Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Curse you, Mongoose!

During my teens and early 20's, I rode a bike-boom era road bike. I abandoned cycling (and my bike) in my mid-20's around the same time I started driving a car, and I was too occupied with Alfa Romeos, rock bands, and such to bother with bikes.

When I neared 30, I longed for a bike again. Mountain bikes were the main staple of sub-$500 bikes, and I entertained the notion that I would ride trails. Never mind that in suburban northern Virginia (Arlington, at that), there aren't too many opportunities for off-road. The marketing of mountain bikes hooked me.

So I hied myself down to my LBS,  Big Wheel Bikes in Old Town Alexandria. I tried out several brands, and settled on a dark green Mongoose Hilltopper. The store clerk fitted me to a smaller size than I was accustomed to, due to it being a mountain bike. Still, this particular bike felt like it rode better than the others I tried - at least, it did for rides around the block of the store. Looking back, I sure wish I've chosen a different brand.

I wound up riding the Mongoose pretty much the same way as I had ridden my Gitane - for commuting, and for road and paved trail rides. I believe I went off-road one time, not counting the C&O Canal path. Once I rode the W&OD path from Arlington to Dulles, and back. On the stock fat tires. That hurt, mostly my shoulders and neck. When I lived in DC, I rode the Rock Creek path and Beach Drive often. Again, any ride that was more than 15 miles became agony for my shoulders.

So I've tried several times to sell the bike, but Mongoose as a brand is now totally devalued due to their move into cheap department store bikes, and hideous ones at that.  The Hilltopper is actually a decent, though not great, bike, but Mongoose is such a dirty word in the bike community that its value is considerably less than an equivalent 1990's Trek, Giant, etc. Mongoose is now synonymous with Free Spirit, Ross, and Huffy. Maybe worse! Thanks a lot, Mongoose.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alice Swanson

It's been a few days since Alice Swanson died in Dupont Circle when she was hit by a garbage truck while riding her bike. There was a ghost bike memorial for her last night. Wish I could have gone, but I was with my daughter at her swim meet.

The way she was struck while going forward across a street when the truck turned right reminds me of a time I was jogging along Route 1 in Alexandria. A guy in a pickup turned from the main road onto a side street right as I left the sidewalk and stepped onto the pavement of that side road. I was going forward, he turned right without yielding to me, nearly clipping me. What's really incredible is that he was coming up behind me, so it's not as if I were in a blind spot. And then he stopped his truck and started yelling at me. He seriously thought I was in the wrong. Where do people get the idea that their car is allowed to go anywhere they point it, with no consideration for what may be in the way? "Get out of my way" is the credo here.

When the Washington Post published the initial story of the accident, there were many comments left by hateful and/or frustrated motorists who felt bikes have no place on roads. Of course there was the common complaint that cyclists are scofflaws, running red lights and such, similar to what Dave Moulton referred to in his post "Cyclists and POBs" (People on Bikes). Moulton believes that POBs are a problem, as they are not trained in proper bike handling and rules-following, therefore creating the animosity between drivers and cyclists. But a major bone of contention I hear from drivers is that cyclists make motorists slow down. And I'm not talking about the 2-abreast cyclists. Drivers get irritated when they approach a cyclist. There's not much a cyclist can do about this other than ride as safely and predictably as possible while observing the rules of the road. Even doing this, drivers are going to get mad at us. We're an inconvenience to them.

The other theme in the Post's comments was how dangerous cycling is, and how we should just give it up due to the dangers. I'll admit that when I went for a ride yesterday I was hyper-aware, even paranoid, due to the fatal accident in DC. But no one commenting on the Post's story picked up this line: "Traffic fatalities have claimed 20 lives this year in the District." Two of them were cyclists. It doesn't mention pedestrians, who likely are among those 20 lives lost, but the message to me is clear: don't think you're so safe in your car while you scoff at the "foolish" cyclist.

I'm really sorry Ms. Swanson died. I didn't know her, but I'll bet a lot of people are really going to miss her.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Old Man Biking

I wish I'd had my camera. I was indoors and happened to look out the window and spotted an older gentleman in a suit, riding a sensible, regular bike, slowly. On the sidewalk, nonetheless. His bike was a newer cruiser-style model, with full fenders, a chain guard, and rear derailleur. He carried a briefcase on the rear rack. Given his attire and the hour, he probably was returning home from church. Now, he did also carry a backpack on his back, which is one thing I wish people would abandon. We are not hiking. Put it on the bike.

This may seem uneventful to the reader, but bear in mind that here in the DC suburbs of Virginia it is an unusual sight. Most adults on bikes in my vicinity are either spandex-clad on road bikes, or on mountain bikes with the requisite backpack. The Hispanic immigrants in the neighborhood often ride department store mountain bikes and hang their plastic grocery bags on either handlebar end. 

In Old Town Alexandria, I'll rarely see someone on an old Raleigh 3-speed, and sometimes I'll see some retro-grouch (I love this term, and count myself among them) on his touring bike complete with fenders, barcons, panniers, and reflective vest on his way to work. But the other day, I saw a guy on an all-chrome cruiser with apehangers! Then today, this gentleman in a suit on a regular bike. Looks like some people realize that bikes can be more than competition and fitness machines. Get around in style!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I'm not dead!

Hard to believe how time flies and certain hobbies get neglected when there's an old house, small kids, and the minutia of life to take care of.

