Thursday, August 28, 2008

Idiot cyclists

This morning I had to run some errands-- multiple stops and I needed to negotiate heavy traffic. I would need to take my 5 year-old along. So... I decided on the car. Perhaps if the bank hadn't decided to be hostile towards me riding my bike through the drive-through I might have reconsidered my transpo choice. Still... I needed to cross I-5.

Anyway, business concluded we're driving home and we pass a cyclist. He's in full faux-PRO kit and his bike is sporting a standard drop-bar with clip-on aerobars. Ding-ding-ding! We've got a wee-ner!

We pull up behind a few cars stopped at a red light. Speedy McAerobars comes coasting by (that's as good as a stop, right?) and then, as he enters the intersection, he veers off to the right, into the pedestrian cross-walk. Now he's a pedestrian! No need to stop, or even slow down! No wait... as he exits the intersection he veers back to the left into the bike lane. Now he's a bicycle! Wow! What a transformation! From cyclist to idiot ass-wipe back to cyclist all in the space of a few seconds. And he does it without stopping!

Thanks a lot for making us ALL look like idiot jerks, Speedy McAerodork.

I'll say this much: If the intersection is occupied, obey the traffic laws. If it's empty, treat the stop sign/signal as a yield (at your own risk-- it's illegal in most states). But don't commit the double error of blowing through a light and then using a pedestrian crosswalk to commit your crime of stupidity. Do us all a favor and stay home and watch bowling.

XC is the new KFC

Have you heard the "urban legend" about why KFC is no longer "Kentucky Fried Chicken"? It's something about how the USDA has decreed that for Kentucky Fried Chicken to continue to use the word "chicken" in its name it must actually serve real chicken. And since Kentucky Fried... er, KFC uses vat-grown chicken-oid meat-creatures with 4 breasts and 8 legs (and genetically engineered "nuggets") and NOT real chickens it must henceforth use the initials "KFC" in all trade dress.

It seems that cross-country MTB racing is in a similar spot.

I see more and more races billed as "XC" and not "cross-country". Take the Olympic "XC" races at the Laoshan blah blah complex. The erzatz "cross-country" race course was billed as entirely man-made. Indeed, part of it runs through a local shopping mall where racers can pit-in to buy tourist trinkets and frosty-n-refreshing Slushees (and replacement wheels). The course exits onto the BMX start ramp where many of the MTB racers lacking any real downhill skillz plunge to their deaths. The survivors continue on around the man-made course negotiating tricky off-camber mini-golf obstacles and foam-rubber boulders.

Seriously though. I remember when XC races were actually cross-country. They were quite difficult at times. I don't seem to remember the complaining that seems to be so common these days.

"Too muddy."

"Too rocky."

"Too long."

"Too much climbing."

And on and on...

At first the Laoshan course was "too easy" then the UCI folks planted some concrete boulders/rocks, fake water bars, etc and made it "almost too hard."

Mountain biking is riding a bicycle off-road. Across terrain supplied by mother nature. Love it as is -- warts and all -- or stay home and watch the pro-tour races on Versus.

Pass the PBR.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thanks for being there...

...When I need you.

Observe the contents of my seat bag. Oh wait-- the Crank Bros. Multi-tool is in the bag. Sorry. It rocks, too. Anyway. I love the Pedro's Blowout bag. It's circa 2001 and Pedro's doesn't make them like that anymore. Now they're cheap rotten little things.

Boo hoo.

Park Tool tire levers. Badass. Not the baddest tire levers out there-- that title belongs to the Kool-Stop tire bead jack. (Although I guess that isn't properly a tire lever.) Anyway-- I may have mentioned earlier that these little blue levers are pretty damn tough. I've snapped countless Specialized, CyclePro, Performance, Nashbar, and No-Name tire levers. I've even ruined a QuikStik! Not a Park Tool lever. Not even tweaked one. What on earth are these things made of?

Badassedness. 100-percent.

The Crank Bros. Powerpump. So small. So light. Blows so much air. It just shows CO2 inflators as what they are: wasteful, junky, stupid, useless, lame, trashy, ad nauseum. Totally bogus. Yes, the Powerpump fits in the seat bag.

