Friday, February 29, 2008

Google Bike Mapping? Great Post On BikeHugger

Notch up another really compelling and interesting post to the folks at BikeHugger.

...add an option to Google Maps to show bike paths and directions in the same place you’d get driving or public transit directions...

Here is a link to an online petition to indicate interest in this sort of thing.

Who are these people (BikeHugger), and how do they manage to keep producing such good content? It's scary. Like

322-KYL: I'm Going To Critical Mass Today

If these things go in seasons, I had my first really close call of the season this morning.

I love riding north on 4th, from Airport Way to Jackson, because with the timing of the lights, and the generous lanes, it's one of the few places downtown where motor vehicle traffic doesn't stop me, and I can ride at the speed limit.

As I was approaching Jackson, in the left-middle lane, a car that had stopped in the lane to my right turned and accelerated into my lane in an attempt to cross two lanes of traffic at a 90-degree angle, to get onto 2nd Ave for a left-hand turn onto westbound Jackson.

It was over before I realized it was happening. I do know I shifted my weight to change the direction of my momentum as close as I could to parallel the car's direction of travel, I tensed my right side for impact, and I leaned to try to keep myself upright on impact, rather go somersaulting over the car. I stopped in time. Impact never came. The driver continued on his way.

I'm angry, and I'm armed. OK, I'm not armed.

The car's license plate number is 322-KYL (WA). It is a silver 4-door sedan, late model, possible Honda.

Well, I'm angry, and I'm armed. OK, I'm not armed.

But, what luck! Today is the last Friday of the month!

I've never been to Critical Mass, but after what happened this morning, I can't not go. I just can't.

Know something funny? I was wearing two styles of reflective gloves, preparing for a test this weekend to determine which kind will better enable drivers to see us in the dark.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Maybe I'll just ride around my back yard

Sea Times:
Two-year deferred sentence for crosswalk death

Also saw that the dump-truck driver who killed the cyclist on Eastlake won't face felony charges.

I couldn't eat as much as I'd like to throw up. When I'm driving in a car, I'm a citizen of the republic. When I'm riding a bike, I'm certainly something less.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some Extra Huggin' and Squeezin'

Of the sea of bikes that roared through the Chilly Hilly registration area, onto the ferry deck, and then spilled out onto the beautiful, sunny roads of Bainbridge Island, this is the one that most caught my eye.

I was curious, because I thought the rims might be the Velocty-ELVS-Laek House rims that I've read about. I ran up to the young woman who was wheeling this beauty along, and asked her about the rims. She said she wasn't sure, her boyfriend had put the bike together for her.

Well, listen, boyfriend! If I did this right, your girlfriend will have been impressed and appreciative that you've put together a bike for her that has total strangers running up to her, asking if they can take pictures of it. And I can only hope this translated into some extra huggin' and squeezin' for you that night.

Think nothing of it, mate. It's the least I can do for one who wears the kit of First Rate Mortgage

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tapping My First Bottom Bracket

This is a follow-up post from here, where I outline the history of the bottom bracket. In that thrilling episode, Aaron Goss tapped my drive-side bottom bracket shell to Italian standard, as it had been English, but had been completely stripped. Luckily, Aaron suggested I not retap the non-drive-side, which was in fine shape.

However, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try cutting threads myself, especially since I don't much care for the frame (unsatisfactory lateral rigidity in the rear triangle). Little to lose, lots to gain.

The tool I was using is described here. It is definitely not shop grade.

Well, there's really not lots to tell. I used lots of cutting oil, tried to keep the shavings out of the cutter, used smooth effort. The only problem is that the diagram that came with the tool showed the tool assembled without a spring applying tension for cutting (although the diagram for facing did show use of the spring). It only took me a few seconds to realize that that couldn't be right; without the spring, the cutter does not stay firmly against the shell, and flops around. Couldn't possibly make a straight set of threads that way, so I improvised a bit.

Nominal testing indicates that the threads I cut accept a cup, and hold it, as readily as the ones Aaron cut. However, the true test will be when I install an actual bottom bracket, tightened the cups to specified torque, and have ridden it for several hundred miles. I'll want to got retro, and use a new 3-piece Italian bottom bracket, so I can examine the bearings, cones, and races for wear:

  • Does the adjustable cup install straight and permit a normal adjustment of the bottom bracket for play and free rotation?

  • Does the adjustable cup stay threaded in?

  • After several hundred miles of riding, do the patterns of wear on the cup races and axle cones indicate skew or play?

I wouldn't be surprised to find that my threads seat the adjustable cup slightly askew. Right now, I wish I had a BTS-1 so I could feel what it feels like to cut with the industry standard tool. But that's beyond my budget for awhile.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Riding With The Connors Boys in the Chilly Hilly

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of riding part of the Chilly Hilly with Kevin Connors and his two sons, Sean and Kealan.

As Hilly as ever, this year's edition was not as Chilly as I have come to expect from previous editions.

Kevin and Kealan were riding the tandem (background), and Sean was premiering his black, red, and white Redline Conquest (pictured in foreground, to the right), a beast that will carry him on his first solo STP this year.

Sean and Kealan have got the fundamentals down. Rule 1: it's all about the snacks. Here, Kevin and Kealan stop for a quick dip into the cheese nips. Later, though, would come the real treats. The wonderful people of Bainbridge Island actually put up little roadside stands offering sweets and snacks. Apparently, folks who have been doing CH for awhile have mapped out the houses that offer the best cookies, brownies, and pie.

You know, it's been said that the best of the pro climbers ride their bikes like kids. That may account for the fact that, as I was riding behind Sean, I inexplicably felt I was watching a video clip of a Gilberto Simoni or Marco Pantani dancing on the pedals. On the other hand, if, 10 years from now, I were to pick up a copy of Velo News and read that Sean Connors has signed his first pro contract, the only surprise would be that I would have learned to read. Kevin, keep an eye on Sean. I think there's natural talent there.

But the best part of the Chilly Hilly, for me, was all the encouragement I got. "Great job!", "Keep it up!", "I can't believe you're doing this, you're so young!!" (Sean is under the mistaken impression that these comments were directed at him. Yeah, dream on, Sean!) Seriously, one guy actually took pictures of Sean and Kealan so he could show his own kids. I had to take Kevin aside and give him the talk about Not Letting Your Own Kids Become Someone Else's Kids' Role Models.

For full-size photos, look at my online web album

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Aaron Goss Is Aaron Goss, and I'm Not

I took my Redline Conquest frame to Aaron's to have the bottom bracket threads tapped, and also to watch him do the tapping, and ask him questions while he worked.

(Note: In what follows, I refer to the drive side bottom bracket cup as the "fixed cup" and the non-drive side as a the "adjustable cup". This is archaic, a relic of the time when the drive-side cup was indeed fixed, and one adjusted the bottom bracket by rotating the non-drive-side cup with a spanner)

This is the sequence of events that took the frame out of commission. One day last summer, I was riding, when suddenly (-- !! --) the cranks locked to forward motion. When I looked down, I saw the adjustable cup had threaded out up against the crankarm; further pedaling would push the cup even tighter against the crankarm, so the crankarm was locked.

That night, I put the bike on the stand, and removed the BB (Ultegra English cartridge, Octalink) from the bottom bracket shell, to get a look at what was going on. When I went to re-install it, I found the fixed cup threads, as well as the corresponding drive-side bottom bracket shell threads, were completely stripped. My best guess at what happened is:
  1. The fixed cup side stripped
  2. When it did, this allowed the entire cartridge to rotate clockwise (looking at it from the drive side)
  3. This rotation caused the adjustable cup (which acts as a snug sleeve around the cartridge) to rotate counter-clockwise (looking at it from the non-drive-side). This threaded the adjustable cup outward.
This leaves the following questions unanswered:
  • What would have caused the fixed cup threads to strip?
  • Once the fixed cup threads were stripped, what would have caused the cartridge to rotate clockwise?
Anyway, I immediately thought I'd have to have both sides of the BB shell tapped Italian (which is the usual option of salvage when an English-threaded BB strips.) But Aaron pointed out that there's no reason to retap the adjustable cup side if it's not damaged -- there's nothing to prevent me from using a cartridge from an Italian-threaded Ultegra set, for example, with the adjustable cup from an English BB set. Wow! He saved me half the cost of the repair! (Of course, I'll have to be careful to remember the two sides of the shell are tapped according to different standards -- a challenge as I progress into my dotage -- and I'll have to hope that any mechanic who has reason to use a thread gauge to determine the pitch of the threads checks both sides of the shell!)

And that is one of the reasons why Aaron is Aaron, and I'm not. I never would have thought of this, and there is something profoundly incisive and analytical about the thinking that leads to this solution.

Additional Notes:

  • Aaron has lost the beard, and, although those of you who have seen me know I have no sense of aesthetics, I'd say it's a good look for him!

  • Cargo Bike Ride, March 23rd, Alaskan and Broad (Myrtle Edwards Park. Umm -- can't see a time on the flyer -- will try to find that out.

  • For the cartridge to rotate clockwise (when looking at it from drive side) once it was unimpeded by those pesky threads is a complete surprise to me. My understanding is that the force of precession will cause the cartridge, when free, to rotate counter-clockwise when the BB axle is turned clockwise (i.e., forward pedaling). This makes me suspect that somewhere in this long, sordid tale of lust, greed, and hubris is an impediment to the free motion of bearings over their contact surfaces (think: "freezing"). I can see this causing the cartridge to rotate in the same direction as the axle.

  • Another minor mystery that touches on this story in two ways is how Italian bottom brackets stay threaded. The force of precession I mentioned in the above bullet would cause a counter-clockwise force on the fixed cup in response to clockwise rotation of the axle (forward pedaling), and since the Italian fixed cup is right-threaded (lefty-loosey), I'd think the fixed cup would tend to unthread from the bottom bracket shell.

    In fact, that is exactly what happened to me on the maiden ride of the very first true racing bike I built up, in 1985. It was a beautiful Palo Alto blue Columbus SL frame, built up with Campy Record gruppo, including Italian threaded BB. About 3/4 of the way through the ride, the cup unthreaded. My LBS (I was in Ann Arbor) suggested I use threadlock. Aaron, however, emphatically says not to use thread lock, but just to install the cartridge to the proper torque. In 1985, we (or, at least, I) did not know from torque. If you'd've said "torque", we (I) would have thought "that guy who played in the Monkees."

  • Although Aaron's solution of not tapping the apparently undamaged non-drive-side threads is compelling, I am going to go ahead and tap it Italian, so it matches the drive side. My motivation is that I now have a tap set, and I'd like to practice chasing and tapping (and just for the hell of it, facing). This is a good frame for me to learn on, since it has other problems (excessive flex in the rear triangle), and I won't be upset if I ruin it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is That a Wheelbarrow?

So we’re getting close to the year mark of having the cargobike in our garage and I feel comfortable writing a review about it. For those of who have never heard of a Bakfiets (pronounced ‘bahk-feets’) otherwise known as a cargobike, it’s a utility bike built in Holland that can be used to haul groceries, kids, or anything that fits in it’s forward compartment.

If you’ve never seen one of these before, watching one go by you is a bit of a trip. It looks like a wheelbarrow with a bike seat on it. The first time my wife and I saw one ride by us in Portland we about had a heart attack. We had been discussing for a while how to achieve a car-free life-style, and we knew instantly that we were looking at the missing part of the conversation. I emailed the company that sells these bikes in Portland (CleverCycles) the next day. For you Seattleites, it's Dutch Bike Co. Seattle.

Bakfietsen have been around for a while in Holland, and this fact becomes obvious very quickly when you get one of these on the road. The Dutch have had enough iterations on the design to get things right – every detail is well designed. The box up front is made of marine grade plywood, so you can spray it down with a hose. If your kids were to…say… drop a milkshake in the box (true story) it’s not a big deal. Grab a hose and wash it like your car. In fact, according to the literature, the bike is built to handle outdoor storage. I haven’t put it to the test, but it seems to me to be hearty enough. Something you can’t see in the photos is that the bottom of the box has a rubber mat floor in it that helps things to not slide around when you’re hauling cargo. It also has holes drilled in the corners for drainage; very handy. The box has a nice little bench seat for the kids that folds up when not needed, and has seatbelts built in. We thought we’d do the kids a favor and also purchased a seat pad, although they never complained when we didn’t have it. The Bakfiets comes with a 4-point kick-stand that is so sturdy that kids can climb in and out of the bike without it tipping over. Our kids treat it like a jungle gym and the thing never budges. These bikes also come with a rear-rack that is sturdy enough to sit on. We’ve never used it for cargo, but I’ve used it’s built-in bungee cords to wrap up little things like locks, jackets, and extra helmets numerous times.

