Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wheelbuilding class - October 8, but register now!

NOTE: The OCT 8 Class is FULL!! Please let me know if you want to be on a waiting list for this class or another class later in October.

The wheelbuilding class has been requested by a handful of customers, so let's have one on October 8. Building and riding your own wheels can be a satisfying experience on its own, provides a valuable home-mechanic skill (truing), and usually results in excellent quality wheels.


I will hold the class Saturday, October 8, 8am-Noon. The registration fee is $60, which is required to reserve your spot. We will provide a workspace equipped with a truing stand and spoke wrench for you to use during the class. Most people are able to build one wheel during the class, but others try to build a pair of wheels. You can supply your own rim(s), hub(s), and/or spokes, or you can get those items from HC for a discounted price with class registration. If you don't know which wheel components suit your needs, tastes, and budget, we will help with that, too. Space is limited, so call 612-727-2565 or stop in to register and discuss options for your new wheels.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bicycle Consultation Services Offered Here!

Just kidding, I think.

We at HC only make money when customers spend money at the shop. Actually, it's not that simple. As a brick-and-mortar shop, we have to pay rent for our physical presence and have tools and staff and inventory, not to mention insurance, on-hand to take care of problems, answer questions, give good advice, etc, on demand, whenever a customer or potential customer walks through the door. These things cost money even when we're not working on a paid project. So maybe it's more accurate to say that we only make money when we've already paid our expenses and customers spend more money at the shop. Don't take this as a complaining: I love my job, and I certainly am not in it for the money (I take home a low-ish income, but have a modest lifestyle, so it seems to work). Based on my talks with friends, I feel lucky to have a job that I love, while so many are seemingly tormented by their daily grind.

There's a famous bicycle frame-builder, who is also reputed to be a curmudgeon, named Bruce Gordon. You might be able to imagine the work-life of an upper-echelon frame-builder like Bruce. A customer calls out of the blue to discuss a new frame order. The builder drops whatever he's working on to talk to the customer, perhaps for hours, patiently answering all the good questions and the stupid questions and assuaging serious and petty concerns. If the builder is lucky, the customer has credit card in-hand and makes a deposit on the spot. Done! The frame will be be built in 16 months! Two days later, the customer calls again to discuss the feasibility of using some vintage water-bottle cage braze-on he discovered on some photo on the internet. With a 16 month wait, the frame-builder has a lot of projects to work on, and there is ample time for the customer to ruminate on trivialities, and change his mind 95 times even about the basic genre of the bike! NOW is not the time to spend an hour on the phone talking about ANY aspect of the project that isn't due for more than a year. I used Bruce Gordon as an example in this case because of a term attributed to him, which succinctly sums up these customers and these conversations: time toilets.

I'm sure every profession has its own version of the time toilet: the little things that take a lot of time, but serve no productive purpose. My time toilets usually involve what I would consider a "consultation", where I provide a great deal of technical information and real-world expertise that helps the customer make an informed decision about, say, an expensive potential bicycle purchase, but the customer ultimately isn't serious, or buys elsewhere. I offer this consultation free of charge, in the belief that the customer is acting with the good faith intention of actually buying a bicycle. I remember one guy called me many times a few years ago, in regard to some fairly expensive bike I was selling. He was obviously a neurotic wreck about every detail of the purchase, and I spent many hours tying up the line talking to the guy, helping him dial in all the details and sooth his demons. Weeks later, he called me to victoriously announce that he'd purchased the same bike elsewhere for slightly less than my asking price, but he thanked me profusely for all the good info I gave him and pledged to buy some fenders from me in the future. That conversation ended abruptly, and he never did order the fenders. That was a somewhat extreme case, but illustrative in the sense that I've started to observe that the amount of time spent in consultation is inversely proportional to the likelihood that the person will actually buy the bicycle. I'm even starting to suspect that the long consultations are actually more a therapy session than a process of making a knowledgeable purchase of a bicycle.

