Monday, May 10, 2021

A Foggy Morning - and an Odd Sign

As I'm sitting here typing this, the sun is once again shining in through the window after a solid week of rain in NE Ohio. No joke - it rained every day for the past week, and seemed especially biblical on Mothers Day as some of our local streets looked like canals, and flash flood warnings were the order of the day. I know of more than a few folks in my area whose homes are currently looking like lakefront properties. I don't think the showers stopped until sometime early this morning.

This morning promised to be the start to a good day for riding to work, but first I'd have to negotiate with heavy fog for the morning commute. The fog got particularly thick once I'd left the city limits and got into the more rural part of my ride as I neared my workplace. On the rural roads, the visibility was reduced to only about 20 yards -- possibly less in some spots.

I do get a little concerned about my own visibility on such mornings. I've got a flashing light on the back of my helmet, a couple of bright tail lights on the back of my bike, and two bright LED headlights - but in fog as thick as what we had this morning, I can only hope it's enough. I couldn't see car headlights until they got within about 30 yards away, so I doubt my lights are any better than that.

An odd sight emerged from the fog. Some kind of sign? A single lost shoe, looking to be reunited with its mate? And if so, why is it that whenever you see a shoe on the side of the road, it's always just ONE shoe? How does that even happen?

As the morning progressed, the fog burned off, revealing clear skies - finally. The ride home should be quite nice. In fact, if the forecast is to be believed, we should have a nice week ahead of us. That would be a welcome turn.

Well, that's all I've got for the moment. Just a short post for today.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Brooks Imperial Test Update

 I wrote some months back that I've been testing a Brooks saddle - specifically a B17 "Imperial" or "carved" model. That's the one with the big "pressure relieving" hole cut into the top. I've been using the saddle since August, and have put well over 2000 miles on it and can report a few observations.

First - the saddle still looks beautiful. The leather barely has any signs of wear. I did apply some Brooks Proofide before installing it on the bike, and I've used a cover whenever I've encountered rain, which I'm sure has helped protect it. But really, it hardly looks like it's been used. The chrome on the undercarriage is keeping its lustre. Like most Brooks saddles, it is, and remains, a thing of utilitarian beauty. The chromed rails (as opposed to painted, as on a "standard" B17) mark it as a deluxe model. The contrast between the rich brown leather and the gleaming chrome gives the saddle a luxurious look.

As far as comfort goes, something I've noticed is that the saddle remains quite stiff or hard, even after more than 6 months of regular use. It's almost as if it is taking longer to break-in than what I've experienced with other similar (non-carved) Brooks saddles. I'm curious as to whether this saddle has a different quality leather from what they use on standard B17 saddles. Maybe a tiny bit thicker? I have no way of knowing for sure - but I do suspect there must be something different about it. The Imperial model has been around for more than 10 years, so I can't understand why Brooks would be asking people to conduct long-term tests on one unless they were doing something different with it - and since I can't see anything obviously different, I can only suspect it may be something harder to detect. Different leather might be the thing.

Having said that, there could be another reason the saddle has remained so stiff. The laces along the bottom really keep the lower sides of the saddle from flexing, which in turn keeps the top firm. People will sometimes lace an older sagging saddle in the same manner to firm it up. Lacing a new saddle is probably overkill. The thing is, I typically find B17 saddles to be reasonably comfortable right out of the box, and they only get better as they break-in. This one doesn't yet seem to "disappear" underneath me as my other saddles do. I have loosened the laces on this example to allow some more of that flex that I've come to appreciate. That has helped some - but I'm considering removing the laces entirely to see what difference that makes to my comfort.

OK - so what about that big hole in the top?

Some readers may recall that about 20 (or so) years ago, some doctor published a study in which he connected frequent cycling to erectile dysfunction in men. The article was widely publicized in mainstream magazines, newspapers, and even on television talk and news shows. Even though the study's findings have since been called into question, if not flat-out refuted, the result is that many saddles today come with slots, holes, channels, or grooves in the top that are designed to reduce pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that travel through the perineum.

