Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Coffee Addiction Leads To Celebrity Sighting

Spent last weekend in Vegas for the wedding of my bro-in-law (congrats, guys, and welcome to the family, Lauren!) where my constant craving for caffeine actually led to a bona fide celebrity encounter.

I'm sitting outside a coffee joint in a mall (because doesn't everyone go on vacation to hang out in malls?) sipping my medication while my wife shops, when someone who looks familiar walks past me into the coffee place. Sure, she's kind of frumped-up in an intentional "please don't notice me" sort of way (jeans, sweatshirt, baseball hat), but I'm almost sure I've got a positive ID.

Of course, being incredibly weird about talking to people I don't know AND terrified of looking like a stalker fanboy, all I can do is scooch my chair around so I can see her come out of the coffee place and confirm that I did see who I thought I done saw.

Sure enough, my first impression was right: it's Jenna Fischer, star of TV's
The Office. Can I come up with the name "Jenna Fischer" as I'm sitting there? Of course not. All I can think is, "uh, duh, um... PAM!" (which, thankfully, I do not express verbally) as I watch her re-disappear into the crowd. My wife wanted to know if she looked as cute in person as on TV, but a) I'm not dumb enough to answer a question like that from my wife, and b) it seems kind of creepy to discuss a complete stranger's cuteness level once you've actually encountered her as a real, coffee-drinking person rather than just an image beamed into your shiny-picture-box at home.

And now that I'm back home in flyover country, the magical interwebs confirm that Ms. Fischer was in fact in Vegas celebrating her birthday -- proving yet again that you CAN believe everything you read on the interwebs. It was real! And you were there, and you, and you...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Do Certain Bikes Float Your Boat?

Ever since I posted my minor online obsession with the Kona Dew Drop, I've been wondering what it is about certain bikes that I find irresistible.

Here's my theory: Bikers get their buttons pushed by whatever style was IT when they first started riding seriously. I've heard that car people are the same way, lusting after the rides that they wanted when they got a license for the first time. So, for instance, if you started turning cranks with regularity in the 1970s, maybe the classic road machines of that era trip your trigger: squiggly lugs, lots of chrome, Nuovo Record kit, non-aero brake cables flapping in the breeze, etc. I can appreciate that look (and even have a squiggly-lugged Raleigh in the garage), but being a bit young to have experienced it firsthand, I don't go all irrational ga-ga for it.

See, I came of cycling age in the mid-80s, right when the mountain bike absolutely exploded. The bikes I wanted in those days looked more like something out of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology than something out of a sepia-toned photo of Eddy Merckx (I know, they had color photography in Eddy's day, but sepia just sounds right in this context.)

Give me the polished, toothpaste-welded triple triangle of a GT Zaskar. The funky front end and bizarrely cantilevered rear dropouts of a Cannondale Killer V. That undeniably Gary Fisher yellow-to-red fade paintjob. Or the eye-searing neon green/white/pink of a fat-tubed Klein with matching chubby aluminum fork blades. Or the yellow elastomer stacks of a Proflex. Or -- be still my beating heart -- the low-slung bad-assedness of an early-90s steel Stumpjumper (WHY didn't I buy one when I could've gotten it cheap on employee purchase?!?) Even the hideously ineffective Trek 9000 "stack of little chocolate donuts" rear suspension has a place in my heart, if only because it was new and exciting "in the day." Kit any of them out with an M900 XTR drivetrain (has there ever been a better or prettier parts kit? I think not) or some Suntour XC Pro, maybe a Rock Shox Judy up front, and I'll be reduced to a gelatinous puddle of irrational desire.

Of course, I don't mountain bike any more. Too many blown shoulders and broken bones. So I like the
feel of a good, long-wheelbase road ride, that flywheel effect when a fat, slick road tire comes up to speed on good pavement -- something you just won't get from the dirt bikes of my youth. But my id still goes goofy over that 80s/90s mountain bike look. So, I wind up with these bizarre hybrids. No, scratch that. The term's been killed by the industry. Call them "remix bikes" -- the utilitarian, take-no-prisoners look of an old mountain bike paired up with the road feel of a good tourer. Upjutting stems. Thumbshifters. Fat (albeit smooth) rubber. Wide canti brakes. TIG welds -- yes, my iBOB bretheren, the heretic just said WELDS. Something like my Bruce Gordon tourer. Or, if you want off-the-shelf, maybe a Rawland Sogn. Or even a Kogswell PR, if you kit it up right. Slap on some 36-spoke wheels, and let's party like it's 1989!

