Monday, December 21, 2009

Trice on Ice

I've heard a lot about trikes being fun to ride on ice and snow. I've seen blog posts from a guy in Minneapolis who commutes year round on his, with a studded rear tire for the winter. I was wishing for some snow to try mine out in. A few weeks ago we had a little snow that melted off the paved surfaces almost immediately. I felt disappointed. Last weekend we had the largest snowfall I have ever seen in 22 years of living in this area, and reportedly the third largest in this area since records have been kept. In my neighborhood, it was up to two feet deep, though the actual amount that fell was probably less, as there was a lot of wind, producing snowdrifts. This seemed to be in the category of being careful what you wish for. I only wished for a little snow. Next I'm wishing for only a little money.

Anyway, even before I started to dig my car out, I had the Trice out of the garage. There was a snow dam about 18" high and wide in front of the garage door--the snowplow passing through the parking lot having taken out the rest. I lifted the trike over that and placed it in the plowed area. As this was only about a car wide, I had to move the trike to allow cars to pass. I sat down and began to pedal. What I found was that on an icy surface or in thin snow or slush, it would get traction and move. More than a couple of inches, and the wheel would just spin. With the standard Schwalbe Marathon Racer tire on the back, this was about what I expected. I would need a treadier tire if I did this regularly. Also, Trice recommends moving the seat toward the rear to increase the weight over the back tire for riding off-road and this would be much the same. However, I was riding back and forth in the plowed section. When it slid sideways, it was easy to correct and added to the fun. The Trice Q series have only a 3.2" ground clearance, and the rear derailleur on any 20"-wheel Trice is very close to the ground, so I got stuck in the unplowed snow.

I made my way from the parking lot around to the street. Bad idea. There was only one plowed lane and it was full of moving cars. There was no way to reverse course to get out of there. It was forward or nothing. I continued around the block and found that the side street was even worse. It was covered in enough slush to bog down in, and there were enough cars trying to use it that I had to stand up and move the trike out of their way several times. I was able to ride it short distances, then it would get stuck and before I could get moving again, along would come another car. I walked along pushing it through the worst, then was able to ride the last part and into the lot again. If I had some momentum, I could blast through places where I would not have been able to start from stopped.

After a couple more passes up and down the parking lot, I considered my point proved and put the Trice away. If I were going to ride in snowy conditions regularly, I might perhaps want a Trice T 26 for its higher clearance, with some knobby or studded tires on it. However, the QNT proved that it could be ridden on moderate surfaces, and in conditions where I would be a lot less confident on a bicycle, and it was a lot of fun to ride. I plan to do this again, preferably in better locations to do it in than one full of motorized traffic.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yes, I do get to commute on it occasionally

Last Monday it was six months since the bicycling accident in which I broke my elbow while attempting to ride to my office (June 14, 2009). The following day, December 15, I rode my Trice recumbent trike to the office. It was actually the second time I had ridden the trike to the office, having completed a full round trip on September 16. I don't often ride to the office, because in my business I usually have to be prepared to go out and show houses and I need to have a car with me. On this most recent occasion I was actually retrieving a car I had left at the office. I had been playing musical cars getting them into and out of the tire store before Thanksgiving, and had left the Volvo 240 wagon at the office for about a week. This meant that if I did get one of those emergency calls, I could drive there. I had a change of clothes with me and I was able to look presentable for our semi-monthly sales meeting. Tuesday was a good day to ride in because on the day of sales meetings we always have breakfast there. Plus I have to admit it was fun to show the Trice off to my colleagues.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Tweed Ride, A Personal View

The major and minor media having reported in, now it’s my turn. Sunday morning I was up very early to make sure the Roadster was ready. I adjusted the brakes, replaced the broken wire from the dynamo to the headlamp, and went for a test ride. A cacophony of noises rent the air. Roadsters are noisy anyway, but this was worse than before. The crank rubbed against the gear case. The gear case acted as a resonator to amplify every creak and chain rattle. I did what I could with the gear case and figured I would have to live with it. It would be like having loud pipes on a motorcycle. Most important, I found I could ride it with an acceptable level of elbow pain. This would be my first ride on an upright bicycle since the bike accident in June in which I had broken my elbow, and I was concerned about it. Given the condition of the bike and my arm, I chose to minimize the amount of riding to the event itself. I put the bike in my Volvo 240 wagon and drove it to a parking spot near a Metro station. That way, if the bike broke down or my arm started to hurt excessively, I could count on getting home. I have rarely taken bikes on Metro and finding the right elevators took some additional time. What with making sure the bike was ready and taking Metro on a Sunday, it was 12:30 when I reached the starting point for an event which had been scheduled to start at 11. Fortunately, I had seen a message from the organizer Eric that due to the large turnout, it would be run in groups over several hours. I arrived just as a group was leaving, registered, talked with people, took some pictures and had my picture taken, and was in what turned out to be the last group to go. Eric asked for leaders and I ended up as one of them, but I let my co-leader, who had done this sort of thing before, do most of the navigating. I found that the Roadster, which is not exactly a thing of blinding speed, was nevertheless so high-geared that even pedaling very slowly and coasting a lot, I kept getting out in front. At one point, not being used to riding in a group, I failed to notice I was crowding a lady behind me toward the curb, but did manage not to run her into it. Eventually I dropped back into the pack for a while. The ride was fun. The roadster’s loud bell received many compliments. The weather was really a bit warm for tweed, the best day we’d had in some time. We got a lot of attention and even some cheers from people along the way. At one point, a lady riding behind me commented on the noises my bike made. “When you changed gears, it sounded like your chain was falling off!” she said. I told her that the noises are what holds the bike together. I’ve gotten used to the many distinctive sounds that roadsters make. Actually I was pleased that the noise level was a lot less than it had been during my morning test ride. Inexplicably, the crank arm wasn’t rubbing on the gear case any more. I was having a great time and it was the perfect bike for the occasion. Roadsters are a hoot and a half. I can’t help grinning while I ride it. On arrival at Marvin, the venue for the post-ride party, we found that several hundred people had preceded us. The bike racks provided by WABA for the occasion were already full. Three of us locked our bikes together instead. I was so intrigued by the bikes parked outside that I did not get indoors where the party was for some time. The main party was on the upstairs deck. It was jam-packed. At the far end was some free food, if you could get there. Eventually I did. It was English muffins, eggs, grits, and English-style (meaning not cooked to a crisp) bacon—just the way I prefer it. The remainder of the day was spent in conversations, meeting new people, sampling Belgian ale and generally enjoying myself. I stayed longer than I thought I would have, and was glad I had made sure I had working lights for the return trip. I had also found that while my recumbent trike riding had maintained my stamina, I was no longer acclimated to a saddle after five months not riding an upright bike. This, however, did not become noticeable until the ride home. I enjoyed riding with a group (nearly all of my decades of cycling has been solo). I liked seeing the variety of bicycles and costumes. I especially enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie, that we were all in on something remarkable. I made some new friends and saw a few people I knew. Earlier in the day, one of the participants had been hit by a bus while riding to the start—fortunately she was not seriously injured and able to continue. At the end of the day, as I was getting ready to leave, I found out that a bike had been stolen from one of the participants. Because the racks were full, she had parked it separately from the main group, locked to a fence around the corner, where it was out of sight and easier to steal. It was perhaps inevitable that so large a food supply would attract predators and scavengers. Still, it was one of those things that takes a bit of the bloom off an otherwise perfect day. It’s a reminder that cyclists can never relax their vigilance for traffic hazards or theft. Those are the thorns on the rose. For some people, they are reasons not to ride. For others, they are occupational hazards that will not prevent them from enjoying the benefits. The rose smells sweet and looks pretty even with its thorns. Congratulations to Eric and his cohorts for a successful event, and I look forward to more great things from the Dandies and Quaintrelles.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Installing a Gear Case, or Is All This Work Really Necessary? A Pre-Tweed Ride Anticipation

