Monday, November 2, 2015

Mental Health Day

My late dad was a major proponent of what he called the "mental health day": a day off from work or school not because you were sick, but just because everybody needs a day off to recharge once in a while. I wasn't allowed to abuse the privilege (he was a public school teacher, after all) but I remember a few times in high school where he let me take a Ferris Bueller day minus the parade-based hijinks.

I've carried that proud tradition into my quasi-adult life, and since I was supposed to be on vacation all last week (a vacation cancelled due to spousal sinus infection, unfortunately), I decided that Friday would be my mental health day. The result?

A bit of trailside relaxation with Fall color. Temps were a little crisp, but nothing tights and a wool jersey couldn't defeat. I tend to get a little goal-oriented/obsessive during my usual rides, forgetting to just kick back and enjoy from time to time. On this ride, I forced myself to roll a little more Pondero-style, and the results were very enjoyable. Not sure what Pondero-style means? Here's a great example. Of course, I have fewer (and worse) photos, no hammock, and no trailside coffee brewing apparatus. I'll have to do something about that.

Digressionary news flash, that will circle back eventually... I was also riding with the knowledge that Friend of Blog Steve F (a.k.a. Local Steve, a.k.a. that crazy guy who did the Tour Divide this year) was at that moment in the intensive care unit recovering from a bad crash Thursday night. He and a friend were putting in some after-dark gravel miles when a deer crossed their path. The friend got away relatively unharmed, but Steve hit Bambi hard at about 20 miles per hour, breaking seven ribs (his own, not the deer's) and puncturing a lung (again, his own) -- no word on the condition of the bike or the deer. The guy does over 2,000 miles on the Great Divide without getting even nibbled by a bear, then gets taken out by a deer in Iowa?!? C'mon, universe, that's just not cool. (Digression to my digression, Steve is healing up, has left intensive care, eaten a burrito, and worn pants since then. But think nice things for him in the direction of whatever higher power -- or lack thereof -- you profess to believe or not believe in.)

So given that I had Steve, Guru of Gravel on my mind, I figured it was a good opportunity to leave the paved path and see what the rocky roads were looking like these days. Spoiler alert, they looked like this:

When people ask, "What's the big deal with all this gravel riding?" show them this photo. That's a gravel road so nicely packed down that it could be a double-wide, groomed mountain bike trail. And it went on for miles and miles and miles and miles, way more miles than I had in my chubby, out-of-shape legs. I was out there for a solid two hours and encountered one (friendly) pickup truck, one other cyclist, and one farm dog that barked at me from his yard without even giving chase. Fast surface, rolling hills, perfect weather... what more could you ask for?

For the gear geeks, this was my first real test of the Refurbished Rockhopper as a "gravel bike" (whatever that means), and it passed with flying colors. No big surprise there, since old mountain bikes were designed with this kind of surface in mind. I even got nutty and carried some speed through a few curves just to see where the slick Kojaks would find their limit -- but they never did. Do I think that for a dedicated gravel racer/mega-enduro-gravel-dude, one of those ultra-optimized "gravel-specific" bikes might be a little better than my battered old beast? Maybe. But did this vintage ride with its "outdated" wheel size and rim brakes hold me back at all? Nope. (Well, the rim brakes held me back, but that's what brakes are supposed to do.) If I'm being extra-super-picky, I'd probably prefer a frame with a slightly lower bottom bracket and slacker seat angle, but man, that's really putting a fine point on it. Luckily, if the Rockhopper ever succumbs to the rust nibbling away at its tubes, all the parts will port over to a 26" Surly Long Haul Trucker frameset with just those features. Of course, by the time the rust catches up, the 26" wheel size may be dead and gone.

I can't say that the day off and ride fixed all my mental health ills (it's not a miracle cure, after all), but I am feeling much better. I guess my dad was a pretty smart dude.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Despite All My Rage, I Still Lock My Bike in a Cage

So that secured bike parking I mentioned? It's real... and it's spectacular.

Here's a shot from the inside out, after I've scanned my Borg-badge for entry:

Anyone who wants to use it has to ask the security desk dudes. They tell "The System" (you know, the one designed by "The Man") that you're A-OK, and from then on, your badge works on the door. Not only did they cage in the existing bike parking area, they added a bunch of shiny new racks to boot.

And since I can't help showing off my bike, here's the ol' Rockhopper (finally sporting its finishing touch, some big ol' fenders), locked in the cage for the day:

Keen-eyed readers will say, "Um, dude, you know that your rear wheel has a quick-release and isn't locked, right?" Yes, yes, I know. But given that somebody has to get into the locked cage to get that wheel (and Big Brother knows who enters and leaves the cage) I'm willing to risk it. Heck, I might even start leaving my helmet with the bike now that I don't have to worry about stray dogs peeing on it.

