Tuesday, April 27, 2021

That which used to make me stronger kills me

 The best laundry days are the ones when the fire wardens warn you that the dry grass could catch fire just from a cricket rubbing its legs together. Today is such a day.

The clotheslines are hung high enough to allow bed sheets to hang clear of the dirt. Hanging a load requires some reaching and stretching upward. And that is how the subject connects to the temporary but frequent inconveniences that formerly very active people deal with when attempting to be moderately active in the face of all of the elements of life that conspire to make us sedentary subjects of contented decay.

Deprived of convenient access to the one-stop shopping of cross-country skiing, my winter conditioning consists of baking tasty things and lifting them out of the oven. Occasionally, a stab of misgiving impels me to put myself through as much as I can remember -- and endure mentally -- of my old indoor routines. Since 1982 I have had to keep up regular conditioning of my right shoulder, to reinforce the acromioclavicular joint, where the collar bone attaches to the rest of the shoulder joint. It was blown apart on a night ride when I failed to clear a cut in the road that I was jumping on my racing bike.

Of all the people I used to ride with when I was messing around with racing, the only one who doesn't have a messed-up collarbone broke his leg instead. All of them received their wounds valorously in competition. The guys who got fractures in the middle of the collarbone took off the sling and resumed training in a week. The other guy who suffered an a-c separation had real health insurance, so he had the surgery where they screw it back together like a wobbly chair, so he had minimal down time as well. I, on the other hand, unsure of my finances, wore a strap for ten weeks, which held the errant collarbone in place by compression along the humerus. The orthopedic doctor who treated me in the ER said "eight to ten weeks," but I think the eight was just to give me a ray of false hope. I went to that eight week consultation full of joy, only to find out that it had never been a strong possibility.

Do you know how scrawny your arm gets when you have it strapped in a sling for ten weeks? And then there's range of motion. When I finally got the sling off, the doctor told me I could go ahead and straighten my arm. I think he did it for the "humerus" value. My forearm, which had been held level at about ninety degrees to the upper arm, only dropped about ten degrees before I felt the tug of shortened muscle.

As a low-budget patient I didn't receive a ton of follow-up once I was released back into the alley. I was advised not to rush things. Having explored strength training for various non-biking activities, I pieced together some exercises with light weights, calculated to reinforce the joint. For sensible symmetry, and strength for a growing interest in climbing, these weight routines became a regular habit for more than 20 years. My misspent life centered on human-powered exploration of my neighborhood, on foot, by bike, and in paddle craft. 

At 64, lacking the bottomless reservoirs of youthful strength, I still feel that life is made more worthwhile by aimless exploration of mostly natural environments.

Pain after exercise is an insidious foe. In your teens and twenties you might push yourself and feel pain almost immediately afterward, which diminishes steadily as you go forward. In your thirties the onset may be immediate or slightly delayed, and the arc of it rises before it falls. By your forties, the onset is delayed by as much as a day, so you have no idea how intense it might get. This continues with the next decade. Ah, but the 60s... this is the decade of surprise. I will be surprised at how strong I feel, resuming training after a layoff. I will be further surprised by what hurts -- and how badly -- when the backlash hits a day or two later.

Yesterday afternoon, after a nice hike up the mountain behind my house, I felt pretty good. The day before, I had done my wee little workout, with the vestiges of core work and upper body strength needed to support the bike commute and keep my shoulder knitted together. About an hour after I returned to the house, a sharp pain stabbed me in the muscles of my upper chest, just a couple of ribs below the clavicle. I felt around to see if maybe I'd been shot and hadn't realized it. It's clearly on the outside of the chest cavity, but the stab of pain makes it hard to take a deep breath, and excruciating to blow a snot rocket. I really pissed something off in there.

Muscle memory is not always your friend. I can't point to a single moment in my exercise session in which I said, "Oops, I shouldn't have done that." I flowed through the familiar movements with what seemed like reasonable amounts of weight. Nothing, really.

The pain fluctuates, but has not gone away. Some pains suggest their remedy when you explore them by careful movement or exploratory pressure. Not this little bastard. Every time I think I've found the key stretch or the right massage, it ripostes with another accurate thrust.

