Thursday, February 28, 2008

When's the Icy Beard-Off?

It was a beautiful snowy commute home today. I went without a balaclava in order to feel the texture of ice in my beard. Wind was moderate and blowing wet snow out of the southeast. This photo shows my beard a bit ice-heavy on the right side. That's the side of my face that was turned toward the wind on my ride north and east coming home. Cool, eh? Thanks to April for snapping the image and laughing at me for being such a dork. By the way, kids love ice-beard!

A certain biker who loves to take icy shots of his beard, poke fun at lords lack-beard in general, and post sarcastic comments about me on various blogs also rides to work in Bloom-town. I say: Icy Beard-Off! Name the morning. 8:30 in the a.m. at the Target Corral on American and Penn.

Snow has given way to icy drizzle at press time. Lows around 20 tonight. Another wonderful pre-spring traction-fest on tomorrow's commute. Hey, Sherlock, speaking of tomorrow, it's Leap Day. Whatcha gonna do? I'm celebrating with a post-work beer cruise and fire at the river with some friends. You should come, too. I plan to see how much firewood I can load onto the Dummy. Meeting at the sledding hill on Minne Pkwy 2-3 blocks east of Lyndale around 6:30. After a refreshing bevy or two we head east to Minne Park for a blaze at the big fire ring below the VA home. Yeah, it'll be chilly; it'll be fun; it'll be interesting getting my long bike out of the gorge via the now freshly-snow-covered trail. But Feb 29th only happens, well, once every four years or so. Might as well make it memorable.

Big Dummy update: I mounted a cyclocomputer to it last night. Yep, I'm a geek for biking by the numbers. I had the suspicion that the Dummy is not any slower than the Cross-Check on my average commute. Turns out it isn't. With some weird road conditions today and a partial head wind to and from work, I logged a 13.7 average -- same as a 2F commute last week on the X-Check. (For reference, a stellar commute on a warm day with dry roads and cooperative traffic timing is typically 17mph.) I even carted home an extra bulky 5lbs on one side of the V Rack tonight. Two things the long bike has going for it: inertia and a low profile rear end. Get it up to speed and it carries that speed. In tailwinds it flies. When you hit a sustained hill you can feel that you're pulling a heavy bike up the grade. But it all averages out, and it's nothing like pulling a trailer up hills. I mention this because I really thought that the Dummy with its weight (it has at least 12, maybe 15lbs over my X-Check) and 26X2.1 tires would be a slow ride. It isn't. That's my shameless Big Dummy plug for today.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Signed: "Confused in MPLS"

So a year ago a business coach (company sponsored, mind you. She's a great person and it was a wonderful experience.) told me: "Don't let perfection stand in the way of good enough." Good advice for me as I tend to obsess over details.

But lately the big man at our company has added this tag line onto the signature for his emails: "Good enough is the enemy of great."

Befuddling. What's a poor boy to do???

Crashed my Big Dummy on the way in today. Stopped to pick up a swanky StealthLite that was laying beside the path. Great shape, it even works. (Those things are totally waterproof. Plus, I love ground scores while riding.) In the process of stopping my glasses fogged up. 50m up the way I didn't notice the path was ice. I made a quick move to shoot up a grass bank and cut through a parking lot. I got no further than cutting my front wheel a couple degrees before I was lying on the ground. Took the entire fall on my right knee, precisely where the ice turned back to rough ASS-fault. Pass the Vitamin I, please.

Watch the freeze-thaw, friends. I usually make it through the winter relatively unscathed. It's early spring that always seems to get me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

You Can't Do That on T.V.

In my last post I stated that the Big Dummy has changed my life. I realize I did not specify whether that change was for the better or the worse. Well, what follows is definitive proof that it is certainly for the better.

Consider what you can fit in a normal bike pannier. A lot of stuff actually, but when it comes to beer, bottles clutter things up mighty quick-like. A 12-pack of cans in the carton fits beautifully in most panniers, but then there is the issue of weight distribution. If you buy one twelver, you might as well get two to balance things out. Depending on your rack and frame, a case of beer creates some interesting flex and wobble. Besides, you don't always need to ride around carrying a case of beer.

