Thursday, April 22, 2021

'S no storm

 Yeah, so the big snowstorm didn't happen. I think of the shovel as a good luck charm, same as the shovel and brush in the car. If I have them, I won't need them. Put them away and change to summer tires, and we'll get hit with a load of classically slippery spring snow.

It's magical thinking. The weather doesn't care. But it's one of those superstitious observances that you might know is bullshit, but you do it anyway. And it worked this time. Some places got upwards of ten inches, but not around here.

An article on the New Hampshire Public Radio website, talking about young activists and climate change, stated that in the warming conditions, New Hampshire "will have shorter winters." Wrong. Winter will still be the same length, even if it is milder and generally more wet than white. Day length will not change. What tree species thrive will still lose their leaves for months. There will just be less to enjoy about the dreary trudge through the long nights. We'll still get plenty of raw, wet weather. It sounds a lot like what we just went through.

Decades ago I was in North Carolina at a week-long conservation seminar. We learned that the higher summits of the southern mountains had a climate like New England's. As you went up in elevation it was the equivalent of going hundreds of miles north. I don't remember the exact ratio, but it held true on up the Blue Ridge and northward until one reached the actual New England, where the alpine zone was like Baffin Island or something. Now the ecosystems are shifting, so that New England will end up like the Carolinas, and the southern highlands will end up as steamy rainforest with no treeline even on the highest summits.

Whatever happens, just try to dress for it as you set out on your bike.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Reverting to winter


Anyone who has lived in northern New England for a while knows better than to put the shovel away before May. Maybe June up in Aroostook County, Maine.

The forecast for the storm moving in tonight and lasting into Saturday is for 4-8 inches of snow, with a lot of rain mixed in. The snow is good news for depleted ground water, because it hangs around and percolates in, rather than running off into streams and rivers, to make its way back to the ocean. There will be some of that, too, which is good news for lakes that had not ended the winter brimming with excess. Local rapids stopped rushing and were merely hurrying slightly, months before they were due to be so quiet.

Several inches of gloppy wet snow isn't such good news for biking. It will melt quickly, making the interruption brief. It's worse news for trail users, whether on the stone dust rec path or the constructed courses of mountain bike trails.

Back when we mountain biked on found surfaces, we rode on anything. The trails were mostly woods roads, what we referred to as "double singletrack" because the ruts created parallel courses that you could sometimes ride as separate entities. In many places, even though the road was wide enough for a truck, the surface was made of New England's signature jumble of rock, so it was plenty technical. We also rode on snow machine trails, wherever they were not routed over something that absolutely had to be frozen. Rotting ice, mud, wet rocks and logs were just routine challenges to the early season mountain biker. We came home chilled, wet, and grimy, as did our machines. Sometimes we would find motorized mud aficionados buried to the wheel tops -- or worse. As the trails dried out the surface would stiffen as it had been left. Users would then wear it down into dry season configuration just by negotiating the ruts and ridges of dried soil. Where the soil was sandy, some wetness helped compact it to make it easier to ride on.

Depending on when the snow retreated enough to make riding on trails possible at all, we would begin like this:

Then the bugs would come out.

Now, mountain biking groups of various levels of organization, from a few friends with hand tools and leaf blowers, to non-profits small and large, go to lengthy trouble and expense to construct courses that they are understandably protective of. Trails will be closed due to mud. As much as road biking was being called "the new golf" a few years ago because of all the rich lawyer types getting into it, mountain biking is much more the new golf, with its $4,000-$10,000 machines and professionally constructed courses. We road riders still just go out on whatever we find, and can have a completely satisfying experience on a bike that's 40 years old. Just not in the next few days.

