Monday, October 09, 2017

Observation from the darkness

A few weeks ago, I observed in a post about aggressive driving in early autumn, that motorists on my route seemed particularly irritable on a small secondary road near or after dark.

Murphy's Law as it relates to motorists passing bicyclists states that the drivers will synchronize their speeds so that the pedaler and the motorists are all squeezing through the same space at the same time. In daylight this is annoying enough. At night, it is particularly hard on drivers, blinded by oncoming headlights, trying to find a safe passage. Those of us who drive, think about how often you maneuver on faith alone, because the glare has eliminated all sight of the roadway at a time when you really can't stop. Now put your pedaling self into the picture.

For the majority of situations, a decent set of lights and some added reflective material will make a cyclist adequately visible. A decent set of lights also provides enough light for the cyclist to see the road ahead. But when the road is narrow, a little hilly, and bendy, a cyclist presents much more of a challenge to drivers.

By the law, cyclists in many jurisdictions have the right to take the lane to prevent passing. This is a good idea a lot of the time anyway. It isn't always a good idea, though. You have to develop your own judgment about when to herd, and when to let 'em run.

Unfortunately, impatient local drivers will perform the most insane maneuvers to pass a cyclist, day or night, on my route. But even the ones who are somewhat more likely to take a moment will seldom take more than a moment before launching themselves around me. This factor more than any other impels me to change to the park and ride when daylight grows short. Faced with the sudden threat of each other, motorists will blame the easier target: the guy on the bike.

Is it a form of surrender, to give up the road because motorists don't have the patience and judgment to behave decently around other road users? Yes. But the death or injury of a cyclist would serve no purpose. It would not advance the point of view that motorists should learn to drive with more generosity. Someone would point that out, but it would join a jumble of other assertions that would leave us all where we started -- except for the poor schmuck who had gotten slammed by an armored vehicle.

Evolution moves slowly, on a broad front. We can each help it along in ways we'd like to see, but ultimately an individual's survival comes down to moment-by-moment combinations of skill and luck. Accumulated skill can enhance luck, but uncontrolled variables will remain. If you want to see what the future turns out to be like, you have to survive to get there.

Monday, October 02, 2017

It's the traffic, stupid

To be more accurate, it's motor vehicles and the people who drive them. The category is, "Things that make people quit cycling on the road."

There is no last word on this topic. It shows no sign of ever going away. Those who choose to pedal must now and forever deal with the challenges of sharing space with large, fast vehicles, mostly piloted by people with minimal training. And professionalism is no help: truck and bus drivers are notoriously hostile to pedalers. Professionalism may make matters worse, because those drivers are on a schedule and are earning their living by driving. The direct monetary connection reinforces their territoriality against not just cyclists but against all amateur road users.

The solution comes not with a single stroke but with a multifaceted response that has to include a lot of infrastructure changes along with behavior modification. Unfortunately, the system we have evolved developed very naturally along the path of least resistance. People were happy to let their communities be designed around motor vehicle flow. Almost no one questioned it. Forget whatever sinister conspiracies underlay specific things like the destruction of streetcars in favor of buses, and other sabotage of public transit. The proliferation of cheap automobiles relative to rising incomes in the mid and late 20th Century guaranteed that they would dominate our lives. The illusion of freedom was easier to sustain when the consequences, both economic and environmental, could be more easily masked.

We all understand the problem, but it seems as difficult to solve as gun violence. Both motorist dominance and gun violence breed fear, which can then be used to control people. In the case of cycling, fear serves to keep riders off the road.

People who used to ride tell me that they can't anymore. Maybe they quit completely. Maybe they switched to separated venues ranging from mountain bike trails to sedate paths. Most of them express their decision as a matter of maturity and wisdom rather than defeat and surrender.

People who haven't ridden on roads much or at all, who take up cycling or continue it in separated venues also assume the mantle of mature wisdom rather than regretful fear.

We all want to feel good about ourselves. Most of us, anyway. The problem is that the ones who have surrendered have surrendered completely. They've put it behind them and will not advocate for road cycling. I have not met a single quitter who said that they would take it up again if they noticed that conditions had improved. It falls to a shrinking group of experienced riders, augmented by younger people who are still in their riding phase, to keep a scrap of territory available to riders willing to face the existing reality and continue to promote proposals for its improvement.

The inexperience of those younger riders hampers their ability to understand the experience of cycling as the body ages. What was good enough for me in my twenties is out of reach to me in my sixties. It takes a bigger and bigger truck, going slower and slower, to get me to sprint it down. The degeneration has been gradual, but, because I have never stopped riding, I have been able to observe and document it. I guess I do all right for my age, but without the explosive power and grinding endurance I enjoyed from age 20 to about 50. And it shouldn't always be about exploring one's physical limits. Transportation and exploratory cycling should seldom be about exploring one's physical limits, or the limits of one's courage. It's okay for daily life to have a certain serenity.

