Sep 27, 2011

What I Have Learned About Cam Stacks

Q: How is sewing like playing piano?

A: It's something I want to be able to do it, but don't I want to learn how to do it.

A couple of years ago, I lucked into a sewing machine. I met a couple that were cleaning out her Mother's house after she had passed away, and one of the things they were selling was her sewing stuff. Through that connection, I scored an older Viking-Husqvarna 6430 sewing machine, a nice cabinet/table and all the miscellaneous stuff that she had amassed from a life-time of sewing. All for about $100 as I recall. Bobbins, seam rippers, measuring tapes, buttons, extra machine needles, chalk... it's all there. El Dorado!

This Fall I finally got around to signing myself up for a sewing class to actually learn what to do with my magnificent acquisition. I have an endless stream of pants that need hemming (thanks to my genetics and early taste for coffee, I guess), and I want to be able to make simple alterations like taking in seats and such.

Always eager to stress myself out and over-prepare, I dusted off my machine last week in anticipation of the start of my community ed class and spent some quality time with the manual, teaching (or re-teaching) myself threading, bobbin winding, stitch selection, stitch length, etc.

Great success! I Know My Machine! Hurray! I get it!

Unfortunately, every battle has its collateral damage; during my self-directed crash course, I managed to crack my "cam stack". Here's how you, to0, crack your very own cam stack:

  • let your machine sits idle for years, 
  • then one day, decide to turn it on and use it for awhile. 
  • By then the grease will have set up or evaporated, the plastic parts (which are already brittle from being old) will get stressed and...
Presto! In no time at all, you have just cracked your can stack. Easy as pie!

I am apparently a text-book schmuck for making this mistake. If you have an old machine, get it service and lubed BEFORE you start putzing around with it.

The dreaded cracked cam stack is apparently a common problem with old sewing machines (at least the Vikings) and it can be fatal. Once this happens, the zig-zag doesn't work, which puts a hitch in things like hemming pants. Of course, this model is no longer supported, there are some after-market parts but they get bad reviews and it's difficult to replace this piece if you can find a part. Other than that, I am on Easy Street right now.

Frustrating. The old machine seems so much better made than any of the new machines I have looked at, but the repair (if it can done) will probably double the cost of the machine. Still, at the initial cost, it's probably worth putting some money into the machine to try and salvage it. Plus, I like the machine; I feel I've put enough into understanding it that I want to see this through and stick with it.

In the meantime, it sews really, really well in a straight stitch; just no zig-zag. I'll get myself through my class with this machine for sure and I am confident that I can sleuth out a solution to the cracked cam stack in the coming weeks, or at worst, the coming months.

Still, it's annoying as hell to have this break just when I am fixing to use it, but I suppose nothing ever breaks just sitting there, either.


Sep 25, 2011

Early Fall Field Trip

Lake 23
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
We set off in search of Autumn today. West on Highway 12 to Sibley State Park and the Glacial Lakes Trail.

We packed the folding bikes and headed to Spicer, MN where had a small picnic lunch before our ride. We explored Green Lake and Spicer as well as New London and the rail corridor that now hosts this trail.

The day was cool but the sun was warn - many, many wooly bear caterpillars picked today for a walk, so we were dodging them on the trail as we watched migrating Blue jays having raucous parties in the treetops.

We finished the ride portion of our day and headed over to Sibley State Park (which is HUGE) and found time for a nap in the warm sun on a small dock/canoe landing at Lake 23 (the primitive camping area of the park) before taking the view from "Mt. Tom" and checking out the swimming beach.

The drive home rewarded us with an epic sunset and a rainbow over the Twin Cities. The Fall color is at only about 25% or so, I would guess, but the farm fields are lovely and the sumac is in full color right now.

We'll need to do a few more of these day trips to catch the peak, but then, the hunt can be more rewarding than the catch.

