Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Topeak Morph Pumps

One of the nice things about running a bike shop is that I get to stock the place with products that I use and like. So at Bike Works we stock things like Kool-Stop brake pads, SRAM chains, WTB saddles, Schwalbe tires, Planet Bike fenders and lights and Topeak pumps.

For years, I've carried a Topeak Road Morph G with me on my adventures. This pump isn't perfect, the mounting bracket is kind of cheesy (I mostly stow the pump in some bag or supplement the mount with a velcro strap), the gauge is sometimes sticky (I've learned to tap it and I tend to trust my finger on the tire more than the gauge), the little hose can blow apart if the I don't remember to extend it to it's full length before I begin inflating a tire (I always remember to do this now and mostly remember to tell customers the same thing). Oh yeah and it's kinda heavy. Hardly a rave review, eh? So why do I carry this pump around and sell it in the shop?

Well, here's the thing. There are a ton of pumps that suck. Pumps that take forever to fill your tire. Pumps that just can't get up to a decent pressure. Pumps that will too easily tear the valve off your inner tube. A pump shouldn't suck, it should blow.

By and large, Topeak pumps blow. And I mean that in a good way. They inflate tires with a minimum of fuss. The Morph G and my new favorite, the Topeak Mini Morph, turn into tiny versions of floor pumps and do a good job of getting air into a bike tube. The Road G puts out more air with fewer strokes, so it's the pump I carry on my Speed Cruiser/Adventure Bike. The Mini Morph easily pumps up the high pressure road tires on my fixie, so it's the pump I carry on that bike. My Dahon doesn't need a Morph because it's got that clever pump built into the seatpost. But every bike I've owned but the Dahon winds up with a Morph. When customers ask about pumps, it's easy to recomend the Morphs. Because they really blow. And I mean that in a good way.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Various Views of the Seattle Century

Sunday, July 27th 2008, marked the first running of the Seattle Century. Like version 1.0 of anything, there were some problems with the ride, but I think people generally had fun. My former employer, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, and my current employer, Bike Works, are both beneficiaries of the ride and while both groups helped to recruit volunteers for the ride, the group who organized this ride are based out of Portland, Oregon. This resulted in some interesting choices of roads, where "interesting" ranged from "this is a cool road that I've never been on" to "why the heck did they route us here instead of there?" The two perspectives are probably best illustrated by Lisa Lawrence's rave review here and Eric Gunnerson's more critical review here.

I spent the day riding the course as a roving mechanic and I'd have to say I shared Lisa's view of the food and the enthusiasm for hard work of all the volunteers, while also sharing some of Eric's frustrations and bewilderment at the course design and inconsistent marking.

One of the ride highlights for me was getting to ride the Novelty Hill to Duvall section with a genuine cyborg. This fellow, who I'm pretty sure is a T-1000 from the future, was happy to fill me in on the specifics of his titanium and carbon fiber lower leg. He told me he also does triathlons and is looking to get specific extensions for the leg, a cycling leg ending in a pedal cleat, another extension designed for running and a third for swimming.

Another highlight was the pie stop at Remlinger Farms. In fact, all the rest stops were highlights. Good food and helpful folks filling people in on the various details of the course ahead.

I was beginning to despair of ever getting to help anyone with a mechanical problem. It wasn't that everyone had a trouble-free ride, but that the riders by and large were quite well prepared. So the first few flat tires, dropped chains and loose waterbottle racks, were already being taken care of when I rolled up with my standard question of "ya got what you need?". I did manage to make myself useful by helping riders figure out some turns and finally, when I was headed back home along the course, I got to help a young woman who'd left home without a patch kit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Damn You, Fat Cyclist!

Just because Elden (the Fat Cyclist) Nelson can't think of anything to write on his blog, he decides to inflict another of these tag things on his fellow bloggers. Like we don't have anything better to do.

Well, uh, here I am responding so, uh, I guess maybe I don't have anything better to do.

Damn you anyway, Elden.

Here are the stupid answers to your stupid questions.

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?

I think my answer is sort of like Thoreau's when he was asked at dinner what dish he'd prefer. He said "the closest." Or as Stephen Stills put it "love the one you're with." No matter what bike I happen to be on, I pretty much always envision it like this:

(You can buy your very own copy of this print from the brilliant artist Philip Newsom here.)

Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you’re not working toward getting it, why not?

Yep, because for me my perfect bike has to be imperfect. It's got to have something I'm still meaning to tweak. It's got to have something about it that makes me work a little harder than I'd like.

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

I think this would be my Issaquah to Seattle commute, a bit over 18 miles each way. For one thing, this is the route I've chosen to ride about 5 days a week. It's got great mountain views, wildlife, home on one end and a great bakery and my bike shop on the other, lots of friends en-route, all the weather a guy could want, time to think and enough distance so I feel like I've earned second breakfast at the bakery.

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike ride to to do for the rest of her / his life?

I think Elden is only doing this to remind us that we are truly free. Or maybe he really is a sick SOB with a rich fantasy life. It's one of those two things. Or something else.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?

Yeah and I sometimes ride mountain bikes on the road and road bikes on the trails. Names are a scam, man! When I was a kid we had bikes. We rode Stingrays in the woods and we liked it. Now you whippersnapper, get outa my yard!

Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent.

I've ridden lots of recumbents. Heck I wrote for Recumbent Cyclist News for a couple of years. I had to stop riding them because they are such chick magnets that my wife wound up insisting that I go back to riding conventional bikes.

Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?

I did one years ago but it doesn't count because I was part of the three man relay team. I did the bike part, and my pals did the running and swimming part. I will run if I am chased, I will swim if I am thrown overboard. But if given a choice, I will bike.

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?

Why do you want to limit the world, Elden? Do you want to see me suffer? This is hard because a Surly Crosscheck tastes terrible but New York Super Fudge Chunk doesn't corner worth a damn. I guess I'd give up ice cream but then I'd bike up Mount Rainier to find some snow to mix with Nutella. That'd show you, Fatty.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it.

“If 650B wheels are so much better for road bikes than 700c wheels and 29er wheels are so much better for mountain bikes than 26" wheels and porteur racks are so much better than rear rack and recumbents are so much better than regular bikes, why the heck do people keep buying all this other junk?”

Answer: Can I revise my just one bike answer? Because I totally want 29er/650b recumbent Moulton. Yeah, that'd be sweet!

You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?

I gotta go with Jill on this one, this happens to me all the time. Surprisingly, I didn't see any bears on the GDR but I see 'em around here. Heck sometimes we see 'em in town. I tell 'em the same thing every time, "back away from the Nutella. Nothing to see here, move along. Get outa my yard you whippersnapper!"

Now, tag three biking bloggers. List them below.




I hope they have more sense than I do and ignore this tagging nonsense.

Damn you, Fat Cyclist.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fixin' to Ride

Lao-tzu said "Limiting is what results in clarity; minimizing is what results in attainment. Therefore when the external is controlled by the center, nothing is neglected. If you can attain the center, then you can govern the external." ***

I think if Lao-tzu rode a bicycle, it would be a fixed gear. Over the years I've ridden many bicycles and logged many miles on fixies. Now things run ahead, now things run behind and bicycles ebb and flow through my life. "Ownership", like this life itself, is only some sort of temporary condition.

Here and now, the government has decided to task me with stimulating the economy. Who am I to disagree? Something in my sense of propriety is offended by the fact that this Fuji League has languished on the sales floor of Bike Works for weeks. I decide to spend locally and bring this bike home.

Lao-tzu famously advises “To gain knowledge, add something everyday. To gain wisdom, remove something everyday.” Having just gained a bike, I set to the work of regaining wisdom.

The drop bars, the derailleurs, the multi-cog freewheel, the big chainring and the excess chain all go into a satisfyingly heavy bag, destined for some other machine on some other day. My hands, feet and butt know how this bike should fit me. Flat bars with bar ends, BMX platform pedals and a WTB saddle all find their proper place.

My friend Mark Vande Kamp has observed that overall, I'm fastest on a fixed gear bike and while being fast is not the point, it is an interesting phenomena. My friend Jan has also rightly noted that when derailleurs were introduced into the Tour de France, average speeds went up quite a bit. I have a theory that reconciles these two facts and it goes like this:
  • Racers use gears to go faster
  • I am not a racer
  • I am lazy
  • I use gears to go slower (shifting into an easier gear to climb)
  • Fixed gears don't shift (or coast)
  • The fixed gear forces me to be strong on the climbs and to spin quickly on the descents.
  • Because the bike is less, I have to be more.
I don't train, I just ride. For riding, sometimes a fixed gear is just right.