When I heard about the Tweed Ride, I thought I might even find the time to swap the roadster's chainguard for a gear case I had acquired (from Yellow Jersey) but never installed. Gear cases, which completely enclose the chain (keeping it and the rider's clothes clean), were a normal feature of utility bicycles for many years. However, Raleigh often imported roadsters to the USA with a hockey-stick chainguard instead. According to Sheldon Brown, this was to avoid import duty on bicycles weighing more than 40 pounds! Supposedly that small difference in weight was just enough to put a roadster over the limit. Chainguards are also easier to install (especially if the bicycle was shipped partly assembled, as is usual) and easier to work around and keep clear of the chain. I've been debating whether to go to the bother of changing it since I got the bike in 2008. However, the Tweed Ride provided sufficient inspiration. I wanted to ride in nice clothes and keep them nice. This was exactly why bikes like this had gear cases. So on Saturday afternoon, I started to install it. My garage is so full at the moment that I usually work on bikes outside, so I needed good weather and daylight. It had rained all week until Saturday. It was now or never. I looked at the bike and considered that I could just as easily leave it as it was, and avoid the risk of having it not be ready for the ride. Then I started on it. I could always bail out and put the chainguard back on it if I had to. The first part was easy—remove the old chain guard. Next, remove the right side crank. This is an old-style steel cottered crank and normally something of a pain to take apart. Fortunately I had bought a crank cotter press from Bikesmith Design and Fabrication. This worked so well that I was able to reuse the same cotter instead of having to use a new one, as is usually the case—the cotter threads are usually destroyed in removing it. As new cotters that fit properly can be somewhat hard to get, I appreciated being able to save my spare ones. By the way, it’s a cotter, not a cotter pin. Cotter pins are those split pins used with a drilled bolt and castellated nut, to hold the nut in place, commonly used before the advent of nylon-insert locknuts. I considered taking the whole crank apart so I could check the bearings inside, but as everything seemed to work properly when I spun the crank axle, I left it alone. For many years, roadster bikes had an oil fitting on the bottom bracket, but mine, made in 1971, no longer had this. These bikes were made to be liberally oiled, and not much other maintenance was required. Mine does have the oil fitting on the front hub, thank goodness. “They like oil,” as the guy at Yellow Jersey told me. The next part was putting the main body of the case on. Raleigh provided mounting holes on the roadster frames for their gear cases. This one was a Chinese copy of a Raleigh case (after installation, I blacked over the name), pretty well made, but using two clamp-on brackets instead. Halfway through this part, I realized I would have to take the back wheel off for working room around the chain stay. This is something of a process, so I had avoided it. It took some trial fitting to get the case to clear the crank, and I had to bend the brackets a little. Too far right, and the chainwheel rubbed on the inside. Too far left, and the crank arm rubbed on the outside. Finally it was in place. Next, the chain has to go back on. The trick is to push it from the hub end, along the top of the gear case, until it catches on the chainwheel, and then turn the crank, pull the chain over and around until it can be pushed back toward the hub on the lower side of the case. At this point I had one end of the chain on the sprocket and the other just out of reach inside the gear case. I used a wire hook to reach in and pull the chain back and around the sprocket so I could put the connecting link in. I only dropped it twice. This description makes it sound easier than it was. I was already thinking that perhaps it had been a mistake not to leave the chainguard the way it was. By this time it had gotten dark and was getting colder. The temperature drops fast on these autumn evenings. I used my helmet light and pulled one of my clamp-on work lights out on a long cord. I just wanted to get the thing together enough to put everything back in the garage for the night. I could finish it in the morning. I got it to the point where I could ride it around the parking lot. The crank arm rubbed on the gear case and made a horrible noise. The gear case itself acted as a resonator, amplifying the sound. Well, I thought, it’ll warn the pedestrians. I wasn’t sure at all how well it would work on the ride, and I was rather embarrassed in advance thinking about riding something that sounded like that. But otherwise, I was rather pleased with the result. I could now ride without concern for my trouser cuffs, and I liked how it looked. It completed the bike, somehow. So about 9 pm I put things away and went indoors. The next morning at about 8, I was out again to see how it looked and finish up the adjustments. The case rubbed on the crank. I pushed and pounded on it until it mostly didn’t. I checked over all the adjustments. It seemed to be ready to ride, though the crank still rubbed on the case. So I changed into my ride clothes and set off. Oddly, the clearances seemed to improve by themselves and the crank no longer rubbed on the case. It reminded me of some of my antique cars of the same era of technology, in which the rule of thumb was to put everything together and let it work itself out. Overall, I’m pleased with it and glad I took the trouble. It will especially be useful when I use this bike in cold weather—it’s been my favorite bike for running local errands. I use it much as it was intended to be used, and it’s also a lot of fun to ride. I am, however, not at all looking forward to any occasion, such as a flat tire, in which I might have to remove the rear wheel!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yes Indeedy, Let's All Go Tweedy

Washington, DC gets its first Tweed Ride on November 15th. That's only 9 days from now. No time to waste to get the roadster ready and find which of my tweedy clothes still fit me. What's a Tweed Ride? It's a deliberately old-fashioned event in which the participants, dressed in tweeds and other non-lycra, pre-modern cycling attire, ride old bikes, preferably of the English roadster or sports 3-speed persuasion. Tweed rides are intended to be fun, relaxed, and recreate the spirit of cycling of an earlier generation. Over the past year or two I have noticed a number of activities based on the English upright bicycle and its relatives and descendants. Notable among these are the Lake Pepin Three-Speed Tour in Minnesota, and various tweed rides in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Many are included in the links in the right-hand column of this blog. One thing all of them had in common is that they were happening somewhere other than where I was. At last, we have one here in our nation's capital. Let's get a lot of riders out for this. I've put it on my calendar and I plan to be there, suitably attired and riding my Raleigh Roadster. I have not ridden an upright bike since my accident in June, other than to stand over one and confirm that my arm still wasn't up to it. However, my arm is improving rapidly. The recumbent trike seems to provide a very good therapy for my arm without overstraining it. Accurate steering requires some muscle (trikes tend to wander side to side), but I don't have to support any weight on my arms. I've been anticipating when I might try riding a bike again. The Roadster is probably the easiest one to start with; with its great stability and very low balance speed, it's probably the safest thing on two wheels. If my test ride shows I can do it, I'll bring it along. If not, at least my trike is from Britain, (Cornwall, to be exact). So far as I can tell, the tadpole trike was a British invention. Plus, it's easy to ride in whatever clothes you like.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Trike Out, Trike In

