Good Samaritan

This morning I did my good deed for the week. Maybe even more than one, in the space of 10 minutes.

I was biking to work on the Stevens Creek Trail, when I came across a guy helping another guy up who had apparently fallen over while on his bike. I stopped to see if they were all right, and it turned out that the first guy had pulled over to change a flat tire, and the second guy had stopped to help, and somehow lost his balance and fallen over.

Fortunately, no one was hurt (the second guy said one time he’d fallen over on his bike and broken his arm – ow!). The second guy’s seat had turned 45 degrees and he needed a hex wrench to get it straight – which I loaned him since I carry one in my seat pack. The first guy had finished replacing his tire, but needed a pump to inflate it, and I have a frame pump on my bike, so I loaned that to him. In fairly short order they were both on their way, and so was I.

Then, just about a hundred feet up the trail a guy hit his brakes and came to a sudden halt, burning rubber on the pavement. So I stopped again and asked if he was okay. He was, but his chain had somehow slipped off his gears. I’m not sure why that required coming to a sudden stop on a downhill, but I suggested he continue along to where the other two had stopped since there was a turnout there, and where he’d stopped was just on the wrong side of a blind curve (bad enough that the city mounted a convex mirror at it). Since I was also stopped on the wrong side of the curve, I got back on my bike and continued on – hopefully he took my advice.

I don’t know if it was the short rest break or just feeling good about myself, but I powered my way through the rest of my ride and made up a little of my lost time. But hopefully I earned some karma points today.

So How’s the Biking Going?

Pretty good, actually. I’ve been biking to work twice a week since early April (other than the week when my sister and her clan were visiting). Maybe this year I’ll finally get to 50 rides for the year! Twice a week may not be a lot, but I am starting to recognize some cyclists and joggers that I pass on my rides.

Folks at work organized teams for the Team Bike Challenge again. I know I’m not anywhere near the top echelon of bike-to-workers, but at least I keep plugging away. Yesterday was Bike to Work Day, so my friend Sean and I stopped at a “recharge station” sponsored by the Friends of Stevens Creek Trail. Plus we passed at least five times as many cyclists as we usually do.

The new bike has basically worked as advertised. It’s (so far) met my primary criterion for a new bike, which is that the wheels haven’t popped any spokes. Yay! I am enjoying the more-vertical position I’m in while riding it. The gear shifts work in the opposite direction as my old bike, which has taken a little getting used to – sometimes I downshift when I meant to upshift, and vice-versa. But the bell is in a better position to use, so I guess it evens out.

By far the biggest problem with the new bike is the new trip computer I bought for it – it regularly stops registering the bike’s movement, sometimes for lengthy periods of time, and sometimes just skipping some wheel rotations, making it look like I’m going slower than I really am. I’ve fiddled with it a little bit, but I suspect I need to move the sensor closer to the edge of the wheel to better pick up the magnet on the spoke that spins past it. I realize these things can be finicky, but my old bike’s computer didn’t have anything like these problems. Still, better a problem with an accessory than with the bike itself!

Anyway, I’m enjoying riding for another summer. I might not enjoy it as much next week when it’s supposed to get up in the 90s during the day! But even then it’s kind of refreshing to have something active to do even in that heat, knowing that I’m going to take a shower in the A/C when I get to my destination.

Time for a New Bicycle

With the biking season not so much around the corner as already here, I wanted to get a new bike to replace my venerable Bianchi Eros. I say “venerable” rather than “beloved” because it’s developed a pattern of popping spokes, despite having replaced the read wheel with a heavier rim several years ago. I bought the bike in 2002, so I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth and didn’t feel any remorse about replacing it.

The Bianchi is a road bike, and I suspect that the thin rims and its overall design made it poorly suited to carry someone of my weight. So I wanted something with larger wheels, possibly more spokes. I was also leaning towards getting a hybrid bike, because I rarely use the drop-down handlebars on the Bianchi, and my occasional neck problems make it sometimes awkward to hold my head tilted up for long periods of time. So I’d be happy with a more vertical seating position.

Well, long story short, we went to the Bicycle Outfitter yesterday and worked with a very nice salesman named Scott where I ended up buying a Trek 7.4 FX, black with blue trim. While I won’t know until I’ve ridden for a while if it holds up without popping spokes, I’m optimistic. Debbi has a Trek (albeit one about as old as the Bianchi), and I know several other people with Trek bikes, so they seem pretty reliable, or at least popular.

