Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Award of the day: Replaceable derailleur hangers

Saturday's encounter with the pavement left a couple of black-and-blues on yours truly, and left a bike with a bent derailleur hanger. In all my bicycle crashes, the only one that's broken something unfixable like the frame involved a car hitting me. Besides that, it's just been a slightly untrue wheel, a scuffed saddle, and, of course, a bent derailleur hanger.

I hear that a lot of super fancypants race frames include integrated derailleur hangers, rather than bolt-on replaceble ones, to save a gram or three. What a ridiculous idea! I mean, granted, you can often bend the suckers back into shape, but, sometimes you can't. Then it's either throw the frame away, or ship it to Calfee to do some serious carbon work. The replaceable kind cost like $10.

This gets into one of those irritating problems, though, where without a car, it's tough to get a damaged bike to a shop to fix it. I guess I can still ride it, in the about four gears I have left.

Weather Related Observations:

37 degrees, windy, and a "winter mix" of rain, snow, and slush is about the worst possible weather to ride in. But, you know, with winter shoes, bibknickers over bibshorts and full leg warmers, a vest, a wool hat, and about five shirts, it's not so bad.

Yes, I have been wearing big, heavy wool beanies and watchcaps on the bike a lot this winter. It's made a big comfort difference.

It also means a lot of the time I can't wear a helmet effectively. I don't want to jinx things, but, on Saturday I wasn't. Usually, when you are falling, it is a good idea not to point your head at whatever you're about to hit.

I'm just sayin'.

Also, I have had a couple of interesting lessons recently about how to actually bike when it's icy out. My forty-five pound commuter is a lot better than my road bike, for one. Also: what the hell was I thinking riding into work on Sunday morning?

I dunno. I thought, well, it felt a little warmer, I can ride in. Having made that decision, I left with enough time to ride to work, plus ten minutes, not enough to walk, so I was outta options. It was about at the point that I got to the bottom of my stairs when I noticed that the entire surface of asphalt was a thin sheet of ice.

Really, it was kind of funny. I could barely pedal without simply spinning the rear tire, but I couldn't NOT pedal, either, considering the steep hill I had to get myself up. Softly, softly and all of that.

A couple of parts, I couldn't effectively ride for the ice, but I found out that my tires had more traction than the soles of my shoes, so what ELSE could I do? It's neat when you have a slack geometry bike like my Schwinn. I basically steered with the back wheel... okay, I will admit to some bits scaring the pants off of me, but it was sort of fun.

Monday morning was nice, fluffy white snow that slushed away by the end of the day. I wised up and walked, this time...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Slippery Slope --

And I knew this was going to be a dicey hill. Still, what was I going to do? It seemed pretty okay on the way down from Lake Tapps into the valley below, but for this five hundred foot vertical descent, there's only two ways down. Ten percent Lake Parkway is by far the straightest, most direct route, and there's a nice MUT beside the road if you need it.

Today I decide to use it, figuring crashing into the road is a good idea. It doesn't SEEM very icy, but still.

This decision likely saved my life, or at least my bones.

As I get near the bottom, I start to slow down where I have to leave the MUT and get back onto the road. A passing Ford pickup heading up the hill slows, and the driver shouts something out of the window. At first I think it is the usual truck-yelling-at-cyclist, since that's happened to me a few times today already, but then I process what he's said: "Be careful, it's icy!"

I hear this as I'm slow down further to ride down the ADA sidewalk ramp onto the asphalt, and I shout "yes, it is!" as I'm sliding across the pavement.

Not a PATCH of ice, the whole street is a SHEET of ice.

Here's what happened: The air's been below freezing for most of a week, but it's been dry. Last night was below freezing, too, and and a couple of hours into the ride, it starts to rain. Even though the air is just above freezing, the ground is still right about at it, and so is the air where the clouds are at. The result is that the rain freezes doubleplus speedwise onto the road surface. Instant skating rink!

The nice part about crashing onto ice is that, except for bruises, not much is going to happen. I don't so much as tear a hole in my jersey. Tom, the truck driver, has worked for Boeing for thirty-one years! He smokes Marlboros, and doesn't once mention cycling one way or the other, which is oddly refreshing. The only thing about the whole crashing thing he says to me is that when he saw me go down, he wasn't sure if I was going to get up.