The Park Tool "glueless" patches have always worked for me. I have some tubes that have patches several years old. They've stayed secure through MTB and cyclocross usage. Summer heat and winter cold. Off-road and on-road. For some reason Sheldon Brown doesn't think too much of the glueless patches and preferrs the Rema Tip Top brand (which I used to use). I've used Performance brand glueless patches and have found the Park Tool brand (the "Super Patch" GP-2) to be quite good and reliable. I've even had the little plastic case become water-logged and contaminated with silt with no apparent ill-effect. Sweet!

I just love these guys.

After the weekend's flat-tire fun up in Forest Park I just wanted to hug them and thank them for just being there.

Thanks Powerpump!

Thanks Park tire levers!

Thanks Park glueless patches!

Redefining "work gloves": The Ironclad Wrenchworx Impact glove

Build a deck in the morning and then go for a ride in the afternoon.

Last summer I picked up two pair of Ironclad's "Wrenchworx Impact" work gloves. I've put them both through the cyclocross wringer compounded with weekly washings.

They do quite well for actual tool work around the yard-- saved my hands from blisters when digging and give a good feel for drill-drivers and other tools without the bulk of a conventional leather glove.

Best of all, when the work is done (or you've just had enough) just hop on the bike and take off.

Monday, August 25, 2008

PSA: Be Prepared!

Carry what you need to get home:
1 tube
Patch kit (I recommend Park GP-2 "glueless" patches)
Pump (NOT the lame-ass wasteful CO2 things-- a Crank Bros. Powerpump)
Multitool (Crank Bros, again. Awesome.)
Tire levers (Just in case-- Park Tool blue ones are good and tough.)

Here's why: Sometimes when the shit comes down you need an umbrella. On a recent ride, I encountered a hapless guy that just had a couple of changes of clothes, so to speak, and NO umbrella.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a quick ride up in Forest Park. Hadn't been up there in a while. I couldn't decide between the cross bike or the mountain bike. MTB won.

Saw a couple of banana slugs-- why do they always seem to be crossing the trails and never traveling on them? Just crossing. Sorry guys/gals... the other side is more of the same.

Anyway. Crusing up Leif Erickson I pass this guy sitting on the side, wheel in lap-- sure sign of major problem. Or inexperience. As I approach I ask if he's got everything he needs. No response. Coasting by, I repeat the question louder. Nothing. Then I notice the earbuds-- he's listening to music. He looks up as I roll by and just says "hi" to my shouted "Are you okay?"

Oh well-- if he was having intractable problems he'd say something. Plus he had a litter of tubes and tools around him so he looked like he didn't need anything. He certainly looked like he had more than enough. So I move on.

It's late in the afternoon and dinnertime is fast approaching. I don't want to keep the family waiting for me so I decided to make a shorter loop up Saltzman and then down Firelane #5. On my way back down Leif Erickson... the guy is still there. Still sitting down with his wheel in his lap. Now there's another rider with him. This time I stopped, and in my best bossy tone* I asked what was going on.

Oh boy. The guy had gone through two tubes. He said that the valves were defective. *shrug* Whatever. He had ridden through blackberries or something thorny. He seemed pretty flustered and said that he was just going to put his original tube back in and pump it up as much as possible and see how far he could get.

Well, it took a few minutes to sink in, but this guy was completely FUBAR'd. I just couldn't appreciate the enormity of the disaster. Titanic-type.

"Well don't you have any patches?" I asked, sweetly, knowing the answer. Fearing it.

No. No patches. "I've got three tubes!" he claimed. He didn't have a pump either. There was a litter of those cursed CO2 cylinders around his bike. I suggested that he should buy a pump to which he responded "But I brought (3 or 4) CO2 cylinders!"

"Yeah, but they're all used up and now what?" He had no patches, no pump, no viable tubes. He had NO way of fixing his tube without outside help. Unbelievable. (The other rider that stopped had loaned his pump.)

Wait-- it gets worse.

