Thursday, August 30, 2012

Evolution of a Troll

I'm talking about a Surly Troll, not the other kind, you perv. ;)

"What the hell are you riding?" is not a question that I'm entirely unaccustomed to.  This morning's ride got a few new iterations of that question.

The short answer is that it is a fixed-gear touring bike.  I call it Tuna Casserole Surprise.  If you grew up in the 70s, you may remember dinner on those nights when no-one felt like shopping and pretty much everything in the cabinets and fridge ended up getting tossed into a casserole dish with a can of tuna, some mayo and crunched up potato chips on top.  It came out of the oven a little while later as a "meal".  That pretty much describes the life of this bike so far... and it gets re-invented on a regular basis.

I use it mostly as a commuter, but I'm really preparing it for a trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Pittsburgh to DC) either this fall or next spring.  

The bike is based on a Surly Troll mountain bike frame.  The troll is a particularly versatile frame... designed as a 26"-wheeled mountain bike with all the things you need to use it as a touring bike (rack and fender mounts and lots of tire clearance).  I built mine using 700c wheels, 45mm tires and really long aluminum fenders.  The frame has rear-facing, horizontal dropouts in back, so it is perfectly set up for single speed or fixie use.  A bike that gets this much use really works much better with disc brakes.  They're reliable, durable and have great stopping power.  I sized the bike so that it fits correctly with drop bars.  

I've been riding it in this incarnation for about 5 months now.. putting close to 2000 miles on it in that amount of time.  It has proven to stable, reliable, comfortable and a lot of fun to ride.  

The newest addition to the bike are front racks and panniers for carrying stuff.  I've got a long history of shoulder injuries, and having a bike that I can commute on and not have to rely on messenger bags or backpacks is a good thing.  It additionally gives me the ability to do something like a 3-day, 420 mile tour without having to cobble something together to carry all the things I'll want.  

The racks are from Tubus. They are the Duo model.  The Surly fork is designed specifically to work well with this rack, as it requires rack mounts on both the inside and outside of the fork.  It lets the racks be small and minimalist without sacrificing the ability to carry two fully-loaded panniers up front.  

I chose Ortlieb classic roll-top panniers for up front because they're compact, great in bad weather and virtually indestructible.  They also come in a lovely color of orange that matches the bike.  

I know what you're asking:  Why put all the weight on the front wheels?  Doesn't it handle strangely?  

As a fixed-gear bike, it actually handles much better with the weight up front.  With a fixie, most climbing is done out of the saddle and by sprinting hard on the pedals.  Over the years I found that if I have a rack with bags on the back, the whole back end of the bike wags and bends along with the extra weight.  This makes the bike a handful to control and forces me to ease off the power going up hills, thus making climbing a lot more difficult.  

While having the weight on the front wheel takes a bit more effort to initiate a turn, the climbing and sprinting ability of this bike is GREATLY enhanced.  As long as the load between the two sides is relatively balanced, it is stable enough for me to ride confidently with no hands.  

What's next with this bike?   Yes, there are still many things that need to be completed before it is really considered "done".  

The next two projects are a Dixie Drivetrain (please ask) and a generator light system.... both of those are topics for another day and another blog entry.  :D  
Hugs and kisses,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vanquishing the Black and White

Events of the last few weeks, months, years have been weighing heavily on my mind.  It bothers me when people’s views on certain topics come between them.  I’ve had so many times where the politics have been so divisive that friends who have had so much in common either can’t talk in a civil manner, or just choose not to talk at all.  I often find myself not saying anything because don’t want to deal with angry comments on either side of the issues. 

Am I talking about the Presidential Election?  Immigration policy?  The ongoing budget/tax cut battles?  Nope.  I’m talking about the Lance Armstrong doping case that has been going on for quite some time, but has come to a head in the last few weeks.  To some he’s a hero.  To others, he’s a cheat.  In cycling circles, there is virtually nothing between the two extremes.

As usual, I’m so far outside the box, that I find myself right smack in the middle of the two extremes.  I’m not here to talk about what I think on the topic.  I’m going to try to get y’all to talk about it in your own lives and with your own friends.  More than talk, I wholeheartedly encourage you to listen.  That’s something that we tend to lose so much.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was so far to the extreme of the “Lance is evil” camp that I couldn’t listen.  What changed?  I had a shakabuku, the swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.  I had a 90 second talk one day with a friend in the bike room at work.  It was just the right amount of time for me to realize that I needed to change.  It wasn’t anything that my friend said… but my reaction to what he said.  He’s someone I respect immensely.. and his views were so different from mine, that I couldn’t help receive the cycling equivalent of a shakabuku.  I needed to spend more time listening and a lot less time thinking about right and wrong… black and white. 

Bottom line:  The years of negativity that I’ve had about Lance, the way he treated other people and the sport of cycling were really not at all different from the people I know who have just as ardently believed in his innocence and great works for cycling and those who suffer from cancer.  Seeing things only as black or white helps no-one.  Nothing worth being passionate about is every good to see in only black and white.  The joy is in the details…. The meeting of minds… the process of adding complexity to ones views and lives. 

Where do we go from here?  I know what I’m doing.  I’m going to find some people that I know and love and listen to what they have to say.  I’ve been doing that for a few months now, since my initial shakabuku.  It helps.  Trust me.

If you’re cheering about the recent happenings in the case, then I urge you to go out to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s web site and spend a little time there.  Read some of the testimonials from people whose lives have changed dramatically from the things they do.  Better yet, talk to a cancer survivor about the help they’ve received.  Listen, learn and make it your own.  I did.

If you steadfastly believe that Lance has been wronged and is a victim of a witch hunt, spend a little time reading Jonathan Vaughters’ recent editorial/confession in the New York Times, the article about Betsy Andreau in yesterday’s Washington Post or Paul Kimmage’s article in The Guardian this week and see how things look from the other side. 

From there you do not walk away.  Do not point fingers.  Do not judge.  Learn, live, love and go for a long bike ride!  

Thanks for reading.




Lance Armstrong Foundation:  Look everywhere, but specifically look at the Get Help, Take Action and What We Do links.  This blog entry was another good place to start:  Notice that I say “good place to start”.  There are so many good resources for positive information here.  Let this be the beginning of a journey to learning about the good and the healing that goes on… not just talking about healing bodies… but also minds, souls and families.

Jonathan Vaughters’ editorial in the New York Times: