Friday, December 26, 2008

One of My Favorite Places...

... in the US, and possibly my favorite place in the DC area, is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, better known as the C&O Canal. For those of you who live elsewhere and don't know about it, the park runs the entire 184.5 mile length of the original canal, built in the 1800s, and made almost immediately obsolete by the railroads. It became a National Park in 1971, thanks in large part to the efforts of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who fought to preserve the canal as a natural resource, rather than see it replaced with a highway as some wished. As a result, we have one of the truly great parks, in my opinion, with wonderful opportunities for cycling, walking, hiking, horseback riding, and camping. Not all of the original canal is intact today, but the towpath runs almost uninterrupted (there's one basically permanent detour on roads) from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in Washington, DC. I've walked or cycled it on many occasions, twice riding the complete length and camping along the way at the convenient (and free!) hiker/biker sites.

Yesterday, on Christmas Day, I decided it was a good day for a walk along the canal, so I stopped there before going to see my family. I pulled in at an area known as Carderock, just off the DC Beltway. Although you're only about 10 miles from Georgetown, it feels much more remote than that, and there's a fair amount of wildlife... depending on season, you can see turtles, eagles, osprey, kingfishers, ducks, geese, cormorants, herons, and abundant songbirds and squirrels. Further out you can even encounter more uncommon critters... I've seen a number of wild turkey and a couple of goshawks along the trail nearer the western end, as well as beaver and muskrat.

On this visit, my most interesting wildlife encounter was with a Great Blue Heron, who was fishing and seemed undisturbed by my presence, allowing me to sit and watch from close range, and snap a number of pictures, such as the one to the right. I've always thought these were among the more fascinating and elegant birds, and love watching them both in flight and in the water.

I also stopped to observe a crow in the top of a tall tree, who seemed intent on calling out over and over. I commented to a gentleman watching him with binoculars "He's a vocal fellow, isn't he?" Much to my surprise, the birdwatcher informed me that the crow was clearly trying to communicate something, as he was using two distinct and very unusual calls, over and over. Well, I'm not enough of a crow expert to know, so I took his word for it. The bird did seem rather urgent.

Speaking of trees, one of the best parts of this walk, or any walk along the canal this time of year, was looking at the ways the bare trees were silhouetted against the sky. In particular, I'm fond of the striking white inner bark of the sycamores, especially when contrasted with the darker bark of some of the other trees. When it comes to autumn color the sycamore is pretty underwhelming, as it goes from green to brown to bare, with no intervening bright tones. But once bare, the intricate branches and bone whiteness of the bark are amazing.

And on the subject of bark... there were a number of folks out walking their dogs along the canal, and the dogs seemed to be having a grand time. I imagine for them it's just so wonderful to be out in someplace more wild than their neighborhood, smelling all the amazing scents to be found along the way. And for a lot of dogs, it seems nothing is finer than a good dunk in the canal!

Finally, while the towpath certainly wasn't as crowded as it is in warmer weather, there were a suprising number of people enjoying the day, considering it was a major family holiday. Two little boys were zooming along on bikes, one with training wheels, one having outgrown them, both having a wonderful time. I asked their parents as I passed "Christmas bikes?" and they said "Last Christmas!" I smiled and said I was glad they were still enjoying them. It was fun to see the sheer pleasure on the little guys' faces. A little later I encountered a couple softly singing to each other, in a language I didn't know (which is a long list, sadly), just enjoying a simple, lovely moment together. It made me smile, seeing them sharing a song together. It was the kind of day that made one want to sing, or whistle, or make some kind of joyous noise.

For the record, I whistled as I walked. People who know me well will not be surprised at this.

For more photos, see:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Everything!

Just wanted to take a moment, on Christmas Day, to wish all of my readers a joyous holiday, which ever holiday you may celebrate... Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, or no particular holiday at all!

