Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chain of Thought

I recently got in touch with an old friend from whom I had not heard in quite some time. Though he recalled that I had been a messenger in Boston, (back in the day) he had not remembered me being that into cycling. This is true. It was the only practical means of transit, and it enabled me to have a job to which I could show up most of the time. I rode everywhere and in all weather. Winter snow and ice, no problem, dress accordingly and take it easy. I did not really care about bikes or cycling. I was aware of pro racing only because that was the time of Greg Lemond's Tour victories.

My bike at the time was a nameless "racing" frame that had ended up in the shed behind my parent's house in suburban Massachusetts. Nameless wheels, coaster-brake, "english" bars, big basket up front. I never worked on it other than fixing flats. I do not even remember cleaning the chain.I did not want to upgrade my bike, it worked fine until the seat tube finally cracked at the bottom bracket. Other bikes followed. None were an obsession.

So why, now that I am on the down hill section of life's course, have I become so taken with cycling? I now clean my chain every other week. In fact I just put on a new chain. It is a nice SRAM Power Chain II with a speedlink for easy removal.

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I'm not sure I am happy with this chain. It makes noise on the Shimano freewheel cog. It's the kind of noise that's not that loud all of the time, just when I crank hard or power up a hill. Metal on metal, and it bugs me a lot. I tried it on the (Shimano Dura-ace) fixed cog and that was worse.

I have a good chain-line. The old chain made little or no noise but got stretched to the point where I could not tension it by pulling the wheel back in the dropouts. So what is it? It's making me nuts. This chain was supposed to make my life better.

My pastor likes to say "Nothing created can complete us." But really, I have this feeling that if I could only get the bike setup just right. I mean a new set of brake pads. Come on now I NEED those right. And over the last couple of weeks I have noticed a funny feeling up front and I went by the shop and sure enough a new headset is required, the only moving part original to the 1981 frame. All else has been carefully researched and ordered and put together to create the perfect…

...ah yeah right. So I am a dork.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Racing Home

Unlike say walking or running, when you ride a bike, you can actually get somewhere useful in a reasonable amount of time. It takes me about an hour to ride 16 miles home from work each day. An average speed of… well 16 miles per hour; not very fast but respectable. Some days it takes a little longer; head winds, traffic lights, taking the time to interact with other cyclists or picking up two green enchilada plates from La Playita, all can add to the overall time required to get home. Now I do not have a speedometer, or bike computer, and I only rarely time my ride. I found myself becoming a slave to the clock and I know if I had a bike computer I would for sure become a a freak about my cadence, speed and any other facts those little gadgets spit out. I love to ride my bike and while I have done it professionally, (I was messenger in Boston back in the day) I'v never been a racer. I am not very fast and not very competitive, or so I thought.

Since I have been commuting I have noticed this thing where I see a cyclist ahead of me, and I pick up my pace. I know this is foolish. One should find ones pace and stick to it. Yet there I am, pouring it on to catch whoever is ahead of me.

Where does this come from? Nine times out of ten it turns out to be an older guy on a expensive road bike and I end up feeling bad about passing him with my single speed. I mean if it is a young guy, or even a kind of not so young, but has not actually figured that out yet guy like me, it would be ok but those guys are more likely to be zipping past me.

This brings me to The Blue Rider. For over a year on any given evening, I have been passed on the way home by a guy on a dark blue single speed. It is a nice bike. Modern corm-mo steel frame, flat bars, no frills. Now being passed is one thing, but this guy tears past me. I have on several occasions tried pursuit, and was left panting in the dust. The Blue Rider is fast. This lead me to thinking less than nice thoughts about him. The nefarious Blue Rider creeping up behind me on the bike path with his rather bright headlight casting weird shadows of my form in the darkness. Then he pounces. He is next to me not even long enough for a greeting (and none is offered) and then off into the night leaving me to stare at his Cat Eye tail light winking mockingly at me.

On one occasion we were waiting together at a traffic signal. He was all looking off and ignoring me. I even asked "How's it going?". No response. That is just not done. The Blue Rider… my nemesis.

A few days ago he nipped past me as I slowed for the light at Abbot Kinney and Venice. I followed in hot pursuit, but was losing ground. He snapped the left onto Marr St. I followed but hooked a right on the little foot-path that connects you through to Mildred, a short cut. He took Oxford. We arrived at the light at Washington simultaneously. The light changed promptly and he got off ahead of me. This is where I pick up the official Southbay Bike Path. "That's it, I'm not racing, this guy's just jerk anyhow" I told myself. I kind of let him go. As we approached the next intersection at Admiralty Way, he slowed as the light was against us.