To make this post self-contained, I have to acknowledge that motor vehicles have their uses. Time, distance, payload, and weather can all make a closed, motorized vehicle a better choice than something powered by human muscle. That has to factor into the system. When you need them, you need them. And what Edward Abbey called "motorized wheelchairs" can accommodate anyone who has decided that it's time to settle into their embrace.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Economics of Expertise

In ancient times -- you know, the 1970s and '80s -- bicycle technology was mostly simple and accessible. Beginning with Shimano's introduction of Rapidfire in 1990, the industry has been systematically destroying that, but you can still find it.

Someone who has evolved with the bicycle over the past several decades will understand what the new stuff is trying to do, based on its ancestors. The processes are simple. The new crap just uses more complex internal parts to achieve the same basic objectives.

Most sophisticated modern componentry can't be repaired. And why would you? The stuff you bought this year has already been thrown on the scrap heap by the manufacturer. And yet, people persist in keeping their bike equipment for as long as they can, and trying to get it fixed when it malfunctions.

There are plenty of YouTube videos of people fixing things. Personally, I would rather have an exploded diagram and a brief, written synopsis of what's inside something than watch someone who may or may not know what they're doing demonstrate it in a video, but I'm old, cantankerous, and independent. But I digress...

Through the efforts of intrepid people doing what they've been told they can't, the independent mechanic community has discovered some of the inner mysteries of modern widgets that have accidentally been made accessible enough to open up, explore, and attempt to repair. Sometimes the repair depends on having donor organs available from another specimen that may conveniently have failed in a different way. Other times, the inner mysteries just need a good cleaning.

When bikes were truly simple and accessible, a rider could perform complete disassembly and reassembly in a small room with simple tools. Some of them had to be bike-specific, but they would all fit into a small toolbox. You could fake a work stand and a truing stand in various ways, although those items do make even simple maintenance luxuriously easier. When I was briefly well funded in the late 1990s, I bought shop-quality versions of both of those. But without them I still managed to build wheels and perform complete overhaul after complete overhaul through the years.

I don't say you need to be so ambitious. I only point out that it was possible. My riding buddies and I did invest in a truing stand that we owned communally and passed around so that we could each build wheels for our commuting and racing bikes. It was a beat-up old thing, not a real shiny Park, but it got us started. Other than that, we got by with improvised facilities wherever we lived. Our apartments always had telltale handlebar scuffs on the walls of the sparsely-furnished living room. In one apartment, my crazy friend Mark painted the rear stays of his racing bike fluorescent orange, leaving the outline on the wall. It was a pretty slummy apartment. I'm not sure whether we even lost our security deposit over that. The owner of the building may have thought she owed us some compensation for the cockroaches and the lack of heat.

Fast forward to the present day: I was digging around inside a SRAM Rival brifter that had suddenly stopped responding to commands. SRAM lets you right in there. I've even seen at least one video in which the rogue mechanic shows how easy they are to service. "Easier than Campy," he says. Even now, we still relate high end road stuff to Campagnolo. The thing is, Campagnolo provides parts and service instructions, or at least they did a couple of cogs ago. In the past several seasons, I have not had to delve into anything later than very early 10-speed from the Italians, if anything. I have not bothered to keep up, because I need brain space for more common issues.

SRAM does provide ample access to the interior of their brifters. After that, you're on your own. Since the simple task of changing a shift cable can involve removing the handlebar tape and exercising a large portion of your profanity supply, anything deeper than that will take a lot of time and require that you keep track of a lot of little parts. And therein lies the economic problem.

A shop has overhead. Back in the 1990s, mechanics learned as quickly as they could to fix as many esoteric problems as possible, because an active riding population was constantly challenging us to prove that we knew our stuff. The industry steadily added complexity and buried the mysteries under more layers of concealment, but the changes were incremental enough, and the equipment remained mostly simple enough for a good wrench to maintain some level of stature from season to season. And it made financial sense for the shop to project this image of expertise. Riders would tell their friends where to get the good work. They might buy bikes by price and brand image, but enough people were really riding to understand the value of reliable repairs.

As complexity reached ridiculous levels and the industry had simultaneously managed to wedge rider groups firmly apart, all-around expertise became harder to maintain. Riders, particularly in hard-core mountain and road categories, now want to go where they recognize the nonverbal signs of group allegiance. The divisions were always there. Now they are more starkly prominent. But, beneath it all, certain mechanical concepts still make everything work. So a shop that may not appear obviously in with the in-crowd may still have a person or two on the staff who can get into a mechanism, figure out what ails it, and fix it or definitively declare it dead.

Unlike the hospital, our shop tends not to charge the customer if the patient dies. This means that we have to make our assessment quickly enough that we haven't lost a lot of billable hours. And, if we think it might be repairable by someone more in tune with a particular bike type, we say so. In the case of the SRAM brifter, we ordered and installed a new one. Then I started an autopsy on the old one. The ratchets are not engaging correctly, and probably cannot be stabilized. Donor parts from another unit might work, but the experiment would take hours, at shop rates.

