Sunday, December 30, 2007


The cessation of hostilities 'between governments' is not the same as if the sentence read 'between cultures,' or 'between tribes.' Nor does the cessation of chemical input equate physical dependence to psychological dependence.
Stepping away from a physical addiction is similar to a government cease-fire; easy to enforce, easy to follow. Until emotions get in the way. That's when the tribal, ritual, cultural dependence comes into play. Expressions like, "It's always been that way," "That's how we do it," "Gimmeafuckinsmokenow," become the mantra of the defenders of the faith. Ritual memories boil forth, tethering the want-and-desire to the psyche of the victim.
Once the rebels have access to these memories, the struggle becomes harder. The physical body, chemically clean, must suddenly suffer the manifestation of the tribe's pain. Physical discomfort coupled with the psychological attacks threaten the government stronghold, the capitol, the palace.

"What the hell does this have to do with bicycles?"
Not much, except that I quit smoking about four days ago, which will improve both my cycling, and my enjoyment of cycling. Not to mention the air around me, the way I interact with people, the number of years I get to ride my bikes...
...but which has also got me eating most everything I see, squirting herbal remedies reminiscent of the ass-end of an ashtray in the back of my throat, and chewing on a meerschaum cigarette holder in a pale mimicry of Hunter S. Thompson.
My next post will probably be a detailed description of the dead, black cells I cough up when I ride.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Loss of Etiquette

Frame preparation is a lost art. So many bikes come straight out of a box, partially assembled, and the shop lubes, checks , and tightens, and *bam* it's a bike. Even though many, probably most, shops do custom builds; a bare frame and a selection of parts, very few have the tools once deemed necessary to properly assemble a bicycle. I am referring to the "facers and chasers", those precision t-handled monstrosities that (hopefully) live in a suitcase of sorts. If you're fortunate, the suitcase is wood and has 'Campagnolo' burned into it. If you are somewhat fortunate, like me, they say 'Park' and you got the box elsewhere.
One tool served the purpose of chasing the bottom bracket threads; making sure they were clean, and cut well. Another cut the faces of the bottom bracket shell to a smooth parallel, and another performed that same function on the head tube.
Some would argue that this is an unnecessary step, that it exposes raw metal; never a good thing, especially on steel. The bare metal is easily solved by a couple coats of lacquer. Unnecessary? Not if you want your headset and bottom bracket to work as designed. In both cases you have two sets of bearings working in tandem at opposite ends of a piece of tubing. Any variation from parallel puts strain on two points in the system, creating drag and wearing those areas unevenly. This equates to more work, less efficiency, and the need to replace parts more often. Systems such as Grease Guard© are designed to last many years longer that sealed systems, yet a slight, uneven pressure can wear down a bearing cup very quickly, destroying the system.
I admit that I am fortunate to have access to these tools. It's why I build my own toys. But shops have access to these tools, also, and while they are expensive initially, the added degree of mastery to your final product will more than justify the expense.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Twisting Nipples

The act of building a bicycle wheel (or any spoked wheel, for that matter) is somewhat spiritual, somewhat zen. There is a symbiosis between the parts and the builder; a hoop of fragile aluminum, a machined heart, a bundle of bent wires with threaded ends, and a crusty human of questionable morals. With care and attention these parts suddenly transform into a solid, lightweight (relatively speaking) balance point for the rest of the assembly. And if building a wheel seems sublime, riding that wheel adds exponentially to the feeling.
To ride, to comprehend the physics that keep you aloft, to have had a direct hand in the physics involved. The only thing better is to build a set of wheels, sign them, and then see them again, years later, when they come through the shop for a tube or minor truing.
If I knew I could pay the bills, I would willingly take a year off to do nothing but build wheels.

