28 February 2011

Left In Their Tracks

Some time during my school years, I went with one of my science classes on a field trip to the hills of northwestern New Jersey.  There, we went to a quarry and looked at the rock formations that seemed to rise and fall with the colors of the sky and water.

Somewhere along the way, someone noticed what turned out to be a dinosaur footprint. At least, that's what our guide told us.  I have never had any reason not to believe him.  Still, I wonder how a print could be preserved for millions of years while the tracks we make with our tires are washed away with the next rain, or are blown away when the ground in which they were formed turns to dust.

I was thinking about that yesterday after I saw this:

I made those tracks.  All right, I take that back.  Even when I was most serious about off-road riding, I don't think I rode anything more than 1.95 inches wide.  

But I wonder now what some future researcher would think about us from the tracks we leave behind.  Would they be able to tell a tourist from a randonneur, a criterium bike from a regular road racer or a track bike from a hipster fixie?  Would they know whether I was riding Michelin, Continental or Panaracer tires?

I'm not being frivolous now.  As a writer and educator, I have to think about my effect on future generations.  What will I leave behind with my tracks?

27 February 2011

Industrial Idylls

Where is this house?  Park Slope?  The Upper West Side?  Carroll Gardens?

Would you believe the South Bronx?

To be precise, it's on Beck Street.  It's about two and a half miles from Yankee Stadium.  Colin Powell (who, as far as I am concerned, gave the US one of the saddest days in its history) grew up a few blocks away.

In fact, the block on which that house stands is full of handsome brownstone and Victorian houses.  So are some of the nearby streets.  Somehow they survived the fires and other disasters that befell the Bronx during the 1970's and '80's.

As you can imagine, those streets make for some pleasant cycling, especially on a Sunday.

So, interestingly enough, do the nearby industrial areas of Point Morris and Hunt's Point.  

See that?  No worries about having or taking a lane here!

The weather was milder than we've had through most of this winter.  The temperature reached 55F and the thinnest wisps of clouds streaked the sky.  And, even though I was near the East River or Long Island Sound through most of my ride, the slight breezes carried only the faintest hint of chill from the water, which will be cold well into the spring.

I took Marianela because I thought there might still be some clumps of snow or slush, as well as potholes.  About the latter I was right, though the streets weren't as bad as I'd expected them to be.  

Speaking of streets: 

In almost every street name I've seen in the English-speaking world, the "Street," "Avenue," "Boulevard" or other designation came after the name.  I associate the practice of the designation preceding the name with French, Italian and Spanish cities.  

I wondered why I found a street named in the Latinate manner in the South Bronx, of all places.  I thought it might have to do with some French community that lived there at one time.  Gallic immigrants indeed settled in the Bronx, which was mainly rural, during the 19th Century, and opened spinning and weaving mills. And there is a parish of St. John (Jean) Vianney just steps away from that sign.

However, I found out that the street is actually named for a George St. John, who was one of the early English landowners of the area.  Still, I could find no explanation of why "Avenue" precedes rather than follows his name.  I guess he wasn't anticiapting curious cyclists riding by.

26 February 2011

The Season of The Trompe d'Oeil

Here's one way to tell whether or not you have "bikes on the brain."

No bikes were harmed to make this picuture.  Actually, it's a couple of bike racks in front of the Scottish Parliament building.  

The photo reminds me, oddly enough, of this time of year:  You can't always trust some things--especially the weather--to be as they seem. The temperature reached 70F one day last week. It had been 60 the day before.  But the day after, the temperature had fallen to 30 and the wind increased.  

Yesterday, the weather was mild but rainy.  And now it's about to drop again.  

A day or two of mild weather in February seems like summer because of the perspective from which it's seen:  after two months of winter and a few snowstorms.  And those two recent "heat waves" melted most of the accumulated snow. That alone is enough to make it seem warmer than it is, or at least to make the spring seem as if it's closer.  There are still about three more weeks to go, I think.

25 February 2011

Double Century

I've just completed a double century.

OK...This is my 200th post on this blog.  Is this an Imperial or Metric double century?

