Sunday, January 30, 2011


Language is something that fascinates me.  Not to the extent that machines do, mind, but still a lot.

I like words.  I like finding out what they mean, and from whence they came.  I like seeing the cross-pollination of other languages into English, and being able to recognize something in English that's obviously French (or otherwise Latin) or German in origin.  I don't much have the patience for learning new languages, but wish my French and Italian were better.  I like playing Scrabble, and thanks to one of the most important people in my life, I always seem to have a game of its clone (Words on the iPhone) moving slowly forward.

I have a friend on Facebook (old colleague) who posts a daily word, pronunciation and definition on his wall.  It's possibly a Facebook app, but whatever the source, it's very cool.  And thanks to EJ, today I have a new favorite word:  Vulpine.

Vulpes means fox in Latin, and it's clear that we didn't get fox in our version of English from the Latin.  Vixen, though (and that's a fox word you'll all recognize), is Middle English for a female fox.  Vix, in the same tongue, is a male fox.  Fuchs is fox in German.  Pretend you're really drunk on mead or scotch and that you speak both Middle English and German and sometimes get confused about what language to use, from all the drinking and being oppressed, and you can see where our word fox came from.  That's hardly a scientific analysis, but the linkages are obvious, whatever the actual evolutionary flow.

Just as a gratuitous cycling tie-in:  Volpe means fox in Italian, and you have to say it with an Italian accent or you're missing out one of life's small pleasures.  Not with a silent e, like volt with a p on the end.  Rather with a stretched out and full-mouthed first syllable, and a definitely-not-silent Italian e at the end -- vohl-peh.  Bianchi has or had a bike called the Volpe.  Nothing fancy, really -- just a welded steel road bike with basic components.

So back to my new favorite word:  From vulpes springs vulpine, meaning cunning or fox-like.  Say it with me (this time in English):  Vool-peen.  Fills the mouth like a sip of red wine, I think.  Something sharp and Tuscan.  Vulpine...  Not far from lupine, which might describe my friend snoozing on the rug over there -- though more in the genetic sense than in temperament.

Vulpine...  Fabulous!  Anyway, I like words.

All for now,


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter Routine

I broke through 200 winter training miles this morning.  I'd hit 95 just before the holidays (spread over 7 rides), and then almost doubled that over the two holiday weekends by riding 15 miles five times.  Between travel and messing up my back, January has been a low-mileage month, and I've only put 45 miles on since, for a grand total of 205.

Today, my average speed was 19.1, which is up from the 18.8 of two weeks ago, before I messed my back up.  Tomorrow's 15 miles will be logged in the next-smaller cog, and will get me to 220 miles.  With any luck, I'll start February strong with a two-ride weekend, which'll get me to 250 miles.  No more math -- promise.  Then I'm off to France for a week, I think, the second week in Feb.  But without a bike.

I'd hoped to log some additional training miles mid-week on a consistent basis (every Weds AM), but between catching up on work, Skyping with friends, being a dad and trying to build a new social life (with some success, I'd add), it's hard to find time to ride.  It makes me wonder how many miles I'll be able to log next summer.  I'm going to be training for the PMC, so I'll have to find some time somewhere!

The truth, though, is that indoor miles are tedious.  Even with my iPhone to listen to and maps and postcards on the wall opposite my riding stall to look at, it's hard not to get bored.  Rather than looking forward to a particular straight, climb or descent, the head game becomes one of "OK, that's 3 miles, just 4 more sets of those and I'm done", which itself gets boring too.  I also try to figure out on the fly the average song length in terms of miles.  So far it seems like about 1.3 miles, but some are more like 1 and others more like 2.  That's all math -- sorry.

I've made a sort of pact with myself not to spend much money on bikes this year, so I'm not even doing a lot of wrenching right now.  Juli's bike project is on sort of a hiatus for now, but I do need to spend some time fitting the rack and other accessories to it, soon.  I also need to buy myself some toe clips (both bikes) because having my feet flip forward off the pedals has long since gotten old.  And today I noticed today that my rear tire is wearing very quickly on the rollers.  The front seems OK, but I'm going to need a new rear tire for sure, come April.

April!  April is what's great about this boring winter routine.  Come April, when we get the first weekend warm enough to ride, I'll be in shape and so many of the other guys out there won't be.  Last year it was fun running the guy on the Cervelo down on my old Kestrel.  This year, it'll be on a late-'70's Motobecane.  And it may be late April by the time all this snow is gone.

Can't wait.  One month gone.  Only two or three more to go.  This winter routine is boring.

All for now,


Thursday, January 6, 2011


One of the interesting things about starting over is that you have the opportunity to use a lot of verbs in your internal monologue (or your blog) that start with "re".  Reimagine, redefine, reassert, rediscover -- things like that.  All good words, but the truth is that you can't wipe your personality or base of experiences clean and start over for real -- all of those "re" words happen in the context of you as a formed person.  A person possibly willing to grow and live beyond old boundaries, sure -- but not someone truly new.  I've said this before, but I like reminding myself of the obvious.