Thank you to all of you, for visiting and reading my blog. It's a lot of fun to know that people take an interest in my little corner of the world.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Ride

Well, once again, bikes@vienna hosted a ride around a Vienna neighborhood known for putting out luminaries for the holidays. If you don't know, luminaries are small candles in paper bags, put out as a holiday decoration. I don't know where it originated, but it's kinda pretty. This year there seemed to be fewer houses participating... perhaps the economic situation is affecting people's mood and desire to decorate... it does seem like there are fewer decorated houses in general this year. But there were a few really amazing ones out there tonight.

It was still a good time though. We had about 10 riders total, and a fun assortment of bikes... a recumbent trike, recumbent tandem, a "crank forward" from Rans, and a variety of upright bikes. We rode about an hour and a half, and just generally had a good time. This year John wanted to sing carols, so we stopped at a couple of points and sang to no one in particular. At one point we stopped at the house of a friend of one of the families riding, and rang the bell and sang... and the only response we got was their standard poodle jumping onto the back of the couch by the window and barking while we sang! Apparently the people weren't home. Oh well, we had a good laugh about it. And a nice ride all in all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Trip to Velo Orange

Well, I've been meaning to head over and check out Velo Orange, a small bicycling specialities business in Annapolis, MD, about an hour or so from me, and today, I finally made it there. A friend of mine wanted to check out a Brooks saddle and some leather bar wrap to go with it, and I wanted to see their assortment of aluminum and stainless steel fenders, among other things.

Velo Orange seems to do most of their business via the web and telephone, but they do have a small showroom that's worth visiting if you're into the style of cycling gear they carry. Most of what they carry is aimed at the cyclo-tourist or randonneur (a cycling event that isn't really a race, but more like an automobile road rally, where you travel a specific route with checkpoints and time requirements... I haven't tried it, but do think about it now and then), so it's designed for comfort over the long haul as well as practicality. Now, in the US, when we throw around terms like "comfort" and "practicality" in the cycling world, folks tend to think "heavy" and "slow" go along with that. Not at all. One can ride long distances at high speeds in comfort and not worry about fragile gear if your equipment is designed for it. And the good news is there seems to be a groundswell of interest in such bikes over the last few years. I'm happy, because it matches my intersests pretty well.

Anyway, it was fun to visit the showroom... I wish I had had the foresight to bring my camera and take pictures, but really, you can see their products on their website ( It is better to see it all in person, especially when you can see them mounted on bikes, instead of just sitting on a shelf. In particular, I was really glad to have the opportunity to see the fenders. I'm considering using some sort of metal fender on my chrome Schwinn Paramount (, and I have a much better idea now what might look best on it. I'm leaning toward these:, which look REALLY sharp in person... and having a friend there who has seen the bike gave me a second opinion, which helps. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts if you'd like, dear reader. Of course, the practical side of me says I should just use the black plastic Bluemels "Club Special" ( - a flickr album I just found devoted to "vintage plastic fenders") fenders I have already, but....

Anyway, I walked away without buying anything... today... but I suspect I'll either stop back in or order through the web when I'm clear of the holidays. My friend did get the Brooks and some bar wrap that looks like it will be a very good match, so we accomplished that. Look for that bike in an upcoming "Making Your Bike YOURS" post soon!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making Your Bike YOURS (part 2)

Well, let's start by using my own 1985 Miyata 210 as an example of what I have started talking about in the previous post. To begin with, a little about the bike... I picked it up used, a few years ago, with the intent of making it over into an all-weather commuting bike. It began life as a low-end touring bike, with similar design but less expensive parts than my Miyata 1000 (which is a story in and of itself, for another day). I neglected to get photos of it when I first bought it, but here's a clipping from the 1985 Miyata catalog:

As the catalog indicates, it was designed as a "budget" touring bike. Long wheelbase, clearance for wide tires, fittings for racks, etc. All of which also made it a great candidate for a commuter, although I knew there were things I was going to want to change.

