Saturday, November 1, 2008

Off the bike for a month

Until yesterday morning, I had not been on my bike since Oct 2nd. We spent about 10 days in Oregon, visiting family, then heading to Ashland OR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Instead of renting a bike and getting in some rides, we spent the time eating, drinking, and attending the theater. The plays were great, as usual, with the most memorable being "A Comedy of Errors" set in the old west.

After Ashland, we were off to Kansas to close the sale on our house, pack up and hit the road. We didn't do too badly on the house, lost a few shirts, but kept the ones on our backs. We made a mini-vacation of the trip. Instead of bombing across the country as fast as possible, we made side trips to Sante Fe, Window Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. Interesting sites.

Window Rock AZ

Veterns Memorial at Window Rock

Spider Point at Canyon de Chelly

Painted Desert

Petrified Forest

We arrived back in Phoenix Sunday night, and did a lot of running around until finally, Friday morning was the first opportunity to ride. PMP, only about 6 miles, but enough to know how much conditioning was lost during the month. It felt like riding in Flagstaff at 8000ft. You know the feeling, just can't get enough oxygen.

Its going to take a few rides to get back in shape.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Year of Riding Dangerously

I arrived in Phoenix last year, in August. The day Judy and I unloaded the rental truck and set up my apartment it was 114 degrees. Judy stayed a few days, then flew back to Kansas to keep the house from falling apart while we had it up for sale. She also continued to serve in her position as city council member of the small town we lived in for about 4 years. After a year, we finally accepted an offer on our house that wasn't a big loss. It was contingent on the sale of the buyers house, and the buyer of that house had a contingency on his. It was like a line of dominoes waiting to fall. Finally, the dominoes are falling and with any luck we'll be making the final move in late October.

We've moved several times over the years, and it has usually meant that I lived in an apartment while Judy stayed behind to mop up. This time has been by far the longest time we have spent apart, and we are both looking forward to being together again. Its amazing that she's put up with me for 34 years.

Being a bicyclist since I was about 4, getting out and riding has long been my activity of choice. This year, its been an escape from boredom of living alone. Its great exercise. Its fun, and for me at least, its cheap. Yes I'm a cheapskate. My Klein hardtail, bought used in Kansas City in 2000, is about 12 years old and has taken a beating this year. A few mornings ago, we met a guy on the trail who was riding a titanium Edison that had to cost 6 grand. We asked a few questions about it, and when my buddy Karl asked how much it weighed. When he responded 27.1 lbs, I commented, "That's only about 3 pounds heavier than my bike." The momentary flash across his face was priceless. He glanced at my bike dismissively, and was suddenly befuddled, not able to come up with a way of calling Mr. Klein a piece of shit without insulting the old, fat and slow geezer leaning on it.

Through this year in Phoenix, mountain biking has been almost a life saver. Without the Mountain Preserve a mile away, and a small group of friends to ride with, I would have done little other than work and sleep. Karl has been a regular riding partner for about 6 months. We have been up at 0 dark early about 5 times a week, meeting at the 32nd St trailhead at 5 and riding until 6. Sometimes we've pushed it hard and improved skills and fitness, other times we ride a couple of miles, solve some of the world's problems, ride a couple more, solve more problems, etc. until the hour is gone and we're both looking at being late starting our days. We both resolved that we hate riding in the early morning, but we keep at it because, "It's good for us." Eat your vegetables.

Now that the love of my life and I are going to be together again, biking will take a back seat to the many opportunities the Phoenix area will open up to us. I'll still get out a couple times a week. After all, it is still my exercise of choice, but Judy deserves to be treated like the sweetheart she is.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Interesting Weather

One of those microburst columns happened in the west valley Wednesday evening. I got a call from my consulting engineer who has a construction trailer out near Festival Ranch. Seems the microburst knocked the trailer over on its side. Unfortunately, the trailer, 40 ft long and 8 ft wide, fell over on a water tank which exploded and threw water over all the engineering drawings. Uh oh.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Stormy Weather

With Gustav visiting the Gulf Coast, it seems timely that we had a bit of a storm here in Phoenix last Thursday night. Lots of lightning, rain, and winds up to about 100 mph. Pretty impressive. Apparently, three storm cells converged in the area and pretty well hammered the area. Roofs were blown off, trees knocked down, and widespread power outages.

The most interesting thing about this storm wasn't that it happened, but where the damage occurred. 40th St between Shea and Cactus had downed power lines and was still closed on Sunday. I made a work related run out to the west valley and noticed that trees all through the Festival Ranch development were leaning or knocked over. I'd bet half the trees, mostly desert willows, were ruined. In a lot of neighborhoods around Phoenix, trees, cacti and bushes were damaged.

It struck me this morning while riding in the preserve, that there was virtually no damage to any of the native vegetation. A limb torn from an occasional Palo Verde, but that was about it. Quite a variation from the extensive damage thru the rest of the city. My guess is that all the non-native and replanted vegetation isn't native for a reason. That, and most people over water whatever they plant, making the ground around the plants a bit softer than naturally occurring plants.

The apartment complex where I live was hard hit. Limbs are all over the ground. Here in the desert, we have pine trees(!?) palms, etc. Not exactly the best choice in a place that gets almost no rain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 10 - Spokes

Ever spent much time thinking about bicycle spokes? If so, then you really need to get a life. Spokes are nothing more than a piece of wire, mashed and bent on one end and threaded on the other.

I was out riding yesterday morning when I started noticing a toink, toink, toink sound coming from the rear wheel. Apparently, I had kicked a rock up and broke a spoke on the non-drive side of the wheel. That evening I stopped in at REI, with my broken spoke and asked for a couple of new spokes. What I got in response was, "If you're breaking a lot of spokes, you really should have that wheel looked at." I said in return, "I'm not breaking a lot of spokes, in fact I think this may be the first spoke I've broken in 40 years." I didn't feel like I needed an upsell of wheel maintenance, since I do all my own wrenching, and wheel truing is something I do pretty well. Anyway, I got out of there with 2 new spokes and my broken one for 2 bucks plus tax.

Since the broke spoke was on the non drive side of the wheel, I was able to thread the new one in and tension it without even removing the wheel from the bike. To do that, it's necessary to bend the spoke (hey, its just a hunk of wire!) into a gradual arc and feed it through the hub. The bend allows the spoke to slide in without interfering with the cassette. A little straightening and feed it into the nipple. Tighten, check for true and off you go.

I don't have a tension gauge for truing. I use the harp tuning method; pluck each spoke as you work and try to keep all the spokes on each side at about the same note. B flat above middle C works well. On the front wheel, both sides will come out the same. On the rear wheel, drive side spokes are shorter, so the tune you play will generally be a little higher. Transpose it to a key of A.

Basic rules of thumb - If the wheel flops around the spokes are too loose. If the tune you play on your spokes sounds like anything above a mezzo-soprano, they're too tight. If you have carbon fiber wheels and the spokes are large enough to have decals, you spent waaay too much money.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Racing in Flagstaff

One immutable difference between Phoenix and Flagstaff is elevation. Most of my riding is in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, with elevations between 1430 ft and 1730 ft. Rides usually include 700-900 ft of climbing. The course in Flagstaff at the Absolute Bikes, St. Mary's Food Bank Race ranged from about 7300 to 8000 ft and included about 850 feet of climbing over a 10 mile loop.

The setup for the race was expert/pro men starting at 9:05, followed at 5 minute intervals by expert/pro women, sport men, sport women, then unwashed masses, including me. The pros would ride 3 laps, sport 2, unwashed masses 1. Since I have never been in a mountain bike race, and I am old, fat & slow, I signed up as a beginner, meaning 1 lap. Thank god I didn't sign up for sport, 'cause I'm pretty sure I would have been a dnf.

Once all the skinny folks got out of the way, the unwashed masses started out. The course began with a gradual climb up a forest service road. Not too bad. After a half mile or so of easy pedalling to get warmed up, I cranked up the pace a bit until I was wheezing like an asthmatic bear. Ok, now I'm in the zone.

After about 3 miles of steady climbing, the road leveled and even dropped a bit. Then, it was off on a singletrack. Chugging along for the first mile, middle chainring, 2 and 3 on the rear, sometimes 4th, until the trail led into a rock garden that reminded me so much of Riverside State Park in Spokane that it was almost deja-vu, without the benefit of actually having oxygen to breathe. Mind you, we're now at 7800 ft and I am definitely a lowlands rider. Got tied up in some traffic for a bit, then continued on up through the rock garden and on up to the top for a half mile or so of fire road. A little ways before hitting the singletrack back down, there was a steep section on the road that everybody ahead was walking their bikes up. Being pretty good at short steep stuff, I cranked up the thing, then gasped my way the next 100 yds to the downhill singletrack.

