Thursday, July 30, 2020

Beaker Bites the Dust

A down tube shouldn't look like this.

30 July 2020

If any of my fleet were to be t-boned, the only one I would be able to replace would be Beaker. Not that I was thinking this when the campus maintenance worker hopped into his little truck and, with the door still open, hit the gas right into me.

I heard my helmet hit the pavement as I landed sideways between the truck and a decorative boulder next to the path. This didn't happen on a road. It happened on a walkway.

I rolled over and sat up, my Fly12 front camera still flashing. The driver leapt out. "I'm sorry!" he said. "Are you okay?"


"You were going so fast!"

"You hit the gas before you even closed the door. I have it on camera."

"You were going so fast! I didn't see you!"

"I have it on camera."

"I'm gonna call Public Safety to make sure you're all right."

"I don't want to get you in trouble," I said. The last thing we need right now is some pumped-up cop, and I am no Karen.

But he insisted. I wanted to ride away. I had to get to a Zoom meeting in half an hour. I stood up. Nothing hurt. I was bleeding from road rash on my shoulder and, strangely enough, the tips of my fingers. 

I picked Beaker up. The front wheel was in far too close to the down tube. I went to turn the wheel and it fell out of the fork. Then I looked at the down tube. I wasn't going anywhere. It was bent. Crushed.

I didn't even see the second dent in the down tube until the Public Safety detective looked the bike over with me. 

She noticed that the front rim was bent too. She took some pictures, asked me questions, and said she wouldn't let me go to the lab without going to Employee Health first. 

I told her that I fully expected the university to pay for Beaker's replacement. I had nothing to lose by trying for reimbursement. She said we'd talk about that later, after the report was filed and after I sent her the video.

By this time I'd texted Jack, texted my colleagues, and called Michael at WheelFine. It was getting too late to start working for the day, so I decided to call it a wash, go home, clean up, and bring Beaker's remains to Michael to assess the damage.

Public Safety wanted me to leave the bike with them and fetch it after the medical visit. It was the only way they'd drive me home. I tightened my grip on Beaker. "The bike stays with me." 

They talked me out of it, so I unhooked the camera from the handle bar mount. At least I could hold onto the video evidence.

I'd posted the pictures on the Free Wheelers Facebook, and on my own Facebook. Comments were flying in, which cheered me up. My friends can be cheeky. I cheeked back.d

The nurse practitioner who took me in to clean me up asked what happened. "Facilities destroyed my bike," I said. 

She frowned. "What kind?"

"Tommasini. Custom." She looked pained, as if she knew exactly how I felt right now. 

And she did, because she has three bikes of her own. "I only ride on trails," she said, "because of this," she added, gesturing towards me.

So while she mopped me up we talked about bikes. She lives in the heart of Hunterdon County. We had a lot to discuss about the roads and cafes up in her neck of the woods. "Ever been up Mine Road?" she asked.

"Once. It was one of those humid days and the road was wet. We went up the easy way. I'm never going back."

"How about Ludlow Station?"

"Nope. I tried Fiddler's Elbow though."

Back to business, she warned me that I'd be stiff and sore later, and cautioned me that if I were to display any signs of head injury I was to check myself into the ER immediately. 

By the time she let me go and I called Public Safety for my ride, and by the time the officer took me home, it was getting on towards 1:00. Because the Public Safety SUVs have the cargo area blocked for some reason, he couldn't take me and my bike both. He would drive me home, then go back to Princeton to pick up my bike. 

On the drive home he peppered me with questions about road bikes and fits, what he should look for, how long my rides are, and all sorts of questions we seasoned cyclists love to answer.

Only after he arrived with Beaker did I notice that the top tube was also crushed.

Beaker was surely toast.

Maybe we could saw off the lugs and I could hang them on a wall.

It's always good to see Michael, even if we're standing six feet apart in masks. I don't even know how long I was in the store. He looked the bike over and suggested that, since the rear triangle was still intact, we could send the bike back to Italy to have the front tubes replaced. If that could be done.

Or we could order a new frame, which would be more of a sure thing and also faster.

Michael had me take pictures of the few decals and the badge so that the factory would know what color I wanted and that we didn't want any logos.

He called the dealer while I was emailing the dealer the pictures. The dealer dug out my order while Michael made some measurements.

"July 30," Michael said. That was today's date. "2014."

"Yeah, 2014," I said.

"Six years exactly. That's when the frame shipped."  He grabbed a pen and scribbled "73014" on a scrap of paper. "I'm playing this number!"

We discussed the wheels too. The front rim was shot. The hub looked okay. 

Truth is, I'd been wanting to replace the wheels anyway. Pretty as they are, they're too spongy. I lost half a mile an hour in average speed when I switched over to Campy and got these wheels. "I've been tracking it for two years," I explained. I only track my commutes; it's the same route all the time.

He agreed with me, which surprised me a little, since he built the wheels. He brought out a pair of rims, Campy Munchen 72, the same rims Rowlf has. They're stiffer.

While all this was happening, other customers were coming in and out. Obeying Covid rules, I'd sit outside when new people came in. One person who came in had left his old farm truck running across the street. It was breaking down. His cell phone battery had run out. He used Michael's phone to make a call, and I sent a text for him so that someone could come to fetch him.

It was that kind of day.

Eventually, Michael wrote up a detailed invoice in that big, loopy handwriting he has. I'd already given him my credit card for the frame's down payment. This invoice was for the whole thing.


At least I didn't have to buy the drive train or the peripherals again.

As for the busted Beaker, we'll hang onto it for now. Should I get the urge, I could send it back to Italy and have it repaired, if it's even possible. "With a new color," Michael suggested.

Fire engine red?

"You could take the parts off the LeMond." He hates Gonzo more than I do.

Back home, I loaded the Fly12 video onto my laptop, my heart in my mouth. What if I was wrong? What if he started his engine before I got to the intersection?

I wasn't wrong. Fly12 puts the videos into five minute segments. Conveniently, the segment I needed began as I started down the path, the orange truck clearly visible and definitely stopped at the bottom of the hill. The door was definitely still open a little when I passed, and when I passed is when he hit the gas and the bike went sideways. The whole thing, from the start of the path to sending me ass-over-teakettle, took eleven seconds.

I sent the video to the detective. I sent her the invoice too.

Beaker is dead. Long live Beaker.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

#60: Battle of the Bird

Chatsworth Lake

25 July 2020

Statler had an 80-mile ride listed. It started at the head of the Union Transportation Trail on Sharon Station Road. From my house that was 13-something miles. I could easily stretch the ride into a century. Tom, in far more words, said, "Oh hell no," and set a route bound for Perkasie, PA, instead.

So the Slugs split up for the day. Ricky and Bob had registered for the 80-miler, Ricky planning on a century from his house. Jim, Pete, Jack H, and Mighty Mike opted for the hills. I promised a Battle of the Bird.

When I have a choice between 15 extra minutes of sleep or a leisurely breakfast, sleep always wins. After an extra round of PT to make sure my back would behave, I had to hustle to get out of the house in time.

I'd put new tires on earlier in the week, the first time with the new wheels. The rim-tire combination wasn't the worst I'd ever had to deal with. The dropouts are old-school and tetchy. It's not a good idea to hammer for the first 13 miles of a hundred-mile ride, but hammer I did, because I wasn't sure if my rear wheel would stay seated and I wanted to make sure there would be time to stop and fuss with it.

I was riding in dense fog at 71 degrees. By mile 10 I was soaking wet and looking over the top of my glasses to see where I was going, narrowly missing several potholes. I got to the lot in time. Waldorf wasn't quite ready anyhow.

First things first. I unpacked my phone. "Hey, can you guys give me the finger?"

Statler didn't know the backstory but he played along.

I sent the pictures to Tom with the caption, "Good morning!" His ride wasn't set to start until 8:30.

Statler said the fog would burn off soon. I got some pictures before it did.

I needn't have rushed. We didn't start at 8:00. As we pushed off the fog dissipated.

We went east, through the rollers around the southern side of the Assunpink and south towards New Egypt. I was grateful that Statler had put the hills in early. "South Jersey mountains,"  he calls them.

The ride was listed as C+. It was going to be hot and humid; it was a good pace for the weather. I've done more centuries than I can count with Statler and Waldorf. They have more speed and staying power than I do. Ricky is no different. And Bob's idea of a day off is to go for a run. I didn't pay attention to the pace. I try not to look at my computer when I'm doing a century.

