Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cycling is a Civil Right

A couple of guys in the shop today were telling us Virginia Beach is a horrible place to ride.

"They really don't get it down there," said one. "They really don't want you out there on the road. When I go to visit my sister there, I just don't go out riding."

When I hear a thing like that I immediately want to go there and ride. I want to see if it is as bad as they say or if something about their riding style attracts problems. And if it is as bad as all that, I want to get on the road and assert cyclists' rights.

In driver education, many decades ago, I was told repeatedly that driving is a privilege, not a right. Unsafe and unsociable behavior would lead to loss of driving privileges. This many years later, with the automobile widely assumed to be an indispensable appliance, I wonder if the government could therefore take away someone's right to this ubiquitous transportation device. They do, and not often enough, but that's a constitutional question for another day.

No one has ever said that cycling was a privilege. Walking certainly is not a privilege. And, in our car-centric "civilization," neither one is exactly a treat in many places. Our automotive overlords shower their scorn on us like chickenshit tyrants from within the cabs of their armored limousines. We are asserting a right of free passage on the public right of way. They are rubbing their privileged asses all over us.

In my neighborhood, the drivers are remarkably accommodating, with the usual glaring exceptions. Some spineless, micro-manhood loser will decide to use the power of his vehicle to make up for the inadequacy of his physical and intellectual capacity by ripping by with inches to spare, maybe downshifting noisily or laying on the horn. Or it might be a woman, though that happens less often. And, when summer traffic packs the roads with people "from away," some of them may be inattentive or impatient in the custom of their urban and suburban homelands. But this is generally a pretty nice area for cycling.

My fortunate circumstances don't keep me from identifying with the downtrodden, such as I was in Maryland. The Annapolis area has gotten better in some ways and worse in others. I didn't move to New Hampshire for better cycling. The better cycling was a bit of a surprise.

Today when I listened to our visitors and remembered things I've read about many dangerous riding venues, mostly in the south, I wondered if we could institute our own version of the Freedom Riders. Send activists into areas that need their consciousness raised about cycling. Don't go all Critical Mass on them, but put a large number of cyclists into their traffic mix right away, to jump start the interactions of motorist and cyclist on a more even footing.

Obviously our civil rights position is not as dire as that of African Americans in the 1950s and '60s. But the motorist bigots do injure and kill cyclists and engage in hate speech against us. We are viewed monolithically as bike riders, lumped into one pool of disparaged sub-humanity because of our bikes. Cycling freedom riders could expect to meet violence. The confrontations would bring the dialogue about cyclists' rights to the forefront of the media.

It would be vitally important for the front-line riders of this campaign to behave with the utmost scruples. It can't be just a handful of local kooks who can be taken out separately. It has to be a campaign of organized activity. It has to be in significant numbers.

This is not civil disobedience. Apparently, in some parts of the so-called Land of the Free, the playground bullies have successfully scared the pencil-necked cyclist geeks into giving up their lunch money and cowering in the audio-visual room during recess. What cyclists want to do is legal. What the bullies are doing is not. We just want to use our bikes. Our right slows down their privilege from time to time. That makes us fair game in their eyes.

That ain't right.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Annual Reminder

As the weather gets warmer, remember to be careful when ejecting the products of nasal congestion. Many convertible cars sit much lower than a cyclist. I think I nailed one yesterday. He started to pull over and then decided to move on. I did my best to look apologetic. It really was an accident.

It can also be done tactically. That's completely different.

Detailed assembly makes the rest of life easier

Bikes come from the factory with the pedals, seat and front wheel off. Some of them come in more pieces than that. The shop mechanics have to finish assembling the bike before it can go onto the sales floor.

Assembly is a seasonal ritual. Shops receive preseason orders in the fall or early spring. Depending on the shop's off-season business, mechanics will assemble these bikes over the winter or in the spring.

Faced with a large number of assemblies, and perhaps limited time in which to get them done, one might be tempted to take the shortest route and simply slap on the parts that aren't attached. If you have limited mechanical staff in assembly season, but more and better mechanics when you're actually selling, you might get away with that. Or, if you think your customers won't know the difference and don't require or deserve a bike that's put together well, you can justify taking every short cut.

At the most basic ethical level, the handlebars need to be tight and the brakes have to work. Anything else is gravy. But you leap quickly into a large gray area if the customer actually rides the bike much.

I prefer a more detailed approach. It is better for numerous reasons. You don't know who will buy the bike or how busy the shop will be at the time. A well-assembled bike is less likely to fail prematurely. Breakdowns embarrass the shop as well as possibly imperiling the customer. Why take the chance?

How detailed is detailed enough? Rather than waste time wondering whether this is the time you need to do a good job, why not make a habit of doing a good job?

Grease the seatpost and pedal threads before installing each of those items. If the bike has a quill-type stem, grease that, including the wedge that holds it in the steerer tube.

Before installing the handlebars, make any adjustments to cable routing, such as crossing the shift cables for smoother operation.

Remove the rear wheel from the frame. Remove the cassette or freewheel from the hub. Adjust the hub cones. Start by locking the cone and locknut on the right side, which will be concealed inside the freehub or freewheel body. The right side is more likely to stay properly locked after that, so you can do future adjustments from the accessible left side.

