Saturday, October 31, 2009

Preservation, antiquity, use

Being the proud owner now of a "vintage" bike comes with some issues. On one hand 1971 doesn't seem like a very old bike when you see 30's 40's and 50's bikes all the time.  On the other hand, it's older than I am (barely).  And the "technical" definition of an antique is something 30 years old.

One of the really appealing things about the technology of bicycles is that they are simple and durable machines  and a 1940's bicycle can easily be taken for a 20 mile ride with a modicum of care, and without major concern for damaging it. It's a mass produced technology, not an artisianal handcrafted item. Although modern disposable society and changes in the way our culture views bicycles as toys rather than transportation have made older bikes slightly rare, to me they're not antiquities.

The DL is in really good shape.  It has, for example its original tires (I'm told).  And they're really in remarkable shape, very elastic with only a few cracks in the sidewalls.  Yet I worry they will fail abruptly and hurt or strand me.  So I intend to replace them with modern puncture resistant tires with reflective sidewalls as an additional safety feature.  I could tell that the idea of this was painful to the guy I bought it from because it was breaking up a "mint" bike.  I suppose I will keep the original tires in my limited storage space, just in case I ever want to return it to "mint" condition.

I'd like to add a modicum of carrying capacity to this bicycle.  But adding a rack or a basket might interfere with its original appearance, which would offend purists.  I still think I'm going to do it.
At the moment though, my inclination is to resist replacing the wheels with a generator hub and/ or a new, more advanced internal geared hub.

When I started the search for a new old bike, I looked at a lovely light roadster from the late 50's.  It had lovely paint and all its original accessories.  It seemed a travesty to break it up, spread the dropouts for my nexus hub, replace the handlebars,  front wheel, saddle, everything.  Making Robert into a bionic bike didn't bother me because he had no grand provenance, no important pedigree, but I couldn't break up a beauty like that when someone might cherish it as it is.
And although I appreciate the desire for people to celebrate and appreciate the great bikes of the past,  I also want a safe dependable bicycle with all the great features of the present.  I want a bike I can use, not a museum piece.   And at what point does a bicycle become a museum piece,  something that is sacrilegious to modify and modernize?

This is something I have thought about a fair bit in the preservation of historic architecture,  and I think I've figured out where the line lies (for me) on that topic.  I'm still trying to figure it out on bicycles.

Friday, October 30, 2009

bicycle bigamy

So now I know what its like to have multiple vehicles.
I rode the new DL out to Cambridge vintage bicycles to meet the guy who sold it to me to get a critical piece- the shifting linkage chain.  Since it's been stuck in high gear, I wanted to make sure that it would indeed shift if the missing piece was replaced.  Getting there was a pain, starting from stoplights in 3rd gear  is no fun.  I hope my knees aren't sore tomorrow.

Lots of messing around later, it shifts although not completely smoothly.  It may be that my technique isn't up to it, or it may just need adjustment.   After being used to smoothly shifting between 8 gears all the time, I'm still figuring it out a bit.   It sure is a lovely bike though!  I did a bit of chrome polishing, although I'll need to do more serious work later.

Home again, I did a little work on Robert, trying to fix an ongoing problem with the rear fender.
That done, I loaded up with the big pannier and an extra grocery pannier, and did a big grocery run.  Boy, it's amazing how these utility bikes smooth out with 30 pounds on the back:

What it looked out on the table (yes including the 20lb sack of dogfood)

Now that it shifts I decided to ride the DL in to work.  I took the bike path just in case.  I was a bit worried about going over the longfellow bridge and up Cambridge street (my two main hills)  but it was fine-  I could keep up with traffic just fine and felt comfortable taking the lane.  Even passed a couple of people with more contemporary bikes.   Besides the shifting not being completely natural yet, I mainly noticed that I need to be careful about road debris.  With my Schwalbe Marathons, I just ride right over stuff that could shred a normal tire, and these tires are the original 38 year old rubber.  Although they're mostly in good shape, I don't trust them for real riding.  I placed an order yesterday for replacement marathons,  and will put them on next week sometime.  I also really need to figure out the storage component.  Although I'm not expecting to haul dog food on it, I need enough storage to carry my lunch and discarded outerwear.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back in heels

Somehow I wrenched my back a bit over a week ago, and that made the bursitis in my hip flare up.
I used to be a fairly serious runner, until halfway through training for my fourth marathon I went for a 13 mile run and couldn't walk the next day.  It makes me feel like I'm 80 to say "my bursitis is acting up"  but it was, and the best thing for it is not to walk much, take advil and wear flat shoes.
Now, a week later, I'm back in heels, and so far so good.

