Thursday, August 30, 2018

Hydraulic Fracturing

El Queso Grande texted me on Tuesday night to say that the workshop was slammed and that several sets of hydraulic disc brakes awaited my healing touch. The repair shop continues to challenge my intellect while depressing me in general. I keep thinking that if I was a real mechanic type, sucking on a Gauloise and not giving a shit about actually riding, I could simply take pride in fixing whatever was dumped in front of me. Or if I was young and smitten with the technology -- or not young and still smitten with the technology -- I would still feel like I worked in the candy store. 

Given the choice I'd take the Gauloise. It reflects my attitude toward the consumerism and the subcultural tribalism that has fractured riding. Less than once a year something comes through the shop that I might actually desire. In truth, all I really desire is to keep my personal bikes rolling in their present form, and be able to replace each as necessary with something as close as possible when the time comes.

Just as the perfect metaphor for consumer goods marketing is cocaine, the perfect metaphor for any service occupation is sex work. Certainly in my case, I now have to handle a lot of fluids I don't want to, and stick things in places I'd rather they didn't go.

I mean brake fluid and internal cable routing, of course.

Speaking of internal cable routing, a local rider was in a crash when last Sunday's group road ride literally ran into a couple of dogs on a back back road in Ossipee. Riders have snapped forks hitting a squirrel, but this guy managed to get halfway over a Jack Russell terrier before the chainring stopped everything. The rider was banged up but able to continue the ride to get back to Wolfe City. (We haven't heard a report on the dog.) He brought me the bike to check over. His wheels needed truing. His bar tape was shredded on one side. We would check any frame and fork carefully after a crash, but with carbon fiber the stakes are higher. Because carbon is an all-or-nothing material, any crack is a serious crack.

Everything seemed remarkably good. Maybe it would have been worse if he'd hit a squirrel. I put the wheels back on and ran it through the gears. The front derailleur was rubbing the chain on the big ring. The rear derailleur was imprecise. I snugged the cables up. Things were better, but not quite perfect enough. Drive trains with 10 and 11 speeds are very sensitive to minor inaccuracies. Electronic shifting avoids the problems of cable-actuated mechanical systems, but introduces its own set of problems.

With internal cable routing, you don't get to see much of the cable. This creates the mistaken impression that the cable is protected, when it is really just inaccessible. Everything looks so clean, so aerodynamic. But what you really have are a bunch of little holes into the interior of your frame. It's a Roach Motel for dirt. Dirt makes shifting unreliable.

I turned the bike up in the work stand to check the bottom bracket cable guides. They're the Achilles heel of internal cable routing systems.
At the very bottom of the bike, closest to the ground, the cables emerge from their little tunnels to be routed to the front derailleur through a short little tube, and to the rear derailleur through a longer sewer. Any attempt to clean this area will simply drive little dirt ninjas deeper into the interior of your frame. Your best chance is to change the cables completely, which is a time consuming and finicky task with internal routing.

I blew dirt away with a lateral burst of air from the compressor. Depending on Bernoulli to help me out, I have used directed air on numerous occasions to suck dirt away rather than blow it in. But under the bottom bracket you have openings in at least two directions at odd angles, so you can't really blast away with any method. Or you can try the shop vac.

The shifting seemed acceptable after all that.

The day had started with one brake job after another. The owner of the first bike had taken his wheel out and then squeezed the lever. He'd managed to pry the pads apart and put the wheel in, but said that the brakes didn't work. Every brake job gets written up as a bleed these days, but after I reset the pistons and cleaned the pads and rotor it seemed to be working fine. The gears were a different story. The bike is a Rockhopper 29er, just old enough to have external cables, but they're in full-length housing. The SRAM rear derailleur didn't want to fold up enough to drop the chain onto the hardest cog. Fine silty dirt and a few crashes have stiffened up the pivots so that the return spring can't retract the parallelogram completely. And fully housed cables aren't really better protected from contamination; the housing seems to produce more drag than shelter.

Next up was a double bleed on a Specialized Stumpjumper 6-Fattie that really emphasizes the evolution of mountain bikes into motorless motorcycles. On the plus side, it had SRAM brakes that take the Bleeding Edge tool, which does seem to make the process somewhat easier. I think I only had to redo the rear brake once. The pads were worn an ambiguous amount, so I put in new ones, which stiffened up the lever feel even more. Because I never get to work without interruption, meticulous procedures take even longer.

