Thursday, February 28, 2008

On the Rocks

I'm not normally one to spend a lot of time grousing about the weather, but I think I can safely make an exception for the winter we're having right now. It's been a bitch, plain and simple.

Whether it was the first freezing rain-sleet-snow-hard freeze back on December 1, the 13-inch near-blizzard on February 6 or the rain-freezing rain-sleet-snow-hard freeze we had back on February 17, (a record 1.3 inches of rain) when I spent 3 hours helping neighbors unplug four storm drains so the street flooding would abate, it's been the worst I can remember. We've gotten over 87 inches of snow overall (the old record was 76.1 for the entire winter of 1978-79) and we still have March and April to go. If we end up getting average snowfall for the rest of the season, we're on track to end up with a total of 100 inches.

What the hell is this, did I die and end up in Buffalo? It's like Old Man 'Sconny Winter is playing the Rumble in the Jungle's Ali to our Foreman—for the last four or five years it's been pretending to be on the ropes; all oh, I just don't have any snow left and sure, go ahead and wear your short sleves in December or woe is me, Global Warming—and then this year, just when we're thinking our winters are some kind of cakewalk, POW! Right in the ever-lovin' kisser. We went right on our butts and are gonna be lucky to make it to the count of nine.

My neighbor across the street, a firefighter and EMT, was telling me yesterday that it's really staring to take it's toll. Between the cabin fever and the general difficulty getting around if they do leave the house, people are starting to get sick or lose their grip on reality. I've noticed that motorists now treat red lights as more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule. Why? I presume because this is what passes for good driving conditions lately:

On most side streets the ice cover has become so rough they're are like lunar landscapes, but with water and more gravity:

Potholes the size of kiddie pools are showing up in the pavement all over town. The bike paths, on the other hand, remain either hardpack snow (good) or rutted ice (baaaad):

Me? I haven't been riding much. Well, I have, but it's been mostly on the bus. When I do ride the bike, I take some extra precautions, like wearing Get-a-Grip Ultra traction devices over my Lake winter boots:

(Got a pair of MXZ300 bootss at the Swap for $50—they're good down to about 10 degrees f with a couple pairs of wool socks. I wear an 11, and these are 12.5's, which still aren't quite big enough. But I digress.)

If any single picture could tell the story of the winter we're having, this would be it:

Here we have a 50-gallon plastic pickle barrel at the corner of Winnebago and Riverside that would normally be two-thirds full of salt sand, but this winter it's empty before the end of February. Uff da.

Wow, I sure feel better now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lookit That

What's this? Why, it's Pal Chuck taking the wraps off of his new Surly Big Dummy frameset. Lucky dog got one of the batch of 18-inchers that came in last week. Not to worry though, rumor has it that the 20-inchers aren't far behind.

And Chuck isn't the only lucky dog (whose official story is here.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

One could apply this to so many things. If only I'd have seen this before purchasing that dual-suspension mountain bike...


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bike Racks? What For?

Revolution Cycles hosted another swap this weekend (the first one was back on December 9). There are no bike racks in front of the store, only snowbanks. But that worked.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Primaries, 'Sconsin Style

I was wondering how long it would take before the media noticed the real story of the 2008 primary season, but apparently today is the day. Madison's Capital Times ran a piece today about the disparity in turnout between the two parties:

[W]hen the votes were counted, the turnouts in the Democratic and Republican primaries were dramatically different.

More than 1.1 million Wisconsinites voted in Tuesday's Democratic primary between Obama and Clinton.

Only around 400,000 Wisconsinites voted in the Republican primary between McCain and Huckabee.


More than 73 percent of Badger State voters who went to the polls Tuesday voted for a Democrat, while less than 27 percent voted for a Republican.


The Democratic trend was so lopsided that, while Clinton lost badly in the Democratic primary — trailing Obama by a 58-41 margin — she still got more votes than were cast for all the candidates in the Republican primary.

So, that's significant, but where I live, it got even better:

In some isthmus wards of the city of Madison, the Democratic bias bordered on the surreal; for instance, in Ward 34, which votes at O'Keeffe Middle School, a total of 1,974 Democratic ballots were cast compared with a mere 55 Republican ballots.

That'd be the missus and myself in with that 1,974. Lordy, McCain's 29 votes barely beat Kucinich's 22, and he dropped out a coupla weeks ago. Ron Paul and Mike Huckleberry got 12 apiece and Kitten Mittens Romney had to settle for 2. (Complete Dane County results are available online.) The new voter registration tables were busy all day long, all over the state.