"Light, strong, cheap; pick any two." - Keith Bontrager

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today was the first off-road ride I have done in over a year. And my body is reminding me, very pointedly, of that truism. I was hoping for some of the previously described snow, but no luck; it stayed warm and we got rain. Which meant that everything was a complete mud-bog. Climbs with traction were still a no-traction situation due to the build-up on the tires. At one point I couldn't even get the bike to move there was so much gunk and gravel packed into the brakes. But it was fun. "Oh-yeah-this-is-why-I-did-this-for-years" kind of fun. It definitely won't be another year before I do it again.
It was an odd adjustment getting on old faithful after riding a cross bike for the last few months. Such a different feel. It wasn't noticeable on the trail, since that's what the bike is set up for, but riding the road to the trailhead and back felt like I was on a kid's BMX bike. Then there were all those gears...
My legs have definitely strengthened, and some skills are still sharp, but many of my skills are vacationing in Tortuga, and my black lungs have expatriated to Tuscany, with little chance of returning. I've got to get off the smokes if I ever hope to be able to breathe properly again.
Hell, I'm so beat that I think I'll join the Tuesday Night Frolic this week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Let's get this straight; I really don't enjoy snow. I have never found, or understood, the fascination of spending hours and dollars for no other reason than snow. This is a prejudice based almost entirely on environment. Snow was never a large part of my upbringing, being a desert rat. It came sometimes. If you woke up early and looked out the window, it was beautiful. By the time you went to school, or at least by recess, it was slush. In all other matters it was an inconvenience. As an adult, I managed to avoid snow for nearly a decade.
However comma
There is an insane fascination for riding a mountain bike in the snow. The patchy sections that have a particular crunch when your tire breaks the crust for the first time. The crazed descents when your only brakes are the nearest drift; burying your tires until you can steer back onto the ice-pack again. Big, fat flakes coming out of nowhere on a sunny Winter ride, splatting wetly on your glasses. Riding from the warmth of the parking lot to a full-blown blizzard, and back again. Finding out that smooth, flat section of snow actually hides a 5-foot hole.
Again, I can blame environment. Northern New Mexico is a haven for "interesting" weather. Only here could I have experienced certain weather phenomena, ridiculous climactic changes. An adaptable climate, for me, because it's still desert. High desert, yes, but in many aspects it's the same zone as my childhood. With elevation.
So, as always, I welcome the snow in the mountains. But I'd really rather not find it on my doorstep.

Friday, November 23, 2007


The bells of St.Francis sound the hour, and from my porch I can hear them perfectly. A little distance, a little elevation. Even with the light snow, and the damping effect it has, the tone and timbre come through completely. Actually far nicer than when you're pedaling by.
But I pedal by often. I like the park, the architecture, the details. Get off, lock up, take a little walk around and pay attention for a minute. There are a lot of buildings like that here, old buildings, elaborate details. You could spend hours sketching the layers. You can spend hours on one doorway.
Riding a bike around downtown gives you the chance to see these buildings, and the freedom to stop on a dime and enjoy a new treasure. Sundays are the best because no one is working, the crowds are usually mellower, traffic's a bit lighter. Old, government buildings are the best for details; our penchant for excess, especially during the territorial days (which coincide with British Victorian excess), left a legacy of millwork that boggles many a modern mind. The East entrance of the Bataan Building is a perfect example. It took me over an hour to sketch the mouldings above the door. There are so many layers, so many elements stacked, both vertically and horizontally, that the process of deconstructing them is nearly as involved as the original drawings must have been.
I like to keep both a journal and a sketchbook in my bag, though I usually end up with one or the other. Sketches on lined paper, notes on blank sheets... Having separate volumes isn't a requirement, but it makes file searches easier in the future. It is insane how many times I have gone to look for a note, or a sketch, and had to go through six or seven different Moleskine's to find it.
But the point here is; carry something to record your visions, your discoveries. We are fortunate Santa Fe is a very old city, and many of us are jaded to it's beauty. Those of you reading in other cities and towns probably have equally amazing treasures. The idea is to go out and find them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And A Big Shout Out...

I just received two custom-made cycling caps from Spokepunchers. I've worn a few in my time, and laughed at many-a-more, but these are the nicest, best fitting, bike hats I've ever worn.
Check the site; Casey does more than hats, but bikes (and dinosaurs) are at her core.

The Snowball Effect

It's a good thing I like building wheels...
When I got the Wester Ross collection, there was a spare set of wheels for 035; Record hubs on some bad-weld Weinmann rims. I clipped them immediately for use on 321. Then I put my brain in gear. The spare hubs are 40-hole.
Frame 321 was designed for a 26 x 1-3/8 wheel (hard to find a decent rim these days). Some research uncovered that the newly-popularized 650b rim will work. The ERD is only 5mm smaller, and the only readily available rim has an 11mm brake surface. Yeah...
Of course, it doesn't come in a 40-hole version. But it does come 36. The wheels on 035 are 36. I can get rims for 035 in 40-hole.
Anyone else realize the snowball's rolling down the hill?
So on top of the wheelset I'm getting ready to lace for the "sports car" project, I have two '70s Campy-based wheelsets to build.
Good thing I have three built sets in storage in case another project rears it's ugly head.

like a certain road bike frame...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mas Wrenching

DB and I continued our "burnout" discussion today. In many ways, he's a salesman. But I mean that in a good way. He's also an accomplished wrench, a tour guide, a store owner. And this is part of what has kept it fresh for him. He's changed locations, changed demographics, changed the way he does business. He wouldn't go back to our "old life" to save his soul. He found an equation that works; that answers the question.
We were also discussing a project I have going; my "sports car" bike. As I described my plans he laughed. "You are Projects, bro," he said. "that's your niche. The project man. No out-of the-box for you."
He's right, I adore custom builds. They are the reason I became a wrench in the first place. When someone looks at factory specs for hours and realizes they want to build from the ground up, select every piece of the bike from all the available parts, that's my cue. I want to help them. Function or fashion, techno or retro, call me. Let's stare at catalogs, debate calculations, compare sizes, ponder colors. The two-week build, the two-month build. The epitome.
I sound like fucking Martha Stewart...

To Wrench Or Not To Wrench

The transformation is becoming too complete; I am actually missing being a wrench. Indeed, I'm considering asking a friend who owns a shop if he needs another wrench. Not full-time, mind you, I'm not that far gone yet, and I love what I do now. Maybe one day a week, maybe only a half-day. Something.
We had this discussion about burnout today; the combined effects of both working and riding in the same life. It knocked me out of the "industry", taking my ride with it. It's happening to another friend of ours as we speak. I'll bet some doughnuts we aren't the only ones.
It wasn't so much about everyone in the biz, it was more about the service side of the picture. If you're a salesman first, the survival rate is considerably higher. Retail sales is only enhanced by a love of the product. A true salesman can sell... anything, whereas a wrench is a singularly-minded creature in many respects.
Many people work on their own bikes, a fair number get paid for it at some point in their lives, and a few make a career of it. The more you do it, the more you enjoy it, and the first one's usually free. Then somewhere down the road you apply to be paid to do it; a "pro" under certain legal headings. From there, the trail usually forks several ways...
You wrench for a while, and you're done.
You wrench for a while, and always keep it sharp as a fall-back.
You wrench.
It's that last group that seems to have the highest rate of burnout. Constantly attempting to save the dignity of well-made bikes, as well as trying to bring big-box zombies back to life. You begin by trying to save the world, keep them all running. Then you learn the difference. Certain brands evoke an instant response, good or bad. That's normal, it's a survival instinct. Sometimes it stops there, sometimes it grows into prejudice. You begin to judge your customers by the condition of their ride. Judge, jury, and executioner.
The last stage is contempt. That's the killer; the end of your career path, because once you get there you hold the machine in as much contempt as the populace. And you walk away. Some never return, but I, for one, am glad I came back. I have rediscovered two of the simplest pleasures in my life; riding for no other reason than to ride, and tweaking my steed to my own, personal specs.
Maybe I just miss the dirty fingerprints etched into my callouses. They are finally beginning to fade after three-and-a-half years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Traffic Rant

