30 September 2010

New Saddle, Used Saddle

I've  been having computer troubles.  At least they're more tractable than man (or boy-toy) troubles, I think.  Welll, now you know why you haven't seen my posts for a couple of days.  Today, if  you can stand it, I'll talk more about changing saddles. 

Would Mel Brooks have made a movie called "Changing Saddles"  if he'd had a slightly different outlook on life?  Hey, can you get any more ironic than a man named Brooks making a movie with "saddles" in its name?

Before I decided to switch saddles, I had a B17 narrow saddle that I saved from a bike I sold about three years ago.  I didn't ride it long enough to break it in, but I recall liking the shape and width of it.  So I planned to use it on either Arielle or Tosca, and I bought another saddle like it.

Then I saw that Wallingford Bicycle had another saddle like it listed on eBay.  Someone had exchanged it under Wallingford's six-month return policy--and, apparently, ridden it a bit.

The listing contained a photo and description that depicted the saddle's condition honestly.  So I bid on it, figuring that it would take less time to break in.  I won the auction and paid about twenty-five or thirty dollars less (including shipping) than the saddle would have otherwise cost me.   Today it arrived.

I think I'm going to install it on Arielle, my geared Mercian Audax Special.   And Tosca, my fixed-gear bike, will probably get the saddle I saved from the bike I sold.  I figure that the saddle that since the saddle that arrived today will take less time to break in, it makes sense to put it on Arielle, as I usually ride fixed-gear more than derailleur-equipped bikes during the winter.  So, even if I don't ride Arielle much after, say, the middle of December, at least the saddle will be broken in for next spring. And since my winter fixed-gear rides are usually shorter than my geared rides during the rest of the year, it won't hurt as much if the saddle hasn't broken in yet.

So I have a spare B17 Narrow, in case I wreck one  or decide to build another bike (!) that calls for one.  I'm not going to give it to Helene; instead, she's getting a standard-width B17.  I have one that was treated with a little bit of Proofhide but was never ridden.  I'll use it, unless I get lucky and find a partially broken-in B17 at a reasonable price.

One thing I discovered about the B17 Narrow is that, unlike the standard-width model, it's not made in a "special" model.  Still, I think the saddle will look good on both bikes.  And, in one of those "only-with-Brooks"  quirks, the "special" model of the Professional, which has the big hammered copper rivets, is available with chrome or copper-plated rails, while the B17 special has somewhat smaller copper rivets and is available only with copper-plated rails.  To tell you the truth, I'm not so crazy about the copper rails, in part because the plating comes off fairly quickly.  (At least it did on the copper-railed Professional I rode.)

It's funny how I was able to prepare in all sorts of other ways for my surgery and my life after it.  But there are some things nobody tells you about.  Hmm...Are there other cyclists who are about to have Genital Reconstruction Surgery? Just remember:  All you have to lose is your old saddle.  Well, maybe.

27 September 2010

The Bike Shop Moves Away From Memory

The other day, I stopped in a bike shop I used to visit, and buy from, quite frequently.  That was when I was the "before" photo, and I was riding off-road with a few other guys.   The shop was the nearest one to Forest Park, which is to Queens what Central Park is to Manhattan and Prospect to Brooklyn.  The difference is that there's more wooded area that is, if not virgin or wild, at least less sculpted.  And more remote.  What that meant was that, as often as not, we'd encounter spots that looked as if a Santeria ritual held been conducted--or that a baby had been conceived--on it.

But I digress.  We often stopped at the shop in question because, as often or not, one of us needed an inner tube or chain, or even a pedal or derailleur.  And I would sometimes go there when I was riding solo, particularly if I was riding to or from Rockaway Beach.  They had a good selection of components, and the proprietor, now retired, was a Frenchman.  That gave me the opportunity to talk about my experiences in his home country as I practiced his native language.

But I wondered how long the place would endure.  Of course, I was thinking of how long the shop as I knew it would last.  I guess I feel about bike shops the way I feel about favorite cafes or bookstores:  I don't want them to change, but I know that they must.

And so it is with the bike shop in question.  The former proprietor's son, who was in junior high school the first time I visited that shop, has taken over.  He is married and has a kid.  One of his riding buddies has become a business partner as well as a husband and father.  And a couple of young men who weren't yet born the first time I went to the shop are working there now.

So far, that sounds like normal progress.  But other changes may be more ominous, at least to me.   There are no road bikes, and only a few mountain or comfort bikes.  Those bikes are at least a couple of years old.  And much of the cycling equipment is even older.  In a way, I don't mind, for I've often been able to find a discontinued or "obsolete" part there.  And I still get good deals on them.  

The few new bikes are those small-wheeled wonders meant for BMX.  So are the new components and accessories.  Again, that may just be a consequence of time marching on.  The same may be said for the new clientèle, all of whom seem to be kids in their early teens.  Again, that may just be progress, in the literal sense of the word.

I have to admit to some amusement I got from the kids.  They peppered their speech with profanity, as boys that age are wont to do when they're amongst themselves.  (That hasn't changed,  believe me!)  What I found ironic was that the riding buddy-turned-business-partner admonished the kids, "Watch your language!" and glanced in my direction.  One of the kids turned toward me sheepishly and whispered, "Sorry, lady!"

Their banter continued, and the profanity returned.  I intoned, "Could you please clean up your language."  They apologized in unison.  And, a couple of minutes later, one of them yelled, "Shut the..." before glancing in my direction.

As I said, they are not such unusual pubescent boys.  But, as I am growing old and conservative (!), I couldn't help but to wonder where their parents were.  All along the street where the shop is located, and the streets of that neighborhood, no-one who looked the right age to be their parents was to be found.  There were only other kids like them, who seemed to have even less structure in their lives than those kids had, and older people, who were living those kids' futures.

It occurred to me then that it was a wonder the shop has survived as long as it has.  The neighborhood around it has been a blue-collar enclave for the better part of a century; relatives of mine grew up and raised their kids there.  So it never has been a neighborhood with high incomes or people who rode bicycles after they started to work.  It's always been a place where the men take the train that rumbles overhead to their jobs until they can afford a car, and the women stayed home to raise their kids and cook for large gatherings that included other people's kids.  They rarely, if ever, emerge from the shadow of that train, and the neighborhood grows dirtier and sadder.  

And now "nobody has any money; everybody's out of work," according to the now-proprietor.  He is happy to be "making it," although, he confided to me, he never could provide his kid the standard of living his father provided for him if his wife didn't have her job.  He also intimated that he hardly rides anymore and that he spends more of what free time he has on his skateboard.

As the shop is along a couple of routes I ride, and requires only a slight detour when I ride to or from work, I am sure I will stop there again.  I just wonder what will be there.

26 September 2010

Sunday Worship, I Mean, Bike Ride

After seeing Saving Private Ryan, someone suggested that I'd make a good chaplain.  I said that it was one of the most ludicrous suggestions anyone ever made to me.  After all, I explained, I'm not religious and don't know how I could be.

"Oh, but you are.   You have more beliefs than you realize.  And you have your rituals, and your form of worship."

"But I haven't been to church in..."

"That's not important.  You have your religion, and your bike rides are your form of worship."

Today--so many years, and almost as many life-changes, later-- I realize she may have been on to something:

Until I take my next trip to Rome, this is probably as close as I'll come to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And, quite frankly, even though Michelangelo is one of the best (and one of my favorite) artists who ever lived, the light I saw in this scene means more to me than the stories that are depicted in that ceiling.  Plus, I didn't have to deal with the crowds in the Chapel.

Here is one stop on the route of my "pilgrimage": 

And then, I try to re-orient myself through signs, er, landmarks:

As the journey continues, there is only light to follow:

Sometimes the journey involves a crossing:

In the end, there is the revelation, in the form of light piercing the darkness:

It leadeth me to the still waters.  Well, all right, maybe they're not so still.  But even if hope and belief are eternal, rituals and liturgy are not. And I will "worship" again next Sunday.

24 September 2010

The Saddle Saga Continues

I've decided that I really don't like my Terry Falcon X saddles.  In fact, I don't think I like the "donut" saddles at all.  Maybe I'm still carrying residual male chauvinism or something.

