Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thanking Stacey

Around the same time I was putting more gears on the recumbent, I was taking them off the Bike Friday: the 52 tooth chainring was quite bent and after six months of owning that bike I had never, not even once, used the smallest ring on the crank. Wondering if I'd regret it later, I decided to change out the 52-42-32 for a 53-39 I found on clearance.

Not that I'm becoming one of those people obsessed with weight savings, but the new crankset is more than half a pound lighter (take that, metric system) than the one I removed, and that means a lot in a bike I have to carry in and out of airports.

Since I had some experience with the crankset on the homemade mountain bike (and removing old cranksets from Saved from the Scrapheap bikes) I found it a fairly drama-free install.

Just the sight of it on the bike made it look like it could go faster, and I wondered if that extra tooth on the new and unbent chainring would make a difference. So on a recent Friday I took the Bike Friday and headed to New Canaan - about ten miles away - as fast as I could. I also had a 'beat the clock' mentality since I needed to go to Fairfield early that afternoon to meet my cousin - the Mountain Bike Jedi Master himself - for lunch.

Of course, on a day you want to go fast, traffic lights and other things conspire to slow you down.

After Metro North passed by, I continued up 106 and built up some speed as I passed Barringer Road. Moments later, the bike rolled past something shiny in the road that looked like a credit card. With my curiousity stronger than my willingness to ride fast, I stopped, turned, and went back.

It was a credit card. It belonged to a woman named Stacey.

It looked as if it hadn't been in the road very long and I wondered why it was there. As I tapped it in my hand I glanced up the road and saw a rectangular white object that I didn't notice before. I walked the Bike Friday up to it.

It was a AAA card. It too belonged to a woman named Stacey.

Mindful not to walk too much in the morning traffic, I walked the bike further up 106. Within twenty feet I found a Starbucks card and within 20 feet of that: a debit card.

All belonged to Stacey.

I tucked all those things together and, when I couldn't find more, put them in the bike bag and continued pedaling toward New Canaan. I tried to imagine what led those cards to be in the road like that and thought someone may have thrown them out a car window after stealing cash from a wallet (or something like that).

I passed under the Merritt Parkway and ascended the hill that passes beneath the Metro North tracks and, thankfully, did not miss the tiny chainring. However, just when I got to the top of the hill I checked my phone: my cousin had left me an apologetic voice mail: he had to postpone our lunch.

Now I didn't have any real or imagined reasons to rush through my ride. I decided to continue on to my favorite New Canaan coffee shop - Connecticut Muffin Company - and sit for a little while.

I had a mystery to solve.

I took out my Droid Incredible 2 as well as a tiny notebook and tried Googling Stacey: First name and last. Middle initial, I get a hit on the middle name. Eventually I get a link to an address several towns away. I call the phone number and got no answer.

I turn back to the Internet and eventually find a quote from a news story she (or someone with the same name) was quoted in. It confirmed the town she lived in, but the news story mentioned she worked in New Canaan.

I Googled her name and 'New Canaan' at the same time and soon ended up with a work address. By bizarre coincidence, it was a very short walk from where I was sitting. It was the first of what would turn out to be several what-were-the-odds? moments.

I didn't even unlock the bike from the front of Connecticut Muffin: paper coffee cup in hand, I walked down the street - cleats scraping on the sidewalk - and eventually found the office where I thought Stacey worked. An attractive woman at the front desk asked if she could help me and I politely asked if Stacey worked there.

With a smile she said that Stacey did work there, and that I could sit down and wait for her.

I sat in the lobby, and a couple of minutes later Stacey appeared. I introduced myself - just first name and last; didn't mention this blog - and presented her with the cards I found. She jerked as though she had been given a mild electrical shock: she excitedly explained she had left her purse on the roof of her car that morning. Stacey thanked me profusely though I felt bad I hadn't looked harder for the rest of her belongings - of course at that point I didn't know there were belongings to look harder for. I said goodbye, left the office, and retrieved my bike to make the trip to Darien down Rt. 124.

