Shifting Into The Weekend

In my last post, I mentioned that oh-so-whimsical (aren’t they all?) New Yorker cover:

As it happens, I too went to the beach yesterday, along with my wife and younger son. In fact, I went to more or less the same beach as the one in the cover. However, instead of riding a circa-2007 Brooklyn Hipster Bike I drove THE CAR THAT I OWN AND USE UNAPOLOGETICALLY, SO SUCK IT. Also, unlike the helmet-waving couple above, when I got there I learned that you weren’t allowed to swim due to a surfeit of bacteria, though as a consolation prize they did waive the $20 (!) parking fee:

[It says New Jersey. I was not in New Jersey nor am I inclined to attempt to untangle the bureaucratic hairball that resulted in a notice outside the restroom directing me to the website of the Monmouth County Health Department.]

Having driven across three boroughs in weekday traffic I was tremendously disappointed. Moreover, the temperature was rapidly approaching ninety (90) American Freedom Degrees™, and the normally roiling surf was almost preternaturally calm–ideal conditions for swimming, but perhaps equally ideal for allowing raw sewage to linger and bake. Whatever the case, sitting there was tortuous, as though Neptune had arranged a sumptuous buffet in which I was forbidden to partake.

I am in most matters a prudent individual. My only real vice is sold in cans at the supermarket, and I rarely indulge in it to excess. At the same time, man’s law strikes me as particularly nonsensical as I contemplate the vastness of the sea, even if the portion of said sea in which I would potentially immerse myself may contain an overabundance of human fecal matter at this particular moment.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t care. At the Passover Seder, the youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Similarly, why can’t swim today when the bacteria level is over the limit, yet I can swim every other day when, for all I know, the bacteria is just under the limit? Also, this particular beach was under the auspices of the U.S. National Park Service, who ordered the closure, yet just a few hundred yards away the city-administered beaches were under no such ban and people were free to swim at will. Sure, maybe there was a plume of filth lingering in this particular spot, or maybe the city doesn’t test as frequently and in a bureaucracy it’s silly to expect the right hand to know what the left hand was doing. But whatever the case, it didn’t really matter, since they’d gotten my contrarian hackles up, and for all my prudence there is a part of my brain that compels me to wade into raw sewage the very moment someone orders me not to do so.

My mind made up, I walked out to the stretch of beach where there are no lifeguards and the types of people depicted on the New Yorker cartoon like to go topless, and into the water I went. Other people were swimming here too, possibly because they didn’t care, or possibly because people who use that stretch of beach tend not to arrive by car, so maybe they didn’t even know about the elevated bacteria levels in the first place. (We’d been told by the ranger attending the parking lot.) If in fact they didn’t know, I’m not sure if this is a troubling symptom of our culture’s pro-car bias (if you own a car you learn about the bacteria, if you don’t you get a GI infection), or if it’s an example how not owning a car is liberating. Either way, it’s been 24 hours and I’m not bleeding from the eyeballs or projectile-vomiting or experiencing explosive diarrhea or anything else, so this only reinforces my already strong conviction that I can continue to safely disregard any and all public health directives.

Moving on, I also mentioned I’d been riding the Vengeance Bike almost exclusively:

So I figured it would be enlightening to switch to the Normcore Nostalgia Bike, which I’ve been riding the last couple days:

I get a kick out of the decadent C-Record parts on the Vengeance Bike, and it has a pleasant ride quality that belies its chunky appearance, but ultimately I think the reason I like it so much is it just happens to fit me really well. The Normcore Bike also rides and handles quite nicely, but has a bit less headtube and could also do with a slightly longer stem, though it’s not enough of an issue for me to deal with installing longer cable housing, re-taping the bars, and everything else that goes with replacing a non-open-faced stem:

All of this means that going from the Vengeance Bike to the Normcore Bike leaves me feeling just a little bit cramped. However, going from a “low” gear of 42/21 to a 42/24 seems positively decadent:

As I said in that Outside column, a lot of climbing is psychological, and to a certain extent the actual size of your gear really doesn’t matter; it’s what you’re used to and what you have at your disposal at any given moment that’s most important. When I took delivery of the Normcore Bike I was used to a road bike with a low gear of 34/29, so it felt almost grotesquely over-geared. Now I’m used to the ’80s gearing on the Vengeance Bike, so those two extra teeth practically feel like a winch.

The drivetrains on both bikes are otherwise similar in that they’re both downtube shifter-actuated road doubles, but the stuff on the Vengeance Bike is fancy-schmancy, whereas the stuff on the Normcore Bike is more “entry-level.” In practice, both work great, just have different feels. Also, part of the reason the Campy stuff works so good is because I “upgraded” it with a more modern Shimano derailleur. Similarly, the shifting on the Normcore Bike feels much more “premium” with the addition of a pair of Silver2 shifters:

While the Silver2s work perfectly well on the downtube, I’m pretty sure Rivendell designed them more for use as thumbshifters or bar-ends. The upshot of this is that they sort of point a little forward when mounted on the downtube, and when you’re upshifting as above you’ve got to bend your wrist a little more than you do with the Campy shifters, which are ergonomically just perfect:

However, this is the sort of thing you’re really only notice going back and forth between bikes as I am, and the feel of the ratcheting mechanism in the Silver2 shifters is so slick-feeling that it makes up for the shape. (And of course when used as thumbies or bar-ends the ergonomics of the Silver2 are as perfect as those of the Campy shifters when used on the downtube.)

That aside, as I’ve probably pointed out before, when you consider how favorably Shimano 105 compares to C-Record in pretty much every respect apart from aesthetics you begin to understand that it’s a miracle Campy managed to survive at all.

More important than any of this though is that the Normcore Bike can accept 28mm Paselas:

And a bike that accepts 28mm Paselas is up for pretty much anything that isn’t actual “mountain biking:”

In this sense the Vengeance Bike is a proper stick-up-the-ass road bike, meaning you clip in, you stay on paved roads, you get off of it as little as possible, and you go home. That’s not a bad thing at all if what you want is a road bike, and as someone with like eleventy-million bikes, most of which are eminently-dirt capable, I don’t see this as a shortcoming. The Normcore Bike is more of an “80/20” road bike, meaning that if you want to throw in some smooth dirt trails here and there it’s perfectly fine:

Indeed, what I realized today is that the best way to unleash the Normcore Bike’s potential would be to equip it with a triple, because then really there’d be no stopping it–and it really doesn’t get any more normcore than a bonded Trek with a triple, does it? It’s what all these gravel bikes fundamentally are but aren’t ready to admit.

Speaking of gravel bikes, I didn’t see anyone with flared bars, a handlebar bag, and thigh tattoos today, but there was plenty of evidence that they’ve been active:

Also, mammalian wildlife sightings get all the attention, but the insect kingdom is also full of wonders:

That’s a bunch of yellowjackets devouring a dragonfly, and check out this one just going to town on the head:

The head badge of my retro-themed bonded aluminum bike company, Normcore Cycles, is totally going to be a yellowjacket eating a dragonfly’s head.

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