Friday, November 30, 2007

No, he's not getting a haircut...

That's my little buddy Tybalt wearing what the vet calls an Elizabethan collar. He's got it on because we don't want him biting or scratching at the stitches he now has on his left thigh.

Stitches you say? What happened?

Well, apparently during the Thanksgiving weekend, he got into some kind of tussle with another animal... maybe a cat, maybe not. We had heard a fuss near the house, but neither of our cats appeared injured, so we didn't think much about it, as it wasn't the first time we've heard such things. Typically, when we've had other animals appear in our yard, Tybalt does a quick vanishing act, but this time he apparently had an actual encounter. Unfortunately, we didn't know until much later.

He was clearly feeling under the weather for a day or so, and we thought it might be something he ate, or some kind of stomach bug. But then we noticed he was walking funny, a slight limp in his back end. There were no visible signs of injury, so we thought maybe he'd pulled something, or perhaps suffered a hairline fracture or something, as he could still walk, but just wasn't zipping around the usual way.

Well, after a couple of days of improvement, he suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse, and off we went to the kitty emergency room. As the tech started examining him, an abscess in his hip ruptured, oozing a lot of scary looking goo. Yikes! So he spent the night there, getting the bad tissue removed and a bunch of stitches in his thigh. And of course that charming collar. He really hates it, and now that it's been about a week, he's really tired of having it on. Until I get him to the vet this week though, it's gotta stay in place. Every time we've tried taking it off for a few minutes to give him a break, he immediately starts fussing at the wound. The poor little guy. A lesson learned... the moment he acts odd in any way, he needs to get to the vet.

It could have been a lot worse, and I'm relieved he's on the mend.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Winter Night Ride

Had a lovely ride home tonight, what with the clear sky and nearly full moon. It was bright enough that I turned my head lights off for a good portion of the off road portion of my ride. It's a paved multi-use trail that's basically deserted on winter nights, so it's pretty safe to do that, especially since I could clearly see a couple hundred yards ahead. As a bonus, I got to see two foxes, one of which ran ahead of me for about 20-30 yards, at around 25 mph! Very cool. One of the things I love about night rides.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Quietest Purr

(Having just seen a classic submarine movie I thought of titling this "Silent Purring" or "Purr Silent, Purr Deep".)

I am of course referring to my pal Tybalt there, who at not-quite-nine-pounds is a little fella, with a little voice to match. For the longest time he only made these quiet little trilling "worried little man" sounds (whoooooooo....) as he'd scurry along. I think he was about 2 years old before he started meowing, and even now it's with a tiny little voice.

The funny thing is, we thought he didn't purr either. About the closest to purring I'd hear when petting him was basically heavy breathing and light snorting sounds.... pretty funny, coming from a cat. Just recently though, holding him close, I've noticed a very distinct, but basically silent purr. You pretty much have to feel it rather than hear it, but like any cat's purr, it seems to say "life it gooooooood". Makes you wish you could find such pleasure in simple things sometimes, you know? And it's nice to get some feedback that he likes where he's at when I'm holding him.

Who ever would have thought I'd be so very fond of a cat? Not me... if you'd told me a few years ago, I wouldn't have believed it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Seasonal changes

Well, thanks in part to the peculiarities of the Mid-Atlantic states, we seem to have gone straight from summer to winter, or something like it. We had a prolonged "Indian summer", followed almost immediately by chilly weather. Granted, by New England standards, it's pretty balmy, but when you go from days in the 80s to days in the 40s or 50s in a short period of time, it's kinda jarring.

Added to that is the change from Daylight Savings time back to Eastern Standard. About the same time the temperature dropped and stayed down, the days shifted to where night falls awfully early.

As a result, there have been several changes to my bicycle commute. For one thing, I see a lot fewer people, especially cyclists, on my rides. The cold and damp seem to scare all but the hardiest away from the multi-use trail that makes up about half of my trip. And it seems the runners and walkers are better able to adapt, probably due to the fact that cyclists pretty much always have a wind at their face to some degree.

