An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year!

Once again, turning the calendar page to a new last digit, now 2017, makes one’s thoughts tend toward reflection and projection. How did the past year go? What was good? What was not so good? And going forward, what might one do differently?

Riding-wise for 2016, the tale of numbers informs:
*  Total riding hours was 544 and change. 155 plus hours on the mountain bike, 175 plus hours riding on the road, and another 25 hours of gravel road riding. 186 plus hours on the stationary bike trainer.
* Using general average speeds for the terrain type, that comes out to just over 5000 actual miles traveled, with another 3350 of equivalent miles going nowhere (but a lot of Netflix time).
* I hit my 500 hour time goal on November 25th.
* I had 41 days of not riding for the year (11 fewer than 2016), nine of those days were in December.
* For each day I rode, my average was just shy of 90 minutes.
* In the entire year, there were only 8 rides of over three hours, including three event days.

Other highlights of 2016 and looking ahead to 2017:
* The two riding events I organized went well, though I’d like to see more people show up. The numbers were up from 2015 in the two-day event in July, but down slightly for the May one-day event. Always difficult to predict, and you never know what other events you’ll be competing against for participants.

* I added just over a mile of single-track trail at my day-job work site. There are several hundred acres of forest as an untapped resource, and I’ve been putting in 20-30 minutes at least a couple days a week all year pushing through everything from untouched wilderness to 20-year-old scrub grown over cat-tracks (scotch broom in glacial till). All built by hand, letting the terrain dictate the twists and turns.

* Though the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival was fun, it was a lot of work and expense for the return. I likely won’t return in 2017, even with the date change from October to August. I also likely won’t be returning to the Tacoma Bike Swap in May, though this is a single day event and low cost. The audience just isn’t the market for custom bike frames.

I am eying the Pedaler’s Fair, and seeing about getting some collective energy going with as many Washington custom builders as possible. I see the potential that it could become a Washington version of the Oregon Handmade show.

So looking ahead, I’d like to renew the 500 hour riding goal for 2017, with some different emphasis on types of riding. Not exactly sure how that will look yet, but it will shape up with better weather.

I will continue my two events, with dates still to be determined.

And I’ve got the inkling itch of another single-day happening, something of a ridiculous nature that will be a test of legs, lungs, and mental fortitude. I’ll leave the details for another post.

So to 2016 – thanks for the memories. L’chaim.

To 2017 – Bring it.

Monday, December 19, 2016

But is it Art?

On the average, most people likely don't think of a bicycle as an artistic object. In fact, for most people, it probably doesn't even fall into the category of craft. The idea that the bicycle must be "made". By some one. The fact that most bicycles are manufactured by large companies, a production line from a faceless offshore machine that arrive by some means into our hands renders it into a commodity.

But there is that subset, small as it may be, of bike-like objects that are produced by people, small companies, possibly even one-person operations, making in the numbers from small runs to one-off customs.

A recent thread on one of the forums I frequent explored the idea of whether bike making is a craft or an art, whether one who makes bikes is an artist or a craftsman (or craftsperson, as I know of at least a few women who share the trade). I found it to be an interesting question, not one that can be answered in just a few words. And so I thought it might make a good topic to explore.

I "hang out" with several custom (or some call it "made to measure") bicycle frame builders, using media from aluminum, steel, titanium, carbon fiber, and even wood.  Construction methods vary. Some use the trade as their sole means of support, some are hobbyists who build a few bikes a year, some dabble in the craft for their own purposes.

Sure, it's an online community where several discussions are playing out simultaneously over extended periods. The topics are generally explored in depth, with many of the best builders in the industry lending their expertise and extensive experience.

If it's useful, it's craft. If it isn't, it's art.

One person on the discussion thread quoted one of their mentors, using that line. I don't think I agree with it, however.

Almost universally, framebuilders recognize their wares as tools first. A bike is, at its core, a means to propel a human from one place to another under their own power. The variables of rider size (and weight), strength, body position, weight balance, and terrain inform the design of the final product. The design must first satisfy its core purpose and support the above parameters, and do so ably with endurance.

So there's this useful object made by someone... That would make it a craft. But is it, or can it be, art?

In order to make art, you must first master the craft.