It makes no sense for the customer to invest in that or the shop to spend the time. But a bike owner with mechanical aptitude and spare time might get in there, diagnose the problem, scrounge up the parts, fix the unit, and announce triumphantly that shops are ripping you off when they say your brifter has to be replaced. Total cost in commercial shop hours might have been $300 for a part that retails new for $114, but that part of the calculation is ignored.

What the industry deems unfixable they will make sure really is unfixable. Until some mad scientist develops a little machine for home mechanics to clone repair parts using recycled plastic bottles and metal cans, powered by scampering cockroaches or little solar panels, true repairs will be the exception.

Monday, September 25, 2017

September is Aggressive Driving Month

September Driver Aggression was a little late this year, probably because the protracted summer-like weather made it easy to forget that the month had arrived. It really hit this week, though.

One hallmark of autumnal aggression is impatience after sunset. I always get honked at more when I'm operating with the lights on, and the honks tend to be a little sharp. With the generator head and tail lights, and two additional blinkies to the rear, plus reflector leg bands, I'm not hard to see. But drivers seem pushier when they pass. This continues after September. On my route, it's worse on the secondary road between Route 16 and my home in the woods than it is on the highways or coming out of Wolfeboro.

I have not commuted anywhere but here since the late 1980s, so I don't know what other riders may experience. When I commuted year-round by bike in the Annapolis, Maryland area, between 1979 and 1987, the percentage of jerks seemed pretty stable, day or night, in any season. During my bike commuting period there, it was getting steadily more urbanized and sprawled out. Of course this new growth was designed around motor vehicles exclusively. There might be token signage and a bit of width designated for cyclists in a few places, but the motorists knew that they were the top predators in that food chain. I don't think any of my old racing buddies still ride around there anymore. When I would visit from up here, even though the motoring public actually seemed less aggressive than during the early 1980s, the traffic volume made riding stressful. To be dangerous, drivers don't have to be maliciously aggressive, just self-centered and unaware.

Drivers may think that a cyclist can't see them as well in the dark. The opposite is true: a motor vehicle has powerful floodlights on the front of it, and it still makes as much noise as ever. I hear them and I see them, or at least I see the light thrown by them.

The closer passing and increased tendency to honk make me think that drivers believe that the darkness cloaks their identity. I suppose that is somewhat true, since most people's license plate lights don't work. But I have a terrible time seeing into cars and trucks in daylight, let alone at night, because of the reflections on the glass. In a lot of developed countries, hitting a cyclist day or night is basically a freebie. They don't need to be cloaked. Reasonable doubt shines down on the whole encounter.

Since I've had close encounters in the dark even when the motorist and I were the only vehicles on a stretch of rural road with decent sight lines, I think that the darkness and seclusion might also stimulate predatory instincts in some borderline folks. And I'll bet that a lot of us are closer to that borderline than we will admit even to ourselves. A twitch of the steering wheel is all it takes to assuage a little impulsive blood lust. So a super low traffic volume is not necessarily a selling point.

I've mentioned before that I feel helplessly conspicuous, riding on a trail in the dark, with my bright lights making deep shadows outside their glare. When I don't need to be seen by others, night vision goggles would be the better choice. And here we go with another gear purchase. More likely I rely on statistical probability and just keep on with the visible illumination.

Stuff I like

Our customer building up a fleet of Surly bikes added a Troll to the lineup this summer. Building a Surly is always a welcome relief from the crustaceans of the Carboniferous Period. I could do it all day, every day, with a big smile. So whenever I get to, it's a treat.

What the customer has requested is a more formal and premeditated version of the commuter I built from my old mountain bike. The frame has all the Surly amenities for versatility, but the underlying concept is the same as my conversion.

Our customer is not a large man. He's a good match for a frame designed around 26-inch wheels. As a gentleman tourist, he appreciates the practicality of fenders.

The bikepacking movement has led to some intriguing options in handlebars. I might even try a set of these on my commuter. Maybe after the customer has had a chance to get the tires good and dirty I'll take the bike for a test cruise. The sweep of the bars puts the control setup definitely more in the touring than the sport category.

The color of the Troll reminds me of my first car. It looks sort of brown in some light, and a warm orange when the sun hits it.

For comparison, here's my knocked-together rig, built on an old Gary Fisher Aquila. There are thousands like it on the roads and trails.


For the bikepacking market, the Troll comes with ample braze-ons for accessory attachment. A conscientious assembly includes greasing the threads for all these accessory attachment points. A normal bike will have anywhere from two to maybe 6. The Troll has thirty. Eighteen of them are on the fork.

Here I am, playing a quick 18 holes after lunch:
The Troll has disc brakes, but Surly provides the posts for rim brakes if desired. With dual-cable levers, a rider could run both! And I would be really tempted to have mysterious little electrical connectors dangling off of any accessory bolts I wasn't using for something else.