Interestingly I noticed that in flats or clogs, my pedaling form is not as good- my feet tend to slide forward so that my arch is over the pedal instead of the toe.  When I'm wearing heels, that would be really weird and uncomfortable, so my form is better sort of by default.
I know that a lot of people have problems with their leather soled shoes slipping on the pedals.
I haven't really had much of a problem with it- it's not that it doesn't happen, I guess I just don't really notice it that much.  These newish shoes which are my new- go to work standbys,  actually have a funky little rubber patch at the whole front of the shoe.  I don't love how it looks, but they're great for biking.
My blinking pedals, which I love, have little dull studs in the top, and a funky uneven bottom where the generator is.  They're supposed to be weighted to always hang "upright"  but often I find that I'm pedaling on them upside down, without a real problem.  I'll have to get some action shots with them lit, because they're really surprisingly bright.  LED's are so incredible.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

busy weekend!

I had a lot planned for this weekend, but most of it didn't get done because I was doing more important fun stuff.
Like buying a bike!

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been at a bit of a bike crossroads.  Robert has been having lots of little problems- mostly cosmetic and minor annoyances, but still frustrating.  I've been trying to decide whether to invest more time, energy and money into fixing him up further, or go in a different direction.
I was thinking I wanted to get a nicer frame like from a raleigh or Rudge and swap in my 26" wheels with their fancy (generator and internally geared) hubs.  I've been mulling this for a bit, and for my birthday last week the Scientist said he's like to get me such a frame!

So we started looking last week,  spoke to the guys at Menotomy Vintage bicycles (a great place for all kinds of great bikes). I tried a frame that was too small, looked at a frame that needed repainting, and made an appointment for Vin to bring in a bike he had that we thought would fit.
In the meantime I made contact with a guy on CL who had a couple of vintage Raleighs.   So on Saturday we met him in a grocery store parking lot in the rain to see what turned out to be a 1972 Ladies' DL tourist.  It was in semi- rough shape- a bit more of a project than I was looking to take on.  Plus, and this sounds shallow, but the font of the logo was very 70's -not a great era of typography.  But even without the seat or handlebars adjusted properly and abysmal brake pads, it was a great ride-  so smooth and stable, but with more pickup than the pure dutch frames I'd tried before re-building Robert.  The loop frame was lovely, and the Scientist fell hard for it.  But I wasn't sure.  So I thanked the guy and told him I'd have to think about it.

Today I went back to Menotomy to ride the bike Vin had brought in for me.  He also had a nice Rudge that had just come in, in the same size- it was nice to be able to compare the two side by side.  And,  small world, the guy who we'd met the day before with the DL, came in while we were there- turns out he'd sold Vin  the Rudge.   After lots of circles in the parking lot, I still wasn't convinced.  I felt like a cad breaking up a "mint" vintage frame, but wasn't sure I wanted another project bike.  We decided to break for coffee while I mulled the options.

Did I want one bike with everything?  Did I want to start a collection?  Did I want more projects, or more dependable transportation?  Was I willing to have a fair weather bike that was a period piece, but which wasn't up for my daily slog?  The Scientist had fallen hard for the DL, but that seemed like too much of a project, and hard to make my daily commute (just finding 28" rims seems to be a challenge), and my daily commute needs a generator hub and better braking than rod brakes can provide.

So we headed home to tend to other chores,  when I got a call from the CL guy- he was going to see a mint DL, was I interested?  I was.  Two hours later we met in a parking lot at MIT, and I was examining a gorgeous 1971 DL.  Its paint was nearly perfect,  its chrome was nearly perfect, it even had original tires.  I took it for a spin and it was fabulous.   Fate decided it for me- I was going to have a fair weather bike.  What to do about my every day- well, that's a post for another day.  For now, some glamour shots

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mask (dramatis personae)

I thought about titling the post "tragedy" but was afraid people would assume the worst.

