Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Foot In The Door

In 1992, Valerie and I were still living in Columbus, Ohio.  My ex-boss, Kevin, and his wife Kelly had moved to Denver, the previous year, and they invited us to come out for two weeks in July.  So, we both arranged for the time off, and flew out.  I brought my Cannondale mountain bike with me, hoping to get in some actual "mountain" biking.

While we were here, Kevin told me that he and Kelly had been thinking of buying some mountain bikes, themselves, and trying to get into a little better shape.  He asked me if I would go along with them to some bike shops and help them pick out something appropriate.  They didn't know a lot about bikes, and wanted to make sure that they weren't being oversold.

So, we got in the car and went down to Parker, and checked out Destinations Cyclery, since it was the nearest Specialized dealer to K&K's house.  They, and I, were fond of the Specialized line, so it was the first stop to make.

While I was there, I got into a conversation with the owner, Scott.  He and I hit it off, since we had very similar outlooks about the bike business, customer service, and a lot of other things.  Kevin and Kelly ended up buying a couple of bikes (HardRock Sports, as I recall), and Scott sent me out the door with the promise of a job, if I ever decided to move out to Denver.

While we were in Denver, Val and I decided to do just that.  She got on the phone, found out that there was a position available in Denver, which was an upgrade for her, and actually interviewed for it while we were there on vacation.  She got the job, and we flew home, only for her to turn around and fly back, two weeks later, to start the new job.

I stayed in Columbus until close to September, got the house on the market and packed everything up.  By the first week of that month, we were both in Denver, shopping for a house.

I talked to Scott about a job, and he told me that he couldn't hire anyone until February, because of the traditional slow winter sales in the shop.  So, with the promise of a job in the Spring, I took a position with a landscaping/irrigation company and worked through the winter (lots of snow removal).

When February arrived, I started working part-time at the shop.  Within a month, I was full-time.  A year later, I was the Service manager.  I worked there until 1999, when I found it necessary to get a "real" job, and pay the bills, once I had been divorced for a while. 

The money was never good,  but I wouldn't trade my years at that shop for anything.

Funny how a two-week vacation can change your life...


Friday, April 29, 2011

Associate Collector - Part Two

At one point, the rental house on Iliff, which you can see from my back yard, was occupied by a rather interesting guy who was known to his associates as "Scary Gary".  Gary was about 55 years old, and had never held more than a temporary part-time job in his life.  He had drifted into Colorado a few years earlier, from Iowa, and had never even registered his truck in Colorado.  He was, as we say, "flying under the radar".

Gary made a living, of sorts, through a little casual drug-dealing, day-labor work, and metal scrapping.  He was one of those guys who drives through the alleys, picking up discarded bed frames, etc., from the dumpsters.  Once his truck was filled with scrap, he would take it to the recycler and sell it.

One of the things he did differently than a lot of the scrappers, though, was he brought bicycles home rather than taking them directly to the recycle yard.  He would separate the alloy parts from the steel, and get more money that way than he would if he sold them in one piece.

He came wandering over, one day, as I was out in the yard (this was before I built my fence), and asked me if I wanted to look at some bikes.  He had seen me working on bikes, and figured I might want to see them before he disassembled them.

I followed him to the shed, where he had a pile of bikes.  There were mostly Huffys and Murrays, nothing really worth saving, except...

There was a Specialized StreetStomper, the bike that Scott had ramrodded through at Specialized, with the original StreetStomper tires still on it!  I couldn't believe it.

"What do you want for this?" I asked Gary.  Then, I told him why I wanted it.

"Hell, man, just take it for your buddy.  I picked it up in an alley. I ain't out no money," he said.

So, we rolled it over to my back porch, and I went into the kitchen and grabbed a six-pack of beer I had happened to buy the day before.  I gave the beer to Gary, and told him I felt like I had to give him something.

So, I found one of the most rare Specialized bikes that there is, one that had a really strong personal meaning for Scott, and got it for the cost of a six-pack of Fat Tire.

And, Gary insisted on sharing the beer with me, so I guess I actually got it for 3 bottles of ale.  Not too bad.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Associate Collector - Part One

Scott worked at Specialized Bicycles throughout most of the 1980s.  The mountain bike was taking over the bike world, and Specialized led the way with the StumpJumper, in 1981.  Research and Development was huge, at the Big Red S.  "Innovate or Die" was the company motto.

While he was there, Scott saw the development of a number of iconic models (StumpJumper, Allez, RockHopper) and some not-so-iconic models (StreetStomper, RockCombo). 

In fact, Scott was mostly responsible for the StreetStomper model.  He pushed for its inclusion in the line, and even came up with the name.  It was, essentially, the same concept in 1988 as the Bridgestone CB series which came along in 1991.  And, it sold about as well.  Like the RockCombo, it was a one-year-only model.

Still, Scott was proud that he had actually gotten it into production.  And, he was proud to have been a part of the company while they were leading the bike industry into a new era.

A few years ago, Scott decided to try to collect one example of each of the bikes Specialized developed while he was there.  He already had quite a few, so he was filling in the holes. 

One day, shortly after Scott told me of his budding collection, I went to a yard sale.  Sitting to one side of the yard, covered in cobwebs and sitting on two flat tires, was a 1983 (I think) StumpJumper Sport.  This was the secondary Stumpy model, which ended up being re-named as the RockHopper, the next year.

I asked the yard-saler what she wanted for the bike.  I figured that if it was less than $100, I might be able to pick it up for Scott.

"I want a dollar for that," she said.

"One?  One dollar?" I asked, wondering if I had mis-heard her.

"Yeah.  It's so old, nobody in my family wants it.  I'd give it to you, but it is a yard sale, after all," she said, with a smile.

Impeccable logic.

So, I paid her the dollar, and wheeled the bike out to the truck.

Later, I dropped by the shop to see if Scott was there.  He was, so I rolled the bike in and showed it to him.

"Wow!  I wish I could find one of these," he said.  "I need it for my collection."

"I know," I told him.  "It's yours.  I bought it for you.  But, it was pretty expensive.  I'll need you to pay me back."

"How much was it?"

I thought his jaw was going to hit the floor when I told him I had spent a whole dollar on it.

So, Scott got one of the empty spots in his collection filled in.  And, I felt pretty good for finding it.

He never did pay back my dollar, though...


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's For You

I loved working in a bike shop for a number of reasons.  But, I think the primary reason was the same reason for loving my coffee shop:  I like working with the customers.

But, you occasionally have a customer who makes it hard to like them.  I had one such, at Destinations, one day.

This guy called up, with a complaint, and I took the call.  As Service manager, that was part of my job, so whoever answered the phone passed it along to me.  I really can't even recall what the complaint was, but I can tell you that the guy on the other end of the line was not looking for a solution.  He had called up in order to bitch, and nothing I could say was going to help.

Still, I tried.  But, no matter what I said, no matter what I offered to do to make him happy, he wasn't satisfied.

Finally, he pulled the trump card of irate customers, and demanded to "speak to the owner".  So, I put him on hold, and yelled to Scott, in the office, "Scott...this asshole just has to talk to you."

Unfortunately, I had hit the "Intercom" button, rather than the "Hold" button on the phone.  I realized it, just after the words left my mouth.

I then actually put the phone on Hold, so Scott could answer it, and just collapsed in laughter.  I knew that I was in trouble, but I still found it hilarious.

After he got off of the phone, Scott came to me.

