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...