Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter Training

Well, I'm up to 60 trainer miles this winter.  Not too bad, considering I sprained my ankle not too long ago.  Today was 14 miles at 19.5 mph on the rollers.  Paired with a workout of 60 push-ups, 100 abdominal reps (three types), and 18 pull-ups, I think I just about burned off last night's dessert.

To that end, I've been pretty bad this holiday, with the eating.  Lots of chocolate.  Need to get back on the wagon and set that stuff aside.  And back on the trainer to burn what I ate off.

Three plus months left indoors.  By mid-April I want to be back outside logging miles.

All for now,

J

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pending Ears

If you were to spend time in my company, either conversing with me or observing me in conversation, you would soon notice that my hearing isn't great.  I often ask someone to repeat him/herself, because I've missed a word or phrase.  I've become reasonably adept at filling the gaps where a spoken word has eluded me, but that's a guessing game and I don't always guess correctly -- not by a long shot.

It's long since time to do something about that, so in January, I'm getting hearing aids.  I've avoided this mostly because of a perceived stigma (perceived by me, which may say more about my own biases than anyone else's), but things have reached a point where I believe not hearing well is hurting me socially and professionally more than any perceived handicap might. So I'm biting the bullet and will let perceptions fall where they may.

I'll have more to say about them when they arrive, and even more once I've had some experience with them in the real world.  But the truth is I'm kind of excited to get them at this point.  Almost hungry for them, even.  I've sampled what the world can be like with full hearing (briefly, in the office of an audiologist who I think was screwing with me perhaps more than just a little), and I was pretty close to overwhelmed by what I heard.  Heard!  In all seriousness, I was a little choked up.

I'm also not going to try to hide them.  They'll be metallic titanium gray, not putty-colored, and they'll be no more hidden than any other piece of enabling technology in my life, whether my glasses or my Jawbone or my iPhone.  And if they work as well for me as I experienced in that office, I'll talk them up to anyone who'll listen.  Already, two of my friends (both women), have acknowledged that they should do the same thing, and there are doubtless countless others in my world who have some sort of hearing loss.

I don't have the specs handy, but the Siemens units I'm getting are technical powerhouses, and are very, very cool.  The electronics package is housed in little lozenge shapes that will fit up behind the tops of my ears, with a little clear tube that runs down into my ears to a speaker and receiver placed into my ear canal.

They're programmable, and will be configured to offset my specific hearing loss (per ear), which looks like an inverted bell curve (I can hear just fine at the upper and lower ranges of human hearing, but not as well in the middle).  They're networked with each other, and will compare inputs and make sure they're amplifying in such a way as to not confuse the source of sound for me.  They'll also allow me to stream music from my iPhone via a Bluetooth adapter (!), as well as to use them as a handsfree setup.  They're rechargeable via a little USB-powered case that will also dry them out electronically while they charge.  No fumbling with batteries, once a week.  I've no idea whether I'll be able to use them when I ride, but I use my eyes (with a mirror on my glasses lens) much more than my ears on the bike, anyway (wind noise blots out a lot of what I might want to listen to anyway).

We'll see how they work in practice in the real world, and I'll share more when I have more to share.  I'm expecting them to be life-changing.  And I'm hoping not to be disappointed.

All for now,

J

Picking Up

It's only natural that as we are consumed with one set of things in the course of our lives, other things are set aside.  We are finite beings, with insufficient ability or capacity to address everything we might wish to, and our priorities are often defined for us by the circumstances surrounding us at any given point in our lives.

We've all set aside hobbies or projects as our capacity to engage in them has changed.  We've set aside dreams and ideas and relationships.  And we've been set aside, as well.  At least that's all true of my own path.  Capacity is certainly not the only driver -- our interests and desires shift as we make our way.  We don't always want tomorrow what we wanted yesterday.

Lately, though, I've come to realize that it isn't always hard to pick up again something that was once set aside. I've been able to re-establish connections, rethink ideas and priorities, and reconsider the level of commitment I can make to one thing or another.  And it's been refreshing to realize that these need not be thought of as lost.  To realize how much I can influence my own perspective about them, and their role in my life.

All for now,

J

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winter Projects

Well, that's the second unseasonably nice weekend that's passed without being able to get out on a bike.  It's not unusual to leave the bikes alone after Thanksgiving, of course, so there's no real regret mixed in with that statement, but it'd have been nice to log a few miles outside!

As it was, though, I managed to log a few trainer miles (rollers) today, for my first winter project -- staying somewhat trim and fit!  I did a little more adjusting and dialing-in of the Colnago in the process, and it's just a wee bit more ready for me now than it was two days ago, so that's good.  And I found the right place in the apartment, here, for the trainer -- in my bathroom.  Easy to mop up the floor, narrow enough that I won't kill myself or break anything, and the dog can't sneak up on my from behind and stick his nose or tail in a spinning wheel.  Plus the fan keeps it from getting stuffy.

I also managed to pick up a new winter project.  The family homestead in Connecticut was cleaned out on Saturday, in preparation for the buyer who will be taking it out of Ellsworth hands for the first time since the house was built, 223 years ago.  The house was about the same age as the constitution of the United States, and I understand it sat on a parcel of land not far from the original land grant to the family, dating back to the mid-1600's.  The farm was largely just a place for holidays for me, so this wasn't a personal milestone for me.  But it was certainly one for many of my relatives, and it was certainly a family milestone.

Anyway, while we were cleaning out the garage, I snagged my great aunt's old Puch 10-speed mixte.  My older sister has been casually looking for a bike out in Chicago, and this one would fit her just fine.  It's not a great bike, as far as components and materials go, but it's not half bad.  The tubeset is Tange Champion, and the only real lapse in the frameset is the matching set of stamped steel rear dropouts, complete with derailleur claw and bolt-on rear wheel.  But my sister is a causal cyclist, and this thing is only a few upgrades away from being a perfectly nice bike for her to use with her kids around the neighborhood.  Plus there's some history there.

It needs tires, a chain, new brake pads, tubes, new cables, a full repack of all bearings, and it'd work as intended.  It could stand an aluminum handlebar and seatpost, a better saddle, better grips, better derailleurs, better pedals, a cartridge bottom bracket and an alloy headset.  The Taiwanese clone of a Pletscher CS needs the struts to be shortened, as well, just as I did with the two Pletschers gracing my daughter's bikes.  Maybe a bit of polishing of the rack and kickstand, too.  It would be hard to spend less than $100 to get it rolling, and easy to spend $500 to make it fancy.  But I have lots of parts on-hand that would constitute upgrades, and I'm going to see what I can do with this puppy.  Alison hasn't yet told me whether she wants it, but if she does, I'll tear into it sometime over the winter.

First, though, I need to get Ava's Fuji apart and then back together in a configuration matching her desires.  I have a set of stem shifters to use for the time being, new cables and housings, as well as a drop bar to put on there.  But I need to find an appropriate stem, with very short reach,  or those drop bars will need a set of interruptor/cross levers thrown on as well.  Maybe we'll kick things off during our down time between Christmas and the new year.

Both projects are great examples of the durability of older steel bikes.  Neither is especially fancy or light, but both framesets are perfectly serviceable 20 or maybe even 30 years after they were made.  And they are both poised to help promote cycling within different parts of my family.  I love this kind of stuff!

All for now,

J

Friday, November 25, 2011

Retired

After serving me for 18 years, my Kestrel's frameset now hangs in my living room.  Retired, but seen and appreciated every day.

Definitely a guy's apartment.  But it's not this monochromatic or dark most of the time.

All for now,

J

Last of the Season?

Today I installed a computer on the Colnago, threw on the wool long sleeved jersey I bought at Rivendell when I was there in August, pulled a pair of Hot Chilis ski tights over my riding shorts, capped it off with my rain jacket and fingered gloves, and put 19 miles on my new bike.  It really is a nice ride, and I'm enjoying it immensely.  I was slooooooow today, though, which isn't really surprising, given that I haven't ridden much since the weather turned and since I sprained my right ankle.  It felt good to get out, though, and the ankle didn't hold me back much, if at all.

And!  I managed to do a good deed while I was out there:  A woman en route from Boston to Worcester had a slow leak and was struggling with reinstalling her rear wheel after an apparently aborted attempt to change it out.  I pulled the tube, failed to find a leak, swapped it, reinstalled it, the tire and the wheel, and gave her a couple of stick-on patches to use when she arrived in Worcester and had access to a sink to find the leak.  I finished my ride with filthy hands (she's evidently been riding that Specialized in the rain), but my gloves kept the Colnago's white bar tape mercifully clean.

