Thursday, April 19, 2018

Status Update to Juki; Coda; Self

My Fourth Sewing Machine (And Probably Not Last)

I am the proud owner of a Juki TL-2010q sewing machine. It is one of the most popular and loved sewing machines for quilting. Quiltmakers type on the internet about how much they wish they had one. I have made zero quilts so far, but I got one anyway. My recommendation to people who want one is simple: get it.

The machine is blazing fast.

That'll do. The build quality and intended purpose remind me of my 1948 Singer 201, but the Juki has some modern features that I'm glad to have. The Juki stops needle down, so you don't have to turn the flywheel by hand. The motor stops exactly when you let off the pedal - the Singer is fast, but holds momentum, meaning you let off the pedal before you need to stop, and reach up to feather the flywheel like a brake. It's a cool skill to practice, but I still prefer the Juki. I am getting more precision at a faster pace. The heel of the Juki's foot pedal has a thread cutter. The thread is cut close to the work. After cutting, the bobbin thread remains below the needle plate, and the tail on the needle thread is very short. All of this is much easier and faster than pulling the work away and trimming threads with scissors. Skilled people are a blur as they trim threads manually, and it is another impressive skill to gain. I'm still keeping the automatic thread cutter.

I've been making hundreds of lined zippered pouches using quilting cotton with fusible fleece interfacing. I started on a Brother embroidery machine, moved to my Singer 201, and used a Singer Featherweight (221) as well. The Juki combines the conveniences of the Brother with the speed and quality of the old Singer. I am still in slight disbelief that I get to use a machine like this. I am glad that I tried other machines first. Now I have a basis for comparison, and I know how great the Juki is, and why it costs more than other options. You can get a great sewing machine for under $100. I got the Juki instead. I am a satisfied customer.

I'm still not done with new sewing machines. Now I want one with a walking foot. The Juki is perfect for quilting and working with light to medium weight fabrics, but it is not the perfect machine for layers of canvas or materials as thick as leather. It also doesn't zig-zag. I want to make bicycle bags, and a walking foot machine has advantages. Overlock machines are also pretty mind-blowing, but life is long, so I can think about that later.


I made a practice handlebar bag. It's slow going, because I don't really know what I'm doing. Learning new skills goes more smoothly when you are learning from an expert and you can ask questions. I'm not there yet. I am floundering through the early stages. I am satisfied with this first attempt, but I know that I have a lot of work and skill-building ahead to achieve the level of quality and proficiency that I seek. 


The Jamis Coda Is A Frame Requesting Respect 

I am having a great experience upgrading the Jamis Coda Sport. When I pulled it out of the box, it was set up like a nerdy dad's neighborhood cruiser. Again, that is not a statement of judgement, but simply an objective fact. I have more changes to make, but I could also ride it happily forever as-is. I fixed the final piece of the three contact points: handlebars.

I installed northroad-style aluminum handlebars sold by Velo Orange as their "Tourist" handlebar. I was surprised that flat handlebars were so uncomfortable for me. But I guess that riding with northroads 99% of the time for the last decade makes a big difference in what feels comfortable. I have them set up with ergonomic grips right now, but I will set them up my personal way soon enough. I like to use standard cheap rubber grips underneath handlebar tape. I wrap the bars with handlebar tape all the way to the stem. On my Hoopty, I have two layers of tape. My hands are not small, and I like the slightly larger diameter.

Wrapping the handlebars gives two comfortable hand positions. I hold the handlebars in the curves and lean forward for an aero position, and sit up and use the grip section for cruising. Both of those options are compromised with a flat bar. Long live northroads! More options than ever exist, and I am glad that this shape of handlebar is going so strong these days. The Velo Orange Tourist has my favorite bend angle and rise, and looks most similar to the handlebars on old 3 Speeds. The Jamis Coda now feels comfortable, lively, capable, and fast.


My Mental State

I'll always be fine. I'd prefer to be better than just "fine" and sometimes that happens too. I am resilient. I feel like I'm in a transitional state. It's a feeling that I'm familiar with. This time it has become uncomfortable, and I've been having panic attacks. Sometimes I feel like I am watching myself from a distance instead of occupying a connected body and mind. I don't like that feeling. I often get the eerie sensation that I have lost contact with reality, and I am not able to access a reference for what is normal or what feels normal. I can use logic to conclude that none of this matters, and life is on track. I am learning more than ever that logical reasoning and all of the components of a great life do not assure wellbeing. It is still possible to have erratic emotions which elude your control, and cause you to feel all sorts of ways. The feelings are coming in waves, and I'm doing my best. Mostly I am afloat. I am adrift, but afloat, and alive is enough. I can wait for alive to be great.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jamis Coda Sport: Improvements Begin

And then the sun came out, and I rode my new bicycle fast. I gave the mental finger to difficulty, enjoyed a large coffee, and turned a radio up to 40, which was loud. I stopped off to get some nitrile coated gloves, because I am working at the bicycle shop this weekend, and I don't want to get grease under my beautiful fingernails.

This wasn't exactly the tone I was trying to set for turning this blog into a bicycle blog, shrug shrug shrug, lemme do this.

Jamis Coda Sport Update: Improvements Begin

I was going to put some more miles on the Jamis before changing it all around. But I couldn't wait. I got the gist of what I was looking for, and going putt putt putt on a bicycle set up for grandpa seemed like a pointless exercise. That didn't sound nice. Again: It's a wonderful bicycle for its intended purpose - going slow and not far on a comfortable and reliable machine.

Now to think about it as a frame, and set that frame up for me...

The first move was to lower the handlebars to about level with the saddle, maybe a hair below. The saddle, tires, and pedals were the first parts to go. I also replaced the cranks. I went for a ride intending to go easy and set a baseline on my usual loop. That plan fell apart quickly, and I nearly ended up with a personal best.

Handlebars: They still need to go. I've lowered them and installed a longer stem. I'll be putting on my preferred Northroad style handlebars at my earliest possible convenience. I'm surprised how much I don't like the flat handlebars. I expected them to be no big deal. My hands went numb in spite of the big ergonomic grips. It didn't make much sense, but they've gonna go anyway.

Saddle: I had a Brooks B17 on another bicycle. The Jamis is borrowing it until we get settled.

Pedals: My friend gave me some colorful "Thermalite" platform pedals as a gift. I am a colorful person who loves bright colors, but I would not have chosen these pedals for myself. I am glad she chose them for me, because now I like them very much.

Tires: I had 700x35c Panaracer Pasela tires on my 3 Speed road bicycle. They barely fit between the chainstays - there was less than a millimeter per side to spare. I made a trade: The Jamis gets the wider Paselas, and the road frame gets the 32c Vittoria Randonneurs.

Crankset: When I go to bicycle swap meets, I walk away with incredible bargains. Among my personal scores in waiting, I had a Shimano XT mountain crankset with no visible signs of being ridden. The model is FC-M730, meaning it was made between 1990-1993. The chainrings are Biopace in 50/38/28. No subsequent design changes cooked up by the bicycle industry have resulted in cranks that are better than these. If there was only one crankset forever, for me this would be it.

The XT cranks introduced two differences for me to examine: Biopace chainrings, and improved q-factor. I wasn't excited about the elliptically-shaped Biopace rings - but they looked brand new, the tooth count was perfect, and they were already installed on the cranks. So I gave them a try. The most surprising thing about them is that I couldn't feel any difference. I like them. They feel like normal chainrings. The 50 tooth big ring and wide 700c tires allowed me to go faster than I am used to before spinning out.

The q-factor of the Jamis's cheap Shimano cranks was wide at 185mm. The XT cranks brought that down to a not-particularly-narrow but still respectable 162mm. I don't know if I can feel the difference, or if psychologically I hate the original clunky looking cranks, and love the Shimano XTs. I tend to doubt most people could tell a difference. Still, I will obviously be keeping the XT cranks on there. They are better in every possible way.




Indexed Shifters: The Jamis comes with trigger shifters. Indexed front shifters can be a pain to set up. I don't mind having clicks for the back. I'm a friction shifting devotee, but an indexed rear is easy to set up, and gives fast and accurate shifting. The front is another matter. Getting the front adjusted to work in all of the sensible gear combinations without the chain rubbing on the derailleur - is annoying. I can do it, but it isn't as easy as it should be. I might keep the 8spd shifter around for awhile, but I don't think the left one will be with us long.

