Random stuff…

Sitting here, ready to blog, and like most bloggers, I don’t really have anything to say. I’ll touch on a few things:

Random List of Awesomeness
1. Richard Sachs
Although I don’t know him know him, I’ve been acquainted with ERichie for a couple of years, and have become a little more so since becoming one of his final new customers last Summer. Since that time, he’s been nothing if not responsive, approachable, and generally cool, even when faced with my abominable Don Rickles imitation last week. (Thanks for the hat, by the way.) The guy is just too cool and laden with the conviction and courage to build bikes and support cycling. I’m proud to know him even in the creepy-Internet-groupie-way that I do. (Richard Sachs Cycles)

2. Bike fitters
I had two bike fittings this week; one from Ed at Sunshine Cycles, and one from Roger at Higher Ground (my favorite LBS). Both of them are certified–Ed by Serotta and Roger by Specialized. Both of them spent way too much time with me and didn’t charge me nearly enough. (You KNOW I’m a pain in the ass. How do they make money at this?) I highly recommend both of them for some real insight into your cycling position, even if you’ve been riding twenty years and think you know everything. Both provided some ideas that were worth more than the price of admission. Take your bike and go ride it for them. They will touch you and ask you weird questions. You’ll willbe a much happier cyclist afterward.

3. Ben Farver and Argonaut Cycles
Ben has a nice set of Columbus MAX tubes that he’s sticking together for me in some resemblance to a bicycle. And yes, given my geometry requirements, that’s an accurate description. Ben’s is young and far cooler than I can ever hope to be, but he’s making my giant-butt a kick-butt bike. I told him I to “Think Ardennes. Think shitty weather and even shittier roads.” He thought that was a great idea, which, considering my shape, casts some doubt to his sanity. Still, he’s too cool to say I’m crazy and to tell me to go get a recumbent. Check out his stuff and buy something too-cool for you, too.
Columbus MAX on the workbench
Columbus MAX on the workbench - 2
To quote a Serotta-forum reader, “Looks like those stays were run over by the UPS truck.”

Tour of California

So, I’ve made a point of following this year’s Tour of California. Watching pro cycling motivates me to ride more, myself, and the racing this year has certainly been motivational.

Cases in point:

1. Cancellara dominates the Prologue. Naturally, Fabian Cancellara is a multiple world champion in time trial. If there’s someone who’s going to have pretty even odds to win a time trial, this is the guy. Still, watching his form on the bike–head up, smooth, powerful pedaling all the way down the course–it’s a graduate class on the proper approach to the time trial. Compare this to say, certain Americans who seem determined to ride while looking at their cycling computer, giant wind-resistant helmet fin a-flying in the air like some sort of wheeled shark. Bobbing and weaving, standing on the pedals, lurching around: these are not the hallmarks of a time trialist. Lance does it remarkably well. Levi is pretty darn good, too. Cancellara is among the best I’ve ever seen.

2. Mancebo’s flyer and subsequent win in Stage 1 was amazing, although I feel his sprint may have been won more on his companions’ bad tactics and poor attention-span than his “awesome sprinting.” If you watch that footage again, you can see Nibali and Van de Walle looking at each other while Mancebo drifts right and takes off. They responded VERY slowly and subsequently lost the stage.

3. Levi took it to the boys in Stage 2. His attack up Bonny Doon (although our commentators called it “Donny Boon” more than once) was spectacular, and displayed a dominance rare in early season racing under such conditions. Has the Tour of Flanders seen this kind of hammering? Although it’s hard to tell from the VS coverage, it seemed as Levi bridged the gap and subsequently left them as though they were standing still. A pretty remarkable sort of ride, and I was only disappointed that he didn’t contest the sprint against Peterson. Peterson has to be happy to have held on to Levi to the end. Nipping him for the win must seem like a gift, no matter how hard he struggled to stay with him.