Grease the threads of the cassette lock ring or the freewheel before reinstalling the gear cluster. Set the rear wheel by the truing stand.

Adjust the cones of the front hub. You may have to pop the little rubber dust covers off to get to the locknuts. Just do it.

Before truing the wheels, grip pairs of spokes in your hands and squeeze them as you work your way around the wheel. You'll hear a crackling noise as accumulated stress is released from the spokes. You can perform this procedure with the wheel in the truing stand. You will probably notice that the wheel goes out of true as a result. Give everything another good squeeze and then true the wheel.

With both wheels true, put air in the tires, install the wheels and adjust the brakes. On linear pull brakes it's a good idea to undo the nuts on the threaded posts on the brake pads, grease those threads and reassemble before adjusting pad height and angle. It's a good idea to grease the threads of just about anything with threads.

For linear pull and cantilever brakes, set the pads high on the rim, near the outer edge, so they stay on the braking surface as they wear. On brakes with pivots beside and below the rim, brake pads hit lower as they wear. If they're too low at the start, they will quickly drop below the rim and develop a lip.

For caliper brakes with the pivot bolt centered above the tire, more common on road bikes, the arms come in and up. Set the pads nearer the bottom of the rim.

To eliminate squealing brakes, you may toe the pads slightly so that the end nearer the front of the bike hits slightly sooner. This is more crucial on cheap brakes made of soft metals that deform a lot under braking force.

As stated above, grease the threads of just about everything with threads. This includes water bottle and rack bolts even if no accessory is installed, and the threaded adjusters of brake levers, shifters and derailleurs.

Greased accessory bolts save you that step if you're slapping accessories on a newly-sold bike on an insanely busy day. On the same insanely busy day, well-assembled bikes take far less time to check over with a customer breathing down your neck. Later, when they come back for the free tuneup, a well assembled bike will need virtually nothing unless the customer has damaged it. That's more time saved when impatient people might be standing around tapping their foot.

Greased adjusters work more smoothly and don't corrode as readily if the bike gets used hard or stored carelessly.

Grease the crank arm bolts. They will torque more accurately. Grease the top cap bolt of a threadless headset. Ungreased, those bolts can rust into the star nut.

Why isn't this the bike owner's responsibility? It certainly could be. But most people don't have the time, knowledge or confidence to maintain their own bikes. They depend on the guys at the shop to be trustworthy, courteous and kind, as well as knowledgeable and proud enough of their work to do it well. You're stuck there for hours anyway. Why not do a decent job?

Ironically, shops make less money on expensive, high-end bikes, so they may be more tempted to cut corners on assembly. But if a mechanic follows a standard, high-quality procedure on every bike, he or she knows what's called for and just does it. Speed comes from efficiency, not from leaving stuff out.

It's difficult when an employee has higher standards than the shop that employs him. The shop management then views meticulousness as a liability, or as a quirk they indulge until they lose patience. A shop's reputation depends on what people think of it, not on what they really produce. So friendly goof-ups will have a bigger following than crusty perfectionists. But which bike would you rather be riding down a hill at 20-40 miles per hour?

I confess I do not take apart the cranksets and grease the chain ring bolts unless I'm doing a complete overhaul. Some things are beyond the scope of an ethical assembly. I do it on expensive special-order bikes, but not on routine assemblies. I can justify everything else I do by showing advantages to the shop as well as the consumer. So a word to those who care: grease your chainring bolts.

Even though cycling is a trivial backwater occupied by the dregs of society, I try to imagine what we do matters. Someone truly important might, for reasons of temporary insanity or gross misjudgment, briefly take up cycling in youth or adulthood. In that case we would hold this person's destiny in our greasy hands. Imagine uncaring slackers building and maintaining commercial aircraft, or the highway bridges over which millions of people travel every day. Cynics will say that they already do. I say that in any occupation, more pride in craftsmanship can't hurt.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Variations on a Theme

My Blue, the commuting/traveling fixed gear, and the cellist's Blue, with her regular touring and exploring setup.

Getting the drop on Blue

After trying two arrangements with the time trial bars I really missed having the positions a drop bar offers. I had a set of 46 cm Salsa Bell Lap cyclocross bars left over from a project based on a Cross Check complete bike. The drops flare to a whopping 50 centimeters, which feels pretty weird, but the other proportions of the bar feel pretty good. The weird, wide drops aren't that bad. They actually ease some shoulder strain I get from holding my hands in perfect alignment with my more normal drop bars.

Open-face stems allow for experiments like this. The brake lever clamp is hinged. The whole change took minutes

One drawback to the drop bar: on every other drop bar bike I own I have regular road levers. In any urgent situation I reach automatically for the front brake. With the TT bar the whole setup was strange so I had no automatic response to a crisis. With the drop bar, but no road brake lever, I have been reaching to where the brake lever isn't. One way or another I will get trained out of that.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Buzzing Angrily, Threatening to Sting

Warm weather seems to affect motorists the way it affects hornets: they move faster, more aggressively. They threaten anyone who invades their territory.

Today was the local Bike to Work Day. I saw no one else riding when and where I did. The motorists acted as if the event was meant to concentrate more targets for their inconsiderate or defensive behavior.

