Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How To Ride Your Bike in Traffic

OR: I Hate Everybody On the Road, But I Still Obey Traffic Control Devices

I live in a fairly large city.  You've heard of it.  Somehow or another, it's made it onto a few "best of" and "most friendly" kinds of bike ranking lists, though it's most often listed as "up and coming" on those lists.  This translates as, "biking here still fucking sucks, though not as much as it did 5 years ago."  The city is full of aggressive, stupid, willfully ignorant, and most importantly, selfish drivers.  The kinds of drivers who will hold up 4 lanes of traffic in both directions so they can poorly execute a K-turn to nab a parking spot that ends up being too small for their fucking SUV anyway.  Like that.

Riding in the city is like Thunderdome.  There is nothing relaxing about it, you cannot let your guard down, and there is a source of aggravation at every single intersection and most stretches of road in between.  This is not a diatribe against drivers.  I own a car, I drive a car, and goddamit, sometimes, I even enjoy driving.

This is not a diatribe against cyclists, though in this city, they are at least as often a source of aggravation as the drivers.  But the fact is, it's much more difficult to seriously hurt somebody else when you're riding a bike as compared to if you're driving a car, and cyclists are my tribe.

I am also not going to regurgitate a bunch of sanctimonious shit about how noble is the bicycle and how relaxing is the commute by bike, and how you should do it because it will make you a better person.  Is all that true?  Well, yes.  Does saying that shit make you sound like an insufferable pedant?  Goddamned right it does.  And you know what is not likely to get more people riding bikes?  Insufferable pedants.

No, what I'm going to attempt to do is explain why I follow traffic control devices in this sea of anarchy, for reasons that are less often articulated by the insufferable pedants out there.

The last intersection I cross to get home is a big one, and because this is an Up And Coming Bike City, making a left through this intersection on a bike is fucking impossible unless you get on the sidewalk and use the crosswalk signal.  So I'm almost home, pull onto the sidewalk, and as I usually do, I swing my bike around the pole that has the walk signal button on it.  When I do this, I wind up pointing straight across the cross walk, so when I get the signal, I just let go of the pole and pedal off.  It also means that, as I'm swinging my bike into position, it looks like I may be darting into the intersection.  As I was making this maneuver the other day, I happened to make eye contact with the driver of a cement truck as it went past me.  I heard the tone of his gigantic engine change, heard the brakes, made eye contact, and I saw the absolute terror in his eyes.

Because he thought I was pulling out into the crosswalk.  He thought he was about to commit vehicular manslaughter. 

This is why I obey traffic control devices.  Because it's an attempt to meet a benchmark for predictability, and when you are predictable, you are safer.  The terror in the drivers eyes was because, if I had proceeded into the intersection, against the traffic control device, I would've been behaving in an unpredictable manner.  I would've taken him by surprise, so much so that he wouldn't have been able to do anything and he would've squashed me.

Let me reiterate this: When you are obeying traffic control devices, you are behaving in a predictable manner, and behaving in a predictable manner makes you safer.

It's like interacting with wild animals: no sudden movements.

Now, am I saying I've never rolled a red light?  Of course not, I'm not a fucking traffic angel.  But when I do, it's after I've stopped, surveyed the intersection, and ascertained that there are no cars around.  That's right.  If there are cars, even if they're half a block away, I stop.  Because that's what's expected.  Because that's predictable behavior.  Because, dare I say it, that is respectable behavior, and isn't that we bicycle martyrs are always harping about, being respected? 

Well how the fuck can we expect to be respected if we don't behave in a respectable manner?!

And this is why it drives me crazy when I see cyclists blowing stop signs.  You're fucking it up for everybody.  Drivers don't see individual cyclists misbehaving.  They see a culture of disrespect for the law, and it pisses them off because if they behaved like that, there would be consequences.  You do not earn respect by pissing people off.

