Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mama, the Italians are coming!

I am days away from realizing what has been practically a lifelong dream (at least for my entire cycling life) -- to own a Campagnolo-outfitted road bike. It will be a Bianchi San Lorenzo with Campagnolo Chorus gruppo. Sadly, to make room a bike must go. I'll be selling my Trek race bike. It's been a good bike ... blah, blah, blah. You don't need to hear any of that. Yeah, right anyway. I'm building a hot, sexy new Campy- clad Bianchi. I'm certainly not going to shed any tears over a piece of Trek. My eventual plan is to phase out all the Shimano I possibly can from the bike stable. Not that I think Japanese world cycling domination is a bad thing. They make some fine stuff. Fine stuff that everybody has. Plus, learning a new way to move my fingers to shift with ErgoPower levers will make me smarter. It works the left brain. Or, so 'they' say.

There it is, all in boxes -- my future bike. The Zonda wheelset is on the floor below the work bench. (You wouldn't think such tiny boxes could cost so much, eh?) Don't you kinda like the way the Campy Chorus box accents highlight the flashy bra stretched across the rim on the wall? Oh yeah, it's classy stuff. While I'm at it, here's another photo of the shop. Yep, the Trek XO-1 Cross bike will be on the chopping block soon (as part of Phase 2 of the Shimano Reduction Initiative). If yer in the market for a road or cross bike, drop me a line.
This room I am fortunate enough to call my bike shop used to be the coal room for the apartment building. It was one nasty place when we moved in but the landlord agreed to let me use it for cheap. There's no way we could have fit all these silly bicycles into our apartment! So I went to work cleaning it out. I still regularly find clumps of coal on the floor as if the spirits who inhabit the space get into great throwing matches when I'm not around. Who knows? Concrete walls are not conducive to shelving -- I do know that. But I've been able to get creative and suspend some shelving units constructed out of found/trash lumber from the joists above. Five or six fluorescent lights, a couple benches, a scrap of pegboard, and ... instant shop! As the room is below ground with no windows it is quite secure and the ambient temperature is rather cave-like making it comfy year 'round. It is a toilet and a beer fridge short of qualifying as my vacation home. (Which is good since I spend all my my $$ on bikes and can't afford vacations anyway.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dodging bullets

A couple of days ago one of my co-workers was clipped by a car on her ride into work. It happens to cyclists everyday. It happens to many, many cyclists everyday. In a town as bike-crazed as Fixed-tropolis you can't swing a fried-Snickers-bar-on-a-stick without hitting a cyclist. And almost every serious cycle commuter would have a story about contacting a car, maybe even more than one story. Luckily (as was the case with my co-worker), these things are often simple scrapes -- bike is fine and rider is mostly fine, except for the psyche. A lot happens upstairs to a cyclist when s/he tangles with the internal combustion beast, no matter how minor the incident.

Now, I'm not here necessarily to assess blame. It is far too easy to say: "Bike good. Car BAD!" Indeed, it is much too easy for cyclists to implicate motorists. The reality is that cyclists screw up and motorists screw up. Is it really about blame? When things go horribly wrong, and a cyclist is pronounced DOA do you really want to split hairs about who was at fault? Because, by that time you're only going to get one side of the story.

Sadly, when it comes to car-bike incidents, blame (let's politely and constructively relabel it 'responsibility') is quite neatly, like swept glass and blood residue, left by the wayside. Call it a human tendency to seek the definitive word, to attempt to ease the conscience, to provide closure -- we seem to naturally want to know whose fault it was anyway. To collect data on the freakish facets of car-bike "accident assessment," one needs to look no further than your local newspaper. Make a point to scan it for a couple weeks looking specifically for reports of deaths by impact with car. You'll have to look hard -- they're rarely more than a paragraph or two in length. I'll give you more to look for (after all, don't let a self-righteous cyclist paint this picture as if it only pertains to bikes): news of pedestrians being struck in crosswalks; wheelchair bound folks using the shoulder out of necessity; or children getting hit while playing on residential streets. Some interesting patterns will emerge. One is the overuse of the highly ambiguous noun 'accident.' Another is a deliberate notation regarding whether or not (if a bicyclist was involved) s/he was wearing a helmet. A third is the cursory dismissal -- "no charges were filed," etc.

