Sunday, September 18, 2016

Just Be Glad: When Wheels Break

It's not supposed to be like this, but wait for the whole story. Expelled Slime sealant evident, but tire not flat.

"In an upstairs bedroom of Mrs. Florence Johnson's former home, I came across a dusty but beautiful blue padded box labeled 'Old Programs -- New Century Club.' Most of the programs from 1923 to 1964 were there. Each listed the officers, the club flower (sweat pea), the club colors (pink and white), and the club motto ('Just Be Glad')."
--from "Becoming Native to this Place," by Wes Jackson

I bought these wheels six and a half years ago, on sale, put them on my commuter bike, and rode them until the rear one broke. Six and a half years represents about 20,000 miles of commuting @3000 per year, so that's not bad at all. Excellent, in fact. When the wheel finally gave up the ghost, it did so gracefully. Although one spoke connection location was completely broken, and at least two more were close, I still rode home on it. It failed just when I pulled into work that morning, I think, because the wheel started making a funny noise with each revolution right about then. That it lasted so long, and still got me home when it was used up, is what I ask for in bike parts: last 20,000 commuting miles, and let me know gracefully when replacement time comes. Thank you, cheap commuting wheels: I'm glad like a member of the New Century Club may have been, in the ordinary things of everyday life which do their jobs well, without complaint or excess trouble.

Another one ready to go

Used up. Duty completed.
These rims have two layers, the spoke bed and the inner tube bed, so that explains why the top photo didn't mean a straight tire blowout when the spoke broke through. I'm sure they've been cracking for a while, since I noticed the back end feeling slightly wobbly on certain turns. Like the tire was a little low, or the rear rack a little loose. Both of which have been true, too, at times, so failing rear rim was not my first thought.

I explained in the first "Twenty Dollar Rule" post why sturdy, cheap parts that still ride fairly well are important to me on my commuter bike: since it could get stolen and/or vandalized any day, I don't want to invest much in it. If I had a more secure place to park, I would probably be riding Schwalbes on a Rivendell with a hub generator and lights, but my urban parking situations mean more risk and more abuse than I would be willing to put a bike like that through. So I try out different, less expensive, sometimes ugly components to see which ones work but don't attract unwanted attention at the rack.

These wheels with the stickers peeled off do the trick for me. Your mileage may vary. I think my riding style, the desert weather where I live, and my specific road conditions are unique and may not mean these would work as well for anyone else. But, since you may be wondering, yes: I replaced this one with another Vuelta Zerolite. Next time I see them on sale, I probably buy another set, too. So, 20,000 or so miles from now, I'll be ready.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Into Each Tire Some Cactii Must Poke

Cholla ball in my tire. Use a stick to remove. Did not flip up into my knee this time.

In enjoyment of Labor Day morning off, a wee dram of mountain biking was had. In the process, I got briefly up close and personal with some Teddy Bear cholla cactus, Cylindropuntia bigelovii, which is wonderful, beautiful, Sonoran Desert signature stuff, so long as you don't touch it, or run over its plentiful balls. The puncture protection layer in my tire seemed to work just fine, though, so no problem with a little kiss from a teddy bear cholla. I used a stick to remove the ball and associated spines, as I mentioned in the caption. No matter how easy it looks, you can't touch these things--they stick on you, and in you, and work their way in, and you can't get rid of them. Very affectionate, like. And they look so white and fluffy!

Here Teddy Bear, please hold my bike that you already put spikes into (bad idea 2). Balls=clone plant starters.

Into each tire some cactii must poke. With proper preparation, sealant, and puncture protection layers, though, it's no big deal. Remove ball with a stick, keep on riding. Since the dropped balls can root and grow on their own, these dense stands are often clones of an original teddy bear that moved into the neighborhood. The Cholla family stares as I pedal past them, shimmering in the morning sun. As far as I have been able to determine, the balls do not actually launch or jump at you, just cling tenaciously and painfully if you happen to brush by them, or otherwise contact them. Although it is a bit terrifying to think of that family of clones sitting there, quietly waiting for the unsuspecting mountain biker to pass them, launching a volley of pokey-sticky clone balls in the general direction of the motion, sound, shadow, or vibration. C'mon teddy bears, don't do it!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Riding the Live End

Only in a car. On a mountain bike, life begins here.

Sticker to add to this sign: UNLESS YOU ARE ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE (or horse. Or on foot). Or more or less anything else OTHER THAN A CAR. Bring your dog, he/she will love it. It will bring a smile to your / your dog's / your horse's / your friend's / your friend horse's / your friend's horse / face. Come to think of it, park your car right here, sell it, use the money to buy a mountain bike / horse / dog / friend / and keep on going. This is the DEAD END FOR YOUR CAR, but not for you. CAR DEAD END, that works.