So just ride your fucking bike, and for fuck's sake, stop at the fucking stop signs.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My PF30 Creaks... We Have a Cream For That

About that Evolution of the BB string I've been neglecting: fuck it.  I still think it's interesting, but I think I made the point I was trying to make, and neither you nor I really care to take it any further.  To sum it up: bicycles, like organisms, are subject to competitive pressure, and the "fittest" designs will succeed when others fail.  In the bike industry, the following are pretty generally accepted as competitive pressures:
  • Weight
  • "Stiffness" which is really a measure of efficiency
  • Cost
  • Aesthetics
  • Aerodynamics
  • Durability
  • Other
Thus, if all else is equal, the lighter/stiffer/cheaper/better looking/more aerodynamic/more durable component is going to be more successful.  Enough said about that, but it does bear on where I'm headed next.

It seems that, without really thinking about it, I've come up with a catch phrase: "Just ride your fucking bike."  This sums up pretty well how I feel about bikes and what you should do with them, but it occurred to me the other day that some are no so lucky as to be able to do that.

"My bike is creaking again.  When I stand up or put a lot of pressure on the pedals.  And it's feeling kind of sluggish..."

This is a great customer of ours.  Let's call her Karen.  I roll Karen's bike (carbon, recognizable brand that's not one of the Big 5, PF30 BB, Red cranks) and toss it on the stand.  This is not the first time it's been in for creaking.  Fuck, this could be the 5th or 6th time we've had it in for creaking. 

I derail the chain and give the cranks a spin.  Smooth as a baby's ass.  I check the brakes and wheels.  Wheels true, no rubbing anywhere.  I tactfully let Karen know that, as far as I can tell with an admittedly cursory examination, the sluggishness is either tire pressure or her motor.  She concedes it could be the motor.  Great, but we still haven't addressed the creak.

That fucking PF30 bottom bracket.

Let me say this up front: the PF30 makes sense on several levels, but I do not believe it is a superior "standard" for most riders.  Take Karen for instance.  She's an enthusiast, puts on a respectable amount of miles every year, does a few long disease-type rides, and she's fucking loaded.  She is absolutely not competitive.  But she's riding a carbon bike, deep dish carbon wheels with 20/24 spokes, and light components.  We tell ourselves that this is a great all-around bike, but that's not fucking true - it's a race bike.  Karen wants to just ride her fucking bike, but she can't for more than 10 miles before it starts creaking again. 

I try to explain that sometimes, bikes make noise and it's OK and it's normal.  I tell her about my Salsa Spearfish, a great bike, and all the noises it makes (brakes, BB, suspension).  She's having none of it, and then I realize it: we're both stuck, she and I.  She's got a bike that's poorly suited to the kind of riding she does, and I'm stuck trying to polish that turd.  I'm an experienced mechanic, so I'm better equipped to hear and diagnose, to decide what needs attention and what's normal, but she is not.  I can't tell her to ignore the noises (even if she was willing to do that, which she is not) because sometimes, there are noises that do need attention lest something expensive break.  We didn't sell her the bike, so I can't even tell her that I can take measurements and talk to the manufacturer to see if the BB shell is within spec. 

We could blame the bike manufacturer, as so many internet douchebags do.  We could blame an unscrupulous sales person.  We could blame SRAM. 

But I blame us (except for Grant Peterson). 

We did this to ourselves.  We allowed ourselves to be convinced that we all needed lighterstifferfaster to get to the fucking coffee shop and to do our once-a-year disease ride, and we started to believe that a 15 pound bike made a difference when we're 30 pounds overweight, and we expected the poor fucking bike mechanics to be able to fix our silly-light wheels when they were designed for 120 pound climbing phenoms with a van full of team mechanics who are ready to tear down his bike at the end of the day.

Well fuck that shit.  I'm opening a bike shop.  It's called No Bullshit Bikes.  You come talk to me.  We'll sit down over a cup of coffee or a beer, and you'll tell me what kind of riding you like to do, and you're going to be fucking honest with me, you understand?  Don't ask for fucking Zipp 303s if all you do is ride the MS150.  And then I'm going to call on my decades of experience, and I'm going to put you on the bike that best suits your riding, and you're going to fucking trust me, you understand?  And when I quote you the price, you're not going to fucking balk, because you understand it's an investment, and it's not a fucking toy.  And you will NOT cite a fucking internet forum as evidence in support of what you do or don't want, you fucking bastard.  And your bike's going to work for a long time, and when things go wrong, it will be because stuff wore out after the expected amount of time, and I'll fix it for you for a reasonable fee.  And you know what?  You wanna know what the best fucking thing is?


