Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rock Star

I've had three different jobs, in my life, which made me feel like a celebrity.  When I was tending bar, during the last year I went to college, I was often recognized on the street by people who frequented the place.  It was actually kind of cool to get friendly greetings from the local biker gang.

As a coffee shop owner/barista, I experienced the same thing.  This time, though, it was cyclists and caffeine freaks, rather than bikers and alcoholics saying hi to me.

But, neither of those compared to when I worked at the bike shop in Parker.  For years, I couldn't go to the grocery store without numerous encounters with people who knew me (even though, I have to admit, I knew very few of them, until they mentioned their specific bike).  Valerie wouldn't go shopping with me, because it annoyed her to have to stop and talk to 15 people in the store.

I have to say that I didn't really mind it.  I liked working with the public, for the most part,.  And I was happy that the public like working with me, for the most part.

I miss that, just a bit...

x

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Christmas In July

The second year I lived here, in Colorado, was the first time I rode my mountain bike above treeline.  It was on the Colorado Trail, at the top of Georgia Pass.

I was still new to the area, and not quite hip to the terrain.  I understood that the temperature was cooler, at higher elevations.  I understood that trees didn't grow above a certain elevation due to the climatic conditions.

Still, I was a Son of The South, and I thought of July as being the month of heat and mosquitoes.  So, when we got to the top of the pass, in the third week of July, and it snowed on us...Well, I was a bit gobsmacked.

Maybe not Christmas in July, but definitely Winter in July.

x

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hard Luck Kid

Some guys just seem to have the worst luck.  If there is gum on the sidewalk, it ends up on the sole of their shoe,  pooping birds seem to be gunning for them, etc.

Jay, one of the members of the mountain bike club, was one of those guys.  In the course of one summer, he had to ride two miles out to the trailhead on a tire I had stuffed full of grass (we finally ran out of patches, after his fourth flat), finished a ride on a handlebar I fixed by jamming a stick into the broken ends to splice it back together, and fell off a bluff after stopping to get a drink of water.

That time, I had to cut a new slot for the shoulder strap on his backpack, so that it could be reattached.

But, he always came back, the week after any of these misadventures.  And, he always seemed to genuinely enjoy the ride, despite his tribulations.

I liked having him along, because it gave me a chance to solve problems:  MacGyver practice, in a way.

x

Thursday, July 28, 2011

No Mechanicals

I rolled up behind three of the club riders who were standing on the trail, looking at a bike.  One of them had crashed, and the derailleur hanger on his bike was bent inward, which forced the derailleur into the spokes.  Luckily, none of the spokes were broken.

I pulled out my CoolTool, and removed the derailleur from the bike.  Then, using the adjustable wrench built into the tool, I bent the hanger back to its (approximate) correct position.  After I replaced the derailleur, I had the rider test it out by riding up the trail and sifting through the gears.  I had luckily gotten the position very close to right, and the indexing was working, so we continued on.

Soon, we came upon another club member.  He had a flat tire.  Three or four minutes later, I was through replacing his tube, and we soldiered on.

Along the way, we encountered another flat tire, and a loose headset.  Both were quickly dispatched.

As we rolled into the trailhead parking lot, Bill (who had ridden ahead with the fast guys) enthused, "What a great ride!  No mechanicals!"

There are never any mechanicals, off the front...

x

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Drip, Drip, Drip...

I once took the mountain bike club down to the Salida area to ride the Monarch Crest Trail. We shuttled up from town and started riding the trail at the parking lot of the ski area. Before too long, we were above timberline, and riding along the high ridge

About the time we cleared the tree line, Inoticed that something was wrong. Water from my CamelBak pack was dripping onto my right butt-cheek. I figured that I had not gotten the lid sealed, on the resrvoir, so I stopped and opened up the pack to check it out.

No, the top was screwed on tight. Maybe the tube was loose at the bottom.

Nope. Tube was on the nipple, all the way.

Then, I saw water drip from the seam of the reservoir. Dang, a real leak.

"Just dump it out, so it won't leak on you," someone said.

"I don't think I want to ride 30 miles with no water," I replied, as I slid the reservoir back into the pack. "I'll just deal with it."

So, I rode all day with water soaking my bike shorts and jersey, on the right-hand side. It was not the most comfortable ride, especially since the temperatures were hovering in the 50's, at the higher altitudes.

It got warmer, as we descended, but I never really got comfortable until we were back at the cars and I was able to change into dry clothes.

I learned a valuable lesson, though. Now, I always keep my CamelBak filled, even between rides. If it develops a leak, I'd rather know about it before I am on the trail.

X

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ewe Have To Be Kidding!

I came around the blind curve on the way back down to the Colorado Trail trailhead, and grabbed a couple of big hands full of brakes.  Tony was lying in the trail, his bike nowhere in sight.

I skidded to a halt, just as Tony started to sit up.

"What happened?" I asked, as he stood up.  "Where's your bike?"

"I don't know, where it is," he replied.

Tony went on to tell me what had happened:  As he had come around the bend in the trail rolling at about 15 mph, a mountain sheep had stepped out of the trees and into the middle of the single-track.  Tony t-boned the sheep, and was launched off of the bike.  Apparently, it knocked him out for a minute, because he had no memory of where the sheep, or his bike, had ended up.