Bicycle fanatics will have to excuse my writing about a motor vehicle today. However, if you stick with me, I think you’ll find it has some relevance. I’ve often commented on the resemblance between a recumbent tadpole tricycle and a Morgan Three Wheeler. What I’ve not mentioned here—indeed many of my friends had never heard it—is that I had owned a Morgan Three Wheeler, an example of the famous Aero model, since 1982. I sold my third (and last) Model A Ford to pay for it. The Morgan was a project car, a basket case (haul it away in baskets) that had been passed from owner to owner without ever being restored. So far as could be determined, it was built between October 1926 and March 1927, and thus it was a 1927 model, Morgan beginning their model years in October at that time. Morgan’s highest-production year was 1927—they built 1700 cars. Very few of that vintage survive. Three-wheeled Morgans were made from 1909 to 1952. Perhaps 1200 exist today, but only about 200 of the survivors are earlier than 1933. There are perhaps 50 to 100 of the Aero model in all the world, and I was very excited to own one of them. It was the only true vintage (meaning 1919-29) sports car I could afford, the price of 1920s Bentleys and the like having long been in a bracket with real estate. Morgan celebrated their 100th anniversary this year in England. Today they are the world’s one remaining traditional British sports car, the world’s only privately-owned car company, only family-owned car company, and perhaps the largest British-owned car company—on an average production of perhaps 500 cars a year. Everything bigger in the British motoring industry has been bought up by foreigners. The Aero fascinated me. It appealed to my fondness for light, simple, efficient machinery, which is also a part of my love of cycling. In the first few years that I owned it, I did a lot of work to restore it. I found all the rare parts and had them refurbished. But it stalled out, as many restorations do, at the low point when everything is apart and it seems a long way uphill to get it all back together again. There are perhaps more antique cars in that condition than there are in running order. Then my priorities, career, interests, financial situation, residence and other vehicles had all changed. Occasionally I got interested in doing something about the Aero, but generally it just sat in storage and nothing happened. Periodically someone would inquire about buying it, but never, it seemed, at a price I wanted to accept. But finally, this year, one of my friends in the Morgan club was willing to give me what I estimated I had spent on it. By now, with other life plans in mind, I was ready to part with it. And so on August 22nd the deal was done. It felt strange to have it go. Eager as I was to make the sale, I had moments of wanting to call it all off. But I knew better than to do that. I needed to get it out of my life, to lighten the load so I could proceed with my plans to move and enter new phases of life in new places. And I had a use for the money too, most of which was used to pay off debts. On August 24th, I took delivery of my Trice QNT recumbent trike. Trike out, trike in.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cleared for Takeoff

On Wednesday, August 5th, I had my one-month-after-surgery appointment with my orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Gordon Avery. He set my "bionic" elbow brace to allow more degrees of movement, said I don't have to wear the brace when I'm at home, and told me to start physical therapy next week. I asked him whether I was recovered enough to ride a recumbent tadpole trike, showed him a picture of one and demonstrated how the arms are used for steering. He said, "that looks like therapy!" So I plan to order a Trice QNT this week--delivery time is about a week and a half. This is an act of faith that the money I have scheduled to come in around the end of August does indeed come in on schedule. An accountant friend had said a few weeks ago that the trike might even be deductible. That would be gravy. Now, having put off ordering it for months, I am impatient for it to arrive. I had planned to order it so as to have it by today (this being the soonest I might have been recovered enough to ride it) but I waited as I wanted to delay the expense and there was no need to have it sooner than I could use it. I was also finalizing my list of options on it. I missed my deadline to order it in a custom color (this adds three weeks to delivery time and I want to have it before the end of August) but the standard colors will do. Even though it will look like many others of the same kind, there aren't all that many of them around for it to look like. Sometimes I wonder if I will really use it enough to make the investment worthwhile, or if it is just too geezerly to ride it instead of a bicycle--which I can't do for another few months anyway. On Monday I saw a Trice being ridden in Alexandria, and I have heard from an owner in Falls Church through the Triceriders Yahoo Group (which seems to be mainly UK-based, as is Trice itself). The local dealer tells me they've sold a lot of them this summer. Friends report trike spottings. I am not alone.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Bionic Bicyclist

"It's the Bionic Man!" seems to be the universal response to anyone's first sight of my new elbow brace. It's been decades since Steve Austin and the first use of slow motion to indicate movement faster than the eye can see, and people still remember. Presumably Steve still runs somewhere in the recycled wasteland of cable TV. On the few occasions when I watch TV, I simply get clear why I don't watch it. The elbow brace protects the repaired area and keeps my arm movement within safe limits--currently 20 to 75 degrees--while it heals. It is a lot better than the cast that I was told I might need. I have more use of my arm and I can remove the brace for showering. The worst part is putting it on myself one-handed, though this is improving with practice. My doctor has a great technique for preparing me for what may happen. He tells me the worst and lets me get used to it. What's actually happened has usually been better than what he prepared me for. I asked him what arm movements to avoid (other than what the brace won't let me do) and he said, "don't push." Sometimes I forget. The other day I tripped on something in my living room and put my right arm out to grab the couch and stop falling. That gave me some scary moments worrying I might have damaged the repair. My arm has been painful off and on. I am dealing with it with acetaminophen and grit. I'm back to work. My left arm has become strong and skillful. Cycling content (this is a cycling blog after all): I went to the trike dealer after I got the elbow brace. They can get a Trice trike for me in a week and a half, add three weeks for a custom color (I have been considering orange to match the Great Pumpkin). I'm thinking to time my order to take delivery at the time I could start riding it. I still have concerns about the cost. I'd like another home sale in the pipeline or to have sold off some surplus bikes before I commit the money to a trike. And I need to reconfirm that I'd be able to ride one sooner than I could ride a bike. While riding an upright bike requires more arm strength than a recumbent, because the arms are used to brace the rider on an upright, the underseat steering of a trike is still done with a push-pull arm motion. It's possible to push only with the left arm, but I'd have to remember never to push with the right until it is healed enough to use. Well, it's early yet. I've only had the brace for 6 days. It's another 17 to my next appointment. Time and patience are required to recover from this. Long-term recovery is the objective, more important than a few missed months of riding. That's what I tell myself every time a bike goes by.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Splat Update

Thanks to everyone who has sent me expressions of concern about my June 14th bicycling accident and good wishes for my recovery from surgery to repair the ruptured triceps tendon on my right elbow. Here is an update to my earlier article “Life Goes Splat” posted on June 26. The surgery was performed on Monday, July 6th and went well. My arm is in a splint for the first week. Next Monday I will have the stitches out and determine whether it needs to be in a cast. It will be immobilized in some manner for a further three weeks. Then I will have to limit use of it while it finishes healing. I will not be able to ride an upright bicycle for three to four months. However, my orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Gordon Avery, said I could ride an underseat-steering recumbent in a month, because it is easier on my arms—they do not have to brace me in position or support any weight. I’m committed to my fitness and will continue exercising in whatever ways I can while recovering. This week I am resting at home, taking the prescribed medications, and doing such work as I can by phone and online, between naps. Once the post-surgical pain has reduced to a level that I can manage without strong drugs, I will be back to work and the normal activities I can do with an arm in a sling. One thing I am also committed to is having positive outcomes from this experience that would not have occurred without it. One that has already shown up is that I had no idea how many people cared about me. I’ve always had it that I could disappear and no one would notice—that I’d be immediately forgotten. Indeed, I’ve had it that no one even thinks of me when I am not there, and that I have no influence on anyone. I’ve been proven wrong, and I’m glad of it. Thank you all.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who Inspires You?

