Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doom and Gloom

Originally when I started this blog it was conceived as a place to air whatever random thoughts happened to float through my consciousness. As time has gone by, I've dropped the ball and left it rusting in a field with grass growing through the floorboards as for months at a time, only to come back, brush it off, and start blogging where I left off. I have to admit that lately I've blogged on practically nothing but biking. There was a time in my life when I lived for nothing but mountain biking. Then as the pressures of adulthood, homeownerdom (if that's a word) and husbandry (wait, no that's something else, oh well I'm going on..) came on strong, the part of my identity that was bicycling sat in the basement, rusting on flaccid tires. I suppose having that pedaling part of myself back feels so good that it's all I want to think about, to blog about or to read about.

Eventually, though, if one reads enough bike blogs, the topic of peak oil comes up. I try not to think about it too much, since the whole thing scares the pants off of me. Then global warming. Flooding, extinction, depression, etc. It's worst that such a huge majority of the population seems either ignorant, skeptical or apathetic. It really seems like we may in for one of the hardest times that modern civilization has ever known and everyone thinks everything is fine. It really makes a guy feel helpless. Then I go back to my happy place and think about bikes and biking. Then I realize that I'm already doing something that makes a difference, however small it may be.

Did I mention that I saw a Jack Russel Terrier in the park this morning on my ride to work? He was out for a jog with his person and stopped to chase a rabbit. Wow, those rabbits can move.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Maintenance. Who Would Have Thought?

It's funny how sometimes you don't realize how bad things are until they improve. It's like the time I found that a small animal had climbed into my car's engine compartment and chewed through the insulation on a couple of the ignition wires. Sure, it ran in that condition. I don't know why I didn't notice when it got worse, but the improvement was immediate and quite noticeable when I replaced the wires.

Well, today was another one of those times. Having spent very little time with friction shifters, with the exception of with my old Schwinn Varsity that I rode before I knew how to or why to really use all of those gears, I honestly wasn't quite sure what level of shifting ease to expect when I started riding the old 12-speed. It shifted like it shifted, and that was that. Never mind that it was a 20 year old bike with 20 year old cables, housings, parts and oil on those parts. It just did the job. Well, after my recent cable woes, which really weren't that woeful I gave my rear derailleur a bit of attention. New cable, new cable housings and new clean oil on all the moving drivetrain parts back there. You know, the kind of things that a more conscientious person does periodically, and not just when something fails catastrophically.

I set out in the cool, sunny morning and was startled by the difference. It still did its job with minimal complaints, only now everything was quieter, smoother and more immediate. It may have just been in my head, but I even felt faster relative to the motorized traffic. I'll have to do the front derailleur next.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


You hear a lot of talk about the virtues of simplicity among fixie and single speed enthusiasts. As a designer working as an engineer, I can certainly appreciate that school of thought. After all, the less "things" that a system contains, the less potential opportunities there are for that system to break down. Additionally, at a given price point, the less "things" a product contains, the more money available for higher quality, more durable "things" to make up that system. The point here is that complexity without sufficient cause is bad. It is less reliable and more expensive than it needs to be. Simplicity, on the other hand, where all needs are met, is ideal for the reasons I mentioned before. This philosophy can easily be applied to practically any aspect of life.

Since I am me, though, I'm going to bring this back to biking. Friday, as I rode home from work, I had an unexpected mechanical malfunction. As I came to a stop, I shifted my rear derailleur to the slow end of the freewheel and was quite surprised to hear a "rip" accompanied by the loss of tension in my rear shift lever. The shift cable hung limply from the bicycle as the rear derailleur pushed the chain toward the small cog. The cable had broken at the shifter. I was somewhat disheartened by this, as I was still 3-4 miles from home and looking forward to a relaxing evening at a baseball game. The solution was an easy one, though. Remove the hanging cable and its housings, crank in the high limit screw as far as it goes and adjust it so that the rear derailleur is roughly centered under the lowest cog possible. In my case it was 3rd from the top. About 17 or 18 teeth. This had the effect of giving me an easy enough all purpose gear for stop and go traffic (40-17ish) and a respectable overdrive gear (52-17ish) by shifting only the front derailleur and leaving the rear in service as a chain tensioner. I adjusted my route to avoid my usual steep hill climbs, but the result was surprising. I liked it. I suffered a little on hills, but generally this combination didn't leave me wishing for more. It just did its job. That being said, I will fix the rear derailleur since I like the ability to climb all the local hills while seated, even when I'm wiped out from a long day. It did start me thinking about a nice 3 speed or 5 speed gear hub, though. Maybe I can justify a new wheelset when this old 12 speed drivetrain gives up. I have a feeling that there's plenty of action left in those gears, though.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Friday, after a long day at work, and on mile 7 of my 8 mile bicycle ride home, I rounded a corner and trudged up a slight grade in a high-ish gear. Just then, I came upon three wholesome suburban 'tween aged boys on BMX bikes, lazily cruising along from the opposite direction. As I approached I heard one whisper something to the others, a little to low for me to hear. Just then, he broke from the group and pulled a u-turn, like a fighter escort pursuing a bogey. I played it cool, and stayed in the same gear as the hill levelled out. I stayed seated and eased ahead as my pursuer bounded and flailed on the long BMX cranks to pull up and match speeds with me. As his his acceleration faded, I paused a moment, grinned at my challenger, grabbed my drops, stood up and ended the contest. Sure, I know the whole scene played out the way it did due to "the right tool for the job", but it still felt good to be the "old guy" on the fender-clad steel bike embarassing the cocky young challenger on the flashy stickered, fat tubed bike. I'll watching for them from now on. Bring it, boys!