Have you ever done either kind of double century?  What is the most you've ridden in one day?

I'll confess that I've never done a double imperial century, though I've done a couple of metric double centuries (about 125 miles). 

Have you done a century of any kind since the beginning of the new year?  Do you plan to do any this year?

24 February 2011

What The Weather Took And Left

Somewhere in my dim dark past I learned that when glaciers recede, they take away pieces of whatever they covered.

That theory would seem to hold up in light of what I saw this morning:

About two weeks ago, this bike was buried under about two feet of snow:

Now, I'd like to think that the bike had a seat (and post!) when it was parked before the snowstorm.  Although I'm a hardened New Yorker, I'd still rather believe that the seat and seatpost were swept away by retreating snow and ice than to know that they were taken by someone.  

And, just as the backtracking snow and ice cut crevasses and tear chasms into the earth, so did the retreating remnants of this winter's storm rend this vessel of urban transport:

Do we pity the bike or simply attribute what it's endured to the march of history?

23 February 2011

Standing Out

While surfing eBay, I came across a listing for this classic beauty:

It's a Mercian from 1980, made--as nearly all Mercians had been, up to that time--of Reynolds 531 tubing.  The components on it are what one might expect on a top-level touring, randonneuring or audax bike from that time:  Stronglight triple crank, Huret Duopar derailleurs, early Phil Wood hubs.  

It's even in a color I like.  While my favorite is #57 on the Mercian color chart (Why else would I have three bikes in that color?), followed by numbers 17, 9, 53 and 39, I have a soft spot for British Racing Green.  Most bikes I've seen in that color have white lug outlines, panels and other details.  But I thought the gold panels on this Mercian gave BRG a glow and warmth I hadn't expected.  

Now, tell me, how can anyone so deface such a lovely bike?

Around the time that Mercian was made, the tacky accessory you see on its downtube first came onto the market.  It's called the Flick Stand, and it was made by Rhode Gear.

The idea was, of course, to keep the wheel steady when the bike was standing.  It could have been very useful when there was a load on the bike.  In fact, I had one on my bike for my first European tour.  It lasted about three days:  The part where the metal loop attached to the bracket cracked and broke.  

Every once in a while, I see a Flick Stand.  I also sometimes see remnants of them:  The metal loop broke off and the bike's owner didn't bother to remove the clamp. 

If that design flaw had been eliminated, the Flick Stand could have been very useful.  It still would have been ugly on a nice bike, though.

22 February 2011

A Bike Boom Baby: Weyless

I first started to ride long distances at a very interesting time, at least for cycling.  The so-called Bike Boom of the early-to-mid 1970's was in full swing. I, like other Americans, was learning about the differences between various drop-bar bikes and what made one derailleur better than another.

Adolescents like me could only drool and dream over bikes with Campagnolo kit.  However, there was a small group of cyclists who were engineers or machinists by profession and believed that Campagnolo's products could stand improvement.  In fact, Weyless** founder Bill Tabb was said to be envisioning an entire line of components, all of which would have had more advanced design than any others that were available at the time. 

The first products Weyless (Aren't their graphics sooo '70's?) offered were their hubs.  They weighed about 25 percent less than Campagnolo's counterparts.  And they cost about that much less.   They were made with sealed cartridge bearings.  Today that seems commonplace; however, when those hubs were introduced around 1974, it was exotic.  So was the mirror-bright finish that was anodized with a clear coat. 

That same year, Weyless came out with a pedal that was orginally designed and made by Bob Reedy.  If it looks familiar, that's because a number of pedals that came into the market, and which are in use today, were inspired by--or are outright copies of--this simple, elegant design.

Soon afterward, Weyless came out with a two-bolt seatpost that served as the inspiration for SunTour's Superbe post as well as other designs.  So far, so good.  Right?

Well, a couple of things happened that neither Tabb nor anyone else in the company anticipated.  The first was the Oil Shock of 1974.  That should have gotten more people to ride bikes and use their cars less.  But, for reasons no one has explained, things didn't work that way.  

