Take It Easy

This morning, while I was listening to NPR in the shower (thank you, BlueTooth), I heard an interview with Annie Lennox.  Ms. Lennox, half of the Eurythmics, (can you hear Sweet Dreams yet?) is about to release a new ablum called Nostalgia.  Interestingly, in the course of the interview (which you can read or listen to here) Lennox made the following point, referring to having lived through an interesting time (she was born in 1954):

“[T]here’s a part of me — kind of, sometimes — wants to slow it down and go back. And the one thing you cannot do — and this is inherent, the sort of irony of the title — you cannot go back. There’s no turning back of the clock. You’ll never do that. So nostalgia is a dip into an imaginary space, really.” (Italics added.)

I engage in a lot of nostalgia here, as you know, and it has been an interesting time, and I enjoyed the interview (and the music) a lot.  But music tends to form chains for me (as you may have noticed) and her remark–you cannot go back–put me in mind of Don Henley’s line from The Boys of Summer:

Out on the road today
saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
Little voice inside my head sayin’
Don’t look back. You can never look back
(Italics added.  Again.)

And that, in turn, lead me to the Eagles’ Take it Easy (and hence the title of this post):

Well, I’m running down the road
tryin’ to loosen my load
I’ve got seven women on
my mind,
Four that wanna own me,
Two that wanna stone me,
One says she’s a friend of mine
Take It easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy
(Yes, I have added italics yet again.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve had even two women on my mind, but something in the verse spoke to me.  And then I realized that it was something trivial.

(Bicycle bell, please)

Last night, I was stressed about a lot of things.  I have obligations to about five organizations, a full-time job, adjunct teaching (at which I’m seriously out of practice), my family, and my brother is arriving for a visit tonight.

But I didn’t work on any of those things.  Instead I went down to the Bike Cave.

See, for the past couple of weeks, the cranks have been knocking on my bike.  I isolated the problem to having too narrow a bottom bracket spindle, which had in turn lead me to use spacers.  Just a little loosening up was enough to make a clunk and a wobble.  So last night I pulled out off the cranks, removed the 116mm cartridge and replaced it with a 127.5, moving the crank arms outward by a tiny amount (mainly the non-drive crankarm, since I’d put 3mm worth of spacers under the drive-side flange of the bottom bracket).

I also put a new cassette on the rear wheel and a new chain, while I was at it.

With everything snugged down nice and tight (and thanks to Wolfram Alpha for torque conversions), the bike was ready for its test flight.

Now, this bike has always had a front rack and, because it has, it has always carried a rather large front bag.

When I put the bike up on its workstand to make pulling the cranks easier, I took off the bag (since it makes the fork flop around).  When it was time to take it out for a run around the block, I didn’t bother replacing the bag.

The bike felt different.  Not better, not worse, but different.  A little more sprightly, somehow.

So I thought about that, and I have a conclusion.  The bike was telling me last night the same thing that the song chain was telling me this morning.

Lighten up while you still can
don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy

Maybe I will…

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Surreality and Commuting in Connecticut

For the third or fourth commute in a row, it’s rained heavily the night before.  Life here in middle-Connecticut (8 miles or so from the ocean) has a quality of surreality to it.  Dark, shiny streets; wet leaves everywhere (we have enormous sycamores in the back yard, and I’m thinking these days that I made an excellent bargain with my son to have him rake every Friday).

Sidenote:  two barristas talking behind me just now:

He:  “It’s so ___ dark.  When does the sun rise?”

She:  “It doesn’t.”

So, that’s what Connecticut is like these days.  Oh, hey.  I just looked out the window and noticed that the air has been replaced with water.  Weather rader looks like this:


See that “+” sign just above and right of center?  That’s me.

So, right, today I’m going to talk about fenders, and why I never take them off my bike.

Act 1.

I used to think fenders made a bike, particularly a bike with drop bars,  look stupid.  I mean, who would need fenders?  When it’s wet, you drive, amirite?

