Thursday, July 23, 2009


My girls and I took a week away from camp and work and getting the house in shape, and spent it at a house borrowed from a friend of my parents on Cape Cod. It was a short week (M-F), but it was still a lot of fun to be at the beach and away from our normal routine. And I managed to keep most of the work stuff at bay for the week. Most of it.

Apart from spending time at the beach (which Juli is drawn to; Ava not so much because she's a little afraid of waves), we drove up to Provincetown, read, ate greasy food at the house and at seafood places, and rode our bikes. I even bought a new carrier for my Thule bars so I could bring down Juli's mountain bike, my Paramount and the trailer bike for Ava, while also schlepping food, clothes, bedding and beach stuff needed for three people for 5 days in my little Mazda.

The bikes came in handy for getting to the beach, and Juli's little plastic handlebar basket was invaluable for carrying a pair of rolled-up beach towels. Enough so that I'm thinking about picking up a couple of Wald wire baskets to cable-tie to the various racks on our bikes when we need them. We also took a couple of longer rides - one around 5 miles and one just over 14.

The 14-miler was mostly on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which starts in South Dennis, about two miles from the house we borrowed, which was in Dennis Port. And it was on that ride that I was reminded of how important praise is to kids. Well, people in general, when they do something well. But kids get a lot of negative feedback from adults -- particularly kids like Juliana who have strong wills and short attention spans -- and it's important to highlight for them what they're doing well.

At the head of the CCRT,we passed a youngish couple with their new baby about to set out on a ride. The parents were both trim and athletic and had nice bikes. Their baby was riding in a handlebar-mounted seat on Dad's bike, which I thought was both cool and a little scary, having always kept my kids low and in a Burly trailer when taking them out as infants and young toddlers. Anyway, we saw them, they saw us, and off we went, leaving just ahead of them. We kept up about a 16mph pace when we were rolling.

If you do the math, you can see we did about 5 miles each way on the trail. Just a little past the first rotary in Harwich. Probably half a dozen street crossings each way, and a couple quick stops for water breaks. During one of our water stops, the other threesome passed us, and we quickly overtook them shortly thereafter. I didn't hear this directly, but at around our halfway point, Juli told me that as she passed the group (Juli was at the tail of our procession most of the ride) the man remarked to his partner, "That kid can ride!" as she cruised past on her little 20" Performance mountain bike. Which, of course, she can.

My response at the time was to the effect that she is a strong rider, yes, and that it was neat that someone else had noticed. But of course I ride with Juli all the time, and I've spent the past few years coaching her with choosing gears and keeping up a spin -- I take Juli's riding strength as a given. It wasn't until later in the ride that the impact really sank in.

When we got back to the trail head, that litle family had beaten us back, having turned around a bit sooner than we had, and/or not dallied at the rotary on the way back like we did. We bumped into the dad as he walked from Barbara's Bike Shop back to the parking lot of the rail trail. He and I gave each other a "Hey" as we passed, but he made a point of telling Juli she is a really good rider. She was obviously proud, and it stayed with her for the next couple of days.

Juli is a wonderful girl, but in some ways she's a tough kid to parent. Bright, eloquent, strong-willed, artistic and always turning over what she can create. She's still working out how to get along well with others, and she's quirky enough not to fit in with many of the other children, particularly other girls. Her self esteem has suffered from the social challenges at school, from power struggles (strong willed, remember) at home and at school, and from the collapse of my marriage. She's having a tough run right now.

That other rider offered Juli genuine, unsolicited praise. Praise I've also offered, but in this case unencumbered by a parental relationship. I don't know if she will remember all of this in a year or five years, but I can say that in the moment it made her realize she's good at something. For a little girl struggling to find her place, it meant a lot.

And for that simple act -- of kindness, of enthusiasm, and of respect -- he has my gratitude.

All for now,


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friendly Folks

Just a quick note. Last week on my second pass through my new loop, I encountered a fellow Motobecane owner and enthusiast. I'm more of a bike enthusiast in general, really, but I do really like the Motobecane a lot. More than my Schwinn, honestly, though that's a prettier bike.

Anyway, I was riding with a friend, and we were passed by a car carrying said enthusiast and her family. They pulled into their driveway not too far ahead of us, and as we passed, she called out. My ears are junk, so I turned around to see what was up, and in the process knocked my front fender askew for perhaps the tenth time that morning (the toe overlap when pedaling from the arches now showing its dark side). After several attempts to understand her from a distance, I finally gleaned that she was saying "Nice Motobecane!"

