Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Something's wrong with this Trail-a-Bike"

The owner of this Trail-a-Bike complained that it made her bike steer funny.

Meanwhile, up in the workshop, people in search of something to do have been cleaning up things they know very little about. Mechanics are constantly devising special tools that look to the uninitiated like bent pieces of wire or wads of tape wrapped round an unknown armature, or a plate of metal with a couple of holes drilled in it. Or maybe it's an old axle with a weird stack of nuts and washers on it. It must be junk. Heave it.

I'm trying this sign on the work bench after the last raid to see if I can save any special tools I make in the future. Sometimes it is frustrating to have to hide from my employers the devices I have made to make their business efficient and profitable.

If you don't know what something is, don't f#$%^&ing throw it out.

Cleaning up ethical debris from the 1990s

Today on the stand we have about a 1992 Specialized hybrid with early Gripshift. It's not the original Gripshift, which made anyone wonder whether that company would last a year, but the later product, which made us wish it hadn't.

Once you get to know it, Gripshift isn't so bad. But their convoluted cable routing inside the shifter housing was always one more pain in the ass you didn't need on a busy day. The early 1990s models have the cable nozzle coming down off the bottom of the shifter rather than making the bend to come off horizontally at the adjuster barrel. This calls for some artistry when leading the cables. Factory assemblers never displayed this sensitivity. So when the housings inevitably fail, the shop mechanic is technically correcting a defect in design and manufacturing, but it has lasted past the warranty period.

The average bike buyer trusts the manufacturer and the shop. At least they did going into the 1990s. Coming out of it, when the corporate greedheads and the technofascists between them had plundered the sport and burned off most of the casual participants with their torrent of planned obsolescence, fewer riders still had that innocent cheerfulness. By 1993 or '94 the whole industry had taken on a bit of the character of a strip of used car lots full of fast-talking people in loud suits.

The survivors of this period bring their bikes in and I have to figure out a fair amount to charge them to fix things they didn't know were wrong in the first place. I shouldn't over-think it. A doctor will charge you top dollar to treat your kid's birth defects whether it succeeds or not. But most people won't just throw their kids in the dump if the estimate runs too high. The kid industry continues to thrive. But then the initial manufacturing process is so much more fun.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Desktop Bash and Tweak

When a wheel has a bad S-bend in the rim, a mechanic can often restore it to usability by a process known as bash and tweak.

Bash and tweak is a descendant of an earlier technique known as stomp and tweak, in which the field medic stomps on a tacoed wheel and tweaks the requisite spokes to allow the damaged wheel to fit through the frame (and maybe even the brakes) to get home after a mishap. Bash and tweak is a more fine-tuned procedure.

The floor-model of bash and tweak requires an inflated tire on the rim to cushion the direct impact on the delicate edges of the rim. Mark the section of rim you need to bend. I mark the top side, for instance if the rim is bent toward the left side I will mark the right side so I know where to hit it as I'm looking down. Loosen spokes on the opposite side of the bend, so the rim is free to bash back into something like the desired line. You can wail that rim right over your head in a full-armed swing in cases where the choice is this drastic surgery or a junked wheel anyway.

Today I discovered the desktop version for small but tenacious bends that aren't responding to mere spoke tensioning techniques. The tire was off the rim, but I found that I could make short, sharp strokes down and inward, hitting the edge of the bench while drawing the rim toward me, to angle the impact. This successfully relocated the short sections of rim needing this extra treatment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Interesting Positions through History

This picture is from Bicycle Quarterly.

Check out the rider position on this fixed gear winter training bike from 1950, built by Rene Herse. Very often one sees this small amount of seat post showing on older bikes. Frame proportions led to this appearance even on the bikes of racers, if you look at period photographs.

Riding position is the most important thing. Standover clearance is only relevant when you're standing over. At stops on the road, or riding rough terrain on a mountain bike, clearance matters. A smaller frame also seems more controllable on rough terrain. But a rider cruising on the open road only cares about relative positions of saddle, pedals and handlebars.

Note how level everything is from the saddle to the tops of the bars. Even the drops parallel the tops.

