Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lost Month

March draws to a close and I have hardly ridden my bikes. Events have intervened. The summary version is that my father, who lives alone in Des Moines, hurt his back in early March which, when added to the unsteadiness he already has from his Parkinson's disease, left him largely unable to look after himself. A sister of mine from Kentucky happened to be there for a week but was concerned about leaving him alone and asked me to come down and see him, so I did the weekend starting Friday 3/10. It became apparent by Sunday morning that I couldn't just leave him alone and I called an old friend (and cyclist!) of mine who's a psychiatrist (and therefore also an MD) and he came over. He said this isn't getting resolved until his back's looked after, let's take him to the ER and get it evaluated. Dad was in hospital until Thursday and had to go to assisted living, at least until his back improves, and chose a place in Bellevue, Iowa, near Dubuque and another sister, where he hopes to move into a senior apartment. I took him home Thursday morning, threw a party for him in his house of 39 years, and on Friday took him to Bellevue, returning to Saint Paul late Saturday.

In the meantime, the same afternoon I was hosting an Open House and having all his friends over to say Hi before he left, my mother in law, who also lives alone in Des Moines, was found in her house, having collapsed and lay for 30 hours before being found. She was rushed to hospital and I managed a couple of quick visits while neighbors tended to Dad before I left to take him to Bellevue. So, Sunday, after playing the morning services, Karla headed to Des Moines and left me a single parent for the week, a large amount of work even when you don't come down with a nasty cold, which I did.

There are side stories to all this. I'd previously whined about having to drop $1,600 to fix my Ford Ranger's differential. Well, while in Des Moines tending to my Dad, the truck acted up again, shaking badly. I won't go into all the gory details, but I ended up leaving it to get fixed under Ford's parts warranty and taking Dad's Mercury Sable to Bellevue and Saint Paul. So, last weekend, with my truck and wife in Des Moines, I found someone to take the kids and took Greyhound to Des Moines Friday to get the truck Saturday. I got it, no charge, and spent several hours at Dad's packing up things. I wouldn't say Dad's an extraordinary man, but he's certainly an interesting one, and old photo albums in particular are cool, photos from his service in the Royal Navy in World War II aboard the HMS Vengeance (aircraft carrier) and in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and photos from a month-long trip around Spain in 1953 with three others in a 1927 Humber (car) with sleeping bags lashed to the running boards. Anyway, Sunday the truck acted up again, shaking badly in back. With the original repair the guys had said I needed new tires, so I dropped $400 and got that done, but it still shook, so I left it at the dealer again and came home with Karla.

The dealer managed to replicate the shaking, which was intermittent, and it's a bad carrier bearing, something in the middle of the two-piece driveshaft, $250 to repair, so I authorized it and expect tomorrow to head out on Greyhound to Des Moines again to collect my truck, visit my mother in law and bring back all the stuff I packed up last weekend.

There are other wrinkles in this; you know that snow you guys got on Monday 3/13 and Thursday 3/16? I was in Des Moines for those and missed them and poor Karla, when she tried to start the snowblower, found it spewing gasoline on the floor and had to hire in a snowplow guy who, with our serpentine driveway, managed to rip up some grass, for which he didn't charge any extra. Then Karla goes to Des Moines and gets caught in their snow and her Mom's shower won't turn off and she has to run dripping around the basement to find the main water shutoff and then hire in a plumber to fix that. While I was at Dad's and he was in hospital, and electrical fault knocked out half his house's electricity, then when I came home to Saint Paul, one morning when I flushed the toilet, filthy water rose in the bathtub. Not content to spend all this money fixing my damn truck, I also laid out over $300 to put two new tires on Dad's car, get it aligned and have the headlights reaimed.

Not that I'm whining. There is a certain refreshing clarity to decision making and priorities when all this kind of stuff happens and it has forced some major decisions that had to be made anyway. It's annoying to have to layer in plumbing, electrical, snowblower and car problems all on top of the health issues of the surviving parents (I forgot to mention that my sister's mother in law suffered from ill-health the week I was in Des Moines and had to be rushed to hospital Tuesday evening and then got a pacemaker installed Wednesday, which didn't directly affect me of course but did make for the trifecta among the surviving parents) and of course the routine of the kids' lives continues apace while at church, Karla's job, Holy Week and Easter loom, but you cope with a certain ruthless intensity with the problems as they arise.

