Monday, June 27, 2016

Again with the bears

The wide angle lens on the handlebar cam makes this bear into a distant dot that rapidly leaves the frame. But at least it's a little something.

I like how you can see the bottoms of their feet when they're walking away. I watched this black, black animal, with these tan foot pads, sauntering along in front of me, as I followed at a respectful distance.

People I met at the road crossing pointed back into the woods and said they could still see it after it left the trail. I couldn't, and I was on a bit of a tight schedule to get to a friend's 60th birthday party. I tooled on out the trail with no further excitement.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Recreation Nation

I can only take my best guess what the human species will need - aside from mass sterilization -- to enjoy life in  *The Future*. I gave it my best shot, focusing on non-motorized recreation, because we were a recreation nation, for all our protestations of industrious work addiction. People worked hard to play hard. Buy a speedboat, a jet ski, an RV, a dirt bike. Get tickets to a professional sports event.

The alternative energy folks and the neo-agriculturalists offer lifestyle solutions that do not directly attack the motor mentality. You can kill cyclists on the road just as effectively with a hybrid or full electric vehicle, and still have a modest carbon footprint. Indeed, kill enough people with your electric vehicle and you will be carbon-negative, because you've reduced the population while avoiding your own fossil fuel use.

All motorized transportation and entertainment can be greened up. Electricity is the rage right now. It still has to be generated, but we'll get that tidied up, too. Try an electric speedboat!

I have a feeling that recreation may be at the top of a declining slope. In fact, it has probably started down it. I see fewer people at play at the theme park I think of as Wolfe Disney World. It's not just traffic in our store. The surges are shorter and smaller in every activity.

Even the annual herd migration known as Motorcycle Week seems to have been shrinking steadily. This year, most of the participants I saw made me think, "born to be wild...a looooong time ago." Now their tune is "Born to be Wide."

We could never have maintained the pace we set in the 1980s and '90s. I rode that wave, but it scared me then, because I knew it had to crash on the shore eventually. The lifestyle I envisioned when I was inexperienced enough to believe society's problems were not only soluble, but on the way to being solved, used pedal power extensively. Pedal to work. Pedal on errands. Pedal on vacation. A few years of it showed me how much nearly everyone else hated that idea, and hated people like me for being out there in the way. But maybe its time will come. More likely we'll go straight from the explosive end of the machine age right back into the stone age, but I'll be out there riding in any case.

I have a lot of trouble getting myself just to play. The commute serves multiple purposes: exercise, recreation of a sort, and cheap transportation. Meanwhile, my livelihood depends on other people recreating, since that makes up the vast majority of bike use, and all cross-country skiing.

Metal bends...

Metal bends. Carbon Fiber

I laugh every time I see a Cannondale carbon fiber road bike. Repeat the word "synapse" quickly a few times.

The bikes are fine, as such things go. The material is as well applied there as it is anywhere. Its failure mode is well documented. It stands up to a lot. When it is overloaded, it quits instantly. No big deal. The experts have designed with that in mind. Everything will be fine.

Meanwhile, back in the primitive world of metal, a kid brought his well-trodden Rockhopper in for a few service items and did not even realize he'd been riding around with this nearly-complete crack in the frame, about ready to let the bottom bracket drop off:
This is an aluminum frame. Cracks in aluminum spread more quickly than in steel or titanium, but he still had to have been massaging this one for a while. He made no mention of chain rub or strange shifting issues on the crank. Stepping on a pedal, I could make that thing swing pretty far.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The War Effort

The commute gets harder every year. I'll be 60 in July. That's not old by modern standards, but it's not young, either. I'm as tired on the third day as I used to be on the fifth day.

In 1979, emerging from college to make my mark on the world, I assessed the situation and decided to live in a way that any number of people could imitate without fear of making things worse. Imagine a world in which people at all social levels in industrialized nations felt well rewarded by modest dwellings and non-motorized mobility. It's hard to picture, because it's not enough, after centuries of conditioning to revere wealth and opulence, and the power these convey to our fellow apes.

