Category Archives: Bicycles

Another 30

Today was day 2 of my second official #30daysofbiking. This time around, I’m doing at least 10 miles a day. With longer rides on the weekend, I’m hoping for about 500 miles or so in the month.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m starting stronger than last time by a long shot.   Some of those early rides were pretty dire, and the rides the day after that were even more pathetic.  But I got through, and I can safely say that I rode more days than I didn’t over the last 6 months or so.  That’s got to count for something on the old health-o-meter, right?

As I think back on the previous #30 (which turned into 105), I find myself thinking about the power of the social network.  It was a chance encounter with a post by somebody I hadn’t seen since high school that piqued my curiosity and got me back on my bike again for so much of the summer.  What a cool coincidence, and what a cool time we live in that this sort of thing can and does happen.  Before #30daysofbiking, I didn’t really even follow twitter much, and didn’t really get what the big deal was about.   Now I get it.

The funny thing is, this isn’t the first time that this has happened to me.  Nearly 5 years ago, I found Crossfit, and I can safely say it’s changed my life for the better.  This was an early example of the power of social media and open-source thinking to change lives.  I much prefer Crossfit’s approach (free, social, interactive) to Tony Horton’s expensive, overly-produced P90x and their variants.

Think about how you stay informed these days.  I still listen to the radio (MPR, contributing member, thankyouverymuch), and I occasionally turn on the TV, but most of my information is delivered to me on my terms, in little previews that I can explore in greater depth if I choose, when it’s convenient for me.  I have the whole internet in  my pocket *ALL THE TIME.*  Such connectivity was science fiction 10 years ago.  Now it’s like breathing.

Now that the technology is here, look at how fast we’re learning to use it.  Read your facebook feed and see how much news has crept in, and how much other information is improving the signal to noise ratio (provided you are good at hiding apps like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. )  Links to Pandora, news sites, and other media are the next wave of connectedness.   Say what you like about Jobs and Zuckerberg and the like, those guys at least have a vision for a future where you can do more and see more and stay more connected with people who matter to you.

Sure, there are problems, and there’s abuse, but that’s nothing new.  The  Ponzi schemers and patent medicine hucksters from the past are no different than the phishing, 419 scamming scumbags we have to deal with today.  Set up a system and a small but visible minority of the population will try to take advantage of it in not-nice ways.  Doesn’t mean that the system isn’t worthwhile.

Think about the rate of change in the last 5 years, then think about what’s going to happen to news, marketing, sales, and politics over the next 5 years.  What will top Old Spice Guy?  You can bet there are legions of very smart people working on that right now.

More importantly, when will we reach the next tipping point, and what will that be?  What’s after the iPhone generation?

#30daysofbiking firing up again for September

After a couple of weeks off for travel, Sturgis, and other miscellaneous work duties, I’m getting back in the saddle for another 30.  I’m hoping to do 300 miles in the month.

Go here for more info:

I highly recommend that you join us on this!  It’s a refreshing, fun, and rewarding way to reconnect with your two-wheeled past.  Why do I say past?  Well, I used to ride a lot, back in grad school.  Yearly pilgrimages to Moab, mountain bike races, and a longish but doable commute got quite a few miles on my legs.  Moving to California in 2000 probably put me at the most miles I’ve ever done in a single year, though I’ve never kept much track of the actual miles ridden.

But work, life, and kids sort of intervened.  I’d still pick up the occasional issue of a bike magazine, and go for a spin once in a while, but it always felt harder than I remember, and I never managed to stick with it.  I’d go to watch the bike race in downtown Stillwater, and feel vaguely bad about myself that I had this tremendous love for bikes, but hadn’t made actually riding them that often a priority.   My actions weren’t in line with my core values.

When I saw a Facebook posting (thanks Bob Amaden!) alluding to #30daysofbiking I perked up and paid attention.  I got to the party a little late (April 16th) , but made up for it by not stopping until work-related travel absolutely forced me to.  It ended up being 105 days straight of more than 5 miles on the bike.  The longest ride was a nice hilly 56-miler down to Afton and other places in the St. Croix river valley.

If you’re anything like I was, you used to ride more than you do now.  Maybe you didn’t, but you probably bought a bike at some point, and when that bike was shiny and new you put on more miles than you do now.   Well, that can be fixed in short order, and you won’t believe how quickly it takes to feel that wonderful feeling of motoring under your own power again.  The small triumphs of hills conquered without downshifting (or the fixie equivalent: motoring up hills seated with higher gearing than you used at the start of the season), and the sureness of knowing that you are indeed fitter than you were the week before are still there waiting for you.  The mellow relaxation of a post-ride endorphine high is still just as pleasant.

