Friday, July 16, 2021

We Have Identified the Virus - And It Is Us

How long after the Covid 19 pandemic ends will we still be finding discarded masks littering the ground?

It's probably an impossible question to answer, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing them for a long time to come. Every time I go for a ride (or a jog, or a walk . . .) I'll see them everywhere I look -- soggy, dirty, and gross -- on the sidewalks, streets, and grass.

Just one of a dozen or so that I spotted
on my ride today.

I should emphasize that the pandemic is far from over, but it's hard to tell from looking around at people shopping or dining out. I still wear a mask when I go into a store, but often I'll be the only one. I've had the shots - but many people still haven't, and cases are actually rising again. Needless to say, new cases and deaths are rising the most where vaccination rates are the lowest -- that's not a coincidence. As soon as the pandemic (even just the belief in the pandemic), and the wearing of masks, or getting a vaccine, became cannon fodder in the culture wars - a declaration of one's political alignment - the idea of "getting back to normal" became an illusion. If all these anti-vax folks were only taking themselves out of the gene pool, I'd say good riddance - but unfortunately, it's not just themselves they're putting at risk. All those folks who can't get a vaccine because of a medical condition, or age, or whatever - they're at risk too. And the more people pass on the infection, the greater the risk becomes that new variants will emerge - and eventually one or more of those could render the vaccines useless. We still have a long way to go to get "back to normal."

Then again - is "normal" really something we should be aiming for?

Like I said - I still wear a mask when I'm indoors with strangers. The risk of infection for a vaccinated person is low, but it still happens. But I can't imagine even for a moment taking that mask off when I get outside, and tossing it on the ground. Even if it ripped, or became otherwise useless, I can't imagine doing that. Then again, I also can't imagine tossing any kind of garbage out on the ground that way, but on any bike ride, I'll see all kinds of litter along the side of the road. Fast-food bags and packaging, plastic soda bottles, cans, drink cups, and cigarette packs (and butts, of course) make up the most common items. In the past few months, though, face masks have joined that list.

Tossing trash on the ground - whether it's a drink cup, an empty cigarette pack, or a medical mask - refusing to bear even the slightest inconvenience for the good of our neighbors, refusing to get a shot to help stem a pandemic, driving a hulking gas-guzzling SUV as we see the west burning up, watering lawns as reservoirs dry up -- these things might seem unrelated, but I figure it's all connected. They're all manifestations of a kind of selfishness, and they're all like symptoms of a disease. A virus, if you will. And the virus is us.

Sorry if this all seemed pretty negative. It's all just some thoughts I was having on my bike ride this morning.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Remember 7/11

I've long been a fan of the comic strip "Frazz," by Jef Mallett. Mallett is an avid cyclist (and very competitive triathlete, if I recall correctly) and he frequently works bicycling into his comic strip. The main character of the comic, Frazz, is the custodian at an elementary school, who happens to be a fount of knowledge, wisdom, and experience - and like the strip's creator, is also an avid cyclist.

Mallett's comic strip often incorporates bicycle-related content (and it's notable that Mallett is one of the few comic strip artists who can actually draw a bicycle accurately). I had the pleasure to meet him once and get him to sign a copy of a book that he had illustrated, Tales from the Bike Shop by Maynard Hershon.

So, I was thrilled to see his comic strip for Sunday, July 11, and had to share it here:

That's right - Mallett cleverly makes the case that July 11th - or "7/11" should be a day to honor the 7-Eleven bicycle racing team.

Two fun things to note in the strip:

One: The depiction of Andy Hampsten riding the Gavia Pass in the 1988 Giro d'Italia - in which he became the only American to ever win that race.

Two: Frazz is wearing the iconic red/green/white 7-Eleven team jersey in the final panel of the strip.

I just need to applaud Mallett - and agree with Frazz. July 11th - or "7/11" should indeed be the day we cyclists honor the greatest American racing team. 

Bravo, Frazz!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

New In Box

I thought I'd take a moment to share a recent find that I've added to my collection of vintage parts: a first-generation SunTour Cyclone derailleur, new-in-box - or NIB.

