Wanna know the roads? Ride the roads!

Or…

A Modest proposal that’s good for everyone

Most people I know hate government. They hate all government of all flavors. Party affiliation doesn’t matter. People have lost faith in government for the most part. Government is fractious, even at the local level. Politicians settle scores passively aggressively and reward their cronies through the same means. Government is synonymous with gridlock and dysfunction.

Yet even though most people really hate government, few have totally lost faith in it. The optimists among us reason that as long as we have basic infrastructure and services, then government isn’t totally broken…yet. I tend to agree. As long as the streets are paved, the bridges aren’t collapsing, the drinking water is okay and lights go on, then we’re not yet ready to live in Mad-Max style anarchy. (Cops shooting people has done a lot to erode more faith in government and society, but that’s another issue entirely.)

So about those roads…

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N.M. 4 from White Rock to the Back Gate leaves a lot to be desired for cyclists.

People here in Los Alamos seem to be obsessed with roads. We like our roads here. The County of Los Alamos spends millions each year making sure that the roads are good. Wait, scratch that.

More accurately, the County of Los Alamos spends millions each year…on roads. Mostly they try to make sure the roads are good for cars and motorized transportation.

The Roads in Los Alamos are okay for the most part, but there are some real issues for non-motorized travelers. Take the sunken water meter shutoff on Diamond Drive near the entrance to North Road and Ridgeway Drive. Hit that sucker with your bike tire and you’re going down—maybe for the count. Trinity Drive in general is a hellish place for bicycles. New Mexico 501 leaves a lot to be desired, despite having been repaved recently. West Road is a fool’s gamble, particularly in low-light conditions. Ride on that pothole-pocked path of sketchiness and you’re asking to damage your wheels or your body.

Let’s not even get started about the stretch of N.M. 4 from N.M. 502 to the Back Gate. There is nothing good about that road for a bicyclist, and I believe the only reason that section of road hasn’t had more fatalities is due to it’s simple remoteness.

Get road managers out riding bikes

So how do I know about the faults in our roads? Simple. I ride my bike on them. So here’s my proposal: People who are in charge of roads and streets, or people who are in charge of getting and allocating money for roads and streets should ride bicycles.

Let me repeat that:

Every bureaucrat who is in charge of roads and streets, and every politician who is in charge of securing and allocating money for roads and streets should ride a bicycle.

And they should ride often.

Doing so would put them in touch with the roads.

Riding a bicycle allows a person to see the roads up close. The little flaws that go unnoticed at 35 miles per hour stick out like a sore thumb when you’re straddling the saddle of a bike. The potholes and imperfections that cause cyclists to swerve out into traffic become readily apparent when all of a sudden you are forced to swerve out into traffic to avoid going ass-over-teakettle onto the pavement.

Here’s Little Jimmy’s challenge to our State Representative, Stephanie Garcia Richard; and our Los Alamos County Council members: Come ride with me and other cyclists around “the Loop” one weekend, and around Los Alamos and White Rock on another pair of weekends.

After those rides, I’m betting that there might be a serious effort to do something about N.M. 4—particularly since it’s the gateway to Bandelier National Monument. The Los Alamos County Council might even realize that their Public Works Department might be placing the wrong emphasis in their street maintenance programs.

If you agree, please send email messages to the following people (sample subject and text to get started is already filled in), and let’s get started on making government less odious:

Los Alamos County Council members

Stephanie Garcia Richard

Philo Shelton, director of Los Alamos County Public Works

Tom Church, New Mexico Department of Transportation Secretary

If enough people are interested in this, we’ll schedule a ride with these folks, and maybe it will help restore some people’s faith in government. And create safer roads and streets for all bicyclists.

Now back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse

 

 

Beware the mechanic who never says no!

Just like Little Jimmy (eek! I’m referring to myself in the third person!), most bicycle mechanics out there are bicycle enthusiasts who got into the bike business to help spread the Gospel of Riding.

The Gospel of Riding is a holy tome, largely unseen and arcane, that encourages people to live the righteous life of the rider by forsaking all other pastimes for the pure bliss that comes from spending a couple of good hours spinning the pedals and the wheels of a bicycle atop the surface of a rotating Earth that spins around the Sun. There is a balance in the universe that bike riding illustrates and restores. This is why a good bike ride has the potential to place the rider in a truly Zen-like state.

1 (1)If the Buddha or Jesus had had bicycles available, it’s a pretty sure bet they would have ridden them. Find a wild-haired, darkly tanned pilgrim riding with loaded paniers on a journey of self discovery, and you will find a person who has gazed beyond the pale fabric of reality and into the realm of the divine. We mechanics routinely find these people coming into our shops for supplies, maintenance and equipment that will help them continue their quest, and when we gaze into the eyes of these sojourners, we smile and wish that everyone in the world could join their ranks. After all, who knows? It might only take just one more spin around the loop or around the park on a bicycle to avoid another spin around the Wheel of Samsara once we shed our Earthly chains at the conclusion of this lifetime.