If you examine the photo above, you'll notice a 12-pack, a single 12-pack -- of bottles -- on one side of the Dummy. There was room in front of it for a second 12, too, if the need had arisen. Loosen a strap, slip in the box, tighten it down and away you ride. No flex, no sway, no problem.

So, with the normal pannier system I would have been confined to a minimal quantity of (good) bottled beer or a stockable quantity of (cheap) canned beer. With the Dummy, I can set my sights higher -- get the good stuff and buy enough to last. No need to look like a dirtbag messenger. Drink beer in style. My life is looking up every moment. Thanks, Big Dummy!

A sample from the various tidbits and oddities file:

Observed in the bathroom of Matt's Bar. Apparently Gene O is branching out, getting into the air freshener business. "One On One" Air Fresheners. That justs sounds a bit obscene. I don't want to visit some of the places one might stick the "One On One" Air Freshener.


Lastly, I forgot to mention it, but yesterday afternoon I rode over to Rachel's ghost bike and memorial site. I parked the bike and decided to hang out for a while. It was so warm and sunny it was hard to imagine the deep cold, the darkness. It was difficult to think of death. There I was, excited about a new bike, riding on a beautiful day. I kept thinking, "You're still missed, Rachel." I guess it hasn't been that long. Perhaps your greatest legacy was enriching the lives of so many folks. That's not a bad legacy at all. May we all be so fortunate.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Do You Wanna Change Your Life?

Then here's one way to do it: Procure (preferrably in a legal fashion) and ride a Big Dummy. I spent the better part of this weekend building up the new bike and today I took it out for its (Iron) Maiden voyage -- a few hours on bike paths, alleys, streets, and off-road on some snowy trails. The Big Dummy has the most amazing feel I have ever experienced with a bike. It just screams, nay, seductively whispers, "Sit back and enjoy the ride." It absorbs shock and road bumps like a suspension system, but it is snappy and quicker handling than I'd expected. In a phrase -- this bike has changed my life. Laugh all you want. Call me a freak. It may not be for everyone, but ride a Big Dummy for yourself, if'n you get the chance. You might sprout an epiphany. Just don't take my Dummy. Unless I say it's okay and you buy me a six-pack.

The frame is merely a glint in my eye. On end, my 18" frame stood nearly five and a half feet tall.

This is what I call the "point of no return." Are you sure you wanna put a pink headset in an army green frame? Hell yeah! Building this puppy up was a slightly involved project. Applying Framesaver was a challenge in my cramped little shop. Sylvia was happy to help. As with any project, there were little oversights, but no major set-backs all weekend. The only thing I wasn't able to install, due to lack of long hardware, was the front fender. The disc brake caliper kinda gets in the way of the fender mount. That was too bad since we have a lot of melt happening and puddles seemed to be everywhere. I didn't care about the spatters though. It was a warm day for a ride. Everyone who was out was happy to be soaking in the sun and the warmth.

Add a hatch-back and the bike would be almost as long as the car next to it.

A stop along the way at Matt's Bar, Cedar and 35th for a Jucy Lucy and beers with Manderson.

Riding home from Matt's was surreal. The temperature was still warm (35F) and the light was fading into dusk. Minnehaha greenway was not too busy, just the occasional jogger and dog walker. I could have turned off and made a quicker trip home, but I wanted to keep riding. The fit of the bike is great and the comfort is unbelievable. You think I'm kidding. Seriously, try out a Big Dummy. Really. No joke.

