Friday, September 30, 2011

BSNYC Friday Mildly-Invasive Physical Exam!

As I mentioned yesterday, that day marked the end of my testing period for the Base Urban Belt-Drive Freakout bike, which meant it was time to return it to the company. New York City bike shop Toga Bikes was kind enough to handle the actual shipping of the bicycle, and so yesterday afternoon I set off to their downtown location, Gotham Bikes, to place it in the expert care of their staff. So I headed through Prospect Park on my last belt-driven ride, when I looked down and noticed that the belt was out of alignment:

Looking closer, I saw that the belt was at least a few millimeters off the cog, even though the wheel was (to my eyes anyway) centered in the dropouts:

I had agreed to test this bike because I was curious about belt drives for bicycles, and it was at this moment that my curiosity was satisfied and that I decided I was more than happy to stick with the humble chain--which, for all of its greasiness, is simple to maintain can easily tolerate minor alignment issues. If your chain is making noise, squirt some lube on it. If you don't want to get that lube on your pants, put a chainguard over it. Meanwhile, if your belt drive is making noise or divorcing itself from the cog, it's time to break out the micrometer and start looking for "problems" not visible with the naked eye.

Anyway, Gotham Bikes is in downtown Manhattan, and as it happens, subsequent to Tuesday's post about the Occupy Wall Street protest, one of the actual protesters emailed me and invited to show me around and give me a greater understanding of what was going on down there. So I figured I'd stop by on my way to the shop. As I rode, it began raining heavily, and I joined some fellow cyclists with equal amounts of leisure time and waited it out under the Manhattan Bridge:

Once the rain let up a bit I was back on my way, and it's a good thing that, in addition to having a fussy drivetrain, the Base Urban cannot accept proper fenders or else I might have retained a small amount of dryness.

Arriving at the protest, I locked the Base Urban to a railing, at which point a woman with a bicycle approached me. It seemed that her rear tire's sidewall had failed, and apart from directing her to a bike shop there wasn't much else I could do for her--though I suppose I could have "booted" it with a section of tarp:

I was wondering how the protesters would fare in the rain, and here was my answer. However, there was no answer from my liaison when I phoned--though I couldn't blame him, since I was dropping in rather unexpectedly, and clearly he and his fellow protesters had more pressing concerns, such as not being swept away into the Hudson. They were probably also still busy seeing to their chore list:

Yes, since my visit on Monday there were a lot more ponchos and a lot fewer shoes:

Don't feel too bad for them, though, since they get to sleep on waterbeds:

As I wandered I eavesdropped on little meetings:

And watched little DIY "media" broadcasts:

And then suddenly something hit me: Why hadn't I just given that woman one of my tires? Here it was, miserably rainy, and she presumably needed that bike to go about the rest of her day. I, on the other hand, was simply dropping my bike off nearby, after which I would never see it again and would vanish with the swipe of a MetroCard. So I went to look for her, at which point I heard the sound of drums in the canyons of Wall Street. (There also may have been a faint whiff of wet dog, but I might have imagined that.) Then a wave of marching protesters arrived:

Some shirtless:

And others be-ponchoed:

And some in period-correct 1960s attire:

They came in waves:

And soon I was engulfed:

And so was the Base Urban:

I was reasonably sure at this point that the protesters would identify it as an ostentatious symbol of corporate greed and smash it to bits, and I was also reasonably sure I would have joined them. Meanwhile, I had no idea where that woman with the ruined tire was, but I did know where she had left her bike--it was right next to the garbage can one of the protesters was using as a drum:

Eventually I was able to fish the Base Urban from the sea of wet protesters, at which point I removed the front tire and tube:

And left them on the woman's bike:

For all I knew she'd already gone off in search of a replacement, but if she hadn't I hoped she'd appreciate the gesture. I also hoped the tire wouldn't get stolen, but given the fact that this was a protest I figured only a total negative vibe merchant would tempt the ensuing bad karma, which would probably strike the thief in the form of dysentery from drinking rainwater out of the folds of a moldy tarp. Finally, I took the hobbled Base Urban:

And walked it the rest of the way to the shop:

Ironically, this was the most I enjoyed piloting it.

And now, I'm pleased to present you with a quiz. As always, study the item, think, and click on your answer. If you're right you'll feel all funny inside but in a good way, and if you're wrong you'll see bike dancing.