I put my bike to one side, and walked back up the trail a few yards, looking downslope into the underbrush.  Soon, I saw Tony's bike lying in the bushes, 20 feet off of the slope.  I climbed down and got it for him, then we continued down to Waterton Canyon.

I noticed that Tony was going a bit slower, though.  I think he had eaten enough wool, for one day.

x

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Am Nauseating

At least, I have been to a snake.

One day, I was leading a club ride up Waterton Canyon.  We hit the first big climb, past the dam, and everyone was in low gear, creeping along.  A I rode along behind everyone, I looked over at the edge of the road and saw a snake sunning itself.

I wasn't sure what kind of snake it was, but I was certain about what it wasn't.  It was a rattlesnake, so I knew it was harmless.

"Hey, everybody,"  I called out to the group, "look what I found!"

I got off of my bike, and picked the snake up off of the ground.  Lots of oohs and aahs, and a few uncomfortable squeals came from the group as I held the reptile up so that everyone could see.

Suddenly, the snake opened its mouth wide, and it started to convulse rhythmically.

"What's it doing?"  someone asked.

"I don't know," I replied.

Just then, legs appeared in the snakes mouth!  Then, it became apparent that Mr. Scaly was upchucking a frog.  Apparently, he had just eaten, because the frog he threw up was unmarked, and looked like it might hop away.

It didn't, though...

x

Sunday, July 24, 2011

PACKRAT

I will admit that I have a bit of a problem throwing things away.  I am not quite as bad as those people on the show, Hoarders, but I do tend to hold onto things a bit more than some people.

The thing is, with my interests, that isn't always a bad thing.

Many times, within the past five or six years, I have gone out into the shop building and realized that I had a bike lying about...in about fifty pieces.  I have a frame here, a set of wheels there, some shifters in a box, a set of brakes bagged up...

So, I start marrying parts and, the next thing you know, I have a bike sitting there.

Sometimes, that bike becomes one of my fleet.  A couple of my favorite bikes are what I call "accidental builds".

Other times, I pass the bike along, either by selling it or giving it away.

Either way, I am happy to pull all those parts together into a whole.  I think I might know how Victor Frankenstein must have felt.

x

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It Drives Me a Bit Nuts

Working with bikes can drive you nuts, if you look at things logically as a mechanic.  Nothing much in the industry is standard, when it comes to sizing.

On the handlebars, for instance, it's not unusual to find three different sized bolts.  The stem will have a 6mm bolt camping the bar, and 2.5mm bolts clamping the stem to the steerer.  The brake levers will be 5mm, while the shifters are 4mm (or 2.5mm if GripShift twist grips).

Seatposts are sized from 25mm to 39mm in diameter...in 0.2mm increments, and come in lengths varying from 200mm to 425mm.  Front hub cones are 13mm (sometimes...other times they are 15mm), while rear cones are 15mm (unless they are 16mm). 

There are three different sizes of spoke nipples!  Four sizes of headsets, not including the tapered versions which are gaining popularity.

And, let's not even get into French, Swiss, Italian and English bottom brackets (plus the new over-sized bottom brackets and the pressed-in Gary Fisher and Merlin versions, from the past).

Chainrings come in 3, 4 and 5-bolt patterns, with each number of bolts having more than one center-to-center measurement, depending on the manufacturer (or the model, in the same manufacturer's line).

Pedals come in 1/2" and 3/4" spindles, with English and (rarely) French thread.  Let's ignore the over-sized Shimano Dura-Ace spindles of the early 90s.  Please.

There are a half-dozen different bottom bracket spindle-to-crank interfaces floating around.

Every hub/rim combination takes a different length of spoke to lace up, in the same configuration (3-cross, 2-cross, radial, etc.).

Chains come in 4 different widths, depending on the cogsets they are used on.  BMX chains and freewheels each come in three different widths.

Every suspension fork and rear shock takes a different tool kit to maintain it, and/or repair it.

Shimano shifters will not work on Campagnolo drivestrains or SRAM drivetrains, and vice-versa.

There are two different versions of Campagnolo 9-speed.  The shifters and derailleurs are not compatible between them.

It goes on and on.

In the mid 90s, Cannondale teamed up with the guys at Magic Motorcycle and came out with a prototype mountain bike on which every bolt was a 5mm Allen.  One wrench would turn every bolt on the entire bike.

It never went into production.  Just like the Chevy EV1 electric car.

Who killed the Standard Bicycle?

x

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Mountain Bikes Have Disc Brakes, Nowadays

When I lived in Ohio, there were fewer off-road riding areas than there are, nowadays.  Withing 20 miles of Columbus, the mountain bike riding was scarce.

So, I would load up and drive down to Chillicothe, every now and then, to ride on the Off-Road Vehicle Area trails.  The ORVA trails were located in a wooded area with some wicked steep climbs , and quite a few creeks and creek crossings.

One day, in the spring of the year, I went down to the ORVA and unloaded the bike.  It had rained, the night before, and the jeep trail leading into the woods was a little muddy.  I had only been to the trails a couple of times, in the winter, so I didn't know what awaited me.

I climbed the first hill, and then headed down the other side to where some single track trail cut off from the jeep road.  As I dropped down to the creekside on the trail, I noticed that the mud was getting gummier and gummier.  Eventually, I had to stop and use a stick to clear the mud from between the wheels and the frame, so that the bike would roll.

