23 March 2009

Learning about Bicycles

It's been a while since I've spent a 36°F night out in the garage working on bikes until I can't feel my fingers. Today my dad brought over two 20" kid bikes that he aquired while helping someone move, so I had an excuse to do some wrenching in the cold. We've done this a few times before where he finds the needy bikes, I fix 'em up, and then we place them in a good home. The problem is that some bikes are worth working on and others are not.

Yes, the fork of the blue one was backwards. Both also had bent brake calipers and other borken bits here and there. I took the broken stuff off, then adjusted seats and bars, aired the tires (all were good, I was shocked), and flipped them over to inspect the tranny.

The orange one was fine, though the hub needed adjustment. I'm sure someone thought the front hand brake was a good idea, but I doubt that it ever helped to stop the bike any faster. I ditched it since the coaster brake worked ok. My first BMX bike only had a coaster brake and I remember it stopping on a dime (though it likely did not.) On to the blue bike.

The blue bike was problematic. When coasting, there was a horrendous high pitched grinding noise that seemed to come from inside of the hub. I thought maybe it just needed the outter cone adjusted, but that was not the case. So, I just took it apart completely. Why not?

I've never taken a coaster brake hub apart before, so it took a while to figure out. Late in the game, I remembered reading somewhere that you should use a bench vise to hold the wheel on one side. Bingo. I cleaned everything up and tried to understand it's workings. I reassembled it twice, wrongly thinking I had found and solved the problem. I finally deduced that the spring which controls the un-braking mechnism needed to be reshaped a bit and heavily greased. I'm glad I bought those cone wrenches ages ago when they were on sale.

With the bike returned to it's upright and fully locked position, I returned to the house for a cup of tea and some cookies.

20 March 2009

Powered by Grain

My family eats almost an entire loaf of bread every day. Toast with breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, crusty bits at dinner. In fact, most of my bike commutes started with a cup of strong black tea with milk and a slice of sprouted grain toast with butter and honey. The sustaining power of this combination is impressive. Sprouted grain bread can contain twice as much goodness as white bread, so it doesn't take much. The downside is that sprouted grain breads are purchased at a premium, nearly $4/loaf at the grocery store.

I mentioned here that my household had rediscovered their bread machine a few months ago. I finally tried the "dough" setting, opting to bake the bread in the oven in a stoneware bread dish instead of in the machine itself. There were many benefits to this method: thinner, tastier crust; a more consistent density, particularly with the whole wheat; slices of a more reasonable size, and the ability to make more bread in a day. Since my wife broke down a few months ago and bought a sprouter (like this) that works great, my next bread-making endevour will definately involve sprouted grains.

Spring is around the corner (I hope!) and it won't be long before I'll be needing a peanut butter, honey, Nutella sandwich on sprouted grain bread to get me through that first 50 mile ride of the season. What foods keep you going on long rides?

15 March 2009

Recreational Riding...

I organized a Sunday morning group ride for the Harmon Bike Club. Unfortunately, I woke up to find two inches of snow that were no where near the weather forecast for today (I was expecting a 92% chance of rain.) Well I'll be damned if I'm going to let down the one other person that might be willing to plow the slush with me this morning. I took the Xtracycle, wore my yellow rain coat (very rare occasion), lots of wool, and ski gloves. A small thermos of coffee was my back-up plan.

After two cups of coffee at The Hub, I rolled out at 10:20 by myself. Here's where I went:

View Larger Map

And here's what it looked like:

I stuck to the arterials where the cars had already plowed most of the slush off of the roads. I was already soaked when I reached Point Defiance Park, so I opted not to ride the portion of 5-Mile Drive that is closed to vehicles each weekend morning (more slush and run-off.) The 14 mile route felt more like a 20-miler, which was what I was shooting for today.

The sun peaked out on my way home. I got lots of smiles from drivers and saw one other set of bike tracks in the park. Those are very uplifting signs on a ride like this. Signs that kept me grinning the whole way.

