Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category
Watching the cyclists in the Tour de France as they embark on the mountain climbs of the alps always makes me jittery. I always have a favorite going into the last weekend of the race and I can die a million deaths as I watch a favorite crack on a steep slope or jump out of my chair when a particularly daring attack succeeds. This year’s Tour has been full of chair jumping moments–Thor Hushovd winning a mountain stage (whaaa?) and Thomas Voekler spending ten days in yellow and hanging with the big boys on the Galibier. (His stunt in 2004 remains fresh in my mind. Have you ever seen a rider turn himself inside out like that? Bon Courage, Thomas!)
This morning Dale stayed home (to work form home, natch) with me to watch the live coverage of Stage 19–Telegraphe, Galibier, and Alpe d’Huez all in one nasty, brutish and short stage of monster climbs and epic descents. Last night, while watching Contador crack like an egg on the Galibier, I finished all but the fiddly bits of my current knitting projects and this morning I had nothing–NOTHING–to keep my jittery hands busy while the race was on. So I decided to wind cotton yarn into a center-pull ball with one eye and both hands while my other eye was watching the boys on the hill.
I finished unraveling this mess during the Time Trial the next day. . . . oy.
(Obviously, this post is a bit tardy. Sick kid and sick me this weekend sort of cut things off. For the record, I entered the Tour a total Andy Schleck fan and was impressed by the Leopard-Trek tactics the whole way. But since I’m a Tour fan more than a fan of any particular rider, I switched to the doomed-from-the-start Team Thomas when he garnered yellow. I was a sucker for him in 2004 and remain so today. Cadel grew on me–he seemed so much less pinched this year and really, really fought for it on Galibier. He deserved the win. And, Contador, the Doper, went home empty-handed, which is as it should be.)
Seen today on a cyclist’s jersey in the Auwald in Leipzig:
Satan’s Energy Drink.
I nearly ran off the trail I laughed so hard.
Jennifer and I had the great fortune to spend three years living in New Haven, Connecticut, although formulating it like this gives me a moment of pause. The reason for this is that I am not sad that I no longer live there. On the one hand, we met wonderful people and made many friends, saw and did new things, ate more shellfish and lobster than ever before or since, and in general got to know a very different part of the country than the one we call more or less home.
On the other hand, I do not miss living in a city nor raising children in a city where within three hundred yards of our house, the following activities regularly took place: prostitution, drug dealing, assault, burglary, vandalism, and intravenous drug use on playgrounds. Expand the scope a little bit, and I could add mugging, murder, and random shootings. At one point, a dead john surfaced in a car less than a block away from our house (tip: never solicit a hooker when you have a weak heart, and certainly not in the back seat of your car), and in the context of living in New Haven, this was more a source for bemusement than alarm.
Recently, I heard from a friend there (who still works in New Haven, but lives elsewhere) that The Devil’s Gear, my favorite bike shop in New Haven and a candidate for favorite anywhere, was just looted. This had nothing to do with some larger protest or riot getting out of hand, just a bunch of high school kids out for “teen night” at a bar. One can only hope that those who were arrested get punished and are the better for it.
What makes me particularly sad about this senseless act is that The Devil’s Gear is exactly what New Haven needs, a locally owned business that exists to better the community. The owner, Matt Feiner, is by anyone’s definition a mensch, and tries really hard to help out any customer, large or small, rich or poor. Whether he knows it or not, he strongly influenced my behavior on a bike for the better (and I was an experienced cyclist when I met him) and particularly how I behave towards those not on bikes. He is an urban and urbane fellow, whose business deserves nothing but respect, not looting.
Matt sold me my current and much beloved road bike, and when I ride it, I occasionally glance down and see his shop sticker. I feel like a better person for having purchased my bike from a shop that supports cycling as a means to better cities, and to have supported the kind of businessperson we need to have, no matter where we live. New Haven is a rough place, but The Devil’s Gear should be a source of civic pride.
I’m slowly digesting my annoyance with the guys at Rücktritt for sitting on my order for so long. That was pretty bad service, but on the positive side they did track down this bike for me and get it, something no other shop even offered to attempt. So, it’s a draw. Besides, I’m so happy with the bike that all might have been forgiven anyway.
For the bike-inclined, you can see it’s a pretty basic machine, made more basic within hours of its purchase. I stripped off the kickstand (gack), the rear V-brake, and the chain guard. The brake was redundant since it has a coaster brake back there, and the chain guard, while a pretty slick free-floating thingamabob, was just too noisy banging around on these cobblestone streets. I put a lot of value on a silent ride, so it just had to go. Better to wear a band on my pants and clean or replace the chain from time to time. It’s a pretty basic aluminum frame. Clearly it was intended to be a frame for all purposes, because it has every braze-on known to humankind, and screw holes for just about any accessory (except a bottle cage, which I really don’t get). Once the frame’s been dinged up a bit, I might get busy with a hacksaw and make some of that junk disappear.
It’s a light bike despite some of the cheap componentry (hey, it was 299 Euro, I knew there’d be a lot of upgrade potential in that department). I added only little plastic mounts for front and rear LED lights, and will be adding fenders next week. I’m not super keen on those, I have to confess, for the aforementioned noise issues, but I have no desire to get filthy when it rains nor avoid riding in the rain. The gear ratio may be a tad bit too weenie for me. I find it easy to spin out on even slight uphills, so I may be cracking apart the rear hub before long to slap on a smaller sprocket. Oh, last but not least, I’m now on the lookout for some of those funky bars one sees on single speeds. This straight bar is elegant, but I want some schawang in my ride.
