Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bike For Pie 2009

Sometimes we can love something too much. Take, for example, the annual Bainbridge Island Pie Ride. This is, in my opinion, the greatest cycling event ever. Folks ride around a beautiful island and there is PIE. The Squeaky Wheels folks have been doing this for six years now as a volunteer-run event and it's wonderful. Sure, it's tricky to gauge demand and sometimes the weather can be kind of threatening but in past years they've managed to force extra slices of pies onto riders who don't protest too much. This year, the weather turns out to be perfect and even though the Squeaky Wheels predicted that they might get twice as many riders as last year, they got blind-sided.

There were at least triple the number of riders this year. Maybe quadruple. You give away pie and word gets out. It doesn't help that some idiot with a blog wrote about the Pie Ride here and here and then emailed a bunch of his friends and used that stupid Twitter thing to say:

"My favorite ride of the year is this Sunday: http://www.squeakywheels.or..."

The ride was fabulous. The Squeaky Wheels did a great job. The pies were great and disappeared quickly. A police escort was used to secure more pies. Every pie on Bainbridge Island was secured and consumed. Pies were brought in from Poulsbo. Those also vanished quickly.

Plans are already underway for next year, plans involving advance registration and incentives for folks to bake and bring pies to the ride. The bond between pedaling and pie is a strong one. The Pie Ride will go on.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

News from the Poetic World

It would be simpler, I suppose,
to live in a world purely prose.

When I was younger I believed that everything could be explained, should be explained, in a purely rational and logical manner. Kurt Gödel, Lao Tzu and a universe that places duct tape where it needs to be, convinced me that the world is more complex than that. So I live and love in a world where I've learned some facts through fiction, where the real news comes from poets instead of pressmen and I've learned that there are some things I must constantly relearn, some things I must unlearn and many things I'll never know.

William Carlos Williams
tells us that "it is difficult to get the news from poetry" and Christopher Morley noted that "the bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets." And it is on my bicycle that I find the time to think, to explore, to see the world at a pace that suits me. For I am still an impatient man, an unreasonable man, whose not quite willing to accept the purely pedestrian pace and range given me by bipedal locomotion. I take both a lesson from and issue with Priestley as I ride my graceful gadget to the wild places, the roads less traveled by that make all the difference.

Every trip brings something to my attention, or removes something from my attention that I've been paying too much mind to. And I never know what lies around the next turn in the trail, even on trails I've been down dozens of times and that, perhaps, is why I keep returning to some familiar places, to see the changes in the world and in me. But other days, like this day, I'm drawn to some place old to the world yet new to me, where I can be at least a bit lost as I follow my wheels where they seem to want to go.

Today, this morning actually, it's the old roads up the west side of Rattlesnake Ridge. There are no rattlesnakes on this side of the Cascades but the name is more evocative than "rattling seed-pod ridge" so that is what's stuck to this chunk of rugged terrain.

My map, as always, is not the terrain, but it is enough to draw me here, to this wonderful network of old logging roads and powerline cuts and winding gravel tracks that lead up to towers that blink day and night and relay voices up and over the solid stone. I pass by the gate that bars the cars, pause by the rusting remains of a once-powerful machine slowly being returned to the earth it once moved. The blackberries are thick here and heavy with fruit. My second breakfast is free for the taking.

I'd told Christine this would be a three-hour tour, but possibly three hours in the Gilligan-sense, so I might not be back until noon. I'd left at seven, it's close to ten when I turn around with many trails left unexplored.

It is down and fast and the way home, like the way up, involves one exit's worth of freeway riding. One exit is enough for today's lesson.

And that lesson is one I've known and forgotten and of which, apparently, I need to be reminded. For when you live in a poetic world, a world of duct tape miracles and soul-freeing beauty right in your backyard, you must remember that there are certain rules, rules not of logic but of poetic justice, which should not be ignored.

"The first rule of flat club is that nobody talks about flat club." Or something like that. If Tyler Durden was a cyclist, I'm sure that's what he would have said.

