May 17, 2013

It can certainly wait, mom and dad.

I usually don't jump on bandwagons.... (ok, I probably do more than I'm willing to admit.)... whatever.  However, after countless busy months for me, I'm finally back into something resembling a routine with regards to riding to-and-from work.  It feels GREAT... except for one small thing.  Perhaps it's always been there and I've neglected to notice; but, I've recently noticed quite a few folks texting-and-driving in my immediate vicinity during my commutes.  Instead of ranting wildly about it, I'd like to take a moment to get behind the "It Can Wait" program:  originally initiated by AT&T a couple years back and now supported by nearly all the major wireless players and about 200 other organizations, this program exists as an outreach mechanism to end texting-and-driving.  The stats and stories are compelling, and their webpage has it all.  Give it a look.  If you have teen drivers, give it a look with them.  Talk about it... and be a grown-up:  I'll get to that later.

From a bicyclist's perspective, specifically, this represents a message worth spreading.  Just as I don't personally prefer jerseys slathered with corporate logos, I'm not much on bumper stickers, either.... but something like the logo above laminated into a spoke card, or something to hang from the rear panniers comes to mind.  Drivers behind me would do one of two things:  ignore it, the way they ignore everything else cycling-related... including us riders... or, read it in the context of someone usually occupying the area of the road where (I'd wager) 50% of texting-while-driving drivers tend to wander towards when they aren't watching the road.  This is based on the assumption that the other 50% would be slowly wandering toward the center line of the road... at which point, does it really matter WHICH way they're wandering?  If they suddenly over-correct for such a move, they are again aiming for the part of the road we're riding in.  In any of the millions of scenarios and outcomes that come from playing this out, someone's going to get spooked at the VERY least... and drivers, school kids, pedestrians, joggers, the guy edging the median with a line-trimmer, the guy getting his mail from the roadside postbox, and - yes - that guy riding his bike, are all in danger.  You know the rest.

The only beef I have with this program, if I had to pick out an item to critique, is the focus on teens.  Teen drivers, interestingly, do NOT make up the majority of "bad drivers."  I wish I could find the study I recently read - I must have spaced it out - but, from my obviously imperfect sample size and scattered observations from the saddle (ninja-plug!) I have come to conclude that the largest group of offenders in the texting-while-driving category are people that oughta know better.  

Most teen drivers I see, though there are some exceptions, are NOT texting and driving.  they've heard the rhetoric.  They might be within a few degrees of someone that has sadly suffered from the social stigma that is gaining the same kind of traction as smoking cigarettes and drunk driving in teen circles.  Many times I will see them at a stop-light, sitting idle, and checking their phones, yes, ... but upon rolling, they are (apparently) putting the devices down and resuming focus on the task at hand.  In many cases, the appearance of a device in a teen driver's hand has far more to do with changing the music track than it does checking their status or email.  In this age of nerd-chic, "smart=sexy", Mythbusters, and social awareness, and the targeted exposure on TV, radio, pre-movie PSAs, and reverse peer-pressure, teens SEEM to "get it."  

So, who's doing it?  Again, this is MY silly "research," but, each time I see someone actively moving forward in a vehicle while simultaneously staring into their lap, or, with their device-laden hand extended in front of them (as if super-positioning will give them some sort of advantage and prevent impairment), it is someone in their "parenting years", which I'll use for a blanket demographic of late-20's to early-50's.  Soccer-mom's and dad's, on the school run, with their kids in the back (probably with their faces buried in some device or another, too, if not glued to the in-car DVD player's monitor... you know the look:  that bolt upward, glazed over look of a generation doomed to never fully develop the use of their neck muscles.  Zombie apocalypse... will we be able to tell the difference between the truly undead and the just-plain lazy?  I digress....  the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parenting style still reigns, and it's people that oughta know better who seem to stand out as the offenders.  It's THESE folks that need to be grown-ups about it, and realize how silly it is to facetweet and text while driving the kids to the mall.  It.  Can.  Wait.  Seriously.   

I know we'll get there.  Programs like this help raise awareness.  It's needed.  I remember a time where buckling a seat-belt was NOT automatic behavior.  Now, I feel somehow exposed and naked without a seatbelt on in a car, even in the driveway.  Why some people STILL don't do it, it's beyond my comprehension - and can only be explained with the notion that one can't cure "stupid."  But, we will get there.  Preventing forest fires, climbing utility poles, buckling up, friends not letting friends drive drunk, just saying "no"; advocacy and awareness does - eventually - help. 

For the cycling community, heck, the entire two-wheeled community (as if motorcyclists weren't up against enough already, texting and driving is certainly on their minds, too)... You don't need to "pledge", or sign anything... we all know the rhetoric by now.  Live by it.  Don't text and drive.  None of us are above it.  

Especially for the benefit of those NOT protected by a steel crumple-shell, please, spread the word.  

Thanks for reading . . . 

May 10, 2013

It's Bike To Work Week 2013!