This customer has only ridden drop-bar bikes. He has not developed techniques and reflexes for a bike based on the traditional mountain bike. In addition to the usual adjustments on a new bike, we'll have to do a little orientation. The sensations of powering and steering a bike in the dirt have become so automatic for me that I don't think about them. But I notice the difference. He'll catch on quickly. I do want to see how different the handling is with those swept bars. Particularly in quick, tight turns -- such as one must do when crossing the rails on the Cotton Valley Trail -- I wonder if the bike won't feel as nimble as mine.

People ride the CVT on all sorts of sluggish junk. I'm just fussy. And this customer does not live very near Wolfeboro, so he will do most of his trail riding on a path that does not have to dance around over active rail lines.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Assembly comedy of errors

Bikes people get somewhere else are one of our main sources of income. Maybe they bought it on line and realized that bikes aren't really that easy to put together. Maybe they got it at a shop that thinks bikes are too easy to put together. It goes like a snap if you leave out a lot of steps. It goes even faster if you don't even know what a problem looks like.

The latest example had something to do with a charity promotion, but when the technician doing the check in asked conversationally, "what charity was that?" the customer replied grumpily, "That's immaterial."

Ooooo-kay.

At a quick glance, the bike looked like a typical low-end facsimile of a hard-tail mountain bike. It had some snazzy cosmetic touches, like a silver and black headset spacer and machined-out highlights on the conical top of the headset itself, and on the top cap.

The dials on the tops of the fork legs looked like a particularly brittle chromed plastic. The oversize frame tubes are faux aluminum: they're steel. But it has disc brakes that actually seem to work.

The rear wheel was the heaviest thing I've hoisted in a long time that did not have an electric motor built into it.

The adjustment process went deceptively smoothly. Then I removed the top cap from the stem, so I could grease the threads on that bolt.

Perched atop that attractive two-tone headset spacer, the stem was halfway off the top of the fork and could not be mounted any lower with that spacer in place.

The star nut itself, which is supposed to be 15mm down in the steerer, was nearly flush with the top of it.

I found spacers to set the stem at the correct height and reset the star nut before putting the whole mess back together. That got me scrutinizing the rest of the parts.

Check out these shifters: Fake Shimano.
ShiMING.

The derailleurs were another inside joke:
Sun Run! A knockoff of Sun Race, a company that began in the 1990s by making good but not fashionably exciting mix-and-match components to repair Shimano drive trains.
The front derailleur is a double knockoff, because Sun Run evokes Sun Race, but SR is an even more venerable company (Sakae Ringyo).

The only brand labeling on the tires was a logo that looks like WD
This might be a swipe at or homage to the old Flying Pigeon brand of bicycles. In this case, WD stands for Wounded Duck.

Nice machining on the pedal threads:


Nothing that should have been greased was greased. A tuneup on a bike like this is basically reassembly.

Bikes like this are one reason that bicycle accident statistics exaggerate the danger of simply riding. If the bike had not had a defective rear inner tube, someone could have ridden it. As long as the chain pulls one gear around, and the wheels don't fall off, some poor idiot could pedal this thing out to the top of Dead Man's Drop and launch it. The stem was one solid pothole away from detaching from the bike. The brake cables were reversed and tangled. The pedals were finger tight in the crank arms. As far as I know, bicycle accident statistics never include in depth analysis of the machine or factor in the bad decisions made by the rider. It's just bike=injury or death.

The cruelest thing about a bike like this is that a kid might think that it's totally cool.We scrape off a lot of crap on kids because, "they're just going to grow out of it," or they're going to get a driver's license in a couple of years. So at an impressionable age we condition them to expect nothing better. This one didn't even have a country of origin sticker. Apparently, not even China wants to claim it.

My bikes when I was a kid were nothing special, but it's a lot easier to make a durable, affordable one-speed with a coaster brake than to pump out cheap, crappy versions of complex mountain bikes. Along with the plethora of downright hazardous bikes, kids have ready access to heavily edited videos of trained (and battle scarred) professionals showing them how to abuse their bikes and themselves.

Progress marches on.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Okay Shoe

Time once again for another glowing endorsement of a current cycling product.

Always on the lookout for a non-cleated cycling shoe that will fit into a toeclip, I ordered a pair from Specialized that looked promising.

The model is called Skitch. According to internet search results, skitch means "to hitch a ride by hanging onto a moving vehicle while riding a skateboard or roller skates. There was also reference to doing this in just your shoes while sliding on ice. Neither of these sound like they would last long, which is usually what happens to shoes that fit toeclips, too. The bike industry giveth, and the bike industry taketh away.



The curse of modern shoes is the cupsole. A big, beefy rand is an obvious impediment to riders trying to fit a shoe into the opening of a toe strap. Less obvious are the nearly ubiquitous cupsoles on shoes that in other respects appear tapered and smooth, without aggressive tread, or bulky straps built into the upper.

