Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Riding

So we finally got our first "real" snow here in the DC area. And yes, for those of you in the midwest, or New England, or the Rockies, well, it's pretty lame. Even one of Obama's kids commented on that. But you'd be amazed just what turmoil ensues with the slightest trace of snow here. Motorists in particular just can't seem to cope with it. A few flakes appear and everyone panics!



The snow started on Tuesday, early in the morning, and really only added up to a couple of inches. The tricky part was it was followed, as it so often is in this region, by freezing rain. So by the time all was said and done, we had a hard crust on top of a thin layer of snow, and a pretty fair amount of ice on the roads, sidewalks, and paths around here.

Monday I brought my Miyata 210 commuter (shown above, in the woods on my ride today) to work, so I could mount my studded tires, since the forecast was calling for snow. I joked to John, my boss, that since I was planning on putting the tires on, we would end up not getting any snow at all. Well, at the end of the day, I hadn't gotten around to mounting the tires... and at about 4 am the next morning the snow started. To the DC area as a whole, I apologize, it's my fault.

Since I neglected to deal with it on Monday, and Tuesday was a day off, Wednesday found me walking to the shop to finally put the studs on the bike. I rode home on residential streets, which were pretty clear by then, so the tires really didn't make a big difference.

Thursday morning, however, was a different story! As you can see in the photos here, the multi-use trail I ride was covered in a hard, frozen, bumpy crust. And the dirt path I ride to get to the trail was just as bad. I was really glad to have the studs this morning, as the hard, frozen surface would have been difficult if not impossible to ride otherwise. It's pretty remarkable how well the studs keep your wheels stuck to the ice as you ride. If you look at the tire photo above, there are 106 of those metal tips in each tire. They don't look like much, but they make a huge difference. My ride is only a little over a mile, but I've done longer rides on the same tires, and have never really felt like the bike was going to just slip out under me. Sure, the traction can get a little weird, especially when the surface has been made irregular by footprints and tire tracks, but as long as you stay relaxed and just have a little faith, you can roll right along without mishap.

Two other features make this bike particularly suited to winter commuting. First, as you can see in the final photo, is the internally geared hub. This particular one is a Shimano Nexus 8 speed, which gives a really nice range of gears and works really smoothly and reliably. An advantage to all internal hub gears is that you can change gears when standing still or coasting, unlike a derailleur bike. Unlike some internal hub gears, the Nexus will also shift while you are pedaling, making it a really versatile gadget, and well suited for riding in traffic. Finally, all of the workings of the hub are protected from the elements by being inside the hub shell, while a derailleur system has all of its bits and pieces exposed.

The other items that I find really handy for winter riding are the pedals. You can see in the photo, they are big, wide BMX-style pedals with pins that grab the soles of your shoes. These are ideal for winter, because when there's snow on the ground, I tend to ride in light hiking boots, and with my size 13 feet, you really need a pedal with a large platform for your foot. And the pins are a godsend when it's slippery out, due to rain, snow, or ice.

The observant bike geeks will wonder why I have two chain rings on the bike when there's no front derailleur. Well, when I first set up the bike, I thought I'd like to have a smaller chain ring for lower gears in winter, bigger ring for higher gears the rest of the year. It's easy enough to slide the wheel in the frame to adjust the chain tension, but honestly, once I put the chain on the small ring last winter, I never bothered to move it back. So now the bigger ring is basically a chain guard. A chain guard with sharp, pointy teeth, so not that useful as a chain guard either.

Anyway, if you've never tried riding in winter, in snow and ice, you really should give it a try. Buy yourself a set of studded tires and have a go. Or if you're really adventurous and have patience and time on your hands, you can make your own studded tires. Information on this and more information than you ever imagined about winter riding in general can be found at: http://www.icebike.com/

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nobody Walks in Vienna, VA

Or at least nobody who was in any way involved in the design of the sidewalks! Or they certainly don't walk in winter.

I first moved to Vienna, VA in fall of 2002, just in time for a snow storm. Sometime prior to that, in an effort, not doubt, to beautify the downtown, they installed red brick sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks. And they do look spiffy, that's for sure. They're also frighteningly slick and slippery in winter! Apparently, compared to the more typical concrete sidewalks, brick ices faster and thaws more slowly, leading to really treacherous conditions when snow or sleet or freezing rain fall.

It's bad enough that the sidewalks are deadly... but in their infinite wisdom someone decided it would be a great idea to do crosswalks in intersections in brick as well. Woo hoo! So, while the asphalt warms up pretty readily and melts the snow and ice, the strip pedestrians must navigate is slicker than the proverbial pig excrement! Sheesh. Irony of ironies... just a few months ago, the swankier town of McLean just invested a big pile of money to replace a big section of their sidewalks with brick as well. Did no one there think to check on how it was working out in Vienna? Apparently not.

But maybe it does boil down to my title... it's rare that I see anyone actually walking on the sidewalks in all of northern Virginia, so maybe it's less of an issue than I'd think. But this time of year I tread very cautiously. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eighteen and a Half Bikes?!?!?!?!?!?!?

So, in a recent post about my "new" Fuji track bike, I let slip that I have eighteen and a half bikes. For those of you that missed it, the "half" bike is a unicycle, which I'm still figuring out how to ride. Anyway, in response to this post, I had a few comments from readers (dear pal Beth asking yet again, "you have one butt... and how many bikes?") about having that many bikes and if I actually ride them all, have a favorite, etc. Well, heck, that sounds like an invitation for another post, doesn't it?

