Friday, April 28, 2006

Post Traumatic Stress

A week after he hit the ground, Steve is up and walking around. He's a long way from getting back into training, but he's easing back into some shop operations.

He's grappling with the complex unhappy feelings that follow a traumatic injury. He's replaying the event, trying to find solid answers in vague memories that grow more vague and mingled by the day as he considers how it might have been.

We look for answers after a catastrophe. How did it happen? How can I keep it from happening again? The victim may be the worst witness. We almost always black out at least a little. Things happen so fast we can't sort them out. Unless someone else sees it or we can reconstruct it from unaltered physical evidence, we're left to guess at some critical moments.

Some of us cope with that guesswork better than others. Because no one has come forward who saw the actual crash we all have to create Steve's flight path from our own visualization. This includes Steve, who hasn't been able to say for sure if he went over the bars or just down past them as the fork collapsed.

The root cause of the crash was Steve's left shoe disengaging from the pedal. In all likelihood, his shoe was never properly engaged to begin with. After that he was the victim of physics. The foot went into the wheel, the wheel dragged it into the forks, Steve went down like a stunt horse in a movie scene catching a trip wire.

Everything is at risk all the time in this life. It may not be obvious. We try to manage and limit risk. But everything is at risk and everything eventually changes into something else. Some dangers are more obvious than others, but a damn asteroid could fall on your house while you're cowering in bed. Just as we only hear about the planes that don't arrive safely while thousands do, think how many cyclists go about their daily rounds with nothing worse than a little chafing to mar their day.

Here's a Weird One

I was just working on a 63-centimeter Raleigh Grand Prix from the late 1970s. That's a 25-inch frame. I have to stand on the balls of my feet to keep certain similarly-titled organs from being painfully crushed by the top tube. Surprisingly on such a tall bike, the top tube measures exactly the same horizontal length as the one on my 53-centimeter Super Course frame from the same period. It's close to the same length as the top tube of my 55-centimeter Trek road frame.

On lower-priced production models, did Raleigh produce only one top tube length, figuring anyone buying at that level would not notice?

I certainly didn't at the time. But I had observed that my Super Course was amazingly long for a bike of its size. I'd never compared it to another Raleigh from the period.

Another utterly unimportant mystery to ponder.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Avid Cyclist and Shop Owner Injured in Freak Cycling Accident

On a noon ride with two other riders on Friday, April 21, avid cyclist and shop owner Steve Flagg was injured in a freakish mishap that put him in the intensive care unit of the local hospital for an overnight stay. Flagg is still in the hospital for one more night, after being moved to a private room Saturday evening.

While sprinting up to speed after entering a major road from a side road, Flagg's left shoe apparently shot forward off the clipless pedal because the cleat had not engaged properly. The accident took its freakish turn when his foot swung into the front wheel of the bicycle. The low spoke count of the Mavic Ksyrium wheel allowed his foot not only to jam between the spokes, but to rotate in such a way that one of the broad, bladed spokes actually jammed under the cleat as his foot was dragged into the forks.

The carbon forks of Flagg's Specialized Roubaix snapped instantly. While he would probably have gone down even if his foot hadn't gone into the wheel, the cleat entrapment and fork collapse probably made the stop more abrupt than if he had simply laid the bike down on its left side.

Examination of the wreckage and Flagg's injuries after the crash indicate that the bike only landed on its left side and bike and rider slid little, if at all. Flagg's body was driven into the pavement with the left shoulder rotated so far that he did not injure his collarbone, but fractured his scapula and two ribs instead. He suffered a collapsed lung and pneumothorax, but avoided serious head injury. He was wearing a helmet.

Steve was not riding fast or in a particularly reckless manner. He was accelerating at the back of the line of three riders.

I've been doing the FAA thing over and over since the wreckage was brought into the shop Friday evening. The spoke jammed under the cleat is in there so far we'll have to unbolt the cleat to get it out. Steve's friend had to remove the wheel from the remains of the fork and the shoe from Steve's foot to release him from the bike.

Aside from the snapped fork and four or five spokes torn out the the rim of the front wheel, the rest of the bike shows minimal damage. The left handlebar plug is slightly ground off. There might be some scratches on the left STI lever. The bike did not cartwheel or scrape down the road.

