Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bike Nerdvana

My cycling buddy Paul, last seen riding south out of Prescott a couple of weeks ago, showed back up Tuesday with his eleven-year-old son Karl. They drove up this time, and are leaving their car with us while they take Amtrak to Seattle to visit family. The westbound Amtrak leaves around 11:00PM and Paul showed up about 12:30PM. Time to kill! What do we do? Work on bikes!

W A R N I N G ! Boring Bike Tech Stuff Follows!

First on the list was re-gearing the Atlantis. The high gear on this bike was a 46/11, or about a 112 inch gear. I never ride gears this high. On my old Motobecane my high gear was a 52/14, or about a 100 inch gear, and I basically never rode a gear that high even back when I rode a lot more. Also, I wanted closer gearing jumps in the middle ranges, so Paul brought along a bunch of cassettes and random loose cogs.

The first order of business was taking apart my Sachs cassette. While on some cassettes this can apparently be a chore, involving punches and drill presses, this one proved very simple; a single long thin bolt loosened with a 1.5mm hex key, out it came, and the whole thing fell apart. We then went through putting it back together but substituting in new gears. The cassette went from Old to New gearing:

Old 11 12 14 16 18 21 24 28 32

New 13 15 16 17 18 19 21 24 28

Perhaps this display shows the change better:

Old  11 12    14    16    18       21       24          28          32

New         13    15 16 17 18 19    21       24          28

The overall range is less, the lowest gear is higher and the highest gear is lower, but that tight cluster through the middle should allow some real fine-tuning of my effort and speed in the useful cruising gears. And, if I don't like it, I'll just take it apart and try something else!

Time also for more practicality. Paul brought up a couple of kickstands he had lying around. One was way too short, but the other one worked, after a trip to the hardware store to pick up a 2-inch 3/8" bolt for the mounting. Kickstands are funny things, I think that almost no serious cyclist thinks they're cool. I'm not sure if the correct word for the traditional cyclist's attitude towards kickstands would be 'disdain' or 'contempt'. Me, I love 'em. I love the cheap one-legged ones, like I just put on the Atlantis, somewhat less than the $50 Esge twin-legged ones like I have on the Marin, but after having had kickstands for years it seems incomprehensible to me that a Practical Bike would come without one. It's just so darn handy to flip it down and stand the bike up. Riding an Atlantis with a Brooks saddle can quickly get you pegged as a Retro cyclist, but even the Retros don't use kickstands.

I happened to mention to Paul that I'd seen the clearance Blackburn rack ($10) at Boehm's on Sunday but it didn't fit. Nonsense, he said, we'll bend it! We threw (gently) the Atlantis in the back of my pickup and hauled it down to the Boehm's at Selby and Snelling and took the bike in. After fiddling with the rack, we decided maybe it would fit and I ponied up the $10.70. At home, I lit the charcoal and while it was getting going we got out The Pipe (a big long pipe clamp) and put it over the fixed seatstay extensions on the rack and bent them, using the Wonders of Leverage, until they fit. I came up with a motley assortment of 5mm bolts and sure enough, the rack fits. It's even silver, which is a good look for my Atlantis.

Let's see; gears fiddled with, kickstand on, fenders installed, rack mounted. About all I need now is a bell and this thing will be useful.

We also ruined Henry's bike, at least in some eyes. I bought this Trek 620 touring bike from a bike shop in Iowa Falls in April for $100. It's in really nice shape. However, it has a gearing which is a bit odd, a six-speed freewheel (on the legendary, though not necessarily in a good way, Helicomatic hub) with 28/45/50 chainrings. The tight spacing between the 45 and 50 tooth chainrings was for a gearing setup called Half Step Plus Granny and it had many Wild-Eyed Zealots who loved it back in the 1980s. The gearing, laid out, did make sense, but every increment up was a double shift, one cog on the freewheel and a shift to the other of the middle and large chainrings. Paul brought along some chainrings he had lying around, and now Henry's bike has 28/34/45 chainrings. I might even dig up a 24 tooth small chainring for him to lower the low range on the bike. We figure somewhere there are some weathered but fervent Half Step Plus Granny zealots shedding a tear.

As happens on these things, it's the small stuff that's a total timesink. The 45-tooth chainring on Henry's bike wasn't meant to be the large chainring, so lacked a little stubby bolt next to the crank arm to keep the chain from wedging in there if you accidentally overshift. Your bike probably has one. So, we walked over to the hardware store, bought a small bolt and a couple of nuts, marked, drilled out and tapped the chainring, then installed the little bolt which was too long so we got out the trusty Dremel tool and cut it off in a satisfying shower of sparks and the acrid smell of disintegrating cutoff wheels. All told, this took more than an hour. If we keep that derailleur properly adjusted, this little bolt will never be needed. This is why I don't work in a bike store. I could see telling a customer, yep, we can put a little screw in there. The parts will run you $0.37 and labor will be $108.00.

There's more to do on Henry's bike. We're going to build him a set of 700C wheels, which will fit better than the 27 inchers that are on there now and allow fender clearance, and the rear wheel will use my Marin's old Deore LX cassette hub (I bought a new wheel after the old one kept breaking spokes because of corroded nipples)(I just love the words "corroded nipples") and thus go to eight speeds. This will require spreading the rear triangle on the bike out to fit, but this is a steel frame (lugged Reynolds 531) and so can take that sort of thing. If it still works, we'll stick with the slightly odd Duopar derailleur he's got on there.

Some more mods are coming for my bikes. Nashbar had a 20%-off sale on everything and I ordered up a couple of cheap sets of clipless pedals, a pair of shoes I hope are big enough (size 48s) and some cheap brake levers and a kickstand (for Henry's Trek 620). I'm going to try the clipless thing for the first time. I'm going to go purely clipless on the Atlantis and got a pair of clipless/platform pedals for the Marin so on that bike I won't need to always put on bike shoes to ride to the bagel shop or grocery store.