As a lifetime bike commuter, there are some built-in features on the Bakfiets that I absolutely love; most of which have to do with braving the elements day after day. The spokes and fenders are stainless steel. That coupled with the anti-rust primer under the paint makes this thing completely weather proof. Got mud on it? No problem – spray the thing down. Left it outside during a downpour? No worries, it’s weather proof. And the internal Shimano 8-speed hub along with drum brakes and a fully encased chain means no mucky transmission. No maintenance whatsoever really. The only time I’ve taken it in since we bought it last June was to get the 30-day cable-stretch adjustments taken care of, and it’s still looking and running like it’s brand new. As a matter of fact, Todd (one of the other owners of CleverCycles) told me that he hasn’t touched the chain on his Bakfiets in years just over a year and it’s still looking factory new – this on a bike that’s stored outside(!) Can you even imagine re-greasing a chain on your bike every other year or so? I guess that’s what having a fully encased drive-train gets you.

Another wonderful standard feature is the wheel-lock. Just like your car, you use a key to unlock your back wheel; then you ride with the key in; and when you get to your destination you just take the key out and the wheel locks up. The bike is effectively parked. No U-lock or bike-rack required. Dean, another owner at CleverCycles, pointed out to us that it would take about three large guys and a pick-up truck to steal this bike with the lock engaged. In other words, this a perfectly good lock for running into the grocery store or catching a movie – maybe not so good for over-night. Our cargo bike also came with an 8-speed Shimano internal hub, which performs surprisingly well. It has one fantastic feature that I use every time I ride: you can change gears standing still. Don’t laugh, when you’re at a stop-light with 100+ lbs of kids and groceries, and you realize that you forgot to shift down, this is the greatest invention ever. You just shift down to 1st gear and take off when the light turns green. If you were stuck in 8th gear with a conventional transmission you’d be screwed. Another easily overlooked feature is the “step-through” frame design that lets you step out of the bike without that standard over-the-seat leg swing that is so much apart of getting off of any other bike in the world. I spent the first few months doing the leg-swing after parking the bike. Until, of course, my wife started making fun of me. Hard habit to break!

Last but not least, the cargobike comes with front and back lights that are powered by a generator attached to the front fork. The back light has a nifty little feature: it stores up the extra charge and stays lit when you stop pedaling. This is great when you’re sitting at a stoplight at night. The newer cargobikes coming out of CleverCycles these days have generator hubs built into the wheel, which are pretty sweet. Ours is a “side runner” that runs off the side of the tire. Truthfully, at first I was annoyed at the idea of something that added friction during the ride. But having used it for a while, the friction is almost imperceptible. Plus, I’m in love with the thought of not having to use batteries. (I’m so green! Don’t you want to be my friend?!)

Oh - and an option that we couldn’t pass up is this space-age looking rain-cover to keep the rug-rats dry when it’s wet. And it’s not just for rain – we’ve taken them out on adventures in the dead of winter (temp in the 30’s) and they were just fine in their little green-house.

In Action
“Is that hard to ride?” – wow do I get that question a lot. The answer is “Nope. Not after your first couple of rides.” I like to say that it’s like learning to ride a bike all over again, but much easier. Once you get the hang of it, you forget that it was ever weird to ride in the first place. That’s how it was for my wife anyway. To be honest, I was feeling pretty confident after about a couple of blocks. And then I was amazed at how smooth the ride was. It’s truly a well designed machine, with a low center of gravity that stabilizes the ride very effectively. Sitting up and having an elevated view of traffic doesn’t hurt the experience either. It is a very different ride than a regular road bike though. More like a cruiser, but with a lot more weight and inertia. Then comes the part that makes you nervous: putting the kids in. I was at Dean’s house in Portland taking a test ride (this was before they had their shop finished) and Dean said, “put your son in, try it out.” With all the false confidence I could muster I put my 4-year old in, said a few “our fathers” under my breath, and took off down the street. It was a bit awkward at first, especially since he was sitting off center on the right side of the bike, but not nearly as much as I had expected it would be. After a block or so I had adjusted. No problem. Then he saw a soccer ball in someone’s yard, “look Papa!” and shifted his weight all the way over to the other side of the bike. While I will admit that I had to do some acrobatics to not ditch, I was surprised how much the low center of gravity helped me to adjust. Had he done that in a seat on my road bike I’m convinced we would have hit the ground. These days both my kids could break-dance in the front and I’d hardly notice it. You get confident enough after a month that you’re adjusting their helmets and seatbelts or pulling you phone out of your pocket to catch the time – all while you’re riding.

A supposed advantage for these bikes that I haven’t found to be true is that the you’re supposed to be able to put your foot on the ground while seated on the saddle. The theory is that the angle of the seat-tube is so lax that the seat sits back from the pedals instead of above them – thus you’re far enough away from the pedals to be ergonomically correct (no knee strain from being too close) while being able to flat-foot the ground at a stop; all while seated in the saddle. On my cargobike, with the seat as far back as it goes, I still have to tip-toe the ground when I’m at a proper distance from the pedals. It’s not as extreme a stretch as it is from the saddle of my road bike (so yes I notice the difference) but I’m not flat-footed by a long shot.