And I do have to "suit up" more thoroughly these days. Where I used to be able to throw on a pair of shorts and a t shirt or jersey, now it's all about layers. Depending on how cold and wet it is, I generally have on a pair of lycra bike shorts, with a pair of thick tights over them, to keep my legs and knees warm. I never wear rain pants, as I find they just make me wet with sweat, so what's the point. For really bitter days, I may resort to surplus Swedish army pants made of heavy wool. On my upper body, it's a thin base layer of silk or lightweight wool, followed by a heavier layer of wool for insulation. By heavier, I mean about like a light sweater, not a big bulky one. Sometimes it's a nice jersey or cross-country ski top from Ibex or Icebreaker or Smartwool, and sometimes it's one of a bunch of light merino wool sweaters I've picked up on closeout from Target. It's amazing how useful a six dollar sweater can be! On my head, it's either just a helmet if it's in the high 40s, a headband or skullcap if it's a little colder, or a thin balaclava if it's really cold. Hands generally get some ragg wool gloves, with perhaps a thin liner, and a GoreTex "lobster" shell over them for wet or very cold days. I'm going to experiment a bit more with gloves this year, I think. Finally, on my feet, it's heavy wool socks, often with a thinner wool or silk liner, and most of the time my Lake cycling sandals. For colder days, I add either a waterproof shell over the socks, or a neoprene bootie, from Sealskinz. If there's actually snow on the ground, I'll sometimes resort to hiking boots and go with regular "flat" pedals.

Now the other thing is lighting. With Eastern Standard time, I'm guaranteed to be riding home in the dark, so I need good lights. My preferred set up, starting last winter, is a Shimano Dynohub generator built into my front wheel, powering a halogen front light from Busch & Muller or Basta. One of my bikes also have a generator tail light, but I mostly rely on red LED "blinkies", from Planet Bike mostly. Their Blinky 7 is great, and the new SuperFlash is startlingly bright. I generally have at least one of those, along with a blinky on the back of my helmet. In addition to the front generator light, I also have a Cateye EL-410 strapped to my helmet so I can aim it at motorist's eyes at intersections, and at signs along the road and trail. And generally, on top of all that, I have a small battery powered light clipped on the bike just in case the genny light dies. Finally, I try as much as possible to have some reflective bits and pieces on me and the bike. I guess I just don't want anyone to be able to say "I didn't see him!" Besides, I've seen enough un- or poorly- lit bicyclists in my day to make me understand the dangers.

Now, all of this may sound rather dreary and a drag. I'll admit, it does sometimes wear on me that it takes so much longer to get ready to ride, and to change once I get where I'm going. And the cold and the dark are sometimes unpleasant. But the bright side is I pretty much have the trail to myself much of the time, and I get to see and experience things many folks miss. I've spotted fox and rabbit and deer almost every night lately, in some combination. And the moon and the stars are much more vibrant in fall and winter. Most of all, I'm on my bike, a place I love being, and outside in the world, seeing it change with each passing day. And what's not to like about that?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Better Bikes! - A book

On the cover of my copy of the book, it's subtitled "A Manual for an Alternative Mode of Transportation". Oddly enough, the title page has it as "A Manual for Expanded Use of Bicycles". Both are good, but I tend to think the title page hits closer to the core of the book. Published in 1980 (thus written in the late 70s), this is the least known of three classic bike books written by the late Tom Cuthbertson, who passed away in 2005. The other two books are Anybody's Bike Book, and Bike Tripping, both classics of the 70s. Anybody's is one of the great repair manuals of its day, borrowing its approach and style from the famous John Muir How to Keep Your VW Alive, a Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot , better known as "The Idiot Book". Full of quirky but helpful drawings and solid advice, it got many cycling enthusiasts started on bike repair. Bike Tripping is more of a "here's some fun ways to use a bike" sort of guide, and probably my least favorite of the three.

But the one I keep going back to now and then is Better Bikes! In it, Tom approaches something near and dear to my heart... basically he writes about how to get to where you can and will use your bike for TRANSPORTATION as well as recreation. It's full of lots of practical nuts and bolts tips, as well as some very helpful advice about how to change your thinking about bikes as transportation. It's not a manifesto, it's not advocating societal change on a grand scale, it just tells YOU how you can make a bike more a part of your life. Some of the hardware information is out-dated for sure, but the basic principles, and most of all the philosophy, still apply. And the book is full of charming drawings to illustrate the points.

