Monday, April 24, 2017

That nice Holdsworth

A woman brought in her late 1970s Holdsworth touring bike to be renovated for another few decades of fun, reliable riding.
It dates from the early Japanese era. The frame is British steel, but the only European components are the Campagnolo Record high-flange hubs, the Brooks Professional saddle, and the Sedisport chain.

She loves her Brooks Pro. It came in looking a little dry after years of storage, but it was not warped from neglect and abuse.
I polished its copper rivets with some Simichrome. Later in the process I hit the leather itself with some Proofide.

I adopt improvements as they come along, so I recommended aero brake levers and interrupter levers to provide a more upright control position in traffic or on a rough road. Other than that, it was a straightforward overhaul and new tires.

Campy front and rear hubs. Suntour Winner six-speed freewheel.

Reynolds 531, of course.


Modest but reliable derailleurs were made entirely of metal, back in primitive times.

Nice lugwork on a production frame.

Ready for the next adventure.

The geometry of the bike is very similar to my Cross Check. There's no secret wizardry to frame angles, fork rake, and stay lengths. A frame designer will consider details of rider size and the intended use of the bike. Criteria for these are well established. A bike like this one will carry a moderate load and provide a comfortable ride, without being too sluggish. Short of racing, this is a good all-around road design.

Skinny steel tubing makes it easier to compare frames side by side. And because steel fabrication was -- and is -- economical to set up, we could be enjoying a bounty of adaptable designs in steel for many applications. You can still find them if you know where to look. But of course the cutting edge competitor will need the latest weapon for the bloody and expensive conflict represented by racing. And the misplaced notion that racing represents the highest form of technique and technology will lead to non-racing bicycles executed in more exotic materials than mere steel. Even aluminum has gone seriously down-market since the turn of the century. Metal in general has a quaint image as a holdover or a throwback. But it holds its own among serious tourists and utility riders of all sorts.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Up One Level

The shop has a new trainee. A highly skilled mountain biker, we used to know him as Jumper Dude when all we saw of him was a flash as he shot through our parking lot and launched off the bank on his nearly daily lunchtime rides around Wolfe City.

His resume is impressive, but he's never worked in a bike shop. He can -- and does -- build professional-quality trails. In addition to work experience completely unrelated to biking, he was a mountain biking instructor at a riding park that took over an old ski area. You can see by his riding skills that he's not a poseur. He has a great personality, which will be a real asset offsetting my crappy one. But can he survive the reality of shop life?

"After a couple of months in the apron, your outlook will change," I told him. I don't mean that he will be shattered and disillusioned, only that the wide horizon of enticing possibilities has to narrow, as probability weeds out the more vulnerable fantasies. He knows a certain clientele very well, but that clientele quit coming to our town long before we quit bothering to try to attract it. As our local group of hard core riders decided on their own to leave the trails and move onto the road, there to be dropped one by one as other aspects of life overcame them, they have not been replaced by an equal or greater number of newcomers in any specific riding genre.

When our weekly mountain bike riding group first started to dwindle at the end of the 1990s, one of them told us, "I just got tired of cleaning and repairing my bike all the time. I realized I could spend a lot more time riding and less time on maintenance if I was on a road bike." And this was before a mountain bike could routinely cost $4000 and have a dozen bearings in the suspension pivots. Someone spending just upwards of a thousand bucks on a mountain bike in the late 1990s had something pretty sweet to ride, although you could easily spend twice that. But in the background still lingers the ghost of mountain bikes past, costing far less and providing hours of laughs.

A younger generation will see the world differently. A teenager looking at mountain biking now will see that the minimum buy-in may look like it's still around $400-$500, but the upper end sits above $6,000, with peaks above $10,000.

A $1,500 bike today was a $500 bike in the 1980s. Because so many things can be mixed and matched, the value and usefulness of a bike can't be compared directly to many other things. For instance, I just did some nice updates on a 1970s Holdsworth road bike, to improve rider comfort without significantly changing the original intent of the bike as a drop-bar tourer. Because the bike was fundamentally sound, it can go on for many more years with minimal investment, if it is well maintained and properly stored. The frame itself could be fitted with completely modern componentry. Its geometry matches that of frames you can buy today.

Bits of history walk in all the time. A mechanic who has co-evolved with the technology has a huge advantage over someone who has only studied it academically, or perhaps never gave it a thought before it appears unannounced. This is true of dusty old gems and crusty old junk. Some of that old junk started its life as new junk. But even then it might have sentimental value to its owner.

