Apr 26, 2010

Glorious Sunday

Crab Apples
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
For those of you that don't think blogs should be about what you did yesterday, skip this post...

The photo doesn't these trees justice - the crab apples were absolutely rioting in Longfellow this weekend. We spent a good part of Sunday just riding around, doing some errands and sampling spring...

A slow meander from the Parkway through So. MPLS to Mr. Michael to drop off some carnauba wax, followed by a slow meander to Half Price Books to liquidate some assets, followed by a slow meander to Sea Salt to sample some ice cream offerings, followed by a slow meander back to the house so I could doze off in front of the Fleche-Wallonne race coverage on Versus.

Molly was an absolute mountain goat getting herself up the Marshal Ave, Hill on her Breezer, and we were rewarded with a hearty "Bike Love" at the top. Nice day all around.

Apr 24, 2010

Another Example of the Concept Being Better Than Reality

I like the Rails to Trails idea - take abandoned railroad rights-of-way and convert them into walking and biking trails. It gives people places to explore and can rejuvenate depressed towns (think of Lanesboro and the Root River Trail, for example). When I have stayed in Lanesboro, it seems as though virtually everyone is there to ride the trail, and the other patrons in restaurants gush over how wonderful their spin was.

I have never had a truly Great Ride on one of these, and I have collected a handful of rails-to-trails rides now, including:
  • Gandy Dancer in NW Wisconsin;
  • Willard Munger from Duluth to Hinckley,
  • Dakota Trail between Wayzata and St. Bonifascius
  • Red Cedar south of Menomonee
  • Chippewa River Trail from Chippewa Falls to Cornwall(?)
Usually, when I ride these trails I find them to be kind of straight, kind of flat and boring, and often bad weather is involved, although I don't blame the trails for that - I am a bad weather magnet and know it.

Not on my life list: The Luce Line. This trail was the scene of an aborted ride about a year ago, and it ends/starts blocks from where a friend/riding partner lives, so I was determined to give the Luce Line another shot this season.

To that end, I took Friday off and set out for Winsted, MN around lunch time with my co-conspirator and colleague. What with packing up and a lunch stop, we didn't make it to Winsted until about 2:00, so we got a later start than planned. To add to that, we faced a pretty stiff and relentless headwind and/or cross-wind the whole ride, which made for some slow going.

But wait - there's more!

Early on I got a warning of things to come when my front derailleur failed to through the chain onto the big chain ring. Instead, the chain would fall between the small and large chain ring (here's a little foreshadowing for you - the chain shouldn't really even fit there to begin with if you stop and think about it). I stopped and futzed around with the FD thinking I had a slack cable or something to no avail, so I reconciled myself to riding the entire trail in my small chain ring. It could be worse, after all.

It sure could be worse, because about 7 miles later the chain fell entirely off the small chain ring to the inside of the chain wheel. WTF? I rolled to a stop again and looked things over with a little more care this time only to discover that three of the five chain ring bolts holding things together were entirely gone.

I have heard of this happening, but it's never happened to me. Not once. It was also a long walk home, too. With no other option, I repositioned one of the two remaining bolts to get a bit more even purchase on the crank spider and then wrestled the chain out from behind the crank because it was really sucked in there. I gingerly rode all the way to Plymouth like this without any further problems.

What's odd is that I just rode this bike to and from work a day before with no problem whatsoever. I don't know if the constant chatter and vibration from the limestone trail worked the bolts loose or if I have been riding around with less than my parts for weeks. At any rate, when it failed, the failure was sudden and severe. I have made a point to really torqued these bolts down tight when I assemble a crank, but I have never once thought to check the tightness of these during routine maintenance on my bikes. As of about 3:30 PM yesterday that has become standard operating procedure, however.

Between the wind and the mechanical problems, I won't be counting this one among my "great rides". The Luce Line is nice enough, but the crushed limestone surface was surprisingly loud with two bikes riding side-by-side on it, which was sort of annoying. I can't really blame the Luce Line for the wind or mechanicals - those can happen anywhere.

I'll probably give this another go at some point, but I'll make sure every damn nut and bolt is battened down before I set out.

Apr 22, 2010

Brooks B-72 Restoration

The ancient Raleigh 3-speed I picked up last weekend came equipped with what is probably an original Brooks B-72 leather saddle. The saddle is perfect for this bike - it's classy, old-looking, period-correct and British. What's more, a new B-72 would set you back about $140 or so, so this one was definitely worth trying to salvage.

