Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bike Commuting - End of Year Wrapup

It's the end of another school year and time to tally up my bike commuting numbers for the year.

For those who aren't regular readers, I'm a full-time teacher so when I talk about a year, I'm referring to a "school year," or the time from late August through May. That time frame obviously includes the winter months, which here in Northeast Ohio can often be pretty miserable for cycling, and does not include the summer months. This past year we had another relatively mild winter and although I didn't have the record-breaking numbers I had last year, I did get close. Last year I set a new personal record of 111 days, for an average of nearly 63%. This year I rode 107 days for an average of 61%. As of right now, there are still a couple of days left, so there's always the possibility of adding a couple more to my total.

Keeping my average over 60% means that I exceeded my primary goal for the year (to bike to work at least 50% or more). But by exceeding it by so much, I also improved on my long-term average and met my secondary goal. Since I began bike commuting in earnest, I've had a couple of years where I made it to 50%, and a couple of years where I fell short. (Actually, the winter of 2014-15 was so miserable that I only finished that year at 35%). Until just recently, my multi-year average was still trailing the 50% mark, but once I passed 100 days for this year, I moved my long-term average up to 50% over the course of the past five years.

A sunny morning in May
All totalled up, my commuting miles work out to more than 3000 miles over 9 months. Over the past five years, that number is more than 12,600 miles that I did not put on my car. Based on my car's 30 mpg average fuel economy, I figure that I've used about 420 fewer gallons of gasoline and probably saved roughly $1000. I don't even know how much my carbon footprint has been reduced, but it feels pretty significant.

Sunrise through layers of mist on a morning in August.
Type II Fun: That's the kind of fun that's only fun afterwards. Being determined to ride even in the winter means putting up with some frigid temperatures. As long as the roads are clear, I try not to let it stop me. I have my limits, but the coldest morning I rode this year was somewhere around 13° F. That said, I had what might charitably be called some "Type II fun" one morning in January. Since I'm recapping my year, allow me to share the story of my craziest commute from the past 9 months.

On this particular morning, it was cold, but there was no snow on the ground, and the roads were clear. The weather forecast said we had a chance of some snow early in the morning (around 35% chance if I recall), but clearing and a little warmer by afternoon. I decided to ride. Even if it did start to snow before I'd arrive at work, I remember thinking "how bad can it get?" In hindsight, that's a question that never has a good answer.

About 15 minutes into my nearly hour-long ride, a very light flurry started to fall -- so light that it was barely noticeable, and I thought "this is not too bad" and I kept riding.

OK - obviously NOT me (and if you don't recognize Andy
Hampsten from the '88 Giro d'Italia, then shame on you!) but
there were many similarities on that January morning.
About 30 minutes in, the light flurry had turned into a full snow shower. Snow began sticking to my glasses and fogging them up, so I removed them. Then I had snow going straight into my eyes and I realized I was going to end up being blinded with or without. At this point, I was already half-way to work, so turning back would have been pointless -- I'd have still been riding through the same blinding snow for just as long, and I wouldn't have been getting any closer to work. I kept riding.

Another 10 minutes, and the snow shower became a full-out blizzard. Snow was covering the road, accumulating everywhere, and sticking to every surface. I was starting to lose traction, especially on the hills, but I just kept plugging along, albeit slowly. Even though I could sometimes feel my tires slip, somehow I managed to stay upright.

At this point, I knew I only had a few more miles to go, but it just got worse and worse with every pedal stroke. Gradually, so much snow was sticking to my bike and my wheels, clogging up my derailleurs and brakes, and packing in around my tires and fenders that I felt like I was dragging an extra ten pounds. Turning the pedals kept getting harder, and shifting gears became impossible. I wasn't even sure if my brakes would work, and if they did, I probably would have ended up wiping out and hitting the deck anyhow. At this point, stopping didn't even feel like an option. What else could I do? I kept riding.

Though it felt incredibly slow, I finally pulled in at work, still 25 minutes before first bell. Surprisingly, the ordeal had added no more than about 10 minutes to my commute, and I was still there well before most of my colleagues in their cars, and long before most buses, too. Every inch of my bike was covered with snow, especially packed in around the wheels and fenders. I had so much snow covering my body that I looked like some kind of snowman. That freakish storm dumped almost 6 inches of snow in about an hour, then stopped. Just as predicted, the day cleared, and by afternoon most roads were plowed and I had a completely uneventful ride home. I was miserable through the ride that morning, but after it was over, I couldn't help looking back at on it and laughing. I still don't know if I earned people's respect or their ridicule, but that's what Type II fun is all about.