There are days when I wonder if every driver is drunk. And then there are days when I know they are. But that is "Santa"; realize it before you hit the streets, or pay dearly. If the other cars are invisible, be damn sure you are, too. And therein lies the heart of the problem.
People do everything in their cars except drive. Phone, computer, DVD, GPS, BJ, eat, makeup, nails, toenails, red light... "Bicycle? What bicycle?" And then it's our fault because we were "invisible." Forget the fact that you have the equivalent of 60 watts of halogen power on your bike, more reflective tape than a firefighter, and a divider between your lane and theirs; you were invisible. And it's your fault.
This town needs to wake up and enforce it's own regulations. The average driver thinks bike lanes are skinny turn lanes designed to piss them off. Or an escape route when the speed humps threaten their ground effects. A lane without enforcement is free game. As are the people in the lane.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A few images from the Noché dé los Muertos ride...
thanks to David Price for bringing his camera.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Factions (part deux)

I'm used to road versus dirt, racer versus rider, people who are "training" sneering at people who are commuting... Used to it, but I still don't understand it. We all ride bicycles, we love our bicycles; why do we hold such animosity for those who worship a different style?
And now, as I explore deeper levels of our addiction, I find deeper animosity. Fixie riders who sneer at other fixie riders; ninjas who are too cool to be seen with the cruisers, students in one school who won't ride with students from another school, label-whores who won't stoop to be seen with anyone "generic"...
A thousand years ago, when I began riding, all that mattered was two wheels. Oh sure, the Stingrays got the style points, but they didn't hold up to the Western Flyers and Jet Pilots. Those 26"-wheeled behemoths could survive anything, even being t-boned by a '60s Cadillac (personal experience). But we never divided into factions, we just rode. Every kid in the neighborhood from 6 to 16 that had a bike would be out in force, doing crits around the 'hood, blasting through vacant lots, roosting off every piece of transition we found. We all had bikes, we all loved our bikes. Eventually some of us "grew up", and bikes (as well as the semi-religious experience of riding them) faded into memory. If they returned, it was not to the fold, but into a boutique-based self styling that harkened the factionalism we have today.
Roots, people, remember your roots. Diamond frame, cranks, chain, two wheels. The most efficient machine ever invented. No matter how technologically advanced the components become, it still boils down to a bicycle. The basis of it all.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


There is a rant fermenting inside me, but it hasn't peaked; hasn't reached critical mass (pun intended). It's all about factions and divisions, clique versus clack, who will ride with whom, us versus them...
so until it comes to a head, I want to share this passage from Greg Moody's book Perfect Circles. It has a lot of my underlying current running through it.

"There are those who say that France has lost it's passion for cycling - forgotten the sport of Jaques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet - but the rolling enclosure that was Haven still stirred something in all it passed; the brilliant white of the Colnago frames, the whirring perfection of the Campagnolo gears, the knife-edge hum of the Mavic wheels, a flock of black-red-and-gold jerseys, all in rhythm, speeding, as one, down a French country road, north of Paris in the middle of June, stopping one and all, controlling the pavement like an army on maneuvers.
Jean Jablom stepped out of his bicycle shop as the caravan sped past. He eyed Richard Bourgoin, the French team leader, and waved to Will Ross, the American lieutenant - a regular in the shop, for conversation more than gear - then watched the team disappear over a hilltop, then reappear in the distance, then disappear and reappear again before losing themselves over the horizon.
Jablom turned back to his shop and reached for the door. He stopped. Inside, a group of French teenagers was looking at mountain bikes. The few road bikes Jablom still stocked were virtually ignored. The passing of Haven, the premier cycling team in France, had not caused a stir among any except the faithful. And there were far fewer faithful today.
As he watched the teenagers spin the wheels of the mountain bikes, a tear ran down the wrinkled moonscape of Jablom's face. This year, it will change, he thought. This year, a Frenchman will win Le Tour de France.
And you, he silently raged, looking at the teenagers, just missed him."

