Silver Sparkle

My first motorcycle was a bright yellow 50cc Honda Mini Trail. That little gem was quite possibly the best Christmas present in the universe, followed closely by the silver sparkle helmet to go with it. Rule one in our house was no helmet, no motorcycle riding. The rule didn’t apply to bicycles, which was ironic considering the fact that we were far more insane on bicycles than we ever were on motorcycles (three of the worst injuries I had as a kid were on a bicycle, though a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference in any of those cases).

I pretty quickly figured out that silver sparkle wasn’t so cool, and that real motocross riders don’t ride Hondas (this was around 1972). This was a result of hanging out with the older kids on their CZs and Bultacos, with their European riding gear and mysterious brand names and logos spelled out in Italian and Spanish. The allure of the exotic was irresistible, and looking back on it, it’s sad to think my little Honda with its silver sparkle helmet so quickly and completely lost its wonderment and appeal.

Fast forward to 2010 and, serendipitously, a silver sparkle helmet has once again made its way into my life. I was lucky enough to win a photo contest and one of the prizes was a Nutcase helmet. Michael was due for a replacement, so I asked her to choose one for herself. She ended up picking a silver sparkle beauty that took me on an unexpected trip down memory lane. The helmet reminded me that innocence is fleeting and fragile, and that we’re much too quick to toss aside the simple and pure for the worldly and sophisticated. I suppose silver sparkle will always represent that innocence for me.

Getting Old is a Pain in the (Insert Old Injury Here)

The Big Kahuna

I turn 48 next week and my body has never been so persistent in reminding me that I’m no longer the indestructible 20-something I used to be. Last year it was an old knee injury that kept me off the bike for a month, this time around it’s an old hip injury from skateboarding coming back to haunt me. If I had known then, what I know now, I may very well have passed on some of the crazy shenanigans from my youth that included racing motorcycles, skateboarding in swimming pools, bicycling on hiking trails before there was such a thing as mountain bikes, and on-and-on. Ah, the price we pay for the excesses of youth.

I turn 48 next week and my body has never been so persistent in reminding me that I’m no longer the indestructible 20-something I used to be.

Supposedly, with age comes wisdom, but you wouldn’t know it by some of my recent actions. This hip/back injury is a perfect case in point. See, I have a little Canon G10 point-and-shoot camera for carrying on the bike. It’s the camera I use for capturing quick snaps, panda portraits, etc., and it’s light enough that I carry it all the time. I also have a full DSLR kit that, in less than a year, has grown from a single consumer grade kit, to two bodies, five lenses, a battery grip, a strobe, and various-and-sundry other accessories. The whole caboodle now completely stuffs a mid-size photographer’s backpack and weighs around 20 pounds. This is where it gets interesting. Typically, when I take the Big Kahuna backpack out for a photo shoot, I place it in a pannier or porteur’s bag and let the bike carry the weight. The problem is that a few of the bikes I’ve been testing recently aren’t outfitted with racks that accept oversize panniers. So in my infinite wisdom, instead of taking the time to figure out some way to carry the Big Kahuna on these bikes, I’ve been pretending that I’m still 20 years old and carelessly throwing it on my back*. This worked OK for a couple of weeks, but the old injury finally said “enough”, and now I’m hobbling around like the 48-year-old-with-a-back-injury that I am.

Right now I’m left wondering if the age/wisdom equation is ever going to resolve itself. I can’t seem to figure out if the problem is the fact that my body is starting to wear out, or if it’s that my brain still refuses to acknowledge the fact that I’m no longer 20. My hope is that I somehow manage to embrace this upcoming birthday, get over the denial thing, and act my age for once. Besides being the “mature” thing to do, it would certainly be far easier on this not-so-young body of mine. (Hey, that was a breakthrough – maybe there’s hope afterall!)

*20 pounds is not that much weight, but when combined with an old injury and the forward leaning cycling position, it’s enough to mess up a weakling like me.

The Race is On

Today’s Yehuda Moon comic got me thinking about how odd it is that a perfectly mature and otherwise normal adult on a bicycle may be turned into a hyper-competitive adolescent by the sight of another bike rider.

