Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shakedown Cruise for a Snowbike

In continuation of my effort to lay down the miles for the DDD, I took the bigfoot out for a shakedown cruise today. Yeah, it rides like kind of a big mountain bike. I did swap out the rear cassette so it's now a 1 x 8; 34 x 11-34, which ends up being a good range. I didn't put a granny on it because you might as well walk if you need anything lower than 1 to 1 in the snow.

The weather was pretty miserable for the length of ride that I did. It held just above freezing for most of the day and snowed periodically—heavily at times. Of course, it ends up being more like rain at that point and soaks your clothing. I was more or less dressed for it though and managed to stay warm until the last few miles.

The first fifteen miles were on paved trails, leaving Madison's Isthmus and heading south to the Capitol City Trail. I rode the 9-mile segment from Nob Hill to Jamestown, turning south to hook up with the Military Ridge Trail. 6 more miles of pavement brought me to the beginning of the gravel segment just east of Verona. The pavement sections had been wet but plowed, so things got a little more interesting on the snow-covered gravel. I have to say that big tires really do make a difference. I've ridden regular mountain bikes with 26 x 1.9 inch tires on this sort of surface, but you just can't beat the kind of float you get with bigger tires. You can feel the frozen footprints, but they don't slow you down much. Makes me wonder what a Surly Pugsley is like.

So I stopped at the Riley Tavern, about 25 miles out. Had a burger and a beer and watched the third quarter of the Packer game as they came back from behind to lead Carolina. (good thing I didn't stay to watch the whole thing since they ended up losing in the last couple of minutes.) Refilled my water and headed for home. Took another 10 miles of gravel Military Ridge to the paved trail and then the frontage road, eventually hooking up with the Southwest commuter bike trail. Shaved 5 miles off the return trip for a grand total of 45 miles on the day. Pretty beat and soaked to the bone upon my arrival.

Had Thanksgiving leftovers, wrote this and will soon go to bed. A good day, though not all of it made sense...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fat and Happy

I posted quite a while back that I was working on a new thing codenamed Project Why (which morphed into Project Why Not?) but have taken my sweet time getting around to finishing it. Well, here it is:

This is what I plan to ride in the DDD adventure race (or in my case, adventure ride) in January. My goal is mainly to finish.

For you bike geeks, it's a Motobecane 600HT aluminum frame with a Surly Pugsly 100 fork, Snowcat-ish 48mm trials rims, 2.4-inch tires, 1 x 8 drivetrain, Titiec H-bars, and Shimano DH-3N70 dynohub/Schmidt Edelux lighting (taillight to come.)

I have to say that this thing is quite the brute to pedal and it steers like a mattress, but the good news is that it holds a line on loose gravel in a way that suggests it will do very well in the snow. I'm guessing that we'll soon find out.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Return of the Missing Blogger

Well, I'm back. No good excuses except that I just haven't been putting in much time online. It's been too nice outside and I've been too busy with the election, the dog, the house, the garden, bikes and workworkwork. In the works are posts about the garden, Project Why Not?, hauling stuff with a Bikes at Work trailer, compost and commuting. Hopefully a couple this week...

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Meet Princess Lillianna, the newest member of our family:

Her mother is an Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Tick Heeler mix, but her paternity is unknown. She's about nine weeks old, and after having had her for a few days, she's beginning to come out of her shell a little:

She's got a really sweet personality and is pretty darn smart. Housebreaking and socialization are coming along pretty well. More updates to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just Riding Along

Scenes from my big dumb bicycle life.

Lookie, I made a movie! This was shot entirely from the saddle of various bicycles, using a Fuji point-and-shoot camera. Produced with iMovie on my iMac in my iSpare iTime.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Gary Fisher El Ranchero

I think we can only assume that this is Trek's entry into the longtail market that I had mentioned last week. Pretty cool—can't wait to see more.

(H/Ts: Commute by Bike and Bicycle Design)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday Night Buteoblogging

This redtail was hunting from atop a pole in the community gardens along St. Paul at Memphis. Right in town, maybe a mile and a half from our house.

Name That Bike Part Two

I snagged this at a garage sale this morning. I bought it because the full 600 brifter group and Columbus tubing sticker made it worth risking $55. The people I bought it from told me that it had been sitting unused outside for about a year. Probably not the best bike storage strategy in Wisconsin—the chain and some of the fasteners were a little rusty—but the frame looked nice and clean. Even the tires are pretty good.

