Friday, 12 September 2014

THE EUROBIKE OMG

So let me first say that my good friend Birger, whom I've known since moving to Berlin, happens to have landed job as a key account manager for the Eurobike. What does that mean?  Not only that I get to hang out with Birger during the show,  but get to do so in the VIP lounge, schmoozing with execs and special guests, eating catered fingerfood and drinking cappuccinos from the automat. Not bad for also sleeping in a tent in the park and wearing the same clothes every day.

I got to see three whole days of the show, compared to the 1 that I planned and 2 that I hoped for.
You can see how excited I am to ride all the way across the country just to see the people I see everyday anyway

And the very first stand to be seen was none other than Pedal Power, our neighbors from the Kaskelstrasse back in Berlin!

The modern day penny farthing

My absolute favorite thing of the entire show was this thing: super high tech, carbon fiber, modular, customizable, disc brakes, and utterly purposeless. What does it do? I ask the Chinese college student Manning the exhibit.  You can adjust the ride position!  He explains.  Why? So that, if you get tired of one ride position,  you can have a new one!  He exclaims. Is that for fitting, like, to determine which ride position is best for your body?  No, because none of its ride positions are good for your body.  Does it fold up into a tight space?  Eh,  kind of.  But that's not really the point. So it's really just kind of...  for fun?!  Yes!  Look,  you can ride like this (he folds it from one awkward position...)  and then ride like this! (...to another awkward position). Not to mention that the pedals steer with the front wheel, adding a whole nother level of amazing/awkward-ness.

I want one.

Bamboo bikes were for the most part absent from the show One distributor of Calfee trained african bamboo frames was there, but without much to see. However, I saw a plethora of frames made of wood. Some were truly spectacular, and many I had never heard of. One even looked like it was made of cardboard tubes. What does this mean?   Here some examples:









Bamboo is CLEARLY A SUPERIOR FRAME MATERIAL so don't go and decide you'd rather have one of these beautiful, handcrafted wooden frames. Stop thinking about it. Forget I ever showed the pictures.

Ken, these next two are for you...


NASA's wheel truing stand

Now concerning cycling apparell... There was a fashion show where Shimano, Gore and the other big companies hired some dancers to sport their new cycling fashion line. Aside from padded tricots looking like adult diapers, and cycling shoes being so dangerous to walk in that the dancers refused, I'd like you all to take a look at the following apparel and tell me which you would rather be caught wearing.

PedalEd...?



Or Shimano?



Do you feel like dressing like a human, or a lighting bug? Allright, I'm also a sucker for neon stuff, after all it keeps you alive. But still. There has to be a better way.

For all you gearheads out there, this is what a wheelbuilding machine looks like.

And that, my friends, was a tiny bit of Eurobike! Obviously theres about a bazillion more things to see in person, so maybe we'll see eachother there next year. I leave you with this absolutely terrible polka band, with highly desirable shoes. The Meckenbeuren train station festival at its finest...http://youtu.be/AOlcA4KQKhU
You gotta click the link and go to youtube, this is just a preview...


Monday, 1 September 2014

Balance and the act of riding a bus.

Dearest reader,
Please don't be alarmed by the lack of chronological continuity in my posts. Nor by the lack of anything about the Eurobike itself. I promise, I was really there. I saw a bunch of amazing stuff. And I will write all about it shortly. Heres proof.


Now I'd like to share a thought that I had on my lasts days of riding, nearly a week ago. Now that I'm on a bus back to Berlin. A theme that was strong at the Eurobike itself. An idea I strongly believe in. It's the idea of balance vs. competition. Let me elaborate in the form of a short series of narratives.

Corn


The three sisters
In ancient America there was a traditional farming practice of growing beans, corn and squash at the same time in the same soil. Called the "three sisters ", these crops thrive when grown together, have staggered harvest seasons and thus provide more sustinence per acre than even modern methods. It's not, however, mechanizable and thus loses the race in today's economy.

This was the most perfect apple tree in the world.