08 March 2009

DIY Food

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LIfe as part of the Tacoma Reads Together program. Kingsolver documents her family's attempt to eat foods grown, raised, and produced from within their own county for one year. Her family of four lives on a small farm in Virginia where they raise chickens and turkeys, keep a 4000 sqft garden, and visit their local farmer's market weekly for other odds and ends. They bake their own bread, make their own sausage, cheese and yogurt (among other "processed" foods), and cultivate relationships with their community, as well. It's a lot of hard work, but they eat like kings and savor each delicious bite.

As someone who sees sustainability, buying locally, and organic agriculture as parts of a healthy lifestyle, the book has caused me to read more labels at the grocery store and put more wholesome foods on my table. We've kept a small raised bed garden the last two years, but have decided to expand it this year. We pulled a dusty bread machine from the attic and started making our own whole wheat bread, without corn syrup and other mystery additives. We are thinking about supplementing our own garden by purchasing a share of the crop from Terry's Berries, a local organic farm.

I'm no saint when it comes to eating healthy, but there's a balance here somewhere, and I need to at least tip the scale in the right direction.

Of course, this all started with biking to work. I often reflected during that hour-long ride about all of the things that people do in the modern age to simplify their lives, like driving everywhere. The "simple" way is not always better, and it's often borne at some cost that creates more complexity in our lives somewhere else. It may take me a little more time and effort to do some of these things, but I'm not looking for ways to make my life "simple", I'm looking for ways to make it more enjoyable, for me, my family and my community. Kingsolver's book is full of ideas and resources for anyone looking to do the same.

03 March 2009

A Weekend of Bicycling

I've been out on two wheels quite a bit, and thought I'd wrap it all up neatly for your consumption.

Sarah had the girls, so Kyler and I took the Xtracycle to Puget Park. We stopped at the library and a bakery on the way home. It was a little chilly once we reached cruising speed, but the little guy loves going for bike rides. Xtracycle's Kick Back (double-leg kickstand) was worth the wait and the money. I have no worries about loading, unloading, or "idling" kids in the bobike seat while it is engaged.

I loaded up the basket on the Cross Check and left early for a chilly ride through Point Defiance Park. I dressed in wool and took a thermos of tea, a pbh sandwich, camera, extra layers. The basket was full, but not very heavy, and managed the load well. I stopped for a snack and a warm drink at the Narrows lookout point, only to find that the memory card was not in my camera. Doh! After the 15 mile ride, I decided that my Xtracycle is better suited longer tours like the Courage Classic ride that I'm planning to do again this summer. Although, I may swap my sprung VO saddle to the Cross Check and give it one more try.
From Cross Check

Cross Check milk run. I needed one gallon of whole milk and one quart of soy milk. However...

1 gal milk = $2.99 ea
2 gal milk = $1.99 ea (must buy two)

Who comes up with these rediculous sales? Not being one to turn down a deal, and knowing we'd drink it, I picked up two. The soy milk was also cheaper buy the half gallon. Plenty of deals, but I only had my basket and front rack. (I think the rack limit is 15 pounds.) With my 20 pounds of liquid cargo and the U-lock tucked under the cargo net, I slowly meandered the 1.5 miles home. The handling was poor, which is what I expected, but manageable. I now know the upper limit of this setup.

Sarah and I ran errands in the van today. Too far to practically bike, but that's why we have the van. We stacked the destinations and didn't do any backtracking, at least.

We ran out of powdered sugar and baking cocoa, so Kyler and I again took to two wheels. We stopped to admire the fire trucks in Proctor, as there was some sort of multi-station meeting going on (must have been six engines in front of the station.) We also slowed to check out the large back-hoes and grading equipment tearing up Union Ave. Kyler also spotted a garbage truck during this stop. He's got an eye for garbage trucks.

From Xtracycle