To start with, the list, in approximate order of when I got them, first to most recent:

1980 Trek 414 road bike (shown above)
1966 Raleigh Sports 3 speed
1951 Raleigh Lenton Tourist "club" 3 speed *
1978 Centurion Professional road racer
1986 Miyata 1000 touring bike
1987 Bridgestone MB-1 mountain bike
1993 Bridgestone XO-2 sorta hybridy bike
1994 Bridgestone RB-T light tourer
1992 Bridgestone RB-2 road racer
1978 Raleigh Professional road racer
1951 Dawes 3 speed *
1985 Miyata 210 touring bike (set up as commuter)
2006 Dahon Hon Solo folding bike
1973 Schwinn Paramount P15-9 touring bike
1973 Raleigh Competition road bike
2007 Sun Unicycle
1975-ish Proteus road bike *
1981 Fuji Intermediate Track bike

Why do I have so many bikes? Well, obviously I'm a cycling enthusiast, and a bit of a collector. However, I am NOT primarily interested in the pure "collecting" aspect of the bike world. By that I mean I don't view them as some sort of display item, or an investment, or a prize. Sure, each of those things is an aspect of why I have them, but primarily I have them because I like riding and working on bikes. I've never gotten a bike simply because it's a "collectible", although a number of mine are in some respect quite collectible.

So what drives me to get (and keep... bear in mind I've had some for a while then passed them on to someone else) a particular bike? Well, probably two of the bigger criteria are ride quality and aesthetics. While it's not always been possible to assess the ride quality of each of my bikes before purchase (a number being bought long distance, thanks to the 'net), I do try to get some idea what to expect through research and my own and others' experience with that model or style of bike. And generally speaking, the bikes that I didn't keep were bikes whose ride quality or fit just didn't suit me. That's why there really aren't many bikes that feel like "one that got away" for me.... although there are a couple I wouldn't mind having back! As for aesthetics, yes, that's a consideration for me. As you can probably tell, I am fond of old, lugged steel road bikes. There's just something about them that just "looks right" to me, and some of mine are truly lovely to look at, due to the frame details and/or paint work. But I honestly wouldn't keep a pretty bike that I hated to ride. For me, a bike is meant to be ridden.

So yes, I ride all of my bikes, or at least all of those that are currently complete and in running order. In the list above, that's all but the ones with an asterisk, so you can see it's the vast majority of them. Sure, at any given moment, one or more of them may be laid up needing some work, but by and large, all but three right now are "operational"... and I plan on getting those three running soon! I don't really see the point to owning a bike I never ride. And since each of my bikes is unique, I pick and choose which one to ride day to day based on my mood and what sort of ride I'm taking, along with weather and such. And yes, some get more miles under their tires than others.

Now, a related question that I've seen come up on the internet from time to time... is there such a thing as a bike "too precious to ride"? For me, no, not in my collection, and honestly, I wouldn't want to own one that I felt I couldn't ride. If somehow or other I came into say, one of Fausto Coppi's (http://www.cyclinghalloffame.com/riders/rider_bio.asp?rider_id=13) bikes, I'd probably baby it and not be foolish about it, but yes, I would want to ride it, at least a little. One good example kind of says it all for me... a friend owns a late 30s Schwinn Paramount track bike, with period wood rims and mostly original parts... a true classic and collectible. But he rides it... he doesn't hang it on a wall as a prized possession, he rides it! And when I first went over to his house, and expressed amazement at the bike, his response was "wanna ride it?"! Did I? Wow! Very, very cool to have the chance to ride such a piece of history. But that's just it... bikes are meant to be ridden.

I've also been asked if I have a favorite. Well, yes, sort of... and that ties into the related question of "what would you do if you couldn't keep them all?" My answer to that question is "if for some reason I had to pare the collection down to two bikes, I can tell you right now which two it would be... but anything between that and the total number I have now would be tricky to sort out." Here's what that means... I have two clear favorites, my "never part with" duo... the Trek 414 and the Miyata 1000. Why those two? Well, the Miyata is just a great, versatile, all-around-good-riding bike that is beautiful to boot, and perfect for loaded touring, something I love to do, and that also makes it good for daily transportation purposes. The Trek, well it's a great riding jack-of-all-trades "sport touring" bike... and the sentimental favorite of the whole bunch. I've owned that bike since I bought it new nearly 30 years ago, and I can't imagine EVER parting with it. It would be very, very hard to choose between those two, but the years and miles the Trek has shared with me would win out, I suspect.

Any other sort of culling... you know, "pare it down to an even dozen"... would be hard. Each of my other bikes has something unique about it that makes it hard to part with. Some of them it's that they are just great riding bikes, and really pretty (Centurion, Paramount, Bridgestone RB-T and RB-2 for example). Others are the bikes I dreamt of owning in my youth, and now finally own (Paramount, Raleigh Pro and Competition, Proteus for example) , some are both great riding and at least semi-rare or valuable (any of the Bridgestones, the Paramount, Raleigh Lenton, and Proteus). I'm sure if need be, I could do it, but it would be really hard. Then again, as I look at what I just wrote, it's clear to me that the Paramount is pretty high on each list, and thus a "keeper". I just hope I'm never faced with having to make those choices!

But that does bring me to one final question... how many bikes do I NEED?

Well, the short and simple answer is "one".