Note about wheels: I didn't stress relieve the wheels when I built up the Jamis. I trued them close enough, and made sure no spokes were obviously loose. I did this because I knew I could work on them later at any time. I wanted to approximate the attention to detail of a less-than-stellar mechanic at a typical average shop. I believe that steps should be taken to achieve a high quality of excellence with every bicycle build. We might as well take a little bit more time and be proud. Where to draw that line is a personal decision to be made by the lead mechanic or owner of a shop. Not greasing the seatpost should be punished by death, but there are gray areas to be found, and I also think some shops go a little over the top. Stress relieving wheels on box builds is something that a lot of shops probably neglect. I neglected it myself as an experiment, and soon enough the rear wheel went out of true and started to hit the brake pad.

Mechanics: Stress relieving and tensioning wheels on box builds should be routine. Shops: if you are skipping this step, you are not a good shop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The shit that we self medicate from

The whole 100-miles-per-week bicycling plan seems to be on hold. Most aspects of life beyond bicycles are also on hold. The real challenge is to accept this fact and be at peace with the reality that I am not good at getting shit done. For a time I can, and then that comes apart. The challenge is to accept this and never give up. Or to rebuild again after the times when I do give up...

Goddamnit. I'll try to write about my feelings in a way that makes sense. I feel like I started with a weird delicate brain, and then I kicked it around with many years of alcohol, and sometimes I quit, and when I quit I'm left with a weird brain that I am forced to deal with. The brain has some cool tricks, but not the kind that are doing me many favors. In spite of feeling this way, I still consider myself lucky, which causes me to feel like my difficulties are not valid. I should bottle it up and move on in a stoic manner, like the man I never signed up to be. Meanwhile there is part of me that is full of aspirations and good ideas that I feel absolutely powerless to bring to fruition. I need help I need help I need help.

Living in a van, and traveling from place to place, and drinking every day is a distraction. When I try to stop doing those things, I am left with an uncomfortable vacuum. Life is meaningless and long, and stupid drone humans and systems of idiots keep forcing me to perform tasks that I hate. I reason with myself that I ought to choose between accepting the status quo personally, or else try to drop out of society more completely.

I am better than I have been at times, but my head feels kinda fucked up right now. Not that anybody can tell the difference, and not that I've tried on other people's heads.

I still have unexplored options to improve my life [aka hope]. I can improve my diet and explore natural herbs and remedies. I can meditate more. The fact is that improvement is a fierce struggle. Distractions like travel and anything exercise related can be good to a point, but the benefits come apart when I can't figure out who I am or what I want, and I use bandages to cover it up.

Being sober doesn't help a fucking thing, but it does feel novel at first, and is a good choice from a long-term cognitive and medical standpoint. The novelty wore off, and I'm still no superman. I know these feelings will pass, but in the mean time I wish they'd hurry the fuck up about it.

TL/DR: GRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Campagnolo Launches 12-Speed Road Groups

I got the official announcement in my Instagram feed:

Asks @glory_cycles "What do you think about it?"

- Planned obsolescence is an understood concept, yet people continue to pay for this stuff.

- Humans are basically programmed to be kinda dumb, and there is a lot of money to be made by exploiting that.

- Campagnolo ran out of ideas, and the results of that are hilarious.

- People who buy this deserve less money.

- As an investor in the stock market, I profit from an expanding economy, and part of that strategy requires me to shrug and go along with this stuff.

- Everybody is entitled to love bicycles in their own way, so screw it, I'll just click the heart.

Friday, April 6, 2018

2017 Jamis Coda Sport vs. Rivendell Sam Hillborne

In this series I will be comparing three bicycles which are designed and built for functional do-everything riding. If you have been following for any amount of time, you will know my Diamondback Outlook, "the Hoopty." If not, here it goes: I rode it across the country, I love it, it is awesome, blah blah etc. I will be comparing the Outlook to two currently-made options which are made for a similar purpose. The Jamis Coda Sport retails for $529, and the Rivendell Sam Hillborne goes for $1400 as a frame. I will try to be fair in my testing. The findings will not be scientific (no wind tunnels). The point is to compare bicycles which are similar in function, but have a vastly dissimilar price. How much does it matter? "Some" or "a lot" or "not really at all."

The Jamis Coda is designed, marketed, and sold as a good option for a beginner. But an examination of the spec sheet suggests that it is capable of being much more. To me it looks like an ideal daily commuter, and an appropriate choice for a long loaded tour. I'm not convinced that bicycles costing four times as much, and designed for comfort and utility, offer any true gains in performance or satisfaction while turning the pedals. I am willing to be wrong, but not without examination. That is what I am aiming to do.

My 2017 Jamis Coda Sport has been built and is being ridden. The first comparison will be between the box-fresh Jamis Coda and my long-loved Diamondback Outlook. I will try to remain objective during this phase, as I compare my best friend to a stranger. So far, in my subjective opinion, the Outlook is in the lead. In spite of a low-end hi-tensile steel frame, and a road weight of forty pounds, I still like it better. According to Strava, I am actually faster on the Outlook. I expect my opinion to shift as I get more familiar with the Jamis, once I dial it in with a sportier and more familiar position. The Jamis feels like it has the capacity and desire for swift fun, but not straight out of the box while it's built like a standard hybrid. I'll report back after some changes are made.

2017 double-butted chromoly frame versus sporting goods clunker from 1997? The Jamis better feel good once set up correctly, or else many of my beliefs about life will be shattered. (Sorry, my Outlook, but you know what you are. You will always have a place in my heart and my stable.)

For the second phase of testing, I will compare the Jamis Coda Sport to a Rivendell Sam Hillborne. The nature of this test will hinge upon the willingness of Rivendell to send me a Sam Hillborne for side-by-side testing. In the absence of an actual Rivendell, I will do an in-depth comparison of the spec sheets. This type of comparison isn't likely to bode well for the Rivendell, since the Coda Sport is also a butted chromoly frame, and the geometry doesn't look like a whole heap of difference. (Bottom bracket drop notwithstanding.)

It would be forgivable to think that comparing a Jamis to a Rivendell doesn't make sense. Let me explain why it does. By their nature, bicycles are simple machines, which have been refined for over a century. Both of these bicycles use double butted chromoly tubes. Both are designed for strength and comfort over the same exact types of terrain. What then, if any, are the actual results when it comes to turning the pedals?

When I consider any purchase, especially one for more than $20, I try to remove emotion from the equation. I try to be honest with myself about whether a new item or upgrade is likely to provide quantitative or qualitative benefits. Studies have shown, and my experience has borne out, that the things that we want don't make us any happier in the long term after we have them.

What I seek to find out is whether buying a Rivendell is like buying a beautiful print from an artist who you love - or is there a component of function beyond the lugs and paint? Many people place a high value on style, which is perfectly okay, but I don't. Also: supporting a company like Rivendell - an ethical business, promoting a pure love of cycling, and a steadfast champion of sensible design - is a good which I would never argue against.

With that said, is a Rivendell just a small-batch Jamis Coda with lugs? Feel free to discuss this, or shoot me for asking.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Jamis Coda Sport: Nice Frame Disguised in Cheap Parts?

I bought a 2017 Jamis Coda Sport to see if it would be fun to ride a new bicycle. Most bicycles that I own or admire are at least a couple decades old. I wanted to see if simple and reliable "classic style" bicycles are still being made at a price that ordinary people are willing to pay. For as long as I have been a bicycle mechanic, I have kept an eye on Jamis's Coda series. They appear to be well-designed bicycles for everyday riding and touring on a budget. I bought one to see for myself.

There are two ways to look at the Jamis: As a good choice for entry-level cycling, or as a nice frame disguised in cheap parts. 

Jamis Coda as a  Bicycle

For the customer who wants a high quality, low maintenance bicycle, it is my opinion that the Jamis Coda series is hard to beat. I think the Coda Sport hits the sweet spot between quality and price. You get an upright riding position out of the box, which most people purchasing a hybrid bicycle will appreciate. All of the components are simple and easy to tune, so long intervals of worry-free riding can be expected.

Jamis Coda as a Frame

When I look at the Coda Sport, I see a well designed double butted chromoly frame. I see standard diameter tubing, which will absorb road vibration. I see room for wide tires, lots of bosses for racks and fenders, and a frame that will take cantilever brakes. In short, I see a frame that has all of the functional elements of other frames costing four times more than the Coda retails for as a complete bicycle. So I bought one to evaluate. I hope that my theory is true. 

First Impressions

Before changing all the components, I want to get an opinion of the Jamis built up as most customers will experience it. I've ridden about thirty miles on the Coda Sport so far. I built it up from the box exactly like an average stock floor model. I am 6 feet tall, and I chose a 21" frame. With the tall stack of headset spacers, and the threadless stem in the upward position, the handlebars are as high as I can imagine anybody wanting. For somebody new to cycling, or somebody who will not ride up hills or go long distances, this will feel stable and comfortable. I enjoyed it myself while the road was flat, but my usual rides include hills. I am used to standing and pulling up on the handlebars to force power down to the pedals. With high handlebars, I had to sit down and choose a much lower gear. I was worn out after my 20 mile loop. My average speed was slower, even though the Coda Sport is fifteen pounds lighter than my usual bicycle.

