Fall #3

   I took a nasty spill on my bike recently during a ride with some friends.  This was the third time in my life I’ve fallen off a bike, and it was a pretty good one so far as they go.  I was riding down a pretty wide bike lane and I began to look back and to my right without first scanning ahead down the lane like I always do.  I had just begun to look when suddenly I was airborne, out of nowhere it would seem. It was so quick and so violent that I had no idea what was really happening until I felt my helmet smack hard against the ground a few times. 

The helmet cracked in three places, but it did its job marvelously

   Now I obviously didn’t get to see the accident take place. But from what I can ascertain from others, from my random snatches of memory, and from the placement of my wounds it seems that, since I was pivoting my body slightly to the right when I hit what turned out to be the discarded lid of a Coleman ice cooler, the bike and I both went flying sideways, my feet still gently grasped by the toe-clips. While I was in the air my body continued to spiral around to my right, so that, what felt like a nanosecond after I struck the lid, I landed mainly on the left side of my body, with most of the damage being done to my back and shoulder. A good bit of flesh was scraped off of my elbow and knee, too, just for good measure. And here’s how I know my yoga classes have been working: I also got a bit of road rash on my right inner thigh. I don’t even know how that’s possible. 

   My only real memory that I retained during the crash went something like, “holy shit!  Am I in mid air?!  I have no sense of where I am right now.”  I closed my eyes instinctively.  I felt like I was floating with no idea where my corporeal bits existed in space for the moment. When I hit the ground my mind, which had expanded outward in my spatial disorientation as it attempted to locate some point of reference, seemed to snap tightly into place right behind my left temple. It watched closely as my helmeted head knocked thrice on the road to make sure no actual damage was done. It ignored the feeling of my skin being dragged across rough, filthy pavement. 

   When I came to a stop and felt certain that I was mostly fine I opened my eyes to see my friend Jeremy hove into view with a very concerned look on his face. I stayed there for a minute and carefully moved around to make sure I hadn’t broken or dislodged anything. To my astonishment that seemed to be the case, though I was sure that I had still hurt myself pretty seriously, all things considered.  I think that my having been taken completely by surprise helped my luck; that and going full rag doll.  But none of that actually mattered because as soon as I knew I wasn’t going to the hospital I began to worry much more about my bicycle. Jeremy had pulled it away from me and set it aside, so I didn’t know what shape the old girl would be in. 

   I got up and located Judi off to the side of the road. The leather handlebar wraps were pretty torn up on the left side, but I didn’t see anything else really wrong otherwise. The front wheel had a very slight wobble so I’ll have to true that back up.  It was rideable and I was still full of  shock hormones, so I hopped on and finished the ride, albeit a shortened version. I made it back to Jeremy’s with about eight minutes of biochemical pain-dampening left, then it started to kick in. 

We both lost some skin, but mine grows back

   I cleaned up my bloody wounds as best I could and checked out my body in the mirror. I took some ibuprofen and drank a bunch of water and chilled out while Jeremy kindly loaded my bike into his vehicle and drove me home. 

   I woke up in the middle of the night to pee and take another fistful of pills, but I was able to get in and out of bed by myself, so there’s that.  The next morning I woke up feeling like the left half of my body was 25 years older than the right half. But again, I managed to make coffee and take the dog out and feed myself.  I made a large ice pack from a bundle of Mr Freezy ice pops wrapped in a dish towel and that helped a lot.  I will heal and I’ll be fine. I’ll have a bitchin’ scar on my elbow. I’ll definitely be more careful and more mindful when I’m riding around. Constant vigilance!

   In the end the upper left half of my body was bruised and battered, but I was mostly alright. The pain that first day was the worst, but it got noticeably better each morning. I took it really easy since my left side was so much weaker than my right. Today I finally went for a ride around town, just over ten miles, no real issues to speak of. Which is great because tomorrow is looking like perfect bike riding weather. 

This snack doubles as an ice pack…which is whack.

The Landlord’s Nishiki

   My landlord lives downstairs from me, and a few days ago he sent me a text stating that he had locked his bike up out front and that he’d be willing to pay me to fix it up for him. I had mentioned that it’s something I do on the side, so it came as no real surprise, and I’m always happy to help get my fellow Portlanders on bicycles.