Trainee David has a tee shirt from the Marine Corps that says, "Pain is weakness leaving your body." As inspiring as that may seem to a youngster feeling only rising strength, I can think of numerous instances in which it is not true, including combat wounds. I asked if the recruiters showed them splatter flicks, like the scare movies in driver education classes, just to prepare them for the realities of armed conflict. If you don't get a deep look at your own internal anatomy, you still might have to function while looking at your buddy's. The more hardened you can get to that, the better, if warrior is really your calling. Life is pain, and ultimately weakness does not leave your body. You figure out how to work with it.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Get some use out of what's between your legs

As part of today's slate of errands, I noticed that the gas gauge in the car was finally a bit below a quarter of a tank, so I went to the gas station. Because I'm one of those guys who inherited the habit of logging fill ups in a little book in the glove compartment, I can see immediately how long it has been since the last one. In this case, without even getting to full bike commuting, it had been 23 days.

I'm not the best example of your potential savings, because I don't drive anywhere except to work and on necessary errands, like the grocery store. During the pandemic I have avoided combining grocery shopping with the drive home from work on days that I'm in the car, because the incidence of mouth breathers is much higher then. I don't need the aggravation.

My commute by car is about 28 1/2 miles round trip. By bike it's just over 30, because of route variations I use to avoid an unpleasant section of road. The direct route is okay on the ride in, because gravity is with me, and we're all going into town, where motorists have no choice but to slow down. No good choice, anyway. I have envisioned the Grand Prix de Wolfeboro, where we have a full-on, closed course motor race around town. In addition to the Formula One category there can be a "run whatcha brung" race for the locals. That might have to be broken out into further subcategories for rat rods, drift cars, soccer moms, monster trucks, and midlife crisis dudes. So far I have not lined up any sponsors. The people you see practicing are doing it on their own.

Once the weather gets more reliably mild, I routinely go a month without filling the gas tank, and that includes a few optional trips to nearby trail heads or boat launching sites. Your results may vary.

And now for the standard disclaimers: Bike commuting is not for everyone. Many people are unable to do it because of distances they have to cover, loads they have to carry, lack of changing facilities at work, and a host of other insurmountable obstacles. But don't let your privileged status discourage you if you realize that you could commute by bike, but don't, in sympathy with the true prisoners of motorized society. Every bike commuter is saving a parking space, and helping to bring gas prices down by reducing demand.You may not think your individual efforts will have an impact on the thick hide and monstrous body of the oil industry, but add yourself to the unseen multitude across the country who are doing the same thing. The more the better.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The benefits of neglect and obscurity

 Being forgotten by the technological world for decades was one of the best things to happen to bicycling. The machinery evolved very slowly, which made bicycles a reliable device and a reassuring piece of stability in a changing world.

 When I started paying attention, in the mid 1970s, no one seemed to be clamoring for space-age advancements. Kids born in the 1950s received their bikes as something their parents had received in almost the same form. Some kids born even later received the same actual bikes. My older brother wanted an "English racer" three-speed because our family had been introduced to the works of Arthur Ransome as soon as we were old enough to read. The characters in those books, when they weren't on the water, were likely to be getting around the English countryside on classic black bikes that you could still buy at a shop near you in the 1960s. Much might change in the world, but bikes were your living connection to history. Not only that, they worked perfectly well as personal transportation.

When the "ten speed" came on the scene, it didn't strike me as a wild new concept, only a more advanced existing concept of which I had been previously unaware. It also seemed like risky magic to encourage your chain to jump off the sprockets, after all my years when chains popping off was a greasy nuisance. I was very slow to adopt. However, as with other vices from which I initially shied, I embraced this one emphatically when I was finally corrupted by the right exposure. Indeed, the derailleur had existed in the form we would recognize for almost as long as Arthur Ransome's children's books. Whatever prompted the 1970s bike boom merely thrust it into the American public's eye, somewhat the same way cross-country skiing became the cool new thing around the same time.

Bikes through the 1980s -- meaning mostly road bikes -- had an aesthetic that seemed to span the 20th Century. Steel frames held together with lugged joints might have elaborate curlicues and cutouts or showcase the precision of smooth spear points, but at a distance the general configuration would convey instantly the bike's purpose and connect it to its heritage. By the 1990s, essayists like Maynard Hershon might gripe about its "19th Century" technology, but the stuff still works.

Check out some of the details on this Richard Sachs. The bike's owner is the real deal. She's been touring on it since she bought it new in the early 1980s (or earlier).

These cutouts are on the inside of the fork. 

Downtube friction shifters pull the derailleur across  a five-speed freewheel.

The rear wheel sits in long horizontal dropouts. This allows for all sorts of modifications and improvisations that you can't do with VD (vertical dropouts).

 Check out the original Blackburn rack from when the original Blackburn guy still had anything to do with the original small company by the same name.

Even the saddle is original.

I wore out several Avocet saddles until you couldn't get them anymore. I know she's logged some serious miles, but she probably hasn't crashed as much as I did, and perhaps has a smoother style. Her gearing is realistically low for a load-carrying bike.

The cam on these Gran Compe brakes actually opens up wide enough to get the tire through the brake pads, unlike the token range of much newer -- and not cheap -- offerings here in the dying days of the Age of Rim Brakes.

Old plastic Silca frame pumps tend to crack at the threads. You can repair a minor crack by wrapping the barrel with filament tape. This pump has that repair. I don't know how much she's had to use it in that condition. I finally gave up on mine and got a Lezyne mini pump.

Before the Sachs I had a bike called a Sketchy on the stand. In a color strikingly similar to Surly's "Beef Gravy Brown," which was one of the Cross Check colors around 2011, this bike was apparently a hip item around that time. Made of lighter weight, more upscale tubing, it completely lacks the touches that make the Cross Check such a great basic platform on which to build a wide variety of bikes, such as the above-mentioned long horizontal dropouts. The Sketchy had VD, and shapely but highly inefficient curvaceous chainstays that would completely prevent the use of fenders with plump tires.

What's a nine-letter (two-word) phrase meaning "overrated?"

Until FSA got rid of the needle bearing version of the Orbit UF headset, that was the answer, at a tiny fraction of the cost, to the issues that the CK headset purports to fix. The CKs are serviceable, but what a pain in the ass to get in there, just to have ball bearings  -- albeit in a sealed cartridge -- anyway. Tapered roller bearings were the best for headsets, which is probably why they disappear almost as quickly as they appear when a company offers them. The Orbit UF stayed on the market for several years before they went on the angular contact bandwagon. So they're still a good deal for the price, but not as good a deal.

Despite its unfortunate modernist touches, the Sketchy at least used a steel frame with basically round tubes. The aesthetic is not at all classical. It doesn't look like art, the way lugged frames did. The Cross Check has a welded fame, but the dropouts have a classic shape, and the forks have an external crown that gives them a classic look as well. The Sketchy fork looks like an old suspension bridge tower. It's kind of cool in its way, but it looks heavy.

The bike business seems to be able to support a number of limited-edition boutique builders who do their thing for a while and then move on. As long as they build to fit off-the-shelf componentry, you can keep the frame going almost indefinitely. Whatever it is, if it works for you, it's a good bike. 

This old Manitou fork showed really bold marketing in naming a new model (at the time) for what planned obsolescence would soon turn it into:

As we charge forward into the battery-powered future, a category called "hunting bikes" is on the rise. Camouflaged smokeless mopeds are becoming a popular vehicle for some hunters to use to get into the woods and fields in pursuit of their quarry. Back in the 1990s we had a customer or two who embraced the mountain bike as a silent approach vehicle for hunting, because they were quieter than ATVs and didn't produce stinky exhaust. But you had to be willing and able to pedal. Now a wider range of hunter can take advantage of not only pedal assistance but also pure motor power on some models. They're being sold through hunting and fishing stores, assembled by people who may not have a lot of familiarity with the basics of bike mechanics. Or the customer might have bought it online and had to assemble it themselves. Such was the case with this behemoth:

What have we gained by junking reliable simplicity? I still prepare for hostility and negligence before every time I venture out on the roads. This is true even in a car. Are the few riders retained or recruited by electric motors or enticed by technological ephemera enough to offset the general loss of people who don't grow up with bicycles as a normal part of their life, with the option to continue into adulthood?

