Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New thoughts on old habits

I was reading some comments on another blog the other day, people were offering their thoughts on a list of the 10 most important innovations in cycling as compiled by someone who is as close to an authority as you can be. I thought it was interesting how much discussion there was about some things that you would think people would have settled long ago, or at least grown so tired of arguing about that there wouldn't be a battle to be fought any longer. Things like indexed shifting and clipless pedals. Things that, like them or not, have changed cycling in ways that make them as permanent as anything can be these days. But the Pneumatic Tire was on the list as well and more than one person seemed to have reservations about it's place on the list. Seriously? You don't think air-filled tires qualify?
I cannot for the life of me imagine cycling becoming what it is, practically, commercially or, I dunno', spiritually(?) without them. Or conceive of what they would suggest as an acceptable substitute. It wasn't a list of the 10 BEST innovations remember, just the authors choice of the most important, so you would think people would use that little loophole as cover for not getting their bibs in a twist defending whatever bit of tackle they've invested their emotions in. Not so, the battle shows signs of flaring up again so maybe some of these things aren't so settled as I thought. Perhaps someone out there really wants nothing more than to find a brand-new carbon fiber Specialized or Giant under the tree this Christmas, one with 7 speed friction shifters, and shiny chrome and leather toe-clips and straps.

And solid rubber tires.

As a middle aged guy who started forming opinions back when clipless pedals and indexed shifting were fringe ideas that never caught on, in spite of appearing then disappearing every decade or so, I learned on the prevailing technology of the day and just got on with it. Never spending much time predicting what would come along next, but believing that my beloved bicycle had reached some point of perfection only incrementally short of complete.  But things change, and now my newest, most expensive bikes have clipless pedals and integrated indexed brake/shift levers and threadless stems and more cogs than you can count without bending down and running down the cassette with an increasingly greasy finger. And I like them fine and don't really miss the romantic connections with some earlier time whenever I'm out spinning along or grunting up a hill.

But you know what? I still like friction shift and clips and straps and some of that stuff.

What comes next is like a hundred paragraphs of boring old man ranting and lecturing. I apologize but, really, I can't help myself. There's a couple of better bits in the last paragraph or two so you might just skip over there now. Again, sorry.

 I have some nice old bikes so equipped and have even included a bit of that old tech on some my modern(ish) bikes that would have been simpler to build with the new standard parts(Are you now wondering how many bikes I actually have? Well, so am I. We'll talk about that another time. Promise). Two bikes in particular have become favorites, a late 70s Austrian Puch "Ultra-Somethingorother", a typical mid level Racer from the time of Disco and leather "helmets". Super stable, not too stiff, but I can still sprint it without the rear tire or the chain ring rubbing the frame like cheaper, more willowy bikes sometimes did under the onslaught of my grotesquely over-developed quadriceps. The other is a 73' Raleigh International with a mish-mash of Italian and French components from that time and big fat Cyclo-Cross tires. I enjoy riding this bike on dirt and gravel back roads so much I've started to think of it as some sort of Proto-Mountainbike. It's more nimble and a steadier climber when standing and slowly turning the cranks like big wooden Grist Mill machinery. Both fit me well and are comfortable places to spend long days so are most of the way to being perfect regardless of how you push the chain from cog to cog or clamp your feet to the crankarms.

 "Up-Grading" either of these old bikes to more closely resemble the current fashion would be like putting skinny jeans and a lip ring on a 50 year old guy with thinning hair and a bit of a belly(not that I have EVER done that, the bike thing or the lip ring...) and you would lose so much of the charm and satisfaction they have to offer.
 Things like instant shifting. "Wait!" you say, "instant shifting? That's what indexed systems ARE ALL ABOUT! You canna' be serious you chucklehead!" But I say, there is instant shifting that takes place, reliably and almost silently, when you ease the power a tiny fraction, push the shifter that well practiced increment, taking the chain by the elbow and giving it a good push where you want it to go. As soon as the chain climbs off the tooth it's on, it's going to get picked up right away by the adjacent tooth. Every time. Lubrication, proper adjustment and a little skill provided of course. But on an indexed system, nothing happens until the chain rolls off a tooth configured to kick it up or down to the next cog configured to catch it. Granted, that's never more than a few teeth but if you spend a bit of time getting all heavy and intimate with a properly sorted friction system, you will start to sense it and you might find it satisfying in a way the "skip a half-beat then BANG" system you've been riding, never will be. I think the "BANG" might be engineered into some of these systems, perhaps the brittle report of the modern $300 hair-trigger 11spd. derailleur helps one not to notice the ever so slight hesitation to shift. It's sort of like the over paid guy sitting at his desk day-dreaming, the boss steps through the door and the first thing I, uh, he, does is bang a couple of keys, smartish and loudly, if a little belatedly. The friction derailleur on the other hand is the Poindexter at the next terminal who had his nose to the digital grindstone the whole time and is now looking down that exquisitely sharpened nose at you as if you had just been caught with your finger in your own. I took a lot of pride in learning to shift quickly and neatly way back then, and it's still satisfying to be able to do it well and intuitively even if I must take a hand off the bars and reach down to the shifter on the down-tube. I don't think the Earth is a worse planet to live on now that we can shift and brake and answer our phones without ever moving our hands more than a few inches, in fact I really dig the way I can brake and downshift simultaneously on my Ergo-power bikes. Even if I never needed to be able to do that before discovering I could. But now it's a skill I take some satisfaction from and would sort of miss doing if it stopped being an option. Cut's both ways.