Photography and cycling
While doing a bike trip, you have goals set from the beginning. For me it was Berlin to Friedrichshafen in 10 days or less, such that I make it to the Eurobike by The 30th or earlier. That meant 100km /day average, and at the start of my trip this seemed like a realistic goal.
But as the trip went on, I realized I had many other goals as well. I wanted to blog each day and tell of my thoughts and experiences. I wanted to absorb the countryside and better understand Germany. I wanted to use Couchsurfing and get to know some people. And, although not a conscious goal at first but one that became increasingly important, I wanted to take the time to photograph things along the way that would entertain and inspire others. To tell a visual story of my trip and include everything that you, the reader of this blog, would want to see. To capture the imagination and let the viewer experience a bit of what I did, or if their imagination is healthy, perhaps even more.
These are a lot of goals, and they all take a bit of time. 100km a day isn't too much, but when you stop every 20 minutes, for 20 minutes, to take pictures, and take an extended lunch everyday to write in a blog, then 100km can take alllllllll day long. And it did.
There was a flock of sheep on a hill in Thüringen. Tending to the sheep was a shepherd in lederhosen with big, bushy black hair. I wanted to stop, take a picture. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to interview him and share a bit of his life with you. Has he always been a shepherd? What's it like acting out an ancient career in a modern world? But I had to keep going. I didn't have any more time to stop.
At some point I'd like to do a bike trip where the deciding goal is not to ride a certain distance each day, but to search for the amazing things around us and photograph them. To tell the most complete story possible. And let the distance travelled be merely a byproduct of the search for adventure.


No photoshop here, its a picture of a big banner with a room behind it with another big banner.

A trade show full of space explorers
The Eurobike is filled with space aged technology and colorful logos. The bicycles look like space ships. The style seems to vary between Marvin the Martian and Darth Vader. The clothes are covered in flashy logos and bright colors. The bikess are painted like warships from other planets.
All of this comes from a single culture; racing.  Racing: where your shirt is a billboard. Where your bike is a spectacle. Where it's about who's looking at you, not what you are looking at. Where the one and only goal is being fast. Coming in first.
What if you have multiple goals? What if your success is measured by multiple factors, not just one?
Imagine a professional cyclist who stops in the middle of a race to whip out his cell phone and take a picture. What the hell are you doing?  His manager would exclaim. I'm giving my fans a view from my perspective, so they can see what is like to be in a professional race! He would say. After all,  I'm pretty far ahead,  it doesn't really matter if I drop from 15th to 25th place. What matters is that my fans get a well rounded experience!
That wouldn't go over too well.
Now imagine someone doing a trip across the country. As you ride together, you see the most amazing waterfall with a rainbow. Hey,  let's stop and appreciate this!  You say. No way!  He says. I need to keep up my time!  Yesterday I finished in 6 hours and 35 min,  Today I'm trying to cut that down to 6 hours and 20 min.
What a moron!



you can see my anguish, having to experience Münchberg through a window

10 hours of riding the bus...
...seemed like an eternity, and yet 7 days of cycling flew by like no time at all. Why? Because the cycling was self gratifying. Every moment was both exercise, fresh air, adventure and meditation. The 7 days spent cycling were just that: 7 days of cycling.
Getting to the Eurobike was merely a byproduct of 7 days of cycling.
Comparing that to 10 hours of riding the bus. It seemed like an eternity. I hate riding the bus. There were no redeeming qualities to my bus ride back other than that it got me home.
So which took longer,  getting there,  or getting back?  Getting back took 10 hours. Getting there.. Well, I outsourced getting there. I externalized the cost. Getting there took no time at all. By virtue of cycling for so many other reasons, by the time I left I was ALREADY THERE.

Not the quickest way to travel, but entertains children at the same time. Yes, real steam power.

Balance and the act of riding a bicycle
To cycle you must have balance. Sometimes it requires better planning, not catering to impatience but rewarding foresight. Sometimes it is less comfortable, and constantly demands your performance and concentration. However, I firmly believe in a world where every action we undertake has multiple purposes. Where there is no such thing as a lost time or wasted resources. Where every investment we make is in itself gratifying, regardless of its success. Where our net productivity as people is enormously high, albeit not automatable.
This is all possible but not by running the race and competing. It is possible only by using balance.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Days 5,6,7: Nürnburg to Meckenbeuren

I dunno anymore. The days have all blended together. Cows. Farms. Apples. Towns. So let me just point out some highlights. In no particular order.

Nördlingen, the town that inspired Dr Seuss. Built in the days before the plumb bob. No, this is not lense distortion. That facade is truly crooked. And pink. Nördlingen is built in a nearly perfect circle. The town wall is still intact, as if to protect from the invading Normans, or Francs, or Huns, or whoever attacked this place back then. The "Altstadt" ie. historic district consists of nearly the entire town and is licked clean in every corner. I learned later that the town was built in a meteor crater which creates it's own weather system,  making Nördlingen quite literally a sunny, round little paradise.

