Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year - Welcome to the Slump

Here it is, the end of 2010 and in a few hours, the beginning of 2011. 2011? Sounds like we should be flying around in personal UFOs and watching robots cook dinner for us.

Ah, not the case - technology fails us once again. Maybe the Amish are on to something after all. Dude, have you ever seen the movie Witness? If that doesn't make you wanna churn butter, nothing will.

I'm smack dab in the middle of my winter riding slump. I usually have the wheels eject off the wagon in late November, then besides a few easy mountain bike rides and the occasional garage trainer torture session, live like a normal person though the holidays. Bike commuting on hold, drive to work everyday and eat way too much. I can feel my alleged fitness level drop and notice the few extra pounds.

Plus, I've been whacked with a few bad colds since November, including sporting one right now that's been hanging on for two weeks. In a way a good thing - would rather get friendly with a few nasty viruses now, rather then the middle of July. Not that we have much of a choice in such matters, still a look at the bright side (hack, wheeze, sniffle). Pass the pumpkin pie (burp).

The riding break can be a good thing. After many weeks of driving into downtown Seattle and paying $8 daily to park, missing the scenery and riding pals on the Burke-Gilman Trail - I can't wait to crank it up again. A bit of a breather gets you psyched to ride once more. Gaining the fitness level back can be tough and seems to take longer as I get older. However, after years and years of riding, I know it does come back. And it will return once more.

To all who actually read this little ol' blog, thanks for doing so. Some of you have become online blogger pals and I find that aspect really fun. We're all linked together by the love of cycling and the wonder of the Internet. Maybe the Amish are missing something after all.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Riding Giants - Film Review

I've never surfed in my life. I'm a terrible swimmer and don't even dig getting in water much at all. Yet, I've always been fascinated with surfing. Maybe its from dabbling with skateboarding during the '70s or listening to The Ventures and Dick Dale.

Then again, I don't think so. I think its from the culture and vibe of it all and how people who are into surfing are really into surfing. Its like an obsession or religion. And that obsession is shared among cyclists, skateboarders, musicians - or whatever your thing is.

Surfing is also a beautiful sport. I occasionally flip through surfing magazines, in awe of the freeze frame photos of surfers in action. The water, sun, splashes of color via the board and wetsuits. The expression on surfers faces while they're doing their thing. Great stuff.

I also see similarities between surfboard makers and frame builders. Surfboard dude shaping a board with a sander in a small shop. Frame builder guy manning a torch, partially constructed frame in a jig. Both are soul tools designed for the committed.

This film documents the beginning of surfing hundreds of years ago, up to the modern form of big wave surfing. Not being a surfer, I don't recognize any of the people interviewed, except for Laird Hamilton - who has spilled over into mainstream culture. If science could create the ultimate surfer, looks and all, it would be Hamilton. Laird and everyone else interviewed comes across as very cool, likable, and totally live what they do - surf.

I got a big kick out of the clips and stories of surfing in the late '50s and early '60s. Surfing was still a secret subculture, yet to get big. The pioneers of modern surfing basically thumbed their noses at society, lived on the beach in tents and shacks, and surfed daily. They needed little money, lived off the land and perfected their craft. As mentioned in the film, maybe 5000 surfers in the world existed at the time. After the Hollywood exploitation of surfing via movies like Gidget during the '60s, surfing exploded in popularity with now millions taking part. Innocence now lost.

As the film progresses through the years, what's considered a big wave continues to grow. Waves and areas once thought unrideable become rideable - and exponentially more dangerous. I find it incredible these guys (and some girls) paddle miles out into the ocean to ride these monster waves. You're way out there with just a board and your talent and ability to keep it all together.

The Jeff Clark story was amazing. He basically surfed this dangerous area in Northern California by himself for 15 years, before other surfers discovered it was in fact ridable. Ridable for extremely talented surfers that is - for non surfers like myself - the place looks like instant death. Huge waves crashing into a rocky shoreline. I have utter respect for people who can call something like this their playground. How they get pummeled underwater after wiping out is incredible.

This lifestyle is not without risk, people do die - as noted in the film - including Mark Foo, a world famous surfer who died on his first visit to very area Jeff Clark surfed solo for 15 years. Then a year later, another surfer died there during a ceremonial tribute to Foo.

