Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Livin' la vie de mocha

When the alarm scratched at my eardrums this morning I slid down the side of the bed, hauled myself upright and lurched out to turn on the coffee pot. We'd had a house guest Sunday night to Monday evening. Monday morning I had gotten up to test two different river sites for a largely volunteer environmental organization and then met with a subcommittee of the conservation commission before heading home for a very late breakfast. Then we hiked the neighborhood mountain. After an early supper our friend left to return to the music camp in Maine where she teaches in the summer. We stayed up watching Frost/Nixon.

In high school I hung out with the brainiac kids. I was the token underachiever. We actually watched the Watergate hearings. It all seemed like a tangled mess to me at the time. It's interesting to see the current events of my youth turned into streamlined historical fiction.

Tuesday started with a ride. The cellist wanted to knock one out before she headed to town to teach. After she left I put in a couple of hours stacking the last of the firewood in the baking mid-day sun. In and around that I got a load of laundry on the line. Monday and Tuesday were superb drying days. The rest of the afternoon was filled with errands and other tasks I wanted to get through before the work week swept me up again. Late Tuesday night I was trying to draw one deceptively simple commissioned piece for the environmental group. It didn't go well. And so I flopped into bed near midnight, to rise at the buzzer just after six.

Summer traffic is light this year. Even the crotch-rocket riders seem subdued. But morning traffic is morning traffic. I had to spin it up and shove my elbow in to hold a place in the flow.

I had plenty of jobs waiting, but those were pushed aside by a visit from The Seven with No Stem Bolt.
That's right. This bike has no stem bolt. I originally reported on it in the article "In Rust We Trust" in August 2006. The owner continues to ride it. Today I dealt with more Shimano compatibility antics. He has a Flight Dork computer with the two control buttons on the right lever body. The original lever has been replaced with a newer one set up for one button, The rubber hood only has one pimple to accommodate a button instead the the two he had before. In addition, I believe the contacts inside don't recognize input from the B button. I could not get a response from it. The A button worked. I also saw some damage to the insulation on some of the wiring. Of course the wiring harness is not available as a separate part.

Just another day. I did what I could, informed the customer and worked on the other bike he had brought in. Between the jobs the other techs can't do and the jobs they won't do, my plate is completely full through the weekend.

On the plus side, Lydia's Cafe had Kenyan today. Its distinctive flavor and acidity, combined with enough caffeine for an elephant make it my absolute favorite. A Kenyan day can't be a bad day.

A strong southwesterly wind pushed me home. I missed the green light at 16 and 28, so I didn't get to wail through the corner at 30, but I did get to phone in a camper towing a flat bed trailer with two canoes full of firewood on it. I would not have cared except that one of the canoes was not going to be on the trailer much longer. It was sliding out of the straps. The bow scraped the pavement as the trailer bounced over the smallest undulations. Of course the driver did not notice a gesticulating cyclist. There were a lot of other vehicles behind him. One of them might have realized what was up and signaled him. In case they did not, I had alerted the cavalry. A canoe full of firewood spilling across the highway could ruin someone's day.

No later than tomorrow night I have to finish drawing a frog in an inner tube. That's in addition to the complete overhaul, two wheel builds, assorted tune-ups and whatever comes limping in. I should start angling toward bed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Don't get too tired.

On mornings when I'm having trouble getting myself going I have a bowl of cereal with a scoop of ice cream for breakfast. When I'm feeling burnt out I lose my appetite along with most of my energy.

By the end of a busy week my personal demons have drawn up teams and are using me for a soccer ball. Some of these scrimmages are rougher than others.

I have to say, the ethical and professional climate has improved somewhat at the old day job. That helps unbelievably after the dark years when we were running the retail concession at Jackson Ski Touring. I was doing battle with forces of cowardly backstabbing there in winter, and dealing with "creative differences" in the bike shop in summer. Even so, I can come out of the work week feeling pretty chewed just from the challenges I face trying to keep the cycling public happily rolling.

