Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween tricks

Heading down from my parking spot this morning I was shooting a short video of the scenery when I spotted heavy equipment up ahead. I left the camera on for the pass.
Stuff like this illustrates why I use the mountain bike for these commutes. The Cross Check could handle the majority of conditions, but when I'm on a schedule I want to be ready for any likely complication.

Close in to town I came to the next trick for the day, this fallen tree.
The real trick is that it was still there at dusk. It had sagged lower, so I couldn't fit beneath it while pedaling. Probably no one will ride in the dark, but if they did they would pile into this thing for sure. I wrestled with it for several minutes trying to figure out some jujutsu that would let me shove it aside, but I got nowhere. Someone else's efforts may have lowered it from its morning height.

On the ride out as dusk deepened to darkness and I left behind the two or three other human beings I'd seen on the path I got a solid whiff of brimstone. Nice touch. No idea where it came from.

I rode undisturbed by human or wraith until I reached the long straight stretch of track leading to Bryant Road, where I leave the path to head up hill. Far ahead I saw a white light. I could not tell whether it was on my side of Bryant or beyond. Below it I saw a strange shimmering. I was headed toward it anyway, so I knew I would get a better look. It held my gaze the way a light in the darkness does. The upper light was no doubt someone's headlamp, but what was that wavering business down below it?

Finally I was close enough to tell that the shimmery bit was the legs of a dog walking in the edge of the high intensity light, fur gleaming silver as the legs moved. Cooool.

Oh, snap!

At the end of the day yesterday a customer brought in this early 1970s Viscount fork. This was the sinister fork of death from the ten-speed era. Tim McNamara and Sheldon Brown already wrote an article about Lambert/Viscount, so I won't go into detail. They offered a lot of value at their price point compared to the rest of the industry, until you found out about the forks that snap off. The steel steerer would separate from the aluminum crown. They were recalled in 1978 after Yamaha bought Viscount, and replaced with steel forks.

Just a few hours earlier I had phoned Shimano to get a Crank of Death recall kit. The new and the old in irresponsible design.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This simple chart should make things clear

Disc brake pad selection made easy. Sort of. 

Obviously you need to match the make and model of the brake. Beyond that, where you have a choice of pad compound you should try to match it to the customer's riding style and venue. If the customer can't give you clear answers you have to figure out which compound will produce the least amount of annoying noise...from the rider.

Bass ackwards weather this week. The forecast for today called for, "Drizzle. May be heavy at times." How heavy does it have to be before it no longer qualifies as drizzle? What's the next rung on the promotion ladder? Probability ranged from 20 to 40 percent depending on when I looked. I took the odds because my schedule requires me to drive tomorrow when the forecast is completely dry. Friday looks okay so far, but Saturday picks up a 40 percent chance of precipitation including snow. 

Sunday continues the wintry theme. I'm volunteering at the Castle in the Clouds Half Marathon that day. Mountain runners are a tough crowd. They'll love it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wet leaves

After shooting a few hours of boring video of commute after commute I quit using the helmet cam again. On the path I come face to face with pedestrians. The camera seems extra intrusive after I already intruded by riding through anyway. And it wasn't capturing the essence of the experience. But I should have had it on Saturday morning.

After four days of rain and wind, wet leaves littered the ground, drifted into piles and shoals in some places, swept away in others. I entered the path with due caution, crossing a rail because the path runs between them there. The rails were wet, but the ground was clear.

The path exits the rails a few hundred yards down. Wet leaves were piled on the slimy wood of the crossing platform. I slowed way down and shifted my weight to stand the bike up for the tight, low-speed crossing. Ordinarily, when the rails are the primary obstacle, you cross by leaning the bike to the outside of the turn, cutting the front wheel as far as you can in the space you have. Shift your body weight to the inside of the turn as you enter it and bring the bike after you. It's a fluid snap. Too fast and you can't articulate the bike properly. Too slow and you wobble, unable to maintain the proper angle.

Add wet leaves and it's a whole new game. Doing a reasonable speed to cross rails, even wet rails, I never even reached the rails. When I cut the front wheel to the left the bike kept going straight down the track out from under me. I had already projected my weight into the turn, preparing to twitch the bike through the crossing and resume speed. Instead I ejected as the bike went its own way.

Helmet cam and at least one external point of view would have captured the maneuver for enjoyment over and over.

Without knowing how I did it I landed on fingertips and toes, unharmed. I picked up the bike, also unharmed, and continued my journey.