Crap, I think this might be a midlife crisis! Ah well, there are worse ones...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I've Lost My Tube-Patching Mojo, Baby!

I think it's finally time to admit it: I suck at patching tubes.

This dawned on me the other night. I'd smacked either a boulder or a canyon with my back wheel coming through Water Works Park. For non-locals, the name of this park was inspired by the following conversation between two city engineers:

Engineer 1: "I need a substance that, when applied regularly to asphalt and subjected to a freeze/thaw cycle, will turn said asphalt into a lunar surface guaranteed to pummel any cyclist silly enough to enter."

Engineer 2: "Water works!"

And so, we got a park in the wickedest part of the flood plain, where bikers usually need sealed and inflated "pontoon panniers" to get through during the Spring thaw. In the non-flood season, you get alligator-back asphalt and gaping potholes -- thus my guess above that I'd hit either a heaved-up hunk of asphalt or one of the pits it left behind.

I didn't just hit it, either. I smacked it good. At full (albeit laughably slow) speed. Hard enough that I fully expected to have a tasty rim taco for dinner. But all I got was the telltale hiss of a snakebite puncture.

So, in my very best "Dave Stohler as Little 500 Pit Crew" impersonation, I flipped the bike in the grass, slapped in a fresh tube, and went on my way, figuring that later that night, I could put a patch on the old one at my leisure.

No such luck. Because, in case you missed it above, I suck at patching tubes.

This is hard for me to grasp, because I was once a Supreme Bad-Arse of Butyl Repair. In my shop days (oh boy, there goes Grandpa again), I patched a TON of tubes. Not for customer bikes -- policy was, you sold a new tube (because the time it took to patch one cost the customer more in labor than the $4 we charged for a new one) and tossed the old one in the recycle box.

Aside: I don't know where those tubes went. They sure never hit our dumpster, but it wasn't like we had some kind of official recyclery. Every shop just had some local guy off the street who came in weekly/bi-weekly/monthly and picked them up. For all I know, each "tube guy" was secretly assembling a gigantic Wile E. Coyote ("Super Genius") slingshot from ACME Corporation in his garage, preparing to do battle with "tube guys" in the surrounding towns.

Of course, not ALL the tubes went to the tube guy. Do the math: You have a box of tubes that only need a patch, plus a staff of college kids who need tubes for their own bikes but would rather spend money on beer. So, we skimmed the ones that fit our bikes, patched them, and built stockpiles at home. I may have gone five years without actually purchasing a new tube. (Which is also why I'm the guy who looks hungrily at the dead tube you're about to toss out, like my Depression-era grandparents scolding me for wasting food -- "There are kids in China who don't even HAVE tubes with holes in them!") And in that time, I got damn good at patching. Straight-up nail puncture? Don't make me laugh. Snakebite on a skinny road tube? Interesting, but still no challenge. My proudest moment was the day that I cut a small X in the center of a patch so I could fit it over a presta valve and patch a hole at the BASE of the valve stem. I didn't need to... I just wanted to prove that I could. Even the Romanian judge had to respect the level of difficulty on that trick.

So it's even more painful for me to now admit that I don't think I've successfully patched a tube in maybe two years. I know the drill: Rough it up, lay the glue on thin and wide, let it dry, slap on the patch, burnish it down. But my stupid edges always peel up, or I get an unglued spot that bubbles until it finally leaks out the side of the patch, or I drop the patch on the garage floor and get schmutz all over it, or I can't get the dumb thing to lay down correctly around the circumference of a small tube, or I catch one side of the snakebite and miss the other. In short, I suck. So much so that I get nervous if all I'm carrying is a tube I patched. I need that shiny cardboard box around it as a security blanket, letting me know that I'm packing virgin rubber, unsullied by my own incompetence.