Understanding relative speed and endurance might put things in perspective. By the time I was 3/4 of the way up the singletrack, I was being passed by skinny folks on their second time around. Granted, they had a 25 minute head start, but I was at maybe 6 miles, and they were at 16. I had ridden maybe 50 minutes and they were at 1:15. Guess I would be in the next Olympics. Might as well scratch that off my to do list.

Whew, now I'm at the turn and on the downhill singletrack. I think they refer to this trail as "Moto" but I'm not sure. Anyway, its a delightful drop with sweeping turns, no serious rocky stuff, and a joy to cruise on. Never having been on this trail, and not really wanting to spend a lot of time on the side of it going, "OW OW OW OW!" I did use my brakes a bit more than most. I got passed by as many people going down as I had going up. Even people I passed on the climb were whizzing by me like I was going backward. Next time I need to pre-ride a course before racing, just to figure out where the hell I am.

I dropped in to the finish line a little before 11:00 for a time of 1:26:35. In the unwashed masses class, I finished 30th out of 41. In the old unwashed masses class (beginners over 40) I finished 12th out of 18. My buddy, Karl cranked in a few minutes later, having had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the altitude. We both enjoyed it and are looking forward to another race.

After the race we met up with some great folks, friends of Karl and enjoyed a lunch of burgers, salads, beer, and conversation. Back to the 110 temps of Phoenix by 5:00. You know, after a day like that, a cool shower feels pretty good!

More Pics from Flagstaff

Here are a few shots from the recent Flagstaff ride, taken by my riding buddy Karl. He has one of those cameras that takes 40 gazillion megabyte photos, so I did some cropping and compressing to get them down to usable sizes. The first is a shot of Dave, the energizer bunny of our group. Dave is a guy who is willing to try anything, and has a sense of humor that could best be described as "outlandish." Since my camera has no auto shutter feature and Karl's does, this is an update of the 3 Amigos shot with the 4th.
Here's the Old, Fat & Slow guy on Little Bear
Still one of the best rides of the year.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Could have been better

So, last night, temp about 100, I took off for an evening ride. Way off in the distance a couple of thunderstorms were brewing, and made for a good light show. I was feeling pretty chipper, so I decided to do my benchmark loop, Zipper and around to 100 to 8, up to the east end of 1A, around 1A to conversation point, then down Zipper and back home. Heading up out of a wash on 8, I managed to smack into a rock harder than expected and down I went, leading with my right arm. Nothing broken, but I received a pretty good gash on my lower arm, maybe 2 inches long and fairly deep. Bled like a stuck hog. I cleaned it up with water from my camelback and headed for home.

On the way back, had a goddamn flat on the front. Slow leak. Pumped it up and made it home before it went completely down again. While airing it up, I managed to leave a few spots of blood on the trail. I imagine a good hunter could have figured out where I augered in and found where I live.

After getting home, I cleaned up the cut, inspected it, and figured it might be a good idea to find an urgency center and have it looked at. This was about 8:30 pm. Turns out, urgency centers stay open until 8 on weekdays and 4 on weekends. Note to self; only get hurt during business hours.

Made it in this morning, too many hours after the injury to stitch up, so its butterflied and bandaged. Oh, yeah, tetanus shot and antibiotics.

So tonight, I'll make another attempt at my benchmark loop and try for a better result.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Decline to Slugdom

The old part of Old Fat & Slow took over for a few days. We celebrated our 34th anniversary this last weekend with a trip to Prescott. It was a weekend of eating, strolling around, eating, checking out art shows, eating, hiking, eating....

The upshot is, virtually no exercise for 6 days.

I definitely felt it this morning. sections of trail that were relatively easy last week are now hard. Sections that were hard are now impossible. It usually takes about 3 days to get back in the groove, and I hope that's the case this time, because I'm going racing in a week and a half.

Up in Flagstaff, there's a MTB race on Saturday the 23rd. Since I've never entered a MTB race before, I signed up as a beginner. That will be a single 10 mile lap with about 850 ft of climbing. I fully expect to live up to my pseudonym od OFS. I figure, if I can make it around once before the sport and expert riders run over me, I'll be doing great. The sport and expert riders' main concern should be not running into me, because with my low center of gravity, the last one standing goes to the fat guy.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I went out for a morning ride yesterday without my usual riding buddy. The humidity was down and temperature about 85, perfect riding conditions for Summer in Phoenix. I was feeling pretty good, so I figured it was time to set a benchmark to gauge my fitness. One of my favorite loops from 32nd St. is to go clockwise, down Zipper, loop around to catch a piece of 100, up 8 toward the AW house, drop through the gully, loop around and work up to the pass just east of Piestawa Pk, then 1A across to Conversation Point and down Zipper to 32nd St. This works out to 5.9 miles and makes a challenging loop for a geezer like me. I usually stop and catch my breath 3 or 4 times. This time I stopped twice and rested for not more than 30 seconds each time. Made the loop in 56 minutes. It's not fast enough to set any records, but I only race against myself anyway. In a week or two, I'll take another crack at it and see if I can beat that time.

It will also be a good test for an evening ride after the Summer ends, sometime in November. One thing I notice is that riding in the morning, at least for the first mile or so, I feel like a slug, and get better as I warm up. In the evenings, I take off and go, usually feeing pretty good from start to finish.

Getting out on the bike 5-6 times a week really has made a difference. Last weekend in Flagstaff, we started riding at 8000 ft. and rode up from there. We probably climbed more than 2000 ft. overall, and after 6 hours of riding, I still felt like I could do a few more miles. A year ago, that would have left me panting at the trailside.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Flagstaff Ride

4 of us left Phoenix Saturday afternoon looking for a little adventure in the cooler climate of Flagstaff. Had dinner, visited some folks and generally had an enjoyable evening.

Sunday dawned, cool and beautiful. We loaded up and headed up Schultz Creek to a parking lot at about 8000 ft elevation. These were the three amigos I rode with. Jeff, on the right, led us up a trail that looked like an abandoned forest service road, rutted from recent rains and a pretty good climb. Within about an hour...

We came across some guys with local knowledge and a map! Turned out, we had been climbing an unmarked trail that may lead to the Sunset Trail, or maybe not. Eventually we found the top of Little Bear Trail and a fantastic descent that probably dropped 1500ft in about 3 miles.

Very cool views and a nice semi-technical trail.
Looking out over Northeast Flagstaff from Little Bear Trail.
Got a bit of rain, but worked back up to the truck at the top of schultz Creek Trail.The descent down Schultz Creek was very cool, probably a drop of 1000 ft over 3.5 miles. one of our crew had done it many times before, had a broken chain, and was willing to drive the truck down. Beat the heck out of riding back up.
We started our ride at about 9:00 am and finished about 3:00 pm. Great day for a ride, with temps in the 60s and 70s. Much better than the Phoenix heat and monsoon humidity!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Referring back to Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 5

Tires. Yeah, those round things we put on wheels to keep from chewing up the rims. I'm sure that's the only reason they exist.

Up until about 3 weeks ago, all was right with the world. I was running Panaracer Fire XC tires front and rear, riding at least 50 miles a week in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. In almost a year, I had maybe 2 flats. I was living large and feeling pretty smug.

Then the world turned upside down. My rear tire was getting pretty thin, so I swapped it with a Panaracer Smoke Classic. Since then I'll bet its flatted at least 6 times. Thorn dammit, thorn dammit, thorn dammit, thorn dammit, thorn dammit, pinch oh crap. The pinch was probably because I took another thorn and lost some air. When I finally get the rear to stay inflated and last a few rides, what do I find? Last night the front is flat. Pull it apart and sure enough, thorn. Fix it, pump it up, go to bed. This morning, 4:50am, ready to go. Front's flat. I pumped it up and it held air long enough to get in a ride, but there's still a problem.

I tried a Slime instant patch on the tube last night. maybe that's the culprit. I'll check it out tonight.