I made this video tonight in the garage to try to analyze the rail crossing waggle. It's a pretty standard low-speed turn. You have to imagine a slightly protrusive rail at the apex of it.
I'd already spent a couple of hours trying to draw illustrative cartoons of the procedure. It was harder than I thought, even to doodle a crude rendering of the positions. I'll keep fooling with it, but not tonight.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Red, ready to rock

The red Rockhopper presented no obstacles during its renovation.
I replaced the original substandard rear brake with a salvaged set. Now the pads actually line up with the rim.
I already mentioned what a pleasure these shifters are. A progressive shifter is much more intuitive than one where the lever or levers return to the same position after every shift.
The suspension fork messes up the handling a bit. The original fork crown would have been down about where the brake arch sits on this Rockshox Indy. Riders learned to live with it until manufacturers made frames ready to receive longer forks. The longer forks themselves made mountain bikes feel less nimble even with an adjusted head angle. That became the new normal. With properly set up suspension a bike rides down in the travel more than it sits on top of a specific geometric relationship to the ground.

If this was my bike I would find a rigid fork to match the main frame.

Another period feature is that 135mm stem. It was the age of the long stem. Because I liked dinky little frames, my 15.5-inch Stumpjumper had a 150mm stem. When I shifted to a 16.5-inch Gary Fisher in the mid 1990s it had a longer top tube and shorter stem, reflecting the improved geometry that had evolved. Better it may be, but it took some getting used to.

When we sold this bike our shop supported pretty full representation of at least three bike lines. Not only were there a lot of customers during the boom, there were fewer categories of bike. We could create a lot of variations starting with the basic mountain bike platform. It was a lot easier back then to maintain stock levels and put together bikes modified to individual customer specifications. The categories were mountain, road, hybrid and kids.

There are pluses and minuses to anything. You can get a lot of cool stuff now that you couldn't get then, even to customize a rider's personal setup. The vast array of models within category put a huge strain on a small shop. A small shop has to narrow its options, sometimes painfully, to maintain a niche.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New glove design

Your faithful reporter has found this prototype of a cycling glove that puts the high viz where you can really use it.
The manufacturer's name has been obscured because they have not decided whether to release the product. Obviously it has its controversial aspects.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the golden age of the rigid frame

Just before good quality friction-option top mount shifters disappeared in the beginning of the 1990s we were able to remove the under-bar shifters and saw off the shifter mounts to retrofit the old reliable shifters onto mountain bikes with butted chromoly frames, nice all-around frame geometry and cranks with the newly reinvented round chain rings.

The Rockhopper pictured above would have come with a rigid fork. Rockshox were still an after-market modification adopted first by aggressive riders who were beating on themselves and their equipment in the quest for speed on rough terrain. The $4,000 wonder bikes of today were not even science fiction back then. Riders rode bikes of steel over landscapes of natural stone and dirt and mud. Within a couple of years we would start to hear about the aerial mazes and jungle gyms in places like the Pacific Northwest, but for the moment we rode on what we found nearby, adapting our tires, riding style and expectations to local conditions.
These shifters will not be temperamental no matter how long they've been sitting around. I remember Maynard Hershon whining about primitive shifters in an essay just a couple of years after this bike was new. He was praising the new brifters Shimano had inflicted on the world as a step long overdue to bring bikes out of the 19th Century. I admit I do not long for downtube shifters on my road bike, but I've halted my evolution at barcons.

If this bike had every piece of technological puke the industry had available the refurbishment could cost another $50 or $100 to put on seven-speed compatible parts much cheesier than the original equipment. Seven speed is now below the sludge in the bottom of the barrel in the era of ten- and eleven-speed cassettes.

Check out the forged crank with individually replaceable chainrings. This on a bike that cost about $500. By mid-decade, Specialized was leading the way in cheapening once sought-after models like the Rockhopper to extract extra profit from customers who bought the latest version on the reputation of the earlier ones.

Not everything on this old beauty is pure gold. The original brakes represented an unfortunate mutation on the way to better cantilevers and even better linear pull brakes. When we put the suspension fork on, we replaced the front brake with a decent low-profile cantilever, but the rear set are original. And the brake levers themselves are still the old full-hand type, not the two-finger levers that came to prevail.

The one-inch steerer tube limits options for a new fork, but if someone wanted to return to a rigid fork I bet there are nice castoffs kicking around. The frame was built for a shorter fork than the Rockshox Indy it has now. All the good old chromoly forks can't have been melted down for paper clips already.