What I said, stupidly, I said yesterday on this blog. I said (wrote actually) "
I hesitate to write this, lest I rouse the wrath of the tire gods, but I've had zero issues with these tires. None. No flats."

"Thwack, thump, thwack, thump." My dad would call the sound coming from my back tire "a hell of racket." A rationalist would call it the screw I'd just run over. I call it the universe sending me yet another wake-up call. I know how the world works, but I forget sometimes. I just have no idea why it works this way. But it does.

The screw keeps the air in until I make it off the freeway. At Preston I stop, fix the flat and take pictures. As soon as I remove the screw, the air wooshes out. I think this is the kind of flat that True Goo would do a good job of sealing but my two brand new True Goo tubes are on my kitchen table back at home.

And now I'm home, reminded again that I live in a strange and wonderful world. I have a tube to patch, some hail Remas to mutter, some balance to restore.

I get flats all the time. Remember that, you read it here.

Keep 'em rolling,


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Barely Broken In

See the tire above? It's the front WTB ExiWolf Tire that came stock on my two month old Redline Monocog Flight 29er. If you look close, you can still see that the knobs are still crisp. The matching rear tire shows only slightly more wear. These tires (and the bike) have 2027 miles on them as of this writing. Mountain miles. Dirt miles. Singletrack miles. And a bunch of pavement miles, as I've been commuting on the Flight pretty much every day since I got it.

I hesitate to write this, lest I rouse the wrath of the tire gods, but I've had zero issues with these tires. None. No flats. No inconvenient losses of traction. None. Gravel, mud, roots, rocks, pavement, curbs, litter, these tires just roll over it all.

See this saddle? It's the stock WTB Rocket V that came with the bike. Still a little flashy for my tastes, still perfectly comfortable after a couple of thousand miles, still comfy at the end of long days.

I don't have pictures of the brake pads in my Avid BB5 brakes or the chain or pedals or all the other parts of my bike that are still going strong after the first couple of thousand miles, but they are going strong and I'm damn pleased with the Redline. Simple. Strong. Reliable.

And did I mention that the bike is so darn much fun to ride? It is.

I've got some upgrades waiting for someday when the stock stuff wears in a bit more. A less flashy Rocket V. WTB Nano Raptors will replace the ExiWolfs eventually. (A set of Nanos is 12 ounces lighter than the Exis, and the Nano is still tough enough to be the most beloved tire on the Great Divide Route). Kool Stop brake pads will eventually go into the disk brakes and the Nanos will have also have TrueGoo tubes in them.

Eventually. Once I get around to wearing out the stock stuff on this bike. Which seems to be happening quite slowly now. Things will wear quicker when the rainy season comes.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Adrian Short is a brilliant observer

I usually try to avoid helmet wars and while this post is the probably the idealogical equivalent of a pint of petrol, a dry wind and a spark, it's too good not to pass on:

Thanks to Adrian for speaking sense and my formerly large friend Scott for pointing me to Adrian's words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Compact Comforts of Home

My camping kit has evolved over the years and I get asked about it from time to time. I decided this morning to document just what it is that I lug around in that red stuff bag on the front of my bike. By the way, these pictures were shot at a spot in the woods that is a fifteen minute bike ride away from beautiful downtown Issaquah. I live in a rather nice part of the world.

The stuff sack itself is a medium Granite Gear Compression Drysack, which I attach to my bike with a couple of nylon straps. The bag rubs a bit against the head tube of the bike, so I've layered some duct tape on the head tube to cushion against the abrasion.

Here is the contents of the bag, all laid out. From left to right along the bottom of the picture there is the compression bag, an REI Minimalist Bivy, a Small ThermaRest ProLite Pad, and my MontBell #5 Down Sleeping Bag. In the upper left corner of the picture is a Space Blanket cut in half and rolled up around 4 tent stakes, an Equinox Ultralite Poncho/Shelter, and an REI Spruce Run Jacket/Vest.