You had no intention of racing the fellow, but now that he’s trying to prove something, by golly, you also have something to prove, and the race is on.

Many of us with competitive tendencies have experienced it. You’re riding along and you notice a fellow rider up ahead. At your current pace you’re going to overtake him, but suddenly he notices you and he picks up the pace. You had no intention of racing the fellow, but now that he’s trying to prove something, by golly, you also have something to prove, and the race is on. You accelerate and he accelerates, you back off and he backs off. The cat and mouse continues until someone blows up or you reach the finish line (that would be the next stoplight). If you do manage to “bridge the gap” and catch the fellow before the light, you feel triumphant for a fleeting moment, but only until you realize your work clothes are soaked and you’ll be spending the day offending your co-workers with your, ahem, “aroma”.

Of course, the other possibility is that you were imagining the entire thing and the other rider wasn’t even aware that he was in a race. This is humiliating, especially when you realize the other rider is 20 years your senior and he’s riding a bike that weighs 20 pounds more than yours.

Oh well, so much for the “Thrill of Victory”… :-)

The Simple Things

A good friend of mine is an outdoor adventurer of sorts. His agenda for the next few years includes hiking/climbing in Nepal, a trans-global motorcycle expedition, and a 6-month hike from New Mexico to Canada on the Continental Divide Trail.

My aspirations are not nearly so loftly. Mostly I hope to continue bicycle commuting on a daily basis with the goal of eventually going completely car-free, and someday I’d love to build a green retirement home.

My friend is an environmentally conscious person, but he’s yet to fully embrace the idea of bike commuting. His commute is essentially the same as mine and I’ve been subtly working on him for a while now, dropping little hints and pointing out how easy it would be to leave his car at home. So when we met up the other morning for a bike ride and stop at a local coffee house for breakfast, I used the ride as an opportunity to demonstrate how pleasant bike commuting can be. Instead of taking the direct route to the cafe, I followed my morning commute route, taking only back roads and trails, and avoiding the main automobile commuter routes. It was quite a pleasant ride, with little to no traffic and perfect weather. Along the trail we heard multiple pheasants calling while we admired the wildflowers sprouting in the vernal pools and the rabbits only partially concealed in the brush. Pretty sneaky, huh?

We eventually made it to the coffee shop and spent a couple of hours chewing the fat about traveling, bicycling, cameras, and whatever else came to mind; it was a good time. On the way home, when we stopped to part ways, my friend mentioned how much he enjoyed our little adventure and he said “It really is the simple things in life, isn’t it?” I couldn’t agree more. And although I didn’t say it, I had the thought that regardless of where we’re at in the world (even our own neighborhood), the bicycle has the power to get us out there and put us in touch with those simple things.

Mystery Rattles

I’ve had way too many parts fall off of mountain bikes, motocross bikes, road bikes, and practically every other sort of bike, to ignore mystery rattles. Two of the worst incidents resulted in bodily injury. One involved a derailleur that found its way into a rear wheel on a 35 mph descent on the shoulder of a busy mountain road, and the other involved a stem that came loose and left me with a handful of handlebars that were suddenly detached from the rest of the bike on a steep singletrack descent. Neither had what I would call “positive” outcomes.

I don’t do a lot of singletracking or high speed mountain descending these days, having grown wiser and more cautious as the time it takes to recover from risky behavior seems to be getting longer and longer. But even if you’re only traveling at 12 mph, the wrong part falling off of a bike at the wrong time can still result in a swell patch of road rash, if not worse. So when I hear something rattling on my bike that I can’t identify, I can’t help but stop and figure out what it is; the memory of those old crashes triggers a reaction every time.

Just the other day, we were riding up to our favorite little Thai restaurant for lunch when I heard this strange “zing, zing, zing”, almost like the buzzing of a grinder on metal, but soft and faint. At first I thought I was hearing things, or that maybe my Brooks B67—the noisiest saddle in the universe—picked up yet another strange sound.