We got a little spread out on Red Valley Road. After we regrouped I let everyone get ahead while I took in the scenery.

Hawkin Road is that long, straight one that slowly rises north to south. It's the kind of road I just want to get over with. We got a little spread out there, regrouping on the other side of Route 537. Waldorf mocked me for taking pictures of New Jersey corn.

Then we were on Route 539. There's enough of a shoulder that riding is safe. Still, there's traffic, even if it's not as much as there would have been in normal times. I was happy to see the end of it when we turned into the Wawa where Routes 539 and 70 meet. We shared a gallon of water.

Checking my phone for Tom's retort, I found his reply: "Right back at you."  Jim was posing for this one, a double-bird-flip.

"Mike says hi," he added.

I can read my phone through the plastic bags it's buried in; I didn't bother digging it out for pictures. I figured I could find a more scenic place to double down on the middle digits.

We turned southwest and then west on Pasadena Road, deep in the Pinelands. We passed a tree that Statler and I were sure must have been struck by lightning: the bark had been stripped down one side. Every so often  we would ride through the scent of Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush) flowers.

I was riding up front with Statler. Ricky and Tom pulled ahead. Statler held back to ride with Waldorf. I stayed in the middle. I could tell that I was getting dehydrated, despite drinking regularly from my electrolyte-filled bottles. I hadn't eaten much at the first rest stop, 38 miles in for me. I could tell that I was sweating more than I was drinking.

Again we got spread out. I had time to fetch my phone and get some more fingers. I'd send them to Tom when we got to Nixon's in Tabernacle.

"You guys are too fast," Waldorf said. He turned right onto Route 72, heading for home. Immediately, Ricky, Bob, and I felt guilty. Statler assured us that we hadn't done anything wrong. Wadorf knew what was coming and just wasn't feeling it.

Statler set the pace as we continued west. It didn't feel like C+ but we were fine with whatever it was. 

Chatsworth Lake came into view and we had to stop to gawp.

Next was the stretch that Waldorf had known about: a ten-mile expanse of open road and cracked blacktop.

Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump.

I wasn't tired so much as hungry and thirsty. I found myself taking the occasional break to coast. That's not like me. I'm a steady pedaler. I knew we weren't so far from our next stop, so I didn't skimp on the water. I was coming up on 60 miles, feeling close to hitting the psychological wall I usually hit at 70.

We got to Nixon's before I hit the wall. We shared another gallon of water. I'm too slow at getting my gloves off and my mask on to get to the register first. I totally freeloaded on the water today.

I sent off the two middle fingers from Pasadena, and added one more:

Not long after, Tom responded: "We are done. Hope you are having a good ride."

"30 to go," I answered.

By now it was just plain hot. The thought of 30 more miles didn't bother me at all. We'd have something less than 20 to Allentown for a water break, and then I'd peel off for the final 13. Statler planned another stop before then, in Pemberton, because he wanted a sandwich at the Wawa. That was fine with me. More water wouldn't hurt.

Somewhere between Tabernacle and Pemberton we came across three longhorn cows. I got them from their good sides. The back end of the one on the left looked as if she'd been lolling around in mud.

At the Wawa I bought a bag of sweet potato chips for the carbs and salt. I ate the second half of the PB&J I'd packed in the morning. I could easily have eaten the whole bag of chips, 400-something calories. I didn't. I did freeload on water once more.

We were on Old York Road, around mile 85, when two things happened: I hit a bump that sent one of my water bottles flying; and I felt a cramp in my right leg coming on. Bob had waited for me and wondered what took me so long. I explained that I had used the opportunity to down some Shot Bloks after retrieving my bottle. 

"Did that stop the cramp?"

"No cramp yet. I'm trying to stay ahead of it."

I did slow down a little, hoping it would help me recover. We'd be in Allentown in a few minutes anyway.  Statler and Ricky went around the back of Heavenly Havens Creamery, where people waited in line at a window. I followed. "Do they have lemonade?" Ricky asked. I hadn't been thinking about lemonade. Now I was. I peered at the menu from a safe distance behind the person being served.

"They don't have lemonade."  We both headed to Woody's, where Bob was already there, ordering a sandwich.

