Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bicycle Hypochondria

Bicycle Hypochondria has crept up to saturatingly high levels among road cyclists.

When I raced in the late 1970s and early 1980s no one had bicycle hypochondria. Racers and the posers who wanted to look like them beat the crap out of their bikes back then, just as they do today. If anyone was feeling neurotic they might go through a bout of position paranoia. That might lead them to fiddle with their seat height or stem length. Anyone with sufficient funds might indulge in a little component envy if they didn't already own the best of the best or they wanted to buy some obscure brand of brake arch or crankset to turn heads at the next race or group ride.

Hypochondria starts with a genuine fear of real illness. Bicycle hypochondria starts with a justified anxiety about real mechanical problems.

I never heard anyone whinge about their shifting when the shift levers were held on with primitive wing nuts. Accurate shifting was one more skill a racer needed to master. Less skilled riders might have whinged in general about how difficult friction shifting was, but they didn't have to worry about whether it would work if they ever managed to develop the dexterity. If you blew a shift it was because you blew a shift, not because your expensive mechanical servant let you down.

The simple equipment put the focus squarely on the rider. No one got ridiculously neurotic about chain noise, shifting systems or whether your bike was as well-dressed as the next guy's. Shift cables did not have to wind their way through a labyrinth of housing.

When everything is working perfectly, modern shifting systems allow a rider to maintain a more constant cadence by facilitating frequent, precise shifts among closely-spaced gears. This creates a dependence on frequent, precise shifts among closely-spaced gears. What was once an indulgence becomes a necessity. The rider now lives in a world of much more precise tolerances. It takes a lot less to disrupt their mood and confidence, whether they realize it or not.

Some riders manage to blunder along happily oblivious to the feedback from their abused machinery. They may be mentally better off than the bicycle hypochondriac but they still fall victim to the genuine needs of the temperamental modern system.

A moderate approach to the vulnerabilities of modern bicycle crap still requires that the victim of modern componentry open the wallet and dump out money as frequently as the finicky bullshit requires it. A wise rider might accept a little more noise or a slightly crunchier shift for the sake of a more durable chain that's easier to service. At the very least the rider who insists on having the quieter tinsel chain with the Magic Pin has to accept frequent expensive replacement as the price of that noise level.

Shifting systems are just the beginning of the bicycle hypochondriac's concerns. Bikes and parts failed in the era of steel and traditionally spoked wheels, but it was less common. Things got gradually more exciting as aluminum became more common. Now in an age when no self-respecting performance rider will be seen on steel, and titanium seems to be a plaything for the rich, carbon fiber has brought the fear of sudden structural collapse to the nervous rider's list of woes. Sure, it's hardly a daily occurrence, but you have to admit you see more outright snapped-off frame and fork parts than you ever saw in the Iron Age. It's in the back of the mind of every rider on a carbon frame. Is that noise serious?

Bottom brackets with bearings pressed into the frame call for more perfect tolerances in the bottom bracket shell. When cups threaded into the frame, the shell could be faced and tapped even if it was itself slightly misaligned with the rest of the frame. Cartridge bottom bracket bearing units maintain their own alignment, so the BB shell does not even have to be faced. Bearings pressed into the shell eat themselves in no time with even a misalignment of a few thousandths of an inch. If the bike doesn't have it when it's new, it can develop it from a few seasons of vigorous riding. A fellow mechanic in Florida is trying to fix a titanium bike that came from the factory with a misaligned BB 30 shell. It eats a set of bearings in about 50 miles. A rider who uses my shop has noticed that his bike has started chewing through BB 30 bearings now that he's had the frame a while. He gets a little further than 50 miles before he notices the play, but compare that to the cartridge BB in my Cross Check, which I've ridden a lot, which is still running smoothly after almost 11 years.

Whether you think the bike industry started complicating the machinery to make life simpler for the dedicated athletes who use it to express the highest level of human achievement or that they did it to suck ever greater amounts of money from as much of the cycling public as they could ensnare, modern riders have to maintain complex, temperamental equipment or pay someone else to do it for them. I see a lot of haunted expressions on the victims of bicycle hypochondria listening tensely to creaks, pops, squeaks, rattles, chatters, sproings, cracks, crunches... you get the idea.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Near Death Experience

For this lucky brifter it was a brush with death. I may have noted before that a failing shift wire can cause irreparable brain damage to brifters, particularly Shimano's. Since Campy shifters can be completely disassembled, fragments of a damaged shift cable could probably be removed. I'm betting SRAM shrouds the interior of their modern horrors in mystery similarly to Shimano, but I haven't dealt with enough of it to say for sure.