Tailwinds to all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why Do You Ride?

I got that question from a student the other day. Why do you ride?

Specifically, the question was why do I ride to work - commuting to work by bicycle year-round.

I keep a visible tally of every day that I ride to work -
my students know how close I am to meeting my goals.
There are a lot of reasons. Ultimately I only need one: I enjoy it.

All the rest are a bonus, but let me lay them out in some detail.

1. I enjoy it. I love to ride, but between working full time and raising two kids, it's difficult to find quality riding time. By combining my work commute with riding, I get roughly two hours of riding time a day, several days a week -- all while taking only a small amount of time out of my day. Got to get to and from work, right? I leave about a half hour earlier than I would if I were driving (not a problem since I'm an early riser anyhow), and get home only about a half hour later, so I still have plenty of time to do all the other things that fill my afternoons. It really works to my advantage.

2. Health/Fitness. Considering the widespread problems associated with obesity and inactivity, there can't be too many people who can honestly say they don't need to get more exercise. Riding to and from work regularly has kept me fit - and setting goals has kept me riding even through the winter months when getting on a bike doesn't seem like the natural choice. Recently I had to undergo minor surgery and in that process I had a virtual parade of doctors and nurses checking my heart rate and blood pressure. And each time, whoever was checking would see the numbers and remark with surprise at how good they were. Not just good heart rate and blood pressure for a guy my age - but good for a guy 10 or 20 years younger. "You must be really active," each one would say. I'd tell them I commute by bike, and they'd all say "that's got to be why."

I mentioned once in an older post about how commuting by bike has affected my weight too. Prior to the time when I started commuting by bike, I had reached my all-time maximum weight of 185 lbs. That might not sound like a lot for a guy 6' tall, but it was a lot on me and my frame, and I was even suffering from weight-related health issues such as sleep apnea and frequent acid reflux. Since I started bike commuting, I've been holding steady between 150 - 155 lbs, and those related health issues have vanished.

The next few reasons all have kind of a common thread:

3. Fuel savings. I hate buying gas and I always have. I really feel as though spending money on gas is not terribly different from taking money out of my wallet and burning it - it's just that it's being burned inside an engine instead of out in the open. Yes, that combustion is converted into motion/transportation - but if I can get where I need to go without spending that money on gasoline, and I get to ride my bike at the same time, then why would I drive?

Branching off of that reason is the fact that not only am I saving money by not buying gas, but in the bigger picture, I'm using less gasoline -- something that as a nation I firmly believe we all need to do.

4. Reducing emissions. Despite what certain politicians and millionaires who've made their fortunes from fossil fuels would have us believe, there really is no scientific debate about global warming. It's happening, and cars/trucks are a major culprit. For many of us (myself included) it isn't very practical to completely get rid of our cars. But most people aren't truly as dependent on their cars as they lead themselves to believe, and there's a lot we can do to reduce our dependence, and by extension, our emissions. Some people could reduce their personal carbon footprint significantly by simply trading in a huge truck or SUV for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, but no car is as clean as a bicycle. I already drive a pretty fuel-efficient car - but by leaving it parked and riding my bike for commuting/transportation whenever possible, I'm both using less fuel (as already mentioned), but I'm also reducing my carbon footprint significantly. Just imagine the impact if everyone could routinely reduce their dependence by even just a few dozen miles per month. My own commuting to work has been reducing my driving by 2,000 - 3,000 miles per year.

5. Sticking it to Big Oil. Using less gas means giving less money to Big Oil, and though it might make me sound like a Socialist to say it (actually, I kind of am a Socialist) I figure that oil companies have been sticking it to us all for years, and I'm all for sticking it back to them in the only way that matters to them - in their wallets. Remember what I said about global warming? Oil companies have been studying the problem as thoroughly as anyone can, and probably before most people even knew what it was. Their findings? That it's real, and it's happening, and fossil fuels are a major contributor. So armed with that knowledge, they've spent years and millions of dollars trying to neutralize other independent studies that would confirm what they already knew, and lobbying congressmen, and pushing a "climate change denial" narrative to convince people that the science is unclear -- all in the name of making sure we don't do anything to cut down on their profits.

And as if I need to add to this line, I see what's been happening in North Dakota where the oil companies are pushing for the Dakota Access Pipeline, while Native Americans have been protesting the pipeline which is supposed to be built through their land. With funding from the oil producers, they've built what practically amounts to a private army to counter the protesters. The suppression tactics became what can best described as increasingly warlike, with not only pepper spray or tear gas being used, but also concussion grenades being launched at protesters.

Riding a bike and driving less is just one way to say "I don't support this."