It's that time of year again... which is weird, considering winter just ended.  (HA, local humor.)
Bike To Work Week - a great way to introduce yourself to the satisfying pursuit of riding your bike to work, and replacing car trips with walking, public transport, or cycling.  Do it!
Check out the map link for Overland Park, KS's Bike-to-Breakfast reststops, set up at various points each day throughout the city:  Who knows... you might meet a fellow first-timer, or a commuting mentor-in-the-making.  Sign the log, have some coffee, and grab some swag... it's ON, commuters!  Mount up, and head to the office!

See you out there!

May 6, 2013

A different animal

I love a good project bike – and it’s been a long time since I've had the opportunity to actually bring something into my stable and do work.  The last decade, instead, has seen a slow progression of bicycles leaving the stable, in lieu of “the one” and various financial challenges.  At one point in 2005, I had no less than 10 bikes in varied states of ride-ability – and at least four that I could grab at will and ride.  I had the commuter-steed, the weekend warrior, the grocery bike, the beer-run/bar-hopper fixie, and usually one “beater” for nasty weather.  Since 2008, however, aside from a rotation of my kid’s bikes as they grew, the stable has held only three:  the do-everything Kogs, my Dad’s ’68 Schwinn, and my Uncle-in-law’s ’74 Peugeot PR-10.  The latter I had restored to hopefully sell for my uncle, but, the bottom of the market fell out before I finished the job.  Neither of the two family-heirloom bikes has been ridden by me, short of a quick test ride on the Peugeot in ’08 just to confirm it was finished and ready for sale.  Since then, they've just hung upside-down, as personal museum pieces. 

However, I have found the bug again, and after some careful negotiations and a fair price determined, the Peugeot is no longer my uncle’s, in storage; it’s become my own.  Sure, I could just leave it as-is.  After all, purchased new in ’74 in Holland, the bike has rare French parts on it that simply don’t exist anymore, from Lyotard, Normandy, Simplex, Ideale, MAFAC, Atax, and Stronglight.  Riding it, though most would argue that is what it was made for, just seemed out of the question for me, personally.  The frame, however, is the weak link.  With nearly 25 years of garage-wear, scratches and dents on it, caked in grease upon receipt, the frame and paint have seen far better days.  Most would consider it “totaled”, based on the top-tube dent alone.  It’s not the gold-standard PX-10 model (the kind that Merckx rode to victory on a few occasions).  The PR-10, its lower-rung step-child, is still made from good, light tubing; but it’s lacking the finer, collectible touches of the bespoke PX models.  The lugs look like they were cut with a hack-saw and doped-together like household plumbing…but, it’s still lugged steel, baby.  From the standpoint of the frame alone, my mental plan started to make some sense:  remove all the interesting French bits, keep an eye out for an actual PX-10 frameset someday, and use THIS frame for a project bike. 

Yeah, yeah… that’s the ticket….

Similar to the project bike I so dearly loved from circa 2003-2005, dubbed “IT”, I wanted to approach this one with the same money-saving outlook.  My uncle had been very, very kind on the final offer to acquire the bike – which basically amounted to “time-served,” a couple chores, and a handshake – so, I approached the task with a goal of spending as little as possible, unless it was something I just flat couldn't replicate myself.  .  If I don’t have the parts, I’m going to make them, scrounge them, or dumpster-dive them.  However, a dip into the parts drawer filled nearly all the gaps, and a recent “garage sale” purchase yielded the biggest piece I’d need:  a rear wheel.  So far, total investment is right around $25.  I bought a roll of reflective tape, and discount-rack bar tape in a nasty neon color… which seemed somehow fitting, anyways, so it worked out.  Everything else was already in the garage, amassed slowly from other failed and abandoned projects.  Even a spare battery headlight and taillight lay waiting… now back in use, instead of hiding in a box. 

The fenders, however, are gonna get me – and I may end up paying for a commercial product here.  The corrugated plastic campaign yard-sign vs. wire coat-hanger prototype currently fitted is pretty sloppy, and VERY wobbly… even mild pavement joints introduce enough jiggle that the only thing stopping the side-to-side oscillation of the home-made fenders are the tires they keep smacking into over and over.  Extra coat-hanger stays, duct-tape and zip-ties here and there, another lap around the block… still not quite what I had in mind.  I’m hacked off at myself, because after retiring and selling-off the Redline Monocog I’d used a couple winters ago, I can see myself shrugging my own shoulders and haphazardly tossing its fenders into the trash bin.  Ugh… the things I save, compared to the things I don’t save…. Sometimes I confuse myself!  By the time I buy stainless rods – even a pre-fab replacement stays kit from Amazon, cut, trim, and fashion to the hacked campaign signs… yeesh, how much is my time worth again?