All three major suppliers of brifters now route the shift cable housing under the tape. While that gives a lovely clean look to the bars it makes checking the condition of the cables inside the shifter harder because you can't get a lot of slack by popping the housings out of the frame stops. Similarly it is difficult to check whether the ferrules on the linear-wire housing are failing, which is a common cause of erratic shifting. Linear housing wires can also push into the brains of the shifter and jam things completely.

Fortunately for this rider, his shifters have external routing. He noticed a sudden decline in shifting performance and brought the bike right in.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Adventure Commuting

It starts with a line on a map.
That line circled in yellow highlighter indicates a public right of way still listed as current. It looks like any other road on the map. Any explorer of rural New England knows that the truth on the ground may look quite different.

Looking for an alternate route home after a tiring week, I examined a topographic map of the area around Stoddard Road, which had been my woodsy escape route through North Wolfeboro. Lately, cyclists had reported some bad dog incidents on Stoddard. Some dog owners have a way of relying on the public to train their unruly mutts for them. Cyclists often bear the brunt of this because we're not locked safely in an armored vehicle. I was in no mood to grind my way up Stoddard's considerable climbs only to have to deal with aggressive dogs as I wobbled over the crest.

I knew that Bickford Road goes to Haines Hill Road. It arrives there with a different name. The contours on the topographic map indicated that it comes into Haines Hill at the bottom of a tough climb that eventually leads to the same four-way intersection in North Wolfeboro that Stoddard Road enters. The contours also showed that the discontinued section of Bickford Road runs up a valley between the height of Stoddard Road and the rise of Haines Hill. It looked like a very agreeable gradient. Interesting that the two tougher roads have survived to the modern day while the easier one has fallen into disuse.

Typically I reach the Stoddard Road area by riding out the Cotton Valley Trail. Despite its many shortcomings, the Cotton Valley Trail follows a very convenient line. It is certainly free of motor vehicle traffic except if you encounter one of the rail cars for which the rails were left in place. These encounters are fairly rare.

Bickford Road began with a milder climb than the first one on Stoddard. That brought me to a beautiful little valley with a wetland in it, surrounded by the hills I would not be climbing.

Sometimes when a road changes names you will find a sign indicating the change, even if there is no obvious intersection or direction change. I hoped such a sign might nail down for sure which set of ruts I should follow into the woods to come out where I expected to on Stoddard, where I'd passed the other end of the old road many times. I knew it would be pretty rough, but that's why I bought the Cross Check. Lately I'd stuck mostly to pavement, but that was more a matter of scheduling than a formal decision to give up absurd bushwhacks as a whole.

There was no sign when I reached the turn. It had to be the right one. The ruts were overgrown with encroaching growth and had obviously channeled some pretty healthy streams of water during the last big rainstorm. Immediately after I entered them I caught something under the thick grass and fell to the left. I yanked a foot out in time to prevent a full crash.

I was a few yards in when I decided to stop for a picture of the prospect.
A little further on I snapped this shot of emergent rocks.

I pressed on without taking pictures of the two fallen trees that made me dismount and carry, or of some of the more thickly jungled sections in which saplings, tree branches, shrubbery and grasses stroked various insect life all over me.

For all of its obstacles it delivered on the promise of very gradual climbing. If the surface had been smooth I would have felt almost guilty about how completely I was cheating the hills.

Before I reached the junction with Stoddard Road I saw the back of a farm house I'd only ever seen from the front. By that I could tell that I had almost reached the maintained road.

The ruts diverged as Bickford Road met Stoddard. The first shot shows the direction in which I continued.
The second shot shows the direction from which I had always come. It also shows the contrast between a Class V maintained road and a Class VI right of way.

A Class VI right of way is still retained for public use, but nothing is done to ease passage through it. Some of them manage to keep looking a lot like a road because so many people use them. Others disappear into stands of trees and the imagination of cartographers.

I plucked a tick off my leg and crushed it between my fingernails before continuing on the familiar route home to a thorough shower.

Next time I try one of these routes I will wear more suitable shoes than my road cleats and bring some means of making fire so I can torch any ticks that get on me.

Gilford Run Wrap-up

Some days you just can't avoid eating supper after 10 p.m.

In spite of the heat and the work day that preceded the ride, I felt okay heading out on the Gilford run to retrieve my car from the mechanic who is worth the trip. I was nicely wired from the Kenyan coffee Lydia's had served that day. I was also getting fired up to face potential motorist hassles in the known trouble spots.

