Wednesday, February 28, 2007


The weather in the Upper Midwest lately has been very typical Upper Midwestern winter weather. And tonight, it's back -- a few inches of snow overnight with another predicted 8-10" over the next day and a half. Is the point of this entry to gripe about winter? Well, no. Yours truly is biking away and loving the reprieve offered by warmer temps. (Yeah! 30 degrees!) The warmth distracts from the hardship of surmounting 3ft plowed snow banks blocking bike paths and sidewalk shortcuts. (In winter all importance is placed on the roadway which is typically plowed to the bare minimum width. Bike lanes? Forget about it. Shoulders, sidewalks and crossings are where the snow is allowed to pile up. To be fair the greenways and most bike paths are plowed. Sometimes I wonder who the hell got approval for that. The Midtown Greenway, for instance, is among the first surfaces plowed in the city. Lucky is the cyclist who can get where s/he needs to go on the Greenway. My 12.5 mile commute to work includes only about .5 miles of bike path; the rest is city streets.)

There's nothing quite like a fierce blast of Nature's fury to bring out the best and worst mankind has to offer. Think of the technology behind snow removal. Even I am amazed how overnight the City of Minneapolis can scrape 8 inches of snow off most all the roads in the metro area. As a cyclist, I'm somewhat elated. It might be fun to trudge along through the snow on a bike, but anything over 2 inches deep makes for slow going. Whoa ... wait a minute. If it has just snowed 8-10 inches, why am I worried about getting somewhere fast?! Well, that's a good question. Gone are the legitimate "snow days." We'll be telling our kids about them as they're sentenced to uninterrupted school attendance because our technological might has ascended to a level on par with Nature. By Golly, there's no reason to miss work, school, shopping, or your hair appointment. Every single, solitary, frickin' day can be carried on just like the one before it -- and should be -- because nothing (NOTHING) should impede the wheels of commerce and slow down this pace of life ... err, "quality of life" ... we've created. Right?
Yeah, right.
As you might guess, this entry is going to have something to do with cars. Drivers of cars, actually. "Oooh, those rascally drivers," a cycling Elmer might say. And maybe it is a little about weather. Or, at least, all the incredibly drastic and expensive measures we take to counteract the effects of weather. The main message (tying in the title of this spew): SLOW DOWN! Yeah, that means me, you and everybody drawing breath in this fair and blessed of lands we call 'Uhmerica. ' (Gee Dub, you're the best.) So, what's with the image up top? Just a "serving suggestion," if you will ... a recipe for slowing down. Feel free to add spice and condiments to your liking. Look out the window of CRC Coffee shop ( as depicted in that image -- falling snow and nasty roads. Slow down. Go home. Park your car. Walk somewhere, like your local neighborhood hangout. (Oh, you suburbanites will just have to substitute your local TGI Fridays or Target Greatland.) Move away from your computer. Put down your cell phone. Hang out with your loved ones. Read a little. Discuss what you're reading. Play with your kids. Rejoice, ye children of Israel that god hath brought a spontaneous occasion for ye to rest (since the sabbath day doesn't seem to function as such anymore).
Okay, what the hell does this have to do with drivers? Well, literally, drivers need to slow down. No, really -- slow the fuck DOWN! I have to say that the past three days of bike commuting have revealed to me some of the most impatient drivers I've encountered all winter. What is it with you people? Do you leave your brains at home in the spot where you almost forgot your Starbucks gift card? It's not just your average Joe Schmoe, either -- it's policemen, it's school bus drivers -- all driving like freakin' idiots. It's the guy and girl in Richfield driving a POS Neon backing out of the driveway in front of me, me passing on the right, and him conspicuously gunning the POS Neon engine when passing me a half block later.
Of course, maybe drivers' impatience has nothing to do with the weather. Gas prices have gone up lately. Who cares? Gas is still cheaper than a lot of things. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than cologne, for instance. ($30/ounce or $2.55/gallon?) And, shit, it's cheaper than beer, even cheap beer which will still cost you about $6-$8/gallon. When gasoline is $10/gallon it will still not be fairly priced. But will drivers who can't even extract their craniums from their sphincters long enough to act like decent human beings to other human beings actually get it? You do the math. This skeptic is signing off to go spend some quality time with his family.