Fat bikers will chuckle indulgently. I suppose it's a tortoise and hare situation: they can go out and maintain their 7 mph every day, come what may, and rack up more distance than riders who wait for firm conditions and go faster for less time. Probably not, though. And if you want to have a fat bike in the lineup just for the conditions at which it does the best, you end up investing in a bulky bike that needs to be housed when you're not using it, and transported to the riding venue if you don't hop on the pedals right from home every time. Even eBay deals started out as something some idiot paid full retail for, somewhere. Chances are, you'll throw down $1,000 and more -- sometimes a lot more -- for your blimp-tired bomber.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Season 31: A leap into summer

 Here we are in the transition from early to mid-April, and I wore shorts at work. Not to ride, mind you. The morning was still chilly in the river valley, and the rest of the ride in was manageably cool. The heat hit me after I arrived. No way I was going to pull long pants over my sweaty legs. I had considered following the full summer standard, dealing with the chilly start in light garb so I wouldn't have to lug the unused layers home at the end of the day. The problem is that it is April, the month of deception. If the later part of the day cooled quickly from its mid-day high around 70, I could find myself rolling down the north slope of 28, balancing my desire to get home quickly against the discomfort of cold wind cutting through insufficient layers. This is where commuting differs from scheduling a single ride in the nicest part of the day.

I would have liked more base miles, but my ancient car really needs some rest and professional attention. This is a good thing, really, because it blows me out of the motorized cocoon and forces me to propel myself around. This was the intent with bike commuting in the first place: to offset my family tendency to sloth and carbohydrates.

My winter training consisted mostly of squats. Like, "I did squat today." I got out to ski around on the mountain out back a few times, and had isolated outbreaks of other exercise, but it was way too easy to find other things to do. A day passes, and then another, and a few more. Suddenly it's time to launch the commuting season and I don't know if I'm ready.

The first thirty yards felt pretty good. After that I knew I shouldn't push my heart rate. I felt hollow, and wondered if this was a good idea. But since when did I let that stop me? "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" is not always true, but it is true in the pursuit of early season training miles.

The surprise came at the end of the day, when I set out for home. Rather than feeling depleted by the morning effort, I felt like I was a few days further along in just a few hours. I expected to grovel up the hills, but some sort of muscle memory had kicked in during the day. I wasn't sprinting after trucks, but I had enough to complete the routine journey.

We'll see how it holds up. I could fossilize overnight. The temperature drops back to a more normal range after tomorrow, too. At least it isn't reverting to winter the way it does sometimes. Not yet, anyway.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

A neatly-kept village full of wonderful people...dammit.

 Even the simplest of bicycles has moving parts. Add to the trusty fixed-gear a rear rack and a set of real fenders, and there are even more little details to keep track of.

Just far enough into my ride so that I did not want to turn back and make proper repairs, I noticed that the  bolt holding one set of rear fender stays had vanished. The fender rattled against the rack, which made me look down and back to see the fender stays poking out into the slipstream, totally screwing with my aerodynamics.

Mentally reviewing what I had on board for tools and parts, I decided to scan the roadside for a discarded bit of wire or an old bread bag tie that I could use to secure the stay until I could complete my planned route and dig up a nice nut and bolt. A nice nut and bolt wouldn't help me along the roadside, because I didn't have tools to install them. Even a shoelace would have worked. 

Coming out of Ryefield Road I saw nothing useful. Out on Route 25, the litter was all cans, bottles, cigarette packages, and the occasional piece of scrap metal or wood. Here and there were pieces of fabric, bedraggled lengths of webbing too fat to fit the frame eyelet, Dunkie's cups, plastic straws, and shreds of surveyor's tape. Approaching my scheduled turn toward the village of Freedom, there were several disposable diapers, invitingly opened like a taco bowl, rather than tightly wrapped like the classic turd burrito. Highway travelers along this stretch are a classy bunch. There was even a 750ml Jack Daniels bottle. Yee haw.

I held out hope for the side road into Freedom. You never know what might vibrate off of someone's work truck. But the roadsides even in the outer environs were almost devoid of litter, and completely without the specific pieces I sought. The closer I got to the center of the village, the more manicured the shoulders looked. It was beautiful and peaceful. Placards and banners of love and inclusivity decorated lawns and homes. The road edges looked as neatly raked as a zen garden. What a great community! Would it kill you to toss one lousy bread tie?

Since the loose fender didn't present a danger, it only bothered my sense of order. The further I went, the less important the perfect piece of litter became, but I still scanned for it, which brought my average speed down. I stopped multiple times to investigate possibilities, which I then had to dutifully pick up and bring with me for proper disposal.