I love this aspect of bicycles, that everything can be modified and customized and you can be very intentional about every little part and component, or care deeply about some (my frame, bottom bracket, handlebars, tires) and be agnostic or oblivious about others (brakes, levers, rack, seatpost), or be oblivious about everything. Cycling welcomes the whole spectrum of involvment with the machines and I really enjoy my little point in the continuum.

OK, it's all clear, civilians can return to reading.

I took Paul and Karl down to the Amtrak station and the train showed up about 45 minutes late, about par for the course. Paul is taking a folding bike with him in a big suitcase. Once the train got there, I left. They'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Two Cities to Church

Saturday morning I decided to move the Atlantis another step towards practicality by installing my Esge fenders. This took a while. One of the features of the Atlantis is that it has clearance for big tires and fenders. I installed pretty compact 28mm tires (the Rivendell Roly Polys) and as a result have oodles of clearance. In fact, when I held the fenders up, they looked a bit daft. So, I used little aluminum spacers (3/4" and 1") to move the fender closer to the tire at the chainstay and seatstay mounts. I also drilled a hole through the fender to screw it directly into the bridge on the seatstays. This all took a while.

Meanwhile, other duties called. A huge branch of one of our silver maples had come down and I had to cut it up and haul the branches to the Ramsey County Compost site. I took the first load down, then went to the Sibley Bike Depot. These guys take in old bikes and fix them up and resell them. I had been in there when my friend Paul was up for the Great River Energy Bike Festival and they had had a couple of enormous Schwinn World Sports in the collection. I'd expressed an interest in the red one and last week had a call that I could buy it "as-is" if I signed a release saying I wouldn't sue them.

So I went in and got the bike. Frames this size are very rare in my experience. I can count on one hand the number of times I've run into 27" (68cm) frames in stores, and bought the Atlantis frame in that size in part because Rivendell is one of the few makers building stock frames that big. Given this, it was extremely odd to find two in the Bike Depot. I signed the papers, paid $125, and took away the bike, shown below:

27=in (68cm) Schwinn World Sport

The frame is double-butted chro-moly lugged steel with forged dropouts. The Bike Depot guy seemed to be something of a connesiuer and said the frame was built by Bridgestone about the time Schwinn went broke. This particular one has a rusty chain and pedals, nondescript components and a potato-chip front wheel, but the frame is a tenth the cost of the Atlantis frame and I have designs on possibly getting an Xtracycle for it.

I stopped at the hobby store, too, and got some Testors red enamel. Time to mark the Atlantis as mine. Here's the bottom bracket:

My name painted on Atlantis bottom bracket

Lots of stuff to see here. You can see my name painted in, the Phil Wood bottom bracket inside the shell, the primitive cable routing around the bottom bracket shell and the 3/4" spacer on the chainstay fender mount. You can also see the third bottle cage mounting bolts and the fairly frivolous bit of paint job in the bottom bracket lug.

I'm not sure painting my name on the BB helps much, but if it's stolen, it's a quick ID to make and probably won't be noticed by any thief. I've done it on all my bikes. I had a Trek 750 hybrid stolen in 1995 and never heard another thing about it, so maybe it's wishful thinking, but it gives me comfort.

Sunday Geneva and I rode to church. Henry's still off on his Minnesota Boychoir Tour, so he'll have to try next week. We hadn't done this before. Karla started at St. Luke's Episcopal as Music Director in January. During Choir Season (think school year) we have to be there by 8:15AM and it's a solid 13 miles away, so we haven't ridden. School's out, choir's over and the church is on the 10:00AM Summer Schedule, so we don't have to be there until about 9:58 (well, Karla does, the rest of us can get in at the last second).

Geneva and I set out at 8:40 and arrived at, well, at about 9:58. It turns out to be 13.7 miles, down Como Ave past the State Fairgrounds (with a cheesy circus on right now), down Raymond and then Pelham to the Lake/Marshall bridge, across the river, down the West River Parkway to Minnehaha Parkway, then out the bike trail to Lyndale, where we got off onto surface streets to get to 46th and Colfax. I had to make an announcement about some painting we'll be doing and quickly ditched the bikes in the library and went straight into church, dripping wet with sweat. I took no photos on the way over due to the time constraints.

After Coffee Hour, for which I am now the Scheduler and coordinator, Geneva and I set off home. We hadn't got far when she got one of her shoelaces caught in her chainring and had to stop to extricate it. Here she is, having just done this:

Geneva on Minnehaha Trail after fixing shoelace

Minneapolis is as high-tax as Saint Paul. This buys you great public facilities like this bike and pedestrian path and also some public art, like this enormous bunny. Here are Geneva and I with this critter:

Geneva on Huge Bunny

Matt and Huge Bunny

This is the first time I've ridden the Minnehaha bike path. When we moved here, eleven years ago, I made the observation that people had pretty limited spheres of operation. People seemed to have their work, school, church and mall and lived much of their day to day lives in this small orbit. The cities are so pretty that it seemed weird to me to meet people from, say, Minneapolis, who had only ever been to Saint Paul twice. Well, we kind of fell into the same pattern, and thus I went more than a decade riding around and never once rode from the falls to Lake Harriet, one of the signature trails in Minneapolis.

Anyway, we ate at a Dairy Queen by the park, then rode over to see the falls. Minnehaha Creek, along which the bike path we'd been riding flows, goes over these attractive falls shortly before the creek enters the Mississippi.