I don't know what the deal is with all the thorns lately. Maybe the recent rains have washed loose thorns in to the trails, or maybe its just Karma. Maybe the desert is ganging up on me. If the heat and humidity of the early morning rides couldn't keep me off the trails, it was time for the desert to throw a bunch of cactus bits around and see if that will keep me in bed until time to go to work.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Unexpected

Up until the last few weeks would I ever have dreamt of using the words "Humid" and "Phoenix" in the same sentence. The popular cenception of Phoenix is, "Its a dry heat." Yeah, sure. When I moved here last August, it was a dry heat, melt your eyeballs dry heat. I never would have believed that humidity in Phoenix could compete with Saigon. With daytime temperatures in the 100s and 110s, I've been out on the trails in the early mornings instead of evenings. Trouble with that logic is that mornings are more humid. This morning was a great example. It rained last night until about 4:00am and by 6:00 when we started out, humidity had to be near 90%. Stepping outside is enough to induce sweat. Riding ain't too bad as long as you keep moving. Stop for a minute and its bring on the waterworks.

Yesterday, I spent about an hour cleaning my bike, lubing everything, and getting it all nice and shiny. This because last week we got in a wet ride and the dried muck was getting on my nerves. Naturely, just like washing the car, washing my bike caused last night's rain. now its all mucked up again, but at least its new muck!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Desert Critter Wuss

When it comes to critters that live in the desert, I am a confirmed wuss. I proved it last night. One thing I know about desert critters is that a whole bunch of them are venomous. What I don't know is how many are venomous and which ones they are. Of course there are the obvious ones, like rattlesnakes, scorpions, gila monsters, but what about all those other creepy crawly things?
So there I was, out riding around last night up in the PMP. I swung my leg over and hopped off my bike to carry it across a section I'm too old and wimpy to ride. Something bumped into my inner calf. Didn't think too much about it until I crossed the section and started to get back on the bike. I looked down and, in the dark, saw some furry thing about the size of a vole attached to my leg. Wuss that I am, my immediate reaction was to panic and swat the thing away. As soon as I hit it, I realized just how stupid that was. My leg had bumped into a Cholla and taken away a pretty good chunk of it (cholla, not leg). If I had realized what it was, I may have handled it differently.
For the those not familiar with Cholla cactus, here's a pic I took last fall at White Tank Mtns:

All those little spiny things are an inch or so long, sharp as surgical needles, and scaled so they go in a lot easier than they come out.

I do not recommend that you swat these things away, even with gloves, let alone fingerless gloves like I was wearing. The chunk of cholla came off my leg, leaving only a few spines behind, since it was mostly attached to my sock rather than my leg. Unfortunately, I managed to embed a bunch of spines in my fingers. Out came the multi-tool and I spent maybe 10 minutes yanking those devil spines out of my fingers and leg. I can tell you from experience that pulling them out of my leg didn't hurt much, in comparison to my fingers.

Later in the ride, I came across my second gila monster. This one was about 14 inches long and probably a lot younger than the one I saw a few weeks ago. I took a couple pictures, but neither came out very good.

Even in the heat, I like night riding better than early mornings. First thing out of bed, it seems to take a lot to get going and my energy level never cranks up to make me feel good on the trail. In the evenings, I get energized just thinking about it. Hills that are nothing but struggle in the morning rides are actually enjoyable in the evenings. Last night was a couple degrees below 100, and humidity was pretty high, but even with those conditions, the ride was great. I'm going to ride again this evening, but its back to early AM during the week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hot and Wet

No, its not a sexual reference. Its the monsoon season here in Phoenix. It peaked out at about 106 yesterday and humidity was pretty impressive. The rains came around 8:30pm and lasted until the early morning hours.

I hit the trail at 5:00am with temp around 80, and humidity must have been at least that. As long as we kept moving, it wasn't too bad, but stopping brought on the sweat. I may not be a good rider, but one thing I do very well is sweat. When its dry out, it evaporates and things don't seem too bad. When its humid, the story is very different.

There is one thing to look forward to during the monsoon season in Phoenix, and that is the end of the monsoon season.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.9 - Handlebars

I've been riding flat bars for a long time now, and have generally accepted numbness in the hands as part of the game. So I never really planned to do anything about it, but last night I was at REI getting a replacement for my itty bitty swiss army knife that didn'tmake it through airport security, when I came across an Easton riser bar for $18. Being a cheapskate and knowing that I'd probably never see a price like that again, I grabbed it. I installed it last night, having to replace only the front brake cable housing. Hit the trail this morning and was in for a big surprise. The new bar is at least 6 inches wider than the old one and the rise is about 1.5 inches. My first impression was that it felt like driving a school bus with a giant steering wheel. Every steering motion took way more input than with the old bar. The riding position feels much more upright even though its only a small change, and the whole balance makes Mr Klein feel like a completely different bike. I don't know if I like it or not.

Out on the trail, it seems like the change in riding position causes the front wheel to have less bite and the front fork seems stiffer, since my substantial weight is shifted back. I feel like I have to steer the bike around obstacles rather than just flow along and make little tweaks as needed.The jury will be out for a while on this one.

I think the bar is probably too wide, about 6 inches wider than the old flat bar, but I'm going to ride it as is for a few weeks and see whether I get used to it. If not, I'll start by cutting about an inch off each end. I could just cut 2 inches off one end, but it might look a little funny.

On my trip to the hellhole of the southwest (Las Vegas) I took a few pictures of Hoover Dam.

Now, I realize that Hoover is one of the great engineering feats of the early 20th century, but being used to the dams on the Columbia River, this one seems kind of small. The other striking thing is the water level, 100 feet below normal and never expected to be full again. Wonder if that has anything to do with Los Angeles and the 5 million people in phoenix?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Las Vegas, Prescott, Phoenix

I went to Las Vegas on Wednesday to attend a telecom trade show. Two days of looking at geek stuff was enough to last me for a year. I'm not a fan of the gambling meccas of Reno, Las Vegas, etc. so going there was not something I look forward to. When I arrived at the hotel and parked the truck, a bicycle renta-cop asked my why I didn't park in valet parking with my bike in the back. I told him I wasn't leaving it there, so he shrugged and rode off. I shoved Mr. Klein into the cab, locked everything up and went off to chase the elusive metro ethernet technologies.
On Friday morning, I hopped in the truck and headed for Prescott, glad to be leaving a town with the worst drivers I've ever seen. And that includes Southeast Asia. Made it to Prescott in time for my noon meeting. Afterward, I drove over to Lynx Lake and looked around a bit before hitting Granite Basin. The plan was to ride the Basin area, then find a place to park and sleep in the back of the truck, and ride Lynx Lake in the morning. As it turned out, Prescott was close to 100F, making the Granite Basin loop tougher than it should have been. By the time I finished, I was pretty dragged out and bug bitten. The thought of an uncomfortable night in the bed of a pickup truck lost its appeal, so I headed back to Phoenix.
Now, I'm new to Phoenix, having been here for 10 months, so I thought it was humorous having one of my riding buddies call me and ask for directions. Two of the guys were doing an evening ride on the PMP loop I've been using as a training ride, and were having some trouble finding their way in the dark. So what do these Phoenix natives do? Call the new guy and ask how to get where they want to go. Poor man's GPS.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting Hot!

The last few days in Phoenix have been really warming up. The temperature hit 112F (44.5C) today and the low was 85 (29.5C). The monsoon season has officially started as of 6/15. It used to be that the season officially started when the dew point hit 55F (12.8C) for three consecutive days. I haven't been through a full summer in Phoenix yet, but getting here in mid August last year gave me a sample of what to expect. I haven't started riding in the early mornings yet, but if this keeps up I'll have to change my habits.

I am making a loop this week, first to Las Vegas for a trade show, then to Prescott for a meeting, and back to Phoenix. The meeting in Prescott ends at 3:00pm, so I'm loading up my bike and a sleeping bag so I can spend some time riding in cooler weather. I got a kick out of Granite Basin last fall, so that will be my first ride. I haven't given much thought to Saturday's ride, but I'll figure something out.

Tomorrow night, another hot ride in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, then an early morning start on Wednesday so I can make it to sin city by noon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gila Monster

The desert has its surprises. This isn't a great shot, but I only had my cell phone with me. I headed out to the trails about 7:00pm with the temperature around 100F. I kind of expected to see a snake or two, but I never expected to see a Gila Monster. This guy (gal?) was about 18 inches long and looked to be pretty healthy. He was in the middle of the trail when I rode up and moved to the edge, where he appears in this picture. I stopped and watched him watching me for about 5 minutes. Took a few shots and none came out very well. This one was lit by my headlamp, handlebar light and camera flash. Eventually we got tired of staring at each other and I rode off. This was on 1A in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Critters on the Trail

I was up on 1A in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve this evening and trying to thread my bike around a rock that I've cleared dozens of times. For those who are familiar with the trail, there are two spots where you have to thread the needle while making a right hand turn (westbound). I say trying, because tonight, I didn't quite make the second one, caught my chain stay on the rock and took a pretty good tumble. The bike flipped over and ended up about 20 feet below the trail. I only fell about down about 10 feet. Man, there's a lot of dry stickery little things that attach to anything and everything! Recovered the bike (minor ding) and searched for the headlight that came off. Found it about 6 feet below the bike's resting spot.