Monday, February 26, 2007

All great bike projects begin, and end, with ...

... the right tools? (Plenty of those to go around in this joint.) No, shoot lower, young Grasshopper. Baby powder? Well, no tube is properly installed without it, but ... think of the gentle fizz of malted barley goodness. Beer. Yes, BEER. I really thought seriously about naming my blog "Buddhas, Bikes and Beer." That would have been way more cool. Instead, I wanted to sound more esoteric, symbolic and artsy. (I'm beginning to notice that I really ought to get on my manservant to clean up the place more often.)

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic lately. So, I offer up image 'Exhibit B': a little momento placed in my hands by Herr Houts many moons since.
A touching image which has baffled many a friend and turned away countless fine concubines. I do not find it baffling, offensive, nor off-putting. I once worked very closely with cows. (I, unlike my friends at the time, did not find my acquired odor "baffling, offensive, nor off-putting" either.) I tended them (cows, not the friends); I milked them; I wrote poetry about them. And it was all because of an hallucinogenic 8-month stint working third shift on a dairy farm. Hey, I got free tuition because it was the dairy owned by my illustrious alma mater, The University of TN. It was an "experimental and research facility." Don't ask me about rBGH. I know I toasted some potentially good karma with that gig. But I did save a lot of breach-birth calves. You haven't lived 'til you're elbow deep in a heifer trying to pluck a boney, slimey mass of surprisingly fragile life from the grips of suffocation. One one cold, snowy Christmas Eve night I saved a calf. No, I didn't corellate the incident with the birth of a gooey Baby Jesus. But, unfortunately, I think it was a bull. In which case it was promptly removed from its mother and possibly slaughtered months later for veal. Milk's about cows (girly cows, that is). No need for man-folk in this harem. They ain't nothin' a 2 foot stainless steel syringe and some frozen bull seed can't replace. Ah, the joys of factory farming. Amen.
For anyone in the know, who 'da thunk Sov was in A Clockwork Orange?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Prof Houts Sighting

Houts emailed to set us straight on the whole Scandium thing. BTW He says this photo was from New Years, which would inspire such frivolity, however, I know the truth that this is a regular Saturday night occurence around the Houts ranch. Anyway, I quote the master:

" ... your frame is mostly aluminum although containing small amounts of Scandium (from Scandinavia, hence the name). Scandium is even rarer than titanium but retains the same high quality performance characteristics as titanium. It is mixed with aluminum to control grain growth in the weld zone. If you notice most aluminum frames fail at the edge of the weld (the row of nickels). So, you increase weld strength through finer inclusion of other alloys and by reducing the voids that normally occur at the grain boundaries, (as you know, metals have grain structure like wood), of when aluminum alloys harden and oxidize. The hardening code is in the numbers 6061, 4130, 7000. This tells you what process was used both in the materials mix and afterwards in the hardening process. The main goal is to strengthen the weld, but it is just enough Scandium in the mix to create a cleaner, stronger weld. Take it from here marketers! Back to diggin' ditches! That is one sweet ride! This time I mean the bike."

But wait, there's more:

"After sitting here second guessing myself on the numbers on materials ... I looked it up - here is the truth. Every type of material has a different code: Cro-mo Steel 4130 = 4-type of material, 1 percentage of molybdenum, 30-amount of carbon; Aluminum6160 - T6 = 6-major alloy (6 is magnesium and silicon), 1-impurities (mill-controlled impurities), 60-% of Aluminum stock (40% uncontrolled impurities), T6 treating; in this case T is thermally treated and 6 is solution treated and thermally aged; 7000 = zinc is the major alloy. There! That sounds more like it!"