Take a look in your local bookstore and you might get the impression that Lance Armstrong is the only guy who ever rode a bicycle. In our spectator society, there are the few that do and the many that watch. The watchers think, "I could never do that," and maybe there are some who think, "I could do that," and even one or two who actually get inspired to get off the couch and do it. I'm not particularly inspired or daunted by Lance. Not to take away from his remarkable achievements as a cyclist, combined with his remarkable achievements as a cancer survivor. It's just that I have no particular urge to race bicycles; my interests are in other kinds of cycling. I do like to go fast, and I like to match the pace of fast riders when I encounter them--especially when they pass me in all their lycra-clad gaudiness. It's just that I am more interested in being able to ride long distances, going somewhere interesting, or in using my bike to go where I am already going, than in competition. I am certainly aware that others feel differently about it. A lady I know who has won a number of mountain bike races told me she had hardly ever ridden once she stopped competing. And for her, a racer like Lance is an inspiration. But today I want to tell you about some people whom I find inspiring. In today's Washington Post there was an article about an elderly gentleman, Larry "Curly" Haubner, celebrating his birthday in the assisted living facility where he now resides. The incident that resulted in his moving into said facility was a bicycling accident, in which he broke his hip. He was 102 at the time. The birthday he celebrated yesterday was his 107th. He is fit, healthy, mentally alert and highly articulate. He attributes his long life to good diet and exercise. His biggest problem seems to be that he has outlived his money, and lives in Virginia, one of eight states that do not allow Medicare to pay for assisted living. The article did not say whether he still rides his bicycle. I hope he does. Then there's my friend Zoe. She is, to put it politely, a big girl--a very big girl. Not long ago she mentioned she had bought herself a bicycle and was riding it. Last night as I was leaving the seminar in which we are both participants, I saw Zoe and another equally large lady preparing to ride their bicycles home. They were wearing helmets, the bikes were properly set up (and in an appropriate gear) and had lights on them. Zoe told me she had already lost 20 pounds so far. She wants to add fenders, a rack and better lights to her bike. It's an honor to assist someone like Zoe to find them. One of the great things about bicycling--one which made it suspect when it was invented in the class-conscious 19th century--is its egalitarianism. Bikes are relatively inexpensive, easy to care for and store, and rideable by just about anyone. They were the first experience of personal mobility--going somewhere other than on foot or by paying to ride in someone else's conveyance--that most people in that time had ever had. And I will never forget the feeling of freedom that my first bicycle gave me--a feeling I have never entirely lost. Just about anyone, you ask? What about those whose physical abilities are, we might say, limited compared to the rest of us? One afternoon on the bike trail, I was, with considerable effort, making my way up a long hill. In front of me was a man on a recumbent three-wheeler, who seemed to make light work of it. I could scarcely keep up with him. Not only did he appear to be quite a bit older than I was, but he was propelling himself with his hands operating grips in place of pedals on the cranks, which were positioned in front of his chest. He had no legs. He was outpacing me, up a hill, on a handcycle. Such a sight is both humbling and inspiring. I don't know who he was and I haven't seen him in a while. I hope he's still riding. So what's stopping you? You got a better excuse than they do? I don't really want to hear it. It's just a story anyway. Get out and ride.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Life Goes Splat

Sunday, June 14, 2009 was a beautiful day. I held an open house that afternoon, one that was successful enough to justify staying there on a day when I would otherwise have been outdoors. People kept arriving and I stayed open an hour and a half past the scheduled closing time. Then I had papers to deliver to my office. I decided that with three hours to go until sunset and nothing else I had to do there, I would bicycle to my office, thus getting in a ride on this pretty evening. I set off on the Schwinn Sierra commuter. I made the left turn onto Lee Highway from Quincy Street (which avoided a hill), and immediately a car with a loud exhaust passed me a bit too close for comfort. I decided to get off the street onto the sidewalk, much as I dislike riding on sidewalks—it enhances the motorists’ opinion that bicycles do not belong on streets. On this stretch of Lee Highway, the speed limit is 35 but the traffic speed is more like 50. I headed into a gas station (the nearest access to the sidewalk), and caught the lip of the driveway, perhaps an inch high, at too low an angle and speed to go up it. The bike tripped and went down on its right side. I landed on the point of my right elbow and the heel of my right hand. I felt something go in my elbow as I hit. Immediately two guys in the gas station ran to me and offered assistance. I refused their offers to help me up, lay as I had fallen and took inventory. I saw no open wounds, only a mild road rash on my arm from landing. No visibly broken bones. My arm bones seemed intact. My hand, protected by my cycling gloves, was a little sore but not really hurt. My head, in its helmet, never got near the ground. But the tip of my elbow moved around like a kneecap. I tried my arm and I could move it. I was going to hurt later, but I didn’t yet. Meanwhile my would-be helpers were shouting offers of assistance at me. Did I need to call an ambulance (no, it’s not that serious—besides, I thought, I don’t need to lose the bike on top of this, by leaving it while I go off in an ambulance). Could they call someone I knew for help (there’s no one to call). Finally I was ready to stand up. The bike was undamaged except for a scrape on the right brake lever. I evaluated my situation. Although I was more than halfway to my destination, it seemed foolhardy to continue there. I needed to get the bike back home and evaluate my options. I managed to ride home, carefully and using the left hand to brake. I’ve been in the process of changing my brakes around on all my bikes to use the right lever for the front, European style, but hadn’t yet on this one, so I had the use of the better brake. I arrived back home and put the bike in the garage. I still had work to do. I was likely to be in more pain the next day. The work needed to be done. I got in my car, drove to the office, and did the work. By the time I was done, my elbow was swollen up and I was starting to hurt enough to distract me. I drove back home and began looking up places to get treated. In my mind this was still not an emergency—that would have been a compound fracture or bleeding wounds or inability to use my arm. I thought it was not severe enough for the emergency room, that they would think I should not have come there with it, and I had no taste for sitting around in an emergency room waiting area all night anyway. Plus I was worried about the cost. One of the casualties of my reduced income had been my health insurance, that I had worked so hard to get in 2005 (during another health scare). Now that I was making money again, it had, ironically, already been on my to-do list for Monday to call up and get reinstated. This did me no good now. So I looked up the hospital urgent care facility, saw that they did not even do x-rays at night, and went to bed planning to go there in the morning. Next day (Monday the 15th) I went to the Arlington Hospital urgent care facility. They X-rayed my arm and confirmed there was a bone chip, looking like an island off the coast of my elbow. They splinted my arm and gave me a referral to Commonwealth Orthopaedics. Soonest appointment I could get with them was Wednesday afternoon. I continued to work on Tuesday and Wednesday until my appointment. I had taken pot luck on which doctor was available—knowing nothing about any of them—and ended up with one of the best in the business, Dr. Gordon Avery. He said he was not concerned about a bit of calcium loose in my arm, but after he had me try moving my arm in various ways, he said he thought I had detached the triceps muscle. That requires surgery and further treatment that he estimated would cost $10,000. He prescribed an MRI to make sure. I left to digest this news and get the MRI. I had told Dr. Avery that I was not in much pain, except when I moved my arm the wrong way. The rest of the week I was in a lot more pain, which I took care of with ibuprofen and fortitude. I continued working. I had to sell my way out of this. Fortunately $10,000 is an amount I can at least see how to earn, although I would have had other uses for it. And I did reapply for health insurance. I considered myself lucky. This was my wake-up call from the universe, telling me to get this handled before something really serious happened. Two of my friends, last winter, slipped and fell and had compound leg fractures that were costly to repair and rendered them unable to work for several months. I could still work and take care of myself. I am largely ambidextrous, although this tested it to the limit. It was Monday evening, the 22nd, before I got the MRI, a new experience for me and one I hope never to have again. It was like spending a relaxing evening inside a torpedo tube, accompanied by loud electronic music. I did not consider myself particularly claustrophobic, but it was all I could do to stay in there and go through with it. I told myself that I needed to do it, closed my eyes and listened for patterns in the noises the machine made. Finally it was over. Afterwards my arm felt so much better that I thought perhaps I had escaped with only the chipped bone. I was not so lucky. Next day I talked with Dr. Avery about the results. I had indeed torn off one of the three attachments of the triceps to my elbow. Surgery is needed within the next two weeks. I am awaiting a call from their scheduler. It’s outpatient surgery, a day trip to the hospital. Then I’ll be in a cast for a month, then have to limit use of my right arm for another six to eight weeks. So I won’t be riding a bicycle the rest of the summer. I’ve delayed posting this, as people close to me read my blog and I did not want to alarm them unnecessarily about something they could do nothing about. It even occurred to me that by the next scheduled family event at the end of August, I’d be out of a cast and they would never need to know. Eventually I saw that withholding this would not work—it would only get harder to hide. It was inconsistent, anyway—I wasn’t hiding it from everyone I know. Maybe I was simply not willing to admit to my family that I’d been stupid enough to be caught without health insurance. Now I’m concentrating on selling an additional $500,000 to cover the cost. There’s another irony in this too. Since March, I’ve been interested in getting a recumbent tadpole trike, just because they are fun. I haven’t yet mainly due to the cost, as well as considering whether I would really get the use out of it. And lately I’d gotten fired up about bicycles again, building the new Surly and refurbishing the Grand Prix. Now I have a condition that will prevent me from riding a bicycle for three months. My immediate concern is to maintain and improve upon my physical conditioning and weight, so I will need to find alternative forms of exercise and go on an even stricter diet. However, I could ride a recumbent trike a lot sooner than I will be able to ride a bicycle, because of the way that the arms are used. So now I have a reason to get one. At the same time, I have to meet the medical costs—and I was concerned before about how to pay for a trike. However, after paying ten grand in medical bills, the price of a Trice (about $3,600) will seem like dessert. I intend to be riding one as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Make Mine a Triple