Think about it this way:  your life is probably a lot more complicated than it was when you last put on any serious miles.  You need those miles now more than ever to put everything into perspective.

I’m looking forward to a nice way to round out the summer.  It’s already feeling a little chillier out there (in the 50’s the other night made it wonderfully brisk.)  Soon all the rides will be in the dark, and there will be some weather to worry about.   Bring it on, I say!

Nice day for a ride

I say that every day, though.  Last night at about 11pm  I went for a ride in a thunderstorm on the fixie.  It was awesome.  I got soaked.  The lighting was unbelievable.  Hardest part was seeing where I was going- it had been quite a warm day, and the rain was steaming as it hit the road.   Throw a headlight on and you get some pretty good fog reflection.  Happily, even though this was at prime drunk time in Wisconsin on a Saturday night, everybody gave me a wide berth.

Today’s two-wheeled self-motivated hijinks started out as a simple spin to get my legs unkinked from hammering on the new TT bike, and a vicious Crossfit workout that made it hard to get out of bed this morning.  I didn’t really have an idea of where I was going, except that I wanted to start into the wind so I didn’t have to fight a headwind on the way home.  I didn’t really have an idea of how far I wanted to go, either.  I just wanted to see some white lines whizzing by and let my thoughts wander.

I think the thinking is part of what is so appealing about bicycling and motorcycling- you have en excuse not to be doing anything else for the duration of the ride.  I think of it as rolling meditation.  Oddly, in my mental model of “cool things to do of an afternoon,” I ascribe similar levels of effort to riding a motorcycle as I do riding a bicycle.  Sure, the motorcycle moves you along, but the wind at highway speeds beats you up more, and the risk is probably a lot greater, so you have to be a little more “signed in” if you want to keep the rubber side down.  My legs come back more tired from a bicycle ride, but the rest of me gets more of a workout on the motorcycle.

Anyway, I went out for a good meditate just after 1pm.  Can’t tell you what I thought about, really.  Well, I can a bit- I broke a spoke and my newly reassembled bottom bracket has resumed its creaky ways, so those got some attention.  But the rest of it is through and gone.  I pondered some deep questions, but I didn’t really think about anything in a manner that allows me to remember what I thought.  It was very refreshing.

Here’s the route I took:

Once I got to about the 22 mile point, I stopped by my favorite cafe/bike shop: The Bikery .  What a great combination- carbs, caffeine, and bicycles.   They have an Eddy Merckx track frame hanging in the window, along with some local artists’ work.  I have some photos from the Stillwater Criterium hanging there, including in the Ladies’ loo (or so my wife tells me.)  A mocha and a cookie (Shhh! don’t tell anyone) later, and I was feeling refreshed.  I drooled over some high end road bikes (the Argon 18s are beautiful and surprisingly reasonable), chatted with the gentleman in the bike shop, and then set off again.

22 miles, 4 miles from home, big nasty awful hill that I abhor (more for traffic reasons than because it’s steep), and I didn’t think 26 miles was going to be enough after last weekend’s 51 mile Houlton-Hudson-Prescott and back adventure (avoid county road F.  They mean it… it’s ucking Fawful.)  So I headed south through town, past the OPH prison (always feel vaguely guilty riding past there, in case any incarcerated cyclists get twitchy legs watching me go by) and south to Afton.  My idea was to ride the Afton hill then head home.  It was a bit of a grind, but I made it.  Then I went down one of my favorite hills, and along the St. Croix past some amazing houses on my way back north.

Lakeland and Lakeland shores are unremarkable, and the road isn’t much to write home about, but it has roundabouts, and I love roundabouts.  There are three of them, right in a row.  Wheee!

Once across the 94 bridge and into Hudson, I felt compelled to make a short detour to ride one of my other favorite roads- Trout Brook Road.  It’s a Rustic Road, and it winds along for a few miles before climbing out of the little river valley that it crosses.  It’s a nasty little climb, with a false summit about 2/3 of the way up.  At this point, I had about 45 miles in my legs, and really suffered.  But it was good suffering, the kind that allows you to think things and then completely forget them.

It probably wasn’t that remarkable a ride in many respects, apart from being my longest since I left California in late 2000.  I certainly didn’t cover it with any great speed (16.3 MPH), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Today was day 75 of #30daysofbiking.  Proof that I’m not very good with directions.

Oh, and I took some pictures with the Olympus XA, but it’ll be a while before I finish the roll.

