Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Here's wishing each and every one who reads this a happy, healthy and blessed New Year!  Your visits and comments are greatly appreciated and valued!

More than a year after starting this blog -- with only the vaguest notions of why or what might be accomplished -- you and I are still here.  That in itself is something.

In some ways, mikespokes settled in to a kind of niche: thoughts of reviewing products and being a voice in the cycling world were shed like the unrealistic nonsense they were.  In others, the search for a viewpoint continues. There are definitely times when I question why anyone would want to read about my bikes and biking non-adventures.  Heaven knows there are times when I tire of reading about other people's. 

But every once in a while, there is a small story that seems worth telling, or a new trinket that seems worthy of sharing.  On those occasions, I like to think somebody, somewhere is reading and maybe finds it interesting enough to come back now and then.

If not, no hard feelings!  I'll continue to try to find items, photos and questions of interest to me and, hopefully, you.  I will continue to have no opinion whatsoever on access issues, helmet use, cycling attire, frame geometry or trends.  I will still avoid the irritating blog practice of asking you questions in transparent hope of boosting comment counts.

I will, however, continue to fume at bike trail rudeness, convinced that seething is somehow going to lead to people to reinvent themselves as polite.  It may be a new year, but I'm not going to get smart all at once.

One day, maybe in the New Year, I'll stumble upon a viewpoint! 

Here's a quick look back at key (or maybe random) moments from 2010.  Some new additions, one departure, fun rides with family and another year of God-given health and happiness.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Debut ride on new bike is a tear-jerker

Fiona finally got to take her new cruiser for a proper ride today.  She and I rode downtown to meet Jan and her cousins for lunch.  We were spirited adventurers, blithely ignoring the forecasted rain, the flooded bike trail and other incentives to take the car.

The closed bike trail forced us on to city streets, where Fiona navigated confidently and calmly.  The cruiser has only a coaster brake, and it took a bit of practice to get the hang of braking effectively when it was called for.

Being the cautious and smart dad, I steered us away from the busier streets to K Street, a pedestrian mall of sorts that was opened to bicycles just this year.  As we rolled onto K, I told Fiona the route would keep us free of sharing space with cars, but would also feature light-rail tracks and the dangers associated with them.

Not three minutes later, we found ourselves on a stretch of road where train tracks crossed each other in a pattern of confusion that resembled an angry kindergartner's scribbles.  Navigating this maze would require steely nerves and focus, and I worried that Fiona would panic. As it turns out, I was worrying about the wrong cyclist.

In the time it took to utter a reassuring phrase to Fiona, my front wheel found one of the ruts.  As anyone who has experienced this already knows, I was instantly on my way to the pavement.  Seeing me fall, Fiona veered slightly to avoid being hit and put her own tire into a track.  She and I fell together, with my weight hitting the back of Fiona's bike and helping drive it to the ground.

First, the good news.  We're both sore and bruised, but otherwise OK.  Nothing broken, but we each sport a pair of scrapes and sore spots.

Now the less good news.  The right crank arm on Fiona's bike bent inward, eliminating the clearance between the crank and the line of the chain.  I do not know whether this is something that can simply be bent back into position, or if the crank will have to be replaced.

We walked our bikes the rest of the way to lunch and managed to get on with our lives.  Fiona's bike is waiting at my office; I'll retrieve it tomorrow and get going on the repair job.  No kid should be without her new bike three days after Christmas.

While I'm not one to look for others to blame for these things, I have to say I'm somewhat amazed that this criss-cross of train tracks occupies the entirety of the section cyclists are required to use on this street.  The ordinance requires that cyclists ride between the broad yellow lines that mark the section of street used by light rail cars.  This makes sense as a way to keep bikes from endangering pedestrians, but some exception (or warning?) has to be made when a section of that area is as dangerous as this one is.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Nobody say a word, but I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing something special to our littlest cyclist.

A full report from Santa's designated helper in this project will follow soon.  But for now, here's just enough to let you share in the anticipation and fun of hiding a new bike for one more day!!

Riverside trail now features lake view

For the past 10 days or so, the weather and holiday errands have kept me to fairly short rides -- to downtown, around the neighborhood, that kind of thing.  So, when the sun came out and stayed out today, I decided I would take an hour or so and ride along the river to Discovery Park.

Well, it turns out a couple of weeks of rain were not without impact on the bike trail. The meadow that becomes Bushy Lake in wet weather isn't big enough to hold the water that's been accumulating and it spilled over onto the trail.