I rode about 10 miles, that day, and I was totally worn out by the time I got back to the truck.  And, I wasn't the only thing that was worn out.

My brake pads, which I had just replaced, were worn down  to the metal.  I was stunned.

As time went by, I came to expect that.  I actually started carrying extra brake pads with me, when I rode there, just in case the pads on the bike wore down before I got back to the truck.

Some of the guys in the bike shop said that they had stopped riding the ORVA trails, because they not only went through a set of brake pads in a single ride, but they would also wear through the rims on the wheels within a single season of riding.

The geology in the area of those trails is pretty interesting.  There is a sandstone layer which overlays a shale, which is exposed on a lot of the hillsides, due to the erosion which formed the landscape.  When the rock further erodes, the sand from the sandstone mixes with the clay articles of the shale and forms a natural grinding compund.

The rubber brake pads and relatively soft aluminum of the rims didn't stand a chance.  The main advantage that disc brakes have, for a mountain bike, is that they are not as susceptible to the sort of wear that the old-school components suffered, in the conditions at the ORVA.

 Discs aren't necessarily any more powerful than a well-adjusted V-Brake.  They just work better under adverse conditions.

Disc brakes were not really available, in a commercial sense, for bicycles in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  The technology just wasn't there, at the time.  Had they been, I would have been an early-adopter of them, for sure.

x

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'...

The year I moved into my house, I was trying to get back into cycling shape after not riding much the previous year.  Much like 2011, I spent a lot more time on the motorbike in 2003 than I did on the pushbike, and I had gained about 20 pounds in the process.

Unlike 2011, I didn't have any tendinitis, or other medical issues keeping me off of the bike.  I just wasn't that excited about riding.  But, that is another story for another day.  This story is about riding rollers.

I was eating a rather low-cal diet, at the time, and riding hard on my rollers six nights a week.  On the seventh day, God rested, so I figured I should, as well.  My plan worked well, and I lost the 20 pounds, plus a little.  (Since then, I have found about 10 of those pounds, and I am in the process of misplacing the weight, again.)

One night, I was tired of watching network TV as I rode, and I didn't feel like listening to music, so I put in a DVD, called V-Four Victory.  It features a lap around the Isle Of Man TT course, from the perspective of a rider mounted on a Honda V-Four race bike.

It was a good choice, as I felt as though I was riding my bike around the Isle, at a crazy-fast speed!  All went well until the rider banked suddenly to the right...and so did I.

The resulting crash scared the dog, broke my cyclometer mount, and put a huge bruise on my right arm.  Not bad, considering I was traveling (onscreen) at about 140 mph.

x

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Curb Grind

One of the first tricks most kids learn on a bike is the "curb grind".  Riding parallel to the curb, the rider lifts the front wheel of the bike and swings it up onto the curb, while grinding the rear wheel against the concrete.  (Not to be confused with peg-grinding, in freestyle riding, by the way.)

One day, not long after I had moved to Columbus, Ohio, I was out on my Motiv mountain bike, riding down the street, not far from the Residence Inn we were living in.  I don't remember where I was heading, but I needed to turn left to get there, and the road I was on was a four-lane, with a raised center median.

I looked over my  shoulder and saw a gap in traffic.  So, I took advantage of the gap to swing into the left lane, with a plan to jump up on the median and then cross the oncoming lanes when a gap appeared in traffic.

I sprinted over, and noticed that my CatEye cyclometer was registering 20 mph.

"Cool!" I thought as I jumped up onto the median.  Almost.

I didn't quite get the rear wheel high enough, and only the front wheel made it up onto the curb.  Suddenly, I was doing a 20 mph curb grind with fast-moving traffic quickly overtaking me.  I was really hoping I wouldn't end up high-siding out into the street.

Luckily, as I slowed, I was able to pop the rear wheel up to the same surface as the front, and I made my left turn with no problems.

No problems, but, I had plenty of adrenaline flowing!

x

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Mechanic's Bike" Syndrome

You may have heard the old saying ,"The cobblers children go barefoot," which signifies that those involved in any certain profession might tend to neglect whatever it is that they work on, in real life.

"The plumber has leaky pipes."

Add to that, "The mechanic's bike is in sad, sad shape."

When I worked in a shop,  most of my day was spent working on bikes, in one capacity or another.  If I wasn't doing a repair, I was building up a new bike for the sales floor.  Or, perhaps, I was fixing a flat, or adjusting a bike to fit a customer.

At the end of the day, I really didn't feel like working on my own bike.  I would lube the chain, and check the dreailleur and brake adjustments from time to time, but basic maitenance tended to go by the wayside.

Case in point:  One day, as we rode back from the Park Meadows breakfast run, I noticed that my bottom bracket was making some noise.  I was on my Specialized  S-Works M2 mountain bike, because it was handy.  I had ridden it, the night before, and left it in the back of the truck, when I got home.  So, it was right there, when I pulled into the shop parking lot, that morning.

I stopped, and got off the bike, to spin the crank backward and see if I could figure out the mysterious noise.  I had a cartridge bottom bracket in the bike, so I knew it wasn't an adjustment issue.

As I knelt down and spun the crank, I tipped the bike slightly toward me.  When I did, I saw water dripping out of the bottom bracket shell.

"Hmm," I thought to myself, "when was the last time I rode through water?"