At Le Cirque du Cyclisme, I was inspired by the beautiful bikes. I've always been a sucker for good machinery. I remember my first sight decades ago of high quality bikes in a shop, where I had gone in search of a simple utilitarian transportation bike. Two weeks later I had my first drop bar lightweight. It happens that while I sometimes think the bike enthusiasts go too far in the direction of "jewelry with wheels on," I also succumb to the charms of a pretty bike that also does its job well. For me, that's always tempered with practicality and rideability. Recently I've been interested in getting a recumbent tadpole trike. These are expensive--comparable to a better grade bicycle and indeed less than many of those, but still more than I have ever paid for a bike. I looked at my bike fleet and concluded that I could sell off some of those to help defray the cost. One of those I thought of selling was my 1986 Raleigh USA Grand Prix, which I would not need once my new Surly was complete. It seemed to me that I would only need one conventional bike and one trike. I was all set to sell off the Grand Prix until I made the mistake of riding it again. It's just too nice, with its lugged Reynolds 531 butted frame. In fact, my only complaint about it has been that it doesn't have the low gears I want for hill climbing. It has a perfectly good road crank typical of its vintage, with 130mm bolt spacing so little rings don't fit. In back, it has a six-speed freewheel in a range of 14-24. In what Brian Buffini calls "a blinding flash of the obvious," I thought that a triple crank, such as I used on the Surly, would be the answer. And I am reminded of why I used a triple crank on my tourer in 1974. Back then we had 5 cogs in back--what is now called a road bike was known as a 10 speed. Most bikes came with a 40-52 chainring combination and a fairly wide range rear set--often 14-34 or so. This allowed the bikes to be ridden in any terrain, but the gears were often uncomfortably far apart, especially if you were riding in flat country. In South Florida, where I was then, discerning riders fitted close ratio freewheels, since hills were not an issue and that way we got lots of closely spaced gears suited to the local conditions. Racers tended to ride these kinds of gears anyway, even in hillier places, relying on their strength to climb hills or using different gearing--even different bikes--in steeper places. When I built my tourer, I wanted to be able to have close ratios and still be able to handle grades with a loaded bike. The only way to do this at the time was with a triple crankset, which was then rather uncommon. There were only two brands of crank at the time that would do this--TA and Stronglight--and my bike attracted a lot of comments. Nowadays, we can put 10 cogs on the back wheel (although I limit mine to 8 for practical reasons) and triple cranks are everywhere. When I put a triple on my Surly plus an 8-speed Sheldon Brown touring cassette on the back, I ended up with gears lower than I am likely to need--I could have used a double crank and gotten the range I had with a triple in 1974. Well, the difference in price between a Sugino double and triple is only $10 and I don't have to use the small ring even if it is there. But on the 6-speed freewheel of the Grand Prix, it makes sense. With a triple crank and some fenders to go with the Nitto Noodle bars and Suntour Barcons it got last year, the Grand Prix can change from club racer to randonneur.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Inadvertent Biathlon

Memorial Day, 2009--Having found that there was bike valet parking at the ViVa Vienna festival, I headed out there on the green Surly despite the rain forecasts. En route I happened upon the Falls Church parade, and stopped a while to watch. Resuming my ride, I was on the bridge over Broad Street when I heard someone say, "on your left," meaning they were about to pass-on a narrow, wooden bridge barely wide enough for one bike. I said, "not on the bridge," dropped into top gear and took off, leaving them behind. I had gone some way on the trail when I heard a faint noise from the rear wheel area and felt something wrong in through the pedals. I slowed down to look and my lycra-clad pursuer zoomed past. Just then the the pedals locked up and wouldn't move forward or backward. I stopped and got a foot down in time to halt my fall, although my Achilles tendon was sore afterwards where the chainstay hit it. I looked at the chain and saw a link had come open, one end of a plate popped off the pin. I was perhaps 4 miles from Vienna where I knew there was an open bike shop, Bikes @ Vienna. A mile or two behind me, in Falls Church, was another bike shop, Bike Club, that might or might not be open. I pulled out my phone and called them. They were starting to close, but would wait for me to get there. I started walking the bike back, then realized I could coast some of the way, kicking it along in the manner of the bicycle's original hobby-horse ancestor. A passing Shriner clown car's occupants, fresh from the parade, greeted me with hoots and howls. I didn't care. When I ride the trail on a weekend, what's one more brightly-clad clown matter? I got to the bike shop in less time than it took to walk, which was the point. Once there we saw that the hook from the elastic lower attachment for my pannier was missing, so I theorize that if came loose and got into the chain, causing the breakage. It was a simple matter to put in a new link and off I went to continue to Vienna. In Vienna, I enjoyed the festival, ate stuff not usually on my diet, and looked again at the trikes at Bikes @ Vienna. I also saw one in use and talked with its owner. Eventually I set off for home. It was raining most of the way home, at a temperature that was comfortable in the warm air. So I guess I could call it a triathlon.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Recumbent Trike 'Bug' Outbreak Reported

The recumbent trike 'bug' has crossed the Potomac (and several other rivers) to Ferndale, Maryland. My sister's husband has not only become interested in recumbent trikes, he actually went out and bought one, a used Greenspeed GT3 Series I. I was the enabler--not only getting him started (here, kid, try one of these!) but actually forwarding him the Craigslist ad. It's ironic that he has gotten one before I do. Meanwhile, over here in Virginia, I'm still working on having the money with which to buy one. Granted, my expensive tastes don't help. The used Greenspeed GT3 cost about half the price of the new Trice QNT I would like to have. I could have a perfectly serviceable "starter trike" for that kind of money. But I know that I would soon want to upgrade, so I might as well get what I want even if it takes longer to get it. Interestingly, the Greenspeed was for sale because the seller had bought a Trice T. The Trice appeals to me not only for its good design and construction quality, but for me the "killer" features are that it is easily adaptable and adjustable, including to different sized riders, and that it can be dismantled and packed into a compact space--suitable for my international travel plans. No other trike has this capability--those few which do fold or dismantle are still larger than a dismantled Trice--and a fully assembled trike is rather large. The Trice web site has photos from an owner who took a Trice T to Thailand in his suitcase, assembled it and toured there. I already have received a request from Malaysia to try it out when I bring it over. There are, of course, at least two assumptions in that request. Who am I to disappoint my fans?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"I think you have a bicycle problem."

