Friday, November 28, 2008

It's the stops

In a comment on the post here titled "A Smoldering Rage," Anonymous said...

"I have to be devils advocate here and ask a couple of questions.

Was the problem the stops, or was it that the owner did not properly care for their bike? I understand you sweat, but can you clean it?

Also, was the problem due in part, or wholly, to the fact that you were using aero bars on the bike? Just curious."

Anonymous was referring to head tube cable stops, a recent and hopefully short-lived detail of road bike design. This photo shows the cable routing I used on the tri bike I was repairing.

Here is a photo of the typical and inevitable destruction of cable housing on a bike with head tube stops and conventional drop bars.

The aero bars on the black bike did complicate the problem, but the basic flaw affects any cabling. The curve ends too abruptly, too close to the pivot point of the whole assembly. It would only work well if the cables went into a ball swivel that allowed the ferrule to rotate freely without turning the threaded adjuster or fraying the cable over a hard edge. That's why I hate them. They make life worse in a small way and better in no way. The only way to work around them would be to remove them entirely.

The salt and sugar bath poured over the black bike only made the cable adjusters corrode into the stops. That can't be cleaned off after the fact without disassembling the bike to some degree. Salty water seeps in along the cable and down the threads of the adjuster by capillary action. Well-greased adjuster threads will guard against the damage for a while. Eventually, everything needs to be taken apart, hosed out with spray lube and put back together with fresh grease.

I suggested to the triathlete whose bike inspired my rant that she get a beater bike to stick on her trainer. Sweat on a real ride blows away on the breeze. That confines the sugar water to the vicinity of the water bottle cages and wherever the rider drools a significant amount. Much of the lip-drip blows away like the sweat. If the beater isn't an option, rig a towel or buy one of the prepared sweat catchers you can stick on your bike to catch the briny swill before it soaks anything expensive and delicate.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Surprisingly Intimate

Recent fixed gear rides with the cellist have turned into synchronized flights closer than any ride we've shared on multi-speed bikes. Riding identical gears, our rhythms match with every change of terrain.

I'm stronger and have decades more experience, but the fixed gear bike teaches technique unconsciously and rapidly. If you don't hate it in the first fifty yards you will love it within the first 100. So it seems to be with her.

I don't think she's just doing that thing I want that none of the other girls would do. She really seems intrigued. She gets it. If you get it, too, you know exactly what I mean.

She remarked right away on the pleasure of instant control through the pedals. I see her doing things she may not even realize she's doing. The bike shapes the rider if the rider is willing to let it.

After one training ride on the easiest ground, she wanted to go farther on a blustery, cold day. The longer flat ride went farther downwind than I thought was a good idea, so I suggested a shorter alternative with a bit of up and down. She was nervous about that, and the dirt section it included, but she went for it anyway. I knew she had the skills to master it. She had to find that out for herself. With that out of the way, that 15-mile loop can now be one of her standards and the longer ride, with more time on a milder day, will be that much more fun for her.

The turns, the climbs, the descents, the changes of surface called for all the subtle shifts of weight and cadence, the hip-steering and line-choosing a single fixed cog demands. In addition, I maneuvered around her, reacting to her movements in a coordinated dance. As she learns more, she will notice the pleasure of these synchronous movements herself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Pictures (Okay, some pictures)

Wednesday seemed cold at 21 degrees, but I had the time. I grabbed a dawn patrol. Thursday I let the work schedule and the 17-degree morning low convince me to skip a day. But then on Friday I had the later start time so I went out at 12 degrees. Double digits. That's not cold.

Yes it is.

You know it was a cold ride when you felt like sweat was chilling on your skin the whole time, but your clothes are dry when you take them off after you get home. You also know your layering was working perfectly. Moisture traveled out to the surface unimpeded. That hardly ever happens.

Riding at sunrise treats me to visual delights even on the same loop day after day. Unfortunately, riding in a very small time window, I don't want to take time to stop and set up a picture.

Ossipee River frequently looks like this. This picture is from a year or two ago.

On a mid-day ride Tuesday, I saw Huntress Bridge Rapid was up.

I acted as the Huntress Bridge Traffic Cam. This guy was hauling ass approaching the bridge.

Putting almost 100 miles a day on the car some days, I know I wouldn't be doing my job with a Big Dummy and strong resolve. I've changed for now from a transportation cyclist to a fitness rider.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Plug and Play

Here's the cellist on her very first fixed gear ride ever.

Because she rides a 54 cm Surly Cross Check and so do I, it was a quick and simple matter to change the stem on Blue for a shorter one and exchange her seat and post for mine. Voila! Instant fit.

