Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday treats

Here's another one that could go as appropriately in my ski blog as in this one.

The turn of the year brings holidays typically associated with food and festive beverages. But the combination of weather, darkness, and the needs of my employer usually reduce my physical activity to its lowest point in the year.

I'll freely admit that one reason I chose human-powered travel so many years ago was so I could be a little undisciplined about what I ate. Humans were meant to move themselves around. We have invented various devices to carry us, but that fosters a mental addiction that leads to physical decline. Forcing myself to ride a bike to get from place to place inserted a naturally recurring period of exercise, augmented by additional exercise to travel anywhere off of my routine paths. Motorized transportation has its place, but a life built around minimizing it as much as possible helps the body get the regular use it needs. It also makes tasty treats taste better. It's fuel! It's fun! It's both! Oh hey, I ate a little too much. Sorry, everybody. I just have to ride farther. Or walk farther.

There is a form of bulimia in which the purge phase is excessive exercise, so that's another spectrum we can find ourselves on. But just because one end of the spectrum is a dangerous condition doesn't mean that the middle is bad. I would bet that most of us -- myself included -- slide more readily toward the sedentary end than the gaunt and haunted figure stomping on a treadmill at 3 a.m. And I do not make light of that person's plight. These days, I eat too much and I gain weight, because it's harder to justify the time spent playing outside. What do I need my health and fitness for? I should be trying to die, to make way for the younger generation to flourish in the space I vacate.

Life is habit forming. I don't want to live any longer than I'm enjoying it, but I don't want to cash out before I've had the last possible fun. How do you know when that is? You kinda want to hang around until it's obvious, since you can't unkill yourself. Besides, I can still be helpful to people who might need to learn something I can teach them.

Pretty heavy musings on a buche de noel, eh? But I used to be able to burn off baked goods within minutes after I ate them. Now I promise to try to burn them off some time in June. If all goes well I will be laying down base miles to get ready for bike commuting by early April, but the winters have been such physiological quicksand that the first month and a half is just damage control.

On the plus side, I'm not a very imaginative cook or sophisticated eater, so I revert to a fairly boring diet based on my attempts at nutritious food. Even so, I enter each new bike season with deep fear and doubt, which deepens my appreciation when I regain strength. Always in the mist of the future I can see the thickening shape of the serpent that will one day trap my limbs and squeeze my lungs as I fight vainly to rise one more time.

I love to start the day with a nice cup of coffee and some kind of baked goods. The coffee pot alone is sometimes the only thing that gets me out of bed, but throw in some pie, or home-made cinnamon rolls, or a whole bunch of other things the cellist is good at making, and every night is like Christmas Eve. And, since she's home so little now, I have to get it while I can.

This year I have front-loaded the queue of baked treats by making the cellist a Boston cream pie for her birthday cake. That's what got me started thinking about the Solstice baked-goods binge. The recipes I used for the pastry cream and ganache were not printed out, they were scribbled on scrap paper, so I -- inexperienced in the kitchen -- couldn't visualize the amounts. I'll be carrying pastry cream and ganache for lunch tomorrow...and probably the next day.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Nordic got run over by a fat bike (originally posted on Explore Cross-Country)

Think of the tune, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Cross-country skiing is dying, killed by climate change throughout its range. This is happening more rapidly in the lower 48 states of the USA than in Scandinavia, but all over the Nordic racing world events are being held more and more on manufactured snow. And that's only possible if temperature and humidity -- not to mention budgets -- allow for enough snow to be made and distributed over a trail system.

Racers will put up with incredible tedium to develop and maintain their fitness, and then submit to torture on a challenging course. Any skier might prefer more variety and free range, but the addicted competitor will go around and around and around and around and around and around a kilometer or two for the sake of race-ready strength and technique. They are not the majority of cross-country skiers, but they are the ones who will spend the most money on it per capita.

Tourists make up the vast majority of the small portion of the population that still skis cross-country. Tourists have a variety of motivations, fitness among them, and cheapness strongly evident. That's a major reason that the ski industry as a whole dislikes them. Frugality generates little profit compared to addiction.

It takes money to run a trail system. Cross-country ski centers have to maintain trails in the off season and groom them in the ski season. Since the widespread acceptance of skate skiing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that calls for a machine that easily costs more than $100,000.00, requiring fuel, maintenance, repair, and a skilled driver. Larger areas need multiple machines and drivers. Any area also has to maintain the trails themselves in the face of erosion, encroaching vegetation, blowdowns, and abuse by unauthorized or destructive shared uses.

When Surly introduced the Pugsley as a complete bike in 2011, it launched the category as something people could buy "off the shelf." Our own shop and touring center pondered whether the bikes would make a worthy addition to our mix of users as a way to weather the increasingly irregular winter conditions that the changing climate had been bringing us. However, our early experiments discouraged us from trying to blend skiers and bike riders on a single trail system.

When the bike industry tried to make fat bikes the next big thing around 2015 there was an explosion of interest that looked like it might turn into a bit of a boom. But as the browsers browsed, most of them chose not to invest upwards of a thousand bucks in yet another bike. Various media outlets ran weirdo-news features on the nutty people riding goofy bikes on the snow(!), but the curiosity was not matched by significant sales. Meanwhile, in the bike industry's usual fashion, they mutated the bikes rapidly, challenging consumers and shops alike to keep up with the need for newer and ever more expensive tools and parts.

Once the tool of intrepid, self-reliant adventurers, fat bikes seem to have attracted a demographic that might view itself that way, but often presents itself as entitled whiners. Our small touring center has seen a determined assault by a handful of riders who have looked for any possible leverage to force us to allow them onto the trail system. They have also proudly posted pictures on social media of themselves poaching the trails. I believe that it's become an obsession with them that means nothing more than another notch on their bedpost. Their own representative has stated at meetings that most riders aren't looking for a 20-foot-wide trail like an interstate highway through the woods. Minimum width for a skate groomed cross-country ski trail is about 12 feet, but much more would be needed to accommodate bike traffic and ski traffic in busy periods.

Will there be busy periods? Between the decrease in natural snow and the daunting expense of buying a winter bike, both sports remain a small percentage of winter recreational activity, far outstripped by motorized activities and downhill sports using motor-driven chair lifts. So what happens next? People want to find a place that has bought a rental fleet of fat bikes for them, on top of expanding the trail system for this new user group. How many touring centers can afford to put together a fleet of expensive and complex bikes and maintain them in readiness for whoever might want to try them out? This situation is being forced on the cross-country ski business by an alien culture.

This isn't just as simple as the ski versus snowboard debate. It has elements of the skate versus classic debate, in the different ways that the user groups occupy space on the trail and flow through the terrain. Having skied both classical and skate, I can tell you that the two techniques can come into conflict when skiers of each type converge. Now throw in some bike riders. The skate skiers can at least bring their skis parallel and double pole through a pod of slow tourists. Skiers don't have 31-inch-wide handlebars. And riders with 31-inch-wide handlebars can't reduce that dimension for a courteous minute or two, even if they might want to.