Sep 21, 2011

Traffic Skills 101 = Success

Through a fortuitous series of circumstances, I had the chance to assist on a Traffic Skills 101 course this past weekend. I had volunteered to assist on another TS-101 course in Rochester that ended up getting canceled, so this was my first real TS-101.

Luckily, I was able to assist an experienced LCI with this course, so I had some technical back-stopping, but that said, I was given a lot of responsibility in delivering the information and running the class, which was both challenging and rewarding.

The Smart Cycling program, which forms the basis of TS-101 and the other courses, makes inherent sense to me. Any fool can understand that:
  • Bikes are vehicles - they are on the road and should behave like other vehicles. Equal rights, equal responsibilities.
  • Accordingly, we obey the laws and ride on the right side of the street, signal turns, DO NOT RUN RED LIGHTS OR STOP SIGNS and generally fit in with traffic, because we are traffic. Doing anything less is equivalent to tempting the Fates, and if you are not injured or worse you could get a ticket. Karma's a bitch, but we earn your consequences in these sorts of situations (at least most of the time).
  • We are responsible for our actions - not just how we ride, but how we react to others, and how we model our behavior. With credentials this pressure just increases - God forbid that I ever run a stop sign in my League Cycling Instructor jersey.  
  • We all need to get along - a cyclist that rides predictably, signals turns and obeys the law is not noticed by motorists (unfortunately) because they didn't cause a problem. It's the one's that run the lights, swerve and don't signal, or otherwise ignore the rules that lead to the anti-bike comments in any newspaper article dealing with a bicycle accident or advocacy issue
  • One bad apple spoils the lot - it only takes a few riders with bad habits to alienate a boat-load of drivers and make things difficult for all of us.
As an urban commuter, I applied most (or maybe all) of these principles before I ever took the TS-101 course or achieved LCI credentials, but Smart Cycling "put it all together" for me in a way that is based in research and applicable to real-world situations.

The most rewarding (and stressful) part of the course was supervising the class during the on-road test. The student group group got split up at a stop sign - the first three students were able to cross, but the fourth student decided that an approaching car on the crossing street was close enough to warrant yielding to them. This was a coin-toss situation; she could have made it safely across the road with ease, but that might have caused the driver to tap the brakes, to. As it was, the student opted to yield and wait. We were rewarded with a smile and wave from the driver.

I am absolutely thrilled that we made a motorist smile and wave at a group of cyclists that day, and we were able to pass all of the students, many of whom will be going on to get LCI credentials.

High Five!

Minneapolis Joy Ride - Oct. 2

Surly uncorked a snarky sticker at Interbike this year that reads "JUST BECAUSE WE BOTH RIDE BIKES DOESN'T MEAN WE ARE FRIENDS". I like that sticker because it kind of reinforces the snarky branding Surly has mastered but also, there's more than a grain of truth to it.

In cities (such as ours) with a large slice of the population riding bikes at least somewhat regularly, it's inevitable that subsets of the bike community will find each other. In Minneapolis, we are blessed to have utility cyclists, commuters, roadies, fixed gear/messenger cultural, WTF riders, tall bike people, 3-speed enthusiasts, advocacy nerds, and MUP cruisers with Burleys and bells all rubbing elbows on the roads and paths of our fair City. Others may not identify with any sort of community at all - they just simply ride their bikes because they enjoy it, or it makes sense, or they hate cars, or whatever.

True, just because we all ride bikes doesn't necessarily mean that we are friends, but BECAUSE we all ride bikes, we do have a lot of common interests. Improved bike infrastructure on the roads and bike parking where we need it, for instance, benefits everyone that rides, from the faintest of fair weather riders to the baddest bad-ass year-round commuters.

These are exactly the types of issues that the Minneapolis Bike Coalition (MBC) is working on for the benefit of all Minneapolis cyclists.  Now, MBC is organizing a ride with the potential to bring these diverse communities together to celebrate some victories and contemplate the future (thank you, thank you and thank you).