The automobile did more than any other factor to advance selfishness. Within decades of the start of the automobile era it was becoming a vital tool for everyone's transportation, not just a luxury for the carriage trade. It not only put a powerful machine in the hands of growing numbers of adults, it sealed them in metal and glass capsules, separate from each other, competing for space both in transit and when trying to park. In subtle and unsubtle ways, other road users became opponents. As racing advanced automotive technology, consumers' cars grew faster and more maneuverable and drivers' expectations rose. Everyone wants to be able to travel as fast as their machine is capable of going, or at least as fast as they feel like going, at all times.

Spring is the season of bloodstained roads. Every day brings new corpses and blood puddles to my route. I've also gotten to witness the actual moment of death several times when I hooked back to rescue a turtle or snake that had ventured into the lane, only to see a car smash it as I approached. The most recent was today when I spotted a newly-hatched snapping turtle smaller than a silver dollar as I rode to the bank. The car that snuffed it just smashed its head. I don't blame the driver for not seeing it. The operators of sensory deprivation tanks have enough trouble seeing cyclists and pedestrians, let alone tiny reptiles almost the color of pavement. Every driver has an excuse for peening an animal. Creatures come out in dusk or darkness. Many have colors that conceal them, or defensive habits unsuited to the hazards we bring to them. Porcupine spines or land crab claws don't repel a ton of steel moving at 60 miles per hour. Skunk stink presents an inconvenience at best. Our senses dulled behind the glass, we can't react quickly enough to the unpredictable darting of squirrels and hopping of frogs, or the unidentifiable lumps of reptiles.

The riding is beautiful. The weather improves daily. Even the setbacks to colder, wetter conditions set us less far back each time. The scent of flowers and the sound of birds define the character of the season as life reaches out in all directions. That part is great. Just watch out for the swarms of hard-shelled aggressors.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tooling Up

After many years of bitching and improvising, I just ordered a compressor and a grinder. The relatively major purchase inspires me to reflect on how my workshop has grown over the years.

When I finally started to pay close attention to bicycles in 1975, I realized this was a vehicle anyone could maintain with ease, even when living in a small apartment. A few special tools were required, but they were relatively cheap and would pay for themselves many times over as I did my own repairs at my own convenience.

I don't remember the exact order of purchase, but I bet cone wrenches came high on the list. Hub overhauls and adjustments are simple procedures. I needed a freewheel tool to remove whatever type of freewheel I was running at the time.

Somewhere in there I got a fixed-cup and lock ring spanner, and a 32mm and pin spanner so I could service the bottom bracket and headset. Later I got a second 32mm, with a 15mm pedal wrench on the other end. I'd gotten a crank puller with my first alloy cotterless crank. You got a lot of goodies with a component purchase back then. Later I got the Park universal one.

Early on, I recognized the value of the "fourth hand" cable tensioner. I'd bought a third hand to hold the brake pads against the rim, but found myself using it less and less once I could manipulate everything through cable tension. I use it from time to time when the fourth hand doesn't quite apply, so it still earns a place on the pegboard.

I would post pics of my workshop arrangement if I was proud of it. It's barely a step above chaos, however. With the compressor and grinder I will shift a number of operations out to the detached garage to keep the noise and dust level lower in the house. The next priority will be to insulate said garage so I can work there in the winter and so things don't freeze solid. Alternatively, since funds are perennially tight, I might just bring the compressor into the crawl space and mothball it for the winter. At 20 below zero my garage is 20 below zero until I institute some climate control. But that problem is months away.

For many years my tool purchases slowly filled larger and larger tool boxes. Now I have two with drawers, one a 2-drawer, the other a 3-drawer, plus about a dozen drawers in a weird gray cabinet that came off a trash pile 20 years and five or six dwellings ago. Those drawers are about 10 inches wide and perhaps a foot long, and about three or four inches deep. Half of them are full of small parts like chains, cogs, freewheels, half-eaten headsets, cup-and-cone bottom brackets, miscellaneous derailleurs and so forth.

In addition to the bike-specific tools I have the basic mechanic's outlay, circa 1974, suggested by my far more mechanically-inclined brother. He spent many years driving Model A Fords all over the eastern half of the country, and could rebuild anything, anywhere, on those simple machines. In the mid-1970s, even what passed for modern cars would yield their secrets to ordinary hand tools much of the time. So I had basic metric and English socket sets, assorted screwdrivers, pliers, box-open spanners, hacksaw, and, once I had the Triumph Spitfire, the indispensable CIRCLIP PLIERS. With a 9/16 box-open wrench, a medium screwdriver and a set of circlip pliers you could probably tear down and rebuild the entire car. Oh yes, and let's not forget the ball-peen hammer, vise grips and other implements of destruction.

Spoke wrenches came on the scene within a couple of years. Wheelbuilding is the last mystery short of torch work. Once you can do that you are completely independent until the bike industry finally manages to quit making and supporting normal crap and fences us off from self-sufficiency forever. But with all the product out there based on tried and true methods, I don't see that happening soon, if ever. Only the speed freaks who have to have eggshell frames and tweaky, weird wheels will have to haunt their dealers, with hollow eyes and grasping fingers. "You gotta hook me up, man! My bike has started to feel HEAVY to me! You don't unnerstan'!"