Skiers also have their feet on the ground. If a skier has to stop, it's not that hard to step off the trail, or at least move to the very edge of it and stand in a way that leaves plenty of room to pass. It's not as easy when you come off the pedals and either need room and time to dismount or need to waddle along straddling the bike. Also, your 5-inch tire at 8 psi might not make much of a mark, but your big clodhopping feet do.

Life is full of inconveniences. We have to make allowances for each other. Motorists hate having to accommodate bicyclists on the roads, and make many arguments about the differences in speed and maneuverability between the various size motor vehicles and the ones being pedaled. The difference is that all of our taxes pay for the public right of way, and that we all have a right to travel freely. A trail system is not the public street. The idea that cross-country ski trails should be coerced into admitting fat bikes is fairly recent even in the short history of fat biking itself. The pioneering riders used things like snow machine trails, just as their ancestors did, way back in the 1990s, when winter riders on the mountain bikes of their era either bought or made studded tires to go ride on those trails or on frozen lakes, woods roads, and other open venues.

The group of fat bikers that set its sights on the trails in Wolfeboro saw trails already groomed and looked for a way to commandeer them. With absolutely no respect for the decades of time, effort, and non-governmental investment that went into the trails, they seized on a flimsy legal possibility to force their case. Since they opened this can of worms, other user groups have tried to present themselves at the same loophole to be allowed to walk their dogs on the trails. The grooming is not done by town employees using town equipment and town funds. If a dedicated non-profit organization had not devoted itself to maintaining the trail system in town, that system would not exist, and we wouldn't be having this discussion. The fat bikers would be riding on whatever was open, just like the poor kids do in towns that don't happen to have a well-established and once-respected ski association.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Back spasm, or: How to Age 30 Years in a Fraction of a Second

Bicycling is not complete exercise. It will tire you out. It will help you maintain healthy body weight and a good cardiovascular system, but it does not help build bone density the way weight-bearing exercise does, and it does not build core strength. It benefits from core strength, but does not build core muscles.

A rational bike commuter, riding fairly short distances, gains from the exercise and still has time left over to build the neglected areas. The higher the cycling mileage, the less time is left for other things. These things include supportive conditioning and earning a living.

During my peak riding years, I lived as a form of professional athlete. Working in a shop that sold bike and cross-country ski gear, held weekly rides and gave ski lessons, I was a better asset to the business if I was good at what we did. The pay was meager, but the lifestyle was generally physically beneficial.

Various things intrude on a stable distribution of time. Suffice to say that I eliminated one thing and another, leaving only bike commuting and some extra riding on either end of the height of commuting season. I try to remember to throw in enough stretching and core work to hold things together, but days may pass. At worst they turn into weeks, usually when I'm not getting out to do much of anything.

For the bike portion of my commutes right now, the old mountain bike with studded tires handles the icy areas well, but it feels like I'm in a hamster wheel half submerged in wet cement. I grind away dutifully on every possible day. Mornings I'm rushed. Evenings I'm tired. I feel okay. I don't stretch...

Sunday was a nice day, and the shop was closed. A wintry mix was supposed to move in for the next couple of days, so I zipped out for a tool on the fixed gear, around one of my favorite short rides, Huntress Bridge Road.
The low-angled sun creates a distinctive mood this time of year. It also provides interesting visual effects.
Back at home, I went right into items on the to do list with only a passing swipe at stretching, and no other support strength activities.

Monday dawned gray and raw, as advertised. Having set my mind to indoor pursuits, I sat down to write, moved to a different room, sat down to check emails. The cat got on my lap. I sat a while longer. My weekend is Monday and Tuesday, so it was nothing unusual. I poked around in the kitchen, did some laundry. Sat some more. Got under the cat again. Then I tried to get up.

My lower back seized up. I couldn't stand up straight. I could barely walk. I tried to shape myself into the stretches I knew I needed to do, but it was too late for instant relief. It was too late for any relief. I could only walk in a weird, bent-kneed crouch.

Suspecting the old psoas muscle, I focused on efforts to relax it. They showed some effect, but the knot was the most severe I'd had since I was introduced to the problem several years ago after an outburst of pain that literally dropped me to my knees. About 41 hours later, I'm still not fully functional. Just something simple like splitting a couple of logs for the wood stove becomes a strategic operation.

Back pain can be associated with all sorts of expensive and fatal conditions, as well. Even getting those assessed can be pricey, let alone getting anything treated. I'll take encouragement from the fact that mine is responding at all to my home care. These assurances may be false, but low income people in America have to choose between betting all their financial resources on the health care wheel of fortune or concluding their affairs and leaving whatever nugget they can for any family members they might have. Even concluding your affairs costs money.

Suddenly living in a world tightly confined by pain, you wonder if you'll ever be fully functional again. This is especially true when you become "a senior citizen." When I was in my 20s, I read something that seemed to indicate that we start to die as soon as physical growth stops. Age 30 was held up as the beginning of decrepitude. An active person over 40 was a great inspiration. Then you reach those ages and realize life goes on. Life does go on, as long as you are there to live it. But at a certain point the pains take longer to subside. You have to wear glasses. You have to watch what you eat. People around you start to drop off more frequently. You hear about other people's medical catastrophes, and maybe have some of your own.

Life is a negotiation. You review the terms constantly. What are you willing to accept? What can you enforce?

Work is going to be a challenge today. I can't lift much, and a careless step brings a slap of pain across the lower back. But work is where the money comes from. Things are improving, but I assume nothing. The instantaneous assault of the initial back spasm is just one of many examples of how you can go from high to low in one breath. Then you just have to keep breathing while you figure out what to do next. But that's really just life itself: keep breathing while you figure out what to do next.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Repair season closing?

The two big projects of the late season rolled out this week. First to go was the 1970s Raleigh Competition that got a complete overhaul.

When the owner picked it up I said, "You basically just bought the bike all over again, but in 1970-whatever dollars this would only be about $175." He's one of those people who don't show much emotion, so I don't know if he thought I was overpriced. I took time to go through every little touch, including having to fabricate small parts that are no longer available, and really truly overhauling every assembly, including pedal bearings. Complete means complete.

With the Raleigh out of the way, the stand was clear to move forward on the Long Haul Trucker build for a touring rider whose old Trek presented too many challenges for the newer components we wanted to put on it.

While I was buried in these bikes, skis have started piling up for services which require the bench to be degreased. Right now, half of the bench is degreased, which is awkward no matter which side you're on.

The quick and easy brake bleed on a customer's fat bike turned into the first move in warranty replacement of the brake levers of his SRAM Level TL brakes. They have the stuck pistons characteristic of a whole generation of SRAM brakes. To SRAM's credit, they do not hesitate to send out replacement parts.

The serial number of the brake is on the bottom of the caliper. You know, just about the least accessible place, exposed to the most obscuring crud.

I have no idea what prompted me to try sticking handlebar plugs behind my glasses, but I like the effect.

And now back to work!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A daily adventure

Nine degrees F this morning. The forecast high is 26. The ground is covered with a frozen white layer of the perfect thickness for the studded tires. I just have to make sure I dress properly for the chill now and the deeper freeze coming after sunset this afternoon.