In addition to fit, let me talk about the components. Everything that comes on the Coda Sport is solidly adequate equipment. I like the shifters and the derailleurs. I don't like the cranks, but they don't particularly offend me. They feel wide and look clunky. They operate fine, and most people won't be bothered, and frankly I don't think there are any better options possible in this price range. The handlebars have a slight curve, which is a fine choice, but they are not my personal preference. The rims and hubs are good average quality and should last a long time. Unlike the base model Coda, the Sport uses a cassette hub, which is a meaningful upgrade over the freewheel hub on the lower model. The Sport model also features a threadless stem versus the quill stem on the base model. Both stems work fine, one is not better than the other - but the threadless stem is the modern standard, and finding replacement stems for the purpose of sizing will be easier at most bicycle shops. 

I am happy that I took the time to get to know this bicycle in its original configuration. But I am not looking for a stock hybrid. I am looking for a frame that is secretly capable of more than it is marketed as. My theory is that with some changes to the components and riding position, I will have a fast touring bicycle which is fun to ride long distances in a spirited manner. I want an inexpensive frame that doesn't look flashy, but has every functional aspect of bicycles which are. Finding that balance is the part of this test that I'm looking forward to the most.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Nutrition for Cyclists (and Winners at Life)

This article is a fresh take on the subject of nutrition for the high-performance cyclist. This is a topic which (I assume) has been covered many times before on other [more reputable] cycling blogs. Everybody is asking [premise]: what can you consume to maximize and optimize your power output for a century ride or a long day of touring on your Brooks Flyer or B17? When you strip away the science and marketing, you are left with what I can share. I may not be the most reliable resource, but then again, maybe I am. I have ridden a bicycle far and survived, and that qualifies me better than some. Now that I have your confidence, let me boldly continue. 

In this article, I will be breaking down everything I know about nutrition sources, relating specifically to what they have done for me. Feel free to comment with your own go-to cycling foods. I will write the top picks on a scrap of paper, and flush it down the toilet. This is about me.

Three Suggestions To Enable Your Ride

Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches: The Low-Budget Heavyweight Contender

These are likely the perfect bicycle fuel. There are only three ingredients, which last practically forever in all conditions, and you can assemble them with a spoon. I once rode across the USA. (Ask me about it, I won't shut up.) Before I even reached the Mississippi, I'd blown half of my budget on bars, and the inevitable greasy breakfasts at diners which followed, because I'd been up late at a bar. My recommendation for solo cyclotourists is to skip the bar and drink in the woods. Or skip alcohol altogether (which is my current journey) and constrain yourself to the fact that you will sometimes feel alone in the world, and the bar almost never does you any favors. Counter examples tend to be outliers, and on the balance, I think I'd be a better person if I'd skipped the bar almost every time. By the absolute worst case measurements, I'd be roughly exactly the same.

Somewhat as a matter of necessity, I got intimately familiar with PB&J. I woke up halfway inside my tent, and made the mistake of examining my expenses. The need for a course correction was clear. If I was to dip my wheel in the Pacific Ocean, and still have enough money to fly home, I would need to limit my spending. After some consideration, I decided to challenge myself to spending only $5 per day. I made rules: I could use the food I was already carrying. Indeed, I could still drink booze, but only if it fit in the budget (which it obviously would not.) Thirdly, the budget was cumulative, so if I spent zero dollars one day, the the next I could spend $10. I could save, but I could not borrow from the future.

I went to a grocery store and got cheap bread and jelly. There were not many options that would allow me to succeed with the challenge. I had a jar of peanut butter to get me started on the right foot. I remember running out of peanut butter (which happened a lot) and finding that a $3 jar would put me close to breaking the budget. Later that day, I passed a discount grocery store, and they were blowing out Jif for a dollar. I was proud of myself for waiting - I celebrated with a fifty-cent ice cream.

I adopted a new routine. Each morning, I would wake up on whatever earth I'd found to camp on for free, and I would ride until I found a picnic table or flat surface on which I could sit and lay bread. I would spread out bread on a plastic shopping bag, maybe 8-10 slices, and I would make sandwiches in bulk assembly-line fashion. I stacked the sandwiches in a bread bag, except for one, which I would eat with my instant morning coffee. I never got tired of eating PBJs. They were a perfect gauge of hunger as well as source of power: When I didn't feel like eating one, I probably didn't need it, but when they called my name, I absolutely did. I loved looking forward to a PBJ at the top of long climbs. The variety of jams and different types of bread were enough to keep things interesting - and make me feel like a king.

I arrived at PBJs from the angle of budget restriction, but I have returned to them in times of financial stability. These sandwiches are a nearly perfect source of safe and predictable energy.


Quinoa and Lentils: a Taco-Like Food

I eat quinoa with lentils multiple times per week while traveling. They are easy, and impossible to mess up. As a meal, they have all of the characteristics of an excellent travel food: simple and predictable to digest, and portions are infinitely adjustable. I stumbled upon this food-source, because I was desperate to exit the unending cycle of getting hungry enough to not care how much I spent on the closest prepared food I could find.

When I am not particularly active, this is how I prepare it, and I double the recipe when I want more. (For additional ultralight hobo cred, my measuring device is an empty vienna sausage tin. An official half-cup measuring device also works fine).
1/2 cup of quinoa and red lentils. Roughly half and half, maybe slightly more quinoa. Red lentils cook faster, and by using this method they become mush. 
1 cup of water. (Or two parts water for every one part quinoa & lentils.) 
Boil and/or simmer it on a camp stove. No need to think - it's done when the water is absorbed.
I let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then I smear it on tortillas, and eat. If I think I need more calories, I stir in olive oil. I season the individual servings with salt and hot sauce in order to maintain maximum flavor control. Leftovers can be left in an unsealed cooking pot, and be safely reheated with a shot of olive oil and eaten up to 48 hours later. Don't sue me if you die, but I've done that dozens of times. This food, obviously, is a versatile platform to which other ingredients can be added - steamed vegetables, melted cheese, or eggs to name a few.


Oats: You Don't Need to Cook Them

I choose quick rolled oats because they are easier to work with, and I cannot convince myself that there is a meaningful difference between various varieties of oats. I ingest oats by stirring them into a cup of yogurt. I stir in as many oats as I can fit, and add more oats as I eat. I add oats right up to the point where the resulting paste approaches noticeably dry. If the yogurt is plain, honey makes it better, but I tend to stick with delicious flavors. Milk also works for soaking up oats. I no longer cook oats, because I'm never impressed with the results. This method works better for me.

The downside to yogurt is that it needs to be refrigerated. I eat my oats and yogurt on a bench out in front of a grocery store - preferably with instant coffee while charging my phone.


Additional Notes To Consider

Instant Coffee: Stop Your Froufrou Buffoonery

People get overly emotional about coffee. If you can learn to enjoy instant coffee while traveling, you will have a much simpler life. The best solution, of course, is to give up coffee altogether - but switching to instant is great in the meantime. When I drink brewed coffee, I tend to add cream and sugar, but when the coffee is instant, I prefer it simple and black. The point (for me) is to simplify while maintaining a ritual, and I like the ritual of boiling water as I wake up.

I usually use Nescafe, because it is widely available. Trader Joe's brand is my favorite, while living in a van, but the size of the jar is not cyclotourist-friendly. Any Latin American brand tends to be good, so yellow packaging signals a win. I'll be the first to admit that not all instant coffee is equal: I've had some that was frankly undrinkable, while others I truly enjoy. I developed a sensory association between instant coffee and travel, so if it's an acquired taste, I have it. It reminds me of feeling free.


Goo Packets: A Fascinating Trend

Levi Leipheimer's brother once gave me a huckleberry-flavored Goo packet as a gesture of goodwill. I'd never tried one before. I waited until I was good and bonked-out to try it, and I can't report that it helped very much. PBJ continued as my go-to solution.


Spaghetti: A Convenient Alternative to Eating a Horse

Pasta might be the ultimate solution when you are hungry as hell, and you are in the mood for endless portions of food. Pasta is a perfect platform for adding copious amounts of olive oil and salt. Olive oil has lots of clean-burning calories, and when you've been sweating all day, your body will be craving the salt.

...That sums up almost everything I know about food, except for vegetables and fruit. I have a simple rule when it comes to fruit and vegetables, and it goes "try to eat more when you can." I hope you've enjoyed this article, and perhaps even gained an actionable hint. While there was a lack of supporting science, and there were no quotes from coaches, I believe the information is close enough to the mark. After all, this is merely some dude's bicycle blog, but he is a happy 35-year-old: he has made it this far. There is likely far worse information circulating, and that's where I feel comfortable setting the bar.