Let's take a look at these three facets of your typical car-bike/ped incident editorial slot in reverse order (because I'm building to a climax here):

First, the cursory dismissal. Need I say more? Cursory. Dismissal. Someone is dead but no one is being held responsible. Do you think victims' families like to read these ice-cold, cut-and-dried ink blips? Next is the mention of the helmet. Bicycle helmets are meant to protect riders' heads in the event of toppling at the relatively low speeds of bicycle travel. They are a moot point of mention when discussing the finer points of a cyclist being mowed down by a car at high speed. Look at a motorcyclist's helmet. Look at a bicyclist's helmet. Big difference you think? But even a motorcyclist's helmet is of little consequence if s/he is struck by a car. Lastly, we come to the term 'accident.' Even our highly precise friends Merriam and Webster are a bit obtuse when defining the word 'accident.' I managed to pluck one nuance from the dictionary entry which seems to sum up how we commonly define an 'accident': "An unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance." Hmm. When authorities discover motorists operating their vehicles with "carelessness or ignorance" usually they issue a citation to the operator. Since, the good reader will note, the vast majority of newspaper reports indicate such was not issued, it may be presumed that the (now dead) cyclist or pedestrian was deemed to be acting with carelessness and/or ignorance (and therefore cannot be cited.) Maybe this is the case, maybe not; convenient nonetheless for the scot-free motorist. The problem with 'accident' is that we all too readily throw the word around like there are a myriad everyday occurrences totally beyond our control. "Totally beyond our control." Let that phrase sink in for a moment. Totally beyond our control is the child darting out into the path of the car, the pedestrian walking into the crosswalk I happen to be turning my car through, the cyclist weaving suicidally into the path of the front bumper, right? That's certainly one way to look at it.

Another way to look at it is that an automobile becomes a deadly weapon when it is operated with inattentiveness or negligence. Cars are not unlike guns. Just like guns, cars are bound to be abused by a perverse subset of the population. But even law abiding gun toters, like upstanding car drivers, are bound to have a great many "accidents" as well, even while they are operating their contraptions in a legally-condoned manner. "I didn't notice the other hunter dressed in blaze orange stepping out of the bushes when I fired"; "I didn't notice the other human being co-existing beyond my car when I ran over him." (Melodramatic emphasis intended.)

Could it be, just maybe possibly be that travel by automobile is given precedence and, therefore, too much leniency in matters regarding roadway incidents? Whoa. That's wacko. Sorry. Don't I realize that roads were made for cars and bike paths were made for bikes? If you believe this, I have one request: Wake the fuck up. Because history, precedent and practicality are not on your side. If it weren't for initiatives created by the boom of bicycling in the 1890's there'd be no improved roads. (What happened to the concept of the improved road? We made it smoother and wider. And wider. And wider. And ... wider. And still what happened? Traffic jams! Imagine that.) The way things have gone it's amazing that laws still exist in all our grand 50 states (however arcanely crafted and pathetically enforced) that dictate the proper and legal treatment of bicyclists by motorists.

True, some of my sentiments could be construed as threats. However, I prefer to think of them as emphatic invitations to re-assess current behavioral patterns. Friends, the Age of the Automobile reached its peak before anyone reading my rant was even a glimmer in their sweet mother's eyes. The sun has set on car culture; the problem is the rest of our pragmatic culture has not kept pace. I'm not implying that cars are bad. I am, however, stating that the way we use and abuse the privilege of operating automobiles is very, very imbalanced.

Remember the playground bully? Didn't you want to kick his ass? Did you? No, probably not. But eventually someone, maybe several people, did along the way. Are you glad they did? Well, guess what? Automobile operators are playing the part of the bully everyday. Are they getting their asses kicked? Do you habitual drivers like your insurance rates, your maintenance and upkeep, your worry and fear that someone will harm your precious four-wheeled investment? Of all these, the pressure at the pump alone will quite soon burst the bubble of the automobile. Yeah, we had a taste after Hurricane Katrina. But that bump was oil companies simply protecting their profit shares. What will happen when the oil companies truly run short of supply? Quick -- drive to Vegas and place your bets now because you have a better chance of winning than predicting exactly when fuel will reach its honest price based on blood, supply and demand.

Put on your boots and the muck jacket, 'cause the shit's gonna hit the proverbial fan. My cycling friends and I will continue to do what we've been doing -- waking up and hopping on our bikes, dodging lazy drivers to do what we believe is sensical and right. Eventually the next motorist who swerves toward a cyclist will run out of gas in the process and stop -- dead in their tracks.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Adrenaline Part II

So, I'm kind of reelin' from the fact that I was finally able to upload a photo. Big whup to many in the audience, but for some reason my combo of smarts and hardware have prevented this for about 5 days now. Yeah, huh huh ...