I want to blame the tubes ("Why, back in MY day, they knew how to make tubes right!"), but I know that's a lie. We used the same cheap, crappy, seam-crossed tubes back then that I'm buying today, and I used to patch those miserable things with the skill of a surgeon.

Guess I'll just have to keep buying 'em new (though -- here comes Grandpa again! -- they sure aren't $4 any more) and donating the punctured ones to recycle box so the "tube guy" can arm himself and the wrenches can keep their beer funds in the black.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Covet

First, since I know my wife reads this blog, I am VERY happy with my current bike fleet. I lack for nothing when it comes to nice rides. In fact, I feel pretty bike-blessed to have been able to collect a small sampling of fine specimens (including one from one of America's most respected builders), even when the paycheck/bills balancing act probably didn't justify them. And I am NOT shopping for a new one.

But that never stops me from ogling, I admit. At one extreme, there's pal Steve K's outstanding collection of snaps from this year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show. So much fancy bike goodness, and if I didn't know Steve was an engineer (and not the train-drivin' kind), I'd think he was a professional photographer. Go ahead, lose yourself in there for a while. I'll still be here when you get back.

Done yet? Nope? I understand.

How about now? Couple more minutes? Okay.

Alright, I'm going on without you.

At the other end, I'm fascinated by humble-yet-useful bikes... ones that won't make a bike nerd look twice, but still have some neat mixes of good geometry and smart features at not-incredibly-ridiculous prices. My old Redline 925 (now sold to make space for the retro Raleigh) was like that... it did battle in the now-crowded market of $500 ready-made fixed gears, but did so with lots of tire/fender clearance and the brazeons to support fenders and racks. Sure, it lacked that fakenger "dude, check out my NJS track iron" street cred, but what's that worth in Des Moines, anyway?

Another bike that gets my virtual vote these days (since there are no Kona dealers in the area where I could fondle one in person) is the Kona Dew Drop. I dunno why. It just pushes the right buttons for me. For one thing, the Dew series has always seemed to feature shorter-than-normal top tubes, so I just might be able to reach the bars with my stubby T-rex arms. Aluminum frame (so it could be dinged relentlessly with no fear of rust), trusty steel fork to keep your teeth off the pavement, nice touring/do-it-all geometry, seems to have tire clearance, those discs brakes would be nice on a snowy commute, and it's red, which automatically makes it faster.

Of course, nothing's perfect -- I'd ditch the triple crankset and front derailleur for a single 42-tooth ring (in keeping with my current drivetrain simplicity mania), lose the STI for Tektro aero brake levers, and shift the remaining rear derailler with some kind of thumbshifter. Slap on some luggage, pedals, and a favorite saddle, and you'd really have something.

(And by "something," I mean something that appeals to my bizarre little demographic of one.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

There's A New Bike Magazine In Town

I'm not usually one to get excited about bicycle "journalism," at least in the mainstream. Don't get me wrong, there are some great publications out there (Bicycle Quarterly, I'm looking at you), but you won't see them sharing shelf space at the local book mega-mart alongside the relentlessly annoying Bicycling and about a dozen "duuuude!" mountain bike magazines that I can't even distinguish enough to name individually.

Until now.

I was at the local Borders magazine rack, poking through the usual suspects (because I like to stare at pretty pictures to entertain myself while I drink coffee) when I noticed something new. First, I saw the
Dirt Rag logo, which didn't inspire confidence. DR has featured esteemed blogster and fellow member of the Veloquentia Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson, and they have managed to hang on (mostly) to their original independent vibe, but their stuff tends to be about riding on dirt (which I don't do) and drinking beer afterwards (which I like to do, but I don't need a magazine to tell me how.) When I saw the title Bicycle Times, I immediately thought of High Times (although I didn't inhale) and assumed that this was DR's attempt at a "ride on dirt and enjoy herbal refreshments afterwards" magazine. I almost didn't pick it up.