"Luckily for you, that guy really was an asshole," he said.  "Don't ever let that happen, again!"

And, I didn't.  In fact, I took it to heart that how we referred to customers among ourselves, even when they couldn't hear us, mattered.  I made it a rule that we refer to customers as "fellows" and "ladies",rather than the coarser-sounding "guys" and "women", in the shop.

I think that it actually resulted in us being a friendlier, more respectful Service Department. 

Too bad I had to be an asshole to realize that I needed to be more respectful, full-time.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Experience vs. Ability

One of the few things in this world which I will claim to be pretty good at is wrenching on bikes.  I have a feel for it, and I like to get ahold of a bike that other mechanics have deemed "unfixable", and figure out how to make it right.

But, I do know my limitations, and I will occasionally admit defeat.  In fact, I recently turned down an offer to work on some pro-level mountain bikes because I have fallen behind the curve on suspension and hydraulic brakes.

I have known a couple of other good mechanics, through the years.  For instance, no one holds a candle to Jimmy West, as far as I'm concerned. 

And, I have met a few so-so mechanics who were convinced that they were God's gift to spanners.  One of those guys worked at Destinations, part-time, when I first started working there.

Now, I didn't know everything there was to know about working on bikes, back then (and still don't), but it constantly annoyed me that Scott would call this other guy (let's call him David Daas) over, every time I paused to figure something out.

"Let David handle that.   He knows what he's doing."

And, David made sure that everyone in the place knew that he was "Mechanico Numero Uno", every chance he got.

One day, I was working right along and David came in, on his day off, to work on one of his personal bikes.  He had a frame, which took a 26.8 mm seat post, and he wanted to use a 27.2 mm Campy seat post in it.  His plan was to use the seat tube reamer and enlarge the inside diameter of the tube to make the larger post fit.

"That won't work...will it?" I said to him.  "The tube isn't that thick."  It was a lugged steel frame from the late 1980s, with a pretty nice tubeset.

"It'll work fine.  Once you've been in the business as long as I have, you'll be able to figure these things out, too," came the patronizing response.

So, David set to work.  He took a little material out out the tube, then tested the post.

Not quite.

He took some more out.

Close, but no cigar.

As he reamed the tube for the third time, I heard him quietly say, "Crap!"

I turned around and looked his way.  He was staring at the frame in the stand.  One cutting edge of the hone was protruding through the surface of the seat post.

"I didn't think that would work," I said.

"Didn't think what would work?" Scott asked, as he walked by.

After hearing the story, Scott never again sent David over to finish my work.  I may not have had as much experience as him, but I think I may have a little more sense...


Monday, April 25, 2011

You Meet the Nicest People on a Fixed Gear

I wash my clothes at a laundromat, since my house is a. too small for a washer/dryer, b. has no washer/dryer hookup and c. is not wired for 220 volt (for a dryer).  Plus, I really prefer going to a place with multiple washers and dryers, twice a month, rather than washing one load at a time 6 times a month.

Anyway, I usually take something along with me to keep me occupied, while the clothes are in the dryer.  Sometimes, I take a sketchbook.  Other times, I take a guitar and sit out in the back of the truck and play.

One particular day, I took a fixed gear bike.  I was working on riding backwards circles, so I figured I'd just do a little practice in the parking lot.

As I did so, an older gentleman walked up and watched me, for a couple of minutes.  Finally, as I once again failed to make the full 360 degrees, he spoke to me.

"Is that a solid gear?" he asked.

"Solid gear?"  I said.  "I guess so.  It's what we call a 'fixed gear', nowadays.  It doesn't freewheel."

"We called 'em 'solid gears', back when I was a messenger," he said.

Now, I was interested.  So I quizzed him a bit, about his messengering days.

He told me that he had been a bike messenger, in the 1930s, when he was 10 to 12 years old.  Though he mostly delivered packages in the downtown Denver area, he sometimes made deliveries as far away as Lakewood and Morrison, a round trip of over 50 miles...on a fixed gear...on mostly unpaved 10 years old!

I sat and listened to his stories for as long as he would tell them.  All the while, I was kicking myself for not having a portable recorder.  I figured I would see him, again, at the laundromat, though and then maybe get to take notes or record some of his tales.

But, of course, I never saw him again.  That laundromat closed, not too longer afterward, so I have no idea if I'll ever meet the old gent, again.

I sure was lucky to meet him that one time, though.  Living history!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sulphur Suffer

The first summer that we lived in Colorado, Val and I drove up to Hot Sulphur Springs, in Grand County, for the annual city festival and mountain bike race.  It was to be my first mountain bike race at altitude, and I was a little nervous about it.  But, it looked like it might be fun, so I put my fears behind me and headed up.

The day was gorgeous the way that sunny, warm summer days are in the Rockies.  The sky overhead was a cobalt blue, with a few puffy white clouds floating along, and the sun was blazing down.  I put on some sunscreen, and got ready for the race.

The course was pretty interesting.  As the Starter explained it, we would make a circuit through town, on city streets, with a detour through City Park.  There, the fire department had hosed down the trail, producing a huge mud pit that we would have to negotiate, before heading back through town and out onto the 15 mile loop of singletrack/jeep trail/cow pasture that made up the off-road portion of the race.

The gun went off, and the 100, or so, racers took off.  We sprinted down the street, made the left and plunged into the park/mud pit.  There, the majority of the 500 people who lived in town were gathered to watch us splash through the sticky pit.  Water balloons and Super Soakers, wielded by some of the local youngsters, added to the fun.

From the park, we turned left once again, and headed down the street to a gate in the fence around a huge pasture.  Once in the pasture, we were all racing toward to converging lines of yellow emergency tape which would funnel us through another gap in the fence and onto a Jeep trail. 

As we raced across the pasture, I was part of the lead group, holding onto 4th or 5th place as we bumped across the open field.  I was feeling good, and I was amazed to be so far toward the front.  Then, the guy in front of me stuck his front wheel into a hole, and went cartwheeling off of his bike.

His bike flew up into the air, and his back wheel caught me squarely in the chest.  I was knocked backward off of my bike, and the dominoes started to fall.  Before it was over, there were about 20 of us on the ground, and the rest of the pack was thundering by as we tried to figure out just what had happened.

I got back on the bike, and took off in pursuit of the race.  But, I had lost so many places, I could never hope to get back into the frontrunners.  So, I settled in and just rode my best pace.  I reeled in a few guys, got passed by a few guys, and ended up coming in at my customary mid-pack position.

I was happy with that.

After the race, I changed clothes and asked Val if she wanted to get something to eat at the local grill.  We went in, and sat down in a booth with unpadded seats.  Ouch!  I immediately noticed that I had sat on a nail, or a splinter, or something...

I got up and looked, but there was nothing there.

I sat back down.  Same thing:  I felt like I was sitting on something pointy and sharp.

After inspecting the bench again, I figured I had better inspect myself.  So, I went into the restroom and dropped my pants.  Looking in the mirror, I could see that I had the coolest bruise, ever, on my right butt-cheek.  Apparently, the nose of my Flite saddle had center-punched my cheek, during the big crash.  It had made the the most perfect round bruise, which showed up as concentric rings of varying shades of purple (from lilac to almost black, outside to center), that I had ever seen.

 I came out of the restroom laughing, and Val asked what was so funny.  I described it to her, but she didn't seem as impressed as I was. 

Later, when we got home and she saw it, Val had to admit was pretty impressive.

"Too bad you can't show it to anybody else," she said.

She had never worked in a bike shop.

Before the week was out, at least 25 people had asked to see it, at the shop.  And, I'm not too shy to show off a good bruise, wherever it is.

I just wish I had thought to take a picture of it.  It was a work of art.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Invisibility Ray

Valerie was never a very strong bicyclist.  She tended to ride at a fairly slow pace, for me, and really didn't like to go off-road.  The few times that I took her mountain biking, she would become very frustrated because she was struggling and I, riding at her pace, would never even get out of breath (much less break a sweat).

After we had lived in Colorado, for a while, I decided to try and get her to ride more, and show her some of the natural beauty that she was missing.  So, I took her to Waterton Canyon.

The Waterton Canyon ride starts out on an old railroad grade, along the South Platte River.  This grade is maintained by Denver Water as a service road, which leads to the Strontia Springs Dam, 6.5 miles from the parking lot.  There, the road turns steeply uphill, and leads to the Colorado Trail trailhead.

The canyon, as you ride along the gently sloping road (railroad grades are very gradual, due to the climbing limitations of trains), is pretty spectacular.  The canyon walls are very steep, and the canyon is narrow at the bottom.  In many places, the flat part of the canyon consists of the riverbed and the road, with near-vertical walls on each side.

As you ride along, it is not unusual to see trout swimming in the water, deer on the slopes, or a herd of mountain sheep wandering around like, well, a herd of sheep.  Eagles and hawks fly overhead, and the occasional fox will streak across the road.  I figured that Val would enjoy it.

To make her feel better about her pace, I rode the high-wheeler.  On the gravel road, it would be a pretty good effort for me to ride along at her speed, plus I always enjoyed riding that bike.  I figured that would put us on equal-enough footing that Val could stop being self-conscious, and enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take the "circus act effect" into account.  We were riding on a busy Sunday afternoon, when the canyon sees a lot of traffic, both on foot and bike (along with a few equestrians).  As we rode up the road to the dam, rider after rider pulled up beside me to ask me about the bike, tell me it was cool, ask how I was managing to ride the gravel etc, etc.

The farther we rode, the less happy Valerie looked.  I tried pointing out interesting sights, and talk to her about the history of the canyon, and such, but she ended up just riding along in a fuming silence.

All that time, we were constantly interrupted by people riding up next to me to talk about the bike.

We got to the dam, and sat down on the rocks, overlooking the river.

"What's wrong?" I asked her, for the 20th time.  I was somewhat put out that, even though I had gone to such effort to make this a good experience for her, Val just seemed to refuse to enjoy herself.

"It's like I'm not even here," she said, frowning.

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "I've been talking to you all the way up the road.  It's not like I'm ignoring you."  (That's what I thought she meant.)

"All those people riding up to talk to you don't even know I'm here.  They almost run over me to get close enough to talk to you."

"It's like I'm invisible."

Needless to say, she never again wanted to ride with me while I was on the high-wheeler.

Back to square one, trying to get her on the bike...


Friday, April 22, 2011

I Useta Be a Stunt Driver, Maaan!

We were in Moab for a few days, and one thing I really wanted to do was ride Pocupine Rim, without having to ride Sand Flats Road to get there.  The last couple of times that we had done the loop, we had done the whole 38-mile loop, including the dirt road ride to the trailhead. 

Now, I like riding gravel roads, and all, but I find that riding the washboard road all the way to the trailhead tires me out enough that I don't enjoy the trail, as much.  So, we decided to pop for a shuttle ride.

The guy who runs the shuttle is named Randy, and he is an interesting character.  He showed up at Poison Spider Bikes to pick us up, in an old VW bus.  He was the essential long-time hippie who has settled into the bike world in Moab.  He was wearing sandals, of course, cut-off shorts, t-shirt and a long graying pony tail. 

We loaded up the bikes, and took off.

If you have ever driven from Moab, up Sand Flats past the Slickrock Trail and to the Porcupine Rim Trailhead, you know that the road is one of those which requires a little caution.  It is windy, hilly, dusty and wash-boarded all to hell.  Randy, however, drove it like he was moving his car in the driveway.

"Hey, I useta be a stunt driver, man!"  he yelled over the rattling of the bus, as we careened down the road at 45 mph.  He was turned halfway around in the driver's seat, looking back at us in the passenger's seats.

"Looks like you still are," I said back to him.

He spent the next five miles regaling us with stories of doing photo-shoots for the GM HumVee, and getting the Hummer 6 feet into the air on the jumps, riding motorcycles while smoking herb, etc.  Occasionally, he would actually look forward, at the road, fishtail the bus around whatever it was that his ESP had made him look around at, then turn back to us and continue his stories.

We made it to the trailhead, in one piece, somehow, and unloaded the bikes.  Randy gave us a jaunty wave as he headed back to town, and we took off down the trail.  It was nice to tide the trail a little more physically fresh than normal.

And, I had so much adrenaline flowing through me, after that bus ride up, that actually put in a pretty quick climb to High-Anxiety Overlook!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Competition and The Lack Thereof

By the mid 1990s, Shimano ruled the world of OEM bicycle equipment manufacturing.  SunTour had suffered a slow, lingering death in the U.S. market, and the European makes, such as Campy and Mavic, were simply too expensive for the mass market.  Virtually every bicycle that we sold at the shop was equipped with Shimano components.

Oh, sure, there were a smattering of models which used the SRAM GripShift shifters, or DiaComp brakes, but the balance of the components on those bikes were Shimano, without fail.  I got really tired of seeing Shimano, everywhere I looked.  So, when my new Specialized S-Works M2 frame came in, I set about building a "Nomano" bike; a bike with absolutely no Shimano components. 

What's more, I wanted to make it as nearly All-American as possible.  Even if the parts weren't actually manufactured in the U.S., I wanted to buy from American companies.

That doesn't sound like such a big deal, nowadays.  SRAM offers numerous lines of bike gruppos that compete with the Big S in every way.  Numerous affordable cranksets are on the market, now.  And, it's hard to keep up with the wheel companies popping out mountain bike wheelsets.

But, in 1995, it was darn near impossible to find some non-Shimano parts.  At least, it was darn near impossible to find those non-Shimano parts which were affordable to the average Joe and which were also usable in actual off-road situations.  Add in the "American" angle, and it became even harder.

Brakes were easy.  I was pals with Joe Glader, at the time.  He owned Prototype Engineering, and produced a line of cnc'd brakes and brake levers.  I told him what I was up to, and he set me up to be a tet-rider on the Joe's Derailleur, which he was developing.  He was having a heck of time coming up with a workable design which didn't infringe on anyone's patents, so he would put prototypes on local riders' bikes, in exchange for feedback.

For a front derailleur, I went to Germany.  Well, not literally.  But, I went with a Sachs New Success front changer.  There was no American product on the market .  (Eventually, SRAM bought Sachs, and started branding these derailleurs as their own, so I got my American product by default.)

For wheels, I used AC hubs and Sun rims.  The spokes were DT.

I also went with AC for cranks.  They were a cool-looking webbed I-beam design.

GripShift shifters, Sachs chain, Gore cables, Profile handlebars, Specialized ti stem, and an Aheadset brand threadless headset rounded out the moving bits.  The seatpost came from England (U.S.E, suspension post), and the seat from Italy (Selle Italia Flite).

The hardest non-Shimano part to come up with, at that time, proved to be the cogset.  There was really no high-quality, mass produced cogset ,which would compete with the Shimano product, available.

So, I threw affordability to the wind and got some SRP ti cogs.

Tires were Gernman.  The tubes were from Taiwan (all of them are, it seems).

So, while I could not put together an All-American, I did manage to build the only new, high-performance non-Shimano mountain bike in town, in 1995.

A few people told me, in no uncertain terms, how foolish it was to spend all that money just to spite a huge corporation which would never even know about it, anyway.  But, they missed the point.  I wasn't trying to spite anyone.  I simply wanted to prove that there was a choice to be made, if one wished to make it.

Fifteen years later, most of the mountain bikes in the shops still come equipped with Shimano components.  But, many do not.  And, if you don't wish to go with Shimano, there are plenty of alternatives available.  But, I am not such an egomaniac to think that it is somehow because of what I did:  What I did was not a cause of any change in the market, it was symptom of the forces which brought about that change.

Mountain bikers like to convince themselves that they are the mavericks of the cycling world.  That's hard to do if you are forced to ride a bike with exactly the same components as every other bike on the trail.

Funny thing is:  Now that there is an easily-available range of choices in equipment, I find myself using more and more Shimano parts.  The competition with the other companies has forced Shimano to trickle-down it's high-end technology a lot more quickly than in the past.  And that makes it easier to build a high-quality, high-performance, yet affordable, bike than ever before.

Here's to fair competition in the Free Market!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Patches? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Patches!

What a bummer, as I walk into my office and notice that my rear tire is flat.  Time to bust out the patch kit.  Only problem:  I seem to have lost the patch kit out of my pannier.

I could always use the spare tube.  No.  Wait.  I already used it.  The tube in the bag has a rather large hole in it.  Now what?

Well...I have some Contact Cement in the lab.  And, I have the old tube.

So...time to cut some pieces(three, in this instance) from the old tube.  Apply contact cement to the tube and the rubber scraps from the old tube.  Wait 15 minutes, then press together.

Looks good.  I think I'll wait about 5 minutes before I air it up, though.

Six minutes later, and the tube is inflated inside of the tire.  Will it hold?

Heck, yeah!

Dang goathead thorns!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Role Model

The last year that I was in college, I got a job tending bar in one of the local poolhall/bars; a place called Cadillac's.  Now, Cadillac's was not a "Family Fun Zone" type of poolhall.   It was, basically, a biker bar with 6 regulation-sized pool tables in it.

Most of the regulars were the hard-drinking sorts that you would expect to find in such a joint.  There were the old coots who showed up at 8:00 A.M. and bought their quarts of Pabst to nurse all day as they played chess, and there were the bikers and the college kids.  The occasional pool shark would float through and fleece a few of the locals, before moving on, too.

But, there was one guy, who showed up at least 3 times a week, at about 7:00 P.M., who stood out from the crowd.  He brought his dog with him, for one thing.  The dog, named Alex, was a celebrity in the bar.  He was a nice old Border Collie who knew how to play the crowd.  He would come in, walk around the room, shaking hands with anyone who offered to, and then he would curl up by the door and keep his eye on the crowd.

But what stood out to me, more than Alex, was that his owner rode to the bar on a different sort of bike than the greasers on their Harleys.  He had an old Raleigh Sports 3-speed, which he pulled inside and parked near the door, where Alex stood guard until time to go home.

In all the time I spent at Cadillac's, I never saw anyone else ride a bicycle in.  A few guys rode their Harley's through, on occasion, and nobody blinked an eye. 

But everyone noticed the guy on the push-bike.


Monday, April 18, 2011

In Boxing, You Lead With Your Left

On a bicycle, I tend to lead with my face.

I've already told the story where I ran into a parked car and smashed my chin on the fender ridge.  And, I recounted the time that I gapped my chin open, in Moab, and alarmed the patrons of Eddie McStiff's as my blood dripped from my beard at the table.

One day, as I was on my way to work at the bike shop, I stopped in at The Java Cup for a hot latte.  The temperature was in the brisk 20s, and I was a bit chilled.  While I was there, Eric Potter showed up, also on his way to work at the shop.

We finished our lattes, and got ready to leave and ride the rest of the way together.  As we went out the door, Eric asked if I minded if we stopped by the bank, just down the road.  He had spent the last of his pocket money on his drink, and wanted to stop at the ATM.

It was fine with me, so we took off down Main Street, and made a left into the bank parking lot.  As I entered the parking lot, I was following Eric, and slightly to his right.  I saw his back wheel slip just a bit, on the edge of a patch of black ice.  Unfortunately, I wasn't on the edge of the ice.

My front wheel washed out from under me, and I went straight down to the icy pavement with my hands still on the brake hoods of my cross bike commuter.  The first thing that hit was my left cheek, and I got a nice little strawberry on it, about an inch and a quarter in diameter.  Otherwise I was unhurt.

Oddly, my helmet never touched the ground.  In fact, in all the crashes I have suffered on a road bike, I have yet to have the helmet come into play (with the exception of the one which took the windshield out of the Mercedes on Parker Road).  That is, in fact, one of the reasons that I count myself as a "helmet agnostic", on  the road.

I won't mountain bike (or ride a motorbike) without a helmet.  But virtually the only time I wear a helmet on my road bike is during my commute (more for Public Relations than any idea that it makes me safer), or when there is snow and ice on the road (which makes road biking more akin to mountain biking than anything else).

It's not a popular attitude, my doubting the efficacy of bike helmets.  But it is mine, well thought out and formed over a number of years.  Your mileage may vary.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Can't Drive 55

But, I can ride a mountain bike at 55 mph.

In the mid-90s, when I working at Destinations Cyclery, the guys at the shop and I did a lot of mountain biking on the motorcycle trails in the Rampart Range area.  To get to our starting point, we drove up Jackson Creek Road, until we reached Rampart Range Road.  There, we would park the car, and unload the bikes.

The trails up there were a lot of fun.  You could hear the motorcycles coming from a distance, so we would just get off the trail and let them go by.  So, we never had any trail-user conflicts with those guys.  Hikers stay off of those trails, because of the motorcycles, so we never had to worry about coming around a corner and encountering hikers.

Once we got back to the car, we would typically decide who was driving down, and the rest of us would take off down the road, toward Castle Rock.  It wasn't totally a downhill, but the last two or three miles dropped a couple of thousand feet, and had a lot of curves (some of them close-to-180-degree switchbacks).  The gravel was usually deep enough to put you into a power-slide on the fast turns, and the washboard was wicked in places.  It was a heck of a fun ride.

The last 1/2 mile, or so, before the road flattened out was a straight 15% slope that allowed you come out of the last turn and just gun it for all you were worth.  Our goal was always to hit 60 mph, but the washboard had a way of scrubbing off your speed even as you pedaled your heart out.

But, one particular day, things almost came together.  I was riding my Specialized S-Works FSR, the road had been recently graded and I think I must have had a tailwind.  Anyway, I came down the straight with my head down, pedaling for all I was worth.  I passed whoever was in front of me (I think it might have Brian), and got into a bit of a wobble.  But, I pulled out of it, and coasted to a halt. 

As the rest of the guys caught up to me, we all compared our "max speed" readouts on our cyclometers.  Two or three of the guys had topped 50 mph, but we were all surprised to see that mine read 55.8 mph!

It was one of the few times that I was ever the fastest on the bike, with that group...and it felt good!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weight-loss Secret

Back in the 90s, there were a few trends that came and went in the mountain bike industry.  Anodized parts, CNC machining and suspension forks flooded the market.

