Bicycles, Reflective Writing

My Dad and the month of July

First, I want to apologize to any of my friends for whom this is news. I have not been shouting this from the rooftops, nor have I been in contact with everyone. For reasons that should be obvious, it’s been a stressful month and I’ve withdrawn a little as a result.

One month ago, on June 20th, my father was struck by a car while on his bicycle. He suffered a brain injury and spent quite a bit of time in the hospital. He’s home now, still recovering but making progress. It’s been a harrowing time, for myself and my brother but especially for my mother, who has found herself conscripted as the key contact for all the doctors, lawyers, and everyone else you get in touch with when there’s a bad surprise in your life.

I was not prepared for this, though for different reasons than most of my family. Like my father, I’m an avid cyclist. Unlike my father, the majority of my cycling mileage occurs in and around the city of Boston, especially in the last five years when I commuted to work by bicycle. I had been preparing for the possibility of a bike crash in the family…but I had been mentally preparing for the day I’d be hit by a car again (yes, again). Pedaling through traffic day after day, you inure yourself to the idea that eventually someone was going to come too close or make an error in judgment and you’d find yourself laid out in the street.

That didn’t happen. My father was riding home on a rural road, less than two miles from home. The road has a shoulder wide enough to ride on, and there were no traffic devices between him and home, not even a stop sign. He was hit by a driver who not only simply failed to regard mixed traffic, but also fled the scene after the crash. Yeah, it was a hit and run. This made everything all the more frustrating. Though I can’t comment on exactly what happened, both the location and the circumstances make it difficult for me to see any reason for this occurring other than a person who simply failed to drive.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. My criticisms can’t undo the crash, and even if the offending driver stopped my Dad would have still been in the hospital and still had the injuries he did. It’s not useful to ponder what-ifs, especially as my Dad is still here, and that’s the direction my energies should go. He’s been talking about the bike he’s going to buy after everything gets resolved. That impresses the hell out of me.

There’s some point in the future this may return to normal. I haven’t been cycling all this month, though I can’t say for certain it’s related to the crash (I’m also fairly busy). For now though, I’m trying as best I can to help my parents while my Dad recovers. I’m very thankful for the support I’ve received from friends, co-workers and family…and here I must apologize again if I haven’t told you what was happening. With everything going on, I stepped back from a lot. It’s only after a recent and much needed vacation that I was able to clear my head and write this. In the long run, I’m sure both my Dad and myself are going to keep cycling…I can only hope that everyone I know does their part and keeps being cognizant of the many types of road users out there. It only takes one careless moment to change someone’s life forever.


The Urban Beater rides

With a few brake cable stays and a water bottle cage, I finished my single-speed bicycle build last Friday. I was able to ride around town a bit that day, and then took a slightly longer ride out on the Minuteman Bike Trail on Sunday.

The bike is just…breezy. It’s stable at speed but easy to turn in, it rolls nicely, and is just generally fun. I do feel how skinny the tires are, but they noticeably reduce the effort from stops. And low effort from stops is important, because there are no gears. Speaking of no gears, the bike is also kind of slow. It’s not very slow, but right now with the 44/15 gearing, I’ve got almost 3:1 reduction. In comparison, the 39/13 or 39/12 gearing which I usually end up with on the Bianchi (either the highest or second highest rear gear and the middle chainring) is either exactly 3 or 3.25:1. So doing the math out the difference isn’t huge, but both the presence of lower gears and the little gearing advantage at the top makes the Bianchi feel faster.

Speaking of the Bianchi. I rode to work yesterday and today, and riding the bikes back to back was interesting. For the first time, I really felt the difference in the amount of tire I had with the Bianchi. This is notable mostly because the Bianchi wears 32c road tires, not skinny but not exactly fat either. Still, the difference between 25 and 32 was a noticeable reduction in jarring and better maintaining speed over uneven pavement. The generally higher cadence I was able to maintain on the Bianchi made it feel a lot faster, though that’s likely due to the reduction in effort rather than the actual gearing difference discussed above. The Bianchi is heavier than the Motobecane, but while riding it’s pretty hard to feel the difference. The Bianchi carries the weight of the panniers well also. The one place the Motobecane’s weight was a major advantage was in multi-modal riding; I can throw it on my shoulder and carry it up and down stairs easily, something that is painful with the Bianchi and impossible when I have panniers on it.

The Motobecane is fulfilling its role as an urban beater well, and will be even better once I figure out how to ride it with as little baggage as possible (I rode with a backpack which was OK, but riding it without a pack was much better). There is one small upgrade in the works…after feeling out how the bike rides I’m probably going to change to bar-end brake levers, just simple ones like Tektro 4.1s. It’ll clean up the front end and make me feel more comfortable in a crouch on this bike, which right now leaves me without brake coverage. Unfortunately, this change would require new cables (longer than the current ones to cover lever position), new bar tape, and the levers themselves, so I’m probably going to leave it alone until I feel like ripping into the bike again.

Overall, my first build was a successful one. A few tweaks and this bike should serve me well for some time.


