Monday, August 15, 2011

Daughter of a dog driving man

I am occasionally asked if any of my experiences as a musher influences the way I act as a father.
"Sometimes," I answer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dog man walking

Now that I have a borrowed dog I have a chance to participate in that odd, but in many ways charming, pastime of walking a dog in an urban area.

Above is a sign I have not seen before: "Use your head, or better yet, use a poop bag!" I use a bag in populated areas, of course. I am not an orc.

In the forest I would often come across small plastic bags with dog poop. So conditioned have dog owners become to this practice, they scoop up the poop even miles away from anyone. After a while some of them seem to have become disgusted with carrying it around without a garbage bin in sight, and have just left their bag on the ground. As if someone else would pick it up.

These people vote.

Here's a pleasant little sight. Someone (the one behind this) knitted cosies for these rails. How nice is that.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there's the hub

Hub brakes are like cinema projectionists. You know they're there, but don't know what they look like and don't give them much thought as long as they do what they're supposed to do. Above is the inside of one of my no-name hub brakes on my Christiania front-loading trike. That white stuff is anthrax spores. I held my breath and brushed it off.

Working on the Christiania is not like working on normal bikes. You don't need any hex keys. But you do need pipe wrenches.

Above are the two main parts of the hub.

And on the picture above here you can see Islay, on loan from a friend. I need a dog, at least intermittently. Islay is a quiet, careful dog, and an Iditarod veteran.

That part on the right hand side of the brake that looks like a cylinder is actually sort of flattish. When the brake lever is held in, the wire pulls an arm on the outside of the hub, which in turn makes that flattish cylinder turn, which then forces the two semi-circular arms outwards.

As you can see, there's not much play here. Problem is, I don't know how much there should be. I oiled the moving parts, which is a big drama as you do not want oil on the brake pads. I changed the cable and cable housing too. But the brake still doesn't work very well. Maybe opening it up again and giving it a good whack with a hammer will help.

A prairie trike companion

This will clearly not do.

This is better. I ended up buying aluminum tent poles. I think I might have gone for glass fiber poles if I had a choice. The aluminum gives the canopy a slight gothic arch rather than a roman one. But we can live with that.

Those pex tubes I used on the top picture worked all right as long as we all stood still, but that just wasn't good enough. This contraption is for blistering speeds.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Bharat Gas Bike

Having moved from my cabin in the forest to town, I now have different challenges than I did before. One challenge I faced before was how to transport propane bottles by bike off-season. ("Off-season" was "non-mushing time".) During winter I had no problem, I used the dogs and the sled.

Above is one guy who really puts me to shame. (Found on flickr, by Meanest Indian.)

Here are my former alternatives:

And here's one from Oldfool.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoopla about the hoops

My Christiania trike has a prarie wagon-style canopy to protect cargo or passengers in the box from the elements. The canopy is supported by aluminum hoops. My hoops buckled horribly under a lot of snow one winter (above, hard to see how bad they actually are), and have since been almost useless, causing the canopy to sag.

I have certainly proven to the world that I can live happily unconcerned about appearances, but that sagging canopy collects rainwater and it all gets rather messy. Say what you wish about the good people who make the Christiania, but they do not really bust their asses off trying to sell their products or accessories. They have not even bothered updating their web page since 2001 and their closest representative can't be bothered replying to emails. The only way I can get new hoops is by travelling to Denmark or sourcing some aluminum retailer around here.

I decided to try improvising by using some plastic Pex tubes instead. This extremely competent bicycling family built some canopies for their kid's seats using Pex.

I straightened some parts of the original hoops in a vice, and filed them on one end (above). I then inserted them into the tubes. This way I can use the existing mounting hardware.

The new hoops (above) look much nicer. Not entirely unexpectedly, they are sort of flimsy. The canopy still sagged!
I managed to fix this somewhat by sewing velcro straps to fit on the hoops. This way the canopy itself functions as a brace, keeping the hoops in place.