Clearly, Tom has not seen very many bicycle crashes, but that's okay.

And, can I get an armor plate for just my right hip? Seriously, I have banged that thing maybe a zillionplustwo times.

EDIT: Oh. I forgot to tell you why I almost died.

So, remember how I told you that I decided to take the trail instead of the road down the steep hill? Well, the sheet of ice was across the whole thing. As I put my bike into Tom's truck, another big ol' 4x4 pickup careened uncontrolled across the road I would've been riding down, into the oncoming traffic lane, and came to rest on the the median. Though short enough that the truck could've driven slowly over it, the speed and impact broke the front rim and a couple of suspension components, leaving the crippled machine sideways across the road. Further down, an old VW bug was similarly stranded.

This would've been the space I needed to occupy...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day: Jeans.


What is wrong with these pants.

Or, rather, what is right with these pants that makes them so well-loved? Okay okay, so they are fairly comfortable, and of course easy to maintain and clean. In their original incarnation, they were even inexpensive and fairly durable.

But their inability to deal with any kind of weather just makes me mad. They are far too hot when it's warm out. They are of no use when it's cold out. This might not thwart their popularity in relatively temperate Cascadia, but even in these "extreme" temperatures like 40 degrees, jeans are still not nearly warm enough.

Also, you've gotten jeans wet, haven't you? They retain a ton and a half of water, become stiff and stick to your skin, at which point they are colder than no pants at all, not that I've tried this remedy for the problem. They take forever to dry, too.

Yes, I am wearing jeans right now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Questions from a commute:

Here's parts of my daily commute through my neighborhood, all within a three-mile radius of my apartment.

This is the hill that begins my daily trek to work. Can you tell how steep it is from the photo? The answer is fairly, but not terribly. Steep enough that, on my forty-something pound Schwinn, with a bag of clothes and stuff, first thing at 3:30am, it is pretty steep.

They've recently been doing quite a bit of improvement on this hill, including the tearing up of some trees and a closed-down section of the Lloyd gravel pit, to make way for the "Stone Ridge" senior living community, who "Put the LIFE in senior lifestyle!" Whatever that's supposed to mean.

They also built this, at the bottom of the hill, adjacent to my complex's entrance. Do you have any idea what in the world it is? It's just the tower, plus that one building.

On the way to work, I pass the strange collection of construction I've remarked upon frequently before: the Lloyd gravel pit, a freeway overpass, some white picket fences and horses, a high school, an old church, and then, a new section of one and twenty strip mall that contains my employer. It still looks like a dirt pile on google maps.

Guess how many old Studebakers this guy had on his lot?

Answer: At least twenty. They were all buried in the mud, until a few weeks ago. Now they're all cleared off, presumably turned into scrap steel, I guess to make way for new construction.

The weird part is, so far as I could tell, they were ALL Studebakers. Cars, trucks, everything, all rusted, mossy, and decayed by who knows how many years of burial. Did this guy used to run a shop, before my lifetime? Who knows. I wanted to get a shot of all of them, but that was in rainier times, and before I got the camera out here, most were hauled away.

Oh, those horses? In case you wanted to take them down the stream that's at the bottom of my street:

I have never seen a mounted horse in my time in Washington, though many houses in the area -- really, quite a few, it's odd -- keep them. Most of the older trails have signs telling riders to dismount and walk horses across certain wooden bridges and the like. I wonder when this was a frequent concern, enough that they'd make signs about it?

Finally, here is the new Tacoma Narrows bridge. There's no question here, but it is pretty.

My Compy!

In other news, the crappy PC I've done most of my blogging on of late has been un-PC'd by some kind of I Have No Idea What.

It totally, completely freezes, after a one to fifteen minutes of use. It requires, to get going again, totally hard-resetting it, twice. Yeah, twice. The first time you turn it back on, it is still totally, completely frozen, but the SECOND time it stays on for that same interval.

This is not helpful.