I might be able to get out again on Sunday, but I have the girls with me this weekend, and I'm guessing it'll be a short ride, if a ride at all.  So today's loop may prove to be the last one of the season.  If so, it was nothing to complain about.  A nice ride on a beautiful day on a lovely new bike, capping off a decent season of riding mostly the Motobecane, including in my first Pan-Mass Challenge.

As for the Colnago, it could use a coat of wax, and I'm kicking myself for not having done that before I (impatiently) assembled it.  And during the ride, the seatpost slipped down a bit, even though it was snugged all the way.  Which told me that the seatpost is still a little undersized.  Some fooling around with a screwdriver allowed me to spread the seatpost binder clamp a bit, and (finally) allow me to slip the 27.2 post from the Kestrel into place.  This one should be the actual correct size, and is a much nicer post than the cheapy Kalloy I'd been using, anyway.  The bars need to come up a bit as well, but the stem is at its limit already.  I'm still thinking about pedals, too -- but not for today.

My rollers stand ready in my office, here, and I'm guessing my next intense ride will be on those, rather than out in the world.  The cold weather gear kept me plenty warm, though, so I may be able to eke out one or two more before I give it up until April.  Maybe by then I'll have resolved what to do with the Motobecane.  Then again, maybe not...

All for now,

J

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Done Lovely


Not much to say about it today, but the Colnago build is done -- finished this morning in the gorgeous autumn sunshine, while a pair of hawks wheeled and cried out overhead.

It's a lovely bike with not such a lovely backdrop.  White Cinelli cork wrap, braided stainless V-O cable kits, stainless cages, MKS track pedals with MKS toe clips and V-O leather straps (black to match the Selle San Marco Regal), Nitto Dynamic stem and Nitto B115 handlebars in the classic square-shouldered, round-drop bend, held in by a Nitto Dynamic stem that I wish had just a tad more quill length (but I wanted a Dynamic, not a Technomic, on this bike).

Easily the prettiest bike I've owned.

All for now,

J

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Am I Serious?


I like to think of myself as pretty seriously into bikes and riding.  I love to ride, though I don't get out as much as I'd like to.  And I work on my own bikes like few others I know do.  I build bikes for my kids, and experiment with my own setups and gear.  Then there's this blog...  Pretty serious, all told.

Even so, I've had a bit of an internal struggle with the build of the Colnago -- particularly with the pedals.

As I walked Jake tonight, there was just a hint of ache in my left knee.  An ache that started probably 15 years ago, now, on a benefit ride.  In truth, it was my own fault -- I'd just been dumb.  Rather than having cleats installed professionally, I swapped a new set onto my shoes a few days before that ride, and weakened the cartilege in my left knee, riding while twisting my foot against spring tension over the 200 mile weekend.  I ended up with a tear in the meniscus that was snipped away by an orthopedic surgeon within a year, but my knee has never been really pain-free since.

I've figured out that I need a narrow Q-factor to avoid the pain.  And I removed all of the Look pedals from my fleet to ensure that I can always move my feet to a position that feels right on the knees.  I still have a pair of Looks, though -- the first set I ever bought.  And I've been tempted to install them on the Colnago, buy a new set of shoes, and use those this winter and next season.  Or get a set of Speedplays and a new set of shoes.  This, in lieu of the toe clips and straps I've used happily on the Motobecane the past year or so.

Why though?  On the PMC this year, I suffered no nerve damage in my toes from undue pressure on my feet, riding in running shoes and toe clips.  The toe clips offered great support under the balls of my feet, and voila!  No turned-off toes at the finish.  Every other benefit ride I've done has left me with middle toes numb for literally months.  And I doubt I was materially slower on the ride for my choice of pedals.

The thing is, though, there's a part of me -- maybe a part of every enthusiast, and maybe not so small -- that wants to be seen (by myself and by others) as serious about my sport.  Serious enough to understand the pros and cons of different pieces of equipment, and spring for the things that will help me be a stronger rider.  And that same part of me, or one really close by, doesn't want to be seen as a bumpkin, riding some quaint old thing.  To some extent, that's the reason I have the Colnago in the first place -- the Motobecane is very much a quaint old thing, no matter how much I love it or how well it performed on the PMC.  It's vanity, I know.  The same thing that's kept me away from hearing aids for the past decade or so.

As I look at the Colnago, with its downtube shifters and track pedals, I really can't help but contemplate an upgrade to Shimano brifters and a pair of Speedplays.  I'm holding off for now.  I ordered a set of MKS clips and Velo-Orange straps tonight, in fact.  But the vain/serious cyclist in me keeps surfing bike porn on the Web, looking for a deal.  Looking for serious.

All for now,

J

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Spin on the Colnago


I've been traveling for a few days, but when I got home today, a couple of packages awaited me -- packages containing the last of what I needed to finish up the Colnago build.  I still have to wrap the bars (didn't want to until I confirmed the fit of the stem, which is good enough), and mess around with the fit a little, but I took it for a few loops around my parking lot outside tonight, and my first impressions are really good.  It's light and nimble, but not twitchy -- it feels great.  It doesn't have the stiffness of the Kestrel in the bottom bracket, or the sensational power delivery that bike had.  But even with just a few loops, it feels significantly sportier than my mongrel Motobecane.  Should be interesting to see how they feel during back-to-back comparisons.

The build was a bit of a pain.  I needed to overhaul the rear brake caliper a bit and space it out from the brake bridge, as well.  The bridge is slimmer than the Kestrel's, so the nut was too deep.  And then I had to dig through a bag of spare ferrules (thank you Steven!) to find one that meshed properly with the cable stop on the Colnago's right chainstay -- I'd have been SOL if not for that bag of parts!  And I cut the front brake cable housing about an inch too short and now need to fix that -- boo.  Also, the headset got all chewed up when I serviced it, and now looks positively awful -- the aluminum was just too soft for the stress it was subjected to (it was really stuck).  Then, I discovered the rear derailleur's cable clamp nut and washer are missing, and I have to order new ones (I found a nylock nut and washer that'll suffice for now).  Add the seatpost and binder bolt challenges I talked about last time, and I have the distinct impression this bike just didn't want to go together -- or maybe the Japanese components and Italian frameset have some sort of aversion to one another.

In any case, it's ready for a first ride!  That'll be this weekend if the weather cooperates.  I need to put the pump on and a saddle bag, and tape the bars (in white), of course.  But that's all of a half hour or so of work -- not much.

Can't wait!

All for now,

J

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting There

Everyone, meet my new "fast" bike. It's an early '90's Colnago, built up with the components that most recently graced the Kestrel, whose frameset now hangs over my television in my apartment.  It has a chrome fork, as you can see, and a right side chainstay that's also chromed (along with the rear dropouts).  The head tube lugs are polished stainless, which I think matches the polish of the chrome really nicely!  Otherwise, it's a beautiful Italian red with white accenting clubs and other graphics, including a few fades.  It's a work in progress, as you see it, aimed at getting in a trial run, and not much more.

Tonight I wheeled it over next to the Motobecane to compare its size to what I'm riding right now.  And it's really interesting, comparing this bike's geometry to the Motobecane's. The Moto seems to have a steeper seat tube, a longer top tube and only slightly longer chainstays. The steeper seat tube is a particular surprise, because it's an all-around kind of bike (marketed and branded as Grand Touring).  The bottom bracket looks to be farther forward on this bike, as a result, and the saddle farther to the rear. It's a good illustration of how two frames in a similar size can adopt a few different angles and end up providing very different riding positions.

You'll have to excuse the aesthetics of the current setup. The stem is 3xugly, the curvy bars don't really harmonize with the classic frame layout, and as Italian as the tires are... let's face it -- they're orange.  They do clash less with this red than the brighter red of the Kestrel, I'll admit.

And from a componentry perspective, there are several missing pieces as it sits, right now. There's no seatpost binder bolt, I think the seatpost is slightly undersized, there are no cables or brake levers installed, there are no pedals, and... I think that's it. To fix the stuff that's missing or not ideal, I've got Nitto 115 bars on order (same bars as on the Moto and I appreciate their width and square shoulders), along with a 27.0 seatpost to try vs. the current 26.8, and a pretty Nitto Dynamic 100 stem is also on the way, to primp up the looks and pull the bars in a skosh closer to me. The cables are clear plastic over braided stainless, and the tape will be white to start with.  At some point during the off season, the bottom brackets on this bike and the Moto may trade places as well (Shimano for Phil Wood, with the nicer Phil going onto this bike).

I'd like to take it for a spin on Saturday, without taped bars (they'll be swapped anyway, remember). Let's see if I can get my act together enough to pull that off!

All for now,

J

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eight is way too many

On the way back from dinner last night, I did a mental roll-call of the bikes I have in my (good-sized) 2-bedroom apartment and I came up with a crazy number -- eight. I have four, Ava has two, and Juli has one. Plus the trailer bike, which was Ava's, last we saw it.

