Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Try This at Home

I did something Saturday I recommend you never try yourself. While reconverting my Cross-Check from singlespeed for the MN State CX Championships back to fixed gear for commuting, I got my thumb caught between the fixed cog and chain. It wasn't bad, thankfully. No blood even, just a HELL of a lot of pain. I think what saved me was the rag I was using to wipe the chain was wrapped above my thumbnail and below the fleshy pad, so I had no direct steel-to-flesh contact. I also had just installed a brand new cog, not a worn one with chain-honed, sharky teeth.

I clean my fixed gear drivetrains frequently and am well aware of the danger of a stuck digit. Sheldon Brown (MHRIP) has some graphic proof of such mishaps. They ain't pretty pictures, be warned. To my credit I was following my usual, time-tested procedure -- reverse pedaling with rag right in front of the cog, allowing plenty of distance between fingers and chainring. The difference was I recall letting the rag flap about quite a lot. Somehow it got caught somewhere and reversed the drivetrain, tugging my thumb into the works momentarily. The thundering voice of Cog spoke: Keep thine rag in check.

Enough of the PSA. My efforts meant I pedaled to work on a crisp, quiet drivetrain this morning. The sun made an appearance. It was about 32F and quite pleasant. After 20s and even teens last week I am happy to have a slight upturn in the mercury.

Be well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big 3 Bailout?

"'My fear is that you're going to take this money and continue the same stupid decisions you've made for 25 years," said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass."

Well said, Rep. Capuano. You can check out the rest of the story courtesy of the AP via Yahoo. The $700B bailout is unprecendented, don't get me wrong. Am I saying our economy should spiral into massive unemployment and the collapse of an "iconic American industry" as it's labeled in the above article? Well, I'm not thrilled about millions losing their jobs but I am also not confident that the American auto industry has any clue about how to move forward, and the fact of the matter is I can't support any argument that implies an inkling of sustainability as it applies to US automobile culture.

What did the chief execs of the Big 3 have to say to Congress? "In testimony, they said their problem was that credit was unavailable, and not that they were manufacturing products that consumers had turned their backs on." In testimony, eh? That means under oath, doesn't it? Because that statement sounds like an outright lie to me. How do you think SUV sales have trended in 2008?

Seriously, you high-paid yokels, had you not flown a middle finger in everyone's faces by hopping your private jets to D.C. there might be some sympathy afloat. But now all the American people have to chew on is the dismal potential of millions of lost jobs. Your case is built on an economic threat. But you know what -- those jobs aren't sustainable or secure anyway because they're part of an industry that once forged its own path with no regard for the environment, alternative transportation, renewable energy, workers' rights, etc. Your industry is now lost in the woods it sought so zealously to raze and pave into freeways and drive-thrus.

What's next? Bailouts for pharmaceutical companies who can no longer push their exorbitantly priced placebos due to tightening insurance policies?

I like to think of this as a "come to jesus" time, folks. A reality check, if you will. A lot of fat cats who've been siphoning off mind-raped consumers are feeling the pain of poor planning and no consideration for sustainability. We all have a stake in this because we all support this consumer machine masquerading as a free and independent nation. It's time for all of us to share in the collective formation of a truer, more humble vision of reality.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do You Know What's REALLY Awesome?

Riding the Big Dummy home with a dead-on tailwind.

And I'll be flying almost as fast as a private jet to D.C. after I mount the poster on the back that says "The Big 3 Can't Have Any of My Money!"

Realizing the irony of such a poster strapped to a bicycle is a beautiful thing in my opinion. Are there stultifying ramifications to the Big 3 being in trouble? Yes, of course. Read here if you like since it provides a nice synopsis of the shockwave of the Big 3 toppling.

The Big 3 are a symbol of an antiquated way of corporate American life and culture, rife with over-indulgence, short-sightedness and greed. I can't support propping these companies up since they have naively smashed projects for alternative fuel vehicles, higher mileage standards, clean air initiatives and blatantly shoved the most ignorant of auto designs down Americans' throats with every kind of ego-driven marketing possible.

It ain't pretty, but I say they dug their holes as they simultaneously lined their pockets while fleecing workers, consumers and investors. They can find their own way out. What more fitting sign of the inevitable fall of American car culture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Germany the Beautiful

We're back-tracking a bit here, folks ... to a magical time in September, early September, when things were not so freezy here in the upper Midwest, when our youngest daughter was not yet showing signs of walking and performing all the feats of young toddler balance which include dozens of epic falls per day (many of which end with her landing on her skull -- do you ever wonder how the hell babies can make it through this stage of existence?)

Ah, Germany, where do I begin? Well, I went there to do some work. However, I want to focus my blog entry on the last day and a half I was there because I was not technically working at that point. We'll get to that later.

