Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farewell to a wonderful year!

2009 was one of the greats, at least in my book.

We rented bikes in Brugge and Diekirch, found a friendly and helpful LBS, went on a CL bike-buying binge, discovered the fun of riding as a family and had a wonderful time.  My work situation allowed our little cyclist to enjoy 1.9 stay-at-home parents and we enjoyed every day.

Heck, even the broken collarbone was an adventure and not without its measure of laughs.

Thanks to each of you who read this blog or even check it now and then.  Here's wishing you a happy, healthy and joyous 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your opinion, please...

One day before too long, my Nishiki commuter is going to get a new saddle.  I keep delaying the move for a couple of reasons: the vintage mattress saddle is comfortable and no longer squeaks; my self-imposed bike-budget chill-out is still in effect; and I can't decide which color saddle to get.

I'm 99 percent sure I want a Brooks B67.  Maybe a B68.  But the question is, black or antique brown?

As you consider, keep in mind it's likely to have shellacked cork grips on the north road bars.  The twine grips on there now are fun, but less-than-ideal in terms of comfort and durability -- the stiff shellacked unit keeps cracking and becoming two or three separate mini-grips.  Not a big deal, but cork grips would be a maintenance-free solution.

So, all you Lovely Bicycle admirers, chic cyclists and others who know a thing or two about what looks good... black or brown?

used and abused

I've wondered from time to time how my gorgeous Basil panniers would hold up to years of use.  While I think they're certainly drizzle-proof, they make no claims of being designed to hold up to downpours, outdoor storage or years of Sacramento's merciless sunshine.

Today, locked up outside Tower Cafe, was a demonstration of what the Basil Kavan IIs might look like after all of the above.

They were faded, to be sure, and had lost some of their shape.  Still, they were fairly presentable.

A couple of factors led me to conclude that these bags had been subject to the harshest of tests.  First, they were on a bike that despite being only a couple of years old at the most (the Schwinn Coffee), looked like it had been through the wringer. 

Secondly, they were locked up pretty snug.  While this proves nothing, the practiced use of a cable running through the bag straps, saddle rail and finally the u-lock seemed to suggest they're in the hands of a downtown apartment dweller who has to protect them from prolonged absence by the owner.

Perhaps I assume too much.

When I first saw the locking technique, I thought the owner had missed something.  Upon closer inspection, though, I realized that if you unstrapped the bags, they'd still be cable-locked to the saddle and and u-lock.  Here's a closer look:

The way I figure it, this outcome of weathering is the worst that can happen.  With even a modicum of care, my Basil bags should be looking fit and trim for years to come.

Does anyone have first-hand experience over the years?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone who reads this a blessed and happy Christmas and a wonderful 2010.

Under the tree for me this year was a handmade scrapbook chronicling my year in bikes, from our rental bikes in Bruges to the bike-buying frenzy that has only recently slowed.  My lovely wife also procured a 1945 edition of "50 Years of Schwinn-Built Bicycles -- The Story of the Bicycle and Its Contribution To Our Way of Life, 1895-1945."  It's a beautiful book with hand-drawn illustrations of the early Schwinn models and a thorough history of the company at Peoria and Lake streets in Chicago.

Pix to follow soon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My homage to EcoVelo

A while back, EcoVelo posted a neat roundup of tips to make the bike-or-car decision easier in the months when a heated car is pretty tempting.

As good as the tips were, I was struck by the fact that EcoVelo and I seemed to be sharing a common dog!  The photo illustrating his "ready, set, go" technique of keeping a bike at the ready showed a pooch that was almost indistinguishable from our Bessie -- at least from the back.

So here, in a holiday tribute to one of my favorite biking blogs, is the Bessie (and Laddie) version of ready, set, go.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ow! Ow! A double?

Since my big fall I've read about a million stories of cyclists breaking a collarbone.  I'm actually pleased to have x-ray proof that I'm in this elite club.

But this week, Polish racer Maciek Bodnar upped the ante considerably with the rare double clavicle break.  Yikes.  At least I had one hand to use for everyday tasks.