That's way too many.

I'm hopeful that I can get the trailer bike into my friend Dan's hands over the Thanksgiving holiday, so that'll be one less. And Ava's Fuji will go into storage until she's big enough to ride it, next summer. So that'll get us to six in the apartment. Still too many.

I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to sell the Schwinn, and think I'm going to have to hold off until spring to get what I want for it. Putting it in storage until them will drop us to five. Still too many.

I'm in the process of building the Colnago, and should have it ready for a ride this weekend (that's the goal, anyway). And once that's done, the Motobecane will be broken down for a thorough cleaning and refresh (every time I touch it, post-rainy PMC, I get covered with grime). Through the winter, one of those two needs to be on-call for outdoor and training roller duty, so one of those or both will need to hang around. Still at five.

Then there's the Paramount, which I may yet use this fall. But once the first snow lands, it'll go into storage, which will get me down to four.

Four I think I can manage, but I'm going to need to make a decision about the Motobecane in the spring, I think.

All for now,

J

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Umpteenth Life for a Fuji

Today I dropped Ava's Fuji frameset off at the powdercoater. A new finish is the next step, you see, in its journey from serving countless children before it came into our hands, to serving Juliana, to serving Ava. Tomorrow it will be blasted clean of paint, degreased and powdercoated with a raspberryish pink finish. But first, I had a few things done!

I took the bike over to Belmont WheelWorks about six weeks ago, and left it in the most capable hands of Peter Mooney. Peter added braze-ons for a water bottle cage on the down tube, and a set of downtube shifter bosses just upstream of the bottle cage fittings. And there was one more change -- he brazed the flat side of a Pletscher CS rack clamp to the seatstays, right at the point the rack I modified to fit the Fuji bolts up. So in essence, when Ava and I build the bike up this winter, we won't need to clamp anything around the freshly refinished frame tubes -- clever, eh? Yeah, I thought so too!

The brazing work was beautiful, though I neglected to snap a photo of it. Oh, well...

So what else? Well, he straightened out the rear dropouts, which had been spread at some point to accept a 126mm rear hub. Oh, and he clued me in as to why I've been unable to close the rear QR lever without adding another spacer -- the rear axle is too long and needs to be ground or filed down. Easy fix!

I have many of the parts ready for the build, too. I need 130mm BCD chainrings, in maybe a 38 and a 46. Plus a headset. And cables and a few other incidentals, but really very little. And as this bike comes together, the trailer bike is due to be decommissioned and sent to its next home up in Canada. I need to talk to my friend Dan to see if he's ready to put his oldest on it, and I hope they have as much fun with it as we have!

I'll post a pic when the frame comes back. It should be done tomorrow, but I doubt I'll be able to get over there this week -- maybe next.

All for now,

J

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Small Milestone

Ava rode 16 miles and change today. Solo, on her little mountain bike. A little Gary Fisher that's possibly older than she is.

We rode from the start of the Nashua River rail trail to downtown Pepperel, where we stopped for some ice cream and then turned around.

Go Ava!

All for now,

J

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cutting Back

I've been going through the process of thinning my herd of bikes for a while, now.  I retired the Kestrel, got rid of the Columbia cruiser and my Trek MTB, and most recently sent the Shogun (in triple form) off to live with my folks with the hope that Dad would make some use of it in the coming years.  But moving from a house with a barn to an apartment with no onsite storage has given me the need and the opportunity to think more about simplifying my bicycle situation.

At the moment, I've got three bikes here at my new place, plus one bike each for my two daughters, plus the trailer bike.  I also have Ava's naked Fuji frame, which is being reworked a bit, and the Kestrel frameset is hanging on a wall as a piece of industrial art.  Slimmed back or not, that's still a lot of bikes to keep in an apartment.  Makes me feel a bit like I'm hoarding to have them tucked away in every nook and cranny!

Time will take care of the girls' bike situation, of course.  Ava will eventually grow into the Fuji, and when she does, the trailer bike and her little Gary Fisher MTB will be sent out into the world for others to enjoy.  That'll leave the girls with two bikes between them (and no parts boxes!), which is pretty rational.  But I'm not going to grow out of any of my three bikes -- at least not physically.  I have with me my Paramount MTB, my Motobecane Grand Touring "fast" road bike, and my Schwinn Sports Tourer "touring" road bike.  The only way this fleet is going to shrink is by making some hard choices.

The Motobecane's frame and some of its components were a gift to me from my friend Steven.  This was nearly three years ago, during my separation, and in a sense, the bike is emblematic of that period of my life.  So though it's a mongrel in every sense of the word, as an artifact it's really important to me.  It's also a joy to ride, and it carried me faithfully through this year's PMC without incident, and has served as my "fast" bike the past two seasons.  But for all practical purposes, the Motobecane is approaching the end of its usefulness to me.  The frame is starting to creak a bit down by the bottom bracket, and no amount of tightening of bottom bracket rings and crank or chainring bolts seems to be curing that.

I've considered parting it out and scrapping the frameset, but I feel like the bike deserves better.  It's not ideal for my needs anymore, but it can still serve someone very well.  So I've begun offering it to people I know need a bike.  The first offer has been made to my former next door neighbor's son, who needs a good bike for college.  As long as Matt has a backpack, this should be an ideal bike for getting around campus, and it's a great bike to teach him about cycling and maintaining a bike as an adult, which is different than beating around on a bike as a kid.

So that's one.  Next up is the Schwinn.  This bike has been a great project.  I've tinkered and experimented more on it than on any other I've owned (the Paramount being a close second), and it's been a pleasure to own, ride and work on.  It is strong, comfortable, and is the best all-around ride in my stable -- able to tote loaded baskets and bags, tow the trailer bike and follow grassy and gravelly paths without faltering.  As an only bike, it would be a practical and rational choice.  But bikes are more than tools to me -- they're toys.  And toys come with an emotional component, for me -- I want to love the few bikes I'm going to own in this new chapter I'm entering.  The Schwinn would be liked and respected, not treasured, so it's time to let it go.

The Paramount will stay for now, and though I'd love a modern MTB, my guess is that I'll have it for a number of years to come.

Of course, giving up the Moto and Schwinn would leave me with only one bike, and notably without a road bike.  To replace the retired Kestrel, en route to me now is a Colnago fameset that will be built up with the 8-speed Shimano groupset that once adorned the Kestrel (a mix of 105SC and Ultegra).  It's not Campagnolo, so there's possibly some blasphemy, there, but it's what I've got, and I don't want to break the bank on this project!  I've never ridden an Italian racing frame before, and I'm looking forward to the experience (which I'll be sure to share).  At worst, I'll ride it as is for a couple of seasons, then find something to replace it.  But if I enjoy it as I hope to, the plan is to upgrade the old Shimano components with a thoroughly modern groupset, and use it as a platform for years to come.  I'm thinking SRAM Force, but I'll let that decision come when it needs to.

For now, I'm enjoying settling into my new space, looking forward to my Colnago and Fuji projects, and am looking forward to exploring what I hope will be a simpler next stage of my life.

All for now,

J

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Unburdened

Though you'd never know it from reading Bronze Gears, the two months or so between my last post and this one have been really full.  Amazingly full.  And yet I stand at the end of the summer with a life far emptier than it's been in a long time.  It's a great kind of empty, though.  An empty that implies potential, rather than depletion.

This summer I vacationed in Paris and London.  I sold my house and much of what it contained.  I left behind two hobbies, and am attacking the third with renewed vigor.  I rode in the Pan-Mass Challenge.  I found a new home and am slowly making it mine -- mine with my kids and with Jake.  And as I watch people dear to me establishing new stages of their lives, I am aware of myself doing the same.

It's been a busy summer.  A happy summer, by and large, too.  Emptying my cup of so much of the old has taken far longer than I though it would.  But now that there's some room in there, I'm looking forward to adding to it.  Not overburdening it -- but making it fuller.  And making the mix richer this time.

I have a few projects and stories to share, and a few stories, too.  I'm really tired tonight, though, so I'll have to come back to them.  They'll keep, though.  My cup is emptier than it's been in a long time, so there's a lot less floating around in there to spoil them.

All for now,

J

Monday, July 4, 2011

In the Woods, Old-School


I should be getting some work done right about now, but I'll get back to it -- promise. Right now, I'd rather talk about mountain biking.

This weekend, I got back out into the woods on a bike -- something I haven't done to any significant degree in many years. Actually, I got out two of the three days this long weekend -- one day as a sort of practice run for the other.