Well, that lasted a year or so into my re-born riding career.  Then, as a born-again rider, I acquired bike #2–my rain bike.  a rain bike is, traditionally, a beat-up, rusty, sacrificial unit, one designed to get wet and to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous corrosion.  But riding in the rain was per se uncomfortable, because I got a skunk stripe up my back and spray in my face. (My worst ever ride in the rain was not actually on a rain bike, but on my Ergo-equipped Bianchi road bike on the last day of the last Midwest AIDS Ride, when it poured all the way from our entrance into Illinois to our destination at the lakefront.  But that’s a story for another time.)

So I put fenders on my rain bike.  At first, clip-ons, then full fenders, and then I wondered why the hell I hadn’t done so before.  Then I was given a very nice frame–the first actually brand-new frame I’d had in 25 years–and it came with all the necessary fittings for fenders.  It had eyelets front and rear (including separate sets for rack and fenders in back), a threaded fitting on the bottom of the brake bridge, the works.  I bought some nice stainless steel fenders and installed them, and the bike looked great.  And you know what?  I no longer needed a rain bike.

From then on, fenders went on every bike.  The most challenging was a 1985 Trek 560.  Curiously, while this bike was designed for road sport/racing and lacked any front or rear eyelets, it still had threaded fittings at the brake and chainstay bridges.  So with P-clips in hand, I fit SKS P35 fenders to that Trek, and rode it in the rain.

That was the bike I was riding when I was involved in The Accident.  I was sorry to see it go.

When I replaced it with my current ride, a Velo Orange Rando, I once again had a bike designed for fenders, and since I had liked the SKS units, I put a set of those on.  Eventually, though, I decided to be more elegant, and installed some “hammered” aluminum fenders.  These have the advantage of not being too shiny (in all honesty, I prefer the flat look of anodized aluminum) and of being a bit wider than the SKS fenders, though they’re significantly more difficult to install.  After months, I’m getting close to having them just right.

Where was I?  Oh, right.  That’s the bike I’m riding this morning, presently sitting out the downpour outside, but it’s perfectly equipped to travel in it, if need be.  I hacked the fenders to use Planet Bike’s excellent and unbelievably cheap Cascadia mudflaps, and the rear fender sports a Pixeo taillight, running off my Velogical dynamo.  So I’m ready (there are two plastic grocery bags sitting next to this computer to give it a dry home in my pannier, and the rest of the pannier is stuffed with rain gear).

But fenders are for more than rain.

Act 2.

When I lived in Wisconsin, much of my riding was done on the state trail system.  The La Crosse City trails were paved, but the state system was paved with “limestone screenings.”  Limestone screenings are what’s left over when you cut limestone or pulverize it into gravel–very, very, very fine siftings.  Each spring, Wisconsin dumped tons of the stuff on the trails, and within a few months, there were these beautiful white roads stretching across the state. (When 19th-century writers talk about “white roads,” this is why.  This is how roads were paved before asphalt.)

A friend of mine who ran one of the better bike shops in the area also did a lot of riding on the trails, and he was convinced, rightfully so, I think, that fenders on those roads kept down the limestone dust that otherwise coated bicycles and their drivetrains, protecting gears, chains, and brake pivots from the ravages of those fines.  Given the wear that I saw on other bikes that I didn’t see on my own, I suspect he was correct.

Act 3.

Also in Wisconsin, a friend of mine used to point our that “what comes down is clean–what comes up is not,”  by way of justifying his own set of SKS fenders.   To put it even more succinctly, and more appropriately with respect to more urban riding, BSNYC has this to say on the subject of puddles:

See, it’s not that getting wet is a big deal. Really, it’s what you’re getting wet with.

Act 4.

If you own a car, go look at it, now.  If you don’t, find one.  They’re easy to locate.

Does it have lights?  Fenders?  Do you take them off when it isn’t raining?


Enough said.


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A funny thing happened on the way to work.