Thanks very much for reading, ride safe, and stay dry. Unless you enjoy being wet, in which case stay wet.

--Wildcat Rock Machine

1) The Mavic Ksyrium SLR Exalith is a great everyday wheelset because:

2) Also, "Exalith would be fantastic for cyclocross."

3) What is this?

4) This man may be the world's deadliest Fred.

5) This rider is demonstrating:

--"Back-Up Barz"
--How to see over traffic
--Proper charity ride time trial technique

6) Americans typically regard bicycles with:

7) Fill in the blank:

I was stopped at a red-light and you took a picture of me on my bike. I'd love to see it, send me an email.

Oh, I was wearing a blue shirt, brown hat and I have a huge _____. ;)


***Special America Is Doomed-Themed Bonus Challenge! (for Americans only)***

Watch this without packing a small bag and fleeing the United States forever:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coming and Going: Socks, Cups, and Belts

In these high-tech days of "electronic mail," "instant massages," and "telephone calls," going to your physical mailing box can be an experience fraught with stress and anxiety. Sure, an email can contain a nasty virus or a Nigerian scam, but at least you don't have to actually touch or smell anything. On the other hand, your analog mailbox can contain pretty much anything. It could be an unexpected financial windfall, or it could be a notice from a collection agency, or it could just be a note that says "Eff you blog boy" that's been lovingly seasoned with anthrax.

Fortunately, yesterday was a "best case scenario" for me down at the old mailin' hole. In addition to the small packet of "Wednesday weed" that I had mailed myself from Amsterdam, it also contained a pair of socks. And these weren't pre-worn, funky, unlaundered socks from strangers like I usually receive, either. They were brand-spunking-new collectable foot sockings still in the original packaging!

The socks, as you may have figured out by now, were from the excellent Cycling Inquisition blog, and you can get some here along with other body part coverings. Best of all, they have the blog's URL right on the foot part!

That's so when you're chatting on the group ride and you want to tell someone about that awesome blog you read, and they ask for the URL, but you can't remember, all you have to do is just whip off a Sidi and stick your foot in their face.

Also, as far as I know, they're fully compatible with the new All Hail the Black Market kits:

So be sure to promote one or both of these great blogs on your next ride. (As for this blog, it's far from great. Anyway, as you can tell from my new bikes I'm officially going "full douche" now, so I'm no longer calling this a blog. Instead, I now refer to it as a "cycling-themed electronic prose manifestation.")

Or you can just stick with the Primal Wear, whatever works for you.

But wait, there's more! In addition to the socks, there was something else in my mailbox. Something special. Something imbued with feminine mystique. Something that came in a small pouch labeled "Diva," which you can see here in the clutches of my helper monkey, Vito:

I opened the pouch and gently removed the object inside with trembling fingers, and the music of Juliana Hatfield began to play as if from nowhere. Then, Vito grabbed it from me and put it on his head like a hat:

Still, I was at a loss. Was it a collapsible silicone shot glass? Was it something you'd use to perform a hydraulic disc brake overhaul? I then thought about the process of bleeding brakes, and that's when it hit me:

It was a menstrual cup!

You may recall that some time ago, I mentioned a blog called "Sustainable Cycles," chronicling the adventures of two women who had embarked upon a project to "Bicycle Down the West Coast, Meet Women, Talk about Menstrual Cups, and Live on $4 a Day:"

Well, not only did they appreciate the mention, but the also asked me if they could show their gratitude by sending me my very own menstrual cup.

Um, fuck yeah!

At this point you may be wondering, "What use could you possibly have for a menstrual cup?" Well, firstly, there's this. Secondly, there's the big, big savings:

Over a lifetime, the average woman spends about 2000 dollars on single use pads and tampons, creating an enormous truck-load of trash. Menstrual cups are made of non-absorbent latex or silicon and last for up to 10 years: quite a deal for $35 dollars!

And there's your custom bicycle frame.

In all seriousness, it makes me feel all tingly inside that two people are not only touring by bicycle in order to promote something they believe in, but that they're doing so with good cheer and in good humor. Then again, that inner tingling could just be a sign that it's menstrual cup time. Either way, it's a refreshing alternative to the usual touring logs in which people boast about their mileage, document the minutiae of their bicycle set-ups, and generally suffer from the delusion that their cycling vacations are on par with the exploits of the great explorers.

By the way, the menstrual cup they sent me is made in Canada, which I guess means that not only is American manufacturing truly dead, but that we also technically can't refer to the United States as "Canada's menstrual cup."