Another thing about friction shifting and then I promise to move on... R.P.M.

On modern integrated shifting systems where the next gear is a flick of the wrist and a fraction of a second away, we shift a lot. Even the local pro's seem to be shifting quite a bit as they swerve around me out on the road. I find myself and the people I ride with tend to stay within about 15 or 20 r.p.m.except when climbing the big grades where we run out of gear and have to grunt. That really isn't a problem but when you have to disrupt things a bit to change gears, you naturally tend to do it less, encouraging yourself to develop a much broader R.P.M. range. I have a comfortable range of about 50 or 60 r.p.m., from about 65 to about 115/120. I can spin faster if there's a reason but let's not pretend I'm particularly smooth or graceful. On my friction bikes I use it all, spending most of the time in my sweet spot of approx 95/100 where I'm still smooth and my best power is available right on up to my comfortable max. On my indexed bikes I tend to find myself pedaling 10r.p.m. slower and shifting so often that I stay in a narrow band of about 25R.P.M. from about 75 to 100. That means I have to have more gears, shift more often and relinquish the strongest part of my ability. I have to make myself resist that inefficient tendency on my "modern" bikes but it's the natural rhythm of a friction bike. I know that one of the selling points of the new electronic systems is the promise of staying at your "Ideal" R.P.M., which is likely anything but.

Oh my word. I"m still gassing about all this even now? And did you notice how often I resorted to the "Personal Pronoun"? Pitiful. It might not be so bad from here though...

I like clips and straps too, but again, I use the current default, clipless pedals, on the roadbikes I ride the most. I sometimes even put them on those old bikes I was talking about earlier, especially if my clickety soled clown shoes seem like the comfortable choice that day. But if I want to go for a spin in my smelly Adidas trainers or my old Bata cleats, then classic quill pedals with chrome steel clips and the raggedy de-laminated Alfredo Binda leather straps let me, which makes me happy. Happy to be able to tap the tab on the pedal with the tip of my shoe, just so, then tilt my foot so the clip slips right over it as it comes over the top, a quick squirm and the cleat pops over the cage and a little tug on the strap and I'm imagining myself to be Federico Bahamontes, "the Eagle of Toledo", or Joop Zoetemelk or one of my other teenage heroes. It's just old habits and romantic notions, but also, old skills, hard won and satisfying to do well even now when there's no time to be gained or respect to be earned.  If you can become one of "The Greats" for a moment, simply by showing a toe-clip who's boss, then your world get's a little bigger, you know?

The other day I was about to leave the house for work and on an impulse grabbed the Raleigh instead of the Mercian with the modern gruppo. It was a nice spring morning and no one had called to say the shop was engulfed in flames, so I took the long way. At some point I found that perfect position and cadence where you feel smooth and electric, able to fly almost, I dropped one hand to the shifters and did a nice rapid double shift, first one then the other to drop into the little ring and up 2 in the rear at just the right time as the road tilted up the hill. At the top, the free end of my right toe strap was brushing the grass along the edge of the road making a sound I instantly remembered but hadn't heard in a decade or two, then I rolled over the crest and tucked for the dive towards the Quarry Road and marveled at how comparatively serene and quiet it was, no cassette hub whining away to disturb the rumble of the wind in my ears and announce to the world at large"He's COASTING, the lazy bum is coasting again!"

I don't know, maybe there's not much of great value to be gained from all this old kit, but it makes it more fun sometimes. I never had any success racing and no one comes to me for advice or guidance but my past is as much part of why I still cycle as the promise of tomorrows ride. You might not get it, but if you see me out on some 40 year old bike, a long afternoons ride from home, looking a bit distracted and muttering to myself in bad Spanish or Dutch, at least you'll know why.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bicycle Games

I play all sorts of games with myself when I ride my bikes, I always assumed other people did too but after a quick and unscientific poll of some of my friends it appears I'm unique. At least in regards to this crowd.

What brought all this out in the open was getting caught playing "Dive Bomber" in the bike shop parking lot.

 "Dive Bomber" is simply the name I use for the spitting for accuracy game I grew up playing. You probably call it something else, "Bulls-Eye" or "Splashdown" or whatever.You know what I'm talking about though, you pick out a specific leaf, Bug or cigarette butt(don't you love finding a fresh one that's still smoking? Me too ) and you circle it at a challenging speed and try to nail it with a nice compact blob of whatever you call it where you come from. It was known as a "Loogey"(sic?) where I'm from. You play this, right? C'mon, of course you do, or did when you were 11. Really? OK, yeah sure, if you say so. That's what my friend Heinrich said too and I suspect he was lying as well.

Anyway, he saw me absolutely obliterate an ant covered Frito in the EMPTY bike shop parking lot after a single ranging shot, then accused me of being "disgusting". Really? It's a parking lot. You know, bird poop, burger wrappers, discarded insulin needles and crusts of artisnal pizzas, plus it's behind a Bike Shop(!) so there's gross biker sweat and the phlegm from all that hacking and choking and sinus clearing that goes on before the Tuesday Fast Ride, not to mention REALLY gross stuff like all the half empty Hammer Gel packets that remind me of nothing so much as a trod upon Cockroach. So whatever.