Here's Lucky, his progress thwarted, along a usually dry stretch of trail.  As tempting as it was to cross this and investigate further, I know from experience that if the water is this high at Bushy Lake, then Discovery Park is pretty much an inland sea.

Luckily, this isn't the only route to downtown or points south of the river.  By switching to another spur of the trail, I was able to cross the American River a couple of miles upriver from its confluence with the Sacramento River and meander downtown.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A treasure found

 After seeing hundreds of them on blogs and not one in person, I finally had my first encounter with a full chaincase Raleigh Sports.  This gorgeous bike belongs to Rick, who holds the special distinction of being an accomplished racer and a first-class vintage roadster fan at the same time.

Rick's beautiful 1951 Raleigh was in the rack at my LBS, where Rick is a mechanic.  After showing me its four (!)-speed Sturmey Archer hub and still-working dynamo hubs, Rick then made the very generous offer of a test ride.  I happily accepted.

The Raleigh rides as smoothly as you'd expect from a bike owned by an accomplished mechanic.  It shifts smoothly through its four gears, the top two of which are remarkably steep.  It's hard to imagine when you'd use fourth gear on this bike, unless you live at the top of a steep hill.

The green paint is well-preserved and a darker green than the color I normally associate with Raleighs.  I imagined it as a transitional color from the blackout bikes of the war years, but I could be miles off on that musing.

Among the features I hadn't before seen was the headlamp, which was chromed only at the outer edge; the rest is steel painted the color as the bike.  I actually like this design better than the all-chrome one that would dominate in the years that followed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Carbo loading

My path home from downtown happens to lead past the New Roma bakery.  After 1 p.m., everything is half-price.  Lucky, lucky me.

Raleigh Super Record

A bike shop friend is selling his Raleigh Super Record and gave us a sneak peak before it goes up on Craigslist.

It's 58 cm, in excellent shape mechanically and cosmetically, and ready to ride.  Given that the seller is a bike shop mechanic, it's fair to expect that it will be fine tuned and freshly overhauled before you take possession.

Price is negotiable, but the market for these around here is somewhere in the neighborhood of $200.

Email me if interested!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Davis to Winters: My new favorite ride

I've got this idea of the ideal cycling tour.  It involves cycling along evenly paved but deserted streets, past farms and orchards, over rivers and creeks and enjoying nature at close range.  I'm aware this Utopian tour probably exists only in my head, but I found something today that was awfully close to it.

Taking advantage of 65-degree weather in December, I drove to Davis and cycled from there to Winters.  It was a route I'd often heard about, but this was my first time to try it.  In short, the ride to Winters was gorgeous.  And the ride back -- via a more remote route -- was even better.

The 14 miles to Winters takes you through miles of orchards and farm fields, many managed by research units at UC Davis.  Within a couple of miles from downtown Davis, you are suddenly in the middle of the country.

I've been lamenting how much less rural the Sacramento area is compared to when I moved here 20 years ago, so it was very reassuring to learn that I could cycle from city to country in something like five minutes. 

Photographs of pastures, particularly my photographs, never fail to disappoint.  They simply cannot capture the comforting nature of the landscape, the understated beauty.  I decided early on to leave my phone/camera in my saddlebag and to just experience the ride, but before long I had to capture how smooth, safe and bucolic the bike trail leading out of Davis was.  This runs along a county highway, but the beauty on both sides of it soon steal your eye and ear.

I was glad I did, for soon after I came across two gentlemen, old enough to think of me as a kid, standing on ladders picking kalamata olives from the trees that line the road.  The trees are on public property -- probably -- and are not harvested except by enterprising fellows like my new friends.

Our chat ranged from olives and how to brine them to the funnier topic of discretion versus self-expression.  Here, my Italian-American olive buddy is recounting how he handled being called a "spaghetti-bending Mussolini" by his NCO while in the Coast Guard in 1943.  His response employed a word that is not typically directed at military superiors, and, he reported, felt great to say.  He felt somewhat less great 24 hours later, when he was re-deployed to a mechanic's post in the far reaches of the Bering Sea.  The punishment, though, may have saved his life, as it kept him from being sent to the South Pacific, as the Coast Guard was under the direction of the Navy and frequently saw action. His brother wasn't so lucky: he served in the South Pacific, took part in 17 landings and came home "a 22-year-old man with gray hair."

Riding on a December morning may have added to the appeal.  I'm confident some of these roads are busier at almond or tomato or walnut harvest time.  But today, even the "busy" roads were nearly abandoned.

