Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Group W Bench...

My Bianchi is grungy. I rode it in the rain and the chain stays and bottom bracket are filthy. There's a dried-up dead worm wrapped around one of the spokes. What was he thinking?

I noticed just how dirty the bike is while riding to work this morning. Isn't it odd how we can use something everyday and not really see it? I knew the frame was dirty, but I hadn't realized how bad it was.

Then I recalled some of my co-workers discussing their motorcycles, and commenting on the disreputable appearance of one belonging to a woman who uses it for daily transportation. It's true. The bike is filthy, but for her it's a tool, not a toy. The guy's bikes are bright and shiny, pristine playthings that mostly just occupy space in the garage and NEVER get ridden in the rain.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and I'm certainly not looking down my nose at people who don't ride every day. But in an interesting bit of serendipity, Kent wrote this in an e-mail later this morning:

" I was cruising at 20 mph down Garnett and saw a guy riding his bike.

"I was on the road and he was on the sidewalk. I was in my gear and he was wearing jeans, work boots and a long sleeve shirt. I was ridding my Specialized Allez Sport and he was riding a Huffy mountain bike with knobby tires. I was carrying my pride of finally becoming a real cyclist and he was carrying groceries."

"I ...asked myself this question:"

"I ride because I want to - this man rides because he has too: Who is the real cyclist?"

Who is the real cyclist? It's an interesting question. Racers sneer at everyone slower than them. Some transportation cyclists take perverse pleasure by sniping at the spandex-clad 'elitists'. Recreational riders see commuters as gutter bunnies with a death wish. And on and on.

I'm not immune from making distinctions, but mine may be a little different, with a major dividing line between those who ride in traffic legally & responsibly, and everyone else.

Much as I hate to admit this, many cyclists, perhaps the majority, are pedestrians on bikes, riding on sidewalks instead of the street. They're terrified of traffic. Some Usenet posters call them guys-on-a-bike rather than cyclists, and indeed, they see themselves as two-wheeled pedestrians. I'll call them Group X.

Another cyclist rides on the street 'when it's safe' but swerves onto sidewalks and rides against traffic when he feels threatened. These guys are afraid of traffic too. I'll call them Group Y.

I won't write about those group rides that seem to involve a lemming-like groupthink. For simplicity, I'll lump together all racers & group tourists into Group W. (Those of you of a certain age will appreciate the humor in this!)

Both the X and Y groups are people we'd like to reach through the BikeEd program. Well, the Group W people would benefit too, but the X's and Y's could see greater gains, and since there are more of them, their greater visibility would serve to attract even more people to vehicular

But people are resistant to bicycle education, and it seems the more experienced riders are the most resistant. Maybe one almost evangelical aspect of BikeEd is partly to blame. Those of us who've "seen the light" are regarded either as harmless crackpots or wild-eyed extremists. People hear us talk about lane positioning but they really don't believe us. We talk about the benefits of bicycling as a transportation mode, but they don't believe us. We talk about riding safely & responsibly, yet people regard that as an impossibility. Worse, many cyclists themselves think it's impossible to ride safely & responsibly.

So we need a different argument, or another method of reaching people. Brian suggested one of the simplest - just invite someone on a ride. SHOW them how it's done and explain as necessary. I like this, but I can see some problems, too, when an individual balks at riding a road he deems dangerous. Persuasion & reason can be ineffective. They 'know' it's dangerous and no amount of persuasion will convince them otherwise. Doing a demonstration ride is a tedious, one-at-a-time approach, but it may be more effective.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hot, hot, hot.

It's stinkin' hot. Tulsa may reach 100F today. That's 37.7 C. I took the shortest route home yesterday, a 7-mile ride that usually takes about 30 minutes. It was quicker than that due to the tailwind, but even so, I emptied an entire water bottle in that 30 minutes.

The Bianchi is a good hot weather bike. Air-conditioning would be nice, though. Much as I like the fixed gear Centurion, coasting when possible is preferable in the heat.

And this is just June. July and August will likely be hotter.