I remembered, as we rode back to the shop, that we had made a number of water crossings, the week before, on the club ride.  Surely, there wasn't still water in the frame after that long...

I put the bike in the stand, once we opened up the shop, and removed the cranks.  When I pulled the bottom bracket cup out of the non-drive side of the shell, about a cup and a half of creek water spilled out onto the shop floor.

After bathing for a week, even a Shimano UN-72 bottom bracket will be infiltrated with moisture.  The bottom bracket was toast, so I installed another.

Maintenance by repair is the hallmark of the working mechanic.

x

Monday, July 18, 2011

...Losers Weepers

When I worked at Destinations Cyclery, it was located at the corner of Parker Road and Cottonwood
Drive.  The King Soopers grocery store (Kroger) was across Cottonwood from us, so we saw a lot of traffic coming out of their parking lot and turning onto the highway.

Over the course of one summer, when I was bike-commuting pretty regularly, I found out that a lot of people place their purse, daytimer, or wallet on the roof of the car, while unlocking the door and loading groceries into it.  How did I find this out?

About 3 nights out of 5 I would find either a purse, daytimer or wallet on the road as I bicycled home.  Almost every time that I contacted the owner, I would get the same story:

"I must have put it on top of the car at the grocery store..."

I would say that putting your valuables on top of your car is not really a big deal.  Driving off without putting them inside the car, however...

x

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Record-Keeping As an Obsession

I've mentioned, before, that I no longer keep records of my total mileage on the bike, per year.   I did keep a tally of consecutive days of bicycle commuting, and the cumulative mileage (by month, year, and from the start of the unbroken commuting streak), when I was seeing how many days in a row I could commute.  So, I do still have the tendency to obsess, a bit, with data.

When I first started riding, as an adult, I had one of those mechanical odometers that attach to the front axle.  A pin attached to a spoke on the front wheel drives a wheel on the odometer, and a certain number of revolutions then advances the counter in 1/10th of a mile increments.  I used that to keep track of my daily mileage, which I wrote down in a ride-log.  Total cumulative miles always showed on the odometer readout, and I liked seeing that number coincide with my logbook number..

I eventually graduated to a CatEye cyclometer, and I became somewhat obsessed with recording not only mileage, but average speed and time spent on the bike.  Before too long, I was keeping a wall chart, which broke the mileage down, even further into "road", "off-road" and "trainer/roller" miles.  If I rode my bike to a trail, I would note the mileage to the trailhead, so that I could differentiate the mileage type, even on the same ride.

Once, when visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Oregon, I forgot to start the cyclometer (it had no auto-on capability) as I took off on the climb up a cinder cone.  I got to the top, and realized that I had no record of the mileage.  I got the mileage on the way back down, doubled it for the total ride, and recorded it into my logbook.

That evening, I propped my bike up, next to the couch, and spun the front wheel for an hour, to get the cyclometer mileage to synch up with my log.  It was then that I started to have an inkling that I might be worried too much about the mileage, and not enough about the ride.

It took years, but I eventually weaned myself from the obsessive data-tracking.  I even have a few bikes without cyclometers, now, just so I won't worry about speed, or time, or distance at all.  Riding on those bikes is very relaxing (though I doubt that I get much of a workout, as I tend to lollygag when I am unhooked from the speedometer).

The problem is, I think I might be obsessive about not recording my data, now...

x

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Birds Of A Feather

One day, back when I still lived outside of Elizabeth, Colorado, I decided to take the high-wheeler out for a ride.  Riding the 48" wheel around the neighborhood was always an adventure.  The roads were all gravel, at that time, and they were all hilly.  Our house sat near the top of the Palmer Divide, and the terrain was a bit steep, in places.

I got on the bike and rode in the only uphill direction from my driveway, toward Matt Rambo's house.  Matt was a motorcycle riding buddy of mine, whom I had met when I bought my Norton 850 Commando from him.  He was handy to have around, since the Commando required the typical amount of maintenance and repair associated with Nortons (that means a LOT of work, by the way).  He now runs a company called Colorado Norton Works, out of Dolores, Colorado.

I rode past Matt's, and saw that he wasn't home.  So, I continued past the chicken coops with the bowls of dog food outside (feed the foxes, and they leave the chickens alone) that his across the street neighbor had, and on down the road.  I spent about an hour, trying to stay at a higher elevation than my house, so that I could ride home on the downhill.

Eventually, I headed back toward my house.  As I turned on my street, I heard a droning noise in the air above me.  I looked up, and there was a Stearman biplane flying along, a couple of hundred feet off of the ground.  I waved, and the pilot wagged the wings of the plane, in reply.

I thought it was a nice juxtaposition, my old-fashioned bike and the old-fashioned plane, both following a country road in Northern Colorado.

x

Friday, July 15, 2011

Economy of Scale

Six or seven years ago, my parents drove out from Tennessee to visit me.  Since they were bringing their pickup truck, I asked my dad to throw Big Red into the bed, and bring it along. 

Big Red (my Western Flyer middle-weight, which I got for my 10th birthday) had lived a hard life.  After I got through bombing around it, Daddy took it to the Phillipines and to Thailand, when he was  working overseas, in the 80s.  The fenders and chainguard were long gone, the paint was faded and all of the chrome was rusty and pitted.