For those people who have kids, the cargobike is a magical experience. I never liked hauling the kids around in a trailer. I especially didn’t like having them a foot off the ground, eight feet behind me in a fabric and aluminum target for inattentive drivers; which is how I’ve always thought of trailers. There’s something about having them right in front of you that makes you feel much safer about having them on a bike in the first place. Not to mention the fact that they’re encased in a sturdy wooden box with seatbelts on. I’ve read an article about a lady who was cut off by a car and ditched her cargobike. It slid 15 feet down a hill with her little boy inside. Neither she nor her boy sustained any injuries. Sounds good to me! Another advantage to you having your kids right in front of you is that you can manage them more easily. (i.e. answer questions, make minor adjustments, break up fights, etc.) Anyone who has ever towed kids in a trailer knows how frustrating it is to stop, lay your bike down, and then walk back and open the trailer just be cause you 1-year-old’s helmet has slid off to the side of his head and he’s crying. (And you just did the same thing 5 blocks ago!) On the cargo bike you can reach forward and push it back up. Even if you have to stop, the kids are more easily accessible in the cargobike than in a trailer. And most importantly, you can have a conversation with them the whole time. You just can’t do that when they’re in a trailer.

I have a hard time saying that there are any drawbacks to this bike – but there are certainly a few things that any potential buyer should know before plunking down $3k.

First: this bike is heavy! 80 lbs Around 97 lbs in fact. Add that to you’re weight (I’m 165 lbs) then add two kids (my two are around 60 lbs together) and assorted cargo and groceries; you’re looking at pushing well over 300 lbs with just two legs. Now if you live in a relatively flat town (like Amsterdam) that’s no problem. You’ve got eight gears, and you use them. But when you come to a hill, well… you’ve got problems. People ask me all the time if I like this bike (people love to talk about this bike by the way – a potential hazard if you’re anti-social) I always respond that I love it, until I’m on a hill. On hills the cargobike has three strikes against it: 1) it’s heavy, 2) you can haul a lot of crap in it, making it even heavier; and 3) you’re sitting straight up and down – which is a terrible position to be in to mash pedals. I say this because I have spent a few days on the cargo bike in relatively flat South East Portland, and then gotten on my road bike and towed a similar amount of weight behind me in a trailer (same kids + gear + trailer). The hills are a breeze on the road bike comparatively. If you’ve ever done “leg day” in a gym, it’s the difference between a leg press (bent over on your back) and a hack-squat machine (standing up). You can push twice the weight on the former than the latter. On a road bike, you’re in a much better position to push this kind of weight. Not so on the Bakfiets. The result is that you have to be disciplined about using a small gear on the hills, or you can kiss your knees goodbye. The proof is in the pudding. I had knee problems for the first time in 20+ years of biking this year – until I learned to back off. I will admit that it was my own doing. I had been subconsciously trying to maintain the same speeds on the cargobike as I normally do on my other bikes. You just have to accept that you’re not going to travel at the same speeds. And on hills, people may walk past you before you reach the top. Something you have to get used to.

Another thing you have to be aware of on a cargobike is braking distance. Todd explained it to me perfectly one day when he was telling me why they don’t put disc brakes or cantilevers on the Bakfietsen, “It’s a lot of weight, being stopped by two small patches of rubber. The kind of brakes you use are not the issue.” When you’re riding a cargobike, you have to be aware at all times (especially on descents) that it’s going to take longer to stop than it would on a regular bike; maybe even a car. I haven’t encountered an accident situation in which I was unable to stop in time (yet) – but I have twice unintentionally run stop signs at the bottom of hills when I didn’t notice the stop sign until I got to the intersection (damn cars blocking my view!) and one of those times I went through the stop sign with kids in the bike! Let me tell you, you don’t do that twice in the same intersection.

Some people think the price is steep. I will admit to never having spent $3000 on a bike before. But for us the price was easy to justify: this isn’t a bike, this is our other car. We sold a rarely-driven-truck that had been darkening our driveway for 6 months, and it paid for this bike. I realize that not everyone has a car to trade-in (although some good friends of ours did exactly the same thing – getting rid of their rarely used second car to buy a Bakfiets) – but do the math; you can easily justify the cost of a fleet of bikes, including a Bakfiets, when you compare that cost to how much you spend on single car. Car-payments, insurance, gas and maintenance – cars are money-pits. Anyone who has owned a car knows this all too well.

Maybe the last drawback I can think of is the handlebars being the same height as my kids’ heads. It’s simple physics – during a sharp turn the kids’ heads get in the way of the handlebars. There’s no other place to put either of these two things, so be careful not to whap the kids in the head when turning sharply. Good thing they wear helmets.

In conclusion – I personally don’t believe that any of the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. This is a fantastic bike and knowing everything I know now I’d would definitely still buy it again. I should point out that Bakfietsen may not be great for everyone. For people who live in Northwest Portland or Seattle for instance (have you seen those hills!!!) or people who don’t have kids and who just want to haul cargo (where a trailer might be more efficient) this would be an impractical bike.

But for us urban dwellers living in relatively flat towns with young children (under 6 or 7) the Bakfiets is a godsend. It truly is. On a spring day, when I’m riding on the waterfront with my 4 year old, and we’re both making goose-calls to the geese, or pointing out the boats – it’s heaven. It’s just impossible to have a more thrilling rapport with you child than when they’re sitting right in front of you during a bike ride. This last weekend we took the family out for a cargobike ride to Ladd’s Addition for hot chocolate, and my wife (riding her Dutch cruiser) asked, “do we ever have happier moments than this? When we’re out on our bikes?” I couldn’t think of any.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another Local Boy Makes Good in ToC

...And today, Tom Peterson of North Bend was the highest-ranked continental finisher on the first mountain stage.

Have To Postpone Frame-Building Class

I can't afford the time off from work to go to United Bicycle Institute's Steel Frame Brazing class this April.

Shut up.

I don't want to talk about it.


I hope, by next year, to be sewing my own cycling clothes. Carol & I are currently taking a beginning sewing class at Stitches in Capitol Hill, a refresher for Carol, completely new for me. Our teacher, Jaimie, is a wild woman, and really great, and by the end of the first 2 1/2 hour class, had us sewing our first seam -- a lot more than I expected. We're really looking forward to the next class.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wenatchee Boy Makes Good

Tyler Farrar, by virtue of intermediate sprint time bonuses, now wears the leader's jersey in the Tour of California.

Cherchez Les Femmes

In all the hubub over the loss of Deutsch Telekom's sponsorship, and the new trajectory of the team, news of the T-Mobile women's team has sort of gone by the wayside. This was an extremely talented, coherent group of ladies who dominated both the U.S. and international scene.