All in all, it's ok. But I don't really recommend Pex tubes for projects of this size.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


On friday, a bomb went off not far from my office, killing eight people. Shortly afterwards the perpetrator massacred 68 people, mostly teenagers, at a youth camp close by. (Numbers may be adjusted.)

All is fine with me and my family. Thank you to readers who have inquired about our well-being. As this is a small country and the number of casualities was high, it is inevitable that there will be few degrees of seperation between us and the victims. The country is filled with dread as the names are gradually made public.

Above is a picture I took at the commemoration for the victims. Allegedly, 200 000 people showed up.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Give me a brake

We are now two families in the same apartment building with front loading trikes, surely a national record.

Here's a close-up of the brakes of friend and neighbour Fred's trike. Anybody know anything about them? The rear brake is operated by a large lever on the seat tube, the front ones with a small lever on the handle bar.

This trike is not a Christiania, but I'm still guessing it's problably made for that bizzarrely large load-cycling demographic in Denmark. Doesn't look Dutch to me. The Danes have a fantastic number of front loading trike brands. This might be a Family Rider, but the current models don't have these brakes.

With near horizontal drop-outs I feel he should try to source a Nexus 7 or 8 speed hub with a coaster brake. But that might be just a lot of time adjusting derailleurs speaking.

Fred says the brakes don't work. So we now have a trike each with shitty brakes. We have to get this sorted out before our kids are too large to fit in the boxes, or we loose patience and start zipping around with them anyway.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

About skulls

Well, here I am, tripping on exhaust fumes while waiting to disembark from a ferry. Looking at this picture I realize why that cute German touring couple didn't want me to give them directions even though they were patently lost and I, at that glorious moment, actually knew were we were.

- Ach, get avay, long-haired, mittel-aged recument weirdo!

That's not really what they said. But they communicated it. And chose to push on in the opposite direction of where they said they were heading.

I use a helmet on longer trips mostly because I avoid having to talk about helmets this way. I don't mind the helmet that much, so it's fine. I can even imagine helmets actually do improve safety. But I am unsure why cyclists are expected to wear them, while people in cars aren't. Really, it's not as if cars were super duper safe. I discovered recently, to my undivided joy, that at one point somebody actually made motoring helmets.

Once my daughter can sit in a kid's seat on a bicycle, the world will burn me on a stake if I don't supply her with a helmet. But they won't consider lowering speed limits or banning cars in urban areas for the sake of the children (cue: "won't somebody think of the children"). Kids clearly aren't that important. So I will, in effect, have to tell her, every time we mount a bicycle, that "cycling is dangerous Honey, not like driving in a car".

I could, of course, insist everybody wear helmets when, and if, I ever get behind a steering wheel again, but I imagine that could send some wrong signals to her too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Going the distance

Above: My trike, unloaded and at it's destination last week.

When I had sled dogs, I was rarely expected to be anywhere but with them at my cabin or out on the trail. But things are different now.

Car-based culture being what it is, one is expected to travel considerable distances to maintain friendships and family connections. two aspects at which I have been pretty poor at, even without dogs.

I am not too wild about going to places that necessitate driving. If you need a car to get there, you're not supposed to be there in the first place, is how this Grumpy Ex-hermit reasons. Drivers are often happy to suggest they can pick me up, but I am touchy about the endless planning, repeated cell phone calls and the risk of at least one party running late.

I am the worst house guest in the world.

My first instinct, when invited somewhere far-beyond-arse, is to ask myself "can I go there by bicycle"? In hilly/moderately mountanous areas I have normally been able to cover maybe 120 k a day, my trike has expanded my radius to more than 160, though I realize I might have succumbed here to a case of New Aquisition Rationalisation Syndrome.