Anyway, being from the Pacific Northwest, going off trail may cause you to pick up a bramble or two, but any critters you encounter are pretty benign. Here in Phoenix, I'm not so sure about that and it got me thinking. There seem to be all sorts of critters that can do some kind of damage.

About 1/2 hour before my crash, I encountered my second rattlesnake in a week. Both snakes were about 2 feet long. I ran over the first one in the dark, hitting it with both tires almost before realizing what it was. It was in the middle of the trail, stretched out and slithering across. It really should have used the pedestrian crossing. Tonight's snake was about the same size and had just gotten off the trail when I arrived at the snake crosswalk (crosscrawl? crossslither?).

Scorpions seem to be scurrying about quite a bit, and I've spotted a few centipedes that can have a nasty bite.

On the less threatening side, there are lots of little lizards that startle and take off like a shot, spraying little scoops of sand as they go.

Seems there are a couple breeds of rabbits, several specimens I've seen are small, not particularly long legged, and a lot like wild rabbits all over the country. The other ones are probably jackalopes. I can't be sure, because every one I've sighted has apparently been a doe. Haven't seen a single one with antlers, but I understand that the bucks laze about in the rocks like male lions and only come out after the female has made the kill.

Lots of coyotes roam the preserve, and I spot at least one each week.

Birds include owls, doves and quail. I've only seen one owl in flight, when it coasted about 10 feet over my head a while after sunset. Doves are abundant and seem to like to sit in the middle of trails, and take off when startled. In the daytime, doves take off at an angle and start putting distance between themselves and the intruder as quickly as possible. At night, they seem to take off and fly straight up at least 6 feet before they angle off and away. I'd guess their night vision isn't too good and they launch straight up to avoid hitting anything. Quail are downright funny. They run away when startled and move so fast you can hardly see their legs move. Its like they have no sense of where they want to run to, changing direction seemingly a dozen times every second. I came upon a pair of adults and at least 10 chicks one evening. The chicks made the ground seem almost alive as they scurried in a hundred directions at once. Reminded me of a kindergarten playground.

So, there I was, contemplating the myriad desert species as I recovered my bike and headlight. The critters are interesting, but I doubt I've seen them all. For a moment, I had to decide if I was going to recover the bike and light, or just leave them as toys for the critters and walk home.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.8 - Helmets

Anyone who survived their childhood and now understands that they aren't invincible also knows that some simple preventative items can extend extend their lives significantly. In the world of cycling, one of those simple things is head protection. Nothing like a brain bucket to keep the skull intact. When I started bicycle commuting to downtown Portland Oregon back in the mid 1970s, I bought my first helmet. It was an MSR (Mountain Safety Research) consisting of orange lexan with dense foam lining. It had 3 vent holes in the front and 3 in the back. I actually used the helmet for its intended purpose once when a dog tried to attack my front wheel. I went over the bar and rolled a couple of times, bouncing my helmet off the pavement on each rotation. I figure MSR saved my life that time. I was able to get up, sorta straighten the front wheel and wobble on in to work. I had a stiff neck for a few days and the helmet had some deep scratches. Since then, I won't ride across the street without donning a helmet.

My most recent helmets include a Giro Gila (the red one) that I used for probably too long (Its probably a good idea to replace a helmet every 3 or 4 years). It was reasonably comfortable, but in spite of the Roc loc strap sytem, it didn't stay put as well as I would have liked. That became obvious when I started riding in Phoenix, where the trails are enough to rattle your teeth out. I know, riding a stiff aluminum hardtail might be part of the problem, but a new helmet is cheaper than a new bike.

I finally decided to replace the Giro with a new bucket, and searched around the local stores until I found one that fit. The box advertised that it had a GPS system! Turns out it had a little thumbwheel on the back that tightens and loosens its grip on the head. They even had the gall to call it a "Global Positioning System." Now, I know I have a somewhat large hat size, but refering to my head as a globe is a bit much. They even put this system on smaller sizes. I had to wonder if they have one that fits Pluto, which isn't even a planet any more. I would have expected that having GPS would help me figure out where I am, but no, all it does is keep the thing in one place. Its no competition for Garmin. A nice feature with this Bell Influx is that it has lots of big vents, which is a good thing in the hot times of Phoenix. I don't recommend it for a long day in the saddle though, because you'll end up with an interesting sunburn design on your globe. I could slather SPF 45 on my bald spot (most of my noggin), but lotion melting and running down into my eyes really sucks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Urban Assault Seattle - Highly Recommended

Sean tells a better story than I do, so for an update of the Urban Assault Bike Ride, I recommend his blog. I thought I'd just add a few pictures.

This ride had a Le Mans start, so here we are setting up our bikes so we can make that flawless grab and hop on. I'm old, fat and I don't believe in running. Sean's heal was sore from an opops at Collonade the day before, so we didn't exactly get out of the gate first.

Sean and Michele took most of the pictures, except this one that I cribbed off someone else's blog. I didn't ask for permission, but the photographer didn't ask for mine before publishing this very compromising shot.

The real culmination of the day was the two laps we took on the "adult sized" big wheels. Ever since the big wheel was invented, I have believed they were completely wasted on children. Now, I know that kids had a lot of fun with them, but kids can have fun with a rock. Big wheels should have been made for the people who bought them, not the rugrats that got to ride them. Finally, my life is complete!

The miniature bicycle, however, is a toy that should never have seen the light of day.

I'm not sure that, until this day, Michele truly understood the mystique of big wheels. Now look closely at this shot. Notice the calm intensity, the angle of the wrists, the leaned back - head forward, hair blowing in the wind created by the awesome power of the machine. I think we've got another convert!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Urban Assault - Seattle

This evening will be my last chance for a training ride before the Urban Assault Bike Ride this Sunday in Seattle. I'm going to do about 10 miles of trails tonight with as much climbing as possible. Tomorrow, I'll be on the morning flight to Seattle, followed by goofing off and getting ready for the race.

So far it looks like Sunday's ride will be about 20 miles, interspersed with a bunch of checkpoints. The weather is expected to be mostly cloudy and temps in the 60s, perfect for this kind of race. This one will be a new experience for me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Piestawa Peak (aka Squaw Peak)

Since I am kind of in training for the Urban Assault Bike Ride next weekend in Seattle, I have been out on my bike every evening for the last week. I started out about 7 pm and rode the trails for about 2 hours. It seemed like I should probably take a rest day, so this morning I figured a good change of pace would be to climb Piestewa Peak. Its about 1200 ft vertical climb over a distance of probably less than 2 miles, and the trail is more like a badly designed staircase than a mountain trail. It is also claimed to be one of the most climbed mountains in the world, probably true since its one of the smallest. Anyway, it is a pretty good hike to the top and back. I didn't time the hike, but it was probably about an hour and a half. On the way down, a lady who had passed me going up and down was climbing slowly back up again, looking all over the trail. I asked her if she'd lost something, and sure enough, she lost her car keys. I said I'd keep an eye out and continued on down. When I got to the bottom, there was a fire truck and crew sitting at one of the Ramadas, so I asked if they knew about lost keys. They said that a young couple had just walked away and had the keys. We got them to come back and told them that the owner was heading back up the mountain looking for them. I described her and the guy took off running up the hill. I hung around and talked with his wife(?) and another person while he gave chase. Now this guy couldn't have been more than 110lbs and 22 years old, but it was still amazing to watch as he ran up the hill after having just finished hiking it. He caught the lady of the lost keys about half way up and brought her back. While he was gone, I found out that they recently moved from Israel to Phoenix. We had an enjoyable talk and hearty congratulations for the runner when he returned.

One thing I have wanted to get a picture of this spring is a Saguaro bloom. Of course, Saguaros bloom at their tops and its really hard to get a shot of the blooms unless you are in a steep place and get above them. Great thing about Piestewa Peak is that its really steep and you can get above the flowers. I took a couple of shots, but without a good telephoto lens, they didn't come out as well as I hoped. It is now something of a quest for me to get a decent picture.