While pilot error is the primary cause, contributing factors are the low spoke count and high spoke rigidity of the Ksyrium wheel and the low profile of the front of the Shimano pedal, requiring more care when engaging. Steve had a lot of years on Look pedals, which some users say have a more positive feel when engaging. The Shimanos seemed functionally identical until he abruptly discovered what a major difference a minor difference can make.

No product was defective in this crash. It merely illustrates aspects of cycling components you might not consider when comparing specs and ride feel. Items strong enough for normal loads may very well not be strong enough for predictable abnormal loads. On the other hand, the spokes of the Ksyrium wheel were plenty strong, although the nipples tore out of the rim. At least one spoke also sheared off in the round section near the nipple.

A wheel with round spokes and more of them might have repelled the shoe.

A good old-fashioned toeclip would have kept him on the pedal. "Feetbelts" have their other drawbacks, but at least you know when they're snug. Mostly.

Too bad Steve can't tell a gripping tale of screaming down the Dolomites and having a front tire blow or a mountain goat run out in front of him. But it just goes to show you these things can happen just about anywhere, any time. At least it's more dramatic than slipping in the shower.

I'm suggesting we tell people he ran over a land mine.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Critical Difference

What's difference between a hunter facing a charging buffalo and a cyclist with an aggressive motorist bearing down on him?

The hunter is allowed to shoot the buffalo.

Victory Robbed of Full Sweetness

After early season motorist aggression that included a driver trying to run me into a concrete barrier at a costruction site and another one going out of her way to screech obscenities, I looked forward to the season quieting down. Those incidents had happened on Saturday, April 8, one on the morning ride to work, the other on the evening ride home.

The following Saturday, April 15, I started out from Wolfeboro to ride to Gilford after work, to fetch my car from the mechanic's shop. Not five minutes into the ride, still in downtown Wolfeboro, though not in the center of it, I felt a sudden sharp sting as a bb ricocheted off my right buttock. A white mini van that had just pulled out from a convenience store on the left side of the road passed me, with a young man still pulling his arm back in through the window. I heard laughter and saw the occupants of the van looking back through the tinted glass. I noted Florida tags, but couldn't get the number.

After an impulsive double-handed middle digit salute, I remembered I had my cell phone in my pocket, already powered up. We were less than a quarter-mile from the police station, headed toward it. It doesn't get much more convenient than that.

I called the dispatcher and calmly, succinctly described the situation. Because of traffic, I was able to keep the van in sight as it turned down a side street. When I got to the street, I followed, still in contact with the police. The dispatcher relayed new information to the approaching officer.

The van driver soon discovered he'd turned down a street with no other outlet. I was able to get a look at the driver's face and a description of his clothing, though I still didn't get the plate number.

By the time I got back out to Main Street, the officer had already hooked and landed them. I pulled up behind the flashing cruiser as instructed, to give my statement.

The officer extracted the driver and two passengers. When he searched the vehicle he found the weapon and a large quantity of ammunition. When he finished with the van's crew he came back to me. We discussed my options for charges in addition to the traffic violations and weapon charges they already faced because at least one of them was a juvenile. Then I had to dash on to Gilford to beat sunset.

The exhilaration of actually getting to nail someone for attacking a cyclist got me up all the hills on my route and kept me laughing all night. This was one carload of punks who wouldn't get away with treating a cyclist like a shooting gallery target.

Ah, but nothing is free in this life.

The great thing about a small town is that the police force has time to pursue something like a cyclist pinged with a bb gun. In a major metropolitan area the police would have hung up on me. Unless there's a limb blown off, they have many more important things to do. You want to be an idiot and ride out there? Wear Kevlar.

The downside to living in a small town is that the punk who nailed you could very well be someone you know. Wolfeboro is a resort town and pulls in a lot of people from surrounding towns to work or attend the middle and high schools there. I was hoping, between the Florida tags and the dirtbag behavior, that it would turn out to be someone with some real karmic debt. No such luck. The shooter was the son of a friend of a friend, doing something juvenile and stupid, even though he is old enough to be charged as an adult with his reckless actions.