One interruption came from a customer who had brought his Orbea Orca to have a skipping problem checked out. The chain was so worn, it skipped on the derailleur pulleys. Changing chain and cassette seemed to set things right, but then he rode it and had more problems. I explained that we would ordinarily have started with cables and housing, but that the chain issue had seemed obvious, and cables and housing would have meant stripping off his sexy bar wrap. I'll sacrifice what's necessary to get a job done, but since the look of the bike was obviously important to him I didn't want to shred the cosmetics unnecessarily. Then, as we were examining the bike in the parking lot, we turned it over and found a crack in one chainstay. This was probably not the cause of the chain problems, because the ding from which it originated was small and fairly fresh. The bike did not flex or make scary noises. He's pursuing replacement through Orbea, and came in to discuss riding position and fit issues. That's never a short conversation.

The last brake bleed had to wait until this morning. The bike came from Bikes Direct to the Repair Shop. I assembled it in early July. The rear brake calipers are already a rust pit.

The bike has SRAM Guide R brakes, nominally the same as the ones that behaved reasonably well on the previous day's Stumpjumper, but these have conventional bleed ports. That calls for a slightly more cumbersome procedure, but I've done it before. The wrinkle this time is that the rider and his buddy tried to bleed the system themselves before giving up and bringing us not only their original problem but the results of whatever they had done.

The lever was whacked out. We had to reposition a couple of parts just to set it up according to the instructions to begin the actual bleeding. I'm not sure how they got things as jammed up as they did, but I could not get fluid to go through the system no matter what I did. I finally faced the fact that I was going to have to open up the lever to see why the piston did not want to move.
This isn't all the parts. The real business was still stuck inside the lever body.
Supposedly, when you take out a spring clip and a washer, you can reach in with the tippy tips of needle nose pliers and extract that piston. I couldn't get it to budge. I tried everything, even things that will put your eye out if you do them wrong. Eventually I was able to poke something through from the brake line end of the lever and push the piston out, but it's a very stiff fit. And between whatever they did, and what I had to do to get it out, it ain't going back in.

Of course all parts for this lever are out of stock for at least three weeks.

So there went a couple of irreplaceable hours of my life. I spend most of my time now working on equipment I would never advise anyone to buy, for a riding style that doesn't interest me in the least.

Motorless motorcycles.

If anyone ever did all the maintenance that the fine print tells them they should, they would never have time to ride. But biking is supposed to be cheap. The biggest expense is the bike, right? They're cheap to fix. There's no motor. How hard can it be?

The owner of the Stumpjumper asked me, "Is it a real pain in the ass to work on these things?"

"Yes," I said. "Everything takes longer, so we're making less money, and it's still expensive for the rider. So how's the ride?"

"It's great!" he said. "Wonderful!"

"Well there you have it then."

Even from supposedly reputable brands, low end bikes are shockingly shoddy. The upper end is staggeringly expensive not only to purchase but to maintain, if you really use it hard. Even if you want to settle for fewer features but well made componentry, it's a treasure hunt to find parts, and you'll need to know how to do your own work.

Biking has no use for elder statesmen. Expertise is only good for a short time. Does anyone in mountain biking today care what the pioneers of the sport think? Only if those pioneers repeat currently popular opinion. You're only as good as your last ride.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The last thing anyone wants to see

On a trail or the open road, the last thing anyone wants to see is a cyclist.

Picture your bike here:
Photo credit: Cotton Valley Trail Committee

Riding in on the Cotton Valley Trail on Sunday morning, I studied the faces of the pedestrians walking toward me, or glimpsed from the side as I tried to overtake them courteously in the extremely narrow confines of the poorly designed trail. Nearly every one of them displayed annoyance. I've seen the same thing every time I encounter walkers on the trail. Some are relatively cheerful about maneuvering past each other. Others radiate hostility.

The previous day, the station area teemed with railcar users, queueing up to roll out toward Wakefield. They eyed me as if they knew I was the one who had written critical blog posts about the trail for all these years. The first one, in 2009, got some blowback. Now they either don't see or don't bother to swat the fly that can't hurt them.

