Saturday, April 27, 2013

A singular fixation

I recently converted my old Raleigh to a fixed gear.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Next are the cutoff jeans, train conductors cap, ironic handlebar mustache, and cliched tattoos, and running red lights to stick it to "the man." Not quite. The breaks stay and I won't ruin this beauty with cheap florescent paint. Fixed gear might be hip right now, but in truth this is the perfect evolution for an old but faithful riding machine.

I kept the original crank set, minus the larger chain ring.  That leaves me with a lower ratio, 40 x 17, which seems to work well for my needs. I can get it up most hills and can go up to about 28 mph before I spin out. Since this is mostly for commuting, errands, and occasional loops around the Arkansas, speed is not really an issue. What's nice is the new rear wheel has a "flip flop" hub, so I can always go back to free if needed.

Here were my reasons for single speed and fixed gear:
  • Less maintenance; the derailleur was bottom of the line anyway.
  • The old school downtube shifters, while more reliable and responsive than most brifters, don't lend themselves to frequent shifting. I pretty much kept her in one gear unless I was feeling lazy on a climb. And that brings me to my next point...
  • No more thoughtless shifting on climbs. You muscle it up and build more muscle doing so.
  • Finally, fixed gear forces you into a consistent and efficient cadence. 
Its been a few weeks now and these are my initial reactions:  My pedaling has smoothed out, particularly in those moments at the end of a climb. I'm sure this will pay off on my longer rides in the country with the Trek. The steady cadence already feels natural. This is the right way to go for older, utilitarian bikes. The one thing that still feels odd is riding down steeper hills since you need to constantly apply the breaks to avoid spinning out. I'm not sure what the fabled bike messengers in San Francisco do without brakes. The idea of skidding down hills and weaving in and out of traffic without brakes seems wreck-less beyond abandon.

Boulevard continues to impress with their Grainstorm Black Rye IPA. The rye works well with the wonderful hop flavors in this beer. The roastiness typical of black IPAs is absent here, giving it a lighter, more refreshing feel.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston's aftermath

Warning: This post has no intrinsic connection to running other than it was planted by the Boston Marathon tragedy and germinated on a series of runs last week. This is my attempt to sort through some current issues weighing on my mind; a father wondering what kind of world my daughter will grow up in. Its only an opinion and I could be wrong.

When news reached me of the bombings at Copley square, my reaction was probably similar to most: horror that these cowards would pick such a soft target. Dreams that were built by blood, sweat and tears coming true before our eyes...only to be knocked down in an instant by the ultimately inscrutable aims of a madman.

It makes me so angry: the needless suffering, the collective trauma, the fact that someone could feel so alone, so disconnected from their fellow men to justify these acts in their head. And you can't go to a movie, school or run a marathon without the possibility (however small) in the back of your mind that some psycho could be out there in the crowd. But what saddens me the most is our predictable response to events like this.

A crazy guy shoots up a school, movie theater, or bombs a crowd and we look to big brother for answers and to feel safe. Those with power feel compelled to do something, anything that could minimize the chances of it happening again, or at least create the illusion that it will never happen again. Legislators feel pressured to pass new laws. The executive branch looks at how to interpret existing laws to expand its power.

What did we witness last week? Police officers dressed and armed like the military, rolling by homes in tanks. An entire city in lock-down. Miranda rights withheld from the suspect. Some legislators even call for the suspect to be treated as an enemy combatant- essentially a conviction without trail of a U.S. citizen - and they are taken seriously. And the media (as a whole) was not much better. We had people falsely identified as suspects and rampant speculation that unfolded like a reality TV show. If this is in reaction to a relatively minor attack, what will be our response when (and it is a matter of when) we face another attack of the magnitude of 911 or the OKC bombings? I shutter to think of what will be justified in the name of public safety.

This is where I draw my line in the sand: I DON'T want my daughter to live in a country that is more secure from the bad guys if it means we must sacrifice some of her freedom to do so. I don't want it because this kind of "safety" is ultimately an illusion anyway. The more we swat the wasp, the more aggravated it will become.

Do we simply acquiesce to the terrorists? Hell no. I'm all for having calm, rational discussions about public safety and the constitution. But these discussions need to be separated from events that evoke such visceral responses. My wife and I won't make important family decisions in the midst of an argument; that would be stupid. Nor should we allow those in power to bend the rules in times of duress so we can feel safer. There's a process in place and we need to follow it. Sometimes that process moves slower than we would like but that prevents us from making decision we'd later regret. Remember how collective anger and confusion led our country on some dark paths in the wake of 911.

Maybe we could actually minimize the damage done by a future Adam Lanza or Tamerlan Tsarnaev  by tweaking some rules without a great cost to personal liberty, but I suspect that new soft targets and loopholes will be found by the people with the proper motivation to kill. If these things are an inevitable part of our future, how do we, both as a nation and as individuals, respond?

Fortunately, we have people like Adrianne Haslet-Davis to show us the way. She lost her foot in the bombing. Read her story here. She's been through hell and still has a long road ahead of her. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to wake up and realize your leg is no longer there. What is amazing how she has chosen to respond. I can think of nothing that says "f__k you" to those murders more than her resolve to continue to dance and run the Boston marathon. In the face of evil, you stand your ground and resist the urge to respond in kind.

Adrianne for President

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day usually falls under my radar, but this year I made a point to do something to celebrate. Maybe its because there have been too many reminders lately of the fragility of all life.

I pedaled to an old boat ramp, found a rock to sit on...and did absolutely nothing for about fifteen minutes. Then I realized how rare it is when I'm outdoors and not moving somewhere. Eventually my mind let go of the pointless chatter of the past and future and settled into the landscape. I won't tell you what happened... that's our secret. But it was amazing, and is there for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Find your place(s). Give thanks that you are able to enjoy it and do what you can to protect it from harm.