Saddle is slightly nose up. Most of the bike pictures I sampled on the Bicycle Quarterly site reflect this. That's what keeps you on the rear part of the saddle. Drop the nose and you will slide there.

You see it on each of these as well. Top and bottom bikes are randonnee bikes intended for long events. The middle picture shows a 1957 Cinelli road racing bike. Things didn't look too different by the time I got seriously interested in 1975. In the early 1980s evolution really took off. Cycling had been in the forefront of industrial development from the last couple of decades of the 19th Century into the first ten or fifteen years of the 20th. Then interest in automobiles and aviation pulled the majority of technological innovation away. Cycling was left to artists and artisans. Sure, things evolved, but because speed and horsepower would always be limited, industrial interest waned. The bike was a toy in developed nations and a symbol of the backwardness of undeveloped ones. Cycle sport might draw enthusiastic crowds, and various bike booms might bring surges of interest in touring and fitness, but when the big horn blows on the 12-cylinder chariot of industrial power, get that bicycle the hell off the road.

At this point in history, all things in cycling exist. Some people find and restore gems from as far back as the boneshaker era of the 1880s, while present industry leaders tout the advantages of their carbon fiber marvels. Artist and artisan builders produce modern versions of the bikes of any era. It's incredibly cool.

Sadly, the many small component makers of the early and mid 20th Century have been run into the ground by huge, voracious corporate competitors, so you can't find as much funky componentry as you could even in the late 1970s, but perhaps that will change as well. Indexed and integrated shifting systems present the biggest roadblock to that. But you can find headsets, hubs and some brakes with which to express your individuality.

The Big Three component makers have even allowed some cranksets to mesh with their exclusive, proprietary spacing. Just be alert for chain problems, like riding on top of the chain teeth of the small ring or falling in between and wedging the rings apart. That can even occur on brand-name matchups because the spacing is so critical with skinny-skinny chains.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Feel the nipples, don't just twist the nipples

As the tension mounts, you may think you know exactly what to grab and how hard to twist it to get things to move the way you want. But as so often happens, being insensitive can leave you unsatisfied, with someone bent out of shape because you used muscle instead of finesse.

You might think that a particular spoke has to be the one to adjust to smooth out a hop or wobble. You crank on the spoke wrench with as much force as it takes to get the nipple to turn. You might even crush it. Meanwhile, the next spoke one way or the other might have been the key to success.

If the obvious nipple seems way too stiff, feel the adjacent ones on the same side of the rim. One of them might be soft, able to take more tightening to get you where you want to be. You might be surprised to see the shift in the rim seeming to line up with the wrong spoke. But that's why you have to feel the tension for yourself. The truing stand will tell you where the rim deviates, but it does not tell you spoke tension.

A little light lube on the nipples will probably make them turn more easily. The stiff one may yield to more gentle pressure with the right oleo.

When building your own wheels, grease spoke threads so you can tighten them smoothly. A little dab of light oil on the outside of the nipple where it goes through the rim can also facilitate the final stages of rounding and truing.

I don't like thread lockers on spoke threads. Some day you will have to true that wheel, unless you rush out and destroy it outright. You will curse thread-locker then. I know I do.

Some builders use thread-locker when building. Others say to ride the wheel a bit, re-true it and then lock threads with a drop from outside. I just tension them thoroughly and re-true them if necessary after a few rides. Periodically thereafter a wheel might need touching up, but many of my wheels have gone season after season with little or no attention.

If an older wheel needs truing, the nipples could have corroded. They may release their grip with a drop of Pro Link lube on each reluctant one. The problem could be friction where the nipple threads onto the spoke or where it passes through the rim.

As you tighten a spoke, rest your fingers on the spoke itself as you turn the spoke wrench on the nipple with your other hand. You can feel whether the whole spoke is twisting rather than tightening properly. Sometimes if you squeeze the spoke and its neighbor you can release the tension and allow the spoke to untwist. This is useful when tensioning a new wheel as you make more and more rounds of all the spokes. Squeeze spoke pairs lightly as you tighten, one after another.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

T-Serv Update

They ride skinnier than they look. The rollout for the computer was almost three centimeters less. A fat two, anyway. And the bike felt quicker. So even though width and height seemed very close between the 32 and 35, the full cross section and volume on the smaller tire produce a tangible difference.