Re-entering Effingham across Route 25, the roadsides were a little cruddier. Some drivers on highways tend to hold their litter until they turn onto a side road with a lower speed limit, because it's easier to chuck the stuff without a 60 mile per hour gale shredding past the window. I also see it where Elm Street enters the woods just after Duncan Lake. Drivers passing through from Route 16 fling tons of crap onto the first 50 yards where nothing is built on either side of the road. The litter tapers off as you get further from the highway junction, although there is always some.

People who give a crap are always cleaning up after people who toss their crap.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Spring Avalanche

Just as March looked like April again this year, so did the repair load go from zero to backlogged in a matter of days.

With only 1.3 mechanics on duty most days, we get buried more easily than we did in the boom times of the 1990s, but even back then the amount of repair work this early in the season would have been remarkable.

I did manage to finish the crash repairs on that Pedego.

The battery case takes a long time to install, because it is held together with eight little Phillips head screws that are mostly inaccessible. Inaccessibility is no excuse, however, so you have to use several different screwdrivers and contort your wrist to coax the fastenings down to seat fully. This was after rewiring the damn thing. Sliding the battery into the case was an appropriately satisfying insertion. Bit of an anticlimax, really.

The fun had just begun there, though. Pedego had changed their wiring harness (of course) since the bikes were built, so the new light and control unit had to include the adapted fittings for the old harness. Even the wire from the brake levers, that cuts the motor when the brakes are applied, had the connectors reversed. Most of the work was not complicated. It just took time to collect all the necessary little bits, from Pedego, from the hardware store, and from the crash-damaged parts that still had useful wiring.

Mixed in with the earliest arrivals was a Motobecane from the 1980s with a classic corncob freewheel.

Back when 52-13 was considered a big gear, and we only had six in the back, the 13-18 was the mark of the racer. Anyone old enough to have a freewheel like that now is not pushing a 42-18 up the hills of the White Mountains anymore. Converting this bike to lower gears required not just a wider-range freewheel, but also a derailleur that could handle the cog size and chain wrap. We're still waiting for the crankset to convert the front end to 110 compact. Adaptable old bikes can have new lives. They'll still be rolling along when the exoskeletons of the most recent marvels are already lying cracked and discarded, the batteries in their shifters dead, hydraulic fluid and tire sealant seeping into the ground.

I do like the 1890s leather on 21st Century carbon fiber on this Trek road bike:

Carbon fiber the bike may be, but it's such a relic that the cables are actually outside the frame! The poor bastard riding it is getting by with only ten speeds in the cassette and has this weird device that moves the chain between two chainrings on the crank. Old people have weird stuff. They say things like, "By cracky!" and "Jehosaphat!" too. And they do that weird little jig with their elbows out when they're excited. This guy still has all his own teeth, though. I can say things like this because I'm pretty sure I'm older than he is.

A couple of posts ago I said that only a rare old codger wanted me to build a wheel anymore. Then two wheel jobs came in. One of them was for the Trek above. The 24-spoke Easton rear wheel had a cracked rim. No rims were available, but we could get a 28-spoke hub and rim to build him a complete new wheel. I'm not a fan of low spoke count wheels, but they do go together more quickly.

                                                                   Hub porn

The All City hub is very nice for the price. I thought about stockpiling one or two for future wheels of my own.

The other wheel project used hub, rim, and spokes provided by the customer. I couldn't figure out why the wheel had been completely disassembled in the first place. The spokes were bundled and labeled right and left side for the disc hub, but even though they were supposedly the correct lengths the wheel was difficult to tension evenly. The rim had taken a couple of hard shots. Also, the customer had told me it was two-cross, but it turned out to have been three. It's easy to overlook that first cross down by the hub flange.

In the repair mystery department, a bike this week was completely missing the return spring assembly on one brake arm.

It wasn't a model with plastic parts that could break easily and allow the spring to fall out. There was no sign that the brake arm had been removed. I had nothing in the salvage bin to replace just the missing pieces, so we had to install a complete brake set. This tends to happen on repairs where the customer has set low financial limits. We agree to a minimal repair, trying to ignore anything off the script, and then find something we can't let go. Fortunately, the customer accepted the necessity.

Salvaged parts featured prominently for another repair. A road bike turned out to need a cassette after a new chain did not play nicely with the original gear cluster. The bike has nine-speed brifters, from back when that was respectably middle class. The cassette was a 12-25. We can't get one. We had an 11-28. The derailleur theoretically could be coaxed to handle the 28, but couldn't handle the chain wrap. I went to the cog farm to piece together just the cogs on which the chain had skipped. In the process I discovered the intact low-gear section -- 17 through 25 -- of the exact cassette we needed.

