Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I'm in recovery mode.  I pulled another 30+ hr. day yesterday between work and home.  You'd think I'd learn not to do that...or at least do it less often.  Old dog, new tricks...isn't there a saying about that?

The whole thing started when I woke up at my away-from-home terminal Sunday at around 4 pm and packed to come home.  This was followed by a twelve hour train ride in the dark with all the normal frustrations and dilemmas of railroading.  After my usual hour-long commute, it was full daylight and the second or third wind was kicking in.  Also by that time, the real world was up and around so I decided to just roll with it and not bother going to sleep all.  I know I'm not on-call Monday night and I've got stuff to do.

It always goes the same way and I know it's going to hurt before it's over but I don't want to be asleep when I'm home all the time either.  All work and no play...
That one decision led to a bike ride, assorted comings and goings, my son's jazz concert and a dose of Red Cat.  Let's just say the lights went out really, really fast once I hit the sheets.

But anyway, speaking of riding...My faithful road bike is at the shop getting a once-over by people who actually know what they're doing (unlike me).  I'm at a loss to determine the cause of a nasty front-end shake that has made an appearance on my Trek a little too frequently of late.  I pretend that I have a small amount of bicycle knowledge and I can sometimes baloney my way around the average technical conversation if I'm lucky or if the other person is an idiot but I'm out of my league with this one.  I've done all I can (which isn't much) and so I must defer to the experts.

Here's the scenario:  For reasons unknown, my 2.1 has decided that somewhere around 38 mph is damn-all fast enough and to remind me of that arbitrary speed limit, it suddenly goes into that above-mentioned wobble.  Just as I pedal out and start letting gravity do the work, I can feel it coming now that I'm expecting it. The bars get twitchy, the road feels like greased marbles and my fingers sneak out toward the brake levers without conscious thought.

Then the fun starts.  There's a moment of small vibration and then instantly, I can't steer anymore.  A few too many instances of practice have taught me that the only way to break the shimmies is to snap on a little rear brake (a trick I learned from a Harley Sportster way back when) and drag off some speed until things settle down.  If I'm quick enough, the wheel starts tracking in a straight line just as the adrenaline rush hits but slightly before the full blown panic attack.  I might expect it but I'm never really ready for it.  The whole thing is more than a little disconcerting.

An uncontrollable shudder that threatens to toss me over the bars at high speed is a bit more thrill than I typically look for these days.  Half killing yourself for the fun of it is for younger men.  Flinging my fragile self through space toward the inevitable crash landing just doesn't do it for me anymore.  Especially when I'm usually clad in nothing but cheap bike shorts with all the padding in the wrong place for this event, a flimsy spandex jersey that will only melt itself into the abrasions from the friction, fingerless gloves that will likewise merely burn into my palms on touchdown and a plastic helmet that won't even save my ears.  When I ride the SuperGlide at highway speed, I wear leathers and heavy denim. What does that say about my intelligence while riding a bicycle? Hmmm....
I'm absolutely certain that my half-century-old hide is an extremely poor defence against asphalt zooming by at 40 mph and therefore I make every effort not to land my pink skin on that rapidly moving surface. 

Thinking about it, I came up with a formula to quickly deduce the outcome of contact between human and highway:

(Skin area / Highway surface) + (Impact force / Time-of-flight) = (Hours of recovery + Unfinished ride) X (Rehabilitation / Time + Speed).

This can be further abbreviated as

THIS:  (S/H)+(I/T)=(H+U)(R/T+S). 

Laymen and experts alike, if they've ever ventured off the porch and out on the blacktop, know the product of this equation by it's scientific name:
Road Rash.

Road Rash is an injury that by itself is bad enough since it normally requires scrubbing dirt out of the freshly shredded wound with a stiff brush and much gritting of teeth.  Tweezers are sometimes involved for the fine stuff.  Hydrogen Peroxide, alcohol or other (very necessary) disinfectants add to the entertainment value.  Infection is almost a given unless you take better care of skin leaks than I usually do.  Bouts of artistic profanity are the norm during treatment and again later when the bandages stick and the surgical tape rips any remaining body hair out by the roots.

These unpleasant circumstances can be and often are accompanied by concussions, fractures, sutures, a tetanus booster, sizable investments in bike repairs and the occasional hospital stay.  It's even less attractive to me now that it takes twice as long to heal and hurts four times as much.  There's just never been much to recommend it as far as I can tell.

Even when I had dirt bikes that ran on fossil fuel instead of leg power and contracted the dreaded rash much more often, I never really got used to the raw nerve endings.  At one point I, was actually pretty good at removing the gravel, broken glass, dirt and ground-in clothing fibers from whatever was left of the skin but my interest in self-mutilation has faded some over the years.  Nope, don't want or need any new scars over the old ones and a wheel-wobble-of-death is a good way to collect some.  Hence, a visit to the guys with the fancy tools was in order.  I'll probably live longer.

In the interim, I took my mountain bike out for a little romp in the woods and back roads yesterday and quite frankly, got my ass handed to me.  Note to self:  quit being a roadie wannabe and go back out to play in the mud more often.  Everything hurts this morning from horsing around with the heavier bike but I've re-discovered that riding off-pavement is still a ball.  The mileage doesn't look like much but my shoulders are screaming discontent and my lungs are burning so it was a good day.  Without my old riding pal Doc around, I might bleed less but I still manage to have a good time.  Old dog...old tricks.

Which leads me back to recovery...I'm sort of taking it easy today while a line of drizzly showers pass through.  Letting the aches subside a little, catching up on the Wayward Home, odds and ends around the house, you know the drill.  The crummy weather is supposed to clear out tonight and leave near-perfect conditions tomorrow.  Could be a road day to test the 2.1 for shimmies.  I'm thinking it'll likely take at least 70 or 80 miles to do a complete evaluation.

You'd think I'd learn...


Tim Joe said...

Good One, Wayward. I'm curious to know the diagnosis on that shimmy. Rule of thumb from my motorcycle days was "trouble with the front end starts in the back end." I like to ride single track my own self. Right now my little Mongoose Alta needs serious rear wheel help. But soon, man, soon. Keep us posted on the details.

Tim Joe said...

And oh yeah, "Road Rash" sounds like something you need lotion for. One time out in East Texas I somehow picked myself up from the asphalt and my jacket and jeans were smoking. Road rash just doesn't say enough until you've had it. Your description did a very good job. I like how the odd pieces of foreign objects keep popping up weeks later.

Wayward said...

Well T.J., with new tools in hand, you should get after the 'goose, fix her up and go play in the dirt!

The guys at my LBS found several minor things that might add up to a wobble but no real 'smoking gun'. A slightly loose quick-release, a very slightly out-of-round tire, a little tweak of my riding position...nothing bent or broken. Test ride in the morning...if I don't get killed, I'll fill ya in.