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Secret Bike Mechanic

Goddamit, sometimes life just slaps you.  You know when you're doing something you really enjoy and believe it's something for which you have some talent, and then you find somebody who's doing it much better than you can hope to?  Yeah, like that.  Several astute readers forwarded the following along, and I'm going to plagiarize it, because why the fuck did this guy stop writing?  Yeah, I'm going to copy and paste straight from his blog in the hope he gets pissed off and sends me a C and D, just so I can get in contact with him to tell him to pick up the damn pen.

How not to make apple crumble

A customer in a small, independent delicatessen asks whether they have an apple pie available, freshly-baked but ready to go now. The proprietor replies that unfortunately they don't, but says he could certainly add one to his baking list for her, ready for collection tomorrow. The customer decides that's too long to wait and remarks that in any case the price seems a bit steep when she could easily just make an apple crumble herself. She buys some rolled oats, a bag of flour and several cooking apples, and asks the shopkeeper whether he has any advice on crumble baking. He mentions that it's good to stew the apples a little beforehand but cautions against overcooking it, and wishes her the best of luck with hers.

The next day the customer returns and berates the shopkeeper.
   "Those apples you sold me were horrible, they're really bitter. And there must have been something wrong with the flour or the oats, the crumble was completely dry and tasteless. What kind of refund can you give me?"

The shopkeeper, somewhat taken aback, apologises and says if there is a problem with the flour of course she can have a refund, but he's not had any other complaints, and he even uses the same flour himself. He enquires what kind of sugar she used in the crumble, and how much she added to the cooking apples.
   "What, you need sugar in crumble?" she replies. "You forgot to give me any sugar yesterday when I asked you how to make it."

Trying to remain polite, the shopkeeper explains:
   "Well, to he honest I assumed that if you were making it yourself you'd know more or less what ingredients were needed. We do sell recipe books if that would help..."
   "No, no, they're too expensive. I'll just take that bag of sugar you mentioned and try again this evening" says the customer.
   "Certainly, madam" says the shopkeeper, "that'll be £1.50 please".
   "Oh." says the customer, clearly displeased. "Doesn't it come with the apples, seeing as they're so bitter?"
   "No. Er, no. It's a separate item I'm afraid." says the shopkeeper, almost lost for words.
   "Can you at least give me a refund on the apples, seeing as they're wasted now?" the customer persists.
   "Well I'm sorry, but no, not really." says he. "The apples themselves didn't really have anything wrong with them did they?"
   "I'm not stupid" retorts the customer, apparently offended. "I can cook pasta and I've made loads of pot noodles. I've just not baked an actual crumble before. I don't suppose you could just quickly show me how could you? Or just quickly do it for me now, seeing as I'm buying all the ingredients from you?"
"I'm really sorry, but I don't have time". Says the shopkeeper. "I've got loads of orders for other customers still to make, and this gentleman here is waiting for me to serve him".
But fearing that he's now sounded too unhelpful, before the customer leaves the shopkeeper just checks whether she's got enough butter for her crumble mix.
   "I need butter as well?" asks the woman, incredulous. Then a suspicion crosses her mind: "You're not just trying to sell me more stuff now are you?"

Remembering the customer's original request, the shopkeeper decides to change tack. He gently suggests:
   "If you prefer, I could bake you an apple pie for tomorrow. In fact it might even work out cheaper than separately buying all..."
   "Oh yes, I saw your pies yesterday" the customer interrupts, "but then I found out you can get them in ASDA for 59p."

* * *

Does the customer sound unreasonable?

"delicatessen" for "bike shop";
"flour", "oats" and "apples" for "wheel", "tyre" and "inner tube";
"sugar" for "rim tape";
and "butter" for "tyre levers";
and all will become clear.

Funny what's considered acceptable in a bike shop isn't it?