Not that anyone NEEDS a reason beyond "I enjoy riding my bike" - but it begs the question: Why do YOU ride?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bicycle Shorts: Masi Anniversary Film

Last year Masi Bicycles celebrated their 90th anniversary and released a book to mark the occasion: 90 Years of Masi ($39.95 from Amazon). I don't currently have a copy. Yes, I may need to get one. 

More recently, the brand released a short film by Curtis Winsor, of Winsor Creative, that might appeal to us retrogrouches. I suppose it is intended as an advertisement, but it isn't a hard sell. Instead, the film is more about soul and nostalgia, and features a vintage bike fan, a lovely old bike, and some beautiful scenery.

I'm starting to think that California's central coast just might be bicycling's Valhalla.
The film focuses on John Gallagher, who has had his 1963 Masi since he was in his teens, and since the bike was new, purchased from the first U.S. importer of the brand (for a brief moment in the film, one can see he still has the original paperwork on it!). Gallagher is a friend in the Classic Rendezvous group and won an award for his vintage Masi at the California Eroica event.


There are occasional glimpses of the classic bike . . .


Well-cared for, but also - clearly - a bike that has been ridden . . .

"I rode it to school. . . I rode it to everything. It was my workhorse."
. . . all with Gallagher's voiceover throughout - reminiscing about getting the bike, racing with it, enjoying it, and never wishing to part with it.

My favorite line from the film: (Gallagher looking at old race photos) "It started to become an old friend. And I don't discard my old friends, either."

As a side note, with nothing really to do with the film, I just want to add that I'm still trying to figure out how they're coming up with "90 years" of Masi. As I understand it, Faliero Masi was born in 1908 and set up his own frame shop - his own brand - sometime in the 1940s. That's way less than 90 years. He did build bikes before that, for other shops for instance, but not necessarily with the Masi brand. And it is said that he built race bikes for Fiorenzo Magni as early as 1924 -- which is actually more than 90 years. Not only that, but it seemed to me that just a few years ago, I was certain I'd read that they were getting ready to mark their 70th anniversary. So I may need to get this book just to figure out how they're doing their math.

Regardless . . . watch the film. It's only about 2½ minutes, and it's enjoyable.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bruce Gordon Retiring

Just a brief post today - I just saw news that American framebuilding legend/pioneer Bruce Gordon has announced that he's retiring from the business. As posted in his own blog, Gordon will be 69 years old next month and has decided it's time to hang it up. His business, including shop space, tools, materials, etc., is up for sale.

(from Brucegordoncycles.blogspot.com)

Gordon had developed a reputation some years back as something of a curmudgeon -- a reputation that I believe he himself was happy to propagate. Years ago, he famously made and distributed badges that read "Bruce Gordon Was Rude To Me." I never met him, so I can't say he was ever rude to me, but I'd love to have one of the buttons. But lest anyone get to thinking they had him figured out, he later ran a batch of badges that read "Bruce Gordon Was Nice To Me." There's a good story about that on the Lovely Bicycle blog.

I would recommend that people go to Gordon's blog (brucegordoncycles.blogspot.com) and scroll back through the archives. One thing I really enjoyed was a series of articles on "Bruce Gordon's Personal Bikes" which ran from Jan. 2015 through June of 2016. It's cool, and informative, and the bikes are fantastic to see. Touring bikes, mountain bikes, commuters - there's a neat variety, and I enjoyed getting his thoughts on the various bikes from different times in his career.

Wishing him the best.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I Get No Respect: The Campagnolo Velox

Cheap Campy gets no respect.

I'm not going to try to argue that Campagnolo's cheaper offerings for entry level bikes are worthy of much respect, though that's mainly because they are often such a stark contrast with the company's higher-end offerings. Compared with most of their intended price-point competition from the period (the non-Japanese competition, at least), they are realistically about "par for the course." But more than that, I simply find them rather interesting.

Probably the worst thing one can say about some of these derailleurs is that Campagnolo stubbornly made them long after there could be any possible market for them. Take a look at some of the bad and the ugly.

The Campy Sport Extra - from the 1969 catalog. It bore only minor differences with the circa '63 Nuovo Sport, which in turn, was functionally similar (but executed less attractively) to the single-pulley Sport model from as early as 1953. Single pulley derailleurs were arguably rendered obsolete by Campy's own Gran Sport in 1949, so it's incomprehensible that they themselves continued to make such things as late as this. They could only work on narrow-range freewheels of three or four cogs, and even then not very well.

