Monday, December 31, 2007

Caucus Thoughts

Okay, so this is outside my usual scope, but with so much attention being heaped on Iowa these days, I thought a post about the caucus might...


Excuse me a second, that's the phone. "Hullo? Um, no, this isn't a good time for me to answer a few poll questions, thanks."

Okay, where was I? Ah, yes, the caucus. Every four years, the people of Iowa have a chance to make their voices...


Shoot, that's the cell phone. Sorry about that. "Hello? Listen, I'm sure your candidate is wonderful, but could you please not call this number? It's a cell phone. Thanks."

As I was saying, this is the opportunity for the people of Iowa to make a real difference in the political process. It's our time to...


Doorbell, sorry. "May I help you? No, I haven't decided who I'm caucusing for. Listen, I'm right in the middle of something. Could I just take a flyer? Thanks."

I am so sorry about that, really. Where was I? Okay. Every four years, Iowans can...


There's that doorbell again, doggone it. Give me a second. "Morning, Bob! A little early for the mail, isn't it? Oh, this is just the first batch? Well, leave that bale of political ads on the porch. I'll try to get them moved before you get back with the second bale."

So, my point is, Iowans have a real responsibility to participate in the caucuses as informed citizens on January 3rd...


I can't believe this. That's the phone again. "Hello? CBS News? An interview with an everyday Iowan? Uh huh, Katie Couric? At a local restaurant? I don't think we'll be able to get a reservation. Oh, sure, make it in her name, that's right. It's only the locals who can't get tables. Listen, can I call you back? Thanks."

What was I saying? Aw, to hell with it. I think I'll just stay home on the 3rd.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Defense of BSOs

That's "Bicycle-Shaped Objects", in my snob-speak. Huffy, Magna, Pacific, etc. The stuff of all the dash-mart stores (K, Wal, etc.)

I just tuned up three of these monstrosities that a friend's office was donating to their adopt-a-family for the holidays. And, as expected, they were rife with all the things that are wrong with BSOs: steel rims, cheesy stamped brakes that only offer a hint of slowing, two-ton suspension that doesn't suspend anything, crunchy maladjusted bearings, wheels installed crooked (with brakes adjusted sideways to compensate), you name it. It took a full afternoon of work in a very-cold garage (with a lot of hammering and cursing) to get them rideable. If you paid a shop to do what I did, the tuneups would cost more than the bikes.

But when I was done, I couldn't help but smile. Any one of them was at least equivalent to my first BSO (an orange Murray banana-seat beast) that my mom and dad bought from Farm & Fleet some thirty years ago, and look where that ended up.

I can't say these are great bikes, but I'm withholding final judgment for about three decades.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nature vs. Garage: A Draw

The 90-year-old trees around our 90-year-old house struck back during last week's nasty ice storms. Des Moines didn't get anything near the pummeling that the southern Iowa suffered, but our garage (which I've lovingly nicknamed the Velo-Palace) took a direct hit. How this behemoth threaded its way between the power line, the cable line, and the phone line without hitting any of them, I do not know... but I'm thanking my lucky stars that it did. Carla tells me that it made quite a racket when it hit, as you might well expect.
Inside the Velo-Palace, there's only a head-sized divot that leaks a little snowmelt on the car whenever the temps creep over freezing -- you can barely even make it out in the photo. Not bad, considering.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What's Wrong with the Bike Industry, Rant 2

This one pains me, because I worked as a shop rat through college and grad school, so I have some serious bike shop sympathy. But here's a scenario that's starting to wear on me now that I've taken off the apron for good and moved to the other side of the counter.

I need Part A. Nothing terribly exotic, just a standard widget to keep one of my semi-current steeds running. Maybe it's an 8-speed cassette. Maybe a 110mm bolt-circle-diameter chainring. Or maybe (and this is the one exotic on my list) it's a part or accessory not branded by Specialized, Trek, or one of the three dozen Trek subsidiaries.

So I go to Local Shop 1: "Do you have Part A?"
Response: "Uh, what's a Part A?"

Shop 2: "I'm looking for Part A."
Response: "We don't have it, but have you seen the new Madone?"

Shop 3: "I'll speak slowly: I... NEED... PART... A."
Response: "Dude, do they even MAKE those any more?"

Shop 4: "Oh for the LOVE of LANCE, tell me you have Part A!"
Response: "Uh, lemme look..." (five minutes elapse) "No, but we could probably order one."

