It’s Bike Swap time again!

The Great Maine Bike Swap is coming up soon! On Sunday, April 22 at 10am the doors of the Sullivan Center gym will open and folks will be allowed to peruse thousands of bikes being sold by Mainers. Every sale will benefit the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, too. There will be opportunities to test ride bikes on site, and there will be helmets to use and mechanics on hand to verify the bike’s safety before you try it out.

This event is always fun and exciting, and it’s such a great opportunity to get ready for the good riding weather. Plus this year you can grab your bike at the Swap, then ride it over to Standard Baking Co where the Portland Gear Hub will have a table set up to do quick tune ups and inspections while you sip coffee, eat pastries, and ask any questions you might have. What a way to get your bike sorted out!

And the Gear Hub itself will be having its annual yard sale that day (and the day before) so be sure to stop by and pick up anything you might still need for your new bike, your upcoming camping trips, or perhaps your upcoming bikepacking adventure.

Basically the weekend of the 20th will be jam packed full of fun bicycle happenings. I hope to see you there.


A trip to the magical land of Tulsa

I was recently back in Oklahoma for the holidays and I got a chance to see how the bike I have living there is doing. How’s that Oklahoma bike, you ask? It’s just OK. Actually, aside from needing a little air in the tires (which I gave it) and some lube on the chain (which we couldn’t find, so it went without) it was in remarkably good shape for having just hung in the garage for almost exactly one year. It still had the same mismatched wheels and tires, but my kindly old father had gone and found a replacement seat and seatpost since the last ones were both cracked in their own ways. It was a lot more comfortable, and I never had to worry that at some unknowable moment the post would fail and I would be impaled rectally on my bicycle.

I had made a plan to ride 23 miles from Owasso down to my cousin’s place in Tulsa. I’d been wanting to make the ride just to say I did it, as well as to show my family how not a big deal it is to ride 20+ miles at a go. Several members of my OK tribe have proven to be bike curious, but none have really gone for it. My dad did a ride with me last year, but he was on a bike that didn’t really suit his…agedness. He does have a second bike that is more comfy with an upright position and thumb shifters, but he never seems to ride that one either. My cousin to whom I was paying a visit does ride when his bike works, but every time he has something go wrong it always takes forever for anyone to fix it (often it’s my dad or myself if I’m around) and unfortunately it tends to be pretty catastrophic failures. This last time, for instance, I was planning to fix his bike when I arrived (and maybe even go for a brief ride together) but when I got there not only was the chain trapped between the cranks and the BB more thoroughly than I’d ever seen it happen, but also his freewheel had sheared off from the inner workings and was just flopping all over the place like it was hoping to escape.

The leftover bits of the rear cassette

I managed to fix the chain, but I lacked the proper tool to remove what was left of the freewheel bits, so I was forced to leave it in my father’s hands. Hopefully that gets sorted out sometime before I visit next.

I was also looking forward to taking a nice long ride in some relatively pleasant weather. I was leaving Maine just as the temps were due to go sub-zero, and on the day I was planning to ride the Tulsa forecast called for temps in the mid 40’s! Last year I went for a ride right around the same time and I was sweating in just a light hoodie. I had been hoping for something similar this time around, but unfortunately as the day grew closer the forecast got cloudier and colder. By the time Thursday rolled around it came with a high of 32, which is still cold, but warmer than I was used to on my commutes back home. I borrowed some thicker gloves/hat/etc from my dad, got the bike as ready as I could, grabbed some water and some snacks, and set out for Tulsa.

My family made a big deal out of two things. First, they were concerned that a lot of my route might not have any sort of shoulder or bike lane, and that I’d be in danger since “folks aren’t used to looking out for bikers”. And second, I would have to pass through the “rough neighborhood” of north Tulsa. I can appreciate the first point, but the second seemed way overblown and likely motivated by ignorance. But either way I don’t worry about riding through bad areas unless I’m planning to traverse northern Mexico or some other place where there’s an actual, statistical chance that my headless body might be discovered later. Generally I’m never concerned because I’m never giving off moneyed vibes when I’m out for a ride. At worst the homeless population might give me a knowing nod as I roll past, but in all my days and nights of riding I’ve never experienced any issues from any humans who were not driving a vehicle and also being total dicks. So this kind of thing I will continue to dismiss out of hand.