The film ends with spectacular shots of Laird Hamilton and other surfers hitting monster waves, 80+ feet tall. To surf these waves, the surfers travel by boat and Jetski further out in the ocean, where these monsters live. The waves are so fast and big, they must be towed by Jetski to slingshot themselves into position. Dropping into one of these waves is like falling off a skyscraper, with a mountain of water right behind you. Surfers with this ability are the chosen few, and for mere mortals watching them do this, is almost beyond comprehension. They literally risk death with each session. It is awesome to witness however.

Riding Giants, directed by Stacy Peralta is well worth watching. Peralta also directed Dogtown and Z Boys, another fantastic documentary, this film about '70s era skateboarding.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Really Old School 'Cross

Late '50s cyclocross race pulled off the web. This has been posted on various sites over the last few months, thought I'd join the party since I still get a kick out of seeing it. Check out the crazy deep creek crossings - anyone for a swim?

Best part is the smiles of the racers at the end - that doesn't change no matter what the era. Yesterday, today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Smell of Steel

Of Steel - trailer from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Ah, steel bike frames. Italian steel bike frames. The history, the heritage, hand made, old school - however you wish to label it. There's something there, perceived or not, that still oozes bike culture, even in the Land of Carbon-O-Plenty.

Torches, flame, sparks and files in the process of construction. I don't care how trick and feather light carbon frames are, and for how well they ride - popping 'em out of a mold, or gluing patches of high tech cloth together - it just ain't as romantic as the craftsman hand welding a steel frame. Especially welded by an Italian dude. Face it kids, that's a fact.

Film above features Dario Pegoretti and crew talking about steel, assembled with love in Italy. Pegoretti frames are ridable works of art. Is there a little hype and schtick involved? Of course, call me a sucker for falling for it, but there's still something to bikes from Italy - and I don't mean a Bianchi with a "Made in Taiwan" sticker hidden under the bottom bracket. The frame, the soul of it all, must be fully constructed and painted in Italy to qualify. Capiche?

Dario and crew curse in the film - Italian cursing - how cool is that? I'd like to learn Italian just to curse at erratic motorists. That would be worth the trouble of learning a second language right there. Yes, the wonders of Italy never cease.

I may order a pizza for dinner...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Dog in a Hat - Book Review

In 1986 Joe Parkin headed to Belgium to become a pro bike racer, following the advice of Bob Roll, and wound up basically living and racing there into the early '90s. This book covers his exploits and adventures during that time and beyond - racing for U.S. based teams for a few years, then finishing his career racing mountain bikes from '95 - '97. Quite the two wheeled trip.

I found this book fascinating since Joe was indeed a pro cyclist, though not at the super star level. He was a working class pro, scratching out a living racing bikes. This is not private jet Lance Armstrong stuff - much more down and gritty, what it's really like to be a Euro pro, earning a paycheck on two wheels. He did this in relative obscurity as well, at least as far as U.S. media coverage. I've read about a zillion bike magazines and books from the '80s until present, and have never heard of Joe Parkin until just a few years ago.

The insane amount of training and race mileage, the dysfunctional teams, the crazy travel between races, the drug use and selling of races - all spelled out in a real world, matter of fact, writing style. The selling of races I found interesting. Yeah - you know it occurs - but now I know how. Group of riders in a breakaway basically work out a deal, deciding who will win, then all receive some money for their effort. Fair? Debatable. But when you're riding for cash, winning some unknown race is less important then scoring some dough to eat. Welcome to the real world of bike racing.

If you have any interest in pro road racing at all, this book is a must - one of the better racing books I've ever read - if not the best. It removes the super star veneer found in many other race related books. This is the real, muddy, cobble stone deal.

Maybe some cyclists can relate to it, since in our own pipe dreams of being a pro, this would be the level of actually doing it - if you had the ability of course. This is not the uber-level of racing fame and fortune, maybe a few rungs down on the ladder, making it seem slightly more believable in our own dreams of glory.

For Joe Parkin however, this was no pipe dream - he went out and lived it - and his story is well worth reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Story of Zeke

Back in '90s, a group of coworkers and I used to mountain bike together regularly. Usually an afterwork blast at St Eds/Big Finn Hill or Tiger Mountain. Actually, I've ridden with coworkers everyplace I've worked from the '80s up to the present. This story however occurred riding with pals from the Mackie Designs days...