Bike categories have forever altered the concept of what is possible under pedal power. Mountain bikes started out as just bikes. Modification piled onto modification in rapid evolution, but it was only the same process by which bicycles had developed from the beginning: largely trial and error. Only when the type was firmly established did the engineers really focus on seriously designing the machines of today.

As for the road, the demand for technology is more driven by fashion than function. Shifting systems since the onset of indexing have increased precision when they work, but also increased the demand for precision in their construction and adjustment. Road riding could still thrive if all of that went away, just as road riding could thrive if disc brakes went away, along with carbon fiber frames and 52 different bottom bracket standards. Mountain biking, on the other hand, is entirely dependent on its suspension technology and gearing systems to make the preferred style of riding possible. Some mavericks might sing the praises of a hardtail versus full suspension, but almost no one -- and perhaps no one at all -- is extolling the virtues of a fully rigid frame and fork. Fully rigid bikes have been relegated to another category, like bikepacking, in which they are still the weirder option, or fat bikes, which have always been a weird option.

Millions of riders logged millions of miles before there were through-axles, disc brakes, electronic shifters, and 1X drivetrains dragging tinfoil chains across 12 cogs (or more) spanning a range from 10 or 11 to 52 teeth. Some things could safely be rolled back and advanced along different lines with only gains for the riding public.

Teaching the craft

 Trainee David asked a lot of questions yesterday. As we worked through each brain teaser and skill builder I thought about teaching the craft, and how many people I've taught it to over the years. In this small shop in this backwater community, it hasn't been a huge number. Partly this is because we were fortunate that a few of them stuck around for several years before escaping to greater prosperity.

The phenomenal Ralph broke out around 2005, after ten really good years. Even then, he went to Harris Cyclery, to play a season or two in the majors before immersing himself in web design as a full-time professional. He learned so quickly that it was hard to tell what he already knew. He would assimilate techniques instantly, as well as doing his own research and bringing new knowledge to us during the critical time from the mid 1990s through the turn of the century. He'd already been wrenching on his own stuff and doing work for friends as a teenage mountain biker from the late 1980s. He respected the past and understood its role as the foundation of the latest and greatest in a way that too many modernists lacked in the rise of technofascism as the mountain bike boom billowed into its climactic fireball.

Short-timers hardly count as students of the craft. We had a number of summer fill-ins of varying usefulness during the 1990s. A couple of them became reliable flat-fixers who were also not afraid to pick up a broom and empty trash cans. Others were there just for the employee discount and the prestige of working in a shop that sold mountain bikes during the brief period in which that had any cachet. They were more notable for their ability to overlook the mundane tasks for which they had actually been hired.

After Ralph we enjoyed the services of Jim A, who was hampered by a longish commute -- much farther than mine -- and less of a fascination with bikes in general. He still performed excellent work for several years, long enough to make the effort worthwhile. He cared enough to learn, which always gratifies a teacher. However, with training in physical therapy and other real career-type skills, he left to pursue those avenues rather than remain chained to a workstand as bicycling entered its decline.

From our Jackson, NH, winter staff we got the services of Big G. He'd had some interest in bikes back in the 1970s boom, as a young engineer in the Boston area. Now not such a young engineer, he had joined us for the ski seasons in 2006, and transitioned to full-year employment after we shut down in J-town in 2009. He was another student who respected and understood the value of the past in shaping the future, so he absorbed a range of skills as rapidly as he could, without trying to dismiss as unimportant the parts that might not have interested him as much.

There have been others who worked earnestly and well, but really had better things to do, and hurried to them at the earliest opportunity. Who can blame them? A complete bike mechanic needs to be able to deal with technology that spans almost a century, and may face any of it within five minutes of each other, on any given day.

