Sunday, November 4, 2012

Re: Me and Biking

So here's the thing: I haven't been on my bike in weeks.

People ask me, and I feel like it's a lot of reasons and they all come out like excuses. But the bottom line is that it's just more annoying than it is fun. That matters, as I am not really into doing things that are super-annoying and un-fun. Allow me to enumerate some of the reasons why this is.

1. The commute to work on Olivia is always about an hour each way. I am incapable of speeding this up because, as I have mentioned, she and I are both Slow. That's a lot of time and somewhere around 40 minutes in, I am ready for it to be done. And yet it's not done. So the last twenty minutes feel so damn burdensome, every time.

2. Just to take the bike out of my building's basement is this epic struggle that takes 10 sweaty and infuriating minutes. She is wedged into my storage locker (the only place for her, really) and I have to wrestle her out of there (stop, lock door), weave her through the forest of other bikes and debris that clutter the basement, through the narrow hall, then (stop, park bike) prop the back door open, negotiate the extremely narrow area just outside the door (stop, park bike, lock door), up the 6 steps, bang my head on the grill that someone insists on storing there where it leaves only about 8 inches of opening for me and the bike to pass through, (stop, park bike) squeeze past the grill/dumpster, prop open the back gate, (stop, park bike) lock gate behind me, and then - ONLY THEN can I get on the damn bike. It is impossible for me to convey how exhausting and dispiriting this little interlude is.

3. To go through that wrestling match as the kick-off to an hour-long work commute is not the best way to start a day. Sometimes on weekends I think I'll do it, but - to go through all that just so I can run errands? Well, the car is right fucking there on the street. So much easier. For godsakes. My lease is up in March, I absolutely have to move somewhere that I can more easily access the bike. As it stands, this non-riding portion of events is a very serious disincentive.

4. And even when I have been in the mood, the weather went from sweltering jungle heat to gale-force winds, with very little in between. To put up with unpleasant weather for a 20-30-minute ride is one thing. But for an hour each way? No. Sorry, but no.

5. I have had to admit to myself that it's not cars that are the greatest annoyance/danger when I am on my bike. It's other cyclists. It's amazing how assholish some people on bikes can be. Now this would not normally be a deterrent, but when you add it all in with everything else? Well, let me just say that on the train, everyone is usually in their own quiet bubble, reading a book or playing with their phones. There is no struggle to get out the door to get to the train. There is no brutal weather inside the train. The commute by train take about 45 minutes. Can you see why I opt for the train?

If I were in training, then there would be more motivation to go through all that bullshit for a daily ride. But I am not in training.

Speaking of, I honestly don't know where I stand on training next season. Part of me wants to, but it's a vanishingly small part of me. I mean, the most lingering memory I have of training is the hate. As in, my hatred of training. You know how there are allegedly some kinds of pain you forget, like childbirth? Well, training is not that kind of pain. It is memorable. The pain is the outstanding feature. Now that Dan has told me that his doctor has not approved any bike-riding, there is not much that's pushing me to do it.

As a consequence of all this - my current non-riding and my not exactly fired-up attitude toward training - I have not been building a bike or even making plans for it anymore. I still may do it, sure. But right now, I keep thinking of other things I can use the money for. I don't know - it's hard to explain, but it's like something happened to push a giant PAUSE button on all my bike enthusiasm. I'm not fighting it, because -- well, because it's just a hobby and I have better things to expend my energy and effort and guilty conscience on. Either I will feel a renewed wave of obsession about it one day, or I won't.

But I do still love Olivia, and I am planning my next living space around her prominence in my life. I don't think I'll live any closer to work, so the commute can't change. But she'll have a safe and secure storage spot, where I can more easily take her out for a ride when the mood strikes me. So even if I'm never all bike-crazy again one day, I know I'll still always love a nice bike ride. That it will always have this place in my life, and it's an important place.

That's all I really know for now. But it's enough. 

Monday, September 17, 2012


And now that the weather is pretty perfect for a bike ride, my fall allergies are kicking my ass. I never feel like getting on the bike, because in the last 2 weeks I only feel like sleeping and sitting on the couch. And even if I get up the energy, I realize that it would probaby be a dumb move to spend nearly two hours a day riding. Outside. Through parks. You know, where all the trees are.

Ugh. The worst thing is that it's getting to be habit, this not riding to work thing. And I have to admit, that if it were a shorter trip - like half the time - then nothing could stop me. But this near-hour commute so often feels like such a chore. So. I dunno. I have to think about it. After my brain is less congested with allergy-snot.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Just a Little Update

My bike life has been rather... fallow (?) lately. But I realize I haven't posted in ages, so here's a little something.

Until yesterday, the weather has made bike commuting mostly impossible for me. As a result, I am achey and stiff in random places - because I am old and need the regular exercise, and when I don't get it then all my flesh and bones get cranky. This week looks like it will be better, so I should get to ride some days, if not all. HURRAH.