Save old cogs. Most of the time, a cassette is not completely chewed. Even if the chain skips on more than just the cog with the fewest teeth, others less used in the cluster may have lots of useful life left in them.

Finally, I was looking for videos on a repair procedure on a smokeless moped. At the end of the YouTube video, the montage of stills for "videos I might like" included this excellent accidental pairing:

Remember those words and heed them always.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Betrayed and abandoned

 In yet another harsh lesson in corporate business methods -- and ethics -- a small but determined Specialized dealer since at least the 1980s finally heard directly from the Big S that our preseason order will not be delivered. They'll "see what they can do" to deliver three paid-in-full special orders for ebikes. No promises. This is after they jacked the price on those prepaid orders by about a thousand bucks a bike, after the fully paid order had been in their hands for months already.

Our shop is not alone. Contacts at a Trek dealer across the lake report that their somewhat larger shop than ours is getting the same treatment from their Big Bike supplier. The big companies are sending all of their available product to the biggest shops in the most heavily populated areas.

The Specialized rep suggested that we look into several smaller brands that have traditionally worked more cooperatively with small shops. Not surprisingly, these brands are already overwhelmed. We will probably have to figure out how to operate as a bikeless bike shop this summer.

The Covid-19 bike boom continues, but the potential customers have now become picky. They really really want a bike, but it's more likely to be a specific bike, rather than anything they can get their hands on. We're hearing from people who have driven 50 or 100 miles to find a shop that has bikes at all. It's reminiscent of the 1990s mountain bike boom, pre-Internet, when people would shop over a huge geographical area to find what they wanted and to save a token amount of money. They'd already spent more just driving around, but they still congratulated themselves on getting a deal. Now the successful treasure hunters are driving until they find a shop big enough to be favored by the big suppliers or lucky enough to have gotten a shipment from one of the smaller ones.

Our service department is already buried. Apparently, no one wants to become a professional bike mechanic anymore. Can you blame them? All you need to keep your own bike running are YouTube videos and tools and parts that you can buy online. It's just a bicycle. It's not like it has a motor -- oh, wait. But even in the smokeless moped culture, intrepid tinkerers are figuring out how to service their own habit.

I feel safe in saying that most riders do not want to be their own mechanic. They will come to us when things go out of whack or ignore problems until the bike completely fails. But no one is showing up to learn the craft. There's a lot to learn, and more is added every year.

Parts are still hard to get. Things really haven't improved much from last year. We're getting pounded on freight charges because we have to buy stuff as soon as it's available, rather than waiting to build up a larger order. If you see it, buy it. Prices are going up. They have to. Every overhead cost except our paychecks is climbing.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Shit, Garbage, and Old People

The three recession-proof economic sectors are sewage, refuse, and the elderly. The fourth is sick people, but rhetorical units of three are more powerful than four. And the sick and the elderly form a collective bloc that is exploited in basically the same way, by a unified industry.

You'd think that food would be recession-proof, because everyone needs to eat, but food production and distribution are vulnerable to too many variables. Once the food gets eaten, however, it becomes a much more uniform product. It all runs downhill. The money is in directing the flow and processing the effluent. It's going to happen. I used to see that on a bumper sticker.

Trash in the industrial age became a trickier problem than it was when everything was more readily biodegradable, and there were fewer people chucking it. Even in areas that don't go in for a lot of fancy attempts at recycling, someone needs to dig a hole, transport unwanted items to the hole, and dump them into it. Strip away the illusions from a lot of our waste management programs and you eventually come to a hole anyway. Trucks full of rubbish drive up, unload, and trundle back out again for another load, because we keep unwrapping things. Even when it seems like no one can afford to buy anything, trash keeps spontaneously generating. Most of the products we buy are just trash in waiting.

In this intricately connected world, almost everything seems to pass through the bike shop eventually. In our own little refuge we get money that came from trash and money that came from sick and old people. The shit business is a bit more compartmentalized, because sewage treatment facilities are usually overseen by government entities at some level, even if the design, building, and operation are done by contractors. However, in an area with a lot of septic tanks, a go-getter can buy the right kind of truck and build up a client list. And then there's the portable toilet business. "Your 'business' is our business."