 I expected a big High-Five or "NICE SHOT" but I got, "You're gross" in what I'm calling a "Junior-High-First-Chair-Clarinet" kind of voice. It wasn't a big explosive shot-gun blast of slobber that covered an area the size of your hat either, Nay, it was an accurately delivered sphere shaped globule about the size and mass of a very small grape or pinto bean. I'm tempted to describe it as some sort of "Surgical Strike" but I don't want to sound immodest. But it was.

When I was 11, Danny and Donnie and Daniel-Ross and, heck, EVERYBODY did this every time we threw a leg over a top-tube and I don't remember anyone finding it any worse than the rest of our behaviors. We would be pedaling along on our dirt bikes and all intuitively zero in on some tempting target of opportunity, wordlessly lining up in formation to drop our ordnance in succession like a squadron of B-17s on a training mission. We were sometimes spectacularly successful. Anyone witnessing a string of hits on a roadside Jax Beer can from 4 or 5 adolescent boys flying fast and low on stripped down Stingrays would instantly recognize the talent and commitment required to reach that level of accuracy. You could tell the real aces from the steely look in their eyes and their chronic dry-mouth. I still don't believe you don't know what I'm talking about.

I do have some other games that you probably wouldn't recognize that really are likely to be unique to me, and maybe one or two other persons in the world. Games like "Bike Fart", "Drink Water" or "Bottle Rocket Dog-Fight". Some of these games, with a bit of promotion and some simple rules could become the new "Alley-Cats" and bring huge numbers of new people streaming into the bike community. The simplest, "Bike Fart" is where you ride up behind the other guy and rub his back tire with your front tire. If one or both of you have knobbies you get the sound that inspired the name. The deal with "Bike Fart" is that you try to catch the other guy un-awares, then rip a good one off him before he knows what hit him and can apply his coaster-brake and slam your chin into your handlebar. Then you do it again. And again, and again, then you stop for like, a minute before doing it again.And again. He'll do it to you as well of course, in fact a group of 3 preteens should average one about every 11 or 12 seconds after things get going. Think about what that means over 3 hours of JRA(Just Riding Around). That's 26,000 toots and a constant odor of burnt rubber and sweaty boys. Good times.

I can imagine ad-hoc Bike Fart skirmishes among commuters brightening up otherwise dreary Monday mornings all across this great country.

Other games like "Drink Water" or "Bottle Rocket Dog-Fight" are probably impossible in today's world. Either due to improved sanitation or the banning of fireworks for "safety" reasons(March of Progress, blah, blah, blah).

 "Drink Water" was what we hollared at the top of our lungs as a warning before trying to herd the other guy into the ditch in front of a certain house on our road. A house with 11 kids and a washing machine that drained directly into the ditch for 7 hours everyday from a 2 inch pipe. There was always a nice green film across that 10 yard long, foot wide, 6 inch deep body of water. My best friend Donnie is the only other player besides myself to ever climb into the arena for this titanic contest of speed vs inertia. I think the other guys had already given up on bikes and taken up more age appropriate hobbies like girls or stealing cars by the time we started training for this in a serious way. So it's Hall Of Fame contains just us two. We were awesome though. Don was a "big kid" and had me by 30 or 40 pounds back then, so if he caught me napping and got a shoulder into me with a head of steam than it was about 80% sure I was going to "Drink". If I managed to connect with enough velocity and the element of surprise than I had about a 50/50 chance of driving him into the muck. Sometimes we would grind to a near halt before breaking free or getting driven down into the filth as if by a leaning tree crushing an outhouse. We still play this game when we get together but time and modern waste-water management has reduced it to something sort of juvenile and silly.

"Bottle Rocket Dog-Fight". Now that was a contest for Men. This was always part of the festivities of big occasions like Independence Day, The 4th of July, Christmas, New Years or Jesus' Birthday. Any holiday where fireworks and brush fires were part of the celebration. In rural South Texas the list of holidays that require a lot of smoke and noise is pretty comprehensive(People get dressed up to go out and shoot their pistols in the air on Mothers Day. Really. I swear). And we'd always get to play if someone we knew made a trip to Reynosa or Nuevo Laredo and brought us back a bunch of Mexican armor piercing bottle rockets. The GOOD ones, with the Dynamite and TNT. Anyway, playing B.R.D.F. only required the bottle rockets, a 12inch piece of 3/4" PVC pipe duct taped to your handlebar and a piece of 2" PVC taped to one fork leg as a quiver to hold your spare ammunition. We would try to get behind someone and fire at their back by lighting a rocket in the handlebar mounted launch tube with a smouldering "punk"as we dropped out of the sun on their "6". Or you could "Man Up' and go at it from "12 O'clock"; Head-On. Dancing with DEATH. Or flirting with a nasty burn and some pernicious ringing in the ears at the very least. Waiting till the last second to touch the punk to the fuse and fling whistling death at your best friend, all the while gritting your teeth as you risk a direct hit to your own tender person or clipping wingtips as you closed at 700mph. They say there are no Atheists in Fox-Holes and I say there are no Pacifists when there are bicycles and bottle-rockets.Normally well behaved little Mennonite boys would become bloodthirsty criminals bent on violence and death. Grim. I'm still haunted by my black and white gun camera memories of Cory Eckinrode bailing out after a stray spark got into his full quiver and lit 3 dozen rockets, The flames shooting up, roasting his hand and scorching the sleeve of his Fleetwood Mac T-shirt as he un-assed his craft, bailing out as the rockets exploded and he tumbled into the void trailing smoke and profanity as his stricken Murry Wheelie Bike arced down to earth.