Meanwhile, a helpful reader sent me this link to a source for IRC Tandems. I haven't had time to research any of it further. I just know the tires disappeared from my parts suppliers' catalogs. Maybe this other site just has the closeouts.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Tale of Two T-Servs

Fat tires feel invulnerable, but that comes at a price. I've been running 700x35 Panaracer T-Serv for Messenger tires on the Cross Check, because those were on my fatty/exploring wheels. After a few weeks of that, I'm tired of trying to accelerate that mass on the morning time trial day after day.

My previous commuting wheels had a 700x30 on the rear and a 32 T-Serv on the front. The rear rim cracked and the front tire finally got damaged. But I missed the slightly greater agility the bike had with those tires. They didn't wear me out quite as much as the week wore on.

Last night I finally got the time to set up commuting wheels again. But when I inflated the rear tire of the latest set of 700x32 T-Servs, it measured almost as wide as the 35. Something about it seems slimmer, but not that much slimmer. The old T-Serv casing measures three or four millimeters narrower than the new one supposed to be the same size. That's measured bead-to-bead across the flattened casing. But then the front tire looked noticeably slimmer than the rear. It was more like I expected them both to be.

Both new casings measure narrower bead-to-bead than the 35. Inflated, the 35s measure 33-ish. The 32s measure 30 and 31. I'll find out today if any of this makes the bike more nimble again.

The new fatty rear will have 36 spokes. The front still has 32, but front wheels can afford to be a little lighter. I'm not likely to do the full expedition load with maxed-out panniers front and rear. The old fatty rear, with 32 spokes, becomes the new commuter. The rim is heavier and wider than I would have liked, but it's what I have.

I can't find the IRC Tandem tire anymore. My last one wore through to the cord.

Time to throw together lunch and head off into the fog. The severe storms that trampled through last night bypassed us, but the air is moist and cooling as the front continues to pass.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This is the week when everyone needs their bike repaired immediately. I should have left for work an hour ago. At one time I would have.

We're also expecting a dozen French-fried rental bikes to come back. They tore a derailleur off within the first day or two. Steve made a pickup and delivery run to "the compound." Assured that the security detail on the gate had been told to expect him, he drove confidently down. Of course the guards had heard nothing.

Can you say "homeland security?"

One cavity search later...not really. But I'm sure the dump truck full of rental bikes will pull in at an inopportune time.

And now I really must go.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Blueberry Days

On a dazzling August Day, a turkey vulture soared above squadrons of swallows in swooping flight above the blueberry fields on a small mountain in eastern New Hampshire. The commercial farm that had operated here closed down, but the plants still produce. The current owner invites a few people to help use up that harvest. It beats the heck out of a bushel of surplus zucchini.

I got invited into this blueberry club because of the work I'd done, building up a Surly Long Haul Trucker for someone. So even though we didn't ride there, it was bike related.

Lily and I took blueberry rakes, which are more like metal combs on the front of a box-like scoop, and headed down to where she'd been told we might find a good haul. It's getting late in the season. Others had harvested. The berries were small and enmeshed in the foliage of the low bushes. Even so, we gleaned a couple of gallons of them before we knocked off and turned our attention to the small knoll above us. I wanted to check out the view.

Thick clusters of dusky blue sweetness clumped on the tops of the bushes over there. We'd already loaded what we could carry, but we ate our way up and down on our summit dash.

Last night we had the first pie.

This morning we did not have the first blueberry pancakes because we had to hurry out on the Cross-Checks to ride to a Nature Conservancy preserve 15 miles away, where New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was going to speak. Gregg has been instrumental in securing funding for the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve, a critical piece of habitat in the state. It has been described as "globally significant." Lily had been assigned to cover it for the newspaper and I went along to take photos.

Thirty miles by bike meant we saved a gallon of gasoline. We smiled indulgently at the Priuses parked at the entrance.

Arriving slightly early, we had a chance to look around a little. The undergrowth was full of blueberry bushes. I grabbed some. So did the senator, when he arrived. It's a ritual of the season.