Yesterday, I drove out to Barrington and helped the team by playing SAG-lady. It was really good to see some teammates again. Funny how a few weeks really does feel like forever, but Bill still has a big broad smile and a loud mouth, and Carrie still comes back with her legs splattered with more dirt than anyone else, and Rose still makes the best peanut butter honey sandwich in the midwest - so things don't change too much. It was fun to talk with Gary, too, about different courses and all the challenges they present, and what I might or might not want to do next year. Gary's a good person to talk to about these things, as he's really a tough-as-nails guy but still totally frank about how hard a thing can be, physically and/or emotionally. No glossing over anything, but no boasting or whining. Like that. Anyway, I feel a zillion miles from cycling-as-a-sport, but being in that environment again, just as support, made me feel (surprisingly) a little nostalgiac about it. Even though I'm quite content to be lazy, I know I'll want to ride again next season.

And in other bike-ish news, my bike class ended a couple of weeks ago. I don't know that I feel 100% confident about building my own bike, but I feel confident enough to get started. I missed the class on brakes and I should've made it up, but didn't. Frankly, the teaching style just didn't match up with my learning style, so even though I learned a lot and am very very glad for it - well, the teacher frustrates me more than I care to put up with right now. So instead, I'll just bring my bike to Open Shop on Wednesdays (which is Women & Trans night) or Saturdays (when someone other than the frustrating dude runs things) and do it then. Before I get started on my bike, though, I have to finish Elspeth's bike. Because in the end, her little cruiser could not be saved. After all the work I did on it, I discovered at the end that a nut was basically rusted/fused completely on to the axle of the rear wheel, and that was irreparable. To get a new wheel would cost more than the bike was worth. But all was not lost, since West Town quite generously swapped the old bike with a comparable donation bike. It's pretty sweet, too!

But before handing it over to Elspeth, I want to do a mini-overhaul on it - headset, bottom bracket, hubs. It'll be a nice refresher on the basics, and then I'll order the frame for my new exciting fast bike. In the meantime, I'll just keep hoping for nice non-scorching days where I can ride my not-fast bike to work every day.

So there's the update on my bike life. More later, if there's anything to report. Happy riding!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Shifty Evening

Behold the seedy bikey underbelly, where shifter cables can be poorly routed until I swoop in and save the day.
Don't ask me how it got to be Friday without me telling y'all about Sunday's bike class. Suffice it to say that life has been a little nutty and I've gotten a bit flakey.

The class was about shifters and, once again, Elspeth's bike was not appropriate for the lesson, because it's a 3-speed internal gear hub. That just means that the mechanism that shifts gears is inside the hub, all enclosed, instead of (literally) hanging out where you can see it and take it apart and fiddle with it and basically have your way with it. The external kind of gears are controlled by a mechanism called a dérailleur, which is a hilariously French spelling for something we all just call a de-rail-er in a very non-French way. (Note that I am always tempted to bust out the proper French pronunciation which, in this case, involves lots of awesome guttural Rs - making it that much more tempting. Not because I'm being pretentious, but because I love any French word that sounds like its own parody. But enough of that.)

I used a West Town program bike instead, and it turned out to really need some help. It was a mountain bike, so yay hurrah: twist/grip shifters. Those are only hard if you have to replace the shifting cable, because you have to wind it around the right way and there are little bits inside that are all crucial and stuff, and guess how I know? Yeah, I had a frayed shifting cable, so it had to be replaced. If you have a geared bike, your shifting cables will eventually fray. It's just how it works. It's not TOO hard to replace, but it takes time and attention.

So in replacing it, I found that the two shift cables were routed in such a way that they criss-crossed each other. Which is one of those things that makes you go "What moron did that?" And after rerouting, I adjusted the derailleur, which is surprisingly controlled by these tiny little screws that look like they're just there to hold the derailleur in place. But they're not - they mess with your derailleur. So just a warning to anyone feeling all DIY: if you inspect your derailleur and see teensy screws that look like they could stand to be tightened down: DON'T DO THAT.

I really, really enjoyed that class. The thing is, I very much didn't enjoy wheel-truing and then I had a week off, and then on my way to class Sunday I was feeling very misanthropic (just because after my work conference, I needed a break from human interaction) and not looking forward to it at all. So it all culminated in me wondering if I was even interested anymore, as going there felt like a bit of a chore all of a sudden. But even though I was outwardly impatient for class to be over, afterwards I realized how much I enjoyed it and would totally want to do that again.

So: yay, bike interest continues despite dislike of wheel-truing!

Now I just need to make up the class I missed, on brakes. I will try to do it tomorrow. I coulda done it earlier in the week, but allow me to repeat: I am flakey just now. Then when I make that up, there's only one calss left. Which seems nuts, but there you go. And then I will order my road bike frame and start building my own bike! Wheeee!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So Very Gripping (ha ha)

Bringing home the bacon is far less important than bringing home the beer.
My crazy time at work is over (yay sleep!) and now here I am to show you pictures of the bike I haven't ridden in ages. I am hoping to ride to work tomorrow, now that I'm back from far-off lands and the heat seems to have broken. Better than just "the heat has broken", in fact - on the ride home from the airport I wanted to stick my head out the cab window like a joyful dog, tongue flapping in the cool breeze. Thank god, because I am sick of air conditioning and I miss Olivia. 

