Monday, January 31, 2011

On a lighter note...

I spent most of the weekend at KU Medical Center with my wife.

On Friday, my sister-in-law and I had a nice lunch with Eric while my wife was getting this behemoth shoved into her brachiocephalic vein.

Forget those wimpy IV lines you may have seen in the past. This is called a "Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter" (pronounced: "ouch") The skinny end of this beast was hanging out in the right atrium of my wife's heart! She said she could feel the end flopping around when she was laying on one side. I'm not sure if that's possible or not, but either way, the mere thought freaks me out just a little bit.

I spent a lot of time in mechanical awe as I watched a tower crane get assembled from the ground up over the weekend. I guess KU Medical Center is adding a few floors to the heart center. After a few vertical sections were in place by a Link Belt 348 crawler crane, the crew started assembling the tower crane's cab.

It didn't take long for the whole thing to go up after that.
I love watching tower cranes go up

The view from my wife's room was interesting, in that I got to look out over the cooling towers and chimneys and across State Line into Midtown.
Midtown KC

And as we were preparing to leave the hospital, I got to watch hard-hat-wearing acrobats set up pulleys for the main cable.

As for my wife, the procedure got us some good news and some bad news. The initial problem the doctors were trying to diagnose isn't as big of a deal as originally expected. That means something else is wrong. There's a lot to be thankful for, but a lot of unanswered questions.

Parking Rage

Lead Sled parking rage, originally uploaded by KC-Bike.

Figures. Right after my wife finally gets out of the hospital and it looks like I might have a clear shot at picking up the bike again, we have today's icepocalypse followed by tomorrow's snowgasm. Us midwesterners certainly love our wintry neologisms.

I'm generally pretty tame whilst driving, but I kind of screamed in a fit of rage when I saw that my neighbor (we shall call her "Negative Jenn" per her snazzy license plates) has started to make a habit of increasing her double-parking overlap by about an inch each day. As I'm parked, she still has enough room to wiggle into the driver's side door of her 4,000 pound 3.8L supercharged lead sled. I must admit, however, that I miss being able to nonchalantly park my battered 1989 Ford Aerostar perfectly 2" away from the driver's side of offending vehicles without the fear of cosmetic repercussions.

I really should have just ridden today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Say it again, folks: "Take The Lane."

That new critically-acclaimed bike lane is buried. Now what?

Wide outer lanes are a good start, especially on bridges. As long as they're wide enough to accommodate plowcrap. Really, though, this is the primary recurring problem with grant-funded bicycle/pedestrian specific infrastructure. It's no one's job to make sure it's maintained. A few weeks ago, it was littered with street sweeper debris and broken glass. Today, it's buried in plowcrap (a delightful blend of ice, sand, salt, glass, cans, cigarette butts and fast food packaging) and in a few years it'll be a blighted craterscape that no one would want to ride a bike on. Just like all of the other bike lanes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Adventures in bicycle repair

Bar tape, originally uploaded by KC-Bike.

Most of the work has been done on The Twelve. Here's a sneak peek of its new handlebar tape, but you can see the new brake hoods, cables, and cable housings as well.

Believe it or not, I've never had the levers off of a road bike before, nor have I had the (ahem) pleasure of running new cable housings for STI brakes or shifters. While the bike was under warranty, I had the cables (but not the housings) replaced and I watched while it was done. I'm also pretty good at grokking mechanical things without referencing manuals.

Still, this was an interesting and fun project. The hoods were totally trashed, and it took an experienced bike wrench a few weeks to find the right parts to replace them. They were kind of a pain in the butt to replace. The housings, bar tape, cables and all of that can be replaced without tearing the levers off the handlebars, but not the brake hoods. They're also a pretty tight fit, but they are indeed the correct ones. They look and feel AWESOME.

This bike came with black tape from the factory. When I replaced that a few years ago, I went with black and white zebra stripes. This time, I'm going black-on-red. It still matches the theme of The Twelve's Black, White, Red and Brushed Aluminum motif.

Also up are well-past-due replacements of the chain and cassette. The new brake pads went on last month.

Aside from headset bearings and a new bottom bracket, this seems like a total overhaul. And when I need a new BB, I think commuterDude has me convinced to drink the square taper kool-aid and get a new crankset to go with it.

