Friday, May 31, 2013

A little trail riding after a day of driving

I've been on the road all day on the way to a work-related conference. As it happens, it's being held in Salt Lake City, which is close enough to where my in-laws live in Wyoming that I stopped at their house for the night.

After a great burrito dinner with my father-in-law, Scout and I took a ride on the network of ATV trails criss-crossing the hills behind their house. While I would've ridden better without a big burrito on board, the system of trails was just the ticket after a day in the car. I'm not a big fan of noisy, dusty, overly powerful ATVs, but their activity does result in some pretty great double tracks.

The small town instant access to riding off road makes me really feel like moving out of the city. If I had trails like this in my back yard, I'd be on them all the time. I pretty sure Scout would, too.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Operation N-1

Sayonara, Shogun.
There is a formula that is half joke but half truth, and commonly known among people who have or who aspire to have a lot of bikes. It goes along the lines of:

Optimum number of bikes to own = N+1, where N is the number of bikes you currently own.

Variations of this formula attempt to factor in an upper limit of the number of bikes a person may own; a ceiling which would trigger divorce or other undesirable relationship outcome.

Beyond the hazy calculation of a relationship-destroying bike ownership number, there are other practicalities to consider with having many bikes. While it is certainly fun to have a variety to choose from at any point in time, it can also be debilitating. It can take a lot of room to house a hoard of bikes, as well as copious time, money, and effort to properly equip and maintain them. The time to ride and enjoy each bike ultimately suffers.

I have a lot of bikes. I freely admit this. I certainly don't have the largest total of anyone out there, but I have more than anyone I personally know. The household number of bikes has reached peaks in the mid-30s as recently as last Fall, though I'm not certain how many are here at present. Regardless, for a while now, I've felt as though I've been getting close to my ceiling; not fueled by factors of relationship impact, mind you, but more by a sense of feeling bogged down. Thus, I've decided to make some changes.

Some of my bikes I ride a lot. Others, I don't. Some have irrational sentimental value. Others, not so much. Some were acquired for specific purposes or objectives. Others seem to have just appeared, through chance or apathy. Some, but definitely not all, I regard as essential. It is within this web of factors that I've begun to weigh the costs and benefits of retaining each bike.

So, I've embarked upon begun Operation N-1, with the goal of getting to a manageable number while still upholding my bike-centric ideals. Though I don't know what my personal lower-end threshold will be, I'm probably not quite ready to be a one-bike-to-do-everything kind of guy, though that does have some logical appeal.

The Shogun on the light rail going downtown to meet its new owner.
The first of my group of long-held bikes to leave was my circa 1987 Shogun Selectra, pictured above. It's always been a solid performer and imminently practical; a single-speeded Japanese lugged-steel classic that is low on frills and high on performance. I'd gotten the frameset for dirt cheap in the closing moments of Veloswap years ago, and had built it in many configurations. For a couple of years, it was on loan as the bike that helped my brother-in-law Larry get back on a bike as an adult. I searched for reasons to make an exception to keep the Shogun, and wrote a listing description that was more like a strong letter of reference for a valued colleague, but in the end, it was time to part ways. It's now the sole bike of a nice young guy who recently rediscovered biking, and who is eager to use it to commute and to continue to lose weight.
So long, 1981 Trek 710.
The second of my bikes to go was a 1981 Trek 710 sport touring road bike that was my equivalent of a budget Rivendell. With a serial number of 008658, it was from the days when all Trek bikes were hand brazed in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The frame and fork was built with full Reynolds 531 tubing, and was surprisingly light and had a very lively ride. However, I've increasingly drifted away from the idea of doing road touring, mostly because I just don't enjoy spending time with cars if I don't have to. I sold it to a heavily tattooed guy who was branching out from BMX bikes in order to ride with his roadie girlfriend. It has huge tire clearance for a road bike, so he'll be able to keep some fat rubber on it to help with the transition from BMX.

Adios, Zap Electri Cruiser.
The third bike that I've sold in the past couple of weeks wasn't by definition part of my household, but had been in my care for some time. My Mom's Zap Electri Cruiser helped to get her back on a bike after a hiatus of many years. At first she really appreciated the help of a 12-volt motor to spin the wheels for her when she needed some assistance, but she eventually realized that hauling around all that extra weight in the battery and motor wasn't as much fun as riding a lighter, nimbler standard bike. The Zap had been hanging out in her garage for a few years, ever since I fixed her up a 1984 Univega Rover Sport. The new owner of the Zap intends to use it to ride to work and appreciates its features for much the same reason as my Mom initially did.