Didn't see that coming? Well, if I'm totally honest and totally pragmatic, it's true. Pick a good, solid, versatile bike, and bingo, you don't NEED any others (assuming you don't ride a really wide range of conditions, like road racing and mountain biking... but that's really outside the realm of "need"). And plenty of folk, even bike enthusiasts (I hate the term "serious cyclist", but you hear it a lot... sounds too grim to me), manage to enjoy either a single bike or a MUCH smaller assortment than mine. I currently have the luxury of being able to own this many, and I really, truly appreciate that, and the fun of having such a "squadron" at my disposal. It's given me many, many hours of pleasure, riding and working on these bikes, as well as fine-tuning their specific configurations... making each of them somehow uniquely "mine", as discussed in other posts.

So while I COULD have simply one bike... I'll stick with my little squadron for now. And actually, before too long I hope to have a Brompton folding bike... and then there's...

Photos of many of my bikes can be seen at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/43828356@N00/

And a write up (which needs to be updated!) of my various bikes is here:

http://www.bikesatvienna.com/articles/2007-08-12-tims-bikes.html

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Was Barack Obama...

... in a really, really strange dream I had the other night!

Now, I've had my share of weird dreams, but this one was truly remarkable... and funny! I only remember one small fragment of it, but that fragment had me both amused and confused when I woke up.

There I was, Barack Obama, at some major social function, black tie sort of thing... a state dinner, or something like that maybe. It wasn't clear if it was before or after inauguration, but definitely after the election. I was standing around, talking to a couple of people, when somebody calls to me from across the room and says "Phone call for you! It's John McCain!" Just then, I hear the sound of the phone ringing... only it's nothing like a phone ring or ringtone that I've ever heard. I don't recall exactly what it was, but think something along the lines of a carillon or church bells or something, really loud, and you get the idea. Next thing I know, someone walks over to me and hands me... a large crab claw! The kind of claw you'd get from an Alaskan King Crab or something like that. I (Obama) calmly take it, snap it in two, then holding one piece to my ear and one to my mouth, like an old fashioned "candlestick" phone, I speak into it, saying "Hello!" And then I hear John McCain's voice on the other end, saying something I no longer remember.

That's it. That's all I remember of the whole dream. If there was more, it's lost to me.

So what the heck.....?!?!?!?!?!??

First, while I can understand dreaming ABOUT Obama just before the inauguration, I'm a little surprised that I dreamt I WAS Obama. Sure, in my dreams I've assumed many different identities, and even shift from one to another mid-dream sometimes. But why Obama? I don't really have those kinds of delusions of grandeur or aspirations to power.

And what the hell is it with the crab claw phone??????????? No, I haven't eaten crab, seen a crab, talked about crabs, thought about crabs or had anything to do with crabs in recent history. Nor have I encountered an unusual phone lately. Or watched an old episode of "Get Smart" even. I'm stumped.

Kind of funny though if you think about it... the "leader of the free world" as they sometimes call the American president... getting an important phone call on the CrabPhone (tm)! And here I grew up with the image of the "hotline" with the Kremlin, typically pictured as a red dial telephone. And all the while the real business of government has been conducted via crustacean parts!

One More Thing About the Park Summit

In a previous post I singled out Shimano for whipping some marketing on us while we attended their technical seminar at the Park Tech Summit, but to be fair, SRAM did some of their own pitching of product, and in some ways it was kind of bizarre.

Essentially, the guy at SRAM spent a good chunk of time espousing the advantages of the design of their rear derailleurs, and how they differ from Shimano's derailleurs. In short, the main things they highlighted were the following: a two-spring rather than three-spring system, a more dramatically slanted main parallelogram body, no side to side "float" in the upper pulley, and an upper pulley that is concentric with the pulley cage pivot point. Each of these features were explained as ways in which SRAM drivetrain designers maintain a consistent distance between the upper derailleur pulley and the rear sprockets, through the range of travel of the derailleur, and regardless of the position of the chain on the front chain rings.

It all sounds good, and their derailleurs do work well, but to anyone who has followed derailleur design for any length of time, there's something familiar here. Each of those features were central to the design of SunTour derailleurs, back in the 70s. SunTour was the "other" Japanese company, competing with Shimano for a chunk of the drivetrain component market. A good, concise history of SunTour appears here:

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~hadland/page35.htm

The short version is that SunTour won a few battles over the years, but ultimately lost the war. Shimano became the dominant force in drivetrains, in large part due to their successful introduction of a working, indexed shifting system in the mid-80s. And according to much of the cycling press at the time, and since, it was Shimano adapting SunTour's slant parallelogram design, along with incorporating their own three-spring mechanism, floating upper pulley, and doing away with the concentric upper pulley that made the system work so well. So it's more than a little strange to see the very same features that SunTour used now being touted as having advantages over Shimano's system. To their credit, the folks at SRAM did point out that there were pros and cons to each design, but it's clear which they believe is the better system.

So who's right? Which is better? Honestly, they both work really well. I've worked on and ridden a lot of bikes with both Shimano and SRAM derailleurs and shifters (and lots of old SunTour stuff too), and they all work just fine. As with so many things in the industry, the similarities outweigh the differences in my opinion. It is fascinating though to see how "everything old is new again"... so many of today's "innovations" have been around a lot longer than the makers want you to know.