I'm often frustrated when I try to ride with her in colder weather because I have to coordinate my rhythms on a fixed gear with hers on a multi-speed bike. Usually I just ride my Cross Check with multiple gears and put up with being cold and getting less of a workout. Since I have the Traveler's Check as a fixed gear, swapping parts to make it her bike took only minutes.

I run a gear most fixie fashionistas consider laughably low. The joke's on them, of course, when it comes to practical riding, because my 63-inch low and 73.5-inch high gear cover such a range of terrain and traffic conditions. When I did ride in an urban environment, I ran the 63 for winter and a 67 for summer. It's easier to do a track stand and bolt away from intersections in a lower gear. With a well developed spin a rider can take the 63 from zero to 25 mph for short sprints, 30 for short descents and cruise at 18-20 with city traffic all day.

Because of the low gear, the cellist had no trouble getting on it and staying on it. She instantly discovered how to control speed through the pedals. Aside from the time trial bars and the continuous drive, the bike was hers in all respects. She did not have to get used to twitchy handling.

Taking advantage of Effingham's excellent terrain, we could put together a ride of 12 miles with no hills. With a bit more time we could have stretched it to 15 or 20. Bending the loop differently, a rider can do everything from a total wall to a mixed bag of medium-sized grades in a range of distances from four to 20 miles. Today we kept her on the level so she could concentrate on developing basic fixed gear skills. She did a great job and was intrigued. Because the conversion is so easy, she can try it again any time she wants without significant inconvenience. I guess I should say I could reclaim Blue any time I want, because I'm going to leave it set up for her and ride the silver bike for a while.

Thanks, Surly!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


November tries to get its claws into me every year. I used to lean forward and train hard in November, anticipating mountain adventures. As I find no time for those, I have no physical goal. With the warming climate, no one can count on being able to do any particular thing in the winter. The skiing could be lousy, but nasty weather could still prevent biking.

In dwindling daylight, with various pressures on my time, I try to get a ride whenever I can. I'm not ready for the rollers yet, because I should be reshaping myself in case I do get to ski. Rollers come around in March. Late February at the earliest. By then I see the rising sun and imagine the open road. Right now I go on the fixed gear for 15, 20 or 25, depending on the available time.

Today was a good one. The temperature was in the mid 40s. The wind howled out of the west. I worked my way west on diagonal roads and then blew east on Route 25 for about eight miles. At Loon Lake Road I turned north into Freedom. From the village there I pushed my way back against the wind, sometimes nearly halted. I stood on the pedals with my hands on the drops, put my nose down on the front tire and grunted out one pedal stroke at a time. The route home crossed the wind except for that stretch coming out of Freedom and a short bit on Green Mountain Road back in the 'ham.

The power had gone out. I left the house dark when I started my ride. I saw the power company truck at a pole several miles from my house. They had the juice back on by the time I got home.

November is National Go Back to Sleep Month. I have very little energy. It's been a rough few years. Maybe that's about to get better, but it hasn't quite kicked in yet. I need the small accomplishment of rides. It's a simple thing, on equipment I already own. All I have to do is get dressed and go do it. I always feel better afterward, even if I got soaked and chilled.

November's skies and the mountain landscape change from one dramatic vista to another in a fraction of a second as clouds gather and shred, gather and shred. All around the continuum of the ride swirls the constant change of the turbulent sky. And then you'll get a day as flat gray and unchanging as the walls and ceiling of a mental institution. At that point, your motion seems to flow through frozen time. Nothing was. Nothing ever will be. You have only this ride, from home to home, for no particular reason. You flicker through a static world, a flash of color in defiance of gray.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November Dawn Patrol

Basking in low sun --

Weak orb reaches from the south.

Frozen fixed-gear ride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't make it right, but I can make it work

I devised functional cable routing on the Serotta. It's not just outside the box, it wraps around it and sticks back in its left ear.

Does the box have ears? The walls supposedly do.

The internal route would not work. The housing crosses from one extension to the other and then curves around to enter the cable stop on the opposite side of the frame from the shifter. It's a variation on the standard cross-routing we're been doing for years. The cables cross back under the down tube to go to their requisite derailleurs.

Note that the cross attachment points are not symmetrical. This is not just sloppiness. It also allows the cable housings to flow as smoothly as possible past the front brake housing when the handlebars are turned. As smoothly as possible still isn't very smoothly, due to the inherent unforgivable inadequacy of the cable stop placement, but it's the best possible.
Sorry for the fuzziness in this picture. The complex surfaces and dark background really mess with auto-focus cameras.

Fortunately this rider does not want a water bottle hanging between the bar extensions. Even if she did, I could probably work around it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Smoldering Rage (Portions of this rant were previously taped)

Any company that sold a bike with head tube cable stops owes their customers each a new frame if the old one can't be reconfigured to put the stops on the down tube or top tube where they will actually work.