Like their make counterparts, they're back as High Road. reports on the team presentation.

One of the most exciting additions this year is Mara Abbott, the student-swimmer-cyclist who has rocketed through the ranks in the past couple of years. It will be interesting to see how the team does pairing her with such perennial powerhouses as Oenone Wood.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Woo Doggies! Back On The Bike

I biked to work (to live, to bike, naturally) on Thursday and Friday, and it felt OK, not too shabby, so today, although the plan was to head up to the Pass for some skiing, we scrapped that plan and opted to ride instead. Mr. Weather promised us temperatures in the 50's, and sun.

So My World of Hert and I set out, with no particular plan. We ended up on Beach Drive, heading north toward Alki. It was a little chilly still, and we had a not insignificant headwind, so Carol started feeling like she couldn't do much today, and she gamely signaled me to go and ride for myself. Oh, yeah, as if! We had to stop, hug, kiss, and basically repeat our wedding vows. (Carol: Excuse me? Had to?)

Anyway, I think everyone in Seattle was banking on Mr. Weather's promise; how else to account for the appearance of the entire population of our fair city on Alki Beach? Strolling and trolling being the order of the day, I was unable to ride on the bike/pedestrian path, and it was unsafe to ride between parked cars and traffic, so I opted to ride with traffic. I tucked up behind two guys on Harleys, putt-putt, and we flowed along at a leisurely 12 m.p.h. while cars looked for parking spaces, guys looked for hot girls, and girls looked for hot guys. Unaccountably, the Harley riders seemed to get flustered when they realized I'd be riding behind them. I felt like a wolf in sheep's clothing, checking in with the flock. I get the distinct feeling that they'd have been more comfortable if I'd been a car.

Oh, shit. I forgot what I was wearing. One of the only two pairs of electric blue bib knickers ever sold by Voler (both of which were bought by me). Yeah, OK, I did look like an extra from La Cage Aux Folles.

(Ed. note: Harley guy: More like a sheep in wolf's clothing)

Anyway, after a long while of doing La Volta d'Alki, I made it to Spokane Street. Instead of going over the bridge, I jagged off at West Marginal Way, and rode down to Renton. Two little detours. First, I went exploring a bit in the park that follows the bank of the Duwamish. And, just north of the 1st Ave. Bridge, I was suddenly disgusted by all the litter, so I got off the bike and did a bit of clean-up. I was taking it very easy, resisting the temptation of putting it in the big ring and taking advantage of the northern tailwind.

At Renton, I went around the southern tip of Lake Washington, and headed back north. A pee stop at Coulon Park, and then at Kennydale Hill, I turned up, and did the climb up to 116th Ave. Now there, I did start feeling a little weak and kittenish. Once on 116th, though, all systems were within nominal tolerance, so I did a bit of exertion, going against the wind, slightly uphill, in Mr. Big Ring. Ooh, that felt nice.

Anyway, up to Factoria, through Mercer Slough, and on to Mercer Island.

Can we talk? I'd really like to find a way to get to Mercer Island that doesn't involve the Mercer Slough. The MS is a nature park, and as such, attracts many pedestrians along the twisty, narrow boardwalk, many of them elderly. The Slough shouldn't be a thoroughfare for us cyclists; really, that's a travesty. Anyway, I passed an elderly couple on the boardwalk who repeatedly had to walk in single file to accommodate the bike traffic. I felt really bad for them, and regretted adding to their toil. It just ain't right.

On Mercer Island, I headed south on East Mercer Way, but turned uphill at Mercerwood, for the nice twisting hill on offer there. No sooner had I gotten on Mercerwood, than I heard a squeak-­ squeak, and a young fellow on a rusted 70's vintage 10-speed (with shifters on the stem) passed me. Now he was interesting. From the bottom up: sneakers, striped (horizontally) knee socks, Mercer Island High School maroon baggy gym shorts, a tank top, dreads halfway down his back, and helmet. I caught up to him and declared that he'd put me to shame. I don't think he understood. I asked if he was cold. He said no, he was coming from the gym (probably at Mercerwood Country Club). He said I had a nice bike. I shrugged, then grabbed a handful of belly to indicate that the nice bike didn't matter much if you were carrying around extra weight. (Hope he didn't think I was making a lewd suggestion.) Anyway, I was probably not the conversational high point of his day, so I shut up, and we rode in silence for a bit. Then he took off, I slowed a bit, but then met him again at the top of the hill, and said bye to him as he turned south.

On West Mercer Way, I had another of my seemingly endless stream of close encounters with cars that come west down the short, steep hill on 40th, and, unable to see traffic coming north on West Mercer Way, pull forward onto the shoulder of WMW. There's gotta be a safe way to ride in that situation; I just haven't found it.

Anyway, over the floating bridge, down to Dearborn, left on Airport Rd, to Royal Brougham, and finally, south again on East Marginal Way. Lots of semis parked in the middle lane of EMW; a container ship must be behind schedule. Anyway, as I neared Spokane St., I came across my second mass of litter in the parking-­ lane-­ used-­ by-­ cyclists-­ because-­ there-­is-­ no-­ friggin-­ southbound-­ bike-­ lane. This one made me angry, because it was obviously illegally discarded medical waste, all from the same plastic bag. I cannot imagine any way for that litter to get there except for someone who had been paid to dispose of it properly, instead taking it to a remote location and just dropping it. Anyway, I cleaned up as much as I could, set it up on the sidewalk, covered it with rocks to prevent it blowing away, and, later, will call the city to report it. Luckily I had a spare pair of gloves, so I took off the gloves I used for cleanup, and tucked them into my jersey. Back home, I soaked the gloves and jersey in several bottles of isopropyl alcohol -- we'll see if they survive the subsequent washing.

As I got back on my bike, my shoulder was brushed by a cyclist who was hammering toward the bridge. He then brushed another cyclist, and finally, hopped his bike at the last moment to avoid plowing into a pedestrian from behind. I think I know this guy. A few months ago, I was behind him when he nearly plowed headfirst into two pedestrians on the sidewalk under the bridge, in the dark. Today, I resolved that the next time I see him, I am going to bury myself to catch him, and then he and I will have a free and frank exchange of opinions. It may not be the legal or prudent thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. I cannot imagine that another year will go by without this asshole hurting someone. Badly. At the very least, if I can stop him long enough to get his photo on my cell camera, it might help the police, when (not if) that happens.