By the time the Oil Shock hit, most people who were inclined to buy new bikes had already bought them.  As good bikes are durable items, their owners would not be on the market for another any time soon after buying their first (or only) bike.  Plus, many people bought bikes and rode them once or twice before giving up.  That's why some of you have been able to find some nice vintage bikes in good condition.

That also meant fewer people were in the market for bike parts, let alone cutting-edge ones.  And, instead of going ahead with the rest of a component lineup--which could have found a niche market--they decided to make a line of bike clothes out of what may have been the first high-tech Merino wool.  

That in itself might not have been a problem save for the fact that those garments were guaranteed not to shrink.  And guess what happened?  What the company had to pay in replacements and reimbursements for their jerseys alone was enough to sink it.  It seems that, all told, Weyless was in business for no more than five years.

Today Weyless is one of those names that's been relegated to the footnotes of cycling history.  But, whatever the faults of their clothing or business model were, their parts--which were made in Rochester, NY--would serve as models or inspirations for other bike parts made decades later.

**The Weyless company I'm discussing in this post bears absolutely no relationship to a line of parts  and mountain bikes by the same name that was marketed by the mail/online retailer Supergo during the late 1990's and the first years of the 21st Century.  Supergo would be acquired by Performance Bicycles, which apparently killed off the Weyless and Supergo brands as well as Scattante, Supergo's house brand of road bikes.

21 February 2011

Not Fooled, But Snowed Under, Again

Just when I thought we were going to have clear roads and the last of the sooty snow residue was gone, we got a couple more inches.  It was pretty wet, dense stuff, so it didn't stay for very long. But we're supposed to get more snow tonight and tomorrow.  So what will that mean for my commute?

Well, if I do ride tomorrow, it will probably mean that in at least one of my schools, I won't be able to use the bike rack.  

Now I'm really wondering what the Ground Hog saw almost three weeks ago. Do we really have only three remaining weeks of winter?

20 February 2011

How Much Less Is More?

You all know that Robert Browning wrote "Less is more."  OK, if you studied English Lit instead of architecture, you'd know that.  At least I now know that my degree was good for something.

Anyway, it's become a guiding principle behind changes I made to two of my bikes.  

The irony of that is that when I first started cycling, I--like most people--thought, well, more is more. Young kids rode bikes with 20 inch tires.  In my parents' time, and when I was a young child, bikes for bigger kids and adults (the few who were riding in the US at that time) had 26 inch tires. Ergo, bigger wheel meant better bike.  So those Bike Boom-era ten-speeds with their 27 inch tires had to be le ne plus ultra, or the bee's knees, or whatever you wanted to call it,  of cycling.  

Then we learned that the really high-quality bikes--which included ones with tubular or high-performance clincher tires--had 700C tires.  They were sometimes referred to (quite erroneously) as 28 inch tires.  They were, however, slightly smaller than their 27 inch counterparts.

There was a corollary in gearing.   Most kids' bikes had single-speed coaster brake rear hubs.  Only the more grown-up "English racer" bikes had multiple speeds.  Three, count 'em, three gears!   

Then the bike boom came along, and "ten speed" became synonymous with a higher-performance bike.   Over the years, the bikes designed for the most serious and discerning (or simply status-conscious) riders had more and more gears.    By the turn of the millennium, one of the advantages cited for Campagnolo over Shimano was that the former had ten speeds in the rear, while the latter had "only" nine.  

Ten speeds in the rear.  Whooda dreamed of that back in the days when ten speeds for the whole bike was as exotic as the doors on the de Lorean?

Then, of course, Campagnolo came out with an eleven-speed system a couple of years ago.  So, anybody using it with a double front chainring has 22 speeds.  That's more than what could be had on two bikes forty years ago!

About two years ago, I went back to my roots and gave up on STI/Ergo in favor of friction down tube shifters.  I use them now with 8 speed cassettes in the rear.  

Why?  Well, even if you spend all of your free time scouring e-Bay for screw-on freewheels, you're not likely to find a wide variety of sizes. And they're expensive.  On the other hand, decent quality 8-speed cassettes can still be had at reasonable prices, and a wide range of sizes is available. 