A head cold, plus I need to meet with a client, so I drive to the meeting at a local coffee shop. I wear my acid green jacket anyway, because that’s the way he agreed to recognize me. “Where’s your bike?” he asks


Dressing for work, my bike isn’t on my mind. I feel a steering wheel in my hands, pedals that move forward and back instead of around. A radio on


I see the water bottles on the counter and it comes back—not a sacrifice, but because it’s good for me, good for the world, good for my family. My car keys are heavy in my pocket but I go down to the basement


Cities are never quiet.  Quieter, but even at 6:00 I can hear the cars and trucks.  Still the only headlight I see is my own, making a visible cone in the pre-dawn mist. The roads are wet from last night’s rain, slick and shiny with autumn leaves. A rabbit darts into my path then circles back to the verge, thinking better of the venture. I imagine his heart pounding the way mine does when I hit the bottom of a hill and look up

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Richard Thompson

I don’t go to concerts much anymore.  In my youth, I saw the Grateful Dead, Randy Stonehill, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Larry Norman, Ry Cooder, Phil Keaggy, Judy Collins, the Roches, Bruce Cockburn, and a number of others.  I do not count here acts that I saw in bars or coffee houses–that list would be rather longer–but I saw quite a few good shows.

One of my favorite shows was in 1983, when Richard Thompson and his band played Tut’s in Chicago. I discovered Thompson in 1980 or so, when a friend of mine played an album for me that collected work by Thompson and his then-wife and partner, Linda, Richard and Linda Thompson:  Live More or Less.

I would still be a guitar player if I had never heard of Richard Thompson.  I would not play the way I do today, though.

In case you don’t know who Richard Thompson is, and alas, that’s all too possible, spend a moment or two with this:

And this:

This past Friday night, T and I went to a Richard Thompson concert at Hartford’s Infinity Music Hall.  Thompson came out on stage and for two hours stood there with one acoustic guitar and just blew the room away.

Lots of people start bands when they’re 18.  Not many of them start Fairport Convention.

And not many of them can still play like this.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Richard Thompson, the greatest guitar player in the world.

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A Couple of Prideful Little Things

A couple of things I’m pretty chuffed about this week–

First, I fixed a bathtub leak.  Well, not exactly the tub.  For the past year, there’s been a little leakage coming down from the bathroom into the kitchen ceiling anytime anyone takes a shower of more than a moment’s duration.  A plumber came out and charged us $300 to cut holes in two walls and tell us nothing was leaking.  He thought the problem must be water slopping out past the curtain.


T was convinced there was a problem with the seal between the tub and the tile around it that was letting water through.  Even had the plumber “seal” it (OK, this was included in the $300).  Still leaked.

Then I noticed something.  Our tub is some kind of fiberglass, which means it’s light, and it’s well-supported beneath by wooden beams.  I suspected that when it was full of water or a person, it was moving–just a little–enough to cause problems.

So one day I climbed into the shower with my clothes and glasses on and looked, and noticed that, in fact, I could see small gaps form in the grout when my weight was in the tub.  They disappeared when I got out.

Last weekend, I bought some fast-setting grout and a large storage tub of the type used for spare junk in workshops.  I put the latter into the bathtub and filled it with water and, sure enough, the gaps appeared.  I applied new grout and let the weighted tub sit overnight.

In the morning, I dumped the water out of the storage tub (yay!  I have another place to keep bike junk!) and had a shower.  No leaks.

So that was good.


This morning I had to drive, since I have to pick up my son after work.  Just for the heck of it, I checked the George-the-alleged-car’s log book.  Since March, I’ve averaged less than one gas station stop per month.  Not too bad–I’m sure I could do better (and have done) but it’s satisfying to know that the alleged car is not contributing too much to climate change.

That is all.

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I Feel Like Goin’ Back (Introducing Ann Reed)

Yesssss.  Nostalgia.

But this post is not about Neil Young.

I’ve written elsewhere about MSA TOO, so I don’t have to write here again about that, either.

Instead, I’d like to introduce you to a musician that you likely haven’t heard of.  But to do that, I do have to go back to 1978 and MSA TOO.

One day as I passed through Coffman Union, I did my usual drift through MSA TOO.  Sitting (IIRC) near the door was a rough wooden crate (these were popular in those days) and sitting on top of that crate were some local publications.   One of them caught my eye by virtue of its cover (see below:  the Internet is a truly wonderful place):

MN Products

Does it get any more countercultural than that?

Anyway, I picked it up and leafed through it, and was delighted to find that the back cover held a flexible plastic record.