Most of the people to whom I have taught the craft no longer practice it. Most of the people alongside whom I learned it no longer practice it, either. Lifers are the minority in this business. The business side does tend to crush the fun out of it.

Trainee David is off to the Marine Corps in July. That will be the last we see of him unless he comes back to visit the shut-ins, the way a youngster named Ray, who was a shop fixture for a few years until shortly before I came on board, drops back in from time to time now after a career in the Navy and in commercial aviation.

The pandemic-induced bike boom continues, along with the shortages in complete bikes and in service parts. This distorts our sense of what we really need in the long term, because the present level of intensity seems impossible to sustain. I also wonder whether the intensity seems greater because of the almost nonexistent supply. If we were sitting on fat inventory, along with every other shop with similar bounty, would we get cleaned out, or would a satiated population come through to pick and poke and chisel for discounts? I noted already how the seekers are no longer just looking for anything they can pedal. They've refined their search to specific categories, and even to specific models.

The return to freer movement in society, as we find new norms reminiscent of the old norms, will be slower than people hope. Its final form will be shaped by a multitude of factors in public taste and medical necessity, as well as economic and environmental considerations, as ongoing neglected problems all come to a crisis point along with the pandemic and its aftermath. This makes it nearly impossible to chart a course into trackless ocean beset with mist and mirage. When will supplies come back? Where will they come from? Who will still want what?

All of this, coupled with chronically abysmal levels of pay, make it nearly impossible to entice anyone to sign on for a career -- or even a few solid years -- as a really good bike mechanic. My first mentor, Diane, got out of the shop scene in the early 1980s and has operated as an independent with her own little machine shop ever since. She has supplemented her income by working on aircraft restorations and other endeavors, including the now shuttered Victory Bicycles, which made accurate replica ordinary bikes (penny farthings) that were sold internationally. Her curiosity about bicycles and their history led her back past the ordinary to the draisine. Talk about owning one of every category!

My second mentor appears still to be a prime mover in the craft, operating the East Coast Bicycle Academy in Harrisonburg, VA. At the time I had no idea that the craft was my future. Indeed, for nine years after leaving the shop where I worked for him, in Alexandria, VA, for a scant nine months, I worked in the yacht industry, in an outdoor outfitter store, and clung to the fringes of the world of journalism before I dropped back into the bike business for temporary supplemental income. Still, despite my youthful arrogance and general density, I absorbed a few fundamental principles that have served me well. That means they have served my customers well, as I applied them to every service issue. Thanks, Les. He found a good refuge for his base of operations. If the whole tinsel and plastic castle of obscenely expensive and ridiculously complicated machines collapses tomorrow, people like Diane and Les will assure that the completely satisfactory and much more locally serviceable machines of the prior era will be ready to emerge and claim their place again as the most efficient way to translate human effort into forward motion. Backward motion, too for you insanely skilled fixed-gear riders.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

'S no storm

 Yeah, so the big snowstorm didn't happen. I think of the shovel as a good luck charm, same as the shovel and brush in the car. If I have them, I won't need them. Put them away and change to summer tires, and we'll get hit with a load of classically slippery spring snow.

It's magical thinking. The weather doesn't care. But it's one of those superstitious observances that you might know is bullshit, but you do it anyway. And it worked this time. Some places got upwards of ten inches, but not around here.

An article on the New Hampshire Public Radio website, talking about young activists and climate change, stated that in the warming conditions, New Hampshire "will have shorter winters." Wrong. Winter will still be the same length, even if it is milder and generally more wet than white. Day length will not change. What tree species thrive will still lose their leaves for months. There will just be less to enjoy about the dreary trudge through the long nights. We'll still get plenty of raw, wet weather. It sounds a lot like what we just went through.

Decades ago I was in North Carolina at a week-long conservation seminar. We learned that the higher summits of the southern mountains had a climate like New England's. As you went up in elevation it was the equivalent of going hundreds of miles north. I don't remember the exact ratio, but it held true on up the Blue Ridge and northward until one reached the actual New England, where the alpine zone was like Baffin Island or something. Now the ecosystems are shifting, so that New England will end up like the Carolinas, and the southern highlands will end up as steamy rainforest with no treeline even on the highest summits.