Okay does not mean great. I did not feel fast and bulletproof, as I once did. However, the motoring public chose this day to be extraordinarily cooperative. For my part, I did not stick much of an elbow into the lane on the long grind from the center of town to the Kingswood Regional High School complex, where the road bends right and tends down. Even on that stretch, where I can maintain 30 miles per hour much of the time, motorists are more than ready to exceed 40 down to the hard 90-degree (or tighter) right turn where King's Highway departs to the left and Route dives down a bit more before slamming into the bottom of the climb the locals call Old Perk. No one has ever explained the name to me. I call it Alpe de Suez as a tribute to the legendary climb in the French Alps and a play on the name of the restaurant East of Suez, situated at the top. It's a restaurant with an undeservedly good reputation, but it has survived decades to be a landmark I will miss if people finally start being underwhelmed by the food and the service. What will I call the hill?

I got a great run through the 90. My size and persistence in the rear-view mirrors of a Nissan that had just passed me caused the driver to punch the gas to gain a gap on me. I appreciated that, since I wanted to hold as much speed as possible going into the beginning of the climb. I knew darn well I was going to head for the low gears and crawl once my momentum ran out. And so it was. Still, I arrived at the crest feeling less sapped than I expected.

The headwind on 28 soon took that out of me. It's a boring slog to Chestnut Cove Road at the best of times. I trudged along to that junction.

It occurred to me as I left Chestnut Cove Road to enter Route 28A that it's the only peaceful little road on the whole route. Route 28A isn't bad for a numbered highway, but it still draws its share of throttle-pushers. Addicted to cornering in whatever vehicle I'm piloting, I understand the lure of 28A's curves. On the bike I can enjoy them without guilt.

I kept thinking about pulling out my camera, but when I have to get somewhere I hate to slow down. Alton Bay bustled with classic summer activity. Smells of fried food hung in the air, reminding me how long I would have to wait for my own supper. Best not to think about it.

The wind seemed to be bent by the hills to a helpful direction I had not expected. I was starting to feel minor twinges from the steady pace, but nothing dire.

Two modern roadies passed me just before the shoulder widened to a full breakdown lane on Route 11. They were courteous, but clearly pulling a pace I had no interest in matching. They didn't really give any hint that I would be welcome, either. I was in the mood to ride alone, so it worked out for all of us.

The first wide bit on 11 gives views of Alton Bay and the lake below. The roadies took 11D, which runs along the shore. I stuck to the high road with its scenic vistas. If they returned from 11D where it rejoins 11 just before the narrows, they were far enough ahead that I never saw them.

Even in the narrows, the motoring public remained eerily courteous. I continued to ride to the right, in no mood to engage in any debate over road rights. I got lucky, because none of the drivers felt like crowding me. In fact, where the narrows end with a fast drop to Ellacoya State Park, I rejoined the flow as my speed approached 40 miles per hour. No one contested my merge. Near the bottom I heard the hiss of truck brakes. I swung to the right as the road widened, which is my normal routine there. After a gracious moment, a tractor trailer that had been waiting politely behind me passed comfortably to the left with a generous margin. Some days humanity seems halfway decent.

The wind shifted gradually against me. The sun angled in. I started to get that out-of-body feeling as fatigue built up and the glare reduced my vision to an approximation, in spite of my polarized sunglasses.

The stretch past Laconia Airport is always a slog. The last bit, on Lily Pond Road drags it out for another mile or so. I was certainly ready to stop by the time I arrived. But once again I had managed to avoid putting more than 40 miles on another car when all I really needed to do was convey a driver to this one.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today's Challenge

On the hottest day so far this summer (maybe) I'll be heading out on the 27-mile hilly course to Gilford to complete the July auto service event.

Last week I rode from Gilford to Wolfeboro in the morning. Today I ride the route the other way, starting at 5:30 p.m.

The road heading south out of Wolfeboro is the worst part of the trip. There's another tight, tense section on Route 11 on the other side of the lake, but South Main Street out of Wolfe City has more angry jerks driving on it. They are already irritable because two state highways, 109 and 28, get squeezed through the amazingly congested downtown area. South Main Street shows these sufferers their first glimpse of clearer running room. Every cyclist I know has had ugly encounters on this part of the road, going either way.

The climax of this love fest is a nasty hill to climb, with narrow lanes and no shoulder. Past the crest of it the road widens.

Last week I got to ride down that hill. I hit almost 45 miles per hour. Your average car, idling, drops down it at more than 50 unless the driver rides the brakes. Not much makes a driver ride the brakes. A few sensible types might downshift, but most people just put the car in "go" and proceed to. Forty-five miles per hour gives me a little bargaining power and a good excuse to stay in the center of the lane.

