Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Old Sac Triumph

This Triumph three speed appeared recently in Old Sac and has taken up daily residence.  It clearly belongs to someone who works here... I can't imagine anyone liking salt water taffy and t-shirts enough to visit Old Sac every day.

Sheldon Brown explains that Raleigh bought the rights to the Triumph name from the motorcycle company in 1954.  There is no connection to the beloved automobiles of the same name.

My keen detective's mind notes that the Triumph appeared more or less the same time the Raleigh Sprite disappeared from the parking meters of Old Sac.  I'm thinking somebody traded one English bike for another.  Good trade, in my view. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Electric assisted smiles

I’ve never known quite what to make of electric-assist bicycles.  I was pretty sure they weren’t for me, but I didn’t feel the need to dismiss them either.  For someone with knee issues or someone who wants to cycle his way to better health – but whose fitness level makes cycling a little too difficult to enjoy at first – these bikes seemed like a reasonable solution.

What never occurred to me is that these bikes might be insanely fun.

I stopped by Practical Cycle to test my theory that their Worksman Cycles are the perfect match for families looking for something fun to do in Old Sacramento.  The shop is nestled between a half-dozen museums and attractions, and a stone’s throw from the American River Bike Trail.  At the shop, Tim convinced me to try a Pedego electric bike instead.

I swiped this photo off the Practical Cycle web site.  Mine was ridiculously blurry.  Same bike, though.  Same trail, too.

I decided to test the bike both with and without the electric assist motor.  A lot of what I’ve read about these bikes suggest they can be ridden as regular bikes, saving the electric assist for hills, or fatigue or situations calling for a little extra oomph.

In the case of the Pedego at least, these bikes are more than adequate as regular, pedal-powered cruisers.  I left the assist off for a couple of laps around Old Sacramento and I had a great time.  The seat is super comfortable and in combination with the high-rise handlebars, feels like a living-room recliner at times.  The fat tires handled the cobblestone streets with ease, something that even the 26x1.5 tires on my Nishiki certainly can’t do.

So far, so good.  I was having a great time.  Better yet, I was right about a cruiser being a superior way to see Old Sacramento.  Next, I’d ride to the Capitol and check out a few other tourist spots along the way.  Would the bike be spritely enough to take a non-rider the mile or so to Midtown without fatigue?

Hell yes.  When I switched on the electric assist, I entered a whole new world of cycling fun.  It’s hard to list all the ways this bike made me smile, but here goes:

The burst of speed you get when twisting the throttle is exhilarating, but distinctly manageable.  It never felt like the bike was going to rocket out from under me, but it clearly felt like I had the power to muster up as much speed as I needed.

It felt far safer in traffic.  When I start from a stop at an intersection on my regular bikes, there’s always a moment or two when the need for power translates into a slight wobble.  Getting up to speed alongside cars is one of my least favorite parts about city riding.  On the Pedego, though, it was effortless.  The cars and I entered the intersection at the same rate of acceleration (at least at first) and it felt not only safe, but logical, to start taking the lane at intersections and waiting my turn in traffic.
It straddled both worlds beautifully.  Despite this ability to hang with the cars, the Pedego is unmistakably a bicycle.  The ride felt like a bike ride, not a motorcycle ride.  You know that feeling you get when you cruise down a hill and you pick up as much speed as you want without pedaling?  When you smile and enjoy the wind in your face?  That’s available on the Pedego any time you want it.  On the bike trail, the stretch that crosses the American River as it flows into the Sacramento River can take some standing, huffing and puffing.  On the Pedego, I did it sitting in comfort, grinning like a fool and watching the geese soaring overhead.

Here’s how fun it was:  I brought it back early. 

After about 40 minutes of pedaling, zipping and smiling my way through Sacramento, I started to fear that riding my regular bikes would seem less fun by comparison. I don’t know if I was right about that, and I don’t want to find out.

But I know this: most of the people who dismiss these bikes as “cheating” are riding to work everyday in a car or SUV.  I’ve heard quite a few people say they’d love to cycle to work, but it’s too hilly… or they’d need a shower at the office or their knee hurts, or 12 miles is too far to ride or this or that or the other thing. And these are perfectly valid obstacles to bicycle commuting.  But an electric assist bike can eliminate those problems for you and still get you out there in the sunshine pedaling.

And, based on my experience, I’m pretty sure you’d arrive at work with a smile on your face.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Amgen Tour of California

Since every bike blog in California is going to be posting about the Amgen Tour, I'm inclined to keep it short, lest I reveal more than the usual amount of my cycling ignorance.

I feel safe in saying this, though:  It was pretty cool.  Those dudes go by FAST.  I stood at 15th and P, where the racers made the second of two close turns.  They swept within a couple feet of my the curb to get the correct angle on the left turn onto P Street and the wind and dust they generated was amazing.