I caught him at the light. We stood in silence, waiting. Then I spoke out "Nice day." The Blue Rider double took as he turned his head and said in quiet voice "Yeah" This was not the snarl of an evil opponent, this was an almost shy voice. "I see you out here pretty often." I continued. "Yeah every night" he replied. I nodded "You sure are fast.". He shrugged sheepishly and said "My wife, she gets mad if I don't get home on time." We laughed and with that the light changed. He was off opting for the smoother but heavily trafficked Admiralty Way. I took my time on the bike path and where it comes back out on Fiji Way I could see The Blue Rider off in the distance. Racing home.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Radio Bikes

A few years back, in a another life I was an east coast guy making a living buying and selling people's old stuff. My wife and I would drive up and down the eastern seaboard, combing yard sales, flea markets, auctions and antique shows for that which was old odd or unusual. One of the things that would always intrigue me was finding objects that had been customized or repaired in interesting ways. A chair being tensioned with twisted wire or a crystal bowl being held together with metal staples. I like the functionality, and when neatly exicuted, it can be aesthetic as well.

The bicycle is no stranger to such personalization or creative jerry-rigging. In fact this is where bikes dorks truly shine. Take for example this website devoted to fixing up old bikes. The single-speed gallery has been a source of inspiration for my current ride. There are however folks who push this basic fixing and customizing to another level. They are not simply putting a Brooks saddle and and fenders on an old ten-speed, or building the obligatory mohawkish tall-bike. Instead they are wrapping some part of themselves and their vision of the world into their build.

On a recent trip to New Mexico, I had the good fortune of attending the monthly EAA Chapter 530 pancake breakfast at the Las Cruces International Airport. Though there is nothing "international" about this airport except it's proximity to the Mexican border, the breakfast the EAA puts on is first-rate. Nice hint of green chiles in the eggs. My father is not an aviator but has been attending this breakfast for a number of years. There are plenty of mechanically inclined guys to share stories about mechanical and engineering feats.

I am my father's son and was delighted to see these bikes parked outside of the hanger where the breakfast is held. At first all I could think was "I've got to send pictures of these to the Bike Snob. He will love these." I never did get around to that and came across these images as I was organizing my photos.

What we have here are his and hers radio equipped touring bikes. Without the radios, these would surely be considered individualistically curated examples. A hand built Land Shark with Rock Shocks and a freaky cockpit configuration that would make a fighter pilot envious. A Light Speed with titanium frame and and Spynergy rear wheel and crankset I have never seen. Interesting bikes… But radios? Yup.

The couple who own these bike appeared to be retirement age and were only too happy tell about the ham radio system they have. apparently they had bigger radios in the past, thus the oversized boxes mounted on the areobars. they also admitted a bit sheepishly that one can now buy a pair of walky talkies that would do the same thing.

I watched them mount their bikes put on the helmets that have earphones and microphone built in, plug it all in and radio check as they took off.

I love bike dorks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Bike Dork Goes to Court

Recently I received a notice for jury duty. Though I was not stoked, I was glad to be called to serve in Torrance, a few miles from my house. A quick ride. It is a few miles that I am glad I don't ride every day. The main streets in the Southbay are wide and drivers tend to take advantage of this by traveling at 50 or 60 mph. I just do not like that sucking feeling, as they whiz by.

With my bike securely locked to the nearly empty rack out front, I got in the line to enter the court house. The security is like the airport except you can keep your shoes on. My messenger bag however piqued their curiosity, and my Park Tool 15mm wrench/ bottle opener had to be checked at the door. This is the kind of silliness we come to expect from the authorities who protect us. One can not get upset about it.; better to just be nice to folks who have the the job of dealing with people who carry tools.

The jury waiting room and the courtroom itself where rather dank and chilly so left my dorky yellow jacket on. Full on Bike Dork. At least I had the sense to lock my helmet with my bike, and roll my pant leg down.

I would be a good juror. I have watched quite a few episodes of Perry Mason. I see how it all works. However at about 4:00 pm, on the second round of culling out bad jurors, The prosecutor cut me loose. At first I was relived; the case was likely to take 10 days or more. My work does not pay for jury duty. Then I thought "why me?" Was it my jacket? The only guy in the room in a safety yellow jacket... Or perhaps it was my chiding the defense lawyer for "dancing around" the issue with his civics 101 questioning. Of course your client is innocent until proven guilty. It was also stunning to see how many potential jurors did not get this basic American concept.

Though i did not get chosen, jury duty is no joke.The case was felony murder. It took my breath away to see this kid, he could have been one of my friends from MDL in Haiti. Made me think about the choices we make every day.

Stiff headwind on the way home. As I write this I realize I forgot to reclaim my wrench!

Dogh! What a Dork.