I recently had the good fortune to work with an attorney on a matter unrelated to HC business. His initial 30 minute consultation was free, but after that his hefty hourly rate is billed in 1/10 hour increments. Even a simple 2-line email from him, containing little or no useful info, costs me 1/10 of an hour ($28.50). I regret all the more substantive, useful emails I've sent for free! Anyway, this gave me the bright idea to apply a similar approach to bicycle consultations. If I suspect that the discussion is becoming a time-toilet, I'm going to ask for a retainer or a credit card to keep on file before we go forward. I'll only charge $100/hr, and up to a point, it can be credited toward an actual purchase. Don't worry, if you're not a time-toilet, I won't ask. But if I ask, then you know...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Winter hours start next week

Jeez, it's nice outside, and I'm sitting here at the shop watching people ride by on their bicycles. Lucky for me I have good lights and enjoy riding at night, so that's no problem, but it's time to face the fact that staying open until 7:30 PM not only cuts into my cycling life, but it's pretty quiet business-wise. Also, today I ordered studded tires...

Time to go to our Winter Schedule (effective Aug 19):

Tuesday-Friday 1-6 PM.
Saturday 12-4 PM.

Now, who wants to hit the trails after work?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bicycle touring SW Wisconsin

Day 1, Minneapolis to St Paul to La Crosse to Sparta:
A week ago last Sunday, five hardy excursionists (your humble narrator included) departed from St Paul via Amtrak with uncertainty, excitement, and even some fears, about the coming week on the road. As is quite often the case, Amtrak was running a bit behind schedule. Expecting this, the tour organizer planned for a short mileage day for the afternoon of the train's arrival. The group made the best of the delay at a cafe near the station.
Bonnie's Cafe is a gem of a breakfast venue, if you're into a 1960s-era diner style atmosphere and food of substance. The construction on University Ave has not been easy on Bonnie's. I suggest that everybody eat there as often as possible to help this place survive the temporary inconvenience of construction. Next HC Saturday ride is going there, and I might just order two breakfasts. Here's a photo I took of the interior of Bonnie's awhile back:

After breakfast, we returned to Amtrak to box up our bikes for the trip. The Amtrak boxes are rather large, and putting the bikes in them is a simple process requiring only a small degree of dis-assembly. Then the boxes get loaded onto Civil-War-era oxcarts, and onto the train:

A few hours later, we were ready to roll in La Crosse.
I had my bike loaded with Banjo Brothers Market Panniers on back and Waterproof Panniers on front, in addition to a top-tube bag for my camera and a Minnehaha large handlebar bag. This turned out the be far more capacity than I really needed, but the surplus capacity certainly came in handy when our marauding gang descended on small town grocers...

After a quick jaunt through La Crosse to stock up at People's Food Co-op, we headed into the boonies by way of the La Crosse River State Trail, one of several enviable state bicycle trails in the area. This trail took us to Sparta, Wisconsin, where we detoured off the trail a few miles for a pleasant surprise called the Leon Valley Campground. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from this campground, but it was quiet, clean, beautiful, and had modern, well-maintained facilities.

Day 2, Sparta to Wildcat Mountain:
From here we commenced riding on the famed Elroy-Sparta State Trail. This trail was lovely, but the most memorable thing about it is the first tunnel we encountered. Rumor has it, the tunnel is a mile long, which seemed about right. All I can say for sure was that it is DARK!
Signs advised "BIKES MUST BE WALKED THRU TUNNEL", but we all rode, which was dangerous and exhilarating. Powerful lights are essential. Did I mention it's dark?

We stopped for lunch in a small town called Wilton. After we ate, we encountered, quite by coincidence, another small group on tour, which included HC-customers/personal-friends from Minneapolis and from southern California. We chatted for awhile about our tour plans, the pitfalls and rewards of organizing bicycle tours, etc. At that moment, I planned to continue down the trail to Elroy, then onto another trail, which I explained to my friends in the other group. Five minutes later, after reconvening with my tour group, that plan was thrown out the window (scrapping plans would become a habit) in favor of shaving off a few miles by heading south to Wildcat Mountain State Park. Who woulda thunk that Wildcat Mountain would be uphill? Whatever miles we saved were replaced with arduous climbing, and more climbing, then, right at the end, a total gut-buster of a hill leading up to the park entrance. Nobody died, and we all agreed it was worth the effort.
We learned that state parks in Wisconsin are a great value. Not only were they generally gorgeous, but they were cheap ($14 for non-resident camping split 5 ways...) and had good facilities, helpful staff, etc.