Plus, the cassette system makes installation and removal easier, and is stronger than the old screw-on frewheel system.  And the chains are a bit thicker than those for nine, ten or eleven speeds, and therefore wear longer.

Now, after riding for some time on 8 speeds, I decided to "downsize" some more when I replaced the triple crank on Arielle with a "compact double."  So now I have 16 speeds instead of 24.  Although I'm not a weight weenie, I note that the new setup is a bit lighter.    More important, though, is that shifting is simpler and more reliable.  That has to do with having fewer gears to shift, but it's also a function of the fact that this setup allows me to use short-cage derailleurs, which shift more crisply.

I have the same sort of setup--albeit with lower gears--on Helene.  

It seems, though, no matter how many gears I have, I seem to ride in the same three or four on any given bike for about 90 percent of my riding.  Many other experienced riders say similar things. So, you may be wondering why we don't ride bikes with only our three or four favorite gears.  Well, we like to be prepared, especially if we're far from home or the nearest bike shop.  So we want a couple of lower gears for the hills we may encounter or the wind we run into along the way.  And, of course, we want a couple of higher gears, at least, for more optimal riding conditions.

So, you ask, how much less is more?  Well, that's a question you answer from your own experience.  Robert Browning, after all, wasn't writing about bike gearing!

19 February 2011

The Wind: Changes From Yesterday

How much difference can a day make?

Yesterday, when I was riding home from work, the temperature was 70F (21C).  I was tempted to stop somewhere and take off my pantyhose, just to feel the unseasonably mild air against my legs.  

And I was wearing a short-sleeved lavender top and an amethyst-colored overshirt made of a silky material much like that of the blue and gray printed skirt I wore.

Today I wished that I'd worn heavier tights than the ones I wore, even though my riding consisted of a few short errands that totaled no more than 8 miles.

It's about 30 degrees F as I write this, a day and four hours after yesterday's ride home.  And the winds were powerful enough to topple utility poles in Westchester County and New Jersey.

Tomorrow's supposed to be much like today.  So are the couple of days after that.  

17 February 2011

Into The Fold Again?

Lately I've been debating to myself whether I want to get a Brompton (when I have the money, of course!).  On one hand, there are ways I could use a folding bike.  And most Brompton owners seem happy with their machines.

On the other hand, I have had one folding bike, which I sold within a year because I didn't like it.  That was a Dahon model with a five-speed internally-geared Sturmey Archer hub.  It's the only bike I've ever owned that felt both squishy and harsh at the same time.  On top of that, the quality didn't seem very good and there were a bunch of proprietary parts.  Hal at Habitat says that the Brompton has even more of them.  

Perhaps the folding bike I'd really want was made more than forty years ago:

Yes, it was by none other than Rene Herse, who is shown with his creation in the July 1970 issue of Bicycling!

Don't you just love those knickers he's wearing?

16 February 2011

Potholes and Ice

Yesterday was cold, but clear.  And it seemed that the streets were finally clear of ice and snow.  So I rode to work.  It felt suprisingly normal, and good, considering how little riding I've done this winter.  The ride to my main job, and from there to my part-time job, were actually pretty routine.  

And so was the ride home.  I know that, bit by bit, we're getting closer to spring because it wasn't dark when I got on my bike at the end of my workday.  Rather, I started pedaling around the time the sun was beginning to set.

As I often do, I cut across Flushing Meadow-Corona Park.  It's kind of odd to say "cut," as going through the park actually lengthens my ride.  But I don't mind, as riding through the park is usually pleasant in and of itself, and it allows me to bypass the worst traffic between my home and work:  the area around Main Street in Flushing where, it seems, a whole continent's worth of cars--and driving skills--swerves, squeezes and wedges into four lanes of traffic.  

Some night when I don't have any pressing appointments, I plan to actually stop by the Main Street area.  It may have the widest and best selection of Asian food available in the US, with the possible exception of what's found in a couple of cities in California.

Anyway...My ride home hit a bit of a snag right in the middle of the park:  

OK, so Marianela's not the Titanic and the Park isn't the far North Atlantic.  But at times like that, I really wish that ice would remain in little paper cups, where it belongs, with lemon or cherry flavoring.