I stopped at a cafe to charge my phone and have some breakfast. They had a big shiny roasting machine and it smelled like something from my childhood. The staff were all mentally handicapped. A young guy with a crooked smile took my order very slowly. A girl with down's syndrome brought out my coffee and bagel and placed them from the tray to the table with such explicit care and concentration that I would have trusted her to handle nuclear fuel.

Another highlight: This big shiney brewing kettle at the center of Öttingen. Öttinger is a beer widely available in Germany. Not a Favorite; one of those beers you assume someone else must like. And yet it has supported this entire town for many generations.

Eating at McDonald's. I do this about once a year to remind myself of how disgusting it is. I suppose you can get people to buy just about anything if it smells right.

This guy's hat.

This politically incorrect espresso.

This beekeeper's house

Hanging out with Birger's brother.


This largest pile of poo I have ever seen.

These particularly colorful wildflowers.

Eating this apple.

And finally, discovering my roommate sitting on a porch on the wrong side of the country. I have arrived. And 3 days early!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Day 4: Brennersgrün to Nürnberg, and the art of fitting in.

Later realizing I had stashed a titanium spork in my stuff: being clever doesn't help if you forget how clever you are. 


Nobody knows where Brennersgrün is. I can't remember either. But my day started with an epic downhill. 30 km of blissful, foggy, early morning downhill, through winding roads, past tiny villages of just a handful of houses. Vistas despite the fog, overlooking the countryside of mixed farms and forest, ending in a quaint castle town called Kronach.

It rained while I sat in a cafe, charging my phone, nursing a cappuccino. It rained again while I sat in a restaurant eating a big schnitzel.

It was at this time I started wondering if I could finish the trip. My knees have been a problem for a long time, preventing me from doing long cycling trips, racing etc. It's one of those problems I've never found a real solution for, never have come to terms with or accepted, and frequently just pretend doesn't exist. In fact,  thinking I could do a trip like this was kind of unrealistic, but giving up on such trips alltogether seemed even less realistic.
What's the problem exactly?  I don't know,  but it has to do with tendons more than Cartilage, with muscles more than bones, is worse in my left than my right, and hurts like none other. Furthermore it's worse in the morning before I'm warm, and more bearable as the day goes on and my legs warm up. So despite the beauty of a 30km downhill, it wasn't the best for my knees.  And not forgetting of course that riding a fixed gear downhill is not passive.

Nonetheless, off we go! Mind over matter! Youthful enthusiasm over wisdom! And then this thing:


Take this out of context. This is dead guy nailed to a board. Now imagine riding through a countryside where every town has a fiberglass corpse hanging from a tree. Disturbing.


Nevertheless, beautiful. And it rained. The rain elegantly solved a simple dilemma I had at the start of the trip. My rain gear is heavy and large. I wasn't sure if was worth bringing. In the end, one day of light, refreshing rain was perfect to justify lugging it around. Thank you, god of rain.

I had a couchsurfing host available in Nürnburg. Due to my long lunch break and slow progress, I needed to hurry and wouldn't arrive until midnight. Nevertheless,  this sunset was just too perfect. I had to stop and do a quick photoshoot.


Sometimes, while cycling, you reach a zone. A zone where your legs are warm, you are strong, and riding fast is merely a decision, like stepping on the gas. You tell your legs go!  and you just take off. You can feel the power, it feels like it's coming from somewhere else. You can just ride really really fast.  I had 20 km to go and went into warp speed.

While packing for my trip, a spur of the moment decision led me to leave a couple articles of functional clothing behind and instead pack a pair of nice pants and button up shirt.*

Arriving in Nürnberg my host had already begun his Friday evening. I met him not at his home but a party around the corner.  I was invited inside. There I stood in a top floor apartment full of young professionals. I hadn't showered in two days and had just rode 130km in the rain. I was dripping wet, sweaty, exhausted, stank of sweat and wanted desperately to fit in.