I disassembled the bike, and took the frame and fork to the powdercoater, for a fresh coat of Candy Apple Red.  Then, I got into the catalogs, down at the bike shop, and started sourcing parts to rebuild it.  I wanted to go with fat tires, rather than the original 26x1-3/8" middleweight wheels and tires, plus I wanted shiny fenders and a chainguard, new crank, etc.

Unfortunately, even with the employee discount, it was going to cost me about $250.00 to rebuild the bike, on top of the $125.00 powder.  What to do? What to do?

On a whim, I dropped by Wal-Mart, and checked out the BSO's in the Toy Department.  There, I found a Chinese-made, alloy-framed fat tire cruiser for $79.00, which had everything on it that I needed to refurbish Big Red.

So, I did the parts swap, and got my old bike back on the road.

Then, I rebuilt the cruiser frame as a 27"-wheeled, drop-bar fixed gear and sold it on eBay for $250.00.

Low prices.  Always.

Weird times, in the bike biz.  Always.

x

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Handlebar Width

I like wide bars on bikes, whether they are on a mountain bike or a road bike.  I rode with 52cm road bars for a long time, and I especially liked them on cyclocross bikes.  But, there was a time when I ran narrow bars on my mountain bike, despite my preferences.

When I got my first Cannondale, in Ohio, it had a nice wide set of bars on it.  The idea was that the wide bars allowed you to customize the fit, by cutting them down to your preferred width.  I preferred the widest bars possible, so I left them at full length.  I did move the grips and controls in a bit, on both sides, out of necessity when I installed Onza bar-ends.  But other than that, everything stayed as it came from the factory.

I signed up for my first race not too long after getting the Cannondale.  It took place in a state park, southeast of Columbus, on trails I had never ridden.  I looked forward to riding new trails as much as I did the race, itself.

The day of the race dawned cold and wet (it was early Spring), and the trails were pretty muddy.  The race looked to be a mudfest, and it was.  Midway through the race, I was getting a bit tired of climbing hills in the slick conditions, and I was glad when the trail turned downhill toward a creek crossing.

The trail was still sticky, wet clay, but the slope was steep enough that I was able to get up a pretty good head of steam.  I was going somewhat over 20 miles per hour when, as I dodged a tree to my left, I hooked my bar-end on the trunk of a tree to the right.

I had never realized, up until then, that trees know Kung Fu.

After picking myself up out of the mud, I still wasn't entirely sure what had happened.  I looked back at my bike, still hooked to the tree, and figured it out.

Not too long after that day, I bought a Scott AT-4 handlebar, in the smallest width available..  The AT-4 was formed in a closed loop (a plastic bridge connected the ends, at the front), which provided a number of hand positions and also acted as a knuckle-guard.  You might hit the bar on a tree, but it couldn't hook the trunk.

That bar treated me well in the tight, tree-lined singletrack of Ohio, but it proved a bit squirrelly on the long, wide-open downhills along the Front Range of Colorado.

Nowadays, I run my bars wide, because the trails where I ride allow it.   But, I am still nervous when I pass between two trees, on either side of the trail.

x

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Rather Random Memory

I was nine years old, in 1970, and I was becoming aware of the world away from me.  Changing from "60s" numbers to "70s" numbers fascinated me, for one thing.  That had made me much more aware of the march of time as it affected me, rather than as a historical concept.

Plus, we had moved from Tennessee to Kentucky, and from one Kentucky town to another, so that I ended up attending three different elementary schools in the fourth grade. I had a knowledge that other people were living a life I once knew, in a place I had once been.  No longer did the world seem so small as to only encompass what I could see.

I was riding along on my tiger-skin seated Sears Buzz Bike, in Calvert City, Kentucky, with nowhere to go.  I had wanted to get out of the house, and the bike was lying next to the sidewalk.  I ended up just riding back and forth on a dirt path which ran between the 4-unit apartment house we lived in, and an open field behind.  The path connected a dead-end street with the parking lot of the strip-mall we lived behind.

There was a little bit of a chill in the air, as the sun began to set, but I was comfortable enough in long pants and a t-shirt.  I think it was late Fall, but it might have been early Spring.  I get the chronology of where we lived, when, a little mixed up, sometimes.

I stopped, at one point, and looked west, toward the setting sun.  As I sat on my bike, I marvelled at the sunset.  There were big puffy clouds in the sky, backlit by the sun.  Their bellies were a pregnant purple mass, while their rims were outilned in gold, from the backlight.  Crepuscular rays extended out through the atmosphere, like the tines on a crown, outlined against an azure sky which looked so smooth and blue that they would be thought unrealistic in a painting.

I remember thinking to myself that it was a shame no one else was there with me.  It was the kind of sight which seemed wasted on a lone observer, someone who would never be able to adequately describe it to anyone else.  And, there was no one to say, "Yeah, I remember that!'

It was dream-like, not only in its beauty, but in its solitude.

I pedalled on, thinking weird thoughts and wondering if I would remember that sky when I was grown-up...

x

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Defense Of the Bicycle Shaped Object

In the bike shops around this great land, the toy-department bikes from K-Mart, Target, Wal Mart, and such places are commonly referred to as Bicycle Shaped Objects, or BSOs, for short.  Many shops will turn away repair or maintenance work on the BSO, due to the fact that many of the parts are of non-standard pattern, and the original assembly is usually so bad that the labor to make the BSO safe to ride will cost often more than the original purchase price.