Anyway, over the lower West Seattle bridge, and back on to my beloved-­ island-­ that-­ is-­ not-­ an-­ island. At this point, I was seriously tempted to take the shortest route home, since I was no longer feeling good, and I was starting to feel very cold. Harbor Drive and Alki were even more mobbed than before. I again tucked in behind two motorcycles, and crawled along, this time alternating between moving 5 m.p.h. and doing short track stands (Disclaimer: I can't do a bonafide track stand. I am a Poseur de Piste). This just went on and on and on, until Beach Drive. Then, all motorized traffic turned back toward Alki to repeat La Volta, and I headed south. By this time, I was feeling the effects of the decision to keep riding. Very cold, very tired. But, hey, from the point of view of training, it was perfect. Just a bit beyond my comfort zone.

Anyway, I took the secret switchbacked climbing route up to Fauntleroy, and then north on California, switching to 42nd, where there is no traffic.

OK, here I must confess that I had another motive for taking the long way home. As Carol and I were beginning our ride, I crossed Alaska and 42nd, and pulled over to let Carol catch up. There, I heard, just faintly, "Stop fuckin' wit' da traffic." Huh? Not only was I pulled out of the traffic lane, but as far as I know, I was riding completely legally, and there was no traffic to fuck wit'! Startled, I looked back. There was an older, overweight white guy standing there, smoking a cigarette, staring at me, repeating: "Stop fuckin' wit' da traffic." He said this over and over, then shook his head. What was up with that? Had I met the human equivalent of a bumper sticker? Weirder yet, the corner this guy was standing at has nothing there. Empty lots. He wasn't waiting to cross the street. Just standing there, repeating his mantra.

Carol came up, and not looking for an argument (from either Carol or this guy), I moved on. But on the way home, I very much was hoping that Mr. Fuck Wit' was still there, so I could stop and tell him, in numbing detail, all the traffic I had fucked wit' by riding completely legally, not slowing motorized traffic one bit, using my bike on the road.

Sadly, it was not to be. Mr. Fuck Wit' had moved on to other, hopefully equally fulfilling activities.

I hope Mr. Fuck Wit' is an isolated occurrence, but I fear he may not be. A couple months ago, as I was riding north on 3rd Ave. toward work, I was stopped waiting for a red light. A woman who illustrated all the downside risk of blondehood walked up to me and asked "you got insurance for that thing?"

I hope I am a paranoid raving lunatic, that this is the last vestige of the illness. I hope that the creeps who make our city sparkle with incidents of bike-directed road rage, and who provide the drumbeat of misinformation underlying calls for licensing and insuring bikes, and outright banning bikes on roads, are not conducting some kind of low-level in situ psy-ops.

R.E.M. lyric of the day: "Divide your cultured pearls in haste", from Turn You Inside Out

Song I'd most like to hear on Kempton Baker's spinning playlist: Cat's Squirrel, either Charley Musselwhite's version or Cream's version. My cat Pumpkin wants to hear that, too, although he doesn't spin, unless you put him in the, let's not go there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Riding My Way Out Of Sickness: A Fugue

I have been very, very sick since the end of last week. I've had very flu-like symptoms, but I don't have a fever, so it may be some kind of otolaryngological malady (my balance has been affected; if I turn my eyes quickly, I feel like falling over and throwing up; these episodes are sometimes accompanied by a buzzing in my ears and an involuntary shudder in my neck and shoulders).

One of the things I've learned is that if I pamper myself, I end up being sicker, longer. So, I've gotten into the habit of plotting, at the first sign of sickness, when to get back on the bike.

I can't always do it right away. On Wednesday night I got on the trainer, turned the pedals once, and got off. Nope, not happening. I was weak as a kitten.

Thursday was the day, though. I went to Kempton Baker's spinning class, equipped with Snausages, and a resolve to take it easy, be reasonable, just spin lightly, you're sick, don't kill yourself.

Fifteen minutes into the class, I was bereft of both Snausages (good job, Jack!) and resolve. I think I put in about a 75% effort. And on this day, Kempton was on some sort of hallucinate-or-die vision quest or something. It was definitely a high resistance, high cadence, endurance day. A consolidation day. For my classmates who were able to do the full 100%, I salute you. I had on my Sean Kelly face. And, yes, I was drooling.

That effort, after being off the bike (and weak) for nearly a week, triggered the mother of all endorphin surges. That afternoon, I sat at my desk, intensely happy, with my mind skipping from memory to memory, a twining of music and cycling.

I have a bit of a crush on Kate Pierson of the B-52's. It's been said that Bessie Smith's voice could make a man get up from the audience, and walk onto the stage, without realizing what he was doing. Well, Kate Pierson's voice can make me get on a bike and ride and ride and ride til I've rid myself silly.

I remember first hearing the song Shiny Happy People, pairing R.E.M. with Kate. It was in Philadelphia. I was having my hair cut by Kevin Gallagher, father of my son's best friend, Ian, and husband of one of Nick's Montessori pre-school teachers. Kevin was an artist-turned-hairdresser; later he would take up bike racing. He and his wife Lisa ultimately bought a mansion on The Wall in Manayunk. Anyway, when I heard Kate's voice, I melted, absolutely melted.

Of course, R.E.M. has always had a very special place in my heart when it comes to cycling. R.E.M. was in my ears in the summer of 1985, the summer I spent in Chicago. It was a weird time. My then-wife was working at a summer internship at a law firm, and I was rail-commuting from Chicago to Ann Arbor for my job. For me, that meant working at home several days a week, so I was the primary caregiver for Nick, who was only nine months old at the time.

We were living in a basement apartment in a little neighborhood just north of Lincoln Park, a nice enough place. The owner had left his record collection, which enabled me to find Roxy Music's album Avalon, on which I wore out More Than This. But since I was taking care of Nick, I had to do some pretty crazy things to get my riding in. For instance, I used to get up at 4:30 A.M. so I could be on the road by 5:00, riding up toward Kenilworth. On the ride back down, I'd hit rush hour traffic. I fancied myself a sprinter in those days, so I'd motor-pace behind cars at 35 m.p.h., with no helmet (this was the age of leather hairnets), on Ashland Ave. I was in a rush to get back home by 8:30, so Nick's mom could head off for work.