While in the past I've used a variety of fine camp gear, such as the Hennessy Hammock or Henry Shire's brilliant TarpTent, I've found that for my fast/light/camp anywhere trips, the bag plus bivy plus poncho/tarp gives me the greatest versatility together with the fastest and simplest set-up and take-down.

If I'm not expecting heavy rain, I often don't bother deploying the poncho/tarp. Conversly, if it is raining, the tarp is the first thing pitched and the last thing taken down. I can pitch it with only a single raised tie-point, but the bike, a slender branch, a fence-post or darn near anything can serve to secure the tarp.

The bivy is bug and critter proof. On warm nights, I'll sleep on top of the sleeping bag and use the Spruce Run Jacket as a pillow. In colder times, I wear the jacket to add warmth to the bag. The combo of the sleeping bag plus jacket I count as one of my brighter ideas. Having a light camp jacket is so nice in the morning and cool evenings and it extends the comfort range of my sleeping bag down below freezing.

That's it for the camp gear. I don't have a precise scale, but my bathroom scale says the whole thing weighs about four pounds. Some time in the future I'll cover what I carry in terms of repair tools, food and other stuff.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, August 17, 2009

Petzl Tikka XP

For years I've used and recommended the Princeton Tec EOS as a bike or helmet light and while I still think it's a darn good light, my two EOS lights both conked out a few months ago, after giving years of faithful service on many a dark road and trail. Interestingly, both lights failed in the same manner, they refused to shut off. I tried swapping batteries, I tried whacking them, nothing. As a failure mode, it's a good one, much better than being stuck in the dark. I think the switches finally just wore out.

While I strongly considered just getting another EOS, I took the opportunity to see what else was out there in terms of a similar light. I've been using Planet Bike lights on my bikes for the past few years, but I really like having something on my helmet. The helmet light is handy while riding since it shines on what I'm looking at. Please, if you use a helmet light don't look straight at others and blind your riding companions, convenience store clerks, other road and trail users! But the helmet light really shines, so to speak, when hunting out places to camp after dark.

Like many folks these days, I Googled around looking at options. This favorable review of the Petzl Tikka XP together with many favorable reviews on Amazon prompted me to buy the Tikka XP. I've had the light for over a month now and here is what I've found.

The Tikka XP is almost the exact same size and weight as the EOS and shares the one annoying feature of the EOS, it uses 3 AAA batteries. Batteries are sold in even numbered packs and most chargers charge an even number of batteries, so devices that use an odd number of batteries bug me. But I haven't found a good helmet light that uses an even number of batteries, so I've learned to deal with this. I have a small Planet Bike Tail Light that uses just one AAA cell, so when I charge up cells, I charge the three cells from the Tikka XP together with the single cell from the tail light.

Like the EOS, the Tikka XP puts out a good bit of light and has multiple brightness settings plus a flash setting. The flash is a bit higher frequency than that of the EOS and, in my opinion, a bit more useful. The Tikka XP has a few added features that I've found handy.

On the side of the light is a little recessed LED battery indicator that blinks green, orange or red depending on the state of your batteries. Batteries last a really long time (see this review for discharge curves) and the brightness of the light is good enough that I mostly run it on one of the lower power settings.

The controls are easy to work by touch. In addition to the primary button which cycles the light through it's various modes, the Tikka XP has a boost switch, which makes the light kick out a brief, ultrahigh-powered beam, just the thing for the "what the hell was that?" moments when you here the rustle in the bushes just outside of camp.

The final useful feature of the Tikka XP is a beam diffuser. This is a textured plastic bezel that slides in place to morph the beam from a sharp, narrow spot light to a softer, broad area light. I use Tikka XP as a spot light while riding but when walking around, setting up camp or reading, I use the light with the diffuser slid into place.

I was able to thread the straps of the Tikka XP through the vents of my helmet without modification to either the light or the helmet and the pivoting mount has proven to be solid and nicely adjustable.

After a month of use, I have to say I'm very happy with the Tikka XP and I'd recomend it to my pals.