Unfortunately, and usually innocently enough, some mechanics become false prophets in their zeal to get people riding.

I recently was approached by a young woman who had fallen victim to a misguided mechanic. It seems the mechanic—apparently in a quest to deliver uncompromising salvation—had made promises that he couldn’t deliver. In fact, he had made promises that no mechanic could ever deliver. His mechanical hubris had stepped beyond the bounds of reality, and for anyone other than a true Saint imbued with the ability to transcend the the physical realm, he had asked his unwitting customer to take a leap of faith into the abyss of certain mechanical failure.

In this case, when the customer had asked the mechanic whether he could add a rear cassette with a granny gear so large that it would propel the rider to the tops of the highest mountains without effort of any kind, his simple and naive answer was “Yes, my child! Yes!”

And when the customer asked whether this could be done without compromise to the bicycle, the misguided mechanic waved his arms in the air—fingers quivering toward the heavens—and  answered exuberantly in the affirmative, delighting the customer beyond her wildest dreams!

The promise had been made, the wheels were set in motion: The customer thought nothing of authorizing the mechanic to spend hundreds of dollars on major equipment upgrades—including the miraculous cassette that had been forged from a single piece of alloy at a cost of several hundred dollars—that would allow her to ride to the Promised Land.

“Giveth me thou bicycle and thou faith, and I shall returneth to you a chariot to the heavens,” was the mechanic’s promise.

After a few bumpy months later, the discouraged disciple found herself on the doorstep of Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse, seeking an exorcism of sorts. The promised bike beatification hadn’t taken hold, and the customer was now in possession of a bicycle that could only steer down a path of utter disappointment. The poor customer’s bicycle was uttering obscenities and blasphemies from its drive train, the headset had been so feverishly tightened that cornering was exacting penance on the bearings; the brake pads had turned themselves upside down.

Several days of meditation and repentance at Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse brought most of the carbon-fiber convert back to its formerly enlightened state, but the derailleur still seemed to be harboring a demon—despite an overhaul that had anointed it with holy greases and balms that would have quieted any other similar component. The derailleur continued to clatter and gnash. Finally, an examination of the item’s technical specifications revealed the issue: Although the capacity of the derailleur hadn’t been exceeded, though the maximum cog size had been, and the cruel silver fangs of the gargantuan cog-devil were slowly and methodically devouring the soft plastic of the derailleur’s upper guide-pulley wheel.

You see, the overzealous mechanic apparently had only considered derailleur capacity when making his modifications to the bike. But cog size must also be considered—particularly when mixing mountain bike and road bike components like the mechanic had done in his quest to make the customer happy. And even though he had noted the clatter and fuss that the component made in the stand, despite racking out the derailleur’s B-Screw to its maximum, he still passed the noisy bike on to his customer, eager to get her out on the roads for a New Age of effortless climbing. But alas, it was not to be.

The poor customer had to tithe heavily to restore the bike to its pristine condition, losing in the process the false expectations of possibly levitating up hills instead of standing on the pedals and hammering to the top in a sweat-soaked frenzy of absolution.

The moral of the story? Nothing comes without work or effort.

If you want to get better at climbing hills, go out and ride your bike more often. Don’t rely on some type of magic gear combination to do it for you. If your mechanic promises a gear ratio that seems too good to be true, it probably is. And it will probably end up being a lot more expensive in the long run.

I have had some unenlightened customers storm out of the shop after I told them matter-of-factly that I couldn’t perform some miracle on their bike that was not possible due to engineering constraints or component incompatibility.

Realize that if your mechanic tells you “no,” he’s not doing it because he’s incompetent, argumentative, or is somehow attempting to prevent you from transcending. Remember, he or she probably rides his or her bike, too, and is working just as feverishly—if not more so—to reach the same two-wheeled enlightenment as you are.

Beware the false prophets in bike shops or bike forums who promise that anything is possible with the proper adapter kit or credit limit.

Remember: Buddha says, “Enjoy every hill.”

Now back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse

 

A fundamental brake-down

Summertime is here and kids are riding bikes. Bikes give kids a sense of freedom, particularly during the long days of summer. A bike can mean the difference between staying indoors at home or meeting friends at the swimming pool. Bikes allow a kid to strike out on his or her own, go exploring, meet new friends, get an adrenaline rush, or just travel far enough away from home to lie down in the grass, look up at the sky and chill out under the warm summer sun.

Lots of kids don’t tell their parents if something is wrong with their bike unless it’s something that becomes too difficult for even a kid to ignore. What’s more, many parents don’t think about their kids’ bikes because they are diligent about having the bike serviced regularly at a local bike shop. It’s not enough just to take the bike in and turn it back over to your kid and think everything is fine.

A dangerous braking condition caused by use of improper brake pads (installed, in this case, by someone at a brick-and-mortar bike shop).

A dangerous braking condition caused by use of improper brake pads (installed, in this case, by someone at a brick-and-mortar bike shop).

