April was Brutal

It has been a brutal month of April for anyone who wanted to spend time on a bike in Iowa.  How brutal?  Here is what things looked like on April 8th:

IMG_1405

If you were thinking that this was an aberration here is what things looked like from the same vantage point on April 15th:

IMG_1417

Measurable snow on the ground in mid-April.  Icey road conditions, sub-freezing temperatures, and lots of wind into the third week of the month made this a brutal time to try upping my bike commuting miles.  Add in a hectic kids’ activity schedule and you have a month of me sucking to reduce my transportation emissions through two wheeled salvation.

On the bright side, the last week of April has been perfect.  Like high-60s in the afternoon, plenty of sunshine, and no significant precipitation perfect.  If you can deal with the joys of wind in Iowa you can enjoy some time in the saddle.

If I could just get my new bike dialed in…

Advertisements

What is This Saddle?

Somewhere there is a product manager for Wilderness Trail Bikes getting a bonus for having cut out anything resembling comfort in this saddle:

IMG_1418.JPG

A ride on this saddle is like experiencing one of the levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno.  My first ride was a short ~16 mile out and back on a paved recreational trail.  Smooth asphalt and concrete the whole way at a nice 16 to 17 mile per hour pace.  Nothing special and nothing extreme.  Oh boy did my rear end hurt at the end.

I chalked it up to the first ride of the season, which is always a somewhat tortuous experience as winter’s rust is shaken off.  Seriously, I feel like some kind of waylaid creature summoned when the weather warms up—kind of, if you know what spring has been like in Iowa this year—who breaks free of magical stone shackles.  No seriously, how can I spend the winter working out five and six days a week yet suffer mightily on the first easy ride of the season?  It’s like I should stop trying.

A subsequent ride confirmed my worst fears.  This saddle was designed to drive traffic into bike shops by users looking to upgrade to something that would not turn their most personal of areas into overcooked brisket.  Thankfully the solution to this problem was in my garage already: the Selle Anatomica Titanico X on the old dirtwagon.  Much better:

IMG_1420.JPG

A human being interfaces with a bicycle at three contact points: pedals, handlebar, and saddle.  At each contact point there are almost infinite options for one to choose from, but the saddle stands out for products to really suck.  Maybe it is personal preference or just the many ways our asses can be shaped.

On a related note, I had forgotten just how much fiddling was required to get a new bike dialed in.  After you have ridden thousands of miles on an old bike these little details are generally already taken care of and you just throw a leg over to get riding.  On a new bike you are fiddling with saddled tilt and height, fore and aft position, SPD cleat alignment, and the list goes on.  At this rate I do not think I will have everything locked down until well into May.

Friday Linkage 4/20/2017

4/20…heh, heh,heh…

Sorry, I had to because every year around this time the Denver Post turns into a newsprint edition of High Times.  It blows my mind that we now live in a time and place where people openly purchase, possess, and consume marijuana in multiple states.  Sure, reefer madness will never truly leave us until the generation that elected Donald Trump makes their last trip to the Cracker Barrel but the time is coming.

On to the links…

White Castle Goes Highbrow? Now Famous Slider can come with Fake Beef—We also live in a time where there is a vegetable based burger patty being served at White Castle.  Oh yeah, your favorite stoner dream food is now plant based.  And how does it taste?  Apparently, it works.

Trump may Greenlight an $8 Billion Attack on Competitive Energy Markets—Trump, his Trumpkins, and the rest of the right wing love free markets right up until free markets ding the pocket books of the barons—that feels so Into the Badlands to say—who pay to keep them in office.  This is an idea supported by Rick Perry.  Yes, the same Rick Perry who could not remember the name of the three government agencies he was committed to eliminating.  One of which he currently serves at the helm.  Irony.

Trump’s EPA Embraces an Odd Argument against Fuel Economy: It will Kill People—No, this is not your Grandpa Earl telling you how much safer cars were in the 1950s because his Bel Air was made with thousands of pounds of good ol’ American steel:

Old New Malibu Crash.gif

Grandpa Earl is wrong.  Trump is wrong.

Former Administrators say Pruitt’s Impact on EPA can be Reversed—The end of the Trump administration, whether it comes in January 2021 or sooner, will feel like waking up from the flu after a week of shuffling around the house.  Everyone will feel better, but it will take time and some effort to feel right again.

UK Emissions are Falling Fast. Now the Country might try for Zero.—By 2017 the U.K.’s CO2 emissions are 42 percent below 1990 levels:

carbon_brief_2017_uk_emissions.jpg

Imagine if the U.S. had pulled this off?

173 Countries Agree to Slash Shipping Industry Emissions in Historic Deal—If you do not think that your buying stuff is driving a lot of emissions just think about what it costs in terms of energy to move goods from China to the United States.