The original Valentino was introduced around 1964. Shown is the Valentino Extra - from the 1969 catalog. The pulley cage seems to mimic the geometry of the Record and Nuovo Record derailleurs, while the original Valentino mimicked the geometry of the Gran Sport. Functionally they should have worked similarly to the better models, but as I understand it, the spring tension was much higher which may have kept them from shifting as nicely as their more expensive brethren. It's always struck me as unfortunate that Tullio Campagnolo chose to name such a lowly component after his own son Valentino. Was poor Valentino honored? Should we avoid drawing conclusions about that particular father/son relationship? ("Ummm. . . gee, dad . . . uhhh. . . thanks.").
The Valentino was used on a lot of entry-level 10 speeds in the late '60s and early '70s, and realistically wasn't any worse than something like the Huret Svelto or Allvit which were the main competition in the price range. Want to know the really crazy thing though? The last version of the Valentino, which was mainly unchanged except for a really goofy pulley cage design, was still in the Campy catalog as late as 1985!

Then there's this one, from my collection:
Around 1971 or '72, Campagnolo introduced the Velox which bore a lot of similarities with the Valentino models. The main differences are that the parallelogram is slightly more compact, and the pulley cage is of a different geometry (notice that the jockey pulley axis is in line with the pulley cage pivot). The Velox had a pretty chrome finish and these lovely jewel-like red bolts on the pivots, similar to those on the Gran Turismo of the same period. 

I'm not positive, but based on the prettier finish and the decorative bolts, I assume that the Velox was supposed to be a step above the Valentino (another reason to question that whole father/son thing).


The Velox wasn't a long-running model though. After only a few years, it disappeared from the catalog and was replaced by the Nuovo Gran Sport - which was based very closely on the Nuovo Record, but much less attractive.

Not to be snide, but I doubt this particular patent was one that had to be defended very vigorously.

There's the Velox with its bigger (and heavier) brother, the Gran Turismo. There's definitely a strong family resemblance. Both have very similar stamped steel parallelogram plates, the same decent chrome-plated finish, and the pretty red "C" bolts.

I enjoy derailleurs like these as fun little collectibles, but unless I was trying to put together some period-correct restoration of a bike that originally used one of these models, I think they really are best left as interesting curiosities and nothing more. I mean, at the same time that most of these things were being made and installed as OEM equipment on new factory bikes, one could just as easily have installed a SunTour derailleur with its innovative slant parallelogram design (introduced in 1964) that would work astonishingly better for less money.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bicycle Shorts: Lego Bicycle Shop

Short Films, that is. . .

Tired of hearing about "1x" drivetrains, dropper seatposts, fatbikes, mid-fat, enduro, gravel, and more? Do you even know what people are talking about when they're debating "36 vs. Pike"? Honestly, I don't. And so the short film, Lego Bike Shop, created by Devon Brown for Oxburger Studios, is a wry 2-minute comment on the current state of the bicycle industry that will appeal to any retrogrouch.

First off, understand that in the world of Lego building bricks, there is only one "bicycle." It comes in a rainbow array of colors, but they're all basically the same little bike:


The film opens on a little Lego-world bike shop, called "Chuck's" . . .


Where in walks a little hipster guy who wants a new bike . . .


The Lego hipster has done lots of reading online and is very impressed with "how far the technology's come in the past little while."
"I really think it's time for me to jump on these new trends," the guy says.
The salesman then goes on to show all the great features of the Lego bicycle, which as already mentioned, are all essentially the same.

"This one features industry-leading green color technology."
It's a real splash in the face of reality when you live in Lego world. It gets me thinking about how the magazines and industry-cheerleading websites can convince us of all the new technology that we "need" in order to enjoy riding a bike - when really, most of it just comes down to marketing hype.

It's only two minutes long, and it's good for a laugh:



Enjoy!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Michigan Steelhead Ride

This past weekend I managed to get out with my new Mercian 753 Special, just recently completed, and I got to enjoy it with a group of fellow vintage bike nuts in Michigan.

Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus Mykiss)
Dubbed the Michigan Steelhead Ride (after the popular game fish) the ride was organized by a Retrogrouch reader, Jim T., who is also a friend on the Classic Rendezvous Google Group. Although driving about four hours (from Akron, Ohio to Lansing, Mich.) is a long way to go for an informal bike ride, I'd been looking forward to getting out with some like-minded retro riders now that winter seems to have relinquished its hold on us. There wasn't a huge group to ride with - about eight guys altogether - but there were some nice bikes to enjoy and swap stories about.

The group met at a nice little café in the quiet town of Dewitt, just a few miles north of Lansing. There we had a tasty breakfast - corned beef hash seemed to be popular with the group, and the coffee was quite good. The folks at the Family Tree Café were kind enough to allow most of us to keep our cars in their small parking lot while we went for our ride.