(On a side note, I'm not forgetting the other giant of the component world, Campagnolo. They are still a dominant force in the road bike market, of course. But I opted to skip their seminar, as we rarely see any of their components come into our shop, since we aren't really a "roadie" shop.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

More on the Park Summit (Training vs. Marketing)

At the recent Park Tool Tech Summit, in addition to hands on technical training on servicing their components, some of the manufacturers took the opportunity to slip a little marketing in. I don't really begrudge them doing a little of this, but I did find some things a bit, well, amusing and bemusing. It wasn't really a surprise to me that the two biggest manufacturers whose seminars I attended were the most "marketing" oriented... SRAM and Shimano, with the latter being the more blatant of the two.

The first hour or so of the three hour Shimano session was all about their internally geared hubs, the Nexus and Alfine series, and was quite useful. They showed how to open one up, and their new maintenance regimen, which basically consists of soaking the hub in an oil bath for a while, letting it drain, then reassembling. Simple and should be effective. They also explained how planetary gearing systems work, which was a good thing to cover, since I think a lot of folks think of them as mysteries.

But then they moved on to DuraAce 7900 and the new Di2 electronic shifting systems, and at that point it pretty much became all about telling us how great the new systems are... in other words, marketing. Little if any service information was passed on... instead they touted the features of the new systems, features which to me are pretty minor. I'm not all that excited that they managed to pare 130 grams off the weight of a DuraAce group... that's basically the weight of two Clif bars. Or to look at it another way, one and a third boxes of the standard Gem paperclips. Now, think about it. Hold either of those two items in your hand. How heavy is that, really? Now, add up the total weight of your bike. Think about the paperclips again. Now, add whatever you weigh. 130 paperclips. Seriously. If you're not a racer competing at a pretty high level, you do not need to race out and buy this latest and greatest group for the weight savings. And the other features they touted were equally minor refinements to already really good parts. So sure, if you're already in the market for a new bike, great, 7900 will be spiffy, and you can be the coolest kid on the block... until 8000 comes out, or whatever they call the next generation.

Or until one of your buddies shows up on the even more expensive Di2. What's Di2, you ask? Well, it's Shimano's new electronic shifting system. Istead of the spring and cable systems we're all familar with, this new shifting system relies on small electric motors to move the chain from sprocket to sprocket, and from chainring to chainring. And it is cool... and it seems to work pretty darned well. But again... do you need it? Unless you are a pretty advanced racer, again, no. The tiny microsecond advantage it might give you is really insignificant. And the price is NOT insignificant... to the tune of $3900 just for the two derailleurs, the shifters and a battery. Wow! Don't get me wrong... it's not that I think the system is stupid or anything.. I just think it's another "must have" item that very few people really should worry about having... and those people are on professional, sponsored racing teams. But I'm sure the usual thing will happen... guys (they're almost always guys) who have the money and want to impress their clubmates, or just simply love having the latest gadget, will be the first in line to buy this stuff.

Me, I'll stick with what's been working for me for years. I'm not trying to be intentionally retrograde, really... I just don't feel a burning need to have the "latest and greatest" when I don't ride competitively. Shaving a few grams or seconds really doesn't matter to me when I ride for fun or for transportation. For me, it's more important that what I use be reliable and serviceable. I'm not one of those guys (and again, it's mostly guys) who insist that indexed shifting is an abomination or that the height of bicycle technology was achieved in the mountains of France long before I was born. Some of my bikes have indexed shifting, some have friction shifting, and I've even got a couple of three speeds and one singlespeed and two fixed gear bikes. The common theme among them all is that they work well, and require very little fussing to make them work well.

But if you want to run out and buy the newest toys from Shimano, more power to you. If that's what is fun for you, I won't tell you you're wrong. I just don't think it's necessary to have in order to have a good time on a bike.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Another Thing About the Tech Summit

If any of you read my friend Beth's comment on my previous post about the Tech Summit, you'll note that she mentioned taking a class with Calvin years ago, and being the only woman in a class of 50 bicycle mechanics. Well, if the Summit is in any way indicative, things haven't gotten any better in that respect... there were 240 registered participants, and exactly 2 women. I was stunned. Sure, I knew this was a male dominated field, but I thought the numbers wouldn't be quite that skewed. Apparently I was wrong.

One thing that's interesting about this to me is that I used to work in the field of theatre technology, also strongly stacked in the male direction. I used to really notice it when I would go to trade shows and conferences... the bulk of folks I met were men, and mostly white men at that. In graduate school, it was much the same... a tiny number of women among a sea of men. And the stories I'd hear... smart women, very capable technicians in their own right, when calling some equipment supplier, would get the "maybe you should ask your boss if that's really what he wants" response. Maddening.

And it must be much the same for female bicycle mechanics. It makes no sense at all... there is nothing inherent in bicycle repair that makes a man better qualified than a woman. Even if you accept the difference in physical strength as a given, that's no reason. And women do ride bikes. So why is it we have so few working in shops. I suppose it's a long lived cultural bias, which is self-feeding. Women traditionally didn't go into those sorts of manual trades, it just "wasn't done"... and change happens slowly, in part because women (sensibly, I suppose) can feel a little (or a lot) intimidated by being so outnumbered in an environment made up almost entirely of men.

I ran into a really good example of that in theatre... at a conference where I was helping review college student's portfolios, one young woman admitted she was nervous about pursuing a career in technical direction for just that reason. I told her not to let it stop her, if that's what she really wanted to do. I didn't sugar coat it or tell her it would be easy, but I did tell her there was no REAL reason she couldn't do it, and not to let fear hold her back. And the theatre industry as a whole has made some attempts to change the culture and make it easier for women to fit in.