Back in the day, I tried what was then the newfangled saddle:  the Avocet Touring II.  An Avocet saddle was different from any other available at the time because it had two "mounds" on the rear, which made for a center "groove."  You might say it was the inverse of today's "donut" saddles.

    Avocet Touring II women's saddle, circa 1980.   Note the "bumps" or "mounds":  They were intended to  lift the cyclist off her perineal area.

Ironically, the Terry saddles (I've also been riding a Butterfly on my Helene.) feel much like that Avocet saddle, at least to me.  On the Terrys (Terries?), the edges of the cutout rub against the inside of my perineal area.  So did the edges of the raised ridges on the Avocet.  But I think that, if anything, the Terry saddles feel worse to me than the Avocet did.  Well, maybe it's not a matter of the saddle itself.  I think that what's being rubbed is softer tissue than I had back when I was riding the Avocet.

Below:  Terry Butterfly, an example of a "donut" saddle.  The rationalization for the cutout in the middle is the same as that for the "bumps" on the Avocet:  relief of pressure on the perineal area.

Plus, I really don't think that the tear in my vaginal wall was caused by the Brooks Pro saddles I had been riding.  They may have exacerbated a condition I already had because it has more of a "dome" shape than some other saddles, which are flatter.

Another common dislike I have of both Avocet and Terry saddles is that they don't allow me free fore-and-aft movement.  Contrary to popular belief, highly technical mountain bikers aren't the only ones who like to slide forward and backward on their saddles.  Back when I first started to ride distances, almost every serious rider did the same.  And that is the reason why I had to give up, however reluctantly, an elegant suede saddle I rode for a time.  (I don't know of any suede saddles that are being made today.) I now realize that saddles with smooth, flat tops are most conducive to my riding style.

That's the reason why I'm going to try the Brooks B-17.  I'm thinking of riding the narrower version, which is about the same width (which I liked) as the Terry Falcon X , on Arielle and Tosca.  And I'll probably use the standard version on Helene, as it is actually slightly wider than the Butterfly.

Brooks B-17 

I believe (and hope) that the flatter shape of the B17, combined with its firmness, will keep me resting on my sitbones and relieve some pressure from my perineal areas.  And, of course, the saddle will become more comfortable over time.  

I'm going to ride the men's models.  Their width is right for me:  In spite of my surgery, my sitbones didn't grow further apart. (That's normal.)  Also, women's saddles are shorter than men's.  As someone who, as I mentioned, likes to slide forward and backward on her saddle as she changes position, I prefer the length of men's saddles.

Finally, I am happy to put Brooks saddles on my bikes again.  Neither Brooks nor anyone else pays me to ride the company's offerings, so I apologize if I sound like an advertisement.  But I'll say this:  Very few, if any, other bike parts are of as high quality as Brooks saddles.  Plus, what saddle is more appropriate on a lugged English frame made from Reynolds tubing?

22 September 2010

To Play Or Pay Mechanic: Which One Becomes A Lady?

My old Peugeot PX-10E came with this toolkit.  It was actually quite nice for its time, but the lack of Allen wrenches limits its usefulness on modern bikes and components.

The owner of a shop in which I worked once said, "You know what would make me rich?  Selling more bike tools!"

He wasn't referring to the money he would make from the tools themselves.  The real profit, he explained, would come when customers would try to use them.  Let's just say that the results sometimes weren't pretty.  When he was in a particularly grumpy mood, he'd tell a customer who mutilated his bike, "Play mechanic, pay mechanic."

Reading Velouria's post today in Lovely Bicycle! got me to thinking, many years after the fact, about what that owner said.  (Going to that post is worthwhile for the photos of her bike alone, not to mention what she says and how she says it!) Velouria raised the question of just how beneficial it actually is to do one's own bike repairs or modifications.  She astutely points out that it's not a matter of saving money:  In fact, beginning do-it-yourselfers routinely spend far more money on the wrong parts or tools, or by ruining said parts or tools through misuse or mis-installation, than they would have paid for a shop to do their work.  And, if you have no inclination or desire to do, or learn, bike mechanics, you probably won't do a very good job.  

On the other hand, she points out some very good reasons for some people to do their own work.  They include some of the reasons I do my own:  I have several bikes, I often change components and accessories, and I have taken, and plan to take, trips into places that don't have good bike shops, or any bike shops at all. Plus, I've ridden enough that I know what I want on my bikes.