I pity the fool

Coming off the Longfellow bridge into Boston I find a big ol' motorcycle in the bike lane (strike one). He's rumbling and revving and trying to be cool and he's nosing his chopper out, and I think he's going to blow the red light (strike two)  but when he guns his engine to try to get going, he stalls out (strike three=fail!).  I exchange a raised eyebrow shrug with the guy in the Comcast van next to the bike lane. Who does this dude think he is?  10 seconds later, the light turns green and he tries to gun it again,  only to stall out again.
I laugh out loud as I pass him and hope he hears me....
Wish I'd gotten a picture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chocolate bike!

Was on Newbury street and saw this really cool baker's bicycle outside a new chocolate store called Hotel Chocolate, a British specialty chocolate store.  I didn't really go in, as I wasn't locked up, but I asked the saleswoman if it was used for deliveries, or just a prop.  She said that they had just opened but there was a tentative plan to bike around giving out samples.  If they need to hire a someone for that job let me know!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shiny Coat

Brr, it's getting cold here- we actually had snow to "welcome" us back from a weekend up in Portland ME.  Portland has amazing food culture, I was shocked at how many good restaurants there were for a small town. And you can get the NY Times home delivery!  Too bad there's not a world class scientific research institution for the Scientist to work at, or we'd be there!

Now I'm resolved to try to make Pane au Levain using natural yeasts and a sour starter.   I've never loved "sourdough"  which I think tends to be kind of harsh, and I'm nervous about having the keep the starter fed etc, but it's worth a try if the bread is anything like the bread we got at Standard Baking company...

Somehow in my travels I managed to wench my back though, which made biking to work a bit tough.  I'm fine spinning along, but pushing off and really mashing on the pedals to go fast is a bad idea.  As I limped along at a low speed I was thinking about a big flaw in vehicular cycling.  To VC,  you have to be able to be aggressive, move fast, all the time, be able to take the lane.  Some days you just don't feel up to it,  and if VC is your only option, I can see why so many people don't want to bike.

I did get to try my new shiny coat. It's a "platinum color" with a metallic sheen, which turns out to be re quite reflective.   I was hoping that this would be my winter coat, and I washed it in a water-repellant solution to try to make it "sprinkle proof" .  Unfortunately it's not very well sewn, and I've already torn the lining out in two places in three rides.  Oh well,  at least it's as shiny and reflective as I hoped,  Maybe I can sew the lining back in where it's coming apart.  Might take in the sides at the same time to give it a bit more shape.  Another project

Friday, October 16, 2009

A different kind of bicycle discount....

Good for a Friday laugh-

Just read this story in the NY times about a brothel that offers a discount to those arriving by bicycle or public transportation....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall strip tease

Through a combination of factors (I was sick, Robert was sick, I had to drive out to job sites a couple of days) I didn’t bike much last week,  so getting back into the saddle this week was a bit of a shock, as it’s finally getting pretty chilly.  I know that lots of exercise oriented magazines tell you to dress lightly enough that you’re a bit cold when you get started, so that you don’t get sweaty.
I’m just not brave enough to do that- if I had to be cold every time I had to leave the house, I wouldn’t leave much, and would end up taking the T to work a lot more.
So, I dress in layers,  start out warm, and do a slowly progressing strip tease.  At one light I’ll unzip my jacket.  Going down a hill, I’ll remove my scarf.  Most days about half way there I’ll take off my jacket altogether, and today I even took off my cardigan and cycled in my sleevless shift dress, and gloves
Yes I was a bit chilled when I got to work, and everyone was shocked,  but better to be a bit chilly and not sweaty, than sweaty, then clammy damp, then freezing an hour after I get into work.
Important in this scheme is my giant basket into which I can toss all my discarded items without getting off the bike.

Tonight I kept my layers on, as it was spitting not quite freezing precipitation.  The weird thing was that there were a TON of bikers out.  In downtown I probably saw 10 bikers,  which is odd that time of evening (7pm) and especially with slightly icky weather.  Normally I don't see any bikers until I hit MGH, and not really until I get to Cambridge.  More importantly I think that every one of them have both front and back lights!  I felt cheered about bicycle culture!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ready, Aim, Fire

So, I haven't shared much of the "home remodeling work slightly beyond my comfort zone" on this blog, mainly because I'm in the final throes of a big project where I tiled our bathroom floor and shower, replaced the shower fixtures, put in a new toilet, new vanity (sink, faucet, marble top) new medicine cabinet and miscellaneous toilet paper holders shelves etc.
Whew.   No wonder it took me 6 months!
As could be imagined, I learned a lot during the process: about how thick mud mix should be,  how NOT to set mosaic tiles over electric heating grid,  and how important it is to have someone (in my case my Dad and my brother) from whom to get advice and encouragement.