My kids gave me a heart rate monitor on Father's Day a few years ago. I use it as a 'rev limiter' in the heat, and I've learned a lot from doing so.

First, my heart rate hits 110-120 just walking across the parking lot when temperatures reach the 100F mark. Riding at a moderate pace (like with yesterday's tailwind) only increases it by 10 to 20 beats/min.

The strange thing is what happens when I put in a moderate effort. My HR hits the alarm limit (set conservatively at 160) very rapidly. The weird thing is that I don't FEEL like I'm working hard. There's no shortness of breath, no burning leg muscles, nothing to indicate that I'm pushing my heart's limits, other than that annoying alarm. My heart is working hard just moving blood around in an effort to keep the body cool. Loading it down with a hill climb or a sprint send it soaring into the upper limits. I’m sure this is responsible for more than a few heart attacks around here, just like snow-shoveling season up north.

One last thing. They also gave me an electronic bathroom scale that reads in half-pound increments. I weigh myself in the morning and again when I get home. When it’s hot like this, I often weigh 3-4 pounds less in the afternoon. That’s all due to dehydration. It’s been bad enough a few times to cause some dizziness. Some evenings I just can’t drink enough water. Glass after glass goes down, and then I’m up several times during the night, making the old man’s walk to the bathroom!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Fly, my pretties! Fly!

In one of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” books, Arthur Dent tries to learn to fly by throwing himself at the ground and hoping he’ll miss. It seems I’ve taken a few inadvertent flying lessons like that too!

No, I’m not going to write some horror stories about crashes I’ve had. Nor am I going to write about someone else’s crashes. There’s a strong temptation to write about BikeEd and its goal of teaching cyclists to avoid common crash situations, but I’m going to resist that temptation too. Believe me, I don’t resist temptation very often, so I’m not very experienced at this.

(As an aside regarding temptation, I give you Wagner’s Law – it’s easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission. I’ve stuck with this for years, and it almost invariably puts me in hot water, particularly with She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. This may indicate that instead of having a learning curve, I have a learning flat line.)

So I’m gong to resist all of that and write about helmets. Is there any topic more boring than a helmet thread? Well, yes – bikelanes – but I won’t go there either. I don’t object to the nanny-state requirements for helmet usage in those states that have such requirements. I wear a helmet every time I ride. It’s cheap insurance against some types of head injury. And the most expensive helmet on the market is still cheaper than a visit to the emergency room and a set of x-rays.

What is objectionable is the over-emphasis on helmet use. Almost every bicycle safety article begins with a wear-your-helmet admonishment. They go on to say that X percent of head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet. That’s all fine, but when you think about it, a helmet is only useful when you’ve already screwed up and you’re falling. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to teach people to avoid common crash situations? (I know. I said I’d avoid bringing up BikeEd, but I blew it!)

Then there’s the helmet requirement on group rides. Show up without one, and the nannies will scold you. (These are the same nannies that yell, “CAR BACK!” then dive for the fog line, expecting you to do the same.) Personally, I think that adults be trusted to make that decision for themselves without any outside assistance. Children are a different story.

My kids were told that a helmet was required every time they rode a bike or went roller-skating. In my son’s case, it was very tempting to require that he wear a helmet whenever he was awake. Both kids ruined helmets in routine falls. So while I support choice for adults, I’m an unyielding dictator as far as my kids are concerned. I told my son that if he went without a helmet, I’d disassemble his bike right down to the spokes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Monday Musette

George commented:

“I usually go the "one finger salute" route when someone blares their horn at me in traffic.”

I’ve had life-long issues with controlling my temper. I’ve been all too quick to do the same in traffic, but flipping people off really doesn’t resolve anything. One local advocate recommended just waving at them. It acknowledges that you’ve heard their horn, but you’re not going to move out of their way or escalate into an angry confrontation.

I like the idea of using all five fingers – for emphasis. And I usually spout some language that can blister their paint. People drive with their windows up nearly year-round here in Oklahoma. It’s either too cold or too hot to have them down unless it’s spring or fall. Those seasons are nice, both days. They don’t linger.

