Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Public Service Announcement for Fellow Addicts

It dawned on me this morning that even though my little micro-bio over there makes a point of mentioning my crippling addiction to bean-based liquid caffeine delivery systems, I hardly blather on about it at all here on the meat of the page. Makes sense, I guess. A blog post about "I like coffee" would be about as noteworthy as one called "I prefer breathing air."

However, with temps and humidity so high here in the nation's beer belly that even the thought of exertion makes my toenails sweat, I thought I'd share a survival tactic for those of you who -- like me -- develop detox shakes without that life-giving beany nectar. Normally, I don't let the heat kill my habit. I'll drink a steamy cup'o'crack while wearing a parka in a sauna. But when I go straight from my scalding morning barrel of coffee to a Dagobah-esque bike commute to a cubicle, I'm often stricken with the dreaded PCFS: Post-Coffee Flop Sweat.

I don't know how to beat the flop sweat (for me, it appears to be a genetic curse), but I can replace that scalding barrel with something just as deliciously addictive sans the steam: Cold press. I got hooked on the stuff at the chain coffee store with the moose-based logo and figured there was some strange device in the back room (tended by mysterious, cloaked Druids) that squeezed out this astonishing creation. But no! All you need is one of these:

Obligatory disclaimer: Buy one from Amazon, and (theoretically) I'm supposed to get paid. But you don't have to get one from Amazon -- any ol' French press from any ol' place will do. This just happens to be the one I have.

The only magic that turns a French press into a cold press is time and a fridge. Put some scoops of your favorite bean in the bottom (ground a bit on the coarse side so as not to clog up the filter), fill with cold water, stir, put the top on (without pressing) and stick the works in the fridge for about 12 hours (I set mine up after dinner so it's brewed for the AM wakeup). Roll out of bed, rub the sleepy bits from your eyes, depress the pressing part of de press, and ta-dah! Cold press coffee.

Maybe true coffee snobs knew all this before, but it was a revelation to me -- and my cubicle neighbors appreciate the reduced flop sweat, too. Obligatory passing reference to bike stuff: It makes a darn refreshing mid-ride energy drink, too, as long as you're willing to overlook that pesky dehydration thing (note, however, that I am NOT a doctor, NOR do I play one on TV, so I take no responsibility if you're found unconscious on the side of the road like a shriveled raisin, still clutching your water bottle of cold press...)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flaccid Fender Frustrates Former Fan

I am many things, but a math whiz is not one of them. Still, even though I haven't seen the inside of a geometry textbook since the days of tight-rolled jeans, I know just enough about triangles to know that something's wrong with this picture:
Yes, it's sideways. And yes, that looks like the wheel of a kid's bike. But look again. Spot the design flaw hinted at in my alliterative title? Look at where the fender stays attach to the fender itself. Based on a (very) rough measurement, there's about 12 inches of fender and mudflap hanging out beyond the stays... which is about half of the total length of the fender. That's half a fender with no support. The result? Every little bump sets off an oscillation in that dangly end, causing the thing to rattle like a neglected Huffy.

The worst part is, the purveyors of this fender aren't dumb people. This is a Planet Bike, supposedly designed specifically for the Swift Folder (it lacks the cheesier -- ATMO -- hardware of the PB Recumbent fenders, so I don't think it's just one of those repurposed... although, dangitall, that cheesy hardware would have made it much easier to fix this problem now that I look at it). I have two other sets of Planet Bike fenders in the fleet in different diameters: 26-inchers on the tandem and 700c-ers on the tourer. Both have about 7" of unsupported length on about 28" of total fender... which is to say 25% dangle-factor rather than 50% (Yes, I fudged my measurements a little to make the math easier. I'm an English major.) And both can tackle washboard without sounding like I'm playing the washboard (danger, noisy link to a band I'm obsessed with).

When I feel motivated, I'm probably going to drill out the rivets, move the bracket down near the end where it belongs, and plug up the remaining holes. But I shouldn't have to.

(Just to soften the blow: The rear fender installed quite nicely and is rattle-free, since it has three equally-spaced support points around its diameter. And although I resisted the instructions telling me to just zip-tie the chainstay bridge mounting point, I have to admit that they were right -- my attempt at a no-zip-tie kludge was much less elegant, so I gave in to the Zen of Zip.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do

Dual disclaimer: First, author Amy Snyder was kind enough to provide li'l ol' me with a review copy of the above-linked book for nothing other than the promise of a review -- which won't influence the review, but there you have it. Second, as with any other Amazon link you find spamming up these pages, when you go to Amazon from here and buy stuff, I get a minor penance in return. There. I've said my Hail Marys. 