   I went down to find a black Nishiki Blazer mountain bike. He had given me the code to his lock, so I took it upstairs and gave it a once over before heading off to work. The left shift lever had snapped off and would need replacing, along with both shift cables. The front hub had some play in it. The drivetrain was dirty and the freewheel seemed to stick a bit. So it needed some work, but it seemed to be mostly in order.

   The following day I removed the broken shift lever and ran down to the Gear Hub with ten minutes until closing time, as is my way.  Kyle dumped out a bucket of old shifters and I sat on the floor sifting through them until I found a perfect match just waiting to come home with me and get back to doing what it does best.  I paid my three dollars and went home to install the lever and cables and test that part out.  Turns out it worked perfectly.

   The day after that I came home from work and made it my goal to finish the bike first thing.  I took it outside and put it in the bike stand for a thorough scrubbing.  I cleaned up the drivetrain first since that always makes such a mess of the rest of the bike (not a lesson I learned properly on my first, or even second time cleaning a bicycle), then gave it a good head-tube-to-toe-clip washing.  The rear derailleur was definitely gunked up a bit, but it was far from the worst I’ve come across.  There was some surface rust on many parts of the drivetrain, so I hit it with a brass brush, also making sure to spot-scrub any nuts and bolts that bore tarnish elsewhere.  I finished up, dried the bike off, and got it into the attic workshop just as it started raining.

   I put on some podcasts (mainly running through the Civics 101 shows from the beginning; highly recommended to my American readers) and got to work on the wheel issues.  I started by removing the freewheel from the rear and flushing it with WD-40.  While gravity was doing its thing I set that aside and overhauled the front hub.  I cleaned it all up and packed it with fresh grease and bearings.  Next I put a medium weight oil into the freewheel and took my time working it in, adding more, working it in, until it was spinning pretty smoothly.  I feel like one of the pawls was still catching just a tiny bit, but only every once in a while, and less so with each addition of oil.  By the time I was ready to grease the threads on the hub and reattach the freewheel it had sorted itself out.    After everything was back together I gave it a quick tune up and moved on to the last job I had to do.

   The rear wheel had a wide-ranging wobble that saw it bumping against the brake pads, first on one side then the other.  I put a drop of oil on each of the spoke nipples and made myself as comfortable as possible since I knew I’d be there for a while.  One of the tools that I have yet to purchase is a truing stand.  The Gear Hub has them available to use during their open bench time hours, but those are limited and I hate the idea of strapping a wheel to my back so I can ride over to the shop just to true it when I could do it almost as well (if perhaps a little slower) in the attic.  I actually just put the wheel on the bike, opened the brakes up wide enough that the rim never touched it, and then started with the most wide ranging adjustments.  Once it started to come into true and I had to do more fine tuning among a smaller range of spokes I would lean my head at a particular angle and watch the reflection of the brake pad in the rim as I slowly spun the wheel.  When the reflection would momentarily grow larger I would mark those few spokes and make my adjustments.  If instead it grew smaller I would make the opposite adjustments.  Eventually I got a consistent reflection and thus trued the wheel.

   And that was it!  I wrote out a note detailing all of the work I had done and I used my wax seal with a bicycle imprint to close up the envelope.  Nerdy?  Yes.  Overkill?  Probably.  But it’s all part of the unique brand of service that I offer!  Am I using the word “unique” in that sweetly derogatory way that some southern ladies might?  Yup.


   My mother flew in from Oklahoma to spend a few days with us before absconding with my son. It’s alright, he’ll be back in THREE WEEKS!  But while she was here I took advantage of a bright and lovely day off work and with the kiddo at Rock (‘n’ Roll) camp to trick my mother into taking an 11 mile ride around town on the tandem.  

   We first went just around the corner for our traditional mother-son pedicures. When we arrived my mom was already worried that she wouldn’t make it since her legs were starting to sing her a song. I asked about where she felt sore and then adjusted the seat height and told her “that should do it”. She looked at me with doubt enough on her face to maybe be called shade, but we left it at that and got our feet did. Afterwards we went across the street to Woodford Food & Bev for a snack, which was great, and some small talk with the host, also great. 

