Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making a Stand on Black Friday

I love the day after Thanksgiving. But I don't like Black Friday. Maybe because I don't understand the logic of losing three to six hours of sleep to save $20 on a product while inhaling the body odor of other sleep-deprived, ornery shoppers. I don't know what an hour of my time is worth, but it's worth more than anything I could do or buy at a mall before sunup.

If you were one of those individuals who spent this past Friday amongst the people who carry pepper spray with them when they shop for a flat screen TV, take note: you don't have to do it next year. Instead, you can do any number of things, such as going to Bluff Point State Park. That's where and when I took the picture above.

You also don't have to wait for Small Business Saturday to support a small business. Avoid the nightmarish universe of the big-box store and visit any number of small towns to check out independent shops, such as Niantic Bay Bicycles in Niantic, Connecticut. Run by a very nice husband and wife team, they have, among other cool things, a used Easy Racers tandem recumbent for sale. It didn't leave Niantic with me, but some might-be-useful-someday Yakima chainstraps and cycling socks did.

In addition to going on a peaceful bike ride and buying something at a small business, you can build something bike-related with a parent or relative on Black Friday the Day After Thanksgiving. It's probably far better together time than the line at the cash register in front of a national chain store. Case in point: soon after I got back from 11 blissful miles at Bluff Point, my dad told me he wanted a bike storage solution in his garage, which doubles as his workshop. He wanted something that would allow him to get to the bike easily, didn't involve lifting it and didn't involve leaning it against anything. If we could build something that involved using some of the scrap wood lying around – and in his shop, there's plenty of that – all the better.

It didn't take too long to come up with a solution. The vision was something that would hold the back wheel firmly in place, so to start we took the front wheel off his bike and set it on the workbench. Since the front wheel is the same size as the rear, it was the perfect stand-in to figure out exactly how far apart the pieces of wood needed to be so the wheel would eventually sit comfortably on the floor without rolling anywhere. My dad and I used two different sized pieces of wood to make this stand: a 2' length of 2X10 and several 2X3s of various lengths.

Once I figured out the lengths we needed, my dad cut them to the right size and we fitted them together. It helped to have some long clamps on hand to squeeze the pieces together so we could pound in the metal plates to make everything solid.

Once we had the base of the stand made, I placed the wheel inside (I did that all throughout the build to make sure it would still fit) and thought that the vertical part of the stand needed to cover as much of the back tire as possible. My dad had all of the metal braces we needed, but we also put some long screws in from the bottom to make everything as stiff as possible. Before long, we had this:

At least once during the build, I went around to where his bike was to make sure the rear rack wouldn't interfere with the design. The fears were unfounded, because it worked like a charm. All in all, it was a fun thing for us to do. So if you don't want to wait until the next Black Friday Day After Thanksgiving, you can go on a ride at Bluff Point State Park, support an unknown bike store or other small business, and build a bike stand with a family member anytime.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The DIYBIKING.COM Thanksgiving Dinner Challenge

On Thanksgiving morning, Pacific Swim Bike Run is co-sponsoring the city of Stamford's first 5k Turkey Trot, which is an organized 3-mile run starting from Fairway market on Canal Street at 8:00am. Participants are also encouraged to bring non-perishable foods – and hats and mittens - to donate to families in need. It sounds like a great event and a nice preemptive strike against the calories most of us are expected to ingest that day.

Reading about the Turkey Trot made me think of the link between turkeys and exercise. After all, the most common animal I see when cycling in Fairfield County – after birds, squirrels, chipmunks and dogs wearing sweaters – are turkeys.

I took a cell phone picture of this adorable family of mouth-watering turkeys a few months back when on a lunchtime ride on Wire Mill Road in Stamford. I've spotted roving gangs of them at the Talmadge Hill Metro North station in New Canaan. I saw a herd in a field when riding in rural Pennsylvania. So yes, I see them more on bike rides than I do on a dinner table.

If you're like me, the most calories you usually burn on Thanksgiving are when you dig a hole in your mashed potatoes to pour the gravy in. I know I can't do the Turkey Trot, but I still wanted to do something in the same spirit. Yes, Thanksgiving Day isn't usually associated with exercise, but neither are the days leading up to it. Most people, when shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, just drive to the grocery store, put the frozen turkey in the car trunk, and drive away.

So the question becomes: how does one make the activity of buying a turkey more physically taxing?

The answer, as you may have guessed: is not this.

Right, so what happened is I figured out how to get the trike out of the workshop: I first put in a wooden cargo platform and later removed the seat and carried it sideways up the basement stairs. When I put it back together, I lashed down a cooler. I even added an extra safety measure.

I was going to tell you that multicolored duct tape makes a great stocking stuffer, but I only believe in promoting one holiday at a time.

I wanted to write a post on a successful ride on the trike to the grocery store for Thanksgiving trappings and back again, but this is not that post. I was fine with the trike's instability. Fine with the stares from motorists. Fine with the creaks and mysterious wobble. I wasn't fine with having to put the chain back on every 1/10 of a mile, so after a half mile I did a defeated ride back. My wife asked what went wrong.

“It isn't built well,” I said morosely.

“But you built it.”


My wife assured me I'd find a way to fix it, but I had no interest in doing that today. I still wanted to do my Thanksgiving challenge, and as it happens, I still had an ace up my sleeve.

Now, as we learned from last week's episode, the bike trailer has proven itself to be more than capable at moving a couple of bicycles to Domus. I figured it would have no trouble handling a turkey, so I lashed the cooler to it (and left the orange triangle).

I couldn't ride my Dahon Matrix as fast as usual, but it still pulled the trailer well. I decided not to go to Fairway and instead headed up to Shop Rite on Hope Street for more of a challenge. After about five miles of avoiding curbs, storm drains and parked cars, I made it to my destination.

It felt strange putting my helmet in the front basket of the grocery trolley; I had to keep reminding myself that I had cargo capacity with the trailer.

So I raided the aisles for Thanksgiving supplies. Corn, gravy, green beans and a frozen 14 lb. Butterball because I like the fact they have the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-288-8372). I also got some pumpkin pie filling and a pumpkin pie crust. I know they get a bad rap but instant potatoes are good. And, of course, I bought jellied cranberry sauce. It's the kind that looks like the can when you put it on the serving plate. I always associate the can-shaped sauce with Thanksgiving. You do too. Admit it.

Once I had a full Thanksgiving meal in the trolley I paid for it and left. The orange net I was using as the floor of the trailer looked like it was protesting, but it didn't break when I put everything in in the cooler.

Once I lashed everything back into place, I got on the bike and set off. I quickly discovered the turkey was having an effect on the bike's handling (I write a lot of sentences I don't often write since I started this blog) but it wasn't dangerous. The Matrix has excellent brakes and the motorists, mindful of the duct tape triangle, gave me a decent amount of space as I pedaled down Hope Street. I briefly thought about trying to get a donut at the Donut Delight drive through but the line of cars was too discouraging. I rode on.

But I didn't ride home. Instead, I rode here.
The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County serves a pretty large area and is always looking for donations, so to keep with the spirit of the Turkey Trot I gave the contents of my cooler to the guys in the back who thanked me for my donation.

The thing is, I'm lucky enough to not have to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. In fact, the whole reason I can't do the Turkey Trot is that I'm going to my aunt's house to join family. I'm thankful and appreciative she and my uncle are hosting and the bulk of the food prep isn't on my shoulders (I think I volunteered to bring cranberry sauce). So, as you can guess, I'm lucky in several ways.

I took the trailer and the empty cooler another 14 miles before arriving home, so all in all it was a good challenge. If you want to borrow it so you can bring food to your house or to the food bank, just let me know. If you plan to do the Turkey Trot, don't forget to have fun – and bring a donation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Domus Bike Drive Update (or: yes, the trailer worked)

Just now I was able to deliver three bikes in only two trips to Domus for their used bike drive, which is going on today until 3:30 this afternoon. You can park your bike trailer (or car, if you prefer) on Frank Street near the entrance to the Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center, where you can bring the bikes in (and possibly meet some of the students who will ultimately work on them).

Now, the trailer.

I admit it wasn't the easiest mile and a half I've ever pedaled. I got the Big Fuji there first and I was feeling so confident I figured out how to get the Hurricane Irene bike and a Trek dirt bike to stay on the trailer at the same time. I did get some curious looks on both trips (I only wish I had time to make a bike drive sign for the sides of the trailer, but then again it's so windy today it's probably a good idea I didn't add to the wind resistance).