So there it is. A reduction in my bike fleet, but only the start. I may list some of my bikes that are slated to go on this blog at some point. In the mean time, go ride some of your own fleet, whether that fleet is large or small.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Albuquerque off road

My brother's giant Surly Ogre, and my Stumpjumper FSR, perhaps slightly-too-small for its rider.
The weekend before last, we made a quick trip down to New Mexico for a niece's fifth birthday party. While there, my brother Chris and I snuck out to do a little riding in the foothills to the East of town. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun.

My bike for the trip was my 2006 Stumpjumper FSR. I still haven't decided whether I'll keep it, so I thought that it might be a good opportunity for further evaluation. Plus, it was a lot easier to fit in the van than the Pugsley. I made sure I was equipped with tools, tubes and water, but somehow overlooked until too late that there would likely be any number of things along the trail to make pincushions of the tires. The Stumpjumper has non-slimed, standard-tubed tires. I decided to tempt fate anyway.

The dam at the trailhead.
Cholla: beautiful but barbed. 
Prickly pear in bloom.
The day of the ride was uncharacteristically overcast, which was quite welcome to me as I wasn't ready to plunge into hardcore heat just yet. We started with a few miles worth of easy climbing, peppered with a few breaks to look at flora and fauna. As anticipated, there was no shortage of several kinds of cacti, but to my relief, none of the dreaded goat head thorns seemed to be around. Provided a rider pays attention, cactus is not too difficult to avoid, but an area strewn with goatheads is much more problematic.

Embedded rock gardens to keep things lively.
Lots of rollers, but trending unmistakably upward.
The trail surface was varied between gravelly, rocky, and sandy, and the views were great. There was also quite a bit of fauna to see among the flora, though some required a keen eye to see. The terrain rolled by and after an hour or so of climbing with a few small descents sprinkled in, we made it to the apex of our route.
A bull snake sunning itself on the trail. 
The area has a vast network of well-marked trails, some of which are part of the Albuquerque Parks system and others of the U.S. Forest Service.
I found these concrete waffles to be an ingenious tool to mitigate erosion and maintain trail integrity.  
My brother often runs these trails, though I can't help but think of knobby tires when I see views like this. 
On my Stumpjumper, the descent was fast and swoopy; pure dust in the teeth fun. I was halfway down before I remembered to switch the rear shock from the stiffer "ProPedal" setting to the luxurious "Open" setting. With the shock in "Open", the bike makes me feel nearly invincible, in a fun but potentially dangerous way. If I had a bike like this in my pre mortality-conscious days of 20 years ago, I would have really been able to get myself in a lot of trouble. As it is now, I get to glimpse blinding speed and superhero status with the foresight to pull back before it is too late.
One of the few places on the way back down that I had to stop and wait for Chris to tell me which way to go.
Difficult to see with my lousy phone cam pic, but there's a lizard in the lower right third of this photo.
A view of town below.
We took a few minutes to mess around on a concrete drainage ditch with slanted sides. 
As kids on BMX bikes 30 years ago, we would have been all over this thing. As 40-something old guys, we were a bit more measured, but still had some fun.
In the end, I made it through the ride without getting a flat, but I also became convinced that tubeless tires are the way to go. I would have spent a bit more time having fun and a bit less thinking about the needles everywhere. Overall, the Stumpjumper performed flawlessly, and has further muddied my opinion as to whether to keep it.

On the positive, it is a well-engineered superbike (at least for 7 years ago, which is new enough for me) that I picked up on the cheap; something of which I would/could never buy the full-priced new equivalent. As a full-suspension bike, it really can do some things that I have to acknowledge a rigid bike can't. It is incredibly fast and fun to ride.

On the negative, it's a size large, which is borderline too small for me, and I remain convinced that a 29er is better proportioned for my height. As a full-suspension bike, it also has the hassles of shock and pivot maintenance. Though I've owned suspension before, there's a reason I gravitate back toward rigid. But it is cheap and fun.

So, I remain undecided, and will probably keep it for further evaluation, for at least the time being. That is, unless some fervent (size large) reader out there wants to make an offer I can't refuse to take it off my hands. Perhaps its parts will someday make their way to a 29er frame, for which I'll sell the Stumpy and Fox fork to finance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

150 days and counting

Still have some work to do to get the shoulder harness right.
Today marks the 150th consecutive day that I've ridden a bike. Every day and every ride is a little different. It continues to be a good run.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Part 2: Home-built Xtracycle/Big Dummy seat

Seatbelt magic resides in the holes.
We left off last time with a more-or-less finished deck seat assembly. I used the seat as it appeared in that last post for over four years without an integrated seatbelt system. Instead, I used a length of one-inch wide utility webbing and an adjustable buckle purchased from REI; something very similar to, but not quite exactly like this. I ran the webbing under both v-racks (over the rear fender), with each end of the webbing coming up behind each side panel of the seat deck assembly, then over her lap with the buckle in the middle of her lap. My eldest daughter was three years old when she started riding in the seat, and this configuration worked fine for her at that age. Yet, I always thought there was room for improvement.

