Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy New Year, by the way

Although the calendar doesn't change for another few days, I think of the new year beginning at the moment the Earth passes the point at which sunlight begins its long crawl back toward the northern hemisphere. From the winter solstice onward, those who variously like or seriously crave daylight get a little more each day.

The change is imperceptible at first. By the second week of January the change is obvious. As much as short little February seems to stretch eternally, followed by about 40 days of March, the lengthening days of winter hold quite a bit of hope and energy.

This year I had a very sluggish late fall. Every year I want to sit quietly and think during the ultimate slowing of the year, but this year I really crunched to a halt, mentally and physically. All my plans for creative activity by lamp light came to nothing. Based on conversations with people I know, I was not the only one.

One friend of mine, a sort of Episco-Buddhist-Zen-Wiccan, told me she was unbelievably torpid this year. But, she said, on the next day after the winter solstice, she suddenly felt a return of energy. She acknowledges the many reasons she could feel this way. Knowing that the corner has been turned heads the list. But she and I had both experienced the phenomenon with a more rounded bottom curve in most years. I, too, felt unaccountably perky the day after the solstice.

Mind you, it's no miracle cure. It's far from complete. But for the first time in weeks, on December 23 I actually felt like moving my body in a more constructive way than simply dragging it from bed to coffee pot, coffee pot to work, work to home and flopping into bed for an unsatisfying doze ending in joint pain and another crawl toward caffeine. Perhaps soon I will follow the transitory feeling with action.

Big snow is apparently on its way, to open the ski trails and stimulate some needed cash flow into the company coffers. Whether winter will truly build and maintain usable ski conditions remains to be seen. Somehow, no matter what the winter does these days, it's still easier to scrape up a sense of purpose once December is piled by the curb.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You're never alone in your car

Most people need a little time to themselves.

The bike commute serves that vital function for me. It combines transportation to work with healthful exercise and energized thinking. The mind works differently when the body is working too, as opposed to just sitting.

When you're driving, you're never alone, even if you're alone in your car. Everyone is in their tin cans, buzzing along nose to tail, often pissed off at each other for miles of forced company. Whatever they think of me on my bike, the encounter doesn't last long. Mostly they ignore me. Except when I have to control the traffic, I get them past me as quickly as possible. That's a lot harder to do when I'm driving the same size vehicle they are, at roughly the same speed.

For the next couple of months I will not have a fraction of the exercise or the justifiable separate but equal use of the public right of way that make life much more endurable in bike season. Even on a back road I could see the unwelcome glare of lights coming up fast behind me. On the major roads I can count on getting embedded in crazy trains of drivers who learn more from watching close tactics in NASCAR races than from the wisdom of following distance when driving in the real world.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Division of labor

More years ago than I like to count, when I was just starting at this temporary job, the manager came into the back shop to find me reading the Quality catalog or some other technically rich publication.

"I don't mind you educating yourself," he said. "But my mother and father don't understand why you're back here reading a magazine."

This was on a day during the busy 1990s, when innovation swept the bike industry like projectile vomiting and diarrhea through a cruise ship. I wasn't just wasting time with a romance novel. I was reloading with vital ammunition for both the sales and service departments.

During that era, the manager raced road bikes fairly regularly and mountain bikes very casually. A skier by preference, he had taken to cycling as off-season training with a little more dedication than many skiers show, but he cared little more for the technicalities than I did, and I didn't care too deeply. We soon acquired a younger mechanic who was a much more active mountain bike racer who helped his two geezer shop mates keep in touch with trends. I, in turn, helped him put his mania for new technology in perspective, with the help of a lot of that very same technology.

One day in or around 1995 he was just finishing the assembly of a Cannondale full suspension bike.

"A year ago I would have thought this bike was just totally cool. I would have wanted one," he said. "Now I just look at it and wonder where it's going to break."

I've never been so proud.

In the passing years, the management grew accustomed to my apparent lack of industriousness when it kept paying off. When people came in looking for answers, I could provide them. It may not have been what they wanted to hear, but I did my best to be sure it was well thought out, solid and consistent.

Meanwhile, the shop has to run. The manager withdrew more from the wrenching side of the business as the business side took more attention. He also enjoys the sales floor more than I do. Despite the fact that he's been through three carbon frames and a trip to the ICU in the past five years, he's still fully confident in the material. He's down to earth enough to have avoided getting caught up in the tubular tire craze, but he has no complaints about brifters and skinny, expensive chains made out of tinsel. He finds the bright side of the products the industry insists on producing rather than wasting his time on resistance and subversion.

Each of us has a full-time job keeping this battered lifeboat afloat. Aside from the manager's parents, the other staff members also have vital tasks, but they haven't been in skiing, cycling or the related industries long enough to have the fluency that comes from a lifetime thoroughly squandered in self-propelled travel sports. If I'd known this was all I was going to amount to, I would have paid more attention. It was, after all, just a temporary job for rent and beer money while I got ready for much cooler things to happen to me. Even so, rolling along like a ball of rubber cement, a lot of stuff has stuck to me. Maybe feeling like an outsider all this time has given me the perspective to stay out of the industry's seductive web of addictive doodads and obsessively narrow focus.

The manager now piles up publications for us all to read. There's more to work than just looking like you're working.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We learn from our customers

I'm not a gear addict. During the innovation avalanches of the 1990s I just waited for the rubble to settle and then learned how to fix all the crap that landed on the pile. I let customer inquiries guide my research. It still seems like the best approach. Whatever someone brings to my attention I judge by the same basic principles.

I really appreciate the enthusiasts who bring us the news. They help gather and filter more results than we could on our own. The ones who actually buy things from us also help us decide what to keep in stock.

In the 1990s the interaction was more hostile. The challenging customer would come in with an attitude, to see if we were hip enough to deserve his business. We still get a little of that, but not for long, because we rapdly fail the hipness test and see them no more. Competition between shops was harsh. Customers played shops against each other. Gossip was rampant. We still gathered intelligence using field operatives and informants, both willing and unwitting. It was simply more defensive. I don't miss that.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Driven to Distraction

My last ride was November 23. It seems longer ago than that.

