Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Fixing bikes while the world burns...

 As a Sunday School kid in the 1960s, I was told, in simple terms a child could grasp, that the world would be destroyed by fire. We'd had the flood. Our loving creator had been there, done that. It was going to be fire next time. We were Episcopalians. We didn't speak in tongues, or handle snakes. We spoke in the sonorous, stately phrasing of the 1928 prayer book. The Apocalypse was theoretical. But the theme was fire.

It seemed obvious in the 1960s that fire meant nuclear holocaust. I remember walking to first grade, or in various neighborhoods, past the big yellow sirens on poles, wondering if today was the day I would hear them go off, and have to remember what sort of shelter gave me the best odds of survival. Fire was coming.

Here we are, some sixty years later. The world is indeed being destroyed by fire, but it's millions of fires, in internal combustion vehicles, combustion-based electrical generating facilities, the heat islands of paved and built up urban areas, the smoky fires of poor people, jet engines, sprawling industrial complexes, and humble kitchen stoves. And more, of course. The air conditioner we run to survive the heat waves that sweep over us is making the problem worse, when multiplied millions of times.

Fire fed the creation of the humble bicycle, once it progressed beyond a walking aid carved out of wood. Other transportation machines had used the wheel and the lever to navigate the inclined planes of the travel ways built for them, but the bicycle pulled together all of the essential elements into a device once described as the perfect mechanism for transforming human effort into forward motion.

To get us to the small fires of brazing torches, ore had to be mined and refined, smelted, forged, cast, whatever, to produce tubes and the joints that connect them into a steel frame. Everything that humans make changes a material from its found form to the form we find useful. How damaging that is to the environment depends on the scale. Steel went out of fashion as the 20th Century ended, which has made it very fashionable indeed with a niche audience. Your hard-core technolemming wants carbon fiber now, although the ones with limited budgets settle for aluminum. But the modern bicycle began with steel tubing.

Here in the prosperous United States of America, bicyclists are an unpopular minority. Roughly six percent of the US population rides a bike according to statistics from 2022. That figure included people who only ride once a year, so the actual percentage of regular users is definitely lower. Seems hard to believe if you're in one of those areas teeming with riders, like popular paths, urban areas, or mountain biking destinations. Venture outside of those circles and the road gets very lonely. If all of those riders stopped today, no one would miss us except the businesses that sell us equipment and service the machines.

At this point, someone reading this might leap in to share statistics about how bikeable and walkable communities see improved local retail income along with the better quality of life that comes when you push the noisy, stinky armored vehicles of the perpetually irritable to the periphery. Those perpetually irritable people in their motorized vehicles are the majority. They don't live in a world of retail statistics. They live in their cars. They vote for people who say it should be legal to run over crowds of distressed fellow citizens misguidedly trying to draw attention to social problems by blocking roadways.

Since mountain biking bloomed and faded, forever mutating the bike industry into a cynical syndicate bent only on separating the gullible from their money, the only thing that has made the purchase of a two-wheeler wildly popular has been the addition of a motor. More fire.

The fire isn't just physical flames and heat. It's also in the constant undercurrent of irritation that flows through most of us. I was going to say all of us, but there must be someone out there who feels only benevolence all the time. What an idiot! Only kidding. Anyone who can sustain that is a remarkable human being just as susceptible to thirst, heat stroke, a punch in the face, or bullet as any of the rest of us, but nonetheless a vessel of light.

Meanwhile, at work, I get to deal with some of the minor architects of destruction of the American Experiment, at both the individual voter level and the moderate donor level. They are nearly always very pleasant people, often complimentary. Indeed, last week a woman came in with her son's bike. She was sincerely pleasant, and very understanding of the challenges facing a small business and a specialty service provider. Her family owns a tree service that reportedly does excellent work for extremely reasonable prices. I ride past their house frequently. I don't think they know that the guy on the bike riding by is the guy at the bike shop, so they have no incentive to be extra nice for favors. We don't exchange greetings, but they don't throw anything, yell anything, or let their dogs chase me. On their garage door is a fresh new banner that says "Trump 2024: Fuck Your Feelings."

At a higher level of culpability in the increasing heat, a certain guy representing the state of Utah after serving as governor of Massachusetts voted as a senator for conservative justices on the Supreme Court who perjured themselves to get confirmed and have been gutting the Constitution ever since. He comes in like a regular vacationer to get his annual flat tire fixed. He's just a regular guy who likes buzzing around the lake in various forms of motor boat, and lining up for ice cream at one of the iconic local shops. I never recognize him at first glance, dressed down, hair awry. He never says "fuck your feelings."

Another family with Utah connections, rather big in the hotel business, is quite fond of us, including me. I have done a lot of bike work for them over the decades, and done it well, because that's always my intent. The bike industry has made it harder and harder to feel good about my job, but I try to do whatever can be done to the highest standards. It was easier when I felt some actual desire to own high-end equipment.The high end is just vastly more expensive ephemeral garbage now. I loathe it, and recommend only things that I think will make the badly designed and cheesily built crap work a little better for a little longer than the life span of a chipmunk. But I digress.

The hotel family has recently invested heavily in local businesses they have enjoyed over their many years as summer residents, and donated hefty sums from their charitable foundations to support our cross-country ski trails. We were commiserating over the steady decline in snow cover. One of them even mentioned global warming. But their voting behavior has prioritized tax cuts and deregulation for decades. Will that change now? And would it be too little, too late?

The majority of people in our area have voted for the fire, time and again. We even have a punk asshole in a noisy truck rolling coal this summer. He blew a cloud at me as I rode up Main Street in the final quarter mile of my morning commute one day in June. I had to laugh. Northern New England is always years behind in fad and fashion. But it also fed my own fire of frustration. Even though I knew that humans were going to destroy themselves, probably within my lifetime, I hoped that they would prove me wrong. I still wouldn't have had kids, because life is pain, and all the joy of it is just making the best of the situation once you're here. But people are here, and keep putting more of themselves here. I was determined to leave the world no worse than I had already made it by existing at all, and by my unwitting cruelty during a shamefully sustained adolescence. All around me I see people determined to make as big a smoking crater as they can, and saying "fuck your feelings" to anyone who begins to stutter a word of advice to the contrary.

Muzzle flashes are fire. Each one burns into the public consciousness, raising the emotional temperature toward general combustion. We have one last chance to vote against the fire. Even then, the fire will resist. A coal fire in Pennsylvania has been burning underground since about 1962. Fire in all its forms wants to consume us. Maybe it's just unstoppable physics. The universe itself expands and contracts on an immense cycle. Maybe each time it reaches the point of producing conscious life it collapses on itself to start again. The motes of consciousness have their moment to believe that they have significance, and to value individual existence, even as each mote willingly consigns others to destruction for various imperfections. "Do what I want or I'll kill you," has been popular for centuries. In my neighborhood I see the flags of the proudly armed and dangerous, including at least one all black, signifying "no quarter asked or given." Pretty bold assertion from someone living in a prefab dwelling you could probably shoot through with a decent quality air rifle. But you can't have a war if you get too wrapped up in critical thinking.

I stand by the work bench, repairing recreational equipment, while the world burns. Bikes are toys. I know it seems silly, but the world would really have been a better place if we'd had a general consensus that it should be a safer place to ride a bike. The shape of society really does come down to individual actions repeated by many. Look at the competition now between a nation of narrow-minded hardasses and one of broad minded generosity. Accounts have to balance, but there are many ways to achieve that. It doesn't have to be The Way of the Hardass. I spend bleak hours alone with my thoughts, trying to remain interested in technology that has made bikes more expensive and complicated while doing nothing whatsoever to improve riding conditions. The heat in the afternoon radiates off the uninsulated back wall of this 1850s barn the way the cold winter wind seeps through it in nor'easters. The fire is strong. Will we choose to stoke it or to extinguish it?

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Passing Cyclists

 A few days ago, I drove from my little town on the eastern border of New Hampshire, to Middlebury, on the west side of Vermont. The next day, I drove back. The trip required two mountain crossings in Vermont, on roads enjoyed by cyclists.

I don't enjoy passing cyclists when I'm driving. I can't always give a whole lane any more than I expect and demand that motorists always give me a whole lane. I would much rather have less space and keep motorists flowing past me and out of my life than be a stickler for the perfect pass.

The most challenging places to pass were on the two gaps, Middlebury Gap on 125 and Rochester Gap to the east. Coming west over Rochester Gap had been especially annoying because I had a parade of drivers behind me who would have loved to rip down it at unbelievable speeds, while I was toddling along with three adults, a cello, suitcases, and snacks for an estimated total load of about 700 pounds, in a vehicle already not designed for agility on a mountain road so rough and narrow that our whole train had an ambulance trapped behind us for more than five miles before the weedy ditch appeared to fill in enough for me to pull into it. None of the flamebrains behind me darted around after the ambulance passed, so I had to scrape them off at the first opportunity on the wider and more accommodating roadway over Middlebury Gap. That was Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, as we reversed our route, there was almost no motor traffic. It was the weekend. Intrepid cyclists tackled the hills on a beautiful New England summer day that was not too hot, after a night that had been comfortably cool.

The lack of motor traffic helped a lot, but I still kept catching up to riders approaching blind drops. Any normal motorist would just go for it and hope for the best. I waited until I had a clear view before punching it to get clear ahead before I had to scrub speed for the next tight bend. I imagined driving a team car for one of the major European tours.

Murphy's Law of Meeting Traffic states that any time a motorist wants to pass a cyclist and there is an oncoming vehicle, the motorists will synchronize their speeds so that everyone gets wedged into the same space at the same time. It takes noticeable action by the overtaking driver to make sure that doesn't happen. A cyclist who does not expect it may be confused and a bit alarmed by a vehicle hovering back there. Other motorists trapped behind me might fume. But especially on a mountain road when either motorist might have trouble braking and steering if they're going too fast, it's important to anticipate what could go wrong and avoid it.

When the roads are crowded, it's impossible to ensure safe passing all the time. I will pass safely, but other motorists in the line are just as likely to keep barging through. This is why riding around the most scenic lakes of the Lakes Region in full tourist season is so stressful and unpleasant. Since the 1990s, when I would do multiple centuries in a season, there must be a solid million more drivers on the roads around here, adding visitors to new residents who have moved in.

It's getting worse as climate refugees who had second homes are preparing them as refuges for when their old places get too hot and run out of water completely. It'll still be hot here, just not quite as hot as where they were. And when we figure out how to manage the new style of torrential rainfall we will have less devastating flood damage and more facilities to collect the overabundance when it hits. For now, though, we just see more of our summer folk in what used to be the off season. I wonder if enough of them will move here during their child-bearing years to upgrade the schools significantly... The area was already attracting new residents, and the old ones were breeding new drivers, most of whom had no road cycling experience as kids. We see more and more hot rods and trucks, driven with the bravado of teenagers.

If gas prices had only increased at the rate of inflation, fuel would be $2.17 a gallon. Quit wasting your money, kids! Find ways to have fun that don't enslave you to quite as many corporations.

Legal Weed in NH

 The New Hampshire legislature has once again failed to legalize recreational cannabis use, making the Live Free or Die state the only holdout in northern New England. So much for their libertarian pretensions.

Personally, I have no stake. I don't indulge, although I used to, many years ago. It just didn't do much for me, so I quit bothering with it. But I have believed in legalization, and still do. More to the point, enough other people do to have changed the laws in numerous states. It's legal for medical use in 38 states, and for recreational use in 24. New Hampshire allows medical use, so maybe all of those cars going by trailing plumes of skunky vapor are using their duly prescribed meds. Whatever the case, drivers have taken the initiative to act as if legalization was a done deal. They're not waiting for mere formalities.

The stoners don't seem to drive any worse than the ones who don't exude telltale vapors. I also smell the cigarette smokers. My senses aren't honed enough to detect booze breath in the open air. But the times and routes I use haven't seemed to attract many impaired drivers. I'm assuming that the stoners are acclimated enough to their intake that they function adequately. So far so good, anyway.

Vacationers might indulge a little too much during the middle of the day. I ride in the morning and evening rush hours, such as they are around here. Drivers tend to be more focused on the schedule. Anyone toasting up is just taking the edge off to help them face the day. In the evening, they're celebrating their few hours of freedom before we all get up and do it again.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Don't go near the water!

 A sweeping curve leads down to a beach with a view out to a sparkling bay studded with tree-covered islands. Beyond, the highway climbs steeply away from the shore over a forested headland before another, faster descent to another bay. What a beautiful ride!

Another scene: A swift descent into a picturesque village. A venerable lake steamer, now powered by contemporary diesel engines, is just maneuvering to the dock. Happy throngs mill around the shops and eateries of the downtown area.

Connecting stretches of road between places like this wind around through mixed countryside of open fields and forest regrowth as agriculture has declined in the past century around here. The most common cash crop is tourists, along with longer-term seasonal residents who own their summer palaces, and seasonal renters.

They all drive. The amount they contribute to the economy in a seasonal binge and a somewhat more steady flow of property taxes on spare homes of the well-to-do is never enough to keep the narrow roads in tip top shape for users who might appreciate a bit of extra margin in which to evade the barging passage of vehicles navigating with all the precision of a container ship trying to get under a Baltimore bridge.

Hourly we hear people lamenting how scary and dangerous road riding is around the lake. They come for the lake. They do not venture far from the lake. They see the traffic crush and motocentric tunnel vision of drivers as the only reality. Many of them also come from places with a lot higher population density year-round, where motorist indifference or aggression is such a fact of life that road use by cyclists has been in steady decline for a quarter of a century. For every happy puff piece about new bike infrastructure there are hundreds of anecdotes from riders who know someone who has been hit or who have been hit themselves.

Bike infrastructure itself contributes to the segregation of cyclists in ghettos where they can be contained and won't bother normal people. Where lanes and markings keep cyclists in the public rights of way used by motor vehicles, cyclists at least keep a tenuous grip on access to full transportation efficiency. Where the emphasis is on separated paths entirely, the routes may be superior to what motorists get stuck with, or they might take cyclists far out of their way, to limited destinations, with poor access to the network of taxpayer-funded roads that go to all the places that people might want to go.

Around here, the mere proximity to water seems to turn people into assholes. The acts of aggression and intimidating crowds of large vehicles that we hear about are almost exclusively on the routes closest to shorelines, or scenic tourist routes in the mountains. With our shop in Wolfeboro, we tend to hear the most about riders' fear of the routes around Lake Winnipesaukee, but we hear similar reports of stupidly high speeds and psychopathic passing behavior on Ossipee Lake Road. Ossipee Lake is just a giant mud puddle. Without its dam, it would subside to mostly a marsh by mid summer. It has none of the rocky grandeur of Winnipesaukee or Squam.

We don't get to hear from riders who deal with Lake Sunapee, Newfound Lake, or most of the other numerous water bodies around the region, but the principle seems like it should be universal. People from crowded places where they get on each other's nerves all the time come here and crowd the place, getting on each other's nerves. The vacationers carry an added sense of grievance if some idiot is hindering their vacation fun. The locals carry an added sense of grievance if some idiot is hindering their mobility through their routine working lives.

Cyclists make an easy target for frustration. It's a testament to human kindness that more drivers don't snap and take advantage of the fact that peening a cyclist carries virtually no penalties. People are generally much better than they often get credit for. Drivers could go on a killing spree any day and I guarantee that none of them would face jail time, or even a fine, if they stuck to the script and explained that the dead rider did something erratic and there was nothing the poor driver could do. It's such a tradition in motocentric society that vulnerable road users of all types are just one angry person away from becoming the next statistic. Pedestrians and pedalers can be struck at will. Just don't flee the scene. Stay and appear concerned.

Unfortunately, if a driver is impaired, or has outstanding warrants, or lacks a cool head, they might run for it. In that case their odds still aren't too bad. A local doctor was run down on a warm day in February a few years ago. Police had a description of the vehicle from one witness (maybe more), and still never closed the case or even developed a suspect. Once in a while an offense is so egregious that law enforcement can't ignore it, and the stars happen to align so that a suspect is apprehended. This is rare.

It's a different world away from the water's edge. In the more nondescript areas away from major attractions the riding can be as placid as road riding will ever be. It won't be perfect. I've had harassment on every road I use around my neighborhood. But it's a lot less common. No road is ever completely safe, paved or not. I've mentioned before that the only car I met on River Road in Hiram, Maine, on two separate summer days was a little VW coming the other way at about 80 mph, getting air off the top of every little rise. It sounded like a missile. I figured the driver was making his normal lunch run with limited time, since it was around midday. He stayed on his side. I stayed on mine. But if he'd been coming from behind me I don't know how much control he would have had, should he try to deviate to give me a little more room. Oh, and water was a factor: River Road refers to the Saco, headed for its confluence with Ossipee River.

Population density raises the number of potential cyclists while exponentially increasing the number of drivers. In 1981, I moved back to Annapolis, Maryland, after nine months living in northern Virginia, in Alexandria's southern outer environs. The terrain in northern Virginia was fun, with many small roads and nearby towns as attractions for rides of various lengths, but the area was so overrun with people making a living off of the nation's capital just over the river that traffic was constant and frequently unkind. Annapolis was outside of the National Capital Zone. It had its traffic, but our plucky band of three or four road riders could get clear of it in 15 or 20 minutes of riding, starting from the center of town by the City Dock. There was a residential side door that got nice within ten minutes at a leisurely pace.

By 1987, Annapolis was feeling more like northern Virginia. The local ride group could put 15 or 20 people together each week, but they started on the edge of town, and still had to battle for 20 minutes or more to get to a fraction of the peace we had enjoyed not long before. Now that area is much, much worse. No one I know down there who used to ride still does. It's just another curb-lined, churning hell. People drive to a path with their bikes on a rack. Know your place and stay in it!

People riding the road for obvious recreation probably offend drivers who need to get somewhere for work or the pressing needs of their daily lives. "Must be nice to be able to pedal around!" In 1979-'80 I thought drivers might respect the athleticism of a bike racer, since it was an era when fitness was getting a lot of publicity. We had an Olympics coming up. I was wrong. It was just one of many foolish idealisms about which I was wrong. But I also rode to every job I had, often dressed in street clothes, except for the cleated shoes that were my secret weapon for fast sprints away from traffic lights and stop signs. Just being on a bike earned me vocal and projectile criticism from time to time. Like it or not, on a bike you are a street performer. People probably like mimes better than they like you. And you know how people feel about mimes.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Cog blocked

 Blue is almost but not quite perfect. The gearing covers a little wider range than on my original Cross Check. As I’ve put more miles on, I noticed that the steps in the cassette could be a little more even. What’s on there is 13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32. 