A veteran toeclip rider gets used to the feeling of the strap contacting the sides of the foot right above the sole of the shoe in just the right spot behind the wide part of the foot. Toe strap is a bit of a misnomer, because you want it well back from your toes. Even a low-profile cupsole interrupts this contact, making the rider -- this rider anyway -- feel isolated from the pedal, and insecure. The strap may indeed be holding the foot in place, but without the feedback of the strap it becomes impossible to judge how firmly the foot is held, and how much one can trust it in a snappy maneuver.

Only a cleat provides maximum power and control. When I'm wearing a touring shoe I have already decided that the versatility of a walkable sole and the less frantic pace of a tour justify the less secure attachment. But I keep the straps for a reason: if I need a little more power or control than a flat pedal would provide, I have it. It's an intermediate step between the total commitment of any cleated system and the complete anarchy of a flat pedal.

As kids we never thought about any of this. All of our bikes had the standard rubber block pedals. When we had to accelerate, we stood up and pumped. When we had to climb a steep hill, we stood up and pumped. When we'd outgrown our bikes and hadn't gotten a new one that fit, we stood up all the time. For that matter, stuck onto a tall, gangly steed that we were supposed to "grow into," we had to stand because we were straddling the bar. The seat was a summit we could not yet reach. But when you know better, you want better.

Nice features of the Skitch include laces, a fairly tapered toe, and a waterproof toe cap which seems like it should also serve as a built-in toe warmer -- you know, those neoprene thingies that you stretch over the toe of a cycling shoe in cool but not super cold weather. It's very comfortable, with a cork insole. Fit is tricky, since a touring shoe should fit a bit more generously than a full-on performance cycling shoe. Here is another place where the cupsole messes up the total effect, by making the front of the shoe about a quarter of a size larger outside than it is inside. You have to stuff that into the clip to get far enough for the strap to go around the sweet zone.

I envision using this shoe for winter commuting. The North Face Snow Sneakers that I've been using are seven years old, and they were never very stiff. My winter commutes tend to be park-and-rides on dirt roads and the local unpaved rail trail. The route is all downhill in the morning, so shoe stiffness isn't too critical, but all uphill at night. Tired already from a day of work, I hate to feel like I'm losing what little power I have to a squishy, bouncy shoe. But the Snow Sneakers aren't too bad. They're definitely nice and warm without being oppressive. And they have excellent off-bike traction without having a super aggressive tread. They are apparently still available. At $110 retail, I would be reluctant to thrash them through slushy trails. Because I work in a shop, I didn't pay retail. Because I've been a low-level wage grunt all my life (oops), I can't imagine having enough income to consider $110 disposable.

At least the new shoes might let me save my nice Diadora touring shoes for fun rides in nicer weather. The Diadoras were marketed as spinning shoes, so they're shaped for athletic use. I trimmed the front strap so it fits into the pedal more easily.



Years ago, my late friend Bill recommended Winwood extra large toe clips as the best at accommodating big shoes. I ordered three sets. I could use a fourth now, and they're no longer made. I've ordered a possible contender made by All City to replace the non-Winwood ones on my off-road commuter.

The problem is not so much clip depth as the amount that it comes back over the instep. It has to reach the sweet range. The new clips accommodate double straps. When I ran double straps for a while in the early 1980s, we took one set out through the holes in the rear plate of the pedal cage and the other set through the normal routing. That really held the foot, but the rear strap could cut in painfully. One strap is enough for most uses, as long as it is in the right place for your particular foot size and shape.

I've only taken one ride on the new shoes. I will post updates if anything about them surprises me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Fixing the unfixable

As I was picking congealed grease out of a Shimano Rapidfire shifter pod dating from about 1991,
I actually appreciated how solidly it was made, and how reliably it worked compared to its temperamental descendants. Early versions of a product, even one with lots of conceptual flaws, will be made much better than later versions, because the promoter doesn't want it to self destruct before establishing itself among the uninformed as a solid product. Only then do the manufacturers start watering it down to increase profits.

I hated the underlying concept, and still do. Shimano announced Rapidfire in a triumphant video that they sent out to shops before the 1990 season. We watched our copy in horror, anticipating in full detail the hell that it would unleash on mechanics and riders. We could do nothing to stop it, despite my best subversive efforts. It included the admonition that there was nothing we could fix inside these pods, so don't even try. Word in the cycling press was that intrepid mechanics had disassembled brand new units and reassembled them exactly as they had been, and they mysteriously failed to function. Whether this was true or was disinformation planted by Shimano I never found out. It implied that there was some magic Shinto pixie dust inside these units that would fall out if barbarians profaned the interior.

I plastered these cartoons all over Interbike's Philadelphia show for a couple of years:





It was, of course, to no avail. The technofascists won, leading the technolemmings off of cliff after cliff. But I digress.

