December 14, 2013

Precious Metals

Weather-wise, the hammer has fallen in the KC-area.

The last couple weeks have seen some dips into the teen's for HIGH temperatures, and we've already been glazed a couple times like a frozen donut.... not the GOOD kind, but those artsy pastries with a thin sheen of glaze - because too much would be considered "tacky."  Just enough to be mildly tasty - but somehow leaves one feeling teased or punished.. yet, it's still gloriously, decadently dangerous.  It's not really "winter" so much as it's a lack of nice weather.

It's the season of the car keys, the DNF, the DNS, the reschedule, the "wait until Spring."  

It sucks.

BUT, it's life in the midwestern plains.  I'm told, season after season, that it's a great time to diversify and try a new sport.  Pfffft.  What, like cyclocross?  Okay...  oh, no?  oh... so, running?  Cringe.... next.

A good amount of us try to make-do, waiting patiently for the roads to dry; or, in my case - each year reinventing the (ahem) wheel and building up another winter beater.  This year, if you've followed the social media, it's "The Goat" -- or, as I've recently decided is far more apt: "Deathwish VII."  The Peugeot, obtained slowly over a long period of time from my wife's uncle, is a nice ride... as long as you don't plan on riding it.  This wasn't really apparent while it was dry during its first two voyages on the studded tires.  Noisy, yes... but, manageable.  More than anything, with its 42x21 single-speed drivetrain, it proved very capable and torquey enough for seated climbing on any of the myriad hills dotting my various routes to and from work.  Perfect!

So I'd thought.

I had been willing to forgive all the bonkers, proprietary French sizing of the seat-post, the quill stem.... okay, nearly EVERYthing... simply because I finally HAD a winter-bike again.  Fenders mounted, studded tires fit nicely, good brakes, rear rack -- all parts that were either on the bike already (in the case of all the goofball odd-size stuff), or items I'd had in the garage already.  It wasn't until yesterday morning on the ride to work when other, indeed important, factors became obvious.  Things like geometry!

This won't be a lecture on geometry, why "something" is better than "something+1" -- it's only to say that some of the weird French "character"  (yeah, we'll call it THAT)  had trickled into the frame and fork themselves, apparently.  All straight - nothing cracked, bent, or warped... I checked.... but, what translated as "spirited" when the pavement had been dry began to embody near-terror when the pavement became wet and icy.  I'm not even talking full-on snow here... just a little freezing drizzle on already-treated roads.  

The tires?  Sure... studs must be ridden differently -- after all, one is nearly skating along on 100 or more tiny metal beads, essentially.  You can't carve corners... you need to stay flat, if that's possible, while turning.  In short... the studs WON'T render the rider invincible:  much like 4WD (are you listening, local SUV drivers???), the technology only helps ASSIST in a situation that already requires a modified approach.  So, one still had to ride carefully... the studs, then, do the rest.  That is, of course, assuming you have a nice, stable platform.  

Sure, perhaps, too, I'm not yet used to the Peugeot.  Simply standing up out of the saddle to climb a small rise in the road proved how nervous the front end of this bike behaved... I should have known then.  I've ridden a LOT of different bikes from different eras and builders - and this is the only one that has (short of tallbikes, which I swear are more stable) proven genuinuely "nervous" in the handling category... which is weird for a middle-of-the-road, European, mid-70's sport-touring bike.  It's to the point where I think there may be something wrong with it, somewhere I haven't discovered yet.

It was a short honeymoon.

I've since cancelled my subscription to "Interesting French Stuff Monthly", and have moved back into a standby mode, wherein - like last year - I'll simply wait until the roads prove drier, safer, and very-well plowed indeed before pursuing future winter commutes.  Now that we've had a couple small doses of winter-scare, the roads are in the right shape where studs are effectively in the "overkill" department... and I can't waste a lot of the time I already don't have enough of trying to figure out what's up with the handling characteristics of a bike I'll probably only truly NEED twice a year.  In fact, the Trek 450 is looking AWFULLY good in the guise of a fixed-gear once-in-a-while commuter machine... and those studded tires DO fit... just.


The other remarkable bit this week involves local traffic and driver-behavior in general, which reminds me of a quote by Dennis Hopper's character in the ole movie fave "Speed,"  wherein he teases his oppressor in a verbal pissing match, something to the effect of "aw, see?  In 200 years we've gone from 'my only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country', to 'f&*k you?'"  In effect... yeah... we're there:  Ten years ago on a blustery, wintry commute to work I had two separate people offer me a ride to wherever I was going in the short time it took me to make it the last couple miles to the office one particular morning.  Yesterday, by contrast, I had two drivers inform me that I was "an idiot" for riding my bike (in that weather, or in general - I dunno), and one suggested rather eloquently that I get my fine self of the road.  The otherwise abandoned, residential, really-doesn't-go-anywhere road that he and I both happened to occupy at that particular point in time.  Nice.  Although I don't know WHO they are, still, I have a rather keen eye and something of a grudge for certain makes of car, and sometimes bumper stickers and the like, when it comes to keeping an eye out for those that feel it necessary to have words with me, and I took a LOT of personal satisfaction upon arriving at the office, locking up the bike, and walking in.... only to see the first gentleman (the more polite of the two) passing by the crosswalk and heading to the parking garage down the way.  Basically, I'd beaten him to work -- and like a friend on social media outlined:  so, I helped reduce congestion, saved some oil, improved my health, AND arrived earlier than this other motorist, and - somehow - *I'M* the idiot?  Yeah.  

It's been an interesting week, to be sure .... and I've already felt my internal frustration peak a bit, about the twitchy winter "solution" (which I should have test-ridden more before ordering the studded tires), and the state of the city within which I live... and, the opinions of some of the people I work near/with.  (Sigh...)  I need to find a new route to work... or a new city.  TOWN, preferably - if you catch the difference.  

The one-bike-theory isn't a bad one... but, as numb as perhaps I've become from over a decade of riding in traffic around here, to suddenly be VERY aware of how snarly and nasty traffic (and the people IN it) are becoming, I'm beginning to see why my dad stopped riding his motorcycle here, decades ago.  It's getting kinda stupid.  Is that my AGE and the perception that comes with it, or reality????  

Dunno yet.

I'm gonna sleep on it... and, probably ride to work next week, at least once.  

I know, also, that my recent experiences are exceptions to the rule.  
I've had far, far, FAR more uneventful commutes, pleasant commutes, and friendly motorists who occasionally have been known to give a thumbs-up, or a wave, or at least a wide berth when passing... far more of that, preferred behavior, and not-so-much of the wearisome nonsense I'm noticing lately.  The holidays are stressful, the days are short, the sun merely punctuation to long, cold days.  People are on edge.  Heck, *I* probably am, too.  

Deep breath... but, yes:  do find that quieter route, I think.

Tomorrow is another day.

Now, if I can stop wasting time on bikes that AREN'T Surly's Long-Haul Trucker... perhaps I'll be ultimately happier - if not a little lighter in the wallet.  As much as I have a soft spot for interesting frames with interesting stories built from various blends of steel and other precious metals, I've only been talking about a LHT being THE commuter/camper/winter solution for, what.... five years?  More?  

...but, that's another discussion....  

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