On the green bike, I had added a 30 to a seven-speed block with the same gears that the blue bike has, only culminating in a 30 instead of a 32. So the intervals from the 13 to the 30 were 2-2-2-2-3-4-2. By subbing in a 27 for the 28, I made the intervals 2-2-2-2-3-3-3.

Large intervals and strange intervals mess with your cadence and power. On the 13-32, I wanted to Frankencog a 22 for the 21 and a 25 for the 24. That would make the intervals above the 19 go 3-3-3-4. At least three of my bikes have cogsets I assembled for them to suit my needs. I have a cog farm at home, and we have a deeper one at the shop.

A 12-25 used to be common on road bikes in the late 1990s. Some riders still ask for gearing that high. Surely a 25 lay in the big treasure chest at work. The 22 might be more challenging, but I remembered some combinations that had not interested me before that might contain one.

Nope. No 25, no 22. A search for new cassettes turned up one, described as a downhill mountain biking cassette, that had a 25. I’m not going to shell out for a whole cassette just to scrounge two cogs. The industry has cog-blocked me. Maybe a 25 will turn up eventually, but without the 22 it only creates a weird 4-3-4 sequence in the lowest three gears.

I should have bought up as many Miché cogs as I could get, back when they were available. I used some of those to make my “8 of 9 on 7” cassette for the Isaac/Trek.

If a particular part becomes too rare it negates a lot of the value as a reliable tool. True victory over the technofascist bike industry is won by using durable but also replaceable parts to rejuvenate a simple bike indefinitely.

Friday, May 31, 2024

The weapon can't be identified

 On the evening ride home from work on Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, I heard a vehicle horn start blaring well behind me. A slate-blue Chevy Silverado piloted by a skinny kid in his teens or early 20s swung around me with surprising clearance for his annoying continuous horn blast. His passenger was almost identical to him in every physical aspect: skinny, young, rednecky. I responded with the universal Big Shrug of WTF to indicate that I was confused but not intimidated. If they wanted to chat about it, I'd be right here.

The truck pulled into a convenience store on the left. I continued on my way, up the hill beyond that intersection, and down the other side. A couple of minutes later I heard the unmistakable sound of a vehicle being driven with hostile intent. An engine has a distinctive note when the driver is pacing an attack.

The blue truck swung around again, only slightly faster than I was riding, so that the passenger could throw a full beverage container at me. Or maybe it wasn't at me, but intended to hit in front of me and cause a crash or a flat tire. I can't be sure. All I know is that the can hit the pavement and burst, but did not explode, indicating that it was brand new, fresh, and probably nicely chilled from the convenience store cooler. Foam spurted out from multiple ruptures as the battered can skidded quickly off the road.

I responded with the Universal Gesture of Sarcastic Masturbation, in case they were inclined to stop and discuss exactly what their problem was. I mean, I can theorize about the diminutive size of their genitalia and general feelings of inadequacy that lead them to bully people who can't hit back, but I don't know. And how stupidly aggressive do you have to be to waste your money and a perfectly good beverage you just purchased?

I am very fortunate that such incidents are rare on my commute. But it only takes one to awaken the PTSD of more frequent and worse ones over the decades of putting up with motorists' shit. I always wonder about escalation, and what I might do to deter future aggression.

New Hampshire's permissive gun laws mean that I wouldn't have to think twice about tucking a handgun in the side straps of my pack, although they don't extend to plenary absolution if I use it. I've had this debate with myself many times before and always come to the same conclusion: the mere presence of a weapon might deter some people, but will give more calculating people plausible reason to say that they felt threatened. If they kill me, they get to make up the story to save themselves. Most of the time there are no witnesses except the participants. Even if there are other drivers around, they probably won't see anything in sufficient detail to refute the testimony of the survivors. Also, if I'm still up and in any condition to fire, the incident was not serious enough to justify the shot, no matter how much I might want in the heat of the moment to evaporate the back window of the vehicle as the cowards speed away.

The next day, I looked along the road to try to identify what the beverage had been. With all the foam on the rapidly moving can, I couldn't tell at the time. Unfortunately, nearly all of the litter along the highways consists of beverage containers. I will never know which one was used in the assault. Likewise, blue Silverados about 2014 vintage are extremely common, as are scrawny redneck boys who feel their manhood by bullying cyclists. When asked to identify the particular truck I could say, "It's the one with three or four small-caliber holes in the tailgate," but then I'll have to explain how I know those are there when I have already had to admit that they went by too fast for me to get the license number.

I have a mental list of things I'm glad no one has ever done to me. Some of them are so bad that I've never heard of them being done to anyone. I never publish the list, write it down at home, or even let myself think it, because I don't want those ideas reinforced in the universe. We're vulnerable out there. The people who are willing to relegate cycling to the status of a mere sport and hobby have a point there, as they give up vast swaths of territory that could be used for purposes both practical and fun.

Weapons I do know have been used include rocks, bricks, full beers, and a hammer. And of course there's the car or truck itself. Attacks with that might involve the whole vehicle or attempts to pop a door open at just the right time.

The next day, and on the days that have followed, traffic settled into routine indifference blended with reasonable caution. Most of us are completely willing to try to get along. Problems appear when numbers increase with summer residents and visitors who bring their attitudes from home. The percentage of hostile drivers might be barely higher, but a small percentage is still a larger number than we usually have.

Riders have been mowed down here in "the off season." There are certainly hostile local assholes. One of them allegedly said years ago that if he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and only had days to live, that he would put his plow on his pickup truck and go out hunting cyclists. But before the mountain bikers get too smug, bad actors will sometimes place wire snares on trails. It hasn't happened around here, but it's not out of the question.

Deadly traps would bring charges of premeditated murder if the victim died and the trapper could be identified. More likely someone just gets a nasty wound, and no one is punished for it. No matter where a collision or an attack occurs, the cyclist usually loses. Know that going in. It's still worth riding.

The advantage to road riding is that no one is likely to set a trap on an actual road. You can't dwell on the worst possibilities. Just ride sensibly. "Freedom isn't free" means more than just signing up for your country's wars.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

It's not your butt, it's your crotch

 In discussions of the bicycle seat, we talk about the effect on a rider's butt, but the points of contact are pretty far under, where the ischial tuberosities contact the saddle in much closer relation to the perineum than the big ol' glutes hanging out the back there. It's a much more crotchal than gluteal situation, especially when a long period of longer rides might lead to some abrasion. Then you have to factor in whether you have protuberant parts that flop around in front, or internally folded parts more vulnerable to multiple kinds of friction.