Read about the break here

Using the Basil panniers

To me, the Dutch-made Basil Kavan II panniers are the best-looking rear-mounted bags available. The natural canvas and brown leather make for a very classic, handsome look.  Whichever bike I put them on instantly becomes the most Euro-authentic-looking member of the stable.

Here, for example, is Takumashi, my Nishiki Citisport, magically transformed into a something you'd expect to see rolling home to an English cottage from a quick spin to the greengrocer.

What's more, they're huge.  Forty one liters of capacity mean a shopping cart full of groceries can disappear into them without spilling over. After a few uses, the leather straps become a bit more flexible, and practice makes the user much quicker and getting in and closing them.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I placed a full paper bag of groceries into each side.  There was plenty of room left over at the top -- I could have easily divided another full bag between the two bags, maybe even a fourth.

The only thing that comes close to a drawback on these bags is a question of practicality.  First, they're attractive enough to be a bit of a theft magnet... or at least that's my assumption.  I wouldn't want to leave them on a bike left out of sight for more than a short bit.  And, while they're not particularly difficult to install or remove (with a bit of practice), it's simply not realistic to think you'll be able to pop them off and take them into the store with you.

They fasten to a rear rack -- and to chain stays and/or fender struts by good old-fashioned leather straps.  This means they'll go on racks tubes of any width or configuration, which cannot be said of many panniers.  One friend described the installation procedure as a "six swear word" process, but I've found myself getting quicker at swapping them out... I'm down to one or two muttered curses now.

On my first installation, I found there was a lot of leftover strap to deal with.  I couldn't seem to make it disappear the way it had in online photos and reviews I'd seen.  So, I emailed the sales staff at Basil to ask their advice.  I received a friendly answer within a day (in the flawless English that is universal in Holland) with useful suggestions and genuinely warm wishes on my new purchase. That kind of service makes the bags even prettier, in my book.

I wish I could find more occasions to use them.  Determined to find one, a few days ago I put them on Blaise (the Mercier mixte) and set off for the grocery store.

This is Blaise with the Basils empty.

And here they are fully loaded with everything from a six pack of soda to a big box of spring mix.

Any suggestions for how I get more use out of these gorgeous panniers?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Predator on the trail

Bike mentor Dave offered sage advice when asked about riding the dodgy stretech of trail between the River and downtown Sacramento:  "Just ride like a predator, man."

I'm not 100 percent sure what that looks like, but I think of it every time i ride the pedestrian/bike bridge and the camping area immediately south of the river.

And I thought of it this morning when I shared the trail with a real, live predator.

This wasn't the actual guy, but you get the idea.  He wasn't quite as bold as the pair I encountered in October (read about that bizarre event here) but he wasn't as shy as I expected either.  He loped across the trail a dozen yards in front of me and then stopped to watch me go by.  I clanged away on the brass Crane bell, and it did seem to produce a flinch, so who knows.

Yes, I'm fully aware that coyote attacks are exceedingly rare, (although not unknown) but I rode faster from that point on... like a predator.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


All I can say is, don't try to put one past Filigree!  Despite my poor photographs and some confusing distractions, the Lovely Bicycle enthusiast spotted the minor adjustment to "Lucky" that has made a big difference in the pleasure associated with riding this handsome bike.

Here's a closer look at the surgery locale:

The crew at Peak Adventures tried valiantly to fit the SKS fenders under the snug-fitting brake mounts on the Corsaro.  Alas, even the narrow 35mm fenders rubbed to a distracting degree.  Finally, the tough decision was made to trim the fender behind the brake mount.  It's a different look, but not one that most would notice at a glance.  But it's well worth it... Lucky now rides smoothly and silently.

Maybe this bike is lucky after all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Minor surgery

I will admit there have been times when I was worried about the bike I bought on Friday the 13th.

I named him "Lucky" to stave off any bad ju-ju, but when the plan to resurrect my wrecked Specialized on the new frame didn't work out (read about that here) and then the fenders proved to be a monumental puzzle... well, I was thinking the name wasn't enough to stand up against an onslaught of minor setbacks and headaches.