There is an entire cultural line of thinking in Japan, usually in very traditional things, which makes mastering something the art itself. Ceramic pottery, shooting an arrow at a target from the back of a galloping horse, even serving tea. In mastering the craft or the activity, it becomes art. HOW something is done is the art, and in that art, the finished product approaches perfection.
Some raw braze work by Steve Garro,
copied from his Smoked Out thread
on Velocipede Salon

My particular method in framebuilding is fillet brazing. Meaning I heat up the steel tubes to a certain point and melt in bronze such that it glues the tubes together with a little concave fillet around the joint. The better the skill, the smoother that joint is after it cools. It is normal to file and sand these joints smooth and even afterwards to provide an organic transition from one tube to another. There are a very few builders, Eric Estland of Winter Bicycles and Steve Garro of Coconino to name two, whose skill in laying bronze is such that I would pay extra for them to leave the joint raw -- no filing or sanding after. My skill isn't there, yet. But those two, I feel, have elevated the craft to art. It's not that watching them DO is so elegant, but the final product is.

Art inspires... something.

Maybe the answer lies in psychologist's ever-angering question: How does that make you feel? (*It makes me feel like I want to punch you in the face.*)

Uh, yeah, so moving on, maybe what makes something art is that it inspires something, makes the viewer feel something. It's meant to reach inside the viewer and stir some emotion. With a bicycle, I imagine it takes a certain level of two-wheeled obsession to see it as something more than a tool (and to a large -- by more than one definition of that word --  percentage of the population, more than a toy). And probably even more of a bike nut to actually "feel" something. Likely the bike frame builder isn't looking for the rider to get all teary-eyed. Seeing a smile or two is enough. Anything more tends to get a little embarrassing. The real inspiration sought is that the rider wants to do exactly that -- ride the bike.

This is ART, man!

In 2015, I was exhibiting my bikes at the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer festival. Part of my display was my personal "gravel" bike, with my young daughter's kick bike leaned up against it. Matching paint schemes and graphics. It was an attention-getter, to be sure, even though I wouldn't consider either one to be my best work. Many smiles, some conversations started. Towards the end of Saturday evening, a gentleman came by as the crowds were dwindling. He walked with the aid of crutches, carried a backpack.

He stopped at these two bikes, and I could hear his breath catch a bit. He lingered. Then he leaned over to me, with tears in his eyes.

"I'm really tight with the local artist community around here, and, well, I admit that I've had a few of these (gesturing with his mostly-empty pint glass), but I've got to tell you, this is just ART, man." It was apparent that seeing those two bikes together, so obviously a parent/child thing, made him feel something. Yeah, most likely aided by the I-love-you-man level of inebriation. It wasn't my intention to make art, but apparently I backed into it, at least in this gentleman's view.

Most people won't experience the art of a particular bike

The bikes I make aren't adorned with any extra flourishes. No intricate lugwork or flashy stainless steel logos. I may use a stainless steel part here and there, but that is for the purposes of corrosion protection, not appearances. The bike frames I make are built to suit a particular rider, with the ride feel they desire on the intended surfaces. Even within the cycling-enthusiast subset of the population, the only person who will really experience how that comes out is the person for whom the bike was made. It's not going to fit some one else exactly right, and that person might have a different idea of how a bike should respond to input.

My art, if I were to categorize any of it as such, is hitting that target perfectly -- the bike that fits that one rider with no compromises, and responds to that person's weight shifts and steering inputs as if it were wired directly to their subconscious brain.

Because I want that person to ride their bike.

Is it art?

Ask the rider.

Monday, November 28, 2016

No fanfare

This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
 - T.S. Eliot (The Hollow Men)

I surpassed my year's goal ride time over this past holiday weekend. This is the second year I've made it over 500 hours of on-the-bike time, a goal I made on a whim towards the end of 2014 after feeling like I hadn't done all that much (though I'd made just over 385 hours of ride time).

I passed the 500 hour mark on Black Friday, while much of the nation was joining the annual shopping melee. With the typical Pacific Northwest weather, and my lack of desire to go out onto the roads when visibility is already low or to subject myself to prolonged exposure to rain and road spray, I put in a session on my stationary trainer. In fact all my riding over the holiday weekend was on the trainer. Yeah, the goal died with a whimper.

The "drainer", as it's lovingly called in many circles, is comprised of an old Scott Waimea aluminum frame, cracked at the seat tube extension that holds the seatpost in place, semi-permanently affixed to a Cyclops "The Silencer" Direct Drive trainer. Which means I take off the back wheel and clamp the frame by the rear dropouts. But I don't find it all that silent. In fact it's just as noisy as the 20-year-old Minoura it replaced.

Anyway, I've been tracking the hours of the various forms of riding I've done the last two years, and find that I've been putting in a LOT of time on the trainer. More this year than last year, to the tune of 160+ hours so far. More than I've done on the mountain bike this year, and approaching the road miles I've put in so far. And given that the remainder of the year is often the worst, weather-wise, it's likely that the number will only go up.

I've also been participating in a 30-day plank challenge on Velocipede Salon, which started with short daily planks and has progressed exponentially to over four minutes (with two days remaining, and upping to 5 minutes on Wednesday). Between that and the time on the trainer, my wrists are constantly aching.

Which brings me to the reason for the entire post. (yeah, we were all wondering where this was going)

I need to fix the position on the trainer! Too much weight on my hands, and at the wrong angle. The Waimea was bought as a knock-around road bike that I could leave somewhere with little worry about weather (aluminum frame), ready to just jump on at a moment's notice. In its first year of life in my passel, it resided at work and saw many training rides around the local roads. But the position wasn't ideal, so it eventually fell out of favor. When the prospect of a permanent trainer bike came up (due to another frame essentially corroding out of existence), this was the bike that was the logical choice. But again, the non-ideal position is catching up to me.

I'm hoping that a different stem can fix the issue. And I think I have the tubing in the garage to make it myself. It would be my first attempt at a part that makes a lot of people nervous (along with forks, a bridge I've already crossed with no issues). We'll see how it goes. The reason I'd be making it myself is that I suspect it will end up being a very non-conventional design. A one-inch steerer coupled to a 31.8mm handlebar, and likely very long and tall.

So a new stem, a new construction, and hopefully new life and comfort on the trainer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Punched another one through

In a couple previous posts (here, and here), I've documented my habit of building some (unofficial) single track trails on the worksite of my day job. It started just barely over a year ago, and to date I've created about 1.5 miles of new trail where once untamed wilderness (or a decade-plus old cat track) existed.

That squiggly line is the new trail. I began the left
side some 9 months ago, and pushed the last
20 yards today. Sweet.
And today I "completed" the longest single section yet. A half-mile long winding path connecting two otherwise completely uninteresting dirt access roads. I started this particular stretch on the last work day in December of last year. Yep, nine months of 2 or so days a week average, a half-hour at a crack.

I put the word "completed" in quotes because I kind of forced the last roughly twenty yards, where I could see the road at the end. It's passable, but still needs a little work to be clear. That's okay, another day or two and it'll truly be trail.

Yes, there are plans for a lot more, including a couple side trails that connect to this one. It's a long-term project, and actually a nice extension of the riding workout. My back has gotten a lot stronger -- good core work.

My gift to any fellow riders that happen to work here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Time to get political

I recently had a co-worker at my day job stop by my desk fairly early in the morning, and ask if I was a Trump supporter. I answered with my standard response that there is a reason we have a secret ballot in this country, and I don't divulge my voting habits to anyone. She then said she couldn't talk to me and walked away.

But it wasn't done then, as she came back a few minutes later and launched into a "my candidate is great and why is the other getting a pass for X" search for validation. I wouldn't submit to that thinking, and discussed it in a completely neutral manner.

Fact is, neither candidate is getting a pass on anything, and rightfully so.

But my point with this post is not about which candidate deserves the office, or which one will do the better job of The Highest Office in the USA.

I really have two points to make. So I'll get right to it without much discussion.

One: You cannot vote against anyone.

You get one vote per office, and you can only for FOR one person. That's your voice. It only flips one number in one column, and doesn't affect the numbers in any other column, regardless of what anyone tells you. Your vote is only a "for" vote when it comes to electing anyone to an office. So vote your conscience as you see fit FOR whomever you would prefer to see in that office. Remember, there's always the write-in option if none of them appeal.

Two: I wish there were better candidates.

Truly. Yes, both candidates of the major parties are human, and thus prone to error. To say I support either one would be a gross misrepresentation. I just wish that we had ONE candidate who approached the office of President with humility, treating it as the daunting responsibility to The American People that it is. My wife and elder daughter and I have been watching the new series Designated Survivor. My wife said we need Kiefer Sutherland to run for president. In reality, I think the last president who remotely came close to being a servant of the people was Ronald Reagan ("the actor?" to quote Doc from Back to the Future). It saddens me that this is what we've come to, but here we are, let's make the best of it.

Regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, exercise your rights as a citizen and vote. Vote your conscience. And come November 9th, when the results are in, let's get together as one people, one nation, and make this thing work.