Continued bicycle adventures

I ran the 40-mile Hub on Wheels ride yesterday in Boston, and dealt with the 50-mile day (40 miles plus five to the ride and five back home) very well considering my lack of endurance training. The bike performed admirably, but there were several weak points in my setup that were revealed by spending three solid hours in the saddle. My hands got sore very quickly, so I’m looking at possible ways to adjust my handlebars. The setup is good enough for my commute so I’m hesitant to mess around with anything until I have a solid block of time. The issue is too much pressure on my hands, which is likely an indirect consequence of me having really long arms…the seat is already on the shorter side of correct height, but raising it any further would make the hand problem worse. To really fix the situation I’d likely need a new handlebar stem. Alternatively, a wider set of handlebars could make it easier for me to spend less time in the drops, which would also fix the issue.

Project fixie continues, though there has been no progress since being stalled by a stuck pedal. Partly due to this and partly due to both other bikes (mine and my girlfriend’s) in my stable making some degree of clicking noises from the pedal area, I’ve ordered some crank pulling tools (a crank puller and appropriately sized allen keys for the crank bolts) to fix all of these situations. As the crank threads on the fixie are likely stripped to hell by the stuck pedal, this probably should have been a course of action I took earlier.

I’ve been doing fairly well riding to work almost every day. I drove in today due to some evening plans that require a car, and man was it horrible. Biking really is a better transport solution for my needs, and is making me wonder if I can organize a future that precludes car ownership entirely. This winter will be the ultimate litmus test of that particular fantasy.


Project Urban Beater: That damn pedal

Despite many applications of liquid wrench and a lot of cursing, I have not yet been able to remove the left pedal on the bike. Before anyone says it: yes, the left pedal loosens clockwise and tightens counter-clockwise. I am aware.

Next step is to get a large cheater bar to put over the wrench, but I have not found a 2-3 foot long iron pipe hanging around my apartment. If I’m not able to make that work, I’ll have to take the bike to a shop where the pedal can be removed. Clearly, that is an absolute last resort.

Provided I can get the pedal off and the threads on the crank arm haven’t been stripped to hell, the next step is to put on some new parts, notably a new set of pedals and a seatpost clamp, so I can get the bike sized correctly. Then it’s time to install the front brake and make it rideable.


Triumphs so far

I was able to remove the cut seatpost clamp on the Motobecane with a needle-nose vise grip and patience. I’ve gotten one of the pedals off but the other is stuck.

I trued my rear wheel on the Bianchi, just enough to get my rear brakes installed correctly without rubbing. I did this by plucking each spoke. As long as you remember that the left and right spokes are different tensions, you can find the “flat” spoke and tighten it. This pulled out my big warp enough to install the brakes…which as I found have less throw on the back than they do on the front. Even so, they work better now.

Tomorrow I leave for the Beach, but I feel like I’ve made a good amount of progress with my bikes so far. When I return, I’m going to get the other pedal off the Motobecane, remove the old brake cable, and order some parts to start reassembling the bike. Magdalen’s bike also needs a bit more work, but hopefully nothing drastic.


Project Urban Beater

As I planned out a whole host of bicycle maintenance I completed this weekend (two sets of brakes, one set of tires, one new chain), I noted that I may want to acquire a second bicycle if I was planning to try and bike through the winter this year. Having a winter beater bike not only takes some wear off of your primary bike (not exactly my goal, considering how much I’ve thrashed my Bianchi) but also can be set up to be more robust for adverse conditions. Riding fixed-gear in the winter is recommended not only because the single-speed drivetrain is easier to maintain and has fewer places to gather road grit and dirt, but also because having no freewheel gives the rider a bit more control.

So after some craigslist searching for old frames with horizontal dropouts, I found a guy selling a Motobecane Track for a fraction of its retail price. Other than the brakes, which had been installed incorrectly, the bike was in great shape. Now, it’s sitting on the workstand in my basement, waiting to be transformed into the urban beater of my dreams.

The checklist for the project is relatively short, but even so the bike isn’t ready to ride yet. First and foremost, I need to fix the brakes issue. I’ve already removed the incorrectly installed rear caliper, and mocked up a Tektro R540 front that my Dad gifted to me from his own brake swap on his Trek. Next step is to cut the cable to size and actually hook up the brakes.

After that there’s only one more repair necessary: the bolt on the seatpost clamp has been sheared off. I don’t know whether it was an accident or done intentionally as an anti-theft action, but either way the seatpost is currently too tall for me and needs to be brought down. The clamp will have to be drilled out or removed some other way.

After those repair actions, there’s a few modifications I’d like to make.

Chain tugs: the bike has track forkends, so I’m going to put on a set of chain tugs to keep the chain tension constant and the rear axle aligned.

Handlebar: The flat bar on the bike is in pretty good shape, but I like road positioning so I’ll probably replace them with a set of either drop bars or bullhorn bars, depending on how much of a hipster I want to be.

Tires: The tires are 25mm, and skinny is actually good for all-season riding as long as you don’t encounter much ice. It isn’t urgent but putting on some Continental Grand Prixs will do wonders for tire durability.

Pedals: The pedals on there are a beaten up pair using Shimano SPD-SL clip-in shoes. I’m going to replace them with either SPD pedals for my current cleats or toe clips for safer winter operation.

Ancillaries: Light mounts will be essential. I’m researching a rack mount solution as well, but it’s not a top priority.

I’m excited for this. The Bianchi doesn’t give me any trouble, which is a good thing, but also means very little tinkering. I’ve been emboldened by doing my own chain, and now have a bike I can tinker with as well. The only downside is my quickly approaching the execution of the Velominati’s Rule 12: The correct number of bikes to have is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.