   We went and hopped back on the bike. My mom asked how far to the bakery where I work and I told her three miles. We set off and she immediately started talking about how much her legs weren’t bothering her anymore and how she had been so sure they would feel like jelly all day. We made it halfway around Back Cove and took off down Washington. We stopped at the Gear Hub to show my mom around briefly, then we went on to Standard. 

   I gave my mother the royal tour, and she got to meet nearly the full cast of characters. I verified that the GM is a full two inches taller than my mom, much to everyone’s delight. We grabbed all the bread and pastries we could stuff into my backpack and headed home to let the dog out.  At this point we had done about 8 miles. Then we took the tandem to pick up the kid from Rock camp and the three of us rode home together, his bike having been left there that morning. 

   So in total 11+ miles for my mom, who hasn’t ridden a bike since the mid-80’s, I’m told. Now I have to keep an eye on the Tulsa Craigslist site for potential tandems that my parents could ride together. What could go wrong?!

My first metric century

<DISCLAIMER: I am bad at remembering to take pictures, so they are so few as to be almost nonexistent. But it’s all true, I swear>

   This week I was as invited on a ride with a coworker and some other folks to ride to Kennebunk and back to Portland, a trip that totaled 68 miles. I was excited the whole week leading up to it, but busy too, so the excitement never got out of hand.  When I mentioned that I was planning to do the ride friends and family were flabbergasted. They couldn’t wish me enough luck or remind me sufficiently that I had to be especially careful for cars, hydration, Governer LePage, etc. I was never worried about my legs. I’ve done several 30ish miles rides and none have ever kicked my ass. The first one sent me into a hilarious cramp spiral, but I did a bad job that time and learned some valuable lessons. 

  Even though this was twice as far as my longest ride I knew that it was doable, and I find that riding with a small group makes the miles feel easier somehow. No one was in a hurry. Everyone was nice and pleasant to talk to. There was just enough familiarity between the different riders that one could always drop in or out of a conversation, moving back and forth between the small pods of two or three cyclists. We stopped a couple of times each way to snack, chat, and fill up on water. 

   I had never been on most of the Eastern Trail system that links up southern coastal maine. It’s so picturesque and well maintained. I kept thinking of how fun it will be to come down with the family and ride through the salt marshes in Scarborough and down into Saco Biddeford. Maybe we can visit some friends there before riding back north. The only parts that weren’t woodsy gravel trails were a short stint in south portland and pretty much all of Biddeford. There you had to ride through town, but there were still signs to guide you back to the trails and the roads we took were minimally trafficked. 

   After that we got back on the trail until we met up with the Kennebunk exit on 95, and from there we took the road into town for some much needed food and coffee. Everyone remained in good spirits as we mounted up to head right back the way we’d just come. The return trip went faster as it always seems to do, though it might have been the lengthy discussion of modern poets and poetry I ended up having for over half that trip with my younger, collegiate doppelgänger.  What an experience!

   We ended the ride at the Gear Hub for their Grand Opening Party. The band was playing, the BBQ was…flowing?  The yard sale was in full effect, as was the four square tournament. I left my fellow riders there so I could run home, shower, roll out my legs, gather my family, and finally return in time to see the festivities come to an end. I did pick up a few items from the yard sale bins, and my son did get a new, more legit game of four square going (legit because of the presence of a school child). 

   I ended a longish day of riding my bike by riding my bike home with my son, a trip that was mostly directed into the sunset. But we had our sunglasses. So it was cool. 

Tune-up and repairs for a Specialized Allez Sport

I have a friend with whom I ride on occasion whenever the weather is fair and he’s not swamped with work. The last couple years I’ve been doing tune ups on his bikes right around riding season, wherever that ends up landing. Last year I did his mountain bike (which was stolen from his back yard last winter, unfortunately) and this year he had me work on his road bike. It’s a Specialized Allez Sport with 105 and Tiagra components, probably from the early 2000s. It’s all aluminum and pretty light at 24 pounds.

