20 January, 2015

A Retro-Future in Rust


In the 70s, Japanese bicycle company Bridgestone marketed their youth bicycles as vehicles of the Space Age. Advertisements depicted lasers, robots, and the wondrous marvels of beyond. Of course, certain limitations existed when it came to incorporating aerospace components into terrestrial two-wheelers, but with a little imagination one could surely take these bikes into orbit. 



While pop-up headlights, throttle-style shifting, and on-board “computers” were largely superfluous to the operation of the bicycle, they added a bit of sci-fi magic to the ordinary bike ride to school. Additionally, there were other design choices that were made to increase the overall futuristic-ness of these bikes: disc brakes, turn signals, and an oval (or elliptical) chain ring.


When the Mrs. and I lived in Japan, we would frequently visit the local second-hand stores to look for records, collectibles, and other things. One day, I noticed behind one of the stores were a rusted heap of bikes in various states of disrepair. I asked the owner if I could peruse the bikes and he said it was fine. Carefully walking amongst the twisted wheels and entangled frames, I spotted a Bridgestone Astro G, one of such bicycles from the 70s. A brief struggle to retrieve it from the pile and 5,000 Yen later, it was mine.


Unfortunately, it was in no condition to ride. The tires were rotted, the pedals were rusted to the crank, and any trace of lubrication or grease had long since vanished. It was going to be quite an undertaking to restore it, but I figured it would give me something to work on in my spare time.

That spare time has come and gone. I disassembled as much as I could, labeled the components in Ziploc bags, and in that state it has remained ever since. The more I dived into it, the more I realized this thing needed attention beyond what I could give. The rust spots would be easy to deal with if it were just a matter of steel wool and WD-40, but that would destroy the original decals that are still intact. The handlebars have a faux-chrome coating that has all but peeled away, but the grips are immovable, so they won’t separate from the stem. I was able to free one of the stuck pedals but the other won’t budge. I gave it the ol’ college try, but just couldn’t get to a point where it’s in any better condition than the way I found it.


So what am I going to do with it? I don’t know. If anyone is handier about these sorts of things, I’d be willing to let it go for the 5,000 Yen ($50 USD) I paid for it. While attempting to haggle down the price, the previous owner said that was a good deal, because it would be worth much more in the hands of someone that can restore it. He’s probably right, but that person wasn’t me.

- Bicyclist Abroad


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13 January, 2015


Faith Collage

Well, not exactly that kind of faith. I’m talking about bicycles, and the faith we have in them to get us where we’re going.

Now, it isn’t unusual to be wary after you build your first bicycle, getting atop a saddle that you hope you secured to a seatpost, that you hope is tightly installed into the frame, that you hope has a pair of wheels and brakes securely fastened onto it. I built up a bicycle for the Mrs. one year and on its maiden voyage, the crank arm fell off mid-ride and the attach bolt rolled off to parts unknown. This was of course, my fault, and her complete faith in my abilities to assemble a bicycle was a little shaken thereafter. I’ve since made it a point to double-check every fastener before a ride, but we all make mistakes. [Ed. note: sorry about that!]

The other day, I was riding the Avon and had got a flat tire from a rather long (and unexpected) nail on the bike path, and had to make the trek home on foot, pushing the bike alongside me. Do I carry a patch kit with me always? Not if I’m just going about town, because I’d rather fix problems in the comfort of my own garage versus the side of the road. And really, I don’t get flats all that often, so it wasn’t a big deal. I got home, found the hole in the tube, and after some directed scuffing, firmly applied the patch.


I wasn’t convinced it was going to hold, however. It was a glue-less patch, and prior experience with them had proven them to be less than adequate. So with trepidation, I pumped up the tire, listened for any escaping air, and was satisfied with the patch job.

Fast forward a few more days, and it was time again to go to the grocery store. I was really hesitant to take the Avon because of the previous flat, but they say if you fall off of a horse, you have to get back on. Or, lightning never strikes the same place twice. Or anything to that effect, really. So I inflated the tire to full pressure, listened again for a leak, and then took it out down the road and back on a test run. No problems. See? I thought. Have a little faith in yourself.


I proceeded on to the grocery store, my fear of a flat dissipating with every revolution of the wheel. I stopped to take some pictures, got back on, still no problems. The Avon rolled on, smoothly and delightfully, down the avenues basked in sunlight. I took a deep breath and nodded my head in satisfaction.  Finally, I arrived at the grocery store, parked the bike, and went inside.

Now, if the story had ended here, I would have said that I learned a little bit about challenging expectations that day. That, in spite of past problems, sometimes you have to take a risk to be rewarded with some self-confidence; you’ve got to have a little faith.

But it doesn’t.

Exiting the grocery store, hands full of sundries, I unload them into the rear basket and flip back the kickstand only to find the rear tire completely und utterly deflated. Again. Just great, I said. Why on Earth it decided to hold it together until I had a bunch of groceries to bring home, I will never know. Even deflating at some point along the way would have been more convenient than pushing this thing through the parking lot and back onto the bike path.

So I learned something else that day: mainly, glue-less patches are a waste of time and I’m done with them. But I also learned that while blind faith may indeed get you somewhere, it might not get you back home.


- Bicyclist Abroad


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06 January, 2015

An Unlikely Choice in Apparel

I was told that the snow was not coming. It didn’t snow last year and it was not expected to snow here this year, but lo and behold, just a couple days after Christmas, it came. After having camped overnight in it, I was eager to go for a ride and test out a few cold-weather items the Mrs. had gifted to me. Feeling lucky, I decided to ride the 18km from our house to the NATO base, taking my time and getting a feel for the ice-and-snow-covered roads.

Now firstly, let me say that winter riding varies greatly depending upon where you live. If you live in a snowy climate and have to share the road with motor vehicles (e.g. Upstate New York, New England, all of Canada) it may be too great a risk. But in this part of Germany, as well as many other places, there are enough cycling paths and farm roads to get you where you’re going without having to take the lane on a busy street. Granted, the snow can obscure many potholes and hazards, but if you take your time and use common sense, you’ll probably be okay.
The biggest challenge, of course, is being comfortable. There is an temperature inversion that occurs while riding in the cold weather where, while my core warms up in the first 5-10 minutes of riding, it takes about that same amount of time for my toes and fingers to get cold.
For my hands, I had just worn a pair of Thinsulate winter gloves, which contrary to their name, are not very thin at all. They worked okay, but like most gloves, having your fingers separated does diminish the warmth of the glove. So, the Mrs. got me a pair of the Planet Bike Borealis gloves, which are pretty nice. Because they are half-mitten, they do make your hands look sort of Penguin-ish, but I think they provide a good balance between warmth and dexterity (short of using full-on handlebar mitts, or pogies). 
For my feet, however, I needed a new solution. Since my clipless pedals have migrated (and will probably stay) on my MTB, I’ve been riding on a pair of platform pedals that the nice people at The Path Less Pedaled had recommended for touring. With these, I’d usually just wear whatever shoe happened to be on my feet at the time (which oftentimes is a pair of brown Crocs. No apologies.) For slushy, wet snow and ice however, I needed something a little more waterproof, so I headed down into the basement to find a boot or sneaker that could stand a little bit of the elements. What I found was a pair of NRS water shoes I had purchased last year for kayaking and totally forgot about. The shoe in hand, I thought about it for a minute and decided to try them out.

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The uppers are made of 3mm thick neoprene with a thick rubber toe box that is obviously very much windproof. The neoprene keeps the water out, and in spite of road spray, my socks inside stayed perfectly dry. I was concerned that the soles would be too flexy, but they are actually stiffer than I expected and felt very comfortable while pedaling. Of course, these were designed for walking on sharp rocks and other water-related debris, so it makes sense, but it might also be due in part to a layer of titanium in the sole that is supposed to increase heat retention. In regards to heat retention, I had a pair of wool socks on underneath and really didn’t notice much heat loss until about an hour and half into my ride when I noticed that my feet were just slightly colder than I’d like, but I think that’s to be expected after an hour and a half in freezing temps.

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All-in-all, I’d say these shoes performed remarkably well for something they were not designed to do. Now, while you can purchase a designated pair of winter cycling shoes, or install neoprene covers on a pair you already own, I wouldn’t recommend wearing either of those while swimming or kayaking, but that’s just me.

- Bicyclist Abroad

[The NRS Remix water shoe is currently being discontinued, so you can pick up a pair for $26 on their website (if they still have your size) or from Amazon for just a little more. Men's and Women's sizes available.]


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