Man. The things I've seen.

I wonder. If all these people I ride with never relax and let their imaginations spool up, then how can bikes ever be enough fun to justify all the laundry?  Bikes are perfect for the sort of dumb stuff that's missing from so many peoples lives, stuff that would help us bring things down a notch and remind us not to take things so seriously. But instead we invented disposable plastic bikes and Strava. Give me Bottle Rockets instead.  What do you think? More "Training Rides"  or 2 hours of "Bike Fart" twice a week with 5 or 6 of your friends and some target spitting in the parking lot after?? I'm willing to give up my so promising racing career if you're with me on this. What, you afraid of looking stupid? Have you seen what we look like trolling around out there on the road? Go watch some You-tube videos of dudes playing Radball in Europe. The polyester Coach shorts and tall socks, the High-Top Reebok's and the lawn furniture bikes. That's what WE look like to EVERYBODY else. It's no wonder the "Brothers" don't want to bring their bikes out to roll with us.  But, Get a dozen men and women together with a Bowling Ball and some old Mountainbikes on a Tennis Court and you might end up with a party.

At least until somebody designs a "better" bike for it and organizes a league, but by then we could be playing road Tennis in the street on Tandems.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Best flat tire yet.

I wrote this last fall when I was thinking about starting this blog, I wasn't sure I could come up with something worth reading 3 or 4 times a month but this one, and a couple of other things came pretty easily and I relaxed a bit. Whenever I re-read it I remember how great this ride was, I hope you get a little sense of what it was like...
 Best flat tire yet.

I missed the Wed. social ride this evening, a little oversight in the morning meant that at 4, ½ an hour before I would normally be squeezing into a phone booth and tugging on my Super Suit to be there for the 5:15 start, I realized there was still at least an hours’ worth of Donkey work to do. Sigh. 

So at 5:30 I finally rolled out, tried to figure out what route the ride would take on a day like today, half way through October when the light gives out by 7:30 and the wind blows in circles, made a guess and took off.   

I guessed wrong. Never saw em’. 

  I did see a Kestrel nail a field mouse in a pasture (Hover, hover, hover, drop (like a rock (!)) thrash around a bit, then take off again with dinner tucked up under the fuselage. I never get tired of seeing that),   a 1940-something  Farmall “H” pulling a hayrake up a hill in front of me just a bit too fast to catch the draft, who cares, likely die from carbon monoxide if I did (sourest of sour grapes, tractor drafting is helicopter-drop-extreme-snowboarding for old guys like me so don’t let me lie to you, I was  SO disappointed). I saw another old guy in coveralls and gumboots walking across the dirt road in front of me who looked up to see the unexpected and did the best Charlie Chaplin stumble-rush to get out of the way when I was still 30 feet down the hill (we both got a laugh out of that) and the most beautiful Mink peeking over the bank of a creek at me as I stood at a crossroad trying to figure out whether to keep looking for the group or just go mess around on my bike for another hour.

And it was such a fine evening for messing around out in farm country on a bike. I’m glad I gave up on tracking them down. I really love the Wed. night ride, it’s people I like that I would never get to know otherwise and even though it can be too slow even for me sometimes, it’s an evening spent talking and messing around on my nicest bike which is a fine thing to spend ones time doing. I get bummed if I miss it and I had missed it the week before and was really missing it now so was surprised when I found myself contentedly riding harder than I usually do, all by myself and feeling like all the best rides so far this year (and this has been the best year for years) were just building up to this fantastic 2 hours spinning along at such a satisfying clip in what looked like a mid-20th century English Pastoral painting. Ideal weather, Massanutten Mountain looking pin-sharp way off across the valley, perfect blue sky with the sun going down and lighting up the Jet trails at 40,000 feet like frozen strips of space, streaked ice white from horizon to horizon as if to remind us that Winter is coming. I stopped on top of a hill where I could see rolling fields, barns and 80 year old white farmhouses in every direction, and took a mental panoramic picture in case this ride never happens again.
My grown-up brain decided it was time to head to the house while there was still good light but I was wishing there was just a little more, another tiny slice of pie before clearing the table and washing up, and I got it. A flat.

Why do people hate flatting so much? Sometimes it is a nuisance, especially when riding with the wrong group of riders, the “You really ought to be riding GatorHosen tires like ME” sort, who resent what your little screw-up is doing to their Strava. But other times, flatting is a nice thing, a romantic thing. Times when you really don’t want to head back just yet, times when there’s a nice sloping grass bank with a view of the Sun going down reluctantly on the best  day all month, you have a spare tube, a full size pump (with a hose) AND a new patch kit.  It’s like finding yourself in one of those lovely Frank Patterson illustrations from Cycle magazine from between the wars. Wouldn’t you look forward to that if you knew it was coming? Fixing a flat is Cycling, just like chopping onions is eating and being lonely is being in love. You’re not getting it ALL if you’re not getting a little of this too.