We had just finished an afterwork ride at Tiger Mountain, near Issaquah (that be Washington). Tiger Mountain is a very well used mountain biking spot for the Seattle area. The dirt parking lot sits right off busy Highway 18, within sight of speeding cars and trucks. Most of the riding gang had already loaded up their bikes and headed out, leaving me and riding pal Sevrin packing up our cars.

In the lot, some dude was hanging around by his pickup truck - not a mountain biker. Mid 30s, maybe 40, lean, super tan; like he worked outside - maybe a landscaper, roofer, carpenter kind of guy. Fairly normal appearing, but a little off - you could just sense it on first appearance. He tries to engage us in conversation as we change out riding shoes and load up bikes. Me being an idiot and amped from the ride, take the bait and chat with the guy. He's a few car lengths away from me, with Sevrin on the other side of the lot.

"Why don't you guys just ride motorcycles instead of those bicycles?" was part of the "conversation" as I pull off my front wheel and lift the Fat Chance onto the Nissan roof. The guy is freaking me out a little, but this a goof as well. I tell him I used to ride dirt motorcycles and raced motocross years ago. "I used to ride a Honda 90 all over these woods before the mountain bikes took over." - as he starts walking towards me.

Bike loaded, shoes changed, and I'm in the driver seat about four seconds before he gets near my passenger side door. I then lock the passenger door about two seconds before he's trying to get it - pulling on the handle. Holy crap, this dude is a freak.

I look in my rear view mirror to see Sevrin jump out his car and head over, looking pissed. Weirdo Dude stops trying to get into my car and laughs it off. "I'm just F%$@ing with you guys." Nice.

Servrin, who's a pretty big punk rock dude, stops mid parking lot, some words are exchanged, then Sevrin heads back to his car. We both pull out and crank down Highway18 away from Psycho Guy. We drive side by side, shaking our heads and laughing.

I get home and when unloading my bike from the roof, could not loosen the quick release skewer holding the fork to rack. While loading up in a rush and a little freaked about Psycho Dude, I somehow developed super human strength. I guess adrenaline will do that - sorta like when Grandma lifts the Buick off Grandpa after the cheap jack stands collapse. I needed a piece of PVC pipe over the quick release for leverage to pull it loose. Yeah, it was pretty tight.

Next day at work, plenty of laughs concerning Zeke - what we decided to name the guy. Lucky for us, we never ran into Zeke again during future rides at Tiger Mountain.

However, the story of Zeke lives forever.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Legendary Motocross Bikes - Book Review

Last time I ripped around on a dirt motorcycle was probably 1981, though that era of bikes and associated fun is still a fond memory for me. During the mid to late '70s, my friends and I were seriously into dirt bikes, trail riding, and motocross - sprinkle some observed trials in there as well. We entered the occasional motocross race, along with hare scrambles events - a longer cross-country type race. These were the days before land access issues and other kill joys that eventually neutered the fun of it all. Ignorance was bliss.

During that time, the '70s and into the early 80s, motocross racing was exploding in popularity, along with the general dirt bike boom. A colorful time of many companies producing bikes and sponsoring riders. Besides the big Japanese companies - Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki - many European companies produced bikes as well, some that are no longer around today - Maico, Bultaco, Montesa, Husqvarna, CZ, Puch, and a few others.

Riders sponsored directly from the manufacturer rode what was known as "Works Bikes". These bikes appeared something like you could buy off a showroom floor, from a distance anyway. In fact, they were handmade works of art that pushed the technology required to lap a motocross track as fast as possible. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into the research, development, and construction of these works bikes. Some of the technology trickled down to production bikes you could actually buy, though certainly not at the same build quality of the works unit. The works bikes were the test bed and ultimate motocross machines of that era.

During this time, suspension technology really developed and took off. In a few short years, suspension travel jumped from 4 inches in the rear, and 6 inches of fork travel, to 12 inches or so at both ends. Plus the quality of the suspension improved dramatically as well, changing the style in which the bike was ridden and the speed it could fly over bumpy terrain.

Some famous names of motocross were paid to ride these bikes in the search of championships, and increased sales of production bikes to people like my gang of friends, who idolized the likes of Bob Hannah, Kent Howerton, Roger DeCoster, Marty Smith, Tony DiStefano, Marty Tripes and many others. This era was (not so) arguably the golden era of motocross. A truly great time to be involved with the sport.

I recently picked this book up from the library, Legendary Motocross Bikes, subtitled Championship Winning Factory Works Bikes, written by Terry Good. This book captures the story and details behind many of these works bikes of that era, with great photography and inside information. Being from that time and with plenty of past knowledge from those days, I pored over this book, analyzing the photos and enjoying the related stories.