The 1991 pod clicks solidly into gear as soon as you flush out the pus that they used for grease. It congeals into a substance we call earwax. My colleague Ralph came up with that one. He was an excellent wrench who was smart enough to get out of the business. It's been bad for his waistline, but probably good for his bottom line, to pursue his interest in computers instead of the 19th Century technology of the bicycle, dolled up with 21st Century materials as it is today.

When hackers and their malware finally make the Internet untenable, bicycles will be waiting to receive the refugees of the Digital Age.

Back to the pod from '91: it felt weird to have so few clicks. I've had to clean out many later versions, chasing more gears, so an original six-speed feels very short. But the wider spacing with fewer stops provides more margin for error. Cable tension has to be relatively accurate, but not neurosurgically precise.

Within a couple of years, the Japanese Buggernaut had enclosed the pods more completely and nearly doubled the number of parts inside. This made them less vulnerable to invading grit and mud, and generally more reliable. It also concealed the insidious activities of earwax under a Darth Vader-like black mask.

In the 1990s, the bike industry, led by Shimano, used the customers mercilessly as test pilots. You might expect such shenanigans from small companies making boutique componentry, but you saw more of it from the big players with lots of leverage. You see it today as manufacturers hump their customers in vulnerable "enthusiast" categories with model year changes intended to make addicts want another hit. There are no white hats in the big componentry business. With the coming of the Electrical Age, batteries are all the rage in everything one might electrify.

Honestly, how did any of us survive the 1970s and '80s on the paleolithic crap we had to ride? In his book, Four Against the Arctic, author David Roberts told the story of four Russian hunters in the 18th Century who survived on an island near Svalbard for six years before being rescued. He and other members of his research team observed that people from a later time, less inured to routine hardship, probably would not have survived. Indeed, look how many perished on Arctic exploration trips when their technological cocoon ripped, dumping them into the elements where Inuit survived and thrived.

We're not Arctic explorers, but we are certainly allowing ourselves to be increasingly isolated and softened by accepting more and more technological intermediaries between us and the realities of the tasks we choose to tackle. Some of these can enhance safety and functionality, but an awful lot, particularly in cycling, pander to riders in search of marginal gains at more than marginal increases in cost, and drive perfectly functional older stuff underground.

Would I miss my outlaw bravado if the stuff I use was totally mainstream? Against what would I rebel in Biketopia, with beautiful routes and intermodal interfaces everywhere? Why don't we build it and find out?

Monday, September 04, 2017

Can you afford to be a technolemming?

In the 1990s I coined the term "technofascist" to describe the forces in the bike industry and their propagandists in the cycling press that insisted on ramming their innovations down everyone's throats. Recently I came up with "technolemming" to describe the consumers who self destructively run off the cliff en masse when the industry tells them that the newest great thing is just beyond the edge of it. There are more good reasons to avoid electronic shifting than to embrace it.

About once a week during the height of summer, someone comes into the shop where I work in a resort town because their electronic shifting has developed a mental issue. Among year-round residents, almost no riders own it. The ones who do are wealthy. In spite of this, the cheerleaders of over-sophisticated technology tout its reliability. Like many people in an abusive relationship, even the ones who are being kicked around by their temperamental lover swear that they still think it's worth it.

A misleading promo for SRAM eTap made it sound like they had developed electronic brakes. I had a good laugh over that for a few days until I double-checked before citing it in this blog. SRAM just has hydraulic disc brakes to go with their wireless electronic shifting. I had to perform therapy on an eTap shifter this summer. There's nothing intuitive about it. You have to learn and remember procedures, and be prepared to have nothing anyway if the batteries die or it develops any number of mysterious ailments of tiny circuitry. But its proponents fall back on statistics. More of it works than doesn't, and that should be good enough to get you to part with the coin.

I've also unstuck a few hydraulic calipers each season. Sure, brake cables can rust on a neglected bike, but sophisticated stuff rots and binds up in so many more and intricate ways. It's all great fun for the short-term addict, but it's an expensive relationship if you try to stay in it for the long haul. Crap that breaks and wears out in a few seasons may be good for the economy, but it is bad for our species and our planet. We've got to get into the habit of owning things for longer and spending whatever we spend on them to fix them, and to buy the time to use them. A bicycle used to be an elegantly simple escape from tweaky technology. The industry couldn't throw that away fast enough when the easy money hit in the 1990s. That's become the minority view of retro-geezers and weirdos. Even your stalwart "bikepackers" embrace hydraulics and suspension, judging by the photos. And those are still consumer activities that waste a person's energy on going away from their productive lives, rather than integrating their exertion into their productive lives.

Still without a car, due to a rather humorous setback suffered by my mechanic*, I rode my 29 commuting miles yesterday under threatening skies in the morning, and under the delivery of that threat in the afternoon. Given the wetness, I rode the old silver fixed gear, for ultimate simplicity. It had been perhaps a couple of years since I used it for a commute. Coming at the end of a week of full-distance commutes, it was kind of grueling. The temperature was in the 50s, with increasing rain for my whole ride home. People travel to distant lands to be this uncomfortable climbing mountains, or trekking across wildernesses, when they can be cold, wet, miserable, and totally thrashed just getting home to supper. I would not trade it.