I stopped in front of her house to chat and to fix my fender. Turns out she has a handful of similar Motobecanes. We talked a bit about the fork replacement and the bikes in general, and she mentioned wanting to unload a blue 25" model she has tucked away somewhere. I left my contact info and hope that I'll hear from her at some point. I don't really need another bike, but mine is a 24" and it's just a smidge small in the seat tube for me, so a 25" wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Anyway, it was a fun encounter and it came just a week after my ride and post about the Motobecane not getting any respect. Scratch that -- it would seem the bike just needs the right people around to respect it.

All for now,


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Schwinn Cruiser

Someone talk me out of this.

I've been thinking about getting an old Schwinn straight-bar cruiser (like this one in a picture cribbed from eBay) and doing the following:

  • Tearing it all down (though this one is pretty naked already)

  • Getting a set of 650B rims laced to modern hubs -- possibly a drum front and an internally geared rear, possibly with a rear coaster brake. Maybe a decent Panaracer 650B road tire.

  • Nitto dove bars with shellacked cork grips

  • Aluminum stem

  • Brooks saddle

  • MRP Ashtabula converter to a 3-pc bottom bracket

  • 3-piece crankset and single chainring

  • Wald basket up front and possibly out back

(Rhetorical) Question is, would it still be an unwieldy tank to ride, or would it be even slightly rehabilitated by all this stuff? I'm sure someone has already answered that question, actually.

The other question is whether I need another project right now, which I can answer unequivocally "No." But that's rarely stopped me before...

In any case, I'm sure it's a ridiculous notion -- probably also very pretentious. But there's something tugging at me, there.

All for now,


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Le Mongre

When I picked the Motobecane Grand Touring up at my friend Steven's apartment last Winter, I really didn't need another bike -- much less one that was a basket case. And I didn't really know what role it would serve as I started rebuilding it. Then I had to replace the fork, which really ruined the looks of the bike, but kept it functioning (well) as a bicycle. And yesterday, four and a half months after I first picked it up, the Motobecane Sports Tourer seems finally fully sorted and configured. It's not pretty, and it won't be pretty any time soon. It's a mongrel in every sense of the word (Vitus main tubes, Reynolds 531 fork, Campy shifters, Suntour derailleurs and brakes, Shimano hubs and freewheel, Mavic rims, SR cranks and seatpost, Nitto bars and stem, Tange headset, salvaged Brooks saddle, and various accessories) -- and I love it. Mongre isn't a word in French, from what I can tell, but should be. As a name it works, though.

I put 40-odd miles on Le Mongre this weekend, and the bike performed flawlessly. In the past few weeks, I made a bunch of changes, each aimed at making the bike more useful:

  • 36-tooth inner chainring for the SR Apex crankset, replacing the 42 and complementing the 52

  • Shimano Ultegra brake pads to replace the dried up and noisy red Superbe pads

  • Blinky on the front and rear to increase my visibility on dark morning rides (it's been cloudy and rainy for the past month here in MA)

  • Long-cage Suntour Cyclone Mk II rear derailleur to better manage the chain slack with such wide gear spacing

  • Zefal black plastic fenders to keep the road spray off (did I mention the wet June?)

  • The first frame pump I ever bought -- an old Zefal

The result is a bike that rides well, goes fast enough, handles well, stops well, shifts well, and carries a certain old-school cachet. It'll be perfect for wet morning rides. It'd be perfect for a short commute, with the addition of a good-sized saddle bag. It'd be pefect for fast or slow group or solo rides. It'll help me cross-train with a different pedal position. And I could probably do a century or 150 charity ride on it without a lot of discomfort. It doesn't have the looks it did as recently as March, no. But it's beautifully functional, capable and flexible, which counts for a lot. At least to me.

What my mongrel doesn't appear to do is garner much respect from other riders. When I'm out on my Kestrel, I can pretty much count on head nods, hello's, waves and the like from other riders. It's rare that I don't get a wave back. Today, no more than half the riders I passed responded to my greetings. Think about that -- same rider, dressed the same way I always do, but a dramatically different response *maybe* based on equipment.

If that's it, that's a little sad, but it's also not surprising. I can't say with honesty that I've never looked down on someone else's ride, so I need to be cautious in passing judgement, here. But I can say that working on the Schwinn and Motobecane have given me a recent appreciation for the charm of classic bikes, and I enjoy sharing that appreciation in person. But I suppose this blog is already all about that, so I won't complain.

In any case, I think the bike's mechanical and cosmetic setup is complete. It'll need tires for next season, and I want to get a computer for it, but those aren't setup issues per se. And cosmetically, I could certainly help the poor thing out by getting the frame and fork stripped and repainted a common color. But that'd cost me probably $400, and that's creeping pretty close to the price of a new production frame. As it is, it's a wonderful mutt that does everything I want it to. It just doesn't do them in style.