Time changes us. I used to be as comfortable as one can be on a racing bike seat, on saddles shaped like the Sella Italia Turbo or the Avocet Racing II. When I bought a Brooks leather saddle because I was tired of wearing out modern saddles, I picked the Colt, based on the Turbo shape. It worked well until it no longer worked at all. I don't know if it deformed because of an error of mine or an inherent flaw in the design. All I know is that it no longer supported the parts that needed support, transferring pressure to the exact wrong area.

It doesn't seem like much. For decades it wasn't. But in the past three years or so that little arch has led to distracting discomfort on rides longer than about 25 miles.

When I replaced the Colt with the B17 "carved," I was mainly curious about the cutout. The overall width seemed like it might be a problem, because too wide a saddle will push you forward onto the parts you wanted to avoid. I have noticed the width when I'm pushing the pace in a low position, but it hasn't caused a problem. A rider in varied terrain will shift position on the saddle to improve pedaling efficiency at different cadences and intensities. This is the primary reason that racing saddles are narrow. My high intensity efforts are limited to what terrain and traffic demand along my regular routes. They're also limited by being an old fart who will blow right up if I try to pretend that I'm in racing shape. The B17 turned out to have a good combination of features for long-term comfort for me.
I noted the flat top line right away, but didn't focus on it as a primary feature until I got a B17 Narrow for my sporty road bike. The Colt experiment had been a failure, and it was no longer offered anyway. The dimensions of the B17 Narrow sounded hopeful. It has worked well. The flatness of the frame supporting the seating area at the rear has kept it from developing the painful crest that the Colt did.
Below is the interim seat I dug out of a box of salvaged saddles because it was firmer and flatter than the seat I'd been using on the Traveler's Check. It has less arch than the Turbo, but still has some. So it was better, but still not great. The texture of the covering material also produces a very authentic-sounding fart noise when you shift position on it.
Looking at saddles on the market now, a lot of them have that graceful arch. It has a long heritage in the galaxy of saddle shapes produced by the bike industry since the late 19th Century. However, when you make a point to compare, the flat-top type appears perhaps more frequently. I started riding in the 1970s. My first drop-bar bike had an old and somewhat abused Ideale leather saddle. I replaced that with an Avocet touring saddle on the advice of my expert mentor. For years afterward I bought molded-shell saddles without questioning the concept, wearing through the covers after a few years and replacing them in a conveyor belt to the landfill.

Leather saddles wear out, too, but leather biodegrades completely, and the metal frame either rusts away or can be recycled. They're heavier than molded-shell saddles, but that's only a drawback if it matters to you. I don't know if there's a good alternative for anyone who disapproves of leather because animals were killed for it. If it comes to that, we can just radio tag wild large herbivores and swoop in when they die of natural causes, to harvest some hide before the carcass is dismantled by natural forces. Make saddles out of laminated road-kill squirrel pelts. Or maybe there's a hemp alternative. There always seems to be a hemp alternative.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Buttery smooth


Buttery smooth. Those words kept forming in my mind as I rode this bike on its shakedown, on the grueling and not altogether enjoyable Gilford run after dropping my car off for spring service. The route is tediously familiar, with its hills and its tight, narrow stretches shoulder to fender with drivers indifferent to your survival, but it's also peaceful and beautiful for quite long portions. And, being so familiar, it was a perfect proving ground to test out this bike.

I figured it would be great, because the frame is a version of  the Surly Cross Check. If I could only own one bike, it would be a Surly Cross Check. Agile on pavement, but sure-footed on dirt, built of reliable steel and configured so that it can be adapted to many options, it's not a bike to take out with the local hammerheads on a take-no-prisoners road ride, but it will definitely get you most places you want to go if there's a mapped public right of way to get there. I built my first one to make the dirt variations of my commuting route more pleasant. It has evolved into a practical beast, with generator lighting. In the process it became a little hefty. Surly bikes aren't for weight weenies anyway. Add a few pounds of practical accessories and the package bulks up even more. 

The Traveler's Check frame on which today's bike was built has S&S couplers so that the bike can be taken apart and fit into a checkable standard size piece of luggage. I bought it when I had delusions of traveling. The first build was kind of slapped together: hence that saddle. That thing came off the bike as soon as I got home. Blue Version 1 was a fixed gear, the simplest to take apart and reassemble in a train station or airline terminal for short hops around a destination city. But that never happened, and now it won't. So I had a frame ready to build up without some of the heavy add-ons that encumber my daily commuter, to recapture some of the comfortable nimbleness of the original 'Check.

Buttery smooth. The bike rode like an extension of my body. I shouldn't be surprised, since I had built it to the same dimensions as its older sibling, but I had set the bars a little higher by leaving the fork a little longer. I was looking ahead to its touring configuration, where I might want to sit up just a little more, to take in the scenery. Fortunately, it's not so high that it kills the handling. In fact, the stem attaches higher, but drops more than on the other bike, so the bar height nets out about the same.

The first thing I noticed was that the bike seemed twitchier. But twitchier soon settled down to "more responsive." The commuter has a heavy dynamo front wheel. The SRAM dyno hub wasn't the slickest on the market to begin with, and now it's probably pushing ten years old. If I could scrape up the coin for a Schmidt I would. A generator hub has some rolling resistance all the time from the magnets. This increases slightly when the lights are switched on. You get used to that, but notice the difference on a bike that doesn't have it. Hence the impression of twitchiness on the bike with the plain front hub.

I use the lights in daylight in certain situations to enhance visibility in a few intersections where the sight lines make it worthwhile. Not having them felt like a bit of a loss. I had blinky lights for front and rear, but I like being able to pair those up with a full-size, solid beam headlight to present a more vehicular impression as I bomb into a crossroads or shoot a stretch of town traffic where drivers like to pop out of parking lot exits when they don't think anyone who can hurt them is coming. So maybe I get a more aggressive battery light for the handlebars of Blue 2.0.

I feel my age. I'm in some kind of pain most of the time. That made the performance of Blue 2.0 all the more impressive. I felt pretty crappy, but still peppy because the geometry and setup of the bike supported me so well.