I recently had a parent bring in a kid’s bike after the kid complained that it wasn’t stopping. Not being able to stop is a serious problem that should never be ignored! A quick look at the brakes revealed that the bike shop had completely missed the mark, by setting up the bike with the wrong brake pads. After a few weeks of stopping, the pads wore around the rim, creating a situation in which even the fiercest amount of force applied to the brake levers could not generate enough stopping power on the rims.

Luckily no one was hurt, and luckily the kid’s mom took her bike to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse, where attention to detail and quality bicycle repair and maintenance are standard operating procedure. We fixed the brakes and now the bike works fine.

The moral of the story is twofold: If you bring your kid’s bike in for maintenance, pay attention to how your kid is riding it for the first few rides. Listen for unusual noises, steering problems, shifting irregularities or braking issues.

A simple test is to teach your kids the ABC’s of biking:

Before every ride be sure to check

Air (Are the tires properly inflated and are the tires in good shape?)

Braking (Do the brakes stop the bike, and does the lever when pulled remain about an inch away from the handlebar when fully compressed?)

Chain and drive train (is the chain lubricated, not worn, and is the bike shifting properly?)

If your bike isn’t working properly, bring it in to Little Jimmy—before the brake pads morph into the horror show above, or before things start to go wrong. You’ll save headaches, heartbreak, and a lot of time that could be spent enjoying all that summer has to offer!

Now back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse

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Turkey Day Town Tour is Back!

We will do the 2nd Annual Turkey Day Town Tour on Thanksgiving day this year.

Riders enjoy the first Turkey Day Town Tour

The first Turkey Day Town Tour actually occurred in 2012 and it was highly successful. About 30 people went out and rode and every single person enjoyed a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream afterward, despite most saying at the beginning of the ride that they weren’t going to eat any. Turns out the ride was really fun and by the end, spirits and appetites were high! That was the point.

The weather was horrible in 2013, so the ride was canceled. We’re thinking the weather will hold this year and we’ll be able to do it again. See the image below for details on where and when to meet on Thursday, Nov. 27.

The holidays are a wonderful time. But they can be a stressful time, too. The Turkey Day Town Tour started as a way for my wife and I to get out of the house and ride our bikes instead of spending the day indoors worrying about whether the turkey would dry out in the oven. Over the years, we’ve learned that a hands-off approach and the proper cooking utensils yield a fine, juicy turkey. The bike ride allows us the opportunity to silently reflect on all the things for which we are thankful, and this year we have enough things to reflect on to cover a ride twice as long.

The inaugural Turkey Day Town Tour brought together a bunch of people who already knew each other and a bunch of people who didn’t. The sky was clear and bright and every twist and turn in the trail was greeted with a smile. We hope to have as much, if not more, fun this year, too.

We hope you’ll join us!

Back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse

Cleaning up your act

Guy walks into a bike shop, hands his bike to the mechanic and says, “I need you to tune up my bike, but when you’re done could you give me the all the dirt back? I need to bury my daughter’s hamster.”

It’s not a very funny joke, unless you happen to be the mechanic who gets a bike that actually has enough dirt on it to bury a hamster. I’m sad to say that I’ve received bikes that were filthy enough that I could have used the dirt on them to build a pump track!

I’m always amazed at how many calls I get from people who say their bike isn’t working properly and when they bring the thing in, it looks like they’re pushing a two-wheeled zombie that had just climbed out of a casket filled with soil from their favorite trail. If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your bike, then your bike is probably way overdue. Routine cleaning and maintenance go a long way toward keeping a bike in decent running condition. Not only does a dirty bike function worse on the road or on the trail, but dirt can actually lead to a premature breakdown of parts. Grit and grime sneak into cracks and crevices and slowly scourge components, contaminate crucial lubricants and mask developing problems under a veil of filth.

The best thing a bike rider can do is to take a few moments after every ride to clean up your bike. Take a wire brush and clean the top, bottom and sides of your chain as you slowly move the pedals backwards. Use a soft rag or a toothbrush to clean the pulley wheels on your rear derailleur; clean them well enough that you can read the words stamped into them or written on them in paint script. wipe excess grime off the frame, brake levers and shift levers. Use a soft, clean rag to wipe the excess dirt and dust off of the stanchions of your fork and the one on your shock. Doing so will keep grit from working its way past your wipers and into your suspension components. Never use a power washer or a high-pressure hose to clean your bike. If you do that, you run the risk of washing all the lubrication out of your bike and then you’ll be in for some real trouble.

Five minutes at the end of each ride is all it takes. You can talk about the ride with your friends as you clean. It’s a good way to remember the ride and to keep your bike in good shape.

Even if you do keep your bike in good condition, get a comprehensive tuneup at least once a year. That way you’ll know your bike is in top condition and doesn’t hold any hidden surprises that might lead to misfortune out on the road or the trails.

The pictures below show the drive train of a bike before and after Little Jimmy’s Señor Peppy tuneup. The tuneup process uncovered a couple of extremely serious issues with the customer’s bike. Luckily, everything worked out okay.

Check out Little Jimmy’s Service Page for details about our tuneups and other maintenance procedures, and remember to clean up your act after every ride!

Back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse.