Saturday, March 28, 2015

Maybe the bike shop can fix it

Anything with spoked wheels or pedals or a chain drive is liable to show up at the repair shop. If any part or parts remind someone of a bicycle, the bike shop must know how to fix it.

Bike mechanics being habitual improvisers, we usually can figure it out. And we tend to work cheap, because our skills are not valued in society.

Most of the people who bring in weird stuff don't buy bikes from bike shops. If they bring us a bike it's something from a department store. But when they have nowhere else to turn, the bike shop seems like the place to find help.

Yesterday, a woman brought in the wheels from her manure cart. They radiate the rich, earthy smell of a livestock barn, from years of steeping in a mixture of animal bowel contents, urine, and soiled bedding. I'm considering removing the old tires with a torch.

At the same time we see the constant inflow of garden cart wheels, mini bike chains and re-purposed cables of all sorts, we also get the sneering inquiries of self-styled aficionados in both road and mountain biking, interviewing us to check our credentials. We have to serve each of the parts of cycling that considers itself the heart of it, in order to support the whole. We have to keep up with the workload of relatively ordinary repairs. And, increasingly, we have to be "nice."

Nice is nice, in moderation, as long as it doesn't come at the expense of honesty and competence. In fact, nice people make me really nervous. I keep waiting for them to crack. Most of them do, eventually, and it's never pretty. I'll take neutrality any day over too much niceness. Kinda sorta friendly works. Even mildly abrasive can have its charms.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

They got George! Those BASTARDS!

Big G sent me an email the other night. He needed to tell me he had ordered himself a Specialized Roubaix road bike.

After all we've been through, dealing with the mysterious creaks, cracks and pops of carbon frames, and all the headaches of brifters and the Chain of the Month Club, Big G signed himself up for all of it. At what point did he cease to mean it when he said, "I'm so glad I don't own one of these?"

With so many more elegant ways to achieve a light bike that would also be simple and durable over the long haul, he chose to buy off the rack and shackle himself to this year's "state of the art." Hell, it's not even this year. It's more like six months at best.

The bike arrived today. The box looked like it had been drop-kicked all the way from Taiwan, but the bike appears unblemished. Unblemished except by the details of its own design, that is. So it's a matter of opinion. Big G won't be in until Friday. The bike will await him, in its exploded box. I got him something with which to toast his assimilation into the cult of the modern:

It's always hard when you find out your compadre has been replaced by an alien pod. The fact that he could do it with no warning shows they implanted the spores in him a long time ago. Oh, buddy, if only I'd known the struggle you didn't even know you were having...

Ah well. Too late! He's gone to the dark side. I can only help him return if he wants to be helped. Meanwhile I get to bust his balls without mercy. Got a problem there big guy? Waaaa ha ha ha ha!

I know I should be more gung-ho about the bike industry's excrescences. They're supposed to be the latest and greatest, and Enhance your Cycling Experience. Thing is, I was enjoying my cycling experiences a ton back in the 1980s, when all I wanted was enough income to buy more time to spend riding the stuff I already owned. I've made a few changes where I saw real improvements, but the rest of it is expensive horseshit. That being said, riding a bike is still great. Find someone who can help you sift through the horseshit. Even if you get stuck with some ultra-modern (temporarily) crap, the activity itself is still worthwhile. We can get you onto better stuff if you decide you want it. Or we can keep feeding you the industry's latest dump. It's all good. It still beats driving.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Computer calibration

Resetting a computer I use on two bikes after battery replacement, I couldn't find where I'd written down the wheel size, so I rolled out the front wheels from each bike.

These bikes both have 700X28c tires. I should be able to swap the computer head between the two of them without making any adjustments, and I thought I could. But when I rolled out the wheels I discovered one rolls out a fat centimeter longer than the other one. Like 1.3-ish centimeters.

A centimeter? That's all? That's huge. Over a ten-mile ride that adds up to a cumulative error of almost 249 feet.

According to the handy chart provided with new Sigma computers, a 700X28 should roll out to 215 cm. Neither of these rolls out to 215, reaching 212 and 213-plus, respectively. The chart also says a 700X32 should roll out to 217, but my 700X32 bike rolls out to 218. And I want my centimeter!

Tires of the same nominal width can and do have different heights. Height affects circumference. Circumference determines rollout. And inflation, or lack thereof, can further alter the result. The 28 on my road bike is taller than the one on the fixed gear with which it was sharing a computer. Even so, it falls short of the 215 offered by the Sigma chart. That's freshly inflated to its rated pressure of 105 psi, so it's as tall as it is going to get.