So what about the bike industry? How do we get more women involved on the repair side of things? I see a lot of women riding bikes these days, and many of them seem to be "serious" riders (I hate that phrasing, by the way... it makes us sound grim). And I've had quite a few women take my basic maintenance class. So there's potential there. What can be done to encourage more women to try being a "real" bicycle mechanic? I don't know, but I think it's something all of us in the industry should think about. It's never good for any field when people feel excluded on the basis of gender, race, or what have you.

Yet Another Bicycle!

ANOTHER ONE?!?!?!?!? Well, um.... yes... bringing me to, well... er.... 18 and 1/2 bikes total right now. Yes, that's a lot of bikes!

What can I say? It's an obsession... I love bicycles! And I find it really, really hard to pass up a cool, classic, old steel bike when it's my size! Like the Fuji you see there to the left, which is a 1981 Intermediate Track model. A strange name, to be sure... I guess it was intended to indicate that it was a mid-level quality bike, not a true "pro" bike, but an excellent bike for anyone else. That is, anyone else who wants to ride a track bike!







Now, the real bike geeks in the audience can skip this paragraph, but someone out there is probably thinking "What's he mean by a 'track bike' and how is that different from any other racing bike?" Well, as the name indicates, track bikes are designed to be ridden on a closed course, oval track, known as a velodrome. Among the things that set them apart from road racing bikes is the fact that they use a single gear, with a drive train known as a "fixed gear" ("fixed wheel" to the Brits out there). As shown here, a fixed gear has a single chain ring, a single sprocket, and no "freewheel" mechanism to allow you to coast. That's right, you can't coast on these bikes. If the rear wheel is going around, so are the pedals. Think back to your first tricycle as a little kid, and you sort of get the idea. Except in this case, you're going a lot faster, a lot higher off the ground. Oh, and a true track bike has no brakes.

That's right, no brakes. In track events, the riders control their speed solely through using their legs to resist the rotation of the pedals and thus the momentum of the wheel. It's a very different sensation from riding a conventional bike with a freewheel, and it takes some getting used to. For one thing, if you TRY to just stop pedaling, the bike won't let you... the pedals will keep going 'round, and you'll get the distinct sensation of the bike trying to lift you up and toss you forward. It's not quite as extreme or scary as it sounds, but it sure gets your attention.



Now the observant among you are saying "Hey, wait, I see a brake on that bike!" Well, yeah. While some folks (who consider themselves purists, I suppose) ride true track bikes, sans brakes, on the road, I prefer to have a front brake there to help me out when I need it. For example, when I find myself on a steep downhill, and the pedals keep wanting to go faster and faster and faster, and my legs are having a hard time slowing them down or even keeping up. That's one of the interesting things about a fixed gear... when first they hear about it, most people immediately think "wow, that must make climbing hills tough!" In fact, the opposite is true... it's the downhills that are trickier, as your feet just keep going faster and faster and faster... a very odd sensation until you get used to it. And part of why I installed a brake on this bike. That and because you never know what might happen out there in traffic, and a brake can come in handy.

Now, friends of mine who know my tastes in bikes, will be surprised to see that front tire/brake setup. Why? Well, because that's a 23mm wide tire on there... a rather skinny one, and REALLY skinny compared to the 32-38mm wide tires most of my bikes have. But look closely and you can see there's no way I could put anything fatter under that brake or fork crown. You see, a track bike is designed to ride on the smooth (often wooden) surface of a velodrome, so there's no need for clearance for wider tires. We'll see how I like the ride like this... it's been a long time since I regularly rode such skinny tires, but back in my grad school days I went as narrow as 19mm, so who knows, I might like it a lot.

The true aficionados might actually be aghast to know that I drilled the fork crown out to accept that brake. It's true, and it might be considered blasphemy, but I really am a firm believer in having a brake for road use, and it's not like this is a truly high end, precious collectible. Sure, there aren't a lot of them left these days, but it was meant as more of an amateur's bike or training bike than a true, high end professional track bike. And aside from the frame, only the headset and crank/bottom bracket were original when I got the bike. Oh, and I have the original saddle, but haven't put it on, because it didn't work with the cheap seatpost I had handy. Maybe it will go back on when I get a nicer post. Anyway, I hope I haven't offended anyone too badly by drilling the fork... I have access to a really good drill press, with a very accurate and stable vise clamping assembly, so I knew I could do it safely and accurately. And wow, is that Fuji crown a big hunk of solid metal! No worries about structural integrity at all.

So far I've only tootled around the parking lot on it a little... it's been pretty chilly here lately. Soon though I hope to take her out on a good long shakedown ride, and get a feel for how she rides. I expect I am going to like it a lot. It's the fourth fixed gear bike I've owned, but the first one that came from the factory designed for the track. My earlier "fixies" (I'm not sure if I like that term or hate it... consider me torn) were standard road frames, converted to fixed gear drivetrains. This should be a rather different experience, I suspect.

For more information on this bike as it originally came from the factory, as well as other old Fuji info, see:

http://classicfuji.com/1981_09_IntermediateTrack_Page.htm

For more photos of this bike, as well as some of my other bikes, see:

http://flickr.com/photos/43828356@N00/sets/72157612697809218/

I've already had two friends tell me it would look better with a dark, forest green bar tape. Duly noted, and that's probably in the future. I had this tape hanging around for too many years. It was given to me by my pal Shawn, and I've been waiting for the right project to try it on. This seemed a good choice, and it's pretty nice for now. Thanks Shawn!