And it is, amazingly, a heck of a lot lighter than the Bianchi (while costing a lot less than the Bianchi did 11+ years ago), and the Bianchi was dramatically lighter than the road bike it replaced. The shifting mechanisms are a little peculiar, in that they work in the reverse of my old bike (push left to upshift, right to downshift), but I’ll get used to that.

This morning I started moving my accessories from the Bianchi to the Trek. Some of them were easy, but the mount for the U-lock, and the rack over the rear wheel, were both vexing. And I couldn’t figure out how to get the pedals off of either bike to move the clip-ons to the Trek. So we took both bikes to the Outfitter. The pedals turned out to be easy, but the mount for the U-lock is just kind of crappy, so I bought a new one. And I also bought a new rack, since I think the rack I have predates the Bianchi, so it was probably time.

But finally the new bike was all set up, so we went out for a ride through Shoreline Park, on what was really a just about perfect day. The bike is pretty comfortable, and I like having my hands spread further apart as I ride. I still need to move my bell over from the Bianchi, though.

I have some things going on this week, but hopefully next week I’ll start biking to work. Should be fun!

This Year’s Biking-to-Work Experience

Biking to work this year can be summed by saying that I’ve had to overcome several bits of adversity to keep going. Nothing huge, but enough to be a drag on my enthusiasm.

Last year I had planned to reach 40 rides for the season for the first time. I bike in twice a week (rarely more, since I often need to drive somewhere after work), and with 7 months in the season (between Daylight Savings Time changes – I prefer not to bike home in the dark) that gives me about 30 weeks, so in theory I could get as many as 60 rides in without adding extra days (minus time spent on vacation, at WWDC, etc.), but I think I’ve topped out at 35. Debbi suggested I aim for 50. But then all the business with my Mom came up, and I ended up at around 35 again.

This year I was back east in March during the DST change (“Spring Forward, Lose Sleep”), but I didn’t bike in until May because we were working on selling her house, and I wanted to make sure I could dash home and take care of anything that came up where I needed some specific records (it turned out that nothing did).

Along the way I’ve broken two spokes on my rear wheel, and I’m coming to accept that I need to get a new bike. I have a 2002 Bianchi Eros road bike (at least, that’s the year I bought it), and I think I just weigh too much for the bike. I bought a beefier rear wheel for it a couple of years ago, but I’ve continued to pop spokes (just less often), which is pretty annoying (even though I found a store nearby which is able to fix it within 48 hours reliably). So I think I need to get a bike which is built for someone of my weight (as with buying clothes, it’s better to buy for the body you have, not the body you want to have). So this winter I will probably look into getting some sort of hybrid bike. The plus is that I could take it off-road onto some of the dirt trails in Shoreline Park, which my road bike can’t really handle.

Then in August Debbi and I were doing an abdominal workout challenge, and I started having pain in my hips, which mostly went away when I stopped doing the sit-ups. Toward the end I also started having pain in my right knee, which may or may not be related (perhaps I was compensating for the hip pain in a way that stressed my knee). It gets sore when I apply downward power when pedaling – either going up hills or when starting moving. It’s not debilitating, and it doesn’t both me much when not biking (maybe a bit when climbing stairs), but it is worrisome, and the two weeks off for our September vacation didn’t let it heal fully. It felt a bit better this past week, but I have had to be careful around it.

So it’s been a bit of a frustrating summer for biking. I’m on pace to hit 40 rides by the end of the month, which will be a nice milestone; fortunately I had a day’s worth of cushion since I got sick a few weeks ago. I don’t think my knee would take a third day of riding in one week very well.

I like riding to work, but I’ll like it even more if I can get a more reliable bike for next year. Meanwhile, as sunset creeps earlier and earlier, I’m getting ready to switch to going to the gym over the winter, instead.

Good Deed

I rode my bike to work this morning, probably the last ride of the year since daylight savings time ends this weekend, so it will be dark well before I head home if I were to bike in, and I don’t like riding home in the dark. Plus, the rains are coming. I made it to 22 rides this year, which isn’t so bad considering buying the new house, moving, and our trip to Hawaii took a big chunk out of my riding time.

On the way in, only a couple of blocks from Subrata and Susan’s house, I got flagged down by a couple of women with a baby carriage. One of the women – with the carriage – was lost (the other was just another person who was trying to help her). Moreover, her English was not strong. She used my phone to call someone (after several tries to remember the right number), and after talking to her in another language handed the phone to me. Between the two of us, I was able to direct her to where we were. I think we were only a couple of blocks away from a street she knew. I sat with the woman while we waited for the woman she called to come get her.