Anyway,  one of the last finishing touches is putting in the heated towel bar.  We have hot water baseboard heat, and the plan was to remove a 2' chunk of the baseboard,  pipe up to the towel bar,  and pipe back down to the floor, where the pipe disappears and heads towards the boiler.  So simple right?  Getting an estimate for $500 to get a plumber to do it settled it in my mind.  I could do this myself!  While necessity may be the mother of invention,  cheapness is the mother of DIY.

There were two issues that worried me.  First I would have to turn off one zone of the boiler, and possibly the whole boiler for as long as it took.  Although we haven't started heating the house yet, it's getting nippy, and by the end of the week it was going to be in the 40's during the day, so time was of the essence.  Fortunately our house is set up with four separate zones,  so theoretically I could just disable the second floor, but I was a bit concerned about it.  After it was all done, I was going to have to remove the air from the pipes so that it was just water moving through the radiators,  a process called bleeding, which sounded a bit tricky and messy.

The other issue was that I was going to have to learn to sweat pipes.   Copper plumbing pipes are traditionally joined by heating the connections with a propane torch, and applying solder, which is sucked into the joint, and makes a waterproof joint when cooled.   Aside from the obvious fear factor in hot metal and propane flame,  the problem with sweated joints is that they have a nasty reputation for  looking just fine from the outside, but failing when you hook them all up and turn on the water.  A mad scramble to cut off and depressurize the boiler zone when 180 degree water is spraying across the bathroom is nobody's idea of fun.

Still, encouraged by my brother (who, I might add, replaced all the piping in his basement recently), I decided that I could do that part.  And what the hey,  I already had a propane torch for making creme brulee,  might as well use it for its intended purpose!

 It took about 36 hours from start to finish (of course I slept and went to work for part of that time), but not too bad!  I did have to go to home depot 4 times,  and the 2nd time I went yesterday the plumbing guy said "are you still here?"  So I guess my cover was blown.   But we have heat,  the towel bar gets nice and toasty warm, and I'm looking forward to a wonderfully warm towel as I get out of the shower tomorrow morning!  That's something to smile about!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tweed ride

ThisOn the theory that late is better than never,  I have some pictures of the tweed ride.
The weather despite being awful and muggy in the morning,  turned out to be a bit warm (especially for wearing wool), but surprisingly fine.
I met a lot of kindred spirits, and a good time was had by all.  Lots of pedestrians, especially on Newbury street wanted to know "what are you riding for?" I tried to answer a couple of them with an explanation about vintage bikes and vintage clothes and british three speed clubs,  but I finally gave up and started saying  "for fun!"
This woman had a vintage 2x2 camera that she was using to document the ride

This gentleman's bike was from the late 1940's

This bike, also very old , was dressed up with a corsage for the occasion

Elton, from Harris Cyclery
This bike has an old lamp which burned oil to create a headlight

This woman won the "best dressed lass" competition.  I spoke to her and she had taken in a thrift store suit to give it a great nipped waist.  I wish I was such an able seamstress.

Check out this cool helmet cover, made from stretchy mesh with some feather attachments.  Weak rum toddy in the thermos-  her basket had a great cover too.

Things fall apart

For some reason "The Final Coming" by Yeats has always been one of my favorite poems and the line
"things fall apart, the center cannot hold,  mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" my favorite line.
Something about "mere anarchy" like that was the least of our collective problems somehow resonates with me.

Unfortunately it's been a week of things falling apart on the bike for me- little frustrations adding up. First my rear fender bolt pulled through the fender causing the fender to rub on the wheel,  which I only discovered 30 minutes before going on the Tweed ride.  I could barely push the bike along in lowest gear, the friction was so much, and the annoying high pitched whine was awful.
I'm afraid that the solution wasn't pretty and involved cutting the hole out even bigger so that I could pull the fender free, and somewhat inartfully re-securing the fender with a leftover fender bridge.   I guess I should order new fenders from Velo Orange where I got these,  but I'm disappointed that they failed within a year of my first installing them.