I for one have always been skeptical of the scare stories about impotence and the claims about "safer" saddle designs. In some cases, I've even questioned whether some "grooved" or "channeled" saddles might not be prone to do more harm than good. No, I can't perform a scientific study on it - but just looking at some of the designs, it simply strikes me that some "channeled" or "grooved" designs replace one large, broad pressure point with two much smaller, sharper pressure points, and I'm not sure that would really help the issue.

So back to the Brooks . . .

When I first looked at the saddle, I wondered if I'd even be able to notice the hole, much less whether it would it make any difference in comfort. After getting on the bike and riding a few miles, I started thinking - was it my imagination, or could I actually feel that hole? But I don't mean in a good, "pressure relieving" way. I mean, I thought I was feeling the edges of the hole - like digging in. After more miles and more days, weeks, and months of riding, I was certain of it. The edges of that hole were causing some chafing, even with padded cycling shorts. I had hoped that as the saddle softened up, that sensation would go away, though as I've already mentioned, the saddle still remains quite stiff so I'm still waiting to see if that happens. I'll remove the laces, free up the top to flex more, and maybe that will help. But what I'm struck by is that I'll get out for a ride on another bike with a standard B17 (and by the way, this can include saddles with similar mileage on them, or not that much more) and feel instantly comfortable with no fussing.

I've still got some time with the Brooks Imperial, and I remain open to the possibility that with more break-in miles, that it could match the comfort of the more traditional saddles I'm accustomed to. But so far, my impression is that the standard "non-carved" B17 is hard to beat, and I'd be willing to bet that would hold true even if someone truly was concerned about perineal pressure.

Oh yeah - one more thing. . .

Back in August, when I first wrote here in the blog about receiving this test saddle from Brooks, I mentioned that I had noticed an odd thing. Brooks leather saddles are notably still made in England, even though Brooks is now owned by the Italian company Selle Royal. When my saddle arrived, I saw that it had come shipped from Italy. I've since then learned the story. The leather saddles are indeed still made in the English factory (the non-leather saddles may be made elsewhere, though I'm not certain where) but they are then shipped to Italy for distribution. This arrangement is causing a bit of a flap now in post-Brexit Britain. Brooks has no distribution within Britain -- it is all handled through the parent company in Italy. That means that the saddles are made in England, shipped to Italy, and then (for U.K. buyers) have to be re-imported to the U.K. Post-Brexit trade, tariff, and tax issues with European Union imports means that U.K. buyers are having problems getting their hands on Brooks saddles, even though the saddles are made in their own country. What a mess. 

If anything changes my impression of the saddle, I'll be sure to give an update.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Catching Up

It's been a while, hasn't it?

The past few months have been pretty uninspiring when it comes to writing blog posts. Combined with work, and family concerns, updating a blog has shifted lower on the priorities. But I have a few moments to think about what's gone on since I last posted here on the Retrogrouch.

The Pandemic

Still dragging on. I got two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Our state prioritized teachers, so I was able to get my shots a little earlier than other friends of my same age group. I was also fortunate enough that our employer made the arrangements for all employees to get the shots, so it was a simple matter of picking a time slot and showing up. It has been a lot more complicated for many other people. At this point, every adult in Ohio is eligible for a shot, but for a while there, actually getting an appointment for one was something like an "every-man-for-himself" proposition, made harder for those who weren't computer/internet savvy (which includes most of the oldest population who were most at risk of the virus). Needless to say, getting a vaccine for my aging father was an ordeal, though I did manage to get him one. I understand the process is getting better, or so I hear.


I've been back at work full-time since late January, and I've been riding to work whenever I've been able. January and February are always lousy months for riding a bike in Northeast Ohio, but I still managed to ride a few days in those dead-of-winter months. Since March, I've been riding at least three days a week, but rain, and even snow sometimes, have made it hard to do much better than that. I know - I could always simply ride in the rain, but cold and wet is a terrible combination. Plus, part of the attraction for biking to work is that I enjoy it. I'm not actively seeking out misery.

Yesterday we had a snowstorm blow through the area in the morning, and I ended up driving. This morning the roads were clear, but black ice was an ever-present danger. The trees along this stretch of road still had that "wonderland" snow-frosting. It was cold - but a good ride to work.