But I did catch the subtitle: "Your Everyday Cycling Adventure." Hmm. Promising. I pulled it out of the rack to see "Be Prepared for your Commute" and "5 Brands of Rain Gear Tested" against an illustration of a suited bike commuter playing in traffic, grin on his face, tie blown back over one shoulder... on a bike with fenders!

Cue confused Scooby Doo noise: "Hmmmph?"

A magazine about just riding? No Lycra-swaddled racers teaching me how to humiliate my buddies on the next hill? No tattooed guys dragging pallets into the woods so they can build crap to ride over? No workouts that require a heart rate monitor, a power meter, and a European coach chasing me in a car? No nameless style "experts" lobbing insults at the befendered bicyclist? A magazine about people who (dare I even say it?) ride like ME?

One more Scooby Doo noise for good measure: "Hmmmph?"

Just in my casual, coffee-chugging page-through, I saw enough I wanted to read that I (gasp!) actually reached for my wallet, pulled out a fiver, and PURCHASED the magazine to TAKE HOME. Crazy, I know. After a thorough read, I was impressed enough to -- ye gads, man! -- SUBSCRIBE to the thing. I know!

Granted, if you've already taken the plunge and commuted long enough to be past the "getting into a routine" phase, you'll find some of the advice pretty basic. I enjoyed seeing what the staff carried in the "Commuting Kits" article (if only because it made me believe that these people actually do commute), but I didn't see anything that made me slap my forehead in a "I need to do that too!" moment. Still,where else are you going to find a review of a Breezer Villager commuter followed by a wool cycling dress (for women -- and even though I like wool, there are lines I won't cross) followed by the so-bizarre-I-think-I-want-one Voodoo Agwe singlespeed 29er? Finish it off with the awesome "Rise of the Pedaltarian" propaganda-poster-cum-advertisement from Kona on the back cover, and you've really got something.

Good grief, did I just say I liked an ADVERTISEMENT?
I guess I really do like this magazine a bunch.

Here's hoping it survives and thrives.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Things That Don't Suck, Part 2

What better way to get back up to blog speed than with some bite-sized morsels of non-suckitude? Regular readers (and even some of the irregular ones) might recall Part 1 of the TTDS series way back in December, when I was desperately looking for ways to stop griping about the weather. With TTDS 2, it looks like I've got a recurring theme! Hurrah! I'll tack some bikey ones into this one, since the weather means that biking doesn't suck... hence...

In March. In Iowa. Enough said, methinks. Especially since reality is supposed to return tomorrow.

In the ongoing science experiment known as my bike collection, the trend has been toward better choices of fewer gears. The fixie was the extreme case that proved I could probably pare down. Pretty soon, the tourer went from three chainrings to two, and this week, it's taken the next step: single-ringdom. One 42-tooth ring is centered on an 11-28 eight-speed cassette. That's it. No front derailleur, no front shifter, fewer cables, simple. I had some annoying chain-drop incidents until I realized that I had about four links too many in the chain. The front derailleur had been acting as a chain-keeper, letting me get away with my lousy job of chain measurement. With those links out, it's snick-snick-snick-snick-snick-snick-snick-snick. Eight lovely clicks, eight gear ratios. If I need to go slower, I'll walk. If I need to go faster, I'm probably coasting downhill anyway.

This one's for the locals, although it does have vaguely bikey/human-scale neighborhood implications for me. That's right, the old Dahls grocery store on Ingersoll (a barely-standing, tiny antique) closed last night, and the shiny new one opened this morning right behind the old location. Inger-Dahls was one of the things I really liked about our neighborhood back when we moved in, since it's about two blocks from my front door. Honestly, if I bike there, I'm doing it just as an excuse to get a bike out, since a two-block ride is like using a Hummer to drive a mile. In the winter, we never stockpile supplies for blizzards, figuring that if the weather's bad enough to keep me from walking two blocks, the house probably won't be standing either. With the new, sparkly, big, fully-stocked Inger-Dahls up and running, we'll never have to shop for grub anywhere else. Most of the employees (a crazy-diverse, multi-lingual bunch) seem to live in the neighborhood too, so it feels nice to keep our dollars close to home.