On the narrow sections of the Cotton Valley Trail, whether constrained by the rails or hemmed in by unkempt vegetation and eroded or overgrown edges, I'm not too happy to see a cyclist either, and they don't look too happy to see me. We can't even share a commiserating glance, because we each have to focus exclusively on holding a straight, smooth line while we teeter next to a rail and a dropoff.

The non-cyclist answer to any situation in which the riding is dicey is to tell the rider to dismount and walk. In their vision, the bike vanishes as soon as the rider is no longer on it. On a wider trail, a rider would have room to walk the bike, but a wider trail would also allow the rider to stay mounted and still give more clearance to walkers and other pedalers. When traffic is heavy on the path, a rider would be on and off the bike more often than a cyclocrosser in training. And a rider next to a bike essentially becomes two people walking side by side. The only way to fit in a narrower space would be to pop the bike up on the back tire and wheel it in front of you. That might look alarmingly aggressive to the more sensitive pedestrians, especially dog walkers.

At the first railed section toward Wolfeboro from 109, I heard the motor of one of the small rail cars. As if to prove a point after my post on August 13, the club suddenly got the urge to make a foray on the section they hardly ever use. I had nipped onto a pretty side trail for a brief personal errand, so I simply delayed my re-entry onto the main path until the motorized overlords had passed. Unlike on most multi-use paths, where cyclists still yield to everyone, but pedestrians are the top dogs, on the Cotton Valley Trail, all non-motorized users are playing on active rails, where the trains have precedence over all:

It's right there in the Rules of Engagement:

These rules mean that anyone who gets caught in the middle of a causeway or other railed section -- a cyclist towing kids in a trailer, a family pushing a stroller, a handicapped person on their electric scooter or muscling along in their wheelchair -- is required to get off and scramble down the embankment or reverse rapidly so as not to impede the passage of the motorized vehicles that are the primary trail users. So that bottom line on the rules, stating that no motorized vehicles are allowed except for motorized wheelchairs, is actually untrue. Only competing motor vehicles are forbidden. All other users are subordinate to the motorized rail cars.

These are the rules. You don't argue about the rules. Just understand the agreement you have accepted. These terms of service are a lot shorter and more clearly stated than the average agreement we all check off blithely to download free apps or sign on to secure websites that handle all of our finances. You're playing on the railroad tracks. Trains are rare, but they are also not required to follow any kind of fixed schedule around which you can plan. Be ready to dive into the swamp or scramble down the rocks when required.

People tend to be more sympathetic to families with kids. But if you are an individual adult rider, expect no courtesy, even if the railed section is short and you clearly established yourself in it before the rail car arrived at the lower exit to it. And even a trailer full of offspring or a stroller similarly laden is no guarantee. According to the rules, they owe you nothing.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Unnecessary dangers of the Cotton Valley Trail

Now that the Cotton Valley Trail is complete from Wolfeboro to Wakefield, bike use has increased steadily. It was already a popular ride, but now it actually goes somewhere instead of just out into the woods.

The Cotton Valley Trail has always had more problems than the typical multi-use path, because of the rails left in place for use by the rail car club. The rail car club beat out the non-motorized users when the right of way became available, so all other uses have to bow to them.

Due to the chronic lack of funds for things that actually improve the quality of life for ordinary citizens, there was never enough money to upgrade the trail corridor to safely and pleasantly accommodate the incompatible uses of walkers and riders sharing space with motorized conveyances that of necessity hog the entire width of the rails. In many places, the space between the rails is the only improved surface.

When I was a kid, we used to play on railroad tracks, including bridges. We understood all too well that if we got ourselves killed out there we would be in big trouble for interfering with the smooth operation of the railroad. And if we interfered with the trains and didn't get killed, we would wish that we had. But those were real working railroads.