Soon after I made it to Rt. 1, my cell phone rang. To my surprise it was Stacey. I realized I hadn't left her a DIYBIKING.COM business card but then I remembered that two can play at this Googling game.

It turned out she just wanted me to reconfirm where on Rt. 106 I had found her cards as she was trying to hunt for the rest of her stuff. I told her the precise area, and she thanked me again before we parted ways.

The weekend allowed me time to make that inaugural trip to Smart Cycles in Norwalk so I could hunt for the parts I needed to fix the recumbent. I also rescheduled my lunch with my cousin and generally filed that unusual Friday ride away.

Until a couple of days into the new work week, when I opened my mailbox: inside was a handwritten thank-you note from Stacey telling me how much she appreciated the time I spent trying to find her, a box of Girl Scout Cookies (Thin Mints) and a $25 gift certificate to...Smart Cycles. I was initially rendered speechless at such a thoughtful and unexpected gesture.

The really weird part is that I got all this before I had written about Smart Cycles for my Risky Bike Surgery II post. And not only did Stacey work within walking distance from my usual Friday-morning-ride coffee place in New Canaan, she lived a short walk from me in Stamford - according to her return address. The whole thing seemed a cross between a 'meet-cute' and a cold open from an X-Files episode.

But anyway, all I had done was find some lost property from a stranger who responded with an incredibly kind yet unnecessary gesture. She had already thanked me a few times and it really wasn't that big a deal to find her - and finding her was a fun puzzle to solve. A note? Cookies? A $25 gift certificate to a great bike shop? Who does this Stacey person think she is?

I quickly answered my own question: she's the kind of person anyone would like to know, the kind of neighbor anyone would love to have, and the kind of motorist any cyclist would be happy to share the road with - provided they can dodge the purses as they fly from the roof of her vehicle (though I doubt she'll make the same mistake again).

Not wanting to let Stacey's thank-you gesture just be the end of this already unusual Friday Ride Aftermath, I decided her impressive note/certificate/cookies-combo deserved at least a proportional response.

The first thing I did was mail the Thin Mints to a friend of mine in Napa, California who I haven't seen in a long time who likes them. For anyone who knows me, chocolate often gives me headaches, so I thought the cookies would make a nice care package (I still remember how happy I was during college when my mother would send me cookies, and I hoped these would have a similar effect on my friend and her daughters).

My Napa friend called a few days later to say thanks. Stacey's gesture had officially gone nationwide. So far, so good. 

Now the gift certificate to Smart Cycles. I waited until my next Friday morning ride - when we had unspeakably beautiful weather - before riding out to Norwalk to visit the store. The gift certificate and a few extra bucks vanished in minutes as I bought two 26" bike tubes and a few things by Park Tool: tire levers, a patch kit, and a compact chain tool.

A couple of days later (which is a couple of days ago), I rode my Dahon Matrix to work with all of those things wrapped in the bike box. I cut out of the office early so I could head to the Domus charter school; specifically the Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center which teaches at-risk youth small engine repair and bicycle repair - I hadn't been there since I used the bike trailer for the bike drive last fall. Mitch and Mario, the great guys who run it, greeted me when I arrived at the classroom. Just being with them and the class in that room always makes me feel smarter.

I had learned ahead of time what kind of tools they were often after for the program, and I presented the contents of the bike box to them and told the guys, and the class, all about Stacey: from the ride up Rt. 106 to the gift certificate to Smart Cycles to that afternoon. And like Stacey, they put together a thank-you note.

While at Domus, Mario told me the group is once again actively looking for bikes to repair and tools to repair them with, and if anyone has any bikes or bike tools they'd like to donate to the program please contact him at or come visit Domus at 83 Lockwood Avenue in Stamford, Connecticut, 06902.