And, interestingly (and disturbingly) enough, I am glad to have acquired my skills before undergoing my gender transitions. While the guys at Habitat have been helpful and honest, as some other mechanics and shops are, there are still others who try to take advantage of, or simply denigrate, female cyclists.  And, I have to admit, when I find shops and mechanics who employ double standards, I feel a kind of smug pride (as shameful and dangerous as that can be) when I ask a question and they either try to mislead me or simply hide the fact that they don't know the answer.

I must say, though, that some shops are trying to change.  I saw the owner of one when I was on my way home from work one night, and he asked why I hadn't stopped by.  I told him that the last time I was there, the sales person tried to sell me something that not only wouldn't have fit my bike, but would have been dangerous.  He apologized and I have since returned to that shop.  It's nearer than Habitat to where I live but doesn't have the same selection.   However, they are handy when I need a tire or chain or some other part for a next-day ride.

Anyway....Back when I was teaching myself basic repairs from the first edition of Tom Cuthbertson's Anybody's Bike Book, how could I have guessed that I would get paid to play a mechanic, and that those skills I was learning as a teenaged boy would help me to become an independent, confident...middle-aged woman?  How could I have predicted that the middle-aged woman would be riding bikes he put together?

21 September 2010

Cyclists, Cats and Dogs

Every once in a while, I see a cyclist  (usually a male) "walking" his dog as he rides his bicycle.  Of course, the dog is one of the taller, longer-legged varieties like a retriever or hound.   The cyclist is pedaling slowly, if at all, and the trotting dog is tethered by a long leash to the cyclist's hand or handlebar.

A few times,  I've seen people (again, guys) walk their cats.  While the humans were enjoying their Sunday (Yes,  I always saw them on Sundays.) strolls in their local parks, the felines didn't seem to pleased.   It's not hard to understand why, given that cats have shorter, if more flexible, legs and most domestic cats aren't accustomed to the outdoors.  However, I wonder whether those cats notice the people who fawn over them.  

I also wonder what they think of cyclists.  Most of us have been chased by at least one canine in our lives; in my early adolescence, it was something I came to expect when I was delivering newspapers on my Schwinn Continental at the northern end of the Jersey shore.  I think laws were less stringent in that time and place, so many owners let their dogs roam free.  Sometimes people assumed their beloved pets wouldn't leave the confines of their yards, most of which were unfenced.  And, of course, those same people insisted their dogs "won't bite."  That ranks right up there with a doctor intoning, "This won't hurt!" when he (When I was a kid, all the doctors were male.) was about to jab a kid with a needle--or almost anything a young man promises not to do when he's trying to convince a young woman to take off her panties.  Or, for that matter, any politician making a promise during an election season.

But I digress (again!).  Whenever I pedal along a side road (or street), I can't help but to notice animals, however domesticated they may be.  I am particularly fascinated by the game of peek-a-boo they seem to play when they poke their faces from behind cars, light poles or corners:

I saw this one on my way home from work the other evening.

The funny thing about cats like this one is that they're fascinated by cyclists until we get within two feet or so of them.  Then they scamper away from us and, after running and leaping up a curb, they glance back toward us.

I wonder what they're thinking.  And I wonder what Charlie and Max think as I leave with one of my bikes

19 September 2010

Changes Made; Another Contemplated

I've switched Helene's levers to the inverse type.  That meant giving up my bar-end shifter, which I didn't like on the Porteur bar anyway.  Now the bike has downtube shifters.  Yes, shifters:  plural.  That's because I also have two chainrings rather than one on the front.  Since I'm not going to install a chainguard, I decided I may as well use a front derailleur.

I'll post some photos.  Now I'm contemplating one more change, for Arielle and Tosca as well as Helene.  So far, the cut-out Terry saddles have been good for relieving pressure around my one-year-old organs.  But they're a bit cushy. And the edges of the cut-outs rub me the wrong way.  (I mean that literally!) I'm tempted to try a Brooks Imperial.  I just wonder whether the cutouts would be the right size and shape--and whether having to break in a leather saddle would be hard on that part of my body.  I've had leather saddles before, but I broke them in under different circumstances!