I've had a lot of purely recreational adventures, all non-motorized. But the baseline through the decades has been bike commuting. Particularly once I moved to a rural area, I have not been able to live entirely car-free, but I will inject transportational cycling wherever I can.

Under the heading of adventure commuting, I did do park-and-paddle commutes in which I used my kayak to cross about four miles of lake and connecting channel, ending with a walk across town to work. Those were great fun, and did save some car use, but took about twice as long as a bike ride all the way from home. I did like the challenge of facing whatever the weather was dishing out: wind, rain, sleet, snow, fog, or placid beauty. Because lake traffic basically vanishes at the end of summer, I would push the season into darkness. Yeah, I might die out there, but you could have a car accident, too.

I would ski to work if there was enough graded width outside the travel lanes on the most direct line to town. Unfortunately, it would be a long, rugged bushwhack with the terrain as it is.

It is more beneficial, physically, economically, and environmentally, to use non-motorized ways to go places you have to go anyway. It is your physiology, your economy, and the environment in which you live that all improve as a result. And yet, because there are considerable social benefits, it's not just self indulgent. Traffic is eased, parking pressure is alleviated, and more people are in better shape.

A shift to durability and more physical engagement with our lives would require a period of adjustment. I don't bother to make a lot of noise about it, aside from my incessant personal whining, because so many people have so many valid excuses born of the technology, infrastructure, and attitudes we have evolved. If you're in a hurry -- and who isn't -- you get in the motor vehicle and mash the throttle. If you want to get a lot done with an awkward load of equipment across a wide geographical area, you use a motor vehicle. I have to borrow one tomorrow to take two cats for their routine vet checkups, because my car is still in the shop.

*The setback my mechanic had fits the theme of over-sophistication: He'd been stacking cars in his shop when he leaves at the end of his day, one on each lift, and another one parked below. My car was in the upper berth above a Mercedes. The Mercedes developed an electrical problem that made it immovable for about 3 hours while the mechanic sorted out its electrical issue (or dragged it away with a chain. He didn't say).

In many ways, I consider my life to be a series of carefully thought out mistakes, interspersed with impulsive blunders. I got here by a series of things that seemed like good ideas at the time. If I'd known how a lot of them were going to play out, I might have narrowed my focus earlier and lived an even less acquisitive life. But you can't change one thing without changing everything. Whatever alternate universes exist, this is the one in which I appear to be. In another one, my parents never met.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A (blank) is a hole in the (blank) into which you pour money

The phrase is applied to boats (a hole in the water into which you pour money), aircraft (a hole in the sky into which you pour money), horses (a hole in the field into which you pour money), and pretty much anything else you can think of.

This week, for me, a car is a hole in the road into which you pour money. My mechanic had already told me we should schedule a timing belt pretty soon, and there was a little piece of exhaust system basically right off the manifold that hadn't gotten changed during the last exhaust system project in the spring, when the older exhaust system had failed prematurely and been replaced under warranty. The car was sounding sportier and sportier as I tried to find time to schedule the repairs.

Thursday night, on the way home from music class, I was buzzing up Route 16 at the mode average speed of 60+ when the car suddenly got much louder. Beneath the roar of the engine was another component that I couldn't identify.

I had to stop for a few groceries, so I slowed when I got to the shopping center. At that point I could hear that the undertone was scraping metal. The exhaust pipe was dragging on the road. One big plus: people don't tend to tailgate you when you have a fountain of sparks billowing out from under the rear of the car. Big minus: you have a fountain of sparks billowing out from under the rear of the car. Actually, I don't know how showy it might have been. I saw nothing in my mirrors to tip me off.

I scraped my way to a parking spot and peered beneath the car. Then I called my mechanic. That's the advantage of going to a guy who is basically nocturnal. I can call him from a supermarket parking lot at 8 p.m. to discuss the situation. Of course I am totally out of luck if I have a problem before lunch time...

On the drive from the supermarket to the house, I discovered that the Ossipee road crew had spent the day dumping tons of chip stone on Elm Street. It looked like a gravel road. I had to assume there was some sort of tar sealant under several inches of loose rock, but you couldn't detect it. I crawled along, listening to the loose pipe bounce around, hitting various things on the undercarriage. I waited for it to take out a tire, a brake line, or the gas tank. With both a bike and my fiddle in the car, I would have had to move fast if the vehicle burst into flames. But it didn't.

I pulled into the driveway in an arc, so that I could pull out again without backing up, but I wasn't about to take the car back out on the road without securing or removing the dangling 4 feet of muffler pipe. It had detached just ahead of the muffler.