A few examples to give you a taste of what's included...

1971 was Yamaha's first real attempt at a motocross bike. It doesn't look all that different from a production DT dirt bike, but was in fact completely hand built. Also notice the short travel suspension, long travel was a few years away. The YZ637 was the code name for this bike and doesn't reflect the engine size, which was 250cc.

1972 example of Suzuki works technology as ridden by Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster. Many motocross bikes of that era still sported down pipes, that were often dented and flattened from rocks and other impacts. This age of motocross bike speaks to me. Simple, light, yet trick for the time. Look at that hand welded expansion chamber - nice.

Here Roger DeCoster pilots the 1973 Suzuki RN73 in Belgium. The rear shocks feature cooling fins cut by Roger himself. I personally owned a 1974 Suzuki TM125 that featured the same tank graphics - about the only similarity between a production bike and a full works racer. Still, having a bike that looked like Roger's was cool - especially for a teenager in the '70s.

Yamaha works racer for 1973, big change being the monoshock rear suspension, replacing the standard dual shock setup - single shock now located under the gas tank. That technology helped push the suspension revolution forward into the modern era.

Interesting info on the development and sale of the monoshock idea. Belgian Lucien Tilkens came up with concept, as noted by the modified CZ frame pictured, complete with Citroen car shock. The technology shopped around between various companies, including Suzuki who built ridable prototypes, but passed on the idea. Yamaha of course, did purchase the concept and ran with it. At the time, no one could figure out why it worked so well. No one realized the increased travel was the key. The concept was being sold with some mathematical reason that actually didn't make sense, causing some factories to pass on the idea. When the long travel light bulb finally went off, other companies developed their own way of increasing wheel travel.

Now we're talking - '76 Honda factory RC500. Total open class weapon of that time. Honda dumped mega money into their motocross program with bikes like this as the result. As you can notice by the space between the wheels and fenders, suspension travel was in the long travel phase. The overall look, fit and finish, and of course the technology is worlds ahead of bikes just a few years older. Oh yeah, the engine is also painted red. I thought that was cool as hell at the time and just screamed "works bike". I also owned a '76 Honda CR125 Elsinore back in the day, the paint color being the only thing they shared.

The European companies had their own works bikes as well, though generally not up to the insanely expensive examples from the big Japanese companies. The book includes a piece on this interesting Puch 400 ridden by Joel Robert at the end of his career. The European bikes were always a little cruder then the slick Japanese bikes, though that gave them a different sort of trickness factor - my opinion anyway.

This bike is famous for putting Bob Hannah onto most people's motocross maps. I remember reading about this bike and Hannah back in '76. Yamaha upped the game with water cooling on this 125cc machine, though water cooling never fully took off until the early '80s. Bob Hannah went on to become one of the best motocross racers of all time.

The book features stories about various bikes in the words of the talented folks who actually raced them. People like Bob Hannah, Roger DeCoster, Joel Robert, Marty Smith, Kent Howerton, Rex Staten, Rick Burgett and a few others. A great addition to the book that I really enjoyed, as these were my heros from the glory days of MX.

Bob Hannah's 250cc OW40, complete with famous lightening bolt stickers. I personally watched Hannah at speed on this in '79 racing at Unadilla. Great memories from that time.

I remember when this bike was released in 1980 and raced by Johnny O'Mara. It looked space age at the time, complete with water cooling. This was a semi-works bike sold by Mugen to the general public for $4000 a copy. That was four times the cost of a typical 125cc race bike. Only 5 were ever sold in the US, including one to Terry Good - author of the book.

Kent Howerton's Suzuki RH80 looking fantastic. This era of motocross just looks right to me - still air cooled, two-stroke, drum brakes, twin shock suspension, but serious wheel travel. I also owned a production '79 Suzuki RM125N, so maybe I'm just biased.

The works bike era lasted until 1986 in the US, derailed by a new production bike rule - meaning factory bikes were required to be production based. Works bikes were still legal in Europe for a few more years however. Even the "production based" bikes were highly modified by the factories, though not the extent of the big bucks one off models featured. It was the end of an era.

The book features more examples of works iron, all impressively photographed and detailed. More amazing, the bikes featured are real time - meaning restored to their original condition, or actually in their original condition. Finding and rounding up a group of bikes like this is an impressive feat in itself. Older photos of the bikes in action during their heyday adds to it all.