Just a sampling of some of what's in here... the first part is all about taking that 10 speed (you remember... 2 chainwheels in front, 5 sprockets in back?) you have gathering dust, and preparing it (and you!) for regular use. He covers basic care as well as load-carrying options, all weather riding, theft prevention (his thoughts on status symbols and tubing stickers is priceless) and how to deal with flats. The second section covers what he calls "Alternative Bicycles", including those strange then-new creations he calls "clunkers" and we now know as mountain bikes. A good portion of that section is also devoted to setting up a "Three Speed Station Wagon" as he calls it, for shopping and lugging the kids around. I love this section in particular, and you can tell that this sort of bike was near and dear to the author. As I understand it, he was known around his native Santa Cruz as "the guy on the three speed in a kilt". How can you not like such an author?

The Alternative Bikes section also covers "bicycle trucks" of the sort used in Asia, and now becoming more common, in some variation, in Europe and the US. And he offers advice on the then-tiny folding bike market, as well as adding a motor to your bike to give you some extra help. When I first saw the book in 1982 (in a college bookstore in Arcata, CA), it seemed so forward-thinking and even radical. Today when I look at it, it still seems ahead of its time in some ways... or maybe it's more that it's even harder now to imagine Americans in large numbers embracing the bike as a transportation option. But reading it gives me hope still, and helps remind me about one of the very big reasons I love bicycles, and why they are such an intrinsic part of my life.

Oh, and Cuthbertson also made a "Bike Tripping" video sometime in the 80s. I managed to grab a copy a while back, and it's wonderful. I was particularly happy to get a chance to actually see and hear Tom talking about bikes. I never got the chance to see him in person, so this is as close as I'll get. Unless of course we happen to be on the same road on our bikes where ever it is I end up after this particular life adventure ends. :-)

Below are a couple of links to stories on Tom Cuthbertson that appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel around the time of his death. Worth reading.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An old "friend"...

Today I began to work on an old "friend"... the mid 80s Fuji Allegro you see to the left. I got the frame in 1999, back when I was living in Flagstaff, AZ, with the intention of building it up as a "fixed gear". For those of you who don't know, a fixed gear bicycle has only one sprocket on the back wheel, and that sprocket is directly attached to the wheel with no device for coasting included. Which means that if the wheel is going around, so are your feet. Period. It takes a little getting used to, but it's a lot of fun, and is sort of a fad nowadays. I'd like to say I was on the leading edge of the fad, but no. I didn't get it set up as a "fixie" until sometime in 2000, when I was living in Portland. And while it was a blast to ride that way, just before moving back east I changed it back into a multi-speed bike with the ability to coast, as I knew it was going to be my primary transportation to and from work here.

About two years ago, as part of the process of trying to keep my bike collection in check (it didn't work, by the way), I gave the bike to my best friend of many years. He had been using an old mountain bike for commuting, and while I had decked it out for that for him a few years previously, it never really fit him right, and never really rode great. So I let him try the Fuji and he liked it, so it's now his. And recently he brought it to me for a tuneup and new tires, so I get to work on it again. Kind of like seeing an old friend. I'm looking forward to doing the work, and to riding it again. If you look closely, it is festooned with a wide array of stickers, from bike advocacy slogans ("One Less Car", etc) to a daisy on the seat tube and dinosaurs on the down tube. I don't generally decorate my bikes that way... since many are collectible to some degree, it wouldn't make sense... but starting with the Fuji I've generally made it a habit to have at least one bike, typically a commuter, decked out this way.

For those who are interested, the frame is the only original part, a basic Fuji "Valite" frame of the 80s, with long wheelbase and a comfortable ride. The brakes are the original brakes off my beloved 1980 Trek, and the derailleurs are a mix of old SunTour hardware (yes, that's the venerable VGT-Luxe on the rear), with SunTour Powerratchet barcon shifters, a personal favorite. Crank is a Sugino VP set up as a triple, and the wheels are an oddball mismatched set with Shimano hubs and I forget what kind of rims. And those bars are "moustache" bars from Nitto of Japan... some folks love them, some folks hate them. Me, I'm a fan, but I can see how others might not care for them. Those fenders are an old set of Bleumels I picked up at the Community Cycling Center in Portland, and the rack is a classic old cheapie from Pletscher of Switzerland. All in all, a fun and eclectic bike.