Friday, March 21, 2008

The Right Hook

Yesterday on my way home from work, as I chugged up a slight hill at a decent speed (my guess is about 15-20 MPH) I approached a side street. As I generally do in this situation, I edged to the left by a couple of feet to place myself about 3 to 4 feet off the curb for better visibility by cars both pulling out and approaching from behind. When I was about 20 feet from the corner a silver Mercedes Benz zoomed up beside me and I knew I was in trouble as it seemed to be decelerating. About 10 feet from the intersection, the car, still going pretty fast began its right turn with me roughly even with the back passenger side door and now traveling faster than the decelerating car. I grabbed the brakes and wrung the levers for all they were worth, while screaming out whatever expletives came to mind. For an instant, both of us decelerated at the same rate as the driver squeezed me closer to the curb. It was at that moment that the driver heard me, stopped a few feet into the side street and allowed me to pass. The whole event took place in about 3 seconds or less. I was lucky. My hope is that the driver of that car learned something other than "cyclists have short tempers". Still, It may be time to upgrade my brakes.

PS I stole the image from , a very good resource if you plan to ride in traffic.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Decent Ride

Daylight savings time is in full effect, and I've been enjoying it to its fullest. Last week I rode to work Tuesday through Thursday for a total near 50 miles then yesterday I used the bike for a few errands for several more good miles. I wasn't sure that I'd like the friction shifters on the old 12-speed, but now that I have spent a good number of miles with them I can usually shift without thinking, which is good when sprinting along with traffic.

Anyway, I didn't pay very much for the old bike, and haven't had to replace too many parts, so maybe I'm thinking about it as a beater a little too much. After all, when it's cleaned up it looks pretty nice. Apparently others think so too. My first clue to this was Thursday, when my boss came in to my office, and began asking questions about the old bike. I realized that he was getting a little sentimental, as he squeezed and released the brake levers several times and enjoyed the "clack-clack" that they made as they snapped open.

Yesterday, as well, when I returned to my bike at the supermarket, corned beef in hand, I ran into two shopping-cart attendants taking a brief break from their rounds to fondly ogle my bike. They had plenty of questions about it and suggested I use a more secure lock than the thin cable snowboard lock that I've been using. Funny, the same thought had already occurred to me as I saw them taking such an interest in my old steel speedster. I'd like to think their intentions were good, but who knows, I might have just gotten a lucky break. Sigh, it's too bad. I thought my baby was one only a father could love, but it looks like the grass may indeed be greener on my side of the fence. Guess I'll have to start carrying the heavy locks.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mountain Bikes

As much as I'm coming to enjoy riding a road bike, I really have to say that some of the most gratifying moments of my life have occurred while riding mountain bikes. When I think back to the trails I've frequented, I think of certain sections of trails that make me smile on the inside. When I think back to those happy trail stretches, I'm always riding a certain one of the three mountain bikes I've owned on certain stretches.

My first mountain bike was an inexpensive bike. It was an entry level Diamond Back with a straight gauge chro-moly frame and low end components. As it was not really an exceptional bike, I can't say I feel much when I think about it. Nevertheless, the summer that I spent in Arizona following my graduation from college was filled with countless miles on that bike. The fast, straight hard packed desert trails are what I recall most fondly when I think of that bike. Eventually, I gave up on the effort it took to keep that bike functional in frequent off-road use.

My second bike was given to me by a good friend who received it from a college roommate in lieu or rent money. It was a late '80s Trek 950 "Singletrack" in a sad state of repair, and mostly unrideable. It was, however a lugged, butted chro-moly frame (yes, lugs on a mountain bike) with common seatpost and headset sizes, which meant it would be much less work to find parts for. It turned out to be a nice ride. While it was slightly too small for me, what really impressed me was how it put the torque to the ground. I get sentimental when I remember standing up and mashing the pedals as I climbed hills, seemingly aided by some unseen force. That was one stout goat of a frame. It loved to climb. It's a shame that it now lives in my basement, stripped of its components.

My current mountain bike was offered to me as a frame and fork by a former co-worker whose husband was about my size and wanted the money to put towards a motorcycle. The fork was an old, worn out Mag21 suspension fork, but the frame is a keeper. It's a double butted chro-moly Gary Fisher "Hoo Koo E Koo" and it fits me perfectly. The fork was quickly replaced by a nice plush and adjustable Manitou unit and I could only be happier if I had more time to ride it. Its defining trail sections are twisty and fast. The Fishy loves to dance over the roots, rocks and ruts. When riding these types of trails I feel connected to the trail, yet almost like I'm traveling just above the surface of it. I feel almost out of control as I cling to the machine, yet even my smallest corrections in direction and speed seem to somehow change my path just the intended amount. It feels quick and live like good steel bikes are often described. Not bad for an old beater.

It's almost spring. I need to get out. Bad.

Monday, March 03, 2008


As much as a retro grouch like myself likes to grumble about how nothing was wrong with that old stuff that's now considered obsolete, I must admit that sometimes new stuff is better than old stuff. Brakes, for instance. I usually identify myself as a mountain biker. I have become accustomed to the stopping power of my mountain bike, with its "old skool" hydraulic rim brakes. The suckers just clamp down. If conditions are bad enough to degrade braking, conditions are likely bad enough under the tires that less clamp-down is probably a good idea anyway.

So I've been zipping around on this old road bike and noticing that its single pivot calipers don't really haul my ample mass down from high speeds the way I'd like. Rather than running right out to buy a new set of dual pivot calipers and matching levers, which would cost roughly four times what the bicycle cost me, I planned to try some parts from the old junk box. I have no idea where I scrounged these nifty center-pull clampers, but they've shown me that maybe some new equipment might be warranted. Why? How were they? Sponge-O-Licious! This is probably no surprise to seasoned roadies, but the performance of these brakes prompted me to switch back to the original front caliper immediately. Stopping distances went from mediocre to dangerous.

In the first half inch or so of lever travel, they felt normal. They really felt like they would dig in and slow the bike down well. Then something else happened as more tension was applied. The stopping power leveled off as the lever was squeezed all the way to the bar. Not a situation I'd like during a panic stop. Upon close inspection, it was clear that for that first half inch of lever travel the pads were indeed tightening. Then after reaching a certain threshold. The caliper started flexing, and the pivots could be seen visibly spreading. That's all this caliper has to give.

Thinking a little more about this brake, I could probably improve its performance. If I disassembled the rear caliper and replaced the pivot bolts with longer bolts, adding the cross piece from the rear caliper to the front of the front caliper with pivot bolts first going through one cross piece scavenged from the rear, then through the cantillever arms, then through the other cross piece (similar to the "brake boosters" once available for mountain bike brakes) I could likely reduce the amount of flex significantly. Is it worth it. Hmm. Maybe not this time. My local bike shop will be pleased.