Coincidentally, the rear hub came from another friend, named Sean (they can argue over which is the "right" spelling), who happened to call shortly after I got the frame, and when I mentioned I needed a hub, said he had one he wasn't using. Good timing, huh?

Oh, and the "18 and 1/2 bikes"? The 1/2 is because I own a unicycle!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Park Tool Tech Summit

This past Monday and Tuesday I attended the first Park Tool Summit (http://www.parktool.com/techsummit/index.HTML) in Philadelphia, PA. As you can see from the website, this was a series of seminars offered by manufacturers of bicycle parts and tools. The idea was to give professional mechanics some hands on training with the folks who make the stuff. All in all, a really good experience, although there were some highs and lows, as with everything.

The highs? Well, the seminars with RockShox (makers of suspension components) and Hayes (hydraulic disc brakes) were both excellent. I got a chance to tear into some parts that I either had never worked on or had only limited experience with, with a company technician guiding the way. Given that each seminar had 30 participants and 1 guide, there were some moments, even in the best of the seminars, when I felt a little lost, but overall, these two seminars were the most helpful to me. Of course, some of that is because suspension and hydraulics are two areas where I have the most to learn, I suspect.

Park Tools (the dominant manufacturer of bicycle tools for the US market) also had an excellent seminar, lead by Calvin Jones, their Director of Education. Calvin, along with knowing an enormous amount about bicycle repair, is a bit of a character... and I mean that in a good way. He has a sense of humor that lends itself well to an industry that seems to delight in introducing new "standards" about every five minutes... the sort of thing that drives you crazy, unless you can chuckle about it. Anyway, the Park session mostly covered frame preparation and machining, which I have plenty of experience in, so it didn't really provide too much new knowledge for me. I did get a chance to use a disc brake tab facing tool, which I hadn't done before, and it never hurts to see or hear another person's approach to something, so simply hearing Calvin speak was good. And heck, I won a prize... for answering a question incorrectly! Calvin asked me "Do you torque every nut and bolt on a bike when you build it up?" Well, I made the same assumption I bet everyone in the room made... I figured he was asking if I used a torque wrench on every fastener, so I said "no". Well, duh... he pointed out that every time I tighten a fastener, I'm torquing it. Groan. Anyway, for being a good sport, I got a free set of digital calipers, which was thinking of buying soon anyway.

I also attended seminars with two of the bigger component makers, SRAM and Shimano. Shimano has been sort of the 800 lb gorilla in bike parts for years now, and their presentation, like their equipment, is polished and slick. My only complaint is that it felt a little to much like marketing to me. They spent a chunk of time covering the technical service regime for their Nexus and Alfine (which I now finally know is pronounced Al-FEEN-ay) internally geared hubs, but the rest of the time was spent in a sort of "geez whiz, look how cool new Dura-Ace and Di2 are" pitch. Sure, it was fun to see the stuff, but nothing in the way of service was discussed in any detail. SRAM did a better job of covering the tech side, but there were times I really got a feeling that the subtext was "we do it this way, and it's the best way, unlike those OTHER guys (Shimano)". It wasn't really too heavy-handed though, and we did get a lot of useful information in the process.

The only real disappointment, and it was a relatively minor one, was the Avid session. The guy leading it needs to work on his teaching skills I think. For one thing, he really only covered two procedures on one system... bleeding and then pulling apart the lever on a Juicy hydraulic disc brake system. He clearly knew what he was doing, but communicating it to us wasn't as successful, and he ended up not even coming close to using the three hours he had. Kind of unfortunate, and as my first seminar, it wasn't a great start to the event. On the other hand, it was all better after that!

About the only other disappointment with the event itself was the location... it was hosted at a hotel out near the airport in Philly. Like most airports, it puts you way outside of town, in a pretty dreary area. In this case, it probably once was a lovely wetland... now just a vaguely damp and industrial looking swampy area. Ah well, if I had really ached to get into town, there were options, but honestly on Monday night, after spending the day on my feet, I just went back to my room and ordered room service and vegged out.

Park seems to intend to offer this again next year. Depending on timing and what companies participate, I will very likely go again. If nothing else, it's fun to meet and talk to people from shops all over the place. Every bike shop has something unique about it, and it's interesting to see how we all do things.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

Well, those of us who are fans were saddened to hear today about the passing of Patrick McGoohan, actor, director, producer, etc., of stage, film, and most famously, television. Folks who know me know I'm not a big TV junkie, by any means, but there have been a handful of shows over the years that I've really gotten hooked on. And Mr. McGoohan was the central creative talent behind one of them, The Prisoner, a ground-breaking British series from the late 60s. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, you should check out:

http://www.amctv.com/originals/the-prisoner-1960s-series/


Where you can watch episodes of this classic show. The basic premise is that McGoohan's character resigns from some secret branch of service, and is then whisked away, against his will, to a place known only as The Village, where for 17 episodes he is variously tortured, drugged, tricked, cajoled and otherwise urged to divulge the answer to one question.. "why did you resign?"

It's obviously much more than that, with themes in the show about individuality, freedom, conformity, authority, identity, etc. One of the signature lines, from the first episode is "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed or numbered. My life is my own!" Some moments, heck, some entire episodes, still stand out as some of the most surreal and thought provoking moments on television. Well worth checking it out.