The underside of the saddle was dusty dry and the top had some surface cracking, but it appeared to be in good shape otherwise.

I applied some left-over Proofhide (the Brooks-recommended saddle treatment) to the underside to re-hydrate the poor thing and then did some internet work to see what was recommended for the top. A little searching led me to conclude that pure carnauba wax was probably my best option (although Brooks doesn't recommend using anything other than Proofhide on their saddles, I have applied Proofhide to the top of a Brooks saddle in the past and observed that very little (if any) of the Proofhide penetrated into the leather).

When I began this project, I didn't know WTF carnauba wax was, but it's easier to find than I thought - it's a car wax and also used as cork grease for woodwind instruments. For saddles, however, you need pure carnauba wax (i.e. no cleaners, which are common in the car waxes). The photo at right is the saddle, post-wax application but before I warmed it and buffed it up.

After warming the saddle to let the wax soak in a bit, I buffed it with a cotton rag and gave it a look. The leather feels much better than before I waxed it. The color is very similar to what was before I gave it the treatment, which I like. The worn areas still look worn, but the cracks are healed over somewhat and the saddle is shinier over-all. In fact, the saddle is so shiny that the "after" photo had a lot of glare and I had to dial-down the exposure to see what was going on.

So, there you have it. One unscientifically documented Brooks saddle treatment with carnauba wax.

On a side note, if you live in the upper Midwest and want to do this yourself, hit me up because I probably have enough wax left over to treat every Brooks saddle ever sold in North America.

Apr 21, 2010

Busy Weekend

There's entirely too many bike-related things going on this weekend. Here's a quick run-down and I am sure I am missing a bunch of things:

  • Boy Scout Troop 67 will be holding its third annual “Bring a Bike – Buy a Bike” used bike sale on Saturday April 24th from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm in the Nativity of Our Lord Gym located at 1900 Wellesley in St. Paul. 
  • The Active Living Bike Expo is Friday and Saturday in the education building at the State Fair Grounds.
  • The Minnesota Bike Summit is happening on Saturday, also at the State Fair Grounds Education building.
  • Bridge for Youth ride is on Sunday; it's only $15 and the proceeds go to help homeless youths. This is the same day (and distance) as that other ride you hear about, which happens to cost $45 and the proceeds go to support hostels for youths traveling Europe. You make the call on which to support.
  • The City of Andover is having a recycling day on Saturday and Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles could definitely use help at this event. They get a lot of bikes that they fix and pass on to needy people at these events, and the ones that can't be used get torn down and recycled, so many hands make for light work on these days - please help them out if you can.

I am going to be in the "none of the above" category because I'll be celebrating my anniversary with the Bride at a secure undisclosed location in the Midwest, but don't let that stop you from supporting your favorite group or participating in a meeting or something. 

Apr 20, 2010

30 Days

At Ease
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I am proud of my spouse. She signed on (mentally if not digitally) to the 30 Days of Cycling challenge. This came out of Facebook in March. The upshot is that two guys are trying to get as many people as possible to ride their bike, even if it's just for a little bit, each day for the month of April. Even riding around the living room counts - just get on you bike and ride.

She's committed to doing this; she hops on her bike to run an errand (yesterday was the dentist) or commutes to the library on the days she works. If not that, then she'll go for a spin 'round the neighborhood after supper. As of today, she's pedaled over 100 miles this month.

Tonight she rode up to the Longfellow Grill and we met up for supper, so I benefitted from that a little bit as well.

Apr 18, 2010

Peace Ride and Cycle Chic?

Let's Match!
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I did the first ever Peace Ride today. This was affiliated somehow with the larger Colorado Peace ride and got posted on MBL; I also put it on Facebook to try and drum up some more riders.

Ours was a humble but pleasant ride; about 25 people showed up to ride the Grand Rounds, more or less (with about 5,000,000 other people because the weather was so nice). In fact, the weather was perfect. The Grand Rounds route was quite good - I even the part where we got hassled by the kids in North Minneapolis who chased after us and accused us of stealing their bikes (those skamps!). One guy on a sweet vintage Bianchi had a drive-side spoke failure and ended up walking to the nearest coffee shop, but otherwise the ride was uneventful.