In the summer the repair shop goes from crisis to crisis. People's vacations are at stake. The challenges are fun. Unfortunately, a lot of great material gets lost. George and I start riffing on just about anything to keep ourselves amused. With no time to take notes, I lose all of it by the time we get through the work day and I ride home.

We keep thinking we might have the basis for a good reality TV show, but we don't have any divas or flamboyant idiots to provide the kind of showy antics TV requires. It would still be interesting to set up a camera for a few days to collect some of our raw material.

I stagger into Sunday evening and flop face down on the living room carpet. Somehow in the next two days I get the most vital chores done and reconstitute myself to return to work.

Each day's commute takes me through a stage of fatigue. Day one usually feels pretty good. By the end of day five I'm in survival mode. This evening, with tree shadows strobing across the rough, black chipseal of Route 28 I felt like I was hallucinating. Nothing seemed real. I pedaled as if in a dream. Home was a distant concept, many hills away. Just pedal through the tiger-striped shadows.

I don't get to turn off the alarm clock yet. Tomorrow morning I have to test two river sites before 9 a.m. and then meet with a sub-committee of the conservation commission. I dabble in sustainability in my spare time. Just in case the human race turns out to have a future I try to contribute to the scientific basis for it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My helmet did its job today

On essentially straight, level road, in full sunshine and dry weather, I was tooling along at 22-ish miles per hour on Route 28 about a mile before the intersection with Trotting Track Road. Suddenly something whacked my helmet. A gray pickup truck was passing.

My first thought was that some nitwit finally had the arm and the aim actually to hit me with a bottle. Then I saw the big curl of flexible PVC piping that had popped out of the truck bed and was now sweeping through the air above the right side of the lane and the shoulder. That had hit me in the back of the head as the truck drove by.

The license plate was a tiny speck as I tried to get the driver's attention. He was either oblivious or too pleased with himself to want to stop. He turned at Trotting Track Road. There's no chance he will be ticketed and fined for his improperly secured load.

The nitwits are out in force today. Further in Center Street, two huge tractor trailers snorted past. Right behind them, I pulled out to the left tire track to cover the lane because it was positively not safe for another motor vehicle to pass. Some idiot in a Volvo wagon pulled all the way into the left lane on a blind curve without slowing down. She popped around the curve grille to grille with a white Crown Vic. Unfortunately it was not a cop. We were also rolling down into a construction area. The cars did not collide. No doubt everyone cursed the road-obstructing cyclist as they sped on into Wolfeboro's summer congestion.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Almost too tired to stretch

Stretching used to be an effortless pleasure. You don't notice flexibility when you have it. Later, when you have to work to maintain it, the term stretching exercise takes on new significance.

When I get home from work I try to hit the floor as quickly as possible for the stretching routine so I don't cool off and stiffen up. The longer I wait, the harder it is. The stances for effective stretching take strength. Otherwise you might hurt yourself worse.

This week was more like the second part of a 12-day marathon because I went to Connecticut to a family gathering on my last days off. Driving through any built-up area of this country is stressful. Then sharing time with three generations of family members and assorted spouses isn't exactly restful. We're not wildly dysfunctional but we're philosophically diverse. The only activity we all share is argument. These are usually rational discourses, but each of us holds a kernel of principle we refuse to give up. So you go to the shell of that, bounce off and try to change the subject before things get heated.

My older brother and I went for a little ride. He brought his Trice. It comes apart in about five minutes to fit in the trunk of his car. Putting it back together takes a little longer.

I should have taken the Traveler's Check completely apart and reassembled in solidarity with him, but I hate to make work for myself.
We rode first to the CVS pharmacy in the village of Niantic, to get a card for my sister's birthday. Big bro' also was looking for batteries for a vintage Nikon he had received in partial payment for helping a friend move. He therefore spent considerable time examining the battery selection while I went back outside to our bikes.

