Easy peasy

I rarely forget to wear my helmet. This is mainly because I have made a habit of attaching it to either my backpack or my bicycle whenever I arrive at my destination. Chances are pretty much 100% that when I leave I will have the bag and the bicycle with me. But every once in a while I put the helmet down someplace else in my house and then all bets are off. The problem is that it is incredibly easy to just hop on the bike and go for a ride. That’s the whole point of a bicycle as far as I can tell.

At times I have been less mindful of my helmet, resulting in a few rides where I only noticed about halfway through that I had on neither helmet nor padded, fingerless gloves. My handlebars are not the softest, and rather than rewrap with something cushy I keep the classy-as-fuck leather sew-ups and wear the gloves. Now there was a time a couple of years ago when I probably would’ve turned around and gone back…depending on how far away I was at the time of the realization. But I am far past that now and generally just say screw it, while also trying to ride a little more cautiously than I might otherwise do. It’s not a contradiction if you do it right.

But here’s the funny thing, I have had two accidents where I hit my head in a way that, had I not been wearing a helmet, I probably would not have been riding around or even walking for a little while. One was in the winter at five in the morning on black ice, and so while it was quite sudden, you couldn’t really say it was unexpected. The other one was due to a combination of circumstances, all pretty random. But that pretty much sounds like life and to me it implies that such a thing could happen at any time. For that reason I usually try to wear helmet.

Even more than that, when I do find myself occasionally thinking, “I wonder if my head would be less sweaty if I didn’t wear a helmet. Maybe I’ll just give it a shot a couple of times now that the temperature is in the 90s,” I still can’t ever follow through. Just the fact that I’m considering not wearing a helmet makes it feel like the risk of an accident has gone up exponentially. I guess that’s how Big Helmet got to where it/they are today. But if I’m actively feeling less safe couldn’t that translate into being led confident, especially when it matters most? Could such an accident end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy? I’ll probably never know.

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New(er) Brakes for an Old(er) Bike

I have been thinking for a while now about replacing the brakes on Judi, my 1983 Fuji Del Rey. The Dia-Compe calipers that came on the bike seemed fine when I first got it, but all I had to compare it to was an old Wal-Mart bike my little brother (also from 1983) had given me. Eventually I tried some other bikes with V-brakes and cantis, and those had more stopping power, but I assumed that was because they were of a different design. When I finally got to ride a number of different vintage bikes I began to realize that my brakes just weren’t that great. And changing to different brake pads didn’t change anything. They’re not as bad as the whole set up on my 1950’s 3-speed with steel rims, but they’re nowhere near as good as the early 80’s Suntour Superbes on the mystery bike I keep at my folk’s house in Oklahoma. So I was delighted when I saw a pair of seemingly unused Superbe calipers for sale in the display case of the Portland Gear Hub recently. These were definitely newer and nicer than the ones on my OK bike, but they were only the brake calipers and not the levers. After asking around and doing a little research it seemed like replacing the calipers would give me a lot of benefit whether or not I switched out the levers, so in the end I grabbed some cash from my almost totally depleted reserve of bike money and made my way out to grab those brakes and some pads. I was so excited that it wasn’t until I got home and started perversely manhandling them in the privacy of my own home that I realized these came with recessed bolts. The old Dia-Compes were the older nutted style. Hmmm.

I went to the internet and it told me that I could either buy two front brakes (too late and too expensive) or I was going to have to do some light drilling on the old bike to get the frame to accept these brakes. Now, there was a time not long ago when I would have returned the brakes sheepishly, saying that I hadn’t known. And I didn’t want to do any sort of drilling on my beautiful, sweet bicycle. Too risky! I could damage the paint…further. But I am more utilitarian than that now regarding this bike. It’s my bike that I love the most and that I ride the most. All others are nothing more than curiosity getting the best of me; brief dalliances that ultimately come to naught. And if this is THE bike, then I should get started really perfecting her.

The paint is much more chipped and well-worn than she was when first we met on that evening so long ago in a Libbytown basement. I’ve made some changes, but mostly things that are primarily aesthetic and easily reversible if I change my mind. Leather sew-ups for the handlebars, a new Brooks saddle (or two), vintage toe clips, etc. But today I sat down and drilled the rear-facing brake holes bigger and replaced the brakes. I used the method suggested by Sheldon Brown and demonstrated by RJ the bike guy on YouTube. It worked very well, requiring very little filing to get things to fit properly. I also had to drill out the holes on one of the curved washers for each brake, but that also proved quite easy. I was surprised at how smoothly everything went.

I did the front brake, then went for a test ride before doing the rear brake. Then another test ride. The brakes are short reach and probably from the era of 700c wheels on everything, but they do fit, just barely. The pads don’t touch the tires, even with my weight on the bike squishing the tires out a bit.

And they work so much better then the old brakes! My final test ride was mostly just repeatedly getting up to speed and then seeing how quickly I could stop. I usually ride with my hands on the hoods and I like brakes that allow me to stop easily from this position of limited leverage rather than having to reach down in the drops for an emergency stop. The old ones really never got there no matter what I did or how clean I kept them. Luckily they also didn’t suffer any worse from being dirty, which is how they remained once I figured out how little difference it made.

There’s not much else I’d change about Judi, I don’t think. Better brakes was always the thing that would come to mind, but the list always stopped there, too. I’m sure I’ll try some different bar wraps some day, but I like these in their current, ragged form. I wish they were squishier by a bit. Perhaps I’ll rewrap them with a layer of cloth tape underneath next time. But that’s a long ways off.

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!

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. 

Judi’s bar wraps were starting to fall apart, and I always found the bars to feel a bit too hard anyway, so I got some elk hide sew ups and I sewed them up. I really enjoy the feel so far, and I’m looking forward to how they darken up. I do feel like the hide is a little pocky and not particularly smooth, but I knew it was different than cow hide going in,

and I find them to be surprisingly soft and cushy for how thin they are. Plus I dig the look of of them.