I've never been a racing fan, but I could easily understand why someone would want to watch this sport.  I'm not likely to watch again until it comes back to a spot five minutes from my house, but still, I kind of get it a bit better now.

Among the surprises was the fact that there is no "backstage" for these guys to disappear to after the race.  Within minutes of the finish, they were changing clothes, wiping down and talking with support staff, all within plain sight of the spectators.  

Not even this guy could get a bit of privacy from the rude gaze of public scrutiny -- and my iPhone.  He went down in the spill on the last lap around the Capitol before the finish.

Last thought... valet bike parking is awesome!  Somebody should do this year-round.  I handed over my bike, came back to put my swag in the saddle bag and finally reclaimed it after the race, all without a second's hassle.

Midtown classic

Midtown Sacramento seems to be ground zero for the kinda sad fixie culture in Sacramento.  I say kinda sad because Sacramento is one of those cities where things catch on just about the time they're dying out in places like LA or New York. I say that without any envy for LA or NY... I much prefer the Sacramentos of the world to either place.  And, things that originate here are very, very cool to me.  Ever had a Merlino's Orange Freeze?

But things that start elsewhere, well, they're usually not that cool by the time they get here.

What were we talking about?  Midtown, right?  OK.  My point is that it's become common to see old steel frames turned into fixed-gear showpieces and my attitude is mostly one of gratitude that the cool old frames are being used at all.  Plus, I kind of think that when this trend is officially over, there are going to be a million Univega and Bianchi frames out there for the taking.

But it's not every day you see the young hip Midtown crowd lounging in front of a truly classic and unmolested bike.  That's why I had to stop and snap a photo of this front porch chillout with a 1967 chrome Mercury.  Beautiful.  Thanks for leaving it alone, Midtown young 'uns!

Bike weekend weirdness

What happens when a tall "art" bike crashes a fixie-kid skid contest?  I was hanging out in the park across from Hot Italian (a restaurant that has made itself in astonishingly short order the center of downtown bike events) when just this situation developed.

The fixie kids -- and mind you some were no kids -- had finished a track-stand contest and were beginning their skid contest when this weird thing pedaled into the middle of the park.  It featured two riders from San Francisco -- surprise -- and some kind of pre-written monologue for the upper rider to recite.

The fixie kids were nice about asking the thing to move over and the SF hipsters obliged.  They seemed sad they didn't get to finish the performance piece that they had in mind.

I'm not proud to say it, but I was disappointed.  I was secretly hoping for a kind of Nerd vs. Geek showdown.  This was shaping up to be Ali vs. Frazier or Godzilla vs. Mothra.  But it all kind of fizzled into a blur of polite mumbles.

The woman next to me gushed about the art bike reminding her of Reinhold Niebuhr and the "need to create something."  I remarked that the need to create seemed, in this case, secondary, to the "need to be looked at."  Her face registered genuine surprise at having found such a miserable ignoramus in such a pleasant setting.

The skid contest continued, with riders vying for who could best demonstrate the inherent danger of riding a bicycle with no brakes.  This kid came in second:

Three speed friends

When I parked Roebuck outside the grocery store, he was the only bike in the rack.  When I came out, he had been joined by this vintage Schwinn three-speed Speedster.  I thought it was cool that the only two bikes at the store were decades-old three speeds.  For running errands in flat Sacramento, they're the perfect vehicle.  And, as the Speedster shows, they're built to last.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zimbale bag and farmer's market

Before the unexpected appearance of the gorgeous his-and-her Superbes, the big news of this week was going to be the arrival of my Zimbale saddle bag.  I'd agonized over which color and size to order, pestering friends like Velouria and EcoVelo for more perspective and opinion.

Here's what I finally selected:

It's the 7-liter saddle bag in black.  I love the olive green version, but this seemed well-suited to go from a brown bike to a blue one to a green one.

Although the bag was a tad smaller than I envisioned, it appears to be big enough to hold all you'd need for a long day's ride or a lightweight tour.  Still, I think the next one will be the 11-liter version.  Mounting was pretty easy and largely intuitive, but I have to say that I had tons of help from the helpful posts and photos at both EcoVelo and Lovely Bicycle.

The test ride came today at the farmer's market.  It's still a bit early in the season, but there already are good tomatoes, cabbages, asparagus and potatoes to be hand.

Here's the bag, mounted on Geordy, the original Raleigh Superbe, waiting to be filled.

The default cargo is a cable lock, a light and a small pump.  An extra tube and repair tools are in one of the side pockets.

Now here's the bag with two bunches of bok choy, a bunch of shallots, a couple pounds of tomatoes and some almonds added:

It's worth nothing that this load did not tax the bag in any way.  In fact, the Zimbale features a fold-down flap that can be extended to accommodate a large or bulky load.  I didn't need that for this small load of groceries and was able to close the bag using the regular setting.

And here, his cargo secured, sits Geordy in the Capitol Rose Garden.  He looks satisfied, as he should.