I gave it a quick once over and noticed a few things right off the bat. First off, the front wheel was radially out of true with a noticeable bump in the rotation. The rear had a flat with the telltale snakebites in the tube. The rear derailleur was having a hard time with several gears and the front derailleur was not working at all; just flopping around on its hinges. Also the front brake was rubbing and needed to be realigned. Oh, and the handlebar tape was coming off at the top where the electrical tape was peeling away.

I found that the front derailleur had a small metal piece where one of of the spring ends usually rests that had been sheared off somehow, and this put that derailleur in the not-fixable category.  The rear derailleur just had a nail jammed into it, and once that was removed it required only minor adjustments to get it working perfectly.  The rear tube got replaced and I patched the old one in case my friend ever needs a quick spare. The front wheel got a little better from just removing the tire and putting it back on, so it was partly a problem with the way the tire was seated on the rim. A little truing and it was back in shape.

I went to the Gear Hub over on Washington to find a replacement front derailleur, and I grabbed a 105 that looked like it would have the reach for the triple chainrings in the front, but I didn’t check the specs online first, so when I got home and put it on I found that it just couldn’t quite make it out far enough to get the chain onto the big ring. Of course, that discovery came the Saturday before Memorial Day, so I had to wait until the Tuesday after to get another replacement derailleur, but this time I checked very carefully. Also worth noting, I believe that I got the only road FD for a triple crank in the whole place, so well done me for not giving up and getting down to the bottom of the basket.

I got home, got the new derailleur mounted, and after some time spent fiddling with it and setting the limit screws, angles, etc it was ready for a test ride. Now, here comes a little confession: I have owned a pair of clipless pedals and some mountain bike style shoes to clip into them for over a year now, but I have never yet ridden with either. In fact, up until today I had never clipped in at all. I enjoy toe clips with straps on a few bikes, but even then I always keep them pretty loose. I mainly like that my feet stay in place and I can keep up a higher cadence without feeling like my feet are floating over the pedals. Plus I find them pretty…AND utilitarian since I can ride in them with nearly any shoes I own. But for whatever reason I never actually switched out any of my pedals on any of my bikes for the clipless ones. I’ve been curious, and I’ve heard all sorts of things about how connected you feel to the bike and how much power you get from the lifting of the pedals.  And you know, since I’m getting things off my chest I’ll add that I did try twice to switch out Judi’s pedals before a particularly long ride and both times I found her pedals to be pretty well stuck on there. I know that I should attend to that, but instead I’ve been satisfied to simply take note before putting the pedals and shoes back in the closet.

But anyway!  Today was the day, and boy was it fun!  I did spend some time with the bike up on a trainer practicing my clipping in and out and getting used to the feeling of being attached to my pedals. Then I did a final ABC check and headed out for my official post-tune-up test ride. The first few times I had to clip in I struggled along for several feet before hitting the sweet spot. But I remained hyper aware of the need to unclip any time I had to slow down, which in turn gave me plenty of opportunities to practice. The feel was very different from what I’m used to. I’ve tightened down the straps on my toe clips now and again when I was on a long stretch that presented few stops and minimal traffic, and that did make a difference as well, but this was much more fun and much easier to get out of in an emergency.

I did notice it most obviously when I was climbing. I made a loop of a few miles that I knew would have a bit of all the inclines so I could shift through the gears and see how the bike performed. It was great, only needing minor tweaks to my earlier adjustments on the stand.  I picked up speed quickly, for one thing. My cadence was easy to get up and keep up. But when I went to climb a hill that I’ve been up many times I was able to keep my speed up much more easily and for a longer duration. I have a hill near Payson Park that I use to get up speed on the way down, and then I like to see how much of that speed I can retain as I climb back up toward Chevrus, as well as when I finally need to downshift. This time I got up to 35 mph and stayed above 28 nearly to the crest of the hill without any ill effects. This bike is lighter than my others and it has a greater range of gears, but I didn’t use too many of them here and the weight difference isn’t really all that much. So I like to imagine it was the new pedal situation.

And that’s my new band name: The New Pedal Situation.

