Thursday, March 31, 2011

What The Hell Is a "Gear Inch"?

In the 19th Century, many wonderful, exciting things happened.  Robert Fulton built a steam-powered ship, and revolutionized sea travel.  The railroad engine was perfected, and transcontinental travel became a reality.  Internal combustion engines came on the scene, which led to huge advances in travel (and warfare, unfortunately) in the following century.

And, the bicycle appeared on the scene.

The first bicycles were odd affairs, with wooden wagon-type wheels.  The frames were wooden, as well, and the front wheel was the drive wheel, with pedals mounted to the front hub.

This eventually morphed into the classic "Penny Farthing", or high-wheeler.  Again, the front wheel was direct drive, but the frames were steel and the front wheels grew in size.  The taller the front wheel, the faster the bike could theoretically go.  A larger wheel will roll further with each revolution than a smaller wheel, obviously.  So, at the same cadence, the bigger wheel of two will go faster than the smaller wheel.

At the time that the Penny Farthings were the norm, racers rode the big wheels, up to 60 inches in diameter.  I can only ride a 48 inch wheel, myself.

As the bicycle evolved, chain drive came into existence.  At this point, a bicycle with two equal-sized wheels of, say, 28 inches could be geared to recreate the rolling diameter of the well-known Penny-Farthing wheels.  For instance, a chainring of 50 teeth, driving a cog of 25 teeth gives a 2:1 drive ratio.  Multiply that by the 28 inch diameter of the safety bicycle wheel, and you get a 56 inch gear.

In other words, the 28 inch wheeled safety bike, with a 2:1 drive ratio, would move forward the same distance as a 56 inch Penny-Farthing with one rotation of the crank on each bike.

Now, over 100 years later, we still refer to bicycle gearing in terms of "gear inches", the geared equivalent of a certain-sized wheel, even though the vast majority of bike riders have never been on a Penny-Farthing.  But, since it is the standard, people just accept that that a "100-inch" gear is a tall gear, even if they don't know why.

Bicycle gearing...Yesterday's technology: Today!


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Big Red

When I was approaching my 10th birthday, I read a book featuring a boy detective who solved some sort of crime involving rare coins.  I don't remember much about the book, just the bare bones.  The kid was a numismatic prodigy of some sort, someone was doing something nefarious involving collectible money, and the kid ended up with a one-of-a-kind US Mint proof coin of some sort as his reward for solving the case for the police.

One thing I remember, though, was the kid's bike.  He had a 26-inch wheeled bike, like a paperboy, and his rival had 20-inch wheel bike, like me.  At one point in the story, the hero and his rival were both trying to get to a neighboring town, for some reason,  and the hero was able to ride faster because his bigger wheels gave him better rolling efficiency.

So, I decided that I needed a 26-inch wheeled bike, and I started lobbying my parents for one.  I explained to them a few times (more than ten, not more than a thousand) about the rolling efficiency and what that meant for day-long rides.  I told them how it would be years before I outgrew it, because the new bike would have a bigger frame to accomodate the bigger wheels.  I whined and wheedled and generally made a pest of myself.

Finally, in what I've always assumed was a bid to get me to back off, my parents told me that they would get me the new bike...if I gave my old bike to the church for a poor kid.  I figure it was quite a shock when I agreed to the deal.

So, I got a shiny new Western Flyer, bright red and huge.  I had to hook one knee over the top tube to reach the ground with the opposite foot, when I stopped.  But, man, would that sucker roll.  It's the bike I wanted to put wings on so that it would fly, for real, because riding it made me feel as if I was already flying, even though I never left the ground.

One day, not too many months after I got Big Red, I was riding through the neighborhood on my way to somewhere.  I happened to look down the street as I passed an intersection and I saw a kid riding my old Buzz Bike, with the tiger-skin seat.  A momentary pang of regret hit me as memories of riding with Rusty Fox, and making endless rounds of the Dead-End ran through my mind.

But, then, I looked forward and pedaled into the future.  That bike was in the past, and I had many miles to go on Big Red.

I still have Big Red.  I had Momma and Daddy bring it with them, the last time they drove out to visit, in 2004.  Daddy had ridden the bike, for a few years, and even took it to Thailand for a couple of years when he was working over there.  So, Big Red was looking a little tatty, with rusty wheels and faded paint.

I pulled him apart, and had the frame and fork stripped and powder-coated in candy-apple red.  New stainless steel fenders, chrome wheels, and cleaned up original components went back on and, once again, the bike was a beauty.

I still kinda miss my first bike, and I hope that the kid who received it from the church enjoyed it as much as I did.  But, I've always been glad that I got Big Red.  And I'm very glad to still have him around.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ejector Seat

It was odd, for me, to be in the lead on a mountain bike ride.  Even in my early 30s, I had noticed that the kids I rode with were more fearless than I.   And no matter what my level of fitness, those teenagers, who mostly worked at the shop, were all faster on the climbs.

But, this particular day, I was in the lead.  We had driven to the South Platte Town-site, crossed the river on the footbridge, and hit the Colorado Trail.  We climbed up the steep, off-camber trail which was covered in weathered granite like small ball-bearings which rolled under our tires and made staying upright difficult.  For some reason, I passed the two younger guys with whom I was riding, and stayed in the lead.

Once we reached a level area, the trail turned fast, curvy and flowy.  We boomed along at a fast pace, always over 15mph when I looked at my speedometer.  And, again, neither of the other two could catch and pass me.

So it was that I was in the lead when we topped a small rise and I saw that the trail took a 90 degree turn to the right.  Not only that, but there was a boulder about the size of a lawn chair on the outside of the turn, right where i was going to leave the trail, since I was totally unprepared for the turn.

I was riding a brand-new bike, built up on the first Specialized S-Works Full Suspension frame to come to America from Japan.  I really didn't feel like snapping the fork off of the bike, so I made a desperation move and hit the Ejector Seat button.

Just before I was going to impact the boulder, I grabbed a big handful of the front brake, and leaped forward from the seat, as if I was trying to vault over the bars.  But, instead of letting go of the bars to leap, I held onto them and rotated the bike forward in an epic endo.