18 September 2010

High Tides After The Storm

At Rockaway Beach, you could see how the today's bright sunshine and cool breezes just barely concealed the fact that we had such a violent storm the other night.  It was a great day to ride, but not very many people were.  And those who were weren't the ones I expected, and they weren't riding in ways I ever anticipated.

They rode by as I was sitting on a bench, with Arielle propped against a railing.   "Really nice bike!"  he shouted as he passed me and her.  

Somehow I have a feeeling that kid is going to be all right. After all, in taking him for a ride in such an unusual vehicle, the father is developing an independent spirit in him.  Plus, his dad is developing his taste for fine bikes! ;-)

But everyone else at Rockaway, it seemed, was surfing.  The tides seemed more rough than high, which is probably a reason why nobody was swimming or bathing in the ocean.  Also, the temperature just barely made it to 70F.  Then again, the water is still a few degrees warmer than that.

The tides weren't the only evidence of the storm.  I rode by this at Juniper Valley Park:

And near the park was this almost surreal scene:

As you can imagine, I had to make a few detours during my ride today.  I'll probably be making more for a while:  The cleanup is going to take weeks, according to officials.

As to when the tides will be normal again, nobody is saying.

17 September 2010

Losing My Seat Before The Storm

Yesterday was one of those days.  

When I went to unlock the Le Tour, this is what I found:

I suppose I could've ridden it.   I mean, after all, it had everyting except a seat post and seat.  Believe it or not, I've actually seen guys ride without them.  But I don't recall any female cyclists doing the same thing.  

The other night, I made sure to have all of my papers read and lessons prepared so I could have the time to ride.  So I was relegated to taking the train, and I had no work to do during the ride.  I guess that wasn't so bad:  I started to write something.  I'm note sure of what it is yet--poem,  story or whatever--or, whether anything at all will, in fact, come of it.

Teaching at my main job went OK and I managed to slip out a less-used gate to get to the bus that would take me to my part-time gig.  A layer of clouds bundled over the sky; rain was forecast but I still regretted not having ridden my bike.

I know, I could have taken Helene. (I was wearing a skirt.)  But if the racks at my part-time job were going to be as full (to overflowing) as they've been lately, I didn't want to park there and get scratches and dings or incur other damage.  And I didn't want to leave her out in the weather that blew by just as I was about to leave.

As you've probably heard,  a powerful storm ripped through parts of Brooklyn and Queens--including the neighborhoods in which my jobs are located.  In fact, a tornado was said to have touched down only a mile from my part-time gig.  Seing some of the damage and being stuck on a bus that could only sit behind four other similarly delayed buses at one intersection.   Finally, the cops let the driver open the door, and the driver advised us of another bus route we could take into Flushing, Queens, where I expected to get the train.  Alas, that train--the 7 line--wasn't running.  So there was another delay longer than the train ride would have taken. So I had to wait for a shuttle bus.  When it arrived, fights broke out among people who wanted to board.  

All told, getting home last night took about three and a half hours.  Cycling wouldn't have taken much more than an hour, at least for me.  

15 September 2010

More on Helene's Changes

Now that I've given away the floral chainguard, I've decided I'm going to add a chainring and front derailleur to Helene.  She'll end up with more gearing than we'll probably need, but I always like to know that my bikes have a couple of gears that I "don't really need."

If that sounds strange...well, I guess it is.  But a lower-than-I'll-need-99 % -of -the-time gear is a bit like having a life jacket on a boat:  You hope not to use it, but it's better there than not.  It also gives me a sense of pride over having made it up a hill or through a headwind without having to resort to my "bail out" gear.

But I'm only going to add one chainring.  I don't anticipate that Helene will be my long-distance bike, so I don't think a triple is warranted.  

I'm glad now that I ordered the frame with both down-tube braze-ons, especially as I plan to use down tube shifters.  I'm going to use a pair of Dia Compe silver shifters:  the same ones that shift Arielle's gears.  