Progress - Or So Some Might Say

For about 27 years now I've been passing, and admiring, this "perfect" old barn along my route to work. I've even captured it in a number of photos over the years. The barn, the little farmhouse nearby, and the surrounding farm fields with their rolling hills have always captured my imagination. The scene exhibits such a quiet, peaceful beauty, and I've long found something soothing and reassuring in it.

About a year ago, the farm was sold to developers, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the fields were carved up for houses that people like me would never be able to afford. I had hoped maybe someone would buy the farmhouse and the barn, and possible keep them, but that was probably just foolish wishful thinking.

Earlier this week, passing the farm on my way home, I saw this:

It had been standing that morning. It took only a few hours to reduce it to scrap.

It was one of the last little farms still left in the area. Such a shame to see it go this way.

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got till it's gone

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot

- Joni Mitchell

Monday, January 25, 2021

On Again - Off Again - and (Maybe?) Back On Again

As if to prove that keeping a "keeper of the flame" classic steel bike business alive in a carbon-fiber world is no easy feat (complicated further by our current pandemic realities), we have seen the Leeds, England-based Bob Jackson Cycles die, get resurrected, and die again all in the space of about 3 months.

After announcing last October that the 85-year-old company would be closing its doors by the end of 2020, it was then announced the following month that the company had secured some new investment and new blood, and was poised for another 85 years. Visitors to the site would have been pleased to find this announcement on the homepage in November:

Well then, apparently whatever deals or arrangements that were being made to keep the brand alive must have fallen through. By the first week of January, the message was "We are ceasing trading with immediate affect."


It seems, however, the brand may not be entirely finished after all. Though I haven't seen anything posted on other sites, it was recently announced by Kevin Sayles, the Master Framebuilder at Woodrup Cycles (which, like BJ, is located in Leeds, England), that the rights to the Bob Jackson brand, along with some of the old shop's tooling and materials, have been purchased by Woodrup. Frames built by Woodrup, but badged as Bob Jacksons, may soon be available. Exactly how that arrangement will work has yet to be announced, but if true, the brand is in good hands. Woodrup has been in business since 1949, and still has a full-service bike shop. Their hand-built "bespoke" frames are beautifully made and have an excellent reputation. For Sayles, the arrangement brings him around full circle in a sense -- he was a builder at Bob Jackson early in his building career back in the 1970s.

Like I said, there seems to be little information anywhere else about the arrangement - it's not even on the Woodrup website yet - and to the best of my knowledge, details about starting production, pricing, ordering, or anything else haven't been determined yet. I guess that makes this is one of those "Watch This Space" kind of announcements. 

In the meantime - I suggest visiting the Woodrup website and drool over some of their handiwork. 

UPDATE: 1/27/21 - more info just came up on CyclingWeekly. The new Bob Jackson will be run as a separate company from Woodrup, with a goal of getting production going in about 6 months time. The plan is to have a new website where people will be able to order frames - and have a renovated workshop in Leeds (separate from the Woodrup shop) where the frames will be built. Here's a link to the news from Cycling Weekly.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, now seems like a good time to look back at a year like no other.

It's been a while since we've had such
a "White Christmas."
I'm going to start this by mentioning that I don't know how much biking material will be in this post. We had a big winter storm come through our area beginning on the night of Christmas Eve, dumping over a foot of snow, and that meant no Christmas bike ride this year. Even now, on the Monday after, my street is still a thick sheet of ice since no city snowplows ever rolled through my neighborhood. We are low priority, I guess.

Sorry to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic will NOT be over when the new year is rung in. It's crazy to think about the fact that it started almost a full year ago, first being reported in China last January - though it didn't really come to dominate our news and our lives until March when everything shut down. More than 300,000 people have died here in the U.S. since then, and the spike in cases is far beyond what it was back in March. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and healthcare workers are exhausted and desperate. Yet somehow there are huge swaths of the American public who refuse to even believe that it's real - even when they're dying from it. Without getting too specifically into the politics of it, I'll just say that the national-level response has been a disgrace. And the state-level response, depending on the state, has been equally pathetic. I felt pretty good about the response by our Governor here in Ohio, at least early on. But when our state's excellent health director started getting death threats and had to resign as a result, the state response has become much more anemic.