I have several more, but I'd better pace myself. That'll teach me not to take a week away from the blog... it gives me brain backlog!

Thanks, Virtual Pals

Yep, I'm back in the blogging saddle. Many thanks for all the kind words after my recent loss. My grandfather was one of a kind, and he'll be missed by more people than even I would have imagined. The ice cream places around Oregon, IL are probably already seeing the drop in business, since the family legend is that ice cream comes in four sizes: small, medium, large, and Grandpa Taft.

I was especially touched to read the thread about his passing on trapshooters.com -- he was an avid shooter most of his life, and was even inducted into the Illinois State Trapshooters Hall of Fame in 2002. At the funeral, the grandkids joked that if we suggested a 21-gun salute, more than enough people would be able to pull shotgun cases out of their cars and oblige.

Anyway, thanks again, and I'll be back to my old self by the next post.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Sad Hiatus

The Cycle will be quiet for a bit, while I mourn the loss of my grandfather.

It was horribly unexpected, and much too soon.

Heart disease, you are one mean son of a bitch.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I've Been Polled!

Well, not me specifically, but Pal Beth over at bikelovejones just posted what she calls, "a poll for bike enthusiasts only." Luckily, she only defines a bike enthusiast as one who rides every day and owns more than one bike, so I just squeaked in. If you also fit the description and want to play along, Beth invites simple responses over at her place (follow the link above) or links to longer responses on your own blog. Or, heck, babble on my bandwidth. I ain't payin' for it!

But enough blather... on to the polling! Italics are Beth's questions, regular text is me responding:

1. How many bikes do you own? (just looking for a number here)

The garage contains 4.5 right now... one tandem, Carla's single, two singles for me, and a nekkid frameset soon to be sold (that's the .5).

2. Are any of these relied upon as regular transportation? If so, how many times a week?

My two singles are daily beasts of burden, probably 5-6 days a week. The tandem is also known to run Saturday errands in nice weather.

3. Do you own bikes that are purpose-specific (i.e., racing, off-road, cargo)?

Nope. They're a schizophrenic lot, none able to hang on to one focused personality.

4. Has the economic downturn forced you to sell off of any of your bikes in the last six months? (no prices here, just yes or no please)

Nope. I'm selling that frameset rather than build it back up, but only out of a need to keep my life (and my maintenance schedule) simple, not out of economic necessity.

5. Has the economic downturn forced you to scale back the time and/or energy you devote to non-utilitarian bike-riding in the last six months?

Not yet. Maybe I missed a riding day here or there because I had some work on the weekend, but I probably flexed that time and got in a ride during "normal business hours." I'm lucky enough to have a boss that defends her minions' work/life balance like an overprotective wolverine.

5a. Have you elected to cut out other activities to preserve at least some of the time and energy you devote to your bike-riding as a result of the economic downturn? (yes or no)

What other activities? [grin] Seriously, nope.

6. Are you partnered, or single?

Partnered to the same unfortunate soul for almost 14 years.

6a. If partnered, does your partner share your bike enthusiasm/riding involvement at or near a similar level? (yes or no)

No, thank goodness. Otherwise, my life would have zero balance. Carla likes to ride (especially on the tandem), but she's decidedly more normal about the activity. Her knitting, on the other hand...

Okay, I'm done... now when does Publishers' Clearinghouse show up on my front porch with the big check and the "move to the front of Sacha White's build queue" pass? (hey, a kid's gotta dream...)

Ooh, Snap!

If you're scoring at home, that's Sun CR-18 and studded Nokian: One, Soma Steel Core Tire Lever: Zero.

A plain old plastic lever teamed up with my last remaining Soma lever to finally defeat the Sun/Nokian juggernaut. Unfortunately, Plain Plastic Lever also lost his life in the effort, like one of the nameless red-shirted guys who beams down to the planet with Captain Kirk on Star Trek. So, final score: Tires/Rims: 2, Levers/Thumbs: 2.

The tires are on, so I call this draw in favor of Levers/Thumbs.

If I get a flat before Spring (when I switch back to my no-tools-needed-to-install Michelin slicks), I'm calling for a ride.