Saturday, April 30, 2005

RIP (Season) Week

The publications that carried my printed columns have been merged with a healthier weekly paper the publishing company bought. That paper had its own local celebrity columnists for biking and cross-country skiing. Its editor has not answered the email I sent, to ask if the paper still had a place for me. So it looks like I'm back on the outside looking in.

Well, you don't get taxed on money you don't get paid. And telling tourists how and where to ride isn't exactly telling truth to power. I was glad to have the gig, but it had already lasted longer than I ever expected. What I write has more to do with the day to day than with vacation fun. I can't afford vacation. I don't speak that language.

On the other hand, my life's experiment has been to come up with a game at which any number truly could play. I have tried to inject a little bit of vacation into every day. You never know which one might be your last, and all that.

I cut my dependence on foreign oil back in the 1970s, when the first warning shot came across the bow. All that bit of foresighted defiance has gotten me is ostracized by the rampantly consuming society living in denial for the last 30 years. Oh well.

On here, I can say whatever I like for the half-dozen people who read it. Okay, maybe I flatter myself, it's probably four people, but I keep two slots open for people who stumble in by accident and scan a few words before their browser whisks them safely out again.

See you in the funny papers. Just not in the tourist papers.

But Shimano is still Shimano

As I thumbed further through Shimano's latest technical manual, I found a lot more needless complexity than ageless simplicity. That makes the survival of simple shifters all the more incomprehensible, but that's the paradox of our Asian overlords. If you know how to ask or where to look, they're as generous as Shinto Claus.

Perhaps they realize that the only way to have a true monopoly on cycling componentry is to be the sole source for parts for the very revolutionaries who foment against them.

Hey, it works for me. As long as I can get the gizmos I need to avoid having to use the gizmos they so enthusiastically market, I can peel the labels off and laugh about it.

Paul Components of Chico, California, has even developed devices called Thumbies, which are brackets you use to turn a currently available bar-end road shifter into a good, old, reliable top-mount thumb shifter for a mountain bike. Because these come in 8- 9- and now 10-speed flavors, you can have modern excessive numbers of speeds and retro shifters with friction option.

Because cyclocross racing and 'cross-style riding has become another fashionable niche in the biking world, bar-end shifters remain on the market. But we're talking Shimano here. I started stockpiling a couple of years ago. I don't care if they're 8, 9 or 10. All I want is the friction option.

Actually, after several years riding the Cross-Check, I suspect the radius of the Shimano bar cons is a little tight, because shift cables seem to fatigue and break pretty quickly. But I may have left a burr on the housing when, slavering and drooling, I built my Cross-Check on a frame I bought from Surly just before the introduction of the model as a complete bike. At the shop, I would have used a bench grinder to smooth the housing, but at home I had to use the old kitchen-table method of cutting as smoothly as possible with the legendary Felco C7 cable cutter. Perhaps it wasn't smooth enough. But I hate to disable the bike long enough to yank that whole area apart to check.

Keep digging for the good stuff.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Credit Where Due

Shimano giveth as well as taketh away. That has been the problem all along, that they taketh away at their whim. But I have to give them credit for a strange and wonderful thing: they have kept friction-option downtube and bar end shifters in their lineup all along.

In addition to these supremely useful items for the truly independent cyclist, they now offer a high-quality replacement 8-speed road STI lever, the R500, for people who just can't kick their addiction to that system. For several years, they penalized their early STI customers by forcing them to upgrade completely and expensively to 9-speed when the levers lost their minds. Either that or take a sharp downgrade to Sora, their bottom-end road group.

They also offer a reach-adjustable road STI lever, the R600, for people with smaller hands. They really need to offer one with a shorter lever body as well, but baby steps are still hopeful steps.

We're all set until they change their minds for whatever mysterious reason compels them to do such things.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Crowded World

I don't spend much time on the Internet. Too busy living. Only the urge to write brings me here, and the need to do quick research.

