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Yearly Archives: 2015
I can still remember seeing Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV) for the first time when it came out. It was, without a doubt, the most amazing motion picture my young eyes had ever seen. My mom and Aunt Ann took my brothers and I. I was seven years-old.
Here we are, I’m 38 years older and I can’t wait till the crowds thin enough to see the new Force Awakens
I owned the original three on VHS tapes. Then I bought the newly remastered edition on VHS (and saw the movies in the theater as they were released). Finally, I bought the remastered DVD box set when they came out. Then I bought the next three as they came out – the Special Edition wide-screen versions.
Then, after we bought the home we live in now, I picked up a Bose 5.1 Surround Sound system so I could get the most out of my viewing experience. More than ten years old, it’s still pure movie watching perfection. The bass is sick and turning the sound up to just 50% on the race scene in A Phantom Menace shakes the house.
I can still remember forcing myself to dream about Star Wars when I was a kid, placing myself in the action…
In preparation for seeing the new movie, I’ve dug out the last six movies to watch them yet again… If it is possible to wear out a DVD just by watching it, I’ll surely know. I’ve seen the original in excess of 40 times over the years, more than that for The Empire Strikes Back (add two more to the total just this week) and the rest I’ve seen dozens of times each.
I came home early from the office, the last two days. It appears my daughter picked up some form of Ebola from school and managed to pass the gift on. This has presented an excellent opportunity to get ahead of the Star Wars game for the eventual day when we see the new one on the biggest screen in the county.
So, taking the cue from a friend who produced a similar post, I thought I’d quickly jot down my ranking for the first six:
6. Return of the Jedi: Too corny. (VI)
5. The Phantom Menace: Other than wanting to dissect Jar-Jar Binks with a lightsaber, I loved this one (especially on the home theater) (I)
4. The Attack of the Clones (II)
3. The Revenge of the Sith (III): The only part I can’t stand in this movie is when Obi Wan, talking to Padme, says “Younglings”. Should have done that take one more time, George.
2. A New Hope (IV): I have a tough time not putting this one in third, but it was an enormous part of my childhood so I’ve gotta give it its due.
1. The Empire Strikes Back (V)
A young lady, with whom I ether-chat regularly about all things bicycle, is nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of grannies on rocking chairs about working on her bike (actually this generalization applies to many women I know who ride, including my wife). Now the reasons for this fear are not genetic, I know plenty of guys who won’t work on bikes out of fear as well. After having worked through this myself, I think the fear is the problem. Fear of messing something up, fear of taking too long, fear of consternation, fear of having to take a messed up bike to the shop… Fear, fear, fear.
What to expect when you know nothing about fixing a bike.
I’ve written two lengthy series on bike repair. I’ve researched bike maintenance ad nauseam. I still run into things that confound me. Take truing a wheel for instance… I can take a mild wobble out in a few seconds but I still have to take my wheels into the shop every now and again to have them trued properly because I’m so lousy at it. The answer to this is to rent one of the mechanics at the shop for an hour or two so I can learn from one of the best. On the other hand, there are other simple items that just took taking action – simply going for it. I’ve covered all of the easy stuff in other posts (see the links above). For this post I want to explore the more important fear issues.
First things first, you need to expect to be slow. If you watch one of the mechanics adjust the index on your rear derailleur, you will notice that it takes him about ten seconds. If you try it, it could take ten minutes. My first attempt took more than an hour and I had my shifting so messed up that I almost caved and took the bike to the shop. Once I figured out the sequence of steps though, once I figured out what I was doing, that all-afternoon event took five minutes. Then three. Two… Now I’m down to ten to 30 seconds – and that drop in time comes about quickly. Adjusting the brakes on my mountain bike was another of those ridiculously simple tasks that should have taken a couple of minutes. My first attempt took about a half an hour.
Look at it this way, when you took your first high school Algebra class, did you take Algebra I or did they throw you right into Calculus? Better yet, did you start on the first chapter of that Algebra book, or half-way through the book? We all started on that first chapter, whatever math class, and we built upon that knowledge. If we’re starting from scratch, it’s going to take a minute and some messing up before we gain the knowledge needed to make this easy.
How to cheat at bicycle maintenance.