Senator Gregg checks out the pine barrens

Sen. Gregg, Daryl Burtnett (Nature Conservancy) and a pie!

Ossipee Lake Road has a designated bike route along part of it. We saw many cyclists. People will ride if they think they've been given a safe place to do it. Of course the wide shoulder ended where the funding ran out, but once people get it in their heads that they're on a bike route they'll keep riding with only two inches to the right of the fog line. Bless their hearts.

Most motorists passed carefully. The traffic volume is fairly high, so inevitably some drivers pushed themselves past us too closely, but others held back so cautiously it was almost embarrassing.

Riding alone I have gotten pretty good at managing overtaking vehicles. With another rider it gets harder because our movements have to be perfectly coordinated to catch and release them at the proper times.

Back at home we still had pie left. And we have lots more berries to use up.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Just Another Day in International Affairs

If a Secret Service agent tells you he's a Secret Service agent it isn't a secret anymore, is it?

Midnight suppers are romantic, but they don't mix well with 6 a.m. alarm clocks, 30-mile bike commutes and long days on your feet in the workshop. Sundays we open two hours later, but somehow I still manage to be rushed. This morning I pounded down a big stack of peach pancakes and a quart of coffee before bolting out on the road bike to sprint to town. It's been a week of midnight suppers and early mornings as the cellist worked a show gig in Tamworth. The show closed last night.

On 28, I was just feeling for the right pace to keep me on schedule to get to work while still keeping my pancakes down, when a decked-out road rider flashed up on my right.

"Allez! Allez!" he yelled, but it was a local rider, leading the few who had made it on the Sunday morning ride. He pulled the pace back to something I could manage, so I hung in the pace line to the height of land. Then the others slowed to wait for a straggler, but I had a good start and a route mostly downhill the rest of the way. My pancakes and my punctuality were safe.

At the shop, a Secret Service agent came in to check on some arrangements we'd been helping with, and to pick up a couple more helmets. The French will be maneuvering. More I cannot say. But I did chuckle to myself about the term Secret Service. Shouldn't they try to convince us they're something else, like dog-walkers or house painters?

Back to the old workstand. I'll be working late today.

Friday, August 10, 2007

One Never Knows

Someone seems to have kicked the celebrity puffball. Sighting reports are coming in from all points as the cloud of spores spreads. They land in darkness and quickly germinate so they are visible by morning.

I envision these other-worldly visitors drifting down on the night breeze like Mary Poppins or dandelion seeds. Surely they don't just drive here. And we don't hear nearly enough helicopter traffic for that to be the delivery method.

Between Paris and Hollywood, the town is apparently fully occupied. Meanwhile, in my little foxhole of this vacation Dien Bien Phu, we're seeing only the usual crowd. Since I remain the only full-time wrench on staff, the 9-plus-hour day I put in today is probably still less than I could and should put in, as the golden heart of yet another summer gets devoured by my default occupation.

At least the rain held off this morning. I wore a wind vest and those nice CWX tights in the somewhat chilly morning air. Fatigue and the chance of rain made me more susceptible to the idea of chill. Without chemical intervention, I actually managed to stomp out a few good moves on final approach through town. Traffic was light. Maybe the clouds kept people at their cottages for an extra English muffin and coffee.

The sun had set before I got home, but the summer twilight is still long and light. With a gut full of Kona I felt a little like riding north until I ran out of road, then walking until I ran out of land, then sitting on a sea cliff, staring out over the ocean until my skin shrank to leather against my bones and the wind played a tune in my empty eye sockets.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rentin' to the French

A group from the presidential party came late this afternoon to claim the bikes they had reserved. The parents did not come, but we had been led to believe several Sarkozy offspring were in the group. One teen-aged lad did resemble the pictures I've seen of the president himself, but turns out not to be related.

Steve had been a bit nervous as we waited for their imminent arrival. I assured him I would tackle whatever needed to be done. Since I had six years of first-year French over the course of my long and undistinguished academic career, and I have a great ability to let people find their own equilibrium before trying to shuffle them on their way, I figured I could tell them the library is across from the church and that the lunch menu surely included "des saucisses." Neither of these statements were true, but I was pretty sure I remembered how to say them. But then, as almost always happens, Steve swung smoothly into action. The visitors' excellent command of multiple languages simultaneously put us to shame and made our job as easy as a large-party rental could be.

