Friday, October 30, 2009

My Big Break

I promise to move on to new topics very soon, but this new x-ray of my shoulder was too cool to leave out.  It shows the break much more clearly than I remembered seeing it on the first set of x-rays.

That big white peninsula that goes horizontally across the top is my clavicle.  That biggish island floating offshore?  That's not supposed to be there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My LBS is better than your LBS

I'm sure yours is great too.  But check out this get well card from the crew at Peak Adventures.

What a thoughtful thing to do!  And how eco-responsible to recycle a birthday card for a get-well purpose... the altered message wishes me a happy "breakday."  It's signed on the inside by the best bike mechanics in town, including a thumbprint of genuine Schwinn axle grease.

These guys are great and their willingness to share their expertise has been key to my enjoyment of cycling these past six months or so.  I'm pretty sure you don't get this treatment with a department store bike.

Musician Taylor Mitchell dies after coyote attack while hiking

Musician Taylor Mitchell dies after coyote attack while hiking

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

RIP "Obi" 1993 - 2009

Yep.  It's official.  Tyler called this afternoon with good news and bad news.  The good news?  'you've been wanting to buy a new bike, and now you can." 

The bad news is this means that Obi is done.  Apparently, I bent not only the forks, but the frame itself.  It's simply not safe to ride in this fundamentally compromised condition.

Indulge me for a moment as I repeat for the umpteenth time that I really loved this bike.  Each time I bought a new/old bike, it highlighted some aspect of how Obi already was awesome.  As I kept searching for more roadster/upright style bikes, I was reminded of how nimble and responsive Obi was with the semi-upright position and riser bars.  As I sought out lugged steel, it pointed me back to Obi's great mixture of cro-moly comfort and lightness.  Lately, I'd even started to appreciate the color... a kind of purplish burgundy.

I bought it at City Bicycle Works in 1994, I think -- no later than 1995, in any case.  I remember that both my bike and girlfriend were quite new on some morning rides through Land Park and I know that this particular girlfriend (a cute little reporter from the Bee!) came into my life in 1995.  My friend Dave Valdez -- a bike cop and candidate for World's Nicest Guy -- took me to his favorite bike shop and made sure I got the right bike for my size and plans.  I rode it off and on over the next decade and a half, but it was in the last six months that Obi found his groove.  See my earlier post on "Making My Specialized More Belgian."

More later on the task ahead -- rescuing the brand-new components, choosing a frame and building a new bike.  But tonight, I just want to be sad about Obi. Here's one more look... didn't he look proud of his new fenders and drive train?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Fall -- Aftermath

I can't end this story without mentioning our Bike Trail Good Samaritan, Frank.  Jan and I stopped Frank to ask him the name of the access road we were on so Jan could find it in the car.  Frank did far better than supply the name. He stopped his ride, checked me over for signs of a concussion, etc., and insisted on staying with me while Jan fetched the car.  At the time, I thought this was unnecessary, but it's clear to me now that I wouldn't have done that well left on my own with the post-accident adrenaline coursing through my system.  There's every chance I'd have freaked out -- or passed out -- without Frank chatting away about bikes, jobs and coyotes.  Thank you, Frank. 

Now for the damages.  We went straight to my doctor's office and from there to the x-ray lab.  There, the looks on the faces of the techs told me our medical visits weren't over for the day.  Both our techs were too professional to diagnose for me, but when they stare at the monitor somberly, point at it and then look at each other, you know there's something there.  If I needed another clue, it came when one of the techs suggested we take the x-rays with us "in case" my doctor wanted me to see a specialist "right away."

After a little prodding, that's exactly what happened.  I was squeezed onto the schedule of an orthopedic specialist who told me I'd joined the legions of cyclists who have broken a clavicle.  Treatment consists of wearing a splint and waiting about 8 weeks for the bone to knit itself back together.  No surgery, no complicated harnesses and no special postures or regimens.  Just get used to left-handed life and be patient.

Six days later, I've regained a great deal of mobility in my right shoulder.  There are plenty of things I can't do -- mostly involving moving my elbow too far from my ribs -- but an increasing number of things I can.  And, I'm getting very good at brushing my teeth, shaving and eating as a lefty.

But enough about me.  How, you ask, did the bike come through all this?