The other thing I'd do was train at Northbrook velodrome. My genius plan was to set up Nick in a playpen in the infield, and then ride around. My plan had two flaws. First, I didn't want to make two trips from the car to the track (which was a bit of a walk away from the parking), because I didn't want to leave Nick alone in the car, or at the track. So, I'd carry Nick and the playpen and the bike and the floor pump, all at once. Second, Nick didn't want to be left alone in the middle of this huge field, seeing his Dad whiz by every 30 seconds. Poor kid. I think I scarred him for life. But I did learn to sprint at a top speed of 42 m.p.h. The national Veterans' Pursuit Champion was also training there, and he did a bit of mentoring with me. He got me doing 1K time trials, using sophisticated instrumentation to gauge my effort: "If you don't feel like throwing up, you're not going hard enough; if you throw up, you're going too hard."

(Ed. note, post-fugue: What I called "sprinting at 42 mph" in this paragraph was actually just riding a track bike at a velodrome at that speed, taking advantage of the banking. It wasn't sprinting. Sprinting is quite something else, an art, involving at least two riders, calling on both strength and tactical skill. In this sense, I never sprinted on a track.)

Another thing I'd do to squeeze in some training was to ride the rollers during Nick's nap-times. My brother-in-law had given me a pirated copy of R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction, and Maps and Legends was the perfect song for the rollers.

On weekends, everyone would head up to Kenilworth. On both Saturday and Sunday, well over 100 cyclists would converge on Kenilworth Cyclery, and take over the roads north of Chicago for an informal mass-start race. We'd all ride out together, and then when we got to a certain point -- I believe it was just after we crossed a highway overpass -- the race was on. There were some high quality riders there. Once someone pointed out a guy in a 7-Eleven uniform and said it was Alex Stieda. Was it? Who knows? But it was plausible.

It was in these Kenilworth races that I first realized that bike racing would never be my day job. I was in a group of three, trying to bridge from the peleton to the Category I and II riders up head (who for us, were "the break"). I was burying myself to make it work, but after a few minutes, one of the guys sat up and said to the other "well, we've just been blocked." I was humiliated and broken. Think: Charlie Brown, leaving the stage of the school Christmas pageant, after Lucy calls him a blockhead, and all the other kids laugh at him in eerie unison.(Editor's note, post-fugue: What do you think of this as a jersey design?)

But even if that was the beginning of the end of my dreams of bike racing greatness, it was still a shimmering time. In Cuyahoga, Michael Stipe reminisces:
Bank the quarry, river swim.
We knee-skinned it you and me,
We knee-skinned that river red
I don't know what this means (any more than I know what any of what Michael Stipe sings means). But, whenever I hear this, I feel the magic of hot rural summers in the Midwest, before suburban sprawl, when kids had time to learn and explore the world around them. The summers of Bloomington, Indiana (where Carol used to teach and ride), of Breaking Away.

I know these summers. I started cycling in Ann Arbor. I remember how wonderfully easy it was to get out to Dexter on Huron River Drive, and from Dexter to Parker Road, flat as a pancake, surrounded by farmers' fields as far as you could see. Where you'd encounter more tractors and horses than cars. If we were ambitious, we'd ride Dexter-Chelsea Rd., hoping for the Amtrak to go by so we could race it into Chelsea. The Cat II's would then ride on to Silver Lake.

The two Cat II's I remember are Angelo Chinni and Wild Bill Corliss. I was saddened to learn that Bill died recently in a bike crash. He went down at the back of a group a cyclists riding in Utah, and then was hit by a truck. But Bill was making a living in cycling, working as Director of Development for Specialty Electronics, for Bell Specialty, and as a mentor for the Park City Bicycling Academy. I can still remember when Bill got his brand new frame from Mark Nobilette . He was like a kid at Christmas! (Trying to remember what Bill rode before that, but I can't. Ed. note, post-fugue: Bill's brother Greg has filled in this gap -- it was an Eisentraut) I'm not sure what happened to Angelo. He was a very nice, and obviously very talented, kid. He was a protegé of Mike DeEstrada, a tough (and quite raunchy) little veteran with a heart of gold who lived out west in Jackson, but who was one of the centers of our racing community.

(Ed. note, post-fugue: It's no surprise that Bill ended up mentoring for PCBA. He was a natural mentor. I remember we were on a training ride he was leading, and he was looking after a couple of new guys. Inevitably, someone picked up the pace on a hill, and we followed. Bill caught up to us and told us that he was hanging back because one of the new guys had lost his lunch. I, being: 1) oxygen-deprived, 2) not familiar with the expression, and 3) just not that bright to begin with, earnestly offered to go back and help Bill look for it.)

If I didn't head northwest on Huron River Drive, I'd head up north on Pontiac Trail, and cut west on Eight Mile Rd to Whitmore Lake. At a certain point on Eight Mile, there was a farm dog who'd come whipping around the corner of the farmhouse, angling toward the road, to intercept me. That was my sprint training. I know this is also a scene in American Flyers, but I swear, I used to do this, this is not a "manufactured memory." And to go Kevin Costner one better: once, just as I thought I'd gotten away, my rear tire punctured. Thank God it didn't roll (we all used sew-ups then), and I was able to keep up enough speed til he lost interest. This happened! (We had all learned the value of riding on a flat when Roy Knickman won the Junior road championships in a sprint after his rear tire rolled on the last corner before the line.)

(Ed. note: The dog: I let him get away.)

These things, and many more, I remembered, sitting at my desk Thursday afternoon, as my memories overcame and overpowered me.

And now, a confession. I was happy to revisit these memories, so happy I was crying. I sat at my desk smiling, with tears streaming down my face. Luckily, I could pass off the sniffling as after-effects of my sickness.

By the end of the day, the surge had passed. Now I am on the mend. But it's been awhile since I've thought about these parts of my life. You know what? I have no regrets.