For years we had noticed that the rail car people seldom put their vehicles on the tracks on the section that runs from Route 109 east down into Wolfeboro. The tracks were removed completely from the mile-long Bridge-Falls Path from downtown Wolfeboro to Center Street in Wolfeboro Falls. From there, the path was sited next to the rails out to the public boat launch at Mast Landing. The path goes between the rails at that point and stays in that nerve-wrackingly narrow space all the way across the first causeway to Whitten Neck Road. After a brief, enjoyable diversion a few yards away from the rails, the path goes back between them for the second, longer causeway across a section of Lake Wentworth.

When you asked the authorities in charge of the trail what could be done to make the crossings safer and the railed sections less stressful, you'd get a mumble of excuses about how the rails had to be there because they were there and to shut up and be grateful. Meanwhile, injuries have piled up, ranging from abrasions and contusions to broken hips, cracked ribs, and the occasional collapsed lung. And the rails almost never see a rail car. In the latest raft of excuses, we were told that the rails are there so that the rail car people can help with mowing and maintenance. The rarity of those work details hardly seems like it's worth the price in damage and injury to bicyclists. But bicyclists come at the bottom of any hierarchy, whether it's on the road or on a path like this. The message is, "suck it up or quit riding."

On Sunday, I left my car at the Allen A Beach parking area and walked to work. It was a rainy day and I didn't feel like riding, but I didn't want to drive into the chronic gridlock of Wolfe City in the summer, or take up scarce parking in our little lot. The walk gave me a chance to document just some of the many unnecessary dangers and inconveniences of the Cotton Valley Trail. It could be entirely great if these were addressed. If some of them aren't addressed, we could lose the whole trail to erosion exacerbated by the presence of the unused rails.

The latest Cotton Valley Trail brochure actually states that rail cars are only used from Fernald Station out to Wakefield. There are many other ways to mow and trim a trail. It is time for the rails to go, and for the trail to be widened and graded for safer use and better drainage.

Look carefully at this first picture. On the left you can just see the rails, buried in vegetation that has been neither mowed nor trimmed in a long time. Imagine that as usable trail width. And this is on a relatively wide section.
At the River Street crossing, the trail moves to the left of the tracks. Again, imagine the generous space available if the rails were gone or buried beneath well-packed fill. It would double the available width. The right of way is already there. The brochure claims that the right of way is 66 feet wide. That much space is never used for the trail.

Sam, you made the ties too wide: These two pictures show the first examples in which the trail is reduced by the protruding tie ends, sometimes covered by vegetation, in other places just hanging out there.  It gets worse.
Oh wait, what's that? Did someone drop something? A hat? A bandanna?
Nope. It's a rock. Someone kindly painted it orange. It protrudes because the fill has settled or washed away. Spray paint is cheaper than actually doing anything about it.
This picture shows how much trail width has been lost because ground covering plants have not been controlled. I suppose this is better than having it lathered with carcinogenic defoliants, but then a wider packed trail surface would achieve the same thing without poisoning anyone.
Even if they didn't remove the rails, the trail would be half again as wide if they just filled and packed up to the near rail.
Here's how much width they would gain if they got rid of the useless rails.

This section of protruding tie ends coincides with a retaining wall. An outbound cyclist, trying to accommodate oncoming traffic, can only fade to the right as far as the ends of the ties. An already narrow trail becomes even narrower. Those rude cyclists! Why do they insist on riding?
Two-way traffic has to get past each other in a space easily spanned by my short little legs.

Not much farther out, tie protrusion is much worse. Lots of dirty looks from pedestrians there, when the oncoming cyclist doesn't scooch right up against the rail to make room. When it's two cyclists passing, one or both equipped with the currently fashionable absurdly wide handlebars, you have to wonder why they don't get tangled more often. They should dismount, right?

What do you call a bike rider who dismounts? A pedestrian.

Approaching Mast Landing you get another good look at wasted space and more protruding tie ends. The rail crossing at the boat ramp has been considerably improved. They filled it in so that the rails are flush with the pavement. This makes them useless to the rail car people, but still slippery when wet for the riders. Non-skid tape is applied occasionally... it's one of the better crossings, and yet it wouldn't need to be there at all if the unused rails were removed.