Four of us, two men and two women, all from my Creating Happiness Seminar group, are sitting around the table having lunch at a friend's house last weekend. The conversation turns to bicycling--one of those present being a lady with considerable experience and expertise in racing mountain bikes. She and I talk about the bikes we own, have owned or want to own. Each of us has several. At this point the other man at the table speaks up. "I think you have a bicycle problem," he says to me. I'm reminded of the old line that you don't have a drinking problem as long as there is something to drink. Immediately both of the cyclists start explaining that we have different kinds of bikes for different uses. And the guy who made that comment is a motorcyclist who never learned to ride a bicycle, so we offer to teach him to ride a "real" bike. But the comment remains in my mind. Do I have a bicycle problem? To start with, "a bicycle problem" is a story about how many bikes one has. I know people who have hundreds of bicycles, more than they can possibly ride. Some are in the used bike business simply to get rid of the surplus (many antiques dealers got started the same way). An obsessive need to collect more of something than one can possibly need or use is a recognized disorder, particularly when it interferes with the well-being of the collector. I would consider having 500 bikes to be a bit of a problem--if one has them merely to have them. Of course, when what one collects is something most people would like more of, and generally approve of having more of, such as money, art or real estate, it's not generally recognized as a problem. And it's a fine line between focus and obsession. Bikes are easy to collect. They are easy to transport and they take up relatively little space. They are relatively inexpensive compared, say, to classic cars, which also need a lot more space and upkeep. There are plenty of interesting bikes around. In my case, I have no particular desire to amass a bike collection. These days I am reducing the collections of stuff I had already amassed--books, records, whatever--to what I actually use enough to be worth keeping. I like my bikes. They're all different and they're all useful. But if I find I'm not riding one, it's probably going to someone who will.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Bike Fleet

"Why do you have so many bicycles?" a lady of my acquaintance asked. "How many pairs of shoes do you have?" I replied. There was a brief pause before she said, "Oh. I get it." Yes. I have one for commuting and one for weekend riding and one that folds to go in the car, and one I don't ride any more, and one or two I've been meaning to give away, and there's one that was just too nice and too cheap not to buy even though I didn't really need it. Bikes are specialized, like insects, but some, like some insects, are adaptable. Because I got them one at a time over the years, they overlap somewhat in their specialization. I got a racing-style bicycle that was light and fun to ride, but I didn't want to ride it on bumpy city streets, and it didn't take fenders for rainy days, so I built a commuter from a Schwinn Sierra to ride to work. I got a folding bike so I could have one with me in the car--you never know when you may want a bicycle. Then I got an old Raleigh roadster because I've always liked them. Then I built a Surly Cross Check because I'd heard good things about them. The racing bike and the Surly overlap on weight and speed. The Sierra and Roadster overlap on durability, utility and (unfortunately) weight. The Surly and the Sierra overlap on having low gears for hill climbing. Now I am preparing to rationalize the fleet, selling off the ones that I don't ride as often. I am actually considering whether to have just one bicycle, if there were one bicycle that was adaptable to all the kinds of riding I do. Possibly the Surly Cross Check will be that. It's light enough to go fast, strong enough to survive hard riding on bad surfaces, and it'll take racks for carrying stuff and fenders for bad weather. If I could only take one bike with me, this would probably be it. Which reminds me... when I was 13, my only bike was black, with fenders, a rack, and a dynamo lighting set. I rode it everywhere. The Surly will be black with fenders, racks and a dynamo lighting set. I plan to ride it everywhere. Am I progressing or regressing? Maybe it's worse than that. Now I'm looking at tricycles.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Surly Saga Continues

"The Regiment has decided to buy a new one."
Last month I had the opportunity to compare my 52cm Surly Cross Check to my brother's 54cm Cross Check. While I can ride the 52cm, it feels cramped while the 54cm just felt right. By the time I determined this, I had missed a couple of used 54cm frames that had been advertised for sale. The 52cm was a used frame I bought last year. After monitoring my sources for a while and considering other frame options, I reached the radical position of actually considering ordering a new frame for myself. I realized that the last time I bought a new bike frame was... 1974. (The last time I bought a new complete bike was in 1973.) I concluded that a new frame every 35 years is not extravagant. Last week I ordered a new 54cm Surly Cross Check frame in black. I'm looking forward to building it up, which will mainly consist of transferring the parts over from the 52cm, which I will then sell. What is also worth my considering is why I had been buying used instead of new. One reason is thrift--often I got a great value in the used market. Another is that sometimes I like something that is no longer made in the same way--this being more in the realm of vintage than merely used. But underneath that might lurk some less pleasant reasons. One might be to avoid having to make a definite choice. If something "finds" me--I just happen upon it--and it's inexpensive and perhaps in need of a home--it's like taking in a stray kitten--I just had to do it. I've avoided the responsibility of actually seeking out something I want to have. And finally, there's the feeling that secondhand is good enough for me--maybe I don't deserve anything better. Needless to say that does not apply so much to the occasional high-value antique I might acquire--though even there, some element of "it found me" or "it needs a home" is often present. And at times I have felt I could not part with something, even if it were a burden to keep it, because I felt some responsibility toward it. Given that I have spent five years (as of last Wednesday) engaged in the work of transformation, predicated on having a choice in who I am being at any moment regardless of circumstances--I am giving up "I don't deserve better" and plan on enjoying my first new bike frame in more than half my lifetime. And that recumbent trike, when I get it, will most likely be new, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Orang Basikal meets Orange Tricycle