In both cases, I was riding my Paramount PDG Series 20 mountain bike, pictured at top. As are all of my bikes, this one is getting seriously old, though it's been well maintained and is in pretty nice shape. I think it's a '91, though I didn't buy it until '93 or so, if memory serves. I bought it in Connecticut when visiting a friend of mine one weekend. He ended up getting the same bike in black withing a year or so -- same size and everything. It's been a good bike, and I've used it in multiple configurations and roles, over the years, including a drop-bar'd commuter with racks and road tires. But it's really been at its best in the configuration you see here -- as an old-school mountain bike.

I had plans to meet with my friend Ellen (who you can sort of see crouched behind the stone marker -- she's holding her bike up for the photo) on Sunday, and Ellen has been mountain biking pretty regularly for years. Not wanting to look like a total newbie, I headed out to Hopkinton State Park on Saturday, to reacquaint myself with mountain biking. The road ride over there was easy enough (though the Q on that bike is wrong enough that I shouldn't be logging road miles on it -- makes my knees ache), but riding definitely took some getting used to, once the road ended and the trail started.

On a mountain bike, you spend as much time out of the saddle as you do in, using your arms and legs as suspension, and a lot of body language to thread the bike over and around roots, rocks and logs. In the woods, you need strength to yank the front wheel up onto or over a barrier, and then to grunt the rear tire up on or over a moment later. The saddle is artificially low, so that it's out of the way when you need to scoot way back for a descent, or way off to the side to place the bike where you need it, but that makes your spin much less efficient.

But that works out OK, because in the woods, cycling is less about maintaining a steady pedaling cadence, and much more about maintaining momentum that's appropriate for the terrain you happen to be on that moment. At any moment, you might be grunting up a steep gravelly hill, pouring on a burst to carry you over a rise, maintaining a slow, steady pace (including back-pedaling to put your feet in the right places to squeeze between rocks), or not pedaling at all during fast descents. It's a vastly different form of the sport, at least at the level I ride, and it definitely takes some getting used to, even though I've done it many times before.

I will admit to spending a fair amount of time walking and carrying the bike on Saturday. Some of this is because of the hills at the state park, but mostly it was me getting used to riding over stuff again. But even so, I had a good time. The bike was great, too, with the exception of the seatpost. I wore out the original seatpost several years ago, and replaced it with a Tioga Prestige. This is a light chromoly seatpost with a 2-bolt steel and aluminum clamp. The problem is that the aluminum bits always seem ready to spin inside the steel clamp, no matter how tightly the bolts are snugged down. I've tried shimming the clamp, but the saddle angle still ended up changing on me several times over bumps on my ride. I tried shimming it with thicker shims this morning -- see if that holds. If not, maybe I'll try emory cloth as a shim, to put some friction into the mix.

Anyway, Saturday was fun, and it was a good warm-up for Sunday. I met Ellen at 10:00 or so at Russell Mill in Chelmsford, which is part of that town's open space. They partnered with the New England Mountain Biking Association to develop a network of trails on the property, and though it's a relatively small area, the trails are a lot of fun.

I tried not to get in Ellen's way too much, and as we put on the miles (4.25 total), I got better at getting over stuff, keeping my feet in the pedals and worrying less about holding her up. I didn't have any significant falls, though during one really fun descent, my traction seemed really poor, with my tires skittering around much more than I was comfortable with. I'm riding an old set of Panaracer Smoke and Dart Comp's, and they probably need to be replaced. They don't really seat well on my rims anyway.  Maybe they were just overinflated.  Or maybe it's that the bike is unsuspended.  Either way, that descent, coupled with several instances of my front tire stopping dead at some relatively small obstacle that I didn't quite pull up for, got me thinking about whether a twenty-niner with front or full suspension would be more fun and more capable out there. Ellen swears by her dual-suspension Specialized, and Dan (the guy with the black Paramount) does as well. And the added momentum and greater radius of 29-er wheels help carry them over stuff that can stymie a 26, all else equal. So I guess I know what the answer is, there -- of course it would. Maybe next year. Maybe an Ellsworth Evolve? That'd be fitting, wouldn't it?

The highlight of the ride was the pump track on the site. I had no idea what a pump track was until I saw it, but it's essentially dirt roller coaster of a track, with banked corners, steep dips and hills that are an absolute blast to ride on. If you're a skateboarder, think skate park. I felt like I was 12 again. Or rather like I would have felt when I was 12 if I was a BMX biker at the time. I wasn't -- I rode 10-speeds -- but man, was this thing fun! Can't wait to do that again.

Today I've got a road ride planned, on my (starting to creak) Motobecane, but I think the net is that I'm going to spend some more time in the woods this summer. The Paramount doesn't really need anything, other than maybe new tires and maybe a new seatpost. But next summer I may need to give some thought to all these old bikes that I have, and maybe retire a dinosaur or two to make room for some new blood.

All for now,

J

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Triple Shogun

This morning I spent an hour converting my old Shogun to a triple crank setup for my dad.  He's due for knee surgery soon, and a 42/28 combination didn't seem low enough for his neighborhood (I grew up on top of a hill).  A compact double or triple setup seemed like a perfect solution, and as a project, it was really pretty simple.  I spoke a bit about what I planned to do a couple of posts back, but here's how it went:

The first thing I did was to disconnect the cables from the derailleurs.  Next up, off came the chain.  I gave it a good look and finally figured out it is the Shimano chain that served a short stint on the Kestrel, then moved over to the Shogun when I upgraded the Kestrel to an 8-speed drivetrain, and put the 7-speed stuff on the Shogun (originally 6).  I didn't have any replacement pins to reconnect it, so I just tossed it.

With the chain off, I could remove the 105SC derailleurs.  They're in nice shape, but are not able to support a triple crank setup -- neither has the right cage length for the job.  So they came off, and they went into a box.  These will make their way to Ava's Fuji this winter, as we build that bike up.  next off the bike came the cranks, which are the original Exage Sport cranks (in 170) that came on the bike.  These went into my parts box for someday -- the cranks are shorter than I prefer, but they are decent parts and may work for one of the girls when I build up another bike.

With the cranks off, next I pulled out the bottom bracket. I guessed (correctly) that the 111mm Phil Wood bottom bracket would be a skosh narrow for a triple crankset, so out it came.  Into its place went the 113mm UN-72 I bought to use with Phil rings on the Motobecane, before I realized that was going to mess my knees up.  With the Phil BB I took out, the Exage Sport cranks have a Q of 150mm, which is about as wide as I am comfortable with.  Point being that I could use these cranks myself on a future build if need be.

It all went back together with the new parts pretty quickly.  Rear derailleur after the bottom bracket swap, then cranks, then front derailleur, then chain.  At the rear is a nice old (but unused) Shimano LX mountain bike derailleur, and up front is an Exage triple front derailleur that just barely passes muster with me. If the relative lack of quality of that part bugs me enough, I'll swap it out for something nicer, but it'll do the job dad needs it to do while he rebuilds his knee.  But it works just fine -- and feels better than the 105SC part did, with the over-leveraged left-side shift lever on the bike, actually.  Ended up taking off the cheap old Exage toe clip pedals that were on the bike, and throwing on an old (and still cheap) pair of MTB pedals I had once taken off my ex-wife's Gary Fisher MTB (which Juli now rides, at her place).  As with the front derailleur, that's not a part I'm proud for my dad's bike to wear, and they may may be upgraded at some point -- maybe Christmas presents or something.

After a quick test ride and some adjustments to the rear derailleur adjustment barrel, the bike is ready for Dad to put it to use.  He should be able to get up pretty much any hill with a 30/28 combination, and if not, I can easily throw on a new freewheel (the rear derailleur can handle a 30 or maybe 32).  In that event, I'd just get him a seven-speed cluster, and install a set of 7-speed shifters I have kicking around.  I know... nothing is ever done.  I can't really help but tinker, though.

All for now,

J

Sunday, June 26, 2011

PMC Fundraising Items for Sale

I'm finally getting around to listing items that I am selling in support of my Pan Mass Challenge fundraising goals.  If you see anything here that you're interested in purchasing, please contact me at jellsworthpm@gmail.com.  I will keep adding and striking things off this list as they sell.  Items will also be listed on Craig's List.  All proceeds from these items will go to my fundraising commitment!

Columbia Cruiser bicycle:  $100

This is my old Columbia project bike.  I bought it at a swap meet (a good day), immediately bent the cheap fork that was on there, then put a new old stock Tange fork on it, along with a few other things.  It's a hoot to ride, and I'd planned to do more with it, but it doesn't work for my knees.  Hopefully someone else can get some fun out of this old thing!  I'm including a salvaged columbia fork and a chromed stem that will work with its steerer tube.  Obviously, this is a clunker, not a museum candidate or a highly tuned machine, but the fork, pedals, headset spacers, front brake cable hanger, stem (a cheapie) and tubes are new, and I've got way more than $100 into this bike.  The headset is a hard-to-find Columbia part, and it fits properly in the head tube (it is different than a Schwinn/BMX part).