The gearing is mostly the same between the two bikes. On the commuter -- code named Green now -- I have 30-36-48 for chainrings and a Frankencogged 8-speed cassette of 13-15-17-19-21-24-27-30. On Blue it's 28-36-48 in the front and a Frankencogged 8-speed cassette with the same cogs from 13 to 24, leading up to a 28 and a 32. I anticipated riding with a touring load, which could still happen. So the mid-range cruising gears were the same. Shift points didn't change, cadence wasn't thrown off. I might re-gear Green a little bit, though maybe not exactly the same. The great thing about friction shifting and separate cogs is that you can really customize your gearing to your specific physical and riding conditions. This adaptability has been largely eliminated by the industry. Many technolemmings have never experienced it.

The car is taking longer than planned. I'm living without it for a couple of days. That's not as casual an undertaking as it was, but you do what you have to do. I wish I still believed in pain relievers. Today's ride is Green, the fully lighted commuter, because -- hopefully -- I'll be heading out on the hell run to Gilford after work, and the sun could be setting by the time I get to the garage to retrieve my motor vehicle.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Perhaps for the first time ever...

 On the ride home from Gilford yesterday, after dropping the car to get its spring service from the most skillful and trustworthy mechanic, I had a remarkable experience.

On the drive over, I had passed through a moderately long construction zone on Route 11 coming out of Alton Bay. Traffic was alternating through one lane while workers replaced sections of guard rail along the other one. I scanned the area to plan my strategy for the return trip when I would be on the bike, because cyclists usually get treated like we don't exist in situations like that. I stop for the traffic controller when everyone else is directed to. When we are released, if I get dropped by the motorists the traffic controller at the other end of the zone will invariably release his prisoners to come charging at me like the armored cavalry.

A short zone isn't too bad. I can usually sprint up to speed and catch a draft. A long zone is just too much unless I get really lucky and can draft a big truck. If I don't get the big truck I get the big fuck. I'm instantly transformed into the imbecile riding against traffic. So I eyeballed this zone to assess the shoulder width and spot places in which to pull off and hover until the tide turned in my favor again.

More than an hour had passed by the time I came back through on the bike. When I reached the traffic controller to enter the zone, he was rummaging in the back of his car. The traffic control sign was just leaning up against his vehicle. The big work zone signs were lying down. Maybe they had knocked off for lunch, or for the day. Maybe that bevy of cars and trucks I'd seen him release a hundred yards ahead of me was the last one. There were still cones down the center line, but no one was working on the other side of the road.

Despite my growing fatigue, I was cooking along pretty good through there. It's always a weirdly fast stretch. Around a slight curve I was able to see the other end of the zone. The traffic controller there had a line of stopped cars. I expected to see him flip the sign and let slip the multitude upon me. I was still cooking along, mind you. Get as far as you can while the getting is good.

Still nothing at that end. I felt twinges of embarrassment and a degree of fear at the resentment that must have been brewing in many of those drivers. I pushed the pace a bit. Technically, traffic control was doing exactly the right thing, but I'm still just a sweaty idiot who insists on going more slowly than everyone else. It's merely an annoyance until something like this happens, and woke traffic control people push their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bullshit on hardworking motorists forced to accommodate this pencil-necked mental defective wobbling along on a child's toy.

Who the fuck do I think I am?!

 As I cleared the end of the zone itself I heard the radio chat between the controllers, acknowledging that I was safely through. I kept up my pace and looked straight ahead until I had passed the last of the prisoners of traffic control. The sooner they could forget me, the better.

Sure, out of the couple of dozen cars stuck in line, someone might have been a rider, and approved. Others might be kindly disposed, or at least neutral. I just didn't want to risk making eye contact with any of the ones who were extra pissed off to have to wait for a bicyclist.

I would always prefer to flow smoothly, noticeable enough to avoid collision, but not on stage long enough to attract hecklers. Road biking is show biz. Road biking is a political statement. Road biking is an act of rebellion against social norms. Like it or not, that's what accompanies your commute to work or school, your trips to the grocery store, your every appearance in the immersive theater of traveling exposed.

Mountain bikers are wussies. Ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa!

The traffic controllers did what they should always do for a legitimate road user who happens to take longer than the motorized majority to clear the created hazard of a work zone. I was just astonished that they actually did it. Does it do more harm than good? Sometimes -- far too often, really -- a substantial move to undo a prejudice makes initial noticeable progress, but that progress only inspires a resurgent prejudice as the oblivious majority starts to have to deal with the realignment on a widespread basis. A step in the right direction always seems to attract a kick in the kneecaps and a forearm to the face in response.

Will social progress always be the tragic, violent cycle of revolution and counter revolution? I hate how both sides frame it as a fight. I understand the need to fire up sentiment in support of a point of view, but it creates a culture of constant conflict in which battles are won and lost, when in truth a peaceful and prosperous society requires more little acts of cooperation than grand and bloody clashes with a winner and a loser. Getting along takes work. It doesn't have to be grinding, exhausting work, either. It's just the maintenance of an adaptable series of routines that ease the passage of millions of humans for a few million more years. But the fighters may be right in their ultimately grim and hopeless assessment that it really is only a series of bloody clashes with one side or the other ascendant and the bodies piled high all around. Which way do you prefer?

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Like it or not, Daylight Relocating Time is here

 The semi-annual avalanche of snide memes and loud lament held off almost entirely until the day of clock change arrived. Then the usual players emerged, like the one that supposedly quotes a Native American saying only white men would cut the top off a blanket and sew it to the bottom and think that they have a longer blanket. By deftly misinterpreting the process, the joke sets up its straw man for an easy takedown.

Daylight Saving Time suffers from a lot of problems, but it was never intended to make the day longer, only to reorient us relative to sunrise and sunset, because we had long ago given up living according to natural light fluctuations. You want scheduled things like public transportation and regular business hours? Something else has to move to accommodate the desire to have lighter evenings and not have sunrise at 4 a.m. when you don't need to get up until 6.

Of course any specific example will trigger specific rebuttals from debaters who then take a victory lap as if they have demolished the entire case for changing the clocks. Fortunately, this blog has such minuscule reach that I seldom if ever get buried in comments.

This year, it looks like the weather might cooperate with the earliest possible start to my bike commuting season. This is good, because being stuck in motor vehicle traffic was making me crazy. My time in transit to work can vary as much as 20 percent depending on what idiot I get stuck behind on the two-lane road with limited opportunities to pass. My time in transit on the bike never varies that much unless I have a flat tire or a mechanical issue. The most likely mechanical issue is a broken shift cable, which would make the ride more strenuous, but doesn't make me several minutes later. In bike season my primary cause of tardiness is that I'm easily distracted by things around the house that delay my departure, but I'm damn sure not going to drive just because of that.