The ice spread around the Unisphere to the other end of the park.  So what to do?  Option A was to backtrack and ride up to Main Street. I had scarcely enough time for that.  Option B wast to walk across.  But I figured I had just as much chance of slipping and falling if I were on my feet as I'd have on my bike.  That left me with Option C.  That involved riding through the parts of the path where the ice was rutted with patches of exposed asphalt.  

This may have been the only time in my life I chose to ride through anything resembling potholes.  Maybe the near-constant vibration kept me from thinking about the ice and other hazards.  Whatever the reason, I made it out to the other side of the park.  And the rest of my ride home was as unremarkable as the segment before the park.

14 February 2011

Carriers Of News

Today I was drifting aimlessly in cyberspace when I really should have been doing other things.  And, somehow, I came upon this:

Someone rescued a few sets of bags like these from an old newspaper building that was being torn down.  Now he's selling them.

I'll bet that some of you have never even seen, much less used, an old-fashioned newsboys' bag like the one pictured.  In cities, home delivery of newspapers is all but gone.  And in some cities, newspapers themselves, at least the print versions, are a dying breed.

In fact, I haven't even heard the term "newsboy" in a long time.  I wonder if that job still exists.  And if it does, is it done only by "newsboys?"  Back in my day, it was.

Yes, it was a gender-specific job.  I don't think there was any rule against girls delivering newspapers; it just didn't happen.  Or so most people think.  Little did they know...

Yes, I was a newsboy.  At least, that's what I was called.  I started delivering papers a year after my family moved to New Jersey, if I remember correctly.  

And--again, I'm depending memories not only of a long-past time, but of someone I have not been in a seemingly long time--I was even named Carrier of The Month, or some such thing, by The Asbury Park Press.  After I was delivering for about a year, our job titles were made gender-neutral:  newsboys became newspaper carriers.  I could not show the sigh of relief I felt within me when that happened!

I don't think I've looked at the APP since I stopped delivering it.  I've found the online edition, which I've linked.  But now I wonder whether they still have a print edition.

If they don't, what are all those newsboys--er, news carriers--going to do?  After all, that experience must have something to do with the person I've become!

13 February 2011

Cycling Colleagues?

At my part-time teaching gig (which may well become full-time), I've become friendly with a few people in my department. Actually, they've all been friendly to me, but because of my schedule, I don't get to see all of them all of the time.  But there is a recurring cast of characters, if you will, and I find myself becoming friendly with a few of them.  One in particular shares a few interests with me, including cycling.

To all of you guys:  She's married.  Of course, that doesn't make any difference to me.  Our common interests include poetry and, as you can see from the photo, cycling.

Now you know I'm not the only one in NY crazy enough to cycle in a skirt through cold weather!

I'm mentioning her because, for one thing, she looks even better on a bike than I do and I don't begrudge her at all. But more to the point, she's the only cycling colleague I've had in all of the time I've been teaching in higher-education institutions.

The colleges in which I've worked have had cycling profs.  Not many, but they were present.  However, I've never had a cycling colleague in a department in which I've taught.

I've done all of my college teaching in the five boroughs of New York City.  So I don't encounter as many profs on bikes as I might on a suburban or rural campus.  However, I can't think of an explanation as to why none of the velocipedic academics I've met have been in English departments or writing or basic-skills programs, which are the departments and programs in which I've always worked.

Are cyclists in English departments as rare in other colleges as rare as they are in the schools in which I've worked?

12 February 2011

In A Valley Or A Tunnel Of Wind?

Today I got out for a brief spin on Marianela.  I didn't go much beyond my neighborhood.  But it's nice to loop through side streets that are mostly free of traffic.  I was surprised at how clear they were:  Just a few days ago, there were patches of ice on even the more heavily-used thoroughfares.  

The temperature reached 40 F (5C), which is about normal for an afternoon at this time of year.  However, the wind made it feel a good bit colder.  According to a weather report I heard, we had wind gusts of 40 mph (about 65 kph). I don't think I was riding into, or with, anything so strong.  But I certainly did feel it.  

