Friday, June 29, 2012

Ungreased bolts speak for themselves

Time has been short so I have not posted all the great ideas I've been scribbling on scraps of paper or mentally rehearsing. I haven't edited the videos I'm accumulating from the helmet cam. But here's a tidbit from the workshop:

Gripping, eh?

Shimano's espionage service has successfully jammed both my attempts to take a video of de-earwaxing a Rapidfire  shifter. It could also be my own ineptitude shooting with a camera that has no viewfinder. The Contour HD 1080p is wondrously streamlined and minimalist. I'll get it figured out eventually.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Being seen

As this blonde New England princess prepared to T-bone me by running a stop sign with her shiny Volvo station wagon full of handsome family, I reflected in the moments left to me how handy it would be if I could burst into flames at will. I guess it's something like the fictional Ghost Rider, although I've never seen more than a movie promo for that.

She added extra bait for me by stopping at the sign and remaining stopped as I approached. Extra points for that.

She wasn't trying hard enough, because she failed to mow me down. She might have thought that shoving herself right up to me as I crossed the intersection -- with the right of way -- was simply an efficient use of space. Maybe in her mind, she never intended to run over me. Unfortunately, lady, I can't read your mind. What there is of it, anyway.

I've previously wished for the ability to throw showy but basically harmless lightning bolts. I still want that. But nothing expresses disdain like bursting into flames in front of someone who has just done something idiotic that put you at risk. Do ya see me NOW?!

It would be great.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hatin' on Presta

Presta valves should only be available by prescription in the United States. Every day, thousands of bike shop employees are called on to explain and apologize for that weird little metal demon that stands between so many hapless riders and proper tire inflation.

Filling a tire with a presta valve is simple. Remove the cap (if you bother to use it), unscrew the little metal tip on the valve core, shove the pump head on there (thumb lock it if your pump has a thumb lock), inflate to the desired pressure, remove the pump, screw the core shut and you're ready to ride.

That process is discouraging enough. If the rider wants to use a compressor with a common air chuck, then they have to use the dreaded Presta Valve Adapter. Now it gets really complicated. Remove the cap, unscrew the little middle part, thread the adapter on the right way around, inflate with the air hose, remove the adapter, screw the little middle part shut and off you go.


Over a long career in the bike business we strive for the right balance of education and commiseration. Some riders learn readily and become Presta People. It's the Attack of the Presta People! Look at them with their weird little tire valves! Others are completely disgusted by the inexplicably complicated device. We adjust our approach to find the customer's comfort zone.

For the Presta haters I say something like, "Yeah, someone ought to get into a time machine and go back and find the guy who invented that thing and kill him as a child so he'll never grow up to invent it." Or I'll say it was invented by Napoleon as part of his quest for world domination and somehow survived to the present day.

The best news a presta hater can get is that we can drill out most rims and change the tubes to end their torment forever.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our Best

There can be a big difference between "We do what's best for you" and "We do the best we can with what we have."

As a small shop in a rural resort area with huge seasonal variation in population and cash flow, we have had to be very resourceful. With a clientele that runs the range from a Forbes-listed billionaire to food stamp recipients (a category that nearly includes us), we have to be ready to fix Cervelos, Colnagos, and other gems of carbon, titanium, aluminum or exquisitely crafted steel and 50-pound boat anchors from Wal Mart. Just yesterday I had to construct a Hayes disc brake bleed kit from objects lying around the work shop. Stuff like that is fun.

When times were good it was easier to keep a bit of variety in stock for repair parts. Now we have narrowed things to the point of almost-inefficiency. Couple this with the "it's good enough" mentality of the procurement division and you end up giving a 76-year-old lady a 117-inch top gear because you refuse to order a more appropriate cassette. Bafflingly, this is a customer who has already said money is no object: that rare wealthy person who respects not only our skill and judgment but our labor rate and does not chisel. This is a person who deserves to be catered to.

I spend more time than I should, trying to negotiate these ethical and commercial minefields to the satisfaction of all parties. I outfitted her other bike when she rode from Massachusetts to Florida a couple of years ago. We didn't cut corners then. If we're going to cut them now we owe the customer the explanation that we are not the business we were then. When upper management's favorite saying is "desperate times call for desperate measures" the customer can no longer safely assume that everything will be done to the highest standard. Even if the customer has said the budget is virtually unlimited to get the desired result, we're going to slap in whatever we happen to have. So then I have to decide whether to do best I can with what I'm allowed to use or refuse to have my fingerprints on it at all because I don't want to have to explain the choice of parts.

Ironically, this class warfare is being carried out by a shop owned by people who vote with the top one percent every time. For decades I've watched their grudging gratitude and suppressed resentment toward the big wallets who come through here in the summer. They like the ones who trickle willingly and bitch about the ones who chisel relentlessly but they view the situation as the unalterable way of the world. They buy into the notion that if they were worth more they would have more. They believe they are inferior, so they accept less. But they're not happy about it.

I always try to do the best I can for the bike. The owner benefits from my obsession with mechanical function. I might throw in more freebies for someone who isn't a jerk, but sometimes I take pity on a neglected bike and do stuff even for someone who is oblivious or ungrateful. It may keep them out on the road instead of back in here pissing me off.

Monday, June 11, 2012


"Get the f*** off the road you f***ing faggot," yelled the young male passenger in a pickup truck overtaking me yesterday as I rode to work.

Because he yelled from behind me I was able to shove my middle finger practically inside his left nostril as the truck passed me. I'm afraid I have not mastered the soft answer that turns away wrath. If I turn the other cheek to someone who strikes me, it's a nether cheek as I moon them.

As is always the case with these manly cowards, he was happy to let his buddy keep driving the truck to carry him safely away from any real confrontation. I was just as happy, too. We exchanged various obscene semaphores until we were too far apart to make out details. Then I settled in to finish the last couple of miles to the shop. Just another day.