I don't know how they'll handle the logistics of actually riding around here. But no one's made that my problem yet.

Initially I was disappointed not to get to see the president and his wife, but their decision makes perfect sense. What vacationing couple wouldn't take a chance to get the kids the heck out of the house for a while? Apparently the actual Sarkozy kids stayed across the street with the security team in the SUV.

In the aftermath of their departure we all just sort of fumbled around waiting for closing time. It was too late to dig into a project, but too early just to lock up and bolt.

I want news photographers to get a picture of me wearing my Surly tee shirt next to the president. Send Surly around the world on wings of the tabloids. Maybe later. I've been washing and wearing it all week.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Avec Moi, Le Deluge

"This radar view shows some heavier embedded showers moving eastward over the central part of the state, but it should already be starting to break up. The back edge should move through in the mid-morning hours, bringing some partial sunshine, although the chance will remain for scattered showers throughout the rest of the day," said the weather man.

Breaking up. Scattered showers. Despite the heavy rain drumming on the roof, I should look forward to improving conditions. Still, I'd better start out on the fixed gear.

Fat, soaking drops drummed straight down as I left home. The wind flung stinging darts as I reached Wolfe City. I ended up about as wet as I have ever been. Some of my gear was still wet when I set out for home more than eight hours later.

It was a warm wet. Perfect for the fixed gear.

Do all bike shops get weird jobs, or do I attract them? If I think I can fix something, I will take it on without considering the economics. In this way I ended up with a ten-year-old Hugi hub completely ripped apart on the bench. It's just old enough to have dropped off the map for spare parts. The bearings are standard, but the freehub body is no longer made. All that needs is some bearings in it, but I can't coax them out. The body was listed as a complete assembly in all the catalogs, so I don't think it was meant to come apart. It's much simpler and more serviceable than anything from Shimano, but nothing's perfect. It's just a splined tube with some bearings in it. And I think some previous mechanic lost a spacer out of it, which adds to the play in it.

Our supplier sent the wrong bearings, so I couldn't reassemble it anyway.

Sweeping all that aside I moved on to the next project. That was only mildly weird. The customer wanted to replace dried, crusty 700x28 tires with new 700x 23, but insisted on using the old, fat tubes. The bike was also gobbed with ambergris from countless applications of White Lightning. Most of my time went to de-gobbing the frame and drive train.

We stayed busy as we waited to see if anything exciting would happen. Nothing did.

The rain moved out in the later afternoon. I welcomed the pleasant summer evening. The wind seemed mostly to help me on the route home.

At Route 16 I saw another rider headed north. When I got the green to come out of 28 he was gone. But when I turned at Elm Street, there he was. Pushing my higher gear, I quickly caught up.

The other rider said he was on his way to a conservation commission meeting for his town, which borders mine. I told him I was the cyclist on my town's commission. He mentioned that he works with another rider I know, who rides the same commute I do in the opposite direction.

"He just today asked if I'd ever met you," said the other rider. "And now, six hours later, here we are."

We traveled together for about three miles to his next turn. He used to ride a fixed gear. Most of it hangs in his basement or garage. Maybe he'll re-commission it.

And what will happen tomorrow?

Monday, August 06, 2007

BOBbing Along

Yesterday, after a surprisingly fast commute of just under 30 miles, I hooked up the BOB to ride over to Freedom to pick up the instruments for river testing. Lily and I rode a mellow pace through the evening sunshine.

The BOB run gave me 44 miles for the day. Yes my transportation took longer than it would have in a car, but so what?

I don't do things because I'm capable. I'm capable because I do things. Anyone can do what I do. You just have to make it important to yourself. It may be a good idea to cultivate some capability. You never know when you might need it. Lose your wallet or your stock portfolio and all you'll have left is whatever capability you have bothered to develop.

It's fun to realize you don't have to use a car all the time. I still use a car some of the time. In the winter I use it extensively. If I didn't have to have a job and drive to it, I might use the car much less, but the way life turned out, I drive. I really get to hate it by March.