Disclaimer: bike commuting is not for everyone. Some occupations require equipment too cumbersome for even a smokeless moped to haul around. Some people have to go too far in a day to make pedaling practical. That still leaves a lot of people who could do it but don't. It's okay. You don't have to. Life is hard enough in other ways. Don't believe me when I tell you that simply doing this one thing that seems hard can make other things feel less challenging.

Bike commuting over short distances can be much more efficient than using a motor vehicle. Even in some degree of adverse weather, the bike can make better time, and the rider can wear normal enough clothing to go right to the business of the day with little time in the transition area. As distances get longer, you will want to dress in clothing designed to make it less uncomfortable: cycling shorts, technical fabrics, closer-fitting tops, and riding shoes. You may work harder and sweat more over longer distances with headwinds or hills. It takes more commitment. You could also be called stubborn, obsessed, or thick-headed. You can hardly claim that it's more efficient and faster than driving when it gets longer than ten miles each way, unless you live in traffic hell.

I have pondered the lengthy preparations I go through at either end of a work day when the weather isn't mild enough to pull on shorts and a jersey and head right out. Even in shorts-and-a-jersey season, I change into work clothes at work and back into riding clothes to go home. It adds at most a couple of minutes, added to a few minutes more to load the bike. In cold weather, changing clothes adds a solid 15 minutes because of all the layers. This all has to be hung to dry on arrival and pulled back onto me to get ready to depart. On the days when I drive, I might put on some outerwear, and maybe change footwear, but all that goes over whatever I wore all day. On a fairly mild day, it's just a quick zip out to the waiting vehicle. If I got one of those remote start thingies, the car could already be idling. I wouldn't do that. But I could.

On the bike side, after all the dressing, departure is about as simple as throwing a leg over the bike and pushing off. So there's that.

Darkness comes early now. When I'm getting ready to head out into the frigid solitude of the bike path, I think about Jack London's protagonist in To Build a Fire. I'm just as happy not to see anyone else when I'm out there alone in the dark, but it does emphasize what an idiot I am to be out there at all. However, maybe I'm just intrepid. It isn't 75 degrees below zero. It's a temperature that Alaskans and northern Canadians would consider mild, even when it's in the single digits and glittering with frost.

Sometimes the adventure is wet. Hypothermia beckons in those conditions too. It's an extra level of bullshit that a motorist doesn't deal with. It all depends on how much you want to ride as opposed to taking the easy way out.

Obligate bike commuters, who do not have a car whether they want one or not, will have to ride in whatever conditions they get. Either that or walk, take public transportation, or hitch. I keep my own privilege in mind. But I'm also down there on the pay scale compared to the median average. I hate the median average, because it's a bullshit statistic, but it does indicate that a lot of people are managing to make too little money on a lot bigger income than mine. I don't just piss away the money I save by reducing automobile use. I do spend it on a decent diet -- which some consider a luxury -- and hope that a healthy lifestyle will help me avoid medical issues that I can't afford. We're all living on an edge we can't see. Money will only cover you so far. But the truly impoverished are really depending on the economic efficiency of human-powered transportation.

The more accustomed you are to getting yourself around and getting things done without help, the less it seems like a hardship. If you do it optionally, you'll be able to weather it a little better should it for some reason become a necessity. That was part of my rationale in bike commuting from the start. If civilization was going to fold, I would do well to be in shape before it happened rather than try to get in shape after it happened. And a modest, self-propelled lifestyle seemed like something closer to a sustainable global average than an energy-gobbling, resource-intensive one. If the debts of industrial society were suddenly going to be called in, I didn't want to be too heavily invested. That's even more true now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Death Wish

A recent death has a lot of people around here thinking about how they want their own passing marked. Some have suggested that they'd like the survivors just to have a big party. Piece of cake! Just be a complete bastard. People will be dancing in the streets.

You get to a certain age and you start to consider mortality. That age will vary depending on your life experiences and many other factors, but sooner or later you think about it in more than merely theoretical terms. Or at least the theoretical scenarios are more fleshed out than just a sideways squint at the concept and a hasty look away.

I'm no fan of death, but we're stuck with it. A lot of our lives are spent trying to evade the risks associated with activities we enjoy, and retaining whatever degree of youth we can. It isn't just to be young as such. It's a practical matter. It's also a matter of pride to be able to do things and not make dumb mistakes that get you eliminated. On the other side of the equation, you might not want to hang around too long past your freshness date and end up some wizened husk, technically alive but incapable of living. On the third hand, maybe it's a weird, cool trip, being nothing but a wicked old brain on top of a body that no one expects anything from. It's a lot of work for other people, though, and I hate inconveniencing anyone unduly.

I hate funerals. I'm not even planning to be at my own. I'm hoping for the "missing, presumed dead" option. But maybe I'm secretly hoping that if I vanish from other people's perceptions so that they're not totally sure I'm irretrievably gone I will also sneak away from myself and just sort of vaporize, like dry ice. Hey, it's worth a try. As for the funeral itself, I'd prefer to save people the inconvenience. If anyone is around and wants to do something, it's on them. I can just imagine it.

"Join with us now as we try to make sense of the life of this aggravating schmuck."

Given the rise in pedestrian and cyclist deaths on the road, I have to wonder if my own healthy habits are going to kill me. I don't need statistics to make me think about the hazards of traveling without a shell among the armored vehicles. The statistics just underscore how little we matter.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The season of cabbage and caffeine

As bike commuting mileage drops, and other activities don't seem to fill in like they used to, I shift from using brown rice under a lot of my slapped-together meals, to using sautéed shredded cabbage instead. Shred it fine, and cook it over medium-high heat in a little oil (your choice) with some onion and seasonings you think you'll like. In another pan I cook up whatever meat and vegetables I would have slapped onto -- or mixed with -- the rice. Separate pans work out best for the quantities I try to make, because I make enough to get a supper and two or three lunch-size portions of leftovers. A grab and go container for lunch helps speed me through my typical morning stumble toward the door.

As daylight drops, my energy drops with it. During full bike commute season, I limit my morning coffee to avoid having to stop en route to release excess fluid. I might or might not have a little jolt in the afternoon. Once we get well into October I feel like crawling into a burrow. I certainly don't feel like vaulting out of bed. I'll drain the morning pot of coffee and definitely seek it in the afternoon. Any of y'all who can get by on spring water and meditation have my admiration, but that's it. I'm sure it's great.

The growing season ends with New England's well-known psychedelic splurge as deciduous trees withdraw chlorophyll from the leaves they are about to shed.

At summer's end, we get a rush at work, of people who waited until summer was over so that they could avoid the rush. We also get people who were holding off as long as they could, to keep riding in the prime season. Thus cash flow drops precipitously, but wrench work and brain teasers actually intensify.

This recumbent had tire and drive train problems. Once I got it back together, I found it basically unrideable.
Everything was hooked up right. I just couldn't get it to balance well at all. It resisted that first pedal stroke to establish forward motion, and wanted to flop over immediately. This was true in any gear. It was super twitchy. It was actually a late summer arrival, but I never had time to include it in a blog entry.