A beautiful woman in a nice sundress and well-worn SPD cycling shoes pulled up on her Jamis cross bike. I took a picture of her bike. Taking a picture of her seemed needlessly intrusive.
From the CVS we went to Book Barn's downtown location. I could walk out of there with crates of stuff, but I restrain myself. I learn a lot just by looking at the books there. For instance, thriller writer Alistair Maclean wrote a non-fiction book about Captain Cook. I'd read several of Mr. Maclean's more exciting fictional offerings without ever knowing about this more scholarly side. I still don't, really, because I did not buy the Cook book.

The store provided some much-needed caffeine, because my parents have been brewing a largely decaffeinated blend for many years. That brought us near the front counter, where a large man named James kept us instructed and entertained for much longer than we'd planned to stay there.

"I know, I'm the image of the Comic Book Guy," he said, shifting his bulk on his seat behind the counter. "To make things worse, my previous job was in a record store." He did possess and share an encyclopedic store of knowledge about nearly any subject that came up. He had the acerbic delivery, too. It was not as supercilious as the more offensive Comic Book Guy specimens can be.

As I suspected when I first saw the Trice last year, people do mistake it for some kind of weird wheelchair. My brother reported that sometimes onlookers appear astonished when he is able to rise and walk after parking it. This might explain the remarkable amount of patience motorists seem to show, compared to an upright bike going the same speed, taking up less lane. Hey, whatever works. A woman outside the CVS said, "Nice chair!" when we pulled up. She did appear nonplussed when my brother stood up and explained what the vehicle really was.

I had a few hours when I got home to prepare for the work week ahead.

Summer brings urgent repairs. It brings impulse purchases of special-order bikes. These land on top of the pile of other repairs for which we have been given a few days or a week. Little things stand out, like the front hub on a Specialized Dolce women's road bike, with the wrench flats on the bearing cone completely blocked by the curvature of the domed dust cap in the hub shell. Ta daaa! Adjustable bearings that cannot be adjusted! Innovate or Die, you stupid bastards! The hub shell itself looks a lot like an Atom hub from the early 1970s, except that the Atom has flat dust shields so the bearings can actually be adjusted and locked in position. See how much we've learned since then?

I just get sick of working on poorly-thought-out, disposable componentry. You can really see the whole panorama from factory to scrap heap, one line on the graph, resources to junk, crossing the other line which represents people scrabbling for money they can burn buying this endless conveyor belt of doomed equipment.

On Thursday, the $12,000 Beater Bike came in for some gear adjustment. Its mixed road and mountain Shimano drive train requires a lot of fussing just to work pretty well.

I had just finished fine-tuning the shifting on a Ted Wojcik touring bike with Shimano XT. That demanded extremely precise cable tension. Just what you want: a finicky touring bike. Hey, I just fix 'em.

No sooner had the $12,000 Beater Bike left than a call came in from another avid rider who has been happily thrashing the Long Haul Trucker I built for him several years ago. He keeps about a 30-pound load on the racks all the time, probably so his touring load won't be a shock to his system. Putting the bike on the stand is like an Olympic weight lift. But he's a good guy. He let me build him a bike, wheels and all, and it's holding up to his heft and riding style. It's another fussy eater, though, because he insisted on brifters instead of barcons with his LX crank, XT derailleur and wide-range gearing.

Another guy came in on Sunday needing brake fluid for the hydraulic discs on his wife's mountain bike. We don't keep that stuff on hand because the technical mountain biking demographic largely died out in our area. If we saw more demand we'd invest in more supply. Meanwhile, mountain bike stuff has gotten too tweaky and expensive to allow us to fill up the shop with stuff we might or might not unload. Mountain biking started as a niche activity and the bike industry successfully turned it back into one. They were aided by the hard core of mountain bikers who eat that stuff up, but we're talking addicts here. Not everyone who tries a substance will get addicted. The hard-core addict keeps the pusher in business, but the expense and side effects naturally limit the size of the market. The pushers either have to be fellow users or, more likely, cynical exploiters of the users who take advantage of a location convenient to large groups of them.

