenues have fallen quite a bit as well. This leads to the springtime scavenger hunts, as we try to meet the surge of demand for bike repairs when we don't have sufficient cash flow or reserves to buy parts as needed.

You might think we could make a big preseason order of things we know we will need, like cables, brake pads, inner tubes, and chains. But chains include one-speed, 6-7-8 speed, 9-speed, 10-speed, and 11-speed, with 12-speed up and coming. Tire and tube sizes include 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 26 fractional, 26 decimal (in a couple of widths), 26 fat bike, 650C, 650B, 700C and 29. The 29 and 650B include at least a couple of widths as well. Who will come in when, with what level of urgency? Roll the dice.

In the brake pad department we need to stock cheapo caliper brake pads, nice caliper pads for road bikes, post-type cantilever pads, threaded cantilever pads, linear-pull brake pads, and a speculative selection of disc brake pads.

This was the selection in disc pads as of 2014:
While we're on the subject of disc brakes, we'd better have mineral oil and DOT fluid for the hydraulic ones. Make sure the bleed kits are up to date.

Of course some parts carry over from year to year. Those are usually the ones you won't need. That's why they're still here. We still have to remember where we put them.

Along with the riders who have been using their bikes regularly, year after year, we get the ones I call van Winkles: they've awakened after years of slumber and want to start riding their bike again. The period of dormancy could range from a couple of years to a couple of decades. The oldest bikes can be the easiest to accommodate, because the best of them completely predate the index shifting era. The recent Holdsworth project is a perfect example. The poor bastards who have drive train issues  on a bike that used to be cutting edge and is now abandoned by the manufacturers will often drag the carcass away and give up the idea of starting to ride again because they can't afford the repairs to get the old bike going or the purchase price of a comparable new bike. I always feel bad when they get talked into buying a new bike that is considerably cheesier than the one they don't want to fix, just for the sake of having something "new."

Many repairs, even in the best of times, have sent me on a scavenger hunt to find what I can use among what we have in stock. The back shop is cluttered with improvised tools made out of scrap metal or old spokes. I mine the basement for hulks I can strip for useful bits.

A rival shop went out of business shortly before I started here in 1989. Last year, someone brought in cases of old parts and accessories from that shop, in case we could use any of the stuff. A lot of it is too old or weird, but you never know. The bulging, half-rotted cardboard boxes join the rest of the cache in the basement. It has already saved us several times. Don't let anyone tell you that you should throw out anything that you have not used in a year. Not if you run a bike repair facility, anyway.

Any repair or maintenance beyond routine adjustments will lead to some level of scavenging, because the industry changes so many things with little warning or publicity. If you are not obsessively hooked to the information pipeline, it's easy to miss an important announcement. Then you go looking for parts, only to discover that you've been abandoned. People don't want to live like this. They don't look forward to it when they buy a bike. They look forward to years of happy riding. A cutting edge is an instrument of pain, an implement of destruction. It is a surgical tool, amputating riders whose commitment is not strong enough to make them want to fork out the dinero to fund their addiction.

I keep recommending the freedom and reliability of primitive equipment. What's primitive now was better than I could afford when I was racing, because I had my flirtation with abrasion back when step-in pedals and aero brake levers were just appearing. When I ducked out, friction shifters on the down tube were the mark of an expert. I don't miss shifters on the down tube, but I still don't index, because I don't need to. The drive trains on all my bikes are mixed and matched from nicely made parts collected over the years. My interest is in riding, not shopping, or ministering to the infirmities of super-sophisticated componentry.

The bike industry in general and independent bike shops in particular could survive and thrive without the embrace of industrial enslavement and technological complexity. Good luck convincing them of that. But it's true. People who really want to ride will ride. And the goal should be to get people to ride and keep riding, not to spend and keep spending. The orgy of consumerism that propelled the mountain bike boom will never be repeated, because its fundamentals were destructive and unsustainable. It was an affliction of the entire industrialized world, for which we are still paying. The United States was the superpower of self indulgence, so we guzzled the most and faced the biggest crash. A healthy cycling culture could help us roll out of it, rather than crawling forward on bloody knees until we can drag ourselves into the seat of a motor vehicle to perpetuate the madness. Again, good luck convincing enough people of that. We're all about making money, not about making the world a better place.

I know no better than to keep doing what I do. It might catch on some day.

Monday, April 24, 2017

That nice Holdsworth

A woman brought in her late 1970s Holdsworth touring bike to be renovated for another few decades of fun, reliable riding.
It dates from the early Japanese era. The frame is British steel, but the only European components are the Campagnolo Record high-flange hubs, the Brooks Professional saddle, and the Sedisport chain.

She loves her Brooks Pro. It came in looking a little dry after years of storage, but it was not warped from neglect and abuse.
I polished its copper rivets with some Simichrome. Later in the process I hit the leather itself with some Proofide.

I adopt improvements as they come along, so I recommended aero brake levers and interrupter levers to provide a more upright control position in traffic or on a rough road. Other than that, it was a straightforward overhaul and new tires.

Campy front and rear hubs. Suntour Winner six-speed freewheel.

Reynolds 531, of course.


Modest but reliable derailleurs were made entirely of metal, back in primitive times.

Nice lugwork on a production frame.

Ready for the next adventure.

The geometry of the bike is very similar to my Cross Check. There's no secret wizardry to frame angles, fork rake, and stay lengths. A frame designer will consider details of rider size and the intended use of the bike. Criteria for these are well established. A bike like this one will carry a moderate load and provide a comfortable ride, without being too sluggish. Short of racing, this is a good all-around road design.

Skinny steel tubing makes it easier to compare frames side by side. And because steel fabrication was -- and is -- economical to set up, we could be enjoying a bounty of adaptable designs in steel for many applications. You can still find them if you know where to look. But of course the cutting edge competitor will need the latest weapon for the bloody and expensive conflict represented by racing. And the misplaced notion that racing represents the highest form of technique and technology will lead to non-racing bicycles executed in more exotic materials than mere steel. Even aluminum has gone seriously down-market since the turn of the century. Metal in general has a quaint image as a holdover or a throwback. But it holds its own among serious tourists and utility riders of all sorts.