I didn't shoot a single photo on this ride (which is unusual for me) until I was almost home and spied the lovely young ladies above wearing almost perfectly matching outfits. That was too weird; I had to take a picture.

Following my previous thread on Cycle Chic, I happened into a 1968 Raleigh Three-Speed today for an insanely good deal (I owe you one, Ted). It's a very sweet silvery gray bike with good paint, but it needs some new rubber, has some rust here and there, and has plenty of dust and grime to compliment the dried up old Brooks saddle.

I think that I am going to take my time restoring this bike and really try to do it right. The saddle is fairly dry and has some light surface cracking, but I think it's really very sound and can be brought back to good condition with a little time and TLC. The underside of the saddle got one light coat of Prooffhide this afternoon and I am now in the market for pure carnauba wax (whatever that is), for the top side of the saddle.

The bike shifts well enough, but like learning the mysteries of ancient leather restoration, I'll need to start dipping my toe into the mysteries of the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub relatively soon. If all else fails, we happen to have some real experts in 3-speeds at the ready and close to home, so I am not concerned about getting up shit creek without a paddle. Yet.

My plans for the bike are a bit hazy at this point, but they generally involve a deliberate restoration/education experience followed by leisurely rides in the evening with my bride to ice cream shops, coffee shops and other civilized activities. Tweed rides and a 3-speed tour might be in the offing as well. We'll see...

Photos to come. In the meantime, God save the Queen!

Apr 17, 2010

The Twins are Bike-Friendly

This week was the home opener at our new Target Field. The mania downtown was unbelievable - it seemed like everyone was wearing Twins attire and there was clearly excitement in the air.

At the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Summit we were subjected to a rather long and tedious presentation by a PR person with the Twins organization on the effect of the new ballpark on downtown congestion. He went on and on about how few home games would actually impact rush hour during week days, and that basically this would be no worse than the Metro Dome.

Of course the light rail was mentioned as an alternative to driving, but what did not get a spot on the PowerPoint was any mention of bike parking, and it should have. The Twins have apparently planned on bike parking in the new stadium. The map above is linked from the Twins website and shows the general location of racks around the stadium. The word from those that have ridden to a game is that the racks by the light rail station fill up quickly, but there is ample parking around back,  between the stadium and the trash burner, and that new set up is superior to the Metro Dome for bike parking.

I appreciate the racks. If they have the space, a secure bike corral would be a great addition - I'd even be willing to pay a little to stash my bike there.

Apr 14, 2010

Midtown Freewheel Bike Bazaar

It's going to be a busy weekend. On Saturday, the Midtown Freewheel will be hosting a Biker's Bazaar on from 10:00 - 4:00. The event promises over 20 local artists and crafters selling upcycled bike-themed jewelery, prints, utensils, clothing, etc. This is a good chance to support the local arts and crafts scene and maybe bump into some people you may not have seen for awhile. I am planning to stop by later in the morning to see what's to be seen. Hopefully I'll bump into a few others over there as well.

On Sunday is the first-ever Minneapolis Peace Ride that I posted about previously, so there's that as well. Looks like good weather, so hopefully we will get a good turn out for both events.

Apr 13, 2010

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

This Sunday, April 18th there will be an organized ride leaving from the Metro Transit station in Uptown. The Peace Ride will circumnavigate Minneapolis via the Grand Rounds route for about 30 miles or so. A small donation to the Sophia Peace Center is recommended but not required.

Gather at Metro Transit Uptown station by 1:00 PM and join us for a moderately paced, polite ride.

Apr 12, 2010

35W Detour Rehabilitation

Reposted from a recent MPLS Bicycle Update as a public service:

On Wednesday, April 21st , Public Works will host an open house on the 35W Detour Route Rehabilitation Project from 5pm to 7pm at Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall) in the Doty Board Room. The project proposes the addition of bike lanes in downtown on 4th Avenue (10th Street to Washington Avenue), 5th Avenue (10th Street to Washington Avenue), and 6th Street (1st Avenue N to 5th Avenue S). For more information, visit the project website.
If you  have not been following this, it's a big deal. We lost bike lanes downtown due to the Marq2 Project and the reconfigured Hennepin Ave. and 1st Ave. lanes bike lanes are getting mixed reviews (my vote is that Hennepin is fine and 1st is unsafe). We are critically short of good commuter bike infrastructure downtown and this project would do a lot to improve that as soon as this year. Please come to the meeting and support the additions of bike lanes downtown. This is the single best thing Minneapolis could do to encourage multi-modal transit and decrease downtown congestion, which is good for everyone downtown, not just the bike commuters.