Then came someone's swamp buggy.
We'd replaced the chain previously. It hadn't skipped on a test ride, but it did skip when the owner rode it in the swamp. He brought it straight back to have the cassette replaced.

The owner of this Trek Y bike from the 1990s had a hankering to try riding again. He's a classic Van Winkle. Van Winkles are the people who have been asleep for twenty years and awaken to find the world much different than the one they dozed off from.
It doesn't help that he bought the bike used from a shop owner who was a trendoid. The bike had all the cool shit from 1998, including the Rapid Rise rear derailleur. I did learn from Sheldon Brown's website that, prior to Campagnolo's invention of the parallelogram derailleur, all spring-loaded derailleurs were "low normal," meaning that they used the return spring to pull the chain toward the low (largest) rear cog rather than down toward the smallest cog. It should tell you something that Campy's introduction of the high normal parallelogram derailleur established the design that the entire industry followed until Suntour introduced the slant parallelogram derailleur in the 1960s. Even after that, the basic parallelogram remained more common until well into the 1970s. According to Sheldon Brown, other companies didn't jump on until the expiration of Suntour's original patent in 1984, but I know that Shimano was already making slant parallelogram derailleurs before that. But they've always been aggressive competitors, not above pushing the envelope of decency, not to mention legality. They got slapped for it in the 1990s when it became too egregious to ignore. Nice guys finish last.

A happy couple of tourists brought their matched Sevens in for examination and any necessary repairs. They do well with their regular home care, so the bikes needed little. I did change the bridge wires on the rear cantilever brakes, changing the stock ones that were too short for longer ones that provided a firmer lever feel.

Another tourist, coming out of a long layoff, brought his vintage 1980s Trek for a full overhaul and upgrades to prepare for a long haul continental wander, perhaps next summer. He has laid out a route that would keep him in a 72-degree average daytime temperature the whole way along a meandering route that works with both latitude and altitude to hit the desired temperature. We discussed all his options, from total replacement with a Long Haul Trucker to full restoration on the Trek. Because the Trek was an old friend, and some of us are sentimental that way, we went that way.

The bike had been fitted with new wheels. The crank had been replaced because the original one broke. The bike had been built for 27-inch wheels, and the shop he went to had replaced them with 700c. The crank was a TruVativ, and rather cheesy.

I've put 700c wheels on bikes designed around 27-inch, but only with caliper brakes. You just get a longer brake if the one that's on there does not have sufficient range to lower the pads to the smaller rim diameter. I hoped that we could replace his old brakes with something more accommodating.
The mountain bike era began using brakes like these Dia Compes. Technology advanced rapidly with higher demand, leading to brake arms that allowed for pad height adjustment as well as every other angle in alignment. But you're limited by the immovable placement of the post itself. If it's low enough, you can use a modern brake to get the pad in range with good alignment to the rim. You can see here that the mechanic who made the wheel swap years ago just angled the pads down because that was all he could do. He didn't built the guy a decent 27-inch wheel, even though there were rims available. Do it cheap, don't do it right. Right?

I ordered some linear pull brakes and the drop bar levers designed to go with them, hoping that the range of vertical adjustment would make it work. I also built the guy some 36-spoke wheels with wider rims to replace these 32s with Mavic MA2s. The MA2 was a nice enough rim in its day, but narrow for a wider touring tire. I've been getting good service out of Sun CR18s. Not only does the wider rim support the tire better, it moves the braking surface closer to the brake arm. I hoped that the combination of factors would allow the use of 700c wheels.

I could have gotten 27-inch rims for the new wheels, but the selection of rubber in 27-inch isn't as good. It's a crap shoot these days. When I geared up for touring around 1980, and when this guy did just a few years later, 27-inch seemed like the better choice for touring in North America, because 700c had not taken over. Performance clinchers themselves were fairly new technology. We figured that you could probably find a 27X1 1/4  just about anywhere at that time. Now, though, you're more likely to find a dedicated bike shop in the hinterlands, and 700c has become the road/hybrid/gravel norm. You can't plan for every contingency.

I also dug up an old mountain bike crank for the bike, with nice forged arms and 5-bolt chainrings. Things were coming together. But the brakes weren't going to work. Those mounting posts were just too high. With the pads all the way down, they still had to be angled down to get anywhere near the rim. And it wasn't near enough.

After consultation, the customer decided to go with a Surly Long Haul Trucker frame, onto which I would put all of the upgrade and restoration parts. The crank I found for him is the same model I have been using since 1992, when it started out on my Stumpjumper, then moved to the Gary Fisher frame with which I replaced the Specialized, and later went onto the Surly Cross Check I've been riding since 2000. It's one of the few accidentally durable things made by Shimano. It probably helps that I'm not much of a sprinter. Even chasing a truck draft I seldom get out of the saddle.

Into this whole lineup of touring bikes came a near-neighbor of mine (less than 4 miles apart is right next door in rural areas) with his 1970s Raleigh Competition. He's another person who "used to work in a bike shop" and is still enjoying the swag.
It's all Campagnolo Gran Sport, with the less-common three-bolt crank.

The handlebars, a solid 40+ years old, are bent down slightly on one side. That's a bad sign, considering that the handlebar industry recommends replacement every three years. We all know that expiration dates are mainly designed to get you to buy more stuff, but I have seen older handlebars snap off next to the stem after two or three decades. When they outright droop it's a good hint that you might want to renew that particular critical piece. Other than that, the job is just a straightforward  overhaul and some tires from this century.

Into the midst of all this archaeology come the day-to-day weird jobs like this John Deere pedal car with the cranks falling out.

Hell has nine circles. So does this thing.

The pulling threads on the right side are twice as deep as normal, for no discernible reason. But the fun doesn't end there. The threads were also buggered in a way that made it impossible to get the crank puller to thread in at all. This is after I had to remove absolutely every piece of shrouding from the fully enclosed drive train to undo every nut and bolt to take tension off the chain.

I removed the left crank arm and slid the BB out through the right side, since it was falling out that side already. Then I braced the right crank arm in the vise so I could gently and precisely persuade the  axle to drop out of the crank arm, using a drift and a small sledgehammer.

The BB is mounted to a bolted-on bracket that was attached backwards to the frame, so that the BB cartridge couldn't be installed the right way around. Normal use would unscrew it from the frame. I unbolted the mounting bracket and reinstalled it the right way around. The people who assembled this thing clearly did not understand its bike-derived components at all. And I don't know how they ever got the chain on it, because I had to add a half-link just to get it onto the sprockets.

Speaking of not understanding bike parts, this has been the year for people putting the pedals in the wrong crank arms. When it won't go in straight and it's binding up like a bastard, why do you keep graunching on it? But they do. Then I get to extract the pedals -- if they haven't fallen out of the stripped-out holes already -- and either re-tap or replace the crank arms. One of those cases came in just last week. It's one of those repairs where you can't really give an estimate without trying to fix it first, to see if there's enough metal left to tap.