I kept on mountain biking this morning. No rain last night, or for the last few days, so the trail was more settled and clearer than it has been. So, more people were out, too, even though it's still pretty hot in Phoenix. Ah, September in central Arizona, when summer will just not end, while Autumn makes the futile effort to show her face. Hang on, Autumn, let's do coffee sometime in October, unless you want to meet up in Flagstaff, where it's quite pleasant now.

Lots of chill people on the trail. A few glarers, but I wear lots of glare screen, and just happy back at them full force. (by the way, glarers, maybe that's some baggage  you want to leave at the trail head).

I added a few lightweight but potentially useful/vital items to my hydration pack: a whistle, some waterproof matches, a space blanket, small roll of gorilla tape, knife, a compass, hank of paracord. I've already been carrying a snack, because you never know when a snack will come in handy. Plus a pump, a repair kit, cell phone w/Trailforks app, tire levers, wallet. I think that's it, so far. Be prepared, etc. Too much? Not enough? It's all for sharing, except the wallet, in case any fellow trail users (even glarers) need some.

The hills are getting a little easier. Progression! Most of it is mental, I'm certain. That sums up many feelings and perceptions, I suppose, that would otherwise hold us back, unless we just push through them, ride beyond the DEAD END signs, and keep on going, up and down the trails, staying relaxed and positive. While I would say that I observed myself staying more relaxed and loose today, I did notice myself grimacing either just before or during some just slightly rough or bouncy sections, and I thought, why? 

What good is it to grimace, and doesn't that facial expression just mirror or even induce a counterproductive state of not flowing through? For example, approaching the bottom of a hill, looking upwards, then grimacing: what effect is that going to produce which is supportive of going up the hill smoothly? Not a useful one, I feel, so grimacing was frown upon this ride. Smiles, or relaxed looks, only. Leave the grimace next to the car parked (FOR SALE) under the DEAD END sign, far behind.

I was kind of mesmerized by the vertical lines and the swirly straw erosion controllers.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rush This: All of Trail 100

Trail 100 Dreamy Draw, North section. Best perspective of Phoenix.

Saturday I stepped up my Dreamy Draw Trail 100 practice riding, and rode the whole thing, west to east. From my house, depending on route and how many side trips I take, that's 25 to 30 miles of riding. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph / Nobbie Nic combo of tires that came on the bike do pretty well on the streets before and after.

First thing I noticed at the trail head was that (I think) the metal thieves struck again, and took the sign that I took a picture of several years back. I didn't take photos of these plaques thinking that I better do it before someone steals them for scrap, but that's how things work out sometimes.

Gone, just a rock there now (unless I missed it)

I needed some inspirational theme music for this ride, so as I ate a quick breakfast, I watched some of Rush's 2013 concert in Dallas: Subdivisions, YYZ, Tom Sawyer. They play and sing really well in that video, and part of the inspiration was something like, they are much older than me, they rock, I can ride rocks, YYZ, man.

A cairn of surpassing size and whiteness

Riding after rains, again, lots of loose rocks and scrappy sketchy hills. Hockey puck rocks flipping up all over the place. I know I've been posting a lot of Trail 100 lately, but it's familiar ground for me to try to wake up my mountain biking muscles and technique. It's definitely improved over the last few weeks as I learn the ways and means of this particular machine. I still have a long ways to go, but I promise some trails other than 100 will appear here soon.

Some highlights from today (other than riding Trail 100 end to end)

  • The giant white cairn in the picture above, which kind of helped orient me
  • Several horses. Welcome, equestrians!
  • Several very nice hikers and mountain bikers. Good morning to you all.
  • Tubeless tires with proper sealant suck up goathead thorns and keep on going. They are amazing. I'm just going to leave the thorns in for now, there are so many of them already after just a few rides.
  • Finding the middle ground for fiddling with the shock settings, firm for going up bigger hills, and streets, middle or open for rolling rocks or going downhill.
  • Speed and momentum are good, take the high line, ride it out, relax

Keep riding. Be open. Got to fly now.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don't Rush This

How about some trail 1A on a hot Saturday morning? Yes, more please.

Let's face it: mountain biking is inevitably going to involve some mountains. About half of those would require pedaling up the mountain, I would estimate, with rest of the time being spent going down them, or on the flats between. There are some lame ways to avoid the worst of the ups, sometimes, like shuttling or chair lifts, but sometimes I just have a literal mind, and feel that if I am mountain biking, I should ride up the mountain. Similar to my "ride to the ride" preference: if it's about biking, then bike there if feasible. Actually, bike there even if it's not about biking.

While my riding engine has positively adapted to riding the flatlands for some distance on a bicycle, it still gases out rather quickly when called to power a ride uphill. This is a combination of factors, which I'm working on, but improvements in this area are a slow (but steady) process. Carry speed on the downhill parts into the uphill sections. When there's a curve at the bottom, take the high side and slingshot and/or pump around it into the uphill. Pace. Relaxation. Breathing. Let the bike do as much of the work as it can, getting over and around stuff. Lock out the bouncy parts. I turned both the front fork and the rear shock to their firmest setting this morning to ascend, and it did make a positive difference. Don't stress about going uphill, this is fun. Don't rush it. Watch a lot of GMBN videos on how to do better.