If you found this article useful, then give it a thumbs up (?) You can print this page by clicking the printer icon (?) and wear the page around your wrist like a bracelet.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday Headlines for April 2, 2018

I'm Writing a Bicycle Blog Now

The past handful of bicycle related posts are the beginning of a new trend. I am in the process of moving to 3SPD.com - I've owned the domain for a couple years. I'm still sorting out what that will look like, but more blogging will continue there. I might continue the 721pm blog sporadically, but let's face it, I haven't been able to remain consistent here for years. I want to write, and sharing my passion for bicycles seems like an obvious place to begin.

Three Speed Tour 2018: May 12 - 13th

I am a registered participant in the 2018 edition of the Lake Pepin 3 Speed Tour. If you haven't heard of this, more information is at 3speedtour.com. The gist is that people gather in Minnesota to ride old English 3 speeds around a lake, and brew tea, and eat pastries. (There seems to be an emphasis on pastries, and that puts me at ease.)

I've already paid the $65 registration fee, so now I am compelled to finally overhaul my 1940's Rudge Sports. My best 3 speed bicycle is still in "barn find" mode, exactly how I purchased it several years ago at a swap meet. It will clean up beautifully, and I have exactly the right tools and experience to do it, so That Will Happen Soon!

The event is May 12-13th. I am driving Hotel Sienna out there to save on lodging, and maximize every aspect of personal comfort. Consider joining me! If you have an old 3 speed, and you can get to Minnesota, then you should strongly consider meeting me out there.

Great Allegheny Passage / C&O Canal Mini-Tour 2018: May 28th - June 3rd

I am assembling a group for a week-long passage of the GAP/C&O trail from May 28 - June 3. We will ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. Everybody is welcome to join. A group of probably 5-10 people will be traveling by rented or borrowed vehicle from Philadelphia, to the start in Pittsburgh where the three rivers converge downtown. Each day will cover roughly 50 miles, with the first and last days being shorter. From D.C. there will be transportation back to Philly.

There will not be any support for the ride, other than transportation to starting point, and back to Philadelphia from D.C. Each rider will need a bicycle that can carry camping gear, and there will be no formal meal planning. There are plenty of food options along the trail. The pace will be up to the individual, and we will meet at a defined location at the end of each day to cook and camp and hang out. There are no cars the entire way, and the route is predominantly flat. This is bicycle touring heaven.

UPCOMING: Jamis Coda Sport Review:

I've always been a fan of simple bicycles which are capable of far more than conventional wisdom would seem to suggest. The Jamis Coda is a steel hybrid bicycle that was introduced in 1991, and is still available as a steel hybrid bicycle being produced today. I will be road testing the 2017 Coda Sport in an effort to prove my thesis that a steel hybrid bicycle is a good choice for riding on roads, and is equally capable on a multi-day tour. So yes, there would seem to be a tendency toward confirmation bias in this test. I'll be reviewing a bicycle that I very much want to like.

The utility and comfort of a chromoly steel hybrid bicycle is something that would seem to hardly need proving. Yet, in a landscape where the marginal gains of ever-lighter, more complicated, and expensive tech is pushed by the industry every single year, there might be value in reassessing the basic fundamentals that make a bicycle fun to ride. I am not setting out to make a case against road bicycles or modern mountain bicycles. (I think they are also cool.) My aim is to review a product that appears to have everything most people could want in a well-loved long-lasting bicycle, while more expensive and complicated options might offer less satisfaction along with increased cost.

I will try to make a fair assessment, but realistically this might devolve into prematurely swapping out parts, becoming distracted, and continuing to ride my Hoopty as always. I can't wait to find out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Jerry and the Shopping Cart Folks

There was some lady and some dude pushing a shopping cart down the C&O Canal towpath. The path is all dirt and rocks. They looked to be about mid-50s and miserable. Their mission was not what they'd predicted. They had camping gear, or what I assume was supposed to be camping gear, and they were full of complaints. I was resting on top of a picnic table, and I could hear the rattle of the cart approaching from a mile away. I was disappointed that I couldn't overhear more of their conversation. I wasn't able to piece much together from the gripes.

When you travel by bicycle, you are invited to experience a reality which is altered. I would argue that it is a better reality, and one far more truthful and interesting than the one that most of us are raised to accept. From what I was able to gather, the couple with the shopping cart had cooked up a mission, gone on TV to harp about something they wanted to prove, and had only that day realized how much it sucks to push a shopping cart on a dirt and gravel path. As it turned out, we ended up camping at the same place, but I didn't ask any questions. The tension between them was obvious, and I concluded that they might want a break from talking about the shopping cart. I was riding with my good friend Jonas for the week, and as luck would have it, we encountered somebody else who was more than willing to talk.

I arrived at the camping spot slightly before Jonas. The day had been a scorcher, and as the sun faded lower in the sky, I picked my way along some small paths to swim and rinse off in the Potomac. As I returned to camp feeling refreshed, I could hear the smug assertions of a stranger, and I knew that Jonas would not mind having some help talking to this guy. We forgot his name, but we refer to him as Jerry. As you make his acquaintance, many questions are raised, but they all ultimately lead to exhaustion and shrugs.

One moment Jerry would seem to be passably rational, and the next moment he would share a blatant fabrication, which for the sake of social expedience, we were forced to pretend to believe. Jerry was also a conspiracy theorist. None of this should have been a surprise when considering his method of travel. I've met this same personality type many times before, but usually there is far more drinking involved, and hallucinogens would not be out of the question. We all share a planet, but not a reality. I am comfortable with this, because I recognize my own perception of reality as somewhat off center. But I have always maintained what could be thought of as a hotline which puts me in touch with various versions of commonly accepted realities, and allows me to communicate comfortably with most sorts of folks. Probably. This has made me feel like a phony without a true and authentic self, but as I've gotten older I've found increasing peace with the universe. I have been lucky to find other humans with an essence that I can connect with. Finding deeper connection is fleeting and rare. I have a lot more to say about this, but that isn't the story I'm telling right now.

Jerry had a huge canvas pack, and he was headed west. He was walking the whole way, and sleeping wherever he ended up as the sun was setting. He had a high opinion of himself. He handed out wisdom and advice from a throne woven of delusions. He was keeping a low profile, because he believed that the government was turning Walmarts into concentration camps for the homeless, and he seemed to believe there was a lot of killing going on. This didn't seem to dampen his spirits, or turn him overly paranoid. Jerry just kept on walking. I saw the bottom of his foot, and it looked like it had been filleted with a knife.

Jerry once had a million dollars, and he gave it all away. That claim was really the frosting on the cake. He said that, and he had about forty pounds of lighters and knives. Jonas offered him some hard gourmet cheese, and he accepted it with learned and appropriate social grace. I didn't dislike Jerry, but after an hour, enough was enough. He is a perfect example of a type of person who I find fascinating, because I can't piece together the variables that make him tick. As dim became dusk, Jerry retired with his pack to sleep closer to the shopping cart couple. Jonas and I set up tents on higher ground. We both had all of the skin on our feet, and our wheels were attached to bicycles, and because of that, we were kings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Volunteering at the Bicycle Co-Op in Austin

Bicycle co-ops are places full of parts bins. There are enough parts to keep the Right Bicycle going for life. If you are running 8 speed cassettes, friction shifters, and long-wear tires, this is your place. If you have a steel frame, platform pedals, and flat handlebars, you are especially in luck. Bins and milk crates overflow with every conceivable part that you will need to keep the Right Bicycle running. Sometimes the co-ops are reasonably well organized. There will be a drawer for cup-and-cone bottom bracket spindles. Checked and trued wheels will be hanging above your head. It is beautiful when it isn't totally overwhelming. During open shop times the straightforward can give way to surreal.

I like to help people fix bicycles. I enjoy it enough to do it for free sometimes. I have volunteered at a few different co-ops, but it doesn't happen often. I am considering increasing the amount that I'm willing to help. I was in Austin without any pressing matters on my schedule, so I decided to show up at the Yellow Bike Project to see if I could assist. I showed up for two shifts that week, and it was better than anything else I was doing.