Prior to the coronavirus, most of my posts at the beginning of 2020 dealt with my project of restoring this beautiful vintage Specialized Sequoia. I had just finished it when everything "hit the fan."

I was looking back at my blog posts from the past year, and mentions of the virus come up in the majority of them, beginning in March ("Corona Virus Blues") and continuing right up to now. There are posts about working from home, working on bike-related projects during the shutdown, a Covid-19 bike boom, and escaping the quarantine by bike. It's kind of funny to think that someday those posts could be part of some future historian's study of life during the pandemic. A modern Journal of the Plague Year, if you will, as I'm reminded of Samuel Pepys, or Daniel Defoe, in that regard.

The pandemic has already changed many things about our culture and society - both for better AND worse. I'm saddened to think of all the businesses, particularly restaurants and small family-owned businesses, that have either closed or will close before it's all over. I'm frustrated at the way fake news and conspiracy theories have replaced reputable news and common sense as the guiding forces of so many people. I'm concerned that the pandemic has really exposed the serious weaknesses and inherent inequalities in our systems, including economic, political, and healthcare - and I fear that the people who benefit from those weaknesses and inequalities will prevent anything from making them better. I'm not an optimist, and I haven't been since 1992 (yes, I can actually pin it down that specifically).

But have there been any good things to come out of this dumpster fire of a year?

Well, I think it has made people (at least some people) consider what is really important. For every one selfish and ignorant person who refuses to wear a mask because of a twisted and self-indulgent interpretation of "freedom," there are perhaps several more who are making sacrifices to help an elderly neighbor. I think a lot of people have gained more appreciation for family, and cherishing whatever time they are able to spend together.

I've hated many aspects of trying to teach remotely - but I've loved the fact that I've been able to see my wife and my own children so much more during the day (in between our various zoom meetings, etc.). I know that when I do have to return to work, that will be something I will miss.

And, as was mentioned in the post about a pandemic "bike boom" - it seems that a lot of people have come to rediscover the joys of riding a bike. Being stuck indoors has made people crave some kind of release, and bicycling turned out to be a great way to find it. Living so close to a national park, I could see firsthand how people were flocking to the park to enjoy the simple pleasures of a hike or a bike ride through our natural resources.

Here's another thing: people have been driving less, and there has been a marked improvement in the quality of air and water in some places. I wouldn't be surprised if car-related fatalities for 2020 show a significant dip compared to previous years, too.

There is a vaccine now, which means we can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the challenge, as I see it, is staying healthy until one can actually get the dose, and that could take months. When that time finally comes - maybe some time next summer - when we can feel comfortable enough to sit in a theater, or a restaurant - when we can hug that friend or relation without hesitating - when we can begin to feel "normal" again - what will we do? How will we respond? Will we be ready to to make serious changes to our addiction to oil? Will we finally be ready to address issues of inequity and very real weaknesses in our safety net and access to health care? Will people keep riding those bikes they bought - or shove them back down in the basement?

The Anglo-Saxons of the so-called "dark ages" believed in something they called "Wyrd." It's from this word that we got the modern-English word "weird" (and why, incidentally, Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth were called the "Weird Sisters"). The belief in Wyrd was essentially that the skein of any person's fate was woven long before they were born, and nothing they do can change the outcome. But even as we cannot change the outcome of our fate, we can control our response to it -- and it is our response to it that determines what kind of person we are, and the way we will be remembered. This past year has been a reminder that life can sometimes deal us things that we simply can't control. But we can always control how we respond to them. How will future generations view our response to this very weird 2020?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bike Safety 101: "This Is Johnny's Car"

Covid is surging. There is a vaccine currently making its way to the highest-risk folks - but the rest of us still have a long wait. Schools are "online" again as our region has reached the "purple zone" on the state's risk-level color chart. I'm working from home, alongside the RetroKids and my RetroWife. We're all on computers in separate rooms fighting for internet bandwidth and distraction-free zones for our various Zoom meetings. 2020 is drawing to a close.

Damn, that sounds almost post-apocalyptic, doesn't it?