Part of it is the heat, though. I'm still not really adjusted to mountain biking in it. I'm draining my hydration bladder on these 15 mile morning rides. Speaking of the hydration pack, I noticed that some of the newer packs have spine protection built in. This seems like a decent idea to me, so I bought a spine pad for a motorcycle jacket, cut it a little bit to fit, and stuffed it into the hydration pocket of my pack. It's tight in there with the nearly full bladder, but it works. I hope I never need it, but it adds a bit of support to the pack, and a bit of peace of mind. Every little bit helps.

When I paused to take the photo above, I also reminded myself not to rush it. To ride it, but in my own time, while enjoying this time and place. It went well. I walked a little. The trails go up the mountain, and so do I.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Remember to Breathe When Cycling, Ondine

Just when I had vowed off of cloud pictures forever...

Ondine's Curse is a rare condition where the autonomic function of breathing fails, and breathing becomes purely conscious. Sleeping, or otherwise just getting tired or forgetting to breathe, for those with this condition, also known as Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, causes obvious and serious complications. The tie-in with the Little Mermaid is interesting, but distracting to my topic. 

I don't have the curse, but in taking up a meditation technique known as breath counting, I have gained more focus on the autonomic function of breathing than I've ever had before. Yesterday, when a distracted man in a shiny Mercedes clearly failed to notice me in the intersection and started forward right at me until I yelled at him, my breath caught (paused) and my heart raced. This is a natural stress fight-or-flight reaction, or part of it, but was in that situation counterproductive to my goal of yelling my head off at him to gain his attention so that his son propped in prime viewing position in the car seat in the back didn't have to watch his distracted dad slaughter a cyclist with his two ton killing machine.

Also, while mountain biking, I've noticed that my breath also catches just when I need it not to, as I am looking ahead to a sketchy or steep section of trail. Smooth, even breathing, accompanied by smooth, even riding, is what I need just then, not a catch of breath and a dump of fear. But that's what often happens. 

I don't think I need Ondine to remind me to keep breathing. Rather, I think I need a counterforce to remind me to relax and breathe easy. Like clouds. Keep that pulse, and pulse ox, dead steady. This made me wonder: do others think about breathing while cycling?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ear Plugs as Foam Tips for Earbuds Hack

First attempt to make some replacement foam tips for earbuds (or "in-ear headphones")

I searched around and tried different, affordable earbuds that I liked, and finally bought the SoundMAGIC E80 Reference Series. As  the reviews of them state, these have a different kind of sound, treble-heavy, which doesn't sit well with everyone, but seems to work well for my ears which have had high frequencies attenuated by age and loud music. 

But the stock plastic tips are totally useless--uncomfortable and stiff feeling, and poor sounding. These come with a sample of premium foam tips which totally transform the sound and the feeling. Unfortunately, these masterpieces of throwaway consumables cost about five bucks a pair, and very soon rip/tear/disintegrate, as shown in the photo above.

Reluctant to replace, living in denial that something that costs five bucks could fall apart so easily and quickly, I've worn these until the foam actually fell off. Then what? 

Make some! Supplies: foam earplugs, scissors, leather punch

Internet to the rescue! I found several suggestions to cut and punch foam earplugs as replacements. First, flatten them lengthwise, and cut to appropriate length. Using the originals as a reference, my first cut was approximately across the midsection. Allow them to expand, then flatten again the other way, to form a disk, and punch a hole through the disk. I used a leather punch on the 11/64" setting.

Results of first try? Excellent on first listen. Using earplugs has the benefit of adding noise reduction. The sound is rich and deep. I would say the ear plug tips are in the same league as the five dollar tips that wear out fast.

Observations: the expensive ones have a tube inside them, and a hole slightly larger than the leather punch will make. I was worried about both of those when I compared my version to them, but any difference is not immediately obvious. I may try to make the hole larger than 11/64" next time, just to experiment. Also, as one of the Internet sources suggested, it may help to make the new tips short, just long enough to isolate the earbud stem from hitting the ear canal. As it is with the ones I made, they are longer than that. Next set will be shorter, to see how that works. It may turn out to be a balance between noise isolation, sound quality, and comfort. Also, I can't say that the rounded end has any other purpose than to look functional, like that's what it should look like. In practice, the square ends seem to go in just as easy, and sound the same to me. Finally, my ear canals are probably narrower than average, and these earplug tips fit them snugly and comfortably. I'm very pleased with the results.

This is not really a bike-related post. I don't suggest you ride with these as they are quite isolating. But this seemed like a simple and great hack, so I just wanted to share it.