Usually, when most people think of wind, they think of open, flat areas.  I think of the creation stories and other lore of the Native American tribes who lived in the plains and the desert:  In them, "it is the wind that gave them life," as it did in the Navajo chant I've quoted. And in the places where they lived, when there was wind, there was no escaping from it.  On the other hand, if there isn't wind where you're pedaling, you're not likely to encounter any for a while.

On the other hand, the wind seems to be a more capricious part of urban cycling. Sometimes buildings can act as wind blocks.  However, long rows of the same buildings seem to create a "wind tunnel" effect.  At other times, they are a kind of "valley" of stillness among the relative turbulence.

Now, it's been at least three decades since I took a Physics course.  So I'm sure I've forgotten a lot.  Did the instructor, or the textbook, ever explain why the wind that's blowing in one part of town is stopped by one block full of buildings but intensifies in another.

Anyway...The ride was pleasant, if unremarkable.  My only complaint was that my camera's batteries were dead and I didn't find out until I tried to take a photo. Oh well.

11 February 2011

A Reptile Tan From A Spider Saddle?

Now I'm doing something that I've done during the past few winters:  Buying and selling on e-Bay.

If you browse for more than a few minutes, you're bound to find a few ridiculous things.  Then again, people actually buy (and collect!) 8-track tapes, pastel-hued leisure suits and bike parts with designs that were obsolete the day they came out (e.g., derailleurs like Campagnolo's Valentino and Gran Turismo and almost any of Huret's.)

Funny how the worst ideas can become "collectibles."  What's even funnier is that there are people who don't want to merely collect them; they actually want to use them!

So, while someone may want to add this item to his collection, I'm sure someone out there would actually ride it:

I suppose that if I were riding bikes very different from the ones I have--and if I were a different sort of rider, or a collector--I just might want this saddle.  Actually, part of me wants it simply because it's one of the strangest bike components I've ever seen.  But I wouldn't ride it.  

This reminds me of the crochet-backed cycling gloves I just bought.  If you've worn them before, you know about the "reptile tan" you get on the back of your hands when you ride with them.  Hmm...Could something similar happen to your backside if you ride this seat?

09 February 2011

Out Again And Iced

Yesterday I rode my bike to work for the first time in nearly a month.  The day started with light rain that ended just as I was about to set off.  The 42 F (6C) temperature was milder than it's been most of this winter.  And, as if I could perform some sort of meteorological manipualtion, the skies began to clear as I began to pedal.  By the time I got within a few blocks of my main job, I was pedaling under sunshine.

And the day grew brighter--but colder.  Early in the afternoon, when I rode to my second job, the temperature had dropped enough for me to notice the wind, which was stiffening, through the sleeves of the sweater I wore under my down vest.

(Interestingly, after I parked my bike, one of the security guards asked whether I was cold.  "And how do you ride in that skirt?," she wondered.  I surprised her when I said that I don't feel cold as much below my waist as I do above it.)

All the way to my second job, I didn't see any ice in the streets.  I saw occasional patches of slush that looked like soot-flavored (as if there were such a thing) Slush Puppies.  They presented no problem, especially with the cyclocross-treaded tires I'd mounted on Marianela.

But when I got to my second job, parking was a bit of a problem:

This is the same bike rack that was full--and in which I saw a Pinarello--every time I rode there during the fall.   So I locked my bike to the fence surrounding the campus.

After my classes there, I rode back to my main job for a meeting with a student.  By that time, the temperature had dropped by at least 20 degrees (F).  Luckily, I didn't encounter ice.  After that meeting (which lasted about half an hour), I started to pedal home. About three miles into a ten-mile trip, I  managed to ride down a street that was glazing with ice.  If I were in the country, I probably would have continued riding.  However, I was near the Queens County Courthouse, and a station of the E and F subway lines.  And, by that time, I was pedaling (with a fixed gear) into a wind that, I would find out later, was blowing at 20 to 25 mph.  Plus, I had a dinner date and didn't want to be late!