Because the wrong fluid can damage the brakes, your hydraulic user needs to know what he's putting in his veins. I looked it up, but I couldn't hook him up. At least he left knowing what scrip to ask the next doc for.

"Dude, I need some DOT4! I'm crashing, man!"

I returned to the battered 1960s Raleigh 3-speed I was resuscitating. I just fix 'em.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'm actually here

Between work, domestic necessities and other needs, time to write has disappeared. Small ideas flit by.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Check your Marvin Bolts!

Some Shimano front derailleurs are held together with bolts that can loosen, leading to erratic front derailleur action, high-siding the chain and eventually falling apart. They had no name until recently. I had not seen a derailleur with Marvin Bolts in a while, so when a customer named Marvin brought a bike in with front derailleur problems, I took care of one of the issues, but forgot the Marvin Bolts. One fell out, and I ended up buying Mr. Marvin a derailleur before never seeing him again because I am obviously a negligent, untrustworthy bastard. Gone he may be, but he has given his name, as Ned Overend did to the Ned Gear and Tinker Juarez did to the Tinker Bolt.

The Tinker Bolt dates from the 1990s, when Mr. Juarez supposedly lost the bolt that holds the back of the the front derailleur cage together during a race. Legend has it he was unable to shift to the big ring, thus losing that race.

Check your bike for Marvin Bolts. Tighten them with your 3 mm hex key.

Not the most reassuring name for a tire

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Hidden Killer of STI Shifters

Sorry I don't have pictures, but time is tight and it's hard to photograph the way this problem works.

When your shifting gets mildly erratic with STI road shifters, the problem is often bad housing. The inner wires push through the ferrules so that the housing does not provide consistent resistance to the cable moving through it. However, a more sinister problem can have expensive consequences. If you examine your housig and DON'T see collapsing ferrules on the ends, look at the shift cable itself inside the shifter. It can fray in there, causing gradually increasing drag. It gets expensive when the cable degrades enough to spit broken fragments into the shifter itself. These can jam inside the inaccessible mechanism badly enough to ruin the shifter in some cases.

If you find a frayed cable, don't panic. Click the shifter to the highest gear position for the rear or lowest gear position for the front. Undo the anchor bolt at the derailleur. Push the cable just far enough for you to decapitate it with cable cutters. Pull the end out. Then, without pushing the shift levers at all, use a small magnet to pull out any leftover bits of wire.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Passing Strange

Acting as a border collie for holiday traffic yesterday I had a sudden realization. In certain terrain, trying to pass a cyclist is like trying to get by that driver on the highway whose speed fluctuates from 45 to 60 to 48 to 75 to 53 to 56 to 47 to 68...

Cyclists take what terrain gives them. We labor up the grades at 8 or 10 miles per hour, only to jet up to 30 or faster as soon as we pass the crest. Often we have to control overtaking traffic near the crest so that drivers with poor judgment don't pull out unwisely into the oncoming traffic they can't see on the other side of the hill or cram themselves dangerously close to us. If the road looks clear after the hill crest, we pull aside to let them by. At the same time, we're accelerating like the annoying jerk on the highway who only speeds up when being overtaken.

The speed range of a relatively fit cyclist can therefore be very confusing and inconvenient for a motorist. Perhaps one reason the sedate plodders get less harassment than the speedy, agile riders is that the slower riders act more like a cyclist "should."

No single riding style guarantees safety. The cyclist in the gutter is more likely to be crushed by turning trucks, for instance, whether riding slow or fast. The slow cyclist off to the side can get sideswiped by a large vehicle pushing past.