4. Thor had a great lead out in Stage 3. It seemed as though the other teams weren’t even in the game, and they looked like a Cat 4 sprint on a Sunday morning rather than the world’s preeminent teams in a stage race. Cervelo led the final couple of kilometers with a 3-man train, powering Thor Hushovd straight to his first win of the season. Cavendish and Freire were hard to find in the crowd. And where was Boonen!? Tornado Tom was back in the crowd proper, in 13th place. Comments have been made about the bad weather, but Boonen is from Belgium; don’t they have the whole “bad spring weather” thing pretty much down by now? Maybe he should move back home from Monaco. Ah, well. Such is racing. Still, it was pretty disappointing for this Boonen fan. Still, Thor was impressive, and it’s hard not to like a sprinter named Thor.

Some pretty amazing stuff, to say the least. I’m glad VS is sticking with the ToC and giving us coverage that certainly rivals that of the TdF coverage of the past few years. I wish the highlights show at 11pm had a bit more coverage of the breakaways early in the stages, some more climbing, and a bit of descending. It seems they’re sticking with the roll-out, a few highlights, then the last 15 mins as a script. This may be interesting to the novice viewer, but we cyclists are being driven batty by the omissions. In addition, technical issues have kept some of the best highlights off television, but the photography coming out of California is certainly top notch. Check out Pez or Cycling News or Velo News to check out some of the stuff you’re missing on the 11pm show.

More than friend has recited some of the commercials we’re seeing…over and over and over and over again. I tell them to look past the negative parts of the advertising–particularly the incessant cut-aways–and look instead at the quality of advertising that the ToC has drawn. It’s important that VS is receiving valuable commercial consideration for the event, which makes the volume of cycling coverage rise in the US. More coverage, more interest, more bikes. It may suck to have to watch it (see what Fatty, whose wife Susan (WIN!) says about these horrible cancer commercials over at Fat Cyclist), but it’s good in the long run. Besides, you can always use a DVR.

So, the ToC has me pretty stoked about cycling this year. That’s a pretty good thing in February, when I spend most of my time in the weight room or reading about cycling rather than doing it. After the “meh” of the past couple of years, I might consider actually consider purchasing the race wrap-up DVD for this one.

That guy…

You know the guy who shows up to a club ride on an expensive bike, yet gets shelled in the first hour? The guy with carbon wheels and a beer gut? Yeah, that was me on today’s ride.

February isn’t a good month for many people. The winter doldrums have just passed here in Florida, and people are starting to show up for rides. Fitness is low, but the excitement for the new season is palpable. Those few who have spent the winter cross training or stuck indoors on a trainer–or those who never stopped riding–are out and dominating the rides.

I showed up on this today:

Moots Compact SL - Side View

This is my “regular” ride, a Moots Compact SL. She’s my favorite bike and the one I would keep if I could only own one bicycle. Normally she’s decked out in white DT Swiss 1850s, but I figured I’d toss on the Mavic carbon clinchers–albeit heavy carbon clinchers (aluminum rim with a carbon fairing)–just to play with them.

I assumed I’d probably get some grief about them, and sure enough, the comment came, “You had to bring your carbon wheels for this ride?” It doesn’t matter that these things weigh more than the aluminum clinchers the commenter was riding, I was riding carbon wheels on a club ride. This is a serious faux-pas, which immediately lumps you into the poseur category. In this case, it was a well-deserved categorization.

The ride started pretty well, but a few of the hard cases pushed the tempo quite a bit about 10 miles out. If you were on the ride, you may well argue that it wasn’t so much pushing as it was simply riding. However, in my addled brain, it was pushing. It was damned near attacking, in fact. Of course, I suck, so what do I know? A few rolling hills at tempo and I was out the back, looking for the second group. Luckily, they didn’t catch me until I stopped for water, which probably makes it easier to pass off as something other than simple crappy riding. However, I was now riding a carbon/Ti bike in the midst of the helmet-mirror and windbreaker crowd. One guy–who was amazingly strong by the way–was even riding in a t-shirt and running shoes. Running shoes.

Running shoes.

So, Mr. Tour de France-wannabe on his super rig was now firmly in poseur territory. Wallowing in it. Reveling in his mediocrity on his expensive bike. Luckily, no one was talking much. Only a comment about my “extra poundage” and my Fat Cyclist jersey (WIN SUSAN!) made it by. I looked good in photographs, I’m sure. I turned off at Crump Road and headed for home, as I had ridden from home to the ride start. It was blessed relief.

Still, I’ll probably do it again. I likes me some carbon wheels.

Moral: Spend less, ride more.

A Request…Don Rickles for a Friend

EDIT: I should probably mention that this was written to get around posting issues on a forum. Even though the particular rules of this forum are pretty loose as far as far as adult humor is concerned, this was considered “odd” by one of the moderators, who apparently neglected to read the entire thread wherein I was requested to “give my best Don Rickles” by the target of these quips. Since I’m sucking all the fun and humor out of them, I might as well get an apology out of the way, too. I really like Richie. He’s a great guy and he builds great bikes.

Richie says he’s stopped taking orders, but I don’t think he’s told his boyfriend.

Nah, I don’t think he’s gay, but that earring he wears is the result of an accident with a box of headtube badges and a gerbil. And I don’t think that’s the only big lug he’s ever cut.

Really, listen closely to his voice on the DVD. Who knew his idea of “inert gas” was strictly helium?

He’d have had a better cross season if he could’ve figured out how to pedal faster with an erection.

Awesomeness #2 – Amazon Kindle

#2 Amazon Kindle

Jeff Bezos was in New York today, pumping up excitement for the new electronic book from Amazon, the Kindle 2. I have a Kindle, and unlike so many first-adopters, I absolutely love the thing. I was happy to see the Kindle 2 announcement, and I’ve already paid for the new one.

I make no secret of my love of bicycles, and even less of a secret of my love of books. When Jenny and I built our house, one of my specifications was room for a library. Unfortunately at the time, I had little idea of just how much space books will take up when you’re completely unable to separate from a single volume. As I frequently tell people, I subscribe to the idea of “cultural memory.” If you know where the book is, even if you haven’t read it, you have the knowledge. This excuses my clutter in some small way, in my mind. Still, Jenny just won’t buy it.

The Kindle addresses the clutter issue very well. “Disposable” volumes like textbooks and technical books only take up memory space, not shelf space. When you’re done with a volume, you can just delete it or move it to an SD card. You can even re-download it later from Amazon if you decide your deletion was in error. In this way, you end up only committing to the hard copy of certain, special books, and you don’t waste valuable shelf space with something you should give away or sell, but just can’t get around to doing so. In addition, I receive three newspaper subscriptions wirelessly every morning, directly to my Kindle via Amazon’s Whispernet. There are never unread issues taking up space by the bed or on my desk, just waiting for the reading that I am “going to do” but somehow never do. I may still be wasting money on the newspaper, but I’m not wasting trees or space trying to house the waste itself. Even some magazines are available, though the Kindle really shines with copy-heavy magazines as its photo capabilities are limited without color. Thus, the Kindle is perfect for the pack-rat. They should give away the things on Clean House.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the Mathematics department at FSU as an old-fart undergraduate. As such, I need a lot of books to supplement my reading with examples and different forms of explanation. With a 4Gb SD card, I can hold a pile of textbooks for reference, and many classic tomes are readily available–cheaply in many cases–through Amazon. Certain popular textbooks still cost a premium, but even so, the costs are generally a few percent lower than the hardback edition. The Kindle is perfect for the student who wants to carry a bunch of books around, even if he doesn’t actually want to carry the books around. (I should mention the rumor that some colleges are pressing for the use of Kindles in the classroom for exactly this reason. Imagine having your entire 4 years of textbooks available in a single, small volume–pretty nice, eh? Though it does mess up the whole used-book cycle.)

The screen flicker that occurs between pages really isn’t an issue for me, although I could see how it could be annoying, especially if you are the sort who fixates easily. The button placement and the cover are far more irritating issues. The buttons extend to the very edge of the device on the sides and along the edge taking up most of the side. This makes them far too easy to mis-press, especially if you’re trying to pick up the Kindle as it lies flat on a tabletop. To some extent, keeping the Kindle in its case rectifies this issue, but the Kindle doesn’t like to stay in its case. It relies on small plastic detent in the back of the Kindle battery cover which sorta-mates with a small clip in the case. Two loose leatherette loops hang over the corners of the Kindle on one side with the intention of applying enough pressure against the detent that the clip can hold the Kindle in. This must only work in theory, because unless you’re careful, the case actually increases the likelihood that your Kindle will abruptly fall to the ground. Luckily, they supplied an elastic binder to keep the case closed when you’re not reading. Kindle 2 seems to address both these issues with shorter buttons and special hinges to retain it in its case.