I currently have a bunch of stuff listed on eBay, too:
Two MTB racks (as a pair)
 Three forks (sold separately)


 Three handlebars (sold separately)


 Three 118 BCD chainrings (as a set -- one damaged)


 One cool old SR Custom seatpost

I think that's it -- the rest will have to wait for me to get through a few hectic weeks.  All proceeds will go to my Jimmy Fund sponsorship commitment for the PMC.  If you're interested, I'll send the item numbers -- don't want to clutter this post up.  They will age out of eBay quickly...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PMC 2011 Fundraising

It's been years since I've ridden in a benefit ride.  Years ago, I participated in a half dozen or more MS-150 rides.  One or two were on the Shogun, but most were on my Kestrel.  But as I said it's been a long time -- maybe fifteen years!  But that dry spell will soon be over, because this year, I'll be riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge -- a benefit ride for cancer research.  And I'll be riding not my fancy old Kestrel, but my decidedly un-fancy hand-me-down late-'70's Motobecane Grand Touring.

If you're from New England and you're reading a bike blog, you've probably heard about the PMC.  The traditional ride starts in Sturbridge and ends in Provincetown, and that's the one that gets all the attention. But the event boasts many routes these days, and for my first PMC, I chose one that starts a few towns east of me in Wellesley, and runs out to Provincetown.  The route is just over 180 miles, and shouldn't be hard, though it will undoubtedly test my stamina, as well as the health of my knees.  I'll be riding at least some of the route with colleagues, as I'm riding with Team Dassault Systemes, but my experience on these rides is that people tend to spread out based on ability and endurance.  Since I'm not riding with a buddy, I expect to be solo much of the time, or to link up with groups here and there during the course of the event.

I feel strong enough to complete the distance today, but I'd like to get in as many 50-mile weekends between now and the ride as I can, to try to build my endurance a bit more.  But training and the ride itself are only part of the story with this event -- the main thing is raising money for cancer research.

My fundraising plan has two major parts.  The first is the traditional note to friends and family, asking for a donation.  I'll bolster that with a Facebook post as well, and use my Paypal account to facilitate donations from folks distant.  When I first started this sort of benefit ride, the fundraising was mostly pen & paper work!

The second part of my plan is more fun -- I'm going to try to sell off the contents of my various parts boxes and a bike in support of the event.  I'll be donating the inventory, but I'll be seeking cash from my readers, as well as strangers on Craig's List and eBay.  Look for a posting with items for sale, soon!

In the mean time, if you'd like to sponsor me, please drop me a note at jellsworthpm@gmail.com.  Thank you!

All for now,

J

Monday, June 13, 2011

Swaps

I was recently inspired (by a date, truth be told) to get back into the woods on a bike.  I haven't really ridden a mountain bike on a trail since a few years before I moved to Southborough.  All of my riding slowed way down when I moved out here, and I barely rode either of my mountain bikes at all, much less in the way they were intended.

The date was with a woman who rides both on- and off-road, and our dinner conversation got me thinking about getting back into the woods.  Then maybe a week later, some of the guys I ride with around here invited me for a run (woah, Nelly) and a MTB ride in the local state park.  I couldn't make that one, but I'd like to catch the next -- except, maybe, for that running stuff.

I sold off one of my mountain bikes late last year, and my old Paramount has been convalescing for some time at my parents' home, largely ignored by my father.  It's been set up with balloon all-surface (Specialized Hemisphere, I think) tires.  These are good for road use, dirt roads, grass and even light trails.  They have no knobs but heavy treads, so they hang in there OK on loose stuff.  I think the last time I rode it seriously was when I took it to the Outer Banks three years ago, and I put maybe 50 miles on it that week.

Of course, to get back into the woods, I'd need something suitable to ride once there, and the Paramount is now pretty much all I have on hand.  Rather than go shopping, I made a swap -- my loaner Shogun went to my folk's house in the Paramount's stead, and it is now convalescing comfortably in their den.  The Paramount, in the mean time, has been shod with knobby Panaracers, and is awaiting some trail riding.  Perhaps I'll give it a go this weekend?  Maybe the weather will cooperate.

Now, one of the reasons Dad doesn't ride the bikes I leave lying around for him to use is that he's got a bum knee.  The damage should be repaired this summer, though, and he's going to need something to ride for physical therapy purposes.  Unfortunately, the convalescing Shogun has old-fashioned road gears (42/52 up front and a 12-28 6-speed freewheel in back), which makes for pretty steep gearing for a guy waiting for a new knee who lives on top of a hill.  So I've started gathering parts (when am I not?) for a new project -- making the Shogun a triple!  For you novices, that means three chainrings up front, rather than just one or two.

There are only a handful of parts needed to make such a change.  First, of course, you need a triple crank.  I found one on eBay for $35 shipped -- a 105SC crankset in nice shape with 30/42/52-tooth rings and 175mm crank arms.  That'll give my dad both a granny gear (is that ironic?) and a little extra leverage in getting up those hills, vs. the 170mm cranks on the bike today.  I'm pretty sure the bottom bracket on the bike now will give this crankset a good chainline, but if not, I have a slightly wider cartridge BB that I can install in its place.

What else?  Well, to move the chain between three chainrings rather than two, you typically want a front derailleur with a different profile of cage than a double-chainring setup.  I found an inexpensive steel Shimano Exage 400LX derailleur on eBay.  It's black and it's a triple chainring setup, with a bottom-pull cable routing. And it was designed for a road bike, so it has the right clamp diameter and offset to support a road frame.  Not all MTB derailleurs would work, because many expect the cable to come from above, and often times they shift the cage farther outboard to support the wider bottom bracket shells found on contemporary MTBs.

Next up?  A new rear derailleur.  A rear derailleur does at least two things -- move the chain between the rear cogs, and take up the slack in the chain as different gear combinations are used.  The rear derailleur with a triple generally has a longer cage (that's the frame that holds the pulleys) so that it can take up more slack in the chain -- slack that's created when the front derailleur is shifted down from the 42- to the 30-tooth chainring.  I looked for a new old stock Shimano LX, just like the one on the Paramount, and found one without much difficulty, also on eBay.  It's black, too, like the new front derailleur.  It's a better part than the Exage front derailleur, but they'll more or less coordinate with each other can clash with the 105SC crank (which is a sort of champagne silver color).  The existing derailleurs (both 105SC parts -- the rear being the original from my decommissioned Kestrel) will go into my parts box for Ava's new Fuji build next winter.

All that I really need from here are new crank bolts (only because I don't have crank bolt covers that match the shade of the 105SC crankset), and possibly a new chain.  Probably a new chain.  I'll see what's on there, but I'm pretty sure it's an old Shimano chain that I put on maybe 15 years ago.  They're a pain to break and re-pin, so I'd just as soon throw an SRAM on there.

When I'm done, the color combination of the bike's components will be somewhat incongruous, yes.  But that's not so important.  What's important is that Dad will have a 30 front/28 rear combination that should allow him to climb the hills around my folks' place with ease. And as he builds strength, the 42/52 rings will keep his RPMs down on the flats.

These are two bikes that are really too good to languish like they've been.  I'm looking forward to getting the Paramount into the woods, again, where it belongs.  And I'd love to go for a ride with my dad next summer.  And Ava really does need some derailleurs for that Fuji project to be possible.  Just a few swaps, and all of these will be in reach.

All for now,

J

Friday, June 3, 2011

2011 GTI

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie and I went to test drive cars.  She's thinking about replacing hers, and I'm a car guy, so she wanted me to join her.  And hey, I haven't test-driven anything since I bought my Mazda, so I was certainly game!

Julie first drove a Prius, which was an interesting experience from the passenger seat.  By that I mean that I'm not sure a Prius is a car in the way I think of cars.  You turn it on like an appliance, you don't start it with a key.  The gearshift is an abstraction of what I use to shift gears.  And the drivetrain takes more commands from a computer than it does from the driver.  Now, I understand that most automatic shifters are connected with wiring to their gearboxes these days, and that there's a massive amount of computing power behind even my relatively low-tech Mazda out in the driveway, yes.  Even so, while the Prius is four-wheeled transportation, I'm pretty sure it's not a car.

The Prius experience behind us, Julie piloted Allyson's Mini Cooper over to the VW dealer, to give the little British BMW a try.  And she seemed to enjoy that experience, too.  At one point I told her to give the steering wheel a little bobble, and the car virtually leapt off center, catching her a little off-guard.  That gave me a giant grin -- it's a fun car.  Not perfect, by any means, but fun, fun, fun!