First off, I decided drop handlebars were not what I wanted for this bike. For commuting purposes, I wanted a bit more upright posture, both for comfort and for ease of looking around in traffic. So I opted for a set of Nitto "Albatross" bars, a variation on the old classic three speed bars, with more sweep back. To go with the more upright posture, I decided on a Brooks B.67 saddle... wider than my B.17s and with springs for comfort. Next, because I ride at night as well as in daylight, I built a wheel around a Shimano Nexus dynohub and installed a Basta halogen head light and simple tail light run from the hub. In addition, I like to have redundancy in a lighting system for a transportation bike, so I installed a battery powered head and tail light as backups. Fenders were a necessity, to allow riding in all weather. In the photo you'll also notice perhaps that I had installed studded tires for winter use, figuring I'd swap them out for conventional tires in spring. Finally, since I wasn't planning extended rides over varied terrain, I wanted to simplify the drivetrain, so I went with two chain rings instead of three, with seven sprockets in the rear.

I rode the bike in this configuration for most of the first winter I had it. But a few things just didn't work for me... notably the handlebars. I found that the very upright position was less than ideal on my 6 mile ride into work, which often featured a headwind. I tried lowering the bars a bit, but it only helped a little. A bigger issue was that I found the front end of the bike felt a little too "light"... which proved a bigger problem on ice and snow. It became obvious to me that I needed bars that put more of my weight over the front wheel, so I went back to an option I'd used previously on a couple of bikes and liked... the Nitto "Moustache" bar. This gave me a wider range of possible hand positions and had the benefit of letting get a bit more weight over the front wheel AND be more aerodynamic. I quickly found I liked the bike a lot more this way.

Over time, I made a few more refinements to the bike that have helped make it a better, more utilitarian transportation bike. The biggest change was in the drive train. If you look closely at the photo to the right, you'll see that I've installed a Shimano Nexus 8 speed internally geared hub. Unlike a derailleur system, the internal hub has all of the major moving parts completely enclosed and protected from the elements. In addition, you can change gears while standing still, which is nice when you're riding in traffic. If you remember the old English three speeds, this is basically a more modern version of that with more gears. Eight is honestly plenty for a utility bike like this. I kept the double chain ring setup, with 34 and 38 tooth chain rings, figuring I'd use the lower range in winter with the studs and higher with lighter tires in spring, summer and fall. Honestly though, I never went to the trouble to reposition the chain when the seasons changed.

Other changes you'll note... a narrower saddle to go with the more forward-leaning position of the moustache bars... a better quality headlight... and most importantly, baskets front and rear. While panniers can work for shopping, it's much handier to just have baskets permanently mounted. The front is a basic Wald wire basket, mounted on a cheap front "mini rack" from Bike Nashbar, and the rear is the classic Wald folding grocery baskets, sized to take a standard paper grocery bag, and tucking out of the way when not needed. Those are attached to the classic Blackburn rack, one of the great workhorses in bike racks. A final detail is the Pletscher two-leg kickstand... heavy, but gosh it's nice to have when you have a load of groceries.

Oh, one more thing to note... in both pictures of my bike you can see several stickers plastered here and there. I tend to do that with my "utility" bikes.... it makes them uniquely mine, and perhaps less appealing to thieves. No idea if that last part works, but it can't hurt. And it's an opportunity to express some opinions, such as "If you were riding you'd be happy by now" and " Books and bikes undermine the aspirations of dictators". You'll also notice a fair number of pieces of reflective silver tape strategically placed around the bike, to help make me more visible at night. Kind of ugly, but it's a safety thing.