Next, I've been having a problem with Robert tipping over when heavily laden. It must be like seeing your kid fall over- it's really painful to see him starting to tumble and know that I can't do anything about it.  I tried installing a wheel stabilizing spring, but that pulled out of its bracket when I turned too sharply to get the bike off the elevator, and I haven't resinstalled it yet because it's kind of a pain to get to.
Next I decided to add a double leg kickstand.  I bought the Pletscher one with two nesting arms instead of the Y shaped ones, on strength of recommendations and being impressed with how cool the mechanism was.

Unfortunately the kickstand was too much for the rusted out connections on the kickstand attachment plate and it detached from the chainstays. I'd just remove it completely and use the bracket that came with the kickstand, but part of it is the bracket that holds the front edge of the rear fender in place. And since the plate is bent, leaving it in place as a "washer" makes the bike even more likely to fall over.  I need to get some kind of L bracket long enough to slip the kickstand through and still fasten the fender to.  I have a feeling that that will involve a lot of fabrication, sigh.

After admiring all the fantastic old bikes at the tweed ride, I've been wondering if I should have started my bionic bike with a more pedigreed frame, something lugged, with a better paint job and less chance of rusting out.
Sorry,  long and convoluted post,  just feeling lots of doubt and like I have too many fixer-upper projects..

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mama's got a brand new bag

Ok, actually it's an old bag,  one I bought in Florence about the same time I met Robert.  I carried it for a while after I came back, but somehow it found its way to the top shelf of my closet, out of normal rotation.  Too big for a purse, a bit small for an omnibus carryall.
For the last 3 years I have been using an Ortlieb Office bag that I found in the REI "garage sale" a couple of years ago.  Although I loved the hook attachment system and the waterproofness,  the bag itself was a problem.  It had lots of tiny pockets for pens, and some too big pockets for everything else.  There was this inner stiffener thing that created weird pockets along the edges.  Although it was voluminous,  I was always cursing and searching for my wallet, or keys which were inevitably hiding in the bottom folds of the bag.

So I test drove the old leather bag for a while.  It had two front outer pockets that were perfect for my phone, my wallet , my keys and a lipgloss.  It was just the right size for lunch, with a bit left over for a couple of tools and a book.
It was such a relief not to have the daily stress of trying to dig my keys out of the bottom of the bag, and although it wouldn't do so well for a big grocery shopping trip, it was much better for the day to day, so I turned it into a pannier.

I bought a set of special hooks from Ortlieb.  These fit my Steco rack's larger tubing dimension and I love the way they release as you pull up on the handle.  They wouldn't sell me a mounting bar,  but I used a brass bar from the hardware store,  and drilled mounting holes through it and the leather.
So far so good.  It won't replace the big pannier for grocery runs or rainy days,  but I think for day to day, I have a bag that looks good and works well.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Is your life worth 20 seconds?

Bikers often complain that cars won't wait for 20 seconds in order to pass safely, endangering cyclists by passing too close, cutting people off, right hooking etc.   

However, I notice that a lot of people  will ride right up next to a big truck at a stoplight, without much care for whether it's about to turn right.  After surviving my first right hook with only bruises, I've made it a policy not to pull up next to a big vehicle,  or really any vehicle, unless I can be certain I can get ahead of them before the light changes.  I'd rather wait patiently behind them for a few more seconds than to chance them starting to move and turn across my path as I try to squeeze around.   I understand that the safest place to be is in front of all the vehicles (like in a bike box),  but I also understand from personal experience that the most dangerous place is to be 3/4 back in the blind spot,  and if there's a chance I won't make it to the front of the queue before it starts to move, I'd much rather just wait behind, in normal traffic.  

This is especially true with big delivery trucks, busses and construction vehicles, where not only is the mass (and danger to an unprotected bicyclist) greater, but the reaction time is slower and the blind spots bigger.

I know that the Portland OR water department did a public service outreach to cyclists, inviting them to climb up in a big rig and see how big the blind spots really are.  I think that it would be illuminating, and that a lot of people would think twice about biking up into those blind spots if they had a real sense of what it's really like up in that cab.
For me personally,  I'll wait the extra 20 seconds and just hang out in the lane behind, thanks.  My life is worth a little delay.