Weather was kind to us. We had beautiful clear skies, but a bit of a chill in the air with only about 45 degrees when we were ready to depart. Almost everyone on the ride had some vintage wool to wear, but most of us also had a light shell to throw on for the first half of the ride. It was one of those mornings where it felt too warm with the shell, but too cold without. But the temps rose as the ride continued, and by the half-way point, most of us were stuffing the shells into our back pockets. I think it must have gotten into the mid 50s by the time we got to the end. Jim had named the ride Steelhead - but I joked we could have called it the "hockin' phlegm" ride since the cool air, combined with the fact that a lot of us were probably getting over colds, meant there was expectoration a'plenty. Sorry - too much info?

The roads were in decent shape, though there were stretches where winter's freeze and thaw had thrown some cracks and holes in our path. Traffic was fairly light on the whole, and the group kept a nice pace and mostly stayed together. Occasionally some show off would take off on a sprint to the top of a climb (alright, that was me), or we'd wait up at an intersection for one or two folks to catch up. Really though, it was a good group of riders. Along the route we found a little bakery that had some fantastic oatmeal raisin cookies which were worth the stop.

As mentioned, there were some cool folks on the ride, and some fun bikes to enjoy. Around the mid point we stopped for a break at a little gas station/party store (called Spagnuolo's - a name that reminded us a little of Campagnolo) and I snapped some pictures of the bikes:

Most, but not all the bikes were vintage. Those that weren't were at least "vintage inspired."

Marc I. brought this Rivendell Sam Hillborne on the ride, with wide upright bars, and a well-broken-in Brooks saddle.

Marcus H. brought a recently completed Terraferma, a very pretty randonneur-style bike. I believe he said this was one of the first rides he'd done with it. We really enjoyed his build choices, which included a cool mix of new and vintage components.

We had this one-owner Maserati with complete Campy Nuovo Record along with us.

There's my Mercian 753. Other than a short "sorting out" ride to make sure everything was adjusted properly, this was the first chance to really put it through some paces.

Jim T. brought a very sweet custom Randy Smolenski. Yes, it has modern shifters, but also has a beautiful Zeus crank, and fabulous vintage SunTour Superbe Pro brakes. Notice the rear brake mounting. Slick.

Steve C. had this vintage Frejus fixed-gear which was a real treat to see. Steve must be a pretty strong rider, as he had no trouble keeping pace despite the single speed.

Mark A. brought this vintage Torpado which had an interesting set of black-anodized 
Super Record parts on it.

We also had this one-owner Raleigh Professional from about 1977. Apart from the wheels and pedals, it appears to be mostly original.

As I mentioned, this was an inaugural ride for my new-old Mercian. I was really curious about how the bike would ride. A couple of impressions: it is stiff, and the angles are pretty steep, so it's very responsive. It does have decent compliance, but it's always been hard for me to tell if something like that is more from the frame or from the tires. I can certainly say I wouldn't want to go narrower on the tires. The tires I chose for the bike are Schwalbe One tubulars, and they are listed at 28 mm wide, but in reality they probably measure more like 26 or so, at least for now. There's plenty of clearance under the fork crown and the seatstay bridge for them, but between the chainstays, it's pretty clear I couldn't go any larger. I'll have to always make sure my wheels are nice and true.

I've also decided that the vintage Cinelli Campione del Mondo (mod. 66) bars have a really deep drop -- yes, I knew they were deep when I installed them, and I put them on because (A.) I had them available in my stash, and (B.) they seemed to fit the "theme" and "period" of the build that I was after. But in actually riding with them, I'm reminded that I'm no longer as young as I used to be, and I really just can't ride very long in that low position. I spent most of the ride up on the ramps and the lever tops. I may have to set those bars aside and put on something a little "friendlier" to my current riding requirements.

The bike got many compliments for its Emerald, Ruby, and Gold paint scheme, as well as the "like-new" Campy Super Record gruppo.

When we finished the ride, the group hung out for a while until people needed to move on for the day. A few of us stayed after and re-visited the Family Tree Café where we had either a late lunch, or an early dinner. The waitress recommended their burgers, and all of us took her advice. She was right, as the burgers were truly first-rate, as were the fries. I also got to try Bell's Oberon ale from Kalamazoo, which was a nice discovery for me, and I need to look around to see if anyone near me carries it. It was a great complement to the burger.

Eventually I needed to head home, facing another four-hour drive back to Akron. It was nice meeting some folks up in Michigan, and I had a really good time.