Seems I've spent more time reading about and looking at bikes on the net than actually riding them... shame. I did get the Trek 700 all painted (Rustoleum black) and rideable, but it didn't take long to find out that the headset was shot. Today I finally ordered a Tange headset online. I was hoping, but not expecting, to find one locally. Big Wheel Bikes in Old Town didn't have them. When I called Spokes, the guy was nice and polite but must have been shocked anyone would be asking for a 1 inch threaded headset. Like he said, they hardly ever hear a request for one and only occasionally have one in a drawer somewhere.

Velo-Orange carries a nice alloy Tange Passage, but I opted to save money and found another seller with the steel version. This bike, after all, is my FreeCycle find and I'm trying to keep costs low. I also managed to find a Wald chainguard on eBay with a BIN that had been sitting for several days. After waffling a bit, I went ahead and clicked. I'd prefer to have a close-to-full chain case (bike has a rear derailleur), but I'm not going to wait around hoping one comes my way.  I wonder how hard it would be to make one?

I also signed up at the Slow Bicycle Movement.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More bikes in the shed

Looks like it will be goodbye, Paris Sport, in light of some recent acquisitions.

One, a free Trek frame and fork. Just a plain-jane straight-gauge chromo 700 MultiTrack that fits me better than the PS. Plus it has cantilever bosses and enough braze-ons for a tourer (including mid-fork rack brazeons). It was an ugly white with teal decals, so I figured I'd shoot it with black Rustoleum and make my utility bike. Maybe. Or maybe nothing would become of it and I would transform the PS into what I was after.

Then I got a free Hercules, much more my size, even on the large side. I've always had bikes that were a bit too small for me, and riding this thing makes me feel like I'm astride a horse! I would keep it as my utility bike, except it's been upgraded with a very nice Sachs Rival crank - hmmm.... that would look very nice on the Trek! So I began painting the Trek with the goal of making it a rear-derailleur-only bike with a chain guard, fenders, basket or front rack, lights, etc. Sigh... though the Herc is a great deal of fun to ride.

Of course, I continued to desire a bike suitable for long rides, hopefully with a randonneuring club. Sure, I could outfit the Trek for that, but it's still a little small. That won't bother me for rides around home, but for centuries or more, I needed better. And I wanted to have one actually good bike with decent tubing.

eBay to the rescue, with a 1987 Trek 400 Triple Elance. I hadn't even been looking at Treks for my "serious" bike, but I chanced upon it. Black, with silver headtube and silver lug details. A triple crank meant that rides though Virginia mountainsides were possible. Reynolds 531, good. A 56cm frame, good. Ok, so I sat there waiting for the clock to run out and I sniped it in the last 20 seconds. I wound up paying too much, considering I've seen similar (but different years without 531 tubing) for less. And it kills me to read posts on bikeforums.net where some guy is asking if $150 is too much for one he's seen at a garage sale. But I couldn't keep waiting on Craig's List to magically deliver the right size and right features bike to me. Sure, I could have settled for a Miyata or similar for a lot less. But then I might have later been wanting a replacement bike. I think the Elance will last me for a long time.

Side note: these pics are crummy, must take again under better lighting.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Paris Sport Approved

I recently bought a bike from a Craigs Listing, advertised as a "Paris Sport". I knew nothing about the make, so a bit of research and I was interested. I knew from the picture that it wasn't anything particularly exciting. I intended for it to be my grocery-getter, commuter, utility bike. Slap on some fenders and racks/basket, maybe convert to single-speed or fixed-gear.

It turned out not to be a true Paris Sport, but a "Paris Sport Approved" Ets Fraysse bike (whew, thank god it's at least approved by them ;). From what I can find out (and there's almost nothing on the web about it), Ets Fraysse was Mike Fraysse's brand, he of the shop that badged bikes as Paris Sports. I've seen one Ets Fraysse frame on eBay, it had Campy dropouts; alas, mine is a cheap model. It has on the chainstay a decal "Storm", it's made in Japan, and reminds me of my friend's Nishiki back in high school. There is nothing to get excited about, it's typical for recreational 10-speeds of the period, as detailed below:

Frame: lugged (simple lugs) steel with no sticker indicating what steel. Half-chromed fork, single eyelets front and rear. No bottle braze-ons, but top-tube braze-on cable guides. Stamped horizontal dropouts with no derailleur hanger. Points for turning into a single-speed/fixie.

Crankset: Sugino Maxy, swaged model with non-removeable large 52 ring (boo!! Deduct points for complicating the single-speed conversion).

The rest: Shimano Tourney derailleurs with Power ratchet stem shifters, Dia-Compe centerpull brakes, steel Araya 27x1 1/4 rims. Handlebars had been replaced with Wald North Road style bars.

So, I enjoyed riding it a few times on the Mount Vernon bike path from Alexandria to Mt Vernon - only occassionally did I wish for lower gears, although I used to do that ride all the time on a Gitane Interclub with a 52/42 (but then again, I was in high school - 24 years ago!). Soon I took off the derailleurs just to get an idea of what it would look like. I scavenged a Brooks saddle from a free '77 Raleigh Grand Prix (another project, another time).

At the moment I'm undecided as to how to proceed with this bike - go single-speed, or keep the derailleurs (but change the shifters), or throw on a Huret Jubilee rear and have 5 (or 6) gears for puttering around town and easy rides, or ??? Some of my ideas are influenced by Kogswell and others' promotion of the French utility bike (porteur) and Singer bikes. I want to keep it cheap, but I might splurge on 650B wheels, which would require getting some Mafac brakes which may or may not reach. I know the Dia-Compes won't - I tested with 700C and the rear brake hits the rubber.

The saga continues...