The vast majority of motorists believe they're doing a cyclist a favor just by not killing him or her. Ask most drivers and I bet you'll find they believe that they're indulging the strange compulsions of a bunch of eccentrics by letting cyclists use the roads. We're starting to hear increasingly elaborate lip service to the idea of bicycling as a legitimate part of the transportation and recreational travel mix, but it doesn't run very deep with many people yet. It does not have the penetration that personal watercraft, ATV, motorcycle, auto, truck, cigarette and alcohol advertising have. More people will choke down a Bloomin' Onion than would be caught dead trying to ride a bicycle in traffic. In fact, caught dead is how they assume it will end for all those crazy two-wheelers. It's only a matter of time.

If motorists suddenly started killing large numbers of cyclists in sideswipe crashes, do you think there would be A) an immediate call for massive driver education and safer road design or 2) an immediate call to ban cycling on most roadways? In my darkest imagination I think about how sufficiently ruthless drivers could work toward their vision of a better world by taking out cyclists in "tragic but unavoidable" crashes that would be viewed as criminally negligent behavior if one participant had not been pedaling a bike.

The cellist decided to make this past weekend a car-free one. She didn't drive a car from Thursday until Sunday evening. She remarked that at every stop, as she put on her helmet and gloves to ride to her next destination, people would tell her, "Now you be careful out there." It's a thing we say to each other, but bicyclists hear it a lot. But our own caution can only preserve us from so much. We depend on other people's caution as much as our own.

On Independence Day I was pondering this interdependence. Drivers depend on their machines and their fuel supply. Cyclists depend on motorists' compassion and judgment. I savored the paradoxical relationship between the principle of utterly unfettered individual liberty and the revolutionary admonition to "Join or Die." You're either with us or against us. If you want to live in the land of the free, conform to our standard of how a free person acts. These things are best contemplated from the seat of a bicycle, where thought-induced wobbles put only yourself at risk. You can accelerate with your racing mind or pause in astonishment or swoop exuberantly into a turn, observing local hazards, of course.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Freeze Frame

The first time I saw bike tubing swollen like frozen plumbing I was amazed. Someone who had ridden his mountain bike hard and put it away wet pulled it out of his unheated shed in the spring to find that the tire clearance had shrunk and the gears skipped. Since then I've seen the effect several times. This is the latest victim.
The drive side chain stay expanded enough to rub on the 1.95 tire. The expansion of the stay spread the rear dropouts about half a centimeter. Amazingly, the metal did not split. One might attempt to crimp the stay again, using a shaped block, a metal cylinder and a vise. If the metal did not split from that stress you could run wide tires again. Or you could leave the stay fat, tweak the dropouts for spacing and alignment and just run 1.25" street tires.

It looked more dramatic before I chipped the paint away to examine the metal.

I go from stuff like this to grimy NEXT or Walgoose suspension bikes to a bright new Cervelo and back to a 1995 Specialized Hardrock.

Cervelo Dude was on a ride and had a shifting problem. He had a SRAM drive train with barcon shifters on aero extensions.

"I just got this wheel set," he said, pointing to the brand-new Zipps. "It's not getting the low gears."

The rear derailleur had a mile of adjuster barrel hanging out.

"Who adjusted this?" I asked.

"The guys at my local shop," he said.

Hmmm. Adjuster tuning. A sign of laziness or lack of knowledge.

The top tube was the only somewhat round tube on the entire bike. I didn't want to alarm him by stuffing that into the jaws of our old skool Park work stand, even though I know enough to pad things and use zero clamping pressure. Fortunately the bike's saddle had a hooked nose. I was able to hang it over the padded arm of the work stand securely enough to tidy up the gear adjustment. Cervelo Dude resumed his ride and I returned to the gritty, mundane steeds of the common folk.

George is back from his trip to Nova Scotia, so we go into the holiday weekend with extra wrenching capability. Time to get out of my PJs and into my battle armor for the ride to work.