Another good reason to avoid escalation is that allegedly 50% of the vehicles here have some sort of firearm aboard. It’s illegal to carry like that of course, but when did that ever stop anyone?

Finally, there’s one other reason to avoid escalation. That’s due to my blood pressure. I want to live a long time and anger is one of the most destructive emotions. Some impatient horn-honking moron can shorten his own life. I’m not about to help him shorten mine. He can fume while he’s stuck in traffic behind a bicyclist, the ash from his unfiltered Lucky falling onto his shirt and burning a hole in his skin that corresponds to the hole a Big Mac is burning in his gut. Now, I ask you, is that any way to live?

Change of topic:

Riding to work this morning, I was startled when a deer burst from the woods on my left, running as fast as it could. It crashed into the brush on the right and disappeared. I’ve been around deer enough to be wary of others following the first, and I slowed down just in time for a coyote to run out in front of me too. It was in hot pursuit of the deer, so close it swerved around me! That was one ambitious coyote. A lone coyote has a slim chance of bringing down a deer, so he must have been very, very hungry.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Teachable moments

Every parent experiences teachable moments. My kids are wary of asking questions that might provoke a long-winded answer, or even worse, find themselves sent off in search of a dictionary, history book, or a relevant computer page. Their questions are carefully phrased to elicit a simple yes or no answer. Come to think of it, they could just possibly be lawyers when they grow up!

I was riding home a few days ago, when a couple of teens in a Honda came up alongside, wound down the passenger window, and yelled the traditional, “Get up on the sidewalk!” They drove off. As luck would have it, the next two traffic lights were green, but the third one changed to red before they reached it.

I caught up to the car, rapped on the now tightly closed passenger window, and said, “Do you have something to say to me?” I whacked the window loudly and repeated the question. The window remained down and I’m certain the door was locked. “Do you want to say something? I didn’t think so!”

The light changed and I rode away. I expect they’ll think twice before shouting at another cyclist.

The very next day, I had another encounter, this time at the infamous intersection of 86th and 129th. South of the intersection, there’s a long deceleration/right turn lane. Motorists expect that I should ride through that lane rather than the adjacent travel lane. Some get quite irate.

One guy passed me in the right turn lane, horn blaring and yelling something unintelligible as he went by. Again, God smiled on me and the light ahead changed. He stopped and I caught up.

“You’re ridin’ in the middle of the damn road!” he bitched.

“That’s a right turn lane back there. I’ve already had a go-round with the police and public works about it. I’m not supposed to ride through it and you’re not supposed to drive through it either. They won’t mark it properly because they’re going to four-lane this section and they don’t want to spend the money.” I spoke quickly because there isn’t time for long explanations at a traffic light.

“Well, we need some damn bike lanes then!” He was still pissed.

The light changed and we moved on. I thought about the bike lane comment for a minute or two. There was no way he would ever vote to fund bike lanes. He’d rather fume about cyclists in traffic, or find some way to outlaw them altogether. For that matter, I wouldn’t vote in favor of bike lanes either, since they’re an expensive public facility set aside for the exclusive use of a tiny minority of road users. It’s not a good use of public funds.

It’s a novel concept to some motorists when they find that bicyclists have an equal right to the road, and that some cyclists are going to assert that right. Still, that intersection has been problematic and I should contact the police, pubic works, and some elected officials about it once again. Teaching cuts both ways. I educate motorists and other cyclists in safe bicycling practices, and at the same time, I’m being educated in better communications with them and the local government. I have much to learn in becoming a more effective advocate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Our anniversary

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of our wedding. I stopped on the way home and bought some roses, tucking them vertically into my pannier. The bike looked kind of nice with a big bouquet of flowers sticking up in the back. Then I rode over to the liquor store and bought some spumante, not champagne.

Before our wedding, Mary said she didn’t want champagne because it wasn’t sweet enough. She really likes the sugary stuff! I had no idea what to buy until someone suggested spumante. It’s a sparkling white wine that’s much sweeter than champagne. It was an instant hit with Mary. I’d prefer something drier, but the point of the exercise was to please Mary, not myself.