Just past Mast Landing, the trail goes between the rails to traverse this little residential section. Residential or not, the right of way could support a comfortably wide trail with the rails removed, and it wouldn't turn into the "Cotton Valley Canal" after a heavy rain. Cotton Valley Canal sections are common between here and the Allen A. The rails hold water in the trail bed, just like an aqueduct. If you get there soon enough after a heavy rain, you can ride in water inches deep for many yards. Many, many yards. Riding it during a downpour last week, I was pedaling up a flowing stream for miles, not mere yards.

Welcome to the jungle. These shade-tolerant shrubs, well-watered by the irrigation provided by the Cotton Valley Canal, are flourishing under the conspicuous lack of maintenance.
This shot shows how much trail is lost to the plants. My right foot isn't quite at the rail that indicates the already inadequate width of trail available without the incursion of the foliage.

Here's some trailside erosion on the Crescent Lake causeway. If a rider moves right and wants to put a foot down, it's a long way down. And this is a minor example of erosion compared to the next causeway, across Lake Wentworth.
Imagine this part of the causeway without rails. There's plenty of width for more trail as well as the trailside benches and fishing spots that users already enjoy.

And then there's this. The erosion is undercutting the trail. The rails may be holding it in, but their long-term, barely utilized presence has prevented anyone from properly stabilizing and grading the causeway for longer-term survival and usability.

Beyond Whitten Neck Road, the trail takes a fun little up-and-over, leading to a level section with some sweeping bends. Nice! Except when it rains.
 See the rails over there? They're on a built up level with ditches on either side. And basically no one uses them. The path, meanwhile, is over here, with a little swale to the left and a slope to the right, channeling runoff into it.
At the end of this stretch, the path kinks left to launch riders into another section between the rails.

When I walked the path on Sunday, I saw riders coming toward me as I approached that crossing. As a rider myself, I knew what I would want a pedestrian to do. I walked up to the right of the rails rather than stepping between them exactly at the crossing. I had barely taken my first step on the tie ends right next to the path when I felt a burning pain in my left calf. A wasp stung me, because there was a ground nest in the tie end right next to the path.
That tie end, right there. The pale one with the crack in it. Don't forget your epi pen.

Next causeway, new erosion issues. Here you can see that the fill has actually started to wash down from between the rails. That can spread quickly. 
Here's the outlet and its little gully.

Here are another couple of shots of nasty things for a cyclist to land on if an encounter with oncoming traffic goes wrong. It also shows more of the deterioration of the causeway structure itself.

Looking back toward the causeway, this is just another example of space wasted on the unused rails. On heavy traffic days, riders fan out onto the grass to gain a few places before they get squeezed between the rails again.

This sandy road crossing is usually quite unstable. When the sand is dry, it's very fluffy. The shape of the path going through the crossing does not help a rider set up a good, square angle of attack.
 On the plus side, the rails are often covered by the sand, so they're not as much of a crash hazard. On the minus side, on the rare occasions when a rail car user has come through, the rails are freshly dug out and protruding, and the sand is still soft and treacherous. If the rails are only dug out for "maintenance" operations on the non-motorized facilities of the trail, the danger they present is not worth the benefit they confer. That could be achieved in better ways. This spring, trail crews didn't use rail cars. They drove their personal vehicles in and half-blocked the path with them.

Here's more encroaching vegetation on the approach to the diversion into the Allen A Beach parking area.

I call this Pinch Flat Bridge. The edge of it protrudes more and more as fill settles and washes away. It gets refilled maybe once or twice a year. You get used to it.

The diversion into the Allen A isn't wide, but it's fun. For some reason it just works. 

When traffic is heavy, a rider can stay on the dirt road outside the trail, dive through a few yards down there at the corner, and bail into the beach parking lot itself to reach another dirt road on the far side.

Just watch out for Thumpy Stump, just before the corner. Thumpy Stump has been there for years. You get used to it. But it does suddenly reduce the available space to maneuver past each other.

The parking lot has a big gate in this fence, which is never closed. The path goes in this little gap. It was supposed to serve some purpose at some time. Now it's just another meaningless obstacle, as far as I can tell.

This fallen tree hasn't become a landmark yet, but it's been down for more than a week.

Because I didn't walk any further, I have no pictures beyond this point. There are railed sections between the Allen A and Route 109, all of which would be improved by the removal of the rails. They're just short bridges, but the sharp turns to get between and move out from the rails make them dangerous. The rails protrude when the fill settles, and minor crossings are more likely to be overlooked in a big list of maintenance tasks.