I told them I was a mechanic, but since nobody personally knew me, and insane people barge into bicycle co-ops as a matter of course, I was asked to sort tires. I know this is considered by some to be an unskilled task of drudgery, but I could also see vast opportunity for improvements. There was a huge pile to be sorted, and the storage area was already overflowing with every common size. I got to work. There wasn't enough space for everything, so the first objective was to figure out what was unquestionably trash. I put those in a pile for recycling. I started conservatively, so as not to offend anybody, but soon enough it became clear that they would trust my judgement. Cool. A lot of those tires had no business on any bicycle ever again. Simple fact. The tire racks had more tires that did not pass the "should ever be used" test, so the worst offenders were tossed. Tires don't stay in nice rows like books on a shelf. When people take one down, then try to put it back, knobs and friction push the other tires all over the place. After a few hundred rounds of this, there are tires pushed and folded everywhere. I fixed it. For each section, I wrapped my arms through all of the tires, placed them all on the ground, and then replaced them in neat rows to get messed up again. Some of the tires still had tubes in them. Nope - used tubes go over there. In about 40 minutes, I had those tires looking good. Not excellent - but it was an improvement to be proud of. Then I was promoted (by wandering away from the tires) to helping a guy who was there to fix a bicycle.

Some guy in a Yeti hat (coolers, not bikes) was trying to get an old Fuji to roll. This is what happens every day at a bicycle co-op. Ostensibly this is the whole point, but all projects are not created equal, and in spite of conventional logic, some bicycles should be taken to a shop. What looks like a reasonable frame, and appears to be an easy project, often has its tentacles far deeper in a pit of madness than even seems possible at first glance. Parts have already been disassembled, for unclear purposes, and the smallest seemingly insignificant parts have been misplaced, and thus must be replaced from drawers and buckets of similar, but not exactly identical parts, hoarded in the bins and drawers of the co-op. Let's get to work. He needed cones, spacers, and bearings for a rear freewheel hub. I couldn't give it a spin, but it appeared that the wheel was otherwise in good shape. I dunno man... at a bicycle shop, it would be new wheel time. At a co-op, the trend is to mend and make do. In theory, I wholeheartedly support this. But after about 15 minutes, I was ready to roll that wheel under a train.

Stupid Fuji. I didn't like it much anymore. If it was mine, no problem. But in this scenario, I wouldn't have minded watching it go right under a train. Rather than digging in a five gallon bucket of variously-threaded cones and guesswork, using a donor hub would be the expedient move - find the same hub in a huge bin of hubs, and transfer the axle, cones, bearings, and spacers to the hub built into the wheel of the Fuji. It was a Sunshine freewheel hub. There should be a million of them. The bins of hubs contained every conceivable minor hub variation, none of them the exact same thing.

About helping: I should note that it is generally the policy of a co-op to take a "hands off" approach to helping with tools. It is up to the customer(?) to handle all of the tools, and perform all of the repairs using only verbal instruction and miming from the facilitator (me.) However, in practice, that is a difficult rule to adhere to. Sometimes there are fine adjustments to be made. This rule does not factor in people with absolutely no concept of finesse, be it mechanically or as a matter of personality. I was ready to move this project along. Marginal improvements were made over the course of an hour. We fooled around endlessly on a bicycle that still left without a front brake. It was important to get the bicycle to roll, and I suppose stopping it could be figured out on the road. I assume that the bicycle will forever remain in the form of a comprehensive punch list of glaring safety concerns, rendered in steel and tape. I made him promise to address the brake issue, and then I washed my hands with Gojo. I used the remaining time to make chit-chat with a girl in a coonskin cap.

I returned to Open Shop Hours two days later, and had a far more rewarding experience. In order to maximize my usefulness, I decided to get a bicycle ready to sell, so Yellow Bike could make some money. The co-op doesn't exactly strike me as a cash cow, which of course is not the point, but I reasoned that selling a bicycle never hurts, and everybody can use some money for something. I put one of the partially completed project bicycles in a stand, and got to work on tuning it up in a swift and efficient manner. After about ten minutes I got sidetracked by an eleven-year-old with a hub issue at a nearby stand. I spent the following two and a half hours showing him how to fix bicycles. That turned out to be way more fun. If volunteering at a co-op was like that every time, I'd spend a lot more time helping out.

This kid was smart: he didn't have experience fixing bicycles, but he understood all new concepts instantly. He had natural tool intelligence, and was able to visualize basic hands-on physics better than lots of adults I've met. He was curious. Every step of the way, he was eager to learn. He was there with his mom so he could learn how to repair something mechanical. He would be excited to see how anything goes together. Bicycles just happen to be easy to get your hands on. He builds model airplanes at home. So mom took him to Open Shop and they each picked a bicycle to work on. This kid's bicycle was a perfect platform for learning. Every single thing on it needed a little bit of adjustment and help.

I showed him how to fix many things, and some of the repairs might be of practical use for his own bike. We started with overhauling a cassette hub, which is a weird place to begin, since I was later surprised to learn that he had not yet repaired a flat tire. (We did that too.) Truing a wheel is considered a little bit advanced, but I explained everything I knew, and he was able to true the front wheel with the only guidance being my confirmation that he was doing everything exactly correct. We stuck to the "hands off" tool rule, and he did everything himself. A few times, I had to step in to demonstrate the best way to get leverage, but then I undid that step so he could do all the work himself. He nailed the bearing adjustment on the cassette hub, and trued wheels in a stand and on the bicycle itself. I was impressed, and I let him know it. It was cool that I didn't have to dumb anything down. I could speak to him like a peer.

When it was time to clean up the shop, his mom thanked me for spending so much time with her kid, and said she hoped it didn't stop me from what I was working on. Ha! I told her I was having fun, and it was exactly what I was there for. Then I said goodbye to my friend, who I assume will master life by the age of fifteen.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Group Ride to Buda Texas on the Hoopty Bicycle

Group ride. I woke up at 7:30am. The sun had begun its process of illumination, but had not yet begun to warm the earth. I pushed my pile of blankets behind me. Up and over, as I move to a sitting position. I turned over on all fours, and craftily maneuvered my tri-fold mattress into its stacked daytime position. I slipped on my shoes in case of glass or fire ants, slid open the side door of Hotel Sienna, and breathed in the fresh Texas air on a spectacular clear morning.

The goal today was to join a group of cyclists on a ride to a small town to the south. I found the ride on the Bike Austin site, gauged by the description that I could keep the pace, and set my alarm to see. Mornings don't come naturally to me, but as I seek improvements to my life, I would like to consider them more. I broke two eggs into last night's quinoa and lentils, and by the time it was cooked I was fully awake. After breakfast, I unlocked my bicycle. I rode to the path along the Colorado River, stopping at a jobsite porta-john, because I live in a van.

I arrived twenty minutes early, because I can't stand running late to anything, and sitting on the ground bothers me not at all. As I sat outside a large bicycle shop on the sidewalk, I had ample time to watch the dumbness of leaf blowers pushing dust and people waiting in idling cars on a clear day with wonderful weather. I wondered which of these people with an idling Lexus was going to be on the ride. I felt actually relieved that it was none. As the departure time grew near, I saw two people on the opposite side of the parking lot with a clipboard, so I approached. I put on a mask of friendly confidence, and introduced myself with a smile. It was one guy with a road bicycle, and the ride leader was on a recumbent. And then... my bicycle. It looks a lot like a homeless guy bike. If you aren't a bicycle mechanic - and nobody ever is - you cannot detect that there is a rationale to the madness of my machine. It looks like a 40 pound behemoth from a sporting goods store circa the late 90's, with a milk crate not exactly adding credibility. (It is exactly that, but much more.)

"Have you been on a Bike Austin ride before?"
"Yes."

I had been on a different ride the week before, but that ride hadn't been much of a challenge.

"We require everybody to wear a helmet on our rides."

I pointed to the helmet in my crate.

"You have to wear it on your head."

I mimed placing a helmet on my head with one hand. "It's that easy" I said. "I got it."

The guy talking was on a good and reliable but not-flashy Trek road bicycle that was about ten years old. The leader of the ride was on a recumbent. I estimated that although we had never ridden together, and thus they likely assumed that I was going to either hold them up, or fail to hold on, I was probably on the correct ride pace-wise, and a recumbent usually signals that nobody is taking themselves too seriously. A fourth bicycle arrived, and it was clearly much more expensive, and the rider was closer to my age, within five years or so. We had the requisite safety talk, and we were off.

The route began with a long moderate climb. I had ridden the same section of road the day before, and many times last year. It gets a little bit steep, but nothing outrageous, and you can spin right up. The recumbent was going very slow, because... well, it is a recumbent, and the ride leader already foreshadowed that this was in the works. I didn't want to pass and fly ahead in the first mile of the ride, so I was relieved when the guy on the Trek passed and went ahead. I did not want to go off the front at all for the first half of the ride, because I didn't want anyone to think that I thought I was some hotshot, and pulling ahead early would trigger a necessary process of assassination all the way to Buda. On the other hand, I don't like to pretend that I can't climb hills at a faster pace, because doing so takes more energy, and it is also boring. The Trek guy picked a good pace, so I pulled up beside, and we introduced ourselves more properly as we spun up the hill toward south Austin.