It's nice to see something come out of mothballs besides dead moths. New rubber, a couple of cables and a set of brake pads and this thing will be ready for fun.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jigsaw puzzles and more

Do you like jigsaw puzzles? If so, the bike business may be just your thing.

Here are the pages showing derailleur hangers in the Quality  catalog.

Every time a bike comes in with a tweaked derailleur hanger we have to check it against the reference pictures, the way you consult the picture on the box when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle. As with jigsaw puzzles, we compare all angles, swoops, curves, cuts and protuberances to pick which one of several similar hangers will actually fit.

Disc brake pads are a less detailed jigsaw puzzle, but still important to get right.

The bike in front of me takes a Wheels Manufacturing  number 43. We have plastic tubs full of Wheels  Manufacturing  number 27, accumulated from Fujis that came with two in the box. The 27 looks somewhat like the 43, but not close enough to tempt improvisation.

Because most hangers are alloy, they often snap when you try to coax them back from what looks like a minor deviation. They're meant to fail to save the frame and possibly the derailleur. A wise off-road  rider should buy one or two spares ahead of time. I can't imagine too many shops bother to keep every style fully stocked.

Yesterday and the day before I spent bringing a 1991 Specialized Hardrock back from the dead.

Here's what I found inside the left shifter:

That's some kind of old bug nest. 

This thing was profoundly cruddy. It went well with everything else that was rusted to a lump.

 The derailleurs wouldn't even move. A day and a half of penetrating oil actually loosened them up. Hard to believe the bike functions, but it does. I was about ready to declare it dead when eyelids fluttered, metaphorically speaking.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

As darkness falls

Last night I headed out under cloudy skies in summer-like heat to ride the path and back roads back out to my car.

The path is not totally deserted yet, even in the outer reaches, but away from town other users are getting pretty scarce. So I might see the occasional dog walker or I might not.

I saw something. It was way out ahead of me. Dusk was not too deep yet, but against the backdrop of forest this black animal was hard to make out. Ordinarily I see a black animal without a white stripe and I figure it's a bear. They're pretty common. But when I got a profile shot this looked doglike. I thought I could see the downward sweep of a canine tail. But it was a hundred yards away in failing light. It was not near a house. It was not accompanied by a human. When I got to where it had entered the woods there was no trail. It had simply melted into the vegetation.

Here I am, unmauled and not even inconvenienced. But I wondered, not for the first time, what I don't see when I'm riding in full darkness the whole way.

October is spooky because the nights are getting longer while leaves remain on the trees to make the darkness darker under forest cover. Once November gets well established spooky just turns to dismal.

If something does come after you on a rail trail you can only flee in one direction or the other. The Cotton Valley Trail is so narrow in many places you wouldn't be able to reverse course anyway. I'll load up on garlic, silver bullets and whatnot to get through the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncivil Twilight

Around here, drivers seem to get more aggressive in September. This year it was a month late, possibly as a result of climate change. The increase in pushiness reinforced the second level of driver misbehavior that comes out after sunset.

When I got really good lights I tried pushing the commuting season into the months of darkness. Immediately I noticed that on certain parts of my route I could not control traffic as well as I do in the summer, even with summer's traditionally recognized heavier traffic and influx of "idiots from away." October brings the ghouls and goblins, the creatures of darkness, I guess. And a lot of them drive pickup trucks.

Fortunately, I can switch to the park and ride option, which uses mostly dirt roads and the rail trail. I've run into one or two off-season trail abusers over the years, but it's nothing like the rudeness on the road.

At different hours the mix of drivers might turn more compliant. I doubt it on the near end of my route, because night time brings out the hot rodders and tire shredders. They seem really attracted to the intersection near my house. It may be the only place for three miles in any direction where there's room to do a doughnut. Then there's a great straightaway in front of my house for the approach and the getaway.

To avoid the attention of violent redneck humorists I have gone night riding a few times around my neighborhood with only a headlight, no tail lights or reflectivity of any kind. At the first hint of an approaching vehicle I would dive for the ditch, snap off the light and freeze. If you can't be seen, acknowledged and respected, don't be seen at all. But when you do that you find out how many vehicles go by you on what seemed like a nearly deserted road. Don't be in a hurry to get anywhere.

An awful lot of human survival in general seems to depend on not meeting a psychopath at the wrong time. No strategy of defense or avoidance is perfect. And there are always the idiots.