I've always been a SunTour guy, and the Cyclone has long been a favorite. I have a couple of them, both in short cage and long-cage GT versions, and one of them gets pretty regular use on one of my vintage Mercian bikes. I have a second-generation version (M-II) on my Sequoia. Clean or lightly-used examples come up for sale frequently, but finding one like this is rare these days.

The box has seen better days, but it doesn't matter because what's inside is still perfect.

Lift the lid, and there's this clear plastic display cover, and a red plastic tray that is form-fitted to hold the derailleur. Notice there's also a little compartment to hold the hanger "claw" that one might have needed if their bike didn't have an integrated derailleur hanger. The original manual is tucked underneath the red tray, out of sight.

It's really very lovely packaging - it isn't hard to imagine the components in a bike shop's glass display case, tempting a younger version of myself.

With the clear plastic cover removed. 

And here it is, freed of its packaging. The date code on the back of this example is "R D" which, according to the Vintage Trek site means it was made in April 1975 - well within the first year of production.

There were some very small changes made in the first generation Cyclone derailleurs during their production run - mainly in the design of the upper pivot arm. These very first versions have a shorter, more compact upper arm, while later ones have a slightly longer arm that drops the parallelogram a few more millimeters. It was a subtle difference, but it probably increased the largest cog size they could handle. Or at least, that's my guess.

These early Cyclones were one of the lightest derailleurs a person could buy, at only 175 g. They were beautifully finished and detailed, and cost less than anything in their class. In 1975, a Campagnolo Nuovo Record cost $40, as did a Huret Jubilee. A Shimano Crane (Dura-Ace) was $20. The Cyclone was $16, and shifted better than all of them. I think they get more respect today than they did when new. Price-snobbery tended to make people think SunTour was "lesser" somehow because they were cheaper, when the only "lesser" was the price.

I don't have any immediate plans for this one. It was just one of those things where I spotted it for sale and the price was too good to pass up. Not much else to say about it - so I guess that's bye for now.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Tour is Coming

It's almost time for the Tour de France. 

Okay, if I'm being honest, I will probably miss most of it. But I just saw a fun promotional ad for the upcoming Tour coverage from TV2, a subscription TV station based in Denmark.

The ad pokes some lighthearted fun at we men of a certain age -- an age that I have to admit now includes myself (and probably a lot of others who read this blog) -- squeezing into lycra and trying to recapture their youth. I think the relevant term here is "MAMIL" or "Middle Aged Men In Lycra."

Though the men could perhaps be described as "vintage," most of the bikes are not, with a notable exception where I could distinctly see some downtube shifters.

Note this very dramatic - and dusty - reveal:

Seriously - I can smell the dust.

Not much else to say here - except enjoy the video!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Year That Wouldn't End . . . Is (Finally) Ending

It's a rare thing when my school/work year extends past the end of May - but here it is, June 17, and we're still in school - albeit for another day. Between the extra weeks added to the end, along with pandemic quarantines, COVID protocols, mask mandates, shutdowns, "virtual" lessons online, altered schedules, video conferencing, and Zoom, my colleagues and I have dubbed 2020-21 "The Year That Wouldn't End."

Yet the end is finally near. Or should I say, the end is nigh?

An omen? This guy was eyeing me rather suspiciously on my ride to work Wednesday morning. The locals call them buzzards, but really, they're more properly called turkey vultures. Still . . .

In the previous post, I pointed out that I had reached my bike-to-work goal for the year with just a few days to spare, so this post is an update with some final numbers and new pictures.

So, I will officially finish the year with 103 bike commuting days, for a bike-to-work average of 65.6% (gotta get that .6 in there!). That's 2,935 miles of commuting for the year. My 9-year total is 843 days with a long-term average of 55% which means I'm meeting/exceeding my goals more often than not. I've only fallen short of a 50% average 3 times since I started biking to work regularly. I guess you could say that's not half bad (groan).

Unfortunately I must drive on the final day as I still have bikes hanging on the classroom walls that need to go home for the summer:

I still have some packing to do . . . 

And now, let's end this with a couple more pics:

Keeping a tally of the days on the classroom whiteboard

Taking time to smell the flowers  - or at least photograph them - on an early June morning.

Self portrait, with bicycle. June 17, 2021

Well, that's it for 2020-21. Make the most of the summer . . . 