On the handful of group rides I participated in while I was in Austin, I never mentioned that I was a bicycle mechanic, and I never mentioned that I had ridden this same exact bicycle coast to coast in 2011. I didn't mention any bicycle touring, or give any smug credentials. I didn't want my new acquaintances to think that I thought I was cool (even though I am), so I decided that I would only bring up those topics if specifically asked, which I never was, because people don't care what you are up to, they only want to talk about themselves. That's ok. Me too. Thus, I blog.

The ride was great. Buda was about 16 miles away, and we rode at a swift pace that made me work to keep up. I sweated and spun in the highest gear to stay with the road bicycles. They pulled ahead on flats, but never gained much distance. I was always able to close the gap whenever the road pointed up. Nobody proved to be the overall fastest, and the recumbent caught up whenever we stopped. On a long hill, I was passed by the expensive bicycle, but it was sapping his strength to do it, so I kept my pace the same. We went over some steep rollers closer to Buda. The road bicycles had gained some distance, so I stood on the pedals and flew up behind the expensive bicycle as he was suffering his way up a climb. I didn't pass, I just geared down and sat there, pretending to be casual as my heart rate shot up. That's what we do. We get our bicycles in a group, and we test each other's limits against our own. On a good ride, we are well matched, and everybody burns some energy and has fun. This was a good ride, and I got some sun.

We got to the rest point in Buda for convenience store refreshments, and the others voiced that they were impressed that I kept up. You're damn right, I thought. Everybody was in high spirits. We all felt good about the workout, and the wind direction was favoring an easy return.

Another thing that's great about my bicycle? If I keep up with the group, I am an absolute beast. If I don't, then I have an excuse.

The ride back to Austin maintained a fast pace for the entire distance. We'd all properly met each other now, so the return leg was that much more fun. For the first part of a ride you tend to keep some power in reserve, but as the destination comes into view, there is no longer a reason to hold back.

Riding bicycles is fun. Group riding can inspire you to push your limits. No need to be macho - there are always faster cyclists than you. The key is to find an enjoyable pace, and share the benefits of cycling with peers. Bicycles can unite you with community. From the point where you don't know which end of the helmet goes forward, to the point where you are standing on the pedals with sweat pouring off your chin - there are others at your pace who want to ride bikes. I recommend finding them. My group went out for tacos after the ride. I felt satisfied on at least a few levels.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pedalling an 80ft Snake with Bike Zoo in Austin TX

If you love bicycles and live your life with an open heart, opportunity will present itself. Sometimes opportunity comes in the form of an 80-foot-long pedal-powered bicycle snake. I stood near some picnic tables in Austin Texas, under the I-35, in a park beside the pedestrian path that circles Lady Bird Lake. Downtown. I was standing alone, about twenty paces from the reefer and beer. I wanted to be social, but it had been less than a week since I decided to stop drinking. I wanted to ride back to my van and hide under my blankets, but I knew that my severe momentary anxiety would melt away once we began to ride. Then there was a welcome distraction. Bicycle Snake to the rescue!

Slowly... a huge rolling sculpture, illuminated by rope lights, curled and slithered to a stop about ten feet from where I stood. I counted six bicycle seats including the captain. The welded structure had pivot points along the length of the frame, allowing it an impressively tight turning radius. The ribs of the snake were made from long strips of corrugated plastic, with a twist midway to add structure and make the curved sides of the snake more realistic. The ends of the corrugated plastic ribs were attached to long sections of bungee rope running the length of the snake. The head of the snake was created by stretching white knit fabric over a frame of bent tubing in the shape of the head of a snake. The eyes of the snake were made from green lens covers from a traffic signal. I didn't know this until later, but the head is also hinged to reveal fangs made from two cow horns. The length of the snake is supported on heavy duty pneumatic wheels and axles like you would find on an industrial hand truck or cart. Each of the five seats behind the captain has a set of pedals which drive a coaster brake hub, which in turn drives the axle. So each snake-driver inputs propulsion power and stopping power independently, and this is communicated verbally when it isn't plainly obvious what to do. The captain yells "Pedal Harder!" "Coasting!" or "Braking!" It is a simple elegant system. Only the captain can steer.



I walked up to one of the snake-drivers once the snake was in park, and he had exited through the ribs. "Nothing to see here" I shrugged, "just a huge light-up pedal-powered snake... business as usual." I was trying to strike up any sort of conversation. I was already far outside my comfort zone just standing there, and I was desperate for positive human interaction of any sort. Before the snake arrived, I was feeling my brain melt down my neck into my stomach and wondering if you could vomit from feeling alone in the world. I was here for the eventual healing power of bicycles, and an incredible and whimsical Bicycle Snake rolled right up beside me, so I thought the right move would be to listen to the universe and say hello. Turns out everybody on the snake was socially awkward, most of all the builder and captain of the snake himself, though if you skip ahead 24 hours, I grew to like him very much. I was in no mental position to radiate positive social vibes, and I wasn't quite sure how to break the ice with the snake-drivers, but I was given a brochure, and I overheard the snake-captain telling somebody that if they emailed him, they could help propel the snake in the upcoming days.

Shortly after this, the social ride began, and my anxiety melted away instantly as I maneuvered in a peloton of goofballs in a swift ride all over Austin. Bicycles are medicine. Bicycling makes your body produce its own natural medicine, and I do not know where I would be in life without bicycles. Probably hiking. Like a fool.

After the ride, I returned to Hotel Sienna, my minivan, and emailed the captain of the snake. The next morning, I received a reply requesting that I text during daylight hours. I complied with this request, and hit paydirt: the Bicycle Snake would be rolling out from a private residence to the north at 6 p.m.

I bicycled early to the start. It began to dawn on me that I had vastly overestimated the demand for pedaling a giant snake. I assumed there would be a waiting list, and even thought there might be a fee of $20 or so for the opportunity to help pilot this incredible work of sculpture. No. They need people to volunteer, sometimes they pay people, and if you think it's easy, think again. I have pedicabbed, and I am no stranger to the loaded touring bicycle, and let me tell you - pedaling an 80 foot steel snake is hard work. I had no idea of the route or plan. I estimated an hour or two of teamwork at an effort somewhat comparable to an out-of-tune beach cruiser. I prepared by eating an avocado and planning to work up a bit of an appetite before dinner. The reality was closer to four hours, with the difficulty sometimes approaching dragging a sled of bricks over a hill. I had an enormous amount of fun for the first two hours. The remaining two hours were a steady decline until I felt like my ghost was leaving my corpse. If you are planning to pedal a sculpture any time soon, bring a Clif Bar at least.

We cruised away from the residential location, and I was immediately having the time of my life. I was in the second to last seat in a giant snake, and I felt like I was part of a team of heroes.


The purpose of the snake ride was to increase awareness that the snake exists, and maybe somehow leverage that public awareness into creating opportunities to make money with the snake. Festivals? Rent out the snake? The profit side of the equation was not exactly ironed out, but it was clear that the first step was to ride the snake in public. As an attention-getting device, I defy anybody to conceive of something more effective than the snake. As far as clear message delivery, put simply, there was none. Thousands of people took photos and video of the snake as we pedaled it around downtown Austin. It was during the SXSW music festival, and the streets and sidewalks were overflowing with attendees who were in the mood to party and get down. There was not a single cellphone camera not trained on the snake. The public seemed extremely aware that a pedal powered snake existed, but as a promotional device the snake did not offer much. Nobody knew to hashtag something, and aside from silliness and whimsy, there was no clear point being broadcast. Sometimes people would shout "What is it???" and in response, the person in front of me would shout "Bike Zoo!" The captain and creator is a talented builder and pilot, but his comfort with promotion, he will freely admit, is not his greatest strength.

After about three hours I wanted to drive that snake off a bridge. My energy had evaporated, my blood sugar was low, and my knee was acting up because I didn't respect proper seat height from the outset. I was bonking out inside a snake while slithering and circling down Congress Ave. I had the Strava app recording our track, mostly because I have a goal to ride at least 100 miles per week. I looked at my phone, and saw that we had been pushing that fucking snake for twenty miles. I was jealous of the pilot, because unlike the rest of us, his chain was driving a three speed hub gear. I thought about killing him. Not really. I just needed tacos - a lot of them and immediately.

Eventually we parked the snake, and even though I could hardly stand up straight, I was mostly still happy to have survived the experience. Our pilot was in high spirits. Everybody loves the Bicycle Snake! Also, he had been shifting that goddamn 3 speed hub the whole time. [Recommendation for snake improvement: smaller chainrings.]