So, trailer or not, please bring your used bikes to Domus today, or reach out to them to learn how you can help. Remember: every bike you bring to Domus means more space at your house...for another bike. 

Speaking of another bike: Pacific Swim Bike Run in Stamford is having a big end-of-season sale this weekend. I think all I need is handlebar tape, but then again the sight of empty bike hooks in my workshop is rather unsettling. Maybe I'll bring the trailer along. 

Just in case.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Building a Bike Mover for the Domus Bike Drive

There's a school at 83 Lockwood Avenue in Stamford called Domus. Specializing in helping at-risk youth and their families, they have an employment program created with the Trafigura Foundation and The Workplace Inc. that teaches kids and young adults skills in repairing bikes – and the repaired bikes are given to disadvantaged kids. They're having a used bike drive this Friday. I think you see where I'm going with this.

Yes, my bike storage area is rather full and the time has come for me to pare down (though the DiamondSchwinn isn't going anywhere). Paring down is normally a dreadful idea, but since I know this can help Domus and their great program I'm happy to do so (if you need to pare down as well please contact Domus or drop your used bikes off at the school this Friday between 10:30am and 3:30pm).

So I need to bring three bikes to Domus, but I wanted to do it in a way that did not involve bringing my car. Now if you want to move one bike from one place to another, it's standard procedure to ride it. But if you want to move two bikes, you either have to use a car..or do this.

I see this happening from time to time. It's dangerous because the rider can't apply a brake or turn properly. But there has never been a solution to the two bikes/one rider problem. Until Now.

This, as you may have guessed, is the skeletal remains of a child's bike trailer that I bought at a tag sale in Greenwich in 2004 for $15. It could seat two children in E.T. quarantine tent-like comfort until I removed all of the fabric and most of the framework. I then added a section of plastic fence and tied that into place with several dozen wire ties to make a cargo trailer. I rarely use it, but when you need a trailer, you need a trailer.

I figured it only needed one simple change to turn it into a trailer that could move a bike: adding an unused Thule roof rack.

It didn't work. Since the bike was so unstable I removed the Thule and did this instead.

I had used my three Saris mounts for my custom Honda Element bike rack, but I had a couple of lockable mounts that are equally simple. With a steady drilling hand I just added a few holes in the bracket so I could bolt it to the tube. The bike stayed on, but since I wasn't using the Thule rack, there wasn't anything to keep the rear wheel in place.

After some rummaging, I found this.

After I realized the piece of scrap aluminum was too narrow to accommodate most mountain bike tires, I took two big Vice Grips and did this:

I wanted the aluminum bracket/rear wheel guide to stay snug on the trailer frame but be able to pivot depending on the wheelbase of whatever bike I'd be carrying. That meant I couldn't just bolt it on. I needed something else. I rummaged. I drank some coffee. I rummaged some more. Nothing leaped out of any of the 304 plastic drawers on the main workbench or anyplace else that would do what I wanted it to.

Then I looked up at the ceiling of my basement workshop and saw this:

Most people with basements have pipes running this way and that all along the floor joists that are attached there by metal clips. I don't recommend harvesting metal clips that are being used for, say, plumbing, but if there are useful things on your basement workshop ceiling that are currently not doing anything useful, break out the hammer and pliers.

That's what it took to get the clip off the joist. Once that was done I drilled holes in the scrap of aluminum and used two bolts to fasten it to the back of the bike trailer. I tested it with the Hurricane Irene Aftermath Bike first and found the tire fit well in the groove, but to keep it from bouncing around I added a little Velcro strap.

Then I got my biggest bike – the Fuji Gran Tourer, of course – and put it on the trailer to see if it would fit. I lashed the front wheel to the frame before shaking the bike and the trailer violently to make sure the bike would stay in place. I then took a step back to look at the finished product.

Now, unlike the Budget Supertrike (which is still confined to the shop) this trailer can be dismantled easily and stored easily. The front fork mount and the improvised rear wheel guide don't take up too much space so I can still use the trailer to move other things.

This trailer will make its debut on the streets of Stamford on Friday when I use it to donate bikes to Domus so kids can have their own Saved from the Scrapheap experience. If you have spare bikes lying around, please bring them to 83 Lockwood Avenue in Stamford on Friday. How you get them there is up to you.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)