I know there are plenty of other mongrels out there -- anyone care to share theirs?

All for now,


Foot Position on the Pedals

I put about 40 miles on my mongrel (and it's looking more mongrel-like every day) Motobecane Grand Touring this weekend. I don't have a computer on the bike, but based on previous experience with the base routes, I'll call the rides 15 and 25 miles each, give or take. The first ride was yesterday, the Fourth of July. I rode with a friend, sort of exploring our way around my town the way I never have before. The change is that I'm on a clear path, now, to selling my place, and want to pick up something smaller in town.

That ride was fun, but also a bit eerie. There was absolutely nobody out and about, and it was like Stephen King's novel The Stand had come true, or something. It was a ride of about average length for me, and was at a relatively relaxed pace. But my knees felt like crap the whole rest of the day and into this morning.

This morning I hopped back onto the Motobecane, with every intention of doing my normal 21-mile solo route, plus maybe explore an extra loop around the back side of one of the lakes along the way. My goal was to take some time to focus on the bike today -- to really listen to what it was telling me, and figure out what else it needed before calling it done. The bike didn't have a hell of a lot to say, honestly -- I've pretty much worked out all the kinks. But my knees were telling me that I needed more saddle height.

Unfortunately, I'm at the seatpost's maximum extension already, so as I hit about the 4 mile mark, I started thinking about cutting the ride short and picking up a longer seatpost in 26.0. Not growing on trees, but not too hard to find, either.

But then I started feeling like a big wuss, and I really wanted to get out for the extra distance, because the weather has been so bad and it was so good today. Which got me thinking about an article that Grant Peterson had posted on his Peeking Through the Knothole blog a few weeks ago. It was just a blurb, really, celebrating a Cycling News article reporting on a new bike shoe that mounts an SPD cleat at an alternate location -- under the arch. Anyway, the bit from the article that came to mind was that if you ride with the pedal under the arch of your foot, rather than the ball, you need to lower the seatpost to accommodate the change in biomechanics that stems from taking your ankle and foot length more or less out of the picture. My saddle was too low... lower your saddle to ride from the arches... Bingo!

Now, I used to pedal from the arches, like probably most people did when they first started riding. And I pretty much spent my teens grafted to a bike, blissfully unaware that I was pedaling wrong. I only started pedaling from the balls of my feet when I was told that I should (in my twenties), and that behavior was reinforced (cemented, really) by moving to Look pedals (and by the way, I had my left knee scoped years ago because I wore the cartilege away on a ride, after I installed my own cleats misaligned -- get them fitted if you're using clipless pedals!)

The Motobecane is fitted with what are probably its OEM touring-style MKS pedals, and I ride it in a pair of old Lake mountain bike shoes whose heel has been (sort of) stuck back down with Shoe Goo after it peeled off. The open pedal style means there's no conflict with my mountain bike cleats when I ride in those shoes, and the lugged rubber sole gives me a good grip. So I thought about it for a minute, then relocated my feet farther forward on the pedals, and began pedaling from the arches. "Ugh, this sucks!" I thought, at first, and my quads started to burn pretty much right away. But the truth is, the sucky feeling didn't last long. And though it took me a couple of miles to alter my spin (slower) and figure out which gears to use (taller), I have to say, it wasn't bad. The Cycling News article mentions "dieseling along" (diesel cars generally produce more torque and run at lower RPM with taller gearing than gasoline cars), and it seemed an apt description. And the other thing I noticed is that riding unsecured works much better from your arch than from the ball of your foot. There's not nearly as much tendency to push the foot forward and off the pedal. There is toe overlap with the front tire on this bike, but I survived that, and suspect I generally will.

In terms of feel, I'd sum up the change as "less ankles, knees and calves; more quads and hams". I didn't feel as fast, but I didn't have a computer to tell me whether I was or not. And though I'm pretty much ready for a nap as I write this, my calves feel fresh, and my knees don't feel any worse than they did yesterday. So I think I'm going to leave the Motobecane's seatpost as-is, and enjoy the bike in an arch-pedaling setup. I'm also going to pick up another computer so I can compare ride time, average speed and spin speed across configurations, and take some comparative rides on my Kestrel and my Motobecane to see what's up. That's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it's data and should be interesting.

If nothing else, it'll be good to use the different positions on different bikes as a way of cross-training muscle groups. Wow -- that almost made me sound like I have interest in riding competitively, which of course I don't. Still, if I can strengthen my legs while also avoiding having to buy a new seatpost, then so much the better.

Anyone else play around with ball-pedaling vs. arch-pedaling?

The back side of that lake, by the way, was beautiful. I have a new loop!

All for now,