MAC Noise Abatement

The photo at right is the newly-enlarged access to my scary attic. We have the trap-door-in-the-ceiling as the only access to our attic, and honestly, I had never been up there until late last week.

It turns out that our house is in the MAC lawsuit area and when that finally resolved late last year, we were notified that we were eligible for noise abatement. There are probably entire blog sites dedicated to this lawsuit, and one of my neighbors is a self-made expert on this and expounds on it at every block party - it's too much to get in to here.

Suffice it to say that we are "in" and we got a letter outlining the deal. We were informed us that our house was ear-marked for central air conditioning and addition noise abatement treatments of our choice. If we didn't want central air conditioning, we could select additional noise abatement treatments up to our budget amount.

We have never, ever lived in a house with central air conditioning (for that matter, we have only had one house with an attached garage and a fridge with an ice-maker, too). We jumped at the chance to get that. We also got a couple of our worst windows refurbished and are getting new storm windows for the lower level of the house.

This is a major production because we don't have ducts - our house has a boiler and radiators, so we need some pretty major surgery to retrofit this in to our old house. So far, so good, though. They had to enlarge the tiny access to our attic to get the air handler up there (the condenser sits outside on the south side of the house). Unfortunately the access got enlarged in the wrong direction, but they will come back and fix that in the next couple of weeks. The A/C is now installed (it only took two days) and will get wired in the neat future. The storm windows will be coming a few weeks, I guess. The MAC contractors have been good to deal with and everything has gone pretty much according to Hoyle.

It's funny that the MAC lawsuit went on for so long but now that it's resolved, the work is proceeding very quickly. I admit to having some pre-job nightmares about turning the house over to the Metropolitan Airport Commission bureaucrats for this work because the lawsuit did not do much to build trust with MAC in the minds of many South Minneapolis homeowners and because I didn't want Vogon destructor crews running around my house with Sawzalls.

Like so many things in life, the reality has been not as bad as we feared.

Apr 10, 2010

Cycle Chic

One of the interesting things about riding a bike is that there are endless ways to do it.

Currently, my stable includes two race-ready road bike (yes, they are both steel - not carbon fiber, but they are still race-worthy, damnit). These bikes only feel "right" to me with lycra and a jersey. I also have an Xtracycle errand bike that's covers the utility niche pretty nicely as well as a mountain bike outfitted with a rack, fenders and a lot of lights that's doing bad weather commuter duty. This all topped off with a nice little 650b all-arounder Rawland that seem most of the action commuting and getting around.

Typically, when I am riding anything but the road bikes, I'll wear a shell or tee shirt on top and shants or shorts on the bottom half (sometimes with bike shorts under them if the ride is going to be longer). Almost all of my bikes have SPD pedals, so that means the Sidi shoes or my Keen sandals on the feet. In other words, This all means that I generally look like I am out for a bike ride when I am on a bike ride.

Lately, however, I have been tempted by "cycle chic". This is due to spousal inspiration. My spouse has a nice Breezer "Uptown" that I picked up for her at Hiawatha awhile ago. This is a "city bike" with a Nexus 8-speed hub in back, a generator hub up front, lights fore and aft, a chain guard and fenders, not to mention a sturdy rack and built in lock. What's more, the frame is solid and it's fun to ride. She likes this bike and she looks good on it. It's also got some nice wide platform pedals - perfect for whatever you happen to be weating.

This is exactly the kind of bike a person could ride in street clothes and feel perfectly comfortable. One of my cycling goals from last year was to make the bike easily accessible. My solution then (and now) is to wear more bike-friendly clothes and to try and slow down, because I tend to push the biggest gear I can spin regardless of whether or not that makes any sense at all.

Stylish utilitarian riding can be done as evidenced by our brothers and sisters in Europe. There are a few doing this closer to home as well, and this might just be the next bicycle revolution.

I doubt I'll be wearing a suit and tie on my rides in the near-future, but you just might see me in civilian clothes at some point in the not-to-distant future.