McGoohan also appeared in a number of movies and stage productions, but The Prisoner and Secret Agent, which preceded The Prisoner, are what he is best known for. In Secret Agent, he plays the title role, a dashing and crafty secret agent named John Drake. I admit, I was never as taken with that series as with The Prisoner, but it's still a very good example of the secret agent genre.

An obituary appears on cnn.com:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/14/obit.mcgoohan/index.html?iref=newssearch

And in the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/0/14/AR2009011403535.html


I think I'll have to sit down and watch the series, start to finish, in the near future. And yes, I do have the whole thing on DVD. But no, I have NOT attended the annual gathering of the Six of One, a fan association that meets every year in the Welsh resort where the series was largely filmed. I've thought about it though.

Sad to know that Patrick McGoohan is gone... but his work lives on.

Be seeing you...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Re-Visiting My "New" Bridgestone RB-T

I have to say, after waiting so long to put this bike together, I feel a little silly, as it has fast become one of my favorite bikes to ride! It's just a good balance of light and rugged, able to zip along on pavement quickly and handle mild dirt trails and such with aplomb. And it looks sharp too. When I first received it, I thought it might end up being a "beater"... a visually battered bike that's used for utilitarian purposes, in all weather, and locked up places and such, to spare one's "better" bikes. Much to my surprise, most of the issue was just grime, and some time and care with simple green and rags, along with a little polish, left me a bike that looks as good as it rides. For the last two months, it's gotten more use than any of my other bikes, even the others that got built up around the same time.

So what sets it apart? Well, the moustache bars are fun for a mixed use bike, first of all... great for commuting, very practical for light trail riding, and just fine on the road too. The basic design of the bike puts it somewhere around the "sport tourer" category, much like my beloved Trek 414... not perfectly suited for fully loaded, self supported touring, and not as light and nimble as a racing bike, but a good in between that lends itself to a lot of the kind of riding I do. The thing that differentiates it from the Trek, more than anything else, is the cantilever brakes. This style of brake gives you more room for bigger tires and fenders, and provides really nice stopping power and modulation in all conditions. Not that the Trek is a problem in either area, it's just that the RB-T has a little more versatility as a result.

For previous posts on this bike, see:

http://spokesofawheel.blogspot.com/2008/11/first-real-ride-on-rb-t.html
http://spokesofawheel.blogspot.com/2008/11/my-new-bridgestone-rb-t.html

Monday, January 5, 2009

Where I Grew Up

Most folks who know me would figure the title was a reference to a fairly generic suburban location. And it's true, the town of Bowie, MD IS pretty generically suburban! But when I think of "where I grew up" the thing that stands out most in my mind is the outdoors... specifically the woods around our development. When I was growing up, there was still a lot of undeveloped land in the area, and back in those days, kids were largely free to explore to their heart's content. Well, New Year's Day found me walking through the woods behind my mom's house, which brought back many fond memories. I spent a lot of my childhood in these woods, and they (and more generally, all eastern woods) feel like "home" to me.

When we first moved to Bowie from Long Island, I was 5 years old. Early on, I had no real friends, but one day along came Peter Watson, from down the street, and we became fast friends. He and I were nearly inseparable for a number of years, with his little brother Joe tagging along whenever we'd let him. One of my sisters says she'll always remember Peter for his introduction to her... "Hi! I'm Peter Watson. I'm a foster child!" Well, he was, and he wasn't shy about it. He and I used to spend a lot of time back in the woods behind my house, and exploring the various small creeks and such that were also nearby.


Then in fourth grade, I met a guy named Ralph Smith (the same sister mentioned above initially thought "Ralph Smith" was my name for an imaginary friend, and was stunned to meet him face to face!), and ultimately was befriended by the whole family. It was the kind of situation where my parents just grew to understand that I'd just go off for the day with one or more of the Smiths and be back for supper, after a day of fun and adventure. I can't even begin to guess how many hours and days we spent in the woods, exploring every inch of them and finding ways to have fun. The woods were crisscrossed with a series of ravines, which to us seemed like great canyons I'm sure, but today look pretty tame, honestly. You can see one in the picture to the left. Not that dramatic to an adult, but to a kid...

As I walked through the woods on New Year's Day, I was suddenly struck with a memory... my friends and I had one spot in particular we returned to again and again. The key feature of this spot was the tree we knew as "Big Oak"... even after someone who knew better helpfully (and correctly) labeled it as an American Beech! It was a large tree, with an impressive spread of branches and a great canopy of leaves in summer. The shape was unmistakable back then, standing out from the rest of the trees in the area. I found myself wondering if it still stood, and if it did, would I know it by sight? So off I went, on a quest.


And there it was... just as I remembered it... pale, smooth, grey bark, great spread of branches and immediately recognizable shape. When I got closer, I could see the ravages of time... there's now a hole that goes clear through the trunk, and the inside is pretty hollowed out. But it appears the tree still lives, and is reasonably healthy. I walked around it slowly, taking in the sight, and feeling the memories come back to me. Memories of climbing the trunk, using the boards nailed on by someone... now long gone, but the nails remain. How many afternoons were whiled away here? How many great adventures were launched from this spot?




One of the many things we used to do in the woods around that tree was to take advantage of the wealth of strong vines in the area. There were always a few that someone had cut off to make into a swing... and we'd spend hours seeing just how high we could get, or how high off the ground we'd dare to let go and try to land safely on our feet. Thursday I found just such a vine... you can see my hand on it in the photo here. The feel of the rough surface... perfect for gripping and launching yourself into space... I couldn't resist. Had you yourself decided to talk a walk in my woods that day, you would have found a man with greying hair, swinging from a vine, big silly grin on his face... remembering. Remembering friends past... the adventures we shared, the scrapes, the blisters, the dirt rubbed into our clothes and skin. I could almost hear the voices, see the faces... of those boys and girls... running, laughing, smiling.

