Operator Error

The Comptoir Voltaire

The definition of a ‘bad day on the bike’

I work in the computer industry. In our industry there is a phrase we use when a user complains about an application when there is really nothing wrong.  We call it operator error. It means that the problem is in the way the user is using the application, not the application itself. Now sometimes the application works fine but the problem is with the instructions provided to the user or the user interface. But when computer folk say operator error it is usually a polite euphemism for:

Apparently this guy is too stupid to use this …

In the case of my mishap (pictured here) it was not a problem with the user interface, it was not a problem with the instructions, it was not a problem with the S&S couplers … it was definitely a case of operator error :(

In my previous job I travelled about 100,000 miles a year by air. I took my bike with me almost every other week. Since I was constantly packing and unpacking the bike I was assembling and disassembling it weekly. Therefore I found myself inspecting and adjusting it often. Now that I don’t fly very much it has been nearly six months since I have assembled my bike. Unfortunately, I have not been very good about checking to see whether the S&S couplers are tight and the picture above is the result.

The down tube coupler worked itself loose and then completely disconnected. The resultant force caused the top tube to buckle in the middle. Fortunately, I was just getting on the bike. I saw the top tube start to bend and I was able to unclip and put my feet on the ground. If this has happened earlier when I was going downhill, it could have been much worse. In the end I was not injured and I sen the bike off to get the top tube replaced.

I should have known better. On the ride the coupler was coming loose and I could tell the bike didn’t feel right. I checked the tires, made sure the wheels were reasonably true but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The best clue was when I noticed the derailleur cables were stretched. Since the frame was coming apart, the cables that ran along the down tube were stretched until ultimately they came apart. I saw that the cable was stretched but couldn’t figure out why.

The moral of the story is that if you think there is something wrong with your bike, even if it just doesn’t ‘feel right’ — there probably is something wrong. Don’t ride it until you can figure out what it is.

Finally, I sent the bike off to Bilenky Cycles in Philadelphia, they did the original S&S conversion, and I got it back last week. They replaced the top tube and coupler and gave it a shiny new paint job. I am assembling it and looking forward to riding.


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The Saddest (Bike) Tour of Paris

The Comptoir Voltaire

The Comptoir Voltaire

One of my bucket list items has been to spend enough time in Paris that I can go and not have to rush to see anything. I don’t have to look at a guidebook, I don’t have to hurry to catch a museum before closing.

Well, I have arrived. Last Sunday in Paris, one week after the November 13 terror attacks, I rented one of those clunky city bikes and just rode. I know the layout of the city well enough and the major streets that I really didn’t have a destination in mind. It was a beautiful day with the temperature near 40 degrees Farenheit.

I started at the bikeshare (velib) station next to my hotel. It was across the street from the Comptoir Voltaire where a terrorist blew himself up injuring sixteen people. Most of us in the states had not heard of the Comptoir Voltaire, it was just one of many sites attacked on that fateful day and fortunately one in which only the terrorist was killed.

The Bataclan, still advertising the 'Eagles of Death Metal'

The Bataclan, still advertising the ‘Eagles of Death Metal’

Next I rode down the busy Boulevard Voltaire an saw a huge gathering and memorial. I had happened upon the now infamous Bataclan Theater. I had meant to ride a bit along the Canal St Martin and the Bataclan is located where the canal takes a turn underground. I stopped and spent time reading the makeshift memorials, it reminded me of the fence at Trinity Chapel across from the World Trade Centers after 9/11.

The memorial outside the Café Bonne Bière.

The memorial outside the Café Bonne Bière.

Finally, I needed something to drink since I had been riding a bit so I rode up the Canal St Martin to where it emerges from underground and there are a series of locks and gracefully arched metal footbridges. I saw a small grocery store and went in to buy an Orangina. When I came out I saw a crowd was gathered on the other side of the store. I walked over and discovered that I had happened upon yet another terrorist attack site. This was another site that I had not heard of, the Café Bonne Bière where five people were killed and another nine injured in a terrorist shooting.