Eurobike was one huge spectacle that didn't seem so huge while I was there because I had no frame of reference. By huge I mean HUGE -- take your favorite well laid out bike shop and multiply it by 10,000 or more for effect. Eurobike had punch, gusto, amore. And that doesn't even count the fashion shows.

The show was really fun, for work that is. Eurobike is held in Friedrichshafen which is a actually a pretty small town. The hospitality is wonderful and the landscape and scenery are equally so. The weather was warm at first but then got cooler. Speaking of cool I met a lot of cool people. There was a party Saturday night in a pouring rain to slight drizzle. It was chilly. The lines to the beer tent were occasionally long since there were well over a thousand people. Bands played on a very large outdoor stage. Covers of Skynyrd, Metallica and Nirvana abounded. It was a fun time.

Yeah, it's blurry, but it still is not hard to make out the fact that is a trombone in the background on stage. This was one interesting party.

Two good blokes from the German distributor, Pieter and Igor, brothers actually. That's Igor with a long I, not a long E, please. (Think "Young Frankenstein.") What's that in my hand, you ask? Well, it is a hefeweizen. I'm an ale guy and at first I was slow to come around to the hefeweizen which is sweet and yeasty and not very crisp (not like you don't know). It's also served a bit warmer than we drink most beers here in Amuricah. By the end of the trip I was craving the stuff and have been most disappointed that you just can't find the real thing here. Can you say fresh? This beer was the epitome of fresh tasting. No Miller or Bud products proliferating this festival, just good ol' local German brews.

So, my boss and I had an agreement that even though the show continued through Sunday we'd take the last day off and go ride. We'd brought Travelers Checks and had ridden to and from the show everyday (about 13 miles round trip and we only got really lost once. We solved that by flagging down a very nice Indian gentleman at 11:30pm. Through broken German and hand gestures we got back on track).

From the hotel/inn in Bitzenhofen to Friedrichshafen there was a bike path beside the road. It carved its way through fields, apple orchards and forests. It was quite pleasant actually. As an aside I should say that Eddy Merckx stayed at our same hotel and we're not talking a place with a bunch of rooms either. I botched many chances at breakfast to strike up a conversation with a guy whom I thought would be a giant, but was more just a dude in casual sport dress. Nevertheless, he was one of my heros when I was a junior racer -- back when I really thought I wanted to become a pro. Some girls thought it was pretty cool that I could swap leg shaving tips with them in high school. Everyone else probably knew I was a freak.

Our "hotel" which I said was more like an inn. They had an on-site restaurant that served phenomenal food, not to mention a traditional German breakfast of rolls, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, granola, fresh juices and cider and lots of other stuff I wish I could be eating right now.

The road and path with orchards to the right. Courtesy of the wetness and abundance of fruit I saw the biggest slugs and snails I have ever seen along this path.

All the appointments were cleared for Sunday. One problem was we had that small obstacle of a party the night before our planned day off. We accrued an extra room guest, Christoph, as well since he was destined to spend a rainy night in a shoddy tent. He's a Surly fan and dealer from Switzerland. When we pedaled back in the wet darkness early Sunday morning we all stayed up chatting and sipping off bottles of hefe generously doled out after hours by the kitchen staff. I think our waitress got the request for beer more than she did my later hug of thanks for being so good to us.

The next morning Peter wasn't feeling it. By this time I'd had four days of orienting my brain to the general layout of the countryside and the locations of certain key villages. I was eager to explore. I hadn't flown thousands of miles with a bike in tow to stand around a convention hall the entire time. At a crossroads a couple of kilos from our inn we split up and I forged on alone toward the unknown (to me) -- bound for a lakeside town called Meersburg. Peter and Christoph headed to the Messe Friedrichshafen for the final day of the show.

The weather was misty and threatened of rain. Temps were in the 60s. I had a full repair kit, rain jacket, some Euros and credit cards. I did not have a cell phone. I normally always ride with my phone in the States and it felt exciting to be out without one, especially in a place where no one knew me and if something should happen I'd be at the total mercy of fate to deliver me to a kind-hearted English speaker willing to help. I wasn't really worried though.

A roadside church replete with the Byzantine dome. Old Catholicism in effect here.

And a trailside shrine, i.e. crucifix. I'm not a big fan of christianity but with all these centuries-old relics around I was moved to say the least. One can not help but breathe in the "oldness" and history of everything around.

I could see living on this estate. It was along the bike path which followed a highway to Meersburg.

A view from the woods. This photo does no justice for the actual density of the wood cover. This was wonderful old-growth and it glowed with an intense green light beneath overcast, wet skies.

A slight diversion from the paved bike trail which led me into the woods and orchards. This was a very unexpected fork in the trail but was well worth the extra half hour I spent exploring it.

An apple barn which is located in a town that is very proud of its apples. I wish I could have met the apple queen, pictured above (minutely), but she was no where around. I actually waited out a cloudburst in this town and stood beneath the eave of an unknown building until the rain slacked, then got on my bike and rode on.

