Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Picking up Mommy from yoga

Julie wanted to be picked up from her yoga class via bike, so I rigged her Breezer to the Big Dummy with the Freeloader's integral straps and a supplementary ratchet strap. It's always fun to have a pedal powered road train.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rain + fenders = fun

Since our girl has become a pedal bike rider, most nights she accompanies me for a ride while I walk Heidi. Rain is relatively rare where we live, but tonight there was a nice shower that left behind some decent puddles. She is an accomplished puddle stomper especially when equipped with rain boots but had yet to encounter any on two wheels. She immediately identified the potential for fun. Perhaps not coincidentally, the lack of fenders, as well as a kickstand, were items she identified as shortcomings in her first pedal bike.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New bike bash!

The bike is a snazzy new 16 inch wheeled Electra Hawaii, in pink of course. A very cool little bike, well built and appropriately equipped.

A ride to the park with cousins, Aunt Jennie, Mommy and Daddy.

And a little three on the rear seat of the Big Dummy while towing the Electra action.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A tale of transition

Our little girl first rode a pedal bike at age four years ten months and four days on the bike below. I got this little 12.5 inch-wheeled bike for $5 at a second hand store. I put air in the tires, lubed the chain, removed the generous coating of scraped and faded princess-themed stickers, and it was good to go.

It is the typical inexpensive department store bike originally sold with training wheels (otherwise known as "the crutch that cripples"). Although it never had training wheels during the time we've had it, the bike arrived with a little warning sticker denoting that it was intended for use with training wheels only. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of the warning sticker before I removed it with the other stickers. From modest origins, this bike has nevertheless been the perfect stepping stone from her 12.5 inch-wheeled Skuut balance bike, a great little bike in its own right.

Her first solo ride on a pedal bike was on May 20, 2010. She took to it immediately, her skills progressing exponentially each time she rode.

Since she has entered the domain of pedal bikes, this has been the primary shape of family transportation around our house:

The Dummy with the little bike stowed aboard the port side of the vessel. On side streets, trails and parks, she launches off on her own like a jet fighter from an aircraft carrier. It's been a good era. But now less than two months later, she's moved up to a 16 inch-wheeled bike. I bought the Schwinn Trixie a few years ago from a second hand shop for about $15 and prepped it for her older cousin Chloe, who used it to learn to ride. Now it has come back as a hand-me-down.

Prior to this bike, she dabbled with another 16 inch wheeled bike, rescued from a neighbor's trash pickup.

The little purple bike is leaving soon to help Chloe's little sister Meredith learn to ride. I wish the little bike well and cherish our time together. But things change and girls grow. Who knows what the future will hold, but with a Daddy like me, she is destined to a bike-filled childhood and is unlikely to ever be a one-bike kid.

Bean green on the scene

This blog is ostensibly about adventures on a Surly Big Dummy, my most frequently ridden bike. However, the Dummy is not my only bike, nor is it even my only Surly. The Dummy's older sibling is my venerable bean green 2001 Surly Cross-Check. I am fortunate enough to have several great bikes, but the reality is that as a Daddy who usually needs to carry a little girl and a lot of other stuff, the Dummy is so useful that many of my other bikes are neglected. This week however, family is in town to visit and my child carrying duties have been temporarily relieved from my commute. So I've been riding and re-experiencing the Cross-Check.

The Surly Cross-Check frame is the chameleon of the bike world. I've seen dozens of very plausible configurations on the road over the years. My own 58cm Cross-Check has worn a variety of costumes. I initially built mine up as a fairly typical cyclocross bike, but it has since spent chronologically successive portions of its life as a touring bike, a road bike (complete with a brief foray into 9-speed Ultegra STI), a Rivendell-esque mustache handlebar equipped all-rounder, and a rigid 29-er mountain bike. Each rendition was fun in its own way.

A couple of years ago in a fit of targeted de-cluttering, my Cross-Check landed as a Nitto albatross bar equipped, single speeded, befendered, gentleman-dandy-type utility bike. This has easily been my favorite configuration. It's the Old Overholt of bikes, imparting a satisfying mouth-feel of slightly irrelevant tradition with a peculiarly distinctive bean green-ey aftertaste. With only one gear (46/20) on slightly knobby 700c/35 tires, it's a good Jack-of-all-trades bike; quick enough when necessary yet able to tackle reasonable climbs, on or off-road in most kinds of weather. Without all the heavy gears and other newfangled doodads, it feels light, sleek and efficient, at least to me.