Anyway, so as I think about the kind of social life I want to build for myself as I "start over", I can't help but reflect on the lessons of my adult life -- to consider what's worked for me in the past, and what hasn't.  I wrote about cooking as a vehicle for creating social engagement a couple of posts back, for example, and of a desire/intent to use it again that way.  And though I've used cycling as an escape of sorts in the past, it's important enough to me not to stop, just because of that particular misuse -- I do need to remember to live around my hobbies, though, rather than escape into them.

But the most important lesson of my adult life relates to the experience of partnership.  That's a word my sister finds too businesslike, and I understand why, but for me, it fits.  I've had relationships where I've felt like a parent, times where I felt like prey, and still others like a punching bag.  But I've also had relationships where I've relished each engagement -- where each exchange gave me the opportunity to truly give and truly receive.  One, in particular, fundamentally reset my aspirations for relationships.  In that relationship, the collaboration -- the ability to share and challenge -- extended pretty much across the full spectrum of who I am as a person, and though I can't speak for her, I hope she'd say the same.  Whether talking professionally, cooking together, reading shared books or listening to shared music, exploring places together, cycling together, or sharing my most private thoughts or physical being, I got as much as I gave, was pulled as much as I pushed, and learned as much as I taught.  As an experience, it was nothing less than breathtaking.  Life-changing.

Things are different, there, now.  But that kind of connection is like a drug, and it's something I hope I'll recapture (another "re" verb, there) or recreate someday.  It can't be forced -- I think it can only come from the chemistry that exists between two people who happen upon one anothers' paths at the right place and the right time.  So as I venture out into the world as a single guy, again, it's not something I'm necessarily expecting to find, or even seeking out.  Really, I'm more interested in exploring and experiencing right now.  But I'd be open to finding it, or recreating it.

I don't know how many times in one's life that kind of lightning can strike.  But even if it doesn't come again, the experience has changed my understanding of how things can be, and I'm forever grateful for that.

All for now,


Sunday, January 2, 2011

One Rideable 650B Schwinn World Sport

Apart from some remaining accessory work (installing the rack, bell, front water bottle cage holder, and trimming the kickstand back an inch or so), Juliana's old chromoly Schwinn World Sport is now finished and ready to ride.  It's wet out there today, but she could take it out for a spin if she were so inclined.

The bike is set up as an all-around sort of ride, with slightly poofy (32 mm) Rivendell tires, centerpull brakes, drop bars, a Brooks B-17S saddle, a kick stand, and interruptor levers to give the rider braking capabilities from not just the hoods and drops, but also the bar tops.  As the bike is accessorized, it'll gain a rack, another bottle cage, a bell, and a saddle bag fitted with a blinky.  I can even hook Juli up with a basket if she wants a little more carrying capacity.  Basket or no, it should be a sturdy and user-friendly bike for Juli to use pretty much anywhere she'll want to go, whether the route there involves grassy or packed trails, or smooth or rough roads. 

The build itself was pretty straightforward, with really only two areas that posed a challenge.  I've already written about the unorthodox headset configuration I chose, so I won't belabor that.  I'll see how that setup holds up.  In the worst case, I'll need to find another chrome fork for the bike, but I'm not anticipating having to do that.

The brakes were the second area where a little thought was required.  It's a ladies'-style frame, as you can tell from the pictures, not a mixte.  The big difference is that the brakes are located at the usual position -- mounted to a brake bridge on the seat-stays, rather than where they might be mounted on a mixte -- on a brake bridge down on the mid-stays.  Mixtes normally have their brakes located there, because the brake cable follows the path of the twin top tubes, and run straight onto the rear brake.  This bike's brake cable followed the top tube, but that put the brake cable a long way away from and below the rear brake.

This bike was designed to use with a sidepull brake caliper whose cable routing is opposite the norm, in that the housing stop and adjuster are located where the cable nut normally is, and the cable nut is located where the cable housing stop and adjuster normally reside.  Brompton has a caliper like this for use with their folding bikes, but I didn't really want to have to buy a pair of sidepulls for the bike, I wanted to use a set of centerpulls I already had on-hand, and for those calipers, the cable needs to come from above, not below.  Some improvisation was called for!

My first thought was to route a length of housing from the cable stop near the top tube/seat tube lug, up to a seatpost clamp-mounted cable stop -- maybe using cable ties to hold it in place as it ran along the seat tube.  Unfortunately, I predicted this would provide for sloppy and probably stiff rear braking and really messy, in-the-way routing -- there had to be a better option.  Maybe some sort of pulley to redirect a naked brake wire to the caliper from below?