The bike is silent except for the sounds of tires on the road and breath in my lungs. Pedals turn, wheels turn, the earth turns beneath us. The road goes from here to there, up and down. Geography instructs my legs, reminding me of the true shape of the land. We have negotiated a mathematical bargain, 42:16 with 170 mm cranks and 700c wheels. I no longer trade time for comfort, but today's efforts become tomorrow's strengths.

There is something light and strong and right about this bike. It gets me to work a bit faster than my other machines and after just a few days the effort is becoming effortless. I do not to tell my heart to beat, my lungs to breathe, my legs to turn. I grab this machine and riding is automatic, like a heartbeat.

*** This quote is from Further Teachings of Lao-tzu translated by Thomas Cleary, page 6.

Monday, July 07, 2008

S24O: Moolock, Nadeau and SMC Lakes

I live in a town at the base of the Cascade foothills. Riding east means riding up and if I ride north and east, turning onto old logging roads and trails, I can find the wildness Thoreau called the preservation of the world.

Mark Vande Kamp and I had a plan and a goal, a sub-24-hour overnight trip to Lake Moolock, a tiny circle of blue 3,903 feet up in the mountains. A day would be enough time to get there, a day and a night, Sunday bridging into Monday.

We don't need much, a couple of bicycles, a couple of sleeping bags. Some kind of shelter. Some kind of food. Perhaps a few comforts chosen carefully. The thermos or the stove will be weighed, comfort in camp measured against discomfort on the climbs. Each trip yields its own verdict, experience forms our personal case-law, bound not books but in our bones.

Duties keep us in town 'til 1:30 on Sunday and on familiar trails we catch each other up on bits of our lives, what kids and spouses are doing, what books we've read, what we think of the pressing matters of the day. As we leave the world of men behind, the news becomes more laconic, precise and pertinent. Single words and simple pointing is enough.

"Wow" sums up the view.

"Bear" identifies the pile of scat.

"Deer" directs the gaze toward the fleet herbivore.

"Bear" repeated does not denote the scat but the bear itself, galloping like a stocky horse, running up the road far faster than our wheels.

This is clearly bear country, lots of scat on the road. I comment to Mark that "I thought they were supposed to do that in the woods."

"Lots of folks would call this the woods," Mark wryly notes.

Moolock is one of three lakes, the highest and most remote. A crow flying from Lake Hancock would go less than a mile to reach Moolock but he'd climb more than 1700 feet to get there. And the crow wouldn't have a bicycle and camping gear. We take a longer, rockier road.

It was summer back in Issaquah but there is still snow on the banks of SMC Lake. We hope, vainly, that SMC is some polite abbreviation for some vulgar name from a rougher age but later Google, that modern killjoy of contemplation, will tell us that SMC stands for Snoqualmie Mill Company.

We press on and up. Lake Nadeau (about which Google will later prove be refreshingly ignorant) has some ice on its surface and snow on its orbital road.

Moolock, the Chinook word for elk, is wrapped in ice and fog. At 6:45 PM we've reached its bank but found no welcome. We retreat to SMC and settle in for the evening.

The small comforts are comfort enough. A stove and a kettle, a hot meal and a hot beverage. A warm sleeping bag and a shelter against the dew. Because this is bear country, what remains of the food is sealed up and stored away from where we'll sleep.

I wake at 2:00 AM. The sky has cleared, the stars blaze with a clarity that the city has forgotten. I'm reminded of a line from a poem and title of an Edward G. Robinson film I saw years ago, "the night has a thousand eyes." I rise, pee like a bear in the woods, have a bit of warm coffee from my thermos (a luxury that earns its place on every trip) and burrow back into my down nest.

The sun clears the crest of Moolock Mountain about 6:00 AM and Mark and I have our first breakfast of the day before packing up and rolling back to a lower, louder world. Descending is far quicker than climbing and even taking the time to stop at Twede's Cafe in North Bend for a big second breakfast, we're back in Issaquah a bit after 11:00 AM.