Another great thing about getting up on top of the peak is that you can see most of the trails in the Phoenix Mtn Preserve. I picked out a few that I didn't know existed and figured out how to get to them. Tomorrow's ride could make for an interesting morning.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.7 - Lights

Here in Phoenix, riding in the dark season is arriving. Riding in the dark season is the local answer to keeping up the riding skills in spite of the heat. We are seeing temps in the 90s most days now, and while the low humidity (It’s a dry heat) makes a 90 degree day bearable, the sun is still pretty intense. The solution to the heat is evening riding as the sun sets and finishing up in the dark. Later this summer when lows will be in the 90s, it will be riding at 0-dark-early and finishing up at the butt crack of dawn.

The alternative to night riding is an occasional run up to Prescott or Flagstaff, where the cooler temps make for great summer riding. Gas prices put a damper on too many of those trips, so for Phoenicians night riding is the answer.

Of course, night riding can be a real challenge unless we rely on Thomas Edison and some later inventors. Probably the best theory about night riding is simply, the more light you can throw out in front of your bike, the better. As a cheap rider, there is something to be said for economic balance in the equation. It’s possible to spend $600 to $1000 to get the latest in LED lights and long life batteries that are truly amazing. Some folks I ride with have done exactly that. However, some of the “obsolete” systems work really well for an OFS rider like me.

My first Phoenix light system is a Light & Motion single halogen unit of probably 10w and a strap-on battery pack, loaned to me by Sean. I added to it when I found a Cygolight Night Rover system at REI with a closeout $75 price tag. Having a 20% discount available brought it down to $60. It has 2 bulbs, a 6w and a 10w, and a water bottle battery. Both systems are good for about 2 hours, which is great for me. And, yes, they are heavier than the latest LED systems, but I can take care of that problem by eating fewer Bratwursts at the ballgame.

I started out with the first system on top of my helmet. I found that I did not like that setup because the rocks, ledges and drops all looked two dimensional. The light, being so close to my eyes, eliminated shadows and gave everything a flat appearance. I moved the light to my handlebars, which restored shadows, but limited my field of view to the area the front wheel pointed at. That worked pretty well until I did an endo up on 1A in the preserve. The mount broke and proved to be irreplaceable. Light & Motion had a substitute that I bought. It was while I was at REI trying to get a new mount that I found the Cygolight. At $60, it was a great price. It does look a bit cheesy with a hard shiny plastic case, but it has worked so far. With both lights on, it lays down a good pattern and plenty of light.

I recently started riding with the Light & Motion on my helmet and the Cygolight on the handlebars. Great combination, plenty of light and enough shadowing to keep the terrain in 3D.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Not Riding

I haven't been on the bike since last Sunday and its making me sluggish. On Monday, after 3 days of dirt and road, I decided to take Monday as a rest day. About 9:30 that night I realized I wasn't going to get on the bike until I get back to Phoenix. If I'd realized that at 7 or 8, I would have knocked out some miles that night. Tuesday night was a Diamondbacks game. Wednesday was blood donation. Thursday I was on the plane to Portland. I get back to Phoenix on Tuesday and drive to Laughlin NV for a conference. Next ride will be Thursday night. Unless I can get away for a while in Nevada.

Last Wednesday, a riding buddy called and asked if I wanted to ride. I told him I couldn't because I had just given blood. He said, "Yeah, that's what we're gonna do!" I responded that I really had donated blood and I wasn't going to ride. He said, "I was just gonna donate a few scratches."

So here I sit in Ashland OR. We saw three plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this weekend, "Fences" by August Wilson, "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter" by Julie Marie Myatt, and "Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare. All three were amazing performances and well worth the trip. Today we're going to the "Taste of Ashland," grazing our way through the art galleries with food and wine from the general area. We've been attending the Festival for many years and plant to come back again in October.

I loaded Mr. Klein in my truck and left him at the Phoenix airport. When I get to Laughlin on Tuesday, I'm going to look for anything that resembles a trail and try to get some riding in.

The Urban Assault Bike Ride is coming up in Seattle May 18th. Sean and I are entered. That means I have about two weeks to sluff off the lethargy of vacation and be ready for the challenge. Looks like a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Roadie Day

I've been in Phoenix for 9 months now and have only been on my road bike 3 times before today. I decided to crank out some miles today since its good training for mountain biking. First thing I had to do was pump up the tires, which were a flaccid 20 psi. I normally run these 700x23 tires at 105 psi. It takes a lot of ignoring to have them that far down. Prepped and ready, I left the apartment and caught the bike path that leads past Dreamy Draw and down the bike route to the canal. Since I've been west on the canal from there, I headed east through Scottsdale to a bike path that follows some golf courses and waterways until I figured I was pretty close to Shea, than worked my way west, hitting a few dead ends and backtracking. In all it turned out to be a 30 mile loop, mostly flat. Finished it in a reasonable 2 hours.

I thought it was interesting that when I started out, folks along the way nodded, smiled, and responded to my greetings. By the time I reached Scottsdale, folks rarely acknowledged my existence. Heading back west, folks started responding again. I guess that in Scottsdale, the high fashion area of the Valley of the Sun, the faux pas of mountain biking shoes on a road bike was just too much for them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 6 - Pedals

Remember your first pedals? If so, you're probably a bike nerd. I don't recall mine, but back in my early days of cycling, over fifty years ago, the only kind I remember were the pressed steel frames with rubber blocks bolted to them. They had ball bearings and probably weighed a quarter pound each. That was all I knew until my first 10 speed, which hac steel traps that aren't much different from the platform pedals available today. Somewhere around that time, I added toe clips and straps. Being a commuter and riding my bike to high school in the '60s (true nerd status), I kept the straps loose enough to pull out easily and put a foot down. Toe clips were a big improvement, a fact I came to realize one day when I was riding without them in the rain. My foot slipped off the pedal while standing and I made unforgettable contact with the top tube. The toe clips and straps returned to the bike as soon as I got home.

About 15 years ago, I rode clipless pedals for the first time. I still don't understand why clipless pedals are defined by something they lack instead of what they are. First ride, lean against the garage wall and practice the heel out twist. Take off down the street. Stop at the corner. Fail to clip out. Fall over. On my road bike, I probably fell twice before really getting the hang of it. On my mountain bike, I probably fell 30 times because I couldn't make the action quickly enough. It usually happened while climbing a steep section and losing momentum. Crank, crank, c r a n k, c r a... Crash. Now I almost never ride without clipless pedals.

Regardless of whether I am on my road bike or mountain bike, I use the same kind of pedal. That saves me from having to have 2 pairs of shoes, although the more snobby roadies sniff when they see my utter lack of sensitivity to their culture. Of course, at 56 years, 5'8" and 212lbs, (I think that's like 2.5 stones) my mere presence on the road disturbs their sensibilities. The look of mtn shoes and double sided pedals is just too much for some folks.

I am an SPD guy, simply because its possible to get knockoff SPD pedals for around 20 bucks. When some of the other pedals get that cheap, maybe I'll try them. At that price, the pedals aren't terribly light, and they don't have such niceties as titanium axles. But, they also hang together pretty well. In fifteen years, I've broken only one pedal, and that was part of the clip mechanism.

Maintenance? an occasional shot of WD-40 and a rare dismantling, cleaning and greasing.

The desert is drying out now that its April, but there are some interesting blooms open now.
The first is an Ocotilla bloom, fiery red.

The second is a Prickly Pear bloom. I had never seen either bloom until this Spring. Both are absolutely striking in this desert environment.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

To Red Bull or not to Red Bull

I thought seriously about drinking the complementary can of Red Bull I received at the Lake Pleasant Dam Good Run/Walk/Hike, figuring that maybe I could crank through a couple spots where I usually die out. Then I thought, what if I don't get it to wear off before bedtime? It was 7pm and I rode until about 9, planning to hit the hay by 10:30. I've never drank an energy drink, other than Gatorade. I have also quit drinking coffee in the evening, since it started affecting my sleep. Then I thought, maybe I could clear some of those hills. Then I thought, maybe I'll just get the shakes from it and gain nothing. Then I thought, what the hell...

Then I rode off, leaving the dreaded can of unknown substances in the fridge. I might try it later, or it might sit there until the aluminum corrodes and spills the contents all through the vegetable crisper.

Wonder what its like to clean that stuff up?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 5 - Tires

Or, for those of you who speak the King's english, Tyres. Actually, I intended to talk about rims this time, but in my last post, I said just about all that needs to be said. Round, smooth, strong, light weight. Beyond that, a rim is a rim.

Tires (tyres) on the other hand, actually make a difference. And the biggest difference is whether or not they go flat. Maybe its really how often they go flat, since all of them seem to do that. I look at the catalogs, peruse the magazines, and search the web pages, and there isn't really much said about that.