So I just about insist that I patch his tube. It's probably about an hour to walk back down to the gate. At least that. And it's starting to piss down rain.

So I patch the tube, confirm that it's going to hold air and hand it back to the guy. He stuffs it back into the tire and proceeds to use the biggest METAL tire levers I've ever seen. They must have been for motorcycle use originally. I mean-- they must have been the size of my forearm! Satan's tire levers!


He then starts to pump up the tire. Ssssssss.

"You probably pinched the tire," I suggest. "With those big damn stupid tire levers." I think. Again he wants to just give up and hoof it.

So I take the wheel from him remove the tube. Yup. Double snake bite. FOUR HOLES. Good grief.

I try to cover both sets of holes with one patch. The other rider has taken his pump back and is preparing to leave. I'd like to leave too. Effing mosquitoes are making sushi out of me.

I start to pump up the tire and it's going flat just as quickly as I can pump it up. Damn damn damn damn.

"Okay, that's it, I'm walking." The guy is pretty insistent that he's going to just walk and call for a ride home.

At this point I'm just feeling a little stunned by this cascade of failures and the guy's attitude. We've spent about 30 minutes or so fiddling around and I'm going to be late getting home. I'm getting a little pissed off, too.

Fine. If he wants to quit I'm okay with that.

I bid him farewell and take off down the trail.

After about 5 minutes my conscience gets the better of me and I turn around and ride back to him. (He's on the phone, but it sounds like his GF can't find the car keys to come rescue him. Wow. This guy must be paying off some HUGE karmic debt.)

We're out from under the trees this time so I can get a good look at his wheel.


The plastic rim strip has little crescent-shaped cuts in it everywhere. There is a significant, sharp-edged crescent-shaped gouge near a spoke hole.

All this damage is consistent with the spooned edge of a metal tire lever!!

Zoinks! This guy has butchered his wheel with those great damn tire levers. I suggested that he switch to the (awesome) Park Tool tire levers but he kinda blows me off -- "Oh, I've broken so many of those!" I suggested that he's crazy since I've had QuikStiks fail (and break) where the Park levers have not.

I also discover a tear in the tire sidewall, just above the bead. Just incredible.

So I get the tube back in and the tire mounted and aired up-- everything looks okay. Then he discovers that he's got a slow leak in his front tire. We can see a thorn sticking in and air is bubbling through the mud and water.

Fortunately it's a slow leak and he's got plenty of pressure left. He makes his final decision to just make a go of it and this time I have no problems with letting him go-- he'll probably make it or at least get very close.

So I left him with a set of Park patches and a new tube.

Let's see: He went through three tubes, all of his CO2 cylinders (3-4), didn't have any patches, kept damaging his tubes with those damn bloody great big metal tire levers, tore a hole in one of his tire sidewalls, damaged the bed of the rim. Was there anything else?

I don't think he learned anything. Every time I made a suggestion he kind of "pooh-poohed" the idea.

I just couldn't believe what had happened. That guy and his tire levers were his own worst enemy.

Here's what I learned: When making a trail-side repair, take it slow and by the numbers. Do not let anybody rush you-- do the repair right. Riding is better than walking.

And I learned that CO2 inflaters really really really do suck. They're wasteful and stupid. Once they run out you're screwed. A good pump (Crank Bros. Powerpump) is vastly superior. The Powerpump is probably about the same size as those stupid CO2 things and lighter and more compact to boot.

*Not really. Maybe. I mean the guy was still there. Something was up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rain and skates don't mix very well...


My rain bike...

Okay, I just have to address this:

I'm sure that this is common in other wet locations like Seattle

Cyclists that have a "rain bike".

What the hell is a "rain bike"? I have a modest selection of bikes spanning a wide time-line. Not one of them is a "rain bike". They have all been in the rain. They have all been raced. They have all been muddied (a couple more than others). They have all been commuters and errand-bikes.

A rain bike? Unfortunately there is not a "scorn" style-button in Blogger otherwise I'd be combining it with bold and italic. What, does a rain bike shed rain? Is it water-proof somehow?


Maybe I'm missing something and just being an annoying, reactionary, no-good dumbo nothing jerk.