 Learn to do it, carry what you need to get it done gracefully and take some pleasure in doing it like a pro even if you do it like a stooge. Smile at the folks who drive by and stare at you like you had some minor misfortune. Try to observe yourself from 30 feet away and 10 feet up, watch as you deftly drop the wheel out and hang the chain on the peg without getting more than the tiniest spot of grease on your fingertip. The more positively you’re thinking, the easier the tire slips off the rim (you won’t even need the lever that you remembered to bring just in case), and that tiny piece of wire in the tire? You are absolutely going to find it without jabbing it in your finger. One more patch on the tube that already looks like it came from a Hobo bike but really hides in that beautiful machine that makes you do that little tight lipped smile when you see it waiting for you in the hall in the morning, and before you know it the wheel is back in place after only about 50 strokes on the pump (that’s right, only 50! Mini pumps are for those who never flat and ride GatorHosens(which ride like WOOD)), and you’re back in the game, feeling competent and ready for anything.

 That was me tonight. I’ve fixed a squintillion flats, and this was the best one yet. Probably the best one I’ll ever have, but maybe there’s an even better one to come. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dog-Hair Arabesque

Nothing I do with any of my bikes seems to go right lately. Parts I've been gathering to "restore" the homemade mountain bike I built in 1979 don't want to play nice together, and the new Seven Mudhoney I've been grinding away at assembling since last fall, is THIS close but now requires another $100 to solve a stupid problem, so will have to wait a bit longer. Both bikes I thought I'd be riding months ago. But worst of all I scraped the top-tube on my Mercian putting the pedals back on after overhauling them. I managed to whack it with the wrench and now I will never be happy again.

So I was looking forward to mounting some 33mm Challenge Grifo tubular tires I picked up cheap, a job that I thought would go smoothly and give me the sort of satisfaction one gets from doing something well that lots of people find intimidating. I don't ride tubulars much anymore, especially since I've gone off tires narrower than 28mm for roadbikes. But my old Raleigh International has great wheels and lot's of room for big tires, and some of the hardcore 'cross racers I know tend to replace their big fat race tires long before they're worn out, leaving me with a growing little pile of top quality Cyclo-Cross sew-ups. Perfect for this Bike and the dirt and gravel roads in my neighborhood. It should be pretty great on some singletrack too.

 So after sweeping the crap from half my bench onto the floor to make room, I soaked the old, red, Clement Mastice Gutta glue off with mineral spirits and wiped the rims clean with an old T-shirt, re-glued them with the Conti cement all the kids are using these days, spread a film on the basetapes, then made myself go make a sandwich for 5 minutes to let the cement "flash"(a term I don't really know the meaning of, but everyone always tells you to go make a sandwich for 5 minutes to let the glue "flash", so that's what I do) Then I slipped the tires on as if I'd done it fifty times before. Which I probably have, but 30 of those times were back in the Reagan administration and most of the others were still 20 years ago. I probably haven't mounted more than 5 or 6 since then. But like a lot of things we learn and then think we've forgotten, it was easy and familiar once I got started and I only had to pick and lift 1 or 2 spots to get everything nice and strait. As nice as I hoped, or better, even.

There have been times I've just made a horrible mess and had to do it over and over again to get something half-way rideable, and then ended up with dirty glue all over the sidewalls, myself and the door of the shop fridge. I used to be pretty good at repairing punctured "tubs" and did lots of them for other people, but was never more than adequate at mounting them. So I was feeling good, and thought I'd just brush a fresh coat of latex onto the sidewalls while things were going so well and really make it look "PRO" like they say now, or "KEEN" like we used to say then. 

I shouldn't have bothered. The sidewalls didn't really need it, it's not like they were all dried out or scraped up, but a nice fresh coat of latex seemed like icing on the cake and everything was going "swell" so why not?

 I'm not sure how the hair got all over everything but that's what happened. We have two dogs that sublet from us and finding the occasional hair on ones sweater is as familiar to us as a few crumbs on the floor is to them(If not quite as welcome). But we don't live in a house where gauzy clouds of used fur drift by on the breeze either. Honest. But I was barely started before I was picking black and white Border Collie hairs off the tire and trying to wipe it off on my pants. Black and white border collie hairs saturated with liquid latex.  Will. Stick. To. A. Fish.
 Before I was half done with the first tire there was hair on the rim, hair stuck between the spokes like cobwebs, and hair wrapped around the hub. It was on every finger, my nose, and tangled up with the hair on my knuckles (there's STILL some stuck on my knuckles).  Some managed to get inside my wallet(he admits with a weary nod). It was absurd.

Why didn't I just stop? Get a rag and some warm water and clean everything off before it set up, and then try again later. But I persevered and by the time both tires were done I ended up wasting a bunch of latex sealer($38 a quart, retail(half that with my sweet bike shop hook-ups, but still)) and having to spend close to forever cleaning everything up. Even when I was done and convinced I got it all, when I looked closely there turned out to be dried hair spread around the entire circumference of both tires. I think I was just so frustrated with enough other things in my life that I was unwilling to admit that I couldn't do something as simple, yet important to my self-image, as get Sew-Up Tires right.  I bet Jobst Brandt never came up from the basement looking like he'd wrapped himself in a rug after mounting tires. If Jan Heine did the same thing he could just say he was testing to see if a Dog-hair/Latex composite could increase sidewall durability without sacrificing suppleness, and we'd all believe him. Me? I just felt like a fraud.