The first couple miles were just getting across and out of town. I chose a route that would keep me on the backroads until I hit the airport, then it kind of meandered through neighborhoods until I was half a mile from my cousin’s. After the first mile or so I had to pull over and adjust my layering, removing a hoodie and stuffing it inside the front of my jacket. Right after I got back on the road I took a turn onto what looked like a rural dead end road, but I was following the signs for a bike lane. It turned out there is an off-road, paved bike path that runs from just outside Owasso, through several fields, all the way to the outer edge of the airport! From what I could tell they had put down a narrow strip of asphalt on top of the middle of what had been an old, little used, crumbling street, and then they just put up gates to keep large vehicles out. This was a very pleasant surprise.

After that stretch it was fairly uneventful, though I really enjoyed seeing this town that I always felt like I knew so well, but from a bicycle. It really lets you discover new sides to every area through which you ride. And I got to wander through parts of town that I’ve never been near, relatively speaking.

The rough part of town was actually pretty run down; lots of houses with roofs caved in, but still seemingly occupied. But even that only lasted for a few blocks.

I grew up in Jenks, which is a little area across the river from Tulsa proper. I’m not really that familiar with the city any more than I was at 18 when I last lived there. Less so with all the changes since. Aside from the airport and the Fairgrounds/Expo Center I didn’t pass much that I was familiar with, which was exactly what I’d been hoping for from this ride.

A brief digression: Pleasant rides like this always make me wish I’d ridden my bike back when I lived in all of these different places. I could’ve ridden around the countryside where I lived as a kid. I could have commuted the 1.5 miles to work in Baltimore (it eventually became a 2.5 mile trip) and gotten to know the city so much better. I…don’t like riding in Texas because of the oppressive heat most months out of the year. I did start when I lived there, though, and I discovered something new in my little half-a-suburb with every ride I suffered through. And Portland I know pretty well at this point. A lot of the surrounding environs, too. But I am occasionally troubled by all the great rides I missed by not owning and operating a bicycle for most of my life.

Hogwart’s has a Tulsa campus now

The next thing I passed was the fairgrounds, followed by a meandering path, calmly described to me through my earbud-lady-friend, that led through several neighborhoods. This was nice because when I finally did have to hop onto an actual road for a mile or so it was Harvard and it didn’t have any sort of bike lane to speak of. Luckily folks mostly gave me lots of room and no one honked. But I turned off when a sigh of relief when the kind google maps lady told me to.

I stopped at the side of the service road by I-44 and ate a protein bar that I swiped from my parents and which I was surprised to find myself needing so badly. I gave up halfway through and pedaled off through the last stretch of neighborhood bike trail, letting out onto Lewis less than a mile from my cousin’s place. The road had a decent shoulder there, so I had a comfy home stretch. I arrived in good shape, pretty hungry, sweaty-backed and in need of a quick hair washing, but otherwise passable in polite society. I washed my hair, dried my shirt about a quarter of the way, then my wife and son arrived to take us all out to lunch. Perfect timing!

I drove back to my parent’s house after the outing that followed and my dad picked up the bike and brought it back later that night. I need to remember to bring a few things with me next time I return to the Great Plains to be sure I’m ready for anything the road throws at me!

Ugh, that sounded terrible.

But I’m keeping it.

Winter Alley Cat – January 28th!

Just a heads up that we are having a winter alley cat race this month, Sunday the 28th. It begins at noon in Monument Square, and it ends somewhere else where we can all party hearty well into the afternoon. This race will replace the annual Snowman Adventure Race that the Gear Hub has been hosting the past three or four years, but it will involve a fair amount of outdoor winter activities.

If you’ve never been a part of an alley cat it’s a kind of bike race/scavenger hunt with no set route. Instead there’s a list of stops around town that you have to hit in order to get a stamp before making it to the final stop. They’re always fun, and there are prizes for the normal race categories as well as best costume (encouraged, not required), bonus points, dead last, etc. I highly recommend showing up for these events when we put them on. You can race individually or in teams of up to six people, so drag some friends along.