Renewable Energy Meets 100% Of Portugal’s March Electricity Needs—This is damn impressive.  Even more impressive to me is that the low for a percentage of production was 86%.

China made Solar Panels Cheap. Now it’s Doing the Same for Electric Buses.—I know that we all love rail mass transit, but the humble electric bus may be the way to slash transportation emissions for hundreds of millions if not billions of people.  China spent a lot of money to make solar panels cheap and now they are on the same path for busses.

These Huge New Wind Turbines are a Marvel. They’re also the Future.—Bigger wind turbines make more power and are more efficient.  Plus, we can begin replacing existing turbines—which already have the infrastructure in place for power transmission—with bigger turbines to produce more power.  And there is that whole offshore wind thing as well.

New 3 in 1 Roof Solar Tiles Power your House for Half the Price of a Tesla Roof—These may be a little clunkier than the Tesal roof tiles but if they can actually deliver them for half the cost and similar performance it will be a winner.  I would like to add some more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof—it’s never enough once you get some solar PV—but I really like the idea of covering my roof in solar roof tiles.

Sydney’s First Battery Powered Apartment Block Halves Residents’ Power Bills—Australia feels like the future of solar.  It’s like they are living in tomorrow and we are all waiting to get there soon.

6 Solar Roads Shaking up Infrastructure around the World—With so many roofs and parking lots that could be covered in solar panels are solar roads even something we should care about?

Scientists Accidentally Produce an Enzyme that Devours Plastic—This feels like the plot to a bad science fiction movie from the mid-1990s.  You know, attractive female scientist and roguish male outsider team up to figure out why the world’s plastic is disappearing.

The Missing Link in Local Trails

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is an amazing recreational trail here in eastern Iowa.  Travelling from just north of Cedar Rapids in Hiawatha over 50 miles north to Waterloo it is justifiably a gem for those of us addicted to two wheeled recreation.

Notice I said travelling north.  To the south things are decidedly less amazing.  Paved trails exist throughout Cedar Rapids and extend as far south as the small town of Ely.  In Ely things peter out as you approach the Linn County-Johnson County line.  I say peter out when what I really mean to say is end abruptly.  As in the trail literally comes to an end at dirt with nothing more.

Plans have been in the discussion and preparation stages for what seems like a decade.  Now, this spring—despite the horrible weather—construction has finally begun!

It will take two years or more to complete.  Bet on the “or more” as delays are almost inevitable with projects like this and Johnson County is notorious for meddlesome parties to become involved in delaying projects for spurious reasons.  Nonetheless, the future is bright as this section of trail south of Ely into Solon will connect the trail systems of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City for the first time in forever.

anigif_enhanced-10604-1460494014-3.gif

You can take a look at the trail map of the Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty area and imagine a purple line extending from the intersection of Highway 382 and Ely Road NE into the town of Ely.  Now merge that with the trail map of the Cedar Rapids-Hiawatha-Marion area to get an idea of what a combined system will look like.

It is my hope that this combination becomes a catalyst to complete the connections to orphaned sections of trails throughout the area.

Now, if spring would actually get here we could really get to riding.  How bad is it?  It’s April 19th and there was measurable snow on the ground this morning.  Seriously, what is this?  Minnesota?

In Praise of the Humble Square Taper Cartridge Bottom Bracket

Bottom brackets used to be easy.  In the halcyon days of the 1990s when bicycles were simple and Trek Y bikes were all the rage for some reason there was one thing that we did not spend a lot of time noodling on: bottom brackets.

If you needed a new bottom bracket because your current bottom bracket turned with all the smoothness of a sanding drum you went to the bike shop and had one installed.  The choices were cartridge or open cup, Shimano or someone else, and that was about it.  Everything was square taper interface and you just had to figure out shell size and spindle length, e.g. match what you had unless you had issues with the chain line for some reason.

Starting with Shimano’s Octalink and followed quickly by the “open source” ISIS drive, which is an unfortunate name given current events in the Middle East, on to the modern day with external bearing, MegaEXO, PF30, BB30, Giga-X-Pipe, Ultra Torque…my head hurts.

Having owned one bike with an ISIS drive bottom bracket, which was a self-destructing piece of junk good for about six weeks of hard riding, and another bike with an external bearing bottom bracket, which was good for about a season of riding if all of the bolts holding things together stayed torqued down, I can say that I miss the days of the humble square taper bottom bracket.  Do not even get me started on those squeak machines that are PF30 bottom brackets.

Well, my new Breezer Radar Expert came equipped with that vestige of the past—an honest to goodness square taper cartridge bottom bracket.  It is so decidedly old school it should be on the poster with Will Ferrell.  I am almost tempted to head out and buy about a half dozen Shimano UN55 bottom brackets like a hipster hoarding a soon-to-be discontinued flavor of LaCroix.  Seriously, six of those things should last me until the end of times.