The overall profile of the new Kindle promises to be thinner yet wider. The original Kindle doesn’t bother me a bit. It’s the right size to resemble a large paperback, though it’s certainly thinner. The original Kindle had a bit of space, and was well-expandable with an SD card (mine has 4Gb). The Kindle 2 will have 1.4 Gb of usable space built in, but no expandability. This seems like a mixed blessing as it forces the user to rely on Amazon directly to maintain backups.

I’ve never used the Kindle’s MP3 capability and I’m pretty certain I’ll use the new Kindle’s text-to-speech capability even less. The decision to include MP3 capability in a limited memory device befuddles me, but then I wasn’t an iPod early-adopter, as I waited until they were big enough to hold EVERYTHING before I bought one.

The lack of a back light is one of the sticking points many have for the Kindle. I’m not too disappointed that neither the original nor the new Kindle has one. I don’t particularly care to read back-lit screens due to eye strain. Additionally, such a light would certainly have negative consequences on the battery life. If you’re going to do a lot of on-plane or in-bed-with-sleeping-spouse reading, this may be important to you. I’d recommend a Lightwedge for the Kindle, though I’d not go so far as to recommend the competing Sony reader which is back-lit.

The original Kindle relies on a scroll wheel and an odd little side-screen which contains only a cursor. You scroll the cursor down the screen to select lines on the left, in the main screen. It’s a weird throwback to some early time, to be sure, but it works well enough for a device that is really meant to be a book. The new Kindle promises a joystick which operates on the main screen proper. It’s not the magic of a touch-screen, but again, for a book, it’s not a terrible solution. I don’t find myself using the Kindle for much past reading and a few notes; I never use the web functionality outside Whispernet for orders and fulfillment. If you want an all-in-one, don’t get a Kindle and expect it to be a good browser; get an iPhone. This criticism extends to the keyboard as well. It works. Don’t expect magic.

The real strength of the Kindle lies in Amazon’s fulfillment of book orders. Primarily, the Kindle relies on a cellular product called Whispernet to send and receive orders wirelessly. The cost of this service is built into the price of the Kindle and the books themselves. Ordering is as simple as browsing and selecting from the Kindle itself, although one-click payment setup from a PC is required to activate your account. The market saturation of Whispernet seems pretty good, roughly following the availability of higher-end cellular services. In other words, serious boondocks might not be Whispernet capable, but you’ll have no problems around most towns, any cities in the US, and Interstate and major highways. Between Tallahassee and Cairo, Georgia, I have had no issues whatsoever. The use of the built-in cellular modem negatively affects battery life, but it can be turned off independently of the device with another switch on the rear. Without the engaged modem, the battery life of the device extends to several days of serious reading. Still, if you want your newspaper, you’re going to have to turn it on occasionally. Otherwise, you have to rely on the Kindle’s USB connection–a feature I’ve never used. The worst part of this fulfillment scheme is the amount of money you’ll spend buying books. Even then, this is tempered by the ability to download sample chapters to the device.

Non-Kindle books can be uploaded to the device through Amazon or the USB connection. Unfortunately, Amazon saw this possibility and built-in a small charge to cover conversion and delivery of these “outlaw” books through Whispernet. Even so, the charge is minimal and the ease of Whispernet use really makes it a non-issue. Extended converters are available from non-Amazon sources, though I’ve had little exposure to them.

To summarize, the Kindle is awesome. It could be better (a la the sturdiness, back light, and touch-screen of the Sony E-Reader), but its fulfillment method makes it the best attempt at an electronic book to date. Amazon has stuff to read, and the Kindle works plenty well enough to read it.

Awesomeness

Some things are awesome. And, by awesome I mean great, and not the literal meaning “inspiring a sense of awe.” This is modern usage, and I don’t want to convey the idea that these things are necessarily Grand Canyon-huge or alien-mothership-in-boiling-clouds-over-San-Francisco-frightening or second-coming-holy-shit-awesome. They’re just great stuff.