This little day trip reminded me of the fact that I never go on bike rides like this. I am always commuting or running errands or headed somewhere with a purpose and usually a deadline. How magical it is to just wander on a bike, letting spontaneity take hold and adapting to sudden challenges like a rain storm with the freedom to just stop and wait.

Apple country fades into grape country. A view from the trailside up toward the perfectly spaced vineyards.

T-Check poses in front of the village map of old Meersburg on the shores of the Bodensee. Meersburg is an amazing village. It was quaint -- an entire district of historic buildings have been immaculately preserved and are actually occupied. The place was humming with the energy of centuries of history.

I'm no Catholic scholar, but this looks like St Christopher to me. He is sculpted at a port on the lake as if to protect (or dissuade) travelers headed out of Germany toward Switzerland. The gaze was quite haunting. [ED Note: Brother Houts has since corrected me that this is most likely St Nicholas, patron saint of mariners. However, this may speak to Houts' upbringing, he assures me he has now reformed to the rastafari ways.]

This sculpture in a square in the old city of Meersburg was lovely and haunting as well. The only parallel I could draw was with the piper legends of the past, drawing rats and mice away. Notice the German way of venting windows in the upper right. No windows, even in restaurants, had screens. Therefore, a lot of flying critters were found indoors.

When I saw this inscription on a building frontice I was humbled. It's older than our country and the grape leaves seem to symbolize that it will grow yet still. I remember thinking that my children shall see places like this that still thrive before they, themselves, are old enough to vote. That is one of my goals -- my kids will travel internationally while they're young, something I waited until my 30s to do.

I presumed this was the old governmental square in Meersburg. Three very plain buildings opened into a common court closed off by large wrought gates. Yellow is my favorite color and I admire any place that has yellow exterior painted walls. Hell yeah. And if you plant a red-flowering bush outside that yellow building, you're golden in my book. Can you say complementary color palette?

The heart of the matter -- lunch. Currywurst and frites purchased at a streetside tavern a block from the shore of the lake. Along with the hefe ... ahh, the hefe ... That whole meal set me back not 7 Euro, which isn't a bad deal at all. Fortified and content, I stopped off for souvenirs I'd scoped in shops earlier and was on my bike headed along the shore toward Friedrichshafen, and reality, again.

On the ride back toward Friedrichshafen I found great humor in this caricature of a man taking a "pissoir." Unlike our all-accommodating Biffies/Port-o-Potties/PortaJohns I think it is meant to say, "Don't expect to take a grumpy here" or "Standing room only."

If you're riding your bike and it's been at least 30 minutes since your last tasty beer, and you see folks gathered lakeside having beers served out of a little shack, it's pretty damn hard not to stop and have one yourself. So, I did and it was good. It was also good to sit and feel the wind, catch faint glimpses of sun cracking the cloud cover and watch kids play along the shore while parents reined them in occasionally with stern shouts in German. I wrote a half-liter's worth of journal entry and was on my way.

Just in time, too. Everyone was wondering where the hell I was and I suppose I was a tad bit late. I did after all take the time to get lost one last time in Friedrichshafen -- and rescued by a very kind rider who happened to speak excellent English. I guess the time hadn't been flying the way it did for me -- alone on my bike in a place I didn't really want to leave. I apologized for making the group wait, but on the inside I was gloating from having taken a magical day off in one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Know What You Did Last Homie

Don't worry. Really, I don't know. The answer for me was nothing. I had a little too much fun at the Homie Pre-Party, a Halloween party hosted by Swervy. I arrived home around 7:30 in the a.m., oozing bodily fluid from my nose and still reeling from the merry-making.

I had a wee nip of scotch with my eggs for breakfast. Whisky for breakfast is okay as long as you offer it to all the guests. I went to sleep while April took the kids and drove her aunt to the airport. I dreamed of nothing while I napped. My nose stuck to the pillow.
When I awoke, April strongly urged me not to go on the ride. Can you pick out the diplomatically worded portion of the previous sentence? I saw the clock tick past the meeting time. An hour or so later my phone rang. "No, I don't think I'll be making it. You guys have fun," I told my friend. No Homie for me. My ambition was lagging anyway. I made peace with it. I've spent entirely too little time with the family lately and I suppose the last thing I really needed was another party.
So, what did I do instead of Homie? Well, apart from playing with the kids and hanging around having meaningful conversations with my wife (which included more than a couple of apologies for coming home bloody), I got to do something I might not have made time for because it isn't exactly one of those glamorous or "high-priority" tasks. [Insert voice of inner woodworking geek here:] I tuned my planes. Hand planes, that is. In about 6 hours' time over the course of the weekend I made it through all of my block planes and got a start on the bench planes.
What does this entail? The time consuming part is patiently standing over a sheet of sandpaper stuck on plate glass, methodically sliding the cast iron sole of the plane back and forth until all of the mill marks are removed and the surface is dead flat. This is accomplished by working up from 80 grit to 220 or so. Then, there's the honing, among other adjustments like sanding the japaning off the front lip of the lever cap. (That'd be the thick black paint in case you're wondering.)
I recently read that when you buy a run-of-the-mill Stanley/Bailey, Record or the like, you should regard it as little more than a kit full of parts. From there, if you care to get good results and want to truly enjoy using a hand plane, you need to sand, fit and sharpen. And it takes a while. Is it worth it? Yep. Almost everyone who's used a plane knows what it's like to use a dull, poorly adjusted one. However, the experience of paper-thin shavings floating lightly to the floor, the smell of resinous wood being worked with a fine blade, the sound of a sharp plane gliding through grain almost effortlessly -- all are beautiful. No electricity needed; no roar of a high-amperage motor; no particulate dust. It's wonderfully meditative work.