At the VW dealer, we asked for a 5-door GTI for a test drive.  The car the salesman produced was black, had big "phone-dial" wheels (18 inches, I believe), a gorgeous interior with black leather seats, and a raucous stereo with way more going on than I had time to figure out.  This one was a 6-speed manual, rather than a dual-clutch DSG car (though I'd like to try one of those gearboxes some time).  Oh!  And it had red brake calipers peeking from the five massive holes of the front rims.  Maybe the rears were red, too, but I don't remember.  Actually, that's a good illustration of my problem with the car -- it wasn't memorable.

Julie took it out first.  She's a VW driver, and seemed to appreciate the blue lighting, the quality of the interior materials, and the car's overall zip.  It is a quick car, to be sure, and the controls all feel pretty good in the hands, which is the norm for VW.  The seats are comfortable and supportive, it's got more stuff in it than anyone can reasonably ask for, and it sounds OK, too.

But when I took the wheel, I found it to be an absolute snoozer to drive.  Compared to the Mini, the damping and springing are soft and gentle -- not floaty, but not terribly sporty, either.  Compared to the Mini, the steering is slow and lazy -- hell, that's true when the GTI is compared to my Mazda3.  And though it is plenty strong, the turbo engine's power delivery is annoyingly non-linear.  In traffic, I found myself giving it a little throttle, then a little more because not enough happened the first time, and then having to back off that second bump when the turbo finally spooled up.  I'm sure I'd get used to that, but I wouldn't want to get used to the lazy reflexes.  Where the Mini feels like a racer despite its lack of power, the GTI feels like a mid-sized family sedan.  Where the Mini feels like an athlete, the GTI feels ready for a nap.  Back to the dealer it went, with absolutely no interest on my part of driving another.

Julie seemed to like all of the cars for different reasons, and it'll be interesting to see what she ends up doing.  For my own part, I can't really make a Mini work in my life right now, but that's not at all true of the GTI.  With five doors and a lot more cargo space than the Mini, the GTI would be a perfectly sensible choice for me, the girls and Jake.  But there's absolutely nothing about the GTI that I particularly want.  The Mini, on the other hand, sits out in my driveway right now practically begging me to take it out for a fling around some on ramps.  I'm resisting buying it because it's not what I need right now.  But unlike the GTI, I want it -- I want it bad.

Maybe someday.

All for now,

J

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Perfect Mini

If anyone at BMW cares to hear my opinion (and I doubt they do), here's an addition I'd love to see in the Mini line-up.

Not:
Some stupid faux sport utility like the Countryman
Some silly and less useful coupe
Something even smaller like the Rocketman concept

Rather, something along the lines of the BMW 1600/2002.  Or the Lotus/Ford Cortina.  Or the Datsun 510.  Or the Alfa Romeo Giulia.  In short, a Mini Cooper with a trunk!  In two or four doors, too.

Here's what I'd like:
A skosh more wheelbase/legroom like the Clubman, but no more than those two inches or so
Equipment levels consistent with the Cooper
Regular, supple tires, rather than wooden run-flats
A weight target 2500 lbs for the base model
The chassis rigidity and suspension tuning of the Cooper
The general shape of the Cooper greenhouse
Some interesting lines to the trunk and rear fenders
The four from the R56, in N/A and turbocharged guises (I hear they're going to a triple for the next mini, which kind of sucks, IMO)
Base and S forms offered

Nothing original about taking a hatch and adding a trunk/boot to it, of course -- Jetta, anyone? (Actually the Jetta GLI should be on the list above, too.)  But the Mini doesn't have to be as practical as the VW, because the line-up is about character.

My main point, here, is that some of us need our car to be useful, but don't want or need it to be large or dull.  I'm sure car companies tire of hearing this, but I'd so totally buy one.  As I said, I'd love to pick Allyson's mini up, but I just can't make it work.  And though there seems to be little appetite for a stripped and fun sedan in the BMW model range, there should be plenty of room for that kind of car in the Mini line-up.

Maybe I don't get the product strategy, but it seems like they want the line to have more reach by adding useless coupes and (does anyone really care?) micro-SUV things.  Blech.  How about adding a model that keeps the fun, makes it more useful, and doesn't bloat it up or dumb it down?

All for now,

J

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mini

I've always been a car guy.  I've been fascinated/obsessed with cars since I was a young boy, and that hasn't ever really eased up.  My love for bikes and riding is actually possibly less than that for cars and driving, at least when we're talking about material things.  I'll admit I don't seem to have as much to say about cars, though.

I've owned a bunch of cars.  The first one I bought new was a 1989 VW Golf.  It cost me $8680, if I recall correctly, and was a fun car within its limits, which were not all that high.  It had good steering, a loud stereo and the best air conditioning a car ever had, but tiny little brakes, narrow tires and low limits.  It wasn't what you might call a spirited beast, lacking all of the great suspension tuning its sibling the GTI benefitted from, and certainly these days, the power was nothing to write home about.

Though they've gotten nicer since, none of my other cars have been much more inspiring, really.  Despite my penchant for having fun behiond the wheel, the Golf was followed by long stints in an Accord and my current ride, a Mazda3 sedan.  Sprinkled in there were a pristine-but-dull 1986 Toyota MR2; a ratty, terrifying and yet thrilling Suzuki Swift GT; a Mazda Protege with the Miata engine, and my least favorite (despite being the most expensive), a 2000 VW Passat GLX with leather, wood and all kinds of (fragile) electronics.

The Accord benefitted greatly from aftermarket brake pads, a strut tower brace to stiffen up the unibody, fat aftermarket sway bars, Koni Sport adjustable shocks, as well as sticky summer tires.  It actually wasn't a bad driver after all of that work, which I introduced over time as I replaced worn out parts.  And the Mazda has similarly benefitted from better brake pads, shocks and tires.

The Mazda is actually a pretty fun car to drive, despite being prematurely rusty.  It doesn't mind being driven hard, and is fun to throw around, with steering that's way more responsive than most cars out there.  And it's rarely broken, though at the moment it needs a few thousand dollars worth of replacement parts, or will before the end of the year.  Actually, let me be more honest -- for the price, the Mazda is a shockingly competent driver.  I get into a sport utility and am forced to wonder what people are thinking when they choose something like that over something like the Mazda.

With this car, I had something of a revelation about cars.  Unlike the custodial obligation I felt toward that pricey Passat, I immediately washed my hands of any concern for the Mazda's well-being.  I bought this car to drive the hell out of it (both in intensity and miles), and not worry about it.  That's what I've been doing, and it's been very liberating, really.  I don't care where I park it, I don't worry about dents and dings, and it doesn't bother me when I do something stupid with it, like clip a boulder mid-corner, blowing a shock and bubbling a tire.  Except for the cash out.

The car has also been a good reminder that while cars benefit from some stuff, they don't need a ton of stuff to be satisfying.  Meaning, I don't need leather, power seats, traction control, heated seats, and heated power-retracting mirrors to have a good time.  On the contrary -- I have more fun without all that fragile stuff on board!  I'll take the decent stereo, the power windows, steering, brakes, ABS and keyless entry, though, for sure.  I'm not one to suffer.

The thing is, though, the Mazda lacks a little something called cachet.  It's a totally anonymous little car that nobody looks at or gets excited about -- it doesn't pull the ladies, as they say, and it doesn't say much about me!  And though I've told myself those things don't really matter, the car guy in me has often let his eyes wander over nicer hardware with more than a touch of envy.

So when my friend Allyson told me she was going to sell her Mini, I asked if I could borrow it for a week or so, to see if I could make it make some sense for me.  Minis have plenty of cachet, despite being priced in the reach of regular people, and they're really very cute, if small.  I'll get to the punch line first, so I can concentrate on the good stuff -- the car makes no sense for me right now.  But man, what a fun car!

It's a 2008 Mini Cooper.  Not a lot of power, but it has the sports package and the premium package, plus a few other bits in the mix.  So it has enough stuff in it to make it really liveable, and it has some goodies bolted to it that make it more of a driver's car than the base Cooper would otherwise be.  It's been sitting in a storage garage for the last 14 months undriven, and was driven only a couple of times in the 6 months prior to that.

Dynamically, it's a fantastic ride.  The steering has much more heft than my Mazda, and it guides the car with more precision than anything I've ever driven.  The chassis lets me place the car wherever I want, without anything untoward happening -- even in mid-corner corrections.  And the thing is just so nimble!  A quick flick lets me blast around potholes and other obstacles without slowing up the pace.  On/off-ramps are nothing short of thrilling, because the car exhibits little roll and lets me carry ridiculous speed through to the tollbooth.  It's really a joy to drive, even with modest power levels, and it's built like a tank -- much more substantial than my Mazda.

It's too small, though.  I need a car with four doors to accommodate the girls (watching poor Ava struggle with the heavy doors to extricate herself from the back seat is enough to make me rule the car out), and though I can pack a week's worth of our groceries in the trunk, a trip to BJs with the girls isn't going to work.  Which is a pity, really, because I can't think of anything else wrong with it.