Two odd details. First, it has no decals—not a one—but for the Columbus tubing sticker, which is where things get really odd:

It's Metax. Yeah, I didn't know what it was at first either. I thought this was some low-end tube set and that the bike was maybe something banged out by the thousands in Taiwan. Maybe something from the Performance Bike mail-order catalog (it had Performance-badged bottle cages and a Forté stem). But Metax, as our pal Google tells it, is a stainless tube set.

Stainless really isn't a very popular frame material, so this narrows things down a lot. I know that one local builder was using stainless around the time this bike was probably built, but this bike doesn't seem flamboyant enough to be one of Lawrence's, and I have no idea whether he ever used Metax.

Two things might help a little. First, it has unusual rear dropouts, including a fender boss on the seatstay:

Second, it has a distinctive serial number:

Any guesses?

PS—Sorry folks, but for reasons beyond my control, the Ute review is just going to have to wait.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Big Dummy vs. Kona Ute

My LBS has one in stock, so here they are side by side. I haven't ridden it yet, but I will soon. I might write something afterward. Is anyone else curious?

Update 8-12: Still haven't gotten to ride the Ute yet. I should mention that this particular example is a 2008, and that the 2009 appears to have a better bag setup.

Strange Critter

Here is a Big Dummy belonging to some folks out in Denver who have set the bar just a little higher for all the utility bike geeks out there. Check out the really cool kid seating underneath the cover (click on the picture above to go to their Photostream), and oh, here's their blog.

Speaking of utility bikes, my neighbor told me that Trek was shooting some video of a prototype Gary Fisher utility bike this afternoon at the neighborhood market just down the street from us. She described it as being about the same size as the Big Dummy, but with some kind of integrated passenger seat in the stoker position, a short steel platform, and some "really cool" side bags with zippered flaps. Fat tires, disk brakes and wide upright bars. Hmmmm... isn't Interbike coming up?

PS—Did I mention that the GF had a centerstand?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

4 a.m. Wake Up

This is why it's my standard policy not to ride a bicycle during thunderstorms or at 4 a.m.

Project Why

I really don't need to build another bike, except that none of the ones I have will serve the purpose for which this one is intended.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Feed Me

I love summer. That is all.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nicer Rack

I had mentioned a while back that I was going to have a custom front rack made for the Big Dummy, and that's exactly what I went and did. We're fortunate to have a custom rack maker right here in Madison, so I was able to take the bike over and leave it with her for a couple of days so it could be fabricated and fitted. I have to say, I'm pretty darn pleased with how it turned out.

It's TIG-welded tubular and flat 304 stainless steel (which I think is the same as 18/8). It mounts at the dropout eyelets and top rack braze-ons, leaving the middle braze-ons free to mount fenders. It has a top rail and headlight mount with guard, which will accept either a bar- or post-mounted headlight (pictured below.) This rack will soon sport a wooden deck.

This adventure was more expensive than Surly's offering, but for around town I think it will be a little more practical. It was also a good opportunity to support a local builder.

As with any front rack or basket, it does change the steering a little when empty and a quite a little bit when loaded. But not in a bad way.

I'm hoping to get around to profiling the Rack Lady in the near future. Meanwhile, I've posted some more pictures in this Flickr set.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Love Salon's Love for Xtracyle

Salon dot com is 'Sconnyboy-approved. Accompanying article available here. (H/T to Cleverchimp.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Great Moment in Bicycle Infrastructure History Revisited

I know I've already harped on this, but the fam and I were out riding Sunday morning and happened to return to the scene of the city of Monona's crime against cycling humanity.

I guess that city engineering has "addressed" the ambiguity for cyclists that was built into the original design by scraping the stripe off of the pavement adjacent to the whatever-it-is and re-painting it to funnel cyclists onto the salmon-colored concrete whatchamajigger. Here we see how well that has all worked out. Granted, the folks putting in the railroad tie edging won't always be there to interfere with bicycle traffic, but just imagine that it's someone walking their dog taking up the same space. The cyclist is right back to deciding which way to go.

This street was a lot better when it was just a wide expanse of pavement with no bicycle/pedestrian facilities at all. At least everybody knew where they stood. I remain convinced that this is among the stupidest bicycle facility I've ever seen. And I've seen some that are pretty stupid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Musical Fruit

Beans, beans!
Musical fruit!
The more you eat,
The more you toot!

The green bean harvest is coming in, so it's time to put some up for the winter. I'm not much of a canner, but freezing them is pretty simple. Here's how it goes:


That part's pretty obvious. Got two full grocery bags yesterday. Gave away about a third before we started processing.


Dirt, bugs, blossom ends, whatever...bye, bye.


We cut off both ends, though you really don't need to cut off the pointy non-stem end. Cut large beans into smaller bits. Some people cut them lengthwise (which is to french them—but no, not that kind of frenching.)