07 February 2011

Wiggle Ahead Of The Curve, Or Adventures In Online Ordering

I didn't start this blog to shill for anybody.  But I want to offer praise to an online retailer.

About two weeks before Christmas, I placed an order with Wiggle.  They were running a sale and, as I'd placed several prior orders with them, I got a couple of additional discounts. So I bought some items I didn't need immediately, but will probably use in the future.

All of my previous Wiggle orders arrived within ten days of my placing them.  However, the order in question hadn't arrived a month after I placed it.  I contacted Wiggle.   They shipped ("dispatched") my order two days after I placed it.  They promised to investigate the matter.  Two days later, they said neither they nor Royal Mail could find the package.  The US Postal Service hadn't seen it, either.

Wiggle then gave me a choice:  They would refund my money, or send me a new shipment.  I chose the latter, and paid an additional 3.99 pounds (about 6 dollars) for expedited shipping.  The original order, and my previous orders, were sent by the standard shipping service they offer for free with orders of 50 pounds (about 80 dollars) or more.

I received the order last week, ten days after I chose to receive a new shipment.  

So, while praising Wiggle, I also want to warn you--if you don't already know--that shipments between the US and the rest of the world have been a good bit slower than normal.  That is due, in part, to the severe weather that's been part of this winter in much of and Asia as well as North America.  But it also has to do with the tighter security that came with the perception of increased danger during the holidays.

What I think of the security alerts and measures is the topic not only another post, but another blog.  But I found out two things that should alarm (or at least annoy) anyone, regardless of his or her political apathy.  For one, packages of more than one pound (453 grams) aren't being allowed into the US unless the shipper fills out a form with detailed information about the recipient.  (Also see this link.) And, packages of more than one pound aren't being allowed on aircraft.  So, even if you pay for an airmail shipment, your package could end up on a boat.   And, of course, Customs procedures have become more intrusive.

So, in this Orwellian milieu the US is becoming, the government isn't banning shipments to the US outright.  Instead, they're making it so inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive that lots of people and businesses will simply stop shipping to the US.  Of course, the only ones these encumbrances won't stop are the ones who actually want wreak havoc.

OK...Enough of my rant.  The good news is that Wiggle has been good about it.  So is an eBay retailer named "stigshead," who are re-shipping two rolls of handlebar tape I ordered just after Christmas and still haven't received. 

06 February 2011

Which Bike Was Pinned Up?

Back in my youth, millions of teenaged boys and young men had Raquel Welch pinup posters on their walls.  A couple of years later, they (or their younger brothers) hung images of Farrah Fawcett in their dorms.

Around the time FF replaced RW as the pinup queen, I started to work in a bike shop.  On my first day there, I was greeted by this:

Now, before I (however unwittingly!) turn this into a low-grade version of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, I'll bring this post back to the topic of bicycles--namely, the one she's, er, riding.

It's a Schwinn Super Sport.  You can look at it, without distractions, here:

 OK, so it's not the same bike.  But it's the same model. The bike, I mean.  And it's in a shade of red I like a lot.  I think Schwinn called it "bright Burgundy" or something like that.

In any event, the model in both photos is...not as well known as FF or RW.  Oh, the bike--In both photos, it's the Schwinn Super Sport.

Back when I bought my Continental, it was the next model up.  It cost, if I recall correctly, about 25 dollars more.  That may not sound like much, but its price was about 25 percent higher than that of the Continental.  That was a fair-sized chunk of change for most people, let alone a 14-year-old, back then.

Like most people, I couldn't see a huge difference.  However, the Super Sport had a couple of features that may well have made it a more performance-oriented bike.  Those same features also helped to make the SS one of the strangest bikes ever made.

The frame was filet-brazed from Chrome-Molybdenum steel, while the Continental was flash-welded from regular steel tubing.  The Cr-Mo, of course, made for a lighter bike that would have been more responsive.  So did the alloy rims (the Continental's were steel).  

So far, so good.  But if you look closely at the photo of the burgundy Super Sport, you will see a couple of incongruous features.

The most stunningly inappropriate part is the forged steel one-piece (a.k.a. Ashtabula) cranks.  With the steel chainrings and chainguard, it may have weighed more than the wheels.