Minnehaha Falls in late June 2005

Rather than ride up the west side parkway again, we crossed on the 46th Street/Ford Parkway bridge. It's a quirk of this state that street names change when they go from one city to another, so all these streets change names when they go from Minneapolis to Saint Paul. On another level, counties all name their county roads independently from the adjacent counties, so the same road will suddenly change numbers at the county line. Paul had found this confusing when riding up from Iowa earlier in June. I hadn't noticed it before. Anyway, off the Ford Bridge (it's by the Ford plant, where they make Rangers) you get a good view of Lock and Dam Number 1. This is the first of 27 numbered locks, the last one at Alton, Illinois, just above the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers near Saint Louis. This one also has the biggest single drop on the river, 60 feet from the upstream side to the downstream side. You can see a map of the "Stairway of Water" here.

Lock and Dam Number One

Gosh it was hot. Humid, too. We rode up the east side of the river. At the west end of Summit Avenue there is a drinking fountain. Here's Geneva drinking, with a memorial to residents of Saint Paul and Ramsey County killed in the World War, then a view upriver to the distant, hazy skyline of Minneapolis. This monument was erected in 1922, hence the lack of a reference to World War I; with the horrors of pointless trench warfare a fresh memory it must have seemed incomprehensible that in another 20 years we'd do it all again.

Geneva at drinking fountain

And then we rode home. We stopped at a bike shop (Boehm's) that had a silver Blackburn rack on clearance for $10, and I got excited about it, but it had fixed front stays and didn't fit the Atlantis. Oh well. When we got home we'd ridden 30.5 miles. Geneva is 11 (and three quarters, Daddy). She's so good. We don't move at Lance Armstrong-like speed, but she cracks off 30 miles and thinks it's a great way to spend the day. I never rode anywhere near that far when I was 11 (or eleven and three quarters).

Henry's back now, bubbling full of stories of his weeklong Boychoir Tour, and, weather permitting, we'll try this again next week.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Why I Was Late for Mass

Another Twin Cities bike blogger (Daily Spirit-Human) wrote about doing a Critical Mass ride in Saint Paul in his blog in May. He thought about calling it Non-Critical Mass, as it wasn't going to plug intersections or annoy people, just ride around downtown. I've never done a Critical Mass, so can't speak from firsthand experience, but I'm not sure that annoying motorists is a great way to win friends and influence people. On the other hand, riding visibly around downtown being assertively polite didn't sound too bad. I think he ought to call it Sub-Critical Mass. I thought I'd give it a try.

Anyway, we were supposed to meet at 4:45 and ride off at 5:00. I got back from work and got stalled. Karla and I were talking about Dr. Breedlove's death and Geneva, who had gone to ValleyFair yesterday with the church Youth Group and got back after I'd gone to bed, had to tell me about surviving the Steel Venom ride. I finally set off.

Delays mounted. Here's the bike at the Black Bear Crossing on Como Avenue:

Marin at Black Bear Crossing

Note the utility of the kickstand!

I rode on downtown, hitting lots of red lights. I typically don't ride through red lights, figuring that if I am going to act as a legal road user, I'm going to follow the rules. When I do have motorists complain that bikes always ride through red lights, I can tell them they're wrong. I also point out that cars are always running stop signs and red lights themselves.

I got downtown about 5:15. No Mass in sight. Oh well. I coasted down towards the Robert Street bridge. It's a nice view of the river. There are parts of the Twin Cities that look a bit like a model railroad set, and this lift bridge over the Mississippi is one of those bits.

Lift Bridge in downtown Saint Paul

Riding onto the Robert Street bridge you get a good view of the operator's hut on top of this bridge.

Lift Bridge operator's hut

I like the domestic touches.

Potted plants on lift bridge

This bridge is usually parked in the up position so that barge traffic and the more majestic yachts can get by. I wondered if it were down for a reason, and rode across the bridge to the south side of the river. There's a lovely walking and cycling path along the river. It even gets an official rail crossing. As soon as I got there, a train appeared and crawled by. I think the speed limit on the bridge is 5 miles per hour. Here the Soo Line locomotive crosses the pedestrian pathway.

Train crosses pedestrian path in Saint Paul

It chugged across the river. On a bike, it is remarkably simple to hop aboard and quickly move a couple of hundred yards for the next shot where it would be tough to run over quickly enough for the next shot on foot.

Soo Line train crossing on lift bridge

The train looked long and I couldn't get past it on the pedestrian path until it got past, so I rode back over on the Robert Street bridge. I rode around downtown a bit but saw no packs of cyclists. I rode up to the Sibley Bike Depot to see if they'd gone there, but it was closed. Then I rode home.

Going up Como Avenue I'd just crossed at Black Bear Crossing again when I heard yet another train. I stopped to take a picture. Here a CSX train comes chugging past. At this point the westbound trains, like this one, are lugging uphill, so they're not going that fast. This is one of the few level crossings of the mainline tracks.

CSX train at Black Bear Crossings sidewalk

About six years ago a child was killed at this crossing. He and his twin sister tried to beat a train over on their bicycles. The young girl made it, the little boy almost made it. The train clipped his back wheel which threw him to the ground pretty hard. I don't remember the details any more, but the injuries killed him. These kids were about the age of mine, and ours crossed this everyday going to school (in a school bus) so it made a real impression on them.

We had a reception to go to, so I quickly washed up, changed and we drove off to that and to dinner. I'll have to try this Critical Mass thing again next month and see if I can make it on time.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dr. Breedlove Dead

I tried the Google Cycling News link off another site for the first time and was surprised to read that Dr. Robert Breedlove was killed yesterday morning while competing in the Race Across America (RAAM). Although born Canadian, I pretty much grew up in Des Moines and Breedlove was a big figure in the cycling community there. I never actually met him personally, but a longtime friend and cycling companion of mine rode with Breedlove a lot and in fact Breedlove had bought a custom tandem sized to fit my buddy Mark to do the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in France. Once I was down visiting my Dad and had stopped by Mark's house. He and Theresa have four kids, I added my two to the mix, and Theresa and I were feeding them all lunch when Mark came in off a 150-mile ride with Breedlove.

