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Dale Garrison Editorial Services

Who Said All Rides
Are Wonderful?

By Dale Garrison
© 1999 Dale Garrison Editorial Services

I think that I once expressed in this column that there is no such thing as a bad ride.

Yeah, and President Clinton is a virgin.

I must have been full of something when I came up with that observation about all rides being good. Either that, or I was showing early signs of Alzheimer's.

There ARE bad rides, and I've had every damn one of them.

I should note that some people consider that I have a temper. My wife can point to various broken objects or dents in the walls of our home and recall how my limbs brought about such damage. I have tried to explain that when a jar won't open-even after repeatedly wrenching the skin from one's hand on what was sold as a "twist off" lid-the best thing to do is to fling the jar against the nearest hard surface and teach it a lesson it will never forget. And when I smash a bicycle computer on which the cable has irreparably broken, thus ruining a $29.95 computer because of a five-cent wire, I'm only ensuring that I won't accidentally reuse the now useless device.

I have some medical friends who label this behavior as questionable. They no doubt have several multi-syllabic designations for my actions, labels which they probably whisper behind my back (you're not paranoid when they are out to get you!). I prefer the adjective of "passionate" which someone once applied, though probably not to me. Yes, we passionate people live life to the fullest, even if our hands are often bleeding from slamming them into the wall.

I mention all of this not because I suspect you are interested, but because it relates to one of the darker sides of cycling: the baaaaaaad ride. You know, the one that starts out with a double flat and ends with a bent rim. Or the ride where you're cursed by a motorist while you're still standing in your driveway adjusting your helmet straps.

Baaaaaaad rides are, I must admit, especially baaaaaaad when you are a passionate person. Of course, most cyclists are passionate people, for why else would we be cyclists? We may bore the eyeballs out of non-cyclists with long stories about centuries of yore. But within the confines of our pursuit, we are nothing if not passionate.

Which leaves us especially prone to agony when things aren't particularly positive. I know some of my worst moments in life have occurred when the gliding thrill of rolling tires on smooth asphalt was broken by the spfft--ting-clang of a flat tire. What's especially bad is when my ensuing efforts to calmly replace the tube are deliberately sabotaged by a pump that refuses to inflate. That I am miles from home without alternative transportation does not stop me from teaching that pump a lesson it won't forget.

Some of my worst experiences in this regard are tied to weather. I still remember a flat tire in August of 1988 on a back road somewhere between almost somewhere and nowhere. This flat tire is memorable because the temperature was 106° with 99 percent humidity. As soon as I stopped to fix the leak, my brow started squirting salty sweat into my eyes, rivaling the ocean spray of a rocky coastline. Soon I could not see the tire, let alone a pinhole that refused to be located. Only an iron grip on my emotions kept me from bending my frame with my bare hands and ending up a pedestrian.

Cold weather has its own horrors. I remember a flat in early March when I was still 25 or 30 miles from home. The day had started beautifully, but in what must have been a record turnaround, the temperature plummeted and it started to rain. As I was racing home to beat hypothermia-and losing-I felt my back tire start to go soft.

I kept pedaling for a while, hoping it was my imagination. It wasn't. Soft tires are never imagination, whereas feeling strong and properly adjusted derailleurs usually are. Soon I was squatting in a driving rain that was just this side of sleet. Naturally, my attempts to patch the tire in such conditions only served to freeze my fingers to numbness so that by the time I resorted to a fresh tube I could hardly work my hands. Only the knowledge that I would probably die and be found in May by passing motorists kept me from rending the entire assembly into shreds.

Some of the most maddening things I've ever experienced involved rear tires. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has spent hours working efficiently on bikes, removed and replaced countless wheels, only to find it utterly impossible to get a rear wheel back into the frame outdoors. The chain is in the way. The quick release is in the way. The tire is too fat for the frame. I've even had graceful ribbons of grass jam in my rear hub and keep a wheel from slipping back into place. Before long, you are left standing in the middle of the road, contorted over the bike as you try to wriggle the wheel back into position. It's no wonder motorists think we're nuts.

There is some solace in all of this because you know that sooner or later you'll be on a group ride and someone ELSE will have this experience. Then you can sit back and watch, throwing out occasional observations and suggestions which are no doubt very appreciated: "Say, have you tried putting air in it?" Or, "Why DID you hit that glass?" People fixing flats really like that a lot.

It's a good thing that such cycling wonders are rare or we probably couldn't stand the thrill of our pursuit. Or worse, we'd end up like Bill Clinton.

 Think this is funny? You should see what happens when I get on a computer!. Be warned, it's not a pretty sight.

Ah Yes. The Wonders of Winter

By Dale Garrison
© 1999 Dale Garrison Editorial Services

I finally got around to overhauling a bike.

Unfortunately, since I have about 11 or 12 around my house, along with several sets of spare wheels, that's only a small dent in the mountain of work I've put off this year. But it did remind me of something important about cycling: its rituals.

The smell of kerosene, grease under my fingernails and stiff hands on Sunday night from cleaning crevices in a frame-all are a part of cycling to me just as much as flashing down a hill on a June morning. In fact, some of these rituals are what I remember most.

Winter rides are a good example. I once fell in with a particularly bad crowd of riders, a clique whose reverence for tradition led them every Saturday morning to conduct a "Donut Roll" ride from a bicycle shop. The shop is now gone, the manager now a blues musician, but I still savor the rituals that clung to those winter morning rides like ice on my mustache.

First was the clothing. I always brought a virtual clothing store "just in case" the weather changed: several extra jackets, gloves and other assorted layers. I probably could have ridden Iditarod with all I carried. Yet even then, I still occasionally confronted fewer degrees or more wind than expected. As a result, I developed habit of packing the night before after carefully studying the Weather Channel, sort of like an aborigine examining the entrails of a goat.