Nah, not asking for advice (The only solution here is a total windows wipe, which I don't have time to do and the freezing makes it a pain), just sayin'.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

And I Was Joking Before

From the Federal Way Mirror, Saturday 19 January 2008:

"Crime Blotter:

At 9:37 p.m. January 15, officers responded to reports of gunshots fired near 1401 S. 348th St. Witnesses reported seeing a group of males fighting in front of the Starbucks at the time of the gunshots."

Actually, there was only one gunshot. But it was still pretty startling.

It's just like it is on all of the police dramas:

Police Officer: Did you see the shooter?

Yours Truly: Yeah, for a moment, but I didn't get a good look at him.

Officer: What did he look like?

YT: Like I said, I didn't get a good look at him. It was out of the drive-through window, just for a moment.

Officer: Was he young, old, fat, anything?

YT: Younger. Um, pretty slender. Besides that all I saw was a guy in a dark hooded sweater and jeans.

Officer: Did you see the gun? Do you know what kind it was?

YT: I saw smoke. He had something metal in his hand, he put it in his sweatshirt. That's it.

Officer: Well, what kind of car did he get into?

YT: I had to leave the window to call 911. He was near a small, dark car. A compact.

And so forth.

In followup, though, they caught the guy, and got the gun. I might have been called as a witness or something, if it went to trial, but, um, like I said, I didn't really SEE anything.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hit and Miss:

In case you can't see it in this blurry picture, I changed brake pads on my bike yesterday. Let's just say I'd gotten ALL the use one can get from a set.

In doing so, I noticed one thing that worked very well, and one thing that didn't work at all.

Pet Peeve of the Day: the cartridge brake shoes on SRAM Rival brake calipers. Seriously, who thought of this? Cartridge brake pads have been around for a long time now. Shimano and clones have a little 2mm setscrew on the side on the pad-holder, I think it's a bit of added security that the pad doesn't fall off while riding. Properly installed, I can't see why you would ever need this, and Campy seems to agree, since it doesn't include a setscrew at all. SRAM's setscrews, though, are these little 1.5mm jobbers in the TOP of the brake shoe. See yellow highlight, above.

Again, who designed this? It's clearly a case of some too clever by half engineer who came up with something that looks pretty and works great, so long as the brake is on a stand in a clean room and not actually, you know, on a bike. Can you see, from the angle, how completely annoying this is to get out? And, of course, it faces upward. On a brake, which kick off a lot of grime, muck, and brake dust.

I had to spend a while fiddling with a pin, cleaning out the miniscule 1.5mm bolt head, then wishing that a ractcheting 1.5mm allen key existed. It doesn't.

Next, I removed the old pads, easy enough, and slid the new ones in. Replacing the setscrews, though, proved to be such a pain that I simply did not. Hopefully I don't die because of this. Somehow, I doubt it.

The award of the day, however, goes to Koolstop's brake pads. They are wonderful. How did I ever let the LBS talk me into buying a set of Shimano replacement pads? Koolstop pads are quiet, predictable, and their salmon pads are the best thing I've tried in everpresent Cascadian rain. If you haven't tried it, do: it's a noticable difference.

I didn't even know that they were based in the tiny little industrial area, half a mile from the house I grew up in. Check it out.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I couldn't resist buying these at Costco. This is Coke, the "real" kind. No, not the ancient stuff that was sold as a medicine and had coca leaves, like essentially all "medicines" in the 19th century. I mean, the first kind to be bottled, with carbonation: in glass, with sugar instead of nasty High Fructose Corn syrup. Always the real thing! An American icon, right?

When someone asked me if they still made those things, I replied, "Si por supuesto... hecho en Mexico, seƱor." Sure enough, the side of the bottle says "DISFRUTA" Coca-Cola.

So, yes, this particular American icon is still available. In Mexico. So, if you're hopping the border fence any time soon, bring me along a case, willya?