After coffee and a visit to the bike shop in Winters, I set back via a longer and even more scenic route.  This one meandered a few miles north and ran along Buckeye Road, through the spot where the village of Buckeye stood before the whole thing up and moved to follow the Vaca Valley Railroad in 1895 or so.  Here, the roads were completely, entirely mine.  I could have stretched out on the centerline of Highway 29 and had a nap.  Honestly.  I don't think I encountered three cars in an hour and a half.

Along the way, I was inspected by curious llamas, but the sheep and goats ignored my greetings.   It seemed rude to ride right past them without saying something.  I honestly did call out to the nearby livestock... after all, there was no one but them to hear me.

For a couple of miles, a kestrel followed me.  He would zip 100 yards ahead to a telephone pole and watch me ride past.  As I did, he'd alight again, make a few impressive swooshes in the air, and then position himself ahead once more.  I missed him when he finally tired of the one-sided race.

In other news, Nature is still not messing around. 

In one pasture, a dozen vultures sat atop a sheep carcass, lazily having Sunday brunch.  I've seen a lot of sheep pastures in my time, but this sight was a first. I also got a good look at a kite plunging into a soy field and rising with a struggling mouse or rat in its talons.

Nature: Not Messing Around Since 1 Billion B.C.
More puzzling and more disturbing was a gorgeous owl, cut in two.  My first thought was that he had been done in by a high-power line, but there were none in the area.  He hadn't been run over, and there were no feathers strewn about or other signs of a struggle.  I finally settled on the theory that he'd been blindsided by a hawk and then (neatly) pulled apart to get to the tasty bits.  I have no idea if such things happen among birds of prey, but it was the best I could do without my CSI kit.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Homemade Guv'nor

On a quick ride to the post office today, I found that my newly overhauled Nishiki, while amazingly smooth and quiet, just felt slow.  The upright position was comfortable, but I had that feeling of pedaling forward, which often feels like I'm pushing the bike.  On a flat surface with little wind, I was in the third-lowest gear and felt no inclination to change that.

This got me thinking of how many upright, comfortable-but-not-so-nimble bikes a person needs.  The bike was nearly perfect for cruising to the post office or rolling through the neighborhood on a sunny day, but I have a half-dozen bikes that fit that description right now.

So, I decided to finally try an idea that had been floating around in my head for a while. Velouria at Lovey Bicycle wrote about it in April and I've seen references to it in other spots.  In fact, I read about it again just the other day, but I can't for the life of me remember where.

The idea is to turn the North Road handlebars upside down, creating a setup similar to the old path racers. You can see a modern version of the path racer in the Pashley Guv'nor.

The difference in the bicycle was dramatic.  My hands were, of course, much lower than before.  But, they were still in a very comfortable position, with my palms facing inward instead of down.  The locked-wrists, palm down position is not one I can use for long without discomfort in my hands.   This new position, while very low and seeming to invite hand issues, was surprisingly easy to maintain.

But it wasn't an instant love affair.  With my hands so far back, I felt like I was in constant danger of bashing my knees into my elbows. In fact, I did make significant contact a few times, delivering an unsettling wobble to the handlebars.  I soon learned to keep my knees in while pedaling, which I suspect is a more efficient position anyway. On slowish turns, it seemed necessary to extend whichever knee was on the side of the turn. 

The same bike that had seemed slow an hour before now felt like a racing bike.  I was zipping along on the same streets where I had been cruising earlier.  And, once I got the hang of the elbow-to-knee relationship, I felt a tremendous level of control over the bike.  That turned out to be a critical development, since I made the questionable choice to have my debut ride on some very busy streets. When I changed saddles and seat posts, it was a nice-looking bike as well.

Now, whether I could ride this way comfortably for a longer period of time remains to be seen.  I think  the next step is to make the 6 mile ride to work a day or two and see how I hold up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lucky's new (new) look

A little more than a year after I bought him, and after numerous twists and turns in his development, Lucky, my Corsaro 12-speed, finally is sporting the components and accessories he was meant to wear.  I think the end result is gorgeous and well worth the wait to get it right.

I purchased this bike strictly for the frame.  The idea was to take all the parts and components off my wrecked Specialized and transplant them onto the new bike.  One after the other, key parts refused to comply with this plan.  The old brakes were not a match for the new mounting system.  The old 700c wheels were too small for the new brakes to reach.  The list went on and on.  I was very disappointed that the plan to resurrect the Specialized didn't work out.

As is often the case in life, I am now eternally grateful that I didn't get my way.  As much as I liked the Specialized, it was absolutely nothing special to look at.  Grafting parts from a 1993 hybrid onto a gorgeous '70s frame would have been a travesty.  If you look at the earliest incarnations of the bike that would become known as Lucky Jitensha, you'll see what I mean.  The handlebars and twist shifters look horrible to my eye now. 

It's funny how tastes and perceptions change.  A year ago, the news that my old bike wouldn't be reborn on this frame was greatly disappointing.  Today, I'm embarrassed to say my wishes nearly kept this beautiful bike from being born.

Bike shop labor... fair or foul?

I was in a bike shop yesterday looking for a spare part for a bike that Santa will bring to our house in a few weeks.  It wasn't my usual shop, as they don't carry the line of bikes in question.  While I was there, a student brought in a BSO with a seat post that had been bent back so far it had nearly broken off at the clamp.  When greeted, he announced he was there to pick up the seat post he'd ordered a couple of weeks earlier.

I wanted to ask him if he'd ever heard of a bike co-op or of Craigslist, where a jillion tweakers are trying to unload excess bike parts every day.  But I didn't.  If this kid wanted to wait two weeks for a seat post, that was his business.  At least he was supporting a local bike shop. 

In a minute, the clerk returned from the shop with the most ordinary of seat posts.  It seemed odd that they'd have to order a standard seat post in a pretty big shop.  But the good part was still to come.  The student asked a question about installing it... something along the lines of which end was up.

The clerk then helpfully suggested that the shop do the install for him... at the usual rate for a "saddle install."  He asked his fellow clerk what the charge for a "saddle install" was, and the quick-thinking employee made up a number on the spot.  The student agreed, and learned that he could pick up his bike "later today, hopefully."

OK.  I understand that bike shops have to pay the rent.  I further understand that people like me ordering saddles and brake levers and panniers off the Internet have made it more critical than ever to capture revenue from repairs and service.  I honestly don't begrudge them the right to charge a fair price for their labor.

But it seems to me when someone has already bought a part like a seatpost, you could take the 30 seconds necessary to loosen the clamp, remove the old one, shove the new one in the tube and tighten the clamp again.  Another 30 seconds, at most, to switch the saddle from the old post to the new.  A 60-second investment in customer goodwill.  It's a way of saying, "let's see the Internet do this... thanks for coming in here and buying our full-fare seat post instead of just swiping one off any of the hundreds of abandoned bikes on campus."

It's the kind of thing my shop does every day.  And it's a huge part of the reason that whenever possible, I buy parts through them instead of ordering on line.  This kind of goodwill is the reason I've spent enough at that shop in the past two years to buy a decent used car.

But the shop I was visiting yesterday chose another route.  It's a route that almost certainly ends with the customer one day figuring out (or being told) that he needn't have waited another day for his bike or reached further into his pocket. And my contention is that the long-term damage done will far exceed the few dollars squeezed out of him for a "saddle install."

In fact, it already did cost them more than the cost of the installation.  As I stood there with $90 worth of accessories in my hand, I started thinking about which parts I could get off the 'Net and which could  be ordered by my own shop.  All of them, it turned out.  So, back on the shelves they went.

After all, I didn't want to occupy their time ringing up my sale.  I knew they had that big "saddle install" to get to by the end of the day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Mixtie Family

Part Four:  The mixties.

And I've decided I'm going with "mixtie" as my term of choice for this beautiful style of bicycle.  Every time I pronounce "mixte" as "meext," I get one of two looks from the listener:  1) "What the hell did you just say?; and 2) "Ah, another jerk who took high school French and wants me to know about it." So, these bikes are now mixties.  Deal with it.

The Mixtie Family, front to back:

Blaise, a 1970s Mercier that was my first vintage bike purchase and is probably my most-commented on bicycle. The addition of a honey B67 and a slight adjustment to the north road bars make this a sporty, nimble ride.

Binshou, a 1970s Nishiki bought for $40 in Davis from a guy who was trying to sell it back to the store he bought it from 35 years earlier.  Original drop bars, surprisingly comfortable vinyl saddle and matching brown cable housing. 

Still unnamed, a late 70s or maybe 80s Nishiki bought for $15 at a neighborhood yard sale.  Purchased strictly because it was $15.  I used it as my guinea pig bicycle in the recently-completed-but-never-blogged-about bicycle repair class I took through Davis Adult Education.  After a complete overhaul of the drive train and all bearings, it is the smoothest, quietest bike in the fleet.  Panaracer Paselas that didn't fit under the fenders of my Corsaro also give it the nicest contact with the road of any of my bikes. The idea was to sell it to fund other purchases, but after all that work and such good results, I'm not ready to part with it yet.

Here's one of just the new guy:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Raleigh Family

Part three of the photos...  This time of the Raleighs.

First, the three green Raleighs, just because they look cool together.  Fiona's 1974 Sports (never mind the Colt chainguard, it's not original),  and the his-and-her 1971 Superbes.

Next, the above-mentioned trio plus my 1972 brown Superbe.

Family portraits -- the Schwinns

Part Two of the photos from Thanksgiving's assembly of the entire family.

Here is the Schwinn couple, Jan's 1969 Breeze and my 1970 Racer.  Both made in Chicago and both as smooth riding as the day they were purchased.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bike trail kindness... and cool bikes

I was riding along on a sometimes-rainy, gray afternoon today thinking of how nice it would be to have a cup of coffee.  Seconds later, I came upon a small group of folks gathered where the bike trail meets C Street.  One of them called out to me, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Weird, huh?  The effect was disarming.  I stopped immediately and accepted the offer.  When coincidences are that striking, it's best not to pass them up, I've found.  Not long ago, I was walking down the street thoroughly annoyed at an unusually large collection of change in my front pocket.  It felt like carrying a set of janitor's keys.  "I've got to get rid of this before it drives me crazy," I thought.  One half-second later, one of the K Street crew asked me, "Do you have any spare change?"  His problem and mine were solved instantly.

But back to the bike trail.  My coffee donors were from Sacramento Area Bike Advocates.  They were completing a four-hour stint cleaning the brush and weeds along the bike trail and had leftover coffee that had been on hand for the volunteers.  This is the same stretch of trail where I habitually harvest four o'clock seeds to diversify my garden, but that's another story.

Ryan and Morgan were among the volunteers, and each was riding a truly awesome bike.  First Ryan's:

It's a 1983 Raleigh Competition.  It's mostly original and in beautiful condition.  Ryan let me take it for a spin and it rides and shifts beautifully.

Morgan's bike was a truly unique find.  It's a 1960s Welser Markenrad. German (or maybe Austrian), I assume, but I can't find anything on line under that name.  It's a gorgeous swan-style loop frame offset by a  vintage Brooks B67.  It features a rod-operated front brake that forces a pad directly onto the top of the tire.  I've read about this on vintage Flying Pigeons before, but this was the first time I'd seen it in person.  Morgan's evaluation of its effectiveness is in keeping with everything I've read before... it doesn't do a lot to stop the bike.  But it's very cool to look at.

Two very cool bikes and two delightful people.  Encounters like today's make me feel that I live in a pretty cool bike town and that our "bike culture," to use a term that usually makes me cringe, is a very pleasant one.

The commuters

On Thanksgiving Day, I remembered that on the previous year's holiday I had pulled all of my bikes out for a "family photo."  I was determined to do the same again this year to chronicle the additions, one departure, and the many changes that have occurred. 

They grow up so fast, don't they?

Instead of just dumping the new family photo on here, I'm going to drop in the occasional photo from that day.  Fiona and I took a number of "group" photos, assembling bikes by brand, design and purpose.

Our first installment is The Commuters.  Each of my bikes takes at least an occasional turn taking me to the office, but these two are the workhorses on this job.

Here is Takumashi, the Nishiki Citisport, and Geordie, the Raleigh Superbe.  Both have Brooks saddles -- B72 on Geordie, B67 on Takumashi -- North Road handlebars, Zimbale saddle bags and a touch of twine here or there. 

I keep wondering whether either or both would be suitable for a long distance trip.  Any thoughts?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bike culture commentary via Craigslist

Yes, the attached post is sexist, objectifying and a half-dozen other things I try to avoid encouraging on this blog or anywhere else. 

But underlying this is a genuinely amusing insight into some aspects of bike culture and the demographics behind the appeal of Dutch bikes.  The line about a soul patch and classic cameras made me laugh. 

I may have found this all the funnier for having had my first Dutch bike retail experience only yesterday.  As I stood ogling a $1,500 Gazelle, it occurred to me that most people would find my appreciation for the bike truly baffling.

OK.  You've been warned.  Here's the ad.