I run with tubes, mainly because I'm cheap and tubeless is one of those things that would lead me to replacing the whole bike, but also because tubeless tires seem to flat a lot more than tube tires. On group rides here in Phoenix, it seems like the flats are almost always tubeless. Folks use gooey stuff like Stans (whatever that is) or Slime, but the flats keep coming. I've had pretty good luck with tubes, only flatting 3 or 4 times since I moved here in August. Since having fun on a bike depends on air in the tires, I'm good with that.

In the world of mountain biking, there is a vast array of tires to choose from. There are compounds, tread patterns, threads per inch, kevlar and wire beads... Its all too confusing. I like to keep it simple. I look for kind of a blocky tread and a price tag at or below $14. Right now I am riding a set of Panaracer Fire XC Smoke Something or Others that I found for $12.95 each. They wear pretty well and the traction is good. The only drawback is that when gravel on the trail is a certain size, these tires pick up rocks and throw them all over the place.

Rolling resistance is one of those criteria bandied about in tire reviews. In my case, the largest cause of rolling resistance has something to do with the 212 pounds I carry around, and probably a lot less to to with the way tires are made. I cut rolling resistance by putting a whole lot of air in the tires, like 40 psi front and 45 psi rear. Although it makes the bike skittish, it also makes it roll easy. High pressure also seems to minimize flats, which goes back to one of the most important things about any tire, keeping air on the inside and foreign objects on the outside.

Its looking like a great evening for a ride, temp will be 75 in another hour or so, and I'm rested up from this morning's "Dam Good Run/Walk/Hike" up at Lake Pleasant. One of the give-aways at the event was a can of Red Bull, something I've never even tasted before. I'm debating whether to drink it before the ride. Could be like turbocharging a '62 Ford Falcon without fixing the brakes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.4 - Hubs

Went out for an afternoon ride today, temp 85 and the trails were deserted. There's a trail I've ridden before in the Preserve that climbs up to a point near the A&W house. Once I get there I saw a cactus flower on up the hill to the west. I hadn't been that way before, so up I went, carrying Mr. K up the steep and rocky trail. After getting this shot of the flower, I contimued up to the top of the trail where there was a stone bench. My first thought seeing the bench was, great, there must be a reasonable trail down the other side. Not so. I toted Mr. K up and over a ridge, traversed a steep sidehill, over another ridge, then down a steep rocky switchback descent that only a really stupid rider would actually attempt on a bike. I picked up a familiar trail after about a half mile and continued my pedaling. While carrying Mr. K, I had the opportunity to gaze upon his hubs and contemplate their purpose.

So, what is it that we ask of hubs? Not much. We want them to rotate around an axle and do it with as little friction as possible. We also want them to do it for a long, long time. Mr. K's hubs have been doing exactly that for as long as I've owned the bike. They are the originals. The front is a Trek System 2. Trek used to do this thing where components were sold as System 1, 2 or 3. I don't remember whether 1 or 3 was best, but I do know that 2 was not. Anyway, I tear it down about twice a year, clean, regrease and reassemble it, and it seams to be just fine. Glad I didn't spend extra to get the 1 or the 3.

The rear hub is a Shimano STX RC. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that, just like the front hub, the rear has held up since 1997 with a semi-annual cleaning, regreasing and reassembly. I really can't complain. There's no significant friction, it doesn't get sloppy after a few rides, and has never needed adjustments between maintenance sessions. Back in the last century when I was a regular bike commuter, I used to go through a set of hubs about every 2 years. That rate destruction included both steel hubs, which were total crap, as well as alloy hubs, which were better, but still didn't have much of a life span.

I wasn't going to discuss other components in this session, but I can't help it. I've been through several rims in my life and, other than the major preference for aliminum over steel, any well constructed rim is fine for me. So I bought my current set of rims from Nashbar because they were double wall and pretty cheap. The thing I like best about them is that they are Sun "MACH IV"!!! Keeping in mind that I am old fat & slow, what in the hell am I doing with rims that say "MACH IV" on them? I estimate that the fasted I have ever ridden this bike is Mach 0.0267, or about 20 mph, 32 kph for the rest of the world. Isn't Mach I something like 750 mph at sea level. If that's true, these rims ought to be good for 3000 mph. Aparently I still have a lot of conditioning to do before I am able to squeeze the maximum performance out of these rims. I could be like Anthony Hopkins in "The World's Fastest Indian."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 3 - Brakes

Subtitled, "Oh my god, how do I stop this thing?"

When it comes to stopping a bike, I am a bit of a luddite. I have ridden two bikes with disc brakes, one was a Jamis Dakar, borrowed from Dr. Michele for a coupe rides in Phoenix, and the other was a Salsa El Mariachi, belonging to my son, Sean, which I rode about 100 yards. I've used center and side pull road brakes, cantelever brakes and a few kinds of V brakes. The absolute worst were center pull road brakes on steel rims in the rain. Commuting rain or shine in Portland, okay rain or cloudy, I had a morning descent down a hill on Portland's Interstate hill. With that setup, the only way to stop when wet was to begin braking at the top of the hill, keep full pressure all the way down, then drag feet at the bottom, ala Fred Flintstone. The alternative was to say a few Hail Mary's and hope to god the light would be green at the bottom. It was an experience designed to maintain high blood pressure for the rest of the day.

Everything beyond that brake setup was an improvement. I eventually evolved to V brakes and even put a Shimano XTR brake on the front of Mr K. I used the XTR for a couple of years, but never got rid of squeal or a nasty scraping sound that told me I was chewing through the front rim. Somewhere along the way, I read something that said the XTR pads were designed for ceramic coated rims. Knowing that ceramics are used for plates and bowls, I couldn't imagine riding around on a dinner plate. So I backslid and put the original STX brake back on the Mr. K. It squealed no matter how I adjusted it, so I used that noise as my bike bell. Coming up behind a pedestrian? Hit the brake, EERRRCH. Enough noise to scare anyone.

A few months ago, I bought some brake pads at a mini-mall bike shop at 67th Ave and Deer Valley in Glendale AZ. At $7 a pair, I thought they were pretty reasonable. They turned out to be the best pads I've ever had. They never squeal and they have great stopping power and modulation. I need to go buy a bunch of them, 'cause with my luck, they'll be discontinued just before I need another set.

I thought about going to discs once, and started to add up what it would take; in addition to the brake sets, new hubs, new fork with attachment points, new frame with attachment points... Wait a minute, that sounds like a whole new bike! Maybe when Mr. K gives up the ghost.

An intriguing feature of the brake levers on Mr. K are the little stickers that say Servo-Action and the little bolt that fits in 3 positions, kind of like a pair of channel lock pliers. Having been around the block a few times, I know what a Servo is, and I understand the concept of Action as oposed to stasis, so I experimented with the positions and absolutely could not tell a difference between them. Being a middle of the road kind of guy, I set the bolt in the middle position and there it stays. Servo-Action. Damn marketing geeks can't leave anything alone!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 2 - Forks

No, this isn’t a discussion of Forks Washington, a logging community in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Remember, this is a biking blog. We’re talking suspension forks. My experience with them consists of 2 forks in the last 15 years. The first was an original Rock Shox air sprung fork that fit a 1 inch threaded headset. A friend in Spokane gave it to my son, Sean, but it didn’t fit his bike. We stuck it on my first mtn bike, eliminating the original rigid fork. Having ridden motorcycles in the early days, I kind of understood the value of suspension, but didn’t really think it would make much difference on a bicycle. Willing to give it a try, and knowing the cost was $0, what I found out was a revelation. Forks are worth the fiddling and the cost, at least they used to be until they got to be more expensive than the bike itself. I rode on that fork for about 7 years, until it blew a seal. Rebuild kit on a 7 year old fork? Forget it!

My second fork is the one pictured. It’s a Rock Shox Indy XC, and came with my Klein Hardtail. I haven’t pulled it apart since a few days after I bought the bike, but if I remember correctly, it has a metal spring and some neoprene spacers. The first thing I noticed was that the sag with me on the bike took up about half the travel, which was only about 80mm, if that. I started checking around to see if there was some kind of spring kit or spacers that could compensate for my weight. The fork was about 3 years old by then. Kits for a 3 year old fork? Forget it!

This called for a trip to the basement. I found a wooden dowel with a diameter that fit well into the shock tube. I cut two pieces about 1 inch long and dropped one in each tube, then reassembled the fork. Yeah, it reduced overall travel, but it reduced sag to less than ¼ of the overall travel and still seemed to work ok.

