Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bikes, kids, sheep, and a dog

Dex enjoys serving as bell ringer in the front passenger seat. 
July is traditionally a busy month for visitors around the old bike ranch. The latest round included nephews and/or cousins Aidan and Dexter, visiting from Utah via Wyoming with Grandma and Grandpa. We ordinarily take an evening ride whether or not visitors are present, but it's always more fun to have extra riders to show around.
This is how we roll.
Scout continues to be a good riding partner. She's capable of amazing bursts of speed and galloping for several blocks at well over 15 miles an hour, but for the most part, she trots along at a consistent 6 to 8 miles per hour. That's a good speed for pacing riders of various skill levels around our neighborhood.

During one ride, we happened to chance upon some sheep along the fence at the farm. Because I suspect her ancestors were ranch dogs, and because I don't know much about her personal history prior to living with us, I was curious as to how she would behave around livestock. We approached the sheep slowly. When she got to the fence, Scout lay down next to it, calmly sniffed the sheep through the wire, and looked up at me as if in anticipation of a command. I was a bit taken aback. I doubt if she has had any livestock training, but she behaved, to my untrained eye, as if she were an old pro. I don't know if things would have been different if she were on the other side of the fence, but I was impressed in any case. It seemed that she would have been content to hang out with the sheep all afternoon.
My view of Scout on a typical ride.

An apparent ranch dog hanging with some sheep.

Scout at ease with her ovine pals. 
Last summer, I picked up an old/mid school fully chromed BMX bike. This acquisition was in part to serve as a guest bike for visiting kids, and in part to soothe my unrequited desire to own a similar bike, dating back to sometime in the late 1970s. During the visit, Aidan claimed the Diamond Back Assault as his steed for the visit; riding it the way a dirt bike needs to be ridden. The boy and the shiny silver BMX hit every bump and jump they could find. It made me remember my own long summer days spent searching out every pile of dirt in town. It was clear what had to be done. When our visitors left, the Diamond Back went westward to a new home with plenty of dirt riding in its future. Aidan's only cost for the bike was to promise that he gets his Dad out to ride as often as possible. I'm confident he'll hold up his end of the bargain.
Aidan and the Diamond Back Assault.
Big Sis was happy to have another dirt biking buddy to ride with, and they made quick work of finding every trail and stretch of muddy ground during our rides together. In my view, it bodes well for the world to have an up and coming crop of enthusiastic bike riders.
Still loving the new mountain bike.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hydrating has never been so fun

Enjoying 1.5 liters of cold, cool refreshment.
The CamelBak has been a big hit with my little mountain biker. She's been putting her one-handed riding skills to good use to grab the tube while riding.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rainy night ride

Night riding is fun. Puddles are fun. Night + rain = double fun.
We took a little ride to test out some newly acquired birthday gear. Of note were the new CamelBak, headlamp and riding knickers. She gave grinning approval to all. We opted for bikes with fenders to enjoy the puddles. Big Sis was a bit surprised to realize that her new mountain bike wasn't equipped with them, saying, "I thought all bikes had fenders." Around our place, with few exceptions it's easy to see how she would get that idea.

Though the little 16-inch wheeled Electra Hawaii has been a great bike, she acknowledged that it's time to pass this one down to her little sis. The Electra's coaster brake and lack of gears were also mildly lamented, indicating that she's become accustomed to the multiple gears and hand brakes of her mountain bike.

As we were riding and talking, it was she who brought up the need to find a larger replacement for her cruiser. In a flash of comprehension, I realized that the idea of having just a single bike is foreign to this girl. I shouldn't be surprised, but growing up on and around a barn full of bikes has apparently made an impression.

I've got a few vintage Schwinns in the herd, but a big bike with 26-inch wheels is still a while off from fitting. In the mean time, I suppose she's going to have to really twist my arm to go hunting for a 20" cruiser.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday afternoon ride

Scout likes me to rub her stomach while she intermittently chews my hand.
This is a distracting but cute animal photo, unrelated to the story.
Following yesterday's ride, I thought it would be a good idea to try out another trail. I remembered a nice dirt path along the Platte River. No, I'm not talking about the Platte River Trail, but instead a minor trail that many people might not even know exists. At least that's how I remembered it.

Before we set off, I checked over our bikes to make sure no tire leaks had cropped up overnight. All good, but Big Sis's bike sure got a good dose of mud. I guess that's what I should expect when I tell her that mountain bikes like to get dirty. As for my helper, she danced around in the bike barn to a rediscovered audio tape of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper's album Bo-Day-Shus, a relic of my youth. It'll be a while before she can understand all of the lyrics, so it's safe listening for now. It might require some explanation eventually.
Mud. An important part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Busting a move to Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.
As it turned out, in the approximately five years since I last rode the trail that I had in mind it had apparently become more popular, and marked. It now featured an actual trailhead placard, on which a notice was placed that it was closed to bikes. Bummer. So I had to piece together a Plan B. 