I remember working on one BSO (we didn't turn them away, out of hand) for a lady who actually rode her Roadmaster bike, a lot.  It had the usual maladies of warped, non-tensioned wheels, misplaced brake levers, etc.  But, she told me that she had ridden the thing for 10 or 15 miles a day, for six months, and that she really enjoyed getting back into some physical excercise in her 40s.

I fixed whatever it was that she brought it in for.  Then, while I had it in the stand, I went ahead and tweaked a few things to make it work better (and more safely).  Scott was a little put out that I threw in some free labor, but we were slow and no one else had to wait for a repair because of it.

When the lady picked up the bike, I pointed out the extra stuff I had done for her.  She was very appreciative.

"The shop down the street said it wasn't a good enough bike to work on," she said.  "They just ried to sell me a new TREK."

"If you are riding it, it's a better bike than a TREK that hangs in the garage,"  I replied.  "Any bike that gets used is a good bike, to me."

She paid her bill, and left.  A few months later, she finally recognized that the sub-par performance of the bike was interfering with her enjoyment of riding, and she came in and bought a "real" bike.

The BSO, when properly used, can become a gateway drug for bicycling.  So, I try to not discourage people who ride them.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Uh...What Was That?

One day, in 1998, I managed to run over my favorite bike with a truck.  Twice.

Rich and I were supposed to meet at the shop, at 7:30 AM, to take a long ride.  We both had the day off, and we planned to do an anything-goes ride (what we call a "mixed-terrain" ride, nowadays).  So, I pulled my Dodge Ram 1500 4WD pickup truck into the parking lot at about 7:20, and unloaded my bike.

I leaned the bike on the back bumper of the truck, and changed shoes.  Then, I threw my street shoes into the cab, and sat in the driver's seat listening to the radio.  Seven-thirty came, and went, but Rich was nowhere to be seen.  I sat in the cab of the truck, listening to the radio and checking my watch, periodically, until almost 8:00.

"Screw this,"  I thought to myself.  "I'm going home."

I started the truck and backed up.  Thump-thump.

"What the heck?"  I thought, and pulled forword.

Thump-thump.

It was about then that it occurred to me that the thumps were produced by running over my Diamondback Avail cross bike, which I had forgotten was leaning on the back of the truck.

I got out, and surveyed the damage.  I had run squarely over the bottom brack with the truck wheel.  The crank was broken, and the frame of the bike was folded at about a 30-degree angle.  I was not particularly happy, when I saw that.

I took the bike into the shop, and used the frame alignment tool to traighten the tubes.  Then, I got out the frame dies and got the tubing as round as possible, at the bend points.  After I had the frame aligned, I threw the bike into the truck, and went home. 

There, I took off the broken Avocet touring crank, and replaced it with a Shimano 105 Triple that I had lying about.  Once everything was back in working order, I foot the bike out for a 40 mile ride, just ot make sure everything was working.

Steel, as they say, is real.

I rode that bike another couple of years, then sold it to one of the mechanics at the shop.  He moved to Winter Park, and used the Avail as his only bike, commuting and mountain biking on it, until the frame broke.

The frame broke at the drive-side dropout, not at the spot where it was damaged from the run-over, though.

Eric hung it on the wall of the house he shared with a bunch of other ski and bike bums, as a display.   It hung there for about 6 months, until someone stole it.

Rich later told me that he had just forgotten that we were supposed to ride, that day.  If he hadn't, I might still be riding that Avail.  It was a good bike, and I only replaced it because it hurt me to look at it, after I ran over it.

Twice.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Show-Off!

Sometimes, I feel a little frisky and I decide to show off, a little, on the bike.  It rarely works out very well for me, though.

One day, a group of us decided to ride up Waterton Canyon and do the Roxboro Loop.  There were five or six guys, and we all rode along and had the usual number of near-misses, wash-outs, etc.  I was bringing up the rear, as usual, so I got to watch everyone else catch air, or drop a ledge nicely, or whatever, but no one else could even see if I was still there without turning around to look.

At the bottom of the big descent back to the Waterton road, everyone stopped and was standing in a line, talking, as I came down the last steep drop.  I let go of the brakes, and let the speed build up.

I blew down the rocky slope, then, at the bottom, grabbed the brake and did a big power-slide up to the group.  Rocks flew, a cloud of dust raised and, just as I was coming to a halt, my tire caught and I high-sided.  The bike flipped me off, and I fell right onto Cody Hendersons's rear wheel, and knocked him down.

So, there we lay, a tangle of limbs and bikes, in the drifting dust, with everyone hooting and hollering.

It was about then that I decided that I really didn't care if anyone else saw me ride well, or not. 

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Plusses and Minuses

Old-tech versus new-tech...old-school bottom brackets and hubs versus sealed bearings.  Which is better?  Why?

I have conflicting thoughts about loose bearings and sealed bearings in bike parts.  I appreciate the low-maintenance aspect of cartridge bottom brackets, but they don't spin as smoothly, or as easily, as a well-adjusted loose-ball bottom bracket.  I can't help but think that the added resistance I feel when I turn the spindle in a sealed bottom bracket must translate into more effort to pedal the bike.  And, the same thing would apply to sealed-bearing hubs, I suppose.