But that may not have been the worst of it for the GOP:

In Ripon, the Fond du Lac County home of "The Little White Schoolhouse" where the Republican Party was founded in 1854, Republicans almost always win by comfortable margins. In November 2004, for instance, George Bush beat Democrat John Kerry by a 3-2 margin. Yesterday, however, Democratic primary turnout beat Republican voting by a 2-1 margin.

So who did Ripon favor on Tuesday?

The likely nominee of the Grand Old Party, John McCain, won 346 votes to 240 for his conservative challenger, Mike Huckabee. Democrat Hillary Clinton had 451 votes. And the winner of the birthplace of the Republican Party, with 789 votes — far more than the combined total for the GOP contenders — was Barack Obama.

This should be interesting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ever Driven Through a Whiteout?

I have. This is what it looks like from a distance:

and this is what it looks like close up:

Now try to imagine how little you'd be able to see were it actually snowing. At night.

I've Never Felt Like Lance Armstrong

Until today. At the opening of his new shop, Mellow Johnny's, he said this:

This city [Austin, Texas] is exploding downtown. Are all these people in high rises going to drive everywhere? We have to promote (bike) commuting.

That really makes it sound like the guy is an advocate for transportation cycling. His shop could have been geared toward snooty high-end racing, but instead he's chosen commuting. Good on him, and hopefully good for us.

H/T to Bike Hugger and Commute by Bike.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

That Made a Mess

We got another foot of snow today. Emily the Albatross wrote a little bit about it earlier. One of the more interesting events was a traffic jam on Interstate 90 between Janesville and Madison. I just got done watching the local 10 o'clock news, and they reported that some people were still stuck, and had been since 1 o'clock this afternoon. The national guard and local snowmobile clubs have been mobilized in addition to the regular rescue workers.

Now I don't feel so bad about my hour and forty-five minute bus ride this afternoon. At least I got home before Metro threw in the towel at 7 p.m. and pulled the busses off the streets. Glad I didn't try to drive today.

Xtracycle's Big Dummy

It had escaped my notice for some time, but Xtracycle is now offering a complete Surly Big Dummy bicycle at their online store. At $1799, it's not cheap, but it's quite a nice spec—3x9 Sram drivetrain, Schwalbe Big Apple tires, disc brakes and a Brooks saddle, to name a few. They're offering 55 bikes total, split into 4 sizes. I'm guessing they'll go quickly.

A little more information is available on Xtracycle's blog.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hard on the Equipment

This has been an unusually nasty winter up here in Wisconsin. So far, we've had plenty of cold and over 60 inches of snow. Another 4-12 inches (depending on who you ask) is predicted for tonight and tomorrow. A wonderful forecast for a city looking at the possibility of a labor dispute with its snowplow drivers. The record for snowfall in a season stands at 78 inches. A mere stone's throw.

Between the snow, the cold, the rain and the road salt, I haven't been riding much. Monday morning I pulled the Moose out of the garage and discovered that one of its brakes was dragging. Wait, make that two of its brakes—front and back. Applying the brakes worked okay—at least one caliper was working on each wheel. Of course, to get going again meant prying the other caliper off the rim, a task best undertaken while stopped. So I rode the whole commute braking only when I really needed to, and the Moose came down to the bike cave for a little TLC.

The Bike Cave is in an advanced state of renovation (been doing that instead of blogging, in case you're wondering) with pink foamboard insulation and studs waiting for wiring, fiberglass bats and drywall. The lights are working fine though, so I sat down to fix the brakes. After removing the cantilever bolts, I wrestled the first caliper off with a slipjoint pliers to find this:

Eeewwww. I cleaned the post and the inside of the caliper with some emery cloth, filled the spring cavities with grease, slathered the post and caliper bushing with Phil's Tenacious Oil and put everything back together. Looking at it though, it sure seemed like the moisture must be coming in at the bolt end of the post. So I found some stainless fender washers, buttered them up with grease and put them in between the bolt and the caliper. Much better.

I really hadn't realized how far downhill the modulation had gone until I rode in today. Smooooove.

A while back, I had also noticed that the rear wheel felt like it had gone out of true. I looked it over and discovered that the sidewall of the long-suffering IRC Blizzard studded tire was pulling loose.

So I bought a Nokian Mount & Ground W160, put it on the front, and put the still-good front Blizzard on the rear. Another huge difference. The Nokian is a 1.9-inch tire and is not as knobby as the 2.125-inch Blizzard, but the black sidewall of the Nokian looks much thicker than the Blizzard's skinwall. There also seems to be quite a difference between 160 and 122 studs, and it seems like the Nokian's studs are more firmly embedded in the tire. Steering seems noticeably more sure-footed. I'm quite pleased.

I cleaned the chain and mounted a new Lumotec IQ Fly LED headlight and Busch&Müller DToplight XS Plus wired taillight. More on those in a future post.

We're ready to make the push to spring.