Apparently, according to Des Moines Register article (I'm not sure how long this link will work), Breedlove was riding in Colorado when he veered across the centerline into the path of an oncoming truck. The truck hit him and he was killed instantly. As with early reports, it's hard to say what's going on. The driver of the truck was 15; he says Breedlove appeared to slump over his bars right before veering over. I think there's going to be an autopsy so perhaps some problem will come to light. Perhaps it won't, and this will just go down as another accident.

This has little to do with Practical Cycling, but this guy did do some very impressive miles (15,000 miles a year) while keeping his orthopedic medicine practice going. He still holds the tandem record for the RAAM race. People I know well knew him well, and the bike shop owner quoted in the article (Forrest Ridgway, owner of Bike World) was another high school classmate of mine, though we weren't close.

The Race Across America is continuing. I hope the other riders are careful.

In a later update (I'm editing the already-posted article), I had emailed my other cycling buddy Paul, who was just up here a couple of weeks ago to work the Great River Energy Bike Festival races, and he said that my other buddy Mark had left Wednesday to go to Kansas to work on Bob Breedlove's support crew through to Ohio. Paul hadn't heard yet from Mark. You can see a photo of Mark and Paul in 1980 on this page, when they rode a tandem together to Boston. I'd just graduated from Iowa State, Mark was going to start medical school in the autumn and Paul had another quarter to go before graduation. Funny, a quarter century has elapsed and we're all still doing biking.

Informed Thinking on Energy by our President

Here's George W. Bush in Washington DC on June 8:

"We're spending money on clean coal technology. Do you realize we've got 250 million years of coal?"

Two hundred and fifty million years of coal? Wasn't this guy in the oil business? The U.S. Department of Energy reckons we have domestic reserves if coal equivalent to 285 years at the rate of consumption in the U.S. in 2001. The plant matter that later became coal was laid down during the Carboniferous era, between 280 million and 340 million years ago. This era was after the Devonian and before the Permian. You think that Mr. Bush, who spend many of his formative adult years in dreary Midland/Odessa, Texas, which is located in the Permian Basin and has the famous Odessa Permian Panthers football team, would appreciate the timescale.

It's nuts that we have done virtually nothing to reduce energy dependence on foreign princes and potentates in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Perhaps factual errors of six orders of magnitude in understanding our energy situation feed into this decision process.

On the other hand, my next-door-cube neighbour was out looking at cars last night after her newly-licensed 16-year-old daughter totalled the family Camry into a lightpole in the driveway at work (fired off both airbags!). They test-drove a Prius which they thought was pretty cool, but the wait is now 8-10 months. People are making some of their own decisions in regards to energy even though the administration has asked nothing of us in this war except to accept tax cuts and shop more.

Drivers like this daughter frighten me. They've got a license, scored well on the drivers exam and within six weeks have totalled a car. I don't know that it's clear what she was doing that she couldn't make it out of the parking lot without crashing the Camry, but it probably was something to do with the radio, a CD or a cellphone (this is my speculation). (I could really annoy my cube-neighbour and say it was probably the crack stash and birth control). You just hope like hell that some goofball 16-year-old full of misplaced confidence and different muscial tastes than Mom doesn't one day inadvertently mow you down. I'd hate to get killed because someone wanted to listen to Green Day.

You sure get fast claims service when you total the car in your insurance company parking lot! I suggested that we send her a Crash Test Dummy t-shirt in a company envelope and a letter thanking her for the increased premiums we'll be getting, but my cube-mate thought the situation at home was perhaps a little tense for this yet.

While looking for appropriate Crash Test garments, I came across this one on eBay. I might even buy one of these, I don't have a modern plastic cycling jersey yet:

eBay link

A couple of yellow/black circle stickers on the helmet and I'd be all set!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Get Naked at Work

My normal 4.8-mile commute went to 7.9 miles this morning. I took a load of shirts to the cleaners for clean and press, then rode to work. A couple of hundred yards from the entrance to the driveway I suddenly had a flash of realization that I hadn't packed any dress socks this morning. I ambled along thinking, ok, what do I do? I could wear the white socks I have on, but that'll look pretty daft with my dark olive pants and black dress shoes. I could ride back home. That'll kill most of an hour. I could go with no socks. That seems more appropriate for boat shoes on your yacht at Nantucket than black dress shoes in the office. What would I do in a car? Well, I wouldn't forget my socks. I glanced at my watch; it was already a little past 8:00, so Target would be open. I could ride over there.

So I did. I bought a six-pack of dark dress socks in the Extended Sizes (13-15 shoe size), a box of Kleenex and a tin of nuts, then rode back over to work, making up the 7.9 miles.

I took a shower. In 20+ years of professional work this is the first office I've been in with a shower. It's not brilliant, but it is there. It's at the back of the first floor men's room, a room about 8X10 feet with a couple of hooks on the wall, a couple of folding chairs, and a shower stall. It has a locking door, so you do get privacy. This also prevents hi-jinks like co-workers pinching all your clothes while you're showering, something that would occasionally happen in the dorms at college, but that's way funnier at 20 than it is at 47.

The shower thing works well in part because hardly anyone uses it. There must be a couple of other users because they leave some soap and shampoo in there; I take mine with me. On the other hand, it never seems wet in there, so maybe they don't use it a lot. If 50 people all of a sudden began commuting by bike and wanting showers in the morning, this wouldn't work so well, but at the current level of commuting here it seems fine. There is one other guy who rides regularly. He rides more often than I do and further as well, 13 miles one-way. He also gets here about 6:00AM, unlike me, more of an 8:00-8:30 kind of guy.