As you can see, we're big believers in child labor here at Babilonia Farms.


Now we plunge the raw beans into boiling water for two to three minutes. This arrests the enzymes that drive the ripening process and probably kills any bacteria that might be hanging on.


They're a little hard to see, but those are ice cubes floating in this big pot of water. We'll use it to stop the cooking process after blanching.


Like this. Needs to happen for a period of time at least equal to the blanching.


Separate the beans from the cooling water.


We like the quart Ziplock size. Just about right for a meal.


Nobody likes a mystery when it comes to frozen foods.


I think we came out at about 10 quarts. A few more and we'll be able to heat the house with natural gas this winter.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Night Catblogging

Lizbet loves her a nice fat juicy dragonfly.

Crunch, crunch. Nom, nom. Yeah, she ate the whole thing. Headfirst. She eats spiders too. Eating either does nothing to keep the mosquito population down. Durn cat.

Hangin' With Electra

We've had our Electra Amsterdam Classic 3 for about a year and a half now, so it's time for a little review. (By the way, Electra Web designers, I didn't link to your Amsterdam page because I hate sites that resize my browser window for me for no apparent reason. Hint, hint.) So far, it's been a bit of a mixed bag.

The Good:
This bike sure is fun. Not only is it a change of pace, but a change of pace that reminds me of my first experiences on a bike. It's got a more laid-back ride even than many of the Schwinn cruisers I've ridden, and has really wide, tall handlebars that encourage a tall sitting position and relaxed arms. The crank-forward design makes it pretty easy to put both feet down at stops, though not as easily as with a Townie.

It's also a very pretty bike and gets lots of compliments. The paint and trim are mostly very pleasing and really do give it a city bike feel. The leather mattress saddle and ergo grips are very nice. No complaints about the Shimano 3-speed internal hub with coaster brake. The rack is pretty useful, as is the stock lighting setup.

The Bad:
A while back, the rear wheel broke 4 spokes in about a day. To Electra's credit, they covered it under warranty, so maybe this doesn't belong in the bad category. It just didn't belong under good.

The Ugly:
I realize that bike companies have to make compromises to hit certain retail price points, but there are a couple of things on this bike that could have been better. Notice that the stock skirt guards are nowhere to be seen. They were plastic, with a very flimsy set of plastic clips that were supposed to secure them to the fender and seatstay. Um, back to the drawing board for those. The fenders, chaincase and fender trim also make a holy racket like a tin can full of gravel on any but the smoothest of roads. 

The seatpost is a steel swag type with separate clamp. I guess that's fine, except that with the seat angle being so slack it has bent a little in the middle, so it can't be lowered for shorter people now. A sturdier alloy post might have helped.

Bottom Line:
Overall the positives outweigh the negatives and I like the bike quite a bit. It's fun having a bike around with a kickstand and only 3 speeds. Something a person can ride short distances in regular clothes. 

Given to do over again, I'm not sure I would have purchased an Amsterdam had I known that the same shop was about to start stocking the Batavus Old Dutch. That bike is a real Omafiets, complete with integrated wheel lock. Maybe next time.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, and replaced the stock front lighting with a hub dynamo and aftermarket headlamp. (The taillight is a very nice fender-mounted battery LED.)  The Sturmey-Archer X-FDD dynamo hub with drum brake has worked out pretty well. I especially like the drum brake, which is very smooth, works well in all conditions and is a good supplement to the coaster brake. The dynamo function works as I had expected, though the Planet Bike 2.4 watt headlamp has been sort of a disappointment. Because it's designed to work with either a 3W or 2.4W source, it bleeds off the extra .6 watt produced by the 3W dynamo. And the beam pattern isn't that great. Word has it that PB is working on an LED headlamp, and I must say that I hope it's better (I'm sure it will be.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Trek's 1 World 2 Wheels

Yeah, I know it's mostly Trek's marketing talking, but hey, every little bit helps. I had mentioned the dealer kickoff they had hosted here in Madison in my Q3 report last October.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Woodpecker Mk.3

Here's the third incarnation of Woody, my 2000 model year Surly Cross Check. The earlier version can be found at this previous post. I decided that I have enough hills on my commute to make multiple gearing worthwhile, so this version has a frankenburger 5-speed cluster shifted with a Deore DX "proto-type" medium cage derailleur and an upside-down Suntour friction thumbshifter. Plenty jury-rigged, but it works just swimmingly.

I also moved the Inoled from the stem mount to a better and somewhat more permanent position on a reflector bracket at the fork crown.