I rolled my bike into the store and one of the clerks yelled to the other, “Hey! This is how you should treat your wife! Look at all these roses!”

I laughed. “It’s my wedding anniversary. I can’t go home empty handed.” I bought the wine and pedaled off toward home.

When I got there, I put the flowers and wine on the kitchen table, then called for Mary. She was thrilled. “Roses! I love roses! And wine! You remembered!” Then she said she had something for me too. She brought out a big, heavy box. I was thinking bike tools, bike parts, bike something. She’d given me a new cordless phone system for the house!

And I think that’s hysterically funny! I bought something romantic. She bought something practical. I was telling one of my co-workers about it when he said, “Don’t complain. My wife gave me new wall-to-wall carpeting on one of our anniversaries!”

I am definitely not complaining.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Flat tire blues...

I worked on bike stuff for a little while yesterday, replacing the worn cleats on my cycling shoes and tinkering with the fixed gear. Then guilt set in and I went outside to do yard work.

My neighbor has some willow trees that shed branches every time the wind blows, and the wind always blows in Oklahoma. We had a storm last week that downed a lot of branches. They’re always in my yard, never his. Imagine that. Could it be possible that he tosses them over the fence? I should have killed those trees before they built back there.

I carried the loppers, the bow saw, and a chainsaw into the back yard and got to work. The chainsaw was being balky, of course, and it wouldn’t stay running for more than a few seconds. I quickly discovered that this was because it had very little fuel, and there wasn’t any more in the garage. Oh well. I switched to the bow saw and started cutting. The whole chore took no more than 45 minutes. I filled the red yard waste can and dragged it to the curb.

Jordan had started mowing the front yard as I worked out back. We both finished at about the same time, and went in for a glass of water. Somehow, he never got started again. I’ve found it’s easier to start the mower or any other reluctant power tool than it is to start that teenager! They really should come with a big pull-starter in the center of their backs. It rained in late afternoon and the grass still hadn’t been cut.

My original intention – before getting hijacked to do lawn work – was to find and eliminate the squeak in my Bianchi. Last week, the squeak appeared on both commuter bikes. I’d noticed that it came and went at what seemed to be pedal rpm, so I naturally suspected the problem was in my shoes. That’s why I replaced the worn cleats. The worst part was getting the old bolts out. Three came out with difficulty. The fourth stripped. I ended up drilling it out. The new cleats are slightly different. They don’t ‘float’ and they fit much more tightly.

So I was looking forward to today’s commute. The weather overnight was awful – another storm – and I didn’t look in the back yard for downed branches this morning. I should have. Then I’d know if my neighbor was tossing them over the fence. The streets were still wet, so I planned to ride the Centurion rather than the Bianchi. The Centurion has fenders. I discovered it also has a flat tire. Grumble, grumble. Switch to plan B. Ride the Bianchi.

Once I was off the residential streets the surface was much drier. The bike and I didn’t get too grimy or wet. But about halfway to work, a different squeak started! I can’t win!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

I'm saved!....sort of

My thanks to Greg who pointed out that I should attach a Madonna del Ghisallo medallion to each of my bikes. Madonna del Ghisallo is the patron saint of cyclists. It certainly wouldn't hurt. Greg also recommended I get one in Italy where her shrine is located. My wife already thinks I have some mental defects. If I decided to jet off to Italy, she'd probably lock me in the garage!

Also, I was helping at a bicycle rodeo in Tulsa today, fitting kids helmets. I always ask them what kind of bike they ride. The boys will know the make and model, the kind of saddle and tires, and other details. The girls almost always tell me what color it is before anything else. But one little girl said she had 2 bikes, one normal and another that was 'possessed by demons'!!! Maybe she needs those medals a lot more than I do. That demon possessed bike pitched her over the handlebars recently.

Maybe I should stock up on some holy water in the garage too. For that matter, does anyone make a 'holy penetrating oil'?

Friday, June 10, 2005


This is more than a little silly. I was thinking about my first Giant CFR2, a nice carbon fiber bike that rode well, fit well, and was just plain comfortable. I liked that bike. I was riding it home from work one afternoon when a teenager showing off for his girlfriend ran into me from behind. The bike was destroyed. I had a broken leg and a concussion.