I traveled to my in-laws' cottage, 160 k away, last week by trike. Normally, when going far, I've plotted my route as if I were going by car. In my experience, non-motorists (along with tractors, mopeds etc.) are almost always offered an alternative route right before entering the really scary highways. This time I decided to try more bike-specific routes, partly out of delusions of taking Frog with me on this route in the future. Like any functioning male, I have become more safety-conscious after reproducing.

I was surprised at how extensive the network of bicycle paths has become since I abandoned bicycle touring for mushing in the 1990's. (Example, above.) Just to prove some people are never happy, though, I got pretty worked up about the signs. I ended up in several ridiculous Laurel & Hardy-type situations following a sign for an hour in one direction only to reach another sign telling me I was going the wrong way. Several times signs would lead the hapless cyclist into residential areas with endless amounts of unsigned roads. Bad signing is worse than no signing, as bad signs will trick you into not referring to a map.

But there was at least this sign (above), a cheerful reminder of how things can go awry even on a bike.
Another nuisance: Bicycle paths to nowhere. The road next to this one is the kind where bicyclists are free game. This is five k (three miles) from the last exit, I just had to turn back. Who designs this stuff? At this point, of course, one starts muttering to oneself that "car-drivers would never put up with this crap", which is the kind of rage-induced smugness that is the one really bad aspect of bicycling.

And that's my trike on the ferry. You need to take ferries to get anywhere around here. Bicycles go for free, and one doesn't have to wait in line when entering the ferry. So cyclists get perks, too.

All in all, this was a great trip and now that I know some of the booby-traps, I am looking forward to doing it again next week. Maybe take some decent pictures this time.


Here's an elegant load-carrier I spotted outside a book store the other day. A common 1960's/70's bicycle with 20" wheels and, presumably, a two-speed "kickback" hub, the kind where the rider changes gear by pedalling slightly backwards. Pedalling further backwards activates the coaster brake. Front hub brake, bottle dynamo-powered headlight. An old milk crate with the logo of a local (and now almost certainly defunct) dairy has been fastened to the rack with twine. Eminently practical, yet not really attractive to the thieving vampire zombies.


Tour de France, 1927.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Where the streets have no cars

My squaw recently had some important business to do in southern France, of all wonderful places, so I tagged along to look after the papoose.

We went on occasional day trips to an island called the Île Sainte-Marguerite. It was beautiful, of course, everything down there that has been left alone the last fifty years is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, but what interested me was the appearent absence of internal combustion engines. There were some electrical trucks. And a whole lot of these hand-pulled carts.

The design was pretty uniform, but the carts were obviously locally and individually made. They had different wheel sizes, slightly different proportions and so on.

Being the kind of horrid person who gets off on imagining what the world would be like without easy access to cheap oil, this seems like a whiff of the future. Hauling things by hand and using cottage industry-made idiot-proof technology by reusing materials lying around - the wheels were obviously front wheels of old bicycles.

But there will be no more quick trips to southern France, that's for sure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Unbearable levels of awesomeness

My friend Radar (yes! like in M*A*S*H!) is not only a nice guy and a pilot, but also sold me his Greenspeed GTE tadpole trike at an extremely reasonable price. No man can be better than this.

We biked together from his place to my place, a cool 300 k (186 miles). That's Radar in the picture above, next to his upright, and the trike in front.

Almost all pictures from this trip are of us eating or camping. Judging from the documentation, we seem to have munched and slept our way from his home to mine. I would have loved to film those 60 km/h (37 m/h) descents but the thought of removing my hands from the brake levers never entered my mind.

I have never even tried a recumbent before, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. Very comfortable, gives a great view and those three wheels do make sense in a country with hardly any flat areas, no danger of going slow enough to tip over.

An extremely odd thing about tadpole trikes is that while they look like incredidbly beautiful and sophisticated machines expertly crafted to maximise human power, most people on them look like absolute dorks. I am no exception, I am actually probably at the extreme end of dork-dom.