Not good, it turns out.  In the immediate aftermath, I was convinced my front wheel had merely turned 180 degrees (or 360) and become jammed under the frame.  Now, it's clear that I bent the forks to a ridiculous degree. 

Here's a "before" photo:

And here's an after:

Hmmm...  something's different here, but what?

Jan's taking "Obi" to my LBS friends tomorrow.  I'm afraid they may look at it solemnly, point at the forks and then look at each other... like the x-ray techs did.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Fall (Part Two)

So there I was, pacing around my bent bicycle and arguing with myself over whether I was seriously hurt or simply inconvenienced.

At times, I was sure I was fine. I was using both hands pretty freely, going so far as to make a couple of attempts to twist the front wheel back into position so I could ride away. At other times, a kind of nauseated, panicky feeling kept rising up, telling me something was very wrong.

The thoughts that come into your head at these times can be very strange. At one point, I looked down the access road and thought how nice it would be to sit and watch the river for a while. At another, I noticed a huge flight of cedar waxwings and made a note to tell Jan about them when she arrived. In between these moments, the memory of why I was standing there would return, like a hot flush over my cheeks.

All the while, I was aware that my senses were kind of overloaded and that things were, well, a bit weird.

So at first, it didn't strike me as odd that a pale German shepherd was trotting through the brush by itself. It was perhaps 50 yards away and I noticed a woman with a jogging stroller another 20 yards or so past him. That's her dog, I figured... she should have him on a leash.

Then I saw the woman stop in her tracks, look at the creature and turn on her heel. She sped the stroller back down the trail much quicker than she'd arrived. That's when I saw the shepherd's partner, or to my eye, identical twin. And then I became aware of the pair's funny, slinking gait.

The front of my brain said there was no way these could be coyotes. They were simply too big. The back of my brain -- the part that kept trying to get the attention of the idiot who thought he was going to climb back on his bike in a second and ride off -- said they were coyotes, freakishly large coyotes. Or, more to the point, predators. Predators who were about to cross paths with an injured bi-ped.

The argument in my head found a higher gear:

They're more scared of me than I am of them, right? Of course they are. They won't come anywhere near me. Except they kind of are getting closer. I'll just stand up really tall and wave my hands over my head... wait, I think that's for mountain lions. And I don't think I can really raise my right arm, come to think of it. I read somewhere about putting your bike between you and an attacking dog. But these aren't dogs. And do I want to rely on advice from a biking blog? It was probably written by some fixed-gear hippie who knows f- all about dogs. And less about giant coyotes.

The two beasts trotted in a diagonal line across my path. Fortunately, they seemed to be heading across the access road and into another swath of brush along the trail. They weren't going to attack after all. I had been silly to even consider...

Wait. Shit. He's coming this way. That's pretty close. That's like 20 yards. Where's the bike again? How'd I get that far from the bike? That was dumb. I'll just discreetly step over toward it... He's stopping. He's looking at me.

He stood in the middle of the access road and considered me for a moment. Then he made his move.

His move was not a sprint or a lunge, but a squat. Right there in the middle of the road -- maintaining eye contact, mind you -- the beast did his beastly business, leaving an impressive pile on the solid yellow lines. Then he trotted off into the brush.

Now, I am not a shaman or a mystic, but I know a horrible omen when I see one. And as omens go, this has to be one of the all-time worst. I'm pretty sure that when Mother Nature wants to really give you the finger, she sends a giant coyote to come and stare you down while it takes a dump. It's her way of saying, "you're not in town now, smart boy... you're not in charge of anything out here."

There and then, the argument in my head was over. I was hurt. I needed help and I was going to take it.

(coming soon... Part Three -- Diagnosis, Denouement and Lessons Learned)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Fall (Part One)

On Wednesday, Jan and I drove to the William Pond Recreation Area and set off on our bikes to explore an eastern stretch of the American River Bike Trail. It was a perfect autumn morning and we were both taken with how much prettier this stretch of the trail is than the section closer to our home. After about six miles, timekeeper Jan indicated it was time to turn around and head back. I let her ride on ahead a bit as I dawdled behind.

After a couple of miles, I realized I was lagging way behind enjoying the scenery and wildlife, and that it was time to catch up. At the intersection of the path and an access road, the path began a long, lazy curve, enabling me to see riders who were a quarter-mile or more ahead. I scanned this group for Jan's bright green pullover with no success.