All this praise is based on the feel of the bike; I haven't even begun to explore the hauling options this two-wheeled pack horse has to offer. More updates to follow ... Not enough pictures, you say? Well, you're in luck. Apparently I was one of the most exciting things that happened at CRC Cykel Garage today. Hurl gave me a nice little feature on his blahg. While you're there you may want to read the teaser about the Slick 50 going down March 15. Sadly it's four days after our due date. If the baby ain't out by then, the misses probably isn't going to approve of me taking off on a cruise. And thanks to the Hurly Man for sending me on my way with 5mm hex bolt long enough to fix my fender woes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hope for the Future

While I'm pedaling away I like to notice things around me. (That's one of my biggest gripes with drivers -- they are stuck in steel and glass cages, noticing far too little of what they ought to be paying attention to let alone the other pleasantries and phenomena there to be observed.) I pick up on the weather and changes in the natural world. I spy birds and squirrels and other critters. I hear arguments between residents in neighborhoods and drivers on the road. I pass good friends lost in convesation while sharing a walk.

Mostly I see cars, because my commute takes place predominantly on roads. I watch as drivers and their passengers glide by me. I study folks at traffic lights, slightly sorry that most of the time they look pathetically miserable -- nervous, twitchy, their minds 30 minutes or an hour ahead of where they are at that very moment simply because they have to go, go, go to the next important "thing."

I also see a lot of kids in car seats or buckled into booster chairs being carted along in the mad frenzy. I quite often make eye contact with them, because, unlike adults, they are not shy, not afraid to look in an effort to satisfy their curiosities. I applaud that unabashed wonderment. Often their lips are mouthing sentences being spoken to their parent up front. They smile, they point, they look excited to see somone riding a bike. Kids like variety. I don't think they are as threatened by it as older folk can be. In a landscape dominated by automobiles why shouldn't they enjoy seeing a cyclist? (In my opinion, bikes are way prettier than cars anyhow.)

I usually wave to the kids and I always make sure to smile back at them. They are the future of our communities, our country, our planet and their futures will not include the cheap, easy dependence on fossil-fueled private transportation. May the sight of cyclists make a lasting imprint on their brains.

-1 this morning, but a heavenly warm breeze out of the southeast made it feel so much warmer. 20s and 30s are on the way all next week! I was home sick yesterday. A rest day was nice. I slept nearly all day and I think I kicked the bug I caught.

Ride lots and when you're done, go out and ride some more. Be sure to smile at the kids.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Breaking the Wind

EBay shoppers suck.

The W, NW, WNW, NNW & N winds suck (actually they blow) when they last all day.

Sub-zero temperatures suck, especially at the beginning of the week after a 30 degree weekend.

You probably suck. Check your Myspace stats. People hate you. And jesus is dead.

god bless!

(The previous was written after the two hardest days of bicycle commuting in 2008. It in no way reflects the views of John McCain or any other Republican candidate for president. Please vote early and often to end freedom in our country. Thank you, Dumbshits.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Hola, Friends. I hope you are spending this made-up, designed-to-benefit-greeting-card-companies-and-capitalist-merchants-in-general holiday with your significant other. And I hope you did your part to add to the estimated $7B that would be spent in honor of this day. I know I did, in a small way. And that is what we need right now -- consumerism -- since the country is headed toward (or has been hovering precipitously within the basin of) a recession. Well, that's what we need along with a tax stimulus (rebate) package. Sure, Suck-Wad-In-Chief, give away more money in an election year. McCain thanks you for it, you sorry ass. Apologies, another topic perhaps ...

I'm not trying to be cynical mind you.

I' d like to say goodbye to another friend. Sacrificed to Ebay this week was my sexy, awesome track-bike-to-be, this Bianchi Pista Concept. I never built it up. I bought it a year ago on Ebay. I made money -- plenty of money on it (which is usually not the case). The track is in the burbs. I hate driving. We have a baby on the way. Enough said. I hope the dude who bought you isn't some fixed-gear trendo freakazoid. I may never know. May UPS deliver you in immaculate health.

We got a couple-few inches of snow last night. The ride to and from work was interesting. On the way to work I took main roads since they're clear and I didn't worry about pissing off drivers. They need to know bikes are there, even in weird conditions. On the way home I was traveling before rush hour and decided to take residentials. Snow ruts and all, I was having a good time. The sun was shining. It was 12 degrees. Good times.