Anyway, who is this Patch O'Houli anyhow? Patch, aka John Woodruff Fleck, was born a poorish boy to 70s parents on a rental plot in West (by god)(sic) Virginia. Young Patch learned one way not to skid a bicycle after an epic 20ft slide in his father's store (gravel) parking lot at the tender age of 6. The lesson took a while to sink in. Since then he has managed to always orbit near the epicenter of the bicycle, whether racing or commuting. He's won medals and the informal trophy for "Most Crashes in a Season." He's driven a car a lot in between and lived to tell about it, if only he could remember. You see, the o'peculiar thing about Patch O'Houli is that he never outgrew the bicycle; he could never shake it from his mind; he could never displace the memory of pedaling for the subtle regularity of a car payment; he could never succumb to climate control rather than the honest grip of weather's whim; he could never replace a stereo for the streaming music ready for the ears. What a freak. Yep. But that's me, err, him. And he, for better or worse, is our narrator from here on out.

Oh, and one more thing, the name. Patch, as we will from here on out refer to him, came to bicycles in earnest while in middle school. He raced a fair bit as a junior, but missed the opportunity to dope with the pros since he discovered girls early in high school. He fell out of training and went to college with a well-rehearsed plan to become an engineer. His plan backfired at every turn, however, and he left school for an adventure on a famous Eastern hiking trail. Patch drifted with a fractured foot, officially homeless for 6 months or so. His hair had grown by then and he developed a certain penchant for a fragrant Asian essential oil. Soon after he met, and his moniker was coined by, Dean Houts of the Knoxville Academy of Bicycle Wisdom. (Perhaps some have taken classes under the tutelage of Prof Houts.) The "patch" portion was a given since O'Houli has but one eye (considering it, however, far too easy to take the pirate route for costumery at H'ween). The "o'houli" was added once Houts discovered the source of the hippie aroma everytime our young protagonist entered the room. Under Houts' watchful eye(ha), Patch studied dutifully in such topics as Inebriated Trials Riding. While he may have not earned the highest marks in trials, his earnings in inebriation were quite exemplary. Exhausted from his studies, and pursuing a failing marriage, O'Houli took a break from bicycling for several years to explore climbing, kayaking and extemporaneous woodland bivouac skills. He fled from a corporate consolidation in Tennessee to a dysfunctional operation in Minnesota. After the first winter, with his soon to be ex-wife safely packed back to The Volunteer State, Patch re-emerged on the bike scene in fine form, promptly executing an endo on Hennepin Ave in the summer of 2003, resulting in 4 stitches. Feeling the adrenaline coursing once again through his veins he discovered fixed gear riding (thanks to new wife, then girlfriend, April). He quit the dead end job, went back to (a real) school and took up with a prominent distributor of bike giblets. Seven bikes and one kid later, Patch is racing road, track and cyclocross like there's no tomorrow. 'Cause, hell, there may not be. Anywho, Patch would like me to tell you there's nothing like x-cross. Just check out the photo above. And for any of you aspiring juniors out there -- just keep riding and don't start working at a retail bike shop. If you disregard this admonition, at least don't let some guy named Houts take you out to drink tequila.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

So there we were ...

Yep ... ringin' in the New Year MN style! Okay, so the picture is blurry. But I took it, and as best I can recollect this is how it looked to me when we arrived home. Maybe it was my idea. Rain all day New Year's Eve changed to snow in the evening. So what? Hitch up the trailer and load up the kid, head to a friend's house and ... voila ... instant New Year's celebration! Actually the New Year, like the snow, came upon us gradually, not unlike the decadent dinner featuring salmon and crab legs. Oh well, catch as catch can. For dessert we sampled Petit Ecolier cookies and a Black Sabbath documentary. UMMM ... tasty! The snowstorm had subsided by midnight, but the driving drunks were in full force. One rapscallion even yelled at us to "Take the train!" (I think you should have been on the train, buddy.) As for the Fleck Family Robinson, we stuck to the byways and had the skidfest of our lives. Good stuff, and 'less the youngun grows up to be a NASCAR driver, she'll appreciate it one day too. Fresh powdery snow beneath the crunch of bike tires, a mostly silent night in the city, a New year and New adventures.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy Year, Again New

It's 2007. Time to make a conscious effort to write a new year when dating checks, journal entries, correspondence and legal documents. Time for resolutions, if you believe in that sort of thing. For 2007, I resolve to drink a beer and start a blog. Why? Well, the former seldom requires justification; the latter ... well, viva la web! Long live self expression. Don't we all have something to say? And does it really matter if anyone listens or not?

Sometimes it does matter. And sometimes you just have to keep pitching those off the wall ideas because one day you might discover that others agree and have adopted similar viewpoints. Then, you run off to the mountains and find a new wi-fi cave in which to dream up the next crazy thing. Or something like that.

Enough of the idealistic crap. Happy New Year, World.