Technology SNAFU


A new feature on Flickr has bit me in the arse. The last couple months of my archived images have disappeared, and because many of the images I use on this blog are linked to my Flickr account, so too are those images gone from The Early Morning Cyclist. I feel like puking right now.

Or hurling my laptop like a Frisbee.

Toss, replace, move on.

I’ve flatted four or five times over the past couple of weeks – enough that I’ve actually lost track of the precise number. Flats, like Karma, really are a bitch. This is especially true if one has neglected to check and ensure there’s adequate kit in the road bag to facilitate a remedy for said flat. Or when a flat occurs, say, two kilometers from home and one becomes engaged in that internal debate over whether to fix the flat right there on the spot or to sling one’s bike over the right shoulder with a profound, robust, and totally disgusted, “Well fuck it. I’ll just fix it at home.” That long, fuming walk up the hill, bicycle hanging upon one’s torso always seems a whole lot longer in this situation.

I’ve had a really great run of good luck, apparently. If memory serves, it’s been over two years since the last flat. This leads one to become somewhat delusional. One begins to feel downright bulletproof, to believe that “it won’t happen to me.”

But of course it does. Eventually, the odds catch up.

It’s at this point I begin to worry about the odds catching up in every facet. Dammit, I don’t want to have to change a road flat on the rear wheel of the fixed gear, especially since I’ve got that thing so nicely aligned and the chain so perfectly tensioned. And double dammit, I don’t want to think about road changing a flat on the three-speed. I’m too big a wuss to properly adjust the cable after putting the wheel back on without a bike stand.

Another issue with flatting is money. I’m cheap. Tubes, which used to  seem to me inexpensive – at least in my rose colored memory – have gotten to be expensive. Ten bucks for an inner tube? Yikes! In my cheapness – heck, let’s give me the benefit of the doubt and refer to this characteristic as “frugality” – well, in my frugality, I’ve always patched tubes that were patchable, and even made a valiant effort to patch a few that weren’t even close to repairable.

Patches were, at one time, a nearly permanent solution. They were made of rubber, and used rubber cement or something very much like it. I had the art of patching down to a deliberate science. I actually rather enjoyed patching a tire, feeling like I had crafted my repair. Feeling like I had extended the life of the tube.

But the tubes I buy today seem to have fallen victim to a philosophy of planned obsolescence. Don’t repair them – toss them, replace them, and move on! This grates at my craw. The patch kits no longer come with rubber patches. They are self-adhesive stickers. No tiny tube of glue. No rubber – they’re made of thin vinyl. They are a far cry from permanent: I imagine their sole purpose is to simply get you home in a dire emergency, where one is then expected to remove the repaired tube, toss it, replace it, and move on.

All winter long I rode on bikes that had patched tubes. All winter long I had nary a problem. On two occasions this spring those bikes were in the back of my car, basking in the interior warmth from sitting in the parking lot at work all afternoon. And on both occasions, the tubes failed. The adhesive on the patches warmed enough to soften, allowing air to leach out; the tire flatted. This, without actually having moved an inch.

Toss, replace, move on.



Bike stats


Urban exploration

I stopped along my meandering urban route yesterday to sketch a few non-human-made things. It was a pleasure to discover there are trees, and even large “unimproved” areas of woods sprinkled along the river, between the downtown airport and the North corridor of warehouses.

I wanted to get out and ride fixed wheel, and there’s a 6km circuit around the airport that is relatively flat and attracts a lot of cyclists. It was fun riding light, fast circles on my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican, but after a while circles get a little old. And I’d noticed the underpass, so I figured the opportunity was ripe for a little urban exploration.

This sad little neighborhood seems entirely forgotten. In fact, I had no idea it even existed. I love coming across hidden gems, but frankly there seemed to be no charm whatsoever in Harlem, Missouri, and it took quite some looking to find anything I wanted to draw. Yet, as I mentioned before – there’s still a certain pleasure in the knowledge that amid all of the urbanization a small pocket of trees can exist, albeit situated within a corridor of blight.

Today began with much needed rain, but as the precipitation trickled to a stop and the winds began to kick up, I decided to explore the south side of the river, just opposite Harlem in downtown Kansas City’s River Market. There’s a river front trail that meanders some 15 miles or so, crossing from Missouri into Kansas, and I was interested in discovering what there was to be seen along the way.

Not knowing if the path was gravel or paved (it’s well paved), or if sections of the trail followed city streets (it does), I took my Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier. The 650b tires are not only a good choice for gravel, they do a nice job absorbing the crappy road conditions in downtown Kansas City, not to mention the urbanized neighborhoods I had to pass through to get from small town Liberty to my city destination.

The trail sounds like it would be fun, if not especially long. But alas! The exploration wasn’t to be. So many roads are under construction in the area, sidewalks and streets completely blocked off, and I could only get so far before finding myself at an impasse. The trail is bisected, and sliced and diced and literally shredded apart: I never found a safe way to cross the midpoint to continue. I wound up riding around on streets familiar to me, pedaling around the farmer’s market, and then taking a slightly circuitous and definitely leisurely route back again.

Tomorrow is, of course, a new day. Maybe I’ll ride out and explore another part of the city after work.



A week ago I went out in search of gravel roads. It’s not something I do a lot of, preferring pavement over rocks, but the past few weeks have been one stress-laden day after another as we’ve executed three large exhibitions within a very short time frame. Maintaining composure and diplomacy has been challenging and I’ve found myself in great need of being someplace that people were not.

Gravel seemed to fit the bill then as it likely will again today.