Except maybe leaving little Nick in that playpen in the infield of Northbrook velodrome.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Velorution Will Not Be Motorized

Obscure little bit in the P-I, but very heartening, so I'll quote it at length:
If incoming freshmen promise not to bring a car to campus for a full year, Ripon College will give them a Trek 820 mountain bike, a helmet and a lock - a $400 value.
"We're a residential college with a beautiful, historic campus in the middle of a small town," said President David Joyce, an avid cyclist. "Paving it over was not an option I was willing to consider.
He hopes the 1,000-student campus' "Velorution Program" will protect it from building more parking lots.
"There is not a strong bicycle culture here with students. That is what we are trying to engender."
For the original story, go here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lance Hearts Portland

Thanks to for this one.

From this article in his hometown paper:

Armstrong said he'd like to see Austin evolve into a place like Portland, Ore., where biking is part of the culture and people pedal to work, to restaurants and to run errands. "Walk outside, and the streets are lined with bikes — because they have a safe place to ride," Armstrong said of the city long known for its bicycle-friendly amenities and policies.

I wish Seattle could evolve into a place like Portland.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Safety Issues for Suburban Bike Riding Monkeys

Thanks to BikeHugger for surfacing this gem.

Watch it. I guarantee you will be creeped out. On so many levels. Don't know what's scarier -- the thought of the dead children, or the live ones.

And who knows, maybe you'll be scared into riding more safely. Because, what if you wake up in the ER, only to discover that the hospital staff are ... apes! And then you'd fall on your knees, look to the heavens, shake your fists, and cry out "God damn you, God damn you to hell!"

What The Fever Made Me Do

The Fever made me order this last night. I don't really have a fever, but have been feeling very flu-ish since last week. Anyway, I have two frames that need tapping, chasing, or facing of the BB, one English and one Italian, so I finally convinced myself that it made sense to make the investment. Not sure about the quality -- it's described as "for the home mechanic" -- I'm sure it's not up to Park BTS-1 quality.

I also bought this. I replaced the broken spokes on the dumpster-dived Bontrager Race wheel Chad brought to me with standard 14g spokes, and that's working out nicely, but I also have to adjust some of the original spokes, which are bladed. A tool like this is necessary, I found, to prevent winding up the spoke into a "helix" rather than a blade, as the nipple is tightened. I also went over the wheel carefully, to try to determine whether there were any safety defects (looking for rim cracks, hub flange cracks, &c). The only thing I found was a set of rim wear nubs that were flat, indicating that the rim was worn. And, indeed, the braking surface is mildly concave. (Indeed?) I've ridden worse.

OK, so how do I explain this to Carol? Damn, it's the fever.

As usual, please let me know if you want to borrow either of these tools.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Elegy for Sheldon

Thanks to Nic for passing on the pointer to this article.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The First Time

Do you remember your very first time? When all anxieties dissipated as the great mystery was revealed to you? When all those years of fantasizing were wiped away in that culminating moment of explosive awareness and achievement?!

Sex? No, I'm not talking about sex! Get your mind out of the gutter, you perv.

I'm talking wheel building! SeattleCyclist details his first time here. And I must say, reading his account (and he has pictures!) made me a little flushed. May this be the first of many for him!


This is a new one to me: a local city ride that stresses integration of bike & motor traffic. @ 2/15/08, 5:30, Westlake.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sad news: Sheldon Brown has passed away

Nic just forwarded me this link, reporting the passing of Sheldon Brown.

The Perils of Dumpster Diving

A few weeks ago, Chad gave me a Bontrager Race rear wheel that he'd found out behind a bike shop, with 4 of the spokes broken. I've been meaning to take the wheel in to a Bontrager dealer so they could identify the part number for the replacement spokes. On Saturday, I finally got around to it. After dropping Carol off at the airport, I drove over to Bicycles West in Tukwila. Well, long story short, the mechanic there said the spokes were cut, which he took to mean that the wheel had been deliberately damaged, perhaps to make it unusable due to a safety issue. He got agitated, and said he wouldn't "put his professional reputation on the line..." -- end of conversation.

Who knows?

I can't really blame him. All he needs is one lawsuit against his shop, and the shop will be unable to get insurance in the future, and he will be unemployable. (This was one of the lessons they pressed in the last day of the Professional Bike Repair class at UBI).

That said, I'll try to rebuild the wheel with non-Bontrager spokes, and ride it myself, just to see what happens. Hey, maybe if I fall and knock myself on the head, I'll be smarter!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Back To School

The Sno-Parks are closed today, and the Pass is closed for more avalanche control, so, with my skiing plans in shambles, I have some extra time on my hands. So I'm finalizing my arrangements for this year's classes at United Bicycle Institute.

This year, I'll be taking the Chromoly Brazing frame-building class, with the two-day TIG-welding seminar, from April 7 to April 20.

The logistics this year will be different from last year. This year, I won't be driving. Last year's adventure -- being run off the road by some guy in a pickup truck, and driving over passes in a blizzard -- have convinced me that it's just not worth it. So I'll be flying down.

I'll also be shipping a bike down to ride around on. Classes at UBI end promptly at 5, and that leaves nearly 3 hours til sunset at that time of year. Last year, I drove around and did a bit of reconnaissance, and identified some really nice country roads, including a really nice climb up Mt. Ashland. So, this can be a 2-week biking vacation/training camp, as well.

For lodging, this year I'm opting for a room at a motel, instead of the hostel. A motel room with kitchen and Internet doesn't cost a heck of a lot more than the hostel. And although I lucked out last year, you never know whom you'll end up sharing a room with...for two weeks!

Students at UBI also get to place one order with the wholesale counterpart to BikeToolsEtc. This year, I have my heart set on a BB facing/tap set, perhaps the Park BTS-1. I have a couple of frames that are waiting BB tapping or facing, so it's now feasible for me to get the tools myself, rather than having it done at a bike shop.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I just wish I could weld

Almost an instructable on making a carbon fiber frame.
While I have you by the eyeballs, anyone willing to do a little welding for fee or trade? I have a 50's steel Raleigh that I want to turn into a chopper.
Haven't looked at it yet, but Make Magazine has a weekend project, build a single-speed bike