The shower room has no lockers, so everything goes upstairs with me. The cycling shorts, t-shirt and socks just go in my commuting pannier, the shoes I carry, and I take the towel up and drape it over a box under my workstation to dry out. For compactness, I use a Cascade Designs packtowel, very thin material. It dries you off differently than luxurious Turkish cotton bath sheets, but it folds down really small. It's all polyester microfibre, so can get smelly if left wadded up in the dark, so I wash it and hang it out to dry in the sun from time to time which cures that problem.

I don't always shower at work; in cooler and less-humid weather, I'll just change clothes after a damp-mopping of myself in one of the lobby bathrooms. This time of year, though, it can get plenty humid and it's not hard to work up a sweat even in only five miles.

I keep a pair of dress shoes and a belt in a drawer in my cubicle, so after the shower pad upstairs in stocking feet and put on the shoes and belt. Now I'll have a spare pair of dress socks in there as well.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ride Report

Thursday I heard from Paul, last seen heading south out of Prescott, Wisconsin (see the end of the previous post to see the pix) on his way home to Cedar Rapids. Here's what he had to say:


I am still alive. I got home about 4 pm on Wednesday.
Highway 35 was a good road. It has a 3' shoulder the whole way to Winona and enough small towns along the way for supplies. Although it was a rather bleak day (I got rained on twice, but no tornados) the route is pretty. I had a slight SE headwind all the way to Winona. In Winona I spent the night in a better than average Mom and Pop motel. The rooms has refrigerators in them so I froze my Camelbak and then ripped the bladder the next morning when I put it into the backpack. Shit. Fortunately, the next two days were cool so I could get by with two water bottles.

On Tuesday I rode from Winona to Decorah. I got a late start onacounta it was raining when I got up. The storm blew through by 9, so that is when I started riding. The roads were wet, but I didn't get rained on. In MN I followed Hwy 43 through Rushford where it crossed the Root River Trail. South of Rushford are some nice climbs. Rt 43 is good, but it does not have a paved shoulder most of the way. The wind was strong out of the West and I was hoping it would swing around a bit to the NW but it never did. When I got to Decorah I had to decide whether to spend the night there or ride another 40 km to West Union. I stopped at a nice local bike shop which had an internet connection. The forecast was for a strong NW or NNW wind on Wednesday, so I decided to spend the night. Ate in a real hole-in-the-wall bar that was recommended by the bike shop owner. Tuesday night was Mexican (food) Night. Good food. Decorah seems to be a nice town.

There was still more rain on Wednesday, so I did not start until about 7:30. More wet roads and a few drops but no big deal. The big deal was a 15 to 20 mph NW wind. Hot damn. The roads from Decorah to Arlinton (a little town NE of Oelwein) are great: hills, vistas, and little traffic. After Arlington it is much flatter. No matter, flat with a tailwind is nice too. By this time the wind was NNW at almost 20 mph. Nevertheless, I never once felt my highest gear (46 x 13 = 93 in) was not high enough. There was one slightly downhill stretch of perhaps 0.5 km that I thought I would spin out my highest gear, but it did not happen. I just don't see the need for a gear bigger than about 90 in.

Anyway, Wednesday was a great day. It's not often that I get to ride 185 km on great roads on a 68 degree day with a 20 mph tailwind.

I had fun at the races, We'll see you in a couple of weeks.



Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Five Days of Bikes

I didn't have time to post these photos etc. each day as I took them so am running them all at once to cover the rest of the Bike Festival weekend.

My grade-school buddy, college roommate and best man Paul was up from Cedar Rapids to volunteer at the Great River Energy Bike Festival and also to mess around with bikes. Here's what we did:

Geneva and Henry about to ride to school

Thursday the kids got to ride to school. They were very excited to do this and grateful that the weather had turned out nice. It's 7.7 miles, and Paul and I rode them down. It must have seemed a touching tableau of some happy alternative family, me on my PeeWee Herman bike, Paul on Karla's Wicked Witch of the West bike, and the kids.

Once at school, we ran into Jim. He's an engineer with 3M and had designed and had built (by the 3M Woodworking Club) a trebuchet. It was designed to throw golfballs and eggs, not rocks or diseased ox carcasses, and looked great. Here's Jim with the trebuchet and 40% of his offspring, Lizzie and Mary Clare.

Jim and the girls and the trebouchet

Of course, Paul the engineer and I couldn't keep from hanging around and "helping" for a bit. Jim needed distance markings laid out to measure the throws. The fifth and sixth grades were doing a competition and had previously performed experiments with sling length, release points and projectile weights. Unbeknownst to these kids, Jim had also brought along a carton of eggs to toss at Mr. Foat, the history teacher, who would wear a bunny suit and protect himself with a Viking shield, possibly made of cardboard. Before we left we fired the trebuchet a couple of times. Here a golf ball is getting flung.

Jim fires the trebouchet

We rode home, stopping only at World Cycling Productions, who don't have a bike rack at their building! I guess I'm not entirely surprised; they're big on bike racing videos and clothing and gear, not Practical Cycling. More typical than our two nerdy bikes locked to a No Parking sign down the street was the customer looking at stuff who went out, got in the Mercedes station wagon, and drove off. Anyway, we went home and worked on the Atlantis for a bit. Here it is hanging in the garage:

Atlantis hanging during buildout

The buildout of this frame was pretty straightforward except for the brakes. I was putting Tektro Oryx cantilevers on it and the stupid mounting bolts were too long. I was fretting about this complication when Paul suggested we just cut the darn things off shorter (the bolts, not the brakes!) with a Dremel tool. Here he buzzes away at it in a shower of sparks. The cutoff wheels did cut right through the stainless steel bolts and then they went on properly.

Paul cutting off brake bolt

We rode back down to school to get the kids, leaving the house shortly before the school called to say Geneva had sprained her ankle running the hurdles for Field Day. Fortunately, they got ahold of Karla and church and she got to school about the same time we did. We put Geneva's bike in the trunk and Karla took her home while Paul, Henry and I rode back.