Ugly things happen in some riding venues all the time and in all riding venues some of the time. They increase in the summer around here as visitors from less tolerant places bring their prejudices on vacation and tempers fray among the locals because of the massive increase in traffic congestion.

The choice of insult yesterday got me thinking about what bothers bike haters so much. We must represent a threat to their traditional ideas of transportation if they feel we should be persecuted and driven off of the road. If we're allowed to ride it invalidates their lifestyle. They might even be secretly tempted to try it themselves to see what it's like. What if they like it? What if they become one of those nancy-pants bike riders sashaying along the road in their tight shorts? What's it like having that hard, narrow seat between your legs, mile after mile? Hmm... I wonder -- No! Stop! It's wrong! It's unnatural!

If God had meant us to pedal around like that He wouldn't have invented V8 engines. Biking is just wrong.

The wise rider lets the insults flow past as unheeded as the cackling of birds. Act as if nothing has happened. The official reason is that this prevents the confrontation from escalating. The secret reason is that we know the lack of response will actually piss off the attacker more than if we yelled or gestured back at them. We know that all they really want is to get a rise out of us.

By withholding a response we may actually encourage the bike hater to increase his efforts. When I flipped off the jerk yesterday, he leaned out, yelled louder and gesticulated wildly. I was disappointed that he did not actually fall out the side window of the vehicle and smash his ugly face on the pavement, but I can still hope for the future. As it was, he felt affirmed in his manhood, which was all he really wanted anyway, and I got to shift my position and stretch my arms as I made a variety of obscenely suggestive gestures at him. We both actually felt better. It all stayed safely verbal.

Interestingly, the driver of the pickup did not pass particularly closely. He or she may have been mortified at the passenger's misbehavior.

I'll take a yeller any day over a close pass. Someone who squeezes me with a potentially lethal vehicle and doesn't even consider me worth a finger or a curse is much more chilling than someone whose disrespect is respectful enough at least to address me directly. Why thank you, sir and you go f*** yourself too. Have a nice day!

It would be nicer, of course, if we all just got along. The design of our transportation system guarantees that will never happen. Conflict is inevitable between all user groups. Someone will always have to give way to someone else as we flow through the channels made too narrow -- no matter how wide -- by narrow minds thinking of only one user group's needs. Even among the motorists the inadequacies of the system cause accidents and angry confrontations. The relatively slow, vulnerable and exposed pedestrians and pedalers present a tempting target to release frustration at someone socially inferior.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Beast Defense

The Saint Bernard that bit me almost exactly two years ago has been running loose again. He's come after me two or three times this season. The last time was on my way home today. My mind was already on the things I had to do at home to get ready to go to a zoning board meeting. The dog just materialized beside me.

I heard the owner yell, but the dog was already accelerating. I dumped the chain onto a higher gear and lurched out of the saddle to try to get to the dropoff of the next downhill ahead of the remarkably quick behemoth. I made it.

Seething, I considered my options. Right away I figured I would phone the dog in to town authorities. That seems kind of insipid, even though it is completely justified. The dog should be restrained from running out into traffic. But people get funny about these seemingly minor issues. Law enforcement has better things to do than chase down dog complaints. The animal control officer (if we still have one) is probably some part-timer who works long hours at a real job. I will probably have to deal with this beast again.

I want skunk spray. Pepper spray hasn't worked well for me. I did not realize when I picked up a can of Halt brand spray that it didn't mean it would halt the attacker, but rather that you had to come to a dead halt yourself so the spray wouldn't just trail back in your slipstream. If I could blast the animal with skunk spray it would not only deter the attack, it would inconvenience the owner in such a tangible way that restraining the dog would look like the obvious best choice.

My quick web search has turned up suppliers of skunk scent as a cover scent for hunters. One supplier actually took it off the market because he'd heard it was being used for too many revenge schemes. I salute his principles. My scheme wasn't revenge as such. It was more along the lines of the way the skunk naturally uses the scent for personal defense.

We'll see what happens in the next few days.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Riding by the lake

Under gray clouds with a cool, damp breeze I rode out the path along Crescent Lake and Lake Wentworth on the way home from work Friday evening. I've really gotten to like the path as a relatively peaceful escape route from town. We'll see how peaceful it stays as summer's crowds thicken.

On this particular evening the weather seemed to discourage a lot of the evening walkers and runners. I passed only a few. Right before the last long section overlooking Lake Wentworth I passed two women on foot who were much more cordial than the pedestrians usually are. Once I had passed them I sprinted up to enjoy the little climb and drop that introduces a short bit of fast, interesting riding. It ends with one of the many rail crossings, where I slowed for that maneuver and to enjoy the lake view on the long, straight causeway.

Far ahead I saw what looked like someone fishing from the shore. People often settle in the gaps in the lakeside vegetation to fish. I ride carefully so I don't get snagged on stray fishing tackle or mow down some small child suddenly crossing the causeway impulsively.

The figure ahead was slouched forward, wearing a brown jacket and a white cap. I couldn't make out precise details because I had decided not to switch the lenses in my glasses from tinted to clear. I could see well enough to avoid serious obstacles even though the clouds made it a little dark. I slowed a bit as I neared the figure in the bushes.

When I was about 75 feet away, the figure spotted me and unfurled about six feet of wingspan as it pulled itself into the air. It was an adult bald eagle. A couple of small birds harried it as it took off. One of them was practically riding on its back.

It all happened too quickly for me to get the camera out. The shot to get would have been that first full stretch of the wings when it was right in front of me.

People who live where bald eagles are common enough to scavenge the town dump (like Alaska) wouldn't be impressed, but the birds are unusual enough around here for it to seem exciting.