This is the total gear head book that older motocross fans will enjoy - no doubt. Newer MX fans will little to no knowledge of old school MX may get a kick out of it as well. A great document that displays the history and development of motocross technology. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Euro '90s DH Action - Smell the Neon

For your entertainment, some early '90s old school downhill action, with a euro flair - complete with neon, pink, and teal to color your world. Pre to non-existent suspension, bar ends-o-plenty, wheels that taco before your very eyes.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Need Your Vote !!

If anyone remembers a few weeks back, I posted a story about my old pal John building up a Xtracycle from a bike I sent him - that was given to me by a neighbor. It's an all around tale of bicycle goodness and keeping old bikes from collecting dust in the garage. John has been using this bike as the "2nd car" for the family and that deserves some praise - no?

John submitted a story to Xtracycle about crashing his, along with some other folks who've also ditched their Xtracycles. The only thing funnier then dumping an Xtracycle, would be crashing a recumbent, so let's give these people some credit. Any cyclist going down in flames piloting an oversized two wheel vehicle, should receive something for providing entertainment for us all.

This shindig is some sort of contest and John is one of the three finalists. With my massive blog readership (ha!), I've agreed to help swing some votes his way. Click on this link to vote. Vote early, vote often.

In case you get confused, John's story involves crashing with a load of ice. Not on ice, carrying ice - as in crushed ice. There's also a funny story of someone crashing with a load of potato salad. Yes, potato salad. Please ignore this story, along with finalist number 3 about a beer crash. Sure, beer dude will get some sympathy votes - please discount that. You wanna vote for John, trust me.

Once again. Vote early, vote often. Thanks for your patronage.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Night Ride !!

Even though I pull off my share of night commutes, its been years since I've done a night mountain bike ride. That slump ended today with my first night woods ride in at least 12 years, and Ian's first night ride ever. Right before sunset, we fired up the lights and hit the local trails. Clear, cool weather - around 45 degrees - perfect trail conditions. It was a gas - super nice night.

Ian did really well for his first night cruise in the woods. At times, he was flying along at a pretty fast clip, like a pro. He seemed to get a kick out of it, as did I. Years back I did a far amount of mountain biking at night, solo, and at times with a group of people. We'd hit the dark woods regularly, usually on a weeknight after work. Blazing through the woods tonight reminded me of those times, except now sharing the experience with my 11 year old son. Very cool.

Ian, blinded by the flash, plays opossum after a slow speed crash. He's ridden over this small bridge countless times without a fall. Riding in the dark changes the perspective a bit, and can throw your timing off. Only crash of the night, more humorous then dangerous.

After 10 miles or so of nocturnal singletrack cruising, we headed home for dinner and a warm house. Ian mentioned he'd like to night ride again. I have a feeling this winter will be a little more fun then usual.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Dairy Queen Run

When I was around 11 or 12 years old, back in the '70s, my parents bought me a new bike, which I could pick out myself. My birthday was probably the occasion, though that part is fuzzy this many years later. I wanted a "10 Speed" racer, as called at the time, with drop 'bars and the whole schtick. I remember us driving around in the family car looking for bikes, including my first ever visit to an actual bike shop. The image of bikes on a second tier rack, silhouetted against the shop window is burned into my memory, yet I can't recall the name or where the shop was located.

Alas, this is not a story of acquiring a Raleigh or some other cool bike. Nope, we knew nothing about bikes at the time and left the shop, thinking everything was too expensive. Instead, I wound up with a department store Iverson - bright yellow paint covering lead pipe frame tubing, steel 'bars and single piece crankset - a total, cheap department store tank. No complaints however, ignorance was bliss, and I thought the bike was great. I remember adding a vinyl saddlebag and cheap battery powered headlight to the spiffy new machine.

That cheap Iverson extended the range beyond what I did on my 20" Sting Ray copy. I planned rides in my head to farther locations, thinking I could pack a sandwich in the saddlebag if needed. The need to pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich never occurred, but I did push the boundaries of my neighborhood. One of these rides was the Dairy Queen run, maybe 4 miles away. That didn't seem far at the time, an easy ride, but the fact I could get there under my own power was awakening - especially at that young age.