I am a francophile, I love Paris, and afterwards I realized that I had just taken the ‘Saddest (Bike) Tour of Paris’

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Sammamish River Trail, Redmond WA

Cypress Trees and Vineyards

Cypress Trees and Vineyards

This week I have been out in the Seattle area. By any measure, Seattle is one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States. Everywhere you turn there are bike trails and bike lanes. Bike commuting is huge out here. However, Seattle cycling is not for the faint-hearted, this place is hilly! Being out of shape I was looking for some opportunities to ride that would be relatively flat.I have no problem riding on roads but in a strange location, I am always leery about traffic conditions so I prefer segregated bike trails.

Sammamish River Trail

Sammamish River Trail

I was staying in Redmond (home to Microsoft) and after searching the Internet decided I would check out the Sammamish River Trail. This a Rails-to-Trails project along the Sammamish River. Monday was the perfect night to be on the trail, 71 degrees on an early Spring evening with a few puffy clouds in a blue sky! The trail system was accessible only a few blocks from my hotel. I was told that it was unseasonably warm so the trail was crowded with bikers, runners and walkers. For the most part people were courteous and careful in the way they shared the trail. Several people had bells and used them to signal when passing. The trail connects to a couple other notable trails and if you were feeling ambitious you could ride 27 miles one-way to downtown Seattle.

This was one of the smoothest trails I have ever ridden. It is exceptionally flat even for Rails-to-Trails. Following the river, the trail passes several parks and ball fields. There are congestion warning signs where the trail approaches some parks — a good idea, because there were kids on scooters and other youngsters about near the playgrounds. There are several places to stop and rest including restrooms and water fountains. As the trail moves out of Redmond, it enters wine country and you can see vineyards planted in the river valley. i especially enjoyed the Cypress trees lining portions of the trail. The trail reminded my of Provence.

When I started my ride I had an long-sleeved under armour shirt under my jersey. I quickly decided it was too warm an put it in a jersey pocket. he downside to riding after work is that it gets dark quickly. By the time the ride was over, I was cold even with the under armour. It was also getting dark, I wear mirrored Oakley sunglasses when I ride, so I took them off. As the sun went down along the river the bugs were so bad they sounded like hail on my helmet! I put the sunglasses back on even though it was hard to see.

One other thing I noticed. Nearly everybody on the trail had a tail light and many had two headlights. I have a high output headlight on my bike as well, unfortunately when I packed my bike I must have turned the headlight on in the case because my battery was completely dead! Next time I will know better! I felt really good on the bike, I would love to  come back and explore the rest of the trail system.

See this ride on Strava.com.

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Lake Elkhorn, Columbia MD

Lake Elkhorn

Lake Elkhorn

I’ve been in Columbia, Maryland with my bike before. In the past I’ve driven to Annapolis and ridden the Annapolis Trail. I’ve also used it as a jumping off point for evening rides among the monuments on the National Mall or to ride in the DC area. This time, I only had one evening where the weather and my schedule cooperated to allow me to ride. I wasn’t looking for an expedition — I just wanted to get out on the bike. So, when I went to inflate my tires at Race Pace Cycles

, I asked the guys there where to ride. They told me that the Columbia area has an extensive system of paths and one could you could easily ride 10-20 miles without a single at grade road crossing.

Evening Ride

Evening Ride

I bought a map of the trail system and the mechanic who inflated my tires helped me orient myself. It turns out there was a trailhead only half a mile from my hotel and it was accessible without having to ride on any busy roads. That evening after work, I got on the bike and set off to explore. The section of trail nearest my hotel was by a Lake Elkhorn, a small lake surrounded by woods and residential neighborhoods.  Access to the trail was from a development of townhomes on a hill overlooking the lake. The path from the townhomes down to the lake was very steep with an abrupt turn at the bottom where it joined the trail.

There was a little bit of water on the trail but otherwise it was in good shape. I got a late start and it was beginning to get dark but there were plenty of people walking or riding bikes on the trail. I only had time for a quick spin around the lake before I decided to head back. I have a regular customer in Columbia and I am looking forward to exploring more of the trail system when I come back.