So that's one example... more to come. And not just my bikes, I promise!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Blast From the Past

Last week, I was visiting my mom, and hanging some Christmas lights for her, when I noticed this piece of computing history on a desk in her back room. What you see there is a Texas Instruments TI-1250 "pocket calculator", circa 1975. My mom bought this one to handle her checkbook and such back then, and has used it ever since. If you look at the photo, you'll see it's a pretty basic machine... it adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides. But the big news, what made it "fully loaded" (according to, a site dedicated to Texas Instruments calculators, with a ton of information on many, many models), are the four M buttons which allow you to store numbers in memory so you can then use them in another equation. Pretty simple stuff compared to the modern graphing calculators and such that a typical schoolkid is carrying around today. But back when she bought this, I remember being amazed that this little box could do what it did. Bear in mind that when I was in 8th grade chemistry, I was taught how to use a slide rule! For those of you too young to know, that was a basic mechanical computer that consisted of several sliding pieces marked with numbers that, when manipulated by someone who knew what they were doing, could perform some pretty elaborate math ( Watch any documentary about the space program or even the movie Apollo 13 and you'll see that slide rules were an intrinsic part of NASA operations.

The funny thing is, as I went forward in school, I of course bought and used much more sophisticated calculators, which included such things as trigonometric functions, square roots, scientific notation, etc., as well as a specialized "foot and inch" calculator designed specifically for the building trades. All of these were indispensable tools during my career as a theatre technical director, but while I still own a couple of pretty capable calculators, the overwhelming majority of my day to day needs could be met by that old TI-1250 these days.

Now, to bring this all back to bikes... take a look here:

where you will find a page by the late, great Sheldon Brown about using a slide rule to figure out chain ring and sprocket combinations to achieve a specific gear ratio. I've never tried it, but it seems pretty straightforward... assuming you have a slide rule!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making Your Bike YOURS

One of the things I love about working on bicycles, both my own and others', is setting the bike up so it best suits the rider and the use they intend for the bike. I think most folks assume that the way the bike comes from the factory or the bike shop is the way it's meant to be, and never think of changing it. On the contrary, any bike can be modified, and in many cases should be, in order to really become "yours".

First off, what do I mean by "yours"? Well, a bike you own should first of all fit your body. Bikes are typically designed for the "average" person, in most cases, the average man. Since few of us are in fact, average, and 51% aren't men, the first thing I recommend to folks is that we figure out how to make their bike fit them better. This may simply involve adjusting the height and angle of the saddle and handlebars, as well as the fore and aft position of the saddle, or it may involve changing the saddle, bars, or stem (the part the bars attach to). In some cases, all of the above!

I'd have to say, the most common fit complaint I have from customers boils down to the handlebars being either too low or too far from the saddle. This sometimes manifests itself as a slight discomfort, but in more severe cases can cause acute pain or numbness in the hands, wrists, arms, neck or shoulders. Most people don't spend a lot of time supporting a lot of weight on their arms, so low and far handlebars can be quite uncomfortable. Granted, there is some degree of "getting accustomed" involved, and the more you ride, the more comfortable lower bars can feel. But for most people, the answer is to raise them or get them closer or both. This can be accomplished with a different stem, perhaps, or even different handlebars. Visit your local shop and talk about the possibilities.

The next most common comfort issue (and it's nearly a tie here) is the saddle. I'll start right off saying I can't tell you for certain what saddle is going to be best for you. That's a very personal part of one's anatomy, and we're all different, so what works for me may not work for you. In fact, many people, in looking at my bikes with their Brooks tensioned leather saddles, think I must be some sort of masochist. Far from it... I have found over the years that for my behind, and my style of riding, nothing is more comfortable than the Brooks B.17 saddle. But that's me. You are different. The best advice I can give you is to talk to your local shop and get their feedback. One thing to think about is the shape and softness of your current saddle, and how it feels beneath you. Does it feel so narrow that it threatens to split you in two? Or is it so wide your thighs rub excessively? See why saddles are hard for folks to talk about? :-) Seriously though, think about the sensations you feel on your current saddle and then compare the shape and softness to other saddles to find what works for you. It may take several attempts... but don't give up until you have something that works for you.

Now beyond basic positioning issues, you can customize your bike for your needs in other ways. You may not realize it, but your bike's gearing is not set in stone. Do you feel you struggle to grind up steep hills, feeling like you're pedaling in concrete? Or does it feel like you end up with your feet flailing at a crazy high speed and your highest gear is too easy for you? Either extreme is pretty simple to adjust, although depending on the components on your bike, it can get expensive. But if you aren't enjoying the ride, you won't ride the bike, and what's the good in that? Again, talk to the folks at your local shop and see what they can do for you.