Surely, someone out there will tell me how an external bearing bottom bracket is better because of a certain percentage increased stiffness which in turns leads to more power being put into the rear wheel.  By the same token, if I lost twenty pounds and stopped drinking beer I would be that much more efficient in the saddle as well but life would be less worth living under those circumstances.  The true beauty, in my opinion, of the growth in “adventure” cycling is that the singled minded focus on efficiency and speed has been replaced by a more holistic ethos that focuses on the general experience of riding a bicycle.

With a square taper cartridge bottom bracket I do not even think about the component.  Should that not be the mission of something as critical as the bottom bracket?  I do not want it to come loose or squeak.  I want it to spin freely and keep out gunk.  In which of those desires does the square taper cartridge bottom bracket not equal or exceed the more modern alternatives?  Also consider that I can buy a Shimano UN55 bottom bracket for less than $20.

I am sure that I am fighting a rear guard action against the agents of “progress” when it comes to bottom bracket preference.  However, it feels like a fight worth having when it seems that the “better” alternatives have done little to advance the technology while creating a slew of problems that did not exist prior.

What are your thoughts?

Friday Linkage 4/13/2017

Paul Ryan is gone.  Okay, he is not actually gone today instead opting to “retire” in January when his term is over.  Nonetheless, who saw this coming?

He gave the standard “spend more time with my family” and “I’ve spent enough time in Washington and want to get back home” answers as to why he was choosing to leave Congress.  Does anyone doubt for a minute that he was tired of working with the chief cantaloupe?

This tweet just about perfectly sums up the end of Paul Ryan’s time in Washington D.C.:

Paul Ryan Tweet.jpg

On to the links…

The US is Winning the Climate Fight in Electricity — and Losing it Just About Everywhere Else—This chart says it all:

Emissions CO2 Chart

Transportation is killing us, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and one of the biggest culprits is commercial air travel.  Flying is bad for the environment.  End of story.  And you free two day shipping on Amazon is also part of the problem because the cargo operators are flying jets all over the place to deliver our crap.  So, buy less stuff and fly less.

Solar Leads Record Renewables Investment—Solar now accounts for more than half of all the investment put into renewable energy.  China alone invested over $127 billion in renewable energy with more than two-thirds of that investment going to deploy 53 GW of solar.

Clean Energy Investment Down 10% To $61.1 Billion In First Quarter—Sometimes these are quarter over quarter anomalies driven by major investment timing, but if the trend continues into subsequent quarters it will be time to question what is driving the trend.

Google Hits its Incredible 100% Renewable Energy Goal—Google does not actually own the wind turbines and solar panels that make its renewable electricity, but it has bought enough renewable energy on the open market to account for its entire usage.

Illinois Blazes New Trail in Anticipation of Private Microgrids Using Utility Wires—Microgrids may be the future of energy generation and transmission.  The problem is that the utility companies own a lot of infrastructure and do not want anyone to have access to that infrastructure unless they control all of the terms.

Secession Or Not, Big Win For Rooftop Solar In South Carolina—South Carolina is in general a state known for doing some batshit crazy stuff.  Like electing Mark Sanford to public office…more than once…and after he had that whole Appalachian Trail thing happen.  WTF?  Anyway, if solar can score a win in South Carolina you know that things are good for solar.

Biggest Problem for U.S. Offshore Wind? Ports Are Too Small—This will hamper offshore wind development for decades as any port expansion project is a nightmare in terms of approval and execution.

This Coal Power Plant is Being Reopened for Blockchain Mining—Nothing can save coal except for another questionable idea: cryptocurrencies.

Washington State Bans Salmon Farms—Last August a breach in an aquaculture facility allowed Atlantic salmon to escape into the waters off of Puget Sound.  These non-native salmon could wreak havoc with the native species.  In response, the state of Washington has decided that hipsters love of grilled salmon is not enough of a priority to risk the health of an ecosystem.

Reckoning with History: The Parks have Been Fixed Before—The National Park system is one of America’s crown jewels, but the parks are in need of help.  This situation is, sadly, not unique in our history.  Make sure that your elected officials are committed to providing the support that our National Parks deserve and require.

REI Rolls Out First-of-its-Kind Sustainability Requirement that will Affect Every Brand in its Stores—If Congress won’t take action on sustainability than it falls to large companies to take action.  REI is, as usual, killing it.

What will Zinke do with the Extra $2.5 billion in his Budget?—Ryan Zinke wanted to gut the Department of the Interior.  Congress said, “Nope.”  What happens next?  Assuming the next most corrupt member of the chief cantaloupe’s cabinet, after Scott Pruitt, is even leading the agency in a few months.