PS: I am still amazed by the volume of this stuff I used to drink: about three liters a day, if you were curious. I think it came from a very "health-conscious" upbringing, in which soda was kind of a Holy Grail of unattainable treats except for a few special occasions. So, naturally, as soon as I could control my own purchases walking home from middle school, I would always stop at the little convenience store and buy a Coke. But, this was on a five-to-ten dollar per week allowance, so I had to be budget conscious. If a twenty-ounce bottle cost $0.99, and a two liter bottle cost $1.29, often on sale for $0.99, what would YOU do?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Power of Rest: or, We Are Such Creatures of Habit

This week was a "rest" week for me. Those familiar with periodization will all know what I'm talking about, but the idea is that you don't just carry on training the same number of hours per week, every week, to see the greatest improvements. Instead, you stair-step the intensity, duration, or both of your workouts for a few weeks in a row, and then you back off for a week.

Allow me to illustrate with a crappy chart I made in ninety seconds in Paint:

One of the easiest and most common mistakes newer riders make is failing to adequately rest. I think it's right up there with failing to adequately train. You miss some workouts, you cut your hours short, and to somehow "make up" for this you train longer or harder on the times you are supposed to be resting. We've all done it. The behavior of a competitive endurance athlete has a disturbing number of paralells to an addict.

Humans are all addicts to their habits. They are oddly hard to change, even the healthy ones. That's why there are so many runners that don't listen and blow themselves to pieces. At least, their joints, ligaments, and cartilage are all in ruins. Then they start cycling. Periodization is NOT a habit. It's completely contrary to whatever internal motivational forces drive us to do the same thing, the SAME thing, every day. I didn't appreciate at all how HARD this would be when I started training.

This week, I succeeded at resting appropriately. When I had a two-hour ride scheduled, I grimaced, turned around, and rolled home. I supose THIS is a situation that lots of folks would use the trainer, since putting on 3259 pieces of cycling gear and getting soaked just to do ride for two hours is kind of silly, but, whatever.

So, when I did the team ride yesterday, which I DID have in the plan all week, I found myself surprised by how quickly the hours rolled by, how relatively little fatigue I felt after the end of it all. I don't track miles, but if I did I think I'd be amused. I'm sure I do at least one hundred miles in a ride one to three times per week. It does feel pretty awesome when I remember two years back to my first "century" ride, and how pleased I was just to have done it.

The moral of the story, of course, is that the hard part of real training isn't riding your bike. It's balancing everything else in life such that, after you ride your bike, you actually get enough rest to befit from the supercompensation to those stresses.

And a special note to my dear, dear sister: You know I'm going to hold you to that little resolution of yours, doncha?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A brief word:

I hate trainers. With a vengeance. Rollers too, just slightly less so. I have yet to ride either this winter, and I hope to keep it that way! Rain, I can deal with. And, yes, you see my rain bike in the post below...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Rocket Ships : Sometimes it IS about the bike

Yesterday I rode my race bike for the first time in over a week. It's a bit over a quarter mile from my door to the street, and even as I ride up the short, steep end of my driveway, the ease of acceleration makes me smile. It's tough to not get overdo it in those first ten miles. It feels like I've suddenly jumped into a rocketship.

All the more reason you should have a heavy, slow winter training bike. On Friday I went on a group ride for about five hours, riding the touring bike you see here: it weighs about 27 pounds, and I had a pannier with a lock, a book, my work clothes and shoes, some food, and 4 uncursed rocks. We didn't ride in very challenging terrain: a spin up Tiger Mountain was vetoed by the group's time constraints. Even so, just keeping up with the moderate-brisk moments took a bit of a toll on the legs.

I've been riding on my ownsome on that bike a fair bit lately, and it's great to have: easy to carry anything I might need, a triple crankset to climb the 14% hills back home while hauling that stuff, and of course: full fenders. This bit hit home when I made the ill-advised decision to turn Sunday's ride towards Tacoma and cruise a loop through Point Defiance before heading south. That place is essentially always wet, and I caught a nice blast of thirty-five degree rain. My entirely inadequate Raceblade front fender stopped about ten percent of this crap from soaking my feet, ankles, knees. For the remaining three hours, I got to enjoy frozen, drenched feet in the otherwise reasonably pleasant day.