Friday we worked like dogs. There was some bike work in the morning including an obligatory visit to the bike shop, then we reported for duty in downtown Minneapolis for race course setup duty. The Great River Energy Bike Festival/Nature Valley Grand Prix Minneapolis Criterium was to be staged here.

We got issued shirts and vests and spent a sweaty couple of hours setting up tents, tables and fencing. We couldn't block off the roads yet, but instead set up fencing along the streets to be moved out at 6:00 for the 6:45 women's race start. Just as we got done setting up fences it began to rain, and we retreated to a tent to eat Subway sandwiches and then to Starbucks for a coffee for an hour. By 5:45 the rain cleared off and we re-emerged.

The Hennepin County Sheriff had a couple of squads there with bicycles though I never saw them come off the cars.

Hennepin County Sheriff bike squads

Nicollet Mall is not always open to bikes:

No Bikes Sign

We moved out the fencing. This is looking west along Marquette from 11th Street.

Setting up fencing

Some racers began warming up while we were doing this.

Riders warming up

Riders Warming Up

Here are some more. The store in the background is the now-closed downtown Schmitt Music store. The music mural is Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, according to my pianist wife Karla.

Some cyclists stayed on their machines while we worked. This is the Velo Girls team under the skywalk to Orchestra Hall.

Velo Girls warm up

Once the race started, Paul and I were busy working as Course Marshals. My crowd was generally pretty good and only once did I have to guide people back with my flag stick. Paul had some male racer give him crap during the women's race when Paul wouldn't let him cross because there were racers coming. Paul argued with him and wished afterwards he'd taken the guy's number and reported him. Here is Paul watching up-course for racers to appear.

Paul as Course Marshalll

We marshalled both races and then helped tear down, working until nearly 10PM. Between these highly annoying whistles and the clanging metal fencing during teardown, we both suffered bad ringing in the ears and temporary (I hope!) mild hearing loss. Next year I'm bringing earplugs. We went to Whitey's for a pitcher of beer and dinner before going home.

Saturday the race moved to Red Wing and we stayed here. We finished off the Atlantis and it was time for rollout and a test ride. This is a 68cm frame. We went out on the quiet street behind the house and I rode it for the first time. At this point there's no handlebar wrap on it because I want to fiddle with brake lever position. There's also no toe straps on it here. I did briefly stand up to try pushing the 46/11 gear (112 inches!) which is just silly. I am going to have to build a custom cassette to get my gears the way I want them. Anyway, this is my first ride.

Atlantis Rollout

It's funny for me to see this photo. I never see myself on bikes. Keep in mind this Atlantis is a 68cm (27") frame and those are 700C wheels. It seems enormous when I look at it, it looks pretty small when I'm on it. The other weird thing about Saturday is that Paul and I took Henry to a Minnesota Boychoir taping session at a church in downtown Saint Paul. We decided to pop into the Sibley Bike Depot. These guys can be pretty hardcore; a bunch of them helped on the Wednesday teardown and one of them refused even to ride in a car down to the far end of the course; "I don't do cars" he'd stated, matter-of-factly. The weird thing is, the Depot has lots of old bikes for sale and they had two 68cm Schwinn World Sports there! I have only rarely seen a stock 68cm frame for sale anywhere, and here they had two! The World Sport is a decent chro-moly lugged steel frame and Paul has one with an Xtracycle on it. Before converting into the Xtracycle, he'd ridden it on RAGBRAI after riding across the state (of Iowa) to the start point, a 900-mile journey overall. I put my name on the red one with thoughts of an Xtracycle dancing in my mind.

Sunday Saint Luke's sang at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis. Parking can be a problem here, I guess, plus I wasn't sure exactly where it was, so Henry and I tossed our bikes on the Subaru and drove to church, parked in the church lot, and then rode around the lake to the Bandshell. One of the problems with cycling is that people just don't dress properly. Here I am at the Bandshell with my Marin.

What the Well-Dressed Cyclist is Wearning this year

I used that basket on the rear rack throughout the Bike Festival events, it's pretty handy for carrying things around. I may actually add a front rack to the Marin and put the basket on there and leave it.

Anyway, once done with the service, which went great, Henry and I rode back to the church parking lot, put the bikes on the roof rack, and drove home. I changed, took down Henry's bike, and zoomed off to Stillwater. I went in on Highway 12 and traffic was backed up halfway up the hill. I pulled off on a sidestreet, the same street our old goofball Rector lives on, as it happens, and parked the Subaru. I took down the bike and rode down the hill to report for duty.

Bikes are great for what I think of as Terminal Mobility, and today I did it twice. In both cases, I used a car to travel the big distances and bikes to get around once there. Bicycles are terrific for ranging around for a few miles where cars are a pain to deal with and walking is too slow. In Stillwater, I was assigned to the top of the brutal hill climb the Criterium would climb (15 times, I think). It was also where the finish line was.

The women had raced earlier. Paul, already at the top of the hill, saw this race. He had taken his clipless pedals back off Karla's Wicked Witch of the West bike and put them on his Waterford to ride the 25 miles or so out. I got established as well, then a race person came along and asked me to move down the hill a bit to keep the crowds off the course. I didn't get a lot of opportunities to take photos but did get this one of the pack grinding their way up.

Racers Grind up the Stillwater Hill

The crowds get pretty close in these races. This hill is a 20% grade, it was a chore to walk up it. I might be able to ride up in my low low gear, but once would do me just fine, 15 times with a pack snapping at my heels would really hurt. As it happened, a lot of racers also had trouble and got lapped and pulled out of the race.

From the Well-Dressed Cyclist of this morning I looked like this for the afternoon:

Matt in Stillwater

I had volunteered for Course Marshal and Teardown. Once the race was over, I helped at the top of the hill with fencing, tents, banners and scaffolding, then moved down the hill for more fence work. Here is the crew working in downtown Stillwater picking up the white metal fencing.