Monday, June 14, 2021

100 Days

I'm in the final week of what has been a pretty unusual school/work year. At the beginning of it all, back in September, I had set a goal for myself to reach 100 days of riding to work for the year.

This past spring has not exactly been cooperative, weather-wise, what with lots of rain - and even snow in April (!) - to where I was starting to worry I might not reach my goal. But today, with just a few days left to go, I hit 100 days.

I anticipate that I'll be able to ride a few more days before week's end, which should give me a bike-to-work average of 64 - 65%, depending on how many more days I can squeeze in. 

The fact is, 100 days would be pretty respectable in any school/work year (usually August through May, but because of the COVID pandemic, this year was September through June) but this year it works out to be even better because we had a shutdown for most of December and January. During that time, we were engaged in "remote learning" and I was basically teaching from my living room. Those are almost never good months for riding a bike in Northeast Ohio, but since I was working from home, the days didn't count for or against me. The result is that my overall numbers might be a bit lower than what they could have been, but my average held up through the worst of the winter. Once we returned to our regular work schedule in late January, my average started falling (as it always does in the winter months) - from 72% before the shutdown to 64% by the end of February. 

I've held a steady average of about 64% since then, which has actually been frustrating. I kept hoping to increase my average through the spring, but between the uncooperative weather and various commitments that made driving necessary on some days despite the weather, I just couldn't do it.

So, how does this compare to previous years?

This has been the 9th year that I've been riding regularly to work. In that time, it has been a long-term goal to do at least half of my commuting by bike. I have met or exceeded 50% in 6 out of the last 9 years. 

My best year was 132 days, 76% (2017-18).
My worst year was 61 days,  35% (2014-15)

This year, at 64-65%, will rank as my second-best. 

While I anticipate adding at least a couple more days to this year's total, I can do some easy calculating that 100 days at 28.5 miles per day is 2,850 miles. My car (VW wagon) averages around 28-29 mpg in mixed driving, so we can also figure that I probably saved around 100 gallons of gas in the past year, which at current prices (about $2.80/gal) comes out to around $280 that I didn't spend on gas.

As of today, my combined numbers for the past 9 years are 840 days (out of 1523) for a long-term average of 55%. That's 23,940 miles, and a savings of roughly 840 gallons of gas, and somewhere around $2300 in fuel cost savings. 

Some pictures from the past year:

A beautiful morning for day 100. I decided to leave the black commuting mule at home and ride an old favorite for the occasion. There's rain and a possible thunderstorm in the forecast for the afternoon, but I just had to risk it. The morning was just too nice.

A misty morning in early June. There must have been some mist/condensation on my lens, giving this crazy flare effect. A ruined photo - or what Bob Ross would call a "happy accident"? You be the judge.

Snow in April. Jeezzz.

Full moon in October.

A misty morning in September.

The forecast for the next few days looks good, so I'll add to my totals and post an update soon. That's all for now . . .

Monday, June 7, 2021

New Dura Ace Anticipation - And a Look Back

A lot of the bike blogosphere has been making much of the fact that 2021 marks Shimano's 100th anniversary. Much is also being made of the fact that the company's usual 4-year cycle for major component redesigns was interrupted by the pandemic, so while 2020 might otherwise have marked the introduction of a new version of their top of the line Dura Ace group, many are now salivating at the prospect of a 2021 introduction to go along with the company's anniversary.

Just so we're clear on this, the current iteration of Dura Ace is their 9100 group, which is an 11-speed setup, available in cable-op or electronic shift versions (electronic Di2 is labeled 9150). Since Campagnolo has moved up to 12-speeds, most of the cheerleader blogs are hoping that the next generation Dura Ace (9200, presumably) will also shift 12 cogs in back. And there's a lot of anticipation that the electronic version may even be wireless to go head-to head with SRAM.

By the way, here's the current 9100 rear derailleur:

Sorry - but as far as I'm concerned, that thing is just fugly. Yes, it will shift an incredibly wide range for a road racing derailleur, but it hurts my eyes. 

In fact, I'd say the same for the whole group:

I have no doubt that the new 9200 Dura Ace, if it is indeed introduced in the upcoming months - or whenever it gets released - will work flawlessly. And I also expect it will look similarly hideous.

It really increases my appreciation for the stuff of the past.