Activities like pedaling the snake are the primary reason I remain excited to be alive. There are infinite possibilities in life. If you live with an open heart and mind, and try to stay above the bullshit and distractions, you might find yourself pedaling a giant snake amidst a sea of cheering revelers with cameras flashing like the paparazzi.

I got back on my own bicycle, which now felt as light as a styrofoam takeout container, and rode directly to the nearest taco truck, where I ordered a survival soda and a plate full of tacos.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Riding Goals: 100 miles per week is good.

I want to ride bicycles more. I want to pack up some camping gear, ride a loaded bicycle, and sleep on a piece of dirt near some trees. That is my exact goal for the spring, summer, and fall of 2018. The best way to prepare physically is to ride a bicycle. The only way to prepare mentally is to remember that you can't.

To prepare for upcoming bicycle trips, I have set a goal of riding 100 miles per week. It's a nice round number. Not too challenging, which could lead to giving up, and not too easy, because the goal is to get back into shape. The goal is to get ready enough for loaded touring that minor injury doesn't get in the way of maximum enjoyment. Bicycle trips are infinitely more enjoyable when your legs feel ready for anything. I'm not quite there, but I have been there, and I'm making a return.

A hundred miles. It can be 15 miles a day, or 20 miles with two rest days. If you miss a few days, you can catch up with a 50 mile ride on Sunday. Obviously, I can ride more - 100mi is set as the minimum. I keep track on the Strava app, because it tracks your weekly mileage, and that minimizes the amount of thinking and remembering required of me. I open the app before a ride, hit record, and put my phone in a pocket inside the milk crate on my bicycle. (I no longer use my front pocket, because my sweaty leg dialed my former weed dealer about fifty times one weekend in 2016, and she kindly requested that I get my shit together.)

Sun visor car organizer velcro'd inside crate.

Motivation is a real issue with a lot of us humans. I feel especially challenged in this regard. My friend Ian once defined ADHD in gloriously simple terms: "You don't wanna do that shit you don't wanna do." Shrug. Exactly. That is the battleground I fight on every single day. In order to tip the odds in my favor, I use a multiple-pronged attack:

  1. Don't make basic tasks any more complicated than absolutely necessary.
  2. Take a Modafinil pill on days when you need to do a task.
  3. Make goals measurable and reachable by breaking them down into parts.
I have found that I am more likely to reach goals when the progress is easy to track. I have discovered that spreadsheets work well, because I like to see small numbers slowly become larger. Setting a goal to ride 5,000 miles in a year is daunting. 100 miles per week is reasonable, and I am more likely to stay on track. I know how it feels to blast up hills confidently on a loaded touring bicycle, and I am looking forward to feeling that way again. An average of fifteen miles per day does not seem overwhelming. Fifteen miles per day is a small price to pay when the reward is feeling like a total badass who is impervious to disaster.

I need future goals, or I will never take present action. I am not the type of person who goes out for an aimless ride without any Particular Purpose. Some people are, but I am not. Once I start pedaling and I get warmed up, bicycling is fun. I love bicycles! Thus, I need to manufacture a fake Particular Purpose to trick myself into riding. Any errand within easy range is a reason to get on my bicycle without question. Post office? Groceries? Friends house? Those are Particular Purposes. And now my weekly goal of 100 miles gives me a Particular Purpose to ride today, even though the temperature is 42 degrees, and I haven't seen the sun for almost 48 hours.

I visited my friend Lael when I was driving east from California to Texas. She was coaching at a gravel camp, which is where people ride bicycles for up to a hundred miles per day on gravel roads in Arizona, while eating really good food. Lael is also doing things like bicycling up a mountain with 6700ft of climbing in only 30 miles. Every day for a week. For fun. We sat on a patio drinking coffee as the sun went down. She had a beaming smile. She told me about her upcoming plans, all of them involve bicycles, and she radiated excitement. I love bicycles too! But I felt like I was hiding some secret damage. I had let alcohol turn me into an addled and insecure creampuff version of my better self. I didn't want to, but I allowed it to happen. I'm not ready to climb that mountain, but I can surely ride fifteen miles today.

And here I go...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Selling Out, or Stepping Up? Bicycle Parts Lust Examined

Big things are happening at Chris Harne headquarters, and by that I mean minor things, and by headquarters, I technically mean the back bedroom at my parents' house where I am currently residing as a 35-year-old human male.


That is correct. I bought a really expensive bicycle hub, and then I took a photo of it in hopes that people would click the little heart.

I have been winning for many years with an impressive ratio of Bicycle Passion to Frugal Bicycle Spending. Like Sia, I love cheap thrills. I've had weak moments where I've allowed lusty curiosity to sneak a muddy paw into my wallet, but usually I am able to backpedal to my Hoopty and sell my indiscretions for a small profit. Is that what is happening here? Quite possibly so.

I have been an enthusiastic bicycle advocate since childhood, and a curious student of all aspects of bicycle mechanics and design since the early 2000s. I arrived at the fundamental conclusion that it does not cost a lot of money to enjoy bicycles. This bears repeating: a bicycle is a tool that anybody can gain access to, which can improve and empower a life, while costing nearly zero dollars. Have you ever been to a bicycle co-op? They are run by heroes.

An understanding of routine maintenance can keep the Right Bicycle going for life. When you find your Right Bicycle, you have found the key to improving your poof of an existence as we hurdle though space on a tiny rock. I have been proving my Right Bicycle theory since 2007, when I began using the bicycle that I affectionately call my "Hoopty" as my go-to bicycle.
..... An aside: It was Drew of Engin Cycles who referred to my bicycle as a hoopty, as in "is that your hoopty with the stuffed animal on it?" His tone wasn't fully derogatory, but he does have a tendency to shit talk a lot of bicycles, and be abrasively opinionated in general. In any case, I adopted the name somewhat later. (Drew maintains a fascinating Instagram, and despite our vastly different personalities, I have huge respect for his work.) Before it was my "Hoopty" it was referred to as "Tall Cool" - a name coined by Lael, a fantastic human in all regards, who meant it in an endearing, respectful, and humorous way. Tall Cool was the name of the at-that-time stem in the J&B Importers catalog. Maybe I'll make an effort to start calling my bicycle Tall Cool again, in spite of the fact that the namesake stem was swapped out ages ago.....
In 2011 when I rode a three-month tour, I purposely eschewed fancy equipment to prove that it doesn't require expensive gear to travel by bicycle. I proved it. Actually, much poorer people, with a much better capacity for shrugging off difficulties, have proven the point before. The major difference is that my trip was unhindered by equipment failure of any sort, and aside from two flats that I patched, I cruised all the way across the country with relative aplomb. To be a bicycle mechanic on a bicycle tour is a beautiful thing. To be familiar with a bit of routine maintenance gets you 95% of the way there - but if you can help others with their bicycles as well, they will often reward you with pie.

I bought a Chris King hub a few days ago. It cost more than most people are willing to pay for an entire bicycle. It will not bring peace or fulfillment or meaning to my life. It will not make my bicycle faster. There are three reasons I decided to buy it anyway:

  1. I like the design
  2. I have wanted one forever
  3. It is pretty

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I'm bicycling. I feel happy. I feel healthy.

I'm back in Pennsylvania again. On my way east from California I stopped drinking again. Alcohol has been doing much more harm than good, so as a person who is even aware of the concept of logic and critical thinking, it was an obvious decision. That does not mean that it was easy to implement the change - it never is. Alcohol is a serious mind-altering poison, which works absolute wonders for ignoring a myriad of life's difficulties. It is a miracle bandage. It's a shame that it also destroys your mind and body if you overuse it. For me, the negatives began to far outweigh the positives, but I continued to drink an absolutely unhealthy and unsustainable amount every day. It happens. Logical conclusions do not make a change for you - they are simply bits of information, and it is up to the flawed human to do the heavy lifting.

After my course correction, I spent two weeks in Austin to recover and transition to a lifestyle more befitting of a person who gives a shit about being alive. My emotions were erratic in the beginning, but impulse control was made easier by the level of disgust I felt about the depth I had allowed myself to settle to.

I got my head screwed on straight again, and I started riding my bicycle. I had the right medicine all along, and it was a joy to roll in a meandering carefree manner all around Austin. I parked my Sienna in my favorite spot near downtown Austin, and I didn't move it one inch for the two weeks I spent in town. I used my bicycle for all errands, exploration, and every social opportunity I could find. 

I used the Bike Austin website and Meetup dot com to find group rides to participate in. I showed up to group rides in street clothes with a 40lb bicycle featuring a milk crate on the rack. The road bicycle folks were kind, though incredulous, but after a climb or two they got the picture. I didn't go on any "A" rides, but I proved the capability of my equipment on a few "no drop" rides to people who had overspent in search of a shortcut to speed and stamina. Then we'd all go out for either coffee or tacos.