With all this, I've hardly ridden. Coming into March I was still in long-undies and studded tires mode; now, as soon as I am able, Sunday, probably, I'll switch out the knobby studded Nokians on my Marin for the usual burly smooth tires. I also haven't had the Atlantis out in months, preferring not to ride it in the salty slop of a Minnesota winter, but shortly I'll be back on that bike with cleated shoes and high-pressure tires. Whatever low level of fitness I managed to maintain with my meagre miles in January and February has probably been squandered in the last month of fast food on the run, single parenthood, driving and sickness. Still, spring is upon us, it was actually raining this morning which corrodes away the remaining snow very quickly and makes a start on cleaning the streets, and the regular cycling season is about to commence. It is likely I'll end up in Des Moines and Bellevue pretty frequently the next few months, that my weekends in particular won't be fully my own until later in the summer, but I'll grab what cycling opportunities I can.

In the near term, I have some wheels to build. I have a Shimano dynamo front hub and a 1967 Sturmey-Archer 3 speed rear and a Shimano Nexus 8-speed rear that all need to turn into wheels. The 3-speed I intend to use on the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour in May. One minor benefit of the running around is that on the way back from Bellevue on 3/18 I managed to pick up a $20 Lands End 46 Tall blazer at one of the Bargain Nooks, perfect wear for the 3ST, and then stopped at Wabasha to check out the Hotel & RV Park where I have a reservation. I've been unable to find an actual English 3-speed in anything approaching a large-enough bike so am instead going to 3-speed the 68cm Schwinn World Sport I bought on a whim last summer and ride that although I am likely to get a lot of crap from the actual English-bike riders. Once the 3ST is over, I'll pop in the Nexus 8-speed hub instead.

Anyway, for all those multitudes clamouring for more blog entries from me (hi Bob!), this is why I've been so quiet most of March. Choir rehearsal was last night but I didn't go, the residual effects of my cold making my throat very tender, so didn't get in that ride, which has been a common one for me through the winter. I haven't commuted to work yet this season, but that ought to start soon. I have some thrilling news about a rear basket for my bike which I'm sure will enchant all (you can take votes to decide whether my basket or my kickstand is dorkier) but it'll have to wait a few days. Once this next weekend is over, life ought to become more normal once again. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More Handmade Bikes

The Cycling News has posted its photos from Day 3 of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show which was held in San Jose last weekend. The text of the article discusses how steel is making something of a resurgence fueled in part by the tubing manufacturers' innovations. Reynolds has their air-hardened 853 tube set and the new 953 tube set which is a stainless steel alloy, light and strong, rustproof and not even requiring painting. True Temper has a new light, strong S3 steel tube set available and Columbus has theirs, called Spirit. There are other materials in evidence, of course, including my favorite of the day, a titanium single-speed road bike with (if I read this right) titanium S and S Machine torque couplings, apparently designed for the heretofore underserved wealthy weight-conscious world-travelling bike messenger market. There are carbon/titanium and carbon/steel frame mixes, more cool lugs, nifty brazing jobs and innovative disc brake mounts. No more titanium streamlined bike baskets, sadly. In a lot of ways, these bikes are like the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the bike world, flashy and sexy (although no matter how flashy your bicycle, it's unlikely to attract bimbos like a Ferrari, if that's your goal) but I don't know if I'd ride one to work and leave it in the bike rack all day. Still, it's fun to see what's happening on the outer edges of materials, techniques and craftsmanship.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Eat Your Veggies. Lots of 'em!

I took another crack at Sunrise Cyclery this weekend. Karla and I were down at church crawling around the organ room, which oddly enough is up in our tower. This church's pipe organ is a tempermental thing and has taken to randomly ceasing to function. Karla, an accomplished classical pianist, just switches over to the piano, but it's still annoying, and we were poking around trying unsuccessfully to figure out why the thing just stops. Anyway, when we got done, we drove by Sunrise Cyclery and...they were closed! Down at the Bike Expo! Oh well.

I had no interest in the Bike Expo, but there was a show on in San Jose this past weekend called the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and it looked really fun. Many custom frame builders were there showing off their wares and they're showing not just boring old nicely done frames but ones done with fetishistic details, exoticully cut lugs, fabulously detailed paint jobs and some wacky ideas. I like the stainless steel bike (Reynolds is now doing a stainless steel tube set) and the Bruce Gordon streamlined titanium basket, which is silly on many levels (e.g., the streamlining is pointless since the mesh doesn't offer much air resistance to start with and it serves the additional function of wildly limiting the basket's utility, but here I am debating the utilitarian merits of a titanium bicycle basket involving 500 separate welds but apparently unable to hold a gallon of milk, so it's at least attention-getting!). None of these guys look like those bloated bearded bellowing buffoons who do the American Chopper motorcycle shows, but I think otherwise this is the bicycle equivalent, where skilled craftsmen (are there any female framebuilders? perhaps, but none spring to mind) show off their skill. You can read the reports from Day One and Day Two. Click on the photos, you'll get a bigger version, then just keep going "Next" and work your way through the show. Then you can go out to the garage and look at that shabby piece of crap you ride and feel cheap and ashamed.