On October 2, the Minneapolis "Joy Ride" will set out from Gold Medal Park. The route will take us through parts of North Minneapolis (which is under-served on bike infrastructure and needs some focused attention from the City in order to catch up) and Northeast, which has made some recent improvements but had an important east-west bike lane taken away recently, too. There will be a relatively short family friendly ride as well as a longer adult ride. Snacks will be provided, too, so what's not to like.

The Bike Coalition web page has more information. There is also a FB event page with information as well and you can RSVP and check who else is coming on this ride.

If you can make it to this ride, please do so. I think it's important that we show the City that the cyclists are paying attention, and that we appreciate the improvements and won't tolerate neglect of bike infrastructure. I also think it's important that MBC continue to grow and become a strong and sustaining voice in Minneapolis bike advocacy, and this ride will move them one more step down the path to that destination.

That's worth spending an afternoon on your bike for, I'd say.

Photo credit: Surly Bikes via YouTube.

Sep 14, 2011

Traffic Skills 101 This Weekend!

Big News!

I am co-teaching a Traffic Skills 101 course this weekend over at Mississippi Market. The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota link has all the details, but we'll be covering need-to-know material for novice to advanced riders that want to be more comfortable and confident riding in traffic.

You can register at the link if you are interested in participating, or scan the BAM site for upcoming classes if you can't make this but want to do it at some point in the future.

The Traffic Skills 101 courses are really worth doing - I learned a lot about avoiding accidents and have used the knowledge from that class to bail myself out of a jam a few times now.

In Search of the Mythical Island of Existential Certainty

It turns out that discernment is a difficult skill to master, yet it's sometimes just what we need. 

I think a very human and understandable response to the hard work of identifying and pursuing The Future That We Want is to fill our time with a shit-load of little day-to-day activities. After all, action can't be procrastination, right? 

At this point, I am not so sure. I think it's actually a lot like having the radio or T.V. on so we don't have to actually deal with our thoughts.

There are ample opportunities to schedule ourselves into things and book appointments - an endless stream of causes to help out, events to coordinate and happenings to bring to life. Add to that a host of projects that have been back-burnered forever (on that note, the rose garden is planted and looks great, I now have a second degree black-belt in growing grass from seed and the deck is marvelous, by the way).

The past week or so, I have become increasingly aware of the problem of getting enthused about something that seemed like a good idea at the time (and committing to it), only to have trouble recalling what it was that drew me to that particular activity in the first place as the date approaches. 

Perhaps I am more acutely aware of this now that I am staring down that whole "what to do with the rest of your life" thing. Yes, sometimes we just need to go through the motions and keep our commitments until we drift our way over to the next island of existential certainty, I understand that. However, I think it would be a mistake to ignore this potential warning sign. 

My sense is that as Autumn approaches, it is now time to focus more closely on underlying motivation to winnow and sift the wheat from chaff.

Sep 12, 2011

Minnecycle 2011

Minnecycle Flyer 2011
Originally uploaded by AthenaBikes
Minnecycle is back!

I made it to the very first Minnecycle and missed the second, but rest assured that I will be there for this one.

If you are not hip to the scene, Minnecycle is a wonderful show put on by our local Minneapolis bike frame builders. They use the event, at the Vine Arts building just off the Greenway, to showcase some of the flashy or innovative work that they have done over the past year.

We have a lot of really good frame builders here in the Twin Towns. This year, we can anticipate works from no less than a dozen local builders! These include:

- A-Train Cycles
- Anderson Custom Bicycles
- Appleman Bicycles
- Chris Kvale Cycles
- Clockwork Bicycles
- Curt Goodrich Bicycles
- Pallas Athena Custom Bicycles
- Peacock Groove
- Speedhound
- Three Stars Cycles
- Vincent Dominguez Cycles, and;
- Wyganoski Frames

That's a lot of skill and beauty packed into one space. Put it on the calendar and get yourself down to Minnecycle this year - I suspect this will be the best one yet.

