Saturday, July 10, 2010

Trial by Fire

I commuted to work again Thursday and Friday. Thursday wasn't forecast for rain, but rain it did, on me, and more frighteningly, on my computer, my phone and my wallet. Friday my pedal fell off.

So, as you might have guessed, I've committed to commuting to work. Mrs. Prop forbad me from using the old bike and as I insisted on riding she acquiesced to the purchase of a new one.

I found a dealer having a sale, and a Giant Sedona (Aluminum) on sale. I haggled a bit and got it with the fenders and rack thrown in for under $350, a steal. I paid for it Tuesday, he put the parts on and I picked it up on Wednesday.

I tried several different arrangements, but I ended up carrying my stuff in an Army ruck sack bungeed to the top of the rack. I carry: change of clothes, towel (yes, I know where mine is), wash up stuff, shoes; file folders and my laptop (in a lightly padded sleeve, in the ruck). I guess-timate it weighs about 15-20lbs.

I also purchased a set of front and rear lights (little led $15 cheapy set) and a bell.

Getting back to my trial, my test, my odyssey. On Thursday I awoke to overcast skies. That was expected. There were drops of rain on the house windows, but the pavement was dry.

As I rode there were sprinkles, smatterings really. Mostly I got wet when the trees dripped on my or I hit a low hanging branch, until I was almost within sight of work. I have to cross the Illinois Tollway on a high bridge and I was on the far side when the sky opened up. I pedaled as hard as I could, up the hill, down, onto and around half the campus of work, across the street and into my building. I was dripping.

As soon as I got to my cubicle I unpacked my laptop, dry. I remembered my phone, hanging in its open holster on my belt. Dry. Apparently it had been in my lee at the small of my back and though my shirt, shorts, socks and shoes were soaked, everything in my bag was dry.

Ok, so I was planning on wearing the same shorts home. I called Mrs. Prop, told her I was ok, and asked her to bring a pair of shorts. I washed up and changed. No one at work had any idea I hadn't driven in.

By the end of work my shorts were as dry as moist, maybe damp (whichever you consider drier) and more importantly they were cool. I decided to put them on and enjoy the free air conditioning, as the day had turned sunny and hot (upper 80s). The trip home was uneventful.

Half way in on Friday my left heel started touching something. I looked down to see that I was brushing the frame. That was strange since I hadn't touched it the day before. When I reached the campus of work the pedal felt funny underfoot. I figured it must be loose, but I couldn't tighten it until I rode another five minutes and got to my desk.

When I got in and pulled out the crescent wrench the pedal flat just spun. The threads were stripped.

I called the shop and they said they would replace the crank, but I would have to leave it all night. My wife and any other rides weren't available so I would have to ride home, but since the crank was going to be replaced anyway I couldn't damage it anymore. I was still under warrantee (I should hope so after only two days).

The pedal was still hanging on, by a thread. Before I had gotten off campus it was so loose that I set the bike down and tried to shim the thing with duct tape. The threads just tore up the tape, but it did seem to catch the last remaining crank threads at the very limit of the pedal threads. I thought it just might hold.

I was wrong.

I pedaled out the gate and the pedal fell off. I picked it up, walked the bike up the hill over the Tollway and coasted down the other side.

The route is 9 miles, but I had found a new leg to it. I had had to travel about half a mile on St. Mary's Road, notorious for killing cyclists (no actually, I have heard that several cyclists have died on that stretch of road). I wanted to avoid that if I could so I found a leg of the Des Plaines River Trail that crosses Oak Spring Road. All I would have to do is take a dogleg of about a half block on St. Mary's to get from Atkinson Road (just off campus) to Oak Spring.

It worked like a dream (given that I only had one pedal). The new route is quiet, cool and scenic.

I managed to pedal on the left side by pushing on the crank with the toe of my shoe. I was as gentle as I could be on the right side.

Before I got to Milwaukee my left shoelace got caught on my crank. It gave me an idea. I stopped and tried to tie my shoe to the hole in the crank. I couldn’t get my shoe back on and I realized it would twist and tighten as I pedaled. In two turns I would cut off all circulation to my foot. I untied it.

When I got to Milwaukee I stopped in to a gas station to ask for duct tape. I figured that I could tape the pedal back on. It wouldn't spin that way, but I'd be able to get a better purchase to push against.

They didn't have any; back on the trail again.

At Butterfield I asked in at another gas station. "Duck what?" the man said. He didn’t have any.
After that I met a Comcast guy putting in cable from his truck parked on the trail. At first I cursed under my breath, until I realized he might be able to help me. I asked for duct tape, he didn't have any. He did have tons of cable ties and was very willing to help once he found out my predicament. We put several on to keep the pedal on and off I went.

It didn't work. It was actually worse. I had gotten into a rhythm and was able to rotate my foot on the end of the crank, but with the pedal on there I had to lift my foot off at each turn. It was like holding my foot up for miles. Not only that, but a few turns after I put them on, the cable ties began to stretch and loosen.

By the time I reached Mundelein the cable ties had broken altogether and the pedal fell off. I was grateful at that point.

I pedaled the last of the way home. It took me 1.5 hours, only 40 minutes more than usual and on Friday I stopped several time. Not too bad, and it averaged to 6 mph, or 10 minute miles. That's about 50% faster than walking would have been, and I could never have been able to run that far at that pace.

Still, I made it home too late to take the bike in. I'll take it in today, but I'm undaunted. I will persevere (though Mrs. Prop doesn't want me to or is dubious at best). How bad could it get? It can only get better, right?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Touch of Reality - Bike Commuting

I rode my bike to work this last Wednesday. I rode it home too, that was the hard part.

You see, when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup I got kind of in the mood to skate. I had also just started an "exercise program" called 10K-A-Day that challenges you to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. I hate running so I figured in-line skating would be a good way to get my walking type exercise. Then as I was researching that I got the itch that I've had nagging me for over 10 years to get a new bike.

I discovered that I'm only (ha, only) 9 miles from work, AND there is a Bike Trail most of the way. Perfect. My commute would only go from 25 minutes to 47 minutes.

I had ridden to work before, back in the mid 90s when I worked for Motorola. Back then I was only 3 miles from work and it was actually faster to ride because I didn't have to find a parking spot.

There were two real problems with my commuting now: there is no shower at work (I sweat like a pig doing ANY activity); and my bike.

I bought my bike in 1990 in Georgia before I got married. I paid $99.99 back then. There are actually parts falling off of it now. It's a department store bike so no bike shop will touch it, to fix or upgrade. There is no rack, there are no lights.

I hemmed and hawed and pined over a new bike. I took my bike to work and tried the route from work out 15 minutes and back. It's a good route, but the bike didn't like it too much.

Finally, I decided that I needed to just do it. If my bike fell apart that would be all the more reason to get a new bike. I packed my stuff in a backpack bought some lights and set off. The ride in was pretty good, but on the way home the problems really made themselves known.

The rear tire seemed to get flatter and flatter. The bike started making even more noise than it usually did. I mean, not the usual rattle of the chain, which can never seem to find the gear, I mean a sort of moaning, groaning, struggling sound. The kind of sound that a dying animal would make if it were surrounded by its friends and family, but didn't want to worry them, but also couldn't keep all the pain in; that kind of sound.

It felt like the whole trip was up hill, and it took a good hour to get home, while the trip to work only took 47 minutes (as advertized on my GPS).

At this point I think Ole Blue has had it with commuting. There is a very good chance that it could collapse on the next trip, and by collapse I mean I wouldn't be surprised if the frame itself folded.

So now I'm wondering if I'll get another chance. We need a new computer, we have to pay off our home improvements, we have to pay for a bumper we scratched in a parking lot…

I need a beefy hybrid because of the roughness of the streets and the bike path, but I don't need (or want) a full on mountain bike. A new bike seems a long way off. I've looked into hand me downs, eBay, and Craig's List. They just aren't available now.

It was a good idea though. The environment, my health, traffic all would have improved. It was a good idea.