I love cycling and I've been doing it all my life, but I don't really see myself as any kind of "expert rider". Certainly not someone who should be going around giving advice or offering tips. But, I've spent so much time learning about the Bicycle itself, working in shops when I was younger, reading, collecting, repairing frames and building racks and stems and things, that I want to think of myself as some sort of top-level expert. On the lower end of the top-level of course, but gettin' up there. It's easy for guys like me to think we know more than we actually do, so it sucks to come up short, you know? Guys like Jobst(RIP) and Jan on the other hand, inspire and encourage me, and so do lots of other people who think hard about bikes and find ways to move the ball down the field in a better direction. I'll never be a Tom Ritchey, a Charlie Cunningham or a Grant Peterson, but, dang it, I like to think I'm pulling on the same end of the rope as them. After something like the great dog hair disaster I'm not so sure.

But. The next day, after letting the glue cure sufficiently(if you're uncertain that it's been long enough, just go make a sandwich to be sure) I went for a ride and all my dumb disappointment and insecurity evaporated. The old thing rode so well and the feeling of riding really great tires on a bike that allowed you to get the best out of them reminded me what the purpose of messing around with something as fussy as Tubulars really is. It's not to make me feel like an "Expert" or prove how discerning I am, it's to make it more fun. 


And later, when I looked closer at the tires after my ride, I saw the neatest thing, brushing at the hairs and trying to drag them off with a tire lever and my fingers had left them in these twirling Paisley swirls and Arabesques that brought to my mind some Aubrey Beardsley type pen-work. It looks intentional if not particularly perfect and I think I like it that way. If I thought I could do it that well on purpose I'd probably try it every time. I just wouldn't leave it parked anywhere Jan Heine could see it.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Some of my Neighbors...

 I'm sitting on the steps to my little backyard cabin with this springs first fire going in the fire-pit and a laptop  on my no longer fish-belly white winter knees, trying to think of something bike related to write. It would be easier if there wasn't a Border Collie on her back at my feet hooking her paw over my arm every 2 minutes trying to get me to rub her tummy, or her cousin bringing a slobbered-up tennis ball for me to throw every 6o seconds in between. There's way too much else going on within sight and hearing to concentrate anyway, so this is hopeless.

All my Neighbors seem to be out taking advantage of one of the very nicest evenings so far this April. It's cool and almost, but not quite perfectly still and the sun is just slipping below the Alleghenies's 20 miles to the west. I hope everyone over in W. Virginia takes a peek out their window about now because it's already too late over on our side.All the industry at the houses across the road is winding down, Doug was out picking up sticks, probably going to mow tomorrow. And Robert and Lois, the nice older couple, were doing something in their garden and playing with the dog they adopted after someone dropped it off a few weeks ago. A half grown black male German Short-haired Pointer sort of animal. Named Sparky. Excellent dog. A genuine asset to the Neighborhood if maybe a bit frantic for a couple of gentle Grandparents(or maybe not). Down the hill and across the road I see a tractor plowing what appears to be a magnificently over ambitious garden across from the house of the folks we bought our land from. It will be interesting to see what that's all about if I remember to look again sometime. I probably wont.

We have good Neighbors and whenever we slow down long enough to stop worrying about what's happening next Thursday and think about them, we always remark about how long it's been since we had any of them over for dinner on the porch or a campfire. But we have a couple of acres of meadow grass and scrubby cedars between us and them and so we don't bump into each other at the mailbox or the clothesline so much as sort of observe each other from the middle distance and wish each other well on the evening breeze. We have other, closer Neighbors I tend to interact with more than the people in the houses though. They're out and about this evening as well.

Some of my favorite Neighbors are the Birds and other Animals that live around our home here in the Shenandoah Valley, and I think I might have just heard the first Nighthawk of the year, just back from winter in Fla. or Costa Rica or wherever they go.

 That's always a big deal for me. I keep a running record of the first sighting (on the wall of the basement stairway along with notes about when and where the first wild Asparagus and the Morels pop out),so after hearing one of them calling I'll be happy to catch a glimpse and note it down with the stubby pencil that hangs on a piece of string from a tack(It wont be too many years till I need a longer string once I've filled in it's present radius with dates and phone numbers and lyrics from Fats Waller songs).  It's still a little early though, most years they don't show up till at least the first week of May, but it's worth keeping an eye peeled even now. Seeing or hearing Nighthawks flying  around like they do makes me want to get on my bike and go swooping and diving around on the gravel roads in this part of the County. And whenever I'm out on those rides I seem to be on the lookout for my swoopy friends. Once I got tuned into the habits of these fantastic birds(not actual Hawks but a member of the Goatsucker Family, like Whipoorwills) they sort of became a totem or something for me. I seem to live in a world filled with them from May to Oct. I can travel almost anywhere and see them. Swooping overhead while standing in a Motel parking lot in Memphis,or hear them calling in the twilight while walking to the subway in D.C. after spending the day at the museums, or make out the distinctive whistling of the air through their wing feathers as they pull out of another dramatic dive while catching dinner on a moonlit night at the Lake in Indiana. They just about make a nuisance of themselves the way they want to mob me whenever I go back to Texas.

 Nighthawks nest on the ground in open grassy areas and I know that as the field behind my house grows up (It doesn't belong to me so I can't go hacking and chopping to keep the brush grubbed out) there will come a point where they won't come live beside me any longer. But I hope they always hang out where we can see and hear them. You should see them fly around diving for bugs behind the lawnmower. I'd like to know what it's like just screwing around doing aerobatics all the time like that.