Apr 8, 2010

Nuttier Than Trail Mix

Out of the blue, a woman I used to work with almost 18 years ago "Friended" me on Facebook a few months ago. I remembered her, but honestly I had not thought of her since we parted ways lo those many years ago. "Hmm - FB sure is a nice way to keep in touch and re-connect", I thought as I accepted the invitation. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that in the time we had been apart, my ex-coworker had metamorphosed into a knee-jerk, goggle-eyed, tea partying arch-conservative.

On a side note, Minnesota is fine place to live, but one of the things I like least about this place is that these people will commonly be heard to say "That's different!" when what they really mean is "I do not like that" (i.e., different = bad). This tribalistic group-think permeates a lot of Minnesota from what I can tell, and the natives don't even seem to be aware of it. This same phenomena is dominating our national politics as well.

Generally speaking, I value diversity of opinion. In fact, I will deliberately read something that I know I won't agree with because it's stimulating and helps to make sense of any issue. My old/new Friend provided me with such material ad nauseam. Links to rants from Glen Beck, pissy op-eds about how health care reform will destroy Life As We Know It, etc., etc.... The last straw was when she "Fanned" a xenophobic FB page bitching about people who speak foreign languages. Here's the link if you want to see what the sane people are up against here.

Despite my thinly veiled boast above about being tolerant of other opinions, the "Press 1" post was the last straw for me; at some point, staring into the abyss becomes too scary. I joined the hate group long enough to remind them that only "True Americans" had been rounded up by their ancestors and moved on to reservation prison camps, and that anyone else had to have been an immigrant once upon a time. Then I quit the group, severed the relationship, "un-Friended" her, whatever.

I think I may have just betrayed myself on that one...

Apr 6, 2010

A Meandering Post on I'm Not Sure What...

The notion of personal power has been on my mind lately. I have been doing some integrative bodywork (a combination of traditional massage with a light smattering of energy work) and I am also working my way through a book called The Anatomy of the Spirit that deals with energy in the body (call it your spirit, call it chakras, call it the Tree of Life, call it whatever you like).

I am not a big new-ager, but as skeptical as I can be, I have to admit that there is something to be said for paying attention to personal energy. It seems rather obvious that I have been less than a good steward of my energy at times, and that being a little more mindful of this can make a big difference in quality of life and relationships. A corollary of “energy mindfulness” is that by paying attention to one’s personal energy a little more, it helps to build self-esteem and a sense of being able to do things – in other words, it’s empowering.

While driving back from my parent’s house this weekend, my spouse called to ask if the neighbor’s daughter could borrow one of my bikes to ride around the lakes. “Absolutely”, I said. I suggested that we loan her the mountain bike because it’s got a quick release seat post and would be more comfortable for her than a road bike. My wife fit the bike to her and even added a padded seat cover to the saddle. Unfortunately, she never went for that ride. I don’t know if it was a bike-fit issue, but given the size of the frame, I doubt it; I suspect it was a sense that she was not confident because she saw herself as “not athletic” or something and mentally talked herself out of it before she started.

That’s too bad – I think she would have been able to do this and would probably have had fun if she didn’t let her expectations get in the way. In a recent MBL post somebody started entitled “Why do you Ride?” a few themes emerged that speak to this point. A number of replies made the point that it’s simply fun to ride your bike, or that it’s good exercise, but a large number of responses made the point that it’s empowering to get somewhere under your own steam, it’s good therapy, and it shuts one’s mind off.

That’s not to say you need a bike to do this kind of work. I think anything physical and slightly challenging that affords an opportunity to improve would probably fit the bill here. It’s just that bikes are easy because almost everyone has one laying around, and as the saying goes, you never really forget how to ride a bike.

Apr 4, 2010

The Mentos and Coke Experience

On Saturday afternoon we all needed a little levity, so my brother-in-law and I pulled the old "Diet Coke and Mentos" trick, much to the enjoyment of Dad. My sister, on the other hand, can be heard at the end of the tape exclaiming about the waste of perfectly good Diet Coke.

I dare say that this was not a waste at all.

Road Trip

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
A family emergency necessitated a quick road trip to Wisconsin for the past several days. I am happy to report that things seem to be stabilizing but we are not out of the woods yet. Still, today was a much better day than late last week.