So I'm digging around through some old boxes in my basement, looking for what, I don't even remember, when I came across this:

I have no doubt that this little bike safety pamphlet is older than I am. I don't even recall where I got this nostalgic gem, but as usual, I couldn't throw it away. It's a voice from a much simpler time. In the context of our current realities, from pandemic to political, finding this felt a bit like Charlton Heston finding the statue of liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. This faded little pamphlet is clearly evidence that our world was once a different place.

"This is Johnny's car" and "Johnny is a safe 'car' driver . . ." the pamphlet proclaims. You see, while ostensibly promoting safe bicycle riding, the true message is pretty clear. A bike is something for kids - just a step on the way to the real goal of any true-blue (and staunchly non-socialist) American - Car Ownership.

The safety advice is pretty typical for the time, which I assume to be pre-Bike Boom, and relatively benign - mostly phrased as what Johnny does or doesn't do.

"Johnny Doesn't . . . "

Johnny Doesn't Wobble - on purpose or by accident. "Be sure you ride your bike well before you go out on the highway." Well, at least they admit he's allowed on the roads - but I'm a little surprised they encourage kids (the obvious target audience) to ride on the highways

Johnny Doesn't Let Anyone Sit On His Lap - Ever.

Johnny Doesn't Hog the Road. "Always ride single file. And just like slow cars . . . keep right so faster cars can pass."

Johnny Doesn't Hitch a Ride. "Ever run head-on into a wall? You will if that car stops"

"Johnny Does . . . "

Johnny Observes All Traffic Signs. "For extra safety, he walks his bike across busy intersections. You should too." A bike is "equal" to a car -- but don't go getting any ideas now. 

Johnny Looks Before He Leaps. "Cars don't barge out of driveways and alleys into traffic. You shouldn't either." (except when they DO!).

Johnny Uses Directional Signals. That's nice -- I encounter a lot of drivers who don't.

Johnny Has Lights for Night Riding. "And a horn or bell, too." Funny thing, when the CPSC started regulating bikes in the 1970s, they specifically decided NOT to require lights. But yes - definitely use them.

The tailfins on that car give a clue as to the age of this thing.

"Safe Bike Riders Like Johnny Make Skillful Drivers"

Now there's something I can definitely get behind. I'm convinced that people who routinely ride with traffic are generally more observant and better able to predict the behavior of other road users. I sometimes describe it as "Spidey Sense" - and it comes from knowing how badly most drivers drive, and how clueless (or even aggressive) they can be when it comes to cyclists. I also recognize how much that carries over when I'm in my car.

The pamphlet also explains that according to state law (Pennsylvania, in this case) a bike and a car are the same - and subject to the same rules. Good to know as a cyclist - but it's something that probably bears repeating to drivers more. Equal in the eyes of the law - but the real problem to us as riders is getting drivers to recognize our rights - or even to respect us at all. Especially when their attention is compromised by that addictive attention-sucking cell phone. But then again - such things were the stuff of science fiction when this pamphlet was published.

In that same box, I found a few other old pamphlets with similar, and sometimes dated, safety advice.

The Bike Riders Rules for Safety from Employers Mutuals (sounds like an insurance company to me) suggests that kids only ride on streets where traffic is light, dismount and walk at intersections, always pull over to allow cars to pass, and (oddly, if you ask me) always park your bike on the sidewalk. 

The ABC of Safe Bicycle Riding from the Bicycle Safety League looks to me like something that would have been hanging from the handlebars on a new bike in the early '50s.

There was another one that was more like a little handbook than a pamphlet: Fun on Wheels from The Insurance Office.

This one has so much to it I may have to save it for another post. But it all begs the question, where the heck (and when, and why?) did I get all these things?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

An Interesting Development

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Just a super short post today. Readers might recall it wasn't so long ago that it was announced that Bob Jackson Cycles in Leeds, England, was closing down. Apparently, there was such an outpouring of interest in the marque that plans had to be changed. This notice is currently on their website:

It sounds like someone stepped in to keep the place going financially, and I'm assuming some new, younger staff have come to learn the framebuilding trade. I'd call that encouraging.

As I had mentioned in my earlier post about Bob Jackson Cycles, they offer some excellent traditional "keeper of the flame" steel bikes - built and painted to order - at very reasonable prices. I guess it isn't too late, after all.

Fans of classic steel bikes, let's give thanks!