I still think the Cross Check is near the pinnacle of do-it-all mutt bicycle design. Handling, feel, acceleration, durability versatility—it's got a good balance of all of it. My only complaint is the lack of upper rear rack mounts and dedicated rear cantilever stop. Oh, and the poor design of the Constrictor seatpost binder—the stock bolt is too short to engage all of the threads and strips easily. I seldom break stuff and I'm on my second one.

Look for a write-up soon about the Woodpeckers slow cousin, our Electra Amsterdam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Twelve Days, 250 Miles

I've been riding a lot more in the last two weeks than the whole rest of the year. I've been commuting nearly every day, rode to Paoli on the 4th (38 miles) and did an 80-miler out to Arena this past Saturday. My friend Chuck seems to think I was punishing him for dragging me along to the 2006 Horribly Hilly Hundred, but the honest truth is that I had a bug up my nose to rephotograph something I had shot back in August of 1993. Never did find it.

What we did find was plenty of water, most of it standing in farm fields. Of course, there was one place where it was over the road, with a measly Road Closed sign maybe 100 yards prior:

So Chuck says "should we try it?" to which I replied "sure, let me know how it goes." Cost us a mile or two of backtracking, but we got around it. So that was fun.

Lately though, everywhere I go, there seems to be a bunch of bikes there. Used to be it was just me and a few other bike geeks out there, but now it seems like every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sally, Lois, Frederica and their cousin's uncles sister's boyfriend's cat is out there with us. What the hell?

See? Even on the nicest days, there used to be like about three of us on this little island in the middle of this intersection, and now these fools are trying to stuff like a dozen or more onto it. This is without mentioning the bike paths, which are also crowded:

Must be some kind of new trend. I'll be glad when it's over and I can have the bike paths to myself again.

Surly Big Dummy Availability

Looking at my stats, seems like there have been a quite a few folks trying to figure out when the next batch of Big Dummies will be available. I don't have an inside line, but I can direct you seekers to the Surly blog post that sounds like August, and an earlier post that said 

More Big Dummy framesets are slated to be ready around August/September, with another batch coming just a few months later in November/December.

So, there's that.

In other news, the Rack Lady has finished the custom front rack for my Dummy. Can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Than You Wanted to Know

I know that this tagging business went through the Land of Bikegeek a while back, but nobody got me. Recently though, my friend Heather from way back tagged me with the Meme of Fives, so here we go:

First, the background.
  1. Post the rules of the game at the beginning.

  2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

  3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names.

  4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

  5. Create an arbitrary rule to keep with the whole fives theme.
What were you doing five years ago?
I barely remember what I had for breakfast today, but I do remember working the same job I have now, riding my bike a lot (but not as much as now—only 1828 miles for all of 2003), and bringing up baby (who was in preschool at the time.)

On the home front, we gutted and rebuilt our one and only bathroom—new floor with those cute little hex tiles, concrete countertop, new drywall and paint, hand-set tile tub surround, new fixtures and new cabinets. Great once it was finished, but I'd rather not ever have to bathe in our basement washtub ever again.

I was also having quite a bout with anxiety and depression, which has greatly improved in the intervening five years. Hope that's not oversharing.

What are five things on your to-do list for today?
  1. Live through another bicycle commute to and from work.

  2. Figure out how to merge GIS shapefiles of 17 counties and about 220 Zip codes onto a map of Wisconsin and make it look presentable in Adobe Illustrator.

  3. Check on the garden after work.

  4. After checking the garden, take the Big Dummy over to the Rack Lady's shop and talk to her about making a custom front rack for it.

  5. Watch a Netflixed DVD of I Am Legend (though movies are not a typical Wednesday night thing.)
What are five snacks you enjoy?
  1. Raspberries right off the cane;

  2. Peas or beans right there in the garden;

  3. Peanuts, preferably with dried apricots;

  4. Sugar River Dairy vanilla yogurt with wheat bran, Grape Nuts and honey;

  5. Graham crackers.
What are five things you would do if you were a billionaire?
  1. I have no point of reference for answering this question, which is okay, because

  2. it ain't gonna happen,

  3. So why speculate?

  4. And even if it did happen, I'm afraid it would likely push me in directions I find unappealing,

  5. Just like it would have done with Dietrich Bader's character in the movie Office Space, who reckoned that if he had a million bucks, he'd do two chicks at the same time.
What are five of your bad habits?
  1. Procrastination (it took me weeks to sit down and do this list.)

  2. Pontification.

  3. Hoarding stuff, especially anything to do with bikes.

  4. Taking on more projects than I can finish, which goes hand in hand with sometimes having screwed-up priorities and accumulating too much crap (see #3 above).