I glanced back to the trail in front of me and got two suprises, one small and one large. The small surprise was that I had drifted toward the center line of the bike path. No big deal, as no one was approaching in the other direction. The large surprise? The center of the path at this mini intersection was marked by a pole, three feet high, but no more than a couple of inches in diameter.

It was instantly apparent to me that I was going to hit this pole. There was no time to evade it, but there was time, strangely, to formulate the strong hope that it was a pole of the flimsy, break-away variety and that I would blast through it with only a wince and a clatter.

It wasn't and I didn't. In an instant, I was flying off the right side of the bicycle. Before I hit the pavement, another strangely lucid thought presented itself. This, I thought, is a real fall. This is not the embarrassing but harmless kind of fall I'd experienced before when my foot got stuck between the bike and a curb and I toppled like a felled redwood. Nope, this is the real deal, I thought, and whatever happens, I will have been in a real bicycle accident from this moment forward.

After that, no more thoughts. Just disconnected events. I was aware that I hit on my right shoulder, hard. I was aware of a small bounce of the helmet against the pavement and I remember feeling pleased at myself for wearing one. I remember getting to my feet instantly and pulling the bike off the path, but I'm not sure if this was done to protect myself from being run over, to protect other cyclists, or -- more likely -- to erase evidence of the embarrassing episode.

Because, really, a pole? Who hits a pole in the middle of the path? And yes, it was a bright yellow one. No pothole, no deer, no wet leaves... just one pole and one stupid rider.

In light of what I know now about my injury, the stuff that happened next is pretty remarkable to me. I paced around for a bit, fluctuating between total denial ("this did not happen, did not happen...") and the growing sense that I might be hurt for real. Still, I was convinced that after I caught my breath, I'd be able to get on the bike and catch up to Jan. The front wheel seemed stuck somehow, but in a minute, I'd gather the strength to wrench it free and be on my way. I even politely shooed away a couple of would-be helpers, assuring them I was 100 percent fine.

After another few minutes, the "I'm hurt" side of the internal debate was getting the upper hand and I decided to call Jan. After scaring her to death with the first, brief call, I called again, to tell her it wasn't that bad, but to come anyway. I hung up and waited for her to arrive.

And then things got really weird.

(Tune in next time for Part Two -- The Interlopers)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rain riding, part two

Another rainy day and another chance to see if the fun of cycling is worth getting wet.

  • It was a soft day, gentle rain, calm winds and not cold.
  • I wasn't commuting and so faced no time pressure.
  • The experience is still novel for me.
I loved it. I was dry and happy in rain pants and jacket. The SKS fenders performed perfectly. My feet and face were a bit wet, but an extra pair of shoes and socks in the rack bag would have solved that problem, had this been an actual commute.

I think the best part is the solitude. I rode maybe 11 miles and saw two other cyclists and two runners. Company was provided by a covey of quail, a dole of doves, a rafter of turkeys and a tiding of magpies.

Plus, when it's raining, anyplace can look like Ireland. Here's a few seconds of the ride, featuring the turkeys and a wonderfully quiet spot along the American River.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Number five

I've been looking at a lot of three-speeds lately. I've really fallen for the vintage Raleighs, with their straightforward design, upright position, and fluted fenders. I've even tiptoed into a few Ebay bidding wars over some of them. Along the way, I found a beautiful old Raleigh Sports with the Little One in mind. I took it to a new friend in Davis who runs a high school shop class and loves three-speeds himself. It should be returning home in another week or so with new brakes, shifter and front wheel.

While at his shop, I found myself transfixed by this Schwinn Racer.

It began to occur to me how similar this particular Schwinn is to the Raleigh Sports models I've been coveting. Same design and setup. Same Sturmey Archer three-speed hub. And while "made in England" is a pretty cool attribute of the old Raleighs, "made in Chicago" is, well, maybe even cooler in my book. They came in vibrant, American colors and just look faster.

This one was made in July 1970. It's a more intense blue than comes through in this photo, and it shifts and rides smoothly. It's a pleasure to ride and fun to look at, too. It is unnamed as yet, so suggestions are welcome. I keep thinking of Chicago-based names, but our beloved Berwyn took the best one of those with her to cat Heaven this summer.