The Dairy Queen was one of those old school types, no inside seating, closed in the winter, owned by an older couple with a German accent. My ride there included two short road climbs on secondary roads, followed by a section of dirt road, past a few large grass fields, which popped me out onto a busier road for a very short stretch - then into the Dairy Queen parking lot. A bit of a scenic adventure for a few short miles. Some spare change in my jeans pocket would then score an ice cream cone. I'd sit in the parking lot admiring my yellow steed while enjoying the frozen treat, before retracing the route home. I can still feel the New Jersey summer heat just thinking about it.

Even today, on bikes with saddles that cost more then the entire Iverson, with thousands and thousands of bicycle miles under my belt, I still feel that sense of freedom and adventure of the Dairy Queen run. After all these years, I'm not yet jaded with anything that revolves around bicycles.

Cannondale Hooligan - The End of an Era

I noticed someone riding through downtown Seattle on this bike a few days ago. I actually scoped one of these out at REI during the summer, including buzzing around inside the large bike department. The thing was a gas, just plain fun to ride. What the hell would I use it for? I have no idea, but could probably rock some killer wheelies on it. That would be enough justification, if I had a few hundred spare bucks to dump on it. I don't, so no decision required. Seeing the dude cruising the streets of Seattle, reminded me that it exists. The model name is Hooligan and that title seems to fit. Kudos to Cannondale for putting something out like this, that doesn't really fit any existing mold.

Speaking of Cannondale, production of frames in the US has now officially ceased, equipment to produce such frames now up for auction. All Cannondale frames now made off-shore. Mixed feelings about that - businesses are free to do whatever is needed to keep turning a profit - or just stay alive. Still, we're witnessing the complete end of an era for the United States. Good or bad, agree or not - we no longer produce much of anything. The world is a changing place, you can fight it - or go with the flow and modify your way of thinking.

That debate saved for another time and post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Man Zou: Beijing to Shaghai - Film Review

Completely by chance, caught this well done documentary on PBS last night. Four young American guys, along with a Chinese guide, ride 1000 miles between Beijing and Shanghi on bikes, without support vehicles. Documentary filmed along the way, quite a ride - in many respects. A 30 day adventure with a lifetime of memories.

The ride begins in freshly scrubbed, post Olympic games, Beijing - under clear, clean blue skies. From there, spectacular rural mountain areas - then through industrial pollution laden zones - amazingly horrifying conditions. Incredible air pollution and traffic to ride through - just plain nasty "touring" conditions - but interesting to witness.

Along the way, experiences with people they meet, and strange food - dog meat and chicken heads anyone? This combined with interviews with various folks about modern China. A very interesting view into China with a bicycle perspective. I don't think you'd ever get this kind of experience driving through China. A bicycle puts you right into the culture of it all, at speeds that allow travel, yet soak it all in, and allow personal experiences with people.

I came away amazed at the scale of development in China, and the disparity between the rural areas and booming cities. The industrial hell zones also confirm that China is indeed the world's manufacturing plant - and the environment and people who live there - are paying the price.

Interviews mention that will be addressed in the future, with an emphasis on cleaner manufacturing. You hope that is the case, and if so, get the impression China could pull it off. The rate at which this country is evolving is mind boggling. The film confirmed some of the preconceived notions I personally had concerning China, and dispelled many others.

Also, the young Chinese guide in the film comes across as so personable and adventurous, when he mentions dreaming of riding in the U.S., you want to somehow assist. He says in fact, that it is just a dream. I don't know about that. I could see it happening.

This documentary is well worth checking out. You can watch online via this PBS link. Visit the film website for more info.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

David Byrne - Bicycle Diaries

I just finished David Byrne's book, Bicycle Diaries, since picking it up from the library a few days ago. As you probably already know, David Byrne was the lead singer for the Talking Heads, the seminal band from the '70s and '80s.

Along with the Ramones, Blondie and few other bands of the famed CBGB era, the Talking Heads helped jump start the alternative music scene. I'm a bit of a Talking Heads fan and have listened to my share of their music. I am guilty of knowing little to nothing of David Byrne's post Talking Heads music career, though he's been involved with various projects ever since.

In case you need a refresher course - David Bryne from the Talking Heads days - one of my favorite Talking Heads songs. The video itself is also brilliant, especially for the simplicity and era. From a visual standpoint, David Bryne pulls the whole thing off. Fantastic.