  5. Nose-picking (and, apparently, oversharing.)
What are five places where you have lived?
  1. In a house on the edge of a 40-acre wood;

  2. In a high-rise college dormitory (UW Milwaukee);

  3. Numerous Madison apartments;

  4. Behind Mother Fool's, and

  5. Currently in a 750-square foot bungalow on the near east side of Madison.
What are five jobs you’ve had?
  1. Sign painter

  2. Retail clerk (hardware store, Toys R Us, camera store and bike shop)

  3. Seed corn sorter, dryer bin loader, detassling foreman.

  4. Carpenter's apprentice

  5. Graphics dude
Five people I tag (though I happily excuse anyone already tagged from having to repeat):


I'd also tag Chuck and Andy, but neither of them have blogs...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hot Bike-on-Bike Action

As I've mentioned before, it turns out that you can tow other bikes pretty easily with an Xtracycle. Here are a few more for the record:

I lent the Xtrakoram to theBicycle Federation of Wisconsin so they could show it off at an event (the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, to be exact.) I had ridden the Cross Check to the bus station, and here the Xtrakoram tows it home.

I've been having some trouble with the Amsterdam, so here's the Big Dummy towing it to the shop for some warranty work.

and the Coop duh Gracie: The Big Dummy tows the Xtrakoram. How do you think it got to the bus station?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dangit, Missed it Again

I had completely forgotten that yesterday was Drive Your Bike to Work Day:


That's easy! Just hoist your bike onto the roof of your car, and drive it to work! Do it in honor of Bike Rack Awareness Week!

So the poor car sat waiting patiently all day in the driveway with its bike rack perched on top, and yours truly just spaced it out and rode. Inconsiderate lunk—I could kick myself!

(H/T to Maynard)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mama Bakfiets Race

Okay, now that I've stared blogging and I can't stop. Check this out:

Top that, Prius jockeys.

(Complete story over on Amsterdamize, with hat tip to

Pretty Much It

Judging by the amount of traffic on the bike path recently, I think this says it all.

Surly Big Dummy Review, Part 2

The Build

Well, there it is. I have to say that it went together really well. I did have to clean some powdercoat out some of the threads, but like I had mentioned in Part 1, I have the taps for those, so no big deal. Everything else fit without modification—the dropouts, the fork, the disk tabs, the seatpost—all of it. Surly's builder has excellent quality control as far as I can tell.

The disk brakes were a bit of a challenge. They're Hayes HFX Mag Hydraulics, which are great except stock lines come only in 900 and 1600 mm lengths. For the Big Dummy, the rear needed to be 2200 mm. After a couple of failed go-rounds with a couple of local shops, I e-mailed Hayes tech support. Four e-mail volleys with a very helpful young man and $40 on the ol' Visa card later, UPS dropped off a box containing a one-off line from the factory, complete with permanent crimp at the caliper end. Problem solved.

Then I had to juice them up. Quite unlike a car, but honestly, much more fun

I also added this little hinkeypunk to keep the contents of the Freeloaders (the Xtracycle's side bags) from messing up the rear caliper. This is more of a problem with mechanical disks, but I had the part, so why not? Anyways, the hydraulics are great. Much better feel than a long cable to the rear brake in on my other Xtracycles. Front and rear are very similar in feel and power.

The Ride

Yes, it is decidedly much more like a regular bike than my Xtracycle conversions were. Having a wheelbase about 15 inches longer than the average bike, it's still not nimble, but the folks at Surly really did get the finer points of the geometry right. The steering has a light, normal feel and the frame feels stiffer and more solid than a conversion. Things do get a little strange in low-speed, tight-radius turns, but hey, we're talking about an eight-foot long bicycle.

Pedaling out of the saddle also has a different feel than a regular bicycle, but it's fine. Quite stable, and better again than an Xtracycle conversion.

Oh, and for those of you concerned about weight, this thing is a moose. I think the frame weighs almost as much as my road bike. With the freeride wheels, Big Apple tires and big dorky handlebars, not to mention the Xtracycle bits, it's probably tipping the scales at close to 45 pounds. But the point, of course, is not to race this thing but to wring more utility out of it than a normal bicycle. I love it.

Part three will be a bit about hauling and a bit about buzz. See Commute By Bike and Dirt Rag for more ride reports, and Vik's Big Dummy Blog if you want to know just plain everything about Big Dummies.

What To Do With the Money?

Maybe I should get a pulse jet engine for the Big Dummy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ding Dong

The witch is dead. I finally sold the Green Albatross today. Hooray! Hooray! Went for a fair price to a good home. Imasohappy.