See this ride on Strava.com


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In Praise of Local Bike Shops — Race Pace Bicycles, Columbia, MD

Race Pace Bicycles

Race Pace Bicycles

In a previous post, I mentioned that when I travel I get my tires inflated at local bike shops. It’s not just that it’s simpler, it gives me an opportunity to check out bike shops and get local advice on rides, trail conditions and general bike stuff. In my travels I have visited some great bike shops and I’ve decided to mention them on this blog.

Race Pace Bicycles in Columbia, Maryland is a great bike shop. You may be wondering, what makes a shop great in my eyes? I do have a few totally subjective criteria.

  1. No attitude — one of the problems I have with bike shops is attitude. Cycling is a sport for svelte uber-fit athletes or urban hipsters and unfortunately I am neither. When I walk into a bike shop it is obvious that I am old, out of shape and obese.
    My per peeve is shops that take one look at me and cop an attitude. you know, “What’s he doing here”, “He must be areal noob” or “He’ll try cycling and decide in a week that it’s too much for him.” In reality, while I may be old and fat, I have been cycling seriously for most of forty years, I travel everywhere with my bike and I have been wrenching for decades.  I am a serious customer and I expect to be treated with respect.
  2. Knowledgeable staff — I expect the staff to be knowledgeable about cycling and bike technology. When I do have technical questions they are usually complicated. My bike is a high-end 1990′s racing bike with S&S couplers, a Rinko headset and a combination of Dura-Ace, Phil Wood and Ultegra components. When I bring it in to a shop and they comment on the Phil Wood hubs – I know I am in the right place.
  3. Helpful service — In my travels, I often go into a shop just to ask trail advice or get my tires inflated. I can tell when shops are helping me through gritted teeth. On the other hand, I really appreciate it when a shop takes the time to be interested in me and my bike, even if I am only coming in for air.

Race Pace, satisfied in every category. Every customer is greeted by an employee who welcomes them and answers questions. I didn’t bring my bike in but when I took my wheels to the shop to be inflated the tech looked at them and said, ‘Cool hubs!. Last summer, when I was in the area, I rode the Annapolis Trail and by the Capitol in DC. When I asked the shop guy about where to ride, he told me there was a local trail network with miles and miles of trails. He asked me where I was staying and told me that I could access the trail system from the streets around my hotel.

Race Pace is a great shop, I will make it a regular stop when I am in the area.

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Early Season Ride and a Damsel in Distress

The Wasatch Mountains from the Jordan Creek Trail

The Wasatch Mountains from the Jordan Creek Trail

After a long Iowa winter, I spent four days in Salt Lake City this week. My first ride of the season got cut short by rain so I only got in about 5 miles. The next two days I was busy after work, so I was looking forward to Thursday, the forecast called for 58 degrees and a slight breeze. After work, I bought some energy bars, hurried back to my hotel, and got on the bike. Originally, I thought I would only ride a few miles (10-12). At five miles I stopped at a park bench, I was tired and my legs were stiff — I thought about turning around. But it was such a beautiful day with the snow covered Wasatch Mountains in the background, I decided to continue riding.

Long shadows near sunset

Long shadows near sunset

I must have gotten my second wind because I just kept on riding. I was riding North on the Jordan River Trail. After about 6 miles the trail had several at grade road crossings, all of them were well-marked and maintained. Drivers were exceptionally courteous along the way. At one point I was stopped at a crosswalk taking a drink when a driver stopped at a green light to wave me through. I felt a little guilty because I was not really even waiting for the light. I experienced the same thing when riding in an on-street bike lane. Even though it was not my turn, drivers would wave for me to go first. :)

I really felt  good on the bike. Since it is so early in the season I was pleasantly surprised. Eventually I started seeing signs along the trail that said Cycle the City, I decided to follow them and they led to a bike lane on a nice wide street leading into downtown Salt Lake City. On my next trip I’ll have to explore more. I could see that the sun was beginning to drop down just above the mountains. The shadows were getting long and I was wearing a long sleeve Under Armour shirt under a short sleeve jersey. I didn’t have a jacket so I knew I had better turn back before it got chilly.