It’s no secret that I like to carry a few essentials with me during these escapes from humanity. A camera, sketch pad and pen, emergency tools, and maybe a little food. It’s impossible to carry these things in a jersey pocket so most of my bikes are outfitted with some type of luggage. I’ve a saddle bag on my 650B Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier, and very recently complimented it with a front bag. I like the convenience of front bags and had been mulling over the purchase of another Swift bag like the Ozette I have on my Boulder Brevet. That bag is excellent quality, functions flawlessly, and serves me very well indeed.

On a whim a few months ago I Googled “handlebar bag pattern” and came across a link that intrigued me. The blog If I Had a Bike shared a short piece about a DIY handlebar bag. Helpfully, a link to an actual size pattern in .pdf is included on the blog. Checking things out, I discovered the article had already made the rounds among BOBs and other esoteric cycling enthusiasts, but I couldn’t find anyone who’d actually made the bag aside from the original on which the pattern was based. About the same time one of my art students approached me to see if I had any ideas for a freelance sewing project. The stars seemed aligned, so I proposed she make this bag for me with a couple small revisions to the engineering. The bag was delivered last week in time for my gravel escape. It’s made of light weight cotton duck and stiffened with a plastic corrugate insert. Small enough not to require a decaleur, I’ve drafted out an idea for a quick release system I think will keep the bag firmly attached to the rack.

I’ve added a new tool to my travel sketch kit, a Sakura “water brush” that has a reservoir of fresh water in the handle of the brush. One quick squeeze pushes a droplet out onto the fibers of the brush rather than dipping the brush into a container or cup of water. In theory this sounds very convenient to me so I will be carrying this kit configuration for a while to test.

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Riding off on a leisurely jaunt, not destination in mind. Stopping here and there, along rural country lanes – now to snap a photograph, now for a snack, now to make a sketch. I find that thirty minutes into a day of riding, all stress seems to have melted away. The cares of the world are left behind and I am left alone with my thoughts.

I find it more and more vital to carve out time for these moments – even if they are only that: just moments. I’m looking forward to a few of those moments today.

Enjoy the ride.

Well, I’m back on two wheels today for the first time in a while. Having blundered into a car – if “blundered” is the right word for cycling head first into a parked vehicle at 25 mph – I’ve been nursing myself back to some semblance of normal health.

I’m a cautious rider, and usually overtly conservative. I’m not a racer and I don’t try to test Chance by zooming through stop lights or running stop signs. But I do confess to having found myself seduced by the challenge of a hill climb that joins the town square to the end of my street. Having recently begun using MapMyRide to track mileage, I noticed that one of the bells and whistles incorporated into the app is a sort of comparison of my own route times to those of other MapMyRide users. One fine day the app notified me that my times on the hill were number two and three overall. “Well that’s interesting,” I thought to myself. “I wonder how far off I am from the number one spot?”

Turns out, not that far. And that bit of arcane knowledge is all it took to tap the evil little competitive streak I try to keep hidden deep inside. I’ve found myself racing up that damn hill over the past couple of weeks, trying to pick up the few “necessary” seconds that would allow me to claim the totally meaningless number one spot. I mean, after all, I had easily swooped into the number two position on a freakin’ three-speed! Surely there’d be no problem shaving a few seconds off that time on one of my derailleur-equipped rides, right? The very thought left me with a malicious glint in my eye as I considered how the knowledge would sit among the carbon fiber crowd. No doubt my victory, when it came, would be fleeting, and a Lycra-clad wonder rider would immediately reclaim the throne from me, a lowly steel-bike cyclist. But what the hell.

These were the stupid thought running through my head as I climbed the hill, straining to get every ounce of speed, to keep my revolutions smooth and uninterrupted by – well, by gravity or weight or just plain 55-year-old-ness. Climb that hill I did (though my time was still short of even breaking my own three-speed mark.) And I found my entire being with a laser-like focus only upon “getting there.” I was in the zone.

Unfortunately, this also meant I was not paying adequate attention to – literally – anything else. Which would include the tiny parked Honda on an otherwise wide and empty street.

Topping the hill and hitting a short straight section of road I shifted into a higher gear, lungs busting but enjoying the surge of power. I spun around the corner, onto my street, figuring to put the hammer down for the last half mile. Head down, I was building up steam when everything came to a sudden and absolutely stunning stop. For the flash of but a fraction of a moment, I remember seeing the back of the car. I thank a lifetime of absolute clumsiness, wherein I’ve never managed to walk through a door without somehow striking the jamb with my shoulder: Somehow, that particular muscle memory kicked in and I rolled with the blow just as I struck the car.

And then I was on the ground, blood oozing from my knee. Within seconds, it had swollen to the size of a grapefruit, my wrist appears unscratched but still hurt, and my right deltoid muscle – which took the brunt of the impact – was enormously swollen due to a deep contusion. It will likely remain a rainbow of ugly colors for quite some time. Immediate impressions: Blood streaming down my right leg, me laying there in a state of confusion, a neighborhood lady pulling up in a station wagon looking generally freaked out, my shaky voice of assurance: “No, I’m just fine.”

It may not sound like it, but I got lucky. I’m going to heal up mostly just fine. But despite the aches and pain, despite the sliced up knee (Chicks dig scars, right?), despite a general belief that I’m indestructible, events could have been very different. I could have been hurt very badly.

Maybe I was just so anxious to be riding again after a period of winter stagnation, but I find myself a bit ashamed for having ignored the very reasons I cycle in the first place: Because it’s fun, because I enjoy it, because my brand of cycling is one of the few aspects of life that isn’t a race or a competition.

Spring has arrived. Be careful out there. Wear a skull lid. Pay attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going.

And enjoy the ride.