In the 1970s, military service did not look like a good idea, when the United States government had just finished demonstrating how many lives it was willing to waste in pursuit of a mistake. We were told to expect a nuclear war, which would render conventional forces irrelevant. How many service members does it take to keep fingers on the button in an undisclosed number of missile silos, and keep our submarines patrolling? By the time I got out of college, bombs delivered by airplanes were a quaint anachronism. Conventional forces appeared to have some parade value, if news photos from the Soviet Union were any guide, but in the big exchange of fireballs they were just one more thing to melt. Sure, this is a simplistic view, but the media and the educational system already excelled in presenting simplistic points of view.

My peers and I were taught to get good jobs and make as much money as we could. Some of us learned that much better than others. I flunked it completely. But I stayed in the system long enough to absorb the intent. I have a dutiful sense of failure because I did not prosper. The fact that I live well is due partly to my own frugality and largely to a couple of unanticipated lucky breaks. But I feel an even greater disappointment that I never figured out how to inspire widespread change.

The plan remains the same as it was before the little windfalls that made my hovel a bit larger. Behind the facade, I am just another idiot whose retirement options consist of either a refrigerator box in a warm climate or a shotgun in the mouth when I realize I am no longer able to support myself. I'm holding out for the refrigerator box, or perhaps a hike into beautiful wilderness, without food or water. But the gun thing sounds nicely dramatic.

It seemed to me -- and it still does -- that one can serve one's country and the greater good of humanity better by setting a good example of how to live than by how one kills and dies. I don't know what to do about the human compulsion to force other people to die for things, but I do know that accepting it as the unchangeable norm locks us onto a course toward global destruction.

In the decades I've ridden, I have noticed a slight increase in understanding from motorists, but hostility remains a problem. Internet postings, bike path assaults, and road rage killings remind us that bicycle riders are outcasts, and fair game as far as many people are concerned. And a silent majority does nothing to harm, but nothing to help, hoping the problem will go away on its own. If that means road cyclist extinction, good enough. Go play on the bike path. Drive to a mountain biking venue.

The life I pledged has lasted nearly 60 years. The fortune I pledged by declining to amass it. I don't look forward to being a casualty in the lifestyle revolution, but I like even less the idea of prospering at the expense of others. Who is enslaved on your behalf? What makes you better than they are, other than the accident of your birthplace? You may be completely comfortable with a harshly hierarchical view of humanity, but at least think about it. Be certain in your conviction that a large number of people deserve to live downstream from your toilet and downwind from your smokestack.

I'm no better than anyone because of the choices I have made. I'm an idiot. But I'm not wrong.

The energy I've put into trying to live a simple and relatively self-propelled life, other people have put into things they think are worthwhile. Evolution will log the results. In all likelihood, no one will be around to sift through the archeological record to find out who predicted the end correctly.

Friday, June 10, 2016

And the camera was off

Mother bear and two cubs ran across Elm Street in front of me on my ride to work this morning. I slowed to nearly a track stand as I waited to see if there might be more than two cubs. A hill begins at that point, and I didn't want to find myself trying to outsprint a protective mother bear on a climb.

The incident made me consider different scenarios. I've seen mothers and cubs along there before, and single bears as well. They come out of the woods with little apparent caution, treating the road as simply an open space to cross as soon as they reach it. Conceivably, one day I could be zipping along and inadvertently come between the emergent mother and a following cub. That would be a serious test of my adrenal glands.

I'd rather not find out.

Moose are supposed to be more dangerous, and I've seen those along that part of Elm Street as well. But they don't have the infamous mother and cub relationship to charge a situation.

After shooting and discarding hours of videos of my commutes and other rides, I tend to leave the handlebar cam shut off except in certain areas where traffic could misbehave. So I got no video of this rare treat.

Work itself is just an interruption between rides. The repairs have tended to be grubby and uninteresting. Today I spent about three hours at a gym down the street, doing minor maintenance on their spinning bikes. They're all rusty and salt-crusted. The work is simple, but time-consuming. I got lucky today, when I discovered that someone in the management of the gym had ordered some handy spare parts without being asked. The gym had a shakeup in management, and my previous liaison was leveraged out. He had been pretty well informed about the bikes and their proprietary parts. Apparently, he anticipated a little more than the ordinary worn-out chain. So, when I found one unit that had a crank arm bolt snapped off in the bottom bracket axle, I was able to find parts to replace the axle. This was after I had tried unsuccessfully to drill out the stub of the bolt.