Another change to consider is your tires. Many bikes come from the factory with pretty generic, utiliatarian tires that provide a decent ride at a modest price to the manufacturer. Given the enormous selection of brands, models, sizes and styles of tires available today, there's a good chance that there's something better for the type of riding you do. Do you ride mostly on smooth, good roads and bike paths? Go for a lighter, faster-rolling tire. Commute on rough, glass strewn city streets, and can't afford to be late for work due to a flat? Go for the rugged, wide, kevlar belted models. Ocassional jaunts off road, in dirt? There are tires for that too. Try to find someone who does the kind of riding you do, and ask their advice. Experienced riders will have pretty strong opinions, and as long as their priorities match yours, you should get good advice.

Now, beyond all of these central matters, there are other ways to truly make your bike suit you and your riding. If you're like me, and don't want weather to keep you off the bike, you should give serious thought to fenders... they will greatly increase your comfort and cleanliness (and your bike's) in the rain. Any chance you'll be caught out after dark? Then invest in at least a basic front and rear light. I'm a big fan of the small, self contained headlights from Planet Bike, and blinky red tail lights from PB or Cateye, but there are plenty of other options. For bikes used on a more regular basis for transportation, I really like the dynamo hub systems from Shimano or Schmidt, which free you of worries about batteries. Don't forget a bell, if you regularly ride multi use trails... walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and the like seem to respond well to a "ding ding" rather than a shout.

Then there are the items that just make a statement, or simply personalize your bike so it "looks right" to you. Perhaps it's a matter of getting just the right color of bar tape on a road bike (I have been known to agonize excessively over this!), or an assortment of stickers that express your world view ("If you were riding you'd be happy now" is a personal favorite of mine). Or maybe it's something whimsical... for example, my "fixed gear" bike (a type of bike known to have some very "serious" fans) has a colorful, parrot shaped squeeze horn! These are the things that often come over time, as you and your bike become acquainted, and you slowly shape it and make it yours.

So don't be afraid to change the way the factory built it! There's nothing sacred, and as long as you know a bit of what you're doing, or know someone (like your local shop mechanic) who does, you can't do much harm. Start with the fit issues and go from there, and soon you'll have a bike that's like no other, and suits you to a "T".

(Look for a future post with specific examples... but for now, take a look at the two photos here. Both are of my '85 Miyata 210 that I built up for commuting and shopping... the first photo is how I initially set it up, the second is how she is now... see if you can spot the changes!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Man Behind the Curtain...

... used to be me!

By that I mean to say I spent most of my working life in technical theatre. Most of that time was spent as a technical director, with lighting design as a side line. It was a fascinating line of work, and I'm glad I discovered it, but I'm also glad to be out of it now.

So, what exactly is a technical director? Well, they are the person who takes the visual ideas of the director and scenic designer and translates them into reality... taking into account the time, people, and money available.

And there you have one of the big challenges with the job... directors and designers have almost unlimited imagination.... and budgets and schedules are absolutely limited! Of all the productions I was involved in, I can count on the fingers of one hand those shows where the initial design was achievable within the limitations of time and money available. In many more shows, after the initial presentation of the design, there was always a period of revision, negotiation, and creative adaptation to get the show within budget and time. At the best of times, it's a fascinating and exciting collaborative process, where creativity is tested and flourishes. At the worst of times, it's a battle of wills that frustrates everyone. I'm happy to say, most of my experiences were of the more positive sort. I was fortunate to work with a lot of great people over the years, and very few truly unpleasant folk.

So how did I end up in theatre? Well, way back in 7th grade, a buddy of mine, Peter Watson, called me up and told me the drama club at school needed some help building some "flats". I had NO idea what he was talking about, but being best friends, I figured if he was going to do it, I would too. He and I and a few others spent a couple afternoons covering wooden frames with fabric, to make walls for the set of the next play. I remember thinking at the time that it was just bizarre to use fabric for a wall, but that was the standard for a long, long time in theatre.