Family rides

Our little cyclist's new acquisition, a Magna mountain bike from the UCD Davis bike auction, hit the trail for the first time Saturday. I bought a seat post, scavenged a saddle from her old bike and had Peak Adventures add a new shifter and rear derailleur. The Little One is new to shifting gears, but after a few test rides and a few discussions ("Think of the left shifter as changing families and the rear shifter as changing the kids in each family"), she's riding smoothly and keeping up nicely.

This development opens up a lot more family bike ride options for us. On Saturday, Dad and daughter rode to Acorn Day at the California State Indian Museum. The Little One was a star acorn grinder and mush-maker.

On Sunday, Mom joined us and we made a circuit of the downtown area... we started at New Roma Bakery for coffee and rolls outside, moved on to the Capitol to read under the trees, and then rode home via Old Sac and the American River Bike Trail.

Here's Mom and The Little One, along with Fusion (the Magna) and Blanche (Mom's white Schwinn.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Binshou -- bike number four

When I tell the story of my fourth bike, it sounds like the start of a joke:

This man is wheeling a bicycle down the sidewalk in Davis...

Well, he was. And it was a sweet-looking Nishiki mixte. It was dirty and cobwebbed, but it looked great. I've been into mixtes since my Mercier purchase in July and I was eager for a closer look. As the man was preparing to lift the bike into the bed of his pickup, I asked for a quick peek first.

Sure, he said. Then, pointing to the bike shop behind us, he muttered that the "guy in there wouldn't buy it back" from him. Apparently, the bike was his wife's, hadn't been ridden in a couple of decades and he had tried to return it to the shop where he bought it... thirty years earlier.

His real interest lay in clearing garage space, not in profit, he said. Testing this, I offered a pittance to relieve him of the need to put the bike back in his truck. He couldn't accept quickly enough.

That evening, I cleaned the bike, thinking it was the first of many steps needed to make it ready to ride. In fact, that -- plus air in the like-new tires -- was pretty much it. The Suntour shifters and derailleurs shift beautifully, and the bike looks and rides as though it were brand new.

It's a tad small for me, but it is so quick and so nimble that it's staying, at least for now. Although I'm not a fan of drop bars, riding this bike has enlightened me to the advantages of a more aggressive riding position. The one tiny hill on my usual ride is no longer an issue of any kind, whereas it still can be a challenge on an upright bike. Also, it's just plain fast. Hence the name. "Binshou," or "nimble."

First rainy commute

Throughout the months since I rediscovered how fun it is to ride a bike, I've wondered whether my new interest would survive the summer. Riding the 5.5 miles to work and back each day was a breeze in the summer, but would I do it in the cold and rain of winter?

This week presented my first chance to see how fair-weather-dependent my new hobby would be. Our region was swept by wild storms on Tuesday, with four inches of rain and winds gusting up to 55 mph. I rode around the block a few times (on Takumashi), mostly for the right to say I cycled even on this wild day.

Wednesday, though, presented a more realistic test. Rain kept falling, but the winds had turned to breezes. I outfitted in new rain pants and gloves, donned a rain jacket from my Pacific Bell days and set off to work. The rain was almost not an issue. To be fair, it was far from cold, so this wasn't a full-on test of winter riding. Once I became accustomed to rain hitting my face, the day was really very pleasant.

I rode more slowly than usual, aware that braking would be more difficult. Also, there was storm debris on every block and throughout the trail. Once, in an Old Sac alley, leaves obscured a stretch of uneven pavement and I came very close to a spill. A close call, but no harm, no fall.

In the 11-mile round trip, I saw no more than three other cyclists. Perhaps because of this shortage of people -- or maybe due to the newly formed ponds in the river basin -- birds of all kinds were in abundance... a flock of fat turkeys. a pair of egrets, a gangly blue heron.

Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain again. We'll see if it's fun the second time around.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Takumashi -- Sturdy, reliable city bike

On a visit to the "Bike Man" in Carmichael, I found this Nishiki Citisport waiting in the driveway. The price was more than fair, and it became the third bike in the stable. Here's Takumashi ("Sturdy") fitted with the Basil Kavan II canvas-and-leather panniers.

Since this photo was taken, I replaced the riser bars with North Roads from Pyramid and made my own grips and chain stay guard from hemp twine and shellac... More on those additions later.