Still in the crank and pedal department, one of the local riders is a lad -- now an adult -- who spends hours a day riding all over town on whatever mountain bike he is putting to the test at the moment. He isn't an official product tester, but he definitely puts them all through the wringer of long, continuous use. He's not a jumper or a sprinter. He just goes. And goes. And goes. When he finally brings a bike in because the gears skip or the shifting is funky, we'll discover something like the bottom bracket shell completely broken loose from the seat tube. Worn-out chains are just par for the course. It's the special touches that elevate it from the mundane. This time, his chain had fallen off the front, and neither he nor his father could get it back on. Something was jammed up. Well I guess so.

He was "just riding along." The crank arm bolts are tight. Something inside ain't right.

And there it is:
The axle is snapped right off. At least it's a simple fix. We plugged in a new BB cartridge and off he went again.

Trainee David wanted to adjust the bearings in his XT pedals before an upcoming 'cross race. I helped him figure out how to get in there.

Modern bike componentry comes in two forms: stuff you can't take apart, and stuff you can take apart that will make you wish you hadn't. This is the latter. Of course you can find chirpy forum posts about how easy and fun it is, from people who claim to do it every one month/six months/year, but it's seldom more obvious that no manufacturer actually wants you to fix anything than when you try. The left pedal has some irreducible slop in it, either from a worn (not readily available) bushing or from the loss of an equally unavailable rubber seal. The rubber seal shouldn't be structural. None of the forum chirpers refer to it as load bearing. But David's has vanished somewhere in the vastness of the New England cyclocross circuit, and now the pedal clicks and wiggles no matter how tight the adjustable bearings are. The metal bushing is present, and looks about the same as the one in the right pedal. The pedal shaft itself is a bit worn, possibly from riding too long with a loose bearing. But the right pedal bearings were equally loose before we adjusted them, and that pedal is tight and smooth now. The only obvious difference is the lack of the rubber seal in the left one. And you can spend hours poking around on the Internet to see if anyone really knows, without ever finding out for sure.

The Campy Gran Sport pedals on the old Raleigh are classic cup and cone bearings. Campagnolo Record pedals were so securely closed that they would run smoothly for years. On that level of Campy, pedals and bottom brackets had a reverse threaded section that expelled dirt as you rode. They didn't do it on the lower models, but you're still not dealing with microscopic bearings sitting in an almost imaginary race. Step-in pedals have higher cornering clearance and other added values for the competitive rider. We've all been trained to beat things up and wear them out rather than keep them going through years of appreciative, moderate use. Repair attempts these days are usually just a preamble to justify replacement. You keep it up as long as you can afford it.

These are the darkest nights, even though they are not the longest. The trees have not entirely gone bare, so the forest shadows are dense black. These are the spookiest nights as well. Half naked trees raise bony arms against what you can see of the sky. Any wind makes the branches creak and rattle like a marching skeletal army, while dry leaves skitter like rats on the forest floor you can barely discern even with a good light. The sight of another person sparks a moment of misgiving rather than sociability. What's anyone doing out here now? Only a weirdo would be out in the woods in the dark. You guzzle some caffeinated courage before heading out on the lonely ride toward home.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Imagine no motor vehicles

Coline commented on the previous post: "I have just returned from a family visit to France where cyclists are everywhere and not targets of abuse. This may change as now great numbers of electrocycles are being moved about badly by non cyclists who do not seem to think that they need to learn how to use them!

Worse were the trottinettes, scooters which hurtle silently about with total disregard for anything or body, least of all their own safety. Brave new world!"

I had said that I would rather share the road with smokeless mopeds than with monster trucks, but Coline raises a good point about the behavior of newcomers who make up their own rules when they buy equipment and dive into alternative transportation.

Back at the University of Florida in the mid 1970s, most people got around campus on bicycles. Cars were barred from most of it, and the sprawling distances made walking from class to class difficult for many. People did walk, but large numbers of riders would hit the streets at every class break and at the beginning and end of the day. The town supported at least four bike shops.

If you weren't a cyclist, just a bike rider, you would join the flow and move placidly with it to your next stop. But if you felt fit and frisky it was as frustrating as any traffic jam. It even included a few real mopeds, puffing clouds of blue smoke. I had a good crash one time when I tried to push the pace and got hooked by a rider in front of me with a sudden urge to turn left. My error. 

Crowded multi-use trails also provide a preview of what a motorless -- or at least less motorized -- society would be like. The herd average would set the speed limit. Because the vehicles are much more maneuverable than big, bulky automobiles and trucks, they can behave more erratically and swerve more unpredictably.

It would reduce the amount of distracted piloting. You can stare at your phone and walk into a fountain, but you can't really bury your face in the screen for too long when you're trying to stay up on two wheels in a crowded field. I'm sure that distracted cycling happens already, but it's more self-limiting than distracted driving or distracted walking. You hit that lamp post much harder on a bike.

We who ride in traffic complain about the range of hazards we face from the masses of metal charging along beside us. But the simple fact of our weakness licenses us to work to the limit of our strength more often than would be the case if everyone moved by meat alone. It's nice to find a quiet road where we can set our own pace, fast or slow, but those roads are made quieter by the fact that so few people cycle on them. The dominance of motor vehicles means that the road is seen as reserved to them. If the system was built solely for bikes, would the lanes be as wide? Would the grading be built for the speeds that some of us are willing to reach? Think of your average bike path. Even if a descent would allow you to top 50 miles per hour, do you think that the designers would have planned for it? The motorways are a playground because of motorized speeds. Some stretches are a slog because the terrain is boring, or stressful because the motorized users are always abundant, but the good parts can be very good indeed.

I'm more in favor of Biketopia than of continuing our current exaltation of horsepower, but I can appreciate the accidental benefits that the culture of speed has conferred on those of us who work for our momentum. A true Biketopia would design with that in mind. We would need some motorized equipment to maintain the network of bike routes at a high standard. We are not an afterthought. We shouldn't be, anyway.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Greta Thunberg versus monster trucks

The surge of support inspired by Greta Thunberg has been heartening to idiots like me who have been thinking in global environmental terms since the 1970s. Some of the expressions of official agreement might even lead to actual action. It shows movement in a positive direction that is long overdue.

Given the sudden interest in young activists, the news media have obligingly discovered a number of others who are Greta’s allies in the work that needs to be done. A whole generation is being identified as concerned, informed, and ready to get busy ushering in the lifestyle changes needed to secure humanity’s long-term prospects.

And then there are the monster trucks. I see them everywhere: rusty or shiny, accessorized or plain. Most of them are a little loud. The drivers are predominantly male, predominantly young. Some of them look like they bought their vehicle with their father’s money. Others look like they worked for the money and know how to work on the truck. Any stickers on the truck tend to celebrate the virtues of carrying guns and not paying taxes. Maybe there’s a dirt bike or an ATV in the back.

The dirt bikes and ATVs are like little environmental rape shuttle craft that can be launched by the mother ship to perform more thorough shredding of the planet’s surface while simultaneously murdering the silence and gratuitously polluting the air. A friend of mine summed up motorized recreation as “morally bankrupt.” Paying for motor vehicles that you don’t need is certainly masochistic as well as increasingly indefensible in light of what we know about the effect of human activity on the natural systems that support all life.

I’m sure that plenty of participants try to behave responsibly, hoping that such a thing is possible. But a good number appears happy to be contemptuous and defiant. And many of them are young.