That first foray into theatre led to volunteering to help out on other shows... and even led me to audition for a play... and then another, and another. Before I knew it I was regularly acting in plays in high school, as well as building the sets and hanging the lights. Then it was off to college, where I was finally confronted with having to choose... did I want to be an actor or a designer/technician? It really wasn't that tough a choice... I really enjoyed both, but knew all too well what the job prospects for an actor were. Besides, I knew in my heart that I was better behind the scenes, and found it fit my strengths and personality better.

I've never regretted the acting and actor training, however. That experience brought me a level of confidence that really came at a good time for me. Up until junior high, I had been the shy, quiet kid that nobody really knew. Stepping out on a stage, in the guise of another character, helped me to come into my own... it was something I was good at, and liked to do, and the audience reaction was an amazing thing to experience. Ask any actor... there's nothing like the connection that can happen between performer and audience.

I have to say though, that my heart was more in the technical and design aspects of theatre. As I said above, in technical direction I found a lot of pleasure (and a share of pain) in being right at the nexus where the artistic vision and the execution came together. Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, writes about two ways of looking at the world... the "romantic" view, concerned with surface appearances, beauty, aesthetics... and the "classical" view, focusing on underlying form, how things work, etc. It took me years to realize it, but one of the things I loved about my theatre work was being where the two merged... or collided, depending on the situation.

My other specialty in theatre was lighting design, and I have to say, if there's any part of my theatre work I miss today, it's that.... the molding and shaping of space and people, the manipulation of the audience's focus and reaction, the subtle art of the ephemeral thing we call "light"... I took so much pleasure in that. And I was good at it, too. Whether drama, dance, muisc or other performance form, I seemed to have a knack for connecting with the main vision of the piece and using the tools at my hands to support and even enhance that vision.

Actually, one other thing I miss is teaching... I still do a little of that in my role as head mechanic at our shop, but I really enjoyed much of my time in university teaching positions... at least the class work. The big challenge in academic theatre is being pulled between two masters... the educational mission and the demands of a production schedule. Not an easy balance, and some settings make it harder than it needs to be. But I did so love sharing my knowledge and experience with students. I hope in some way I helped enrich some lives through my teaching. I'd like to think I did.

So why did I leave theatre? Well, that's pretty simple... 20 plus years of the crazy schedules, challenging situations and the absolute deadlines of opening nights (the only deadline that could not be missed, unlike things like design submission deadlines...ahem), and the stress finally outweighed the satisfaction and the fun. And it's the kind of business where if you don't really love doing it, you have to get out, or it chews you up alive. You have to get your own satisfaction out of it, because the money and recognition and other such rewards are pretty slim. Do I ever think of going back? Once in a while I'll think about some aspect of it I liked... such as the creative process of lighting design, or the satisfaction of teaching a great class... but all in all, the whole package no longer works for me, so I think it's unlikely I'll ever go back, except perhaps as a hobby of sorts. But who knows? Life can take surprising turns.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Dad

Back on Veterans' Day, I wrote a long post about my dad's time in the Army Air Force, during World War II. At the time, I hadn't been able to track down a photo of him in uniform, but my sister Louise later scanned one for me. That's him there to the left, in 1942, which would make him 24. According to my mom, this photo hung in the window of the photo studio in Spokane where it was taken, for a while, I guess as a sort of promotional item, and as my mom said "because he was so good looking".

Oh, and apparently the rug I mentioned was bought by my dad in Hamadan, Iran, not Cairo. I must have gotten my stories mixed up.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Family" Portrait

Well, after my latest burst of activity in building up "project" bikes that have been gathering dust, I've now got 3 more bikes up and running, which is a good thing. Part of what got me going on this flurry of activity was a customer bringing in his nice old Bridgestone road bike, either an RB-1 or -2, I don't recall which just now. It reminded me that I had several Bridgestones I needed to get rolling myself, so I dove in, and got all three put together. Now that my little "flotilla" of Bridgestones is complete, I figured I'd shoot a few photos of the set. A very bike-geeky thing to do, I know. But I suspect there are folks out there who will enjoy this.