We rode a ways down the paved Platte River Trail, a place that I usually try to avoid on a weekend, especially with a kid in tow. There are just too many weekend warriors out in full kit on fancy road bikes, evidently either training for a race or trying for a personal best in getting to Chatfield Reservoir. In other words, lycra-clad speedsters with little patience for we slow or meandering explorers. So we rode the minimum possible on the paved part of the trail and shot off onto gravel or dirt spurs whenever we found them. In all, the ride wasn't quite up to the greatness of yesterday, but it wasn't bad.

Humming along, shortly before nearly running over a Common Garter Snake speeding across the trail. 
The Platter River Trail is kind of like a bike autobahn (fahrradbahn?), so I prefer the gravel frontage road when it is available.
Trail riding over the past two days was quite a bit of fun, but it's worth the effort to get to more out of the way places with more elevation change. Maybe next weekend we'll try for a somewhat longer ride.  I'm also thinking that an overnighter should be in the works.
Testing out the miniature effect setting on my new camera. Somehow, I don't think I've quite got it figured out.

Riding ahead of the storm

A summit pose in front of the rain approaching from the West.
We finally got some much needed moisture last night, and again today. The rain cut through the haze of wildfire smoke that's been hanging over the Denver area for a few weeks. The clear and dry morning and early afternoon was the perfect chance to get out for a ride before the next wave of thunderstorms were upon us.

Big Sis's new mountain bike proved to be a big boost to her off-road prowess, and seems very capable of enabling her to build on her already impressive array of skills. She rode terrifically, whether climbing, descending, or negotiating trail obstacles. As is reminiscent of my own riding experiences in my youth, her tires seemed to find the only mud puddle still standing. Kids and mud have a magnetic attraction. After the encounter, she reveled in "throwing some mud balls" from her tires.
It's nice to feel out in the country, even if housing developments are just out of view.
Below is my first attempt at editing together a video, which encompasses several of the highlights of the ride. The music is by The Sons of the Pioneers from sometime in the 1930s, because it just seemed to suit the mood. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday evening ride

Ready for anything.

Look out! It's a mountain bike with gears!

It's hard to convince her to keep the bike throttled back a bit.
Because Big Sis has been rapidly progressing in her bike skills and because she's grown tall enough, I put together a mountain bike with 20-inch wheels for her. I found a 2007 Kona Makena on Craigslist a while ago. The bike had a couple of positives going for it; it's a well-built, good quality frame. It also has a surprisingly nice Suntour suspension fork with about 50mm travel. The Kona is also an acceptable, not frilly, color. As much as I don't want to admit it, the color of a bike does come into play as far as the successful acceptance of its intended rider. So the present compromise is sort of a Joan-Jett-tough-girl version of pink rather than some nauseating Disney-pastel-princess pink. 
2007 Kona Makena, rebuilt and upgraded.
When I got it, the bike also had a few negatives, with some worn out and/or sub-par parts and was in dire need of maintenance. So, of course, I stripped it to the frame and rebuilt it from the bearings outward. I replaced the boat anchor bar and stem with aluminum versions, the battered Tektro brakes with Avid levers and v-brakes, and the saddle and seat post with nicer versions. I also installed a 7-speed freewheel in place of the worn 6-speed, and gear changes are accomplished via a new SRAM chain through a vintage Deore XTII M-737 rear derailleur controlled by a Suntour XC Comp 7-speed thumbshifter. As a nod to the preferences of my little mountain biker, I found a pair of hot pink Oury grips. She chose the pink bottle cage, and is overjoyed to finally be able to carry her own water. 
She seems more appropriately sized to this bike than to her old bike, as valiantly as it served.
One thing that I couldn't do anything about was the solid cast steel 140mm cranks with riveted 40 tooth chainring. It's a crime to equip a kid's bike with any single part that is so egregiously heavy when a better aluminum version can't be much more expensive. These cranks alone are about 3+ pounds. Ordinarily I'm not overly concerned with bike weight. After all, I ride a Big Dummy, a Pugsley and Denver B-cycles regularly. However, looking for ways to reduce the weight ratio of a 25-ish pound bike to a 48-pound rider, thoughtful changes can make for a nimbler, better experience when learning to ride off-road. A 34-ish tooth chainring would also make for much better off-road gearing for the 7-speed rear end. As soon as I can find a better setup, I'll swap the cranks and chainring out. 
With Chloe, riding through the park.
The little Kona is still equipped with the Duro brand imitation Panaracer Smoke 20x2.0 tires that it came with, but I'm looking for something with a little rounder profile. I've found the selection of real mountain bike tires, as opposed to BMX tires, in the 20-inch size somewhat limited. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm open.
Rocketing on the new bike down the local dirt track.
So far, she's done well learning to use hand brakes only, as her previous bikes have had coaster brakes. She's also figured out the shifting, and seems to really appreciate the lowest gear to climb on the dirt trail, and has remarked on how the suspension fork smoothes out some of the bumps. The larger diameter tires seem to have increased her speed, in a similar manner that moving from 26 to 29-inch tires can do for an adult. I can only imagine how fast she's going to be once she's gotten the bike completely sorted out.
A celebratory rock climb in lieu of fireworks.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The convoy cruising through the park...
...and bombing down neighborhood streets.
It's the time of year for the annual visit by my sister-in-law Jennie and her two girls. They are usually here for a week or two during the hottest part of the year. The present heat wave has ensured that this year will be no exception. I'm not typically involved with the activities during the day as I'm at work, but every evening we have a ride followed by cocktails. However, sometimes the events of the evening do not necessarily occur in that order.