Course Teardown in Stillwater

This wasn't nearly as noisy as it had been in Minneapolis, but I'm still bringing foam earplugs next year. Once done, Paul and rode down to the Freight House to sit on the deck, have a couple of Coronas each and some nachos. This cost $29! Damn! Next time, we're bringing a six-pack and a bag of Doritos.

We rode up the hill to the car, put the bikes on the roof and drove home.

Monday morning Paul left to head back to Cedar Rapids. We looked at routes south out of the Cities. I don't know that end of town very well from a bicycling perspective and Paul was hoping to ride to Winona, on the Mississippi in southeastern Minnesota, but that was going to be pretty painful with predicted headwinds, possible rain and clearing the Metro area. I offered to drive him to Prescott, Wisconsin, so he wouldn't have to deal with the traffic and we decided that was the way to go.

I got up at 5:30. Paul was already up and about. We put the bike in the truck and went to the Day by Day cafe on West 7th street for breakfast. If you get in before 7:00AM the Early Bird Specials are half-price. We then went down to Prescott, just over the border at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers.

Paul was travelling pretty light:

Paul in Prescott

This is all he had for luggage:

Paul's Luggage

I took the pictures above then Paul, without ceremony, got on and rode off to the south:

Paul Departs Prescott

Paul was heading down Wisconsin State Highway 35, which runs along the east bank of the Mississippi. Anyone in a hurry goes on U.S. Highway 61 on the west bank and there aren't many towns between Prescott and Winona. I haven't heard from him yet but trust that it worked out. Paul's wife Anne emailed Monday night and said he'd made Winona right before the storms. I think he got rained on; we ended up with tornado warnings and severe weather back here.

I drove from Prescott to work, a 50-minute proposition. Coming along Shepard Road in Saint Paul, the orange drum, sandbags and traffic cones from the turnaround for the Wednesday Time Trials were still off the side of the road.

This five-day interlude was a lot of fun. Between the bike races, finishing the Atlantis buildout, riding around town during normal weekdays and lots of drinking beer and talking bicycles, it was like a brief reliving of the carefree days of summers in college. Next year we're going to have to talk a couple of more Bike Buddies into coming up and spending five days on bikes.

Now back to normal life!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Saint Paul Time Trials

I took today off to volunteer at the Great River Energy Bike Festival which kicks off with the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a set of five bike races. I was scheduled to work 12:30 to 3:00, my biking buddy Paul from 5:00 to 9:00.

It was cloudy and humid out, after-effects of a storm front which moved through at 4:00 in the morning overnight. We decided to go down and watch the Pro Racing, which started at 11:00, and spent a bit of time fiddling with bikes. Paul rode my wife's Trek 700, an unfashionable and fairly old women's-framed bike with fenders, rack, bell and a front basket. He did switch his clipless pedals to the bike.

Off we rode. We got downtown a little after 11:00. We were up on the high bits above the river and so stopped on the Wabasha Street bridge, where I took this photo:

A Time Trial racer along the Mississippi

I like this photo, the cyclist looks so insignificant in comparison to the size of the barge tow going upriver, the train tracks, cars, etc. A lot of transportation stuff comes together in downtown Saint Paul, there's even an airport in the distance.

The Time Trial race is a timed race. Each racer gets sent off by themselves and their run is timed. This one was nearly five miles, out and back on this road along the river. Here one of the women racers is in the start box. My buddy Paul later noted that the very serious-looking official on the right had great legs. I hadn't noticed at the time.

Woman Racer in the Start Box

The timer counts down, the girl with the nice legs shows three, then two, then one finger, and off the racer goes. They went tearing off east along the river and under the old railway bridge. Here a cyclist goes under as a coal train rumbles overhead.

Racer goes under railway bridge

The river is flowing east at this point, but then turns southwards again. The road follows it and that's where the time trial went. There was a motorcycle camera crew covering some of the racers; I don't know enough about racing to know who is good and who is peloton fodder, but apparently this guy merited interest.

Racer outbound on time trial with camera cycle

The cyclists had to turn around an orange traffic cone thing at the far end of the course, then race back to the finish line, right by where they started. Here a cyclist approaches the turnaround.

Racer approaches turnaround

The racers are timed on this so they are racing against the clock. Still, they are sent off every thirty seconds and it is possible for a fast cyclist to overtake the one sent out ahead of them. I don't know if this photo shows an overtake that just happened or one that is about to happen, but one of these guys is going to be bummed out. I suggested to my buddy Paul that if you were really fast it would be kind of demoralizing to have a little brass bell on your handlebars like my wife does (and I do) and give slower riders a friendly little "ding ding" as you kicked their ass.

Time trial overtake

These guys ride really fast.

Racer Hauling Ass

I didn't actually take any photos at the finish line.

The event was slightly odd, different from the Minneapolis Criteriums I've volunteered at in the past. This was due to this being the middle of the day on a weekday and also from the lack of pedestrian traffic down along the river. Most of downtown Saint Paul is up the hill, and I don't think there were many office workers who just wondered down over lunch. The Minneapolis Criterium, held on a Friday evening, is a different kettle of fish, tons of people, lots of traffic, and a jolly crowd in the after-work, had-a-couple mode.

Bike Racing is not very Practical, but it is kind of fun. We seemed to be the only volunteers who showed up on bikes and they were perfect, allowing us to range up and down the whole course (hence all these photos) at will, checking on stuff and delivering water to volunteers. There were more volunteers during the early afternoon shift than were really needed to cover the limited pedestrian crossings, so our roles were pretty ill-defined. Once the race was over, Paul and I hung around and helped tear down the tents, etc. We ate a tasty dinner 4:30-ish at the Eagle Street Bar and Grill (again, the bikes made getting there very easy while traffic was all jammed up and it would be a bit of a walk), then Paul went back to work the 5-9 shift while I went home and on to choir rehearsal. We all finally pulled in just after 9:00, pooped. Time for a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Big Miles

Not by me, of course. My buddy Paul rode up from Cedar Rapids to spend a few days here volunteering at the Great River Energy Bike Festival. I'm taking the rest of the week off to do this as well. It oughta be fun.