Other considerations:  I wanted to use a much taller stem for this bike; but the Franco-centric oddball quill diameter killed that dream really quick.  Getting the Stronglight crankset and bottom bracket out of the frame dang-near put me in the hospital:  Traditional crank-pullers don’t fit… they’re too small to engage the larger diameter spider threads on the French stuff, and trying to hack something together is a great way to ruin the crankset.  Sure, there’s a tool available… for nearly $50.00… and, sadly, the shop that used to have one in their tool-box has long-since closed its doors (RIP, ACME).  The solution ended up being patience and brute force… but, I finally freed the cranks from the bottom bracket spindle, after nearly splitting my skull open when the non-drive side arm finally let go.  Head meets top-tube… at high speed.  TONG!!!!  Felt great.  The bottom bracket, too, has oddball wrench flats/notches which also require a special tool… so, being the special tool *I* am, I fiddled for nearly an hour devising a way to bypass the French “connection” to the frame… ultimately winning, with sore hands and lungs full of chromium dust.  As much as I’d like to curse them, I can’t really fault Peugeot for trying-on this particular business model – though I’m fairly sure it ultimately played a role in the demise of that company’s bicycle production.  It worked for Schwinn for far longer, in this country, but keeping to a common standard represents a better way to guarantee continued success – Raleigh, Cinelli, even Cannondale in some respects (Lefty shocks, anyone??) -- many bike companies find out too late, it seems, that proprietary goofiness is not a good way to keep customers.

Why’d I spend so much time restoring it, if the frame was such junk??  Yeah, I know.  Wishful thinking?  My 2008 brain is not my 2013 brain.  There’s a reason it never sold! 

Finally, Japan has a firm foothold on the old French frame – re-used older Shimano bottom bracket, beat-up Sugino VP cranks with a single no-name 42 tooth chainring, crusty old ACS single-speed freewheel (need to find a cheap fixed cog somewhere), random old KMC chain, spare 700c front wheel from an old Trek, from-who-knows-where road drop handlebars with the nasty neon bar wrap, and enough reflective tape to see the bike from space.  Headlight mounted, taillight mounted, old Blackburn rack mounted.  A pair of my used Panaracer tires pulled off the wall, and tubes reused from the bike’s original 27” wheels from when I restored it.

Playing on how I used to pronounce the last syllable of Peugeot when I was a kid, The “Poo-Goat”…. lives!

                (cue death metal theme song: key of  F minor)
(Four-count high-hat count-in)
Poo-goat, poo-goat, poo-goat
I made you out of steel…
( Insert face-melting guitar riff)
Poo-goat, poo-goat, poo-goat
Sit Ubu, sit, good dog…
(insert double bass pedal solo)
Human shield!
Human shield!
Human shield!
Human shield!
Diamonds.....and rust…

“Thank you” & cityname & “, goodnite!”

First impressions:  though some of it may be the difference in frame material compared to the Kogs, I had forgotten how smooth and fast the Panaracer tires felt….and it makes me wonder, almost immediately, why I’d switched to the Specializeds.  After a few block-laps, I hopped back on the Kogs for a quick comparison… not really a difference?… so maybe it’s just the way the single-speed transmission, higher spoke-count wheels, and larger volume tires feel compared to what I’m used to.  The Kogs is just as smooth, and fits better.  The Goat’s road drop bars are okay… but I feel really stretched out, despite the frame being nearly spot-on-measure with the Kogs.  Maybe some North Road style bars, or a simple flat bar from a mountain bike?  …at least a shorter stem, perhaps.  The vision:  the Goat will likely be a bad-weather bike… primarily to mean bad winter weather, because the BEST improvement over the Kogs involves tire clearance.  Combined with the slight diameter savings between 630 and 622 (27” to 700c) wheels and frame design of the period, there is more than enough clearance for Nokian’s 700c variety studded tires and fenders.  That part alone makes the time spent in the garage worth it – and I’ll gladly spend the cash on those tires if it enables ye-olde excuse-eliminator next fall.  If I can fix the stretched-out feeling with more upright bars, we may have a winner.  Fenders, too… I’ll end up spending some coinage on these accessory items, and that’s okay.  Even then, the Goat is definitely not a cash-vacuum so far, like some of my previous projects.

Other impressions:  having one gear ratio and silently whooshing along – feeling a marked difference in the way the drivetrain seems so directly connected to the earth – my immediate notion sounds a lot like history repeating:  the Kogs should be single-cog, too!  Not so sure I’ll go there, for a few reasons… but I had forgotten completely how amazing single-speed riding feels.  Sure, show me a couple big hills and I’d probably change my tune – but, there is definitely something sexy about it.  So light, so clean, so quiet, so ZEN…. It makes me wonder if I should intentionally keep the long-reach ill-fitting handlebars on the Goat in place, so I’m not tempted to start riding it too much.  Hmmmm….

For now, leaving well-enough alone… with the Kog’s vertical dropouts, whatever I do toward a single-cog conversion there will end up kludgy and compromised – unless I were to get extraordinarily lucky enough to find the perfect combination of chainring and cog to drop right in, without mods, chain tensioners, or eccentric hubs/bottom-brackets: speaking of cash-vacuums….it’s FAR better if I just not invite that particular monster out of the closet.  The Kogs is great, just the way it is – always has been.

…but, I also know myself well enough that knocking off a 200k with a single-speed under me again… that might be great for the soul, and fun, and the Goat may be just the animal for the job.  Limiting it to salt and ice alone just doesn’t seem fair. 

(Pics coming soon – bet on it!)