When the younger woman arrived, she said the older woman said that I reminded her of her son. (She wasn’t able to express this in English.)

I’m still not sure what the relationship among them was: Mother-daughter? Mother-in-law-daughter-in-law? Was the older woman a nanny who was just taking the baby out for a walk? I didn’t pry.

But at least I was able to help her get back to where she was supposed to be.

New Biking Gear

This weekend I had a productive round of shopping for new biking gear:

  1. I bought a new helmet. It was really hard to find a large-size helmet; I kept finding Giro one-size-fits-all-helmets, which didn’t fit my head. I also wanted a blue helmet to match my bike, and a helmet with a visor, since a visor obviates the need for wearing sunglasses while riding (for me). I finally found a nice blue Bell Influx helmet at REI which fits great. I think the last helmet I bought cost me $90 or more; this one was $65.
  2. Also at REI I found a bike tire gauge. I’ve had people at bike stores tell me they don’t make those – “Why would you want one? Just check the pressure by feeling the tire” they’d say. When pumping a replaced tube with my hand pump I can’t really tell if I’ve overfilled the tire my hand, so I’m pretty happy to have found this tire gauge, which now lives in my seat pack along with my tube-changing equipment.
  3. I also picked up a couple of new tubes. Tubes are cheap, so it’s easier to replace the whole tube than try to patch the punctured one.
  4. Lastly, I bought a new water bottle, since the old one was getting a bit long in the tooth. I like the Polar Bottles.

I took the new gear out with me on my ride to work today. I was especially glad to have the new helmet, since my old Giro one was definitely, well, old. (I understand you should replace your helmet about every five years, for safety.) I liked the Giro, too, but I couldn’t find the one I wanted from them in searching for a replacement, so I’m happy with the Bell.

I got a late start on biking to work this year thanks to moving, but I’ve been going twice a week for the last month (often with my coworker Sean). I may not catch up to the number of rides I did last year, but I should have a fair number by the end of Daylight Savings Time.

This Week’s Biking Non-Adventure

My current schedule is to bike to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So Tuesday I went out to the bike to pump up my tires. I rotated the rear wheel to get the nozzle in the right place and…

“Hmm… that’s strange.”

There was a staple stuck in the tire, one prong jammed neatly into the tire. I pulled it out, and saw that the tire was flat. Was it flat before I pulled the staple out? I dunno, but even so I wasn’t going to bike to work with a staple in my tire and get a flat halfway in.

My thought process then went something like this:

  1. I could change the tube myself, but I’m not very good at it. It’d probably take me about 20 minutes to change it.
  2. Then I’d be getting into work pretty late (even by my lights), so I’d better drive.
  3. If I drive, should I then change the tube myself tonight, or shall I be lazy and take the wheel to the shop and get it fixed?
  4. I’m going to be lazy. Then I can have them check the tire to see if it’s still otherwise sound, too.
  5. Of course, if I never change flats myself, then I’m never going to get any better at it.
  6. Then again, I don’t really want to get so many flats that I get that much practice…

(I find changing the tube to be difficult mainly when trying to start getting the tire off, or finish putting it on; the tension is pretty strong, and I just don’t have the right technique or something, because I always stress my fingers at those points, and struggle with it until it finally pops out or pops back on. A pain in the ass, really.)

Two additional ironies: When I had my bike in to change a different flat a few weeks ago (due to the tire rupturing around the nozzle because I’d twisted the screw that holds the nozzle in place too far) he said my tires are pretty impenetrable. Apparently not completely impenetrable (maybe the staple just missed hitting the kevlar lining, or maybe biking on it drove it through). Second, we’d gone by the bike shop on Saturday to have the gears on Debbi’s bike adjusted; had I known about the staple then, I could have brought the wheel in at the same time.

Anyway, I took the wheel in after work on Tuesday and it was fixed in 15 minutes (so… maybe it would have taken me even longer to fix it myself?), and the wheel checked out. So I biked in again on Thursday and it help up like a champ. (And the wheel itself, which I had replaced last year with a beefier model because the spokes kept breaking, has done wonderfully this year, as well.)

bbum suggested that I get some slime-filled tubes for my bike. So I might try that. Although honestly I don’t get many flats these days, so it would just be an extra layer of insurance. But maybe.