Another trend, due in part to the sudden availability of those lightweight machined parts, was something of an arms race in weight reduction.  High-performance mountain bikes in the 1980s routinely weighed in at 30 pounds or more.  Suddenly, in the mid-90s, people started looking for increased mountain bike performance through cutting the weight of the machine.

In some instances, very light weights were achieved, but at a cost.  The term "stupid-light" became well-known and reflected the fact that many of the extremely lightweight parts and frames were underbuilt, in relation to the stresses incurred in off-road bicycling.  Many racing frames, pedals and cranks,  had rider weight limits, and very short, restrictive warranties.

One day, a customer came into the shop, with a Cannondale bike, and wanted me to disassemble it.  Then, he wanted me to have it bead-blasted to remove the paint.

"What color are you going to repaint it?" I asked.

"I'm leaving it raw," he replied.  "I am trying to build it up as light as possible, and I want to remove the weight of the paint."

Well, that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.  But, the customer is always right, as long as the check clears.  So, I pulled the bike apart, and took it over to Blast-Tech.  Before I did, though, I weighed the frame, so that I could show the owner how silly this whole thing was.

Imagine my surprise when I got the stripped aluminum frame back in the shop, and re-weighed it.  The frame was a quarter pound lighter!  That was a weight loss that you would pay hundreds of dollars for, by going to a higher-priced, lighter model.  All it cost this fellow was $50.00 for the paint removal.

A quarter-pound of paint, on a medium-sized frame!  That's one way to make your welds look smooth.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Riding In the Rain

I think I was twelve when I realized how much I like to ride a bike in the rain.  Until then, it was something I had avoided, thinking I wouldn't enjoy it, at all.  Of course, I had occasionally gotten caught by a thunderstorm, while I was out pedaling around, but I always bee-lined it to cover, and tried to stay dry.

On particular rainy April day, in my twelfth year, I really needed to get out of the house.  Things were not going to suit me, and I just wanted some time alone.  So, I put on my cowboy hat, and a plastic rain coat, and got on Big Red.  I figured I'd ride to someplace dry, and just hang out.

But, as I rode down the street, I realized that the air felt great.  It was fresh, and damp, and full of Springtime, if you know what I mean.  So, I pedaled around the neighborhood, aimlessly, listening to the swish of the tires on the wet pavement, and watching my upside-down reflection ride along under me.

I avoided the hilly streets, and didn't try to make any speed.  As long as I was just cruising, the brim of my hat kept the water off of my glasses, and I was happy.

It became a habit of mine to go out and ride, whenever it rained all day (which was common, in the South).  And, I guess I became a bit infamous for it.  I actually had a sustitute teacher ask me if I was "the kid with the hat, riding in the rain".

I was.

I still am.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bike Path Follies

For some reason, I have bad luck on bike paths, sometimes.

Once, I rode a section of the Colorado Trail which runs from Copper Mountain toward Leadville.  I was riding with a group, and we were all riding pretty hard.  Twenty miles of off-road riding went by, with numerous stream crossings on small log bridges, and long stretches riding over rock fields.

I rode all day, without incident.  Then, as we got back to the paved bike trail which would lead us to the cars in the parking lot, I leaned a bit too far to the right, put the muddy part of my tire tread on the pavement, and fell down right in front of everyone.

Much hilarity ensued.

A few of years ago, I was headed over to Mount Falcon, on the Bear Creek Bike Trail.  I was training for the 24 Hours of Moab, and I wanted to get some long rides in.  Riding to the mountain, doing the Five Parks Loop and then riding home would give me a 65 mile ride on a mountain bike.

As I was riding along, I saw a mother and her teenaged daughter pull off of the path, ahead of me.  I slowed down, to a walking pace, and asked if they needed any help.

Then, I lost my balance, couldn't get unclipped from my SpeedPlay pedals, and fell down in a heap.

They didn't need any help, but I'm sure the two women probably thought I needed some.

I don't know what it is about bike paths, but they seem to be hazardous for me!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Worst Race

In 1995 I raced the Leadville 100 for the second time.  The first year, I was pulled by the medical team at the last checkpoint due to hypothermia.  So, for my second attempt, I tried to learn from the previous year's mistakes.

I made sure that Valerie was able to come to the race with me.  Having support, with dry clothes, was a huge advantage over the previous year, when I was in wet clothes all day.  I also actually trained, and trained hard, for about 4 months before the race.  I did 50 to 80 mile mountain bike rides at elevation, twice a week, and rode my ass off around Parker, 4 days a week.  I basically lived on the bike, and got in the best shape of my life.

On the day of the race, I was feeling good.  I went off the line strong, and was feeling really confident by the time I got to the second checkpoint, and refueled with supplied from Val.  I changed into a dry shirt and started the climb to the 50 mile turnaround at the Columbine Mine.

Halfway up the 8 mile climb, I started to feel a bit woozy.  Within 15 minutes, I was bonking hard.  I had food in my jersey pockets, but I had bonked so hard and so fast that I didn't even realize that I had food, at all, much less within reach.

By the time I made the turnaround, and made it back to the Fish Hatchery checkpoint (the last before the finish line), I was so far behind my schedule that I realized I was not going to finish.  If you are still on the trail, after the cut-off time, the sweep crew picks you up in the Broom Wagon and drives you into town.

I couldn't face the Ride of Shame, so I dropped out again, at the same place the med crew had pulled me the year before.

I didn't ride my bike again for 3 months, and I stopped racing, altogether.

I could take being pulled for a medical problem, the first year.  But, after all of the preparation I had gone through, to just not be able to finish was heartbreaking.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Best Race Ever

For a few years, in the mid-90s, I did a bit of mountain bike racing on a pretty regular basis.  Tony Costarella and I would race most of the Winter Park Series, each summer, plus I would hit a few other races as the opportunities showed up.

The final race of the Winter Park Series was always the Tipperary Creek race.  The course was different than the course which was used for the rest of the series.  Rather than doing a number of laps around a loop on the ski resort, the Tipperary Creek course was a 26-mile point-to-point, which ended at the base of the ski hill.

The Start Line was at the softball field in Fraser, a few miles down the highway.  So, most of us who were racing parked at the resort, then rode the highway over to Fraser, maybe 5 miles down the road.  It made for a good warmup before the race started, and the race ended near the car, that way.

The second year that we did the race, Tony and I rode to the start, together, then made plans to meet up at the resort, after we finished.  Tony typically got away from me pretty quickly in these races, and would wait for me near the Finish Line.  He is an ex-pro bmx racer, and had about 4% body fat, at the time.  So, I was always a little out-gunned on the trail.

The gun went off, and we all took off.  The course went down a dirt road for a couple hundred yards, turned left on to singletrack, and then immediately started climbing.  I was feeling the altitude, pretty badly, for some reason, that morning. 

About halfway up the climb, I threw up.  I managed to keep the vomit off of myself, but the guy I was passing was not so lucky.

"Sorry!"  I gasped, as I continued on.  Throwing up had made me feel 100% better, and I actually picked up the pace as the climb continued.

The rest of the race was a fun ride.  I was feeling good, my legs were snappy, and my stomach was finally happy.

I got to the finish, and sprinted through the gate, as the announcer called my name and number.  I was mid-pack, again, and happy about that.  Mid-pack in a 100-person race is about all I ever hoped for.  Lots of the other guys actually trained for racing, whereas I raced in order to check my fitness level.