At that's the end of this post. I guess the lesson here is to not pedal too fast when you're on a recreational ride - even if you have a new chainring. You could miss a detail that makes the ride interesting. Also, if you come across a Stacey in your life, be sure to come up with a way to say thank you.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Angelina Jolie's Leg Spawns Own Twitter Account; Complains Of High Gas Prices


Just like you, I've been seeing the headlines for weeks: Pain at the Pump...Gas Prices Climb For 20th Straight Day...Will Gas Prices Stall The Economy?

Yeah, there's a pattern. And as always the reasons behind the price hike are an Oil Crisis Mad Libs collection. Most stories have the interchangeable storyline that starts the same but ends differently: Gas prices rose $0.18 in seven days last because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (choose one: skipped a meeting with the Russian Prime Minister/bought season one of Ice Loves Coco/ended a threat to U.S. interests with a preposition other than the usual noun.)

And so on.

I'm of two minds about rising gas prices. On the one hand, it means more people will get into cycling. On the other, it's already getting harder for me to find a parking space in Stamford.


I am dreading continued increases in gas prices for the simple reason I'm tired of hearing the same news stories over and over again. Since the news media isn't willing to tell us all to drive less, drive smarter, bike more, develop other modes of transport, unmask the opponents of the President who want gas to cost over $5 a gallon by Election Day or provide other useful insight, we're left with hollow stories featuring various Area Men and Area Women complaining incessantly.

Like me. Like you.

But you pay a lot of money for this blog (made you look!) so as a service to DIYBIKING.COM visitors I'm publishing some exclusive research to show, in simple terms, what a gas price hike means to the average Area Person. First, here's a bit of foundation:


This was how much gas cost a few short weeks ago when I rode the Dahon Matrix to work. For my own amusement I calculated out what my reward would be: 3.5 miles to get to work, 3.5 miles to get back. 7 miles total in a car that averages about 23 miles to the gallon means driving one mile costs $0.17 cents. That means, in one seven mile trip, I save enough money to buy two donuts from the Bedford Street Diner and still have $0.20 left over.

This doesn't always mean I use the savings to buy donuts: since I usually ride to work early in the morning I don't pass the diner late enough to catch the 'donut window' when the treats are available.

Just a few days after that trip, I again rode to work and this is what I saw that morning. No matter what mode of transportation you took and where you took it, you saw something like this too:

This meant my car was now costing $0.18 a mile, and one seven mile commute was now saving an extra four cents – 1/8 of a Bedford Street Diner Donut! – each round trip.

But now we have to look at the scale of the price hike a little bit bigger, and if you find yourself talking with car driving friends who have no interest in using a bike to run errands (or using a bike for anything, for that matter) this is where the conversation has to go.

Since the goal – limited bicycle parking options aside – is to get these good people to get into cycling, we have to showcase the real savings to be had when biking; especially when they consider the higher cost of fuel over the course of a year. For simplicity's sake, let's say your friend drives an average of 15,000 miles a year and the price of gas went up $0.50 a gallon. I made the table below to account for vehicles that get 15 miles per gallon (MPG) all the way up to 45. No matter what someone drives, an extra $0.50 per gallon can cost a lot over the course of a year, but instead of leaving that person with hollow statistics, give them a concrete perspective of what could be bought at great bike shops like Danny's Cycles, Greenwich Bikes and Pacific Swim Bike Run with each gas price hike. Nobody should say: "How can I afford to buy a bike?" but instead: "How can I not afford to buy a bike?"