About 4 miles from home on my usual route, I was approaching a stop sign on a side road. Approximately 100ft out I could hear that the car behind me intended to pass me. "WTF?" I thought. Around me she came and pulled in front of me to complete a stop at the sign. I should have pulled left to prevent her passing me; hindsight is 20-20. I hit my brakes but the snow was deep enough that I initiated a front wheel skid. To avoid hitting her car, I let the bike go down and caught the fall on my left knee. It was a light fall mind you, but I was pissed. She took her turn while I was lying on the ground. I quickly jumped up and remounted. This was a residential road and I was determined to catch up with her at another sign or while she was parking.

Pulling away from the sign I thought, "My motivation is anger, it shouldn't be anger. Calm down." But I pumped the pedals. The packed snow was sketchy and I was thinking of how great it would be if I wiped out again trying to catch her. She was speeding and quickly made up two, three blocks on me. I watched her tail lights. At the next main road she made a right and by the time I got there she was out of sight.

Damn. I was intent on two things: 1) if she parked and I got there while she was getting out I was going to give her an earful, obsenities and all; 2) if she was gone from her car I was going to wipe her driver's sideview mirror off with my mittened hand. Nice touch on a Saab convertible; good $200-$300 repair bill. But no such retribution.

So, my Valentine's message to you, horrid cunt in the white Saab: Learn to realize the presence of others beyond your little climate-controlled, "luxury" haven. You acted like a stupid, careless ass. Maybe you were in a hurry to fetch your V-day nookie. Maybe you were just in a hurry to get home to your sitcom. To hell with you and every other driver who can't pull their heads out of their asses. Wake up, you stupid fucks. NC-17 that.

How is my V-day? I'm spending it with Sylvia. She is asleep on the couch. April is at work. I am a lucky person. My daughter told me at least 12 times tonight how much she loves me. I am married to the most wonderful person I have ever known. Hallmark can keep their money. Chain-store jewelers can keep screwing over exploited folks in South Africa. I gave April a messenger bag as a present this morning. She was delighted. When I arrived home tonight, there was not only a delicious dinner prepared, but fresh flowers on the table including a small arrangement that Sylvia had done herself, along with two dark chocolate bars. Thank you both, the two most wonderful ladies in my life.

I too often forget how freakin' awesome my life is -- I'm happy with my relationships, my job and how I live my life. I'm not saying that can't be the case if one is strapped to a four-wheeled coffin for a good portion of his/her day. But perhaps those mindless dolts behind the wheel need to reconsider their lives. Perhaps, too, this trumped up "holiday" ought to be about loving one another, not just some guaranteed sex partner you're infatuated with at the moment.

Peace. Love. Thought.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Week Ends, Another Begins

Happy Sunday. It is a bright day here in MN. I can't actually recall the last day we had such bountiful sunshine. Of course there are trade-offs -- it's -12 outside and windy. I'll get out in it afterwhile, but for now I'm pretty content to sit at the computer clad in my Ibex Woolies. This stuff is great. Unlike many base layer tops, Ibex cut theirs nice and long. Just like a proper mullet, a good base layer should be long in the back.

I had a fun surprise last Thursday. Late in the morning a well meaning co-worker sent an email saying the person with the white Cross-Check next to the windows had a flat tire. It was apparently quite dramatic when it happened. The tube went out with a gunshot-style bang. When I inspected it I thought at first the tire bead had separated from the casing. However, I noticed that the loop of metal was actually the sidewall of the rim. An old wheel coupled with abrasive winter riding were too much. The brake pad wore it down to the point of failure. Luckily it happened while the bike was parked and not while I was pedaling it. This put the kibosh on commuting for the end of the week. I know -- not like I don't have another bike I could ride, but the Gray Ghost was stranded at work. So Friday I got to haul gimped bike, a new wheel and the parts and pieces to build another wheelset home. A stop off for beer and I was fully stocked for a productive evening in the bike shop.

The tube says, "Bang!"

More bike art for the wall of shame.