What I wanted was a big, plastic cup full of homemade lemonade. What we got was in bottles. It was good enough. We sat outside at a little table under an umbrella. Statler came over, no ice cream either.

"I have a present for you," Bob said as he sat down. He opened the box his sandwich came in.  "Pickles!"

Ricky would have his hundred miles easily. Now Bob and Statler wanted a hundred too. Statler plotted a route in his head that would get them there. 

I turned onto Church Street and then on East Manor Way. If I'd taken Gordon it would have been prettier, but I didn't want to tempt fate. My right leg was feeling strange. There was a knot forming low on my left inside quad. If I were careful I could keep the cramp at bay.

This was perplexing. I'd made sure to drink a lot yesterday. I'd kept electrolytes in my water bottles today. I made sure to drink. But I hadn't been able to take in more than I was sweating out. I could smell myself. That's a bad sign right there. Chalk it up to age, I guess. I need to maybe stop doing hundred-mile rides when the temperature is a few degrees shy of a hundred.

I kept a steady pace, in the big ring, because it felt the most comfortable. On Gordon Road I could feel a cramp coming on, and it was spreading to my right calf now. I repositioned my leg slightly, just a small wiggle, and that did the trick.

I was on Meadowbrook Road, at mile 97, when I decided to experiment with coasting and spinning in the small ring. Bad idea. My right leg began to seize, from the quad on down. I stopped, clipped out, and took a drink.

I started up again in a higher gear and lower cadence. I've always been a masher, not a spinner. Serves me right for trying.

Going through the park, I downshifted on the rollers, which sent my leg to seizing again. Once more I stopped, shook my leg out, and drank. I had about five miles to go.

I got home with 102 miles. And lordy, did I stink.

After a few hours the knot in my leg was still there. It felt as if I'd pulled a muscle. Two years ago, which is the last time I cramped on a century, the pain was in the same place. 

I emailed Jim to tell him I wouldn't be on his ride tomorrow. "My legs aren't working," I said.

Later at night I saw the moon through the trees and grabbed my new tripod. There was too much haze, though, and the moon was setting behind the leaves. I didn't get the picture I was after, but I got something.

As for the Battle of the Bird, I think Team Century won.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Oldwick, Neowise

Fox Hill Road, Tewksbury, NJ

18 July 2020

I: Oldwick

By this time last year, I'd led 13 rides. So far this year I've led 8. If I get to 10 I earn myself yet another ill-fitting ride leader jersey. I've been collecting them since 2003, the first year I led 10 rides. I use them mostly for commuting because most of them are too big or too small, and the ones that fit my tank-shaped torso cut off the circulation in my biceps. Cyclists aren't supposed to lift weights. Or have boobs. Or body fat. Whatever. Two more rides and I'll have another one to fight with.

I wanted to go to Oldwick, and checked online to make sure the general store was open. The club's Covid-19 rules allow us to restrict the number of registrants to 10 or less. I picked 8 so that I could count and pedal at the same time. 

The entire Slug contingent signed up, filling 6 slots. Madhu jumped in. Pete said he was bringing his daughter, but he hadn't registered her, so I registered myself to fill her slot. That made 9 of us in all, which is a lot for a Hill Slug ride.

The weather threatened to be beastly hot, so I cut five miles off the route, leaving us the option to put them back in if we felt sufficiently spunky.

We interrupt this blog post to toss in a few unblogged photos from last week:

D&R Canal at Blackwells Mills

D&R Canal at Blackwells Mills

Somewhere in Hillsborough or Montgomery
(it all looks the same to me out there, no matter 
how many times Jim pulls us through) 

Somewhere in Hillsborough or Montgomery 

So anyway:

I feel obligated to stop at Thor Solberg Airport if Tom is on the ride. We didn't stay long. It was already hot.

Whenever I'm headed north of Route 22, I take Mill Road. Mill and Rockaway are mandatory.

Jim knows this, and he knows to sing "Cows in the Water" (think Deep Purple) even if they're not in the water at the moment. Sometimes they are.

Jim stopped to look at them too.