The upward and forward shift of my mass pivoted the bike upward over the front wheel and into the air.  I turned a 3/4 summersault over the boulder, and landed in the weeds beyond it, flat on my back.  My shoes unclipped from the pedals, and I involuntarily let go of the bars.  The bike launched into the air and bounced away.

When it was all over, I was dirty but uninjured, and the bike was undamaged.  The two guys behind me saw the whole thing, which warned them to slow down and stop before they came to the bend in the trail.

I couldn't believe it actually worked.  But, like I said, I was having an oddly proficient day on the bike...


Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm Not Sure This Story Has a Point

It's just something that I saw, and thought was a bit strange.

One year, on the Elephant Rock Century ride, the 60-mile support stop was in a park at Palmer Lake.  We rode down a long hill, on a county road, and then we were direct to turn left.  The rest stop was located about 100 yards off of the road, at the end of a gravel drive.

Carol and I were riding together at that point.  She was on her Specialized Allez road bike and I was on my LeMond Zurich.  We both were running 28c tires, large by road racing standards, but the narrowest tires I ever use.  Still, riding up the gravel drive was no problem.

We were both somewhat amused to see people get off of their bikes and walk alongside them on the gravel.  Some of them were even grumbling to each other, as we rode by, about having to go off pavement to get to the support area.

The capper was when we saw a couple of guys actually carrying their bikes, in order to avoid touching their precious tires to the dirt road.

I did not then, nor do I now, understand just what their problem was.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Don't Care For Basketball, But I Love a Basket Bike

I got my first basket on a bike when I was ten years old.  We lived in Calvert City, at that time, and I really liked the freedom that small town life afforded me.  Where I had to ask permission to go to the Dead End and ride back and forth, when we lived in Nashville, I could just tell Momma  that I was taking off, and ride until I felt like turning around and coming back.

But, I had a problem, which limited my range.  I would get hungry and thirsty and, if there wasn't a store around (or, usually, because I had no money), I would have to head for home to rehydrate and fuel up.  I told Momma I really wanted to be able to carry food and water.  So, off to Western Auto we went, and a basket was procured.


I got in the habit of making a couple of sandwiches, and filling up my plastic Army canteen before I would leave the house in the morning.  Then, off to the countryside on two wheels.

We didn't have bottle carriers, or bicycle water bottles for that matter, for our bikes at that time.
And, the thought of wearing a backpack never occurred to me.  I didn't even own a backpack.  We still carried our books to school in a book bag, back in those days.  And, of course, we had to watch out for dinosaurs on the way back and forth, in those prehistoric times.

Anyway, a basket still looks cool to me, and is still the best way to carry some loads on a bike.  (Case of beer, anyone?)  Porteur racks appeal to me, because they just seem like fancy baskets to me.

Oddly, though, I don't have a basket on a bike, right now.  I'm thinking I might have to remedy that, soon.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vision...Or Lack Thereof

I talked to Gary Fisher at the bike industry show in Las Vegas, a couple of times, back in the 1990s.  He's an interesting guy, and really had a lot of influence on the mountain bike industry, whether or not he "invented" the mountain bike.

He told me that he and Charlie Kelley went to Schwinn, in the late 80s, and tried to license the "MountainBike" name and, indeed, the mountain bike concept, to the the largest bike company in America.  But, they were shown the door.

The Schwinn line was, "There is a very small market for this type of bicycle.  The Schwinn Company can not afford to produce a line of bikes for a few hundred hippies in California." (Or, words to that effect.)

Not too many years after that, Schwinn contracted with Giant Bicycles, of Taiwan, to produce mountain bikes in order to keep up with the burgeoning mtb market in America.  After a few years of buying from Giant, the Schwinn Company dropped Giant, thinking that they should go to a lower-cost supplier. 

This left Giant with a factory tooled up to produce tens of thousands of mountain bikes for the American marker, but no one to distribute them.  So, the Giant Bicycle Company moved into the American market with their own line.  (One of their models was the Iguana.  It was my habit to shout , "Hide the crickets, there's a Giant Iguana in the shop," whenever one showed up for service in the shop.)

Ten years later, the Schwinn family had sold the company to an investment firm, and Giant was a major force in the bicycle industry, worldwide.

Watch the companies which, today, are ignoring the "transportational cycling" and commuter market.  I suspect that history may repeat itself...


Friday, March 25, 2011

Pizza Face

Tony and I were descending a series of rock steps, punctuated by sand pits, up on Poison spider Mesa, and I was having a great time.  We had been in Moab for a couple of days, and this ride was a new one to us.  At least, this particular area of the mesa was a new experience.

I was leading, when it happened.  I dropped the front wheel off of the rock ledge I was descending, and it dug into the sand at the base of the rock.  The bike pitched forward, and I hit the ground face-first.  Of course, I managed to find a rock shallowly buried in the sand.

The pain in my chin was shocking and, once I got on my feet, I could feel liquid running down my neck.

"Am I bleeding?"  I asked Tony, hoping that I was just imagining it.

"Yeah.  It looks pretty bad.  You could probably use some stitches," he replied.

Of course, we were an hour from the car, then another 20 or 30 minutes from the hospital.  Plus, I really didn't want to end the ride.

"Let's see if we can get the bleeding to stop,"  I said.  "If we can, we'll just keep riding."

And so, we put pressure on the gaping cut.  I couldn't bandage it, because of my beard, but we finally got the chin to stop bleeding.  Three hours of riding later, we finally got back to the car, and I was able to see the damage in the mirror.

Besides the half-inch long gap in my chin, I had an abrasion the size of a quarter on my right cheek, a black eye on the same side, and the white of that eye was blood-red from the outside corner of the eye to halfway across the iris.  But, my "best bad luck" had kicked in, once again, and I didn't have any teeth missing or broken.

We went back to the campground, and cleaned up.   Then, we headed into town to have a pizza on the patio at Eddie McStiff's.  It was cooling off nicely, as it usually does during April in Moab, so I had a fleece vest on over my white Specialized Bicycles t-shirt.

When the waitress led us to our table on the patio, she seated us at a table close to the wall of the building.  Tony sat with his back to the rest of the patio, and I was facing the crowd.  We ordered a couple of beers and a pizza, and sat there chatting while the pizza cooked.