What's even stranger is that those cranks are paired with aluminum alloy "rat trap" pedals made in France by Atom.  I always thought they were rather pretty, but when I rode a pair (on another bike), I learned that they were very fragile.

Plus, as I recall, the Super Sports had the same welded-on steel kickstands as the Continental and all lower models.  

I think that trying to make a budget "performance" bike is laudable.  But I always had the feeling the designers of the "Super Sport" weren't certain as to whether they were making that, or a two-wheeled tank for kids to pedal off curbs.

05 February 2011

Cranking (and Gearing) Up Arielle

So...How do you spend another dreary winter day on which the streets are still full of ice?  I know, ride a trainer or rollers.  I may just go out and get one or the other.  I used to ride rollers, back when I raced and when I told myself I was "going to get back into racing."  I know it helped to keep me in shape and improved my bike handling skills.  But it was boring, boring, boring!

So I spent today--part of it, anyway--modifying Arielle a bit. 

There was nothing wrong with her;  as I mentioned a while back, I didn't feel I needed the triple I had given her.  So I swapped the crankset for a "compact" double and changed the cassette (and chain, which needed it).  The gearing change allowed me to switch from a long- to short-cage rear derailleur and from a triple to a double front derailleur.

Arielle's drivetrain now consists of:
  • Sugino "Alpina" 170mm cranks with Specialites TA "Syrius" chainrings, 50 and 36T
  • Phil Wood bottom bracket with 108mm stainless steel spindle and rings
  • Shimano "Dura Ace 7700" (9-speed) rear derailleur
  • Shimano "Dura Ace 7402" front derailleur
  • SRAM 850 8-speed cassette
  • SRAM 890 chain
  • White Industries Platform Pedals with MKS steel toe clips, Velo Orange leather toe clip covers and Velo Orange Straps
  • DiaCompe "Silver" downtube levers.
I had been using the levers before the switch.  I like them very much:  They have a smooth action and feel good on my fingers.  I like the simplicity of downtube friction shifters:  After riding with Shimano STI and Campagnolo Ergo brifters for about a decade and a half, I came back to them about two years ago.

Interestingly enough, the same size bottom bracket worked with both the triple and the double.  Of course, that does not mean that you can get away with using the same bottom bracket when switching from one crank to another:  That depends on which model you're switching from and switching to, and on various dimensions of your frame.

I had been using the 50T chainring on my triple.  I decided to keep it because it gives me some gears that I really like.

Now all I need is some decent riding conditions.  I'm not fussy about temperatures, can stand some wind and don't even mind light precipitation.  But I'm not about to ride when there's ice everywhere.  Arielle deserves better than that!

03 February 2011

What You Always-- Or Never-- Wanted

I'll admit that I've had more bikes than most people--in fact, more than some communities.  Maybe that's the reason why I don't yearn for bikes I don't have, as I did in my youth.  I have a pretty good idea of what I like and don't like, so I have bikes I love and that feel right for me.  I still try new components and accessories, as my needs in such areas as gearing change.  

Soon, I'll post something about The Bikes of My Life.  I'll recollect about some from my past and talk about my recent and current rides.  Even though I have bikes I love, I still miss a couple of the old ones sometimes.  However, I realize now that those feelings are as much about some of the experiences I had with those bikes as they were about the ride qualities.  And, I admit, that my memories of both the experiences and ride qualities have been distorted, if not erased, by time.

That said, I've had a few bikes I don't really want to see or ride again.  And there are the bikes I'm glad I didn't get and the ones I've never had the urge to try or buy.  Here's one I saw up-close some time ago:

I found this photo of it while surfing the web.  I'm guessing that it's a downhill bike of some sort.  For all I know, it may be a great bike for the purpose.  But then again, I never had any wish to do downhill riding (on what Peter White calls "invalid bikes"), so I wouldn't have any reason to ride or buy such a bike.  

Are there bikes from your past that you wish you had now?  Bikes you wish you could have had?  Bikes you never want to see again? Or, are there any you never had and never wanted?