On the way home I had the camera on most of the time. Of course nothing interesting happened. Just let the battery die or the memory be full, and aliens will land in front of me. You'll have to take my word for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

To pedal back from the edge of death

The story starts with a handshake, or rather with a handshake avoided.

A landowner in the area had come to the conservation commission to discuss very preliminary plans to donate an 80-acre parcel to the town for conservation and recreation. I knew him as a customer at the bike shop. In the preliminary formalities of the meeting, I managed to evade shaking his hand. I have absolutely nothing against him. I just don't like to shake hands. It's not the hygienic aspect that bothers me most, although working in an under-staffed small business has made me more wary than I already was about anything that might lead me to take a sick day. I'm also always afraid someone might be giving me a secret handshake. I don't know what would be worse: giving no response and being revealed as an outsider, or accidentally giving a correct response and being mistaken for someone in the know. Way too much stress. I'll just nod from several feet away, and smile to add warmth. You keep your hands to yourself.

The commission and the landowner discussed general issues related to the land transfer. He invited any and all to take a site walk and check out the attractions of wooded wetland and steep ravine. And off he went, leaving us to the rest of our meeting.

The next thing we heard about him was that he had been crushed between a falling tree and a piece of heavy equipment while working on another piece of his land. His right hand had been sliced off, his left hand mangled, and his back was broken. He was in Maine Medical Center. No one knew if he was even going to make it.

Beyond the magnitude of his injuries, here was a man who had been vigorously active for all of his 70-plus years. He had used his hands and his mind together on things as intricate as bicycle mechanics and as brawny as logging. Independent-minded and eccentric, he was a model of self-sufficient ingenuity. The loss of full self-sufficiency might be enough to turn a survivable degree of injury into a sliding board into the grave.

I thought of the hand I had not clasped, lying on the ground, lost to us both. While it did not stimulate a sudden enthusiasm for hand-shaking, it added another layer of understanding to the sense of his loss.

Months passed, as months will do. Suddenly, this week, he called the bike shop to ask if we could work on his Greenspeed Magnum recumbent tadpole trike.

Hell yes, of course.

Getting pounded to the edge of death makes a person thoughtful. In the past year I have known a couple or three people who went through things like a heart attack or this guy's accident. On the other side of it, they emanate a weird serenity. No one would ask to have such a thing happen, but it seems to bring a reward deeper than just survival.

As the man talked about how he discovered the trike and found that he could pedal it, he said, and showed, that his emotions run a lot closer to the surface than they did before the accident. I knew he had enjoyed riding his bicycle, but I did not know how deeply it affected him. Why should it surprise me? Pedaling penetrates deeply into certain people's inner being. The man said that when he discovered he would be able to pedal anything after his accident, "tears just poured out." The catch in his voice showed that the feeling is still there.

This machine matters more than something that gathers dust in a garage and gets ridden a few times a summer. This is a test. This is a weapon against despair, when so much has been lost. The guy flew planes, operated chainsaws, drove a variety of things with wheels, and worked with his hands. Now one of those hands went out with the medical waste months ago, and the remaining one is not exactly deft.


I was glad I had some familiarity with trikes. My brother had bought one to ride while he was rehabbing an injured elbow. He'd bought a Trice, but had studied the other brands in his typically thorough way. They all seem to go together pretty similarly. Simple machines weed out complexity.

The biggest problem was figuring out how to get this thing to a good working height. Trike mechanics and fanciers have devised work stands that range from a few simple blocks to elegant pieces of machining. I attacked the problem from above rather than below, devising a multi-point sling to attach to my e-bike hoist.

Flying Trike

I can be a cold, clinical bastard when I want to be. I can stand on a high, windswept cliff and look down on the futility of all human striving, including my own. I'm pretty consistently immune to inspiration, and I would argue in favor of that point of view to anyone who would listen but what's the point? But somewhere in me is a desire to help my fellow futile strivers with a little bit here and a little bit there, just to try to make their time here a little more pleasant. If you want a purpose in life, that one is far superior to the exchange of dastardly deeds and deadly heroics we tend to glorify.