Speaking of monthly cycles, it would appear that my one month testing period for the Avenging Disco Belt-Drive Bike is now at an end, which means it's time to pack it up and send it back to these guys:

The bike, as you may recall if you didn't bother to click on the above link, is the Base Urban something-or-other, and the month I had with it passed too quickly--not because I loved the bike (frankly I did not), but because I spent like half that time in Europe. I did use it last night to transport myself to a social engagement, and here's what it looks like with a "filth prophylactic" on the seatpost:

From a commuting standpoint, the cleanliness of the drivetrain is undeniably attractive. (By the way, the belt is now mostly quiet, except on inclines, when it makes a sound pretty much exactly like derailleur rub.) Other than that, the bike was a bit like a roommate you go out of your way to avoid. It's shaped like a road bike but doesn't perform like one, so for recreation you'd naturally opt for a road bike. At the same time, it's shaped too much like a road bike to be comfortable or practical for commuting, which meant it was a struggle not to simply reach for my trusty Scattante. Then there's the frame. I mentioned the untenable eyelets, and I also noticed that, due to all the wacky stuff going on in rear dropout land, I experienced repeated heel strike:

In fairness to the bike, I am highly duckfooted, but I've never experienced that before on a bike without panniers:

By the way, in case you're wondering, yes, those are rubber slip-on shoes shaped like Vans with no laces. The father of 17 children, I have given up on fashion long ago. And yes, I'm also wearing a rubber shirt shaped like an unbuttoned Oxford.

In any case, I'd like to thank the belt drive people for lending me the bike, as well as the Gates people for helping me sort out the initial noise issues. And once the bike is on its way home, that means I will have one less bike to juggle, though juggling bikes is a lot easier than juggling fire and knives on rollers, as in this video:

This man may be the world's deadliest Fred:

Though he really should upgrade those blades to crabon. He could always use the "spokes" from an old set of Spinergys.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Am I? In the Market

("Holy shit, the British are coming?!?")

"What bike should I get?" It's a question as old as the bicycle itself. Actually, that's not entirely true, since back in the "olden days" if you wanted to ride you got a pennyfarthing and that was that. Maybe--maybe--the LBS gave you the option to upgrade to one of those newfangled "saddles" instead of keeping the stock iron spike that people used to sit on before the bicycle seat was invented, but otherwise it was p-far or nothing.

Now, though, there is a bewildering array of bicycles out there, and as we saw from the comments on yesterday's post, which one you choose and why is one of the most contentious debates in all of cycling. In fact, it's right up there with the "helment debate," the "tubular vs. clincher debate," and of course the "saddle vs. iron spike debate." (I've been a saddle man ever since my surgery, but as they say on the Internet, "YMMV"--as will the diameter of the hole in your perineum and the time it takes it to heal.)

In any case, every so often "new bike time" rolls along. For some "new bike time" comes once a year, for others once a decade, and for still others once in a lifetime. Regardless of the interval though, "new bike time" is a lot like having a gaping hole in your perineum, since after a certain point you can't ignore it and the problem simply must be addressed. As it happens, it was recently "new bike time" for me, though unfortunately by the time I saw this "Tweet" from Bicycling magazine I already had my new bikes and it was too late for me to heed its expert advice:

Nevertheless, I clicked on the link anyway to see if I had made the right choice:

The article began with a simple exercise:

Sketch yourself. Grab a pencil, paper and some brutal honesty. Now make two lists. The first is an inventory of your current status as a cyclist or, for first-timers, your fitness level: how competitive you are, how much time you spend riding (or working out) each week, your highest achievements on a bike. The second is your ultimate vision of yourself as a cyclist: completing multiple charity rides each year, kicking butt on the local race circuit, riding to work every day, and so on.

Oooh, fun! I grabbed a pencil and I grabbed some paper, but I didn't have any brutal honesty so instead I grabbed my "pants yabbies." Then, with my free hand, I got to work. However, instead of simply making lists I thought a graphical representation might be more helpful, and here's what I came up with:

(Click to enlarge, unless horrible drawings make you nauseous.)

As you can see, the cyclist that I am is a fairly unfit rider who sucks. The cyclist I wish to be, however, is Philippe Gilbert with the head of Justin Bieber. This is because I think it would be fun to win a Classic and then get mobbed at the finish line by a bunch of screaming teenagers. However, if hybrids are off the fantasy cycling table, then I would of course opt to be the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing-retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret:

No Bieber head necessary--Bret is cycling perfection incarnate.