As the waitress brought our pie out, I noticed that she gave me an odd look.  I really didn't think  much of it.  I had been cracking wise with her, earlier, so I figured that she was just kidding around.

Then, as we ate, I noticed that the people at the table behind Tony were giving me some distinctly unfriendly looks, and were obviously talking about me, to each other.  I had seen this behavior before, in conservative Utah.  At the time, I had a pretty long pony-tail, and a couple of ear rings in my right ear.  Plus, I tended to wear a half-dozen bracelets, two or three rings and prescription Oeakleys everywhere I went.

"Man," I said to Tony, after I took a sip of beer.  "Those people seem to have some kind of problem with me."

"Maybe it's all the blood," he replied, taking a bite of pizza.

"I'm bleeding, again?"  I asked.

"Yeah...pretty badly.  It's all over your shirt."

"What?"  I said, pulling my shirt away from my neck and seeing that it was, indeed, bright red with blood.  "Why didn't you say something?"

"I thought you knew, " Tony said.  "And, I'm used to it, with you."

I excused myself and went to the bathroom.  What I saw in the mirror explained the looks I was getting.  With the blood-red eye, the shiner and blood dripping out of my beard, I looked like an Ann Rice vampire, just after feeding.

I cleaned up my face and beard, as well as I could, and zipped my vest up to hide the bloody shirt.  Then, I went back to the table and had Tony change places with me, so that other people on the patio could eat without looking at me.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time I was to cause a sensation in a restaurant by bleeding all over the place.  More about that, another day.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Flying Bike

When I was 10 years old (in 1971, by the way), we lived in a small western-Kentucky town calleed Calvert City.  Calvert City had about 600 residents actually within the City Limits, but a few thousand more lived in the immediate area.  The old downtown area, where the railroad crossing was, was pretty cool, but the rest was pretty generic stripmall/subdivision stuff.

The good thing about CC was that, within a 10-minutes bicycle ride from our house, I could be out of town and heading out into the rural surroundings.  Or, I could ride over to the RR Crossing and find cool old stuff along the tracks or in the foundation of the long-ago burned early-20th Century drug store.

I found railroad spikes, and telegraph wire insulators, and even a 12" Bowie knife along the tracks.  And the old drugstore site yielded ancient hypodermics and the bottles that the medicine for the needles had come in, complete with cork tops instead of the now-standard silicone plugs.

At one spot along the road, near the tracks, was an old loading ramp and dock.  I suppose it was used to off-load handcarts full of goods onto wagons, back in the day.  But, to me, it looked like a great launch ramp for a bicycle-glider.

I had somehow gotten the idea that, if I attached some wings to my bike, I'd be able to ride down the street, hit that ramp, and launch myself into the air where I could swoop around and catch thermals like a hawk.  I figured that I could take a hollow-core door, like you use on the interior of a house, and cut the wing shape out.  Then, I would have two pieces I could sandwich around the top tube of the bike and produce the airfoil.  Duct tape seemed like a good material to form the leading edge, and hold everything together.

Luckily for me, when I asked my daddy to get me a hollow door, he wanted to know what I wanted it for.  Of course, he laughed me out of the house when I told him my plan.

Today, I realize that he was right.  It would never have worked:  The wing would have been much too small to provide adequate lift, for one thing.  There are probably a few dozen other things wrong with the plan, as well.

But, wouldn't it have been glorious if I had tried it, and it had worked?



Wednesday, March 23, 2011


One of the things about working in a bike shop is that you have to perpetuate the myth of need.  People need a different bike for every type of riding (mountain, road, racing, recreation, mixed-terrain, cross, commuting, cruising to the coffee shop, going to the grocery store, etc., etc.).  Obviously, if you have the room and can afford the bikes, having bikes optimized for each activity is nice.  I fall into that behavior:  I have dedicated commuters, and I have the XO-2 for just knocking around on (or for knocking out a hundred miles in a day, occasionally).  But, my "road bike" and my "mountain bike" are the same bike, with a change of tires.

Still, when you are selling bikes and accessories for a living, the more you can push the concept of specialization, both in bikes and equipment, the better.  It wasn't always that way, however.  Many people my age, and certainly most people who are significantly older, can count the number of bikes they owned through the years on one hand, with fingers left over.

My friend Don, who recently turned 78, owns a load of bicycles, now.  He has become something of a rider/collector, since he gave up motor vehicles 15 years ago, and he enjoys finding old bikes and refurbishing them.  But, when he was young, things were different.

Unlike some people who will decline mountain bike riding with me because their tires aren't suited for the trail I am planning on riding, Don made do with what he had, and rode everwhere he wanted to go, as a kid.

He told me about his first bike, one day, as we were talking about some of the bikes I own.  I told him about my circa 1910 Iver Johnson, and he said, "My first bike was an Iver Johson."

"It had a big, wide, handlebar on it, and fenders.  But, it didn't have any tires.  So, I took some rope, and cut it to fit arond the rim, then spliced it together.  I rode all over on that bike..."

Then, he proceeded to tell me about riding up in the foothills, up north and down south of Denver, itself, on everything from cobblestones, to brick streets to dirt roads.  All of this was done with rope "tires".

So, the next time you feel like you can't explore a dirt road on your road bike, or you think that a road ride is undoable on your knobbies, just ask yourself where you would ride if you had rope on the rims!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Left-Hand Threads - Part Last (For now, anyway...)

I once had my Cannondale hanging on the repair stand as I was replacing the three-piece bottom bracket with a Shimano cartridge.  I hadn't had access to a repair stand, before I started working at the shop, so I was pretty happy to not be hunched over on the floor, working on the bike.

Because I had not had access to a stand before, I had yet to learn one of the bike mechanic's major rules:  Always hang the bike in the stand with the drive-side toward you. 

I had randomly hung my bike in the stand with the non-drive side toward me, for some reason, but I saw no problem with that.

I cleaned the threads in the bottom bracket shell, applied a little bit of grease, and started screwing the new cartridge unit in.  It was a bit difficult to turn, so i grabbed my wrench and helped it along.

Another important rule:  If a part won't thread, easily, from the get-go, take it out and see why, rather than using a tool to overcome the resistance.

