Saturday, July 7th, 2007
10:39 pm - Roadkill...  
Well, ya got yer dead cat and ya got yer dead dog
On a moonlit night ya got yer dead toad frog...

"Dead Skunk" — Loudon Wainwright III


Did somewhere around 19 miles this morning in something like an hour and a half. I don't know exactly how far or how long because I managed to knock the bike computer out of it's interface when I stopped to wait for some traffic while trying to cross Ministerial Road. I didn't notice at the time because it was my big fat stomach that did the knocking out part as I slid forward off the saddle to put my foot on the ground. Apparently there is less leeway for this maneuver than on the old Univega. Also, the cheapo (albeit perfectly adequate) computer I got for this bike (well, for the Widowmaker, actually) doesn't fit quite as snugly into its interface as the one I use on the Univega. I still have that one thirteen years later. Anyway, the computer wound up smack in the middle of the road, and by the time it dawned on me that it wasn't where it was supposed to be (about a mile up the road) and I doubled back, it had been squashed flat. Bother.

(Speaking of squashed flat, I noticed the outline of a toad in my driveway directly behind the left front tire on my truck. I suspect it was once a three-dimensional toad that has since had multiple unfortunate encounters with the tire in question. Oops. It turns out there's been a lot of carnage in my driveway recently, as there was also an ex-sparrow off to one side (although at least it still has some depth). I plead innocence on that one. I suspect the cat that lives across the street with the Rottweiler. Still not as bad as the time I found the Canada goose out there pining for the fjords.)

Apart from losing $20 worth of electronics thanks to my girth, it was a pretty good ride. It was a perfect day for it, and I was able to maintain a much better pace than I'd done in years on the Univega. (At least that's what the computer said before I lost it.) The new bike flies. I was trying one last adjustment to the bar height to see if that would help comfortwise. It was a bit more comfortable while riding, but it seems my wrists were still bent back too far. When I finished the ride they were killing me. So instead of heading home, I headed off to Wyoming to talk to bikeshop!guy.

The shop was packed when I got there. He was just finishing up repairs on a couple of teens' bikes whilst their dad awaited the bill. One guy needed shorts and gloves. A second had brought a 30 year-old Raleigh ten-speed in to be tuned up and otherwise brought back to life after years of neglect in the back of his garage. A woman about my age was in there to finalize the purchase of some bike shoes for clipless pedals, and to hang around to learn about bike repair. Another guy was there about some new shifters. A twenty-something kid paid cash for a new dirt bike. Pandemonium!

The remarkable thing is that with all that going on I didn't have to wait that long. I spent the time looking at bike computers (sadly, he was out of the least expensive model), and visiting the still unsold Widowmaker. (There has been some interest. He even went so far as to install a shock absorbing seat post to sweeten the deal.) The lady with the new shoes says she still hasn't quite gotten the technique of clipless pedals down yet. (The shoes attach to the pedal much like a ski boot attaches to a ski. Except that once the first shoe is attached to the bike, you have to start moving or you will fall over, making the attachment of the second shoe a tad problematic. She'd fallen over once already.) Finally, my bike was on the repair stand and he started in. First up was installing a stem extender to raise the handlebar, itself a simple task, but the front brake cable and sleeve had to be lengthened as well, or the brake would be permanently engaged. Sort of like one of those little old man who drives around town with their foot on the brake all the time. The installation took almost no time at all. Nice to have both the knowhow and the right equipment. The new sleeve (recycled from another bike) is almost the same color as the original, so all is well. My cable and sleeve went into the pile to be used on some other bike. No charge for parts or labor.

The other thing I wanted to do was to swap rear derailleurs with the Widowmaker. This requires a bit of explanation. One of the things about the bike that bugs me is that the derailleur works backwards from most others. The derailleur is the little mechanism that moves the chain from one gear to another. Until a few years ago, all rear derailleurs were so-called high-normal derailleurs, which means their default position is opposite the smallest (i.e., the highest) gear in the cluster. Put tension on the shifter cable, and you move to a bigger (i.e., lower) gear, making it easier to pedal up a hill. Release the tension, and you move to a smaller, higher gear, and the bike goes faster, unless you are going uphill at the time. And that's the problem.

The derailleur on the Absolute is a newfangled low-normal derailleur. Its default position is opposite the lowest gear (i.e., the biggest) gear in the cluster. The idea behind it is a reasonable one. With one of these you put tension in the shift cable to go up to higher gear, while releasing tension moves you down to lower, easier gears. Since it's easier to release tension while shifting than to increase it, a low-normal derailleur makes it a bit easier to downshift while one is going up a hill. Very useful, I suppose, for mountain bikers, who are the folks it was designed for. Not so useful for someone who has thirteen years worth of muscle memory telling his fingers that adding tension means a lower gear.

The shifters I have use a thumb trigger to increase tension, while a trigger for the index finger releases it. Very simple and reliable until they reverse the way one of them works. (The front derailleur only works one way. Adding tension always shifts you to a higher gear.) What's been happening is that when I change gears without thinking about what I'm doing, I invariable go up rather than down, or vice-versa. It's annoying to instinctively press down with my thumb halfway up a hill only to have it suddenly feel like I'm trying pedal through a tar pit.

Eventually, I suppose I could probably relearn the motions (well, at least until I ride the Univega again), but there's also a neat trick that I can do on the Univega that I wouldn't be able to do as effectively. It's called double shifting. Normally, simply moving from one of the front gears to another is a pretty jarring change. The difference in the individual gears is quite a bit greater than the rear gears. On the Univega, if you press down on (or release) both shifters at the same time, you can go to an equivalent gear ratio to what you'd get if you released (or pressed down on) just the rear shifter alone. It makes changing from one front gear to another much gentler on the legs, especially if you've just started up a long hill. The key here is the symmetry of the motion. Either both thumbs press down, or both index fingers release. A low-normal derailleur wrecks the symmetry. You can do a double shift, but you have to press down with one hand while releasing with the other. It's doable, but it's nowhere near as easy.

Anyway, I want to say after all that explanation of why I wanted to do the swap, everything worked like a charm, and all was right in DX's world o'biking. Unfortunately, although the Widowmaker does have a good old-fashioned high-normal derailleur, it turned out that it wouldn't work with my rear gear cluster. As to why, that's a story for another day.