It just so happens that I have nearly complete Dura Ace 7400 group from 1984 in my possession. I think it would be impossible to fault the performance of that group. But not only did it work impeccably, it also looked beautiful - crisp, simple, minimalist, and finished with jewelry-like attention to detail.

Here's the rear derailleur:

This particular example has just a bit of road rash on it, but overall still holds its own. The logo is unharmed, and functionally it's still perfect. The smooth, but crisp design was cutting edge in 1984, and still looks great today.

The front derailleur is similarly sleek, compact, and minimalist.

The shift levers are simple and smooth - but the thing that made them revolutionary was hidden inside. The clicking detents in the right lever were the heart of the SIS (Shimano Indexing System) that upended the industry. These are the original 7400 - 6-speed version, and could be switched to normal "friction" mode in the event one needed it.

The crank had that same crisp-edged aesthetic. It was smooth and low profile - without being overtly "aero." It was almost as though Shimano was doing a complete about-face after their less-than-successful aerodynamic Dura-Ace AX group.

The brakes were a sleek design - and were about as good as single-pivot sidepull brakes would ever get. Only available in short reach, as far as I know. If one needed a longer-reach brake, the 600 brake (most readers probably remember that 600 was later renamed "Ultegra") from that time looked similar, and were available in a 55mm reach version.

The pedals retained some of the aerodynamic styling of the 7300 AX group, but without the bizarre "Dyna Drive" innovation with its oversized spindle (which required a similarly oversized pedal hole in the crank). These had a low-profile design that allowed for more cornering clearance - not that pedaling through corners is really a recommended practice, but tell that to criterium racers in the '80s. The design would have been welcome on track bikes, too. One issue I have with the pedals is that the toe clips are yet another "does not play well with others" example from Shimano, as they are a unique design meant to integrate with the pedal. Also, there was an attempt to make a unique Shimano shoe cleat that would also integrate with the pedals and clips. The toe clips have little "wings" that would interloc with matching "wings" on the leading edge of the shoe cleat, with the intent being to make a more "positive" attachment to the pedals. All of that was rendered obsolete when Shimano embraced clipless pedals a couple of years later. But good luck finding either the special toe clips or cleats today. (luckily, the pedals do work with common non-Shimano slotted cleats - or with flat-bottomed shoes, but it's less than optimal).

Though I didn't take a photo to post, I also have a nice pair of wheels with the appropriate Dura Ace hubs (freewheel, not cassette) and the correct Dura Ace seatpost. In fact, I think the only thing I don't have is the headset.

Here's a scan of one of the ads explaining SIS, from early 1985:

Funny thing is that even as a teenager in 1984, I was already showing serious retrogrouchy tendencies. I remember reading all the hype about indexed shifting, and all I could think was "who needs that?" and dismissing it as a fad. Keep in mind that in 1984, I was still very much a SunTour guy. One thing that the ads and articles about SIS never mentioned was that one of the key elements of the new Dura Ace derailleur design was taken straight from SunTour, whose slant-parallelogram patent had just expired.

Another thing about indexed shifting that made me skeptical was that I knew it wasn't really "new." Shimano had several versions of their Positron system which brought indexing to low end entry level bikes and never caught on. Even SunTour had an early indexed shifting system called "Mighty Click" which failed to catch on. In fact, click shifting systems actually can be found all the way back to the beginning of multi-gear bicycles. But unlike Positron and most other indexing attempts, Dura Ace was a top-level group aimed at pros and serious racers - which brought that "trickle down" appeal (unlike the economy, "trickle down" does actually work in marketing bicycle components). And the engineering of the design - as a whole drivetrain system - was what really transformed things.

Other attempts to create indexed shifting usually focused on either the shift lever, or the derailleur - either one having precise detents built into their mechanism. But SIS integrated the whole drivetrain and shifting system. It wasn't just the clicking levers. It was about optimising the chain, the profile and spacing of the sprockets, the movement of the derailleur in each gear position, and even the cables and housing. As the competition tried to answer with their own indexing systems (SunTour's Accushift, and Campagnolo's Synchro) that full-system integration was the stumbling block they had to overcome. And by the time the competition figured that out, Shimano was working on integrating even more of the bicycle's components.