The good news is that back in the days when Mafac, Weinmann and Dia-Compe center-pulls ruled the road, there were plenty of ladies' and mixte-style frames, and not all of them used mid-stay mounted brakes.  Some of them used brakes mounted on a seat stay, just like Juli's Schwinn.  And for those types of frames, a neat solution had already been devised by at least Mafac-- a pulley, as it turns out, just as I wondered about.  Actually, I'd probably seen one before and half remembered.

I bought the pulley for maybe $15 on eBay, and it bolted right up to Juli's seatpost clamp, using a binder bolt I had on hand.  Then I picked up a clamp-on cable stop from Rivendell, which let me use housing to redirect the cable from the top tube up along the seat tube.  I inserted an inline adjuster, as well, having had great luck with them on the Schwinn, and needing some way to adjust the brakes.  The result is as shown, and it works just great -- not too much friction in the cable, despite the fairly tight bend.  I've got a long-reach Dia-Compe 750 on the back, and a standard-reach 650 on the front, and installed some Yokozuna pads with the Scott-Mathauser red compound.  They seem to bite just fine, either from the drops or the tops, and I expect they'll be more than adequate for Juli's weight.

The drivetrain is the same set of components from her Fuji -- Shimano 8-speed bar-end shifters (set to friction), RX-100 derailleurs, and a 165 Tru-Vativ crankset.  A standard-range 7-speed freewheel (13-28) and wide-set front chainrings should give her more than enough ratios, albeit a little more widely-spaced than with a contemporary 20-speed bike.  She'll be pushing through the Rivendell/MKS Grip King pedals I bought for the Schwinn several years ago, then opted out of.

It's not the best frame ever devised, with slightly hokey rear dropouts without alignment screws.  But it's a nice build by any reasonable measure.  Barring theft, major damage or something else unforseen, this bike should carry Juliana through her middle school years and into high school.  When she stops growing, and assuming she's still actively riding, I've promised her one more bike from Dad.  That'll likely be a new one, not a build-up of old parts like the Fuji was, or this Schwinn, and it'll come already built, not as a project.  It's my hope that at least some of the excitement of getting a new bike is tempered by the fact that it won't come in the form of a father/daughter project.

All for now,


Finding the Center

I used to entertain a lot.  Back in college, I was one of the few guys who lived off-campus, in my own apartment.  So a few times a year, I'd have a dinner party, and generally speaking, I'd wow my friends with a good meal.  That pattern continued after I graduated, hosting a small-ish group of friends, and sharing food I'd prepared for or with them.  And again, the reviews tended to be pretty favorable (except for that time I made a squid risotto which might be best described as intense).  I used to cook for dates, too, and that was a good look for me. And when I got married, the pattern continued, with dinner and cocktail parties hosted on a pretty regular basis.

Eventually, though, all of that ended.  My ex-wife and I had our first child, which meant that dinner parties weren't really practical anymore.  Adding our second child made that even more the case.  And somewhere in there, our relationship started to degrade, and I/we didn't really want to collaborate, or share my/our disintegrating home with friends, anymore.  Then came the collapse, and while the rubble was falling, opportunities to even consider entertaining were few and far between.

But eventually the collapse stopped, and I started getting out of the bunker again. Mostly, I'd meet people out, or go to their place.  But without really thinking about it, over the summer, I had my sister and her husband over for a nice Tuscan dinner, and I had friends here and there over for breakfast.  Then at Thanksgiving, my oldest friend was in town, and asked if I wouldn't mind hosting a bunch of his friends (mostly acquaintences to me) and their kids for a brunch. I hesitated at first, and was even a little put off, in truth. But he's my oldest friend (since we were 9), and I said yes.  It turned out to be a great party, with over 20 people in attendance.  And I think maybe Dan knew more about what I needed than I did.  I spent most of the time working in the kitchen, but people filtered in to chat and help out, and I ended up having some great conversations with people I don't know well or haven't seen in a long time.

I gave that experience a lot of reflection, in the weeks after.  Then this holiday season, I found myself facing a holiday without a partner, without my kids on Christmas eve or morning, and a much shorter list of family members who would be around than usual.  Honestly, I was a little worried about how this Christmas was going to feel, given all of that, so I decided to try using the role of host to expand my holiday a bit.  I held an open house Christmas day, inviting friends and acquaintences to come by any time to share food, drinks and holiday cheer.  Then a few days later, I hosted a friend and his family for brunch.  Both were really satisfying, and after the brunch in particular, I felt I'd reclaimed a part of myself I'd lost. Now I'm thinking about hosting friends for dinner, cooking for dates, and even about what kind of kitchen/DR layout to seek in my next home, once I finally sell this place.

I'm sure rebuilding my social life isn't going to happen overnight -- my life is pretty complicated and busy, with the dog and the kids and a new job and trying to move and finalizing the divorce.  But it feels like I may have found my social center again -- maybe rediscovered the tools I need to make 2011 a better year than I've had in a long time.

All for now,