Even before the first layer of polypropylene, there was the smell of Icy Hot. That was our preferred brand of liniment because one of the riders peddled the stuff on the side (I think it was the blues musician; there must be a moral there). It was great for warming up cold, stiff ligaments and formed a nice greasy barrier against cold, damp air. The poor shop always had that Ben Gay smell and I've wondered if the owner ever asked what the hell was going on.

Most of all, I remember the talk as we peddled away from the shop on what were usually cloudy, abysmally cold mornings. We tried hard to look like racers, often wearing matching jerseys and jackets. We also liked to feign sprints, pack-riding techniques and other tricks that were indeed useful training for real peleton riding. But in reality, we were pretty slow. Mostly, we'd spin along, talking about who won what in the European classics, or what silly gizmo was coming out with this year (at this pace, how many speeds do you need, anyway?).


Not all my rituals are group-things, however. My favorite involves a pre-dawn meal of pancakes, usually after my second cup of coffee. This generally occurs on Saturday or Sunday morning, when I've awakened at 4 a.m. (or even 3:30!). This admittedly happens less and less these days, which is probably why I hold illusions of liking this hour. But that's another story.

Many bicycling rituals are plain work, though I still love 'em. I've always liked the artistry of building wheels. It seems a miracle to take a handful of spider-web-thin spokes, a homely hub and a flexible rim, put them all together, and come up with something that can fly down a hill at 55 mph or handle chuckholes without collapsing.

Other rituals are less user-friendly. I think most cyclists are missing the boat by riding clinchers. To me, sewups are so much better in virtually every category, there's no contest. But yes, gluing sewups on rims is a nasty mess. Especially on the first occasion. It's like other virgin experiences: awkward and not entirely satisfying.

I remember reading an "insider's secret tricks" on gluing sewups. It suggested spreading a thin bead of glue on the rim AND the inner part of the tire. Let those dry for 12 hours (!!!) then apply a second, thinner layer to both places. Let that dry 15 minutes. Place a plastic Baggy over your hands, stick your bare toes in the bottom part of the rim to hold the thing, and carefully stretch the sticky tire onto the rim.

Sounds fairly simply, not much more difficult than child birth or open heart surgery. However, within three minutes, I was reduced to a cursing, glue-coated beast. My wife and two daughters fearfully opened the basement door and were shocked to see I had apparently gone through a transformation, much like Jeff Goldbloom in "The Fly." It was a horror beyond description.

Later I figured out what I did wrong. First, they aren't kidding when they suggest stretching a new sewup tire onto a spare rim for 3-4 weeks before a glue job. These puppies are so stiff it's almost impossible to stretch one over a dry rim without some previous stretching. If the rim and tire are covered in glue, it's a virtual impossibility. Stretch first, is my motto!

Another thing is a twist on the old "right tool for the right job" concept. Though I didn't know it, my particular glue was an especially powerful version that provides a virtually permanent bond. With the two-coat technique, I ended up with enough glue to hold Bosnia and Serbia together. One coat-even one thin coat-is usually adequate. Just make sure it's even.

Most of all, whether you use one or two coats, you want to make sure it's almost dry, barely tacky, before attempting to put the tire on. In my disastrous attempt, I had not waited long enough. As a result, I was working with the tactile equivalent of road oil. I had as much fun as Briar Rabbit with the Tar Man.

There's Hope-Maybe

Like most bike rituals, gluing sewups becomes a ritual because it does in fact get better. Like those old Brooks leather saddles, the incredible pain and discomfort does indeed become worthwhile. It's just that the process sometimes seems questionable.

There are some bike rituals I have learned to avoid regardless of practice. One is the "all-nighter." I should admit I pretty much had my fill of all-nighters in college. After leaving ALL my homework and study to the last week of the semester, I would try to cram a lifetime of learning into a few nights. Surprisingly, once or twice I even succeeded.

Biking however, rarely allows such arrogant assumption. My first lesson (and I did learn from it) occurred the night before a big local century. The weatherman had warned that this particular September Sunday would see record heat, and behind the good Boy Scout, I vowed to be prepared. I knew that an extra water bottle would be a welcome addition to my trusty steed. So late Saturday night, I decided to connect a third water bottle, slung jauntily UNDER the downtube.

The operation went well, once I located a spare bottle cage and clamps. Everything looked well as I turned off the lights, turned into bed, and dreamt of the morning's glorious ride.

In those days, this particular century drew hundreds of riders. It began with nearly a mile-long stream of cyclists pouring forth from the parking lot like a flock of brightly colored birds. I remember standing in the middle of a sea of bikes, waiting for the road to clear so I could begin my saga.

Finally I sprang forward, peddling in first gear until I had built speed. Then I made a perfect shift into second gear, but whoa! Nothing happened. I wriggled the gear shift-surely this was a fluke-but the derailleur still did not move. Then I looked down.

In my late-night haste to attach the water bottle, I had put the clamps around the downtube AND gear shift cables. The derailleur was not shifting because the cable was not moving. Soon, neither was I.

Hundreds of cyclists saw my embarrassment that day. I would like to say that they each extended their sympathy at my pathetic plight. But in truth, most laughed cruelly. One even said, "Look at that Fred, he wired his derailleur shut!" It was not one of my glorious moments.

Fortunately, I did have the prerequisite tools, a tiny little Allen wrench that only a compulsive fiddler would carry. At least there are some benefits to always tinkering.

© 1999 Dale Garrison Editorial Services. Everything on these and following pages is mine. Use it wholly or in part without my permission and I will give your name to my friends in law enforcement and the legal profession. On the other hand, if you see something that strikes your fancy, just holler. I'm pretty easy to get along with.
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