I also picked up a really cheapo wireless cyclometer for Frank. Aside from lacking a cadence sensor, It's got more functions than the $80 wired Trek Incite 11i that got stolen with Hybridzilla back in '08, including a backlight and thermometer, both of which are pretty handy for those cold, dark winter rides.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Doomed, I say.

Mall security camera footage.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'd bet some personal records fall this morning.

Ah, the "Personal Record"

When you're a bike commuter in most parts of the US, you usually don't have anyone to compare yourself to. If you do run across another cyclist, they might be going the other way, they may already be 10 miles into their commute, or more often than not, they're recreational cyclists without much cargo. Most of us just try to best our own records when we feel some kind of competitive streak. Fastest time to work, most consecutive days, or this time of year the cold-weather record. I've ridden 2 miles to a bus stop at -4°F and the entire 14.5 mile length of my old work commute at -1°F. As of 4:00 this morning, the temperatures were as low as -5 in the suburbs and -12 out west a few dozen miles. I always say it's not cold if it's above zero (Fahrenheit)

I have been seeing a lot of long-time "fair weather" bike commuters stay on the bike this winter. More than usual. I'm almost certain some of them will be on the road this morning just so they can have a really good below-zero personal record.

Of course, I also usually say "If I'm too sick to ride my bike, I'm too sick to go to work." and that's generally true, but I've spent all week with a sinus infection-turned-bronchitis and I frankly don't have the time saved up to blow a whole week of work. Last weekend, I finally got my car back up and running for the most part, with new tires, a battery and some oddball repair work. This was mostly so I have a way to promptly get around town when my wife isn't feeling well, but this week it's getting me hither to yonder while I'm on the mend. And I have to be honest. I'm a car guy at heart, and I absolutely love my little Focus. It's more than a decade old, it's paid off, it gets decent fuel economy (can't match the bicycle) and it's an absolute blast to drive, even in the snow. Especially in the snow.

And speaking of snow, Monday's 6" of accumulation was enough to make bicycle commuting impossible along my route. The roads I use are rarely plowed, have no shoulder and become very narrow and hazardous once the snow starts building up. Without a homeward-bound bus to use, there will be days I have to drive or at least car-pool, and paying a bus driver $2 each way to effectively travel 6.2 miles is bit crazy. I could almost hire a taxi to haul me around for those prices.

The good news is that I also scored a bunch of parts to do a complete overhaul of The Twelve, although I'm waiting on the specific handlebar tape I want before I dive too much further into it. I replaced the brake pads a few weeks ago, but now I have brand new cables and housings, chain, cassette and lever hoods ready to go.

So, who of you have set new cold-weather records for yourselves so far this winter?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Secret That Can Change The World.

via Andy Beals

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The hard facts.

With my wife's medical issues, I really need to get my old Ford Focus back up and running. We've essentially been a one-car family by virtue of one of our vehicles simply being out of commission. Last winter killed the battery, which was last replaced in the summer of 2004 - it's long past due. I could probably throw a battery into it and it would run. But it needs new tires for winter. The ones on it wouldn't handle snow. Once it warms up there's an entire litany of things that I really should get around to replacing. It's more than a decade old, now, with a little under 120,000 miles on the clock, which means I've driven it less than 1,000 miles since this time last year.

My wife went to a doctor's appointment today, only to be admitted to the hospital. Not just any hospital, but one of the furthest away from my office. I had to swing by the apartment first to pick up a few things my wife needed, and I'm no stranger to loading lots of stuff onto the bike. I loaded up and rolled out along my old commute route from 2007-2008. Man, I miss this route!

Visiting hours are over at 8:00 PM, and it's going to be a close call as it is, so I'm hammering away as fast as I can given the sub-freezing weather. At the bottom of the last and most arduous climb to get to the hospital, my right STI shift lever goes totally limp, followed by a ratcheting noise from my rear derailleur and a massive increase in resistance.

Yep. The shifter cable snapped clean off, and it ghost-shifted all the way to high-gear right as I was trying to make a climb. With all the cargo on The Twelve, I couldn't make it up the hill. Not even cross-chaining the triple crank, not even standing up. It was 8:00. I was at the bottom of Rainbow Boulevard, and I was going to perform... THE WALK OF SHAME.

Of course, I was basically turned away after handing over my wife's belongings. I got to see her for a few minutes, but only out in a lobby. I felt like I had failed her in the most basic way one human can fail another: by not being there for her when she needed me. Had the Focus been road-worthy, this wouldn't have been a big deal. Ride home, hop in the car, and drive to the hospital. Get there with an hour or more of visiting time. This is far from the first time that our single-car-ness has led to major inconveniences.