I do like the zigzag maneuvers that relieve the tedium of straight-ahead riding so common on rail trails. In a rail-less environment, I wouldn't mind seeing the ghosts of the crossings left there just to break the monotony. The trail could still be wider and smoother than it is, with the occasional chicane for entertainment. A wider trail would benefit all non-motorized users in and out of the railed sections.

Beyond Fernald, riders are still stuck with the rails for the foreseeable future. You take what you can get. Bike riders represent a much larger demographic than the rail car club, providing a more consistent economic engine. Accommodating them and encouraging them would make financial sense. But maybe a cost/benefit analysis would show that the returns wouldn't be worth the investment. As the trail is currently built, it does send business to the local hospital, and sometimes all the way to Boston, if the injuries are worth the air lift. We just have to work on attracting riders with good health insurance.

Technological advantages

People who think that electronic shifting is great should have to install and service it themselves. That wouldn't discourage all of them, but it would weed out the majority.

I can see the appeal. Electronic devices are fascinating. When they work properly, they're marvelous. Cable systems lack the finesse for the increasingly close tolerances of 10-, 11-, and 12-speed cassettes. I think that sheet metal cogs and tinfoil chains are junk, but they are the state of the art in racing, and among the masses of recreational riders who use racing-style bikes.

The more I work on this crap, the more determined I am to avoid it at all costs on my own machinery. I wouldn't even have one for fun if money was no object. If I'm going to spend money on something that isn't going to last, I'd rather spend it on ice cream.

Evolution is pitiless, even when it guides a species to its doom. The technofascist industry, ever in search of manufacturing efficiencies, will always try to market any piece of technology to every possible demographic. Anyone who won't play along will get stamped tin and plastic crap to punish them. Look at the derailleurs and cranks on $400 bikes with 8-speed cassettes and freewheels these days. It's nearly impossible to find a well-made bike at any price that doesn't have some element of disposable componentry. The cheap stuff bends when you look at it. The expensive stuff is built to be forgotten in a year or two when the next marvel comes in with a fanfare of digitally synthesized trumpets, because we can't be bothered to learn to play the real thing.

The more complicated we let bikes become, the more we limit their appeal. They are more expensive to purchase and much more costly to repair. If the choice is to repair or replace, and the comparable replacement costs thousands of dollars, only people with thousands of dollars to burn will be able to play. And, unlike automobiles, there is little subsidiary market for used high-tech bikes. They have no second life. They're like dead dragonflies. In life they were a perfect machine, jeweled, exoskeletal, agile and precise. When they quit working they're just dead. You might be able to contrive a usable machine with some of the parts, but it would not appeal to any consumer who has been primed with industry propaganda to "need" the latest innovation to enjoy riding at all. The industry attracts users, it doesn't create cyclists.

Yesterday, I had to pack a road bike for shipment. Its owner had finished his vacation in New England and headed back to Florida. When his bike arrived here a couple of weeks ago, it looked basically virginal. It was even white. When he brought it to us to pack for the return trip, the chain looked like he'd dipped it in the waste oil tank at the local quick lube place. The bike frame was still white, but the drive train was like a tar pit.

The job turned into a comedy of errors. Specialized has devised this really clever and annoying seat post clamp for the Roubaix. Instead of a simple pinch bolt at the top of the seat tube, the post is held by two bolts on a clamp on the seat tube below the top tube. The post itself has to extend down the tube a couple of inches below this clamp, to an inspection hole through which you're supposed to spot a black seat post in the black interior of a carbon-fiber frame.

To clamp this customer's diminutive frame in the work stand, I extended the seatpost and snugged the bolts on that hard-to reach clamp. The rider is short. The bike has a 51 centimeter frame. The seat post has actually been cut off. That doesn't matter as far as the traditional max height line, because the weird clamping system on the Roubaix makes it irrelevant, but it meant that I had less post to work with when I extended it.

We do have an alternative clamp that we call the Fred Clamp, because we purchased it initially to work on a tri bike for a guy named Fred, but the bike pivots awkwardly when held that way. I prefer to avoid it when I can.