Monday, May 3, 2010

His and Hers!

I swore I was done acquiring bikes, but when these two Raleigh Superbes popped up on Craigslist -- both for a price you'd expect to pay for one -- I decided to give them a good home.

That's not entirely true.  My first thought was to flip them.  They were under-priced and I thought with a little cleaning, I could sell them for twice what I paid.  Well, they weren't home five minutes before that plan fizzled.  They were simply too clean, too intact, too lovely to sell.

If I'm reading the hubs correctly, they're from 1971.  Otherwise, there are very few clues to indicate these bikes are nearly 40 years old. They have their fork lock keys.  They are without rust or dents (except a garage ding in the male bike's fender).  They have the original Dunlop tires.  They shift and brake perfectly.  They have identical Scwhinn bells on the handlebars and matching, pristine Sacramento registration stickers from 1974.

One small mystery (paging Dr Aaron) lies with the Schwinn seats on each of them. They're identical and of very high quality, so it's not as if they lost their Brooks saddles over time or use.  These appear to be the saddles they've had since the 1970s.  Did Superbes sometimes come with Schwinn saddles in the U.S. market?

For me, most of the fun of collecting anything -- casino chips, old pipes, pens -- comes from understanding that the objects you acquire have a story behind them.  Someone saved her money to buy her husband that briar pipe.  Or someone handled that chip from the Sahara while listening to Louis Prima in the Casbah Lounge.  With bikes, there are so many possible stories that it's usually impossible to guess. Was it a graduation gift that never made the trip to college?  Or was it trusted, reliable transportation for a generation of trips to school, work and piano lessons?

The great thing about his-and-hers vintage bikes is you already know one key part of the story.  The bikes were bought at the same time from the same bike shop.  They were registered together and the same person applied the stickers.  They belonged to a couple -- perhaps newlyweds or older folks who planned to put them on the back of the Winnebago. But they almost certainly represented someone's hopes of happy times and rides together with a loved one. 

Now, they belong to Jan and me.  And we're going to have happy times and rides together.

Bike Auction at UC Davis

Fiona and I decided to check out the bike auction at UC Davis this weekend, even though neither one of us needs a new bike.  Our rules were clear -- we were only going to bid on bikes that were unique, non-duplicative of our current fleet, and great bargains.

We looked at 420 bikes and were tempted by a few crusiers.  Fiona loves cruisers and talks about applying her savings towards one.  In the end, we decided we were going to bid on one bike only, a 70s-era three speed made by Kia, the Korean manufacturer.

We watched 275 bikes go before our Kia, many for $10 or less.  Three Nigerian men were there buying up the unwanted bikes for $5 each to send back to Africa.

I hoped our Kia -- a 24-inch blue model with a Shimano internal gear hub -- would meet with confusion and distinterest. It wasn't to be...  there was a round of oohs and aahs when it came up on the platform and the bidding soared past our $45 limit before I could lift my bidding sign.

It ended up selling for $85, which was way beyond our "incredible bargain" threshold.  So, we came home to our garage/shed/wine room full of bikes feeling like we'd been smart for a change.

Besides, we would need the space for the new additions that arrived Sunday!  (More on that soon.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's twins!

Two more bikes joined the family today... 

Details and photos to come.  But here's a hint... they're twins!  Fraternal, that is.

Returning to the scene

 Not long after I started this blog, I was in a year-changing bicycle accident.  I made it out with a broken collarbone, which only hurts occasionally at this point.  The gripping tale of this accident begins here.

In the months since, I've wondered about the cause of the accident.  Immediately after, I was sure of the reason -- I was looking out toward the horizon and failed to notice a three-foot pole, or bollard, in the middle of the path where it crossed an access road.  The more I thought of it, though, the less satisfactory that explanation seemed to me.

I "re-enacted" the accident probably 100 times on the bike trail during my daily commutes.  I'd look out into the distance and try to imagine missing a three-foot pole in my path.  It seemed impossible.  I finally concluded I must have been looking not at the horizon, but down at my chain or cogs in the critical seconds before the crash.

So, it was with some anticipation that I finally returned to the quiet intersection of path and road where the accident occurred, some 15 miles from my home.  Here's the intersection, looking in the direction opposite of my travel on the fateful day:

It still looks like it'd be hard to miss, doesn't it?  Well consider a couple of things that were more apparent to the eye than the camera.  First, the color of that bollard is very close to that of the center line on the path.  When you're at the right angle, the pole disappears into the line it bisects -- this is not the case with the angle of the photo, but trust me, it happens.

Second, I'd forgotten how much the path curves immediately before the intersection and bollards.  The result of this is the pole only becomes visible a short time before you're upon it. Here's a view from the direction I was traveling on the day of the crash.

All in all, I feel less ridiculous about the wreck.  In fact, one of my main reactions was gratitude for having somehow missed the big yellow beams that border the path and between which I must have fallen.  It could have been a lot worse.