Saturday, October 25, 2008


Y'know, a few weeks ago I thought my neighborhood was in for a major annoyance. I got home from work and fed the cats as usual. As I was policing the cats and making sure that each stuck to his or her own bowl I heard a loud "DOOP!" from somewhere outside. Then again.

My first thought was that the neighbor's adult teenage son (a thirty-something who lives upstairs with Ma and Pa so that he has more money for Lexuses with twenty-something inch chrome rims and stereo equipment that can be heard two blocks away) was home in said Lexus. Maybe he had a new CD. But it wasn't. It was hardly rhythmic at all.

Then it went on. "doop-a-thock.. Doop-thock.. doop-a-thock.. Doop-thock.." It continued for ten or fifteen seconds with the broken rhythm of an infant taking his first steps. Then it stopped. A minute or two later it started again. Then it stopped just as quickly. This continued for a while as I discovered which house the arhythmic thumping was coming from, but I decided not to let it annoy or upset me. After all, every musician has to start from the beginning. Still, I had visions of late night jam sessions- the neighborhood
tossing and turning. Then it stopped. Nice and early.

A week or two later, the evening thumping commenced. To my surprise, the previously choppy and awkward beats were now replaced by more fluid and sustained beats. But not only that.. There was also a bass guitar. They played what might even have passed for music. They enjoyed themselves for a while. Then they stopped. Nice and early.

Last night the garage band started up once again. The duo had apparently become a trio with the addition of a guitar. The beats coming through the closed windows were complex and driving. Someone had been practicing.

Out of curiousity, I stepped out to the patio and pulled up a chair, and quickly found myself grooving to the music. These guys weren't half bad. I heard a dash of Neal Peart here and there along with a smidge of Les Claypool now and again to keep things interesting. Between the shrubs colored lights flashed off and on. After several minutes, the song ended to howls of glee. A "Yee-haw" came from another direction. An apparently sarcastic mocking gesture. Suddenly I felt self conscious. I was not the only one listening. Worse, I was not just a bystander, I was a nosy eavesdropper. Would the musicians look out and are me sitting alone on my patio and take me for the mocking listener? I sat quietly and they went right on with what they were doing. Well maybe listening to a garage band rehearse two doors down with their amps set to eleven can't be considered eavesdropping. It still felt like a guilty pleasure. Then it stopped. Nice and early.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I always enjoy taking my bike to the bike shop. I guess it's bitter- sweet, of course because the fact that I'm taking my bike there in the first place is because there's a problem with it that I just don't feel comfortable tackling on my own. But I digress. The reason I like taking it in is that it always gets a reaction from the mechanics. It's not that it's an expensive or high end bike. A gray teen-aged mid level steel bike may be fun to ride through the woods, but you wouldn't put it up in the shop window.

What gets the attention? Very simply, the brakes on my bike are a bit odd and they're bright red against a gray frame. These days, in the world of mountain bikes, if you want simple, you go with direct-pulls. If you want power, you go with discs. If you want even more power and nice feel, you go with hydraulic discs. If you told most people these days that they can also have hydraulic RIM brakes, the reaction would probably be "why".

Well, because the clamp down like a putbull. A good set of direct pulls with boosters could likely do as well, though. They have a positive feel and they're virtually maintenance free, but even that isn't all of it. In addition to working well, they're out of the ordinary. The make a bike which isn't much to look at (at least not for most) into something wild and exotic. One of the mechanics mentioned that he had only seen hydraulic rim brakes once before, but there's a chance he's only remembering the other time it was in the shop. That's what I like to think. Real bike geeks appreciate stuff like that. Those brakes are my bike jewelry.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Re-Thinking the Mountain Bike

I found myself commuting to work last week on my mountain bike with somewhat narrow (38mm-ish) slicks installed, as the freehub on my road bike has lately been threatening to "go fixie" on me. What I'm finding is that with the exception of the lack of an aero position for the stiff headwinds and higher speeds, and a really good high gear for the occasional sprint up to motor vehicle speeds, the bike really makes a nice all-around ride. It's set up fairly stretched out with flat bars, a long stem, and full bar-ends. Although I would probably wish for more hand postitons on a longer ride, it's a treat having that "roll over anything" feeling when it comes to shortcuts through parks, trips up and down stairs and traveling the heavily pot holed New Jersey roads that often cause pinch flats when I'm not paying close enough attention on my road bike. I love the bike, its versatility and its durability, but I've just learned to live with the flat bars as a fact of life for mountain bikers, using the bar-ends whenever possible.