My host was named Temi. He was at least 6 ft tall and from Nigeria. Temi graciously introduced me to his friends, and poured me a drink. The party was the perfect mix of people who all knew just enough about eachother to open up and talk. I liked it,  but felt awkward standing there in plastic pants and a puddle of my own rain. I then remembered the change of clothes, stashed safely at the bottom of my bag,  for just this type of situation. As I changed clothes quickly in the bathroom, and emerged a young professional like the others, a sense of bliss overcame me. A tall African guy danced wildly with a short British girl. I struck up a conversation with an Irish guy who had lived in Pennsylvania and together we flirted with the Spanish girls. I joined a Russian girl (who lived the past years in China), in an impromptu dance lesson from another American. We cut rug.

As we all left to continue at a nightclub, I told Temi; my friend,  I'm exhausted and need to sleep. Temi pressed his keys into my hand. My house is open, he said. Sleep in whichever bed you like. Eat anything you like. I call you when I come home,  you let me in,  Ok?

Amazing.


*shameless foreshadowing

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Day 3: through Jena to somewhere Bayern.



So first a long day (160km) then a short day (70km) and now a nearly exactly average day (95km) puts my average above 100km/day. Sweet!
(Anselm I know you do 100km before breakfast but, yknow, baby steps, right?)


But does a Thüringer bratwurst taste better in Thüringen? Damn right it does. I was determined to try this and asked at 5 consecutive towns until I found one with a bratwurst stand.  The old lady Manning* the stand had clearly been doing it for a while: every truck that drove by honked and she waved. I told her I had cycled all the way from Berlin to have a Thüringer bratwurst in its natural habitat. She was unsurprised. She handed me the bun with a wurst sticking the wrong way out the sides**. It was delicious.
Afterwards I craved more,  and returned to the order window. I asked what the other type of sausage was on the grill.  A Currywurst! She said. So I'll have a Berliner Currywurst to compare to the Thüringer bratwurst!  I ordered. 
ITS A THÜRINGER CURRYWURST! She corrected. And that was my lesson for the day: not all Currywurst comes from Berlin.
She also later filled my water bottle from a plastic bucket of water sitting on the floor of the booth . It tasted like garden hose and was full of bread crumbs, but I drank it. I assume it was the same water used to fill the coffee machine.


The end of my day brought on an epic uphill, with nearly a vertical kilometer uninterrupted. The conclusion? I love climbing, but need more gears. I'm riding fixed 48-18 with 15 kilos of stuff: not a heavy load but on 12% uphill its hard on the knees. A 3-speed fixed for touring? That would be sweet. An uphill gear, a downhill gear, and a gear for the flats. What else do you need? A gear for riding upside down? Yet for some reason I'm skeptical of Sturmey Archer's quality...


Thüringen is pretty sweet! I frequently found myself daydreaming of the Red River Gorge Kentucky, my home, because the landscape is so similar. No more flat, boring, Brandenburg. Hello rolling hills and vistas!
There was even an (obviously) haunted hause, offset from the side of the road, 3 stories and symmetrical but for a large chimney on one side. There it had some conservative ornamental woodwork, slowly decaying, and every window was broken. The entire building was clad in mute grey slate tiles, the same as the slate comprising some of the cliffs in the area. Im sure it was an orphanage in the 19th century, and after the war an Institute where Russian doctors conducted experiments in resuming the dead. Ever since not a soul has dared to enter. But alas, the spirits also drained my battery and thus no photo. That one will have to remain left to the imagination.


At the top of the hill was an entire slate clad town. The tile work was quite intricate, with visages of local fauna Ornamenting doorways. Very monotone. Very intricate. Some were in perfect,  new looking condition. Others were obandoned with large sections of slate missing to expose hand hewn, decaying wood. Clearly a tradition that spanned many generations. And then right smack in the middle,  a hair salon.

I camped in the central park in a town of 25 houses and no stores, the name of which I already forgot. An elderly dog walking couple*** just laughed when I asked if it would be bothersome for me to do so.
Tomorrow morning? Epic downhill. Oh yea.
Dan
*can and old lady man something? Wouldnt she be old ladying it?
**it took me years to figure out that Germans consider a bun merely a way of holding a sausage.  They are not intended to be eaten together.
***the couple was elderly. The dog I dunno.

About the Bike...