The front wheel was off the bike when I came to work. After I put the bike in the work stand, I removed the rear wheel as well, and blocked the rear stays and fork ends to protect them in shipment. Then I put wrench on the pedals.

It's like they were welded in. I put the wrench on the right pedal, gave it a grunt, and then a harder grunt. The bike frame slid off the seatpost and fell toward the floor. I broke its fall with my leg and foot, which then wore a black smear from the incredibly grimy chain and crankset. But the fall yanked the wire out of the battery for the electronic shifting, which lives in the seatpost.

In keeping with the expensive dispos-a-bike concept promoted by the industry, the battery for a Di2 shifting system gets stuffed into the seat post in a sort of barbed holder that fiercely resists removal. When the battery for your shifters finally won't take a charge anymore, buy a new bike, or at least a new seat post. Not to worry. Something else will have rendered your bike hopelessly obsolete long before then. What you once loved when it was new and fresh you will have learned to scorn, and eagerly discard. Bikes are consumer goods, so learn to consume. Chew, swallow, and excrete.

I reoriented the clamp to hold the bike by the top tube. When I can hold the frame with the regular work stand clamp rather than the Fred clamp, it's less awkward. The bike still swings laterally and is not as well balanced, but it's closer to the center of rotation for the arm of the stand.

Fishing around in the seat post to plug the stupid wire back into the battery took about half an hour. The battery was an awkward distance into the post, and is not firmly held there. I was trying to hold the connector with tweezers, line it up with something I couldn't see, and apply sufficient pressure to get the connector firmly seated. Once I accomplished that, I had to squirrel away all the slack wire as I fitted the seat post back into the odd funnel that forms the top of the seat tube.

With every move I made, the black grime from the drive train smeared all over the glossy white bike as I swaddled it in foam and bubble wrap to protect it in its shipping case. I wiped it away continuously. I ended up wrapping the chain itself completely in plastic.

El Queso Grande had taken lots of pictures when he unpacked the bike and assembled it. He had also labeled each piece of packing material. That made things much easier. Even so, it was hard to figure out how to make some of the pieces look the way they did in the photos. I didn't try to duplicate every position exactly. At least I knew generally what went where. Finally I was able to close the lid on the bike and strap it up. It was someone else's problem now.

The next thing out of the time machine was a 1995 Trek mountain bike. How can you train anybody for this sort of thing? How do you get anyone even to want to learn?

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

We interrupt these brake cables...

After I spent hours cutting these interrupter levers into the brake system on my old road bike, the next commuting week offered no opportunities to try out the rig until the very last day.

It takes some creative packing to fit my standard commuting load onto a bike with no racks. I'm not ready to go full racks and fenders on the old road bike. It would just be a watered-down version of the Cross Check, not even that much lighter once I hung all the nerd-rigging on it. Just setting it up with frame pack and expander seat bag is enough of a handicap on its sporty capabilities.

After a week of shortened commutes -- park-and-rides fit around various schedule conflicts and stormy weather -- I expected more of a feeling of speed and power when I set out on the racy bike with cleated shoes and all. The fact that it was exactly a week since I had dropped a 10-foot log on my ankle while bushwhacking through a Class VI road on the previous Sunday's commute probably held me back. It's amazing how much your ankle swells up after something like that.
I had gone to check on Bickford Road, a very mellow line through North Wolfeboro, unfortunately abandoned by the modern world. I had first gone through it in 2011. In the fall of 2016, I went back to do a little stealth pruning and found it badly washed out. But I knew that some locals go through there in their trucks, so I hoped that they might have done some heavier remedial work on it. With the Cross Check and walkable shoes, I figured I could get through one way or another.

The road was in bad shape, with multiple blowdowns across it at different points. Feeling curiously adrenaliny, I attempted to heave two broken sections of a fallen birch out of the way. The longer piece slipped out of my hands and nailed my leg.

As a good uninsured American, my first thought was, "How expensive is this going to be?"