On product development

[edit: this got consigned to being a draft far too long ago.  Then I got busy with buying houses, saying goodbye to dogs I’ve had for many years, buying tractors, and resurrecting old Jeeps.  I’m reading it more than a year later, and it rings even more true than it did when I wrote it.  Therefore: worth sharing.]

So today is day 58 of 30.  That seems like an odd way to say it, but it’s representative of how things went down, man.  #30daysofbiking was in full swing (hipsters in MPLS kicked it off April 1) and I glommed on through some facebook postings and started on April 16th.  At the end I didn’t see any good reason to stop, and plenty of reasons to keep going.

That 16 day delay about sums it up for me trend-wise.  I like to let ’em age out a bit.  Those early adopters have a rough time of it.  Electronic shifting on bicycles in the 1990’s?  sheesh.  Apple Newton?  Pshaw.

The old Diamond Rio mp3 players ?  No thanks.   I first saw one in 1998 visiting a friend in Boston, Massachusetts and was amazed.  But it didn’t make sense, particularly when you factored in how long it took to download songs into it.

Now I have days worth of music in my pocket most of the time.  Course, it was still hundreds of dollars, but some things will never change.  I even came to the iPhone party relatively late.  Glad I did.  Early generations of anything inevitably take a little while to iron out.  Take it from me- I do new things for a living.  Not that there’s necessarily any bugs or anything wrong with the first generation.  It’s just that the design team hasn’t been through sequential iterations of developing, releasing, and getting feedback from real customers who put hard-earned money on the table.

My buddy Glen at work (Lead for the last project I worked on) always quotes his Rule of Three:  It takes three tries to get it right.  I think that’s right (it’s also why I’m making damn sure to plan 3 attempts at my next project before we even come close to having to produce something fit for public consumption.)  On our last project, the first bikes were so-so at the first attempt, okay at the second (some would have said acceptable for production), then stellar.  It took more than a year of working in secret to get there after we had, at least nominally, finished the design.   This was with a team that had been through the wringer and should have been able to hit it out of the park on their first try.

But they didn’t, and that’s intensely interesting to me.  They didn’t do anything wrong, not in the slightest.  They did their level best.  It just wasn’t good enough.  They had to try and find where they’d failed, fix those problems, and try again.  The important thing is being honest about the gap between what you did and what the customer expects, and having the courage to swallow your pride and redo things so that the final product is right.  That’s sometimes the toughest thing in the world, because you have to take something you’ve nurtured and developed, and basically throw parts (if you’re good and/or lucky) or all (if you’re neither) of it out.  Not easy if you’ve been slaving overtime and have brought your best game and found it lacking.  Humbling.  Terrifying, even.  Bad enough to make you not want to try, or to try and bargain your way out of it.  We see all the stages of grief in product development.

Managing that process can be daunting.  Setting up an environment where people want to put their best thinking and creativity into their design, then offer it up willingly like a lamb to slaughter is not a straightforward affair.  Maintaining a sense of perspective about things, and knowing how to do good triage- separating the designs that are right from those that just need work is hard enough, but knowing the designs that are so architecturally hamstrung that they need taking out back and shooting?  That’s hard work.  Factor in that people are involved, and they all care about what is going on, and they all have different ideas about what the right thing to do.  Throw in a senior manager that thinks they need to give input, and that you have to do what they say?  Ay yi yi.

I remember an interesting editorial in a windsurfing magazine back in the 90’s.  The overall theme was: don’t be learning how to do something when it’s critical and your life depends on it.  Don’t learn to waterstart in the Gorge when a barge is bearing down on you.  Don’t learn to handle an overpowered sail when the wind is offshore and the next shore is further away than you can sail.  It’s fine to do dangerous things, just give yourself some room to learn them where the odds are in your favor.

This sort of thing

Back to bikes.  I can’t believe I didn’t ride as much as I have for as long as I did.  Or didn’t.  Being back on a bike feels so good.

[edit: I didn’t ride my bike nearly as much in 2011 as I wanted to.  Heck, I didn’t even get in a decent motorcycle trip, or ride on the track.  But it will be all worth it in the long run.  You’ll see. 🙂 ]

Mormons On Fixies

Flipping awesome, is what I say.  More people on bikes is a good thing.  Cooler bikes is a good thing.  More people on cooler bikes, very good thing.

Aww, I just went to look again, and most of the pictures have been yanked.  According to the posting, it was drawing unwanted attention.  Oh well, guess if they had major butt-hurt over it…  But I thought it was cool.  LDS Missionaries on fixies.  Probably the coolest cross-cultural mashup I’ve seen involving the LDS since Orgazmo came out.