I looked around for Tony, but I couldn't find him.  I grabbed a beer and, hung around at the Finish Line.  I figured Tony had heard my name, and would probably come looking for me.

Half an hour later, I heard a surprising announcement over the loudspeaker, "Coming in to the finish...Number 263, Tony Costarella!"

I had actually beaten Tony to the finish, and by a pretty large margin.

"Did you have a flat?  Mechanical problems?"  I asked Tony, as he got off his bike.

"What?  How did you get here?"  Tony was as surprised as I was that I had beaten him.  He hadn't had any mechanical problems, I had just out-ridden him.

No matter where I was in the overall standings, I felt like I had won the race.  I should throw up on the bike, more often.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage

It was a hot day, and I was feeling the burn as I made the turn from the South Platte Trail onto the Cherry Creek Trail at Confluence Park.  I was 40 miles into a 65 mile loop, mostly on bike trails.  It's not that hard of a ride, usually, but I had made it a bit more of a challenge by doing it on the high-wheeler.

I owned a coffee shop, down in Parker, at the time, and I didn't get a lot of chances to ride.  So, when I did ride, I often took the 48" BoneShaker.  It was not only a lot of fun, but it also was a lot more effort to ride.  In essence, it was condensing bicycling down to the purest form possible.

I headed south on the Cherry Creek trail, and I was dying for something cold, plus I was getting hungry.  Suddenly, I saw my salvation on the street above the creekside trail.  Burger King!

I took the ramp up to street level, and backtracked to the King's parking lot.  I leaned the big bike up against the window, so I could keep my eye on it, and went in.  Two minutes later, I was sucking down a Burger King choco-flavored partially gelatinated non-dairy gum-based beverage, or what you might think of as a milkshake (if it had any milk in it, at all).

It was good.  It was so good, in fact, that I started making that BK a regular stop on my highwheeler rides.  Nothing gets you home like a cold frosty one, on a hot day!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Solitaire Confinement

When I  was 7 or 8 years old, I decided I wanted to put a card in my spokes, like the older kids up the street.  But, not just any card would do.  It had to be the Ace of Spades.

So, I went in the house, found the playing cards, and pulled the Death Card out.  A couple of seconds with a clothespin later, and I was in business.

I went up to the Dead End, and clickety-clacked my way around for awhile.  All of the other kids admired my choice of card and, for once, I was the cool one.  But, pretty soon, the card got floppy, and wouldn't buzz against the spokes, no matter how I positioned it.  So, I tossed it in the culvert and forgot about it.

A few days later, my daddy was sitting at the table, playing Solitaire.  Game after game went by, without a win.  Eventually, he counted the cards and found there was only 51. 

"Well, no wonder I can't win," he said, slamming the cards down.

I was petrified that he was going to turn to me and ask why I had stolen the Ace of Spades out of the deck.  But, he just went and got a new, unopened, deck and continued playing.

I never told him that I had taken the card.  But, I did act grateful when he gave me the deck of 51 case I wanted to try putting a card in my bike spokes.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

My First Bonk

If you've ever experienced a full-blown bonk during a bike ride, it needs no explanation.  If you are lucky enough to never experienced the pleasure, the definition of bonking is that you run your glycogen reserves down to dangerously low levels which results in extreme fatigue, sometimes accompanied by nausea and impaired mental acuity.

At one time, I thought that I had experienced a bonk, or two, in my day.  But then, on a ride I took from our house in Pataskala, Ohio, I found out that I had been mistaken.

I took off from the house with the intention of doing a 25 mile out-and-back that I often did on a weekend afternoon.  The LeJeune was freshly tuned up, the day was gorgeous with temps in the mid-70s and blue skies, and I was ready to ride.  I took off from the house with a bottle of water on the bike and a few Fig Newtons in my jersey pocket, as was my habit for that particular ride.

When I got to my normal turnaround spot, I was feeling good.  I had enjoyed a tailwind for most of the ride, and I was not ready to go home.  So, instead of turning around and heading back north to the house, I turned east and headed toward a loop I had looked at on the map, a few times, but had never ridden.  It looked like a pleasant 50 miles, so I figured a gorgeous day such as the one I was enjoying was the time to check it out.

Road maps are funny things.  They can give you a lot of information, such as the direction to a point, the distance between points, the location of towns, etc.  But, they generally don't show the contour of the land, or predict the direction or strength of the wind.

As I rode east, the terrain turned into rolling hills.  None of them had any real big elevation gain, but there were a lot of them, each small elevation gain adding to the next.  Then, the tailwind I had enjoyed on the way out became a quartering headwind, and the temperature began to climb.

By the 35 mile mark, I had long since eaten all of my Fig newtons, and I was running low on water.  I saw no sense in turning around, as I was only 15 miles from the house if I continued on, and 35 miles away if I went back.   Looking back on it, I now know that I was beginning to lose a bit of my mental faculties due to the lack of sugar in the blood:  There was a store 5 miles behind me where I could have doubled back and replenished my water and food.

But, I pressed on, determined to finish my 50 miles.

At about the 60 mile mark, I realized that I must have missed a turn.  I should have already been home!  But, again, it seemed logical to me to just continue on rather than turn around and find the intersection that I had accidentally passed.

Eventually, by blind luck, I found my way back to Pataskala.  It only took me about 3 times of riding past my house to finally remember to turn down my street .

Once in the house, I drank about a gallon of water and wolfed down some pb&j.  Then, I went upstairs and lay on the floor in the bedroom, with my feet on the bed, hoping that would let the acid flush from my leg muscles and prevent cramps.  Unfortunately, when I decided to get up and use the bathroon about 20 minutes later, I couldn't get up.  Every time I moved, something cramped.

I was stuck on the floor, and I was really beginning to need to pee.  All the water I had drunk, trying to rehydrate, was going right through me.

Luckily, Valerie came home from shopping before I had to wet my pants, and helped me get up.  I was still a little loopy, and had a hard time explaining to her what was going on.  She thought I was stumbling drunk, at first, but finally came to understand what I was telling her.

"That explains why your bike is lying in the driveway, I suppose, " she said.

I've only bonked like that once, or twice, in all the years since (most notably on the climb to the 50-mile turnaround in the Leadville 100).  I've been pretty intent on avoiding making a real bonk a regular thing.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Any Lock Is Better Than No Lock

When we were freshmen in college, Johhny,  Wes and I all took bicycles to school with us.  We planned on riding them to class, maybe roaming around town on them, etc.  You know, the usual bike stuff.

Johhny had a green Schwinn Varsity, Wes had an orange Huffy or Roadmaster 10 speed of some sort, and I had a red Triumph 10-speed which I had bought that summer, specifically to take to school.  The Triumph had cottered cranks, one of which was perpetually loose on the spindle, steel wheels and a Brooks B-17 saddle.  The other guys made fun of my saddle, and taunted me about how comfortable their padded saddles were.  I could never convince them that the Brooks was comfortable to me, in much the same way that it's hard to convince some people now.

I was always the worry-wart in the bunch (I get that from my daddy), and I bought a chain and a lock for my bike before we even went off to school.  I was appalled to see that neither Wes nor Johnny had brought locks for their bikes.  So, I convinced them, after a lot of nagging, to get some locks so that their bikes wouldn't disappear while they were in class.

I noticed, though, that I would often see one of their bikes sitting outside of a a class building, unlocked.