But ever since then, I’ve been hesitant to add something new to my commuter bike. I realize it’s entirely irrational. There’s no valid reason for it, but it’s how I feel. Every new thing, whether it’s a tire, a light, or just new handlebar tape brings with it a kind of psychic energy for good or ill. I just don’t know which type. Like I said, it’s not rational.

I’m not some New Age nut case, nibbling pesticide free veggies and wearing Earth shoes. (Does anyone remember Earth shoes? Damn! I’m old!) I’m not usually a phobic type. I’m more inclined to think my way through a problem rather than empathize with it. Or as Conan the Barbarian so eloquently put it, “If I can’t kill it with a sword, it doesn’t matter.” I don’t have a sword, but I DO have some nice wrenches!

Did my Giant have bad karma? Who knows? But the Centurion has badly worn handlebar tape and brake hoods. It’s time to replace them. Oh, the agony of uncertainty!

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I’m a union member. It’s the first union job I’ve had, and while it’s not without faults, I believe it’s a better experience than it would be without the union. I know it’s fashionable to bash them as bad for America, bad for business, and even bad for workers, but consider this: My contract has a clause that requires the company to furnish sanitary drinking water, clean toilets, and adequate lighting and heating. This may seem quaint or silly, but those items are there because they had to be negotiated at one time. We’ve come a long way since then, but absent a union, the company would have no obligation to do any of these things.

I’ve facetiously suggested that all the local bike shop mechanics should form a union. Tom (the owner of Tom’s Bicycles) isn’t especially keen on the idea, as you might imagine. But he’s suggested that it would benefit all the shops and all the local cyclists if the mechanics had to meet a minimum qualification standard in order to do their job. As it stands now, anyone can be a bicycle mechanic. That means some spotty teenager can assemble and repair bicycles at the local big box store with little regard to seeing that they operate properly.

Most of us have horror stories about poorly assembled bicycles with their forks or front brakes installed backwards. Fortunately, some of the big box stores have recognized the folly of using a stock clerk to assemble bicycles. They bring in a specialist to do this. Our local W**Marts, for instance, have a guy who travels from store to store assembling bikes. A unionized mechanic would be more expensive, so don’t expect Wally World to be supportive of this idea, either.

I once worked briefly for a ski shop. I was slated to attend a ski binding school in order to learn how to mount bindings properly, but a dock strike led to my first ever layoff. The idea behind the school was to see that all ski technicians knew how to do the job right, limiting liability for both shops and manufacturers. You’d think that in our increasingly litigious society, this would be a requirement for bicycle shops too. Would a car or motorcycle dealer hire someone with no experience to work on his products? Of course not!

My friend Sandra attended the introductory course at the Barnett Bicycle Institute. By doing so, she learned in a week what took me a couple of years by trial and error. I read a couple of books that helped, ‘”Richard’s Bicycle Book”, and Sloane’s “Complete Book of Bicycling”. I still have that copy of Sloane’s and it’s hopelessly dated now. But if Sandra could learn this material so quickly, anyone with an interest in the subject should be capable of learning enough to be a competent mechanic.

It would be wonderful to offer some sort of certification course to local cyclists and mechanics. Maybe not as elaborate as the BBI, but enough to cover the basics.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I was just riding along...

Every bike shop hears this one. “I was just riding along when…” Someone shortened it to JRA. In my case, it was a customer with a severely bent front wheel. It had a deep right-angle bend from hitting a storm drain. He claimed that he’d merely run over some leaves. Another customer standing nearby said, “They must have been some damn big leaves!” Of course, the shop wouldn’t honor his ‘warranty’ claim.

Another customer brought in his recently purchased bike for warranty work. The front wheel, fork, and frame were bent. He’d loaned it to his cousin who rode it into a wall. He wanted to replace the bike under warranty too.

Do people go back to the car dealership after they’ve crashed a new Blimpmobile, asking that the dealer replace it under warranty?