Sep 5, 2011

First Day of School, Sort of

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
School starts tomorrow for a lot of kids, but some in my neighborhood have been back already for a week.

I, too had a "school starts tomorrow" day. Not really school in the traditional sense for me, though. I have a one-day First Aid/CPR/AED class at Red Cross HQ tomorrow, so I've got to get up, pack my lunch and ride down there. That's as close to a commute as I've come in two months.

I've had FA/CPR/AED at least twice, and FA/CPR at least five times, but I am currently expired. This one-day class will serve as a refresher to get me ready for the real learning experience - beginning in late September, I'll be tackling Emergency Responder training through American Red Cross. That will be a more challenging gig, no doubt. Six weeks, 3 days per week.

It should be worth it, though; I am hoping to use my First Responder certification to provide medic support organized rides, bike races, triathlons and marathons. I have a friend or two that do that currently and ride support seems to have an interesting combination of challenge, diversity, adventure and Doing Good, so I am optimistic that I'll like it.

Wringing the last day out of summer, we took a day trip down the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin, looking for some rumored hawk-watching locations, a prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) and some Fall color routes.

We found most of what we were looking for and a few things we were not specifically looking for. The most delightful surprise was about 1,000 Sulphurs that must have just morphed. They were swarming all over the place south of Pepin, WI this afternoon. I was able to capture a few with my camera (take only pictures, leave only memories, etc.) but the photo really misses the fun of seeing them all zooming around like self-propeller confetti.

Sep 3, 2011

TC3-SAS Ride Report and What September Brings...

This morning the most stalwart and dedicated TC3-SAS riders set out on a mission to circumnavigate the Capitol City*.

The route took us more or less on the St. Paul Grand Rounds but we did it one better by going the long-way around Lake Phalen. For an added challenge, we tossed in in a few wrong turns, rode through the Wabasha Bridge construction zone twice and ascended a stairway from hell to get to the Swede Hollow Cafe (all before 11:00 AM, no less).

Despite almost getting run-over by some asshat in a silver SUV at Maryland Ave. and Phalen Parkway, this was a Good Ride. With the lunch stop, it took about 5 hours to do this (things cannot be rushed on old English 3-speeds because it's physically impossible). The weather was very humid at the start of the ride. I had sweated through my gloves and my helmet pads were soaked by the lunch stop. In early afternoon, we faced a bit of rain and a gusty west winds, but that felt a lot better than the steamy tepid air we set forth in.

The route was acceptable (indeed, my compliments to my co-conspirator for devising this Plan of Operation), but sadly, due to the environment we were traveling though, it was not an exceptional route. We were most disappointed in Wheelock Parkway (traffic volume was higher than we anticipated, pavement was worse than expected, and the scenery was only so-so to kind of sketchy).

Another disappointment was the connection from the Gateway Trail to Wheelock Parkway. What connection, you ask? My point, exactly. That was the second time on this ride where we took to shouldering the bikes and hurdling obstacles. True, this one was much easier than schlepping 35 pounds of old English bike up 300 feet of stairs, but it's pretty clear that St. Paul could use a Bike/Ped Coordinator as much, or more, than Minneapolis.

Unbelievably, the only photo I took on this whole ride was at a memorial to the U.S.S. Scorpian near Como Park. I should fire myself for this half-assed work, but we are thin on staff at Snak Shak HQ and the cat is an absolutely terrible photographer and has the proof-reading skills of gnat, so I can only write myself up and threaten future disciplinary action if this unacceptable performance continues.

The next scheduled 3-speed event on the books is the ABCE Ride in mid-September. I'll probably organize a shorter, easier TC3-SAS ride that same weekend as a counterpoint to ABCE. I did ABCE last year but found the British stuff to be a little much and the stops to be a little long. After all, TC3-SAS is "3-Speeds Without the Tweed". If you have never done the ABCE ride, by all means go for it. It's a hoot, and this subset of bike culture is well worth sampling. Who knows, this might even be your destiny.