My heart goes out to you poor bastards. Get some help, okay?

As the spoke wrench goes, so goes the truing stand. Shell out for a decent one and treat it right.

I did cough up for the big-boy professional shop-type work stand. Not everyone can do that, but get as close as you can. It might be better to buy the shop-type arm that bolts to your bench than to get a folding stand with a lesser clamp. Use the big-dog, iron-base shop stand as your standard and work from there.

At the other end of the work stand scale, you can hang your bike from a cord tied to a nail driven into the top of a doorway to perform many adjustments. You can't apply a lot of torque, as when setting a fixed cup in an old-style BB or seating a cartridge-type BB, but you can pop a wheel out, and adjust gears and brakes. I did that for decades.

Before I had a headset press I knocked cups into the frame with a block of wood and a hammer. Bear in mind the damage you could do with a ricochet.

After decades in the bike business I have acquired most of the heavy tools for basic handling of steel frames. I have the BB reamer-facer, the taps to chase BB threads, head tube reamer-facer, crown race setters, some tubing tweakers for various applications and I still have a shopping list. Torch work I have yet to master.

I have no illusions about becoming a master frame builder, or even a minor one. My torch aspirations extend to minor repairs like dropout replacement and braze-on installation on the rare frame these days that might not have every imaginable nubbin on it. As such it has not been as high a priority as some other lines of endeavor outside of cycling. I like cycling to support my life, not be my life. The extent of my tools is probably overkill for mere independent maintenance, but not by much. I've found occasion to use just about everything at least once. And I do pick up side jobs from time to time.

My addiction to the QBP account keeps me chained to the shop. That and the other wholesale sources are my pipeline to fresh parts when other sources like scavenging won't suffice. But with a full arsenal of tools I could tackle the parts issue by other means if I lost access to the easy ones. Knowledge is freedom.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Keepin' it real

There's a big cat litter box in the middle of my work space. Nothing like a tray of crap to remind you not to get too high falutin'.

Alternative Transportation: Any Number Can Play

When I do something, I ask myself what would happen if everyone did it. When I ride my bike or walk somewhere instead of taking a motor vehicle I feel perfectly confident that everyone could do it with only beneficial results.

Realists and panic-stricken cycling opponents who screech that the bike nazis want to force them to ride will point out that everyone can't do it, so the argument is meaningless. Amazing what foaming revulsion pours out of some people when you merely suggest that they try doing something other than driving to the parking space closest to the entrance to their destination and trundling their bodies across that small distance to the doorway. True, everyone can't take advantage of healthy and enjoyable non-motorized transportation. The real prisoners of motorization must be accommodated as gently as possible into a healthier transportation mix. In a truly fair society we would each take our turn doing the motorized drudgery to try to liberate as many people as possible at least part of the time to get out and take a spin.

If everyone rode and walked we would have a system designed to accommodate that as a primary mode, not an afterthought. We would have secure parking facilities. Bikes would mutate by region so that reasonable types for each climate and terrain would dominate in their local environment. I see no down side there. Nor would the bike industry. They would have a better idea what would sell where, and how many to build.

Humans excel at creating down sides. The darker aspects of our character assure that someone will figure out how to spoil anything. But the positives of human-powered transportation far outweigh the negatives. Even in the nastiest multi-bike pileups in races, fatalities and serious injuries are rare. The worst accidents among transportation cyclists usually involve motor vehicles. Improper riding contributes greatly to the incidence of serious accidents. Education and travel-way design will help reduce problems.

Theft of bicycles and assault on cyclists already discourage some participants. Secure parking facilities address the theft problem in areas where one could ride to the facility and proceed on foot for errands in the vicinity. Assault simply grows out of the aforementioned dark aspects of human character. You might be somewhat safer sealed in your armored vehicle, but statistics on carjacking show that you might just get stuck somewhere the savages could get at you in spite of the illusion of safety created by locked doors and breakable glass. If you can't make a quick getaway, you're a sitting duck. Feel safe now?

Cars and trucks offer greater cargo and passenger capacity. Cars and trucks can cover ground more quickly on clear roads. Cars and trucks in some form are not going away. But anyone, at any time, can walk or pedal without contributing to any problems. Any number can play. It's a rare instance of infinite capacity. Why not take advantage of it?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Odd Things from the Shop

This dried pickle impaled on a plastic fork had been sitting on the desk in the workshop for an unknown length of time when I got to work on Wednesday. It remained there until some time Thursday morning.

This first-generation Rapidfire shifter seemed to be suffering from the congealed-grease condition we call "earwax." If you look closely, you will see that it also harbored some sort of mud-encased insect larva or pupa and some debris that might have come from another insect on which it had fed. Unfortunately, I don't think it was an earwig. That would have been too appropriate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Strange Relationship with Rain

People seem surprised when I ride on a rainy day. You'd think that was literal acid, not just acid rain coming out of the sky. It's just water. In mild weather you can dress for it. In hot weather you can just get wet.

Some rainy days seem like more fun than others. On a good rainy day I charge into it like a doped favorite in a spring classic. On a less good day I lurch forward like the same favorite in his burnt-out declining years. It's all riding.