"Don't need stitches! Don't need stitches! Don't need stitches!" I said to myself as I reluctantly brought my eyes to focus on the wound. I gingerly tried to part the reddening gouge down the center of the ridge of swelling that had sprung up immediately. The news was good: no flaps. But the jagged end of the log had scraped the front of my shin, drawn this gouge down the medial side of my ankle, scraped down along the Achilles tendon, and pummeled the soft tissue hard enough to make it numb as it increased steadily in size. And I was miles into the woods, alone. I pulled my sock up for whatever compression it could provide.

Even uninjured, I would have been unable to ride for the next mile or so. The road was a rocky stream bed. The rocks were slimy and black with algae. There was standing water in some places, deep mud in others. The temperature seemed to jump up 20 degrees as mosquitoes and biting flies swarmed around me in the stifling, windless air. It was a fever swamp.

I had limped and trudged to where the road improved enough to remount and ride, almost at the junction with Stoddard Road. I still had to ride ten miles home to ice and elevate my ankle.

The numbness didn't subside for several days. After it did, the nerves decided to catch up on the pain they'd been putting off. So I shouldn't have been surprised when I didn't feel like a powerhouse, cleated shoes and all. The bike felt good. It was nice to have the auxiliary braking position. I've really gotten used to that.

I couldn't believe my eyes

Within a couple of days after Finger Boy gave me the digital salute from what I took to be a Renault Alliance, I saw a car with the same distinctive color scheme coming the other way while I was driving, not riding. It was clearly not an Alliance. Going at highway speeds, I got only a quick impression of its shape and no confirmation of the grille emblem.

I hate to be wrong. Clearly I had not paid enough attention to car makes and models over the years. How wrong was I? My brief dalliance with Renault lasted four years, from 1985 to 1988. It was an Encore with no encore. The most common models at the time were the Encore and the Alliance. I remembered others, like the Fuego, and Le Car, but what I saw did not look like either of those. What matches the profile that flitted past me twice, once obscured by a fist and finger, the second time blurred by speed? The front end of the car was the clearest image from the first encounter.

A quick search turned up Renault candidates that look something like Finger Boy's ride. So maybe I wasn't having an old guy hallucination. I hope he doesn't reappear, but I'm also intrigued.

The Encore had some good points. My first car had been a Peugeot 304. Another weird French machine, it was also one of the first transverse-engine, front-wheel drive cars in the US, well ahead of the VW Rabbit and the Fiat 128... at least as far as I know. As a stupid teenager, I managed to elude muscle cars by leading those behemoths into twisty streets where the agile 304 could dart through the maze quicker than the pride of Detroit could ever hope to follow. My father was born in Paris (to American ex-pats after WWI), so we had an open mind about products of French engineering. Lack of tech support doomed the French imports, but we had some fun while it lasted.

When  I went to Sault Sainte Marie, Ont., in 1974, for service on the 304, it was like entering another dimension. The guy at the tire place had nothing nice to say about the blank-hub wheels ("You've got to use bloody spoons, like a bicycle tyre," he grumbled), but there was a fully stocked dealership with all the parts on hand. I loved that little 304 because it was NOT a Toyota or a Datsun, it was its own weird self, and pretty darn sporty for its type. Then I got sideways in a snowstorm one night on I-75 near Bay City, MI, and got T-boned by a Mustang. There were no injuries, except to the Peugeot.

The impact didn't even break the headlights in the Mustang. Those 1970s Mustangs had pointy front ends, like a giant shark. The battering ram punched the passenger-side doors in, bent the floor pan down and the roof up. But my brother in the shotgun seat and his girlfriend in the back seat did not die, so I couldn't complain.

That night, in a cheap hotel, I kept spinning sideways and waking up with a bang each time I started to drop off to sleep. Meanwhile, in the other bed, my brother and his girlfriend celebrated their survival with a different kind of bang.  I figured I owed them that for nearly getting at least one of them killed. I ignored it as best I could, reliving the impact over and over until dawn. And then there was coffee.

The Encore never dealt such drama. It was the sag wagon on my thrown-together double century in 1988. I drove it to various trail heads in all seasons. Then I traded it for a 1985 Ford Escort that ended up with the nickname The Bungeemobile, because late in its life you had to hold it in fourth gear with a bungee cord. At least it was technically American, so local nationalistic mechanics would work on it, and parts were readily available.

It's a lot easier to keep an old bike going. In any case, we're just trying to keep rolling.