I got the bottom bracket threaded in, and picked up the non-drive cup to install it.  That's when I realized that I had installed the drive side of the bottom bracket, the side with left-hand thread, into the non-drive side of the bottom bracket shell!

The sharp steel threads on the bottom bracket had nicely tapped out the shell, and the bottom bracket was securely in place...backward.  I pulled the bb out of the frame, and was pretty impressed with the Argyle-like pattern that two opposite sets of threads made inside the shell.

I pulled the bottom bracket tap tool down from the hooks, and chased the threads, in the correct configuration, and then attempted to install the bottom bracket, this time in the correct orientation.  Luckily, everything went in without a hitch, and the oddly-threaded side of the shell never gave me any problems.

I now consider myself a pretty fair bike mechanic, but I learned a lot of what I know through making stupid mistakes.  That's one reason why I always try to do something for the first time on one of my own bikes.  The learning curve can be steep, and I don't want someone else's bike to pay the price for my education.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Left Hand Threads - Part 2

In the same manner that crank revolutions will loosen the left pedal, the rotation will also loosen the bottom bracket at the drive side.  English-threaded bottom brackets account for this by having left-hand thread on the drive side, the "fixed cup".  On the non-drive side, the "adjustable cup" is right-hand thread, and is used to adjust the bottom bracket bearing play (on the old-school style bottom bracket - obviously not on the newer cartidge-style bb).

French, Swiss and Italian bottom bracket cups are right-hand thread on both sides.  Some versions of these had a lockring on both cups, but most did not.

Once, during the time when I was first beginning to do fixed-gear conversions and sell them, I bumped into a young man by the name of Matt, who had an interesting bike.  It was a 1980s Bianchi road frame, copper-plated and converted to fixed-gear. As he was telling me about it, I was crouched down checking out the crank and chainring on the bike.

"Say," I asked, "did you build this up, yourself?"

"No," he replied.  "The guys at Shop X put it together."

I always ask that, first, before pointing a problem with a build.  I don't want to embarass someone.

"Well,"  I pointed out, "you might want to take it back and have them reinstall the bottom bracket.  It's in backward."

The Bianchi had an Italian bottom bracket, and it had been installed with the adjustable cup and lockring behind the chainring.

"Oh," he said.  "I wondered why it was so hard to adjust the bottom bracket."

A couple of months later, I got an email from Matt, asking about a bike I had for sale.  After I answered his question, I asked him if he had gotten his bb reinstalled.

"No,"  he replied, "they told me that that bottom bracket was made that way.  So, they sold me one that went in right."

I refer to this shop as Shop X simply because I wasn't actually there when this happened.  For all I know, Matt might have been embarassed and just bought another bottom bracket to cover for himself.  But, in light of other dealings I've had with these clowns, I don't think so.

I think that the owner and mechanic were probably drinking beer and/or smoking dope (as usual, for them) when they built Matt's bike up.  They installed the bottom bracket backward, and just didn't want to admit thier mistake.

So, they took advantage of a gullible kid and sold him a replacement bottom bracket, rather than turning his existing bb around for him.  I hate shops like that.  You may recall that similar treatment from another shop, toward me, resulting in me becoming a mechanic so that I woudn't be at their mercy.

Left-hand thread...On top of its other advantages in a fixed cup, it pretty much makes you install the bottom bracket in the correct orientation.  Usually. 

But, that's another story for another day.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Left-Hand Threads: Part 1

Bikes pedals are sometimes a challenge for people who aren't familiar with the mechanics of bikes.  The right pedal is thread "normally", i.e. it has right-hand thread.  The left pedal is the opposite.

I try to help people out by telling them to turn the wrench to the rear of the bike, over the top of the pedal.  Or, you can think of it as turning the wrench in the same direction (lefty-loosey), if you turn both of them from the drive-side.  But, still, people get confused and tighten the hell out of the left pedal.

So, why is one pedal right-hand thread, and the other pedal, left-hand?

Well, as you pedal along, the spindle of the pedal will try to turn itself toward the front of the bike.  In the drive side, this has the effect of tightening the pedal into the crank-arm.  On the non-drive side, it has the effect of unscrewing the pedal from the crank.

In the early days of bicycling, both pedals were threaded the same.  This caused a problem with the left pedal backing out of the crank, which required the rider to stop and tighten the pedal rather frequently.

Eventually, someone figured out how to alleviate this problem (by threading the left pedal spindle with left-hand thread).

Who was this genius?  I can't tell you for sure.  But, I can narrow it down to one of two people:  Orville or Wilbur Wright.

Yes, the Fathers of Aviation were, originally, bike mechanics and then, bike manufacturers.  In the course of building bikes, they managed to solve a problem which had nagged cyclists for 30 years, when they figured out how to prevent the left pedal from unscrewing itself from the crank.

You have to wonder what else they would have come up with, bicycle-wise, if the airplane thing hadn't worked out...


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bike Route

There is a route from  Cherry Creek Park to the D.U. area that we refer to as "the bike route".  That's because, when we all lived south of here, we would go through the park, hit the streets on Union (by Cherry Creek High School), and make our way to the campus area without hitting any major roads.

One of the highlights of the ride was going down Iliff, from Dahlia to University.  During the summer, the trees alongside each side of the street almost meet in the middle.  It gives you the "tunnel of green" effect as you ride through.  It's pretty shady and relatively cool on a hot day.

In the winter, the trees are bare, but the ride is still pleasant.

This route is why I live where I do.

One day, on a Saturday, Carol and I were riding back from a loop in the park, and we took the the bike route, as usual, to get back to my rented duplex. As we passed South Dexter Street, on Iliff, Carol saw a "For Sale" sign in the yard.  We stopped to look at it, and saw that there was an Open House, the next day.

I came back over, the next day, and checked it out.  I made an offer, and ended up buying the place.

The house is nothing much to talk about.  It's virtually a chicken coop with a bathroom, really.'s on the bike route.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Hit By a Car - The First Time

It was about this time of year, in 1996 (I think) when I got hit by a car, the first time, on a bike.  This time, unlike recently though, was an accident.