Side note: I saw this movie in Salt Lake City.  In the theatre.  Perfect audience.

BUT WAIT.  Something doesn’t add up here.

Aren’t these cycling proselytizers in the business (and believe me, with that much cash on hand, it’s a business regardless of the taxedness or exemptness of the whole operation) of intruding into other peoples’ daily lives and trying to convert them?  I’ve seen these missionaries on college campuses doing their thing.  I’ve seen them at our local ice cream store pestering patrons, for Chrissakes (Where?!?!??!?!)   So doesn’t that, by the nature of the way they choose (or are compelled) to spend their time, kind of put them… out there… you know, in public?  Where it’s legal to take their picture?

Fortunately, on the Internet nothing ever really gets deleted as long as somebody had the good sense to copy it, so I present to you here, in all their fixie glory, the SLC Hipsters, the Saintly Barspinners…

Mad props for the matching tie (third from left)- it takes a set to pull that off.  Keep rollin’, guys.

Side note: I wonder if Gore is working on a wicking oxford twill for shirts?  Think Shimano would ever make SPD compatible dress shoes?

On a related note, after 30+ days on the bike, my Crossfit performance seems to have gone through the roof on some workouts.  I had two in a row with a significant aerobic component, and I tore my old times apart and threw them in the toilet… 30+ percent faster on both workouts.  I haven’t seen gains like that for a while.  It will be interesting to see if that continues.

Bikes or art?

So this post I came across recently scratches several itches, including bicycles, design, engineering, and photography. The craftsmanship in these machines is simply stunning.

I think I’m homing in on why I like bikes and cameras so much as objects: they represent possibilities. You look at a camera, and you can imagine the pictures you might take with it. It might be a crappy camera by some standards (the Holga cult comes to mind) but it may take you to an image that you wouldn’t have captured otherwise, or that you wouldn’t have caught in the same way. Part of the fun is, as you’re headed out to take photos or just go to the grocery store, grabbing a camera that may be well-suited or completely wrong for the situation and just rolling with it. Allowing for the peculiarities of a particular tool is all part of the fun. Sure, I could drag the d300 along everywhere I go, but I’d lose some of the perspective that playing with old cameras gives me.

Bikes can yield similar experiences. The fixed gear is not the ideal mount for many of the little rides I’ve been doing lately, but its limitations throw enough variety into the mix to make every ride different. Hills that would be a simple matter on the road bike turn into real difficulties, particularly with the legs being relatively untrained for cycling over the last few years.

Then I go out on the road bike or shoot with the d300, and I appreciate the improvements that years of development has brought us. Gearshifts are quick and certain. Metering and autofocus work nearly flawlessly. Everything just works. Nice if you need to get there sooner, or have a job to do that requires your pictures come out well.

But something is inevitably lost when technology intercedes. The user is one more level removed from the basic fundamentals of what they are trying to accomplish. The camera looks into it’s database of 10,000 photographic scenarios and decides that it knows better than you do how to adjust exposure. The carbon fiber rails on your saddle isolate you a little more from the road surface. If you never rode or shot without these filters, you may not even realize that they are there, or what they do for you.

I had the chance to experience this a winter or two ago.  I was riding my vintage snowmobile at one of our lunch rallies, then I got a chance to hop onto a 2010 Rush 600.   The difference between the 1980 and the 2010 sled was incredible.   The power, the handling, the comfort.  It was 10 times the sled.  I was staggered.  Progress is really a great thing.

But that new sled retails for $10k.  I got my sled for $500.  If anything goes wrong on the new sled, I have to go to the dealer.  If something goes wrong on the old sled, I get to learn how to fix it (which is all part of the fun.)  Similarly, the fixie, the old mechanical shutter on my Graflex, and the 1970-1975 Honda CB350s I’m eyeing on Craigslist (cafe racer, natch) are all …  well, I won’t say they are easy to work on.  But they are easier to work on than anything newfangled and computerized.  They are more accessible.  Sure, they will go wrong, they will need attention, and they will never work as seamlessly as the modern gear.  But they have a fuckwithableness that pleases me.  I will learn as much from the repairing as I will from the using, and I will get more satisfaction from resurrecting old gear and turning it useful again than simply purchasing the latest digital wondercam, turning it to “Auto” and letting the countless hours of toil from software engineers I will never know take care of all the “hard stuff” for me.