Working in a bike shop, you have to deal with forms of the machine that might not interest you. I do disparage technology that I feel makes riding needlessly complicated and expensive. There are things I wish would go away. But until they do, I have to try to fix the broken ones. That doesn't mean I won't laugh derisively at anyone who would fall for that crap. But if I can get it to work for them, I will do so before it leaves my hands.

In the mid 1990s, a previous trainee came back in from test riding a full-suspension Cannondale he had just assembled. "Before I worked here, I would just have thought this thing was totally cool," he said. "Now I look at it and try to figure out where it's going to break." I've never been so proud. He had reached the next level. That's my goal for any trainee. You can like what you like, but love with your eyes open, and don't be afraid to scorn and deride what is badly designed, over-marketed bullshit. You are a mechanic now, the first line of defense between riders and the bike industry.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Four to Two

You'd think that, after 27 years riding the same route, making the transition back to bike commuting in the early spring would be a simple matter of putting on the clothes, pumping up the tires,and pedaling instead of driving. It's not.

The car is a great enabler. You can throw things into the car on the off chance that you might want them. They can rattle around in there for days and weeks, unless you live in a high crime area. You can slouch out there in whatever you're wearing, flop into the driver's seat, and off you go.

My commute, at around 15 miles each way on rural roads and highways, is more of a journey and a real bike ride than someone would face on a shorter, perhaps more urban route. The transition would be easier at distances and on terrain more suited to riding in street clothes. Even so, the car still functions as a big barge full of junk. That can be seriously habit forming.

When I was more of an athlete than anything else, shifting from one mode of transportation to another was less daunting because I was in habitually better shape. But the time allocated to my obsessive fitness routine was time I did not have for anything else. To be ready to bust out of the snowbank and sprint down the road, I had to maintain the training wave all year. A writing teacher of mine, as he faced his own challenges to physical vitality, said to the class, "a man's only got so much juice. He's got to watch where he squeezes it." As with every enigmatic statement of the wise, it could be interpreted in a few ways. I took it as a metaphor for time and energy.

This winter was particularly difficult. The weather kept shifting radically between snow and thaw. If your schedule fit the changing conditions, you might leap back and forth between dry-land modes and  snow-based modes. If not, you would have to resort to indoor machines.

Indoor training is even less convenient than suiting up to go outdoors. You have to get psyched to marinade in your own sweat for as long as you can force yourself to stand it. If you don't go hard enough to get drenched, you did not go hard enough. You might make the case that you want to do some lower-intensity sessions, but then you have to stay on the machine for much longer, because that's how the training wave works. It's really easy to find better ways to spend your time. It's only a day. It's only a couple of days. Hey, it's been a week, but I was in good shape. Holy #%%, how did it get to be April?!

I look out the windows at a landscape still mostly white. It's not frozen, but the slush pile is still more than a foot deep in some places, and much deeper where the snow thrower or the shovel made piles beside areas that I cleared. Outdoor riding conditions were better in late February than they were for all of March. And then we started April with 10 more inches of snow.

To go to work by bike, I have to pare down to the essentials. This means not just the vehicle and its cargo capacity, but the bag I carry, as well. The handy day pack holds impulse items, just as the car does.

Then there's the time in transit. Riding takes just over twice as long as driving. While that's beneficial exercise, it also gets me home half an hour later than when I drive. Evening routines take longer with the addition of a shower. Supper time and bed time move closer together. There's less time for unstructured activity or free-range thought. I want to get back into the routine of self-propulsion, because I know that sitting too much is deadly, but -- after a winter of it -- I'm afraid I might discover that I'm too far gone. Having once had a high standard, how far below it will I find myself?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Worthless weather went on

The weather's April Fool's Day joke for my area was 10 inches of wet, heavy snow on top of the remnants of the existing snowpack and the exposed mud of dirt roads and driveways. The snow thrower would barely launch it five feet, let alone the 10 to 15 feet that I count on to clear my parking area. Fortunately, the sanity of spring sunshine sizzled the 10 inches down to five or six by the end of the next day, and cooked off even more yesterday.

We were threatened with another three to six inches of glop today, but we've gotten rain, instead. I rejoice. Snow that falls at this point in the season isn't good for anything. It's basically just white mud. It impedes all forms of mobility. Trust me, I've tried a number of them. The only conveyance that could move unhindered would be a hovercraft. While pedal-powered versions have been made, I would not want to take one very far.

With warmth and rain dominating the forecast all week, maybe things will clear out enough to get around.