There is a cheat to bicycle maintenance, and I’m going to let you in on the secret. It’s not cheap, until you figure in the long run. I have purchased five brand new bicycles ranging in price from $600 to $3,000 from one bike shop in the last three years. I buy the bulk of my family’s cycling clothing from that shop. I’ve bought six sets of high-end clipless pedals, an amazing array of bottle cages, water bottles, chains, cassettes, tires, tubes… Folks, I made myself one of the owner’s most reliable customers. It was easy to do this, though I could have saved some money shopping online, because our families actually have a history (the owner’s brother was my gym teacher 35 years ago). Not only that, as I became more of a regular fixture at the shop, as I came to know, befriend and ride with many of the mechanics and the owner, the great service that I had received became stellar.
Being a good customer has its benefits. First, you should get preferential treatment (not because of the amount spent but because you are a good customer – very important distinction there. A pompous a-hole will be waiting two months for their bike to get fixed even if they purchased the BMC-Lamboghini hyper-bike). Also, the mechanics will often let me in the back so I can watch how they fix my bikes. This, for me, is a huge benefit, being able to see someone fix something using the proper sequence, quickly. Get to know the people at your local shop. That’s the cheat.
Know thy sequence. And bikes are not cars. They’re designed to be fixed easily.
Bicycles are not like cars, they’re designed to be fixed simply. Some fixes require special tools (or a special tool will make a repair easier) but for the most part, you can fix most bike problems with a good set of Allen wrenches and a pair of needle-nose pliers. Some maintenance can be accomplished with no tools at all, like the rear derailleur adjustment or trimming the brakes (we use barrel adjusters for both). It’s all about the sequence. Get the sequence wrong and a 20 second adjustment can take half an hour. The problem, then, is not in knowing how to adjust a derailleur, it’s knowing the sequence to that adjustment and then how to do the adjustment.
To understand sequencing a bike repair, the first thing I recommend is the Bike Repair App. The app is not free but it will save you triple the cost of the app the first time you adjust the index on your derailleur (correctly, the first time, in a matter of seconds) without having to take the bike to the shop. You get Tips and Tricks that cover everything from maintenance to safety. You get guides to work on just about anything that can go wrong on a bike, a section on What to Wear in a given weather condition or temperature and even a complete glossary. Oh, and the app’s repair guides are photographical how-to’s. You can’t go wrong with that app, well not that I’ve encountered anyway.
The “bikes are not cars” axiom doesn’t always seem so sometimes. Internal cable routing (where the bike’s cables are routed inside a frame) and rear brakes mounted under the chain stays at the bottom bracket add some interesting challenges but those challenging items are still easier than fixing a thermostat or front brakes in a car or truck. Consider, aligning a mountain bike’s hydraulic disc brakes takes seconds… less time that it takes to retrieve the floor jack from the garage. Two bolts. You loosen the bolts center the brake, you tighten the bolts. The only trick, of course, is you have to know which bolts.
If you’re overwhelmed, start easy and work up to the trickier repairs. Before you know it, you’ll be able to make your bike look like this:
…Without worrying about how you’ll get it back together. As I’ve reiterated many times before, you can’t break the bike by trying to adjust or maintain it, bad enough the shop can’t fix what you did.
The main thing is to get that awkward, slow phase out of the way as soon as possible and the only way to do that is start now. Get the app and a nail brush to get the grease out from underneath your nails and get dirty.
After all, you can’t put 6,000 miles on a bike in a year without regular adjustments and a good bit of maintenance. You almost assuredly can’t. Your bike will be in the shop all the time, waiting to be fixed.
There is one main thing I learned in 2015, better than any cycling tip related to breathing, cadence or stamina… better even than some silly tip to keep my weight where I need it to be fast up a hill. It’s better than any Endomondo (or Strava) piece of data.
I learned this year that the measure of my success in cycling is not about some silly stat or place in the field.
The measure of my success is the size of the smile on my face while I’m turning the pedals over…
And my smile has been big this year.
I didn’t care about the rest. I’m too old for that $#!+.
Of course, being fast doesn’t hurt either. 😉
Yesterday was a busy day for working on the bikes. I started off with my 3700 so I can ride in the muck with my buddy Mike without sweating whether I get it immaculately clean once every few rides.
First, this is might piss off some of the purists, and I am perfectly okay with that… My ’08 Trek came with a 25.4 mm handlebar but I didn’t like the bar or the original stem. I had to buy a new bar and stem for it shortly after I bought the bike because they moved away from the 25.4 and went with the oversized 31.8 mm bars (same with road bike bars, incidentally).
Now, I also didn’t like the stem and handlebar on my 5200 or the handlebar and stem on my ’13 Rockhopper. There was a lot of not likin’ going on, basically. Got that so far?
So here’s how this shook out… First, I upgraded my Venge’s handlebar and stem to something outrageously expensive and awesome ($450 for the bar and new stem – and I saved all of about 50 grams… chuckle). Then I took the stem off of my 3700 mountain bike (a NICE road stem) and put that on my 5200 with the old handlebar from my Venge. Then I took the old stem from the Venge and put that on my Rockhopper, but the bar on the Rockhopper, ironically, was a 25.4 so I took the Bontrager handlebar off of the 3700 and put that on the Specialized Rockhopper with the Specialized stem.
Now, I wasn’t planning on riding the 3700 much so I put the original stem back on the bike with the Specialized handlebar, the stem had quite a rise so it would be good for visitors. Got it?
Well, now you’re up to date till Friday morning.
My buddy Mike likes to muck it out now and again and my 3700 is in fantastic shape. Mike’s got an old rust bucket mount, so I figured why not ride my old one too, so he would feel out of place.
I took the original stem from my Rockhopper that I had out in my workshop and put that on the Trek:
Done. Maybe five or ten minutes. Now I’ve got a good mud bike to abuse.
While I was at it, I figured why not get my 5200 ready for paint.
That’s my Cannondale in the foreground, we’ll get to that in a minute.
I marked the seat post so I can put it back right when I get my bike back, then commenced to stripping everything down.
That last bottle cage is more than a little stuck so I figured I’d leave that for the pros. The frame is already at the shop.
That left me with a problem though. I’m not going to put the Venge on a trainer so that meant cleaning up the Cannondale. I took the 9 sp. cassette off the wheel, put the old spacer and 7 sp. cassette on, tilted the handlebar to get the angle I wanted and set the saddle to my prerequisite 36-3/8″ and all I have to do is switch out the pedals. I’m good to go.
To wrap this minor saga up, today I’ll be taking every single component apart and cleaning them as good as can be for the age of the parts. It’ll be at least a month before I get the Trek back, but I may as well get that done while I have time.
Also up for today, snow showers and 20 to 25 miles on that old mountain bike. I’ve been sick for a few days now and I’m stir crazy. I gotta ride.
This year was my first for attempting multiple day cycling tours. I did two this year, technically. A two-day in Kentucky at the Horsey Hundred and the four-day DALMAC (Lansing to Mackinaw), one in the early summer and the four-day in the late summer. They were, without a doubt, worth every penny and the effort and I can’t wait for next year where I’ll do the same two plus I’ll add a third with two separate events back to back – the One Day Ride Across Michigan and the Assenmacher 100 Pre-Ride (two days, 250 miles).
My cycling followed a progression. I started off on a mountain bike, four days a week, then five and six. Then came the road bikes. I went from 100 miles to 200 miles being a decent week over two years. Last year, 22o miles was a decent week. This year, 250 with the exception of one week – Labor Day weekend. 446 glorious miles – 385 in just four days.
I have always ridden most days of the week but only rarely would I ride two hard days in a row. By “hard”, I mean north of 19 mph average over a distance greater than 30 miles each day. Say I had a century on Sunday. I would absolutely ride on Saturday but it would be at an easy, slow pace over a short distance. Maybe 20 or 25 miles at a leisurely pace around 17-18 mph so I could save up for the big ride.
With most of the group above, our goal for DALMAC was four days, 380 miles, and an average pace north of 20 mph for the whole tour. We were only a few tenths short of that when all was said and done and we managed a 21.7 mph pace on the last, shortest day (72 miles).