The next evening after work I devised a rig with a pipe and wire, some toe straps and duct tape, to hold the loose section up while I piloted the car to Gilford. Then I went to bed early so I could get up and out of the house by 6:30 in the morning. That was the plan, anyway.

The jury rig on the exhaust pipe held up perfectly. Traffic was a little slow in a couple of critical places. I got to Gilford knowing I couldn't sprint the 27 miles to Wolfe City by 9 a.m., but at least the car was there for the mechanic to examine as soon as he got the chance. I don't really need it until September 6, but it might come in handy before then. The mechanic works alone, and he was buried in big jobs that had come in ahead of mine.

I slammed my remaining 12 ounces of morning coffee and started down the road. After a hundred yards or so , I realized that I'd locked the car with the spare keys inside it, so I whipped around to unlock it with the key fob on my own set. I heard the locks click open, and started off again. I'd forgotten that the doors would automatically re-lock if I didn't open one of them within about 30 seconds. I was well out of earshot when the car made that noise.

For some weird reason, I felt really strong and did not have to stop for a whiz every four miles. I'd worried about that when I guzzled the coffee, but it was a good cup. Now I was finding out how good. On my hefty Surly, with lights, fenders, and the day's supplies of clothing and food, I was pushing 19-20 mph quite a bit of the time. Purely unintentional I assure you. I let any climb slow me down as much as it wanted.

Despite a pretty sporty performance for an old fart on a heavy bike, my average was not good enough to get me to work anywhere near on time. But my shame-fueled efforts on arrival were good enough to mollify the high command, after a bit of scratchiness.

The mechanic called around 1 p.m. to ask where I'd left the key, because the car was locked. I cursed the automatic security feature, but I appreciated the sitcom aspect. The audience would have gotten to see and hear the car re-lock itself after I rode away. I asked if he needed me to call AAA.

"No," he said. "I can get in."

"With a brick?" I asked. He knew I was kidding. I was ready to wing a brick at the car just for that automatic locking trick.

"No, I have a real lock-out kit." He also told me where he stashes the key on cars of this type, to avoid such problems in the future.

The riding season began with a couple of periods of forced carlessness. Now another one puts a closing bracket around at least the summer. As usual, I will keep riding as long as I can into the cold and darkness.

The chip-stone on Elm Street improved only gradually over the next couple of days. I rode out on Monday on a fixed gear with panniers to get more grocery items. Drifts of stone at the right edges made it dicey when traffic forced me over there. I've mostly quit trying to herd them. The ones who will be safe will be safe, and the ones who will be assholes turn into even bigger assholes when you try to force them to be safe.

On the way home from the grocery store I saw the Ossipee road crew with a street sweeper and a couple of dump trucks, trying to tame the mess a bit. I'm sure residents along the road have been screaming. Parked cars are covered with an inch of dust. The clouds of grit have settled on lawns, shrubbery, and buildings close to the road.

The horseless carriage was an improvement over the horse because it was durable, repairable, and did not need to be fed while it was idle. But cars now are not durable or repairable, and they rot and harbor vermin when they're left idle for very long. We shell out thousands of dollars every few years to buy new ones, and spend millions on roads and shelters for them. The horse starts to make economical sense again.

The bicycle is what really makes sense. Called "the poor man's horse" in the late 19th Century, when sales of the relatively expensive machines were surprisingly strong among people below the luxury class, bicycles represented transportation independence and increased cruising range that made them worth the investment. They were simple, durable, easily repairable, and did not eat when idle. They could fit in a shelter much smaller than a barn.

We can't have the lower classes living well on modest incomes, now can we? Goodness knows it's hard enough to get the lazy sluggards to put in an honest day's work for their pittance, and keep striving for more. Who knows what mischief they'll get up to if they aren't constantly toiling to purchase expensive necessities from companies owned by their employers and social superiors? We can't do company towns and stores anymore, at least not overtly, but we can certainly build infrastructure that serves only a certain size and speed of vehicle really well.

This trap was not planned. It grew from the prosperity of industrial societies. The fact that this prosperity was digging industrial society into a hole was talked about very little as life just seemed to be getting better and better among the demographic sectors attractive to advertisers. Screw the rest of the world. Right here in Happyville, things are going great, and they're only getting better.

Holes seem to be a theme here. Consumer society is a hole in the planet that you pour money into. Unfortunately, it grows from natural instincts to devour, trample, shit, and walk away. Because our salvation depends on being smarter and better than that, what we will get instead is a Malthusian collapse, and a species reduced in numbers and destructive powers, but probably no wiser. We can and will rebuild our numbers and destructive powers. It's what we do.

I can imagine instead a rational civilization in which motor vehicle use is limited to necessities like maintenance of the non-motorized transportation system, emergency vehicles, and not much else. Hell, I can imagine a lot of nice things. And I like to. I just know better than to hope or expect. I'll keep the idea alive for whoever might find it before the beacon goes out.

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.

This:
 
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 a 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.