Once I had my picture in hand, I moved on to the next step:

Then, imagine a rider who fits between the two—the bike that's right for that middle-ground you is the minimum you should purchase.

Ah-ha! So I did get the wrong bike! According to this, my new "middle ground" bike should have been the rear end of my Scattante grafted onto the front end of my Ritte:

(Who I am, and who I wish to be.)

At least that's how I interpret it. Therefore, immediately following this post, I plan to get to work with a hacksaw and some S&S couplers. Once I'm done, I'll report back with a lengthy post on BikeForums.

Most importantly though, your bike should give you "room to grow:"

Buy below that level, and you won't have enough room to grow.

I'm not sure what this means, but I suspect it's warning you of that moment in every Fred's life when you look at your bike and say this:

"I'm really sorry. It's not you, it's me. I'm just in a different place right now, and that place requires that I ride crabon instead of aluminum."

At which point the poor spurned bicycle must make way for a gleaming new Cervélo with Zipp wheels and over 15 centimeters of headset spacers and a glamorous new life of "kicking butt" and completing "multiple charity rides each year."

Speaking of new bikes, this past weekend a panel of judges at the Oregon Manifest selected the "ultimate utility bicycle," and it was Tony Pereira's this thing:

(This thing. It has a box.)

Of course, if you ask a hundred Portlanders what the ideal utility bike is, you'll not only get a thousand answers, but you'll also get about a million unsolicited lists of all the stuff they carried by bike that day, since "portaging" is their primary means of self-expression. This is precisely why the comments section on the Bike Portland coverage of the event is so entertaining (as was brought to my attention to a reader):

Here's one reader who was not impressed by the box, or really by any of the contestants:

If I designed the field test criteria for the show based on the needs of my family then a bike would have to carry our every day needs which are:

1. 15 month old baby

2. 10 pound dog
3. 2 bags of groceries
4. Diaper bag
5. rain cover or rain clothes for rider/baby
6. tools, spares, pump
7. water, travel mug
8. lights, lock

Fortunately there were a few bikes there that met that test. As more of the Constructors find themselves parents I am sure that these capabilities will enter into their bike designs. It would be fun to see a year in which the bikes would have to carry all of the above. Obviously you would have to substitute weighted dummies for the baby/dog due to obvious reasons on the Saturday test day.

What, no kitchen sink? Must be a minimalist. Also, you might be tempted to suggest that it's no big deal to leave the dog at home for a few hours, but in Portland leaving your dog unattended for longer than five minutes can get you arrested for animal cruelty. (Feeding it non-organic food is merely a misdemeanor.) Therefore, in Portland, no dog-portaging ability = dealbreaker. By the way, by next year's Oregon Manifest you can be sure someone in Portland will have started a business making artisanal hand-crafted weighted dummies that look like babies and dogs, and by the Manifest after that there will be a spin-off weighted dummy show and Sacha White will have a 15-year wait list for his take on those clown-shaped punching bags:

Of course, some of the Manifest bikes are more practical than others, but practicality is also subjective, and it differs from city to city rider to rider. For example, pretty much all of these bikes are wildly impractical in New York City, where they'd be stolen in seconds. The important part is the ideas each builder implemented. Sure, some of these ideas were more interesting or useful than others, but as far as I can tell none of them were remotely as useless as this one, which was forwarded to me by another reader:

Yes, it's a sensor that tells you when you get too close to stuff on your bike. If you have 900 years to spare you can also watch the video, which features a stupid skit in which someone with a marshmallow on her head pretends she just got "doored:"

And then Stellan Skarsgård's cousin who works at Radio Shack makes her a device that lights up when something gets three feet from her:

That's just brilliant, because a tiny red light is a lot easier to see than a car door. Also, everybody knows that car doors open very slowly, which is why you've got plenty of time to monitor a device, then spot the car door, and then take evasive action. I'm not sure what his next project will be, but maybe he can come up with something that lights up when you're lying underneath a truck.

Not that it matters, mind you, since yet another reader tells me we should all stop riding because it's bad for our lungs:

Logically then we should all drive to work while eating Big Macs. The health benefits are debatable, but our lungs will be as pink as that Tony Pereira bike. It's time to get off the Black Lung Express.