Greta’s generation is at war with itself, just as my generation was. In my generation, the voices of inquiry and restraint were overwhelmed by the greater number of people who either didn’t care or didn’t bother to wonder if they should care. We were assured by a popular beer commercial that, “ohhh yes! You can have it all!”

Those of us who heeded Rachel Carson and other pioneers of environmental awareness saw things start to get better for a while, but the overall trend was clearly to ignore the underlying issues as much as possible. Developed countries were already yipping about obesity and poor diet by the late 1970s, while doing everything they could to make automobile travel the mandatory norm.

I was no activist. I’m still not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. It seemed to me that a person could make a lot of beneficial changes without becoming a total homesteader. Transportation cycling was and is a fantastic tool to improve conditions both physiological and environmental. Of course now the bike has to have a motor. But even a smokeless moped is better than a gas-engined anything. I would rather share the road with them than with monster trucks.

Humans never take care of problems in a timely fashion. Greta and her adherents have the crisis on their side. But even so they are up against people who have openly declared that they look forward to settling disputes at gun point. That’s how deep the stupidity runs in our  species.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Amtrak update

Last Friday I reported that a young man had been escorted off of Amtrak’s Downeaster for trying to travel with his bike. It turns out that he was able to board a later train, but only because he had a secret weapon: a family member works for the company and generated some heat on his behalf. He got a one-time ride to Dover. So things have hardly improved since 1980. If he hadn’t had someone on the inside, he would have been out of luck.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Vulture overhead

As I rode to work on Saturday, a vulture took off from below the guard rail to my right as I pedaled steadily up the long north slope of Route 28. With heavy wing beats it gained altitude gradually. Thus, it remained close above and in front of me for what seemed like a very long time.

"Don't shit. Don't shit. Don't shit," I muttered as I held my own pace. It finally got up enough to bank away and climb above the trees.

Closer to town I saw a bedraggled bouquet of flowers, still in its plastic sleeve from the store. It had been lying there a while. I wondered if the purchaser had forgotten it on the roof of the vehicle, or if it was evidence that the love offering had been rebuffed.

As days shorten I have been using my lights during the last part of the evening run. I noticed that the standlight on my tail light had stopped working, so I ordered a new one of those. The standlight comes on when the bike slows below the speed at which the dynamo hub can produce enough juice to  power the lights. These rigs used to involve bulky battery packs. Now they work off of a little capacitor inside the light itself. You wouldn't even know it's there. It's a crucial safety feature. The old light had seen eight hard years of use.

A customer talking to me about riding in traffic assumed that I always rode with a blinky tail light, day and night. I explained to him that I had stopped running it in daylight, because motorists seemed to have gotten numb to them. He observed that on bendy roads with alternating open areas and tree cover they were still useful to catch the eye of a driver going from glare into shade. That seemed like a really good point, so I have resumed flashing when I'm riding in a situation like that. Outside of that, though, the novelty seems to have worn off. And it creates another opportunity to blame the victim if someone does get hit and didn't have a blinky operating at the time. The same goes for please-don't-kill-me-yellow. We have to dress up like a clown piloting a UFO just to try to catch the attention of the zombies behind windshields.

Overall, drivers haven't been too bad. But you never know if you're experiencing a temporary, favorable anomaly or if it's really the beginning of a large scale trend of improvement.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Brifters are the low flow toilets of gear shifting

Riders frequently complain to me that they "push the shift lever and nothing happens." While there are multiple potential causes for this symptom, the inherent design of index-only shifters leads less experienced riders to suspect a malfunction.

Index shifters were designed by people who know very well how derailleurs work, to make shifting easy for people who don't know how derailleurs work. The plan went wrong because a rider benefits a great deal from knowing what the shifter is supposed to accomplish, and now whole generations of riders have never experienced friction shifting or lever-type shifting of any kind. They just learn how to push things to make the bike pedal easier or harder. It's magic. Don't ask. When it doesn't work, they ask a friend, or look at a YouTube video, or, as a total last resort, go to an actual bike shop to speak to someone they hope will know. Some of us do. Most of the time, these efforts lead eventually to a working bike, but probably not to an understanding of what it was trying to do in the first place.

Once cable-operated derailleurs were common, and the general configuration was basically standardized, there followed a couple of decades in which the derailleur-gear rider would haul back or push forward on a lever held in place by a set screw, to make the derailleur -- front or rear -- move laterally to place the chain in line with the desired gear combination. Even the most casual rider would figure out eventually that the lever pulled the cable and the cable pulled the doohickey that made the chain move. They might ride with the chain rubbing on the front derailleur cage until it wore through, but they could at least shift well enough to get around. If it didn't shift, pull farther and harder. There was an obvious correlation between lever movement and derailleur movement.

Given that not everyone has a good innate sense of spatial relations, companies did try to simplify the biomechanics. An example would be Suntour's notorious backwards-acting front derailleurs of the 1970s. Presaging Shimano's horrible Rapid Rise rear derailleurs, Suntour applied the principle to front derailleurs, so that the rider would push or pull the shift levers in the same direction, rather than opposite directions. The resulting devices not only shifted like crap, they engendered even more confusion in a world where the majority of derailleurs did not operate that way. Suntour also had a set of downtube shifters that bolted to a special mount. It slid up or down as the rear shifter was moved, to automatically trim the front derailleur. I missed Suntour when they went under in the 1990s, but remembering stuff like this makes me wonder why I did. I focused on the nice things they made. The Japanese component companies were always masters of the mixed blessing.

With any return-to-center shifting system, whether it's under-bar or brifter or barcon, the shifting movement has to include the degree of overshift any derailleur system needs in order to move the chain to the next cog or chainring. The derailleur has to travel a little "too far" and then settle back, to displace the chain from the gear it's on and climb or drop to the new selection. This is particularly true when moving the chain from a smaller diameter cog or ring to a larger diameter cog or ring. You have to push the chain up and make sure it gets a grip. Dropping the chain to a smaller diameter takes little or no overshift, because gravity is helping you. If you're unfortunate enough to have Shimano's Rapid Rise, then very little helps you, either way. Get rid of it as soon as you can, and avoid it like norovirus in the future.

When everything in a drive train is new, the system usually functions unobtrusively if it was properly set up and adjusted. But the more cogs you cram into the cassette, the more sensitive the shifting systems become. It all depends on the balance between cable tension and the power of the derailleur return springs. When things get dirty and worn, that balance gets harder to maintain. Buy a new bike! (A public service announcement from The Bike Industry). This is when you get the low-flow toilet syndrome.

You've probably become familiar with low flow toilets, given their proliferation. In the olden days, when toilets sent enough water down to flush a dead guinea pig with one pull, you could push the lever and walk away, confident in most cases that no leering zombie of a turd would be lying in wait when you opened the lid again. And no bloated, floating carcass of a guinea pig, for that matter. With a low flow toilet, you have to push and hold the lever until all the flushing noises have completed their cycle if you want to be somewhat sure that  everything has left the bowl. And forget entirely about guinea pigs, or even smaller rodents. 