This was the BOB's maiden cruise. It was great. No other way to put it. It's everything I hoped it would be. Yes, it sways a little on the back of the bike, like any load, but it doesn't stress the rear wheel as much as panniers would. I can remove the trailer and have my bike back to normal in seconds.

The trailer owner's manual sets an upper speed limit of 25 miles per hour. With it empty I hit 25.5 without bursting into flames. I didn't dare get frisky when toting expensive electronics that don't belong to me , so I didn't try it with them on board. It wouldn't be fun to have things start bouncing around on a bumpy descent.

The trailer comes with a flag and a bright yellow dry bag. I would still feel nervous pulling it through tight motor vehicle traffic. Drivers get more and more oblivious to small vehicles as their own get bigger and bigger. Despite some lip service to small cars and better gas mileage, the majority seems to lean toward the large barge. The drivers of small cars are watching out for these behemoths, not pedal-powered vehicles that can't do them any harm. In continuous traffic it's too easy to get trapped in a bad spot, even on an unloaded bike, let alone with another half a bike's worth of low length behind you. Or maybe it's just me. I have to lose my tendency to barrel through stunt man gaps when things get a little chaotic.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Where did THAT come from?

Forty-four minutes, twenty-two seconds door to door from home to work.

Love that road bike.

Trying to go easy

Saturdays are traditionally hectic, but yesterday we actually had a chance to catch our breath after the bustling activity earlier in the week.

When I woke up, I felt like I still needed another night's sleep. I was down to my last ibbie, too. Mostly for placebo effect, I downed it half an hour before I started on the morning commute. I felt good as long as I didn't try to push. No insane sprints through closing gaps today.

After an unremarkable day, I set out at a very quiet pace to ride the long route home. With very little car traffic I didn't need to maintain an aggressive cadence and body language for self defense. The humidity had broken. I rode through cool breezes out past Lake Wentworth.

Approaching the turn for Bryant Road, I exchanged friendly smiles with a sporty-looking blonde woman turning a snappy cadence on a Cannondale road bike. As I entered Bryant, a lean, silver-haired gentleman on a dark gray, carbon fiber Trek road bike was coming out. I waved.

Bryant rises slightly before dropping down a fast little grade to a wetland. From there it climbs again, steadily, slightly steeply at times, but only in short pitches, to level off shortly before the intersection with Cotton Valley Road. It's a good approach to the roads from Cotton Valley, because you get to keep all the elevation it makes you gain.

In my sluggish state, I idled up the little rise, crested, and clicked through the gears to my largest one as I settled into a tight tuck to accept the gift of gravity. At the bottom, instead of hammering as I often do, I let the bike slow naturally as I shifted back down to low gears.

Somewhere in this process I glanced back to see the Trek rider coming up behind me. He came past me as I worked into the first real steepening of the climb.

"Nice day, eh?" he said. He seemed to have a French accent. I agreed that the day was a fine one, but we exchanged no more words, as he accelerated into the climb. Was he throwing down the gauntlet?

I let him move out a bit as I took stock of my condition. He wore cycling shorts with a dark tee shirt. A very small leather fanny pack must have held whatever essentials he felt he needed. His shoes and socks looked very businesslike. He rode with precision. I was not about to let him drop me.

On the other hand, I didn't want to start anything, either. My bike weighed half again what his did, with my commuting load. I still have one more day of the commuter stage race, too. But I could at least limit the time gap. I would hang, not too close, to let him know I was there, but didn't need to lead.

He glanced back a couple of times. He stood up for a couple of short jumps. I just hung back there like the thing he was trying to forget, and refused to go away. When the road leveled near the end I bridged the few yards to his wheel to await the next move. In case he really was French, I had been rehearsing what little I could recall of the language to try to explain where I planned to go next, and what a poor surface for a road bike he could expect there.

The other rider made no attempt to speak to me. He rode straight to a parked mini van, seeming to avoid eye contact. I waved, but got no acknowledgment, so I floated on past and dropped into the right turn onto the gravel of Stoddard Road. If he chose to come along, so be it. It was obviously a dirt road, but maybe he won Paris Roubaix some time in the last 20 years.