We went to visit my wife's foodie relatives in Vermont for Thanksgiving. That involved a lot of fine food and drink and no major exertion at all. I'm not complaining. They don't trust us with the really good wine, but they didn't hold back on a highly satisfactory single malt scotch. The turkey was locally raised and very fresh. Their palates wouldn't let them serve utter swill for table wine, even though they didn't present the pride of their cellars.

Speaking of utter swill, I've decided to order the SRAM iLight generator hub. Using the wine analogy, in order to discover for yourself that great $2 bottle, you risk drinking a lot of swill. The only information I've been able to dig up on the iLight has indicated it might be a really good value. The only way to know for sure is to build up a wheel and put it to the test.

Other factors than my aversion to swallowing the Shimano Kool Aid went into this decision. Of the three major contenders for my hub dollar, Schmidt, Shimano and SRAM, only Schmidt and SRAM offered a rim-brake hub with 36 holes. Overkill? Perhaps. But what if I move the rig to a loaded tourer? It might still be overkill, given that front wheels just seem to go forever. I still want to support the vanishing 36-hole species.

I got additional support for the beefier wheel when I stepped onto the scale at my doctor's office yesterday and faced the effects of the decadent living in Vermont and my own reduced riding and depressive snacking. Even though I don't get caught up in a lot of holiday madness, I seem to lose my whole routine during the time between mid November and the beginning of January. It must be endemic to the winter solstice. If I lived on a tropical island with no calendar, I wonder if I would be able to float along in a steady routine without these unrequested fluctuations.

I actually enjoy a little hibernation. It's unnatural to be buffed and aggressive all year. Nothing like the end of November and most of December to provoke quiet contemplation. And comfort eating.

I've been on the rollers a couple of times. No doubt I'll figure out what to do as the winter evolves. If the roads stay clear enough I'll get out on the faithful fixed gear as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nothing up my sleeve...except the rest of my jacket

For what it's worth, I came up with this simple, obvious way to turn my wind jacket into a streamlined bundle for easier carrying on the rear rack of my wet weather bike.

As easy as 1



I usually just roll it and tie it around my waist, but the day was a little warm and I didn't want to block my jersey pockets.

Sleeve-stuffing turns the jacket into a more tubular bundle than any other method, and perfectly restrains extraneous flappy bits.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thinking about the hub

The dynamo hub seems like a good move to streamline my on-board light system. The bottle generator won't go to waste. It can move to the rain bike, on which I already run more rugged tires that may stand up to the wire-brush wet weather drive roller offered by Peter White.

In the world of generator hubs, the Schmidt SON seems to be the gold standard. My budget does not extend to gold, so I have to shop around. This economic fact has guided every cycling purchase since I started my adult cycling habit in college. In my racing years it was a point of pride to find cool components for your bike that looked good and functioned well for less than the price of the legendary Campagnolo. It was also great to find sweet deals on the Campy itself.

Contenders for a bargain gem in the dyno-hub market include the Sanyo H27, the SRAM i-Light and several models by Shimano.

My first impulse is to avoid Shimano. I developed that habit in the 1990s, when they were basically a malignancy in the cycling industry, spreading fast, killing other companies not just on the basis of product quality, but unfairly on the basis of size or less aggressive marketing. Their devotion to obsolescence preyed on consumers and retailers alike. Most of their stuff was not as awesome as the advertising said it was, it was merely good enough. It was shoved down the cycling world's throat on the end of a battering ram of marketing and preferential pricing for OEM spec. However, the big ugly behemoth has also continued to offer some nice basic components for those of us who like to mix, match and roll our own. You just have to remember two things: don't buy their proprietary crap that does not play well with others and stock up on the stuff you like, for the day when they quit making it at their whim.

I can get the SRAM or Shimano hubs wholesale. SRAM isn't exactly the good guys when it comes to obsolescence and tweaky innovation. They actually offer less to the tinkering cyclist than Shimano does, because their barcons are index-only. I have no brand loyalty, I have individual product loyalty. I suggest you do the same.

In the end, what matters is function for price. That's where I may have to roll the dice and do my own product testing, one wheel at a time. So it's not a question of what hub to buy, it may be what hub to buy first. Or scrape up the coin for the Schmidt, assuming the high price really does indicate the best long-term investment.

Of course I will welcome any input from users with a tale to tell. I'm not doing this right away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's all fun and games until you hit a skunk (and other observations from the night commute)

Chortling merrily at the power of my new light system I ventured into the deepening dusk of late October and November on the park-and-ride version of my commute. On this route I am only exposed to traffic for a couple of blocks between the shop and the beginning of the trail, and again briefly where the trail crosses Center Street. After that it's just me and the wildlife for several miles.

Regardless of apocryphal cougar sightings, none by me, my wildlife encounters have been limited to small birds at close range and some waterfowl at a distance on the sections of lake I get to see. I gave passing thought to deer, moose and coyotes. Only the moose really worried me. In some places the trail runs on a high embankment with a steep dropoff on either side into wetland. If I startled a moose on one of those I could get stomped before I could get away. They're not exactly quick-witted. But you can ride for many years without encountering a moose at all, let alone at close range. So I've felt pretty serene on my car-free private pathway.

Two nights ago, zipping along in the darkness, I rode into a fresh cloud of skunk spray. It wasn't aimed at me. It wasn't enough to leave a scent on me or my equipment. It is enough to make me peer with a bit more urgency into the shadows beside my patch of light. The whiff I got was only a warning shot. Imagine what a mess a real skunk hit would make.

Fallen leaves have also gotten deeper as autumn has advanced. They make the rail crossings harder to see, especially at night. I overshot one the other night, bouncing over the railroad ties for several bike lengths as I slowed to a stop.

The fun turns where the trail goes toward the Allen A town beach also get more interesting in total darkness. I'd been feeling pretty cocky in deep dusk, because the faint remaining light gave me a slightly wider picture. On my first run through there after the time change turned twilight into night, I found out I don't know the turns as well as I thought I did. I managed to avoid hooking a tree, but not by much.

Wednesday and Thursday nights I took Route 109 past Lake Wentworth to Bryant Road rather than stick to the possibly skunky trail through the spooky forest. A sliver of moon reflected off the smooth waters of the lake. I did have to herd traffic a little. The Superflash still smartens 'em up, but I don't think I'll make the detour a regular thing.