We had another tremendously fussy customer who dithered for weeks before finally ordering a particular bike. When it arrived we assembled it, then had to re-do much of it because it didn’t meet his anal retentive standards. He picked it up on a Saturday morning and rode it home where he left it on his front porch while he had lunch. You guessed it! After lunch, he returned to the now vacant front porch. The bike was long gone. But, thinking quickly, he phoned his bank and cancelled the check! It wasn’t going to be HIS loss. It was going to be OUR loss. We took the check and bill of sale to the local magistrate, who informed our customer about the law. He paid for the bike, and a bit extra for the magistrate’s fees.

I was thinking about some of these things while riding to work this morning. Sometimes I get good ideas out there on the road, and I have every intention of writing about them later in the day. The hell of it is, I often don’t remember what they were! But what got me thinking about the JRA stories was an ordinary, everyday incident that all cyclists experience. I was just riding along when I noticed freshly broken glass strewn across the road ahead. I swerved to avoid it. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t look for overtaking traffic. I just reacted. But how many times have other cyclists performed that same maneuver and had motorists honking or had a tire punctured?

“I was just riding along when the dog jumped out/ the car door opened/ the bike skidded on leaves/ the pedestrian stepped off the curb/ the car turned suddenly/ etc.” We’ve all heard them at one time or another. The common thread is the apparent suddenness of the incident. We get surprised by something that could be avoided if we were simply paying attention and trying to anticipate. Too often, we rely on experience to teach us those lessons. A patch of sand, some wet leaves, a loose dog, or the sound of an engine starting can provide us with sufficient warning. All we have to do is pay attention and try to think ahead a little.

But there’s another aspect to this story too, and that’s the people who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. When bad things happen, it’s always someone else who’s at fault. The bike was defective. The tire was defective. The workmanship was shoddy. You get the idea. Riding a bike into a wall obviously showed that the product was defective. If it were strong enough, it wouldn’t have bent.

Frankly, I have little idea about what to do with adults who try to wriggle out of personal responsibility in the same way as my children. Well, I have few ideas other than treating them as children, not backing down and absolving them of blame. There are limits to that approach, of course, and I can illustrate that with another story.

I was leaving a meeting a few weeks ago, unlocking my bike from an outside rack, when a middle-aged man walked up and started asking questions about bicycling. As it turned out, he’d bought a bicycle from one of the big box stores and he was having problems with it. (On some newsgroups, they’re referring to these as “bicycle shaped objects” or BSOs. I read once that their best use is to ride them back to the store and demand your money back.)

His bike had a problem with a pedal falling off. “I was just riding along, when suddenly the pedal fell off!” He called the customer service number, and they sent him another pedal, which promptly fell off. Next, they said they’d send a crank arm. It hadn’t arrived yet.

I suggested the first problem was that he’d bought the bike at ****Mart, instead of a bike shop. “No! Bike shops charge way too much!” Then I told him the crank arm would need to be removed with a special tool, and it would be best to have a shop do the work. He was dubious, intending to do it himself, so I told him about the Park Tool website and its repair section.

But as I said, there are limits to pointing out personal responsibility. He had purchased the bike and was loathe to spend any more money on it. He didn’t know why the problem happened in the first place. He didn’t know how to fix it. And he didn’t want to pay someone to fix it for him. Like I said, there are limits. The best approach with such people is to let them learn through harsh experience. It really doesn’t sink in otherwise.

The story struck a chord with me though, because I had a similar experience earlier this year. The left shoe cleat on my Giant felt loose at times. It released without warning. I’d been meaning to look at the pedal, but I put it off and forgot about it. And that’s understandable because I really don’t ride the bike much. So on a nice Sunday afternoon, I was a couple of miles from home when I noticed it getting much looser. I stopped to take a look. The pedal was about to fall out of the crank arm! There’s no one to blame for this other than myself since I do all the maintenance. It was an expensive oversight. I had to buy a new crank because the pedal threads were stripped.

Somehow, I don’t think I could walk into Tom’s with that stripped crank arm and say, “I was just riding along when suddenly…” They’d just laugh.