Just the other day, we were riding up to our favorite little Thai restaurant for lunch when I heard this strange “zing, zing, zing”, almost like the buzzing of a grinder on metal, but soft and faint. At first I thought I was hearing things, or that maybe my Brooks B67—the noisiest saddle in the universe—picked up yet another strange sound. This would be logical since I just went over the bike a couple of weeks ago to make sure nothing had rattled loose over the winter. But as I listened longer and harder it became obvious that something was going on and that this was, in fact, a new rattle. Of course, as soon as I realized this, I had to stop and figure out what it was. My wife, never having suffered the indignity of leaving large patches of skin on the road surface, couldn’t understand why I insisted on stopping when she was clearly hungry and was already thinking about veggie spring rolls. I offered a quick recap of the aforementioned stories and proceeded to go on a mechanical wild goose chase to locate the loose part.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it) I had my handy-dandy Park multi-tool with me. I had a sense that the rattle was coming from the front half of the bike, so I started with the handlebars and worked my way down and back, checking levers, stem, brakes, fenders, bottle cages, seat, seat post, pedals, rack, even crank bolts. By now we were over 10 minutes into the process without finding one loose screw, yet when I tapped on the frame or handlebars, there was that faint “zing”, as difficult to pinpoint as ever.

I finally gave up for fear that my wife was going to leave me on the side of the road and go have lunch without me, when I remembered that I bent one of my bottle cages the other day to keep my stainless water bottle from rattling. Knowing with complete certainty what was going to happen, I gave the cage a little flick and… “zing”, there it was. Little did I know that bending the cage to prevent a known rattle would introduce a new rattle into the mix.

So what’s the moral of this story? You know, I’m not really sure. I think it may have something to do with letting go of old fears, or maybe a little to do with relaxing already about the bike maintenance thing, or maybe it’s just a reminder to be thankful for an understanding wife who puts up with my quirks and eccentricities, even when she’s hungry and Pad Thai is calling.

Sicko

Alan, looking a little peaked

Sometimes I’m envious of my car-free friends. They don’t have the option of taking the car when they’re not feeling well, or when the weather is nasty, or just because they’re feeling lazy. If they don’t ride their bike, they’re only left with other green options such as public transit, car-pooling, or walking. Because our family is only car-lite*, we can always fall back on the car, so we have to be diligent and resist the temptation to use it when we don’t really need to.

My wife, ever the optimist, suggested we wait and see how I felt in the afternoon before we made a decision. She then proceeded to load me up with Airborne and Tylenol (I was starting to get the impression that she really wanted to go for a ride).

The car was looking particularly enticing this weekend. I’ve been working lots of overtime, I was feeling exhausted, and I started coming down with something Saturday evening. You know the feeling, it starts with a little tickle in your throat that you write off to allergies. Then you notice a little stiffness in your neck that, before you realize what’s happening, explodes into a full-blown sinus headache. We had a plan to run errands on the bikes Sunday afternoon, but by Sunday morning I was tired and sick, and it was looking doubtful.

My wife, ever the optimist, suggested we wait and see how I felt in the afternoon before we made a decision. She then proceeded to load me up with Airborne and Tylenol (I was starting to get the impression that she really wanted to go for a ride). By mid-afternoon, the pharmaceuticals were working their magic and I wasn’t feeling half bad, so we ended up making that errand run on the bikes afterall. We rode a bit slower than usual, and I griped and moaned a bit more than usual, but it was still a lovely ride and the car stayed home in the garage.

I’m glad we resisted temptation and I’m happy to report that I’m no worse for the wear. The payoff is that it was a gorgeous winter evening and we experienced many sights, sounds, and smells we would have otherwise missed.

*I define “car-lite” as having one car in the family that is only used when “necessary”. It’s for the individual to determine what is defined as necessary.

Holiday Memories

Have you ever received a bicycle as a Holiday gift? One of my fondest memories from childhood was receiving a Schwinn Sting Ray that my older brother and our friend refurbished with help from my Dad. They painted it purple sparkle and it was something to behold. The fact that my big brother built it for me made it even that much more special. I rode the purple beast all over the countryside surrounding our small town and it brought me endless joy. Now, as an adult, I appreciate more than ever the effort and sentiment that went into that special gift.


 
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