In this view, the bike closest to the camera is the latest one completed, a 1992 RB-2. The next in line is the 1994 RB-T, which I think has my favorite Bridgestone graphics, with the oval around the "RB-T" on the seat tube and a real metal head badge. Behind that bike is my XO-2, the closest to "all original" of the bunch, with only minor modifications. The "splash" bar wrap is kinda weird, but it was either that or white or black. The XO series is arguably the weirdest and most collectible of the Bridgestones, as they reflect Grant Peterson's unique interpretation of the "hybrid" idea.

Now, here up front you see my lone mountain bike, a 1987 MB-1. I'm not by any means a "serious" mountain biker... I tend to take it easy on trails, just noodling along, generally with a grin on my face. And the MB-1, with no suspension and simple, solid components and good geometry, suits me just fine. I might at some point try putting an Allsop Softride stem I have on it, to give a little bit of cushion to the bars. But honestly, I don't know that I need it for the limited trail riding I anticpate doing on this bike right now. Back when I lived in Flagstaff, I might have felt differently, but I was younger and the trails were more plentiful and accesible.

A view from behind of the group, showing the different handlebar styles.... left to right, MB-1 with MTB flat bars, XO-2 "dirt drop" bars, RB-T "moustache" bars, and RB-2 with classic road drop bars. The XO bars are original, but oddly enough are also what the MB-1 had when new. I've never ridden a mountain bike with drop bars, so I have no idea how I'd like that. Maybe I'll try one day. The RB-T would have originally had standard drop bars, but I wanted another bike with moustache bars, and from what I had heard about the RB-T's handling, it seemed like a good choice. I'm loving it so far. And the standard, classic Nitto drop bars on the RB-2 are an old favorite.

This view and the first photo give a pretty good idea of the different intended use of each bike as well. Notice the tire sizes on the bikes... skinny road tires on the RB-2, wider road on the RB-T, 26" medium width tires on the XO-2, and 26" knobbies on the MB-1. In terms of versatility, the middle two win out, but the extrems of the MB-1 and RB-2 are a lot of fun for the right conditions.

I had a lot of fun building the bikes up, and now I'm having even more fun riding them. I can't really pick a favorite... they each have their strengths, and each has a distinct ride from the others. Variety, is after all, the spice of life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Office Clutter Theory

For years I have struggled with the challenge of clutter in my office... both at home and at various jobs I've held. These days, I don't have an office at work (not a big need for one as a bike mechanic!), but my desk at home still often ends up looking like a minor disaster area. Nothing awful, no cans of half-eaten food or empty bottles or things like that... it's mostly just papers... untidy piles of paper. Try as I might, I never seem to find a way to defeat this problem completely.

But at least I know why it happens. It dawned on me a number of years ago when I was teaching at a prestigious eastern university (which must remain unnamed, or they will use that "intellectual property" clause of my contract and lay claim to the theory). I call it my Sourdough Theory of Office Clutter.

Stay with me here. We've all been through this... you decide to buckle down and finally attack the pile or piles of accumulated stuff in your office. You diligently sort through it all, filing things away, recycling others, passing some onto a colleague perhaps. But then, when you've gone through all of that... there's that one, small, random pile of stuff that you can't quite find a home for, and can't yet dispose of. That, dear reader, is the "starter"! Yes, much like sourdough bread, clutter needs a "seed" pile to start from. And there it is. Waiting. Before you know it, it starts to grow, and the next thing you know you're right back where you started.

Now, having come up with this brilliant theory more than a decade ago, you'd think I would have found a solution by now. But no... look at the picture of my desk below... see it there... on the right hand edge? You can almost hear it chuckling...