Conditions are only slightly better driving a car in all this. You don't get more respect from other road users who are aggressive or inattentive. You just have a bit more armor plating. But the park and ride is better than no ride at all. I know its limitations.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I like big bus and I cannot lie

Caught my bus Friday morning and it almost caught me. Still figuring out how to insert subtitles and other Rantwick staples into a video. I had the helmet cam on to monitor traffic behavior on the way across town and I caught this bus. Oh boy! A draft! I got a bad drafting habit. When a truck or a bus goes by in a rush I gotta sprint! Get to that pocket and get in it!

I conveniently forgot that school bus drivers can be a little crazy after many missions shut in a metal box with a bunch of kids and some of them are apparently NASCAR wannabes. Check out how this one gets on it after pulling onto Main Street.

This was a short run -- almost abruptly short:

I'm getting old for this stuff. I can't help it, though. That wave of air invites me forward and I start grabbing gears. The bus driver stomps the brakes and I grab mine. I missed the corner of the bumper by a generous five inches and sauntered into the corner like I'd meant to do it that way. Just another day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bamboo cycle wipes

This sample of White Lightning bamboo cycle wipes showed up in the workshop this week. I finally read the info today.

The wipes are made of a tough, durable  but biodegradable bamboo fiber fabric. Supposedly it will degrade in 28 days when composted. Use a disposable product without guilt!

Yeah? What about the packaging?

My "cycle wipes" are little squares of old cotton tee shirt tucked into the bags on each bike in the fleet. I carry another scrap or two in the bum bag I use for commuting. Those and saliva make up my cleaning kit. Every so often I launder the little rags. When they get too bad I throw them away.

Your alcohol based cleaning towelettes can potentially dry out in the package if you haven't had occasion to use them in a long time. On the other hand, if I can't produce saliva I have worse problems than a bit of grease on my hands.

Your socks come in handy for minor finger wiping, too.

Maybe if I had a rash of roadside breakdowns and had to grovel around the grimier parts of my bike several times in a row I would feel differently. How many non biodegradable packages of biodegradable wipes would dry out before that happened?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

This guy REALLY doesn't like dogs

A woman asked me to help get her father's bike out of the car so he could leave it with us to get new tires. The front wheel was off. The bike was stuffed into the back seat of a sedan.

In the bottle cage I saw a full size can of hornet spray. I said it was a strange choice of refreshment.

"He carries that for when dogs chase him," she said.

I ventured that it was pretty harsh stuff to blast a dog with. Not only that, blowback would be pretty rough on the rider,too.

"I know," she said.  "But he's been bitten a couple of times and he's 86 years old. I can't really tell him a thing."

So, word to the wise: don't startle or intimidate the old dude on the 17 inch black Fuji Absolute. And definitely don't bark at him.

Monday, October 06, 2014

My Negative is your Positive

Looking at that Trek tri bike from last week I suddenly missed the days when we used to go to Interbike. Back in the 1990s we did it for competitive reasons. The mountain bike business was festering and foaming with runaway innovation and reinvention of 1890s technology. Shops competed savagely. Consumers drove many miles to save a few dollars. You had to be informed if you wanted to survive.

We had a dozen smartasses a day back then, sneering at us if we didn't have a snappy answer about every product they'd just read about in Obsessive Tech Weenie Monthly. Interbike was our chance to see nearly everything for a coming year, and collect price information from our competitors.

It also allowed me to lodge doomed protests like these cartoons:
Still as valid today. And the Japanese Juggernaut has been joined by America's conglomerate answer, SRAM, destroyer of worlds. It was a dark day when they ate Sachs-Sedis. But you have to go on.

I suppose there were people who thought the new metal tools were foolish luxury when you could just pick up a piece of flint and chip it into whatever tool shape you needed. No fire required! No ore to mine and refine! Rock on, with Flint! Am I that bad? I think not.

My main objection to the bike industry's elaborations is that they eliminate valid choices for many riders, simply for the sake of the industry's economies of scale. They change the norm to suit themselves and to serve the limited clientele that could actually benefit from the complex technology dumped on us to replace what had been simply sufficient. Even within the higher price points of the super sophisticated technology a consumer has to be careful. The bike industry has never been reluctant to throw unready product into the marketplace to let paying customers do the R&D. Maybe the stuff basically works, but it's full of bugs that bite the early adopters. That's your reward for customer loyalty. Trust us! Go ahead!

After the mountain bike boom died and Interbike moved to Vegas on dates inconvenient for us we lost interest. Everything had gone quiet. We could keep up with the slower pace without going to the trouble and expense of a trip to the trade show. We weren't getting dragged through the mud about specs and prices the way we did in the frenzied years of The Boom. Only recently did I wish I'd been able to go for educational purposes. It still may not be worth the price of the trip, but it would give me a chance to see in real life whatever Great New Things were coming out of the industry's fire hose of obsolescence. With that information I can help customers make better decisions, or at least less bad ones.