I realize that a lot of this may sound like the school of Masochism that says “hit yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop” and I’ll grant that the assertion may have some merit, but I maintain that there is no substitute for understanding the fundamental principles underlying any worthwhile activity. Furthermore, understanding is much more complete when all the modern conveniences have been stripped away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish whittling my next bicycle seat from oak.

30 Days starts today

I’m not counting yesterday, though I did ride up the driveway and back a couple of times with Owen on his new Novara Afterburner (a birthday present I bought for myself for Owen, if that makes any sense) trail-a-bike.

Watch for a review of the afterburner after a few miles.

The goal: ride my bicycle at least 5 miles every day for the next 30 days.

today: 7.5 hilly, windy miles with Owen on the back.  No, he didn’t pedal.  34 pounds of Owen+ 23 pounds of trail-a-bike makes for a slog uphill.

Highlight:  He jammed his foot into the back wheel and locked it up.  Made a pretty good skid mark.  It wasn’t on purpose, I don’t think.  It scared him a little, but he recovered.

Edit:  Video:

On bicycles and cameras


I went for a ride on the fixed-gear on Saturday.  It wasn’t a long ride, and I didn’t ride particularly fast.  I figured it would be good to get out for an hour or so and see some of the countryside and work some of the soreness out of my legs from Friday’s soccer and a recent Crossfit workout.  It was.

Riding the fixie pleased me in ways that I’m having trouble identifying or articulating.  Part of it is the aesthetics.  When you look down, there’s no extra stuff.  The drivetrain is incredibly simple.  A simple (cheap) probably mild-steel frame without too many things bolted to it supporting only what is necessary to go down the road.  Flat black everything, some bar tape I had lying around, nitto bullhorn handlebars, and a brooks saddle.  The only concession to style (and visibility) on this bike is the bright yellow wheels, tires, and chain.  I like bright yellow- it’s a happy color.

The feel was nice, too.  Kinesthetically, you feel every degree of gradient, because you’re more connected to the back wheel.  You don’t get to coast, so you experience going down hills differently.  You can’t just store energy from coasting down a big hill and use it to get up the other side, you have to moderate your speed so your legs don’t fly off the pedals.

The sound was probably the best part.  You don’t realize how noisy a normal bicycle is until you go without the freewheel and derailleur.  If you’re pedaling smoothly on a fixie, you don’t hear much.  The chain is nearly silent when it doesn’t have to go through idlers and pulleys and scrape past derailleur cages.  It just goes around in its pleasantly asymmetrical rounded shape and propels you forwards.  The perfect chainline, lack of anything to slap, and constant chain tension make for a very pleasant, quiet ride.

My gearing wasn’t ambitious (42×18), but neither are my lungs or legs.  I muddled through, and managed not to forget to pedal and send myself over the bars.  (I’ve nearly done that before, and it’s not fun.  The urge to pedal-pedal-pedal-coast must be overcome, because the coast bit just doesn’t exist anymore.)  I didn’t wear anything particularly special, save for bike shorts under my normal shorts.  I wanted to be able to wander around Hudson without looking like I just stepped off the set of a superhero movie.


While on this ride, I wanted to be able to take some pictures, so I slung a $10.00 messenger bag I picked up at Goodwill on my back and loaded it with cameras.  I was thinking about bringing along my Olympus XA, which is a fun little rangefinder (and also a $10 garage sale find), but I need to get some batteries for it so I can finish off the half-exposed roll of film that’s in it.  Who knows what’s on the already-exposed frames?  Not I.  Instead, I brought my Voigtlander rangefinder along.  Now this is a camera.  It takes Leica M-mount lenses, if you are so inclined.  I’m not… yet.  They are a bit spendy, so I opt for the Voigtlander versions instead (which are made in Japan, not Germany or Canada as the Leica lenses are.)   I brought the 40mm 1.4 and the 12mm, but only shot with the 40.

I had about half a roll of Ilford Delta 400 to finish off.  There were a couple of interesting spots worth shooting, including the main drag in Hudson where a few interesting store signs line up in a particularly pleasing manner, at least to my eye.

Shooting with the rangefinder pleased me in ways similar to riding the bike.   It’s quiet.  It’s solid-feeling.  You have to know what you’re doing… if you forget to set the ISO on the camera, you get under- or over-exposed pictures.  If you leave the lens cap on, you get black pictures.  If you backlight something, you have to figure out how to do the exposure compensation or use AE lock (an unlabeled silver button on the back of the camera that could be for anything.)  If you forget to pedal, it sends you over the bars, in effect.

I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with these toys.  We’ll see how the pictures turn out, and we’ll see if I get the strength back into these legs to put the 46t chainring on the front again and get some decent miles on the bike.