Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I've been remiss...

... about posting with any regularity. My apologies. Just been uninspired lately, writing-wise. But today I'm home, and dealing with an odd back ache, so I'll take a minute to write.

On the bicycle side of my world, I've been riding my Miyata 210 winter commuter to work lately, and so far my feelings are mixed. I've set it up with studded Nokian tires, as noted before, and so far, they have been unnecessary. The only ice I've encountered on the bike path has been patches that can be easily avoided. I rode over a few of them just for the heck of it, but they were too small to really matter. Oh well, maybe we'll actually get some snow again here. The other thing of note about the bike is that I have opted for Albatross bars from Nitto... and so far, the jury is out on these. I put them on thinking they were more toward the comfort end of the spectrum than the efficiency end, and thought that for a short commute of 6 miles each way, that would be fine. Well, I was right so far about the efficiency part... it feels like I'm working a lot harder sitting upright like that. On the other hand, I'm not finding them particularly comfortable either. Maybe it's adjustment... of me as well as the bike... but so far I find I'm missing my drop bars or moustache bars, for both comfort and efficiency. We'll see with a little more time how it goes.

On another note... I just finished reading a very good book, and am in the middle of another, very different, but very good one. The first was Stealing the General, a book about a Civil War raid by a small group of Union soldiers who stole a Confederate locomotive (named the General) with the intention of disrupting rail service, tearing up tracks, burning bridges, and cutting telegraph lines. As a kid I read a picture book based on a Disney movie (The Great Locomotive Chase) about the events... loosely, apparently. Anyway, Stealing the General is a good read... lots of detail, some debunking of myths, and some genuine acts of courage, as well as a lot of mishaps and twists of fate.

Second, I'm now reading Bill Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, about his childhood in 1950s Des Moines. A wonderful book, especially for the boomers among us. I'm about 10 years younger than Bryson, so some things are different, but a lot of what he writes about resonates with me. If you ever pretended to be a super hero (anyone out there remember Fearless Fly?), or made a gluey mess with model airplanes, read this book! I find myself laughing out loud through much of it, and smiling through the rest. A great read.

Well, that's it for today. I'll endeavor to write more.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Day About Herons

Today, Annie and I joined a Sierra Club sponsored walk along the Potomac River, just outside of DC, in Maryland, as part of preparing for a 50K walk on the C&O Canal that we plan on doing in late April. It was a lovely walk today, alternating between trails and the C&O towpath, and going for about 9 miles. As we walked along the canal, we repeatedly came upon one or the other of what appeared to be the same pair of Great Blue Herons. It became a regular routine... one of us would spot the bird ahead, either on the ground or in a tree, and then, when we got close, it would take off and fly majestically westward along the canal. A little while later, the whole thing would repeat again, with one or the other of the birds. I believe it was a male and a female, as their size and markings were noticeably different. Lovely birds, Herons... one of my favorites. Reminded me of some walks in northern Arizona.

Near the end of the walk, it started to snow... and we now have a nice dusting on the ground, finally. Unfortunately, my snow bike is currently sitting in the basement at work, so I'll have to get to work some other way tomorrow to bring it home. I'm happy to see it snow though... it finally looks like winter out there.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Had a scare Wednesday night...

originally uploaded by frickercycle.
The picture you see is my little buddy Tybalt, the cat I've had for almost two years now. I've generally been a "dog person" my whole life, but have been won over to cats, in large measure due to this little fella.

Anyway, we let him and his buddy Tomas roam at will on days where I'm home all day, and Wednesday was one of those. He typically comes in to visit or nap during the day, then comes in for good before dark. Wednesday, I didn't see him at all during the day, and he was nowhere to be found at dusk. Annie and I spent a frantic several hours looking for him and calling, to no avail. We finally gave up after it had been dark several hours. I drafted up a "have you seen this cat" sign, thinking I'd have to put it around the neighborhood in the morning, and dreading the thought of not seeing him again.

I fell asleep around midnight, but woke up around 2am, and ended up in the living room, dozing and waking on and off until 3:30, when I thought I heard a familiar little squeak (Tybalt has a very tiny voice!). At first I thought it was imagination and wishful thinking, but a moment later, in he trots, acting like nothing is at all unusual. I was so happy to see him! I never really realized before how much I could connect with a cat... and I'm grateful he's back.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Spoke too soon?

The wacky mid-Atlantic weather is up to its tricks again. Monday evening, as I was getting ready to ride home from work, I heard the local public radio station announce that it was 65 degrees outside (at 7pm!)... so I rode home in shorts, comfortably. Tuesday, a front came rolling in, with blustery winds and grey skies... and a few small snow flurries. This morning it was 22 degrees outside, with a wind chill making it feel like 12. I guess winter is making an appearance here after all. Just as well I have the studded tires on the bike, eh? And Monday evening I worked on getting the Shimano hub generator hooked up to the lights, so we should be ready to roll in the dark when I need to.