Paul rode here today from Cresco, Iowa, about 165 miles away. I didn't get home from work until 7:30 or so, and he'd just arrived. He rode a Waterford 1200 he'd had made for him many years ago. This bike doesn't have dropout eyelets, so, no room for a rack and panniers. Instead, he put on one of those seatpost-clamp racks with a rack bag and mailed his stuff up here. He said one bag, a fast bike and a credit card make for an easy way to tour.

We're both working the Saint Paul time trials tomorrow. There are supposed to be thunderstorms early. Pro racing is from 11:00 - 2:30, and I'm on the 12:30 to 3:00 shift. I'm not racing, of course, I'm in either Expo Operations or am a Course Marshall. Come see us!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Suburban Sales Down

There's an brief article in today's Wall Street Journal saying that GM's SUV sales were down in the month of May. GM's overall sales were down 12% for the month; sales of the Suburban were down 15%, those of the Yukon 23% and sales of the Cadillac Escalade were down 41%. GM has big inventories of these vehicles and is now offering discounts to the general public like those offered to employees to try and move these vehicles. One local dealer is even giving away a free car (a Chevy Aveo, starting at $9,995) with the purchase of a new Suburban. Maybe you can toss it in back. Separately, GM's debt ratings were reduced to junk status during May. Also, they lost either $1.1 or $1.3 billion in the first quarter, I've read both figures.

What's this got to do with bicycles? Part of the reason I like Practical Cycling and am trying to incorporate it more into my daily routine is to do my little bit to reduce oil consumption. As a country, our oil consumption has climbed in recent years in part because of a reduction in the aggregate fleet fuel efficiency since the 1980s. Part of this has been driven by the big popularity of SUVs since the mid-1990s. This popularity has been helped by cheap gasoline.

A recent survey on the Oil Industry in the The Economist magazine made the point that the oil producing nations learned in the 1980s that if you raise the price of oil too much, the countries that get hurt the worst aren't the industrialized consuming nations of the West, who adjust consumption patterns and efficiencies to adapt as we did in the late 1970s/early 1980s, but the producing nations, who saw oil prices collapse in the mid 1980s and stay low for the following fifteen years, resulting in a dramatic drop in revenues for countries with burgeoning populations and little other productive outlet. The trick for the oil producers is to try and hit a price point that extracts maximum revenue from the customers without driving them to consider alternative fuel or technologies. (actually, this is the trick for a lot of businesses)

Cheap gas (at least in the U.S., where gasoline is not heavily taxed as it is in Europe) has eased the need to increase fuel efficiency and encouraged a fairly profligate use of fuel. SUVs exemplify this, big, heavy, low-tech vehicles with lousy mileage. The auto companies love these things, as they're cheap to produce, have commanded premium prices and are exempt from many of the safety and efficiency regulations imposed on passenger automobiles.

The oil markets are complex, nobody has the ability to manipulate them completely, and for a variety of reasons (increased overseas demand, terrorism premiums, refinining capacities) prices have increased to a point where some people are beginning to make adjustments to consumption patterns. For me, it was riding my bicycle to the grocery store this morning to buy milk, bread, muffins and strawberries; for 88,000 people in the last year and a half, it has been buying Toyota Priuses (Priii?); for a lot of people, it is apparently not buying SUVs. Hence GM's sales problems.

Is this the dawn of a New Age? Hard to say. Cars aren't going away. The Saudis could open the spigots and drive the price of oil down again to discourage structural adjustments that would reduce demand. When gas costs $2.20 a gallon, it seems really expensive (and you can argue until you're blue in the face that it is still cheaper in real terms than it was in 1981, but $2.20 now still feels more expensive than $1.50 24 years ago) but if the price moderates to $1.89 maybe that doesn't feel so bad anymore, Prius sales ease, Suburban sales pick up and we're back to increasing demand and effective maximization of revenue by the oil producing nations. GM is apparently betting on this, introducing new upgraded models of the Suburban and Yukon next year.

This makes me sad. I wish that the domestic auto makers had some appealing technology to offer, I wish it wasn't just Toyota and Honda with the hybrid vehicles for sales, vehicles which, by the way, have six-month waiting lists and sell above list prices. I know, I know, Ford has the Escape hybrid, but guess what? They had to license the drivetrain technology from Toyota. I also worry about the long-term impact of the weakness of the domestic auto producers. We have just seen United Airlines dump its pension obligations on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; other airlines must see this as a savvy move, a way to escape having to fund their employee pensions. GM and Ford have huge pension and retiree medical benefit liabilities that put them at a cost disadvantage to foreign competitors. You don't think we (as in the PBGC) will own those pensions before too long? You don't think it will be very tempting for these firms to declare bankruptcy to escape retiree medical benefit obligations?

Like I said, cars aren't going away. I'm keeping mine, for one. But there's no reason that cars can't get more efficient and that bicycles can't supplant some car trips. It's this last bit that this blog is really about; it's not bike touring, which I enjoy but don't have the time for at this stage of life; it's not bike racing, which I think is a great spectator sport but which I've never had a prayer of being a competitive participant in; rather, it's the half-mile jaunt to the grocery store or the five-mile run to work, a ride to the local bar, a run to the library. This summer, with only one church service, I hope it's the 13-mile run to church. These trips add up and they constitute a major percentage of auto trips taken. I'm trying to substitute the bike for the car for some of mine, and that's what I'll be writing about.