Monday, December 25, 2006

From the Beginning of Time

I just started reading David Herlihy's history of the bicycle.

The book begins with more detail than I had read before about the development of the Draisine, the ancestral two-wheeler without pedals. That style of locomotion never attracted me, though I guess the ultra-retro crowd has played with them. A friend sent me a link to videos from last summer's Wheelmen meet in Ontario, including some Draisine races.

What struck me the most was the fact that, from the very first instant that anyone ventured out onto the public road on two wheels, most of the public showered them with abuse. The two-wheeler was derided as a toy of the rich and idle, a novelty and a public nuisance. How could the act of propelling yourself on a pair of wheels provoke such hostility?

Exercise in general was looked down upon by the self-styled better elements of society. Yet even in the early 19th Century, editorials stated that some of these crazy new devices might be just the thing to get sedentary city dwellers out for a bit of beneficial physical activity.

Our machinery is better now, but the sedentary majority, now mounted in powerful coaches they never could have afforded then, still demands we get out of their way. What's your hurry? Most grocery stores are open late, if not 24 hours, flabbo.

The Ride Not Taken

Despite the warm December, I haven't ridden since the day I got to 4,000 miles. Remember how it says in my blog description that you can have a life as well as a bike? You can and should ride well when you ride, but don't beat yourself up if other priorities draw you away for a time.

Athletes are competitive even when they don't race. Cyclists compare themselves to each other on any number of criteria. Even the people who stress that they don't race or ride fast turn the competition upside-down as they vie to be the least competitive and the lowest performance. Your upright riders wobbling down the local path can be downright militant about how their way is absolutely fine, thank you.

Chill, chill, you people. I only argue with people like a mountain biker who posted to a forum years ago saying that he would run roadies down with his car as he drove to the trails, because he felt that mountain biking was the only valid type. Roads are for cars, he said. He didn't want any roadie Eurotrash wannabes slowing him down on the way to his favorite trail.

The Internet being the Internet, how do we know he wasn't some provocateur from Car and Driver Magazine trying to make it sound like all cyclists really weren't united?

Anyone can buy a bike. Therefore anyone can claim to be a cyclist. Like any religion, it develops its denominations. Those of us in the industry know that those denominations are frequently $20 or less.

So, today, a warm Christmas in New Hampshire, I am not taking a ride. A storm of mixed blessings is headed this way, and I need to split firewood and gather kindling before whatever arrives arrives. Will it put us back into the cross-country ski business? No doubt it will glop up the roads, interrupting cycling for days, maybe months. If it makes people believe in Nordic skiing again, maybe my paycheck will soak up some of that good stuff and recover its previous, already unimpressive, size. Either way, we have to keep the house warm. We're surrounded by wood, free for the taking. Propane costs money.

The clouds thicken. The sun cuts its shallow arc across the southern horizon, diving west almost before noon. Celestially, the new year has already begun. Happy New Year. The light is on its way back.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Four Grand

Another 20 today brings the total to 4,000 on the nose. The weather is supposed to turn more wintry in a couple of days. That might or might not last.

The dirt on Huntress Bridge Road was more like the gritty porridge I had expected. It was still tricky, because the frozen areas would give way abruptly. My tires would break through to the glop, but still catch the stiff chunks at the surface.

The sun gleamed through valley fog onto the dark, reflective surface of the river when I crossed it on Route 25. The mist shrouded the rapids when I crossed them on Huntress Bridge Road.

With the big round-number goal achieved I am more likely to vary the exercise. But cycling measures so nicely. By time, distance and intensity I know what I've done. When cross-country skiing gets going, it offers the same kind of fun flight through the landscape with exercise thrown in for free. Nothing else compares.

We're in the gap now. I'll take whatever I can get.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And Twenty More

A steady rain was just starting as I headed out on the fixed gear. The thermometer read 35 degrees.

I've been in worse.

At 35 degrees, nothing would be freezing on the pavement. What more can you ask?

Two sunny afternoons had passed with me at work, unable to take advantage of them. The mornings had been icy. Other events had encroached on the evening.

With all clothing zipped tight and my glasses already starting to fog I turned toward one of my familiar routes. Conditions outside drove me inside, where I lay back against the couch cushions of my brain and squinted out through my eyeballs like I was watching a television with poor reception. My legs chilled, then warmed, then chilled again as the rain soaked my tights, then my blood warmed, then the water gained the advantage.

My leaky old shoe covers presented only token resistance.