Sorry rain-bike folks-- I have bikes.


The perfect seat bag?

I'm in search of the "perfect" seat bag.

I have one-- it's an old Pedro's Blow-Out bag made from (supposedly) used innertubes. I got it in 2001. It holds a Crank Bros. Power Pump (the smallest one), a tube, three Park tire levers, Crank Bros. multi-tool, and a Park glue-less patch kit. It's stuffed. All straps are embroidered with the Pedro's logo. Strap uses an adjustable side-squeeze buckle. It tucks up behind the seat perfectly and doesn't rub the inside of my thighs. One seam blew out but I sewed back myself a few years ago and it's still going strong.

I got another one in 2006. It was a shadow of the 2001 bag. A cheap shadow. The reflective tag on the back that's supposed to hold a blinky light? Ripped. Cheap, flimsy straps and lame-ass buckle.

Lame, Pedro's. Lame.

Anyway. I got a Crank Bros. Power Pump Pro (small alloy with gauge) for my road bike and needed a bag that would hold everything nicely. Picked up what looked like a decent bag at Performance Bike. The Trans It "speed wedge". Pffft. The cursed thing rubs on the inside of my thighs. After quite a few miles of "bzzzup-bzzzup" and fiddling with the bag I just had to remove the damn thing.

I went to REI and looked at what they had. Holy crap-- most of their stock is sized to hold the kitchen sink! Timbuk2 had some nicely done (almost overdone) bags but they had no provision for holding a blinky light-- a serious, deal-killing oversight. The bags were lined. Good grief-- I'm only jamming tools and tubes and stuff in it, not a BlackBerry.

Back to Performance Bike. I thought I had found a pretty good bag-- it was the right dimensions and had a little loop for a blinky light (it appeared to be a bit unorthodox...). And it was on sale!


The bag passed the thigh rub test and held everything nicely. However, the straps were positioned in sugh a way that the bag wanted to hang more vertically than up under the saddle. The strap that was supposed to go around the seatpost instead had to go under the seatpost collar. Bleah. The "unorthodox" blinky light holder? Yeah-- rendered useless. Actually, in experiments with the bag off the bike I could not successfully use the blinky light loop. No matter how I oriented the bag. So apparently Performance designs stuff like this without even thinking about it.

Why am I obsessing about a seat bag? Why does something so seemingly simple and necessary have to be such a bewildering hassle?

I finally settled on a Pearl Izumi bag (the only one they make) and it seems to do everything I need and has a nice big tab on the back that's reflective and holds a blinky light in a useful fashion. It seems a little lightweight though, so I'm concerned about long-term durability. But it's on the road bike, so...

What? What happened to summer?

It's summertime and the living is easy...

It seems like I've got just a few more days of that. It doesn't help that my wife is a teacher and she stays busy with summer-school-- she winds up with just a few weeks of actual off-time. And those seem to go by so quickly.

However, we no longer have a deck in the back of our 70's ranch-style home. Just a frame right now. Watch your step out the back door-- it's a doozy and then you'll wind up breaking yourself on a couple of the joists. Oof!

My dad came up to help but the weather hasn't cooperated. First we had temps breaking 100 and then it was followed by rain! Oh and then there were the damn termites and carpenter ants busy eating my house.

So what does this have to do with me and the bikes? We haven't seen much of each other the last 10 days. Boo hoo.

This weekend, though. The forecast looks sunny and I plan on being out there.

Yeah yeah... the deck will get some attention, too.

Stop the madness! Again! Some More!

Carbon nanotubes bad for your lungs? The environment? (Your lungs.)

Okay, maybe I'm being something of an alarmist, but one really can't ignore stuff like this outright:
Carbon Nanotubes That Look Like Asbestos, Behave Like Asbestos

New study shows inhaling long, thin carbon nanotubes may result in asbestos-like health effects.

This is the head and sub-head of an article on The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website. It's based on a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology that reports on a study done that indicates that carbon nanotubes, introduced into the body (the tests were conducted on mice), have an asbestos-like pathogenicity.