One thing to worry about with suspension forks is cracks and breakage. Losing a fork during some hairy descent result in a pretty ugly situation, and being ugly enough already, I don’t need to add to the image. I inspect the fork regularly, especially around the steerer tube, saddle, and fork tube tops. So far, there is no bending, cracking or wear that would warn me of potential failure. So far so good.

I got together with some guys for a full moon ride last night in the preserve. We made up a group of 7, me being the geezer, 4 guys in their early 40s and two who were 9 or 10. The two little guys dropped out after about 45 minutes and their dads escorted them home, joining us a short time later for another hour of riding. It never got bright enough to kill the lights, but it was a beautiful, warm evening with some guys who turned out to be a lot of fun. It was definitely my kind of ride, intermediate difficulty with a bunch of guys who weren’t out to impress anyone. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol. 1

As promised, product review #1 looks at a 1997 Klein Pulse RACE. Back in the days before Klein got busted for an EPA violation, closed up shop and sold out, they made some pretty cool bikes. Of course, their price tags were not something that a cheapskate family guy like me could choke down. Even so, Klein was the holy grail of mountain bikes. As Klein tried to increase market share, they did an Elliot Spitzer and hopped in bed with Trek. (Spitzer is Governor of NY. Check your current events)

The progeny of this unholy alliance was the Pulse, and Pulse Race. It's really kind of like the deal Porsche made with VW in introducing the 914 to an unsuspecting American public. OK, I owned one of those too, a long time ago.

In spite of this inbreeding, the red-framed step child Pulse Race is a pretty good bike. It consists of an incredibly stiff aluminum frame with the fattest chainstays I've ever seen on a hardtail. They're so fat... How fat are they?... It also has a wheel in front, a wheel in back, a Shimano STX gruppo (note the Italian?) with a bunch of gears, a Rock Shox Indy XC fork and a seat I came up with somewhere else because I didn't like the seat that came with it. Mr. K weighs about 24 lbs, let's see, standing on the scale with the bike 236. Without the bike 212. 6-2=4, 3-1=2, 2-2=0, yep 24 lbs. Did I say this bike is stiff? I'll tell you, this bike is stiffer than a fundamentalist preacher in a house of ill repute. In the rocky terrain of Phoenix, it allows every rock, whether pebble or boulder, full opportunity for expression. This bike teaches its victim, er rider to adopt a butt off the seat, hands loose on the bars riding style. It's more fidgety than a 2nd grader in singing class.

Over the years, I've worn out a few chains, a couple of cassettes, shifters, pedals, and brake pads, but the core bike just keeps on going.

Mr. K meets by criterion for quality, just like a car or truck, you don't really know about its true quality until its passed well beyond 100,000 miles, a bike's quality reveals itself as it enters its second decade.

I bought the bike from Midwest Cyclery in Kansas City MO in 2000. It had suffered through an ignominious existance as a rental bike until I took it home. In fact, I was the last person to rent it. My daughter's then boyfriend (last name Klein) was going to join Sean and me at the local fat tire festival at Landahl Park but had no bike. Sean Flew in from Spokane sans bike, so I rented a carbon fiber Gary Fisher and the Klein. Klein rode the Klein and Sean rode the GF. After the first lap, Klein gave up, so I took the Klein and did a second lap. I liked the responsiveness and handling, and decided that the Klein must be mine. Fortunately, Klein and my daughter broke up and she found a great guy who is way too smart to go mountain biking with Sean and me. I ended up with the Klein a couple months later after haggling with Bob at Midwest Cyclery. It might have been my imagination, but I was sure I saw a tear in his eye as I wheeled the Klein out the door.

Notice how in this picture, Mr. K looks like a Sixty-Niner?

And in this shot it seems to be a Ninety-Sixer?

Talk about versatility!

Gear Reviews, Everyone's doing it, so Why Not?

Since everyone’s doing it, I might as well jump on the bandwagon and start writing product reviews. There is a caveat; I have a philosophy about biking that probably doesn’t match that of those who build and sell bikes and accessories. In fact, it probably doesn’t match with most people who are at all serious about cycling. Here it is; Cycling should be FUN and CHEAP. You want expensive, go buy something with lots of horsepower. I started riding bikes when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and lapsed only for things like the Vietnam War and a tower construction job that had me travelling through the western states.

When I started grade school, the 10 mile barefoot walk uphill both ways through ten feet of snow was actually 4 blocks and took me past Weir’s Cycle and Hobby Shop in Portland. Ken Weir ran the shop and his dad, who I think founded it in the ‘20s, still worked there. They had bikes, models, RC airplanes, slot cars, and all kinds of stuff that excited the imagination. On top of that, they had the patience of Job (biblical reference) with kids like me, who would stop in, gawk, ask questions, test ride bikes and be a general nuisance. Only occasionally did I have enough money to actually buy something. Over the years, I eventually bought a half dozen bikes and various parts from Weir’s, and I still think they epitomized what a bike shop should be.

Anyway, in keeping to my philosophy of FUN and CHEAP, I’m going to start reviewing products I have experience with. Don’t expect to see reviews of the latest Specialized S-Works 16 inch travel 69r or Chris King headsets, XTR components (with one exception), or the hottest high end Fox doo-dah racing fork. I am, by nature, a skinflint. I think it comes from a heritage that includes Norwegian and Scottish, along with various other Anglo-Saxon ancestors. In the 15 years or so that I commuted by bike in Portland, rain or shine, I generally kept track of the cost, which worked out to $5 a month, including the 3 bikes I went through, rain suits, tires, etc. Certainly cheaper than the bus and faster too!

Nowadays, I can afford to splurge a bit more, but FUN and CHEAP still prevails. CHEAP should really be in a larger font, more like CHEAP. I ride a Fuji Finest steel road bike from about 1999 and a Klein Pulse Race from 1997, bought used in ‘99 or ’00. I still consider both bikes as major splurges. I think I paid $650 for the brand new Fuji and $700 for the used Klein. The thought of paying more than a thou for something without a motor just doesn’t seem right. Next Post – Review #1 Klein Pulse RACE.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A little stiff

Woke up a little stiff this morning after my T100 mini-epic. I met up with a family friend for lunch and then drove to the airport from Scottsdale. She was in town for a conference and didn't know I was here until she talked to Sarah on Saturday. Her folks are old friends from Spokane and it was great to catch up.

Later in the afternoon, after the old bones had loosened up a bit, I took off on the road bike, explored the neighborhood a bit, then caught the bike path from 32nd at the 51 and rode it down to the canal. Followed the canal back to 7th St, up 7th to Cave Creek, to Thunderbird and back to the apartment. In all, about 15 miles. It was not at all strenuous, and it sure helped loosen things up.

This is only the 3rd time I've been on the road bike since moving to Phoenix last August. After all the mountain biking, it is really kind of surprising how much easier it is to maintain reasonable speed on hills. Certainly not fast by any definition, but I'm comparing it to the 4.5 years in Kansas, where you figure out which way the wind is blowing, ride against it for an hour, or until boredom sets in, then turn around and pray that the wind doesn't shift 180 degrees before you get home. Kansas isn't completely flat, but if you stand on a beer can, you can see Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma as you spin around (until the can crushes). Riding in Kansas is more of a chore than a fun activity. Around Wichita and Clearwater, where we lived, mountain biking consists of riding the dirt/gravel roads between the wheat fields. Road biking consists of riding the paved roads between the wheat fields. Although that's not entirely true, there are also fields of corn, milo, soy, cotton, and occasionally sunflowers.

There are actually some good trails around Topeka and Lawrence, Perry lake comes to mind, but good riding in Kansas is a long drive from Clearwater. I much prefer the 1 mile commute to the 32nd St trailhead.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

T100 mini-epic

In spite of my OTB excursion on Thursday and getting in no other riding in a week, I went ahead with my plan to do T100 from 32nd St to 7th Ave to Tatum and back to 32nd. I figured a little over 5 hours should do it. Left the apartment at 10:15 and was on the trail by 10:20. I thought I did pretty well, clearing everything except a couple of hike-a-bikes between Dreamy Draw Park and Cave Creek. I made it to 7th Ave and back to the North Mtn Visitor's center by 12:15. Rested a bit and talked to my sweetie for a few minutes, then back on the trail. Got another call from a neighbor from my last apartment, just east of Cave Creek. She was excited and out to tell the world that she got an internship in Belgium for the summer.