MPG Old Price $3.85 New Price $4.35 Add'l cost per yr What you could buy with that money
15 $3,850.00 $4,350.00 $500.00 2012 Trek Earl (Danny's Cycles)
16 $3,609.38 $4,078.13 $468.75 2012 Bianci Torino (Danny's Cycles)
17 $3,397.06 $3,838.24 $441.18 2011 Trek Gritty (Danny's Cycle's)
18 $3,208.33 $3,625.00 $416.67 SRAM Red Crankset BB30 (Greenwich Bikes)
19 $3,039.47 $3,434.21 $394.74 2012 Trek 700 (Danny's Cycles)
20 $2,887.50 $3,262.50 $375.00 1-year membership and 10 pack of classes (Pacific SBR)
21 $2,750.00 $3,107.14 $357.14 2012 Raleigh Detour (Danny's Cycles)
22 $2,625.00 $2,965.91 $340.91 10 Darth Vader Cyclist T-shirts (Pacific SBR)
23 $2,510.87 $2,836.96 $326.09 2010 Raleigh Venture (Danny's Cycles)
24 $2,406.25 $2,718.75 $312.50 2011 Raleigh Eva 3.0 (Danny's Cycles)
25 $2,310.00 $2,610.00 $300.00 2010 Diamondback Kalamar LX (Danny's Cycles)
26 $2,221.15 $2,509.62 $288.46 2011 Diamondback Wildwood (Danny's Cycles)
27 $2,138.89 $2,416.67 $277.78 1-year membership and PSBR tri top and tri bottom (Pacific
28 $2,062.50 $2,330.36 $267.86 SRAM XX rear derailluer (Greenwich Bikes)
29 $1,991.38 $2,250.00 $258.62 SRAM Red 10-speed cassette (Greenwich Bikes)
30 $1,925.00 $2,175.00 $250.00 Tri/TT Bike Fitting for existing bike (Pacific SBR)
31 $1,862.90 $2,104.84 $241.94 Mavic Ksyrium Equip Rear Wheel (Greenwich Bikes)
32 $1,804.69 $2,039.06 $234.37 Shimano SH-RW80 shoes (Greenwich Bikes)
33 $1,750.00 $1,977.27 $227.27 SRAM Omnium Track Crankset (48t)(Greenwich Bikes)
34 $1,698.53 $1,919.12 $220.59 11 Buff Girl Boxing classes (non-member price; Pacific SBR)
35 $1,650.00 $1,864.29 $214.29 Thule 4-Bike Parkway rack (Greenwich Bikes)
36 $1,604.17 $1,812.50 $208.33 Giro Prolight helmet (Greenwich Bikes)
37 $1,560.81 $1,763.51 $202.70 10 rolls of new handlebar tape (Pacific SBR)
38 $1,519.74 $1,717.11 $197.37 7 Day Rental of Zipp Race Wheels (Pacific SBR)
39 $1,480.77 $1,673.08 $192.31 Full Bicycle Overhaul (Pacific SBR)
40 $1,443.75 $1,631.25 $187.50 Bontrager RL road shoes (Greenwich Bikes)
41 $1,408.54 $1,591.46 $182.93 Pro bicycle assembly (Pacific SBR)
42 $1,375.00 $1,553.57 $178.57 Bontrager Interchange Waterproof Panniers (large)(Greenwich
43 $1,343.02 $1,517.44 $174.42 Garmin Edge 200 (Greenwich Bikes)
44 $1,312.50 $1,482.95 $170.45 Two custom wheels built (Pacific SBR)
45 $1,283.33 $1,450.00 $166.67 2011 Avenir Unicycle (Danny's Cycles)

If one drives less and bikes more, it adds up to real savings that goes way beyond donuts (but speaking of real savings: Greenwich Bikes is having a big sale from March 29th to April 1 and Pacific Swim Bike Run currently has some deals - up to 45% off MSRP - of some of their 2011 model bikes).

Now, I know that I could have made a table that shows how much money can be saved if a person drives less. But I didn't for the simple theory that if a cyclist tells a motorist who complains about gas prices that they should drive less, they won't – and they'll make fun of our padded shorts. But if you tell them they could buy a new bike, some classes or new accessories with the difference between $4.35 and $3.85, they might just start thinking a little more like us – which is a slightly less scary thought than $5.00-per-gallon gas.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Risky Bike Surgery: Part II

When we last left the Turner Hypercycle, it had successfully survived phase one of the operation: it now had a beam, made from the top tube of an old child's bike, that I had welded into place to be used to hold a front derailleur. Now I needed to find the missing piece to the old Suntour front derailleur I had.

I tried one store. No luck. I tried another. Also no luck. Finally, I went to Smart Cycles in Norwalk; a store I had somehow never visited before. I especially liked the message on their front window.

I found the store well stocked and the staff to be friendly. One guy I spoke to at length about the derailleur issue was quite intelligent and a good listener. And, in a day that had been marked by failure, I left Smart Cycles with this.

Let me back up a second.

I did find the guy at Smart Cycles to He just couldn't find or sell me the part I was after even as showed topnotch customer service trying to help. Part of it was my fault since he had no idea what kind of bike I wanted the derailleur to be installed on. He suggested that I use a metal cable guide that could go under the bottom bracket and up the seat tube (he explained all this with ordinarily helpful hand gestures that do not apply to the recumbent) but I said it wouldn't work for what I had and thanked him for his help.

But I did ask if the store had any junk frames lying around. As it turned out, there was. Since Saved from the Scrapheap law stipulates that at least three-fifths of a bike must be present for said bike to have it's own post, this whatever-it-was with a frozen crankset just became a nice afternoon diversion. Stripping a bike to the last hex bolt is good for the soul. Can't believe nobody ever wrote one of those 'Chicken Soup' books about that.

None of the bits I took from the junked frame would help me finish the surgery on the recumbent. However, as you can see I was faced with having to put away a few parts, and that meant I needed to open the bottom drawer of my workstand, which I had filled with a number of old bike parts to serve as ballast in order HOLD THE PHONE....

The ballast drawer. Why didn't I think to look in there?

My trip to Smart Cycles (and there will be others) turned out to be a big break: If I hadn't gotten the odd frame I would not have had to store the parts in the ballast drawer of the workstand.

I started rummaging. As the name implies, the ballast drawer was only meant to keep the workstand from tipping over if I were ever to put a heavy bike on it. There were a lot of small parts in there and I almost couldn't believe what I found after only a few minutes of searching.

It reads 'Shimano' on it, and aside from there being openings for two cables, it was exactly what this project needed. I'm not sure which Saved from the Scapheap bike produced this bit (my hunch is it was the old Fuji Espree; which would be very Shel Silverstein's 'The Giving Tree' as that bike gave the recumbent the 27” rear wheel it uses today).

In minutes, I set the little metal guide in place and, using a spare cable from a right hand thumb shifter, temporarily hooked it up.

Now as you can see I had no chain on the bike. I did take one from the ballast drawer and send it through the chainring while pushing the shifter with my thumb. It kinda worked, but it was the kind of kinda that made me confident it could handle a real world setting. Probably.

But I was faced with another problem: I had no left hand shifter of any kind (the last one was used when building the DiamondSchwinn). It was early Sunday now, and I reasoned I could wait until stores opened and go out to buy a twist-grip shifter to match the one on the right that controls the rear derailleur.

Then, a thought struck: Who says a right hand shifter can't do the job of a left hand shifter if it is installed on the right?

The old school thumb shifter installed easily and the lever is right where it needs to be without interfering with the twist grip. I could control all twelve speeds with one hand. As a bonus it meant I didn't have to move my Incredibell which is mounted near my left hand.

I shortened the cable and adjusted the limit screws. I don't want a ten-and-a-half foot length of chain falling off on a ride. At least not more than usual.

When I tested the shifter again, my stomach nearly dropped into my shoes when the crank arm began rubbing against the derailleur. In my haste to make sure the welded section of steel would be close enough to the crank, I didn't account for the fact that the derailleur itself could become a new problem. Thankfully, I was able to adjust a limit screw so the derailleur would be able to move the chain and miss (barely) the crank arm.

I know it doesn't look like a gap, but trust me: it's there.

Finally, it was time for the always unpleasant task of putting on the new chain, which consist of three nine-speed chains connected together. One of the sections neededed to be shortened, so after painstakingly pushing the pieces of chain through the chain tubes I installed a Dremel bit to keep it in place while I figured out how many links I'd have to remove. Standard procedure.

Before long, I had the chain on and had come to a moment of half-truth: would it shift? Still on the operating table, I pedalled the bike with my right hand and squeezed the shifter with my left. The chain moved from its prison on the 52 tooth chainring and jumped proudly into position on the legendary 60 tooth ring.

It was time for a moment of the other half of that first half-truth: would it shift in a non-workshop setting? I threw on some bike shoes and carried the bike outside.

Prior to carrying the beast up the flight of basement stairs, I had shifted the chain back to the 52 tooth ring so my test ride would start in the ring I was familiar with (that, and starting from a dead stop with a 60 tooth ring isn't ideal).

I pedalled down the empty street, a little off-gaurd as I wasn't used to seeing the metal bar and front derailleur in place just at my feet in front of me. I picked up speed and twisted the grip shifter to put myself in a higher gear. With the same hand I pushed the shifter with my thumb.

The chain moved. As I watched, it climbed from the 52 tooth ring right up to the 60. Almost immediately, it felt as though the bike was harder to pedal – but was going a lot faster.

I shifted back to the 52. I turned onto Shippan avenue and shifted back to 60. I turned right to go to West Beach and the bike felt like a rocket. Back to 52. Back up to 60. The welds held and the shifter worked perfectly. The operation was a success.

With parts from four different bicycles, I had turned the Turner Hypercycle recumbent into the Toyota Hilux from Top Gear: It was back from the brink, and I had actually made something that worked and worked better than it did before. I could just see the future episode of Storage Wars that would unearth this frame:

“What's it worth?” Barry Weiss would ask.

“Well, this isn't just any Turner Hypercycle frame. This is the Turner Hypercycle frame that once belonged to the founder of DIYBIKING.COM....”

“Wait. The founder of DIYBIKING.COM?”

“Yes. I can tell because of the signature welding style. A lot of critics at the time suggested it was sloppy but because the welds were so strong everybody tried to copy his method for years afterwards. But this is definitely the real thing.”

“I like what I'm hearing. So what's it worth?”

“I would say without hesitation that it's worth...”

(Cut to commercial)

Thanks for tuning in.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Risky Bike Surgery: Part I

So I successfully shed a good deal of weight from the recumbent in hopes it would be a little more...for lack of a better term, competitive in the upcoming Five Boro Bike Tour. I can feel the eye-rolls and see the smirks of every whippet-built man and woman riding things that are worth more than the Blue Book value of my Honda Element, but I don't care. It's fun to ride, and it is the bike that got me re-interested in cycling. It being a Turner Recumbent, I like knowing the first and the last name of the guy who hand made it when I was still sleeping under a Dukes of Hazzard bedspread. Not only that, but the kids love it. Many times I've ridden this 30-year-old wonder in places like Darien and elsewhere to a chorus of “Mom! Look at that!” and “Neat-O!” Pretty moms like it too.

However, on my first ride after the weight-shedding initiative:

In New Canaan, starting from a stop in front of Radio Shack I heard...POW! And the chain slid through the tube like an onion slithering out of an onion ring. It bunched up against the rear derailleur in maybe 1/8th of a second.

The chain had broken. Again. And I did not learn my lesson from the last time it happened as I once again did not have a chain tool with me. A visit to a nearby sports shop yielded nothing as it was closed on Sundays. I phoned a friend in town who I knew would have the crucial tool and got his voicemail.

But I wasn't far from the Metro North station, and that meant that instead of having to push the bike ten miles home I only needed to push it a little less than two.

When I finally got it home, I began to think long and hard about the recumbent's mortality. Then I stopped thinking long and hard and started thinking short and limp.

The bike just doesn't get used like the old days. I have a Dahon Matrix, which is the go-to short-range fighter/workhorse. A Bike Friday New World Tourist for long-range travel and speed. A homemade mountain bike for rough trails and bragging rights. An A-bike for...for...laughs (I guess), the Budget Supertrike for more laughs, and the DiamondSchwinn just to tie the workshop together.

I wondered if I wasn't using the recumbent as much because I felt like I had reached my limit with its limits: Six speeds isn't that many, and with the Bike Friday I feel that I can really open up the throttle and move faster. Perhaps it was time to see if I could bring the infamous dinner-plate sized 60-tooth chainring into the picture – after getting a new chain, of course. With a greater gear range I might use that bike more and it wouldn't be as prone to random breakage.

At least that's what I'm hoping. The Five Boro Bike Tour is less than two months away, and if the recumbent will live to see it's eighth one, maybe it should do it with twice as many speeds. Even if the bike ends up dying in a blaze of glory I'll know that I had given it all I had.

But giving it all I had would be a risky operation. As you can see, the bike just wasn't made to have multiple speeds. Not only is there no front derailleur, but there's no place to mount one.

I checked the Budget Supertrike to see how that front derailleur is mounted, and could plainly see that a little metal tube extending up from the bottom bracket was the way that bike rolled.

I had serious reservations about welding something onto the recumbent's bottom bracket, but I was convinced the theory was sound. So I rummaged through a bin of Saved from the Scrapheap body parts and found the top tube of a child's bike that I thought would do the job. Not only did a front derailleur I had fit on it, but the overall finish matched that of the recumbent.

I moved the bike into the operating theater, using one of my recovered trainers as a workstand.

Even though the angle on the budget supertrike's frame put the metal tube right on the bottom bracket, I found the implications of welding on that particular part of the recumbent's anatomy to be too daunting. If I were to burn a hole in that or otherwise damage it, it would probably be game over.

I decided to use an angle grinder to make the tube fit as snugly against the part of the frame that connected to the bottom bracket. When I did that, I used one of my magnets to hold the little tube in place so I could see where the front derailleur might go. It looked as though it would work, I thought.

Everything was lined up. I prepped both parts with sandpaper to give the welds something to cling to. I checked the position of the pieces about 4,200 times. Finally, there was nothing left to do but break out the surgical equipment...and the surgical mask.


Many years from now, if Storage Wars is still on the air, somebody is going to find this frame in a long-abandoned storage locker and the expert they bring it to to determine its worth will say: “This is a frame from the talented recumbent bike builder Milt Turner. It's one of his first Hypercycles made in the late seventies or early eighties.”

“What's it worth?” Barry Weiss (yeah, he'll still be alive) would ask.

“Well, it seems like some nitwit welded part of a kid's bike frame to the front. He obviously wasn't a very skilled welder or the welds would look really pretty, so this frame, which would otherwise be worth some money (cue the fake suspenseful drumroll) is worth nothing.”

Okay, Storage Wars producers of the future: the welds aren't pretty. I tried my hardest to make them so, but this was as far as I got. Because the parts of the frame are so close together it was very hard to see what I was doing because of the angles I was forced to use (until humans evolve so our eyes are on stalks, it'll be a recurring problem).

However, when I cleaned it up with a wire brush, it didn't look half bad. The untrained eye would think the bike was intentionally built that way. And the welds were strong, which was the more important thing.

Then I hit a snag, but I hope it's a small one: it seems the front derailleur I located is missing a crucial screw that would allow a shifting cable to stay in place. Do you see the hex bolt just near the 'a' in 'Blaster'? That's what needs to be replaced.

I'm going to head to some of my favorite bike stores today to see if I can replace the screw. Just in case they can't and I have to price out a whole new derailleur, I'm bringing the little piece of leftover metal that has the word 'Blaster' on it with me to make sure whatever I get will fit. Even after I do all that – and get a shifter and install a new, stronger chain – there is still no guarantee this will work.

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Alternative to the Criminalization of Walking

At quarter to six yesterday morning, I was in my shop sipping coffee when a story came on News Channel 8. A nearby Connecticut town – I forget which one – had decided to 'crack down' on people who were using shopping carts to bring their groceries home from the supermarket. Apparently the police were going to be carrying garbage bags with them so the person they had caught with the cart would still be able to bring their food home.

My first thought was: they can't use plastic bags to get their food home. Why else would they be using a cart?

The story annoyed me for other reasons. First, quite a few of these grocery store parking lots are so small a lot of people probably have to bring the carts outside of the lots to find their cars anyway. Second, and this is really the main point: a lot of people can't afford (or drive) cars or even bikes with panniers bags or trailers to bring food home. Some of them are poor and have a family to feed, hence the need for the cart.

I also wondered what other things the police officers responding to the missing carts could be doing with their time. I've never been a police officer, but after watching five seasons of The Wire I think I know that some of them may be wondering the same thing the first time they suggest to a person with 40 pounds of groceries that they need to surrender their shopping trolley.

Now I do see the point of view from the grocery store owners – carts are expensive, you know - I'm just sure there is another way to look at the vanishing cart problem. I don't work for a grocery store, but if I did I would say: “You know, I think it would help people with parking if we have small courtesy trolleys with a huge logo of our grocery store on them that works like the thing at the airport: put the money in, get a cart. Return the cart, get the money back. Pedestrians get their food home easily and our store gets mostly happy, possibly attractive people pushing portable billboards around town.”

And the person I'm saying that to would go: “Why didn't I think of that?”

I'm a very lucky person, because when I ride my bike to the grocery store the most complicated problem I face is what kind of bread from the bakery will fit in whatever panniers bag I have that day. But some people can't or won't bike to the grocery store and they can't or won't drive. They still need to eat, and if they are able to walk safely to and from the grocery store – and thus leave a parking space at the store for someone who lives far away and would actually appreciate it – we start zeroing in on 'win-win' territory. 

Until my 'courtesy cart' plan is put into place (they can even spell 'courtesy' or 'cart' with a 'k' to make it sound cuter) there are people around who do bring grocery carts home, and when they do the store runs the risk of losing out on the cost of the cart and the cart itself may not look as good in a non grocery store surrounding – to put it mildly.

To show that I wasn't completely insensitive to both unsightly carts abandoned in public places and to the grocery stores themselves, I decided to take a little bit of action. So I got the trailer I used for the Domus bike drive and fitted it to the Dahon Matrix.

I rode down the street and didn't have to go too far until I found my first candidate: a gray cart with the Shop Rite logo on the side, completely identifiable. I carefully flipped it over and lashed it to the trailer.

It was a slow ride, but the cart was well balanced and cars gave me plenty of room as I headed to the Shippan Shop Rite to reunite the cart with its peers.

Upon leaving, I headed out into the Cove neighborhood and came across something I wasn't expecting: a green shopping cart from Fairway.

Like I said, I know it has to be annoying for grocery store owners to lose their carts when people take them home, but really, it must be a testament to how great your prices are and selection is for someone to walk a cart more than a mile and a half from your market.

I lashed the Fairway cart to the trailer.

It was a slow 1.67 miles, but before long I made it to the grocery store my wife and I use the most. Being careful to follow the 'one way' signs, I arrived at my destination.

I unfastened the cart and reunited it with its peers. I also attached a note.

Immediately after I took that photo, two women approached and reached for the cart I had returned. Upon seeing the note, I introduced myself and said what I had just done. They admired the bike trailer and said they'd bring the note to the customer service desk. I have no idea if they did so or not, but they did take the very cart that was sitting on the side of the road in Cove minutes earlier into Fairway to do their shopping.

I biked home, and hoped that eventually the town that was cracking down on pedestrian shoppers would eventually wonder if there was a more positive route they could take to deal with the problem. In the meantime, if you see someone pushing a shopping cart past you as you're heading out for grocery shopping, try not to hold it against them. Remember: you're getting an extra shot at a parking space thanks to them.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)