I walked back out of the woods, and into 2009, with a smile on my face, and a warm feeling in my heart. Looking forward to a new year, and new adventures.

Happy New Year to all of you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Random Photos

Part of the fun of having a large collection of photos on my computer, and having many of them loaded as my screensaver, is that now and then I'm treated to an unexpected trip down memory lane!

Take the picture to the left for example. This was taken on the morning of my first full day on my first end-to-end C&O Canal tour. If you click on the image to see it full size, you'll see that my bike and pretty much everything else is covered in frost. The irony is that only a week earlier it had been 70 degrees... and my first night it dipped well into the teens! I still had a wonderful time though. Gorgeous scenery, and the peace and quiet was lovely, especially since work had been hectic up to that point. The biggest challenge on the ride was actually hours of daylight... it was early November and the days were shorter than I had anticipated, so I got in fewer miles per day than I hoped. This ended up putting me over 80 miles from my destination on the last morning, so I had to just plow on through, arriving in DC well after dark. Not the most fun day I've spent on a bike, but the trip was on the whole still wonderful. That was in fall of 2004, and I've since done it again, with Annie, in fall of 2005, in October. Big difference in daylight then, and it helped make the whole trip smoother.

One memory particular to this picture and the campsite where it was taken... in addition to being REALLY cold at night, I discovered that I had camped next to a cow pasture. Not only did I have to watch my step in the campsite, but at about 11:00pm I learned just when it is that those particular cows come home! I was awoken from a none-too-sound sleep by the bellowing and hoofsteps of a very large herd of cattle just yards from my tent! And they made an encore appearance in the morning as well. I have to admit, it's funnier now than it was at the time... but I think I still managed a chuckle at the time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Paramount Update

Well, those of you that have been following my blog for a while, or have discovered it recently and went poking around the archives, know that about a year and a half ago I bought a '73 Schwinn Paramount from a friend of mine. If you didn't know that, see the posts below:

http://spokesofawheel.blogspot.com/2007/08/my-new-bike.html

http://spokesofawheel.blogspot.com/2008/01/newold-front-derailleur.html

The Paramount was Schwinn's top of the line, hand built bike, made in both touring and racing models. Mine's the P15-9 tourer, and I love it. When I bought it, most of the parts were completely original. I changed a couple of things... a longer stem, new cables and housing, new tires, and "clipless" pedals for most of my riding. The last item is the only one that's just plain "wrong" period-wise, but since I do much of my riding in SPD style sandals, it's an anachronism I'm willing to live with. And if I ever feel the urge to be more "correct", I have a set of old Campagnolo track style pedals with toe clips and straps that will be just dandy for that, and work with my big feet. The original "quill" pedals don't make my size 13s happy, unfortunately, and besides, they are pretty beat up.

Anyway, I have since made a few other changes to the bike, but have managed to stay with period parts. First, as noted in an earlier post, I replaced the "wrong" front derailleur it had with the proper Campy piece. Second, I replaced the two outer chain rings with slightly smaller ones... the originals were 36 teeth, 49 teeth and 54 teeth, and honestly, that gave me higher gears than I needed. Now it's set up with 36/47/52, and I'm a lot happier... with the (original) 14-31 five speed cluster in back, I have a pretty useful range of gears, and it's interesting to have a "half step" drive train again (http://sheldonbrown.com/gear-theory.html#halfstep).

Most recently, I've added fenders to the bike, as shown in the photo to the left. I looked at and considered a variety of fenders, including some of the lovely Honjo alloy fenders that look very similar to older French fenders of the same period as the bike. In the end though, based on the advice of a trusted advisor, I opted for a set of black Bluemels Club Special fenders, which are actually a model made in the early 70s, so they are truly "correct" for the bike. I bought a New Old Stock (NOS) set of them on ebay a while back, and I have to admit, they look sharp. I had hoped to track down some red ones, but those are pretty rare these days, and the black might actually be a better choice, now that I see them on the bike. Most Americans eschew fenders, but I'm a big fan, as I have noted in previous posts.

Finally, I hung a NOS Schwinn Touring Saddlebag from the Brooks B.17 saddle. I bought the bag from someone on the Classic Rendezvous mailing list (http://www.bikelist.org/mailman/listinfo/classicrendezvous), a fascinating group of folks that know a heck of a lot about older, classic bikes. The bag was made in England for Schwinn, by a company named Karrimor... sadly long gone, but I was lucky enough to find this one. Similar excellent bags are still made by another British firm by the name of Carradice (http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.html), but it's nice to have the original Schwinn bag. I also installed a small metal saddlebag support on the seat stays... you can just make it out in the photo to the right, the little silver wire under the bag. I don't recall the maker... something like Midland or something, another English company of that era. It helps to keep the bag from dragging on the tire, or resting on the fender, when fully loaded.

All in all I think the bike looks more "complete" with the bag and fenders... ready to go on a real ride in the real world, which is what these touring Paramounts were designed and built for. I still haven't decided whether or not to make the leap to getting reproduction decals, and whether or not I feel brave enough to apply them myself, but I suspect that one day I'll do that, or have them done by a pro.