That might seem like a small amount of effort, but I think it might add up to a significant amount over the course of a Tour de France stage, or a 24-hour mountain bike race.  Would it be an advantage to a rider in a race field full of riders using cartridge bearings, to use loose balls?

Apparently, Shimano must think so.  Out of all the wheels, in all of the price ranges, that Shimano has ever produced, none have used precision sealed bearings. 

Yet, they introduced cartridge bottom brackets to the world, in the mid 90s.

Apparently, the engineers at Shimano have conflicting thoughts about loose bearings and sealed bearings in bike parts, too.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Food

When I was a kid, and I would leave the house for an all-day outing on the bike, I carried a surplus-store plastic canteen and a sandwich, or two, in a bag.  If I needed more food, I'd stop and buy a candy bar, or some peanuts, or some such.

As an adult, I fell under the spell of the marketing guys, and started carrying PowerBars and Clif Bars, particularly when training off-road, or racing.  The bars tended to make my stomach hurt (mostly due to the rice flour, and rice syrup, probably as I am allergic to rice), and really didn't satisfy me, even though they seemed to give me enough energy to ride.

Still, I tended to wolf down burgers and fries and such foods, after a ride, just to satisfy my craving for "real" food.

Then, I read a few articles about racers in the Classics (Tour de France, Giro, etc.).  They eat pasta, sandwiches, fruit, bread, cheese and whatever else they feel like eating while on the bike.  Their need for calories is not the only thing that their trainers worry about. 

Napolean said that an army travels on its stomach.  I think that is doubly true for cyclists.

Through some experimentation, I have found that a number of "normal" menu items sit well in the gut, during excercise.  Others, not so well.

Now, on long rides, I pack water, and sandwiches, and cheese crackers...just like I did before I "knew better".  And, I not only (usually) make it to the end of a ride with plenty of energy, I don't tend ot eat everything on the menu at the first restaurant I drive by, on the way home.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Death of Schwinn

I suppose that when the Schwinn company told Charley Kelly and Gary Fisher that they had probably sold a mountain bike to everyone who would ever want one, and passed on their product pitch, that might have been the beginning of the end.  But, the nail in the coffin for the family-owned company came a few years later.  And, mountain bikes still played a large part.

Schwinn had finally gotten into the mountain bike business, after seeing the success of companies like Specialized and TREK.  And, just like everyone else, they outsourced the majority of their production to Taiwan.  Instead of dealing with Miyata, or Panasonic, or any of the other Japanese-based companies, they struck up a deal with Giant - the Taiwanese Goverment-subsidized tubing manufacturer.

Giant produced mountain bikes for Schwinn in great numbers, for a few years.  Then, one year, Schwinn found a cheaper supplier and dropped Giant with no warning.  This left Giant with a pile of bikes, and no outlet to the American market.

So, Giant branded the bike with their own name, set up a dealer network, and flooded the market with better, cheaper bikes than what Schwinn was selling.  Not too long after, Schwinn ended up on the auction block.

A loud whirring sound was heard emanating from Ignaz's grave...

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shifty

One of the things that bike shop employees tend to do is to assume that customers know how to use their equipment.  The guys (and gals) who work in shops ride bikes constantly, and they read about bikes, and new equipment, all the time, as well.  So, when a customer comes in, they assume that customer at least knows the basics of operation on whatever they are looking for.

The classic example of this is the Shimano STI shifters.  On those shifters, the rear derailleur shifts up or down almost immediately when the shifter is activated.  Click-shift.

But, on the front, it's necessary to push the lever, and keep it pushed while the chain finds its way onto the next chainring.  The rings have shift zones built into them, and the chain will only move from ring to ring at those spots in the rings' rotation.  Sometimes, you will hit the shifter just as the shifting ramp comes around, and the front will shift like the rear. 

Most times, it won't.  But, no one thinks to tell the customer that.

So many times, as the Service Manager, I had customers bring back a brand-new bike because "it won't shift".  It took me a while to see the pattern.  After test-riding it, myself, and telling the customer that it worked perfectly, they would ride around the parking lot and tell me it was still broken.

After a while, I didn't even bother to adjust anything, or ride the bike, myself.  I would just get my bike and say, "Let me ride with you while you shift the bike."

Then, as we rode, I would tell them how the front shifter was supposed to work, they would try it, and suddenly the bike would be fixed.  I could never seem to get the majority of the sales guys to do this, as they sold the bike.

And, it wasn't just our shop.  Bikes from other shops came in, with the same "problem".  But, that was okay, really.  I got to be the one who solved the problem for the customer.

Jon Grinder, Knight in Shining Armor...

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Love a Parade

One year, I was invited to ride in the 4th of July parade in Parker.  Someone on the parade committee had heard about my high-wheeler, and they thought it would be cool to have me ride along behind the vintage cars, with the Cub Scouts on their bikes.

On the day of the parade, I got a bag of candy and mounted up.  The candy was for throwing into the crowd, and I was a little concerned that I might not be able to ride the bike and throw, at the same time.  So, I tried a trial run, and it went fine.

We rode along in the parade, and things went well.  The slow pace made it a bit challenging, but I managed to stay upright, while throwing candy to kids, without having to dismount.

The, the perfect storm hit.

The parade slowed, suddenly, in front of us, and I had to turn the wheel of the bike and ride at an angle to the street in order to keep from falling.  This happened just as I threw a handful of candy...and a  Cub Scout darted his bike in front of me.

I dropped my bag of candy, and banked the big wheel to the right, while I pedaled hard.  I've never actually leaned that bike over that far, in a turn, at any speed.  The crowd gasped, the scout on the little bike panicked and crashed, the crowd gasped and I...I pulled it off and managed to keep the high-wheeler upright and continue on my way.

The Cub Scout remounted and rode up beside me, and apologised.  I told him it was fine, and I was glad he was okay.  No harm done.

I didn't throw any more candy, though.

x

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

July 4, 1776:  The Declaration of Independence was signed, and the U.S. was born.

July 4, 1998:  The weirdness finally got to be too much, and I told Val we needed to separate for a while, and figure things out.  Two weeks later, she served me with divorce papers.

The next Spring, after the deal had gone down, I decided I needed a trip to Moab, in order to get my head together.  I mentioned it to some friends, and we got a trip together.  About a half-dozen of us ended up going.

The first day that we were there, we rode the Slickrock Trail, as usual.  We started off with the Practice Loop section, and rode out to Echo Point.  Once there, I handed Jen the camera, and instructed her in what I wanted her to capture.

I walked out to the end of the rock, and looked out over Negro Bill Canyon, 300 feet below.

"You ready?"  I called over my shoulder.

"Yeah!"  Jen called back.

"One...two...three!"

On three, I threw the wedding ring that Valerie had bought me out into the air.  Jen snapped the picture, as I watched the silver ring disappear into the depths of the canyon.

I stood at the edge of the rock for a few moments.  No one said a word, as I gathered my thoughts.

"That feels good," I said.  "I feel like a weight has lifted."

We rode the rest of the weekend, and had a really good time.  We had no idea how the picture had come out, since this was back in the Dark Ages when we still shot film, and digital cameras were still science fiction.

Whe we got back to Denver, I dropped my rolls of film off at the 1-hour photo place.  When I got the pictures back, I flipped through to find the picture Jen had snapped.  I held it up...and smiled.  There, in the picture, I was on the edge of the rock, my arm extended at full length.

Six inches from the tips of my fingers was a silver streak, with a round terminus;  the blurred image of the ring leaving my hand on its way to oblivion.

As a nation, we have the original Declaration of Independence to look at as a symbol, a talisman, of our independence.  Personally, I have that photo of a moment in time when I genually felt that I had left a tough time behind, and could start forming a new life...on my own.

Independent.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Push-Button Idiocy

I came out of the house on Sherman Street and had a sinking feeling when I looked down the hill at my truck.  I had forgotten to take the pink bike into the house, the night before, and someone had tried to steal it.

I got to the truck and surveyed the damage.  The suspension fork was broken, as was the Thule mount it had been locked into.  Thye bike and the front wheel were hanging against the side of the Nissan, dangling from the security cable.

I went to unlock the 4-digit combination lock, and I had to laugh.  The dumbass who tried to steal the bike had manged to break it loose from the rack, but was defeated by a fifteen-dollar lock...which wasn't even locked.  Had they just pushed the button on the side of the lock, it would have popped open.

I did just that, the lock did just that, and I carried the bike up to the apartment.  I guess you don't have to be particulaly smart to become a bike thief.

But, you have to a little smarter than this guy to be a successful bicycle thief.

x

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bare Bones

The old Peugeot mountain bike had been locked to a sign post on High Street for quite a while before I stopped to take a look at it.  It was a lugged steel frame, with decent components, so I wondered why it never moved.

Two weeks later, it was still there.  I figured that either its owner had graduated from D.U., and left it behind, or they had just abandoned it for a newer bike (or a car).  I briefly thought about cutting the U-lock and commandeering the bike, but I decided against it.

I continually checked on it, dreading the inevitable.  Then, it started happening...

First, the seat and seap post disappeared.  The next time I saw it, the unlocked front wheel was gone, and the rear ahd been stomped into a pretzel shape.  The handlebars, stem and controls were next.

Eventually, even the cranks and brakes were stripped off, and all that was left was the skeleton of a bike.  The frame and fork lay in the grass, with the destroyed rear wheel, for a few weeks. Then, one day, everything was gone.

Had the jackals cut the lock and absconded with the bones, or had Authority liberated it from the trap it was in and given it a decent burial?  I don't know.  But, I still find myself wishing I had saved it from its undignified fate by freeing it while it was still whole.

x

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tie Your Mother Down

That was Freddie Mercury's advice, back in the day.  My advice:  Tie your bike down.

One day, Doofus (one of the employees at Destinations) orderd a Specialized downhil rig.  When it came in, he was very excited.  He rode it a few times, over the following few weeks, and modified it a bit to better suit him.

Then, one day, he threw the bike in the back of his truck, and drove to his apartment in Castle Rock.   The only problem:  When he went to get his bike out of the truck, it was no longer there.

Doofus was a birt of a wild driver.  He fancied himself a rally star, and like to drift through turns and hit the little rises in the road fast enough to lift the truck off the tarmac.  If you rode with him, you needed to hold on tight.

But, a bike can't hold on for itself.  It needs help, in the form of tiedowns or bungie straps.  Doofus had provided neither, and the bike bailed out somewhere between Parker and Castle Rock, never to be seen again.

Tie that mother down!

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