On a day like this you calculate the ride carefully. I probably should have folded the loop so the farthest point of the ride would be closer to home, but the terrain is basically flat on the route I chose today. You just don't want to get way out on the back side of the Moon and have hypothermia set in. Been there, done that. I don't like to ask for rescue. My problems should not be anyone else's problems.

The only problem I had today was that squirrels kept leaping at me because I was the biggest nut they'd ever seen.

The warming irony that propelled me was that my employers had imposed a new schedule on me two or three weeks earlier than necessary. On my old schedule I would have had the two nice days to ride and been back at work in this swill.

Strangely, when I reached the dirt section of Huntress Bridge Road, it was shiny and wet. The bike slithered because the saturated dirt had frozen during the cold snap and never thawed out. Today's rain just lubricated the surface. I angled shallowly over to the dull sand at the edge. As long as the tires scrunched I knew I was all right. Silence is a bad sign.

The next section of dirt, on LoonLake Road, had only skinny frozen strips between wide margins of sand.

Tomorrow is supposed to be much nicer for riding. That's freaky for this time of year, and economically ominous, but at least I'll get a ride.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's a Conspiracy

I dragged myself out of bed early enough to get out on the fixed gear before work. It was still dark inside and out as I dressed by feel. I know my wardrobe well enough to select attire for any conditions without having to see any of it. Good practice in case I go blind.

In the kitchen I turned on the lightning-addled TV set for a quick look at the weather.

"Freezing rain is coming down across many of the colder valleys of the central part of the state," said the meteorologist. The TV doesn't show color anymore, but some big smear on the radar kept rotating, over and over as he repeated the loop.

I poked my head out. He was right. Sleet pattered on the dry leaves, while liquid drops glazed istantly on the glass and sheet metal of my car.

We'd gotten a nuisance amount of snow out of the last storm, not enough to groom, but enough to spooge up the road margins with a slick mess. Any residual ice would welcome these reinforcements. I wasn't going out in that.

It's all turned to plain rain showers now that I'm miles away at work. This morning was my window. Maybe tomorrow morning will work out better. Forty miles separate me from 4,000, that tantalizing round number of annual miles. For what it's worth, it gives me an objective. Then it's Wind Trainer Winter until something better comes along.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Connoisseur of Surrogate Simulations

Excuse me for being a trainer snob, but the Elite Parabolic Roller defeats one major point of riding free-standing on open rollers rather than propped up on a trainer.

According to a product information blurb on Cycles BiKyle,"Riding on rollers has never been so easy! Rollers improve conditioning and riding technique because the bicycle moves freely under the rider. The unique shape of the Elite Parabolic rollers give you more control making it much easier to learn. For the more experienced roller-rider, the Parabolic rollers require less concentration so you can just relax and ride!"

The flared ends of the rollers will guide a straying wheel back toward the center. This makes smoothness optional instead of desperately necessary. True, one should learn to relax and ride. In fact, you will be supremely relaxed, once you have mastered the smooth, circular pedal stroke and wobble-free upper body you need to stay up on traditional rollers.

One of my favorite games on the old "rollers of death" is to ride near one end. Then slide across to the other end. Flared ends will reduce the playing field and change the possible hazard. With flat ends on the rollers, a straying tire will drop into the gap and stop. Then, to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, "excuse me while I kiss the floor." With flared ends, a gentle swerve will probably be met with a gentle correction. Sounds like an ad for a mild laxative. A sharper swerve could well result in a harsher laxative effect, as the bike high-sides over that lip. I haven't ridden the Elites, so I don't know where these thresholds might actually occur. I can tell from the promotional copy and by looking that the safety flange will take the edge off a beginner's anxiety and permit a higher degree of sloth from someone experienced.

Roller riding is an art. How can you live on the edge if the edge is fenced off?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wet Grit and Sweat

Fifty-five degrees at 6:30 this morning, and a fine mist upgrading itself to drizzle. But I didn't think the big stuff was going to come down for a while.

The whole day is better once training is taken care of. Even if I'm not training for anything in particular, it's a broad category that describes the pattern, the schedule and the daily importance of it.

I got a day's amusement out of ordering a touring frame and a bunch of parts for a customer. Building bikes for other people is as much fun as building them for myself, and I don't have to spend my own money or figure out where to store it. But this project is fairly straightforward. Now we have to wait for the parts before we can build the thing, wheels and all.

Rain is pouring down out there now. I need to shut this puppy down and drive an hour in the murk, then out to the grocery store.