Remember asbestos? If it got into your lungs, you were pretty much toast. Asbestos fibers were long, thin fibers very much like carbon-nanotubes.

Go here to read the PEN article:

Go here to read the abstract of the Nature Nanotechnology article:

I was turned onto this by a post on the Cozy Beehive. (In the same post there's some love for Thomson components-- which are NOT carbon composite!)

Why am I bothering with this? I'm not a huge fan of carbon composites in general. Now I'm not a "Luddite" but sometimes I think we humans have a tendency to do things because we can (Times like this I'm always reminded of the joke about why dogs lick their balls...)

We've created this wonderful amazing material, but what is the net effect of its creation and disposal? I mean, c'mon-- go Google "snapped carbon steerer" or some variation and you'll doubtless turn up plenty of scary reading material. And that's just for steerers-- not handlebars, forks, seatposts and even frames.

I'll mention this again-- do carbon composite materials degrade into healthful fertilizer when they're disposed of? Or do they shed harmful component chemicals and dangerous particulate matter?

I know I'm just scratching the surface and not touching on other toxic manufacturing processes involved in the manufacture of metal alloy bicycles and components.

Still... I guess it's good to ask questions, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Going from 2 to 8 wheels...

So I finally got my speed skates. After the 1994 series of skate races held concurrently with the twilight criterium in Boise, I vowed to return the next summer with speed skates.

Okay, well, 14 years later and one state over and I've done it.

Getting ready to head out to PIR I had the nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. My bike! It felt really strange heading out fully kitted for riding but no bike.

I went out for only one skate last week. The streets around home are terrible and my street in particular is not even paved! I felt like I had never skated before-- all wobbly and feeling like I was just going to keel over. I was rather shocked! My experience on the speed skates was nothing like I had imagined. It wasn't even fun! I had always imagined myself just gliding along-- a good strong push and I'd just coast along... then touching down with my other foot and pushing off again. Instead I felt terribly uncordinated and kept overbalancing on the outsides of my feet. After a pathetic 15 minutes I went back home worried that maybe I had wasted my money.

Silly me. First, the frames weren't even lined up properly on the boots. Thanks to some helpful skates on the Inine Planet forums I was able to get my frames in a good neutral spot. I practiced in my living room by standing on one skate at a time. After the adjustments, I could easily stand on one stake and not feel like I was tipping over.

When Monday came and it was time to head out to PIR to meet up with the other skaters there I was just beside myself.But I was worried that I would just flounder around out there. Would it be a horrible ordeal? Whould I remember how to skate? After my first test run around the neighborhood I wasn't sure. I also hoped that I wouldn't fall and lose any skin or shred my shorts.

The asphalt track at PIR was awesome.

It was everything I had dreamed of all these years. It was exactly like I imagined that speed skating would be. Unless you've skated -- really skated, tucked in and just sailing along -- you have no idea how incredible it is. I guess it takes some work to get there and I'm glad my body remembered what to do (mostly) but the payoff is totally worth it. I love bikes and the sensation of movment and the wheels spinning, but this is totally different.

I had a fantastic time out on the asphalt. The time we had to skate just flew by and before I knew it it was time to get off the track and make way for the cyclists. I wanted more skating but my back was complaining and my legs were all noodly feeling. Altogether a very pleasant sensation-- let's you know that you've had a good run.

. . .

I took a few minutes and I can't really properly describe it. The sense of movement while skating -- of pushing with one leg and gliding on the other is, I think, the core appeal to me. The speed, too. That's important, too.

Sadly there's just two more sessions out at PIR until the skating's done there for the summer. Then what? Maybe indoor this fall?

I'd better cut my reverie short and get back to work.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stop the madness!

This is obviously one of the signs of the apocalypse:

Bonty's new carbon composite mountain bike wheels.

When I was in high school I remember getting totally excited to see Kestrel's full-suspension concept mountain bike utilizing nary a lick of metal tubing for the main triangle and swingarm. All carbon composite. As Chowder would put it: "Excitement!" That bike never saw the light of day-- the light of day that filters through a bike shop's front window, that is. It remained a concept bike.

Then there was that weird Trimble thing. Brent Trimble was actually the designer/builder behind Kestrel's hubba-hubba concept bike that got me so excited (I believe). I actually saw one of those in a bike shop.

This was 1988-1989. Maybe 1987. I still have my 1989 steel Specialized Sumpjumper. I've not seen any of those composite-framed bikes anywhere in the last 15 years. Not hanging on a wall, not being ridden. I see tons and tons of 1970's steel Peugeots, Schwinns, Sears, etc. out and about. Why? Why is that? The carbon-composite proponents like to laud carbon's nigh infinite fatigue life. Where are these everlasting carbon-coposite bikes?

Hang on. I must inetrject-- I'm a total retro-grouch. I've come a long way from the drooling school-boy lusting over the Trimble and the vapor-ware Bushido racer (10 points if you can post a pic of the Bushido.) I no longer think that carbon composites have much place on bicycles.

They're too vulnerable. A scratch and effectively ruin (total?) a carbon-composite part. And I've only been racing cyclocross three seasons but I've seen enough broken composite seatposts to make my bung pucker up to the size of a pore. And the one snapped fork was one too many.

I've also read about too many snapped carbon steerers. Well, again-- one is too many. Makes me cringe.

So where am I going? Carbon wheels for mountain bikes are insane unless you're a pro and someone else is providing you with hardware. Or you're stupidly rich.

Maybe in another 10-15 years we'll have carbon composite bikes and components that won't fail in such spectacular ways and turn themselves into toxic, non-recyclable land-fill.

End of rant. Sorry.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Good Stuff: The King Cage waterbottle cage

The King Cage. Appropriately named, it is probably the best waterbottle cage I have ever owned. The Specialized (plastic/composite) mountain cages were pretty good and I still have 4 that have been in service since the early 1990's, but the King Cage will likely be around after I'm dead. It's classy looking and classic. It's the kind of component that you move from bike to bike.

It's tubular steel so it's very light. It's recyclable. If it gets bent-- bend it back. It grips bottles like a crazed gorilla. Oh, and it's hand-made. Big points on my list. (I'm a snob, sure.)

My only complaint is that I didn't have the cash to pick up a couple when I had the opportunity to buy at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. The King Cage folks were there selling their stuff. The steel cages were a fiddling $8. Yeah! Want to buy them anywhere else and you're paying twice that.

Still, at $17.00 or so they're awesome. If you find them for less than that-- stock up!

Farewell MTB Short-Track...

Short-track #6. The last short-track race of the summer. Fooey. The world has just a little less color in it now. My lungs have just a little less dust in them. As part of the his year I participated in the craaazy wacky relay-race. I found myself part of a rag-tag team of ten misfits. The "Goonies" of mtb short-track racing, you might say. Well, I think maybe I was the only goonie... everybody else looked pretty cool and seemed to know what they were doing-- The "A-Team" of mtb short-track. Well then that would make me the Murdoch. I was constantly advised to "Keep pushing the pedals around and look for the people waving and shouting your name. You can do it!"

Wait... what am I talking about?

Seriously though the relay race was really fun. 10 riders on a team. You get one lap around the motocross track (thank goodness) going as hard as you can. As soon as you get into the relay zone, your team-mate takes off for their turn at making their lungs bleed. Whee! I have newfound respect for BMXers. Good grief-- I felt like my lungs were going to jump out through my throat and then explode.

The organizers gave away more Clif Shot Bloks that I thought even existed on the planet. Quick note about the raffle: Everyone was obviously there with hopes of snagging the Chris King wheelset. During every other drawing there was lots of chatter and noise from the crowd. Even when they gave away sets of Yakima racks (sweet!) there was still a background murmur. When the Chris King wheelset was announced as the next (and last) prize? You could have head a pin drop in the powdery dirt of the short-track.

In the end it was a fun 6 weeks. I think the series was even better this year than last (my first year racing short-track) so that's a good sign. Thanks to the folks of Portland Racing for putting on a good show and thanks to the volunteers for making the whole thing go.

On to cyclocross!