My 'old school' frame pump

My ‘old school’ frame pump

It was on the way back that I ran into a damsel in distress. I saw the universal cyclist damsel in distress sign. That is an upside down bicycle next to a very attractive young lady wearing Lycra and frowning. I am not really sure how old she was, I would guess between 15 and 30 but I could be wrong. She was with some guy who looked like an older brother, boyfriend or even father — I stopped anyway. It turns out, she had gotten a flat and the guy had replaced the tube and mounted the tire, all they needed was a pump. I told them I had one and I asked out of curiosity, how was it that they were carrying a spare tube but no pump. That’s when he showed me the little tiny CO2 inflator he had in his seat pack. He said he had the cartridge but not the adapter to inflate the tire with it. When I proceeded to unclip my full size long stroke old school frame pump, she said she had never seen one that big. The guy asked what kind it was but didn’t know the names Presta or Schraeder. I gave the pump to the guy and he inflated her tire.

Before he finished, another guy came walking down the trail with an even bigger floor pump! He had ridden by before and promised to come back after he got to his car if they were still there. Knowing that it would be easier to pump with the floor pump, I got my frame pump back, wished them well and headed down the trail, I had barely gotten 100 feet when I heard a large bang. I turned around the guy said that he had overinflated the tire.

I gave them my spare inner tube, and having done my good deed for the day, rode back to my hotel. I must be getting old because cute biker chick called me sir :( Oh well, she did tell the guy that he needed a bigger pump like mine :)

About I mile later, I realized that the guy had most likely not overinflated the tire. It would take a huge amount of pressure to blow out a brand new tube. More likely, he had Failed to seat the tube properly and some of it was under the tire causing the blow out. I hope they made it OK.

All in all a great ride!

[[For those of you old school cyclists like me I know that a true old school pump would be a Silca Impero with a campy head — I used these pumps for for a couple of decades but they are no longer made. The newer pumps like my ToPeak Master Blaster are more efficient but I am still considering going back to Silca. I even purchased a NOS campy metal head on Ebay last year, maybe I'll bid on a pump body.]]

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First Ride of the Season

Jordan River Trail

Jordan River Trail

It has been a long cold winter in Iowa. Unfortunately, all winter my travels have taken me to places even colder than Iowa. Montreal, Calgary, New York, and New Hampshire — if it’s cold I got sent there. Not once, did I get sent to Arizona, Florida or even California. So when I got sent to Salt Lake City this week, I anxiously packed my bike and got ready to go.

The weather had been sketchy all day, gray skies and high winds. The forecast called for rain turning to snow and cold for the evening. Even so, after work, I inflated my tires and got on the bike. This week, I am staying in a hotel about a block away from the Jordan River Trail. The ride was windy and cold but it felt great. My goal was to get in about 12-14 miles, but about 2.5 miles into the ride it looked like the sky was going to open up. I turned around and hustled it back to the hotel. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, the first drops of rain fell. In the immortal words of Charlie Sheen — I call that winning!

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Book Review: WHEELMEN — Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever

wheelmenCycling has been a part of my life since childhood. As a teenager I started racing and touring. I hung out with the local senior racers. I remember the young Greg LeMond (he’s my age) and some other members of the Junior National Team were scheduled to come to our local criterium. In the end the Juniors rode as a team and won the Senior Cat I/II race, as we watched in awe. I was on RAGBRAI (a weeklong ride across Iowa) with about 10,000 other cyclists to cheer LeMond’s tour wins.

So, when Lance Armstrong became the second American to win the Tour de France I (and every other American cyclist) cheered. When Lance won again, and again, and again … I believed that perhaps the European hegemony in cycling might be over. Armstrong might turn out to be a great American champion — like Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault. When accusations of doping surfaced against Armstrong, I was in denial … I refused to believe that my champion, our champion was somehow tainted. Then, when Armstrong began attacking his critics I saw it as the righteous indignation of an innocent man.