Our evening rides are usually a bit of a rolling party, with the Big Dummy hauling a pile of revelers. Tonight, in my charge were about 110 pounds worth of girls (three in total), roughly 80 pounds of bike and trailer, a 40 pound dog, and 180-ish pounds of me. Those on my vehicle who were capable of singing regaled all in the vicinity with a variety of tunes. For whatever reason, Jingle Bells was featured prominently.
Big rig carrying a pink-laden, girlish cargo.
Sisters Jennie on the Pugsley and Julie on her beloved Breezer.
We usually have some sort of destination while riding, whether it is the community garden, a park or a dirt trail. Sometimes we have snack breaks or find activities to do along the way. The heat has been oppressive as of late, so we always appreciate chancing upon a water feature.
Meredith and Scout check out the fountain.
New to swimming, Scout heavily considered taking the plunge, but the slopeless, four-foot depth spooked her.
Out of the four daughters between the two adult sisters, three are old enough to play and do so almost ceaselessly. Any four kids can make an impressive amount of noise, but I'm finding that girls seem to have a particular knack for sustained volume, interspersed with shrill spikes.

Because I'm the only male in the household, and because I'm an obvious Daddy figure, Julie and Jennie occasionally give me grief about appearing to be the head of a polygamist family when we're all out together. It is likely a bit of a spectacle to see a somewhat bedraggled, middle-aged guy with a couple of Mommy-ish women (are they his wives?) and a flock of kids in tow. The fact that all the girls are blond-haired, blue-eyed and unmistakably appear related doesn't do much to dissuade any misguided perceptions.
Girls climbing a tree.
Girls on top of a rock.
Butterfly spotted.
I'm proud to have played the role of de facto bike godfather to my nieces. I've refurbished or rebuilt several bikes of varying sizes that have been passed around between them as each girl grows in size or progresses in bicycling skill. It began about six years ago when I refurbished Chloe's first bike, a 16-inch wheeled Schwinn Trixie that she currently rides. Now at 10, over the past few days Chloe made the leap from a single-speed, coaster-brake bike to a mountain bike with front and rear derailleurs and v-brakes. The transition has gone quite smoothly and her skills are on the rise with each ride. 

The bike she's riding is one that I built up expressly for the purpose of helping big kids learn how to shift and brake on a scaled-down classic mountain bike. The bike is a circa late '90s Kona Hahanna with a small 14-inch frame, but equipped with 26 inch wheels. The frame and fork are nice examples of thoughtfully assembled 4130 chromoly steel, appropriately light in gauge for correctly sized riders, and featuring 1-inch diameter top and down tubes for a compliant ride. I assembled it with top mount thumbshifters, friction front and indexed rear, so that shifting can be learned the right way. The bike is finished off with some 26x1.6 inch knobbies with just the right amount of grip. It ends up being quite light and nimble for budding singletrackers. This will definitely be a bike that stays in the family for use by all the girls.
Chloe rides with confidence on the Kona Hahanna.
She invites you to the gun show with the Schwinn Trixie hanging in the background.
Mother and daughter are all smiles after a few circuits on the dirt track in the park.
In addition to our evening rides, I have plenty of eager assistance with dogwalking duties. Meredith is a talented animal whisperer, who has quickly and completely enchanted our ordinarily shy dog Scout.
These girls are sometimes mistaken for each other or as twins.
Walking in the late evening sun.
Most fireworks have long been illegal in Colorado, but this year, even most of the public fireworks displays in the state have been cancelled due to extreme fire danger. That's no problem for me as I've had an aversion to fireworks for years, and I can't understand what is patriotic about literally burning money in the form of litter-producing, toxic-material-dispersing, Chinese-made explosives. However, tradition is propelled by strong inertia, and kids of all ages expect certain elements in a holiday. 

I'm sure we'll figure out something festive and fun to do. After all, what could be more patriotic than expending a little American muscle power as a rider in a bike convoy?
Four people, four wheels, and four paws.