Well, that's not true.  BMW let the Mini team go a little off the deep end with the dash design and switchgear. And really, who decided the turn signal stalk needed to be reinvented?  Any of those kinds of annoyances disappear on a drive, though, replaced by a giant grin and praise to anyone who will listen.  Or if I'm on my bluetooth, a play-by-play of the car's awesomeness.

Unfortunately, I can't adopt it, but I am going to help send it of into its next life.  Anyone want to buy a Mini?

All for now,

J

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Back on the Road

I'm sorta back on the road.

The weather hasn't been cooperating, much, but three weekends ago, I got out with my daughters for our first ride of the season.  Then two weeks ago, I managed a 48 mile weekend.  Last weekend I did nothing (well, not on the bike - was busy doing other stuff), but then this weekend I got a quick ride in to retrieve my car from the office.  It was cool and wet this morning, so I didn't get another ride in today, but 17 is better than none for this weekend.  With any luck, the rain will thin out a bit, and the temps will climb a bit, so I can get busy training for the PMC!  Even so, it feels good to be back out there, and I'm feeling pretty strong, despite the shortage of miles.

This week, I'm going to install my new toe clips onto the Motobecane.  They should help keep my feet on the pedals, a bit, which will be a help.  I've mentioned before that I'm getting tired of my feet flopping off the pedals at opportune moments.  Actually, there's really no good time for that to happen.

The toe clips were a gift from a friend whose wife's bike I worked on a few weeks ago.  It needed new bearings and grease in the headset, bottom bracket and hubs, and a good dose of oil for the freewhel internals.  Took me all of 2 hours to tackle, one Friday night, while the girls slept -- no big deal at all.

A day or so after I finished it, I took it for a quick spin around the driveway while getting Juli's bike ready for its inaugral ride.  Apart from not fitting me, I was really surprised and how good the bike felt.  This is a mid-1980's basic steel Fuji 12-speed, fitted with a basic Suntour groupset.  The derailleurs are mostly steel, the seatpost is steel, it has a derailleur adapter claw on it, the wheels are 27" -- you get the picture.

But despite what should be handicaps, the bike rode really nicely.  It desperately needs a humane saddle, it could use new brake pads and cables, and a 7-speed freewheel with a narrower range would give its fly-weight athlete owner better gearing for her needs than she has today.  Maybe a set of bar-end shifters and a better set of brake levers, too -- but really, not much more.  It's a great example of how a well-done bike can feel really good, even if it's not overly complex or sophisticated.

Not a lot more to say today about bikes.  I do have a couple of car posts that I'm churning over, though, and I have a project that I really need to get to with Juliana's Schwinn, that I'll have to come back to.

All for now,

J

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Eh, it's more purply."

That was the reply I got when I asked Juli, "Not so bad for a pink bike, eh?"

Hopefully that'll be the end of the arguments about the frame color.

As you can see, Juli and I finished (sort of) her bike last night before she went off to bed.  I spent a bit more time thinking about what to do about the rack that I'd butchered, rendering it useless for the time being, and scheming solutions for my own carelessness.  But first, the bike.

I've talked about Juli's little Schwinn before, and in truth, the bike has been rideable for a couple of months, now.  Missing until last night were a trio of accessories, and a day warm enough to coax Juli outside for a spin.  It wasn't warm today, but it was warm enough for coaxing.  The water bottle cage and holder went onto the handlebars in mere minutes, as did the bell.  And so equipped, Juli swung a leg over it and made a single lap of the driveway before scampering back into the warmth of the house.  She paused long enough before setting off to smile for the camera.  Note the dandy cycling shoes, and the frame-matching piping on her fleece jacket.

Most of the work last night went into trying to fit a Pletscher CS rack to the rear of the Schwinn, in much the same way that I'd fit one to the Fuji -- by shortening the struts so that the rack would sit level on the small frame.  Unfortunately, I didn't test the brakes while positioning the rack and marking the struts for cutting, because while the location of the rack with the short struts is low and level, the straddle cable doesn't clear the rack in that position, rendering the rear brake both stiff and weak.  Not good.

The bike doesn't need a rack to be ridden, of course, so it's now out in the barn, ready for warmer days.  But Juli wants a rack, and I found it handy for her to have one on rides to the state park for a kayak or swim last year, so I do, too.

I tried splicing ends back onto the struts, sweating the strut and the severed end inside of a quarter-inch copper pipe.  Sadly, my pipe-sweating skills are nearly as feeble as my dancing skills, and it didn't work.  So I ground off the pivot rivets, and removed the struts from the rack altogether.  I'm going to pick up some long struts for a Nitto rack, plus their hardware, and use those instead.  That retrofit will definitely work, and I won't have to throw the rack away.  I'd have felt badly about wasting a classic (even if I recycled it), though the cost to replace the rack is roughy comparable to the cost of the struts.  Oh, well...

I have only a few bike purchases planned for myself this year.  The rear tire on my Motobecane is looking perfectly serviceable for the coming season, so I'm not going to swap it like I'd initially planned.  That leaves me with a need for just some toe clips and straps for my Moto and Schwinn, and a new helmet.  Easy!

Next up is my friend Carol's bike.  It needs a repack of all of its bearings, and today I picked up the balls I need for that job.  It feels good to be wrenching again, after a few months' hiatus, as did the 15 miles on the rollers this morning (21 average), after a weekend off at the canyon.

All for now.

J

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Canyon


I'm not really what you'd call an outdoorsman.  It's not that I don't like the outdoors, mind you -- cycling, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, tree climbing, exploring... there are tons of things I like to do out there.  But as I said in my last post, I don't have one of those hiking goals you sometimes find among people you know, and back when I was a scout (I was a Cub Scout of the various grades, and a Webelo, but punched out of the Boy Scouts after one meeting), I never really went for the whole camping thing.  I enjoy an occasional night in a tent and with a camp stove, but you won't catch me out there every weekend or anything like that.  I don't like having stuff stuck to my feet, maybe -- sand, evergreen needles, etc.  Think what you will. 


That aside, as I was discussing (virtually) with a friend of mine, today, I do appreciate the diversity of the landscapes of our planet -- or even just the continent I call home.  Coming from New England, I've found the dry hills of northern California, the flatness of Florida, the glaciers of the Canadian Rockies and the deserts, buttes and canyons of the American southwest just fascinating.  And I've had the chance to see some amazing stuff out west -- Bryce and Zion, Moab and Sedona, Yosemite and the Columbia River Gorge.  And twice, now, the Grand Canyon.


It's an incredible place, if you haven't been.  I've posted a few pictures, here, rather than try to describe it.  Its vastness is impossible to comprehend through photographs.  Most of the big features in any of these pictures are miles away.  Even stuff up close is out of snowball's reach (I checked that).  And a hike to the bottom on the Bright Angel trail you can see in these shots is something like 17 miles.


This week I spent a fair bit of time thinking through some letting go I need to do -- really painful stuff that I've tried hard to avoid for a year.  And I've got more coming in the next few months, which I mostly haven't been trying to avoid.  All of it necessary to getting on with life, none of it easy, and some of it impossibly hard.  I'd like to be able to tell you that the trip to the canyon made everything easier -- that the vastness of the place and the geologic time scale made all of the hard stuff I've been wrestling with seem unimportant.  But I can't lie like that.  It's an incredible place that inspired awe over and over again, simply by shifting my location or casting my gaze in a different direction.  But it's just a place.  It doesn't make things go away, and it doesn't make them easier or hurt less.  Even so, it's good to get a dose of awe, and a pair of 3-hour hikes equals six useful hours of thinking time.


The last time I was at the canyon, I hiked to the bottom with my ex, and it was a good and memorable experience.  This time, the canyon received snow just before my arrival, which lent the south rim a different feel than it had the last time.  I didn't have the right gear to hike down in, or enough time to get very far, so I just hiked the rim, in both directions from the Bright Angel lodge -- one per day.  It would have been nice to get down in there, but my only real regret is that I didn't have someone to share the experience with.  Rather than swapping impressions, I spent last night reading Hemingway.  Good, but not as uplifting.  Maybe next time.

Back to bikes next week -- I promise.  I'll be finishing the fitting work on Juli's Schwinn, and doing the overhauling work on my friend Carol's Fuji (possibly with her husband and son), and hopefully(!) getting in some outdoor miles on the Motobecane.  Maybe Juli will even get to test out her new bike?  Time will tell.

All for now,

J

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Living in Service

The kitchen will be done today, and the roof wires will be back on the roof where they belong.  The kitchen looks fantastic, by the way, in red and white.  Then the house will go on the market, again, next week.  I'll still have to do the pantry, and replace and prime/paint a few rotten boards on a fence gate.  And if I were to get started on a list of "shoulds" for the house, the list starts getting pretty long.  And that's just indoor stuff -- by May I'm going to have to start cutting the grass again.