Okay - so was this all a good thing for the industry? From a retrogrouchy perspective, probably not, as that increased specialization and integration came at the expense of simplicity and compatibility - and ushered in an industry-wide race to obsolescence. But to be fair, the precision that made this Dura Ace group work so well gradually filtered down the line to more cost-conscious component levels to the point that even an entry level bike will function like a top-of-the-line machine -- and for the general bike-buying public, that's probably a good thing.

I remember all the "excitement" among my college bike club friends when SIS made its way to the second-tier 600 group, then later 105, and so on. The whole time, as more and more of my friends were clicking, I saw no reason to jump on the bandwagon. It's funny when I think back on it, but I didn't get a bike with click shifting until my Rivendell in 2001 (20 years ago!), which I built up with Ultegra 9-speed and bar-end shifters -- which by that time was more than 10 years after everyone else had moved on to STI integrated brake/shift levers. Even now, while my main commuting bike has STI, and I have a very nice retro-mod Mercian with Campagnolo Ergo, I still do a lot of my riding on bikes with traditional friction shifting. 

I don't currently have a project bike in mind for that 1984 Dura Ace group. But if I do end up using it someday, I still like to think that I might substitute some old Simplex retrofriction shift levers just to be contrary.

Once a retrogrouch, always a retrogrouch.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day 2021

After several days of non-stop rain, our Memorial Day Monday turned out to be a perfect day for a bike ride. Brilliant sunshine, low humidity, and temperatures in the upper 60s. The RetroKids and I took our bikes to the canal towpath, but instead of heading north through the national park as we often do, we decided to take the somewhat less-traveled part of the path that passes through downtown Akron and southward out of the city.

One of the cool things about this section of the towpath is that it gives a person a glimpse at the industrial roots of the city, as it passes between the old Ohio & Erie Canal and the former rubber factories of the city's heyday. It's a good place to go with a camera, too, as there are great contrasts with the rusting iron structures, stone and brick masonry, burgeoning greenery, and occasional bursts of urban art/graffiti.

After a long uphill climb, and crossing a bridge over the city's old (and now mostly defunct) interbelt, the path comes into the downtown landscape - which was dead quiet today for the holiday.

A view of what had once been one of the factories for the B.F. Goodrich Tire Co. - One of many factories that made Akron the center of the North American tire and rubber industry. B.F. Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone and more all called Akron their home. Only Goodyear remains headquartered in the city, but most of the factories are closed.

Colorful urban art where the path passes under one of the city streets.

One of several giant-sized Adirondack chairs placed along the path, overlooking the canal.

An urban park on the edge of downtown, with the canal as its centerpiece - and another glimpse of the old B.F. Goodrich factory.

South of downtown, a floating boardwalk carries riders over Summit Lake -- once the site of an amusement park featuring a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, a dance hall, an enormous swimming pool, and other attractions. It was known as Akron's Coney Island. All of that's gone now.

Here was a cool spot under a railway trestle, beside the remains of one of the old canal locks.

And, some pictures of the bikes:

Not a whole lot more to say. It's just still my favorite way to spend time with my kids, and I can't overstate how much it means that they still enjoy getting out to explore things on their bikes.

Whether you get out on a bike or not, wherever you are, I hope you're having a good holiday with someone you love.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Beating the Heat

Here in Akron we're having an early heat wave. It's unusual for us to be hitting the upper 80s in mid May like this, but that's where we are. We're expecting some days in the 90s next week. Heat like that can make a bike ride a little less enjoyable, but there's one way to beat the heat - get out on the road early while it's still cool.

While the rest of my family was still in bed taking advantage of a chance to sleep in, I got out shortly after sunrise this morning - on what promises to be a very nice - but hot - Sunday. It was partly cloudy with a bit of hazy sunshine, patches of mist in some of the lower-lying areas in the valley, and temps in the mid 60s. 

I hit the road on the Sequoia and was once again reminded of what a well-sorted-out bike it is. Its handling is reassuring and predictable. It soaks up rough pavement handily. The '80s vintage SunTour drivetrain works so well, it convinces me even more certainly that much of the "innovation" of the past 30 years has been "new for the sake of new," but not real improvements

I stopped for a picture by the farm market in the heart of the national park. Activity at the farm hints that their season opening is just around the corner.

