Thursday, March 24, 2011

Packing on the pounds

My commuting bike has gotten heavier over the winter. As so often happens, the gains were gradual. Some were invisible.

Over the years I have added a tool or two to the emergency kit. I made cleat covers to carry in case I have a bad mechanical breakdown and have to walk a while, or need to go into the grocery store. Even in the bright months I was carrying a small headlight, a blinky tail light and some reflector leg bands. A mesh shopping bag and a plastic bag line the bottom of the rack pack, over top of the spare shift cable or two.

I resisted full fenders for years, but the comfort and cleanliness for both rider and bike make too much sense. They went on last fall.

The move to generator lighting added a measurable amount of weight and a minor amount of complexity. The sidewall generator wasn't too heavy, but mounting it was fiddly and marred the frame. The hub dynamo seems a little heavier than the sidewall unit, but the wiring is neater. With full-power lighting available I can probably ditch the little battery light. I might also switch back to my regular front wheel for the height of summer, disabling the generator light but reducing weight and resistance. It's a tough call. All the things I've added have turned my lean, mean, dirt-spattered exploring bike into a dreadnought of considerable capability.

Surly offers the Big Dummy cargo bike. All my modifications have turned my Cross Check into at least a Little Idiot.

Last Sunday I rode the first full commute of 2011. I didn't get to ride on the day we saw temperatures in the low 60s. As always, when we get a warm shot like that in March we get punished for weeks afterward. We keep getting little nuisance snowstorms that make a treacherous mess out of my commuting route. I'll defend my right of way with all the power of the law and my middle finger when conditions are even remotely reasonable, but sudden blinding snow laying down a slippery paste on a sometimes busy highway puts more than myself at risk. Then the icy rind left over, or the dry morning that leads to a wet or snowy afternoon further complicates the early season.

My bike and I are both avoiding the scale. April sneaks up on us under cover of the stubborn snow still piled around the house and covering the ground in the woods and our home clearing. It would be too easy to stay in the den, napping. It would be too easy to forget to do my taxes!

Sitting here writing it's also easy to be late to work. Oops.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Electrifying News

The dynamo hub is on. The sidewall generator is off. The transfer of power was orderly and peaceful. The procedure was gratifyingly easy compared to some jobs that seem like they'll only take a few minutes and end up at midnight.

The dynamo bracket left a nasty little dent in the seat stay. That's an unfortunate souvenir. For the most part, though, it was a great experiment that led me to take this step. I haven't road tested the rig yet, but it works well on the stand. The power is a little jumpy at first up to about five or six miles per hour (according to the bike computer as I spun the wheel). This may improve as the hub wears in.

I like that I can turn it on and off with the switch on the light. I like that nothing wears against the tire. And, of course, power is continuous for as long as I want to ride. There will be no dead weight of expended batteries. The hub is heavier than a regular hub, but any light system requires adding weight. I just have to go ride.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Commuting Season Approaches

Daylight Relocating Time begins this Sunday. With my groovy light system I should be more independent of daylight, but people worry about me and the dark rural highway is riskier at night.

Two weeks ago we got a foot of snow in Wolfe City. The shop owner declared loudly and confidently that we had so much snow that we would certainly be skiing well into the spring. In 20 years I have seen that prediction come true a mere handful of times. Sure enough, torrential rain within a couple of days of his brash statement scoured away a foot of snow in 24 hours. More rain and thaw weather have continued the attack.

Years ago I would have thrown my body across the snow to protect it. I would have raged against the gods. I'm too practical to keep that up, though. I soon learned to adapt to conditions. Conditions obviously were not going to adapt to me.

The early commuting season demands patience. Snowbanks and encroaching ice still narrow the roads in critical places. Deep drifts of sand fill the margins of the pavement. Blocked drains lead to flooding with briny melt water. I won't charge out and abuse my bike when I can abuse the car. Soon enough the weather will shift completely to the gray gap after winter has been dismantled. Then comes the gradual green of spring. All the while the sun vaults higher, so you get a good long look at the fugly and the early hints of returning life.

The toughest part is slogging through the slush in leafless woods to answer inopportune calls of nature on the long commute. Fluid balance is an art.

It's time to set up the rollers. I have to get my favorite old training tunes from vinyl and cassette tape to MP3. That could be cumbersome. I think I know a way, but I don't know if I have the requisite cords to play amp output into laptop input. I'm not even sure it would work. I certainly can't use that project as an excuse to delay training. I can always use the old Walkman.

The recent sudden death of Jon (who was a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog) has taken a lot of the fun out of things. As much as you might tell yourself that life is fragile and can end in an instant, when a loved one is snatched away it creates concentric waves of distress from everyone who knew him. These waves cross each other, blend and reflect. They wash in from odd angles at unexpected times. Jon was a son, a brother, a husband and a father. His loss affects each person differently because of these roles and the ages of each person left behind. Because other family members have the illness that took him, we wonder who might be next. It's a pretty nasty frame of mind.

Aside from taking reasonable precautions to avoid the obvious, stupid things, you can't spend your life wondering when and how you are going to die, or how and when someone close to you will die.

The most dangerous thing you will ever do is love someone. You can't really control that,though. We humans tend to clump together.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I can't say much for 2011 so far

My exercise has consisted of shoveling snow, skiing a handful of times and carrying a friend's coffin. He was one of my wife's brothers, 47 years old, with a wife and three children. The oldest child was from his previous marriage.

Averages are made of highs and lows. Since the beginning of the year, events have been more crap-heavy. No one can say how long this period might last. I don't believe things come in threes. And who's to say you don't get multiples of three or overlapping threes? Crap is crap. You prevent what you can, but some will find you. Then you find your way out unless, as in dead Jon's case, it is your terminal issue of crap. Guess what! Your heart's fucked! Sayonara.

This is why I try to have policies, not plans. Plans get wrecked. A policy merely states your intent given a certain set of circumstances. If it has to be adjusted, it's easier than digging your way out from under the collapsed structure of elaborate arrangements. A policy is based on principle: I will ride. I will eat reasonably nutritiously. I will think. I will write. I will draw. I will practice the violin. I will get the household chores done. I will keep going to work. You can't be disappointed if you weren't looking forward to anything.

New items get added: I will comfort the grieving. I will go where I am needed.

We had just completed the first year after the cellist's mother's death when her brother dropped. I will hope that we don't have to deal with such a thing again for a long, long time. However, I know that absolutely nothing is guaranteed. Whatever happens will be dealt with.