Arriving a little off the mark at work, I usually work a little extra at the end. Sometimes I work even more to make sure that things are caught up before I take days off. Thus the late daylight becomes even more critical for a safe ride home.

Years ago, I put lights on my commuting bike, and upgraded them steadily to the present system with a very functional dynamo head and tail light system, augmented by assorted battery lights. I can see well on a dark road, and have a lot more then the minimal legal requirement for lights to make me visible to motorists. After many seasons I can tell you that these are completely inadequate, especially now that motor vehicles are equipped with blinding banks of blazing lights that completely obliterate the view of anything else when two such beasts approach each other in dusk and darkness. People pop those headlights on while the sun is still up, blinding or at least distracting each other well before actual nightfall. I gave up trying to claim space on the roads at night. On the dark stretches of open highway, if a single vehicle is overtaking, they can see me well enough. But as soon as vehicles are approaching from both directions, a cyclist disappears in the solid blackness and blinding glare. Add a bendy, hilly piece of road and it gets much worse.

Protected pathways would be nice until human predators realized that cyclists would make easy pickings thereon. This danger will vary from place to place, but there is no defense. Carjackings prove that the armored shell is no defense either, but a locked car in motion presents a much more difficult target than a cyclist who can be taken down with a trip wire or just kicked from a dark corner. 

If you ever want proof that humans are basically good, just look at all the potential mugging scenarios that don't happen.  There is a lot of easy meat walking and riding around out there. The vast majority of the time we get way with it. And that's as it should be. But I feel less vulnerable riding at a good steady pace on the roadway than I do on an isolated path in the woods where I'm illuminated and someone with bad intent would not be. I hate to have to think about it, but humans have been preying on each other since before we were humans. Because of this, I make the most of daylight while it lasts.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

The towel is thrown

The Wolfeboro Cross-country Ski Association picked a good year to institute snowmaking. But it wasn't a great year. Atmospheric conditions were so poor for snowmaking during December that we had nothing to offer during the Christmas vacation period, which is one of two major blocs of income for the ski business in the northeast US. Downhill areas fared somewhat better, particularly ones a bit farther north, with more elevation to augment the less than ideal temperature and humidity. And then we had record-setting rains in January that caused flood damage to trails for every winter activity.

By February we had the snowmaking loop up and running, but it hasn't survived the first week of March. Snowmaking isn't magic, and key sections of it lost cover in the warm weather that has dominated the winter. The trails are closed and the shop has gone to spring hours. Even if we get a late March blizzard, it will be falling onto bare, saturated ground in many areas.

In a strange twist, I had more opportunities to get out for a concentrated workout in prime time this winter because of the wretched conditions. I haven't come into a bike commuting season with this good a fitness base since we shut down the shop at Jackson Ski Touring in 2009. Up there, with trails right outside the door and a narrower scope of operations, it was much more convenient to rotate each of us out on many days to get that beneficial shot of conditioning. It enhanced our efficiency and kept our credentials fresh, while also providing a great launching pad for the next season's riding.

The ski/bike alternation changes muscle use in ways that help the cyclist more than a year-round cycling routine would. But in the transition from one to the other, you notice what you're missing. At the start of skiing I would have to build upper body strength and all of the steering and stability muscles that take the rest of the year off. At the other end, going back to the bike, I find myself in the lower portions of a hill climb with only my legs to propel the machine, carrying all of the muscles used to push the ski poles now providing mostly non-functional weight.

In addition to the ski sessions, I got out once or twice a week to climb the neighborhood mountain. The trail is listed in an old Appalachian Mountain Club guidebook as 1.4 miles to the summit. Elevation gain is 1,144 feet. The trail climbs gently for about the first third, and then steepens. A preliminary effort brings you to a traverse of a couple of hundred yards along a contour to reach the base of the most rugged section. Above that the grade lets up slightly on the way to a more or less level few yards approaching the summit. There's a fire tower that is not abandoned, but is usually unoccupied. During the winter there is never an observer. The trail is popular enough that the footway is reliably packed down. People do it in a variety of inappropriate footwear, but so far none of them have had to be evacuated by emergency responders. 

From the first hike in late January until the most recent one yesterday, the surface has been different each time. The first time it was a well packed snowshoe trail firm enough to go up without wearing the snowshoes. It's very rude to posthole a trail, stomping deep footprints into it because you don't bother to bring snowshoes. Going up it's easy to place your feet lightly and commit your weight gradually. I wore snowshoes to descend, because your body weight always arrives with more force as you step down. 

Snow fell before I got out on the second hike, but other hikers had a few days to pack it down before I got there. From that point on, no new snow was added. When the weather stayed somewhat cold, the trail changed only a little. I did see the tracks of one intrepid skier one day, and on another the unbelievable signs that someone had ridden a bike down it. I didn't see clear signs that they had ridden up it. And the tires didn't look super wide, almost like plus-size, 3-inch rather than full fat. Mixed in with tracks from snowshoes, hiking boots, and ice creepers were the prints of street shoes and sneakers. 

I was going to begin riding this week, but the forecast indicated that I won't be able to be consistent enough with it to make the initial discomfort worth it. I banged out one more tower hike instead. This is prime hypothermia season. Temperatures above freezing, ranging either side of 50°F (10°C) fool a lot of active people because we need very light layers while exerting, and may feel comfortably warm for a few minutes after stopping. The temperature on the summit that cloudy day was solidly mid 40s. I felt quite comfortable on arrival. I put on a fleece jacket because I knew I would want it soon. Indeed, with a fairly light but persistent breeze I soon felt like I wanted more clothing than the fleece. Rather than dig out the extra gear, I gathered up my stuff to head down. But I had the layers if I needed them.

Hypothermia gets you when you don't expect it. You get cold on a winter hike, it makes sense. We do hear about poorly prepared people who get into trouble and even die out there in the winter. But most people have some idea that they should bundle up a bit at the height of winter. It's in the transition time, into early spring, when acclimated outdoor types might overestimate the mildness. It happened to me one April day decades ago, on a cloudy afternoon with some showers in the forecast. I set out around the mountain on the fixed-gear, wearing sufficient clothing for the best of predicted conditions, but with nothing extra in case things deteriorated. They deteriorated. Sprinkles began before I has half a mile down the road. Those turned to a steady rain. I kept going. The route is all or nothing. There is no way to cut it off. Once you reach the halfway point on the far side of the mountain you need to keep going the rest of the way.

