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?