I had driven to work on Saturday, and Valerie had picked me up to go to dinner.  We ended up driving home in her car, and I had left my truck at the shop.  I wasn't working on Sunday, so my plan was to ride the Avail to the shop, then drive the truck home.

I left the house just before noon, and was on Parker Road, heading north, by noon.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was beaming down, the sky was blue, and the temperature was in the mid-50s.  I had on a bright yellow wind jacket, and I was pretty secure in my visibility.

The wind was howling, as it is wont to do in March, and it was blowing out of the south.  So, as I headed toward the entrance to The Pinery, on a slight downslope, I was banging along in the big ring.  I looked at my cyclometer and saw that I was hitting 38 mph!

As I approached the traffic light at the Pinery entrance, I had the green light.  I kept cranking along, and nodded to the lady in the Mercedes Benz, who was waiting for me to get through the intersection before she turned.  At least, I thought she was waiting.

As I entered the intersection, at somewhere over 35 mph, she turned left across my lane and I hit her car just behind the front wheel on the passenger side, and caved in the fender.  I flipped over the bars of the bike, and landed on the hood of her car, which crushed in and broke the fuel injection unit below.  My helmet smashed the windshield as I hit, and my left heel hit the top of her grill, which popped the grill out of the car.

I'll never forget the look on her face as I hit the windshield.  I am fairly certain that the first she ever saw of me was my head hitting the glass just in front of her face.

Almost unbelievably, I was unhurt.

When all was said and done, there was about $8000.00 worth of damage done to her car, and I got a check for $275.00 to cover my helmet, fork and wiring loom for my cyclometer.  I ended up getting an Avail fork from DiamondBack Warranty, in the correct color, for free.  CatEye Computers sent me a replacement wiring harness for free, when I told them what had happened, and Specialized comped me a new helmet for the same reason.

Car vs. Bike.  For once, the bike won!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Half Fast

In the old days, I rode my bike at full speed, everywhere I went, if I was by myself.  If I got on a bike, I was "training", even if I didn't have anything to train for.  If I rode with friends, of course, it was a different story.

Over the past 25 years, or so, I have commuted to work by bike, at least part-time.  For most of those years, I commuted a few days per month, then a few days per week.  It wasn't until 4 years ago, in May, that I started commuting every day of the week, 12 months a year.

When I started the full-time commute, I rode the way I had always ridden; flat-out.  I kept up with my time from my house to certain points along the way, as well as for the total distance.  If I was behind at a certain spot, I would jam on it to make up the time before the next checkpoint.

Eventually, I noticed that I was slowing down at the end of the week.  There was just so much gas in the tank, and I was running out by the end of the week.  So, I started having what I called "maximum speed-limit " days.  I would actually set myself a top speed, usually 13 mph, and make sure that I didn't go over that unless I was coasting downhill.

Of course, I was riding fixed-gear, so coasting wasn't quite the same as it is on a freewheel bike.  So, I would normally not get much over 15 mph, even on the downhills.

Oddly, I noticed that on those "slow" days, I really wasn't that much slower than I was on the days that I was trying to go as fast as possible.  So, I started paying attention to the gap between "fast" and "slow".

Sadly, the difference was only 3 to 5 minutes over the course of my 9 mile route home.

At that point I had to face a difficult truth:  I am not that much faster at full-on effort than I am at a relaxed pace.

This wouldn't be so bad, if my relaxed pace was fast.  It's not.  In point of fact, my "fast" pace is just, well, slow.

But, I did learn a valuable lesson.  That lesson?  I might as well ride at a comfortable pace and enjoy the ride.  Since I will never be fast, I might as well embrace being slow.

Since then, I have followed this philosophy on all my rides, including the 100-milers I indulged in, last year.

And, you know what?  I have enjoyed riding a lot more than I did, for a while.  And, my average speed is not that much different.

Buddhist teaching says that enlightenment can only be achieved in the absence of desire. 

My new lack of desire  (for speed) has enlightened me in how to more enjoy riding my bike.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Not a Job, It's a Lifestyle

We used to tell each other that, at the bike shop, when we were broke.  It was a little bit of humor that eased the pain of the microscopic paychecks.  The thing is, it was really true.

Sean and Katina were in town for a wedding, last week, and they stopped by the house on Monday to hang out and visit for a couple of hours.  We talked about all the things friends who haven't seen each other in a while will talk about, and the subject of bike riding came up.

I know Sean because he was a customer, then a mechanic, at Destinations when he was in high school.  He worked with me at Campus in 2001, during Summer Break from college.  So, he understood when I said to him that I was disappointed to not have a ready group of people available to ride with.

Most of the people I once rode with on a regular basis have grown up, or at least grown older, and their lives have changed to the point that they can't constantly go on bike rides.  I ride to work, daily, in part because it gives me a reason to ride alone.  If I wait for company to ride, it can be a week, or more, between rides.

But, when we all worked in the bike shop, there was always someone who was ready and willing for a ride.  It wasn't necessarily always me:  Sometimes it was two or three other people riding as I went home.  But, for the most part, if I wanted to ride, then either a fellow employee or a customer would be available to go, as well.

I went mountain biking an average of 4 or 5 times a week, back then.  And I was on the road bike at least once a week.  I rode often enough, and hard enough, the first year that I worked at Destinations that I went from 190 pounds, in January, to 150 pounds in October.  People thought I had cancer, or something.

Riding bikes was more than a hobby, then.  It was more than transportation, or exercise,  or a business.  For me, it truly was a lifestyle.

I miss those days (but not those paychecks).


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


One of the spokes on the front wheel of the Avail had gotten bent, when a stick caught in the wheel, one day.  I had re-trued the wheel, and the spoke was properly tensioned, but it had a slight kink in it about 3 inches from the rim.

I kept thinking I should pull that spoke out and replace it.  However, I was riding the bike almost daily, either commuting to the bike shop or just knocking around on the dirt roads around Elizabeth.  Every time I thought of the spoke, I was on a ride, somewhere.  Once I was in the shop, with the bike, I had other things to think about.

One day, after about 3 months of riding on the bent spoke, I commuted to the bike shop on the Avail, as usual.  As I neared the shop, I pulled across two lanes of Parker Road, and got into the left turn lane at Cottonwood Drive.  The bike shop was on the corner of the two roads, but the driveway to the shopping center was about 30 yards down Cottonwood.