The little farm market has corn fields scattered all around the valley floor, and I could see workers plowing and sowing one of the fields. Others fields are already sprouting with this summer's crop. As this summer promises to take us more "back to normal" after the pandemic, I can imagine the market (which is always a popular stop for visitors to the park) will be busier than ever. Seeing the work going on around the farm fills me with anticipation for summer.

By the time I was climbing the long hill back home, I could already feel it getting hotter - but I'd beaten the worst of it. After a cool shower, I could relax outside on the porch with a cup of coffee while I'd wait for the rest of the family to rise.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Road(s) Closed

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am fortunate to live near, and to be able to do a lot of my riding in and around the Cuyahoga Valley - with its national park and variety of county metroparks. Between the canal towpath, a rails-to-trails path, a couple of mountain bike trails, and a network of roads into, around, and through the valley, the local area is a Mecca for NE Ohio cyclists.

In the southern part of the valley (that is, the Akron end), there are two main roads that run along the valley floor, roughly parallel to one another, beside the east and west banks of the river, with several roads connecting them along the way. From Akron to the little town of Peninsula, which is right in the heart of the national park, those roads form the backbone of most out-and-back riding loops. 

The sign may say Road Closed --
but that doesn't stop someone on a bike.
Due to erosion problems on the eastern bank of the river, one of these two valley roads has been closed since winter - and I should add, closed indefinitely. Hopefully there is a plan to mitigate the erosion issues where the river comes close to the road, and then reopen it. But so far, I haven't heard any specifics regarding a plan, or any kind of timeline for completion. At least one sign I saw literally says "closed until ?" 

The good news for cyclists is that, despite signs clearly indicating no cyclists or even pedestrians allowed, it's a simple matter to get around the barricades and ride a couple of car-free miles. The closure probably hasn't stopped hikers or joggers, either. Is it legal? Hell if I know - but I was riding through the closed section on Saturday and saw a park ranger who didn't say a word as I went by. It's probably not worth the trouble to stop us - and there's no immediate danger, so why bother? 

This isn't the only closed road in the valley these days.

The northern end of this same road - the end that offered a long, steep climb out of the valley - has been closed for roughly 20 years now. That end of the road was closed permanently and allowed to "go back to nature." I and many other cyclists continued to ride that section of road for a lot of years and observe it as it was gradually reclaimed by plant life. Over the years, as the pavement disintegrated, it became increasingly difficult to ride, and the last time I tried exploring it, I ended up finishing on foot - the former road was virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding woods.

Another road in the valley was closed a couple of years ago - that road formed part of a loop around Hale Farm & Village (a local living-history village/museum) and an old covered bridge that has appeared in photos here on the blog a few times. It also included another long and challenging climb out of the valley if one were so inclined. That road was closed permanently, as the county officials decided they no longer wanted to maintain it. Local cycling clubs petitioned to keep it open - at least for use by cyclists and hikers - to no avail. Again, the barricades and signs don't keep us out, but the road is degrading noticeably. Grass is protruding from the many cracks in the pavement, which leads to more and bigger cracks, and more crumbling asphalt. I still ride it regularly. The red Mercian pictured above with its 25 mm tires works okay, but I'm finding that bikes with fatter tires are becoming more desirable. The Sequoia (32 mm tires) the Rivendell (33.3 mm) and the Motobecane (650B - 37 mm) all feel more reassuring where the pavement is crumbling.

Still another closed road sits right on the edge of the valley, in one of the metroparks, and which also happens to be one of the connectors between the two main valley roads. Locals have been used to this one being closed temporarily for a few weeks every year due to -- (wait for it) -- salamander migration. That's right. Apparently there is some rare salamander that lives in this part of the metropark, and for a few weeks every spring, they have some kind of mating migration from the marshy areas on one side of the park road to the marshy areas on other side of the road. There's probably a bad joke in there somewhere (Why did the salamander cross the road?) For the last couple of years the road has been closed - at least to the cars - more or less permanently. I don't know if the park service has any plans to reopen it someday, but the joggers and cyclists have no complaints about the closure. It's actually nice to have some car-free roads in a park like this one, and the inconvenience to drivers is minimal.

The closed roads do make for quiet, more secluded riding experiences, and offer some variety on rides through the valley. Nevertheless, I'm hoping the latest closure is only a temporary one.

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.