IG: Zinke’s Reassignment Of Native Americans And Climate Scientists Possibly Illegal—The defense on this issue is the most Trumpian of all time, “We might have done something illegal, but we kept such bad records that no one can prove we did anything illegal.  Our incompetence is our shield.”  This is why Ryan Zinke needs to be the next Trumpkin out the door after Scott Pruitt gets his fossil fuel covered gremlin ass out of Washington D.C.

Why Scott Gottlieb is the One Trump Official Everybody Seems to Like—It just goes to show that even in a storm of gross incompetence and outright malfeasance that actual good governance can happen.  It’s not likely, but it is possible.

Guess What? The Rich Really are Different from Everyone Else — and It Ain’t Pretty—In the United States we have spent the last thirty or so years idolizing the rich as if they were somehow intrinsically better than everyone else with less money.  As our current president shows, money does not guarantee any sort of better human experience.  In fact, if the data is to be believed, it is likely that the rich, on average, are worse as human beings.  Suck it Ayn Rand.

A Sperm Whale that Washed up on a Beach in Spain had 64 pounds of Plastic and Waste in its Stomach—Yeah, that headline is pretty much as bad as it sounds.

 

There is a New Bike in the Garage

After much deliberation and the uncovering of a sweet deal at a Performance Bike retail location I have a new bike in my garage:

IMG_1408

It’s a Breezer Radar Expert.  All in, I picked it up for a little over $600 which seems like a steal compared to bikes I have bought in the past.  If you are a cyclist from the 1990s, especially a mountain biker, spending just north of six hundred dollars for a bicycle that is reliable and competent seems amazing.  I remember there being component groups that were cobbled together and barely worked when new let alone a few months down the road.

Also, if you are a historian of the bicycle industry the name Breezer should be familiar.  Joe Breeze, the name behind Breezer, was one of the founding fathers of mountain biking along with other luminaries like Gary Fisher.  The company that makes Breezer bikes today is not the same bespoke operation from the 1970s through 1990s, but it retains some of the mystique.

It checks off almost every criteria I had for a new bicycle:

  1. Steel frame—This is a personal preference. I ride steel bicycles.
  2. Disc brakes—One nod to modernity. One ride on a friend’s disc equipped bike converted me in an instant.  One ride in inclement weather with finicky cantilevers made me actively seek out a replacement for the dirt wagon.
  3. External headset—Chris King had a famous online post about why integrated headsets were essentially the devil reincarnated as a bicycle design trend. The world seems to be going to integrated and zero stack systems despite the proven longevity and maintainability of good ol’ external headsets.  Plus, is there a cooler looking component than a Chris King headset?
  4. Threaded bottom bracket shell—You can take your creaky press fit bottom bracket and enjoy the disharmonious symphony on group rides. I will take my old school threaded bottom bracket shell and its quiet labor any day of the week.
  5. Non-integrated seatpost binder—This seems like a trivial bit of frame design, but dealing with problems related to integrated binder bolts will drive even the most patient person to question the very nature of their existence. If the non-integrated seatpost binder starts giving you trouble just replace the damn thing.  Five minutes of work and no frustration.

The components are nothing special—Shimano Sora all the way around with some OEM wheels, WTB tires, SRAM crank, etc.  However, for a little more than $600 I am on the road riding which is in the neighborhood of what I was looking at spending on a frame and fork combo.  Sure, the frame is not as good as the model I was considering purchasing.  How great of a difference would it have been and would I have noticed?

Now I am able to upgrade the bits on the bike on my schedule.  This equates to buying the upgrades when I find them on sale and replacing components piece meal.  Thankfully most bikes these days do not spec pedals because it is such a personal choice.  I usually go with Shimano M520s.  I think that for an average price of around $30 you cannot go wrong.  However, for Christmas I was gifted a pair of Shimano PD-M8020s which are normally outside of my price range.  I am fairly stoked about the stainless axle and bearings that can be replaced because I have chewed through bearings on the M520s.

One change that I made immediately was to swap out the stock bar for a Salsa Cowchipper 44cm from my previous gravel bike.  The stock bar was quite narrow owing to the smaller frame size and not compatible with my broad shoulders.  I am giving the drop bar a second chance since the geometry of this bike is much less aggressive and I feel that it will put less stress of my hands.  Also, I put gel vibration pads under a cushy EVA bar tape to hopefully help out with some of the hand pain issues that I was having on longer rides.

Today was the first day that I have gotten out to ride and…it hurt.  I also forgot how much work it is to dial in a new bike.  It is going to take a few rides just to feel comfortable on the new bike but it is close as is right now.  A more comprehensive report is forthcoming.

Get out there and ride!