Take the recent Trek for instance. Our customer did not consult us about it before purchasing, but say he had. If I had seen the beast at a trade show I would already have spotted the suspect bits and could tell him to be leery. Or another customer, who bought a wheel without taking into account the two different spline depths on Shimano-compatible freehub bodies, which limit your choice of cassettes.

You might advise me to read more, and you'd have a point. The bike industry and its adoring press repulse me enough to discourage me from reading a whole lot about their stuff, especially when the writeups aren't clinically critical of designs all the way down to fundamental principles. Maybe the editors and writers gave up on the ocean of crap years ago and now settle for simply describing the oily sheen on the turd-flecked surface in aesthetic terms. Or maybe they really are true believers.

I could fill a book with my observations of what technology really does provide advantages and to whom. For some riders, tinfoil chains, 18-cog cassettes and brifters are as necessary as machine guns were to modern industrialized warfare. But a rock never jams or misfires. Do you need a machine gun? Is it really worth buying, maintaining and toting around all the time? If the answer is yes, get the machine gun. My problem is that the industry always assumes the answer is yes. And when they do offer you a rock, it's a cheap, crumbly rock. And you have trouble finding much in between the rock and the machine gun.

Good stuff is out there. It goes to trade shows. The hands-on experience is far better than trying to analyze something from pictures and a written description, or even a video. At Interbike I could poke around at my own pace, generally undisturbed by booth attendants who were busy trolling for orders from the real buyers. I could look at something from whatever angle I wanted, for as long as I wanted. I don't know if I'll actually go to a trade show again, but it does seem worthwhile when it had not for so long.

My negative is your positive. I'm the guy who grabs your collar and yanks you back so you don't walk off a cliff while admiring a beautiful sunset. I'm the guy who warns you you're about to step in dog crap because you're looking up at the colorful fall foliage. While you're distracted by the attractions I'm looking for hornet's nests and poison ivy. I'm never going to be a cheerleader for anything, but that doesn't mean I hate everything. Take advantage of that. I may make you feel like an idiot for sucking up the propaganda and buying the sparkly new thing, but that's the first step on the road to deeper understanding of your tools, what they can do for you and what the industry that markets them to you really owes you. They owe you solid value and really good explanations, for a start.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Speaking of bags

This morning I had to carry a smallish, lightweight box to town. Its cubical shape made it awkward for a pannier or to fasten to the top of my rack pack. It did fit in this handy dandy day pack I got at Eddie Bauer a couple of years ago.

The handiest dandiest feature is that the pack stuffs into its own bottom pocket.
Eddie Bauer isn't the only company to offer such a pack, but that's where I saw this one and it happened to be on sale. It has come in handy numerous times. Today was just one more.

Stuffed, the pack is easy to slip into your luggage or otherwise tote along when you think you might want it. I also like how it reminds me of a calzone. Although I would not eat a green calzone, cyclists are always hungry. It doesn't take much to remind us of food.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A bag for everything

I use a lot of different bags. Not only do I like and accumulate all sorts of seat packs, panniers, stuff sacks, dry bags, day packs, back packs, pouches, totes and other containers for carrying. I also use the suffix -bag for purposes of critical commentary.

Think about how many -bag insults you know. You can attach "bag" to almost any word and make it sound insulting with the right inflection. Branch out from the usual dirt, hair,  scum, sleaze and douche. Savor the rich profanity goodness of s*** and f***. Then experiment.  Everything's better with -bag.

This morning I was stomping right along up Main Street, approaching Mill Street. I hadn't signaled for my turn yet from my position right of center in the travel lane. A Prius was waiting at the stop sign. Before I could signal, I noticed the driver making a permissive, "go ahead" sort of beckoning wave at me from behind the glass of his fishbowl window.

Ignoring the gesture I signaled and dropped into the right turn. But I was muttering, "Yeah, f***bag, like I need your permission. If I was going straight I would not need your indulgence either . You pull out on me you're breaking the law. Douchebag." Then it occurred to me that, as misguided as this idiot was, he was trying to be nice. So I came up with a new bag for just such people: nicebag.

Nicebags are the people who have inadvertently done something stupid and possibly dangerous from the best of intentions. They're still wrong and possibly infuriating. But they truly believe they're improving the situation.

I'll test the terminology for a while to see if it holds up to real - world stress.