Whatever happens, just try to dress for it as you set out on your bike.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Reverting to winter


Anyone who has lived in northern New England for a while knows better than to put the shovel away before May. Maybe June up in Aroostook County, Maine.

The forecast for the storm moving in tonight and lasting into Saturday is for 4-8 inches of snow, with a lot of rain mixed in. The snow is good news for depleted ground water, because it hangs around and percolates in, rather than running off into streams and rivers, to make its way back to the ocean. There will be some of that, too, which is good news for lakes that had not ended the winter brimming with excess. Local rapids stopped rushing and were merely hurrying slightly, months before they were due to be so quiet.

Several inches of gloppy wet snow isn't such good news for biking. It will melt quickly, making the interruption brief. It's worse news for trail users, whether on the stone dust rec path or the constructed courses of mountain bike trails.

Back when we mountain biked on found surfaces, we rode on anything. The trails were mostly woods roads, what we referred to as "double singletrack" because the ruts created parallel courses that you could sometimes ride as separate entities. In many places, even though the road was wide enough for a truck, the surface was made of New England's signature jumble of rock, so it was plenty technical. We also rode on snow machine trails, wherever they were not routed over something that absolutely had to be frozen. Rotting ice, mud, wet rocks and logs were just routine challenges to the early season mountain biker. We came home chilled, wet, and grimy, as did our machines. Sometimes we would find motorized mud aficionados buried to the wheel tops -- or worse. As the trails dried out the surface would stiffen as it had been left. Users would then wear it down into dry season configuration just by negotiating the ruts and ridges of dried soil. Where the soil was sandy, some wetness helped compact it to make it easier to ride on.

Depending on when the snow retreated enough to make riding on trails possible at all, we would begin like this:

Then the bugs would come out.

Now, mountain biking groups of various levels of organization, from a few friends with hand tools and leaf blowers, to non-profits small and large, go to lengthy trouble and expense to construct courses that they are understandably protective of. Trails will be closed due to mud. As much as road biking was being called "the new golf" a few years ago because of all the rich lawyer types getting into it, mountain biking is much more the new golf, with its $4,000-$10,000 machines and professionally constructed courses. We road riders still just go out on whatever we find, and can have a completely satisfying experience on a bike that's 40 years old. Just not in the next few days.

Fat bikers will chuckle indulgently. I suppose it's a tortoise and hare situation: they can go out and maintain their 7 mph every day, come what may, and rack up more distance than riders who wait for firm conditions and go faster for less time. Probably not, though. And if you want to have a fat bike in the lineup just for the conditions at which it does the best, you end up investing in a bulky bike that needs to be housed when you're not using it, and transported to the riding venue if you don't hop on the pedals right from home every time. Even eBay deals started out as something some idiot paid full retail for, somewhere. Chances are, you'll throw down $1,000 and more -- sometimes a lot more -- for your blimp-tired bomber.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Season 31: A leap into summer

 Here we are in the transition from early to mid-April, and I wore shorts at work. Not to ride, mind you. The morning was still chilly in the river valley, and the rest of the ride in was manageably cool. The heat hit me after I arrived. No way I was going to pull long pants over my sweaty legs. I had considered following the full summer standard, dealing with the chilly start in light garb so I wouldn't have to lug the unused layers home at the end of the day. The problem is that it is April, the month of deception. If the later part of the day cooled quickly from its mid-day high around 70, I could find myself rolling down the north slope of 28, balancing my desire to get home quickly against the discomfort of cold wind cutting through insufficient layers. This is where commuting differs from scheduling a single ride in the nicest part of the day.

I would have liked more base miles, but my ancient car really needs some rest and professional attention. This is a good thing, really, because it blows me out of the motorized cocoon and forces me to propel myself around. This was the intent with bike commuting in the first place: to offset my family tendency to sloth and carbohydrates.