So it should come as no surprise that this trip is not just for me to get some fresh air, but the bike itself was also inspiration to take a long tour. (bavarian people's funny accent would also have been a reason, had I known.)
The bike has as many plant based parts as I could find, and is set up quite nicely for randonneuring (ie. multi day road riding, light touring). The frame is an Ozon Rafa (same as is made in our 3-day workshop, tiger bamboo), with CB Italia Sanremo rims (maple), Velospring Pur grips (walnut) and a Contec front fender, mounted on the back (laminated bamboo). The rest of the parts are metal (eeeeeeew!) so obviously not worthy of mention.


THE FRAME
The RAFA has a nicely relaxed ride position, good for long distances, with adequate foot-pannier clearance due to the 420mm chainstays. The lateral stiffness is good, despite weighing only 1.7 kilos, though for more than my minimal amount of stuff a larger bamboo would be necessary. I don't need to plug our frames, everybody already knows that the're amazing, but this thing really does ride SUPER SMOOTH, which also launches us into our next topic;


THE WHEELS
I admit, until now I was a tubular tire virgin. The Sanremos from CB Italia are, and have been for almost 70 years, only available for tubular tires, so thank jebus Conti tubular Gatorskins are easy to find. I definitely don't feel like getting a flat any time soon.
Heres the thing. Sometimes technology reaches a pinnacle, which is unfortunately coupled with a significant drawback, and due to demand and marketing the product with this technological pinnacle+drawback gets left behind, forgotten in favor of a better balanced product that has neither drawback nor pinnacle. Like cashmere. Anyone who has had a cashmere cycling jersey will never be satisfeid with anything synthetic ever again. It is superlight, supercomfy, never stinky, warm when wet, and lasts for years and years and years... Until that one, sad sad day when your cashmere ends up going through the washing machine and comes out looking like it was made for a newborn baby. The owner, in his anguish, will replace his cashmere with a much more affordable synthetic, so that he must never again experience such pain nor joy.
11 bar tubulars and wooden rims: another such story. omg these ride sweet. 11 bar (actually they go to 12) means obviously, SUPER FAST, yet the sweet, suppleness of the wood rims also means SUPER SMOOTH. I have never, ever, had such amazing ride quality. I'm sure nowadays there are some metal-clincher combos that come close, but don't forget, I'm riding on technology from 1948. Can I say that again? These wheels have been the same since your great grandfather was competitive. And the ride quality exceeds most options on the market today. THAT'S AMAZING. Obviously though, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I don't get a flat.
A bit of foreshadowing, we're working together with CB Italia on a wood+composite rim that should combine the benefits of wood and eliminate the drawbacks. More on that to come...


THE GRIPS
I met the guys from Velospring at the Velo Berlin. They sent me some grips to test, and heres the deal. These things have the most beautiful and comfortable shape of any ergo grips I've tried so far. They are truly beautiful and comfortable.
Wood also has particular properties when it comes to sweat. While rubber or synthetic feels grippy at first, but gets slimy and slippery as soon as your palms sweat a bit, wood is the exact opposite. At first they feel super smooth, perhaps too smooth, but as soon as some moisture appears the pores of the wood open up, absorbing the menacing humidity and the grips become grippier. Not bad!
In my opinion the Velospring products have one downside; the mounting mechanism. They have a funky elastomer mechanism that uses friction to attach to the inside of your handlebar. This limits the available handlebar options (since the inside diameter is critical) and is kind of a pain to install. Once they're on there though, they're nice and secure and give a perfectly clean outside surface, with no clamp or rows of screws. Velospring derives its name from their sister product, the "Comfort" model, which has a torsion spring inside the handlebar allowing the grips to rotate and absorb vibration. Super comfy, but only for those who like a wide handlebar, since the spring takes so much space inside the handlebar that the smallest possible width is still darn wide.
The "Pur" model, that I used, has no torsion spring and allows for a short handlebar. They still spring a bit though due to the compressed elastomer holding them to the handlebar. So in the end: awesome product, but let an expert install them!


THE FENDER
It hasn't rained yet, so I don't have much to say about the fender. I'll be honest too, I'd rather have a set of wooden fenders with compound curvature (bent in both directions), since they both deflect water better, and fit better inside caliper brakes. I was prevented from using the flat, wide Contec fender set correctly (had to put the front one on the back and leave the back one at home) since they didn't fit through my brakes.

CONCLUSION
So to wrap it up, this bike is awesome! I just hope my knees stand up to the hills down here. I think maybe I'm old enough now for a multispeed hub, right? Next time I'll have a granny gear.
Dan