In somewhat less-exciting news, it appears that the nutrient quality of our mass-produced fruits and vegetables has declined since the mid 20th century. There's less calcium, riboflavins, protein, Vitamin C, phosphorus and iron than there used to be. Here's the abstract for a report called "Trends in the Nutrient and Antioxidant Content of Common Foods" by Donald R. Davis of the Universityof Texas at Austin & Bio-Communicaions Research Institute of Wichita, Kansas.

For over 25 years agronomists have known that yield-enhancing methods such as fertilization and irrigation may decrease the concentration of some nutrients in food crops. They call the phenomenon “the dilution effect.” Emerging evidence shows that genetic enhancements of yield also can dilute nutrient concentrations. High-yield crops grow bigger or faster, but are not necessarily able to make or uptake sufficient nutrients to maintain their nutritional value. Recent studies of vegetables, fruits and wheat find median declines since the mid-20th century of about 5% to 35% in concentrations of some vitamins, minerals and protein. Possible reversal of dilution effects, while maintaining yield levels, is an important research goal that would have great benefits to both consumers and farmers.

Other changes in agriculture during the last half-century include widespread use of pesticides, plant growth regulators, and highly soluble sources of plant nutrients, along with decreased use of humus-containing fertilizers. Recent studies have tested the effects on antioxidant levels of reversing these changes. They show that several organic growing methods can increase the broad antioxidant content of produce, as measured by ORAC scores and other measures. These practices include avoiding synthetic pesticides and using compost, cover crops and slow-release nitrogen sources. On average, antioxidant levels increased by about 30% in carefully designed comparative trials. Thus, organically grown produce offers significantly enhanced health-promoting qualities, contributing to the achievement of important national public health goals.
Here's the UT Press Release. Note that they didn't opine on a number of trace elements and nutrients because they weren't tested for in 1950. Anyway, you'd better eat up to 40% more fruits and veggies to make up for the nutritional deficiencies of our modern wonder-foods! Me, I think I may plant a vegetable garden this spring.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Late February

Sunday I tried something different, taking the bike to church on the car and then leaving after the early service. This worked out very nicely, with me changing into warm clothing and heading out. I overdressed; it had been 16 out when we'd left for church and I dressed for it, but in the interim it had warmed up, so that when I got home by 2:30 it was 34 outside. I eventually stopped and took off my sweater and admired the view.
Minnehaha Falls frozen  February 2006
The Minnehaha Falls, shortly before the Minnehaha Creek enters the Mississippi in Minneapolis, are an attractive feature nicely set in a lovely park. I hadn't been by this winter, having taken more direct routes home, but I was trying something different this time. The ice of the falls looked very dramatic, and there were some visitors down on the frozen creek surface taking photos. You can see one of the guys in the photo, giving you a sense of the scale.

Having removed my commando sweater, I rode on, crossing the river on the Ford Street bridge. The Mississippi is largely open; one week it looked well-frozen over, the next it was clear. I think the ice must float off downstream. Within a month the river will be open for navigation again, but for the moment there are still areas with lots of ice.
Ice on the Mississippi with Buoy February 2006
Here you can see a navigation buoy in the ice on the river just above Lock and Dam Number 1.
Marin Bicycle on Ford Bridge  February 2006
Here's the Marin parked on the Bridge. There's nothing remarkable here, I just liked the pattern of the shadows.

I rode on across and worked my way up to Raymond Street. There was a Swap Meet going on but, in my typical fashion, I had only a vague idea of where it was. I got on Raymond and rode by a parking lot full of cars with bike racks. Aha! This must be it! I parked the bike, paid my five bucks, and went in.

Almost immediately I ran into Jim and Kevin from Hiawatha Cyclery who recognized me from a couple of brief encounters last summer. I admired their stuff, took one of the excellent Atlantis brochures, and took a look at a 68cm Eisentraut frame Kevin had bought. A friend of mine in Saint Louis rides an Eisentraut he got in about 1978 I think.