Sick and old people are just another waste product of society. Depending on the age and the severity of the illness, a sick person might be returned to functionality as a tool or a cog in the machinery of society. As for the rest of them, we care for them out of what? Compassion? Superstition? Empathy? All the above. Imagine yourself in need of care or at least of comfort as you fade out. We hang onto people for a number of reasons. While they're in need, a good businessman can rake in a bundle from whoever pays their bills. At the end, a funeral industry takes care of the body. Somehow it doesn't seem quite as lucrative as the big three, but it's kin to both shit and garbage.

With this in mind, we the living take the cash that flows and feed the system with ourselves. If someone comes in dripping money, is it wise to question where it came from?

No one looking at my life choices would ever accuse me of being wise.

Bike infrastructure in a certain self-absorbed lakeside village just got a serious shot in the arm from a "health care" executive who has blithely pledged a half a million dollars for an ambitious construction program centered entirely on mountain biking, with a few enhancements for path riding, mostly to help connect the mountain bike facilities. So far it seems to do diddly crap for road users. It's hard to help road riders. Real transportation infrastructure is a vast circulatory system with many user groups vying for priority consideration of their wants. But if the grand plan for youth opportunity relies on kids being able to ride their bikes to the various places to practice their skills, they're going to need safe ways to get there. Who knows? Some of the little whippers might also discover that they'd like a bike that doesn't feel like such a pig on the pavement. More likely they just hang tough until they get their driver's licenses, so they can buy a truck and haul their toys to various venues near and far.

The trail and parks plan will improve the fortunes of a friend of mine in the business of designing and building such things. He gave up the road a long time ago, probably back at the end of his paper route years. An intrepid adventurer and energetic worker, he knows what he likes, and participates in trickle-down economics with few qualms about the ethics of the funding. Does it matter that you're not making the world as a whole a better place as long as you're making your own neighborhood more fun for yourself and your own kind? "People" to most people usually means "people like me."

The funding will get filtered through a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so that the benevolence is tax-deductible. Being nice should always make business sense. Big philanthropy is just tax evasion with good PR.

When it comes to funding, I started asking way too early in life, "Whose blood is this?" I couldn't always trace it very far, and you have to get money from somewhere. My jobs grew out of my interests and knowledge. In the yacht business and related industries you're in a world completely dependent on disposable income, but growing up in the culture made it seem normal. Lots of worker bees toiled away in the industry and supporting institutions. I was one of them for a few years, before my interest in human powered exploration drew me away from the shore.

If you're not prepared to bite the hand that feeds you, you are not free. That being said, wolves, coyotes, and feral dogs live hard lives and get shot at, while lap dogs and useful breeds get vet care and comfy beds. If Wolfeboro turns into a mountain biking destination, it may improve the shop business, or it may just draw competitors more cynical and less concerned, to finish trampling our aging bodies into the dirt. The overall family behind this current benefactor is already well on the way to turning the town into their own little theme park as it is. On the one hand, we're all a bit grateful to them for subsidizing local landmarks that were no longer able to survive as independent entities in today's economy. On the other hand, it brings us inexorably closer to being members of their household staff, at least indirectly.

Little towns live on their looks these days. Just in this area you can see the ones favored by their bone structure and complexion enjoying the attentions of sugar daddies, while the ones less blessed have to make do with the more frequently abusive relationships offered by rougher companions. There hasn't been much of a real economy in rural New England in decades. As the big forest products industries pulled out and abandoned their extensive timberlands, recreational uses have struggled to pick up the slack. The forest survived as a cash crop. The long harvesting cycle allowed people to play on quite a bit of it between cuts. As that stability has dwindled, the locals figure out ways to pimp out the local attractions to transients who will pay to use them.

In towns that had long ago abandoned resource extraction, where small industry had faded out, the economy has depended on attracting people with money who just like it there. Since the alternative is complete collapse, judgement is suspended. Only a rare idiot will look beyond and wonder what would keep us all afloat on a longer term basis if the current system of enabling the wealthy and tickling them for a trickle eventually runs out of fuel.