Speaking of hub generators (or dynamos to those outside the US), I started using one a couple of months ago on my Bridgestone XO-2, and I love it. It is so handy to just hit the switch and pedal, and shazzam, light! I still use some battery powered red LEDs on the rear, and have a battery light as back up on the front, but the generator light alone is more than enough to ride with. Count me as a fan of these systems... so much so that I'm building up a demo setup for customers to look at in the shop... "Hey, look! When you spin the wheel the light comes on!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

In Which I Take Responsibility for the Freakishly Warm Weather

originally uploaded by frickercycle.
Yes, that's right... it's not global warming, it's not El Nino or La Nina, or the Jet Stream or the Gulf Stream... it's me. I decided that since it was January, it was past time to build up a bike for my winter commute. Last year, i had an old Schwinn Cimarron mountainbike set up with big, knobby tires with steel studs... over 200 of them per tire. It worked great on ice, but it was heavy and sounded like a Sherman tank on dry pavement. More importantly, the bike just never felt comfortable to me on long rides. So this year, I scrounged an old Miyata Two Ten frame, a cheaper version of my beloved Miyata One Thousand, and built it up as you see, with Nitto Albatross bars and studded tires. This time I opted for the Nokian Hakkapelitta W106 tires... only 106 studs per tire, so a bit lighter and quieter, but still good on ice and snow from what I hear from others.

A few days after I got the bike basically ready to roll, we had a record high temperature in the 70s. So, depending on your point of view... I'm sorry... or you're welcome! It's all my fault! :-)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

One thing I like about being a wrench

Yesterday, I had one of those experiences that make the job of being a bicycle mechanic fun. It was a freakishly lovely day for January... a high in the 70s and sunny. The local rail trail was apparently amazingly busy, and our shop was hopping a good part of the day. For me personally, the best part was when a gentleman came in to pick up his Christmas present... an old Bianchi Grizzly mountain bike that he has owned since the mid 90s. I should explain... before Christmas, his mom brought that bike and his brother's virtually identical bike in to have them fixed up and cleaned up as a gift. It seems the bikes had sat neglected for quite some time... life got busy for the sons, and riding fell by the wayside. One son, the one who came in yesterday, had started talking about riding again.... and thus the idea was born.

So yesterday he came and picked up the bike. And his happiness at seeing an "old friend", looking clean and shiny again, and the smile on his face when he came back in after taking it for a quick test ride... well, those are the things that make my day. All my life, I've loved helping people discover, or rediscover, the joy of cycling... and working in a shop, I get to participate in that every day. But it's the folks who haven't ridden in years... maybe since they were a little kid... and who say "you know, I think I'd like to start riding a bike again"... that bring me the greatest joy, I think. So if you haven't ridden a bike in years, do us both a favor... try it!

Friday, January 5, 2007

Interesting encounter

Well, this morning, as I was getting dressed, I caught a movement outside out of the corner of my eye. Looking out the window, about 20 feet away I saw a hawk (Cooper's or Sharp-Shinned, I really don't know which... if anyone has hints on how to tell them apart, let me know) quietly ripping a pigeon to shreds. I've always had a fascination for raptors, so this was really cool for me. We've lived in this house now for 2 years, and twice previously I had seen a hawk perched on our fence, and several times in nearby trees, or flying overhead. And a few weeks ago, I discovered a pile of pigeon feathers in the yard... no bones or flesh... just feathers. I had a hunch it was a hawk kill, but I wasn't sure. Today I found out... looking at the aftermath of his breakfast today, it looked just like the scene I found a few weeks back.

A funny side note to this... while I was watching and snapping pictures of the hawk, a squirrel popped up onto the neighbor's porch. He hopped around a bit, then sat up on his hind legs... and looked over toward the hawk... paused... looked... then scurried off the other direction! I don't blame him... even though the hawk was engrossed in breakfast, I wouldn't push my luck.

I'll try to get pics up somewhere if they come out well.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Fun and Learning in 2006

So, as I move on into a new year, I thought I should jot down a little bit about the year just ended. It was a pretty big year for me in some areas, especially professionally.

Late in 2005, I came to the realization that I had come to the end of my career in theatre technology. I had spent over two decades in the business, or in graduate school preparing for the business, and while it was absolutely the right choice for me for many years, I realized I was no longer enjoying it at all. Luckily for me, I knew a great guy who owns a bicycle shop near me, and I had helped him out on a part time basis for a few months at that point. I've loved bicycles all my life, and spent about a year and a half as a mechanic, then assistant shop manager, at the non-profit Community Cycling Center in Portland, OR, but never really considered it as a career. Well, John sorely needed a head mechanic, I needed a new path in life (and an income), so since November of 2005 I have been the head mechanic (or Bikesmith, as John likes to call it) for bikes@vienna (lowercase intentional) in Northern Virginia.

As part of "the plan" to start a new career path, I also took the opportunity to enroll in a bicycle frame building class at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon. I had wanted to do something like that since I was 16 and living near Proteus Design, back when they were still a frame and bicycle building operation, but $400 fee just seemed totally out of reach back then. Suffice to say, by the time I paid for a place to stay, plane fare, and add in inflation, the UBI class ended up costing considerably more! Ah, how our perspective changes as we grow and live and work and learn. The class was terrific... if anybody reading this is considering learning to build bicycle frames, I highly recommend it, and UBI is a good outfit. There are other options too, and different choices work for different folks, but this class really worked for me. And I now have a frame that I built myself!

What the future holds in that area is still evolving, and I'm sure will for some time. I intend to take a stab at a business... perhaps as a small custom builder on my own, perhaps working for someone else, perhaps building up to a larger operation of my own. I have some ideas, and now that I have taken the first step of gaining some skills, we'll take it forward from here. Watch this space for developments!

On another, very important note... I have to say, all of these changes and decisions would have been a lot harder, had it not been for Annie, the wonderful woman I live with, who has cheered me on and helped me find (and fund!) my new way. I am a very lucky guy.

Monday, January 1, 2007

2007 - Time to Blog!

Well, since it's a new year, it's time to finally try my hand at blogging. This is an entirely new thing for me, so bear with me as I get my feet... or wheels... under me!