It can't be helped.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Speed pram-related issues

The above picture is included here to prove that tinkering and bicycle-related stuff is not the main point about being a dad, even though I realize I might make it seem that way.

Projects are rarely really finished around here. That's me above, you can see part of Frog's forehead, she's inside the box. I may look smug but really, I'm obsessing about the brakes.

Even when I hooked up my dogs to this contraption in the forest I had a pretty relaxed attitude to the braking power at my disposal. Sooner or later, I knew, we would start going uphill and slow down. Freighting a baby in traffic is a different story.

I have a Shimano coaster brake on the rear wheel, and hub brakes on the front wheels. They look like Sturmey-Archers, but I'm not sure.

I am unhappy about the way the wires are connected to the brake arms on the hubs. Above is a picture taken from the underside of the Christiania's box. You can see the wire beeing fed out of a threaded tube at an awkward angle. Once I change the cables and the cable housing, the cable is still going to keep on scraping that tube. Something has to be done here, but I'm not quite sure what.

There's not a lot of information on drum brakes out there. For example, the wire tension on all drum brakes I've seen can be adjusted close to the hub (that's the point of the nut around the threaded tube in the picture above), but does it have to be that way? (My 1948 bike has the same system.) Are adjuster barrels on the handles completely out of the question?

I found some interesting information here, this guy even recommends opening up the hubs, something most books on bicycle maintenance strongly advise against. (Which in itself makes it tempting for me to try.)

I needed to change the gear cable and of course, of course, the new cable was of "normal" length, in other words far too short for all that weird cable routing a front-loading trike needs. So that's the thumb shifter down on the right hand side of the box (above), instead of on the handle bar. Not very practical, but it's not there for ever.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The pedal-powered speed pram

Here's Frog in the Christiania trike. The car seat that she's in snaps into brackets I've fastened to the bike's box. She's not too wild about this yet, as can be seen, but not entirely opposed to the idea either.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Wear a boilersuit and people will automatically presume you know what you're doing. By wearing this while fiddling with my bikes, and my neighbors' bikes (pictured), I am asked for advice on all kinds of interesting stuff. And by by realizing I have somehow become that guy with the tool box and the boiler suit, I need to solve the problems I am presented with in order not to loose face. So now those pumps that adjust how fast the doors close around here are all fixed. It just took some trial and error.

But those plumbing-related issues... . I just can't build up enough enthusiasm about them. Running water is the source of so many ills.

Distinguishing between work clothes and lounge wear became second nature those years out in the woods. Washing clothes was such a big, horrid drama, it had to be kept at a minimum. Being a smelly, unkempt hermit for so long made me really fussy about stuff like this. Now I dislike doing even the smallest physical chore unless I am properly dressed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Everything about bikes has already been thought out

This "cycle pram" from 1926 looks pretty much like my current project. And there are products on the market today that look more or less like it. But I'm going for a more multi-purpose kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cycling with baby

Children can use designated seats for bicycles from when they're around one year old. (Or nine months, in Wacky Holland.) This means I can't go cycling with Frog until next spring. (Winter will get in the way.)

But there has to be a way around this. This very responsible-seeming gentleman has a convincing solution: Child seats for cars can be fastened in the box of a cargo bike. He does not recommend fastening them on the racks of normal bicycles.

I am one of maybe five people in this town with a front-loading cargo trike. So I almost owe it to the world to make good use of it.

I had some adaptors (below) which are meant to fasten the child's car seat to a stroller. (Stroller, check. Car, well, no. But car-less peope still nead the car seat, just in case.)

I built a frame inside the trike's box for stability. This also creates compartments which might be nice when carrying gear. One reason I want this to work is so we can all go to the beach, and the stroller, besides being slower than a bicycle, has almost no cargo capacity.

Bus? Sure, we can use the bus. But where's the challenge in that.

The seat now snaps nicely into the brackets. I want to fasten things properly before I actually go anywhere with this set-up.