He did not come that way by bike or by car. But now I felt challenged. I didn't charge the wall of 20% up to the highland, but I did click up through the gears and dive down the other side of it, where the paved grade gives way to dirt again. On the Surly Cross Check, it's fun to bomb down into the dirt there. The road is nearly straight, so tuck and go for it. Make sure you're in a big enough gear when you hit the bottom, so you can power through any loose bits. Weight back, but not too far back. I've done it dozens of times and hardly ever come close to biffing.

Bang! Fssfssfssfssfssfss! A damn pinch flat! I feathered the brakes to slow the bike before the front end got too washy. Fortunately, it was the front tire, easier to change. I looked around for the Trek rider, but of course he never came by. Short of resounding victory, an honorable mechanical looks good. I had all the glow to myself, just me and the mosquitoes. And some unfeeling bastard in a fancy silver SUV who thundered by without a sideways glance. Not that I would have accepted help, but it's polite to ask, at least.

The flat got me to examine the long-suffering Panaracer T-Serv for Messenger I've had on there for a couple of years. Front tires never wear out, but this one had quietly developed cracks. The stone that flatted the tube also nicked the sidewall, so now I can justify putting on a new tire.

The pump was acting up and my spare tube was a patched one. I got it to some sort of pressure to tiptoe out of the dirt section, and put more into it when I reached a place where I could lean the bike against a utility pole and put some muscle into it.

After a few kilometers of caution, I trusted the tire enough to hit the throttle a bit more. Nothing too frisky, just getting home to put my feet up. Then, at the intersection of 28 and 16, the light was staying green as if waiting for me. I dug down for the strength to sprint into the corner and lay the bike over as the light went yellow. Delightful.

Back at my secret headquarters, I put the fatty front wheel on the Surly and switched the computer over to Wheel Size II (Sigma. Heh heh heh.) But I'm riding the road bike today. Light bike, light wheels, heavy legs.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Agents Track Me Down

French security forces entered the shop at 1630 and promptly closed in on the workshop area. There's no back door. They had me trapped.

Steve pointed to me.

"That's him!" he said.

Okay, I made that up. French security forces did enter the shop with the local man who has been handling their arrangements. Steve fitted them to three rental bikes to be picked up later. Aside from the language barrier, eased considerably by one fluent English-speaker among them, it was much like any rental. The French know cycling, so these guys wanted a sporty fit, but Steve filled the order.

WMUR, the state's only commercial television station, has finally picked up on the excitement. No sign of Le Grand Fromage himself.

Traffic has been nasty this week. It's been one crit after another. I've ridden too hard in the heat. I need some of that stuff the racer boys use, even just the legal stuff. Vitamin injections, massage, it's all good.

Dream on. Slam a couple of ibbies and some more coffee and get out of here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bike Shop and State Dept. Annex

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is apparently vacationing here. While such momentous events would normally have almost no effect on us, because celebrities are almost never seen sweating on a bike or cross-country skis unless being paid to do so, Sarkozy is a cyclist. We were informed a couple of weeks ago that elements of his entourage would need to do business with us.

Strangely, this information came not from a State Department official but from a local real estate agent. At first he didn't say which country this unnamed chief executive ran, so we figured it was probably some rinky-dink Joe-Bob's Republic of the Backwater Swamp in some unfashionable corner of one of your less-developed continents. But then the rumors heated up. It was a real, brand-name country. Maybe France.

The Secret Service contacted us. The detail was going to need bikes to ride herd on the President during his pedaling forays. That was rescinded when they decided they could cram their own bikes into the fleet of bulletproof Suburbans they were driving up from D.C. But that still left us with the needs of the visitors themselves.

All this took shape with surprisingly little supervision. Personally, I thought the powerful people involved would appreciate a little discretion. However, the town turned into a seething pit of gossip. The Visit became one of those worst-kept secrets, like the way every local near a Secret Government Base always knows all about it and uses it as a landmark when directing strangers around town.

"Go three miles down this road until you see the fence of the Secret Government Base. You can't miss it, it's ten feet high with razor wire on top. Go along that to the left until you see the guarded gate where the two guys sit in the bulletproof shack..."