Yesterday my real rain bike had a flat tire when I pulled it off the hook to head out on a sunny morning. The forecast called for showers by the evening commute. Fortunately I could slap clip-on fenders on Blue. I put a rack on Blue last week. So I had a fixed gear for the wet work, should the wet work happen.

Showers were more like steady rain. Our high in the 70s never happened, so my conservative layering options turned out to be just enough for the soaking I got on the ride home. Temperatures in the 50s, especially with rain, drag a lot more heat out of you than you might expect.

The clip-on front fender actually seemed to direct the flow of water off the front tire onto my feet. I don't recall that it does that on other bikes, and I can't think how it might sit differently on this one. I could puzzle over that as I pushed along, slowly saturating. At least the fender kept the spray from coming right around and splashing in my face, as it would if I had no protection at all.

A kind friend stopped to see if I wanted to hitch a lift with her on Route 28. I thanked her, but said that I was about to get to the good part. At the height of land I get to flip the wheel to high gear. The tailwind fell disappointingly short of the 30 miles per hour we'd been told to expect, but at least it was something. I'd been looking forward to it all day. So I pushed on.

The rain intensified. The weather will have its laugh at my expense. But it's okay. I was on a fixed gear. I had tights and a jacket. Everything was soaked, but I knew I could stay ahead of the chill for long enough to get home.

Here it is, May, and I was building a fire in the wood stove. It was a bit of overkill, but I have nails in the floor joists around the wood stove area so I can hang things to dry. I peeled off the dripping layers, wrung out the gloves and socks, hung the jacket, vest, tights and shorts and proceeded gratefully to a hot shower. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Rest of Wednesday

Five children are motherless after a 41-year-old woman was murdered in Wolfeboro last Sunday. I was not in town that day, so I missed the first surge of shock, sadness and anger that rumbled across what had been a placid town on Mother's Day. We'd gotten a hint here in Effingham, because a friend of ours had come through town and seen all the police activity around the house on North Main Street where the crime occurred. At that point, as far as we knew, it could have been a medical emergency, but the presence of a lot of law enforcement implied it was more than that.

The story evolved on local television over the next two days. In a small town, everyone meets at least once, it seems. The murder victim had brought bikes in for service. I couldn't recall any details, but that's often a good sign. The high maintenance whiners often leave the strongest impression.

The Gossip News Network has already arrested, tried, convicted and executed a suspect, but the official investigation is more circumspect.

The bike shop is a quiet backwater. My regular route to and from work doesn't take me past the taped-off house or the growing memorial across the street from it. Ours is not a place where large numbers of people pass through and discuss events. We have our own discussions of topics lofty and lowly, but we often subsist on crumbs of both news and gossip.

Wednesday passed quietly. Only the sight of a police helicopter hovering for many minutes over Back Bay reminded us of the drastic changes in some people's lives less than a quarter-mile from the shop.

Officially there is no single theory about the crime. Unofficially, opinion leans heavily toward domestic violence.

In our greasy little bubble of mechanical toil, nothing seemed different. Stuff still needed to be fixed. We still got hungry and thirsty, puzzled over mechanical challenges, told jokes, farted, scratched and watched the helicopters. A breath of solemnity would occasionally cool the room. But really, all most of us can do is watch and wait. And wonder: who will turn out to have done this, and why?

Murder is always an unforgivably selfish act. This becomes most obvious in a small town. Festive events of the springtime are now completely disrupted. From the devastating impact on the lives of those closest to the victim the waves roll outwards. Local observance of Bike to Work Day has been postponed a week because of memorial events this weekend. An annual canoe race may not be canceled or delayed, but certainly it won't be the light-hearted demonstration of all levels of paddling ability we look forward to every year. These are trivial pursuits next to the anguish someone felt compelled to create. A small community emphasizes how we're all in this together, even if you didn't think you were in it before.

For many of the observers, the emotions are more a matter of principle than actual personal impact. Life goes on. Closing time comes and it's time to ride home.

All I had to do was make it home. I didn't have to rush to get to a meeting. I did have some stuff to write up for the conservation commission, but my main objective was to get to the couch. I pushed easy gears as I headed out.

On Route 28 I was startled to hear a rider say hello. I turned to see Vincent, one of the local group that goes out virtuously early on Sunday mornings. I gave that up years ago in favor of the cellist's delicious breakfasts and another day of virtuous transportation cycling. I don't have the energy to sprint to Wolfe City in time to meet a 6:30 or 7 a.m. ride, ride the ride, work the day and ride home. I hate to waste an opportunity to commute by bike by driving to a ride. Hence I see little of the hammering crowd, except when they break something. It's all good.

"You been getting out much?" I asked.

"About three days a week," he said. "That's a lot better than last year."

Some years are like that. Vincent is some kind of international business dude and he has a family. So it's good to see him figuring out a way to schedule regular riding. So much of the rest of life squeezes in on riding time. You have to go through the peloton of life with your elbows out to make sure you have a space through which to pedal toward the front.

The good part was that Vincent was not inclined to hammer. He was on about 19 pounds of carbon and aluminum racing bike. I was on about 30 pounds of chromoly, dirty laundry and road grime. When he took a hit at the front, a smell of clean laundry wafted off of him. I guarantee he did not have the same experience behind me. A lot of the time we rode next to each other, or at least partly overlapped, so we could chat. It was a nice change from my usual solitary grind.

After about six miles he peeled off to complete his loop back to Wolfe City. I continued to follow the homing beacon of the couch.

0-39 in 40 minutes

Coming out of my days off, I had rested my legs, but hadn't slept enough. My heart beat slowly, heavily as I warmed up.

Traffic seemed surprisingly heavy for the time of day. It wasn't bad in my neighborhood, but thickened up on the highway. It wasn't thick by urban standards, but thicker than it has been. In summer the population of the area more than doubles. Around the lakes themselves, seasonal residents and visitors outnumber the locals at least five to one. The real surge won't hit until schools are out.

My legs felt strong, but the rest of me wanted to go back to bed. I was making fairly good time in spite of that. The morning was cool and pleasant, mostly sunny.

Nearing Wolfeboro, traffic slowed where utility workers had blocked a lane and were letting only one direction pass at a time. A dump truck passed me as we moved into the waiting line. Two or three more vehicles got ahead of me. I wanted that truck, but I knew I would kill myself if I tried to sprint after it. I plodded on, watching the situation ahead. The vehicles stopped. The traffic controller turned his handheld sign to release us. The gaps through which I might get to the dump truck didn't look attractive.

A van from a local glass company was right in front of me. What the hell, I figured. Let's see how it goes.

The line of traffic accelerated gradually. I clicked to high gear quickly so I would be ready for a jump. I figured I would hang on as long as I could and then peel off. That turned out to be at least a mile.

Snug in the pocket behind the van I could not see past it. I assumed the big dump truck was controlling our speed from farther up in the line. When the van finally accelerated beyond what I could manage with my gearing and tired cardiovascular system, I dropped back and drifted to the right. That's when I was able to see that the van had been maintaining that speed purposely to work with me. The rest of the string of vehicles was long gone. I waved thanks and farewell as the van pulled away.

More on the workday and the ride home in another post. I'm running late to leave for this one.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Playing games with the weather again

The radar looked like a cartoon explosion. The sky looked like the Apocalypse. The cyclists had waited too long to leave, but it still looked like a race we might win on our separate courses.

If we hadn't waited until closing time to order the 54 cm Truckaccino Long Haul Trucker we would have ridden under clear skies. We were going to do it at lunch, but in a bike shop on a Saturday you eat when you have the chance. It got to be afternoon, then late afternoon, then closing time.

I'd ridden the Cross Check today because the forecast called for a chance of strong thunderstorms with small hail and winds gusting over 30 miles per hour. In case I did get caught in something like that I wanted to be on a bike the wind wouldn't toss around, with some high gears to take advantage of a big tailwind.

I couldn't believe how quickly the churning gray mass had sped across Vermont and half of New Hampshire. Its looming menace inspired me to sprint from the start. I know my legs will bitch at me later. More than they're bitching now, that is.

The bike path, for all its shortcomings, goes straight out of town without a single real hill. To gain a little in this lopsided race, I zigged my way to it. I terrorized dog walkers and strolling citizens who seemed oblivious to the spreading mass of turbulent clouds building a wall of gray that would topple as soon as it was tall enough, like the proverbial ton of bricks. Of course I slowed down for all the pedestrians, but they always seem so nettled by a swift cyclist, even one that hovers politely while passing.

The wind was mostly behind, me, as I'd hoped it would be. It wasn't very strong yet, but even eight to 13 miles per hour takes that much off the wind you're cutting through. Stronger gusts momentarily provided that feeling of drafting a huge, invisible truck. Real trucks and cars dragged more air with them. Some of them seemed surprised at how close I stayed to them, for so long.

Out on Route 28 a small car passed at a comfortable distance. The right rear window opened a little and a hand tossed something out. It didn't act like a missile.

It was a flower.

I'm a sentimental idiot. In all my years of riding, with all the things people have thrown, no one's thrown me a flower. It was a red tulip. Even with an epic squall line bearing down, I turned back to see if I could pick it up.

The blossom lay a couple of feet from the center line. Before I could go out to it I had to wait for a car that came up from the south as I got off my bike. The wheels missed it, but the blast of 60-mile-per-hour wind from it exploded the tulip into all its botanical parts. So much for that. I hopped back on the bike and pounded it back up to speed for the climbs ahead.

The wall of clouds leaned further and further. No more delays. It looked like it was too late already.

Okay, one more delay. The traffic light at the junction of routes 28 and 16 has been detecting me on the Cross Check this season. Not today, though. I circled over the sensor until I was dizzy. Inconveniently spaced cars passed on 16, preventing me from blowing the light.

I saw a group of vehicles coming up 28. The first one had a left turn signal showing. I hooked around the end of the median so I could slip in behind my traffic light buddies. As I did so I saw the light had finally relented to give me a green, but I was now headed the wrong way in the other lane. I sprinted down to the end of the divider so I could hook back in behind the cars now vacating the intersection. I was so jacked up I stayed with them for about a hundred yards.

And the rain began.

I hadn't bagged anything in my packs except my cell phone. Nothing else would suffer too badly from some dampness. The best thing I could do was keep hammering. The rain thought the same thing. We both hammered for the three remaining miles.

Jim Ayyy had more of an adventure. His route went straight into the storm. He said it was blinding, but he was laughing with the energy of the storm and the race against it. He'd just gotten a dry bag this week. Perfect timing.

The Office

From the Scrap Pile to the Road

Beater bikes are made, not born. Jim Ayyy has been considering his options for a rainy day bike and finally started piecing together his first junk box custom attempt on Arf's old Super Course frame.

Only the frame and fork were together, with a headset that had to be replaced.

Crank arms match in length and basic type, but not in crank of origin.

Jim Ayyy hasn't totally settled on a drive system yet. The fixed gear intimidates him on his hilly route. It's worse than mine, so I don't blame him for his reluctance. That's okay. A bike is more than the sum of its parts, but those parts can be combined in a multitude of ways.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Your Beauty Sleep

The way I feel in the morning reminds me that rest is a vital part of the training cycle.

Transportation and commuting cyclists might think they're exempt from training schedules. In cooperative terrain, over fairly short distances, that's probably true. But as you age you will notice slopes and distances you formerly considered trivial. If you ride a longer average daily distance over bigger hills you can easily fall into a destructive pattern in which you ride at moderately high intensity all the time.

Traffic cycling often feels like a race. Dense traffic feels like a criterium, but even on the open road I find that motorists seem more respectful if I maintain a good cadence and appear strong. That doesn't mean charging every hill in the big ring. That takes a lot out of you and still looks feebly slow to the pilot of a ridiculously over-powered motor vehicle. Just maintain good pressure on the pedals and keep your head up. Day after day, mile after mile, that's enough to sap you by the end of the week if you don't stretch and rest when you get home.

The effect comes on gradually. You might hammer through your thirties and most of your forties on caffeine and over the counter pain meds (or worse), but at some point you will have to accommodate the realities of physiology.

Racers face this fact early in their careers or they have no career. To race successfully, even as field fodder, you can't beat the crap out of yourself all the time and expect to have any pop on race day. My own results were mediocre, but I learned that principle from a member of the US Olympic cycling team for 1980. A few of us in Annapolis were fortunate to ride with Thomas Prehn when he lived there. He taught us right away to avoid the "half fast" pace that breaks you down without the benefit of a well-defined difference between effort and rest.

Unfortunately, the half fast pace can afflict many commuters trying to keep their schedule. On my commute I face the same hills over the same 14.3 miles. Leaving my rural neighborhood I share the road with people who act like they just got home from NASCAR fantasy camp, on a somewhat hilly two-lane road. Three miles of that leads to state highways for about seven miles before density begins to pick up again going into Wolfeboro. The road narrows sharply as the traffic packs into one of three primary feeder routes into town. It's a small town, but it strangles a couple of numbered highways, so traffic in or out of town mixes with frustrated drivers just passing through. It's a place to keep your elbows out and your attitude up.

Going home I add some distance to avoid some tight spots. The longest route makes about a 34-mile day with a really stiff climb on the way home. That route is quite restful, because the nasty climb is on a dirt road through the woods, but it's still a tad over 17 miles with a lot of climbing after a long day on my feet at work.

Standing up for hours after sprinting to work fills my legs with the chemicals of fatigue. I have to carve out a few minutes here and there to stretch a little during the day.

Interestingly, riding the fixed gear bike a couple of days a week seems to help loosen things up. Maybe the fact that it forces the legs to move constantly helps flush out the muscles on the downhills rather than letting them sit idle as they would while coasting on a freewheel bike. Even so, after yesterday's sprint on the rain bike and last night's long zoning board meeting my legs feel like they've been pummeled. Today needs to be a rest day. Ideally I will hit the rollers and then stretch after I get home tonight. Either that or pop 12 ounces of carbohydrate beverage and hit the couch. As long as I elevate my legs it counts as part of training.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spring on Winter Road

Winter Road is a short connector that bypasses a nasty wall on Green Mountain Road. The problem with the steep climb is that a motor vehicle could come ripping up beside you on the narrow road as another one launches off the lip of the drop above you. That could get all kinds of ugly. So it's a great excuse to take a gentler grade beside a small stream in an attractive little ravine.

Coming the other way, I just launch off the drop. The trees are sparse enough for me to scope out the intersection with Winter Road at the bottom. I can also get a view down the road to see if anyone is coming who might turn in front of me. It's actually safer than trying to make the left turn onto Winter Road when someone might come barreling down Highwatch Road as you're trying to make a tight left over the ever-present patch of sand.

This seemed interesting

We've never gotten a box that said this. The bike inside was disappointingly ordinary.

Two for the Road

The Traveler's Check

And an exploring bike for a friend

Knock Down, Drag Out

The cellist's Traveler's Check is finished. I need to get a picture of it for the records and to post here. So that's one knocked down.

A triathlete who trusts me to do her race prep has picked up her bike and paid for it. Two down.

The MTB I'm putting together for the Conservation Commission chairman is still on the stand. I hoped to deliver it after last night's meeting, but it is dragging out an extra day. That's because the previous two jobs also dragged out.

I need a BB and to build a wheel to get the cellist's fixed gear ready enough for her to use. She will have to swap the seat and post, and front wheel, from her TC to use the fixed gear built on her old Cross Check frame.

If I get wicked motivated I might build up the front wheel for her fixie, too. I brought home a couple of salvageable 36-hole used hubs. If one of them comes out feeling smooth enough after the overhaul, I can nab a fistful of spokes and throw it all together.

Once she picks a new saddle she'll have two complete bikes.

I just need to quit fooling around on the computer and get back to work.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Compulsive Wrenching?

Today I figured I would jump on the task of transferring the multi-gear setup from the cellist's old Cross Check to her new Traveler's Check. It should be simple, and it mostly is, but these things always seem to spawn complications.

A second work stand would come in very handy. Because the frames are functionally identical, if I could have both of them on a stand I could swing from one to the other almost as fast as I could turn.

I'm not sure the downtube shifter bosses on the newer frame are an improvement. The old split stops permit you to slip the housing out for easy cable cleaning. How many people are really going to install downtube shifters? Still, I support the retro rider. If someone might want downtube shifters, they'll need a place to put them.

Somehow in any of these projects I find myself pushing on into the night, greasy and faintly queasy, pushing to get the bike or bikes functional as quickly as possible. It will all be good when it's finished, but in the meantime the patient is all cut open on life support.

Heck with it. I need to knock off for tonight and put in a big day tomorrow.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Thank you, engineers!

Led by the irrepressible pranksters at Shimano, proprietary shifting systems infected the bike industry starting in the 1980s and reached pandemic proportions in the 1990s after the introduction of the first Rapidfire shifters. That innovation has been responsible for more misery than anything, including the hard, narrow racing saddle.

Bike componentry has always invited some compatibility issues, with things like French thread, Italian bottom bracket shells, crank spindle lengths and whatnot. But the C word, Compatibility, took on a larger, more ominous meaning once shifters had to be perfectly coordinated with derailleurs and with the number of cogs in the whole system. The more gears you cram into the same space, the more precise everything needs to be.

To make matters worse, the Big S can't even keep its own products consistent from year to year.

A customer came in two days ago because the front derailleur on the Long Haul Trucker I'd built for him had ceased to function. It's a Tiagra 9-speed over a Deore LX two-piece crank. It had worked perfectly until the tiny tab that retains the return spring snapped off, sticking him in the large chain ring.

He stopped in on his way home from work. I had a Tiagra front derailleur in stock, so I told him I could slap it on in about ten minutes. It's true. I could. But Shi-no has changed the derailleur so it no longer swings out far enough to clear the chain in the highest gear.

An LX derailleur failed to work because Shi---!@#@!# road shifters aren't compatible with their own mountain derailleurs.

A two-piece crank can't be tweaked inward, only slightly outward. That won't help me here.

The plug-and-play turned into more than an hour of slogging before I sent him on his way with the chain stuck on one front chainring while I compile some parts to see if I can get this mess to work.

Shift in friction unless you're racing. Barcons are plenty convenient and won't give you ANY of these headaches.


Looking at the bike I see two options. I was going to fashion eccentric shims to space the derailleur over, but I notice the BB has spacers I can stack in different (unsanctioned) configurations. Let's hope that doesn't spin up some worse problem. At least it's a place to start.

UPDATE II: 11:46 EDT -- Lesson 1: Look carefully at the complete assembly and all related structures. Lesson 2: Throw away the instructions.

Moving the shims seems to have worked. I've sent a test pilot who fits the bike better than I do and who is interested in purchasing one. He has not reported yet.

FINAL WORD: Test pilot reported full front derailleur function. Customer required one minor tweak. I should have caught the shim thing the first day, but I had put myself in a time crunch by offering to knock out what I thought would be a quick, simple fix. Those are the ones that always go out of control.

Just Another Day

It's been a quiet season so far.

Last year we had gasoline prices ratcheting upward, coupled with media coverage of global warming. The economy had been shaky and was about to crumble, so people were worried about money even if they weren't yet sure why. All that added up to a minor increase in bike sales and a major increase in repair and reconditioning. The repair shop hadn't been that busy since the late 1990s.

With fuel prices relatively low and stable, the economy in the toilet and global warming apparently an ignored fact of life, bicycles don't have the fashionable appeal they briefly enjoyed last year. Customers are buying in small numbers. No category dominates. Of course most people want the types we have in smaller quantities.

The bike manufacturers have cut back on their stock, so some styles are already unavailable for special order.

The big wave of repair work has not arrived yet. One summer camp has brought a small fleet of bikes to us for annual service, but other camps have yet to be heard from. All this can change in a day. On some days, customers arrive every ten minutes to add a bike or two to the repair queue. That's when triage becomes important.

Today is rainy. The repair docket was nearly empty when I left work yesterday. So far, a repair or two has arrived each time we've cleared the board this season. We just haven't had a swarm yet. The trees are flowering. Some leaves have come out. The black flies are here. The shop owners whinge about finances. The mechanics burn their brain cells trying to make modern, sophisticated bike componentry actually work.

It's just another day.