But then something happened that shook even my faith in Lance Armstrong. That something was actually someone — Greg LeMond. When LeMond came out and accused Armstrong of doping I began to consider that Armstrong could really be guilty. Since then of course Armstrong publicly confessed on the Oprah Winfrey show.

This week I read Wheelmen — Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever. The book chronicles Armstrong’s rise to the top of the cycling world, the sports world and then celebrity in general. It also describes his fall from grace.

Through it, I saw a picture of Lance Armstrong very different from his carefully manged media persona. In previous years, Armstrong has come to Iowa to ride RAGBRAI. In years past he has ridden with an entourage and spoken to thousands at concerts and other events in the evening. Last year, after his confession on Oprah, Armstrong came back to Iowa to ride RAGBRAI. I believe that at the time I said that Armstrong was welcome as long he was just another rider … not a celebrity.

After reading this book let me say this. “This former fan and RAGBRAI veteran since 1977 has this to say, ‘Lance, stay home’”

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Salt Lake City — The Jordan River Trail

Flat on the Jordan River Trail

Flat on the Jordan River Trail

Back in Salt Lake City this week and I decided to ride the Jordan River Trail again. Last time I was here the temperature was hovering just over 100 degrees. Monday and Tuesday the temperature was in the high 80′s so I didn’t bother to bring a jacket or long-sleeved jersey.

Well, that was my first mistake. The temperature on the trail was in the mid 60′s and since I rode after work as the sun set, the temperature continued to drop. I felt pretty good and rode about 14 miles. There was a light wind and several people were out riding and walking. Unfortunately at about mile 14, my bike started handling funny. I wasn’t sure what was going on but pretty soon I realized that I had a flat front tire.

I pulled over at one of the many overlooks to change the inner tube. It really was a beautiful spot and while I was working on the tire, several ducks and a flight of geese landed. Turns out that I picked up a thorn in my front tire. Once I got the tube changed, I sprinted back to the car to warm up. Even though I was cold and got a flat, it was better than not riding.

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Could a Rinko Headset be the answer to my S&S Coupler Problems?

Downtube Damage

Downtube Damage

One of the few problems that I am having with the S&S couplers on my bike has to do with packing. The way my bike fits in its case, the freewheel rubs up against the downtube. Even with the padding, there is enough pressure to scratch the frame through the powder coating down to bare metal. My plan is to get the frame powdercoated again this winter, the color is too orange anyway :) But when I get it done, I don’t want to keep scratching the frame. Waterford recommends protecting the area with something sturdy like automobile heater hose. The solution is either to remove the freewheel or remove the fork to make more room. Since my bike is a 1991 Bridgestone RB-1, it has a threaded headset. The trouble is that I’d have to carry a huge wrench to get enough leverage to remove the freewheel or two large headset wrenches to remove the threaded headset.

So today I was looking at the possibility of getting a new threadless fork made. Something with fender and lo-rider braze-ons. Something with a nice fork crown, maybe in polished stainless steel. I was looking at dropping another $500-700 dollars to make it happen. In the mean time, I stopped over and looked at one of my favorite online bike retailers, Velo Orange. Velo Orange sells modern retro styled equipment. I currently have a threadless stem adapter, threadless stem and seatpost from them. And if they ever offer drillium chainrings on their triple crankset, I’ll probably buy one.

Velo Orange Rinko Headset

On their site I came across something new, Rinko Headsets. Rinko headseats are used in Japan to allow no tool removal of bicycle forks so that bikes can be transported on trains. The teeth shown in the picture prevent the headset from coming loose and the knurled nut allows hand adjustments. The headset comes with cartridge bearings.

Some commenters on the Velo Orange blog, said that they could do the same with a threadless headset. True, but then I would have to buy a threadless fork to make it work. This seems like an elegant solution to my problem. Coincidentally, the Nitto headset that came with the RB-1 is getting a little pitted and feels rough. I think I’ll give this a try!

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