Hill and Dale Road is halfway up Rockaway. My shortened route had us taking it to Route 517 down to the general store. Hill and Dale is a pretty road, worth showing off to Madhu and Sarah. When we got there, though, the consensus was that we all had energy for the longer route, which would take us all the way up Rockaway, up the Sawmill hill in the shade, across Route 517, and down Fox Hill for an easterly view of the Watchung Mountains.

I've never stopped on the steepest parts of the descent before. It wasn't easy keeping my bike upright as I took pictures.

There were cars in the parking lot of the Oldwick General store, which was confusing, because it was closed for renovation. The dry cleaners is still open, and some of the other cars were there for the construction work.

The tables, chairs, and bike rack were still out, and the ceiling fan in the breezeway by the back door was creaking along.  So we stopped and ate what we'd brought with us, which is a thing we do now that we can never be sure about what's open and what's not.

Fortunately, the Whitehouse General Store, 6 miles later, was open. We raided their bottled water supply. There were already a few other cyclists there, one of whom Jim knew. I didn't recognize him at first, but he remembered me, and then I remembered that I'd bought Beaker's first set of wheels from him. I remembered him describing in great detail how he coasts his chain in paraffin wax. Jim, so taken by the idea, has been doing it ever since.

Aside from the Rockaway and Sawmill ascents, there aren't any sustained climbs along this route, which is why I chose it for a day like today. That having been said, the incessant rollers take a toll, the elevation gain piles up, and the last ten miles are a pain in the ass no matter which roads I choose.

Madhu and I were pretty well spent when we got back to the parking lot. An orb web, probably a week old by now, by the rear window of my car, cheered us up. Turns out we both like spiders.


Tom likes taking pictures of astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets. He'd already been out once this week to find the comet NEOWISE. He invited us to join him in Conover Field, near Mercer County Park, at 9:30 p.m., to find the comet again. It wouldn't be as bright as it had been earlier in the week, but he thought we'd have a reasonable chance of seeing it.

The sun had just set when I got there. Tom lent me a spare tripod. I'd never used a tripod before. It made me feel as if I looked like I knew what I was doing. I didn't know what I was doing. 

Tom told me to set my exposure for 15 seconds, so I did, and mucked about with the sunset for practice.

Jack H and Dorothy were there with a telescope. Ricky and Cheryl arrived soon after. We were all wearing masks and staying six feet apart from each other. More people were driving in. "Everybody's here to see the comet," Tom said.

It wasn't dark enough to see anything with our naked eyes. I'd forgotten to bring binoculars. Tom lent me his (I made sure to wipe them down with alcohol before handing them back, because that's what we all do now). He had a telescope too.

I took some shots at 15 seconds just to get the camera positioned correctly. It took a while before Tom's explanation of where the comet would be made sense. We had to find the lowest star in the Big Dipper, then look down toward the horizon, just above the cloud line, above the two poles across the road.

Only when I got home and started messing around with cropping and color corrections did I realize that I'd captured the comet early. It's the fainter, bluish dot above the two stars. It was 9:23 p.m.

Between then and 9:50 we busied ourselves with trying to get pictures and trying to see the comet with only our eyes. The trick was not to look directly at it, but at one of the lower stars. And to screw around with the pictures later.

Professional quality they're not, but hey, I've never used a tripod before, and this is my first comet as a grownup.

At 9:54 we saw the space station. We all thought it was an airplane at first. Tom corrected us. It was too far up, too big, and there were no flashing lights. It was a bright line gliding over the horizon from west to east. I stopped taking pictures so that I could follow it until it disappeared. Only when I got home did I find out I'd captured it in a couple of photos.

The comet, very faint, is in the upper left and the space station, a blurry streak, is lower right.

Here, the Big Dipper is upper left, the comet near the horizon beneath it, and the space station off to the lower right:

By 10:12, NEOWISE was too faint to see. Trying to bring it out, I had fun with the "auto adjust colors" feature in my image processing software.

We turned our cameras around to look at Jupiter (the bright star on the right) and Saturn (the one on the left).

Tom adjusted his telescope so that we could see all four of Jupiter's moons, and then Saturn's rings. I took a long-exposure picture of Ricky watching Tom:

Just for fun I turned my camera straight up and took pictures of the night sky. I think I captured a shooting star in the first one.

It was well past 11:00 p.m. when I got home. The first thing I did was look up tripods. I ordered one the next day.

Tom has some good pictures here.