Hell on Two Wheels is the kind of book that makes me mad as a writer. Why? Because I'm annoyed I didn't think to write it first. It comes ready-made with all the elements you need to tell a ripping yarn: a compressed timeline (with plenty of flashback/exposition opportunities), a cast of fascinating characters, and a litany of physical/emotional challenges designed to push those characters beyond the breaking point. When I was in my graduate writing program, this is the sort of story that you had to call dibs on lest someone else in the tiny literary shark tank grab it first. 

HoTW is the story of the Race Across America, a.k.a. RAAM. This mildly insane competition starts a group of foolhardy souls and their almost-equally-nuts crews on the west coast of the U.S. and tells them to get to the other coast as fast as possible, sleep and common sense be damned. The fastest riders do this in about nine days (see "compressed timeline" above). Think about that. Nine days from coast to coast on a bicycle. Hell, think about doing that in a car. Along the way, they encounter hallucinations from sleep deprivation, saddle sores that would make mortals weep, and neck muscles exhausted to the point that they literally can no longer hold up the weight of the rider's head -- a horror-movie-worthy condition called Shermer's Neck after the first poor bastard unlucky enough to suffer it on RAAM.

So given this literary/journalistic goldmine, I'm not the least bit surprised that Amy Snyder has produced a fascinating book. It starts a bit slow as she takes great pains to contextualize RAAM for a general, non-bike-nerd audience. In the early chapters, I found myself saying, "Okay, okay, we get it, RAAM is way harder than the Tour de France." That may be my own biases popping up, though -- if one more person asks me, "So, you ride a bike... what do you think of this whole Lance Armstrong doping thing?" I may have to garotte that person with a LiveStrong bracelet.

Once the race starts, Snyder finishes trying to put into perspective something that really can't be put into any sane perspective, and things really start moving. There are no domestiques here, no forgotten pack fodder; sure, there's an epic (copyright Rapha) battle at the front between Jure Robic and Dani Wyss for the eventual win, but everyone on the course gets the respect they deserve whether they struggle in days later or DNF in agony. It's the story of the race in its entirety, not the winners. As the contest spread out across the country, my respect for Snyder's work only grew. After all, she's covering a story that never stops moving and spans a large chunk of a continent, while most likely running on empty in the sleep-tank herself. Quite a feat on a chessboard that big with that many pieces. Heck, I'd be interested to read a book about the writing of this book -- although that could be my postmodern, meta-literature geekiness showing.

So, Amy Snyder, I tip my protective styrofoam yarmulke to you, and award you the coveted "Things That Don't Suck" keyword. I may not be able to imagine riding RAAM or even trying to follow it, but after reading Hell on Two Wheels, I don't have to (thank goodness). I feel like I've been there already.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ofana'eem, Part 3: Random Oddities

The DBS (Department of Blogular Services) is threatening to put The Cycle in blog foster care and arrest me for Blogular Neglect if I don't get posting ASAP. So it's time for the freak show I promised in my last post, lo those many weeks ago.

First up, since I got a request for a cargo bike, and since I'm nothing if not a serial audience panderer, here you go:
I have no idea what's going on here. I just managed to catch this from across the street before the rider saddled up and headed off. And yes, I know, that's not a cargo bike... it's a bike towing a trailer. Think of it as an ancestral Xtracycle... or the B.O.B. trailer as reimagined by C.H.U.N.K. 666. (whoa, just used up a week's supply of periods...) 

I think the towing bike is a rat-rodded chopper model that I saw elsewhere and coveted greatly. Here's an example (lacking the bespoke trailer) outside the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv: 
These look like kids' bikes (like the Schwinn choppers you can get in the States), but all the ones I saw were piloted by adults. The thought of rolling up to my office astride one of these bad boys is almost too delicious to ponder. 

And now (mental drum roll), the image that (apparently) no one was waiting for... it's the CAMEL ON A TANDEM! And, if that's not enough, he's with his friend, the FROG ON A BICYCLE! Be amazed! Be astounded! Or at the very least, be bemused:
I wish I could tell you what this was all about. We just happened to walk into some kind of street festival/live music thing in Zion Square, Jerusalem after a long day of wandering the city. The pilot/wrangler of these beasties just rolled them around the area attracting attention. The camel also featured a huge, homebrewed two-legged kickstand to keep things upright while at rest. I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, a captain could get in there behind the camel's neck, poke his head out of a hatch, and actually ride the thing... or maybe I just wanted to believe it so badly that it felt possible. The frog has clearly usurped a rider's hope of climbing aboard and riding away.

Looking through ye olde picture-taker, I still have electric rental bikes, a real bike shop in a mall, and -- my personal favorite -- the Little Black Basket, every Israeli cycler's must-have accessory. I'll get those written up, queued up, and out to the adoring masses just as soon as my little fingers can tap them out.