Sure, having my own functional vehicle may increase my temptation to drive on some days, and I will probably give in to that temptation once in a while. I'm not here to prove how hardcore I am. I just want people to know that if a fat computer nerd can bike commute in all four seasons, pretty much anyone can do it. That said, I think I see a little more driving in my immediate future. You know, as soon as I save up for a car battery and some cheap tires.



This bike, as far as I can tell, is a 1995 Schwinn Moab-S frame with a dizzying pile of upgrade equipment bolted to it. Here's a sampling:

The OEM fork was a cheapo RST from the mid-1990s. That got upgraded to a Marzocchi Bomber Z2. It's an older fork but fully adjustable. I wish it had lockout, but it doesn't.

The OEM rolling stock was a pair of reasonable 1.95" Kenda tires mounted to some crappy off-brand rims and entry-level Shimano hubs. This got upgraded to a pair of Bontrager Corvair rims with asymmetric drilling on the rear wrapped in 2.2" Bontrager JonesXR tires.

Brakes: Upgraded all around, with Shimano Servo-Wave levers going to some really nice V-Brakes.

Crankset and drivetrain seems to be stock entry-level Shimano Acera stuff from the factory, but with different chainrings and cassette gearing.

And then there's my added flair: Lights and a rack. Now all I need is a nice pair of fenders. Despite the massive tires, there's plenty of clearance.

Over the past few weeks, this bike has revealed itself to me. It's a well-mannered Frankenstein bike. It's big. It's slow. But it gets through all kinds of stuff. With its insane 22x30 gear combo on the low end, I wonder if it could pull tree stumps out of the ground or be used to tow an SUV. The high gear leaves a lot to be desired, but it's not about getting around quickly. It's just about getting around.

Anyhow, meet Frank, my winter bike. I didn't actually ride this bike today. I opted for The Twelve instead, since the roads were clear.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

My favorite photos from 2010

I didn't take nearly as many photos last year as I have previous years. I spent 1/3 of the year unemployed and a lot less time on the bike total. I also got a better camera built into my phone. It's nowhere near as good as my trusty Canon point and shoot, but I think I generally took "worse" pictures this year than in years past because I didn't always have the Canon on me. Here are my top picks from 2010, in no particular order.

Coming home from a family reunion in Nebraska while I was laid off, I snapped this and desaturated the background.

My wife and I saw this Garden Spider on a fishing trip at a nearby lake. If you haven't figured it out yet, I kind of like spiders.
Garden Spider

Snapped during The Crystal Method DJ set that I went to with commuterDude a few months ago, I hit this guy with a quick, medium-powered flash on a long exposure in a very dark part of the club, capturing something like 2-3 seconds worth of tracer from the multi-colored LED he had on a string.

I tested bikes for 3 different manufacturers in 2010: The Swobo Baxter, the KMI Urbana and this one, the Wabi Special fixed gear. While I don't have any one that's more favorite than the others, I can say this one was the most transformative for me.
Wabi Special

And while we're at it, I really did like the way the Urbana tackled anything in its way while having that European utility bike look with big, industrial welds and massive, blight-be-damned tires. I can't think of one picture that captured its essence better than this one.
Urban Urbana

Rowdy was a really old guy. Half Golden Retriever and half Chow, he started having hip problems a few years ago as both those breeds often do. He put us through a scare in February with an infection in his leg, and then had to be put to sleep a few months ago. He was 60 pounds of muscle and fur with the bark of a ferocious beast, the disposition and playfulness of a little puppy and a giant heart of gold.

I took this a few days ago with my wife's old phone (with yet a better camera than the LG Env3 I've been using most of the year) and I like it. This phone takes better macro shots than my old phone did. I really need to learn to carry my Canon around more often, though.
Frosty Morning

Taken at the beginning of one of the longest days I've had at work in a while, it's hard not to love the colors of autumn.
Evergreen Juxtaposition

One of the first things I had to do at my new job was reprogram a bunch of barcode scanners for our warehouse.

Chris moved to the Philipines last year. Before he moved, we took off one an impromptu Dark-Side Ride through Mill Creek Streamway Park. This was taken in a corrugated steel tunnel that goes under the railroad tracks near 91st and Woodland Road, illuminated only by our rear blinkies. I miss hangin' with ya, pare!
Tail-Lit Tunnel

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