Theoretically I could have gone up to one of the sparsely distributed houses along the route and asked for shelter, but apparently I would literally rather die than bother anyone to bail me out for my stupid decision. I don't know what kind of shape I would have been in if my spouse at the time had not thought to go out and collect me. She correctly guessed my route and drove it the opposite direction to intercept me. These days I am alone most of the time, so I have to pay closer attention to the list of essentials any solo traveler should have.

The roads will now present the best venue for consistent activity for maybe as much as a couple of months. Back when mountain bikes were relatively cheap and definitely simple, we rode on found trails rather than courses designed and constructed at great and ongoing expense. We would charge out on the rotting ice of snow machine trails and woods roads, crashing into icy water, grunting though deep mud, and laughing about it. Not anymore, though. You don't put in hours of labor on loamers, or thousands of dollars on more elaborate trails and then go ride them when they're wet and soft! Horrors! And the bikes themselves demand such loving care to keep them ready to throw off of 9-foot drops that you don't want to crap them all up with a bunch of abrasive silt on mere dirt roads. The gravel demographic might be a tad more open to muddy roads. Fat bikers might try their flotation on some of them as well. My fixed-gear is still coated with adobe from my ride on New Year's Day, when the dirt part my favorite local loop was sloppy from the rain we'd gotten during Christmas week. Mud season has to come sometime, but I try to avoid having to do too much cleaning over and over again.

If I can get straight into commuting, I won't have to ride the muddy dirt roads or stick to the entirely paved options to get base miles before undertaking the more serious effort of lugging my tired old ass and my day's load of crap to work and back. My 30-mile daily commuting distance puts the day's effort into the realm of a real ride, even though it's split roughly evenly into 15 miles morning and evening. That work day in the middle keeps me on my feet. The rides are also in what passes for rush hour around here, so I'm dealing with hurrying drivers on all sections of the route. I need to be combat ready.

Fortunately, most motorists just want to get past a cyclist with the least delay. A honk, a yell, a thrown object -- these are impulsive acts not meant to delay overall progress. If a rider is careful to offer no greater offense than the mere audacity of claiming some space on the road, the vast majority of drivers just want to go by and get on with their lives. Only their fellow motorists inspire the urge to have a tank battle right then and there. But that's a story for another day.

Monday, January 22, 2024

A short little winter

 Back in the early 1990s we had a stretch of El Niño winters that really put a crimp in non-cycling winter activities. Non-cycling activities are very important to balanced fitness, because cycling is not complete exercise and does not help with bone density. They're also fun, if you're not obsessed with riding and actually enjoy the opportunities that a natural environment and four seasons present to you. So those of us who play outside in all weather felt severely deprived and grumpy. We hadn't seen anything yet.

Climate change hadn't hit the headlines as much as it does now that it's nearly too late to do anything about it. A few of us connected the dots, but didn't bother to discuss it with a public still happily in denial about "natural variations." And New England is notorious for variations. Our reputation is international. One November day a few years ago, I was helping out at a local half marathon that started and finished at the Castle in the Clouds, in Moultonboro, NH. The day was a typical gray, but mild. As I hung on in the back of a pickup truck cruising the course to pick up traffic cones and signage after the race, I remarked to the Chinese student helping out from a local prep school that the year before had been harshly cold on the same basic date.

"Well, that's New England," he said. Our reach is global.

The range of variation has reached the level of insanity. The flooding in the earlier part of the winter hit the national news. We finally picked up 6-12 inches of fluff on January 2, followed a couple of days later by snow so saturated with water that it landed as about five inches of slop. The fluff had packed down to an inch or two on trails. The slop destroyed some of it, and turned the rest to mush. Another storm right after that was even wetter. Then temperatures finally turned wintry before another five inches of light powder came in on January16. Nighttime temperatures flirted with 0 F for several nights, with daytime highs in the teens or 20s. That ends now, as the temperature climbs steeply to the useless range it occupied earlier. As if that wasn't enough, rain is coming in on Thursday and Friday to wreck the natural cover on cross-country ski trails.

Thanks, Corporate America!

Funny thing: because Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro have been favorite summer home areas for wealthy people for about a century, the beneficiaries of the political system that was bribed to ignore the environment and corrective regulation for decades has a well established colonial presence here. A certain family is sentimentally buying up local landmarks and attractions to preserve their theme park and maintain the servant population that they've grown accustomed to seeing. One contingent donated a good chunk to the cross-country ski association's fundraising drive to put in a little bitty snowmaking loop at staggering expense, to try to keep going in the face of the climate disaster made worse by their own oligarchic greed.

The climate countered by hitting us with really poor snowmaking conditions. These combined with the fact that the snowmaking crew is shared with the town's little downhill ski area. The downhill ski area took precedence, so the cross-country loop remained uncompleted until just this week.

As a person ages, deterioration proceeds unnoticed during periods of inactivity. You feel fine just toddling through the necessary activities of life, with maybe a twinge here or there when you lift something the wrong way. But as soon as you try to get back up to speed in things that were well within your capability, like a hike, or a ski tour, or bike commuting more than a couple of miles, you feel what you have lost.

I had to work on the best days of our mini winter. Up before the sun, off to work, stuck in the shop until after dark, days slip by. The leaping sunrises and lingering twilights warn that bike commuting season will arrive in a very short eternity. The light will be here long before the weather is nice. And even though first light to last faint gloom extends almost 12 hours already, sunrise to sunset is only about nine and a half hours. No matter what the weather does, the light travels at the same speed. The planet bows toward its partner the sun in the stately dance of seasons. It takes a long time, even at thousands of miles per hour. 

The temperature might shift back at times before we move into official spring, but the overall trend is warmer than average. I always wonder if the average is the ancestral average, or the new average, which creeps or leaps steadily higher. Our mini winter might be followed by one or more little repetitions. If we're lucky, one of them might coincide with the Massachusetts school vacation week, which is our biggest earning period of the winter. After that, numbers dwindle to the few who are already interested and an even smaller number of curious samplers.