The first Day’s 106 miles were pretty rough but only because we had to ride through a gnarly thunderstorm (or three). The worst, thankfully, came just five miles before lunchtime so we sat and ate through most of it. With temps in the low 90’s the rain was actually quite welcome and the only time I was cold through the whole day was when we sat down to eat. The second day was misty and quite a bit cooler (see the photo above). Humorously, I tried out one of those $30 plastic rain jackets because it was just a wee bit too cool for me, in the mid 60’s. Sadly, it wasn’t closer to freezing in that jacket. I will never use that stupid jacket again. I was sweating so much that I had to wring out my gloves to keep a grip in the drops. In fact, when I pulled that jacket out at the first stop, a couple of my buddies laughed and recommended against it. I should have heeded that advice. The second day, with 106 more miles in, we finished just under 20 mph for the day and I finished with two other friends in a breakaway that succeeded.
The third day finally brought a break in the wet riding conditions. The temperatures were quite nice, upper 70’s but under cloud cover for the first half of the day. My wife and I had everyone over for coffee the evening before and we tamped down an insurrection, the notion of shortening the third day’s route. Eventually we settled on doing the whole ride because, after all, damn the pace, we were out there to ride our bikes with our friends and it only made sense to get in every mile. In the end, we finished only slightly under the 20 mph target pace.
That third day was my toughest. While the second day had the most climbing, technically, it was only a gradual climb. Most of the time we couldn’t even tell we were ascending because the grade was so mild. Not so on day three. There were plenty of steep climbs to be dealt with. Add to that, I was getting tired. A century is an excellent feat of fitness. A century in the 5 hour range, even more so. Three in a row is a grind.
My wife and I had our friends over again that evening. After I ate my first dinner in the cafeteria, I headed back to the camper and cooked steaks for my wife and kids. I cooked enough that I needed some help from the boys to finish them off. I also spent an hour cleaning the grime off of my bike and trying to get the shifting squared away (the road grit was having a profound affect on the derailleurs, especially the rear).
The fourth day, much to my amazement, was really fast. We only had 72 miles to go, through the most beautiful scenery of the entire ride.
We finished the day strong, the last 20 miles covered in about 48 minutes (we averaged around 25 mph) and it hurt. I was dangling at the back for much of that last bit. My legs were absolutely smoked and a rarity on a shorter ride like that, I just wanted to be done.
Then came the last mile. The veterans brought us rookies up front and let us lead the group home to the finish:
That’s Ron on the outside and Eli (just 15 years old at the time).
I have ridden thousands of miles with my friends, in that last photo the guy in the orange is my buddy Mike, with whom I have logged more miles than with anyone else, including my wife. My wife and two daughters were at the finish to cheer us in. I am rarely emotional finishing a run or a ride anymore, I’ve done enough of them that it’s not that big a deal… I got a little misty after my first half-marathon, after my first metric century on a bike and after my second full century (my wife or wife and daughters were at all three – in fact, my wife was pregnant with my oldest daughter at the half marathon). For the finish of DALMAC I was definitely wellin’ up. My daughters gave me huge hugs and my wife a big, sloppy kiss and it was good.
My wife, my best friend, sacrificed her whole four-day weekend tending to me, lugging the camper around so I could have a nice, dry bed to sleep in. My kids sacrificed two days of their weekend to travel with us. My cycling friends helped pull me home and made the ride an experience not to be missed. There is something special about a group of people sharing a grueling effort like. Every ride with my friends after that, there’s been something different, better. We’re closer, laugh just a little more, we have many more stories to laugh about while we’re on a normal weekend 70 miler.
I can’t promise you as profound an experience as I enjoyed on your multi-day event but as good as it was, the benefits are worth chancing it. Find a good group, train hard, and ride that ride with a smile.
Ride hard my friends.
Hard to believe, four years of friendships, laughs, good times, noodle salad, and occasionally pissing someone off.
To those of you who have stuck around, thank you and forgive me if I come off brash at times. I’m truly working on fixing that, no blowing smoke – I know it’s a flaw.
411 Pounds Worth of Calories Burned
Intervention Do’s and Don’t – http://wp.me/p51OwE-cye
If you’re in that unenviable position of watching an addict or alcoholic wreak havoc in your life, read the post above.
And good luck. You’ll need it. We drunks spend a lot of effort to avoid reality because ours generally sucks.
That said, one way or another we have to accept truly being done. No more excuses, no more trying to be clever.