With index-only systems, riders accustomed to other push-button devices in their lives just push to the click and expect the device to do the rest.  This isn’t even entirely true of electronic shifting systems, let alone cable-operated systems.

For a cable system to operate with click-and-forget precision on the trip from smaller diameter to larger diameter, cable tension has to be high.  If it’s too high, the derailleurs won’t want to move far enough the other way. Some systems currently in use already require ridiculously high tension. At their showroom best they might shift with something close to click-and-forget precision. Gradually, that will erode. A rider usually evolves with it, learning to push the lever fully past the click, and stay on it a little longer and a little longer.  Eventually, the lag becomes too obvious to ignore.

Actual malfunctions will also show up as slow shifting in their early stages. These malfunctions include cables fraying inside the brifter and fraying inside the frame, if you have internal cable routing. Good luck finding a high end bike these days that doesn’t have internal cable routing. Of course you want it! Housing failure will also cause sluggish shifts. If the linear wires are failing at the end that plugs into the brifter, they can also burrow into the brains of the shift mechanism and cause damage.

Fully enclosed cables, with a continuous piece of housing from the shifter to the derailleur, will require a whole new length of housing  just to cure a bit of fraying at the end, unless the housing was cut a bit long to begin with. Using a junction ferrule, you can sometimes add in a section, but every joint is a potential source of slop that can cause inaccurate shifting. You have to have room to make the connection and still get a smooth line for the cable to flow more or less unimpeded. Of course the currently fashionable and largely mandatory 4mm housing is a built-in impediment, but that’s just more value added by  the bike industry.

Friday, September 20, 2019

We don't serve your kind here

Late this afternoon, a kid was thrown off of Amtrak's Downeaster and marooned in Boston for trying to travel with his bike.

Our young trainee David had told me that a riding buddy of his was going to ride the commuter rail from somewhere south of Boston to pick up the Downeaster and continue to Dover, NH, where David would pick him up and bring him the rest of the way to Wolfe City for a weekend of training rides. Then, sometime after 4 p.m., the friend called from North Station to say that he had been removed from the train in what sounded like a rather underhanded way.

The cyclist had been told by one train official that it was okay. He had boarded and was settling in, when another train official came and told him, "bring your bike and your bags and come with me." The lad complied, and was led off the train. The doors shut, and the train left. No warning, no explanation, no appeal. No one bothered to find out whether the kid was okay being dumped in Boston's North End on the verge of evening, when he was in the middle of a journey northward. They just knew that they had to get him and his bike off of that train.

David immediately set about figuring out how to rescue his friend. The obvious and unpalatable answer would be to drive more than two hours each way to retrieve him from North Station. Maybe the cyclist could cut a deal with the bus company to take him to Dover. Whatever they did, they were having to improvise it as nightfall marched steadily closer.

You could say, as Amtrak no doubt will, that the boy should have done his homework. I say it's long past time to give cyclists roll-on access to every train at every stop on every line, and make intermodal transportation a reality instead of a novelty. This incident is strikingly similar to the way I was treated almost 40 years ago when I traveled from the New Carrollton Amtrak station to New Brunswick, NJ, in the spring of 1980. In that journey, I was allowed to board in New Carrollton because a sympathetic conductor recognized me from the regular trips I'd been making along that route in pursuit of something that felt like love. But he could only get me as far as Philadelphia. There, he said, I could get on a train with a baggage car, scheduled to be leaving at a convenient time.

When I went to the train in Philly, the conductor told me that they don't open the baggage car there, and to get lost. Philly is such a minor city that they don't open the baggage car there? What if someone has baggage? Surely someone has the key.

I did not say any of this. Instead I negotiated a little, and he finally told me that I could ride between two cars, boarding just before the train pulled out. "I can get you to Trenton," he said. "Then you have to find a commuter train. They let bikes on."

"Get on here," he said, pointing to the door. I did as he said, and wedged myself into the wiggling space where the car platforms scissored back and forth with every undulation of the rails. About halfway to Trenton, I heard an altercation break out in the bar car, which was the leading car of my little duplex. The car door popped open, and the conductor, a burly man now red-faced with irritation, shoved a smaller man into the space. The smaller man, who appeared to be an Amtrak employee riding for free, made the mistake of taking a swing at the conductor. The conductor knocked him down. When the big man pulled his foot back to kick, I gave him the eyeball. He withdrew, grumbling.

Now sharing the tiny space with the smaller man, I had no ideas for conversation. He didn't seem to feel too chatty either. We leaned in our respective corners, lurching back and forth with the movement of the train. I was holding my bike on its rear wheel, pressed against the side of the compartment.

When the doors opened in Trenton, I squirted out and headed down the platform as police officers closed in.

I got aboard a commuter train. A guy in a uniform told me it was okay and pointed me toward a car. I leaned my bike up and sat down. A lady in a nearby seat started chatting me up. She was convinced that I must be some experienced world traveler. She refused to believe me when I told her that this was my first attempt at such a trip, and that I had started from home at 0500 when I rode to New Carrollton from Annapolis. Our conversation came to an abrupt end when the train official came back to throw me off before the train departed. I was now stranded in Trenton.

My grandfather had his optometric practice in Trenton. I rode over to his house. He was quite surprised to see me. I explained my predicament. We had a nice lunch together, and then he gave me a lift to the edge of town, so I didn't have to battle traffic making my way to the nice two-lane road through Princeton. I broke a spoke outside of Princeton, but found a bike shop (gotta love college towns) and replaced the spoke on the steps in front of it.

In the last few hundred yards of the ride, in New Brunswick, I flatted and dumped the bike in an intersection. Traffic was light. I dragged myself to the sidewalk and trudged the last bit to reach my love interest.

The return trip was less harrowing, but still relied on special circumstances, not on any kind of bike-friendly policies from Amtrak. We went down to the station, bought my ticket, walked out onto the platform, and lined up to board. There was my bike, shiny and obvious. The conductor came over shaking his head. My love interest burst into tears, explaining that I just had to make this train. She didn't even dress it up with any bullshit about my humanitarian mission or the transplant organs I was transporting. The basic version was good enough to get me onto one direct train all the way to New Carrollton.

You can't count on having an effective performer to deliver a literal sob story every time you need one. Amtrak has made a big deal about every grudging concession to cyclists, every individual station slowly added to a limited network of trains. Meanwhile, if I could roll on in Dover and roll off in New London or Old Saybrook, I might never use my car to visit my parents again. I could even go to Baltimore and get myself to and from the stations. I really like trains. It costs more money to take the train than to drive, but it's so great to be without a car.

That's so un-American. "Great to be without a car." What are you? Weird?

Demonstrably so.

Anyway, it's been 40 years since my hopscotch adventure, and about the same length of time since I got thrown off of the DC Metro for having a disassembled bike in two bags, and things don't seem to have improved a hell of a lot. I look forward to hearing how David and his riding buddy solved their transportation problem, but I hate that they had to.

All public transportation needs to embrace human powered transportation and make it easy to change modes. No requirement for folding bikes. No limitations. Roll on, roll off, every train, every line, every station stop.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A world of squish

Once again I spend a couple of hours chasing down weird issues in disc brakes.