A piqued interest of my youngest daughter in riding the Big Dummy recently hastened seatbelt improvements. She is now about 15 months old, and although she has enjoyed riding in our old Burley trailer, she wants to do what the big people are doing and has very recently become very energized about riding on the Dummy. She did a few rides with the old seatbelt system, but it seemed that a five-point harness was in order.

I didn't want for screw heads or other hardware protrusions to stick out of the areas where her body would be in contact, so I devised the following system using easy-to-source webbing and Fastex-type fasteners. There is perhaps some detail missing below, but this is a new development and still in the process of being honed. As I get it dialed in, I'll post more photos.

Here we go. I used a one-inch diameter drill bit to make holes through which I inserted 3/4-inch webbing. Note that I would have preferred to use one-inch webbing, but 3/4 was what I had on hand. depending on how things work out, I may reconfigure the webbing, which shouldn't be a big deal. In any case, the procedure follows.
Pilot holes first. For the shoulder straps, I drilled two holes six inches apart on center, centered across the backrest. Each hole is 2 1/2 inches down from the top of the backrest. 
After drilling the pilot holes, I drilled with the 1" bit part of the way through the back...
...and the rest of the way through the front so as not to rip up either the front or back face of the wood upon exit.
For the seat belt, I located the hole center about 2 1/2 inches above the deck surface, centered laterally on the side panel. Same drilling procedure as above. 
After the holes were drilled, I sanded and smoothed their edges to reduce the potential for wear on the straps. Next came installation of the straps. I used some 3/4-inch nylon webbing that conveniently already had buckles installed, with one side adjustable and the other side fixed. Three sets of webbing and buckles are needed, as are 2 Fastex-type three-bar sliders, 1 D-ring, and 1 snaphook. First the seatbelt.
Sorry for the photo that doesn't quite focus on the seatbelt, but hopefully the threading pattern is clear. The goal is a snug fit at the passenger's hips, just below the iliac crest; not at the waist. A webbing/buckle combo is shown in the foreground. 
This is just a reference photo, showing a three-bar slider. These are used to attach the webbing with the fixed side of the buckle to the shoulder strap holes. I made sure to configure any non-smooth or hardware side of the strapping system away from body contact with the passenger.
The anchor strap for connecting the shoulder harness to the deck passes between the legs of the passenger. It's necessary for it to be quite secure. I could have opted to use a hole-based system as with the other straps, but instead I used a bolt. Based on some measurements and test fittings, I drilled a hole 6 1/2 inches back from the nose of the deck. I fastened stainless steel hardware, in this order from the top down: bolt, flat washer, webbing (two ends of a simple loop doubled over with the d-ring at the apex of the loop, and with holes pre-drilled for the bolt), wooden deck, flat washer, lock washer, nut. This will make more sense with the following photos.
Drilling the anchor bolt hole. Anchor bolt is in the foreground.
Anchor strap installed. Note the position of the d-ring. It's easiest to drill the webbing when it is sandwiched between two scrap pieces of wood. Making the anchor strap adjustable might have been nice, but is not entirely necessary.
Underside of the anchor bolt.
I measured and cut a slit in the foam pad through which to work the anchor strap.
Everything in place, but yet to be adjusted. The Fastex snaphook clips to the d-ring, and has a length of webbing running through it. Each end of this piece of webbing has the adjustable side of each of the the two shoulder strap buckles. The two three-bar sliders are at the top of the backrest, holding the shoulder straps to the backrest. 
A view from the back. Note the back of the seatbelt runs behind the seat, and the shoulder straps loop through the backrest. The goal of no hardware protruding into the passenger space has been met.
The first ride with the new strap system. It apparently gets a thumbs up. Note that I left the straps long for adjustment. Once they're dialed, I'll trim them. The handlebar holds a bell and a bottle cage; both well appreciated by diminutive co-pilots.
Hopefully, this presentation has made some sense and is not too difficult to follow. I can affirm that there will be at least one more installment of this series, with some more detail and updates regarding the strap system, among other things.