Last week I seized the one fairly rainless day, Wednesday, and drove up to Mt Airy Bicycles to test ride a 2007 Trice S. It was sooner than I intended to buy one (for purely financial reasons), but used Trices rarely appear on the market and sell quickly, and I could save a little over the price of a new one. Besides, it was orange, my favorite color. The Trice S was ICE's production sport/racing model in 2006-07. It was discontinued once the QNT model could be set up in a similar configuration. It resembles a QNT with six inches more length in the rear part of the main frame tube, which gives it a longer wheelbase and a very low seat angle--only 33 degrees at most. Its width is the same 30 inches as the other narrow track models, 4 inches (10 cm) less than the standard width. I went there fully expecting to want to buy it and had been dealing with the question of how to do so for a few days beforehand. As it happened there was also a used 2005 Trice T there and I could test ride it also. The countryside in which the bike shop is located is hilly with a number of quiet back roads, perfect for test riding. I took each one over a route of about 7 miles that included some steep hills, up and down. It is difficult to get an exact comparison of the different trikes I have tested, because they were ridden on different days, in different locations with different terrain. Even I was not the same each day--I might be in better or worse form, and the more I ride trikes, the more skillful and perceptive I become as a trike rider. It might seem that there is not much skill required to ride a machine that can't fall over, but indeed it takes some getting used to. And while it generally stays upright, you can lift a wheel fairly easily. This was the hilliest course I had ridden, and it was also windy, so I worked harder than before. My impression is that the custom Greenspeed I rode a couple of weeks ago was the easiest to push uphill of any of them, but although there were some hills on that route, they were neither as steep nor as long as the ones I rode on this day. I found the S less comfortable than I had expected it to be. I didn't mind the 35-degree angle on the Greenspeed, but this one seemed too low. Plus I found that if I wanted to make a low-speed u-turn, the wheel hit the seat and I had to move out of the way--making me consider a standard track instead. It was certainly fast and handled well. Next I tried out the T. This is ICE's touring model, higher off the ground and with less seat rake. The tradeoff is more ground clearance and a higher seat that may be easier to get in and out of, for some reduction in cornering and speed. ICE says it is a "sedate touring trike." Which it was. However, it was very pleasant to ride and comfortable. I preferred its bar end shifters to the grip shifters that are standard on newer Trices--mainly because it was easier to keep track of what gear I was in. On a trike, you can't easily check the rear hub visually. My overall impression was that while the T is comfortable, I want the better handling and speed of the lower models--and perhaps looking good has something to do with that too. Many trikes are sold to riders with physical limitations due to age or health. Many people do ride them who can ride a bicycle but prefer the trike--indeed there is a lot of racing going on, and note the link on this page to the 35-year-old Frenchwoman who is crossing the Himalayas on one. As I don't consider myself to be in the geezer class yet, I want something that looks sporty and on which I intend to go fast. At the same time, I found I prefer the short wheelbase of the current models, which offers more flexibility in how they are set up, and is more compact when they are dismantled to transport. The next consideration is wide versus narrow track--that tradeoff being between cornering ability and being able to fit on narrow tracks or through narrow gaps. Further research continues while I sell some more houses so I can buy one.

Found Object Bike Gets a Home

The 1995 Gary Fisher that I found on the curb on the night before heavy trash pickup is being prepared for its new life as my 15-year-old nephew's commuter to his summer job in Niantic. He will be teaching sailing and needs something to get back and forth, in his last summer before becoming motorized. I took the bike and such parts as I had on hand (tires, brake levers, brakes) up to the parental home in Niantic over Easter weekend, and handed them off to Cafiend to assemble into something rideable, including replacing the original Cranks of Death with whatever is now being offered in the ongoing recall. Haven't had an update from him about it, but I expect to see it when I visit again in the summer. Total cost for the bits for this bike so far has been less than $20.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

“It’s an unusual trike,” the guy on the phone said. “You may not like it. But you’re welcome to come test ride it.” It was a used custom Greenspeed GTR recumbent trike, fully equipped, for sale locally for $1,500. It was clearly very good value, and I was prepared to consider it despite it being somewhat different from what I would buy new. It doesn’t fold, for one thing. The owner also had several other trikes (not for sale) that I could compare with it. He was encouraging and willing to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for trikes with me. He had gotten his first trike as the result of an injury that rendered him unable to ride a bicycle—a common enough story, I have found. But even after recovering fully, he had not gone back to a bicycle because he liked trikes better. Now he was selling the Greenspeed because he had a newer trike to ride and no longer needed it. I made my way to his home through rush-hour traffic, glad that I do not make such a drive every day. The day was overcast and it was nearly dark by the time I got there. We had to adjust the trike for my leg length, and then I set off. The adjustments—shortening the front boom—allowed me the use of only the middle chainring, though I had enough gears to work with. I still had to extend my leg beyond where I normally would in riding a bicycle, but I could pedal it. My immediate sensation was whee! This is fun! –the same as I had experienced on my first trike ride in March. I rode around a small local trail which gave me some hills to try, and on some suburban streets, perhaps an hour all told. I got lost in the trails and it was quite dark when I returned. This was a pretty serious performance trike with lots of titanium parts, custom wheels, and a specially reclined seat angle. It was not your average trike. I really liked it. This sucker is fast, too. I was easily able to maintain in excess of 20 mph on the level, and 10-11 mph on moderate hills. Long hills wear you down after a while, but you can always climb them. I also learned to shift down before going up--it's harder to downshift while climbing than it is on a bike, because you can't get ahead of it--but then, I've had times on a bike when I got stuck because I left it too late. I noticed some brake steer early on—meaning if you stop with only one front brake it pulls to that side—though not extreme. Although the seat was very reclined at 35 degrees, it was comfortable. It was narrow enough for a single track trail or sidewalk, and when I went onto the grass to get by some pedestrians, it was no problem. I spent some of the time just pulling donuts in a parking lot, seeing how tight it would turn. I am more than ever sure I want one. I would have bought this one, if we had been able to make it fit me. But even with the boom all the way in, I still had my knees locked and feet turned down at the farthest point. It might fit me with shorter cranks—these were 175mm—but even that would be marginal, with no room for further adjustment. Given that a new trike like this would cost upward of $4,000, I would have liked to make it work—but I had to admit that it didn’t. However, thanks again to the generosity of the seller who, knowing I might not buy it, with his time in sharing his knowledge with me and in letting me have an extensive road test on it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ride That Hammer

(Written March 15, 2009) 

Lately I have been considering the purchase of another bike, or frame on which to build one, to take the place of and use the parts from the 52cm Surly Cross Check which is too small for me. I don’t exactly need another bike—I have several already—but I don’t have a light touring/randonneuring bike such as the Surly was built to be. I have a racing bike, a commuting bike, and a utility bike, each very good examples of their kind, and none really suited to a long ride in the country, which is the kind of riding I like to do. The kind of bike I have in mind would be light, fast, have low gears for grades, have racks for bags, and a dynamo lighting set. The racing bike is fast and sporty, but lacks low gears and is not really suited to racks, fenders and a lighting set. The commuting bike has the low gears, fenders, rack and lighting set, but is heavy and slow. The utility bike lacks low gears and is heavy and only fast on the level or downhill. The Surly Cross Check frame combines strength, adaptability, space for racks and fenders, and the ability to have a wide gear range, at a reasonable cost. The Surly Long Haul Trucker frame is more suited to touring, but a bit less adaptable otherwise.

What I am trying to rationalize is whether to go with the moderate-cost Surly, or with a more expensive, higher-quality lugged frame, old or new. What I would really like is another frame like the one I had in the 1970s, which had all the qualities I want. Such a frame will cost about three times the price of a new Surly frame. If I find a used Surly frame, I may come out close to even on the frame, because the 52cm I have can be sold for the same price I pay for its replacement. A Surly frame will be serviceable and will use all the same parts I have already got. Perhaps its main drawback is that my existing handlebar bag racks won’t fit properly on modern threadless stems. There are ways to work around that.

If cost were no object… those sweet words… I would simply buy the lugged frame of my choice and build the bike I want to build. But cost is an object. That amount of money is enough to be a concern, especially for a bike I really don’t “need”.

I also see that it is easy to “fight the last war,” i.e., to get the bike that suits a set of requirements from the past, but not the future. Do I really need this kind of a bike? What kind of riding will I be doing? And that brings up the question of what I think I will be doing with my life for the next few years.

I bought my racing bike, used, because I got a good deal and I wanted a nice bike again. I built the commuter from another used bike for the specific task of riding to a specific workplace in 2007. I bought the utility bike because I liked it and had wanted one for a while. I bought the Surly because I thought I was getting a good deal, but I had no specific use for it in mind when I got it—I worked that out later. Indeed I had been in the process of turning my racer into a light tourer, and stopped when I got the Surly.