The facts of the incident are stark. Someone fired a weapon on a busy street. If the projectile had not hit me in a fairly harmless way, it could have hit any number of pedestrians or other motorists who were in the same area. It could have hit me in a worse spot. What 12- or 14-year-old boys do to each other playing in the woods is one stupid thing, but adults or near adults taking potshots from a moving car on a busy street is criminally stupid.

The young man's mother is not making any plea to me or anyone else to let the whole thing drop. She understands and wants the miscreants to understand, the full significance of their actions. But now I can't just sit back and enjoy the machinery of justice grinding up a malicious enemy of bicyclists. I have to watch a dumbass drag himself, his family, his mother's friend and, to some extent, me, through a painful extra lesson in responsible behavior.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Punish the Customer

Maybe it's the same in all industries, but the bike industry is the one I work in.

Manufacturers are always punishing the customer to some degree for trusting them.

Shimano has been my pet example for years, changing specs willy-nilly, purportedly for improvement. The improvement has been subject to debate. Some are, some aren't.

Buyers of lower end bikes get punished more often.

Right now I'm trying about to adjust a cup-and-cone conventional bottom bracket. The fixed cup is probably loose, based on the amount of play and the amount of adjustable cup visible on the left side. In the old days, the fixed cup would have wrench flats. Tightening it that way would not be ideal, but it would suffice for a quick tuneup on a low end bike. It would add seconds to the job, so we could absorb it.

With the common use of sealed bottom brackets, low-end models come with fake sealed BBs. The fixed and adjustable cups have splines like a cartridge unit. To tighten the fixed side, I now have to pull the crankarm off and use a cartridge BB tool. We either have to eat the longer labor time or pass the charge along to the customer.

The BBs are functionally no better than the old ones with wrench flats. They're just harder to service.

Way to have my back, Bike Industry!

And Then It Hit Me

We're providing therapy for them. Poor motorists, trapped in their cars, feeling like insignificant specks in the vast machinery of modern life, see a free soul on a bike and identify it as someone even more insignificant than they are. They see someone out in the open, unprotected in any way, on whom they can vent their frustration, brought to a boil by the constant annoyances that come with driving anyway.

We're providing a service. We just have to figure out how to bill for it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Driver Re-education

Every spring, cyclists around here have to retrain motorists to share the road.

Motorists get used to having things their own way during the winter. Some have simply become careless. Others clearly wish they could keep cycling season from returning. These are the same drivers who crank up the aggression in the fall, as if to hurry cyclists into hibernation when the days grow short. They honk and swerve, yell obscenities and throw things much more at the two ends of the season than in the middle of it.

After a fairly quiet start to riding, my local chain gang has had three ugly incidents in two days. In two of them, motorists made special efforts to interfere with riders who were not even blocking the flow of traffic. In the third, a driver coming the opposite direction on a small rural road made a point to slow down, roll down her window and screech an obscenity at me.

It's enough to make you consider packing heat. But every time I consider that I discard the idea because of the extra weight and the high probability that a conflict resolved that way will create more problems than it solves.

We really have no defense out there except the motorists' own better judgement. Sure, we might win a skirmish or two just by agility and luck, but the cowards in the armored vehicles have the upper hand. So we can be grateful for whatever leftover scrap of humanity makes them hold back, despite the fact that the very sight of us infuriates them.

We all have our triggers. When I drive, tailgaters make me wish I had a bazooka. But regardless of my Second Amendment rights to pack whatever heat I can afford and find ammunition for, if you blow someone away with a bazooka there's bound to be a lot of paperwork. So I just try to go to my happy place and ignore the fact that my whole back window is filled up with someone's grille. At the earliest opportunity, I try to get out of the way and let the human missile charge off to seek its destiny. Yes, I do hope it's a swift and fiery end, but I will not act to make that end come sooner.

Sadly, motorists don't always hold back. Still, we can take comfort in the fact that they treat each other much worse than they treat us. In a car, you're stuck in the middle of that pack of maniacs. On a bike you are generally already somewhat out of the main flow, except when herding traffic for your own safety or keeping up with it to make a legal maneuver. More often than not, the hotheads will make their angry comment or gesture and move on, too important to give you more time than that. Bless their arrogant, black, shriveled little hearts.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It snowed again last night

The roads are icy again this morning. In one of New Hampshire's typical cruel weather jokes, I know from yesterday's experience that I should not ride in this morning, but the forecast for this afternoon is for sunshine and temperatures in the 50s. Then it's supposed to rain again by Friday afternoon. They even mentioned snow again.