If this all seems like a lot of effort, well, it is to a degree. However, I personally consider the ability to safely carry passengers the defining element of my Big Dummy experience. Carrying kids and cargo has radically reshaped my biking life and made for some of the best times I've had on two wheels.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Part 1: Home-built Xtracycle/Big Dummy seat

The rear seat as it has evolved after a few years and thousands of miles of use.
For a while, I've been meaning to put together a post showing how I built a kid seat for the deck of my Big Dummy. The thing is, I built it prior to the existence of this blog, so it was not well documented, and factor that by my inherent laziness. That 'while' has now stretched out into a couple of years. However, recently the rusty gears in the task completion part of my brain have been jarred loose, in no small part because fellow Daddy and Big Dummy owner bikewRider has inquired as to its construction. He is in need of a means to transport his little wRider, and, not too far down the road, a second co-pilot still in development.

That said, this presentation is for entertainment purposes only. I make no claims as to the safety or reliability of the cobbled together device pictured here, nor for the appropriateness of any use thereof. I am at best a middling craftsman and have been known to use materials and resources for purposes other than that for which they were originally intended.

If, against better judgement, you proceed to construction of something similar, any outcome, whether good or bad, is entirely of your own doing. I assume no responsibility. Know this: a healthy dose of common sense and constant attention to the safe operation of any machinery is paramount. You have been warned; proceed at your own risk.

Another view of the seat.

On to the show. This is Part 1 of what will likely be two, or if I get ambitious, three parts. The focus of Part 1 is to show how everything goes together. There are a total of four wooden elements in the following construction: 1 deck, 1 backrest, and 2 side panels. A key element that allows the deck to support a vertical backrest are deck wings. Don't worry, they'll become apparent in the following photos.
The underside of the deck, removed from the v-racks. The deck wings protrude from each side. Note that the Xtracycle Magic Carpet cover  doesn't interface well with the deck wings. That part at the top is for a second seatback that I added after initial construction. Just forget about it for now. We'll come back to it at a later date.
Side view of how the deck wing supports the side panel.
I added a bit of lateral curvature to the backrest. It's constructed of two 1/4" pieces of cabinet-grade oak plywood laminated together. I glued and clamped them to a form in order to produce the curve. 
From left to right: Magic Carpet cover, closed cell foam pad, seat deck assembly.
The basic shape of the deck and the SnapHook holes are traced from the standard Xtracycle Snapdeck. Again, the deck is comprised of two laminated  1/4" layers of cabinet-grade oak plywood. I used four Xtracycle SnapHooks for attachment. If I were to do it again, I'd use the newer SuperHooks, which were not available at the time.
Another view of the deck assembly. I would have preferred maple or ash to the oak, but it was what was available.  
Here's the assembly on the bike without the Magic Carpet. Notice the backrest is above the deck so that there is space to clear the closed cell pad. Note the side panels are from scraps of exterior-grade 3/4" treated plywood, not the laminated oak of the deck and backrest.
The backrest rises to about 12" from the deck. If I did it again, I'd go to 15 or 16 inches to better support sleeping, bobbing heads. I might also make actual armrests on the side panels. My philosophy was to keep everything smallish, so as to retain maximum usefulness of the deck without a passenger. However, a little larger wouldn't diminish any utility. 
About 10.5 inches across the back. This width seems good for a wide range of differently sized passengers.
Wingtip to wingtip is about 12" on the leading edge. I traced the original Snapdeck on some paper and sketched in the  deck wings, then transferred the design to the oak plywood for cutting. I based most of the dimensions on careful guesswork and measurements of various kid-sized devices with seats. 
The trailing edge of the wings are narrower, so that the effect is that the seat sides open toward the front. Note that the strap shown serves to more strongly connect the deck to the v-racks. 
I glued and screwed the backrest to the side panels, being careful to pre-drill pilot holes and apply glue to the screw threads. That sucker is there to stay. The backrest makes a great sticker board.

A view of the deck wings. Three glued screws per side. I think all the screws that I used were 1 5/8" exterior grade.
This shows the laminated layers of the deck. I cut each layer separately, glued them together, then sanded them evenly along the edges. A router to round the edges would have been nice. 
The length of each deck wing corresponds with the width of the side panel. I angled the side panels at about 10 degrees, so as to make the backrest a bit more comfortable than a right angle would have been. If I were to do it again, I might go for a 15 degree lean. My compound mitre saw was helpful for making these cuts.
Side panels are about 9" high. 
An overall shot with the ruler to show how far back the backrest is placed.
That's more or less it for the basic construction of the deck assembly. Pretty straight forward; just measure and cut carefully, and if in doubt, build a cardboard mockup. After the initial assembly, I sanded off any rough edges and applied four coats of exterior grade polyurethane to all surfaces. After four years of a lot of use and spending a fair amount of time outside, it's holding up well, but could benefit from a refresher coat or two.

Next up: Seat harnesses and cockpit amenities.