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wester Ross

In the course of nine years, John Connell and Fergus Forsyth built a total of four-hundred seventy-eight bicycle frames (477 traditional, and one tandem). They were steel; mostly Reynolds 531, lugged, silver brazed, and finished with a baked enamel. They were, and are, classic bicycles. I have the honor of owning two of them; #035 JSC, and #321 FGF.
I inherited them from my good friend Ed Campbell on the condition that I get them rolling and love them as they should be loved. Not a difficult condition in my book.
#035 is a touring rig with "Buick" geometry. I haven't gotten the protractor on it yet, but the first word that comes to mind is "relaxed".
#321 is presently a bare frame, and is more of a bomber, what they used to call a "ruff-stuff" bike. Yes, it pre-dates mountain biking by a few years.
Over the next few months I'll be fiddling with these toys, and I'll try to keep you updated as I go.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's A Girl To Do?

I found this on Urban Velo . Thought it was the greatest, personally.

The Basis of It All

What drives us? Bikes. So without further ado, here's my daily driver...
'07 San Jose. I had waffled about getting a track bike for a couple of years, but when I saw the versatility in this rig, coupled with fixed-gear capability, I knew I had found my ride.
Like a true Bike Junkie, I have swapped some parts around. I got rid of the "road" drop bars, and added a "dirt drop" style bar. the Sugino cranks went into the parts box, and my classic Stronglight cranks (with drilled chainring) came out of retirement. Lights, and a slick brass bell, keep me noticed on our kooky streets. The tires can handle dirt roads and rolling trails, the gearing is low enough for light all-terrain. If Winter weather hits, the rack-n-fenders will go on for the commute.
Now if my other bikes would stop looking at me like that...

Words of Appreciation

Friday night I put on the Noché dé los Muertos Alleycat Esoteric Scavenger Hunt & Poker Run. The event was as convoluted as the title, but 18 people showed up to have fun in one way or another. Thanks go to each one of them for wanting to play, and special thanks to Missy, Gunnar, Daniel, and Ben, who gave up the choice to ride and instead ran the checkpoints for me. And Jack, who came to run a checkpoint to begin with. Couldn't have had a race without them.
Gerhardt came in first, but only had a Pair of 10's to play, giving him a modified time of 7:58. David Price (of Timeship Racing downhill skateboard fame) came in much later, but had the best hand (a Jack-high Straight), giving him a modified time of 7:07.
The big upset was Gerhart from Burque beating local icon Bike-Mike. At least in Mike's eyes.
Other props go out to Chris Hilson for his endless skids, RJ for riding 60 miles to get there, and of course to mellow VELO for supplying the prizes, as well as copious amounts of advise, support, and espresso.
Hopefully others will follow suit, and come up with new ways to be silly on bicycles. I enjoy organizing the occasional race, but sometimes I want to play, too.

Confessions of a Relapsed Bike Junkie

Their are cyclists, and then there are bike junkies. Cyclists ride for one or many reasons, and generally revere their equipment to some degree. Bike Junkies, on the other hand, collect, rebuild, fiddle, modify, and let bike culture absorb into their skin like DMT in the '70s. They are, in general, as helpless (and hopeless) as any other addict. Sometimes they can walk away from the need, the itch, but it always lingers over their left shoulder like Death in a Casteneda novel.
This isn't just "personal opinion" on my part, it's the voice of experience. I managed to walk away from the "industry", and the personal addiction for several years. Then I became a "cyclist" for a while. Then I fell off the wagon. Hard.
Over the next few posts, I'll detail my rise to Bike Junkie, my reformation, and my relapse. I'll also be chronicling the restoration of a '70s Wester Ross, the building of an '80s Wester Ross, the pitfalls of riding in Santa Fe, and the joys of fixed gear cycling.
Comments are welcome, but please leave your attitude at the door.