I hope to see some of you fine folks there!

Review: Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills 

   The full title is actually “BICYCLING Magazine’s Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills – Your Guide to Riding Faster, Stronger, Longer, and Safer” which is pretty self explanatory, and I probably shouldn’t have to even do a review, but here goes anyway.  

   This appears to be a compilation of articles from Bicycling Magazine on various subjects particular to the art of road riding and road racing. In all honesty, I picked this up thinking that it would either be a bunch of tips and tricks I’d already read elsewhere or else a bunch of information about blood oxygen levels and intervals and other things that, while they might be interesting scientifically speaking, do not interest me subjectively speaking. But I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. 

   The first few chapters were super basic, but well written and focused on preventing bad habits from forming early on, one could assume. A great deal of what followed was a good mix of stuff I’ve heard before, but written by professional cyclists (Davis Phinney authored several of these chapters, which is noteworthy since he is the husband of one of the authors of the first book I reviewed, Connie Carpenter-Phinney) with specific, thoughtful tips, and stuff which I’d not heard or long forgotten.  

   There’s a good chapter on breathing. It may sound odd, but I’m a big fan of focusing on my breath when I ride. I try to turn some rides into a kind of pseudo meditation. Or maybe it’s more like yoga.  Either way it’s rarely discussed in the other books I’ve read about cycling. There are chapters on climbing and the benefits thereof, which I appreciate because I primarily notice my fitness level based on how I handle the hills in and around my home town of Portland, Maine.  They actually covered a wide variety of subjects that apply to any fan of riding bikes, from beginners to commuters. There are a few chapters that are mostly directed at road racers, but even many of these also pertain to long distance riding and touring.  

   The book was published in 1998, so there are some small elements that might seem dated, but overall it holds up really well. Good advice is good advice. There is a chapter toward the end titled “For Men Only” that was a lot about impotence and not being able to feel one’s penis for a month or more. It seems like much of this has been shown to be incredibly rare or just generally debunked. Which isn’t to say there aren’t risks. But still…  

   The following chapter was titled “For Women Only” so I skipped it. I try to respect the wishes of the books that I read. Plus it allows me to imagine all sorts of bizarre stuff that could be in that chapter. Kind of a Schrödinger’s cat of vulva mythology. But there was one thing that I read in this book that I will never forget. 

   In one chapter they explain how stop lights detect cars using metal detectors under the pavement, which was awesome because I didn’t know that. They also explained what to look for if you want to roll over the detectors to increase the odds that your bike will actually ping the thing and make the light change for you without any cars having to come up in the lane right behind you. Which I greatly appreciated. But then the guy goes a lot overboard by suggesting that cyclists should go so far toward obeying the vehicular rules of the road that, when you find yourself waiting at a light that just won’t change, rather than waiting for an opportune moment to just ride through the red light they could dismount and lay their bike down on the detector to help it detect the steel (this is assuming your bike is made of steel) and change the light. I feel that this would do so much more to confuse and disrupt any potential traffic that might witness such a scene than it would to actually make said cyslist safe. But of course I also really want to see someone try it. 

Or get one of these doohickeys

   I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to anyone who has been riding for a little while and who feels like they could ride a little smoother and a little better. Or really anyone at all interested. Don’t hold back just because I failed to properly pigeonhole you. 

Book review: Ride the Revolution 

   Since I became a cycling convert five or so years ago I have done a lot of online research, especially when trying to learn how to fix things on my bikes. But I also discovered several great cycling blogs out there that I eventually read in their entireties. When I made the switch to a full-on commuter I was working at a bookstore in Portland, ME. I don’t know if folks are aware, but when you work in a cool, indie book shop there are people from different publishing houses who visit from time to time, and they love getting to know what topics and authors you enjoy so they can bring you advanced copies to read. I only worked there for a year, but I got to read some great books on cycling, bike culture, and repair. And since then I have become quite familiar with the bicycle section of my local library. Since I’ve been reading all these great books, and since I’ve been doing this whole blog thing, it struck me that I should try writing some reviews now and then. 