The customer came in with his Giant Revolt gravel bike. He said that the brakes needed bleeding, especially the rear, because the lever was pulling right to the bar.

I squeezed it. It was pulling right down. But at the end it didn’t have the telltale squishy feeling of air in the system. It came to a sort of firm stop, as hydraulics go. I told him I thought that it probably just needed new pads.

When I pulled the old pads out, they were only about one-third gone. Because the bike uses Giant’s cable actuated master cylinder, to work with normal brifters, I thought maybe I could snug up the cable part of the system.

No such luck.

I had to root around on the internet for a real service manual. There are little screws all over this unit, so I wanted at least a sketch map to confirm where to attach the syringes full of mineral oil.

As always the configuration of the rear brake line makes it impossible to get a clean, rising line from caliper to master cylinder. I had already taken the bars out of the stem to get access to the cable anchor screws. That made it easy to turn them 90 degrees to the ground to orient the bleed port upwards. But the brake line itself serpentines down and under and around in ways that make the rising line approximate. I hoped it was good enough. Sometimes it is.

After doing the bleed two complete times, the lever feel was still no better. Screw it. I threw a set of pads in, and bingo.

Well, bingo-ish, anyway.  Because I never got to feel this bike in the flower of its youth, I have no way to know how it felt at its showroom best. I can tell you this much: almost every set of hydraulic brakes I have operated has felt squishy, even when the rider was perfectly happy with it. A mountain biker passing through this spring laughed when he felt a set of brakes that a noob complained were too soft. “They all feel like that!” he said. “Get used to it.”

The only hydraulic disc brakes that haven’t felt squishy have been overfilled and rock-like. They’ve needed to be bled down to get the pads to retract at all.

I’m really starting to hate them.

I’m also starting to hate Outside Magazine. Always the rag of egotistical vacationers, their increasing attempts to represent cycling expertise are oriented toward the hobbyist with disposable income and no resistance to technofascist propaganda. Because of all my searching for info on disc brakes, Google fed me this article on “Why you should throw your rim brakes in the trash.”  Hobbyist McMoneybags says that when he’s riding down a mountain pass in the rain, rim brakes don’t work at all on his carbon rims. Dude! I’ve found your problem! Use disc brakes on your tech-weenie wanker hoops. Preach to your well funded hobbyist buddies about what they really must have. But save your pronouncements about what should be the future of a once simple, durable, and highly user serviceable technology.

Rage against the dying of the light

My father is dying. He's not going in any immediate way, but he is 92, and his poor life choices are catching up with him. He is that bizarre anomaly, a healthy fat man. He's not as healthy as he would have been if he had prevented himself from getting fat, but he's not your stereotypical mess of clogged arteries. He could go for at least several more years. And they're already not fun years. He knows too well what is happening to him, and how he made it worse.

His parents both lived well up into their nineties. But when his mother died in the mid 1980s, she had been a vegetable from an acquired -- not genetic -- debilitating illness since the late 1940s. His father was somewhere between 96 and 98 when he died, blind and infirm, in veterans' home in Indiana. My father knew he had the potential to live a long time, if his job or some other intervening catastrophe didn't take him out first.

A diligent survivor, he had dipped briefly into poverty and uncertainty after the disintegration of his family around 1943. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1944 after flunking out of MIT. He qualified for the Coast Guard Academy, and emerged as an officer in 1951. He served with distinction until his retirement in 1979. He survived storms at sea, and the Arctic night, and his propensity to drive long distances without stopping. He has even survived a classic American diet of meat and starch. He quit smoking in time to avoid cancer and heart disease. In an alternate universe, he kept smoking and survived anyway. We'll never know. But he has lost a lot in the last few years, making his present existence pretty miserable.

He's a fighter, literally. Although sailing was his passion, he also boxed in college. He learned how to make his characteristics work for him against fighters who were larger and faster. Manly anger was a power source. He's far from a one-dimensional character, but that inner fire was his emergency battery. A man of reason, he would tap into a furnace of accumulated rage when he needed to make a special physical effort.

The inner fire and his oddly durable genetics allowed him to get away with very haphazard exercise all the way to his eighties. You might think that's pretty good, but when it's no longer good enough the endgame isn't pretty. His fat is a hard, firm fat. He cannot bend to tie his shoes. He can't even pull on his socks. Crippled with pain from a degenerated hip, he got himself a new one just a couple of years ago, and has recovered pretty well, but he still resorts to a walker for a lot of maneuvers in his home, which can be disastrously awkward when he has a digestive emergency occasioned by the years of poor diet.

To stave off the macular degeneration that blinded his father, he gets a hypodermic needle in his eyeballs every couple of weeks. Sometimes he goes a month. An avid reader, he now finds it extremely cumbersome, because the degeneration was not caught quickly enough to preserve perfect acuity.

His tendency to default to a chair, to reject walking and jogging because he didn't want to look funny out there, is calling in its debt.

Contrast this to my mother's father. Longevity also runs on my mother's side. An optometrist in private practice until he was in his early eighties, Earl made a point to take a walk every day. As a younger man he had been a vigorous tennis player. He was always lean, aided perhaps by some food allergies that kept him from pigging out, but also by a work ethic that included conscious physicality. His mind grew more vague as he went through his last decade. I carried on a correspondence with him as long as I could, but my last letter to him was answered by my uncle, explaining that Earl couldn't continue the exchange. My grandfather's last act was to get up from his seat in the living room and walk to the bedroom, where he dropped dead from a stroke at age 98. I know from our late communications that he did not like the dimming of his mind. As he went into that tunnel, he knew he was going into it. It wasn't classic dementia as such, but he had taken pride in his intellect and was sad to see his sharpness fade. He was heard to long for death quite a while before he reached it. But at least he could tie his shoes.

My father is no fan of either elderly decrepitude or death. He adopted a more physical lifestyle just a few years ago, but it still wasn't a full-bore campaign of daily walks. The phrase "too little, too late" springs to mind. He still defaulted to his chair in front of the television, where he trolled through the full array of news programs, and processed what he saw through a mind trained by decades of administration and policy analysis in Washington. His body fits most naturally into the shape of an armchair, and yet he loathes the stiffness and slow shuffle of his gait when he rises from it. This is what happens when you know better, but you don't do better. He rages against the dying of the light, but his body cannot function solely on that emotional fire. He did not build the machine to carry out his will. He dwelt too much in the mind, aided by a body that produced surprising results for too long, lulling him into a sense that it would always be thus.

The young cadet went aloft in square riggers, and climbed the forestay of one of them hand over hand, just to show that he could. The officer advancing up the chain of command retreated to the dignity becoming his rank, and the less physical duties required of him. He complained of his expanding waistline for years. After he retired from the Coast Guard he had complete control over his time, but spent none of it trying to recapture any of his youthful physicality. As he advanced through middle age, he excused his portly physique by saying that the men in his family all aged that way. He viewed it as inevitable. Genetics are not like a box of chocolates. If you know the traits of your lineage, you have a pretty good idea what you're going to get. But you don't have to merely ride that train to the last stop, taking whatever your DNA dishes out. Start raging early, and don't stop.