The climb is a different story. I'll take enough lane to assert my presence, but even at a speed that would fry my competition on bicycles I look like a pathetic, crawling ant to the motoring public.

The late starting time is another issue. Last week I rode my heavy commuting bike at an average speed that surprised me. It was first thing in the morning after two days of rest. I don't expect to be as spunky after a work day. Sunset is not early, but it's earlier than at the height of June. So the lights on the commuting bike are a good idea. In summer twilight, active lighting is very important. But the bike, with its amenities, is heavy.

Yvon Chouinard wrote somewhere, "If you carry bivouac gear you will bivouac." He advocated going light and fast, forcing yourself to complete the route rather than dawdle and set up camp. I used to do these runs on my light road bike. It seemed sensible. After I had done it on the Cross Check, though, I discovered it did not make the ride significantly longer. The Cross Check is very comfortable and sure-footed in the rough bits. I will debate the choice until the last second.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nursing things along

The old commuting bike was making some funny noises on Sunday when I rode home from work. The chain was making a strange little jingling noise in the high gears. It sounded like I had not lined the derailleur up quite accurately, but I couldn't get the noise to go away completely by adjusting the shifter.

Today I investigated the problem, because tomorrow I have to drop one of our cars off at the mechanic's place in Gilford before riding 25 miles back to Wolfe City to work. At the end of the day I'll ride the remaining 15 miles back home. I want the bike in good form, even though I feel old and tired.

The noise could have been a loose cassette. The cause of that could be as simple as a loose lock ring or as dire as a cracked freehub body. The old Sachs Quartz hub in that wheel was a warranty replacement after the freehub body cracked on the first Sachs Quartz hub I'd bought for a mountain bike wheel set I was building.

The freehub body was fine. The lock ring had not been particularly loose. The cogs aren't badly worn, even though they're seen the coming and going of more chains than I can remember. I try to change the chain soon enough to avoid bad cog wear. I did add a washer under the axle spacer on the right side to try to keep a seal from binding on the freehub body. To fit the space I used one of those annoying chainring spacers that came on badly designed Shimano cranks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They're the perfect ID and OD to fit little jobs like this.

The derailleur pulleys were quite worn. That would cause sloppy shifting and provide space for random jingling noises from the chain. I scavenged an old Bullseye pulley and an off-brand alloy pulley from old Campy derailleurs in my bin of potentially useful items.

The ninja throwing star on the right used to look like the plump and healthy derailleur pulley on the left, several thousand miles ago.

The nice thing is, shifting in friction I don't have to worry about micro-millimetric perfection. It just has to line up pretty well. I get a lot of care-free miles out of my primitive junk.

The Week in Review

Things could be worse. You could be battling cancer and trying to get over a broken pelvis.

The shop owner/manager rode the Prouty cancer benefit on Saturday. I had hoped he would have only wonderful tales to share with us, since the weather was so much better than last year. Instead he reported that the cancer patient for whom their team was named, who has been fighting some weird intestinal cancer for 11 years crashed 18 miles from the finish of their hundred-mile ride and broke her pelvis. Her brother did an endo over her, cracking her bike frame and landing on his face.

No one knows for sure whether she scrubbed the rear tire of a bike in front of her or had some other problem to cause her to lose control.

That cast a pall over Sunday.

Summer has hit Wolfe City, and various things seem to keep hitting cyclists. A guy from New Jersey who comes up to New Hampshire brought his Cannondale touring bike so we could examine it and do an estimate for his insurance company after he got tee-boned by a car he said was going about 55 miles per hour.

Front and rear views of the twisted but not crushed Cannondale.

No charges were filed against the driver because he was not exceeding the speed limit or chemically impaired. You do have to wonder what that big windshield is for if you're not going to look out through it for obstacles in your path -- like other human beings, for instance -- but apparently peening a cyclist crossing your path can be okay. If the cyclist was crossing from a side street without scanning properly for oncoming traffic, the crash would be the rider's own fault. It's called failure to yield.

The rider in this case looks pretty darn good for someone who did some serious air time over the hood of the impacting auto. He did have a broken scapula and five broken ribs, as well as other injuries. I don't remember the whole catalog. The crash was in May and he's up and around now, looking for repairs or a new bike.