It's reached the point where I follow the "four-call rule": Out of (semi-)respect for those who wrench, I'll call my four nearest shops. If anyone actually a) knows what I'm talking about, and b) has what I'm looking for in stock, they get my business. If I get four variations on the answers listed above, I go online and find it for myself.

I know, my karmic payback will come. There will be a day when I need a tube, and all the shops that could have sold me one will be boarded up. Of course, even if they had stayed open, the counter-guy would probably have said, "Whoa, tubes are so retro, dude. You totally gotta try these new Bontrager four-spoke tubeless carbon disc wheels!"

LimpStrong II: This Time, it Might be About the Bike

Ugh, winter has arrived, and with it, cabin fever. Closest thing I've had to a "ride" in over a week is popping my fixed-gear on the trainer in the basement, flipping on some random sporting event on the tiny TV, and blowing my eardrums out with Kraftwerk's Tour de France Soundtrack for a half-hour Johnny G-wannabe spinning session. Nothing like a little sweat bath and nether-region numbness during the shortest, darkest, most depressing days of the year.

Time to go to my Happy Place, which is planning the Big Rides of 2008. After the stunning success (translation: I didn't die) of LimpStrong I, it's time to start thinking about the Second Annual LimpStrong Ride for the Femur-Impaired. There's a sick little corner of my brain that keeps whispering, "Do it on the fixed gear, you big pansy."


  • Limpstrong I was my first self-contained century, raising the personal achievement bar just a skidge. Making II a self-contained fixed century would just knock it up there one more notch.
  • Despite my '07 injury, a big chunk (close to half) of my annual mileage passed under non-coasting wheels. Clearly, I'm getting pretty comfortable in a freewheel-free world if I can do that on a bum leg.
  • I kind of like that look people give me when I say I'm going to do these things... like they really want to call the gentlemen in the white coats, but they're afraid to make any sudden moves.
  • Even I think this is a little nuts, and it's my idea.
  • My geared bike is soooo nice for long-distance rides.
  • Who the heck am I trying to impress, anyway?
Obviously, with the blanket of frozen precipitation showing no signs of leaving any time soon, I have a while to think about this. But for now, I'm going to keep putting the "miles" on the non-shifty, non-coasty steed and see what my legs (and nether region) think.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What's Wrong with the Bike Industry, Rant 1

Maybe this isn't limited to the bike industry, but it bugs me: "name brand" and "generic" stuff made by the same company, coming out of the same factory (I presume), and being sold (and bought!) at two wildly divergent price points.

Case in point: Put the Cane Creek SCR-5 brake lever side-by-side with a Tektro R200. Same product being sold under two supposedly different brands, one "boutique" and one "blue collar". (Am I wrong? Those more in the know, please enlighten me.) The Cane Creek gets lizards on its hoods, but that's just more boutique branding to my eye, unless someone's going to honestly claim that the grippier texture is a "feature". A reputable online source where I buy parts lists the Tektro at $27, the Cane Creek at $40. Now, we English majors don't usually do so hot in math, but that's almost a 50% markup for a handful of tiny lizards and the ability to look down on my riding buddies. Seriously?

I want to be wrong on this one, but I also want to believe in the Tooth Fairy, and in the hordes of presidential wannabes glad-handing their way across Iowa. So am I going 0 for 3?

(Sidenote for the fine people at Cane Creektro and their lawyers... I am not trying to disparage one particular vendor and/or its products here. In fact, I only know the SCR-5 versus R200 comparison because the R100 -- shorter-reach sibling to the 200 -- is my favorite brake lever for drop-bar applications, even if the hoity-toity set mocks me for my lack of lizards.)

I'm Out!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen (metaphorically speaking) after falling (literally).

Des Moines got a little rain, a little snow, a little sleet, a little freezing rain, a lot of wind, and a lot of cold yesterday. Result? My street looks like the surface of the moon... piles of slushy crud reshaped and refrozen into one of the most bike-hostile landscapes imaginable. So for the first time in a couple years, I'm reading a bus schedule, trying to figure out how to get to and from work tomorrow without a bike.

Call me a wuss, but when I think of a) how gentle my femur-breaking fall was, and b) how many times I fell that gently (or came close) last winter, I get a massive case of the willies. Rebuild me once, shame on the slippery surface. Rebuild me twice, shame on me. Until I get a trike, it's "no slick stuff" for this bionic man.

Any locals who are riding this week, please keep your taunts gentle, and I'll see you in April. And watch this space for an irony alert when I slip and fall on my arse while walking to the bus stop.