I couldn't say whether we will actually see the French President. George W. Bush was supposed to use our restroom during the 2000 primary campaign, because upper management at the shop had close ties to the campaign, but they canceled it. I suspect they were afraid I would embarrass them because I did not share their views. See how you can change history, even if you're just an obscure grunt? George had to go pee somewhere else. Take that, George.

Not like it did any good. Now he just wipes his ass with the Constitution.

But I digress.

First and foremost, I'm here to help people get on bikes. When the day is done, I get on my own and I go home. I wouldn't recognize most famous people anyway. In my limited experience they only look vaguely like themselves when you see them out of context. If they want me to fawn and grovel, they'll have to tell me. I'm really bad at that shit, so give me a hint, okay?

The gossip reached such a crescendo on our own sales floor on Wednesday that I sent a spoof email to the shop saying that, due to massive breaches of security leading up to the visit, it had to be called off. Then I forgot to send a really ridiculous follow-up so The Management would realize it was a joke.

I spent most of Thursday on the shit list. I just managed to stop Steve from forwarding my spoof to the Secret Service. Probably they would just have chastised me for being an asshole, but I didn't want to take any chances. If I'm going to be sent to Gitmo, I want to go in the winter, when I'll appreciate a little getaway in the Caribbean.

The real estate agent who has been our contact dropped by to make sure everything was still on track. He told us a television news crew from Boston had already crashed the gate and been surrounded by Secret Service agents with automatic weapons. The camera crew had come busting down the driveway without a pause. When stopped, the person in charge said, "we just want to get some shots of the president, and the house."

Someone claiming to be a French journalist called the shop during the afternoon and started asking questions. They met no cooperation. Information flows freely among familiar friends, but stops cold when strangers with foreign accents call from unlisted numbers.

It looks like we're in for a crazy week or two. Or maybe it will turn out like every other celebrity presence in town and we'll never know the difference. John Lithgow was supposed to drop by when he did the commencement speech at Brewster a few years ago. Yeah, right. Still waiting...

Meanwhile, bikes still need fixing and I'm sitting here writing instead of going to work.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

All or Nothing

In Resort Town, we're either stampeded or abandoned.

In the height of summer, everyone needs their bike instantly. They may not have looked at it for the past ten months, but now they want to use it. Or maybe they're in one of the many organized rides and want or need some vital maintenance. The ones who can't diagnose and treat their own mechanical problems will ride until the eve of the ride and then present themselves at the repair shop door expecting that we can accommodate them.

It seems like it will never end. But, to quote a bad joke, "in two week it fall off."

Typically, once the local triathlon passes in mid-August, we start to have some desperately boring slow days. By mid September we'd love to see a few pushy vacationers demanding instant miracles.

The pattern can change. We were busy late in the summer last year.

Meanwhile, rising population in the area has led to uglier rush hours. Yesterday morning, a pickup truck blowing a yield sign almost took me out. I shot the gap between its front bumper and oncoming SUVs because I was pulling high twenties coming down with the traffic on one street when this big, black, shiny truck lurched from the converging street like a startled hippo lumbering from a wallow. I got clear ahead and pulled to the right.

Looking over, I expected to see the usual big-balled redneck making a vulgar gesture at me, but the driver was a smallish woman with a cell phone plastered to her face. What a disappointment. She wouldn't see me flip her off, and I could only express myself verbally to her if she had call waiting.

At work I found out that the Marine is leaving after Sunday to take a job in law enforcement. I will be the only full-time mechanic through the end of the summer rush. After that it doesn't really matter.

After work I had to sprint home to get to the Zoning Board meeting. At one intersection, I hovered, waiting to pull out, when a slightly battered, large black sedan cut in sharply on the corner. The driver saw me, widened his line and actually said "sorry!" out the open window. It was all he needed to do. Acknowledge the error. That's so rare, especially from motorists.

Cars should be able to change color as rapidly as squid do, to reflect changing emotions of the driver.

By taking time to write this, I am now late for work. But, as I have observed before, by following slightly behind the worst rush for 9 a.m., I find much safer road conditions.