As I pulled to a stop at the light, I decided to try and trackstand until the light changed.  I turned the front wheel slightly to the left, to help maintain my balance and..PING!  The kinked spoke chose that moment to snap.

It was another example of "Grinder Luck":  My spoke broke, but, at least, it did it at the least inconvenient spot on the commute.

I have the best bad luck...


Monday, March 14, 2011


It was a good sale.  We had set him up with a nice, new, Specialized Stumpjumper FSR full-suspension mountain bike, a helmet, gloves,and a bunch of other accessories, including a Thule roof rack.

I installed the roof rack on his brand-new Ford Explorer, while Scott and the others completed the deal, inside the shop.  Once all of the accessories were installed on the bike, and the rack was secure on the car, he loaded it up and drove off to his house in the Pinery.

An hour and a half later, he was back.  The bike was bent nearly in half, and was in the trunk of his wife's car.

"Garage door?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"How did you know?"

"Seen it before..."

He had driven home, and pulled into the garage, like always.  When the bicycle caught the top of the door frame, it stopped as the car kept moving forward.  The leverage provided by the bike frame peeled the roof off of the Explorer like the top off of a can of sardines.

The house sustained about $10,000 in damage, the $2500 bike was totaled, and the car had $6000 of damage by the time the roof was replaced (six weeks later - it was a sunroof equipped model, and had to be ordered from the Ford factory).  The Thule rack, which had pulled the roof off of the car, was undamaged.

I told him he should call Thule and see if they would help pay the damages in return for a testimonial.  He was too embarassed by what he had done, though.

Luckily, he wasn't too embarassed to call his insurance agent.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Full Moon Over Kenosha Pass

One day, back in 1996, we took the mountain bike club to Kenosha Pass and rode the Colorado Trail through Jefferson to Georgia Pass.  After climbing up above treeline, we hung out at the Continental Divide, overlooking Breckinridge.  It probably snowed on us.  I don't really remember, but I don't think I've ever been on Georgia Pass without getting snowed on.

After a while, we all turned back and rode the 12.5 miles back ot the Kenosha Pass Trailhead parking lot, where we had left the cars and trucks.  It was hot, at the lower elevation, and we all were ready to get out of our riding clothes and into something dry.

As was our habit, we all just kind of faced toward our vehicles and tried to ignore each other as we  changed.  I noticed that one of the girls, a newbie, actually got into her car to change.  I was chuckling, a little, as I pulled my bike shorts off, and reached for my cargos.

Just then, a troop of Girl Scouts, I suppose out on a troop hike or something, came walking out of the trees.  I heard the giggling before I turned my head and saw them.  Then, I just pulled my pants up, and waved.

The girls all waved back and continued on their way.  They probably all qualified for their astronomy badges, that day...


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trade of Doom

Before I bought my high-wheeler bike, I had a little 36"-wheeled Coker highwheel.  Oddly, this bike, which looked like a traditional Penny-Farthing, had a freewheel hub on the front wheel.  So, you could actually coast on it.  Carving turns in the parking lot was a hoot.

Brad liked it better than I did, though.  I was really wanting the "real" highwheeler bike I eventually got and, even though this bike was fun, it wasn't really what I wanted.  So, we arranged a trade.  Brad had a snowboard (and I had never been snowboarding, at this time) that he didn't need, and I offered him the Coker in exchange for it.

So, the trade was made.

Within a month, one of the punk-ass kids at the bike shop jumped the Coker off of the steps and severely bent the frame, which rendered it not ride-able.  Not long after that, some kids broke into our house in Elizabeth and stole the snowboard, along with my boots.  Nothing else, including the guns and video camera which were in the same room, was taken.

Apparently, the Trade Gods didn't approve of the swap.


Friday, March 11, 2011

I Am That Dude

(The language in this story is a bit crude, at the end, but the story isn't tell-able without it.  Sorry.)

One year, as we were riding the Moonlight Classic ride, I was on the high-wheeler.  I had ridden the high-wheeler on the night-time ride through Denver, a few times before.  So, I was accustomed to all of the attention that I was getting from the riders around me, as well as the people along the side of the street.

"Hey!  Nice bike!"

"Wow!  Look at that!"

"How do you get on and off?"

Lots and lots of people will talk to you, if you ride a high-wheeler in a crowd of other bikes.  If you are shy, stay off the big wheel.

The capper of the night, perhaps my proudest bicycle moment ever, was when a fairly drunk guy on the side of the road stood up tall, stretched out his arm, and pointed at me.

"Look at the dude what's got the old-school shit going on!"  he shouted.

The crowd around him hooted and hollered, and everyone on bikes around me was laughing. 

My super power?

I am that dude what's got the old-school shit going on!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Snakes Alive! (Part Two)

About 11 or 12 years ago, I was working for an odd guy who owned a bike/ski shop in Castle Rock (there are few stories to tell, there, let me assure you).  I was in charge of opening a new shop on the west side of town, at C-470 and Ken Caryl road.

One day, as I was still putting the shop together, Carol called and asked if I had time for a ride.  I did, so she drove over.  We left from the parking lot, and headed north on the 470 Bike Trail.  We planned on riding from where we were, up to Bear Creek Lake, then back.  It's not a long ride, but it's pretty hilly and makes for a good, quick workout.

Not far up the trail, we saw a tiny little snake lying on the concrete pavement.

"Is it dead?" Carol asked.

I stopped beside it, and put my foot down.  The snake raised its head up.

"Nope," I offered.

I bent down to take a look at the snake, and noticed tiny little rattles.  It's funny, but even a baby rattlesnake, while cute, seems a little menacing.

"Look," I said, pointing at the snake, still bent over at the waist.  "It's a rattlesnake!"

Just as the word "rattlesnake" came out of my mouth, the little bugger struck at me.  I had on full-fingered mountain bike gloves, as usual, and the snakes fangs hit the end of my pointing finger and sank into the material of the glove.

"Holy crap!" I yelled (or words to that effect, anyway), as I jerked my hand back...and accidentally threw the snake at Carol.

Mania ensued, for a few moments.

Eventually, we all calmed down.  Carol and I continued on our way, and the snake crawled off to do whatever baby rattle snakes do (maybe eat baby mice?).

Lesson learned:  If you are going to point at a rattlesnake, don't be a goon and stick your finger virtually in his mouth!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Snakes Alive!

I have seen a grand total of two rattlesnakes, in all the time I've lived in Colorado.  Both times I was on a bike.  Both times, the snake tried to bite me.

The first sighting was a year or two after I moved here.  I had ridden up Waterton Canyon, and then up the hill on the Colorado Trail.  As I passed Lenny's bench, I decided to continue on the Colorado Trail, rather than turn and do the Roxborough Loop.  The loop is a pretty convenient route, since it brings you back out to the Waterton Canyon road.  But, I wanted to ride back down the hill of switchbacks on my way out.  So, I had decided on an out and back.

As I descended away from the bench, heading toward the South Platte and Buffalo Creek, I started across the small open meadow.  The trail, there, is rocky and rough, before it goes back into the trees and smooths out, a bit.

As I jounced across the open area, I saw him; a 6 or 8 foot long rattler coiled up on the side of the trail.  I was close enough to the snake, and going fast enough, that I couldn't stop before I got to him.  So, I stood up and sprinted across the loose rocks, hoping I wouldn't catch my wheel and auger in right on top of the big bastard.

As I went by him, I saw him strike.


I can only assume, from the sound of it, that he struck and hit chainstay of the bike (rather than my leg, thank goodness) as I went by.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I flew along the trail.

Later, I was really glad that he didn't get himself caught up in the spokes of the rear wheel.  I had visions of flying down the trail, with 50 pounds of angry rattlesnake jamming the rear wheel to a sudden stop and skid.  It probably wouldn't have ended up well...for either of us.

When I rode back through that stretch, on the way back to the car, I stopped at the edge of the trees and carefully surveyed the area ahead.  I would be climbing through the rocky area, this time, and going much slower.  No snakes were evident, so I climbed on.

Tomorrow:  Rattlesnake Number Two


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I've been through a lot of pedals, and styles of pedals, through the years.  I started with rubber block pedals on the single speed bikes I had as a kid.  I had rat-traps with toeclip and straps on my first ten-speeds and early mountain bikes. 

Eventually I started using clipless pedals, and I used them for years.  Eventually, I went back to rat-traps with clips and straps on the fixed-gear bikes.  As I got into the daily commuting, I graduated to flat, bmx-style platform pedals.  Pretty much, full circle.

I use the bmx platforms for every ride, now, with the exception of "serious" mountain bike rides.  I still like to have the solid attachment to the pedals that the clipless pedals afford when bouncing down a rough trail.  That said, though, I have done quite a bit of rough riding on the platforms, these last couple of years.

I miss some of the marketing gimmicks from the early days of mountain biking.  The SR Low-Fat pedal, for instance, came in a milk carton...low-fat milk pedals.  I had a pair of those, which I bought in Corvallis Cyclery one day, after my pedal bearings fell out of the OEM pedals on my bike as I climbed out of town on the highway.  I turned around and coasted back to town, bought the Low-Fats, then went back up the mountain to the old-growth forest trails which belonged to Oregon State.

That was the ride which turned me into a Mountain Biker, rather than a guy who rode a mountain bike.  I have since branched out in my bicycling interests, but mountain bikes still light my fire.

Now, I have a little collection of vintage mtb pedals on my bikes:  Suntour XC Pros, Shimano Deore bear-traps, etc.  I'm looking for some original Low-Fats to go with them.  I just wish I could find one of the milk carton boxes...


Monday, March 7, 2011


The fire which had swept through the Buffalo Creek area, a year earlier, had completely changed the feel of the trails in the burn area.  On our first trip through, after the trails had been reopened, we all felt a little off-kilter.

The track, itself, was familiar.  We had all ridden there, so much, that the twists and turns, ups and downs, were all burned into out brains.  We could all easily ride this area at night, with no lights, if we felt like it.  But still, it felt odd to ride through a formerly heavily-wooded area, and have unobstructed views for miles in each direction.

The sun seemed to be hotter, with no  forest canopy to shade us.  And the wind seemed to blow a bit harder, with no brush to shield us.  Still, we were all having a great time.

Eventually, after seeing numerous pieces of what looked like frayed white rope on the side of the trail, I signaled everyone to stop, so that I could check one out.  Up close, it was obviously not rope.  Rather, it was a bunch of individual white filaments of what looked to be glass.

We all scratched our heads and talked about what these things might be.  Finally, it struck me.  Fiberglass!

The BLM trail signs in the area are flat pieces of fiberglass lath, with instructions or trail names painted or stickered on them.  These signs had been through a forest fire, where the resin around the glass fibers had burned away and left these bundles of glass fiber lying on the ground.

Signs of change.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sit Back. Relax!

When the Val and I visited Joy and Steve in Oregon, a couple of decades ago, we saw a lot of the sights that great state had to offer.  One of those sites was Timberline Lodge, on Mount Hood.

As we started the drive up the Lodge Road, we passed a recumbent bicycle just at the gate.  I had ridden a recumbent, a few times, through the years, and I knew how fast they could be.  The reclined position of the rider makes the bike much more aerodynamic than a standard bike, increasing the speed without a necessary increase in power output.  Much like a tandem, a recumbent rider can pretty much outgun a standard rider of the same strength.

Until the road heads uphill.

Climbing against gravity makes every pedal stroke an acceleration.  Recumbents (and tandems) actually require more effort on the part of the rider to accelerate.  So, I was feeling sorry for the guy we passed.

We got to the lodge, toured around, took pictures;  all the touristy stuff.  When we finally got ready to go, and headed out of the parking lot, the poor guy on the recumbent was just pulling up.

Of course, as much as I felt sorry for him, he probably felt that sorry for us.  He was on a bike, at least. We were stuck in a  car.

Perspective is funny, that way.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why I Became a Bike Mechanic

In 1991, when I bought my Cannondale SM-800, I was thrilled with every aspect of the bike except for one.  It came equipped with 7-speed Deore LX RapidFire shifters.  I am no fan of any version of the RapidFire system, but the early versions like the one on my Cannondale were particularly annoying to me.