Best of all? As it was delivered to me by the shop, the bike was not street legal, and it had a sticker on its top tube making this very clear. My friend Sven would find this so fitting. Now when I ride, I shall glance down at this sticker, laugh my evil American laugh, and ride on.
After working in Germany for 52 days, I was finally paid today. Feels good to turn what had become my volunteer job into a paying gig. The only positive to this long wait is that I’ll now get paid twice in nine days. Something to look forward to, I suppose.
German customer service–an oxymoron on par with military intelligence–never fails to amaze me. I had been so excited to find the bike shop where I ordered my bike. Nice people, good concept, sharp-looking shop with space in it, fair prices on their bikes. Well, I should have known the euphoria would be short-lived. Despite the fact that I appeared in their shop (Fahrradladen Rücktritt) on April 3rd to make a down payment on the bike they planned to order, I still have no bike. They indicated it would be a week to ten days, hedging a bit because Easter was in that timeframe. Understandable, I thought, since Easter pretty much shuts Germany down. Last week they called and told me they’d have it early this week. Just called and found out, much to my annoyance, that they didn’t even order it until April 14th, i.e.- after Easter. They sat on the order for 11 days!
They are calling the factory as I type (or so they claim, perhaps they will wait ten days to call) to get the status. They seem utterly unconcerned with their outright lie about a week to ten days, and when I complained that they sat on the order for eleven days, all I got was a some mumbling about Easter and being busy. Is that my concern as a customer? I wonder if they will make any attempt to satisfy me as a customer–e.g.- throw in the fenders for free–but really ought to know better than to even think of such a thing.
I marvel, really, just plain marvel at how pathetic small businesses (and large businesses) can be in Germany. Retail is always a revolving door, and in any city in the US one sees stores and restaurants come and go all the time. In Germany, regardless of where I’ve lived, I have always noticed that that door revolves a bit quicker here. Well, no wonder. There is just no business sense in so many of them.
Example: I buy my bread at a small local baker down the street from my office. Nice people, good bread. Problem? They close weekdays at 6:00 and on Saturday at 1:00. Sure, in 1955 Germany, maybe even 1995 Germany, such a luxury for a business owner was completely normal. Well, times have changed, and the chains have extended their hours to make it possible for someone who works to buy food at their convenience, not at the convenience of the shop owner. Over Easter weekend, a time when Germans feast like there’s no tomorrow (as do we), they shut down entirely for four days for a little vacation. It’s nice to see remnants of such a world, where business owners got days off like those who work for larger firms, but is it worth the vacation to lose customers?
If I put a monetary value on the number of times I’ve stood in front of this bakery only to find it closed and then buy my bread at a chain, I would estimate that even in my short time here, he’s lost at least 40 Euro. Given that I’ve never been the only one at the door being disappointed, I would speculate that he is losing large sums every month.
In the German press, and in private conversations, one often reads and hears laments about the Americanization of the German retail landscape–big boxes, longer hours, mass discounters, etc. One wonders where the disconnect is for small business owners. Of course I have to shop at big boxes. I work, and do not take time in the middle of my day to buy my bread from a vintage baker. Those days are long gone. If I leave too late to get bread by 6:00, it’s his loss, and only marginally mine. Bread is a commodity; sell it like one.
Well, after drooling over the Rücktritt Tauglich, I quickly moved on to another infatuation. I had asked the friendly folks at Rücktritt to call around and see what they could find in the way of a single-speed machine. Amazingly (customer service in Germany varies a bit, to say the least), I got a call a few days later with the good news. They had found what I sought, and from a regional manufacturer no less. It’s a Volksrad, and the workers just bought the factory a while back, so I will ride knowing I supported some people taking care of their own business. Cheers to them! Now I just have to get used to the fact that I’m going to have to shell out major bucks to get an airline to fly it back to the States. I suspect we shall be quite fond of each other by then and I won’t want to sell it here. Oh, for the few bike types who read this, it not only has front and rear brakes, it has a coaster brake! No kidding. I may ditch the rear brake, since it seems extraneous.
The other big project I had this week–besides teaching my usual hellish load of classes (15 contact hours, countless more in prep time)–was visiting all of the elementary schools in the area. This was quite educational, since they are an entirely unknown quantity otherwise. Happy to find that schools here in the eastern states are a lot like those in the US, with child care both before and after school. It’s a much larger program, and they offer all sorts of activities in that time, from chess club to dance to art, etc. Really exciting prospect for the third grader in my life. Found one school I especially like, and two others that would be just fine, too. One school was really lame. The principal just didn’t seem to want to bother with me or my daughter.
I already own a lot of bikes, and were time and money no object, I’d own a whole bunch more. I love bikes, and can think of at least ten different kinds that I really need.
So I’m living in this bike-friendly place, and need to pick up a bike for my time here. My dream was to get a lean, mean single-speed city machine, the kind that is all the rage in the US right now (albeit sans fixed gear; I actually like being alive), but they turn out to be nearly unheard of here and very hard to find. If I had my shop at hand, I’ve seen at least ten frames that I’d love to convert into such a machine, but that’s a pipe dream.
So I decided to settle for second best and buy myself a sturdy, basic German Stadtrad (city bike). These are almost always black, have a rack on the back, full fenders (necessary here if one plans to ride to work and not look like a bike courier all day), and front and back generator-driven lights. Happily, I saw the perfect bike last weekend:
Nice shop, nice people, too. And really not terribly expensive either. Plan to go back and pick one up later this week.
If you’re one of my cycling friends, please don’t ask what this bike weighs. Just know that I shall return with massive thighs, which answers the question right there.
My fear is that I’m going to fall in love with this bike and then it will have to come home with me, at great expense. Such is the life of an addict.