Going back to the road bike for a second- when I bought it, I intended to take the drop bars off and replace them with something more familiar, most likely a flat bar with some old MTB brake levers. Looking back, I really can't say why this was, but after riding it as-is (as-was at this point) for a while I realized that drop bars, in addition to bring efficient and practical for how I ride, are actually pretty comfortable. My wrists much prefer the palms-inward position to the palms-downward position for longer distances.

Over the summer, most of my time was spent on the road bike and very little time on trails on the mountain bike. When I finally did get out with the mountain bike, I found that in the miles spent on the hoods and drops of the road bike I had picked up some habits that did not really work well with my mountain bike setup. Specifically, I wanted to ride on the bar ends practically the whole time. This was fine climbing and while cruising along on smooth, level terrain. The problem arose, however, when I approached a big obstacle, such as a pile of logs, and took a good grip on the bar ends out of habit. That position really feels strong and stable. Going up and over still worked well, however, on the downward side things tended to get a little tricky as I attempted to shift my hands back to the flat bar (where the brake levers are) halfway through a technical section. Bad idea. That could be ugly.

Anyway, back to the recent past, the good people at Salsa have presented the Fargo to us, which seems to strike a chord for those of us who want something fairly speedy (after all, it is a 29er) yet still able to roll over anything. I really hope that Salsa does well with this one. While it's designed for a very specific activity, long distance off road touring, it seems like the demanding nature of that activity makes it a very good fit for practically all non-racing conditions that I would encounter.

P.S. I should add that I am aware of some of the bikes sporting drop bars from the early days of mountain biking and hope to build up my own rig in that image. Anybody know where I can find a set of hydraulic road brake levers for my HS33's?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

One Million Dollars

I've never really been fond of politics. I generally stay away from politics as blog topics. We've been hearing so much about this seven hundred billion dollar bucket of cash (or is that credit?) that the government is spreading willy-nilly around the financial industry. I can't claim to fully understand what it's supposed to do, since everything I've read about is says that it will do absolutely nothing. Maybe I need some new reading material. Anyway, it's been said that this sum of seven hundred billion dollars is just "a drop in the bucket" of our national budget. I tried to wrap my mind around this figure, from my own small bill spending point of view. I couldn't. In fact, my calculator does not even accept enough digits for such a figure. So I broke it up a bit. One million dollars is a lot of money. Still, I am able to put a number like this in perspective by comparing it to the price of my house. This "drop in the bucket" became more manageable when broken into bite-sized million dollar chunks. In fact it makes seven hundred thousand bite-sized chunks. That's a rather large number by itself.

That's when it hit me. If the government wants us to be optimistic, why not throw out some big wads of cash. How about a national lottery. I can just see it now. Every person, or every household in the country who paid income tax last year is automatically entered in a lottery to be one of seven hundred thousand winners of one million dollars each. If the aim is to get money to those lending it, I believe that this would do the trick. I imagine a scene similar to an elated Jimmy Stewart at a table in his living room with a basket collecting payments from smiling customers as they file past, happy to have paid their mortgages in full, while helping that nice man who owns the bank. Now I know that wasn't the plot of "It's a Wonderful Life", but in my little world the sentiment is the same.

Then after the credit cards, the school loans, the car loans and the mortgage are paid off, and there is still money left, the best part happens. Dreams get fulfilled. Sure, some may choose to blow the wad on a Bentley or maybe blow it at the race track or the stock market. Others, however, may have had their eye on a vacant corner deli. Maybe others dream of raising alpacas in the Ozarks or building fine hardwood furniture. Perhaps they will even hire a few of their neighbors to help out if things take off.

With seven hundred thousand chances there have to be at least a few success stories. For the rest of us there's the hope that next year our social security number might be chosen in the federal lottery. Hope is worth something too.