Did you notice what's different about her in the above picture? I mean, aside from her dignified hauling of my less-than-dignified groceries. 

Gleaming! Golden! Gorgeous!

New grips! I shellacked them and popped them on a while ago, and have gotten in a couple of rides since. They feel downright heavenly, compared to those hard corrugated plastic things that used to live on my handlebars. It was actually really easy to do - just three coats of amber shellac (bought at Amazon for like $6 - the grips themselves were $8) and then slide them right on. Taking the old ones off were far more difficult, until I asked the internet and found a forum where everyone swore by the following method: pry edge of grip away from bar with a screwdriver or something, squirt a wee splash of rubbing alcohol in there, and voilĂ . They were completely right - popped right off, like magic.

Anyway, my hands feel oodles better, and I think they look rather fetching, don't you? The color makes me happy. Like warm buttery toast.

In other news, I don't know what we're covering in class on Sunday (shifters maybe?) but I missed last week, which was brakes. I'm bummed to have missed it, but I'll make it up and then tell you all about it, eventually. And in the meantime, I will sleep and hopefully wake up and be joyfully reunited with my bike commute. Fingers crossed, people!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Pursuit Of True

The wheel in the thingie goes round and round, round and round, round and rou---scraaaaape.
Currently, I am in the thick of it at work so I can't really be lengthy here. (Because I need sleep. So so so much sleep.) But this week's class was on wheel-truing and we trued the wheels. Or, um, tried to.

Turns out I hate wheel-truing. I think because I suck at it. What you do is you feel the spokes, like squeeze the ones that are parallel to each other, to see if any are more loose than the others. Apparently, like a 5-pound difference in tension is WAY noticeable, to anyone not named Beth. Seriously, man, they all felt about the same to me, even when there was like a 10-pound difference. So the idea of being some Master Wheelsman (or whatever they call themselves) who can adjust the tension just by feel? Pshaw. Not gonna happen.

Bridget and I - wait, did I mention Bridget is my classmate, and she's at the workstation next to me so we share tools when necessary and frequently mutter things under our breath to each other, usually about what complete spazzes we are when it comes to threading? (Not eyebrow threading, ladies, I mean the threading on, like, things that screw in to other things. I often get the direction wrong, and so does Bridget, because rightie-tighty lefty-loosey doesn't always apply to bikey things. It's embarrassing.) Anyway, Bridget and I spent the class hogging the single tensiometer so that we could use actual objective measurements instead of just going by feel. It worked, we got the wheels true. But I didn't exactly have a great time.

So I'm not a fan of this particular task, which is a real shame since I had previously been hoping to build my own wheels at some point. But screw that, man, I will pay someone else to build them. And to true them. Godspeed and good riddance. I seriously have no interest in it anymore. How sad is that?

Another thing I learned is that Elspeth's poor bike was not just forgotten for quite some time, it was downright criminally neglected. I mean just look at the petrified salt and corrosion freezing this sucker up:

Dear Elspeth:  Your wheels are shitty. Sorry.  Love, Beth
(Oh, another thing: I had to un-attach the 3-speed cable and the coaster brake, which was not EXACTLY a walk in the park, okay, especially with all that rust and all. And the wheel rims are steel, so it all weighed circa 30 metric tons, is all I'm saying. ANYWAY.)

Despite the shape it's in, from having sat outside through at least 3 out of 4 seasons of a year (before being moved inside for another year or more, to just sit and rust over), it's not a terrible diagnosis for the bike. Since it's not a primary form of transport and since it's really only going to be used for a mile here, a mile there, take her to the train in the morning, maybe pick up some groceries on occasion, etc, it'll do. It's not worth sinking money into it to improve the bike, though. It's functional, and she can ride it til it dies, as should be done with any good old rust-bucket.

Let me just take a moment to say that in my experience - both in riding bikes and in learning about them - it's worth investing time, effort, and money into your wheels. I mean, if you have to choose just one thing to really worry about and/orconcentrate on, make it the wheels. Be cavalier about other parts, but not the big round ones that make you go.

Aaaaaand, I'm off. Have to skip next week's class (subject: brakes!) because I will be working out of town, so I'll pop back in after that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No News Is Not Exactly Good News

Bike class was cancelled Sunday, so I have no tales of wheel truing to share.

I did, however, replace the grips on Olivia - got rid of the horrible painful plastic things the Pashley factory put on her, and replaced them with lovely cork grips. I've shellacked them and am quite anxious to give them a whirl.

But apparently I have chosen the worst summer ever to try out bike commuting. Every single day is either a freaking heat wave or a violent thunderstorm. I can't even keep up with the weather alerts anymore, and I swear my leg muscles are turning to jelly as we speak. Bah.

I said BAH.

So... When I can haul Olivia out into the sunlight without developing heat stroke, I will take a picture of the new grips. Mind you, that may not happen until sometime in November at this rate.

In the meantime, my bike-life is boring. Days full of bad weather and sharp longing. Oh woe. Woe is me, people.