Oh yeah - back to the book. Don't expect the usual bike book. It's not about bicycles as sport, or a tool to be worshiped. No, it's about just plain riding for transportation and the experiences it allows. The book is a wandering flow of stories through the mind of Byrne and how he views the world. It's a mixture of travel log, peeks into the music and art world, and how using a bicycle as a means of transportation just makes sense.

Byrne is certainly the intellectual artist type, no doubt about that. He rides his bike through various cities and areas around the world, from not so friendly bike areas, to bike transportation utopias in Europe. Locales ranging from Rochester, New York, to London, to Buenos Aires and other places - some exotic, some not so.

He goes into detail on what he sees and the people he meets and deals with, with a very liberal perspective take on things. Being on that side of the fence, it works for me. It's the very big picture, artist take on things. It's a bit of a rambling ride, with the occasional goofy sarcastic view.

The only total bike related aspect of the book is the Epilogue, which focuses on bike advocacy. Byrne has been getting around by bike since the '70s and is very familiar with the NYC scene. The bike is not just a whim or jump on the green bandwagon. He knows what he speaks.

Would I recommend the book? That depends. If you're looking for some kind of bikey tour guide - no. If you're interested in peeking into the mind of David Byrne, with a bicycle slant to the story telling - yes.

I did enjoy it - maybe you will too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Ibis Remains Grounded

To continue my ultra exciting series on the dead Ibis, I present yet another chapter. Crank up the DVR, this may soon be a mini series on the Fox network. To refresh your memory, Chapter 1 starts with the rear derailleur mysteriously exploding off the spiffy carbon Ibis, during a commute home - many weeks ago. Quite strange.

Chapter 2 included replacing the derailleur hanger, only to discover the derailleur itself completely tweaked - so replaced as well. However, shifting was still off and no time to further diagnose. With my annual winter slump starting a bit early (burp), 'cross races, recent snow, the old school steel Ibis still functioning, and mountain biking on (most) weekends - the carbon Ibis remained hanging in the garage. Today I took some time to look at it once again, so I now present Chapter 3 of this saga. Time to pop some popcorn and break out the hankies...

After I threw the bike on the workstand, didn't take long see what's up. Please note the chain about to separate, masterlink pin poking out from the side plate. Yikes. That could have been ugly, if snapped during a sprint or powering up a hill while standing. The chain is also twisted a bit as well. I don't know if this occurred while the hanger busted, or somehow caused the whole mess, or even during test riding after installing the new derailleur and hanger. Weird chain of events - pun intended. In any case, the chain is toast.

Here's where it gets fun - and expensive. The entire drivetrain has almost 10,000 miles on it - so, the cassette, chainrings and chain have all worn together. Installing a new chain to the worn cassette and rings is just asking for shifting woes, skipping chain, and other festivities of doom. There's two schools of thought for drivetrain maintenance. One is to replace the chain regularly, before it wears, increasing the life of the cassette and chainrings. The second is to wear everything out at the same time, then replace all at once.

I subscribe to the second theory - kill and replace all at once. I think the cost breaks out evenly, since replacing the chain every 1000 miles or so, at a cost of $30 - $40 a whack, means I would have worn out $300 worth of chains already. Even if the chain was replaced every 2000 miles, we're still talking $150 and the time spent measuring and replacing chains. I'll probably spend $200 to replace the Ultegra cassette, chain and chainrings. Get the picture?

I already had a new Ultegra chain on the workbench. Let's see how far the worn chain "stretched" in 9500 miles, compared to a new chain. How does a chain stretch? As the many pins and rollers wear, they develop more play, increasing the length of the chain. Here you can see the pins of both chains look fairly even at this point.

By the end of the chain - not so cool, eh? The worn (dirty) chain on the bottom is few millimeters longer. As you can see, the pins no longer line up. The cassette and chainrings have also worn to match the chain. A new chain added to the mix is a recipe for headaches.

Please note: The new chain has yet to be cut to the correct length - that's why it's a few links longer. I hope you enjoyed this little Bike Repair 101 course. Yes, this will be on the final exam.

The Ibis will remain without a chain until I dig up everything needed to make it fly once again.

With that, I hereby end this tale of woe for now. With the old school steel Ibis requiring a drivetrain replacement as well - though still rideable - and Christmas looming around the corner, this Ibis may remain grounded for a bit longer then expected.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seattle Sledding Action

Fun film pulled off YouTube to give you a taste of Seattle street sledding action. Looks like a blast - wish I was there. Well, actually I was - except in the traffic below - then bailed back to work, to wait out gridlocked disaster.