So, I asked the owner of the shop (oddly, it was Campus Cycles, in Columbus, Ohio), how much he would charge me to swap the shifters out for regular thumb shifters.

"Oh, that can't be done," he lied.  "They don't even make those shifters any more." (Just like Campus Cycles, here, when I worked for them.  Is it the name?)

"Uh, right," I said, deciding then and there to never darken his door again.  Not only was he lying to me, but he was apparently assuming that I was stupid enough to believe him.  Had he just said, "We don't do that sort of thing," I might have gone back to this shop, at some time or another.

As it was, I went to Bike Nashbar (they had a retail store in Columbus, at that time) and bought a set of LX thumbies off of the shelf, took them home and installed them.  It was simple enough that I decided, at that point, that I would never again pay to have a bike worked on.

Before long, I was getting to paid to work on other people's bikes.

And, I've always made it a point to not lie to my customers.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Remember To Pedal

I had been riding fixed gear, almost exclusively, for about a year.  Thousands of miles had passed under my constantly-spinning cranks, and I felt more at home on the "direct-drive" bikes than any other.  So, it was not any kind of big deal, that Saturday morning as I pedaled my way down Iliff Avenue toward Kaladi Brothers.

The city had been doing some water main work at one of the intersections close to University Avenue for quite some time.  They were close to being done, and actually had a section of pavement gone, for about 50 feet, and the road base was ready for repaving.  Thing was, the road base was about 18 inches below the existing pavement.  So, basically, there was a hole in the road, from curb to curb, 50 feet long and a foot and a half deep.

I knew it was there.  Even if the "Road Closed" signs had been removed, I had been riding past this construction for weeks.  And, well, it was a big hole; hard to miss.

As I approached the edge of the hole, moving along at between 15 and 20 mph, I decided to jump into the hole, at speed, and then bunny-hop out of it.  I planned to barely slow down.  I reached the edge, made my jump, and realized as I was in the air that I had stopped pedaling, with the cranks parallel to the ground as if I was on a freewheel bike.

Of course, when the wheels hit the ground, the cranks immediately began spinning.  I didn't fall, but I came damn close.  I managed to stay in control, but...

I was fast approaching the 18" vertical wall at the other side of the hole; the bunny-hop back onto the road surface.  I knew that there was no way I was going to make that hop, so I grabbed a big handful of brakes, almost went over the bars, but managed to stop before I reached the other side of the hole.

My heart was pounding, I was a bit rattled, and confused about why I had stopped pedaling like that.  But, mostly, I was embarassed.  I just really hoped that no one saw me spazzing out on my bike.

I gave a quick little sheepish look around, but I didn't see anyone pointing and laughing.  So, I continued on to the coffee shop. 

I rode home on Warren, to avoid the hole.  The next time that I rode down Iliff, the hole had been repaved.  I was pretty glad, to tell the truth.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Commuting As Therapy

A few years ago, I realized that I didn't really feel like myself, any more.  I was dissatisfied with my life, and just generally felt as though something was out of sync.  I wasn't able to put my finger on it, for a long time, but it finally came to me that I no longer felt like a a "cyclist". 

I was riding on the weekends, but that was about it. I had become a "guy that rides a bike", rather than a "cyclist".  And, while it may actually be a bit shallow of me, I really identify myself as a few "ists": bicyclist,, motorcyclist, guitarist, artist....You get the picture.

So, I started commuting to work.  At first, I only planned on riding every day in May (my birth month).  I found it so gratifying, that I just  kept doing it.

Now, my commute is a very important part of my life.  People ask me, in bad weather or when I'm obviously coming down with something, if I want a ride home.  I try to explain to them that the ride is not a burden.  It is, in truth the opposite.  It is a freedom, a feeling of self-reliance that satisfies me deeply.

I am, once again, a "real cyclist".  I'm "me", again.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It's All In the Cards

When I was a kid, I experimented with cards in the spokes, just like every other kid.  Not being a sports fan, I started with playing cards (Ace of Spades, of course).  But, they didn't last very long.   So, I tried one of my BatMan trading cards (a Robin card, I would never have wasted a BatMan or the Joker).  Again, the card fell apart pretty quickly.

I layered tape over a card, and it lasted a bit longer.  But, it wasn't as loud as the regular card.

After a disastrous experiment with clothespins, I finally gave up.

Years later, after I already had a motorcycle, I saw a product which mounted on the right handlebar of a bicycle, in place of the hand grip.  It was a throttle-like assembly that, when twisted, produced "motorcycle sounds".

I have to admit that I kinda wanted one.  But, I figured that the actual engine noise from the motorcycle would drown it out.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do You Have That In a Ten?

I haven't worked full-time in a bike shop for almost 8-1/2 years, now.  I don't really know if this is still the problem that it was in the late-nineties, when internet sales first became a big thing.  But, we had a
problem back in those days.

More and more people began to come in the shop, trying on apparel (especially shoes), only to leave without buying anything.   Eventually, we began to quiz people about what was going on, after they had spent an hour trying on every pair of shoes in the place, then leaving without a purchase.

Come to find out, they were generally trying to figure out what European shoe size was a fit, and which shoe had a comfortable feel.  Then, armed with that knowledge, they would order the shoes online.

Most online bike accessory retailers, at that time, assumed that their customers were enthusiasts, and were familiar with the Euro sizing prevalent in the industry.  But, most of the Weekend Warriors really didn't, and the web sites didn't have a good conversion chart in the early days.

Weekend warriors saw no problem coming to us, wasting our time, then ordering bootleg inventory off of the internet.  And, much of it was bootleg.   Many of the manufacturers prohibited selling their products online, in a doomed effort to propagate the Independent Bicycle Dealer business model that they were used to.

Eventually, I began to keep the boxes out of view when helping people figure out their size.  Then, when they got ready to leave (without purchasing the shoes) and asked me what Euro size it was that was the equivalent to their American size, I would subtract ten from the actual number.

I wonder how many people who wore a size ten, American,  went home from our store and smugly ordered their cheap internet a size eight.