Here's Takumashi from the rear, still sporting the Basil Kavan IIs.

The Citisport offers a very stable feeling ride. He's a bit heavier than the other bikes and so not as quick. Also, the 26-inch wheels and quasi-MTB tires make for a bit more road gripping and less agility. All in all, though, he's more than quick enough for commuting or utility riding.

Takumashi was the bike I took to Peak Adventures' bicycle maintenance class, so he got a thorough tune-up in the process. Now the only drawbacks to a perfect ride are the squeaky mattress-style saddle and a bit of a hum from the full fenders.

Finally, I should mention that this was the bike I picked for today's ride in steady rain and winds that gusted up to 50 mph. That little bit of extra weight came in very handy, as Takumashi handled the wet streets, puddles and slick leaves with ease.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Mercier Mixte... aka Blaise

As I weighed the options and expenses for achieving an upright ride on my Specialized, it occurred to me I was standing next to a bike that already had the features I was considering. This French-made 70s Mercier had been brought to my LBS, repaired and never claimed by its owner. The shop was selling it for the cost of the parts they had added (fork, brake pads, adjustable stem).

A few minutes later, I was pedaling around CSUS -- upright and smiling. Only after I brought Blaise home did I learn more about Mercier's place in French cycling history and come to appreciate the beauty of the mixte frame.

Here's a shot from the drive side.

To see some really gorgeous mixtes, visit

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Making my Specialized more Belgian

Soon after our return from Europe, I visited local bike shops and tried to explain what was different about my Belgian ride. For the most part, I got polite nods and confused looks.

At Peak Adventures (on the CSUS campus), I got more... a clear understanding of the European city bike design, a no-jargon explanation of why my vacation ride was so comfortable and interested, engaged expertise.

Best of all, head mechanic Tyler convinced me the foundation of the European bike I coveted was already in my garage. My Specialized Crossroads, bought in 1995 (or so) was a perfectly suitable foundation on which to build.

I added a rack and SKS fenders. I raised the handlebar, bringing my riding position much closer to upright. Thanks to a Shimano recall of my cranks, I added new front and rear derailleurs, cranks, bottom bracket and chainrings (paying only for the rear derailleur).

And now, each day's commute brings back a memory of the misty morning ride from Bruges to Damme. I've added three more bikes to my stable since then, but Original Bike has the distinction of being the only one I feel I built.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bike auction at UC Davis

The girls and I spent a fun couple of hours at the bike auction at UC Davis this morning/afternoon. A barn burner of a soccer game kept us from getting there early to view the bikes, but it was fun nonetheless to watch the parade of bikes move to the auction stage and eventually be wheeled away by a smiling customer.

They sold something like 400 bikes, and it was a fascinating chance to see where buyer interest lay. Cruisers were a hot product, with prices zooming almost instantly to $100 or $200. Also hot were lugged-frame road bikes with bidders apparently interested in converting them to fixies.

The only better-than-ebay bargains I saw were in the form of mountain bikes and store bikes. Neither is where my interest lies, but I did pick up a very solid Magna mountain bike for our little cyclist. It's pink with 24-inch wheels -- perfect for her right now and cheap enough that we'll shed no tears when she outgrows it. Monday, we go in search of a seat post, saddle and new rear shifter.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The one that started it all

When I returned from Europe in July, I was determined to reproduce the biking experience I shared with my lovely girls in Belgium. We rode comfortable, upright hybrid-style bikes that shifted seamlessly and made riding a pleasure.

In many ways, this blog is about what happened when I tried to buy the same kind of bicycle here.

More about that later, but here's the bike that started the riding, collecting, accessorizing and obsessing.

Welcome to Spokes

This blog is about bikes. It's written by a newcomer to cycling.

I don't understand gear ratios and I don't own anything made of Spandex. I don't ride with sponsors' logos on my clothes and my most expensive bike cost no more than dinner for two at a nice restaurant.

Future posts here will showcase the bikes I own as well as some I wish I owned. Along the way, I hope to share some of the fun of casual riding and maybe deliver a few sermons about the beauty of lugged frames and the practicality of the city/commuter bike.

I also hope to learn more about bikes, accessories and riding -- so your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Welcome to Spokes.