If I had known this scene was going on, would have walked over from work. Way more fun then sitting in traffic or an empty office.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Snow hit the Seattle area yesterday. Doesn't really happen that often and when it does, usually a wet, heavy type snow that's crap for riding. Not this storm - cold enough for dry powder - and lots of ice. Perfect for riding, so that's what I did. Skipped work today and buzzed around the local trails for two hours or so. Growing up in New Jersey, I did a fair amount of two wheel exploring in the snow, and riding today reminds me of that. Cold and clear, with great riding snow. Nice.

Woods, snow, low level winter sun. Sweet.

Compact snow and ice makes for fast snow travel. Only fell once today, not bad considering I don't get much snow practice. And that was even running the Kenda Small Block 8 tires - not exactly the best tire for snow rolling. At times, they were basically two giant snow doughnuts - almost like snow slicks.

The bargain Sette Razzo 29er continues to impress.

Later in the day, took the kids sledding, as Ian demonstrates. Sun was setting, it was cold - maybe 20 degrees. Daughter Amy had enough after a few runs. Wife scored some rare alone time, while we manned the plastic sleds.

As mentioned, the snow hit yesterday. The Seattle area completely falls apart when it snows. We're talking multi hour, gridlock traffic disaster. I drove to work yesterday, it was snowing a bit - two hours to drive 17 miles. Temps dropped even further and more snow during the day. I bailed out of work around 4:00 PM, knowing it was a mistake. It's best to wait until much later.

Sure enough, after sitting in traffic for 30 minutes, moved maybe half a block. I attempted a different route and spent an hour sitting in another gridlock mess - and have yet to even get to the highway entrance - still stuck in downtown Seattle. I park the car and hit a pizza place to grab some dinner and waste time. After another hour or so, go for it again. Same deal, maybe half a block in 30 minutes attempting to hit Interstate 5 to get home. Insane. I peel off back into downtown, park and head back to work. Even work beats sitting in complete gridlocked traffic, watching the windshield wipers and brake lights.

I wait until 10:00 PM for the final attempt, even though all routes north are still gridlocked. I head south, completely out of the way, and take the long route home. After driving for over an hour, finally home around 11:30 PM. Crazy. I should have ridden my bike, would have been hours faster and a bit of a epic trip, for good reasons - not annoying ones.

Here's a little example pulled off YouTube of what happens in Seattle when it snows. Steep hills, lots of ice, little to no sanding or plow trucks. Then toss in inexperienced snow drivers and it becomes a virtual fun fest. The roads and highways become littered with abandoned vehicles. It's crazy town.

Pro rally driver I'm not (except in my dreams), yet I have no trouble getting around in the snow. I guess flinging Fiats around the East Coast as a kid in the snow helps - as well as years on dirt motorcycles and mountain bikes. It's all about the controlled loss of traction.

Lucky I'm off tomorrow and for Thanksgiving. Temps are supposed to remain below freezing, preserving the winter wonderland for a bit longer. It's fun while it lasts.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winter Has Arrived

Despite the calendar, feels a bit like winter today. A windy 38 degrees, trails still wet from recent rain. Escaped for a quick solo ride late in the afternoon. Fingertips frozen via ripped to shreds full fingered gloves, especially during the road cruise to the trails. Thirty minutes or so of singletrack buzzing cures that, and gets everything up to operating temperature.

I thought I'd grab a quick 45 minute ride before dark, but stayed out longer and finished the trail section in near darkness. I've ridden these trails so many times, could probably do it blindfolded. Bored of them? No way. After 20+ years I'm still grateful to have nearby trails to roll on. I'm a lucky boy.

Big wheels keep on turning - all 29 inches of it. The Kenda Small Block 8 tires are little sketchy on muddy trails, but work much better then you'd expect.

Full moon view for the ride home.

Another day, another ride. Another excuse for some personal time and escape to the woods. All good and to be repeated again - soon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MFG Cyclocross - Final Countdown

MFG Cyclocross - Woodland Park GP from j.cameron.b Productions on Vimeo.

Pretty cool movie pulled from the MFG site - from last weekend - final race of the series. Official 'cross weather, 800+ racers, plenty of spectators. Great day. Take a gander, even though you're probably at work. Go ahead, nobody is looking.

Final results posted as well. Son Ian scored 6th place overall out of 49 racers. Nice results for the Junior Boys 10 - 12 class. Great job.