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.