14 September 2010

A Crossing

After work today I flew to  San Francisco and have been taking in the Bay Area hills and wind from my bike.  And, yes, I rode by Stanford:

All right.  So I wasn't in the Bay Area.  I was really in Hollywood.  Well, kinda sorta.  I was actually in a neighborhood called Holliswood, which isn't far from where I work.  But I had never been in it before.    At the intersection of Palo Alto and Palo Alto, a car pulled up to me.  A woman whom I would have guessed to be a few years older than me leaned out of her window and asked whether I knew where the Holliswood Hospital is.  

"Sorry, I don't.  Have a good day."

Well, I took a right at that intersection, and two blocks later, there was the hospital!  I felt bad for that woman:  For all I knew, she drove miles in the opposite direction.

Anyway, as it was an utterly gorgeous, if somewhat windy, afternoon, I just rode wherever Arielle took me.  Much of the time, I didn't know where I was.   I didn't mind, really:  Along the way, I stopped at a drive-in convenience store for a drink and snack.  Two men worked there:  I got the impression they were the proprietor and his son, and they had lived in the town--Lynbrook--all of their lives.  And they seemed especially eager to help me--even more so than the other customers, for some reason.

Then I took my Diet Coke with lime and Edy's dixie cup to a schoolyard/playground a block away. I went there because I saw benches in the shade:  I'd been in the sun for a couple of hours and wanted to get out of it for a few minutes, even though the weather wasn't hot at all. There, another black woman a few years older than me started a conversation with me upon seeing Arielle.  She started riding again "a few years ago," after having both of her hips replaced and back surgery.  She says that even though her rides aren't as long as those of some of the cyclists she sees, it's "what I enjoy most in my life, apart from my grandchildren."  I'll think about her the next time I'm whining (even if only to myself) about feeling subpar.

 When I got on my bike again, I finally  knew where I was when I had to stop at a grade crossing for a passing Long Island Rail Road (Yes, they still spell "Rail Road" as two words.)  commuter train.  

I had stopped at that same crossing, which was on Franklin Road, the last time I cycled there.  That was eight years ago, at this time of year.  Then, as now, I didn't get there intentionally, but I didn't mind being there.

I took that ride eight years ago at about this time in September, if I recall correctly.  I probably do, because I also recall it as being around the time I started teaching at La Guardia Community College, which begins its Fall semester around this time of the month.  And it was also about three weeks after I moved out of the apartment Tammy and I shared, and into a neighborhood where I knew no one.

Even though it was less than an hours' ride from where Tammy and I had been living (in Park Slope, Brooklyn), the block to which I moved--which is only seven blocks from where I now live--seemed even more foreign to me than Paris did when I first saw it.  So, for that matter, did most of the rest of Queens, not to mention the Nassau County towns through which I pedaled then and today.

I think that day at the railroad crossing, I knew--or, perhaps, simply accepted the fact--that I was entering a new and very uncertain stage of my life.  I knew what I wanted and needed to do:  In fact, a year earlier I had the experience that taught me I really had no choice but to do it.  And I also realized something I didn't quite understand at the time:  that I wasn't going to be riding "as" Nick for much longer, and that also meant that I probably wouldn't be riding with the racers and wannabes.  

Why didn't I know what all of that meant?  Well, I did know one thing:  that the difference between cycling as Nick and cycling as Justine would not be just a matter of wearing different clothes, having longer hair and possibly riding a different bike.  But how else, I wondered, would they differ? I even asked myself whether I would continue cycling.  After all, I didn't know any other cyclists who were transitioning, and I didn't know (or didn't know that I knew) any who were post-op. Would I even be able to continue?

Well, of course, I found some of the answers through my own research (This is one time I was thankful for the Internet.) and from women cyclists I know.  And, since my operation, Velouria and others have given me some very helpful advice. 

One thing hasn't changed:  I often end up by the ocean even when it isn't my intent.  

I was happy to go to there, though:  Only a few people strolled the boardwalks, and even fewer were on the beaches. I didn't see anyone swimming.

And then there were the couples that remained after the summer romances ended:

Actually, I know nothing about them.  I took the photo because I liked her skirt.

And, once again, I ended up in Coney Island, where I rode down the pier to take a couple of photos.

The young man who was just hanging out was the only other person there.  He asked me what I was doing tonight.  Now that's something I wouldn't have anticipated at that crossing eight years ago!