The meet was probably great for the total equipment freaks. Here's what I wrote a friend of mine:

There was a Mavic crankset which looked very sleek but where the large chainring was a part of the crank forging, so it could never be changed. This seems an odd design decision although on the other hand I hardly ever ride the big chainrings and have never ever worn one out. There was a Bridgestone XO-1 there, not a pretty bike, but I thought maybe they should have a kneeling cushion and some prayer candles and incense in front of it so we could all worship ("Our Grant, who art in Walnut Creek, Moustache be thy bars"). The Hiawatha Cycle guys were there and had a really nice Atlantis brochure, one of which I took. It's so nice I want to buy another one! There was a photo on back of the 47cm (I think, the smallest one anyway) and the 68cm frames side by side, aligned at the bottom bracket. They had a normal-sized built-out Atlantis there (and a Ramboooeelay) and the measured the downtube diameter which was 1.25". I used a tape on mine, not calipers, too lazy to go inside, but am pretty sure it is 1.625". Jim (Oil is for Sissies, one of the Hiawatha guys) said they thought about carrying Pashleys but figured it might be too expensive and take a lot of explanation to sell them. He thought they'd be $1,300 but this seems high to me, they go for 460 pounds in the UK, maybe $825, and I figured it would run a couple of hundred to ship here, but maybe you'd get VAT back, so just assumed a Roadster Sovereign would cost me $1,000 delivered, maybe a bit more if I bought a spare tube and tire or two. There were a bunch of bikes and components that I'm pretty sure are extremely lustworthy to small subsets of the cycling community but of which I know nothing. There was a framebuilder (Chris Kvale, who is well thought of) selling framebuildng jigs. He has a little store I ride past on the way to/from church on my normal route and is closing the store; maybe he's stopping making frames too. And there were many way cool people, old Steel Framers like ourselves (not cool), tattooed singlespeeders, in-the-know racers, etc. Also some cute babes. I impressed this lot by, as I left, riding off the curb and having my pannier fall off.

I didn't buy anything. I did get something off eBay in the mail today, a 46-tooth Biopace chainring I want to try on my Schwinn World Sport with a Nexus 8-speed hub. I'm gathering the parts to do this, the Biopace is just the next item. It is kind of hilarious, it looks like a manufacturing mistake or maybe the detritus of some hideous accident.

I did ride home and my pannier fell off twice more. This is truly annoying. It is a pretty nice pannier, a very useful model no longer made, but it has the traditional U hooks (think an upside-down U) and an elastic bit that hooks on the rack bottoms. When you go fast, or over curbs in front of cute 21-year-olds, it bounces off. It ought not to be that hard to make hooks that lock on the rack, that hang on no matter what, and I may try and chase down an Ortlieb or Carradice set of clamps and graft onto this pannier to stop this.

Riding home was pretty fast. I thought maybe this was the awesome power of my magnificent legs but eventually noticed that the flags were snapping pretty well and I had a good tailwind. Still, it felt nice.

In other news, further details have come out about President George Bush's bicycle crash last summer at the G8 summit in Scotland. Apparently he came riding quickly by a group of policemen and tried to wave as he rode by and crashed, sliding for 5 metres and hitting a policeman hard enough that he was off work for 14 weeks. You can read about it in the New Zealand Herald. Sadly, the remarkably restrained Al Jazeera article seems to have gone. Oh well. As you may recall, the seriousness of this accident was minimized at the time. President Bush is going to end up clumsier than President Ford; he chokes into unconsciousness on a pretzel, falls off a Segway, crashs his bike in Texas and again in Scotland. With his lawyer-shootin' Vice President, it's like Laurel and Hardy leading us.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a report about actual charges being filed against a bus driver who attempted (er, allegedly attempted) to run a cyclist off the road, then ran over his $5,000 bicycle. The charges are for assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism and reckless driving. Man, wouldn't it be gratifying it that happened a little more often!

Speaking of bikes'n'crime, the Washington Post is reporting that a punk bank sticker on a bike cause a big bomb scare in Ohio:

ATHENS, Ohio -- A sticker on a bicycle that said "this bike is a pipe bomb" caused a scare Thursday at Ohio University that shut down four buildings before authorities learned the message was the name of a punk rock band, a university spokesman said.

The sticker on the bike chained outside the university-owned Oasis restaurant near the center of campus attracted the attention of a police officer about 5:30 a.m., spokesman Jack Jeffery said.

Police blocked streets around the restaurant and the Columbus police bomb squad came from about 65 miles away.

The bomb experts hit the bike with a high-pressure spray of water, then pried it apart with a hydraulic device normally used to rescue accident victims trapped in cars, acting Athens Fire Chief Ken Gilbraith said. Once they had it open, they saw there was no bomb.

The article goes on a bit; the area was declared safe, the bike owner was questioned and released, the punk band's label has no phone number. No mention if he gets paid for the bike.

Can you imagine coming out to get your bike and there is a pack of cops ripping it apart with a hydraulic device? Maybe he'd better stick with I Wish My Girlfriend Was As Dirty As My Bike stickers.