The riding I anticipate doing this spring is recreational riding, and some utility riding—shopping and other errands. The recreational riding I would like to do is to go out for a whole day and cover some miles. This I might do locally, or when visiting family in New England, or maybe I would take my bike somewhere within an hour or two in search of more interesting rides.

The thought which gave rise to the title of this essay is the question of whether it defeats my intention to have “too nice a bike”. There are plenty of bike enthusiasts out there who treat the bikes like a kind of jewelry with wheels on. The bikes are lovely, but how much would you ride something that rare, expensive and beautiful? It reminds me of the antique car owners who never drive their cars because they are too nice to risk in traffic. A bike that can’t be replaced becomes a liability. And I thought to myself that people who ride bikes professionally, bike racers, probably don’t get sentimental about them. They may have bikes they prefer, but to them the bike is a tool, like a hammer, to be used until it wears out and then replaced. In fact, being sentimentally attached to your bike might be a liability for a racer, since they have to push themselves and their bikes to the limit. If you are concerned about what happens to your bike, you might not push hard enough to win.

And indeed, a tourer has other considerations from a racer. The racer needs to complete the race, but the pros can blow out a bike and start the next race with a new one. Obviously this is not the same for the lower-level racer who has to buy his own bike and probably maintain it too.

But I ask myself—if I intend to ride, indeed maybe even to ride in distant places, am I better off to have a bike I can easily replace if it is stolen or damaged?

Then again—I have only one life and a finite number of years (no one knows how many) in which to ride. Do I want to spend it riding inferior bikes because I think that’s all I deserve?

I would dearly love to justify spending the money on a high-end lugged frame. And that’s basically the reason for all this rationalization. I know where I can get what I want, I know what it costs, and I know I want it… and that my finances are not really ready for it. 

Back in the Saddle Again

It is utterly astounding to me that I have not posted here since March 12. The title I chose today is apt not only in the sense of picking up and starting again, but indeed in some of the events that happened between then and now. 
On March 22, I went to Bike Demo Day at Mt. Airy Cycles. I'd never been to that location before, but I've been to their older shop, College Park Bicycles, many times. I first met the owner, Larry Black, back when he and my brother worked together at Georgetown Cycle Sport, a long-gone shop that seems to have at one time or another employed nearly every present-day DC-area shop owner or manager who was around back when it existed. I was interested to see the Mt. Airy shop, ride in some countryside and maybe try out some different bikes. I also had my eye on an old touring frame in Larry's collection, which I thought might be from the same maker as the one I once owned. It would be expensive, but very tempting if it were the same. So I loaded up my two road bikes--the 1986 Grand Prix and Surly Cross Check--into my Volvo 240 wagon and headed out there. 
The demo day was mainly to demo recumbents and tandems, though not limited to those. I had Larry look at my Surly and give me his opinion on whether it fit me. His first remark was actually to compliment the Grand Prix, then to tell me that bike fit is entirely a matter of personal opinion. But I appreciated having him look at the bike and how it fit me. His conclusion was that it did, but that I had the saddle too high. After lowering it, I took a ride on the road and it seemed better. I still think it's small and I intend replacing the 52cm frame with a 54cm soon. What I do want to commend Larry for was that he spent some of his time on a very busy day to work with me, and made no effort to sell me another bike. As it happened, the old frame I was there to see wasn't exactly like my old one and so I saved my money. 
Late in the afternoon, I began to take notice of some of the recumbent bikes. I've always been intrigued by recumbents, but I've never owned one and had only tried to ride one once, about ten years ago. It was nearing the end of the day when they were putting bikes away, but I did get in a couple of circuits of the parking lot on a couple of different recumbent bikes. Then I started looking at the recumbent tadpole trikes. These have really interested me since I first saw one a few years ago, not least for their resemblance to a Morgan Three Wheeler. I sat on the nearest one that still had its pedals on, and set off around the parking area. My initial impression was that this was the most fun I'd ever had pedaling anything. Strange but true. Now, a month later, it seems unbelievable and I tend to dismiss it. But from then on, I felt that I had a different view of cycling from anything before. I said to myself that at some point I'd like to have one of these. And I wished I had started soon enough to take it on a proper road test. 
Whenever I am considering a purchase, I do a lot of research. What I rode was a Catrike Speed, and so when I got home I began by looking at the company's web site. Then I looked for other information sources. web sites, reviews and so on. Rather quickly I found a page titled "how to buy a recumbent trike," which seemed to be something I was looking for. It was a very good analysis of the factors to be considered, written by an experienced trike owner who happens to have chosen a Trice QNT, built by Inspired Cycle Engineering in the UK. I looked at every manufacturer site I could find, several dealer sites and a number of other sites. Sheldon Brown had owned a Greenspeed about which he wrote "this thing is an absolute blast!" Soon my short list was down to about four makes, with Trice at the top of the list. Having since had a closer look at several makes, Trice is now the one that I want. 
I have no real justification for this, other than how much fun it was to ride one particular trike one time. Unlike many people who ride recumbent trikes, I am fully capable of riding a standard bicycle, of which I already own several. And these things aren't cheap—more than three grand including accessories. So this isn't a purchase I am likely to make soon, if ever. I can certainly see plenty of reasons not to get one.
Meanwhile, I am indeed back in the familiar Brooks saddles again on my standard bikes, and spring is finally here. Perhaps there is a trike in my future, perhaps not. To my existing habit of evaluating roads I drive on as bike routes, I have now added doing so for trikes, even when bicycling. Whether I ever have a recumbent tadpole trike, it’s been an interesting exploration into a whole new area of cycling.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Slipping the Surly Bonds

Last year I bought a used, incomplete 52cm Surly Cross-Check. I got it because I had heard Surly owners speak so highly of it, and it seemed like a good deal. I had no particular gap to fill in my bike fleet, so I considered different ways to build it up. I've seen these built in almost any configuration. Looking at what it had, including a nice set of wheels, I chose to build it as a light touring bike, something I could ride all day under a wide range of conditions. This meant a wide gear range, fenders, rack, and touring tires. I thought I could recycle a lot of the parts I had accumulated and build this for well under the $1100 price of a new complete Cross Check. It's been a learning experience to say the least. 
Learned: Building a bike always costs more than you think it will. 
Learned: It's cheaper to buy the bike complete than to build it from parts. 
Learned: You can't get your investment back if you sell the complete bike. 
Learned: 52cm is too small a frame for me. 
Learned: A lot about building bikes. 
What I have is a lovely bike that happens to be at the small end of my fit range, and on which I spent nearly the price of a new one, and for which it seems I can get back perhaps 3/4 of my investment if I sell it as it is. The consolations are that some of the parts I used are better than what comes on a complete Cross Check from Surly, that I did learn a few things about building bikes, and that I do have some options for what to do with it. I can sell it complete and take the loss. I can put the parts on a bigger frame and sell off the smaller frame--thus not losing the value of the parts I bought. I can ride it as is. For the time being, I'm keeping it assembled--the easiest way to keep track of the parts. 
What I'd really like is another touring frame like the one I had in the 1970s (pictured in the post "Bicycles in the Living Room"). I don't really need it--I have three other bikes I can ride. Still, I'd like something reasonably light that is suitable for long rides in a wide range of conditions. And such a frame costs more than many complete bikes, including Surlys.