And the touring bike feels swift and agile compared with my daily commuter, an upright citybike that still brings a grin to my face as I tool about town and which I am told by Holly is of a class referred to in Japan as "Mamah Charies." Apparently this is some kind of bizarre Japanese-English fusion of "Mother" and "Chariot," if you were curious. Forty-odd pounds of "ELECTRO-FORGED" steel and "Schwinn Approved" parts, the Suburban has five gears, a kickstand, and pullback bars that I can reach while seated fully upright. It's absolutely perfect for the fourish mile commute to work, except for the part where I've got to go up a 10% hill or two, but we can ignore that, can't we?

So in conclusion, horses for courses, and whatever other cliches you can think up.

Sword in a knife Fight: or, Bring your Frame Pump

I got a flat Saturday, despite thick 25mm tires that cost about nine dollars, thick innertubes, and a Slime tire liner between the two, from a nice chunk of glass that Neil Stephenson fans will recall can cut through just about anything.

The sinking feeling was replaced by a smirk as I pulled out my not-so-secret weapon:

A Zefal HPX frame pump. Even with my skinny cyclist arms, which Chris famously described as being unable to "kick my own ass in a barfight," I was back to full riding pressure before losing all sensation in my fingers. Especially with the added rear tire pressure the heavy touring bike's panniers mandated, this would've certainly been a non-starter with a tiny little minipump.

When there's a flat on a group ride, pulling out the HPX is like bringing a sword to a knife fight. Of course, if you want to abuse that analogy further, CO2 is the gun among blades, but it's one of those, you know, three-musketeers guns, where you get one shot and when you miss the hero then you're just screwed.

Erm, something like that. Get it?

Okay, well, whatever. Just get a Zefal. Or a Silca. And carry it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

This is Life:

It's a good book, but it doesn't take long for the words on the pages to blur, twist, and convert into an illegible scrawl. If this is what my handwriting looks like to any who have to read it, I'm sorry, because I can make no sense of the lines and paragraphs any more.

I shake my head and snap the book closed, though the trade paper makes no authoritative whump as a hardcover might. Boots, overcoat, hat, scarf, out the door and down the stairs, into the night. Eight o'clock might be midnight for the January dark, my footsteps unconsciously synchronizing themselves with the beat of the music. The iPod defeats what would otherwise be an entirely anachronistic little trek, but it makes me feel like I am listening to the soundtrack to my own feature film. Nada Surf. The Black Heart Procession. Rodrigo y Gabriela.

This is a bad movie. Nothing dramatic is about to happen. I'm not going to meet a girl, or wandering off into the night -- never to be seen again. This is just me. Just life. The miles under my feet, the clean air that follows a storm, headlamps and streetlamps and darkness and woods and trails and streets.

Fifth Avenue is a street that runs down the face of the ridge into the valley, and it's got a creek and wetlands at the bottom. A gravel pit on the hillside above old houses. It is a street of fences, dogs and pickup trucks. It's an old frontage road that parallels both highways, ancient Ninety-Nine and the "new" Interstate, which of course predates Yours Truly by who knows how many years. Still, these things make it a place that's largely missed by Modern Development, with the notable exception of my own apartment complex, which believe me isn't my preference but it'll do for now.

The road up the hill turns steep, entirely unlit, and my legs have a conversation with me about the going on six hours of cycling I put into them before. As if that weren't enough. Well, folks, that's why we're walking now, isn't it? They scoff, but as long as the pace is reasonable, agree to proceed. Around the corner, through the neighborhood, into the faint orange neon sign that reads out the name of the town on the brick building that is fire station, police station, utility maintenance facility.

A last bit of uphill brings us to what you'd call Downtown, a failing little row of shops including an overpriced independent gas station, a market far too large for its empty shelves, and a diner that does a fair bit of business even still. If Dave's were open past nine PM, I'd likely "find" myself here far more often than I do, sitting in the cheap vinyl booths with a bad cup of coffee intermittently refilled as I scratch away into a notebook and try to disentangle the words to the book I'm reading.

---- T B C & C ---

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

We're all about resolutions today, aren't we?

Well, hopefully we can resolve this.

In the meantime, I think I am going to post some product reviews. People are buying new year's gear, and inquiring minds want to know.