Day 3, Wildcat Mountain to Richland Center:
After leaving Wildcat Mountain, we pushed for a block of bold text on a map, which was called Richland Center, so named because it's the business hub of Richland County, so named, I surmise, because of the Rich Land that makes it good for farming. My hunch is that the Wisconsin River floodplain has good soil because of historical floods. This segment still featured some of the Driftless Area type bluffs and topography, but there was much more agriculture than we'd seen previously in the trip.
A few miles shy of Richland Center, we turned off for a campground that was marked on my map. I noted that there was no signage on the main road that would indicate that the campground is here, and I was concerned that perhaps my map was out-of-date. We almost passed the campground because there wasn't an obvious sign there either. When we pulled in, we were fairly confused until a rotund guy in a fluorescent yellow shirt marked STAFF waved us over. He told us we could camp and pointed out some vacant sites, but he wasn't 100% sure on the price, and in any case, he wasn't prepared to take our money or handle any formalities. We set up our tents apprehensively not knowing if we had any legitimate right to be there, but eventually the STAFF guy's wife showed up and handled the transaction and attended to our requests with the utmost efficiency and charm. It turned out to be a pretty nice place, but I'll be damned if I can recall the name... Again, we'd discovered a campground that was better than we'd expected.

Day 4, Richland Center to Wyalusing:
Richland Center was a delight. It was a nice little town that wasn't derelict and decrepit like so many of the small towns we passed. I suspect that the UW-Richland Center campus was the likely reason behind the apparent modest prosperity. Anyway, the town had a nice little natural foods co-op, right up our alley.

From Richland Center, we continued south and crossed the Wisconsin River into Muscoda (pronounced Mus-co-day). After being treated rudely at one restaurant, the group relocated to another place around the corner, which turned out to be excellent. They had some fun menu items, like a Burning Bunghole Burger, for example. The post-burger pie was some of the best I've had.

From Muscoda we followed the Wisconsin River downstream through Boscobel and some other very small towns, on a nice flat road.

The group had determined earlier in the day to make the long push to Wyalusing State Park. The county roads leading to the park are spectacular, and difficult. This was the top of Russell Hill, which was the longest, steepest, toughest climb I could remember:
The descent was exhilarating. A few minutes later, however, we found an even longer climb, which would put us on top of the plateau where Wyalusing is situated. After some screwing around and crowd-avoidance, we settled on a secluded campsite, which was pleasant.

Day 5, Wyalusing to Victory (Blackhawk Park):
After nearly 70 challenging miles the previous day, we opted to spend the next morning exploring Wyalusing a bit before getting back on the road. The views from the park were incredible.

I took this opportunity to do a yoga pose with an impressive backdrop.

Now we were left with nearly three days to pedal less than 80 miles. We dawdled in Prairie du Chien, and visited our friend Marty at The Prairie Peddler. Then we had lunch and screwed around a little bit. Then we wasted some time. Finally back on the road, we headed up the Mississippi River toward a campground called Blackhawk Park. It turned out to be slightly further than expected, and we made camp after dark. Blackhawk Park is a large campground operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. All night the background noise was dominated either by trains, river barges, or both - not bad noises, but ever-present.

Day 6, Victory to La Crosse (Goose Island):
We left Blackhawk Park, now only 25 or so miles to La Crosse, but with most of two days to get there. Again, we adopted a slow pace, with plenty of screwing around. We backtracked a few miles for pizza and contemplated a side-trip to Iowa. We ultimately scrapped the Iowa idea, but if I did it again, I think we would have approached La Crosse from the Iowa/Minnesota side of the river to avoid the harrowing stretches with narrow shoulders and fast traffic. Not far upstream, we arrived at Goose Island County Park. This park did not endear itself to us. The camping fee structure was $20 per sleeping unit, regardless of whether the "sleeping unit" was a 10-person RV or a 1-person tent. As we had four tents, this was going to be a very expensive campsite. The price was negotiated down to less than half of that princely sum, but we would have to occupy the "overflow area". There was a lot of trash around the sites, and in general the facilities were not up to par with what we'd experienced elsewhere. It was a pretty area, though.
This final campground was kind of a let-down after the first-class establishments we'd experienced earlier, but it certainly wasn't the worst I'd seen. Nonetheless, I probably won't stay there again.