 From the cabin steps I can see out into the hundred or so acres of woods and pasture behind and between my house and the Quarry that's across the R.R. tracks at the bottom of the hill. About 40 yards from where I was sitting(I moved inside, the fire went out and it was getting dark and the dogs were whining for snacks) is a big brush-pile that sits in the bottom of a big depression(a lovely, unstable, tree rimmed sinkhole that guarantee's I'll never have anything more civilized than Cows or Sheep for Neighbors back there, which I think is worth the little nagging fear I have of the ancient limestone ridge my house sits on collapsing some night and taking my down to the center of the Earth as I lay dreaming in my bed). That brush-pile is like a tenement, full of old retired Ground Hogs and huge multi-generational families of Rabbits who came to this area to find work manufacturing Rabbits. There's likely a thousand Voles, Moles and Field Mice in there as well. The population density in there during a year with good rains is like Mexico City or Tokyo, and it's just about as interesting. It's amazing we get anything out of a garden at all but we don't seem to ever run out as long as we don't mind letting them have all the really good stuff. There's at least one Black Snake, as big as my arm and longer than you can hold your breath, that lives in there too. I doubt it eats enough to make a difference to the Rabbits, in fact the Momma Rabbits might be glad to have it around to give naughty Bunnies a reason to listen to their Mothers and come in to supper before the Serpent get's them.

 It's too loud in there for Possum's but we do get them occasionally. the last one lived in the culvert under the end of our lane for 3 or 4 years. Nice enough but timid to a fault and a bit unstable like most of them. I almost ran over that guy a hundred times. I'd come flying down the hill on my bike after work and turn onto the gravel drive and he'd dart out from the grass and throw himself onto his back directly in front of my wheel. I'd hollar and slam on the brakes, and he'd open one eye and leer up at me with that delirious grin and shiver with delight at still being alive. Over and over again.   I'd put a foot down and we'd chat for a bit, he'd ask how my "dotters wuz gettin along" and apologize for frightening them, staring at them like that from the tall grass as they waited for the bus. And I'd say, "Oh, don't mention it, THEY never do". A big polite lie of the kind one tells to get along, then I'd remind him I'd be coming back this way about the same time tomorrow and that the safest thing is to just stay put and don't jump out like that, and he'd tug at his forelock and assure me it would never happen again. And the very next day he'd do exactly the same thing from a different spot. He disappeared after getting driven out of his hole by an enormous, sloppy Ground Hog that showed up one spring. I never could stand that fat loud-mouthed Marmot. SO arrogant, and SUCH a know-it-all. One afternoon I just shot him. He WAS undermining my lane by digging out a giant cavern under the culvert, but really it was as much about his politics as anything.

About a hundred yards from the Brush-pile, halfway to the woods, there's a ledge of exposed limestone with some cedars behind and a couple of holes under, that faces the morning sun. That's where SHE lives. I don't see her very often but She does seem to be the center of attention whenever she's around. She's a Fox. Foxes live just about everywhere, if you're not reading this somewhere in Antarctica, there's a good chance you live within an easy afternoon walk of a couple. Maybe a lot closer than that. But that doesn't mean they're common in anything but the numerical sense. I think they're border-line Magical in general but this one in particular has become something of a distraction. Slim, with a smart, sharp edged femininity. Always perfectly groomed and shimmeringly cinnamon.  I have it bad for her and She encourages it in an intentionally aloof but engaging, Holly Golightly sort of way.

Every so often I'll take some scraps out and leave them on a big flat rock way out in the middle of the field(we both pretend I don't know about her den), most of the time She's nowhere to be seen but sometimes I catch a glimpse of an auburn shadow just inside the woods and I get my hopes up only to give up after awhile and trudge back to the house disappointed and clutching an empty tupperware. And other times I turn around and She's just there. Sitting at the base of the Persimmon tree by the big rock, tail curled around her feet with the white tip modestly tucked under her chin. I'll usually say something clever and sophisticated like "Oh, Why it's you..." as if She had caught me bringing out chicken fat and fish bones for the Cattle instead of trying to lure her into range for a chat. But She invariably acts as though we just happened to bump into each other on the way to the shops and inquires about my family and that sort of thing. She always asks about my Dogs and want's me to remember to tell them she said "Hello". Which is a bit of Kabuki theater since neither my Dogs or her can stand the sight or smell of each other, and the pretense of any of them being "Ladies" is tough to maintain if you've ever heard them insulting each other over the fence. The things they call each other. It's a wonder it doesn't rot their teeth, it's that bad.

 But to be 6 feet from her and listen to her relaxed purring chuckle and see the golden speckles in her bright eyes is to be bewitched, charmed in the absolute literal sense. I find myself hanging on every word, incapable of believing she could ever be so coarse as to raise her voice or say an unkind thing. You have to be on your guard to spend any time around Foxes without getting taken in, the stories the Chickens tell about them are all too true I'm afraid. Our conversations never get too personal, it typically starts with something along the lines of... "Mr. Spindizzy! What LOVELY Chicken bones! Did you make them yourself? You are an AMAZING cook, and so handsome(!)... Mrs. Dizzy is such a lucky woman.". Then we'll talk a bit about what I've been writing or she might look through my sketchbook if I have it in my coat pocket, then she tells me about what's going on in the woods while she scrapes the bacon fat onto a Dock leaf with my pocket knife. It's usually complaints about the Crows and what she calls their "low behavior" or unflattering stories about my Neighbors with the Chickens and the giant garden. She knows they've asked me to shoot her any number of times but that I never will, and so She can't resist telling me stories of their ridiculous attempts to prevent her from dropping in to visit their Hens(only to chat and pick up the dud-eggs, She swears). I've heard both sides of some of these stories and have to admit she doesn't have to bend the truth to make her point about the unsuitability of some people for rural living. I don't laugh too hard though, I don't think I'd come out any better if it was my Chickens she was romancing. It might be worse even, a grown man tricked into roasting the bird with onions and carrots before leaving it by the Hen House door to prevent the Fox having to work at it and make him out to be an even greater fool.