   I’m on vacation in Canada (or at least I was when I began writing this review), so I brought along some reading material that I checked out ahead of time. One of those was Ride the Revolution – The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling, edited by Suze Clemitson. What better place to start!?

   I really enjoyed this book.  Each chapter is either written by a woman from the world of cycling, and Clemitson did a fantastic job of finding people who are associated with cycling in a wide variety of ways. I have to admit that I’d only ever heard of a tiny handful of these very interesting women, and even then I mainly knew the names but not the specifics. But that’s a point that this book makes over and over without really having to say it explicitly. There are so many women who are amazing athletes, commentators, and administrators in the sport of cycling, and yet there is very little coverage that might otherwise make them household names. Cycling as sport has been male-centric for most of its history, even though women have been there all along doing all of the same things. 

   This book does focus almost exclusively on the sporting aspect of cycling, which might make it less interesting to anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the various tours and races that have been running for decades. I have only been interested in cycling as a sport for about a year now, but I have read a few books about the Tour de France and some other classic races. I also read The Rider by Tim Krabbe and Gironimo by Tim Moore early in my “research” into bicycles, so I had some idea of how the sport works and how it has evolved over time. Prior to that I had mainly read about the history of bicycles and how new inventions and innovations have brought us from unwieldy penny farthings to the sleek, sexy cycles of the modern age. But even in those books there is a great deal to learn about how sport drove many of those innovations. It is difficult to learn much about bikes without also learning at least something about competitive cycling.  So if you have any interest in bicycles, and you also have any feelings at all about sexual (in)equality, this book will have much in it that you will find interesting. 

   It is well organized into sections with similar narratives, like “The Pioneers”, “The Riders”, “The Media”, etc. The first chapter covers Beryl Burton, whom I’d never heard of, and who was quite clearly an unmitigated badass. She was setting records alongside (and sometimes ahead of) the men around her while also dealing with all of the responsibilities of a wife and mother in the 60’s and 70’s. Her chapter ended in the same way as so many others in this book, with me asking myself “how is it possible that in all of my reading I’ve never heard of this person?”  I have read about a few women from the early days of cycling who are not mentioned in this book, but most were not involved in any sort of cycling sport. However, I imagine that if I mentioned Beryl to any ladies who follow the sport of cycling (and especially any who themselves compete) they would know who I was talking about. But maybe not!

   I also discovered fascinating tales of women like Sarah Connolly whose voice is known as a commentator of cycling events, or the two outstanding Australians, Rochelle Gilmore and Tracey Gaudry, a team owner and the first female VP of the UCI respectively. Some of the chapters are actually interviews, and in those cases the questions are always insightful (perhaps because they come from women as well) and follow one another deeper into the subject than you might find in a regular magazine article with its need to cover a wider range of subjects and experiences. 

   There was never a chapter that I found boring or was antsy to skip. Even the one on Hannah Grant, the chef for the Tinkoff-Saxo team was interesting, although I do work in the food industry and I was a pastry chef in my former life, so I do have more of a built in buy-in for something like that. Overall I think this would be a good book to suggest (or just purchase) for any cyclists in your life whom you consider deserving of such a thing. 


Dirty Secrets of the Cycling World Episode 1

   There are some stark realities for commuters that are rarely discussed. If you just ride a bike and don’t often have access to a car then you are generally going to do just fine. But then occasionally you have a night where you are, let’s say, too busy at work to do more than snack on mostly sweets, even though you brought delicious leftover soup. Then you meet a friend for dinner at a burger joint and eat a ton of greasy fries and a burger. Then you walk around chatting just long enough to realize that there’s trouble brewing in your belly bits.

   So now let’s pretend (because this is all a hypothetical, purely imagined scenario that definitely did not happen to me last night) that you also noticed you have a flat rear tire just before your dinner.  So now you’re downtown, miles from home, walking along with your bike and your friend, trying to look casual as your discomfort slowly mounts.  Maybe your friend offers to let you use their restroom since it’s only a mile and a half from you at this point. And perhaps you say ok and make your way there. For argument’s sake let’s even agree that you make it there without incident.