"Somebody's going to steal your bike," I'd say.

"Well," Johhny would say, "if somebody wants yours, they'll just break your chain and take it."

And, that could have happened.  The chain and padlock I had were not real secure.  The chain was not much thicker than what you would use as the base of a charm bracelet, and the lock was of only a slightly higher quality than the locks you got out of gumball machines for a dime.  But, it was what they sold in a package as a "bike lock", at the time.

One day, we all three rode over to the Biology Building for class.  We had all three ended up in the same Freshman Biology class, together, somehow.  I locked my bike, and the other two just walked in.

When we came out, my bike was still sitting there.  You can probably guess the rest.

My chain and lock were cheap, and would have been easy to break.  But it wouldn't have been as easy as just wheeling two unlocked bicycles away.  The lesson learned is that you don't necessarily a "good" lock.  You just need the best lock on the bike rack.  Thieves will almost always take the easy pickings.

Neither one of those guys ever bought another bike.  I kept that Triumph until I moved to Ohio, where I sold it to a co-worker.  He got drunk and rode it into a tree, and broke the frame.

I've always felt bad that I let the bike down, after all those years, and sold it to someone who didn't take care of it.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

My First Fixed-Gear Mountain Bike Ride

Dave, another rider whose name escapes me (let's call him Chuck), and I were riding the Mary's Loop/Lion's Head trails, west of Fruita when Dave's rear hub developed a little problem.  It was a Hugi hub, with the fancy "stairstep" drive, rather normal ramps and pawls.  Those hubs were capable of withstanding massive loads of torque, due to the multiple drive points of the design.

Unfortunately, the design is prone to failure, if the lube in the hub is too thick, or dirt infiltrates the drive.  And, that's what happened.  Suddenly, Dave's hub was freewheeling in both directions.

We sat on the side of the trail, scratching our heads.  We were 8 or 9 miles from the truck, so we didn't want to walk out.

I looked at Chuck's pedals and took note that he was using toeclips and straps.  I asked him for a toe-strap.  Then, I wove it through the slots in the big cog, and the spokes of the wheel, which locked the cogset to the hub.

Dave didn't feel confident that he could ride the trail with a fixed hub.  So, we swapped wheels, and started down the trail.  It was an odd ride;  I couldn't coast, of course, but I could shift gears.  I was a bit slower than normal (hard to imagine), but the ride was actually pretty fun.

Dave and Chuck rode on ahead, when we got to the frontage road, and I spun along in a medium gear until I met them coming back in Dave's truck.

Since then, I have had a couple of single-speed fixed-gear mountain bikes, and I have enjoyed riding them quite a bit.  But, I don't know that I would have ever even tried fixed off-roading, if I hadn't ridden Dave's wheel out, that day.

A little bit of good comes from every difficulty.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Downhill All The Way

I got an email, today, from Jesse Swift, with a picture of a pretty cool Gravity Bike attached.  A Gravity Bike is a bike, with no crank or chain, designed to be raced on a downhill road course.

Back in the mid-80s, before ESPN became the powerhouse sports network that it is, it was a lot more entertaining to me.  Since they didn't have the major sports leagues under contract, the
ESPN programmers had to be pretty creative to fill the broadcast day.  There was a lot of curling, and Unlimited Hydroplane boat racing, and such on the air, pretty much every day.

One of the fringe sports which got a fair amount of coverage was Gravity Racing.  It was a big enough niche, then, that there were actually commercially-available Gravity Bikes from a few bmx manufacturers (pretty much the same guys who were involved in Formula One bike racing).  These were, essentially, bmx bikes, with rear pegs, clip-on handlebars, low-slung motorcycle-style seats and full-coverage fairings.  They really looked like little racing motorcycles, sans motor.

Predating this by about 10 years, I "pioneered" gravity racing in my neighborhood.  I had broken the crank on my poor little purple Buzz Bike, and was saving up to replace it.  But, I still wanted to go to the trails and hit the jumps.

So, I fashioned foot pegs for it, by removing the one-piece Ashatabula crank and the bottom bracket, then jamming a piece of two by four, split down to fit, through the bb shell.  I pushed the bike over to The Trails, and to the top of the downhill portion.  Then, I pushed off and let gravity accelerate me up to jumping speed.  It was a little scary, since I had no brakes (coaster brake only), but it worked like a charm.

The first run, it worked like a charm, anyway.

On the second run, on the third jump down the hill, my wooden foot peg snapped in half.  For once, though, I managed to not crash.  But, I did get...shall we say...intimate with the banana seat.  That was the end of that particular experiment.

I waited another couple of weeks until I had the money for a new crank, then resumed my dirt-jumping activities.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Skid Kids

When I was thirteen, shortly before I got my first motorcycle, I had a purple Western Auto Buzz Bike (a Murray StingRay copy) that I had talked Momma and Daddy into getting for me so that I could go to The Trails and jump the dirt ramps.  The Trails were a partially wooded area, with a network of singletrack weaving through it.  Periodically, the trail would cross a hump, and we would jump those humps like Junior League Evel Kneivels.

Wesley was over for a visit, one day, and we were bored.  There were only about a thousand things we could do to entertain ourselves, but none of them really sounded good, at the time.

Eventually, we got the Buzz Bike out and started trying to ride wheelies in the driveway.  After I looped out one time too many, and broke my watch, we started seeing how far each of us could skid the bike in the street.  One skid got a little out of control and I ended up going across the driveway, off the small drop where the culvert goes under, then across the front yard.

That became part of the game, then.  Who could slide to the edge of the drive, then fly farthest before touching down on the grass, still skidding.  The game was fun, and resulted in a few cool crashes on the grass.

Eventually, I skidded through the rear tire and popped the tube.  That crash was, unfortunately, not on the grass.

Hole in the tire...hole in my jeans...Momma threatening to tear me a new hole...

Good times.


Monday, April 4, 2011


Yeah, it's a bike story.  No boats involved.

The first time I went to Moab, Valerie and I flew from Columbus, Ohio, to Salt Lake City, rented a car, then drove to Moab.  It was the beginning of November, 1991, and the weather had changed for the worse in the Moab area.  Snow was falling, and the wind was picking up as we drove into town.

For the entire week that we were there, the hight temperature in Moab never climbed over 45 degrees F.  The snow-covered cactus were beautiful, and the night sky was awesome, as it always is. But, while the snow was a come-and-go thing, the wind was a constant and never let up.

I was riding my Cannondale Beast of the East, with a nylon disc rear wheel cover.  I had put the cover on, under the impression that it would make the bike more aerodynamic for road riding, and just didn't think to take it off for the trip.

The day that we decided to ride the Slickrock Trail, the wind was particularly vicious, and was gusting up to 55 mph, according to the national Weather Service.  But, we were operating under time constraints, so we decided to ride the exposed rock trail, anyway.

At one point, as we rode the Practice Loop, we were traversing the ridge which leads to Echo Point.  To my left was a 20-feet drop, to the right was about a 200-feet drop into Negro Bill Canyon.  As I rode along the 12 or 15-ft wide ridge of rock, a huge gust of wind came up.

The wind caught my rear wheel cover like a sail, and actually picked the rear end of the bike up off of the ground.  The bike and I then pivoted around the front wheel and headed toward the huge drop down into the canyon.  Luckily, I fell to the ground before I reached the edge.

I've never been so glad to slam my body into a slab of highly abrasive sandstone, in my life.