While we talk the shadows will be getting longer and I'll realize it's been 10 minutes and she'll be wrapping the bones up in leaves and dropping them in her little bag any second now and disappearing, so I take a good look while I can, knowing that everything about a Foxes life is brief and sudden and the next time I see her she could be dead by the road or being ministered to by a committee of Crows and Buzzards under this very tree. But for now, right this second, she is perfect and well fitted to this little piece of the world that holds us both and all the others of all kinds that we love and depend on and I think about how fortunate I am to be her friend. And if I know that there isn't a thing in the world she needs badly enough to ever let me bury my nose in the fluffy white ruff at the base of her neck, I also know that she seems to want me for something more than just bacon grease and bones and that feels like a blessing.

Until I realize She's carried off another one of my pocketknives. 

Oh well, it's dark and everyone but me has turned out the lights and gone to bed. If I haven't thought of anything worth writing by now I don't suppose staying up any longer will help. Maybe I'll think of something tomorrow.


Welcome to my new blog.

I've been thinking about doing this for a long time now but waited till I was convinced that the world had room for another Bike-centric Blog with Literary/Artistic aspirations. Now that I'm actually committing pixels to paper, I'm not feeling quite so sure that's the case. But, all my misgivings aside, I've got like an hour invested in the process now, so; Here we go...

My original idea was to write an essay length piece every week or so about my projects and adventures, trying to express the purpose and satisfaction I get from engaging in things that matter to me and hoping to connect with other people who might see or hear something familiar or interesting in whatever observations and insights come my way. A couple of Blogs that I follow do this exceptionally well and my experiences reading and commenting on them have been really positive and FUN. I was surprised to find a lot of interesting, thoughtful people and surprisingly few Cranky, Under-Socialized Grumps out there. At least on the Blogs I've been reading (I don't spend any time on the ones where people show up with their prickles out). And now some of them feel like friends, which I would like to have more of. So why not write my own? It might force me to lean into my projects a little harder and encourage me to go adventuring a little more often, which are things I'm always trying to trick myself into doing more. Or better. Or whatever.  

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that my projects are nothing special, mostly messing around with old bikes I'm too lazy to ride and plugging away at the house I started building in 2005 and will leave, an unfinished but already deteriorating Albatross around the neck, to my Children. And my "Adventures"? The more I thought about THAT, the more I feared Id be turning to those venerable writers tools, "Plagiarism" and "Lying" (which could hurt my chances at any of the better literary prizes). And anyway, why should I think I can suddenly become this dedicated creative person that I've never been before? Getting up early to spend an hour writing before going out to milk the Cow and fetch water from the creek? Intentionally remembering to pay attention to my life as it simmers around me so I might actually recall events and thoughts that I experienced as much as 7 or 8 hours before?  Hopeless. Utterly hopeless.

So here's what I think is going to happen; every once in a while(still shooting for once a week, but no promises), I'll sit down and write something. It's probably going to be about bicycles in some way at least half the time since I've been in love with bikes and cycling since I was about 7 or 8 and I can't afford an Airplane. And the rest of the time it might be about something I've been reading or thinking about or somewhere interesting I've been. That sort of thing. I'm probably not going to write about food much since nobody wants to hear about what brand of sardines I like with my pork-rinds(unless you do, then just ask). And if I really can't think of anything better I might just put up pictures from my sketchbooks(mostly  Hot-Rods, Monsters and Monsters driving Hot-Rods).  And every so often I might write something more serious, the sort of thing that we all find ourselves wondering about and trying to make sense of. I don't think we're going to be winning any awards here but it might be fun.

If I write something you like I hope you'll tell me, since deep down, no one does this unless they want people to give them an occasional pat on the head. And if it turns out I can't rise above "mundane and tedious", tell me that too, but geez, be nice about it. And please don't tease me about my puntuation or grammer because I won't get it and we'll both just end up feeling embarrassed and awkward. Thanks. One of the reservations I have about doing this (along with my fears about revealing myself to be a Cranky, Under-Socialized Grump or ending up with ZERO readers) is about whether I can create a place where people are COOL and kind to each other and come with their brains turned on. I hope I can. But if this turns into a lame/tedious or nasty/combative sort of place I will cheerfully pull the plug and kill it.  Unless I've found some way to make some money off it, in which case it will be right here till the end of time. Sorry.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I already have a web business building custom racks for bikes, mostly Vintage British Raleigh's and other creaky old bikes. You'll find a link to that site somewhere around here and I hope you check that out sometime. There will eventually be some other things for sale there that might help send my Daughters to College and let me take my Lovely Wife somewhere fun in the summer. When that happens, don't think about it, just buy some, OK?

Jon Gehman

1 down, 1,000 to go.