Here's how he looked when he came home (the first time):

And here's how he looked when he came home yesterday afternoon from minor surgery:

Notice anything different?  It's very minor, but it changed Lucky from a bike I felt sad about to one I'm going to love to ride.  Hint: he's a lot quieter now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cool stuff you don't find in a car

When you drive a car, there tends to be one obvious and self-evident route to your destination.  I figure in the 10 years I've lived north of downtown, I've made the trip something like 2,000 times.  And probably 1,980 of those trips involved the same roads each time.

On a bike, though, the route isn't so pre-ordained.  Too much traffic on 16th Street?  Skip through the Salvation Army parking lot to 17th... or 18th so the park doesn't get in the way.  For me the best route is seldom the most direct, but rather the least trafficked or the most scenic.  Although, it must be said that "scenic" is a term seldom applied to approaching downtown Sacramento from the north.  "Pungent" and "A little scary," yes... "scenic," not so much.

It was on just this kind of bike route that I rediscovered one of the coolest businesses in Sacramento.  The New Roma bakery is tucked off the main streets in a residential neighborhood that long ago lost its luster.  It wasn't positioned to draw customers from the highway, but to serve the families in the houses alongside it.

It's a relic from another time... when you bought cakes or loaves from the people who made them that same day.

On Friday, I rode with Jan to her downtown hair appointment.  While she was at the salon, I pedaled over to New Roma for a sandwich, a coffee and a long sit in one of the white resin chairs sitting outside the front window.  I ate my lunch, watched the kids play at recess in the school across the street and took in the sights for an hour.  I planned to buy dessert, but couldn't manage another bite after two "samples" offered by the ladies behind the counter -- baseball-sized hunks of cake; chocolate raspberry and half-and-half.

It was an awesome way to pass the time.  I felt like Tony Soprano sitting outside Satriale's, except without my crew and with (slightly) less fear of being whacked.  And it was a great experience I'd have missed entirely had I been in a car instead of on my bike.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Age quod agis!

Yesterday, nothing went right when I tried to ride to a lunch appointment.  It took an eternity to find the right replacement tube, the mislaid tire levers, and a strap to attach the pump and lock.  Even topping off the tires was a complicated mess.  Blood pressure rising, I discovered the hammer on my new brass bell was bent, so I stopped to fix that.  When I finally started off, it only took a block for the fender rubbing to become unbearable.  Time to switch bikes.

Bike No. 2 had a flat.  I fought with the tire (Schwinn size #@^*% that is almost impossible to get on or off the rim) and finally decided to move on to bike No. 3.  I made it two blocks this time before the sound of the cogs sliding on the pie plate became infuriating.

"I finally said to hell with the whole idea, got in the car and drove to lunch."
I finally said to hell with the whole idea, got in the car and drove to lunch.  Creeping around in the back of my brain was a thought of putting an end to all this bike nonsense.  Of course, I didn't mean it, but it was a surprisingly negative feeling considering how much better I've felt since I've started riding -- and buying -- bikes.

So today, I thought it was important that I get on a bike and ride.  Just for the fun of riding.  I'd pick a bike I knew would work...  one with an internal gear hub, to eliminate even the whisper of chain noise.  Five miles later, and all was well with me and the bikes again.

Sometimes, you have to ride just to ride, I decided.

It may very well be that I am the last person in the world to have encountered this Zen koan, but I thought it was kind of cool that I came across it today, the day of my "just ride to ride" discovery. 

Five students of a Zen master was back from the market on their bicycles. As they dismounted, their master asked : Why are you riding your bicycles ?"

Each of them came up with different answers to their master's query.

The first student said "It is the bicycle that is carrying the sack of potatoes. I am glad that my back has escaped the pain of bearing the weight"

The master was glad and said : " You are a smart boy. When you become old you will be saved of a hunch back unlike me"

The second student had a different answer. " I love to have my eyes over the trees and the sprawling fields as I go riding"

The teacher commended : "You have your eyes open and you see the world"

The third disciple came up with yet a different answer : " When I ride I am content to chant 'nam myoho renge kyo'"

The master spoke words of appreciation " Your mind will roll with ease like a newly trued wheel"

The fourth disciple said : "Riding my bicycle in live in perfect harmony of things"

The pleased master said " You are actually riding the golden path of non-harming or non violence"

The fifth student said " I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle"

The master walked up to him and sat at his feet and said "I am your disciple!"