Sidenote:  Back in the old days, before podcasts and YouTube, flexible records were sometimes bound into magazines like National Geographic so that you could hear a particularly stirring speech, or Guitar Player so that you could learn a nice lick or hear a demonstration of, e.g., a synthesizer.  They were usually recorded only on one side and you had to tear the plastic sheet out of the magazine, flatten it, and sit it on top of a real “licorice pizza” record to listen to it.  Because the material was soft, these recordings generally deteriorated pretty quickly, but that was fine–they served their purpose.

By this time (IIRC) I had an apartment on the West Bank, complete with stereo system, so I took my copy of Minnesota Products home (for the princely sum of about $1.50, iirc) and put it on top of a copy of The Sounds of Silence.

Most of it, I didn’t especially care for, though I would learn to over the next few weeks as I listened more.  But there was this one song.  It was one of two recordings by a duo, Ann Reed and Judy Foster, and it was called “Melinda.”  I can’t find the lyrics on line right now, but it included things like this:  “Your eyes are grey, Melinda, it’s hard to but I’ll try, your eyes are grey but sometimes seem much bluer than the sky.”  I don’t know if that’s right, but.  Anyway, all of these with a beautiful guitar accompaniment.

I fell in love with that music.

Over the next few years, as I dipped myself in folk culture, I got to hear Ann Reed live at the Coffee House Extempore (“The Extemp”), which in those days was situated on Cedar, practically across the street from my apartment (or vice-versa) and just up the street from the New Riverside Cafe.  I heard her play her Charlie Hoffman 12-string, remarking that the song “Pretty Good for a Girl” was based on a remark someone had made on hearing her recordings.

In the summer of 1981, when L and I were hanging out, we went to a Bonnie Raitt concert.  Well, not exactly, but Bonnie was playing, along with some other wonderful artists whose names escape me at the moment.  On the way out, there were tables selling all kinds of recordings–mainly by women, as I recall–and on one of the tables was Ann Reed’s album (I think her first) called Carpediem.  12″ vinyl.  I bought it immediately, took it home, and listened and listened and listened.  Absolutely magnificent.

Years passed.  L and I passed out of existence first, then I moved to Chicago, met T, got married, moved to upstate New York and then to Wisconsin.  Listened to Carpediem from time to time (and T fell in love with Ann’s songs, too). One day a friend of mine at work was complaining that he couldn’t make it to a concert for which a friend had bought him a ticket.  I asked who was playing and he said “Ann Reed.”

Wow.  What to do with one ticket?  He gave it to me, and I gave it to T, and she went to the concert and was blown away.

She brought back a cassette of Timing is Everything that included songs like “Power Tools” (aka “Power Tools are a Girl’s Best Friend”) and that demonstrated that Ann’s guitar and voice had only improved with time.  If you look at the cover, she’s got a Charlie Hoffman guitar.

Now, when we moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut, I had to give up some things, and these included my cherished LP collection.  I taped Carpediem, but the record itself went to a used record store, and what became of it, I don’t know.  But a few years ago, I discovered that it was available as a Japanese import CD.  So now, when I’m listening to one of the thousands of songs on my phone, something from that album will pop up, and remember so many things.

I highly recommend that you go get an album or two by Ann Reed.  You won’t be sitting in a sort of smelly, overstuffed chair in a big room in an old building with a mug of very organic-tasting coffee in your hand, watching a woman play killer guitar.  That’s mine, I own it.

But you will hear something you don’t hear often:  great music from a great person.

Do it today.

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Longer term with the Velogical Rim Dynamo

After I reviewed the Velogical Rim Dynamo, among others, I thought I would go back to my Shimano dynohub for future night riding.  However, one thing lead to another and I decided to give the Velogical unit a longer trial.

I’m liking it.

I made some of the changes that Velogical Engineering suggested, and, while they don’t seem to make a huge difference, things are working pretty well.

Decoupling the dynamo from the wheel has allowed me to mess around with different rims (and different tires), and that’s enjoyable.  And the Velogical has provided me plenty of light for some otherwise “scary” roads, e.g., the entirely unlit, tree-enclosed Farnam Drive, as it rises from Orange Street up toward East Rock Park in New Haven:

FarnamSo, perhaps a reconsideration of the Velogical.  It’s worthy of your consideration if you like the wheels you already have, or like the ability to change wheels without losing your lights.  And those are not insignificant factors.

Submitted for your consideration.

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