Herding in darkness is trickier than in daylight because I don't have full use of my peripheral vision when doing head checks at night. On Wednesday I left my helmet light on. On Thursday I turned it off because I felt it confused drivers behind me and might also blind them. Without the helmet light I no longer had light aimed where I was looking when I checked the margins of my light patch or looked for obstacles extending in from the sides. On the plus side, drivers seemed less squirrelly.

The generator is about to eat its second drive roller since I installed it. The first one probably wore prematurely because I had not dialed in the alignment perfectly. The second one lasted longer, but it's nearly gone after about a month. The alignment seemed to have drifted very slightly, but I wonder if it also wears faster because the tire is slightly irregular. The uneven pressure has a greater effect as the roller wears down.

I ordered four of them when the first one wore out. I carry a fresh one in the trunk so I can replace it anywhere. I carry spare shift cables for the same reason. I've had some very pleasant roadside breaks while replacing a shift cable. I much prefer it to replacing tires. Tire replacement is a dirtier job.

A dyno hub will alleviate this problem. It would mean building another wheel, though. I don't know how much longer I will push the commute for this year. I have enough rollers to last a while.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Seasonal Reconfigurations

As part of our preparation for ski rental season I cleaned up the high performance rental boots and freshened up their size markings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Turning heads

For various reasons I have made my autumn conversion from full road commutes to park-and-rides. This puts me on the Cotton Valley Trail, aka the DERT (Disappointing Example of a Rail Trail) for almost six miles each way.

The DERT was built with the rails in place. Long sections run between the rails, giving inadequate space for comfortable, safe passing when bikes meet from opposite directions. The fill varies from firm packed mineral products to loose granules that are only secure to ride on after a soaking rain gives them temporary consolidation. Numerous rail crossings challenge the rider throughout the trail's length. There have been many injuries. In spite of these statistics, the rail users responsible for its shortcomings are quite defensive of their role in its construction. Such ironies seem to make up much of life.

For me it boils down to this: I get the best use out of the path when cold weather has driven nearly all other users off it. I can deal with the crossings at my own speed and nearly never have to accommodate oncoming bike traffic. It angles away from my regular route, so it doesn't tempt me in the warmer, lighter months unless I take a fun but lengthy detour over a mostly dirt road. I used to ride that detour a lot. Now I want the time more than the pretty, traffic-free route. But in the dark and chilly end of the commuting season I can salvage bike miles and save some gasoline by resorting to the path.

Only the first mile of the ride home uses streets. For those I run the whole light array in all its flashing splendor. Once on the path, however, I don't need all the flashing lights because no motor vehicles are going to mow me down. If one does, the operator has to be pretty messed up to get on the path in the first place. The only somewhat likely candidate would be a dirt biker or someone poaching the path on an ATV.

By reducing my lights to the single head and tail light powered by the generator I present a more vehicular aspect. I've noticed cars slow way down when they're on a road that crosses the path and I'm coming up to the intersection in the dark. I wonder if I have been reported as a motor vehicle on the path. One car that slowed almost to a stop while crossing was far enough along to have passed without the slightest risk to either of us. Only the strength of my headlight drew their eye and sparked their curiosity. Coming out of a dark path where they probably expect no one at this time of year makes it particularly conspicuous.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Does your bottom bracket respect you?

What you thought was your faithful servant could be insulting you behind your crankset. This one came out of an early 1980s Peugeot road bike. Apparently it never got past junior high school gym class.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Final modifications

I wanted to nudge the generator roller a little higher on the sidewall of the rear tire to see if it would run a little more quietly and hold up better. To do this I had to cut away some of the fender.

I had tried using files and a Dremel tool to remove some plastic. Those methods removed almost no material. Rather than use more force, sharper blades or coarser implements at higher RPMs I went to the elegant power of the light saber.

Cafiend home and shop mechanic light saber kit

The trusty Chinese knock-off of a Swiss army knife has served as my light saber many times.

Lighting it up
I had to repeat the heating process numerous times to maintain a heat level that provided a smooth cut. Light saber technology is rather primitive as yet.

The roller has plenty of clearance in this smooth arc.

Setting the generator height and angle made me scrutinize the rear rim. A telltale small hop directed my gaze to the section where a small stress crack has developed at one spoke eyelet. This is the life cycle of the modern wheel. This rim is six years old and has more than 12,000 hard miles on it. It's the third wheel on the Cross Check since I built the bike in 2000. Since 2000 I have ridden this bike more than any of my other options. The rainy-day fixed gear probably comes second.

New rim is on order. The Salsa Delgado Cross served me pretty well, but I'm liking the Sun CR 18 these days. It has a triple-box construction and is still lighter than the Delgado. They all crack eventually. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Running with the bull (moose)

I've compared traffic riding to running with the bulls and other metaphors involving large animals, but once in a while the metaphor comes to life.

This morning on Route 28 a bull moose sauntered out of the woods about a hundred yards ahead of me. He stopped in the lane as if trying to remember whether he'd turned off the gas stove before he left the house this morning. Then he spotted me. He took a step or two toward me, then started moving away, but still in the road.

A truck crested the rise. This turned the moose back toward me. Great! decades of successful commuting, and now I'm going to get stomped to death by a large, panicked herbivore.

I was next to a steep embankment I would have to scramble up in my cleats in a vain attempt to get out of the path of this beast. Fortunately he had only taken a few trotting strides before he saw a better route back into the forest.

As usual, the last motorists on the scene had no idea why other cars were all askew in the vicinity of a lone bicyclist. The moose had disappeared completely, the way they do.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Courtesy Switch

On the commute this morning, once we got into town, drivers were passing too fast and too close, as usual.

I reached back and flipped the switch on the Superflash.

Instant courtesy. It was bizarre.

Big G, riding ahead of me, did not know what I had done. When we got onto a quieter street I pulled up to him and explained. I switched off the light. I don't want to waste it where I don't need it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Look! Up ahead! It's SUPERFLASH!

Today I got my Planet Bike Superflash blinky light. I put it in the middle of the three lights I wear on my bum bag, retiring the loyal but less flashy unit that had served there for several years.

I'd been impressed by the Superflash when I saw the one on my brother's Trice this summer. In full daylight I could see the flash from as far away as I could see the trike at all.

Turbulent clouds created dramatic light effects as the sun went down tonight. Bright sun would break through to illuminate colorful leaves or white buildings, highlighting the contrast with the slate-gray clouds. As the sun dropped below the western hills, twilight advanced.

Drivers rushed past me on this Friday of a holiday weekend. Finally I got tired of it. I hit the button on the Superflash.

The result was immediate and gratifying. I could tell by the sound of tires on chip seal, and grumbling engines, that drivers were slowing down five or ten miles an hour. Almost without exception, they swung wide as well. They passed politely and sedately before resuming speed.

A few minutes later I had activated the whole system: generator light, Beamers, and the flanking blinkies.

The whir of the dynamo gets higher as my speed increases. The light becomes incrementally brighter as well, urging me to ride even harder. The beam is strong and white. It seems to intrigue drivers. The sharp power of the Superflash and the steady, relentless illumination of the generator light indicate a power disproportionate to a cyclist's size.

In a more populated area where life is plentiful and cheap, the mass of drivers would probably shove on past with their usual disregard. Around here, though, a transportation cyclist is a strange bird, worthy of a second look, especially when equipped with something better than the typical toy light. When the novelty wears off I may get less respect from drivers here, too. Right now, though, the difference is night and day.


While I was replacing the generator drive roller I figured out how to make the tail light mounting work better. The generic seat stay clamps I'd put back there pulled the light crooked. For some reason I could not get them to bend exactly the way I wanted. I was able to adjust the angle and get a more solid mount by inserting the thinner set of spacers from a linear-pull brake pad. We've accumulated a large coffee can full of these. They come in handy for all sorts of little tricks like this.

With the generator remounted and carefully aligned, the light works better than it has since the first night. It impressed me then. Now I realize its true power.

I'm so eager for darkness to fall, I start my ride home with my eyes closed.

People perceive night riding as more dangerous than riding in daylight. With inadequate lights that is certainly true. On rural roads without many other sources of light, a good set of cyclist's lights stands out. With fewer distractions from the scenery, the night driver tends to look where the headlights point.

At intersections the cyclist's small lights may not catch the eye of an impatient motorist. Flashing modes help there, but the wise cyclist assumes no one has seen, and rides with appropriate caution. But in the darkness a cyclist can see headlights coming around bends or approaching from cross streets, giving better warning of other vehicles than we get in daylight.

Motorists react to the sight of something different. Because bicycles don't have a standard light configuration, each little variation may serve to engage the motorist's curiosity. That's probably a bicycle up there, but it could be some weird space alien thingy. You have to hope then that the motorist does not subscribe to the "kill it before it multiplies!" school of thought popular in 1950s sci-fi flicks. Tinfoil helmet covers and cheesy ray guns may buy you crucial seconds in which to make a getaway. Extra points if you ride in a closely-tailored pastel colored jumpsuit.

Those of us who pedal get treated like an alien species anyway. Our garb often inspires harsh commentary. It might as well be a space suit.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Talk about mud flaps, my bike's got 'em

Last week was not a good one for riding. I had a bad cold, so I missed the day with the nicest weather. The next two days brought nastier weather than I felt like riding in, especially finishing up in deep dusk, regardless of the lights. But I finished off the week with a ride on Saturday.

I spent a few hours yesterday getting the fenders on the Cross Check. I won't expose it to road salt, but I will have to take some rain with it if I intend to try commuting into the darker months. Either that or get a thermonuclear light set on Silver the rain bike. I'm sorely tempted. I have to pay off the first light before I can get another one.

Maybe I'll try to revive my ancient set from the 1980s for Silver. If I do that it will probably prevent me from flipping the wheel because it needs to stay in the same position relative to the generator. I would use the Sanyo bottom bracket generator, so maybe I could rig a sliding bracket. I just don't know if everything works. I'll probably just wuss out and take the car in case of real rain.

The front derailleur presses on the fender when I shift to the outer ring. It's not bad enough to prevent shifting or move the fender significantly, but it's annoying. If I space the fender back from the seat tube I can't get the rear wheel in and out of the dropouts. Mildly annoying since I tend to be a bit neurotic about function and aesthetics within my own strange standards. I hate for things to be just slapped in there. I just need to ride it to see if it will bug me.

Cross Checks are prone to toe overlap. It already made the bike a bit tricky on technical terrain. The fenders increase the overlap. I was surprised how little I encountered it on test-circles in my driveway, however. On low speed, tight turns I would have nipped the front wheel even without the fender. Again, only riding will tell me whether I can put up with it. I know how great it feels to hit a wet stretch of road and not have a spray of water and grit come squirting up all over everything.

On the way home on Saturday I discovered my generator drive roller wasn't turning consistently. The drawback to the stand light feature is that in less than full darkness you might not notice that the generator's output is repeatedly interrupted. The backup power kicks in to keep the beam shining, albeit at less than full intensity. I happened to notice the odd rhythm coming from the generator, so I stopped to investigate. The rubber roller was almost completely worn away in just a few rides. I nursed it the rest of the way home because I had to.

I believe I did not have the bracket tight enough. I was trying to keep from marring the paint too badly, using a rubber shim under the radius of the clamp. I accepted that the set screw on the inside of the seat stay would have to bite in. I hoped to limit the damage to that. As a result, the generator could wiggle out of alignment and lose contact with the tire. Or I could have a bad generator, but it will cost me another roller to find out.

I have not had the best luck with prompt shipping from Peter White Cycles. Neither of my orders so far have shipped on the day they were placed. The first order included all the equipment for the light set, so I accepted the delay. But this one is four rollers in a padded envelope. If I had planned to ride tomorrow I would be out of luck. Shipping from such a short distance definitely only takes overnight, but that's from the time it actually ships.

Fortunately the weather is supposed to be wet again and I carpool with the cellist on Wednesdays. With luck the errant rollers will have rolled in with tomorrow's mail.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day of the British Tourists

A large group seems to be passing through the area today. I've already replaced one front derailleur, straightened a rear derailleur hanger, provided a convenient refill of chain lube and consulted on modernization of one rider's brake system.

I do like to see people really getting out on a trip.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tropical Diseases of Handlebars

The owner of the Bike from Singapore wants to keep the bike.

"So it just needs a handlebar," he said when he finally got a look at it. True, the bar was just one more item on the list already compiled. He's really attached to this bike. It's my job to see that he can be securely attached.

After he left I stress-tested the bars to see how close they were to failure.

One side was more oxidized than the other. I hit the drop portion of that side sharply with a hammer. With each blow the weakened upper area split a little more.

After that I used a leverage bar to apply steadier force, because I didn't have a heavy glove to protect me from cuts if the whole thing crumpled into jagged bits. It actually broke pretty cleanly.

If you live in a tropical maritime environment and you have drop handlebars you might want to consider using clear tape so you can see what's going on under there. But I think there's more to this mystery than just that. Like maybe he forgot to mention the time it sank aboard an overloaded ferry boat or something. Wherever you live, check your bars every so often. It can't hurt.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

People vote with their cars

I wondered if I imagined the increase in aggressive driving every September, but a professional delivery driver confirmed it.

"You think it's the tourists that make it bad, but these are just the regular people," he said. "I think they're just used to fighting it all summer, so they're still fighting."

I have my own theory that the end of summer, the beginning of school and work schedules, shortening days and the urgency of early preparations for the season of cold and dark make people jumpy. Whatever the reason, I get a much more resentful vibe off of drivers for much of September.

If I can keep up the commute into fall, I become a roadside (or lane-covering) attraction. "Geez, look at that guy still riding." In fact, many people, even ones I don't really know, will ask me, "did you bike today?" when they see me in a store or at events and activities around the local area. I can only hope these aren't the same people trying to brush me back with the broad hood of the F-150 or GMC Yukon. Hard to say, really. People can innocently act out amazing double standards.

For now I have to be prepared for people expressing themselves with two tons of metal, slicing unnecessarily close and fast to let me know that, in their opinion, bike season is over. They still respond to herding. I just can't be lax about it.

Foliage tour buses can be the worst. The economy seems to have diminished their numbers, so there's a plus side to the rocky financial climate. I still keep an ear out for the distinctive smooth diesel of a box car full of gawkers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lights! Camera! Action!

As reported earlier, the light project ironically cost me the bike ride this morning.

I left the house with the bike ready to ride. I had everything I needed except sufficient time to arrive at work within even my highly flexible standards of punctuality. So when I finally got home for good at 8:30 p.m., there was plenty of darkness, and no reason not to tool up and down in front of the house to see if this rig is as good as I hoped it would be.
The generator is so much lighter and more compact than my ancient Union. The Sanyo that mounted to the bottom bracket was pretty cool, and new versions are available, but I'll probably go with a dyno hub if I move away from this sidewall model.
The tail light would not mount centered on my ancient Blackburn Expedition rack. I have an Axiom rack in my salvage pile in the crawl space, but the tail light bracket is tucked up under the projecting end of the rack. That protects the light from such mishaps as accidental breakage and possibly being seen by overtaking vehicles. Mounting this thing made me think about the problems with bike tail lights. They should really be mounted higher than any part of your average bike. Thus I maintain my large (and growing) collection of blinking lights on myself.

My two Beamer 3 headlights added useful fill light to the patch thrown by the IQ Cyo R Plus. Even without them, though, the generator light alone threw a subtly ample field of light down the road. The R version has a reflector and is hooded to direct light near the bike. This is very useful at low speeds on rougher surfaces. It still directed enough light down the road for me to feel secure in an upper-mid-range gear on this brief trial. Further supplemented by my helmet light this should be a formidable array.

LEDs don't put down the hard white light of a halogen bulb. That's what I meant by subtly ample. At first the bluish tint seems too close a kin to the navy blue of night itself. But then you realize that night has been negotiated with, rather than banished in the hard-edged way of filament lighting. I love the long useful life of LEDs and the endless energy of the generator as opposed to the helpless anxiety of fading batteries when you clearly have more ride than electricity left.

Wires present one of two drawbacks to installed on board lighting, weight and clutter collectively being the other one. I understand why sexy randonnée bikes have internal wiring. But I often think our vain habit of hiding the plumbing and wiring inside the walls of our houses is just a fussy invitation to really expensive problems when something goes wrong. I did the best I could to lead the wires simply and directly, with only sufficient slack to avoid straining splices and connections. After dark, the feeling of power and the fact that the details of the mounting are largely invisible cancel out any remaining aesthetic qualms.

I haven't put on the permanent fenders yet. I try to avoid wet weather on the multi-gear bike. Realistically, however, wet weather finds me. I also go forth on wet mornings when fair afternoons are predicted. I'm starting to view the clip-on fenders as hypocritical and insufficient. Nothing like a spatter of wet grit to remind you that the vanity of fenderlessness is not worth the crap that gets all over you and your bike.

I have to say, it was still gross cleaning the crud out of the fenders. And I had to remind myself to look at my tires when I didn't have a view of the top of them all the time.

In any case, the bike is ready to go. I can refine the setup as needed.

Day of the Lost Commute

The cellist spent a restless night last night. She has to get up at 5 on the days she teaches in Maine. On this particular day she has to dash home, grab her luggage and jet off to Baltimore to take a praxis test so she can finish renewing her Maine teacher certification for the job she unexpectedly got back this summer after being laid off last year. Don't get me started on the capricious nature of individual states' teacher certification requirements. It's good to have a job. But she had to hit the ground running from a low-flying aircraft to jump into the slot being offered back to her less than a month before school was due to start.

The cellist is a bit of a restless night specialist. She asks me exasperatedly how I can make myself fall asleep seemingly at will. I can tell you how I do it, but I cannot teach you how.

Last night I did not let myself drop off. I'd poured much of the evening into the Generator Light Project on my commuting bike. It kept enticing me on, as bike projects do. Just one more widget will be the key to the perfect setup. I can finish in a few minutes!

It's almost never that simple.

I have no idea when we fell asleep. Midnight? Her alarm went off at 5. I let her get through the shower and into the kitchen before I crawled out around 5:30. She had to leave by 6, and then I could put in the few more minutes needed to complete the perfect light setup. Yeah!

I had (and still have, now at 2:40 p.m.) that sick, queasy feeling you get from too little sleep. It combined nicely with the buyer's remorse I nearly always get when I buy expensive equipment. Even if I know it's great I ask myself if I can justify it. And my clean-lined bike gets more stuff hung on it. But racks and lights and fenders make a bike stronger in the wild. This is not some spindly thoroughbred, fun to ride fast but not built for the tough haul. And certainly neither am I.

With my first cup of coffee I went downstairs to my laboratory to resume my Experiments with Electricity. I need a Van de Graaf generator in the corner, safely distant from the gas hot water heater.

Every aspect of the installation has been disturbingly improvised. I wished Surly included a dynamo bracket, because the Dymotec would bolt cleanly to it. Instead I had to use the brutal dynamohalter provided by Peter White. It comes with dire warnings about crushing your seat stays. The Cross Check is not made of tinfoil, but I still care for it. In spite of all the fumblings (to be reported in detail in a separate post), the system was finally coming together.

Examining the alignment and pressure of the dynamo as the wheel rotated, I finally noticed the big sidewall gash my rear tire has been sporting for who knows how long. I made a note to change that for the new one I had in stock before I left for work.

Sometime during all this I went upstairs for a moment and noticed it was about 7:10. Good. I would finish in minutes, you see. I could shove down some toast, guzzle the rest of the coffee, load up and head out into the foggy, damp morning.

Back down I went. I just had to do this and that, and maybe this and that and I'd be out of here! Yeah! Done!

I went up the stairs, looked at the clock.

Nine fifteen. NINE FIFTEEN!?!?! I hadn't even had breakfast and I was already late for work?

Alien abduction. Missing time. That was it. I don't know how they did it, but they did. Funny. I didn't feel probed.

Some latent sense of responsibility kicked in. I came to work by car.

With everything else cleared from the queue, it was time to work on the bike described in Freeze Frame earlier this summer.
Remember this one?
Closeup of that fattie with the crimps blown right out of it. The tire rubbed the frame.

I had consulted with my favorite expert in July when the bike came in. She had suggested I try pressing the crimp back into the stay using something like a socket (goes with socket wrench) and a C-clamp or a vise. Since the job wasn't urgent and the process sounded like it might require some elbow room I waited until now to take a whack at it.
Stage 1: C-clamp, old Rock Shox tool kit vise blocks and nondescript piece of metal.
Actually that is the sawed-off stub of a brace bit we cut to fit an electric drill in some other insane project. Never throw anything away!
After starting the shaping with the C-clamp I needed more power to press it deeper and fine-tune the shape. The outside of the stay needed to be able to flatten more than the vise block would let it. It needed to be able to assume its shape with minimal interference from its support, but not be pressed directly against the hard vise jaws.
These two views show the stay supported on the outside with a stub of hockey stick (nice hard wood) while a vise block holds one of several shaping cylinders.
Shaping forms included a crappy 9-millimeter socket and unidentified pieces from one of our useful Buckets of Bolts.
9mm socket held in vise block with double-stick carpet tape so it won't fall out before vise pressure takes over. Sacrificial rubber bands held the whole sandwich together until I could tighten the vise. To keep the bike frame from tipping, I tied the front end up with an old shoelace
Bucket of Bolts

After a couple of sessions in the vise, tire clearance was restored. Rear triangle alignment was undistorted.
Ta Daaaa!

And here is the Cafiend stay-recrimping kit:
Projects like this help keep the end of bike season from being tedious. Tomorrow I get to consult with Singapore Guy about whether he wants to dress up a frame with his surviving componentry or go completely modern with a new bike.

Blame Singapore

It started with a broken flange on a Bonerager rear hub. An athletic-looking guy who looked to be somewhere in his flurfties -- what do you call the age we're getting to now? We're not middle aged. That sounds so stodgy. But we're not ferocious young athletes anymore, either. In good shape for our age? That sounds like something you say about 95-year-olds who don't need a walker. Anyway, this guy comes in with his late-1990s LeMond road bike with this cracked hub flange. He said he was grunting up a climb.

I told him the wheel was toast. We discussed his options. He selected a built wheel from a reputable supplier rather than engage my talents for a custom build. Because his bike was very rusty that seemed like a good compromise.

He requested an overhaul on the bike while we waited for delivery of the wheel. We discussed the rust.

I've seen some nasty rust on bikes people ride on their trainers. He admitted to some of that, but he and his wife blamed most of it on the time the bike had spent with them in Singapore, with its tropical humidity and surrounding salt water.

He loves how the bike handles. I said I would check the frame for cracks before proceeding. This I did, in due time, when I finally started the repair a few days later. For some reason the frame was intact. For how much longer, I could not say.

I'm so glad I unwrapped the handlebars before I went too far on any other work. I've seen trainer corrosion, I've seen metal fatigue. This was the first time I had seen handlebars that had literally turned to powder inside the bar tape.
I was able to poke a screwdriver through the handlebars in many places. See?
Screwdriver inserted into bars
I called a halt to this repair until the customer can see what we're up against. I've suggested he transfer the many good surviving parts and his groovy new rear wheel to a Surly Pacer or similar sporty road frame.

I can't believe he was riding this. He was one good pothole away from collapsing those bars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Light up

The cellist starts putting pressure on me this time of year to quit cycling and start driving because of the darkness. Eventually I heed, but a really good light system still makes sense.

I had fiddled around with my 1982-vintage generator light system a few times over the years, but its performance did not seem to be worth the complication of mounting it. Technology really has improved in some areas. Dynamo lighting releases the night rider from concerns about battery life and dead battery disposal. Systems that include a standlight keep the light on at short stops. My old system used a battery pack to provide the standlight. It weighed about a pound and occupied a box mounted on the down tube. The new systems incorporate the circuitry into the light itself.

After seeing the setup on my brother's Trice, I knew I would get myself another dynamo light set. As the days shorten, I have just ordered a Busch & Mueller system from Peter White Cycles in Hillsborough, NH.

Peter seems like my kind of cyclist. He also builds wheels. It's another case of parallel evolution, in which different forms of the same organism develop in different places. Peter obviously stuck with the cycling thing more closely than I did. Even so, we developed similar opinions about bling versus substance and realistic wheels as opposed to impressive-looking dispo-a-wheels. Everyone read his Wheel Rant.

This stuff is not cheap. I did not buy anywhere near the top end, and I laid out just over $200 US. But a really hot rechargeable battery set would cost at least that much and has limited life.

Some of the systems on Peter's site include battery chargers for NiMH batteries in the lights themselves or for powering and charging the batteries of other devices. If you get out more than I do, you probably already know about all this. It only makes sense, considering how many electronic types are out there innovating like crazy.

I will still use the Beamers for supplemental lighting and unplanned dusk and dark riding on the bikes not equipped with the new system. The helmet light and blinkies complete the array.

Because Hillsborough is so close, I hope to receive my new lights tomorrow. UPS doesn't usually show up until late in the day, so I may not get them installed right away.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Forget the rules

People who ride their bikes against traffic make me wish I had a grenade launcher. This is just one of several reasons I don't have a grenade launcher, regardless of my Second Amendment rights.

Blame my short index fingers: I have an anger problem. In the course of a single day I drop enough F-bombs to level a small city. Catastrophes leave me unmoved, but petty annoyances hot wire my brain. Sparks fly.

Wednesday morning, when I rode up Main Street to work I met a gray-haired woman on her hybrid riding against traffic. I never know exactly what to do with those people. If I go to the right to shove them into oncoming traffic, I'm closer to parked cars or the debris field in the gutter. I might not want to go farther to the left at that moment. Even if I do, I hate to enable the wrong-way rider.

This morning we had a clear sight line for quite a distance, so I sat up, hands off the bars, and pointed, first at her, then at the proper side of the street, several times.

She just laughed at me and rode by.

"Ha ha ha, ya dumb b#&*^!!" I said in a loud conversational tone. It was a tone appropriate to conversation at, say, a rock concert. Glancing back I thought I saw her swing over to the proper side of the street. I turned my attention back to my own course.

It only occurred to me later that I might know this person. I still don't know for sure, but I did see her riding back to the coffee shop. I reflected glumly on my short fuse and blunt language.

In town traffic I ride in the lane anyway. The wrong-way cyclist is therefore no more trouble for me than for a motorist. The rider will pass my right elbow, no doubt oblivious to my sneer of contempt.

Out on the busy highway it's more of a problem. I have run a wrong-way cyclist into the ditch because I could not shoulder into traffic in the only available lane and I wasn't going to take the ditch myself. Fortunately there WAS a ditch. It would have been much uglier in one of the sections hemmed in by guard rails. The offender, a regular commuter who rides my route in the opposite direction, has not ridden against traffic again, at least not around me.

At the end of the day, riding out Route 28, I heard a strange engine behind me. It turned out to be a fat man on a large ATV. Riding an ATV on the highway is illegal enough. Then he whipped it across the highway and started heading down the throat of oncoming cars. I started cheering, laughing and applauding that display of sheer selfishness and brass balls. The fat man turned his bald head to see where that noise was coming from. Meanwhile, cars flashed their lights and slowed sharply as he turned into his driveway.

I had a revelation in that moment. Who cares which side of the road you ride on? Everyone has a moral obligation to watch out for people doing stupid things. Enough people get away with stupid things to make all the whining and preaching about "proper" behavior seem a little ridiculous. What's the big deal? Any driver who knows what they're doing will see you no matter what direction you're coming from.

Road rage mostly stems from our deceived expectation that other people will do "the right thing" in a given situation. Many of our operating rules are based on the principle of taking turns. It's my turn. It's your turn. Hey! Don't cut in on my turn! Don't take that! It's MINE! You get to go AFTER me! I'm telling!!

If we dump the rules, everyone has to watch out. If you come into an intersection with no idea who will do what, you bet you'll pay attention.

During the transition period, traditionalists will righteously kill other road users. After the initial bloodbath, things will settle down to a new norm.

You're already free to act as if the rules do not exist. Even if you ride legally, if a motorist kills you they will probably face no charges at all. Bicyclists are tolerated at best, never welcomed, as part of the traffic mix. There's an automatic assumption that anyone who ventures out there without massive horsepower and armor plating is simply asking for inevitable catastrophe. When the worst happens it is simply nature's cruel justice. Soft little animals get crushed by larger, harder ones.

Soft little animals proliferated by exploiting niches the large ones could not. They did it by breeding in large numbers to offset large losses. They survive by agility and by appearing in any number of ways unappetizing.

Coincidentally, I finally started reading Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt today. It addresses questions I had been pondering for years. For instance, I wondered if there was buggy rage and competitive driving when conveyances were horse-drawn. The answer is yes. Humans on wheels have always had a tendency to turn into jerks. That includes past and present bicyclists. I knew from other reading that draisine (Laufmaschine) riders had engaged in antics worthy of any rowdy crowd on a weekend night, annoying people with reckless operation. People have many different temperaments, but nearly everyone has been some kind of a jerk at some time while operating a vehicle. I guarantee I have. I've barely started the book. It's fascinating.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Innovate with the Dead

Yesterday, The Backshop Academy of Sciences considered an idea for self-inflating inner tubes. Because most bike owners only inflate their tires (or have them inflated) when they get a tube replaced after a pinch flat from under-inflation, they would benefit greatly from a tire that maintains its pressure longer.

It occurred to us that if you put a dead rat in the tire, the gases of putrefaction would build up on their own until that phase of decomposition had ended. Then we realized that the weight of the rat carcass would cause the wheel to rotate unevenly. We would have to put the rat in a blender to create a rat slurry that would then decompose anaerobically inside the tube. We would use special apparatus to inject the slurry and change it for new mixture when the old batch was exhausted.

Larger tires would require a larger carcass, like a 'possum, or multiple rats. Of course, the use of slurry would simplify the process. A certain number of milliliters of any species of animal should suffice for a given volume of inner tube.

The idea of sticking a dead rat in someone's tire has a certain appeal for certain customers. Although the system needs quite a bit of work before it can be implemented widely, we may try some preliminary experiments.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Attack attack

Back in April I reported on my repair of a mid-1990s Pro Flex Attack with flattened elastomers. I found a couple of elastomers and a spacer to restore the rear suspension to its former travel and height.

A few days ago the bike came back looking like this:

One of the elastomers flattened out like the first set. The other had liquefied. The spacer has disappeared without a trace.

I found a blog on which the writer reported using old inner tube, wrapped and held with zip ties, to replace the absent elastomers on his Pro Flex. We used the technique to fix this one.

What do these people do to liquefy an elastomer? Was somebody playing with a torch? Splashing caustic chemicals around? Storing nuclear waste next to the bike?

Sorry, I didn't grab a pic of the inner tube shock repair. The day turned kind of hectic.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"I found this stuff on line!"

All-carbon Bianchi Mono-Q frame, two pounds


Steel track bars that would withstand a fully-doped Eastern Bloc sprinter from the 1980s, about a pound and a half. Go figure.

Mr. On-line Shopper brought us his prizes to assemble into a bicycle for him.

The fork with alloy steerer and less-than-svelte seat post bring the frame weight to more like four pounds.

Other details to iron out include the braze-on type front derailleur with no frame bracket or adapting clamp.

Cranks, BB, derailleur and brakes are all Campy Record.

I'm really tempted to half-tape those track bars and bury the stem.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The bike shop, of course!

People bring us all sorts of mechanical things to fix. Shown here is one of two drive units from water bikes someone dumped on us this week. Aside from the fact that it has pedals and has the word "bike" in its name, it's not something we can service extensively in our facility. Sure, we could provide a crank arm to replace the one that got mangled because the owner neglected to keep the bolt tight. We could tighten the other crank arm bolts. We aren't set up to dispose of any amount of rusty, water-contaminated heavy gear oil. We had no service manual. Undoing obvious things only got us a little way into the dark, stinking interior.

When I popped the top on this, a smell like an oily sewer oozed forth. The congealed remains of its lubricating oil sat like filthy pudding at the bottom of the casing. I looked in with a flashlight. It's sparse and simple. The chain makes a 90-degree twist to go around the propeller shaft. It seemed tight enough. Everything was rusty, but what do you want? This thing gets used in water. I topped up the oil from a bottle of it the customer had provided.

This is the view deep into the second drive unit. The chain disappears into the sludge. The chain was a little loose on this one, but I couldn't get the prop off to see if there was any way to tighten it from the lower end. The upper end only fastened in one position as far as I could tell. The prop was secured with two set screws, which came out easily, over the ends of a pin, which would not budge. Because the unit still functioned I did not want to risk disabling it if things went wrong while disassembling it. I added oil and closed the lid.

People bring us any pin and roller chain, no matter what size, because it looks like a bike chain. They come to us for cables for everything from lawn mowers to go karts to ultralight aircraft. Of course we get the garden cart wheels, too. The bike shop was the birthplace of modern mass-produced personal transportation. The idea that we can fix anything is not so far-fetched. If we had a better machine shop we could really get crazy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Third Week of August

Third week of August
The peak of insanity
before they all leave.

This is the big one. With two triathlons and the Mt. Washington Hill Climb this weekend, plus a bunch of last hurrah vacationers, bikes in need of immediate attention are piled all around the workshop. I wanted to arrange them as anti-personnel barriers. Before long it became obvious I would only have to let them accumulate naturally to form an impenetrable tangle of metal, plastic and carbon fiber.

Featured guests include a hill climb conversion, two tunes on other bikes from the same family for the same event and a guy who broke a spoke and tried to fix his own wheel by loosening all the other spokes before he surrendered and brought the mess to us. He also disassembled his rear brake pads and lost some parts. Late in the day a woman brought in her snazzy Trek full suspension bike. The rear derailleur bore telltale signs that the man in her life had been trying to "fix" things.

Did I mention that this is all urgent?

The wheel I'm building for a touring bike is on its third day of de-stressing and retensioning. For some reason it is taking a ridiculous amount of time to settle in. Another wheel job waits in the queue. I've built many more than usual this year.

Time to get back in there. After this weekend -- probably by Sunday, in fact -- everyone will suddenly disappear. We'll have repair work, but nothing like this.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Harnessing the Medium

The local TV guy has embraced the idea of a program on bicycling. I won't have time to devote to it until early September, but he's cool with that. We had a meeting Wednesday to discuss more of the content and some shooting ideas. He's got some good ones for setting up situations in the empty parking lot of the high school, where his operation is headquartered. We're going to enlist local riders of all ages and types for the various segments.

Because it's a local show, it will feature local situations. I want to come up with material that informs cyclists and motorists without burying them in too much information.

Right now I don't have time to concentrate on it. We haven't cleared the pile at work yet. It should get a lot deeper as the local triathlon and the Mt. Washington Hill Climb approach.

I'm guessing everyone waited until August to see if they would have enough money to go on vacation. It suddenly went insane in town. So now they want it to be a good one. Quick!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August with a vengeance

Between my observation on July 28 that traffic seems light this year and my brief last post, everyone seemed to hit town at once.

Not complaining, just observing: even if you love your work, getting a blast of it so strong you can't even do it all is like having your favorite food shoved down your throat with a toilet plunger. The next idiot who says, "but it's great to be busy, right?" is getting a wrench in the teeth.

The quality of drivers dropped noticeably with the coming of August as well. There are more of them and they resist herding. You have to make early, large moves to control them or give it up and dive for the ditch. I've been making the moves.

Even the crotch-rocket riders are making a late bid to reclaim their badass image.

Bursts of gunfire erupt from neighboring properties around my home. Unlicensed dirt bikes were screeching up and down the road on Saturday. It's so peaceful here.

In the midst of all this the cellist and I celebrated our seventh anniversary on 8-9-10, making it 7-8-9-10. The way the festivities evolved I only had to take an extra half-day away from work. We had a mixed group of musicians ranging from professional to complete novice jamming on the deck for a few hours on Saturday evening. Selections ranged from Beethoven and Pachelbel to Irish jigs, drumming, blues, bluegrass and Jimi Hendrix. Take that, screechy dirt bikers.

On Monday the cellist and I went to dinner and a concert by Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer at Stone Mountain Arts Center, a remarkable little venue in Brownfield, Maine. It's a small place. The performers tend to hang around afterward so you can meet them if you're interested. We certainly were.

Interesting projects wait in the workshop. They're a nice interlude between figuring out snap, crackle pops in expensive carbon fiber road bikes and resurrecting greasy wreckage.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Cure-All

"My bike fell off the car rack as we were driving up a steep hill. It might need a tune-up."