Made it to Dreamy Draw, and was starting to drag a bit. Just at the top of the steep section of Dreamy Draw, I got another call, this time from my neighbor's dad, telling me that she got an internship in Belgium. Having just cleared the steep section, I was panting like a dehydrated puppy dog and could hardly talk. Told him I'd call back after my ride.

By the time I reached Tatum, I was really dragging. Sat around for a few minutes, drank some water and hit the trail back to the west. Made it back to the apartment at 2:50. The whole ride took 4 hours and 40 minutes. I'm sure there are few riders out there who can make that trip slower than me.

Fortunately for me, the apartment complex has a hot tub, which felt very good. Even after the hot tub though, my legs feel a lot like the weeks of daily doubles of high school football. Might take it easy tomorrow and go play roadie for a few miles.

For those who don't know, T100 is a trail through the Phoenix Mountain Preserves. Its generally an easy trail with a few tough sections and a lot of rocky areas. Makes for a good old fart riding trail.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Over the Bars

So, last night, with the telephone network operating properly, I escaped from the office by 5:30 and was on the trails by 6:00, lights ready, battery charged and looking for a good 2 hour ride. I worked my way up to the high point on trail 1A and headed east after a stop to look at the evening view. As I was picking my way through a rocky spot, I got a little too far forward on the bike and allowed the front wheel to land in one of those nicely formed spots that pretty closely match the circumference of the wheel. Naturally, the wheel stopped just as the laws of physics intended. The rest of the and I attempted to continue on. Since the front wheel was still attached to the rest of the bike, the rear wheel chose the path of least resistance, which of course was up and over the front wheel. That decision by the rear wheel left me with only 1 decision, how to make contact with the surrounding terrain in a manner that would allow me to get back up somewhat intact. Fortunately for me, the tumble didn't damage any of the local flora, nor did the local flora have the opportunity to damage me. The bike remained intact. The only damage was to a bracket that holds the headlight to the handlebars. The light still works, but without a way to hold the light in place, it was time to head home. The two hour ride turned out to be about 50 minutes. Now the trick is finding a new bracket for the light, although I am pretty good with a roll of duct tape.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Riding Plans Gone Awry

My plan for the weekend was to ridw T100 end to end to end. That didn't happen. I joined up with a group ride that began at Dreamy Draw and spanned about 17-18 miles of the Phx Mtn Preserve. We were an older group (youngest age 45), so we stopped often, chatted and had a generally good time. We spent about 4 hours riding. Great weather, great fun.

Since I didn't do my planned ride on Saturday, I figured I'd do it on Sunday. As it turned out, I spent the day working on telephone network problems up north of Lake Pleasant. I've spent 3 days now driving back and forth on the back roads trying to fix a pretty intractible trouble. Hopefully, we'll figure it out tomorrow and things will get back to their normally hectic pace. With any luck, I'll do my T100 mini-epic ride next weekend.

One great thing about my job is that I get out of the office fairly often and there is some beautiful scenery where I work. I took these shots along the way on Sunday.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Desert Classic and a little T100

Yesterday was a gorgeous day that topped out about 68. MTBR Arizona showed a group ride at 10:am, Desert Classic starting at the Pima Canyon trailhead. Since it was listed as a c-ride, I figured what the heck, I should be able to fit it in between running around to the baseball stadiums buying tickets for spring training. Arriving at the trailhead, I found every parking space full. Managed to find a spot near the park entrance that didn't say you could park there, nor did it say you couldn't. Rode up to th emeet point, arriving at 9:55. Waited around for about 10 minutes and began to think the ride wasn't going to happen. Started out on my own solo group ride. Desert Classic is an interesting trail with lots of whoop-dee-doos and not much climbing. The trail marker posts are numbered, b ut I don't know what the numbers mean. Seemed like 1/10s of a mile, but they weren't very evenly spaced. Anyway, I rode out to marker 54and started back. Met up with 3 guys who were there for the group ride, two were still outbound and 1 was coming back. The returner and I hooked up and headed back to the parking lot. I'm not sure, but I think the ride was 12-14 miles. One thing I've noticed is that c-riders tend to go faster than I do. I guess I'm more of a d+ rider. I can usually keep my wheels between me and the ground in the terrain they ride, but I'm a hell of a lot slower.

Today, I was dragging around, doing chores and running errands. Got out on the bike about 3:00pm and wenmd looking for a T100 trailhead near the apartment. I found one at 24th St, but it turned into a rough climb that I wasn't really up for. Pushed the bike up and found a meet with T100. From there I headed west to the power lines, then back east, up Dreamy Draw and down to the 32nd St Trailhead. Made it back to the apaartment in time to listen to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" on the local NPR station.

I'm thinking next weekend I might do all of T100, starting at 32nd, heading west to 7th Ave, east to Tatum, and back to 32nd St. Its about 20 miles, so I'm thinking (don't laugh) 4 to 5 hours, followed by a good soak in the apartments' hot tub.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Helmet

If that title grabbed you, you really need to find something more interesting to do. Before I start on that subject though, I think its interesting that, according to Google Analytics, I had a visitor from Casoria, Italy, evidently part of the Naples metro area. That adds to the USA, Finland, Yemen, Australia and New Zealand since I started playing with Analytics. I'm easily entertained.

This weekend I shopped for a new helmet, since the one I've been wearing is about 8 years old, smelly, and probably not as effective as it should be. I've been wearing bike helmets ever since they became generally available, probably over 30 years ago. In that time I've only landed on the helmet once. I was on my daily commute in Portland and running a bit late. Along my route, there was a small dog that would spot me and run down off his porch, barking and trying to catch me. because it was a slight downhill, I always had enough speed that he never quite got to me. One morning, he got smart and hid behind a trailer parked on the street. Seeing me coming, he jumped out of his hiding spot crouched down and started barking. Being late, I was pushing pretty hard and doing about 25 mph. Dog and I locked eyes and panic. Dog can't figure out which way to go, spins around darts abck and forth looking for a place to hide. I can't figure out which way to swerve because dog hasn't made up his mind. Time's up. My front wheel hits him and I go over the bars, landing helmet first and tumbling about 3 times before I stop. The wheel is taco'd, my neck hurts, I'm scraped up, but my brains are only slightly scrambled, thanks to Mountain Safety Research (MSR). I got up, straightened the wheel as much as possible, and wobbled on in to work. Never saw the dog again. I think I made out better than he did.

The old MSR helmet was a lexan hard shell, basically a mountaineering helmet modified for cycling. The lexan held up pretty well and never developed any cracks, so I wore it for a long time.

So there I am, looking for a new helmet. Now, I don't really like to admit it, but my skull is large enough to have its own gravitational pull. I tried on several "Large" and "Universal" size helmets and found out that those sizes refer to large and universal pinheads, not the manly skull that I sport. I did find a Bell Influx that fits my noggin and is actually comfortable. The silly thing is, this helmet has "GPS," which aparently has nothing to do with global position systems. It refers to a little knob on the back that tightens a strap and firmly positions the helmet on my globe. Another thing that I like is the placement of pads inside the helmet. When I ride, I sweat like nobody else. The sweat runs down my forehead and drips on my glasses (coke bottles, really). Its one of those annoying things that I've put up with for years. This new helmet seems to direct the flow down my nose and misses the lenses. You might think that sweat dripping down your nose ain't such a great thing, but not having to stop and wipe sweat off my glasses with a damp tail of my shirt, then see the world through smears is a major improvement. I'd rather wipe my nose any day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

South Mountain

Figuring that the Super Bowl and cloudy day would keep the crowds away, I made a run at South Mountain yesterday. Arriving at the Pima Canyon entrance, it was obvious that I was wrong. There must have been 200 cars on the access road and in the parking lot. Fortunately, a few football fans must have already left, 'cause I was able to park pretty close to the trailhead. Not knowing my way around, I opted to follow the gravel road that continues up into the park. after about a mile, the road ended and two trails led off into the hills. One was marked "National" and the other was marked "Mormon" with the second m scratched out. Having heard tales about National, I chose Morxon. It was mostly climbing, but not too severe. Being a geezer, I wheezed along as much as possible and pushed the bike where needed. I met up with National after a mile or so, then followed it until I figured it was a smart time to turn back.

These are some very cool trails, but in many places simply more difficult than I am willing to ride. Some interesting erosion is taking place along the way. A couple sections have turned into a single rut about 2 feet deep and not much wider than the width of my pedals. I don't know how it would be possible to recover those areas, since the rains probably wash any loose stuff away and continued use will just make them deeper.

I was surprised at the amount of traffic on the trails, both foot and bike. Looks like folks are loving it to death. It must be a circus on SoMo when the weather's good.