My Cross-Check in downtown Denver yesterday with the saddle inexplicably about an inch lower than I prefer:

I've really enjoyed riding the Cross-Check again these past few days. I know it's an inanimate assembly of quite ordinary steel tubing, but this bike has always had a sort of internal resilience. When pedaling, it is eerily silent, but when coasting the pawls of the freehub click pleasingly loudly, louder even than other frames that have shared the same wheels. For some reason, the clicking freehub reminds me of a happy dog wagging its tail. Maybe there's something special in that snazzy green powdercoat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

(Sorta) Speedy Daddy

Hey, guess what? I rode in a race a couple of weeks back. I'm not fast or even very competitive, but my brother and sister-in-law were doing a team triathlon and their bike segment guy dropped out only a couple of days before the event. They asked me if I'd be interested, and as a surprise even to myself I agreed. This was the first race for my brother since he had back surgery, and my sister-in-law was just there to have fun. I knew I would be slow and had no chance of winning, so the pressure to be fast was off.

Without a time trial bike, I had to consider my steed from among my roadiest bikes. Those would be a 29 year old Trek 710 touring bike (more or less a museum piece) or my (single speed) Surly Cross-check. I even thought about pulling some of the cargo parts off the Big Dummy and riding it. In the end, I went for comfort, familiarity and dependability in my 1990 Titan Half-Trac mountain bike (better known as the one with license plate fenders). About 35 pounds, give or take. Albatross bars. Platform pedals. Seven friction-shifted gears. Continental Town and Country 1.9 tires. Vintage Rock Ring as a chain guard.

So early on a Saturday morning, I rode the Titan 30 miles in 1:56:54 from Lake Loveland to Horsetooth Reservoir and back in the company of guys in pointy helmets and 16 pound carbon-fiber bikes. To put it mildly, I stood out. As it turned out, the relay teams started in an early heat, so I got to see much of the field as they went by me. The elite riders just shot past, with their surprisingly loud disc wheels. A lot of the normal riders took the time to compliment me on my fenders or bike or remarked their impressions of my tenacity necessary to ride such a bike. A pointy helmeted guy even screamed, "Go 290! Woo!" (my number) on his way by. In a bit of a surprise, I did actually pass several people who were riding more suitably equipped bikes, but who were likely below my modest fitness level.

The experience made me really think about how compartmentalized the thinking of bicyclists is with regard to the equipment of bicycling, a perception that I noted even in myself when choosing a bike to bring to the race. Sure, I was slow and uncompetitive, but only marginally more so than if I had chosen my touring bike. At a certain level, there are distinct advantages when it comes to bike equipment, but for me and the rest of the ordinary racers, there probably isn't much of a difference. If I had added a second chainring to my Titan and taken the race slightly more seriously, I could have easily chopped 20 minutes off my time, without abandoning my 20-year old quirky bike.

That said, at least for the present time, I'm now considering a real-ish road bike. For some reason, I'm liking the idea of a "magenta and macaroni" colored late 1980s Dave Scott Ironman Centurion. In the mean time, don't be surprised if I'm riding the Big Dummy a bit faster than normal.

Heading out onto the course.
Team Molasses. Photo by Hazel (age 4)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hey there

As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed riding bikes. Bicycles are inexpensive to acquire and maintain, require no fuel and emit no pollutants, and are a fun and healthy means of physical activity. I think that the simple enjoyment of riding, coupled with the capacity for utilitarian transportation positions bicycles as an ideal vehicle. Riding a bicycle for transportation offers at least a partial solution to a number of current urban problems. Studying how bikes can change the dynamics of culture and affect the health and sustainability of communities is the focus of my career.

I bought a Surly Big Dummy Cargo bike not long after they became available. In my many years of riding a bike, the Big Dummy has singularly changed my perception of the use of bicycles and as a result, many aspects of my life. This blog is intended as a bin to collect observations gleaned while experiencing life on two wheels.