In case Big Brother is watching this post too, it would be nice if there were one of those public bike workstations in the cage, too. Just sayin'...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Another Pander to the Light Nerds

For reasons that mystify me, whenever I post about bike lights, my page views take off ("take off" being a relative term, which in this case means "go from zero to four"). So, since it is the time of year when days shorten, and since I'm never one to pass up an opportunity to sell out to my audience, it's time for another headlight review!

The new contender: A Serfas "True 155" LED headlight. I picked this up as a relatively inexpensive ($35 at my LBS) and easily available replacement when the Knog Boomer on our tandem developed the annoying tendency of turning off and on at random. Here's a shot of it on my Rockhopper instead, for reasons I'll explain later:

Points in this light's favor already: Fairly compact on the bars, runs on just two AA batteries, and (so far) doesn't jiggle itself open during a ride, unlike all the Planet Bike Blaze lights I've used. Oh, and a nice mounting bracket, too:

That top "horseshoe" piece can rotate about 90 degrees in either direction, through a series of fairly heavily indexed clicks. What you can't see is that most of the clamp is a thick rubber strap. It has a pin on one end (like a watch band) that fits in several corresponding slots for coarse adjustment, then the plastic lever closes to snug it up for good. Simple, stable, versatile... not too shabby.

But, I can hear the light nerds asking, where's the beam shot? Here you go, shot in our top-secret beam testing laboratory, a.k.a. a dark bathroom:

Pretty typical round, flashlight-style beam here, nowhere near as sophisticated as my Philips SafeRide. Bright enough, sure, but shoots a lot of that brightness off in directions that don't do the rider any good. It has three different settings and claims to have a flash setting, but (thankfully) I can't figure out how to make it flash. I hate flashing front lights with a passion, so this is a feature, not a bug.

As for how a light intended for the tandem ended up on my bike, we learned quite by accident that many inexpensive LED headlights (including both the Serfas and a couple Planet Bikes from my stash that I tested) interfere with the also-inexpensive Bontrager wireless computer on the tandem. While the sun was up, we were humming along at our usual (blistering) average speed, but as soon as things got dark and I turned on the Serfas, zero miles per hour. Score one more for the SafeRide, which does not interfere with the computer. Thanks to the versatility of the mounting bracket, however, I was able to mount it on a fork blade below and opposite the sender for the computer, which doesn't interfere at all, and will probably make better use of the simple round beam. Haven't ride-tested this yet, though.

Since we were down one Boomer, I decided to replace the rear one with another Serfas, their basic seat stay tail light. Of course, being a rebel, I defied the name and put it on the seatpost instead:

Nothing terribly exciting here... a bright LED in the middle flanked by six smaller LEDs, and a variety of seizure-inducing flash patterns. We needed something that mounts with rubber straps to fit on the non-round rear section of dear stoker's Thudbuster. Wish it ran on something other than little coin-shaped batteries, but I'll wait to see how long the batteries last before I bag on it for that.

Obligatory disclaimer: I bought these lights with my own grubby dollars and was not bribed to speak well or ill of them. Also, if you click a link in this post and find yourself at Amazon, a pittance from any resulting purchase might make its way to my pocket.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Cage Match

So I'm strolling through the parking garage of my employer (as one is wont to do), and I see this:

Secured storage area?!? For bicycles?!? Whatnow?!?

Several days later, this appears:

By golly, that's a big ol' fenced-in cage around the bike rack area. For several days, it had no gate (you can just make out the opening on the right edge of my photo), so I wondered if we were just going to count on the social-psychological pressure of a fence coupled with the legendary niceness of Iowans to protect our bikes, but just yesterday, it got a gate controlled by the same Borg-cube entry credentials that let people into the building.

This is awesome news for me (though likely ho-hum news for you), as I've lost a couple headlights and a rain jacket (during friggin' Bike Month, no less) to pilferers. I'd even taken to stashing my bike elsewhere in the parking garage, off street level and away from the prying eyes of passers-by.

Now, before we commend my employer too loudly for this act of generosity, let's remember that the same employer provides lavish gym and locker room facilities on all of its other campuses around Des Moines, while only recently adding a small locker room with a couple showers for the downtown peons. They also put an electric car charging station in this garage long before the secured bike parking, when the number of bikes locked up each day far surpasses the one friggin' Chevy Volt that I see plugged in maybe once a week. And given the state of our downtown facilities, I'm wary of how long that keycard reader is going to work and how quickly it will get fixed when it stops working. I'm just imagining being locked out of the cage with my ride home trapped inside...

But hey, progress. They might just get this whole biking thing figured out by the time I retire.