Biking has otherwise been going well this year, aside from flat-tire mishaps and issues with getting ill or our late-season rains. I think I’ll easily eclipse my mileage from last year.

I Survived The Heat

WWDC went well last week. Everything I’ve been working on is still under nondisclosure 🙂 but it seemed to be well-received. I spent my usual shifts (plus a few hours) in the labs, which were low-key for me compared to usual (and my cow-orker who works in my same general area had the same feeling). My biggest success was figuring out that someone had somehow ended up with a corrupted install of his developer tools, and figuring out exactly what was broken (although not why). I did come into the office on Wednesday and did a quick turnaround of an issue my managers wanted me to look at.

I always sign up for the 9 am Friday morning lab shift, partly because it’s fun to get up with Deb and carpool up with her to get dropped off at Caltrain, and partly because it leaves me with the afternoon free to do stuff. I went to lunch with friends (some from work, some attendees) afterwards, and then took BART over to drop in on Borderlands Books.

I was grateful that the heat wave of the previous weekend broke before the conference started, since walking to and from Caltrain is no fun in 80+ degree heat. In the normal cooler weather, though, it’s quite nice. Plus I get to do some reading on the way there and back.

I was less grateful when a new heat wave moved in on Saturday, as it dampened my enthusiasm to do much stuff around the house. Though neither heat wave was as brutal as the ones we’ve had in the past. And we did get out to look for a new gas grill; I ended up buying a Weber Genesis E310 from OSH, which was having their periodic “we pay the sales tax” sale this weekend. Between the grill and various other things I picked up, I saved a bundle of money in sales tax. Now I just have to put the grill together…

Back to work this week, but it’s a pretty low key week as everyone recovers from WWDC. I biked in today, and had a flat tire when I came out of the gym after showering. I walked it over to the bike shop to get it repaired (I could have repaired it myself but decided I’d rather have a pro do it since they’re not far away), and learned that the nut which holds the nozzle in place can cause the tube to rupture if you tighten it too far, which I must have done. I also learned that the nut is not really needed, so I got rid of it. Success!

Lastly, we’re moving offices again on Friday (the second and final stage of our big office move, staged this way I think mainly because our building has gotten substantially remodeled along the way), so I’m packing today, and then taking the rest of the week off to catch up on some of that stuff at home. And then I’ll have another new environment to get used to!

New Biking Year

It took me almost two weeks after daylight savings time started, but I got back on the bike today and rode to and from work. It was about as hard as I expected, but not too bad. My legs were definitely wobbly during the morning, and around 3:30 my body decided it was naptime. Once I got home I was quite hungry, and afterwards I felt pretty well zonked. I’ll sleep well tonight!

Amusing little aside: On my ride in I often stop off at some friends’ house. Usually I just stop in front, have some water, and push on, though sometimes I see one of them and say hi. This morning I turned into their neighborhood behind a car that looked just like theirs – not too surprising since they have a common make, model and color. But it turned onto a different street. When I got to their house, their garage was open, and I noticed that their license plate was exactly the same as the other car’s to the fifth digit (of seven). What are the odds?

I’ve got a busy couple of weeks lined up, with lots to do at work and at least at much to get through at home. So updates may be sparse. March and early April always seem to be this way, for some reason.

Things Coming Together

The broken-bike-seat saga (such as it was) ended happily: I went to the bike shop and bought a new set of screws for the seat.

The guy who helped me said that the screws break all the time, usually for the same reason mine did: Trying to over-tighten them. “That’s why the company charges $20 for them.” He was more scandalized than I was at the cost. I told him I’d had that first screw for 7 years, which works out to less than $3.00 a year, which ain’t bad.

They also suggested I put some grease on the screw before putting it on. “What kind of grease?” I asked. “Grease with a ‘G’,” they said. Hey, what do I know from grease? Turns out there are several different kinds of grease, at my local hardware store, anyway. I went for grease with a “cheap”, mainly because I don’t need a big tub-o-grease. (Insert snarky comment here.)

They also sold me a packet of goo to put on the shaft of the bike seat, which increases friction and thus reduces slippage of the seat, which is the problem I was having which led me to over-tighten the screw in the first place. So I tried it out. It seemed to help, from my first experience. (They also cautioned me not to use it on the screws, which amused me: Yeah, don’t use the friction-enhancing goo as a lubricant. Got it.)

Anyway, all that taken care of, I biked in to work again today. Made good time, too!