Back at the motel, that night, I removed the wheel cover.  Better late than never, I suppose.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lightning In Jefferson

Riding in the hills of Colorado, you can accumulate a few good lightning stories, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

We were riding the Colorado Trail from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass, with the mountain bike club, one day when the clouds started to gather above us.  Luckily, we weren't above treeline, at the time, so we felt a little less danger than we might otherwise have.  Still, it gave me a feeling of foreboding to sit in the middle of a meadow, watching the clouds gather in the valley and move our way.

I sent the group ahead, downhill toward the Jefferson Campground Road, and I stayed behind for a couple of minutes.  I always rode at the tail end of the group, so that I would catch up to anyone who was having a problem, and I usually would wait until the last rider had been had out of sight for a couple of minutes before I would take off.  Then, I could ride at my own pace until I caught the slowest rider.

The group disappeared into the trees, and I sat on the trail, watching the aspen leaves flutter in the wind. 
Suddenly, my hair started trying to stand on end,  and BOOM! Lightning hit one of the aspens, about 100 feet from me,  I felt a shock and I fell off of my bike.

I think I caught a little bit of a ground charge, but luckily I didn't get an arc from the tree.  My ears rang for a day, and I was a little shaky for a few hours afterward, but otherwise I didn't experience any ill-effects from the strike.

I had been close to lightning strikes, at other times, but I had never gotten a jolt from it like I did on that day.

And, I hope I never do, again.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Sometimes Think That Professional Cycling Is Ridiculous and Unnecessary

Let's face it, pro racing has been a hotbed of useless, lately.  Doping scandals, accusations of cheating by use of motorized bottom brackets (yeah, I'm not making that up) and the UCI generally just figuratively strutting about like Mussolini on a balcony have really put me off of the whole idea.

But, in the past, pro racing has led to developments which we all take for granted, now.

The quick-release skewer for bike wheels was invented by Tullio Campagnolo, because of difficulty that he experienced at the top of a mountain pass, during a race.  The weather was bad, cold and snowy, as Campagnolo topped the pass on his fixed-gear race bike.  He stopped to unbolt his rear wheel, to reverse it in the frame and utilize the smaller cog on the other side of the wheel, which would allow higher speeds on the descent.  Race bikes did not utilize freewheels, at the time.

But, his hands were so cold that he couldn't manipulate the wrench and the nuts on the axle, and he lost many minutes fumbling around in the cold.  Not long afterward, the Campagnolo Quick-Release hub was on the market.

Greg Herbold, in the 1980s, was a star mountain bike racer.  Greg raced cross-country, but his specialty was downhill racing.  At the time, downhill bikes were very much the same as cross country bikes.  There was no long-travel suspension or disc brakes, at the time, on off-road bicycles.

The shifting duties were handled by thumb shifters, regardless of the type of bike.  I still prefer thumb shifters, myself, but I am not prone to rocketing down rock-strewn, steep, tree-lined downhill courses at maximum speed.  So, moving my thumb to the top of the bar to shift doesn't bother me.

It did bother Herbold.

So, he flipped his thumb shifters to the the underside of his bars, which allowed him to shift without "letting go" of the grip.  It worked so well for him that Greg approached Shimano about developing shifters which hung below the bars, rather than sitting atop them.

Again, I don't care for this type of shifter, but the introduction of the Rapidfire shifter revolutionized the mtb industry.  Nowadays, no major manufacturer produces a race-quality thumb shifter, and nearly every shifter on the market is a version of the Rapidfire design.

So, racing has changed the face of cycling, in one way or another, more than once in the past.  Will it produce another revolution which will change the game for the better, in the future?

One can only hope.  Otherwise, it truly is ridiculous and unnecessary.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Just Because It Can Be Done...

...doesn't necessarily mean it should be done.

After I had bought my Cannondale, in Columbus, and started on my way to becoming a bike mechanic, I decided that I needed an actual road bike.  Riding around the countryside on the big 2.0" Smokes that came on the bike was wearing me out.  But, I didn't want to compromise the bike's off-road capability by putting slicks on it.

So, I started looking around for a road bike.  I didn't even consider buying a new one.  New road bikes, of any quality, were more expensive than I could afford, and I didn't want to invest too much money in my "second" bike. 

(Looking back on it, it seems so odd to me the think that I had two mountain bikes...and that was it.  I look in the rafters of the shop building now, and sorta wish I could return to those times.  But, I can't bring myself to do the "Sophie's Choice" thing and get rid of some of my bikes in order to keep others.  I'm working on it, though.)

Eventually, I came upon a road bike at a Yard Sale that I happened to drive by.  I stopped to look at it, and found that it was my size.  It was a LeJeune, metallic blue-gray, with two flat, cracked tires, alloy wheels, and SunTour components.  (Oddly, the French were first bike manufacturers outside of Japan to spec Japanese parts on their bikes.  The SR crank on this bike was a thing of beauty, too.)

At the time, it was probably 10 years old.  With the 5-speed freewheel on the back, and a double crank, it was a true 10-speed, of the sort which flooded America in the 1970s.

I asked the lady who seemed to be in charge how much the bike was.

"I don't really know," she said.  "It's my sister's, and she just told me to sell it for whatever I could get."

I dug into my pocket, and pulled out my wallet.

"I have three dollars," I told her.

"Sold!" she said, taking my money.

I spent another $30.00, or so, on two new 27x1-1/8" tires and tubes, and an alloy micro-adjust seatpost to replace the chromed steel version the bike came with.  Then, I set about overhauling the bike.

I had bought a copy of "Bicycling Magazine's Guide to Bicycle Repair" at the book store, and it walked me through all the stuff I didn't know how to do.  Finally, after overhauling the bearings in the hubs, bottom bracket and headset, replacing the cables, and cleaning and lubing the chain, and truing the wheels, I got to what I figured was the last thing I needed to do to complete a thorough overhaul:  The Suntour freewheel.

The Bicycling Magazine Guide had a whole chapter devoted to tearing down, cleaning, and reassembling a freewheel.  So, I figured it was a normal part of a "real" overhaul.  Of course, now I know that you typically just blow some solvent through the bearings, let it dry overnight (or blow it dry with an air hose), then drip some light oil into the mechanism to re-lube it.  There's a reason for that.

I sat down in the living-room floor, book on one side of me, beer on the other, and the wheel and tools in front of me.  I took my pin-spanner and chain whip, and removed the outer bearing cone from the mechanism.  Then, following the directions in the book, I carefully lifted the cog carrier off of the freewheel mechanism.

Suddenly, the parquet floor was covered in what I estimate to be somewhere between a million and an infinite number of tiny little ball-bearings, each of which seemed to have a conscious desire to find a hiding place, and damn quick!

I spent the next hour finding ball bearings in the oddest places on the living-room floor.  They were under the couch, under the chairs, stuck to my leg, behind the baseboard.  I was really, really surprised that I was able to find them all. 

An hour later, I had all of the tiny little buggers sitting in place on the bearing races, held in place by a thin coat of Phil Wood Oil.  On the third try, I actually managed to get the cog carrier over them without knocking a half-dozen loose.

That was my first and, I am happy to say, last experience at actually overhauling a multi-speed freewheel.  But, I learned a lot by getting in there and doing the work.  I had a lot better understanding of how freewheel mechanisms work.  And, I was confident that I could learn to do anything involving bicycle mechanics, if I had to.

Mostly, though, I knew better than to ever take apart a freewheel that I was planning on putting back together!