My winter training consisted mostly of squats. Like, "I did squat today." I got out to ski around on the mountain out back a few times, and had isolated outbreaks of other exercise, but it was way too easy to find other things to do. A day passes, and then another, and a few more. Suddenly it's time to launch the commuting season and I don't know if I'm ready.

The first thirty yards felt pretty good. After that I knew I shouldn't push my heart rate. I felt hollow, and wondered if this was a good idea. But since when did I let that stop me? "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" is not always true, but it is true in the pursuit of early season training miles.

The surprise came at the end of the day, when I set out for home. Rather than feeling depleted by the morning effort, I felt like I was a few days further along in just a few hours. I expected to grovel up the hills, but some sort of muscle memory had kicked in during the day. I wasn't sprinting after trucks, but I had enough to complete the routine journey.

We'll see how it holds up. I could fossilize overnight. The temperature drops back to a more normal range after tomorrow, too. At least it isn't reverting to winter the way it does sometimes. Not yet, anyway.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

A neatly-kept village full of wonderful people...dammit.

 Even the simplest of bicycles has moving parts. Add to the trusty fixed-gear a rear rack and a set of real fenders, and there are even more little details to keep track of.

Just far enough into my ride so that I did not want to turn back and make proper repairs, I noticed that the  bolt holding one set of rear fender stays had vanished. The fender rattled against the rack, which made me look down and back to see the fender stays poking out into the slipstream, totally screwing with my aerodynamics.

Mentally reviewing what I had on board for tools and parts, I decided to scan the roadside for a discarded bit of wire or an old bread bag tie that I could use to secure the stay until I could complete my planned route and dig up a nice nut and bolt. A nice nut and bolt wouldn't help me along the roadside, because I didn't have tools to install them. Even a shoelace would have worked. 

Coming out of Ryefield Road I saw nothing useful. Out on Route 25, the litter was all cans, bottles, cigarette packages, and the occasional piece of scrap metal or wood. Here and there were pieces of fabric, bedraggled lengths of webbing too fat to fit the frame eyelet, Dunkie's cups, plastic straws, and shreds of surveyor's tape. Approaching my scheduled turn toward the village of Freedom, there were several disposable diapers, invitingly opened like a taco bowl, rather than tightly wrapped like the classic turd burrito. Highway travelers along this stretch are a classy bunch. There was even a 750ml Jack Daniels bottle. Yee haw.

I held out hope for the side road into Freedom. You never know what might vibrate off of someone's work truck. But the roadsides even in the outer environs were almost devoid of litter, and completely without the specific pieces I sought. The closer I got to the center of the village, the more manicured the shoulders looked. It was beautiful and peaceful. Placards and banners of love and inclusivity decorated lawns and homes. The road edges looked as neatly raked as a zen garden. What a great community! Would it kill you to toss one lousy bread tie?

Since the loose fender didn't present a danger, it only bothered my sense of order. The further I went, the less important the perfect piece of litter became, but I still scanned for it, which brought my average speed down. I stopped multiple times to investigate possibilities, which I then had to dutifully pick up and bring with me for proper disposal.

Re-entering Effingham across Route 25, the roadsides were a little cruddier. Some drivers on highways tend to hold their litter until they turn onto a side road with a lower speed limit, because it's easier to chuck the stuff without a 60 mile per hour gale shredding past the window. I also see it where Elm Street enters the woods just after Duncan Lake. Drivers passing through from Route 16 fling tons of crap onto the first 50 yards where nothing is built on either side of the road. The litter tapers off as you get further from the highway junction, although there is always some.

People who give a crap are always cleaning up after people who toss their crap.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Spring Avalanche

Just as March looked like April again this year, so did the repair load go from zero to backlogged in a matter of days.

With only 1.3 mechanics on duty most days, we get buried more easily than we did in the boom times of the 1990s, but even back then the amount of repair work this early in the season would have been remarkable.

I did manage to finish the crash repairs on that Pedego.