Yesterday was windy and warm in the morning with a forecast for falling temps all day. And fall they did. The Snowball's Chance in Hell ice race was happening. April was working and Sylvia and I spent the day together. I called up Mark for a motorized growler run to the Surly brewery. On the way back we parked and walked down to Brownie Lake to see what was going on. General madness and frivolity was the theme. A handful of folks were on bikes racing; the majority of peeps were huddled around a smoky fire which was creating a puddle on the frozen lake.

There is no reason not to have a bike party on any given weekend in Minnesota.

A bearded man I know simply as "The Professor" shows how it is done in the miss-and-out.

Fellow wool fan and bike design afficionado, Corson, assesses the finer points of this gravity-driven snow bike.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Time to dig out the cold weather gear again. Tomorrow's commuting temp will be somewhere around -10. As I've written this the temperature has already risen to -9. I'm going to go out and have some fun.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Retro Kids

One day she'll understand that the fact she willingly donned these shades in the year 2008 was so, way uncool.

But for now, Sylvia's lookin' pretty awesomely aero in a Greg Lemond vs. Bernard Hinault sort of way.

Thanks, Nacey, wherever you are.

Monday, February 4, 2008

It Snowed, Sheldon's Dead and You Need Some Wool

What a grab bag of a Monday. Reach in and you won't even guess what you might pull out. I'll cover topics in order, 'cause a good title ought to lay it all out there, eh?

An interesting thing about this winter is it seems that our most significant snows seem to start while I'm riding to work. I arrive at the complex and it snows all day and you wonder just how dicey the pedal home is going to be. It snowed steadily today from 9am til 3pm. It has been warm, however, and the juicy flakes just couldn't get much purchase on the blacktop. I'm all right with that. It sure seems like it's been a long winter already and I have been spoiled by bare pavement the past week or so.

A photo from the morning ride in. It was about 26 degrees and the air had the moist feel of snow. This shot is 2 miles from work. Heavy pelletized flakes were just beginning to fall in earnest. There was a helpful tailwind nudging me onward. Good times. Warm all over and wishing I could just ride another hour or two.

Work was fun. My desk faces a bank of windows. I watched it snow all day. I must digress a bit and mention that I also checked my account. Some of you know I work for a little bike parts company. One of our perks is we get credit for riding our bikes to work. Yep -- not only do I save money by not driving, I make money by riding. For January I tallied up just over $70 in credits. Not bad. It feeds the habit. Well, one of the habits. Now, if only we distributed beer.

Just after midday, out of the blue came an email from one of our buyers. The subject line on my preview flashed quickly before me: "RIP Sheldon Brown." "What?!" I thought. Sure enough, it's true -- Sheldon Brown passed away yesterday. Now, I didn't know the man, but who in the bike world didn't "know" the man. He was perhaps the most diligent chronicler of all things related to the tech aspect of bicycles. The obscure, the arcane, the nitty-gritty details -- if it had two wheels, he covered it all. I commented to my Surly brethren that one of the coolest things about Sheldon Brown was that he not only grasped the most technical stuff, he had the ability to write about it in an accessible and easy-to-read way. That is rarely the case for tech types. Check out the Harris Cyclery website for the announcement and to sample Sheldon's writing if you haven't had the pleasure. The Harris folks are right -- the cycling community has indeed lost one of its most passionate members.

Well, after watching it snow all day, it was time to suit up and get out in it. Here's a pic from the ride home. This is a side road not even a mile from work. The main roads were clean, but the residentials sported a moderate coating of that mashed, car-tread crap that I so love to hate. There's no rhyme, no reason. Some blocks are worse than others. Benign-looking tracks can grab and pull the front wheel sideways, back and forth. You definitely have to settle into it, but it is particularly unnerving when a car is barreling toward you from the opposite direction. I discovered last Friday I'd worn out a rear tire -- my prized Conti Twisters -- which I've been riding for at least 4 winters. So I was also riding on some used, less-toothy rubber.