To all who went on Homie and had a kickass time, I'm happy for you. Now I gotta go wash my hands. Was that a metaphorical reference?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I'm often asked why I put a front rack on my Big Dummy? Well, how else am I going to transport my lunch and various sundries in addition to the two kegs I needed to get back for deposit? Well, duh! You figure it out ... (Just angle that non-drive side keg up 'n away from yer disc brake caliper, eh.)

Thanks, smart guy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I saw a VW Eurovan this morning. I'm a fan. If VWs weren't so fickle and unfair to me I'd own another maybe. Believe me, I tried. Ask Brother Houts. My '72 Westfalia was my pride and joy. It succeeded a long and tumultuous relationship with a '70 Bug. I drove the Westy intermittently when I wasn't busy growing my hair or it wasn't busy catching on fire or throwing valves. Bummer. Beautiful it was. Parked in my driveway, as it was mostly wont to do. I traded the bus to Herr Houts for a bike. I think I got the better deal.

So I saw a Eurovan this morning glide by me on Xerxes headed south. I like to notice bumper stickers and this van had two. One read: "Do No Harm." Now, isn't that a little funny? C'mon, you don't have to be a car-hater to get the flawed logic. Driving a car causes harm -- a lot of harm. There's the environment, oil wars, psychological malaise, aggression toward other travelers, etc. I'm not ripping this unknown person a new asshole. For all I know that was the first time that van's moved all week, all month or all year. All I'm saying is that piloting a machine that personifies harm-on-four-wheels and then adorning it with a sticker that implores folks to do no harm is a wee bit bass-ackwards. (Incidentally, I've got "Wage Peace" engraved on my AK-47. It makes me sleep better at night. Really, it does.)

The other sticker read: "Wake Up." I can appreciate that sentiment, but I have to fall back on my first observation. The driver obviously needs to drink a stronger morning brew him/herself.

Pedaling on I entered the enlightened suburb of Richfield, a land where people begin to live on streets that end suddenly and go nowhere in a straight line, a land where sidewalks fade away and most 4-way intersections have only two stop signs or none at all. I approached one of the rare ones that has four stop signs. A van pulled up before me across the intersection to my left. The driver actually came to a complete stop. I don't blow intersections if there are drivers ahead of me, so I pulled up, stopped and did a trackstand expecting he (having been sitting there a full 4-5 seconds) would pull away as he had the right-of-way. I held my trackstand. He didn't move. I rocked the other way with my front wheel. He lurched, then stopped, then lurched again and sped off giving me the stink-eye. What the hell? Traffic laws. Just following them. Sorry if that offends you.

That encounter sparked a memory of my ride home last night. At that same intersection I did a quick stop and proceeded through with the right-of-way. A driver from my right did the California stop and rolled right through her stop sign in front of me. I calmly squeezed my brakes and continued toward the driver's side door. As I was inches from T-boning the car, the woman saw me. I'm sure I loomed large -- standing on the pedals of a long bike with my 5 white LEDs blinking dead in her face through the window. She actually jumped and took her hands off the wheel. I had the whole thing under control. I'm glad someone had it under control. She swerved to the right (away from me) and kept going. I slid past the trunk and kept pedaling with nary a word or gesture.

I could tell the incident really shook her up. Good. It's healthy to be scared from time to time. It teaches us to pay attention. When I shit my pants I usually have a corresponding moment of supreme awakeness and clarity. I hope others have the good sense to realize behaviors that malfunction and recognize moments that command greater attention.

Maybe that's what the "Wake Up" Eurovan driver was trying to tell everyone? I doubt it. But I wish them luck in driving their way to doing no harm.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hell Yeah!

You know what I mean. Celebrate. I was thoroughly convinced half our nation were idiots. Now I'm beginning to think not all voices were speaking.

Change. Yes.