When Ralph and I first conceived, the mountain bike boom was raging and misinformation was rampant. But the number of really good sites today reveals that we were not the only ones thinking about it. Nor were we quick enough to do anything about it. You can still be misinformed if you want, but the great variety of true cycling is also represented.

Our visions of a forum and a nexus for solid information and historical context has become redundant. Just visit to begin your investigation. Buy the book of the same name to have a handy printed treasure trove of information both trivial and profound. Great for the bathroom or study, if those are separate spaces in your house.

All that's left for Citizen Rider is personal testimony and what tidbits come my way that might not have made it into general circulation. Certainly cycling needs an antidote to industry propaganda and other misleading holograms. Life is pretty basic. We're just monkeys on bikes.

The pedal stroke is repetitive. Often our routes are repetitive as well, especially commuting. What's different is the uncharted expanse of new time. A classic piece of music is well charted. A traditional dance repeats its time-honored steps. The art is often in the interpretation of what could be stale. And the familiar motion induces reveries. Be glad you're here to do this thing for yet another day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bike Fit Basic

Never shove your saddle forward if you only want to adjust the reach to your handlebars.

Set saddle position correctly relative to your pedals and adjust stem length and height afterwards.

If you feel like your bars are too far away, check saddle position first. It may need to be further forward. But always check first.

Do not go back to a shop if they shove your saddle forward without checking its position to see if they can. A saddle too far forward can put harmful stress on your knees.

Set your saddle far enough forward to keep the wide part of your butt on the wide part of the seat when you are in proper pedaling position.

Raise the nose of the saddle slightly to level out the part you want to sit on. It seems like it should make pressure worse, but it actually relieves it by tipping your hips back, keeping you where you want to sit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Latest Greatest

Inventory items from the box for an ultra-modern 2005 carbon fiber road bike:

Five sheets of paper that begin: “WARNING. congratulations on your purchase.”

yellow stickers that warn of the risk of injury or death if you don’t do everything exactly right.

One full pound of instruction manuals for componentry.

Five special tools for exotic componentry

16 spokes in the front wheel

20 spokes in the rear wheel

One warning bulletin to the assembling technician: Do not pull too hard on the shift cables to seat the housings, because you might pull the housing stops right off the frame.

Ooh. I WANT one of these.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


April in central New Hampshire has early September's light and November's foliage. We get more than twelve hours of daylight with which to examine the brown ground, gray tree trunks and leafless branches.

Commuting Wednesday, I set out under gray skies, with the temperature just above freezing, hoping to see clearing skies soon, as promised.

Within a few yards I heard the unmistakable patter of sleet hitting the fallen leaves on the roadside. Then I saw the white pellets on my black sleeves.

Good luck. It stayed frozen and dry, with almost no rain mixed in.

The weather wasn't warm on the way home, but it was dry.

Commuting in the early season in northern New England, you often wear the layers in the morning and carry them in the evening, especially as what passes for spring advances. This leads me to under dress in the morning and over dress in the evening as I try to hit the balance correctly.

Far ahead lie the days when I will be able to throw a nylon wind vest over a jersey and shorts to beat the morning chill and carry it home in my pocket. As good as that sounds, I have learned to savor the long approach to it, because it is all too brief up here. But people gather too thickly and sicken the environment where life is easier. I bet that's why the Eskimos chose to live where they did. Not too many pushy neighbors if you don't count the polar bears. Not a lot of suburban igloo sprawl.

Bike commuting shows its benefits immediately in my wallet and waistline. Even with my fitness from ski season, 30 miles of cycling a day burns away the excess. Unused upper body muscle is quickly converted to energy or redistributed to the legs. And I haven't put gas in the car in more than two weeks. That's an immediate $40 savings.

I'll take a little cold and some adjustment aches and pains. And a second helping of supper and dessert. Life is to be enjoyed, and surrendered reluctantly. Joy is to be shared.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Some days you want to ride. Other days you just want to have ridden. But if you want to have ridden, you have to ride.

You'll wish you had. You'll be glad you did.