Varying tire height can also complicate fender installation on tight frames, or even tire installation on really tight frames. For the record, the tall 28s on my road bike are Panaracer Paselas. The height makes them very comfy on bumpy roads. It also keeps them from fitting some frames and forks technically roomy enough for them, as I have discovered when fitting wider tires to some customers' road bikes. In one case, the tires they were replacing were marked 700X28, but were barely 25s. They dated from the super-skinny tire era in the late 1980s.

When setting your computer, have no doubt: roll it out.

Hit the rollers!

As the season advances, colder than average still becomes inexorably warmer. The persistence of subfreezing days and snow cover masks the fact that April is near. I may have only a few days to shift my training to launch the bike commuting season.

With a minor background in racing I use the term "training" a lot. Don't be put off. It's a convenient term for the physical conditioning that benefits anyone self-propelled. I don't consume the magic potions racers do, or meticulously plan my workouts to hone my physique and technique to perfection. I just throw together a few ingredients that seem to help the transitions from off-bike to on-bike. With the best of intentions it's increasingly hard to get myself to actually do any preparation. But I remember how and why I did and should.

I prefer rollers over a stationary trainer because on rollers the bike can be a bike instead of a fixture clamped in place. You don't want to lean into any imaginary corners, but you'll develop an unbelievably smooth and efficient pedal stroke. If you're maintaining strength in other ways, even a half-hour on the rollers helps a lot to keep you saddle-ready and smooth.

Getting ready to ride indoors seems like much more of a nuisance than getting ready to ride outdoors. Indoors you don't get the rewards of actual motion through the landscape. All you get is sweaty. Really sweaty. If you set up a fan to simulate the breeze over you, you have to regulate the temperature and your clothing to maintain your comfort during what is basically an uncomfortable activity. I wear as little as possible in a warm room and let the sweat fall where it may. Dry the bike off afterwards.

The fixed-gear is a great choice for roller riding because it has the fewest moving parts for you to sweat all over. It also forces you to develop smoothness over a wide range of cadence.

As previously stated, when the snow is good I will use the snow. But, inevitably, some winters have little or no snow, and all winters end. They don't start on a fixed, predictable schedule, either.

Going into winter my efforts emphasize weight-bearing locomotion. In recent winters, the weights have been 12-ounce containers of liquid and small musical instruments, but before that I would run, hike, mess around with free weights and specific exercises for strength and flexibility so I wouldn't cripple myself when whatever passed for skiing might finally arrive.

Coming out of winter, my recipe favors cycling. Shape the existing body to the bike. Ride rollers, mostly. If it's been a bad winter for exercise I'll run the stairs in my house as much as I can stand, and then ride rollers. If it's been a good winter for skiing, roller riding reshapes the pedal stroke, alerts the "saddle contact area" and begins to redistribute arm and shoulder mass I won't want or need for propelling a bike.

Time is short. I'll be happy just to go ahead and get the crotch-bruising out of the way and remind myself how to pedal smoothly. Get ready to split the car's hard shell and emerge for another season of free flight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Springing into more winter

Woke up to a dazzling January morning today. A roaring wind raked the treetops beneath an ice blue sky. The temperature was about 10 degrees F.

It's barely cracked 20 now.

With good cover on the trails and daylight opportunities to use them, I've been charging out on the skating skis to take advantage of fast, granular snow. Cross -country skiing is one-stop shopping for a full body workout. I'm a big fan of convenience. And it's one of the few compensations for my bad life choices. Hopefully, regular exercise will help me take care of myself in my impoverished old age and leave me with enough energy to crawl off into the wilderness when the time comes.

Humans are the only life form that "retires."

Today felt good. I do want to get back to bike commuting, but as long as conditions favor skiing and seriously crimp my commuting route I'll just keep flailing on the trails. When I get on the bike my triceps are going to feel like a couple of country hams. It's pretty funny.

I just can't see wasting conditions like this on indoor training equipment or a winter-adapted bike.

The first day of spring is always a joke around here. The forecast for Friday does show us warming up to 33, but then we drop into the twenties again. Winter ends when it feels like it. In a week or two, heroic outdoor rides will look more tempting.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

26 years in Grease

In March, 1989, I took a part time job assembling bikes to supplement my other part time job as a copy editor for the local newspaper. Three years later, mountain bikes were booming and newspapers were not. I ended up here in the shop full time. More or less.

The early 1990s were a really fun time to be in the bike business. When Shimano rammed Rapidfire down everyone's throat in 1990 it showed how things were going to go, but things stayed pretty adaptable for a couple or three years. Even as the technological avalanche built up, the rebel mechanic could still figure out how to resist assimilation.

I stand on the same spot where I stood in 1989, beginning to assemble bikes for 2015. It prompts a sort of annual review.

I still resist assimilation. I swill coffee and decline Kool Aid.

Ya gotta be somewhere. I happen to be here.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Fat biking vs. skiing vs. snowshoeing

"I really miss my bike," said Big G today. "This winter is getting too long."

Out in the parking lot I watched a local fat biker finishing his ride on this sunny, mild day. I weighed more pros and cons of year-round pedaling.

When I considered myself a racer I trained on the bike from early March into about October and commuted on the bike year-round. But the fall and winter were my chance to do other things: hiking, backpacking, some climbing, and whatever snow sports I could get to from central Maryland. Eventually, an interest in winter skills drew me north. I spent more time on my feet than on wheels for a few years.

To me, exercise should serve to enhance a broader life. Easily bored, I prefer to get my exercise on the move, outdoors, rather than in a building, pounding away repetitively, going nowhere. So I try to get a mix of self-propelled activities. At one time these included propelling myself up rock faces some of the time, calling for upper body strength; propelling myself on water in a kayak, also relying heavily on arms; cross-country skiing, which exercises the whole body with excellent balance and symmetry; and hiking, usually on mountainous trails. I could stomach a little bit of weight training and other resistance work, as well as stationary aerobic training machines for short periods to bridge to my next opportunity to get outside and cover some ground, but not for long periods.

Weight-bearing exercise is important for bone density. If all you do is ride a bike you will not maintain or build bone mass. Hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing do build bone mass. The fat bikers who regularly snowshoe-pack their trails will get the benefits of that weight-bearing exercise, but riders who only pedal will not.

The change of seasons feeds you an automatic excuse to shift your mode of locomotion. On skis or snowshoes you can choose whether to push yourself with a racer's intensity or go for the more deliberate pace of a hiker. If you make a day of it you will need to carry a load of essential gear and supplies.

Snow is not guaranteed, even in what we used to consider snow country. The winter trainer might spend a lot of time running or hiking, depending on physical limitations or temperament. The important thing is to spend time on your feet. And when the snow hits you can add the gliding flight of skiing.

I suppose fat biking is better than nothing, for someone who simply would never use snowshoes or skis. If the choice is between sitting around the house or pedaling around a trail, get out and pedal. If you have the time and the budget to have and use skis and a fat bike, party on. Since I have to choose, I continue to choose my usual winter alternatives. The snow melts eventually, and then I will roll.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The thaw approacheth

Looking at the extended forecast, we get one little dip into the frigid, but after that the trend climbs a couple of degrees each day. Daytime high temperatures get above freezing. It's sap weather for the maple trees. Sugar houses will soon be steaming.

March is a winter month around here. Spring begins on the 20th, according to the calendar, but we may get snow into April, and sometimes May. Set aside years like 1816, when it snowed in every month, crops failed, famine and misery stalked the land. In any year, New England might get in the way of some orphaned bastard of winter, chasing its parent season through what you hoped would be spring. But in general, skiing is moving toward its conclusion and dry-land biking -- as opposed to what is now being called "snow biking" -- gets easier and easier.

I'm not one to throw elbows with winter traffic. Nor do I like salting up a bike with the brine that flows down the roads when the air finally gets warm enough for the road treatment to work at all. When the snow is good I prefer to use its surface, away from crowds, on skis or snowshoes. I'll use groomed trails to train, but on my own time I will head for the boonies. Thus the fat bike has little appeal, since it depends on pre-packed or naturally firmed conditions, making it a consumer of other people's efforts. Its rider may contribute by joining a pack of fellow enthusiasts packing a trail with snowshoes so they can then ride it, but that strikes me as ridiculously labor intensive when you can get on skis. Other than that, the pedalers depend on some sort of motorized grooming equipment to build them a playground on which they are essentially parasitic. They require that nature be adapted to them more than they adapt to nature.

As fat bikers evolve, will they become bow-legged as they try to fit around fatter and fatter tires? Salsa is up to five inches now. Who's got six? Come on six! Do I hear six? Six, Six, okay 6.5. Six point five, six point five do I hear seven?

Perhaps the evolution of the fat bike leads to seasonal adaptations: 3.8-inch tires in the warm months, 4.5 and up in the snowy months. One bike, essentially a 29-er based on outside tire diameter, which will even take a 29-er wheel with a slick tire if you want to use it on the road. How about some aero bars on that thang? Make the fork blades really aero and put time trial wheels on it. Test it in the wind tunnel. Maybe the aero bulldog would stack up surprisingly well against the carbon fiber greyhound.

For the moment, there is still snow to play on or contend with. It was so fine and dry this winter, that the impressive depth will shrink with an almost audible sizzle when strong sun gets on it, but for now it remains. Time for some rollers to alert my posterior to what lies close ahead.