(yes, I am on Instagram)
I was happy for the social opportunity of riding bicycles. I didn't fit the demographic of the others on any of the rides, but all of us had at least one thing in common - we wanted to ride bicycles together. That was enough. 


Thursday, February 22, 2018

I am floating in a directionless manner.

I am overwhelmed with options. My mind lacks focus where it is needed, and squanders focus on minutiae. I am floating in a directionless manner. 

I could find a house share in Ashland Oregon. I could rent a room, buy a Juki TL-2010q sewing machine, and fall deep into making absurd quilts. There is a co-op in Ashland, and everybody is friendly there. Bicycles and pedestrians rule the town. You can ride into the mountains on fire roads right from the center of town. 

I could buy five acres of land in the desert. I could park a derelict RV in the center, and begin the process of creating a new intentional community. I would find like-minded folks to park vehicles and share resources and expenses. There would be a succulent garden.

I can move back to Kennett Square Pennsylvania. I have a tiny house there. I already built it, and it is sitting there empty and alone. I can rearrange the interior, knock out the wall that separates the area that was going to be a bathroom but was never completed. I can cover the unfinished section of floor with a carpet remnant. I can buy a Juki TL-2010q sewing machine, and turn the tiny house into a sewing studio with a sleeping loft above. I already have a Singer 201-2, and a Singer 221 Featherweight, so the studio would be cute and capable. 

I am headed east, and leaning toward the third option. I built a tiny house. I can show it some love. I can repair my ailing online bookstore and save money for future inspiration. I can save money, and focus on improving my sewing skills. That is what I am doing. I am going home, as I have always done, and taking some time to think and consider.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I am not moving to Joshua Tree. Yet.

I'm not moving to Joshua Tree. Not yet. I told some people that I probably was. Maybe I will. Later.

I found a third of an acre for sale one block from town. A short walk to the visitor center on Park Road. In the middle of the small amount of activity that exists along the strip along CA-62 to the north of the park. I drove to Joshua Tree to set my feet on that land, and I was ready to pay $5000 to put my name on it. It was sold before I got there.

I would be happy to throw money away as a questionable investment or speculation on that little piece of land. I was ready to buy that land, and park the biggest, cheapest, oldest, ugliest bus I could find right in the middle. I was ready to build a short cinder block wall around that bus. I was fully prepared to slowly accumulate dead sewing machines, and cement them atop the perimeter of the wall. I was excited to paint the bus in long horizontal stripes of white and lime green. I was ready to cut a hole in the roof of the bus, and raise the roof by three feet. Roof deck for sunrise and sunset and viewing of stars.

I was ready to throw down.

I stayed in town for a few days. I recognized the magic. I also felt the ongoing internal struggle inside of my mind, and my chest, and my body, and my universe. I was lonely, and I was cold. I was not ready.

I still would have paid $5000 for that lot. I was ready to put my name on it and wait. I was not ready to settle for second best. You can pay more for land that is a little bit further away. I drove around and got the lay of the land. If something pops up in the future, I am ready to spring.

I want my bus, and my freedom to sculpt a whimsical hideaway. There is time. I am open to every option in the world. For now I will continue to save my money and wait. There are infinite dreams to distract us. I hope I can settle on one some day.

What are my options? Will you join me?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

You will find serenity here. If you are looking for it.

I drove out to Joshua Tree to confirm that it is indeed a magical place. This was confirmed by a security guard in the Walmart parking lot. I was cooking up some eggs, and the security vehicle pulled up alongside.

"Did you sleep alright last night?"

I didn't know if this was a trick question or not. I also couldn't see how it made a difference, so.

"Yes, thank you."

The security guard seemed genuinely pleased that I had slept well.

"Nobody will ever be bothered here."

This is not what I expected to hear. The fact that he was being friendly, and he waited until my side door was wide open and the sun was up -- that was enough. I expected to be told that there was a one night policy, or some other restriction on being a bum. But no. He just wanted to let me know that I was safe and welcome. We chatted for a few minutes.

"This is a magical place" he told me. "You will find serenity here. If you are looking for it."

I was looking for serenity. I always am. At my best times, I find it. But my emotions run the gamut. Often.

I went in to use the bathroom. On my way back to the van I got a big wave and a smile from my new friend.   .... a kind security guard in the Walmart Parking lot in Yucca Valley California.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Classic Case of Shooting the Shit

This is a news flash. This is literature. No, it's only me checking in.

Dear Diary; Dear Journal. I have abandoned thee. I'm horsing around in the wild and I have many stories to share. Much has happened; more is in progress.

I am at peace and I am at war. My brain, my body; we are bound, and I am always testing the ropes. When I take a deep breath, I am pleased for the excitement. I wouldn't trade this life, but I will always wonder about the nature of it.

Key West is a calm hand in January. I won't talk about myself today. Doing so would be unkind. I'll talk about R.D. instead.

R.D. drinks Strawberry 'Rita from a foggy gatorade bottle. He looks considerably older than 67, because that's what living in the wind and sun will do. Long white hair; long white beard; tan creased skin. Bony spotted hands, just like the ones I will have before too long. We met in the corner of a gas station parking lot. I was standing amidst some drunk fraternization around the bicycle rack - mostly taking notes, but not too shy to toss in an errant opinion or some hot air. Classic case of shooting the shit.

R.D. entered the parking lot like a mist. He bore the standard accouterments of the dispossessed. A rustbucket bicycle with high handlebars; island style. The type of bicycle that only works for its owner; one that might fold like origami under any other body. Huge rusty baskets held clothing and cans to capacity. Front and back baskets were full to overflowing. Between the rust and the textiles it was an evolving work of art. He floated to a halt and stood the bicycle on its kickstand - the only fully functional component on the machine. We connected right away. We were friends before we spoke.

We discussed the merits and potency of our drinks. The Strawberry 'Rita is a strong 8%. For comparison, a Natural Ice goes 5.9%; Four Loko is a whopping 12%, but all the professionals know to stay away from Four. Incidentally, the pros don't do Steel Reserve either. Not long term. There are rumors under the grapevine that it has a poisonous component that deteriorates your organs. Worse than normal. Steel Reserve is an angry drink.

I have been possessed as of late by spirits. I am aware constantly of both sides of the curtain. I wear the cloth on my shoulders now, and steal peeks in either direction. I am a resident in both dimensions. I recognize this quality in others. The sense is easier to absorb than articulate. We are sisters and brothers; members of a curious tribe. We share a wordless understanding of the fundamental facts. Words are simply for color and fun.

Being alive can be difficult to make sense of. Once you notice that your worth can't be measured with money, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a foothold in what most people seem to agree to accept as reality. Today I am still in the game. Money goes in a bank account - it is not simply a paper ticket for beer. I sleep in a minivan. I have small but certain concerns.

R.D. helped build Key West. As a skilled laborer, he stacked a small fortune before tragedy and 1980's crack leveled the playing field. Now he stands with calm stoicism. He exudes a tranquil essence. Standing in his presence makes me suspicious of whether there has ever been a single truly important matter, past or present, in our plane of existence or infinite universe. Is there one valid worry in the world?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I am living in a Toyota Sienna in Key West.

I'm in Key West.

I am not in Texas. I will be happy to return to Austin at future times, and park near downtown. "Mission: Home Base: Austin" did not work out. I left with everything that I brought. (Everything I own that's worth a damn.) A couple great things happened in Austin: I started sewing and familiarizing myself with various sewing machines; especially old sewing machines made of cast iron and tool steel. I focused an enormous amount of time and energy on the pursuit of skills and knowledge. I fell in love. I rented a room, but I turned it into a sewing workshop instead of a bedroom.

I left Texas in a hurry when it occurred to me that I didn't want to be in a house paying rent, and I wasn't likely to warm to the idea any time soon. As soon as that thought set in solidly, I was gone in a few hours. I need my space. I need control.

I am living in a Toyota Sienna now. I drove to Lisa's house in Georgia, and finished up the build with some shelves. I put Reflectix™ in the windows. I was apprehensive about living in a minivan after driving around the huge blue-striped van that I could walk around and literally dance inside of. Turns out I had a good plan though - the Sienna is great. A huge portion of the big van was wasted space.

I've been in Key West since New Year's. I helped Lisa work on her van while I worked on mine. (I put in a vent/fan and a solar panel etc. on her van.) Lisa is down here in Key West too. We hang out a lot, and mostly get along real well.

2018: Another year to be alive before I die. I'm going to buy some land. I don't like to speculate about the future, but the odds of me owning some land in Joshua Tree are high. More about that later. I'd like to report that I am continuing to sew a lot - I do have a Singer Featherweight machine with me - but I am doing more Loafing than sewing. And that is OK.