I'd kind of lost sight of how home ownership essentially means living in service to a building.  That's no way to live, and it's something I have to be more vigilant about.  I grew up working and watching my parents work around their place rather than getting out and exploring, and that experience is definitely part of my core.  Just look at my last post:  It's about painting and finding the bright side of something that that I know full well is devoring time I should be spending doing other stuff.  Bad habits.

While I was priming molding this morning, I realized that I've never really had a lifestyle "dream".  There are things I like to do, yeah, but I don't have a "climb all 10 peaks higher than X feet in North America" sort of thing that's guided my path.  Most of my goals have been centered around stuff, or work.  Apart from my kids, cycling is probably the closest thing I have to a lifestyle locus.  It's a good one, but it's not clear to me that there's a path to personal exploration and growth that stems from bicycles.

So what do I do about all of this?  Getting out of this house will be a great start, and with any luck I'll be moving this summer.  From there, I'll need to make time to explore new places and spaces, both with and without the girls, to see what feels right.  The potential for fun is tremendous, of course, but the challenge feels strangely daunting, too.  Habits are hard to change, after all.  But it seems really important that I focus on this one.

I had 7 resolutions this year, and I'm doing pretty well against them.  They weren't unimportant or minor things at all, but given the realization this little post is wrapped around, it feels like I missed a pretty important one.  I guess it's never too late to add -- or maybe just reaffirm -- an eighth.

All for now,

J

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Color

The kitchen project is moving along.  Slowly, but moving.  The walls have come out smoother than I'd any right to expect them to, and the gray primer on the walls right now makes the kitchen look very different than it has in the 12 years I've (mostly) lived in the house.  The stained and polyurethaned wainscotting, trim and doors will be painted white to match the rest of the house, and the walls will be red.

Every time I paint a room, I ask myself why I don't paint rooms more often.  A room with a fresh change of color remains a little treat to the eyes long after the color should cease to surprise.  That compounded treat is well worth the time spent painting, and the process of emptying and refilling offers a great opportunity to purge crap, as well.

12 years in this house, and I've painted 4 rooms, the front hall, and the three secondary stairwells. Also, both bathrooms have been re-papered and otherwise redecorated.  Now the kitchen and pantry.  And that leaves the dining room, parlor and master bedroom untouched.  Anyway, that's not so bad, numerically, but it's still a third of the rooms unchanged since I moved in.  Seems odd, when I look at it that way.

Note to self:  Paint my next place more often.  A little change of color can be a very good thing.

Still no progress on finishing Juli's bike -- or starting Carol's.  The weather is changing fast (I've no snow at all in my yard, now), and I need to set some time aside for that work.  But I think I'll be busy with paint for a few weekends, yet.

Happy spring everyone.

All for now,

J

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All-in

I worked out on the rollers yesterday morning (21.2 over 15 miles), but am not going to today. I've been working on my kitchen the past couple of days.  Just a quick spruce-up before I re-list the house in April.  The trim is down, the wallpaper is down, and now I'm patching the walls up, and replacing sections of the wall where the horse hair plaster has come away from the lath.  Then the whole kitchen will be freshly painted, and that'll be that.  Except that I have to do the same to the pantry.  Either way, it's not a huge amount of work, and my hope is that it'll make a difference in selling the place.

I was completely exhausted last night and had a hard time getting up this morning -- thus the no riding today. Working in the kitchen is giving me plenty of exercise, and I don't want to fall asleep at dinner tonight (going out with a friend in Cambridge -- it's restaurant week in Boston).  I may tackle a couple of bike projects if I have time though.  Just quick ones -- trim down Juli's kickstand, mount the rack and bottle cage holder on her Schwinn, etc. The snow is melting very quickly, now, and we may have a weekend soon where an outdoor family ride will make sense!

While I've been working, I've had a lot of head time.  And one thing I took away from yesterday is that I don't like working on my house anymore.  Most of my house projects over the past dozen years have been solo, but I didn't mind so much when I was married -- first, because I was working towards making house better for us, and then later because it was an escape.  But I'm only working on the house now to make it more appealing to someone else, which isn't nearly as much fun.

But apart from grumbling to myself about the house, I've been mulling over the notion of being all-in.  I'm not all-in to the house, because I'm essentially waiting to leave it behind me.  And I've realized that I haven't been all-in to other aspects of my life for a while, either.  Instead, I think I've been waiting for something.  For my next thing to come along, maybe.  For Allyson to come back.  For the house to sell, as I've said, or for the divorce to finalize.  Waiting is a very passive activity.  Not all-in at all.

And that's not really like me.  I've always been a fairly intense person, and I've lived/worked/played with intensity.  Not self-destructively, just intensely, and I generally throw myself into whatever it is that I'm doing, working to exhaustion and starting over the next day.  But not lately.

I understand how I got where I've been, and I do think I've made great strides this year to upping the intensity back to where I'm used to it being.  I feel much more in life, now, than out of it.  And that's good, because being all-in is the only mode I've ever been happy in.  This waiting bit has really sucked, by comparison.  Even more than that, the others in my life need me to be all-in.  My kids, my friends, my employer, my dog, all the women I've been meeting out for dates -- everyone.  They don't need someone taking up space, they need an active participant -- someone ready to give it (whatever "it" is, in each case) their all.  If I can't do that, why bother?

Last May, I realized I needed to start living again.  And now 9 months later I think I've figured out that it's not just about living -- it's also about how I live.  Let's see if I can do a little better than that in turning up the intensity...

All for now,

J

Friday, March 4, 2011

Five Weeks Gone

Gosh, where did February go?  One minute I was talking about fox words, and suddenly it's March.  So what have I been doing with myself?
  • Riding:  Well, indoors.  And not as much as I'd like.  Still, the activity has been good, and I've logged 20.8 mph average speed sessions both of the past two Saturdays.  I hope to match that tomorrow and Sunday.  My left knee complains, but not as badly as last year -- not at all.
  • Fretting:  We had a ton of snow in January and early February, and ice dams and their consequences have been on my mind.  One of my sets of anti-ice dam wires was ripped off the roof.  By falling ice, I believe.  I have some indoor and outdoor repairs to do, now, that I hadn't planned on.  It happens...
  • Dating:  I've met some really nice women, and had some nice evenings out.
  • Hosting:  I've hosted friends for my first dinner party since I moved back into my house nearly two years ago.  I was exhausted, but I enjoyed the cooking, the company and the sharing of food and wine.  The exhausted part came from some travel (still pretty tired, but my sleep schedule is back to normal), but it was still great fun, and it feels good to continue making connections and expanding my social circle.
  • Traveling:  I've been to France on a business trip, and taken a quick trip to Versailles while there.  I've said it before and probably will again -- it's no wonder they cut Louis' head off.  The place is obscene.  I really enjoy working with folks at our French HQ, too.  There's a different dynamic, but it's interesting learning the ropes.  And though they operate differently than the organization I'm part of, it's not worse -- just different.
  • Tinkering:  I've picked up another bike project!  More on that another time, but it's really just a simple bearing overhaul for a friend's wife.  This is her High School bike.  Nothing fancy -- a Fuji and more or less equivalent to Juli's Fuji, but a perfectly serviceable all-rounder.  She's an athlete, and should get a sportier bike for the triathlons she does, but this'd be a great bike for a rack and a basket for family duty.
  • Renovating:  I've made some progress on some house projects, getting the place ready (again) to go on the market again (again).  Fun stuff, in the sense that I haven't done anything of the sort in a good while, and possibly not too much work.  Possibly.
  • Contributing:  I've signed up for the PMC, and now have to a) get in shape, and b) raise a pile of cash.  Yeah, I'm fast on my trainer, but that's not going to translate into stamina and speed on a 160 mile ride.
  • Thinking:  I've given a lot of thought to where I am, how I got here, what I need and what the people in my life mean to me and why.  And I feel pretty good, honestly.  One important realization in all of that was that having different social goals for myself doesn't mean changing my standards or expectations (of myself or others) -- it just means living within those standards to different goals.  And my heart is big enough to care for lots of different people in lots of different ways, I think.  The exploration has been fun so far (see the dating comment above), and I'd like to think it'll remain so.
  • Parenting:  They're always there.  And they're wonderful.  And I think they're going to be OK, honestly.
  • Working:  Too much to do.  Not enough time.  No different than most anyone, I know.
11 months ago this Sunday, I drove home from NJ, hopped on my bike on a 70-degree day and later walked Jake in shorts and flip-flops.  Time flies, as they say.  I'll try to get more up here in March.

All for now,

J