I am so thankful that in addition to bike knowledge, Her Houts also gave me a lot of advice in the area of fashion. Thanks, Dave ... I love you, man.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Adrenaline Part I or What is "urban-crawl" anyway?

Is it a funky new dance craze sweeping cities across the US? A new courting ritual for single urbanites? How about what happens when a bar ride goes horribly right and you can't balance on your bike anymore? Well, all three could be valid conjectures. But, let me expound on the title "urban-crawl."

urban-crawl (n): one part roving reporter as seen by the "eye in the sky." "urban-crawl" is suggestive, descriptive, symbolic. (Hell, some might say it's stupid. These people are flat, literal and Type-A. But that's okay.) Picture an image of bicyclists steadily pedaling the urban grid. Now, imagine that image from about 500 feet off the deck, looking straight down. Kinda cool, eh? Cyclists like little industrious ants, crawling all about the city, getting the real work (progress) accomplished while the ego-maximus of homo sapiens goes on figuring out ways to squash/poison more of them in punishment for a long and well-documented history of ruining picnics in the country. Think of the number of ants in the world, as , well, compared to the number of humans. Kinda scary, eh? There are always many, many more than we can see. Thank heavens for Tupperware.

Literal can be fun, yes. But think symbolically. "Humans crushing ants" = motorists crushing cyclists. Okay, not literally, again ... we're delving into the realm of Foucalt here. It's a symbolic battle of not so unlikely opponents. Not that ants want more power, per se; they just want you to step around them on the sidewalk. The struggle is on many levels a battle of ideologies. Modern American society is founded on the ideology of the automobile. Ants? Heck, they like to figure out ways to carry things 300 times their own body weight. Go figure. Burn dead dinosaurs? Or, harvest the power of organic exoskeletal hydraulics? Pretty cool. Is your team mascot a Lazy Sloth or a Self-reliant Spartan?

"urban-crawl" is cryptic, prophetic and, perhaps, apocalyptic. (Well, Jesus and Mary Chain what in hades is he talking about? I think somebody stayed up too late watching The End of Suburbia.) If the automobile ever had a "Golden Age" none of us would like the fashions we would have to have worn to enjoy it. It's over. Gone daddy gone. Cars are inefficient, unsafe relics of a totally consumer-driven, class-based (don't forget elitist) society. (Sound familiar? That's us!)(We'll get into that more in later posts, I'm sure. But, back to my thought ...) When the oil runs dry (or, more importantly when supplies run low enough that practically no one can afford to fuel a car anymore) then cars will start to die. (In the meantime, there'll be riots and other silliness at the pumps for sure.) Drivers will be forced to (figuratively, again) crawl, just like toddlers, before they learn to walk. Unlike the war, pestilence and famine of popular, fundamentalist New Testament fame, however, there's a shiny happy upside to this rather apocalyptic proclamation -- society will learn to walk again! Hurray! And, just maybe, some of the more adept will discover how practical that golldarned bicycle really is.

Of course, this will only happen when the messiah pedals back to Earth on a celestial two-wheeler with a peloton of archangel domestiques in tow. Holy shit! I think I just proved Lance Armstrong is the anti-christ.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Paul Shaffer and the band played the ribbon-cutting, but all you get are the photos

I personally think we need a new futon. One made by Selle Italia in fine celeste-colored leather. With carbon armrests and titanium legs. This old furniture just isn't gonna cut it with such shiny new appliances gracing the dwelling. Some people hate celeste. I, personally, never used to get it. It doesn't match anything, I thought. But, that's precisely the point. And the Italians, they don't care. Look at Bianchi paint schemes over the years -- celeste with yellow, red, blue, gray, black, white -- brights, pastels, matte, metallic flake. You either get it, or you don't.

Bike sites always list the ultra-geeky particulars. So, here goes! Frame: Bianchi San Lorenzo, Scandium (that's a fancy name for aluminum, I'm told) with carbon fork; Drivetrain and brakes: full Campy Chorus 10s with Skeleton brakes (they're purty!); Crank: FSA K-Force Carbon 53/39; Bars: Deda Newton; Stem: Deda Zero 100 metal finish; Seatpost: Chorus carbon; Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Ti; Wheels: Campy Zonda with Vittoria Diamante Pro rubber. Weight: light. Price: "I told you I'm selling my old road bike, okay?"