Brooks B17 – About One Year In (+a bit of rambling)

   I bought my first brand new leather saddle last year after the bike swap. I originally meant to write a review immediately and then again after 500 miles. But guess what. That’s not how things went down. In the end I had it on a bike that I didn’t ride as much as I originally thought I would, mainly because the weather really held out for so much of the past winter that I was able to ride my slightly fairer weather bike most of the time right up until I had to switch to my full-on winter bike. Basically I built up a bike that didn’t actually fill a niche in my collection. So in the end I removed the Brooks from that bike after about 300 miles and left it sitting on my dresser for most of the winter. 

   Then, when I finally had to put Judi away for the winter I stole her C17 and put that on my foul weather bike since its weatherproof. Recently I took Judi down off the wall and got her prepped and ready for the spring. When I went to put a saddle on her I ended up going with the B17. The original Fuji saddle was black, so this black leather number looks a little more, I don’t know…traditional. 

   But most importantly, I ride Judi more than anything, and I know that the B17 is less likely to destroy the crotches of my various pairs of pants. The Cambium is super comfy but it also wears out pants like sandpaper. It’s worse on pants with some texture to them like jeans or cords. So that’s how I ended up finishing out the first 500 miles for the new saddle on Judi. And for now that’s probably where it will stay. But enough backstory. What do I think of this thing when it’s pressing into my nethers?

   I went through a few phases. The first few rides it felt immediately comfortable, but they were all pretty short; maybe three or four miles tops. When I finally managed to take some longer rides I noticed that it would start to feel a little uncomfortable after five miles, and the longer I’d go the more I would get this soreness in my inner thighs. Sexy, I know. But now is not the time. Luckily most of my rides during the break-in process were of the shorter, more comfy variety. 

   After I put it away for a few months and then put it on a different bike it felt comfortable and pretty much stayed that way. So I’m not sure how much it was the change in my riding position because of the different bikes and how much it was just my having ridden it 300 or so miles already.  At this point it’s got well over 500 miles on it. I did a 27 mile ride recently and did not have a sore ass afterward, so that’s something. 

   I should mention that I’m no expert in this area. I’ve ridden on a bunch of different saddles, but most have been original saddles on vintage bikes.  None were all that great.  The rest have been soft, squishy gel seats in a variety of designs; lots of cut out centers. My first bike had a Zéfal seat of that type. I rode it a lot. I didn’t do any long rides back then. Five miles still kicked my ass. Oh, and I just remembered that at some point I replaced that seat with a cheap eBay saddle from china. That one was hard plastic with yellow leather over it. It wasn’t more or less comfortable than the squishy Zéfal on those short rides. Other than that I have owned a couple of used leather saddles. One was nearing the end of its life. It was an old Brooks that was so stretched I couldn’t read the imprint on the sides. I’m pretty sure it was a Professional model.

   The other was a B17 narrow that the original owner had overtightened early on, but I managed to sort that out and save it. It never did get all that comfortable, though. It retained a sort of wooden quality. To be fair, I didn’t ride it as much as I could have. 


   So in the end what I did was get myself a combined birthday/xmas gift from the parents, as is my occasional right as a late December baby. I got the aforementioned Brooks Cambium, and I’ve basically been comparing the comfort of my other saddles to that. It is very comfortable. I can ride on it for hours and never give a second thought to my butt. It disappears beneath me and I love it, except for the also aforementioned pants-destroying properties. 

It matches my shoes!
   So I say all that to say this…the B17 is very comfortable, but it’s not yet reached Cambium level comfort. I feel like it will get there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what it needs is some long rides, and I’m looking forward to testing my theory this summer. I spent last summer escaping from an impressively unpleasant job into an infinitely better one (that’s accurate so far since my enjoyment of the job hasn’t yet ceased to wax), and thus didn’t get to do much riding at all. But this new job comes with the perk of a 40 hour work week as opposed to 60, so that’s 20 extra hours that I should be able to spend riding. Subtract some of that for family time, like, 10 hours (15 if we’re being honest), and I still get to go on a couple long rides and another longish one. So maybe we’ll see how things shake out and revisit this at the end of the summer.