Note: I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. Whenever you go to Amazon via some link on my blog and buy ANYTHING within 24 hours, a percentage of your purchase price goes to me. It doesn't cost you anything extra, but some of that money does go to me and I use it to do things like buy helmet lights or Peanut M&Ms and next summer I'm planning on racing the length of the Great Divide on my bike. And that costs money. So thanks. And, obviously, it's not in my best interest to give bum advice and talk you into buying something that is of no use to you. So I try to be fair when I talk about stuff and up front about the fact that I make a bit from my online ramblings.

Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Forest Road 6700

It was another little red line on a map that brought me here, a tiny series of dashes on page 72 of my Washington Road & Recreation Atlas. Here is Forest Road 6700, a spotted serpent on the map that promises an adventurous alternative route down off Steven's Pass.

And so I pack 280 miles into two days of riding. I carry too much stuff, of course, but that is part of the learning. My camera proves its worth again, while my GPS only tells me useless things like "you are here." I know that, that's why I'm here.

The mountains and the trees are huge, the roads are small and sparse. A view from some summit shows a tiny, sand-colored line far below, the path ahead. It loops back to home eventually.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Morgan Hauls

Morgan stopped by the shop today with a broken shift cable. She was hauling a bit of stuff, so rather than bring her rig into the shop, I wound up replacing the cable out where she'd parked.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Death Sentence

Susan Nelson died last night. I don't think I ever met Susan in what we call real life, the space where Elden and I would chat while I wrenched on his bike at Sammamish Valley Cycle or where we'd gasp and joke on some particularly heinous climb on the Issaquah Alps. It's possible I did meet Susan one day at the shop or at the end of some ride and I don't recall the event. It's certainly possible, because my memory is imperfect at best and life is so packed with wonders that one person can't possibly recall them all. But I do know that I got to know Susan and her wondrous family and spirit through Elden's stories and his blog.

Once upon a time Susan Nelson got cancer and she fought it back. The cancer went away and she and Elden and the kids won. What they won was time, time we call life and they lived that life. But life, as we know but seldom say, is a 100% fatal condition. Cancer came back for Susan, spreading into her brain like dandelion seeds. I recall reading her doctor's poetic description as relayed on Elden's blog last year and thinking "death sentence". I'm sure a similar thought went through Susan's cancer-pocked brain but again she fought. And she won more time. And she did more, much more. She rallied the troops.

We are all on this earth under a death sentence. Perhaps your faith sustains you with a true vision of a life beyond this one or perhaps you honestly believe one shot is all we get. Perhaps you believe we keep coming back to this world until we get it right or maybe you're a nihilist and you believe in nothing. In that final case I can only agree with the Dude and note that "Oh, that must be exhausting."

I believe that life is exhausting and death comes for us all. While the George Costanzas of the world may neurotically obsess on their eventual demise, Susan knew that we are here for each other. We live and love while we can. Maybe we do things that seem odd to others, like tell funny stories about bicycling on the internet or inspire people with photographs and stories from the far north. Maybe you tell somebody how you saved your own life with a bicycle and hummus wraps. Maybe you make jewelry. Maybe you ride your bike to raise money to fight cancer. Maybe you remember to tell the one you love that you love them.

We are all here under a death sentence. My sincere condolences go out to the Nelson family in this time of loss but I want to thank Elden and Susan for sharing so much of their lives with us and reminding us that it is the sharing of ourselves, of our time and our efforts, that ultimately shows the ones that we love that we love them. Thanks, Susan. Thanks for fighting. Thanks for showing us how to live.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Rock Ring Wrench

The Hozan C-205 Lock Ring Wrench is one of my favorite tools. Yeah, it works well for removing lock rings but my favorite thing about it is the fact that there, cast in chromed steel, is evidence that communication is not always perfect and a few things do get lost in translation. As a kid, I used to have trouble pronouncing the letter "L" and I remember my teacher making me repeat the phrase "Larry likes to lick licorice lollypops." That probably explains my fondness for the Hozan Rock Ring Wrench.