The weather is finally turning cooler, so I am looking forward to hauling out my Recycled Cycles wool jersey on Sunday morning for a 49-degree ride around Nokomis or something to keep up my 30-days-of-biking streak.

* The MPLS Bike Love kids refer to St. Paul as "Shelbyville" but we elected to refer to it as the "Capitol City" simply out of obstinacy.

Sep 2, 2011

The Case of Disappearing Bike Rack

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I've been enjoying riding my folding bike to restaurants and bringing it in with me. I feel more smug than a Prius driver as I collapse the bike down into a little package and walk in with it like this is normal thing to do.

Tonight we rode over to Famous Dave's in Linden Hills for a end-of-the-week treat. To my surprise, the bike rack that they normally have on the sidewalk was missing. I didn't plan to use it - I was going to bring my bike in, but Molly needed something to lock up to.

I went in and heckled the staff over their lack of bike parking. They told me that the rack was out on the sidewalk. I replied that it WAS out on the sidewalk, but it's gone now. At first they didn't believe me, but somebody went out side and came back with a look of shock on their face and confirmed my thesis.

We ended up bringing Molly's bike in the restaurant (the screen porch part, actually) partly to make a point and mostly because all the other sign posts were already being used for bike parking.

While we were eating, one of the kids working there dragged the rack back to where it belongs - he told us that somehow it got moved around behind the building, but he found it and brought it back.

I appreciated that, but it makes me question the wisdom of locking to a rack that can wander around the neighborhood on it's own.

Bike Touring Workshop - Sept. 11

mentioned previously that Shawn and April of Portland's Urban Adventure League are pedaling to Minneapolis for a short visit on their cross-continent tour. Since then, they have kept pedaling and the staff behind this blog have all been busy planning stuff...

I can now happy to report that Midtown Freewheel will be hosting a bike touring workshop that Shawn will be putting on while they are in Minneapolis! The event goes down on Sunday, September 11. Midtown Freewheel will be putting out the spread for this - there will be food and beverages plus the usual Freewheel hospitality. The Facebook event page is here - please RSVP so our gracious hosts can get a handle on how many people are coming and get the food right.

Freewheel will be putting on a BBQ beginning at 11:30 AM. The workshop will begin about an hour later. Shawn has done these types of workshops for years, and their current trip (detailed on Shawn's blog) has been an adventure, so it should be a good time.

It's nice to see an event organized around touring. I've noticed an uptick in touring, and general interest in touring, this summer (that even includes me - I got that LHT tricked out and am contemplating S240's). Yet this is an sub-set of the cycling world that doesn't get much play in the Twin Cities. It will be good to drag this more into the limelight and maybe encourage a few people to give it a go.

Sep 1, 2011

Dude, Where's My Bike Lane?

Dude, where's my bike lane?
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I conducted a stealthy, black-ops reconnaissance mission this morning (and by "stealthy, black-ops" I mean that I didn't tell anyone about it and I was not paid) in order to ground-truth a group ride route I am planning for a few friends (more to come on that front).

During my self-propelled mission, I chanced upon the mother of all bike lane parking violations. This is located at 26th Ave. No., just immediately west of 2nd Ave. No. in North Minneapolis. I saw at least 6, and probably 7 cars parked in the bike lane.

What the hell?

The problem here is the signage - the illegible sign in this photo prohibits overnight parking. My sense is that drivers are hard-wired to look for the red signs and that they don't pay attention to the black and white ones. You see that "No Overnight Parking" sign think it's okay to park here. I get that, but it's wrong, wrong, wrong.

My assumption is that the signs pre-dated the bike lane, and when the lane got striped, nobody told the actual do-ers on this project to take down the old parking signs and install "No Parking" signs.

We'll see if Minneapolis 311 can rectify this problem before October 8.