Monday, August 15, 2016

Visibility liability: look-away lighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mountain groan coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

The things we do for coffee.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 08, 2016

Put a fork in's done

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

Step one: prepare the mechanic.

The frame has some classic 1990s bullshit frame details

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

With a fork in it, it's done.

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

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Customer Appreciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Day of the Hyenas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need some sleep before I go back to bailing.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Make fun what needs to be done

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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