The rider for whom I did the Campy repairs last month came in to report that someone had gone into her garage and stolen the bike along with her boyfriendianceusband's mountain bike. (I'm not sure of their relationship status.) That's ominous, because Wolfeboro had not seen such interest in bike theft since the mountain bike boom of the 1990s. Back then reports of brazen daytime theft were common, from homes as well as out on the streets. Of course back then you could park any road bike almost anywhere. Thieves only wanted mountain bikes.

Classing up the joint, a customer brought us his Pashley 5-speed to tune up. I'm glad it didn't need much, because the enclosed chain case, drum brakes, internal gears and dynamo front hub would make removing the wheels quite a pain.

After I finished the adjustments I did a quick, unimaginative photo shoot:
The big chrome tone-burger. It has a classy double ding.

On Thursday someone's kid defecated on the floor of the dressing room. The father offered to clean it up, and even made an attempt, but he did the job you would expect from someone who really just wanted to get out of there, with no intention of ever returning. It would have been good cover for a shoplifting spree, as we had the week before, when a couple brought in rambunctious kids while an adult member of their group switched tags on some clothes and brought them to the checkout. I believe Poop Kid and his father had no other agenda. It was just an unfortunate accident, as they say.

Our own much more thorough cleanup lasted well into the following afternoon. The little whipper not only let it go on the floor, he also walked in it and tracked it around.

These are the work weeks that make the heart of summer disappear, dumping us into late August, or even September, wondering where that chunk of our lives went. The work can be interesting. The studies in human nature can be equally illuminating. But it's a lot like being stuck in the coat room while the real party takes place out where we can only see and hear little scraps of it.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

It's a bike! It's a rain gauge!

Wait! It's BOTH!

The owner of this bike came up with a clever way to keep his seat dry when the weather is rainy. I've seen other people try the same maneuver, but I haven't managed to grab a picture of them. It always cracks me up.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Declaration of Independence

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to dissolve the bands that have connected them to utter dependence on motorized transportation, and to assume among the users of the road the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all road users are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights -- that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. -- that a human being propelling a vehicle by muscle power shall not be subject to the whim, coercion or threat of harm from the operator of a larger vehicle unwilling to share the public right of way. -- that citizens should not feel compelled to purchase and maintain motor vehicles because they do not feel safe outside them. -- that any citizen shall be encouraged to enjoy the advantages economical, physical and environmental, of transportation by bicycle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, the grievances that led to the real Declaration of Independence lent themselves to the territorial solution the Declaration laid out, and the bloody war that followed. The Americans wanted their own turf because the British government wasn't meeting their needs. But I was thinking about how choosing the bicycle sets us so firmly apart from people who, for various reasons, wouldn't dream of it. We're not declaring war, but in a way we're fighting one every day, to be seen, respected and accommodated on the public travel ways all our taxes pay for.

The shop actually had a party of renters cancel their reservation while they were driving from the shop to their motel because they were scared by the narrow roads, the traffic volume and the crash they had just witnessed in which a motorcycle had run into the back end of a car.

At least once a week someone tells me they think I'm crazy or stupid or braver than average because I ride on the road. Far more frequently than that I deal with customers selecting their bike specifically to avoid the road. Some of those customers say they would ride the road "if they could." Others say they are perfectly happy to ride only on recreational paths "where they belong."

Meeting the needs of all road users is not easy, especially here in the land of narrow, hilly, winding roads. That doesn't mean it should not be done. When I'm on my bike I slow down for motor vehicle congestion and stop for pedestrians. I don't feel I have the right to rip along at my best speed at all times. Nor do I accept that I should always have to step aside or risk annihilation whenever someone else in a vehicle of any size wants to gain a few seconds by blasting past me in a tight spot. Nowhere is it written in traffic law that a motorist has the right (often expressed as if it was a compulsion) to pass a slower vehicle without changing course or reducing speed wherever the encounter should happen to take place. But that's common practice. Motorists do it around each other and often collide. As cyclists we notice careless or risky behavior because we are more vulnerable to it. We also get to hear from passing critics who might be completely muffled if we were in a car with the windows rolled up.

I've had the idea a few times to quit biking and just drive annoyingly. More effective than Critical Mass might be for all the cyclists one day to drive, adding that many cars to the traffic mix to show the resentful motorists what we have spared them all these years by pedaling.

Freedom isn't free. Most people just pay lip service to that, sending someone else's kids overseas to fight for our national interests and saying nice things about them when they get back. It does not occur to them that you can put yourself on the line for what you believe in just by biking to the grocery store or to work. It just looks foolishly risky compared to riding the roller coaster of oil prices, polluting the air, hating each other in traffic, circling in search of parking, paying off car loans, dealing with repairs and upkeep and spending all that time sitting in a confined space.