I spent hours last night trying to figure out cable routing on a Serotta Legend Ti that wouldn't destroy the cable housing within weeks. The longer I worked the options with no success, the more I hated whoever came up with the idea in the first place and whoever else thought it was good enough to slap on several model years' worth of what would have been decent bikes. The idiocy was industry-wide. Stupid, stupid, stupid idea. It cured the problem of cable chafe on the head tube at the cost of far greater functional problems with the shifting and steering systems.

The black bike defied my efforts to get a good picture of the setup in its mangled condition as I started the repair.

In this case, the problem is aggravated because the rider is a triathlete using aero bars with bar-end shifters. The pricey carbon aero extensions are drilled for internal cable routing. The stiff housing index shifting requires has to make two radical bends to get from the exit hole in the bar to the stop on the head tube.

The original housing, CD 4 mm, had broken through the alloy ferrule in the head tube stop. Incidentally, the ferrule was corroded into the cable stop because of the constant bath of salty sweat that poured onto it as the rider used an indoor trainer. The housing had twisted itself up into a strange curl under the wide wing section of the bar.

I had to drill the remains of the alloy 4mm ferrules out of the cable stops so I could install brass 5 mm. I still haven't solved the routing riddle. One option would be to remove the threaded stops and take the housing through the part welded to the frame, but that would look even more cluttered on the sleek road frame than the rat's nest of curled brake and shift housings at the head tube already does.

Trying to overcome gratuitously stupid design drives me INSANE. It's even worse when I'm trying to fit this repair in with a wad of other important stuff, for a rider who has trusted me numerous times with her race prep. So far, I've managed to come through every time. This is her last big race of the year, and it's in Arizona or something, so the stakes are high.

Like all tri bikes, it's crusted with sticky and salty deposits from the energy drink and perspiration that get poured over it day after day. The crust on the rear brake has actually hardened into rock candy. If she runs short of energy out in the desert, she can hop off and lick the brake for a while.

Speaking of sticky, this $5,000-plus marvel also had another of my nemeses, sticky-back cork bar wrap.

There is absolutely no reason to have aggressive adhesive on the back of your bar wrap. It just makes repositioning or reusing tape impossible and makes it more difficult to remove old tape to put on new. Unless you're some kind of twine-wrapping shellac-slapper, you WILL re-tape your bars. Just to change this rider's cable housing I will have to replace the little sections of cork wrap on the aero extensions because the sticky backing shredded what would have been reusable tape. I know this is just a nuisance, but it does add the cost and time of wrapping bars to a lot of repairs where it would not have been directly relevant.

Suppliers should say in the product description whether a model of wrap has adhesive backing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New Kind of Biathlon

In Nordic biathlon, competitors ski a course with shooting ranges at intervals, requiring them to hammer as hard as they can for time and immediately calm down to shoot accurately. Inaccurate shooting incurs time penalties.

This afternoon I had an appointment to meet the cellist and one of her adult violin students to work on a piece together. She left late in the morning in her car. I left in mid afternoon on the Traveler's Check. We planned to come home together by way of the grocery store. I had plenty of time to enjoy the ride and still cool down and change clothes before abusing the fiddle.

About a mile from home I realized I'd forgotten the rather extensive grocery list. I was still close enough to feel I should sprint back for it. Flip a U-turn, sprint sprint sprint. Yank the door open, stomp up the stairs in my cleats. Snatch the list off the refrigerator door. Stomp back down. Blow out through the door. Fling a leg over the bike. Jab feet into pedals. Sprint sprint sprint. My time cushion had evaporated, especially since I still had to stop at the fuel company to make a monthly propane payment.

The afternoon was sunny and mild. The sun comes in from the southern hemisphere, lighting us with its leftovers. The angled rays bounced off the dark lenses I cruised behind. Hurry. Push. Spin.

Into town I kept working cadence and stance, shifting on the saddle, standing at times, to keep up the pace. I pulled into the parking lot with only a couple of minutes to spare.

All pumped up, heart rate still elevated, I had to maneuver through a small room filled with fragile instruments and music stands. I changed my clothes, pulled my violin out of its case, tensioned the bow and tried a few notes.

Once the cellist got us down to work, I lapsed into concentration on counting, following the line of musical symbols like a singletrack. Mind you, I do not claim to be any good at this. Learning it still makes my life more interesting and brings me some new skills and perspective.

It would be interesting to set up a biathlon event with riding, running or skiing segments connecting music stations. But I guess listening to gunshots or watching archery is easier on the spectators than a whole bunch of bad sight reading.