The nice thing was it was warm. 30 whole degrees, in fact. Within 3 miles of my house I pedal past a park with several sports fields. The city burns the huge lamps lighting the park 24 hours a day for some reason. With a fresh snow it creates a crisp illumination. I hope to leave early tomorrow to get some shots along the lake.

Lastly, is the topic of wool. Have you heard of wool? Have you made friends with sheep? My retirement plan is to own a small sheep farm. Spin some yarns. Wear cozy, hand-knit sweaters. I'm serious. Anyway ... I've been needing a new long sleeve base layer. I decided to spring for Ibex Woolies bottoms and tops. Last Friday I opened the packaging to don said garments. I spent a good 5 minutes taking in the amazing smell of the lanolin wafting off of fresh wool. I've never owned merino wool underwear. I've been wearing the same two sets of Patagucci Capilene (which are a size too small) for about 8 years now. Then it happened. The lamps split open with a blinding light. I was overcome with bliss. Wrapped in merino goodness, She spoke to me. The voice was resolute. She commanded me to tell all of you, and I quote, "Get thine asses some fine wool long underwear." I can say no more. The Goddess said it all. Check it out. Your life will not be the same, and you might swear, for a change, that something good has happened, ya pathetic loser. Oh ... She said that last part, not me.

To hell with mindless drivers! Happy week to you. SHELDON LIVES!! Get some wool.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Baby Shower

And now for a little departure from the normal content of Urban-Crawl. Some of you who are my bike friends get to catch a glimpse of the "other side" of Fleck. Yes, I know the Stupor Bowl was yesterday. And, yes, the Chilly Chili Ice Race was today. I attended neither. Both are fine events, but I had other plans. I wear many hats (literally and figuratively -- you should see my hat collection). One of those hats belongs to "Patch O'Houli -- Family Man."


In the list of little milestones that act as indicators that something BIG is just about to happen, we attended the baby shower for little Flecklet #2 today. Kathy, Megan and Angela put it together and Kathy hosted it at her home. I have to be honest, I am not a big fan of showers. I'm going to go out on a sexist limb and say that I have a vestige of hardwired male gender training that makes me believe showers are something that only women can truly enjoy. But it is the 21st century -- we are in the age of the co-ed baby shower. My plan to host an alternate "man shower" at the local pub got shot down. So off to Kathy's we went.

Eric would have been up for the alternate "man shower." And mention of the idea at the party got a chuckle out of a few of the other guys.

Kathy and her partner Charlie have a wonderful house a few miles from us. When we arrived a few folks were already there, food was being prepared and Angela was arranging flowers. Soon friends filed in and we were surrounded by a pleasantly large, but cozy, group of our favorite folks. It was a great time with excellent food and wonderful company. Click to see the entire play-by-play.

Lilia with a balloon. Balloons + Kids = Fun (Well, and occasional jealous shouting matches.)

Chandler feels April's pulses to make his prediction of the sex of the baby. His conclusion -- a "hotheaded" boy. That made me think, I can be a little short of temper at times. Two out of two traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in attendance who took April's pulses agreed -- it's a boy.

Megan and Angela, two of our lovely party planners. Thank you both for your time, energy and love in putting together a very enjoyable gathering. Oh, and let's not forget the delicious food, either!

The highlight of the shower for April was belly painting. Friends really got into it. An 8 month pregnant belly provides a lot of canvas to work with.

A great shot of Sylvia with her Faery Goddess-mother, Angela

Sylvia is obviously having fun with the belly painting. She went above and beyond by painting Mommy's arms as well.

Faith and Joel taking the warmest seats in the house. They just got two cats. I think they need a kid to go with.

Bobby adds his art to the collection. After seeing him speak yesterday, Bobby gives Obama his seal of approval.

Kathy, our third lovely party host, adds a message to the blessing chain. Thanks again to Kathy and Charlie for opening their home on our family's behalf.

Eyes delight in this sort of display of color when it's winter in Minnesota. Beauty surpassed only by the presence of family and friends. Thanks again, everyone.

Happiness be with you all.