There's hard-core and then there's stupid. I'm not going to go out when I know for certain I'll be mixing it up with fast drivers on an icy road. I'm not all that keen on it in a car, let alone slithering around on my bike.

Studded tires are an option, but then I'd kill myself when I laid into a corner on dry pavement.

Some people use cars for transportation and bikes for recreation and never give it another thought. Weird, huh?

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

Yesterday was my first workday since the start of Daylight Saving Time. I was eager to put the car up on blocks and shift over to the bike.

Tuesday, sleet, snow and rain plastered New Hampshire, bringing as much as ten inches to Pinkham Notch, lesser amounts in other northen and mountain areas, and a slushy couple of inches to my neighborhood, even on the road. But I'd seen it change over to rain by evening.

When I looked out Wednesday morning, my road looked clear. The pavement was slightly darkened. I knew that would be ice, but probably in small enough patches for me to ride between them to get to the more major roads with better sun exposure.

Things started well enough. The ice was just dots, like isolated frozen raindrops. The sun was coming up in a clear sky. Conditions improved as I went forward.

Out at Route 16, the road was clear. A friend who's been pulling some hours at the shop was just driving by. I made a note to bust him about driving when he could ride almost my exact commute. I also noted he had a lot of frozen snow still stuck to the top of his car. Had we gotten that much?

On Route 28 the climbing starts gradually. After a mile or two of clear sailing, I looked up the grade to see the snow covering the shoulder. The shade of the trees had kept the sun off it. Nothing had melted since it fell. In fact, it had set up hard overnight. The temperature had been 29 degrees when I started. It was probably still below freezing in these forest shadows.

The crusty snow forced me further and further to the left. I felt the tires slithering on the ice, diverted by the lumps of frozen snow. This was not good. I actually stopped completely to take stock.

At this point I was about halfway to work. I could either continue forward as best I could, or turn back to get the car. I figured I would be less late if I went forward. Conditons had to improve once I got down from the height of land.

Times like this make a bike riding fool glad to live in a fairly sparsely populated area. Not too many people drove by me while I was stuck out in the travel lane of a state highway, and the ones who did were remarkably polite. I didn't have to hike in my cleats after all.

Conditions did improve where I thought they would. I was only a few minutes later than usual.

When I saw my friend I said, "I was going to bust you for driving to work today, but I think you should bust me for riding instead."

The weather closed back in by mid afternoon, with wet snow and rain. I got a ride home with my friend.

At least I saved a day's worth of gasoline.

April is almost always like this, especially after a snowless winter. Every snowless winter I've gone through here has been followed by a nasty April. Of course in a snowy winter we'd still be cross-country skiing now. An April storm would just be more of the same.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Nutritional Note

An item in the Grapevine section of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News caught my eye. They reported on a study that showed chocolate milk was a highly effective sports drink. The VeloNews Forum picked up on it.

In 1988 I rode 200 miles, from around Rye Beach, NH, to the Canadian border above Beecher Falls, VT, in one day, just to see if I could. My training schedule got blown to bits when I had to move within a month of the ride, but I decided to try it anyway. Short on money and time, I rushed into it with short sleep and a sketchy breakfast, with no ride longer than 65 miles.

Despite these handicaps, I managed the first 100 miles in 6 hours. The second hundred took me 9 hours and 40 minutes, including a fairly long lunch stop in Twin Mountain, NH, because I really needed substantial food.

With my haphazard preparation it's no surprise the second hundred was such crawling agony. But you learn a lot about how your body works when you drain it like that. The second hundred also included most of the climbing, starting with Crawford Notch. Crawford Notch ends with a 13% wall. After that I still had at least 80 miles left.

Lunch and a rest revived me a little, but when I got to the Connecticut River I felt like my wheels were turning the planet. I crawled from one convenience store to the next, downing a chocolate milk at each one. It got me to Canada. And now it's legit.