This might not look too convincing, but the seat gets tightly wedged within the box, in addition to being clamped into the brackets.

I have just discovered that there is actually a gadget on the market designed specifically for fastening children's car seats to the box of a cargo bike. (It can also be used on a rack, for the more thrill-seeking parent.) I notice this thing provides some suspension, and this has led me to reconsider my design.

We'll see.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Desperation forgotten

I have, perhaps, slightly too many bicycles. But they rarely all work at the same time. I am trying to fix this, so I can decide which ones to keep.

I keep discovering repairs I can only vaguely remember having performed. Like this brake arm on my Christiania front-loading trike. It's supposed to be fastened to the frame with a designated "brake arm clip" but I have obviously lost it, problably while changing the inner tube of the rear wheel. So I fastened the brake arm with one of my ubiquitions hose clamps.

I was probably desperate at the time, and proud when I found the solution. But I've forgotten about it completely. And it works so well, I haven't had to think about it while using it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fillet-brazed fellowship

A pleasant aspect of driving a classic and reasonably well maintained bicycle is that one ends up talking to strangers with similar chariots. I met this very dapper gentleman on my way to work, we deduced we had the same 1940's frame. He had found a period-appropriate dynamo-powered head light with two bulbs, one for high beam and one for low beam and, when talking about hubs and rims, proved himself as a genuine bike wrench. Also note his helmet. Foppish to some, elegant and safety-conscious to others.

I talk to people with strollers and dogs, too. I need these kind of crutches or I'd hardly ever talk to anybody.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A good sign

Here's a sign from a shop close to where I now live (above). The shop sells clothes for women who are not too young anymore and not, whatever the sign might say, actual humans.

It's still a good sign. It's art to me.

When I was fooling around on my bicycle in the US a long time ago I was pleased to see that there were some signs of the kind I had previously only seen in movies and on album covers (below). It's hard for foreigners to know what actually exists for real in that country, and what is mostly made up.

I stayed at that motel. And a lot others like it. It was exiting and wildly cinematic to me, but not to the people that ran them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Accidental Hermit Action Figure

My nieces and nephew found some old toys that belonged to me and my brothers at their grandparents' place. Among other things, we found my "Old Shatterhand" action figure, based on a fictional hero by the German author of westerns, Karl May.

Westerns were big business in Germany. Karl May was one of Hitler's favourite authors. Role-playing cowboys and Indians was even a big pasttime in DDR.

Somehow, Karl May drifted into our little family orbit, and we played with these figures a lot.

At the site of old Old Shatterhand my youngest niece slided towards me and whispered, "He looks like you."

And she's right. The long, blond hair. The beard. The checked shirt and frayed trousers. The muscles... well, maybe not the muscles. And my foot isn't at that angle.


I have a lovely old bicycle from 1948 that I use around The Towns. Single speed, fillet-brazed, perfect geometry, maybe a little heavy by today's standards. I've added some marvelously cheap wire baskets on the rear rack. For use in civilization they make more sense than panniers. They're not worth stealing so I don't have to take them with me when I go inside, and I can just dump my grocery bags in them without bothering with straps and buckles. Together they also create a wide platform for carrying lager parcels that would be hard to balance on just a rack.

I bought a front rack to make the bicycle perfect but, and this is how things like this must be, the rack didn't fit.

For some reason I had imagined that the rack could be fastened on the front wheel axle. But the holes in the tangs (those strips at the bottom) were too small, and I couldn't make them larger without breaking the tangs. And if I had managed to pull it off, the rack would tilt forwards instead of being parallell to the bicycle's top tube.

If I had read the documentation properly, I would have known that the lower parts of the rack were supposed to be fastened to the fork's braze-ons. But a lot of bicycles don't have them. Newer bicycles often lack them due to some misguided idea about sacrificing usefulness for the sake of shaving off pennies and ounces. And other bicycles, like mine, were made in a time when stuff was fastened to the frame and fork using other methods.