   You arrive and head directly into the bathroom, at which point you realize several things.  First, the incredibly flimsy sliding door is not going to do much for staying closed on its own, much less keeping out the sound of a demon crawling out of your ass.  Second, the walls of the bathroom do not go all the way to the ceiling.  There’s a gap of several inches where they have clearly just built a basically permanent partition around the bathroom area when creating this particular apartment.  Thirdly, there’s a bottle of Tums on the shelve near the toilet.  What do you do with this sudden influx of information?  Well I’ll tell you what you do.  You make a valiant effort at trying to relax the muscles around your bladder without letting go of your sphincter proper.  This results in a sad trickle of urine that might ease your suffering imperceptibly, but it’s hard to tell.  Then you slam two Tums and resolve yourself to change that tube out in record time so that you can ride the remaining mile home to your own proper, safely defileable bathroom.

   Now you have to actually fix that flat, which isn’t too hard since you have all the tools in your saddlebag.  Your friend is there to keep you company and to (probably) smell the smells that have begun to eek out of your body.  All the bending over involved in the process does seem to help, oddly enough, though that could also just be the Tums.

   You say your awkward goodbyes, and now comes the fun part!  You get to ride home, only about a mile, while doing the bizarre internal yoga necessary to keep your legs moving smoothly while also clenching your buttcheeks together firmly, all while hunched forward onto your handlebars. This is what separates the men from the…men who smell like literal shit. Climbing that last hill gets a little dicey, but you manage it, and it really is all downhill after that. You roll to a stop at your front door, rush inside, and do what needs to be done, grateful for your own willpower and intestinal fortitude. And impressive sphincter control.  

   And that is just a thing that happens from time to time when your only vehicle is a bicycle. Of course, other folks might deal with this same situation differently, but those folks don’t have the same childhood-based bathroom issues that you do (or that I do for that matter). But it happens. Does it suck?  Yes, but not much more than regular old stomach distress sucks. And it’s usually manageable.  But even though I know a lot of bike commuters I don’t recall ever hearing any of their similar stories. Which is why I felt that this purely fictional tale was one that needed to be told. 

A Long-Overdue Chain Replacement

   I have been experiencing some strange, occasional issues with my primary bike, Mizz Judith over the past year. Sometimes it’s an odd sound. Sometimes it feels like a looseness in the freewheel. Other times I’m certain it’s a BB issue. You know what I never took the time to check, or even consider?  “How long has this chain been on here?”  Turns out the answer was close to 3000 miles. That’s about 2000 miles more than it probably should have been on there. 

   I checked her over as I cleaned up all her filthy teeth, and none were noticeably worn. I was still worried when I put the chain on and took off for my first test ride. But everything shifted smoothly and, at least for that brief ride, there was no popping nor clicking nor feelings of looseness. I will have to be more mindful of this sort of thing in the future since I love my drivetrain and have been unable to find a NOS replacement with the same gearing. And even if I did I can’t bring myself to pay more for the freewheel than I paid for the bike, so there’d have to be some serious luck involved. 

   I also replaced the rear brake cable and housing since it’s been a bit sticky lately and I haven’t replaced either in three years. 

   After all that I got the tandem set up for a taller rider than my ten year old and took a friend out to meet yet another friend for lunch. We all commiserated about the horrible place where two of us used to work, and one of us still does work. It was cathartic for everyone involved, all in our own ways. It was a nice day for a ride!

   When I got back I was trying to adjust the rear saddle height for my wife so that I could finally try to coax her gently onto the bike and either awaken something powerful deep inside her or completely ruin her day. But the bolt snapped off as I was loosening and tightening it. Luckily I had a quick release lever for that sort of thing in a drawer in the ol’ attic workshop. So I switched it out and now I have the perfect set up. I can measure the best height for my wife and get the saddle just right in the new seatpost. Then I’ll keep Ezzie’s saddle on it own seatpost, adjusted just right for him.  I know his seat post height, so I can just switch the whole set-up over when I’m changing stokers. And I also have to change the pedals, at least until the wife decides she wants a pair of SPD cleats.