Okay, semantics out of the way, here’s the stuff:

#1 Surly Products
Surly makes a living attaching a sense of cool to what are, at heart, pretty normal things. They take something that is pretty common and do it differently. QBP (Surly’s owner) is attempting the same magic with their other brand, Salsa, but the jury’s still out. Still, there’s some nice stuff with the ragged Surly logo slapped across it. Check out the Pugsley, the Big Dummy, and my recent favorite: my Surly Karate Monkey, the Supermonkey.

I have been experimenting with “all ’rounder” bikes–the sort of bikes that work well in many areas. The truth is, good all-rounder bikes are just as specialized in their performance as the discipline-specific bikes; if you deviate from the weird mix of terrain and conditions that you’re trying to address with your all-rounder, you’re back to “this-doesn’t-work-well-I-wish-I-was-riding-my-….” My Bob Brown custom sport-tourer is an all-rounder that works well for long rides at a middling pace. It’s not a pack mule, but it’ll carry a bit. It’s not a dirt bike, but it’ll go down a packed dirt road with no problems, so long as there’s no sand. It’s plenty quick with a fast group, but you wouldn’t want to race it, especially uphill. Around here, dirt roads mean sand traps, short stretches in low areas where all the sand and bits are washed during heavy rains. These eat tires and force walkies on anything skinnier than a 1.75″ tire, unless you’re just damn lucky and can focus on the idea of “floating” so much you start levitating. It looks like I need another “all ’rounder.”

Considering this, I really wanted a bike to ride the dirt-road segments of the local century ride, the Spaghetti 100. Given the nature of South Georgia and North Florida, a bike that could handle these dirt roads with aplomb would also open up vast numbers of new routes and fun. To this end, I purchased a Karate Monkey after strongly considering the Salsa Fargo. The Fargo is really designed for this sort of project, with a 68mm bottom bracket and even a big “designed for drop bars” plug in its ad copy. The sadly lacking availability of the Fargo, however, removed it from serious consideration before it even gained a foothold. I own a Pug and a Steamroller, so I was pretty happy to jump right onto a Karate Monkey project with no hesitation.

Supermonkey Side

Originally, I went with an Ultegra triple road group. The longer spindle length of the triple crank fit the 73mm Chris King MTB bottom bracket pretty well, but the front derailleur bottomed out just short of engaging the big ring. Removing the bottom bracket spacer might have allowed enough room, but the chainrings wouldn’t have cleared the stays. Thus, the XT group from the Cinelli went on. I kept the road shifters and cassette and added Avid BB7 road discs (160mm rotors) and Velocity’s Blunt 29er wheelset (XT hubs). I was surprised how my road setup really didn’t feel good on a dirt road, so the stem was shortened to a 90mm Specialized with a LOT of rise (16 degrees). The more upright position made the drop bars feel much more stable in the dirt and sand, yet still allowed for some down-in-the-drops road action when desired. Just to be nasty, the sprung Brooks flyer and giant Carradice saddle bag made the cut. (Comfort and convenience are paramount, of course, so no more mocking my “purse.”)

Supermonkey Back

From the viewpoints of both a mountain-biker and a road cyclist, the Supermonkey does nothing particularly well. It’s big and heavy and oddly proportioned. However, put the Monkey on a long dirt-road and fire-trail ride, one with lots of sand traps and loose material that isn’t very technical interspersed with stretches of paved road, and you quickly realize you’ve got a winner. It’s rigid with drop bars, which makes you faster than the MTBs on the ride, and you’ve got lots of nice hand positions to move to. It’s got fat ole’ funky tires so the sand doesn’t suck you up (I pity the cyclocross bike with 35mm tires in a sand trap), and it’s comparatively low tire pressures make it a pretty nice ride in the bumps (although you feel some of that rigidity shining through, and the saddle squeaks like an old mattress).

Supermonkey is a weird, heavy bike. It’s slow on the road, and not-too-good on singletrack. However, in its little niche as a fun bike that can cover most terrain comfortably at lower speeds, it’s an absolute blast to ride. It’d probably make a great commuter, too. So, why is this monkey “super?” Because it’s awesome and “Awesomemonkey” doesn’t have the same ring. I love Supermonkey!

Supermonkey Front