The battery case takes a long time to install, because it is held together with eight little Phillips head screws that are mostly inaccessible. Inaccessibility is no excuse, however, so you have to use several different screwdrivers and contort your wrist to coax the fastenings down to seat fully. This was after rewiring the damn thing. Sliding the battery into the case was an appropriately satisfying insertion. Bit of an anticlimax, really.

The fun had just begun there, though. Pedego had changed their wiring harness (of course) since the bikes were built, so the new light and control unit had to include the adapted fittings for the old harness. Even the wire from the brake levers, that cuts the motor when the brakes are applied, had the connectors reversed. Most of the work was not complicated. It just took time to collect all the necessary little bits, from Pedego, from the hardware store, and from the crash-damaged parts that still had useful wiring.

Mixed in with the earliest arrivals was a Motobecane from the 1980s with a classic corncob freewheel.

Back when 52-13 was considered a big gear, and we only had six in the back, the 13-18 was the mark of the racer. Anyone old enough to have a freewheel like that now is not pushing a 42-18 up the hills of the White Mountains anymore. Converting this bike to lower gears required not just a wider-range freewheel, but also a derailleur that could handle the cog size and chain wrap. We're still waiting for the crankset to convert the front end to 110 compact. Adaptable old bikes can have new lives. They'll still be rolling along when the exoskeletons of the most recent marvels are already lying cracked and discarded, the batteries in their shifters dead, hydraulic fluid and tire sealant seeping into the ground.

I do like the 1890s leather on 21st Century carbon fiber on this Trek road bike:

Carbon fiber the bike may be, but it's such a relic that the cables are actually outside the frame! The poor bastard riding it is getting by with only ten speeds in the cassette and has this weird device that moves the chain between two chainrings on the crank. Old people have weird stuff. They say things like, "By cracky!" and "Jehosaphat!" too. And they do that weird little jig with their elbows out when they're excited. This guy still has all his own teeth, though. I can say things like this because I'm pretty sure I'm older than he is.

A couple of posts ago I said that only a rare old codger wanted me to build a wheel anymore. Then two wheel jobs came in. One of them was for the Trek above. The 24-spoke Easton rear wheel had a cracked rim. No rims were available, but we could get a 28-spoke hub and rim to build him a complete new wheel. I'm not a fan of low spoke count wheels, but they do go together more quickly.

                                                                   Hub porn

The All City hub is very nice for the price. I thought about stockpiling one or two for future wheels of my own.

The other wheel project used hub, rim, and spokes provided by the customer. I couldn't figure out why the wheel had been completely disassembled in the first place. The spokes were bundled and labeled right and left side for the disc hub, but even though they were supposedly the correct lengths the wheel was difficult to tension evenly. The rim had taken a couple of hard shots. Also, the customer had told me it was two-cross, but it turned out to have been three. It's easy to overlook that first cross down by the hub flange.

In the repair mystery department, a bike this week was completely missing the return spring assembly on one brake arm.

It wasn't a model with plastic parts that could break easily and allow the spring to fall out. There was no sign that the brake arm had been removed. I had nothing in the salvage bin to replace just the missing pieces, so we had to install a complete brake set. This tends to happen on repairs where the customer has set low financial limits. We agree to a minimal repair, trying to ignore anything off the script, and then find something we can't let go. Fortunately, the customer accepted the necessity.

Salvaged parts featured prominently for another repair. A road bike turned out to need a cassette after a new chain did not play nicely with the original gear cluster. The bike has nine-speed brifters, from back when that was respectably middle class. The cassette was a 12-25. We can't get one. We had an 11-28. The derailleur theoretically could be coaxed to handle the 28, but couldn't handle the chain wrap. I went to the cog farm to piece together just the cogs on which the chain had skipped. In the process I discovered the intact low-gear section -- 17 through 25 -- of the exact cassette we needed.

Save old cogs. Most of the time, a cassette is not completely chewed. Even if the chain skips on more than just the cog with the fewest teeth, others less used in the cluster may have lots of useful life left in them.

Finally, I was looking for videos on a repair procedure on a smokeless moped. At the end of the YouTube video, the montage of stills for "videos I might like" included this excellent accidental pairing:

Remember those words and heed them always.