So I had to make my own faux "braze-ons".

I found a truss mending plate I had lying around, and drilled appropriately large holes to fit on each side of front axle. The small holes that were there to start with were perfectly braze-on-sized.

I then used a hack saw to make the shapes sort of as I wanted them. I'm still amazed that one can actually saw metal with just a little bit of elbow grease. And a nice tool.

The pieces were really horribly sharp around the edges. Accident wating to happen.

Then I clamped them together and filed them around the edges to make them vaguely uniform in appearance.

Then I fitted them around the axle, together with the fender stays. The bolts now don't go all the way in. There are all kinds of chemical thread-fastening substances people use to keep their nuts and bolts in place, I've usually used hair spray but I don't have any lying around at the moment. Using safety wire is another option, but nothing helps if there's insufficient contact between the threads of the nut and bolt. Maybe slimming down the fender stays would help.

But to be honest, I feel my fake braze-ons look sort of professional. Satisfied with self.

I the fitted the rack to it all. This involved som drilling into the fender and fastening it to the rack to avoid rattling etc.

I like front racks better than handle bar bags, as my handle bar bags always end up rattling and rolling around, being fastened only to one point and always overloaded. However, this rack doesn't really do anything except look good until I get some useful straps, a bag or a box.

Also, I have to stop looking at it while bicycling. Should pay attention to the traffic instead.

Update: This post got a mention on the VeloOrange blog, a site with plenty of interest for owners of classic bicycles.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sauna to go

Friend Trig is a keen outdoors swimmer. Once the sea hits 14 degrees C (57 F) he goes regularly for pretty long swims with some equally rugged amphibious friends.

For his birthday, his swimming buddies gave him a mobile sauna (above). They found an old camper, fitted it with paneling and a small sheet metal wood stove. No nails can be exposed in the interiors of saunas, you need to conceal them or use wooden pegs instead. (It's a comfort issue. Exposed nails would burn all that exposed flesh.) Together with all the curves and rounded corners, this makes for some pretty challenging carpentry.

I tried getting some decent pictures of the interior (below) but guests at Trig's birthday party kept running in and out in various states of undress. As a guy who's too touchy to publish people's real names I'm not going to start posting pictures of them in the nude.

The whole thing weighs around 300 kilos (660 lbs), so it can be dragged some distance by hand. In this case, three guys pulled it a kilometer (0.6 miles) along a restricted access road.

Allow me to recommend the Finnish movie Steam of Life, a documentary about Finnish men who talk about serious, personal stuff while in various saunas. The people in the film are entirely nude almost the whole time. This is a non-issue for Finns. But the directors started worrying when they came to the US to show it, and saw how a reality show on tv that involved milking a cow had blurred out the cow's udder. It all went well, however.

Steam of Life, trailer, above. Note the phone booth-sauna and the old thresher-sauna. Much like stoners see any container as a potential bong, Finns see any structure as a potential sauna.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You can call me dad

I traded in eight sled dogs for a human child. Maybe I could have had it both ways, keeping the dogs while making babies, but I would have ended up with time for neither.

She came into the world with her ass first. As a result her legs were bent in a funny, frog-like way, so I call her "Frog".

The legs are ok now. She had to be checked for hip displasia, an expression any dog person will instantly recognize, but she's fine.

Being a dad is everything people say it is. Except for that part about not being able to sleep. We all sleep like babies in this home. I have learned to always be quick to point out that this may change any day. If you don't remember to say that, other parents will think you're telling them your kid is better than theirs.

I thought I would be more caught up in the "fruit of my loins"-bit, that I would be interested in the fact that I have given my genes a new lease on life. But that doesn't come in to it at all. I honestly believe that if someone on the street handed me a baby and said, there you go, mate, take care of this one, I would have felt pretty much the same as I do now. When step-parents and adoptive parents feel they love their children as much as if they were "real" parents, they are probably right.