Day 7, La Crosse to La Crosse to St Paul to Minneapolis:
We had just a few miles to ride from our campsite to the actual city of La Crosse. The short jaunt was made challenging, however, by a cold and driving rain and the complete lack of bicycle-friendly infrastructure entering the city from the south side. We all arrived in one piece to a restaurant called the Hungry Peddler, which had great food, better service, and an overhang area where we could park the bikes out of the rain. From there, we were able to get on side streets, and away from the retail strip-mall Hell we'd ridden through on our initial approach of the city.

With a whole day to kill, we stopped first at a coffee shop, where we warmed up, caffeinated, and charged our electronic devices. We went to an impressive guitar shop, which is owned by the uncle of one of our group. None of our group are into guitars or play guitar, but we all thought the shop was pretty great. Then a cheeseburger, etc at a neighborhood dive bar. We revisited People's Co-op and a nearby "patisserie" that was going out of business. Finally, enough time had been killed, and we moseyed our way back to the Amtrak station, all ready to go home, but reluctant to leave the rhythm of the road.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. The weather, the roads, the small towns, the state parks, and especially the friends who accompanied me were exceptional. Southwest Wisconsin is close enough to here to not seem exotic or exciting, but it is truly a world-class place to ride a bicycle. Please, keep that secret between us.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bike touring with grocery panniers

The bike tour I've been planning kicks off this Sunday, August 7. We will be closed most of the week from August 7-13, but there is a good chance that Mark will keep the shop open on Thursday, August 11, and Saturday, August 13. Call 612-727-2565 to check on our hours on those days.

Anyway, here's my Curt Goodrich touring bike. Curt built me this bike several years ago, and I couldn't be happier with it. I wanted something similar to my now-elsewhere Rivendell Atlantis, but I wanted 26" wheels with massive tire clearance and a 1-1/8" threadless steerer for rigidity and for the improved variety of threadless-compatible handlebars, among other reasons. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Surly was soon to release the 26"-wheeled version of the Long Haul Trucker with these characteristics - great minds think alike! But I was caught up in the excitement of a custom frame, and now I'm happy to have a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind ride. Anyway, for those who don't mind the considerable expense and long wait for a custom bike, talk to Curt (or any of the other fine local custom bike guys). Otherwise, for a touring, general all-rounder bike, the LHT is at least as much function, but for a fraction of the price.
For this tour I decided to highlight the wonderful design and versatility of some fine bags from our friends at Banjo Brothers. For thems that don't know, Banjo Brothers is a Minneapolis-based brand of practical, affordable bicycle bags: seat bags, panniers, bar bags, messenger bags, backpacks, etc. The Banjo bags are economically priced, but the design and construction is great, and customer service, on the rare occasions when you need it, is even better. Here I'm using the Market Panniers on the back and the waterproof panniers on the front. The small top-tube bag is a good place for my phone and camera. The handlebar bag, which has been on my bike for more than a year now, is from Minnehaha Bag Company, which is a canvas/leather line of bags, and a sibling-brand to Banjo Brothers. The Banjo Brothers panniers are generally marketed and regarded as general commuting and grocery-gettin' equipment. If you go on any bicycle touring discussion website, you will quickly discover that you need magical (expensive) equipment for touring. "Touring" is held up as a lofty and extreme pursuit, where only the most elite equipment will result in a pleasant, non-death experience. My stance is that bike touring is a lot like riding a bike, which most of us do every day without the benefit of elite touring equipment. I figure if I can haul heavy groceries and various oddball items day-in and day-out in a Banjo Brothers Market Pannier (or similar), surely it will do for hauling some lightweight camping and cooking gear for a week on a bike tour. What's the worst that can happen?

Given the large number of people who already own and use utilitarian panniers like these from Banjo Brothers, the potential for large numbers of cyclists to enjoy overnight bike touring, with equipment they already own, is huge.