Have I ridden this beauty yet? No. Why, you may ask? Well, if you added the combined daily (high) temperatures of the past couple days, you wouldn't get a positive number. We seem to be having a real MN winter after all. Two more inches of snow today. At least when it snows at -2 it's not very sloppy. The commuting has been divine. You layer up (not too many, mind you) and cover all exposed flesh. Sticking mainly to side roads and residential lanes it is very quiet and peaceful. This morning the flakes falling were huge and light and not too sticky. Each one seemed to be humming a gentle song. It's just you and the snow and your tires softly crunching through the powder. No pedestrians ignorantly clogging the bike path gabbing to neighbors about their latest trip to the MOA. Motorists generally give a wide berth since they are certain you're a friggin' lunatic. Even most other cyclists (Buddha bless their non-souls) have mothballed the lycra. If you do see another biker, you know: "Yeah, they're just as much of an introverted freak as I am! Yippee!" And you honor their experience as well. Oh, blessed winter in Minnesota.

Here's another photo. This is what I like to see: chicks on bikes. Well, I mean, my chick ... err, partner ... on my bike -- smiling! When I look at this photo I think about what it might just be like to win my first race. Maybe I'll recollect his photo when I'm cranking up some brutal climb ready to heave over those graceful handlebars which are so lovingly caressed by my dear one. Maybe the image will dull the sting of roadrash the first time I lay this sculpture-on-wheels down on the pave. Maybe I'll just be happy the bike looks so good when I finally realize a new bike hasn't made me any faster than I was on my old bike last year.

Two months and one week 'til the first road race in MN. It's actually held on gravel farm roads. They call it a classic (a la "Belgian classic"). It was fun last year with one hell of a steep climb. Yes, for yea who doubt, we do have hills in our grand (mostly flat) state. I didn't see any puking last April. But I did see the stitches of a fellow rider who went down in a corner and was sutured by a spectating doctor. Thrills and spills. And beers afterwards. Bring it on!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sweet Baby James couldn't have been more right ...

... when he sang "I'm a Steamroller, baby. And I'm gonna roll all over you ..." Check out this beauty. Oh yeah, 100% Surly-fied lovin'. Kind of swirly-fied, actually. No, it's not my photography. The image has been enhanced to create the effect of how the bike will appear when I blow past you on my commute to work. I really ought to take another photo. This one doesn't do any justice to the pink King headset.
This is the bike I almost killed myself to get. No, really. One dark night last November, I was cruising home from class in St Paul aboard my beloved pink Shogun. I was quite serendipitously riding along when I smacked an iron fencepost in the middle of the greenway, placed there to secure some construction fencing. I was lucky. By some twist of fate the post caught the fork lug and the edge of the hub on the right side of my front wheel. The massive amount of inertia was absorbed by the headtube and downtube (well, and my shoulder and back.) It was one of those deliciously graceful endos where you actually have a distinct moment of realization that it is time to tuck the wings and roll. Anyhow, I was unscathed except for deep shoulder and low back bruising. (If only the greenway were paved with Angel Soft bath tissue.) The bike frame, however, was tacoed, making for a fun rest of the ride home. The best part -- my significant other had no problem understanding the logic of why I HAD to build a new fixie. I mean, my prized Shogun was no more. Of course I needed a Steamroller to replace it. I love your pragmatism, honey.

-7 at time of posting; headed to -15 by morning. Wondering where my ambition to ride home from work tomorrow is going to come from. It's damn cold in the computer room as I type this. Fingers aren't working. Time to give up writing and get a beer. Hope all you Stupor Bowl hipsters had fun and you're all headed home to warmer climes with digits intact. So many bike/beer events, so little time.
Screw the beer. I'm heading for the single malt.