Sunday, August 30, 2009

Best Out of A Bad Situation

The Zvirman situation was over a month ago. As distasteful as it was to have someone threaten to shoot me and then run over my bike, my goal was to make the best of it and then put it behind me. The old bike was my commuter. Also, I originally got it to ride to DC in the Summer of 2007. It served that purpose and then served as a great commuter bike for 2 years. During that period I made many upgrades. Also my needs changed.
After buying the cyclocross, I upgraded to a nicer road bike which I use for long rides almost every weekend and for charity rides. The cyclocross was reduced to bad weather rides and going to work and back.
We also got a second home out of state. So after the cyclocross was destroyed I thought it would be nice to have a bike that was specifically designed for commuting, and a second quality road bike that I could leave at the vacation home so I wouldn't have to worry about bringing my road bike back and forth. I settled with the insurance company for a little less than $1600, which I decided to use as my budget for the two bikes.
As described in the last post, I bought a single speed Raleigh One Way for a little over $600. I had a pair of old clipless pedals to throw on and now I have a great commuter that should make me a stronger climber.
As for the second goal - the road bike: I found a two season old Orbea Onix carbon fiber frame on Ebay for a little over $400. I had always admired i.e. drooled over..Orbeas, which are hand-made in Spain and a favorite of professional riders. From the old bike I was able to salvage the Ultegra rear drive train, chain and cassette, the Specialized Body Geometry seat, the stem, handlebars and Tiagra brake lever/shifters. I purchased off of Ebay a nice set of Ultegra a brakes and a Felt carbon fiber seat post, total cost for these parts: about $90. I then found a very nice new wheel set made by Vuelta and under 1600 grams for $220. Vuelta is a lesser known brand, but I had a set on my cross bike. They held up great, never had to be trued, almost withstood a 6000 lb Armada, and always spun free. From my parts bin I had an Ultegra bottom bracket and crankset that had been on my Madone before I upgraded to a carbon compact, and a Dura ace front derailleur. I also bought a pair of Shimano pedals and tires at REI for $100 (with my spouse discount), bringing my total for the frame and parts to @ $800. Pittsburgh's best mechanics, Jordan and Ted at REI put it together for me. Today I took it for a nice ride up Mt. Troy, down Spring Garden and around town. The frame is very stable and supple. It tracks great. Overall the bike is probably a little heavier than my Madone, but still quite light. I'm extremely pleased. If there is one weakness it may be that the handlebar and stem are heavy since they were specked for the cyclocross bike. I've found the same bars as I have on my Madone and a stem from a complete Onix that I will eventually use to solve that problem. I also may look to upgrade from the Tiagra levers and shifters, although they shift crisp.

The accident and confrontation with Zvirman was quite distasteful on many levels. I learned that no matter how unsafe and rude a driver can be, ignore them and keep riding by. I also was able to replace a beloved bike with two that I think I will learn to like even more.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Raleigh One Way

Ever since Mr. Zvirman ran over my cyclocross bike I have been riding a 20 year old woman's Cannondale hybrid that had been in storage. The Cannondale was a little too small. It was aluminum with an aluminum fork. This was state of the art in the late 80's when my wife bought the bike. Today it got me to work, but was heavy and a bit unforgiving when you hit Pittsburgh's abundant bad pavement. The Motobecane cyclocross also was aluminum, but it was a good fit, fairly light and had a carbon fork to smooth out the aluminum ride a bit. On the other hand I am quite spoiled by my carbon fiber road bike that I ride on the weekends and on longer rides.

As unreasonable as Mr. Zvirman had been the day of the altercation, his insurance company Merchant's was professional and reasonable to deal with. We agreed upon on equitable amount to reimburse me for the destroyed Motobecane, and I was allowed to keep it's remains. There is just about enough money to buy a commuter bike and a frame and other parts necessary to build a new road bike using what is still functional from the Motobecane.

I decided to go in a new direction for the commuter bike. Instead of simply taking all of the money and getting a new cyclocross I decided to get a true commuter. The bike I chose is a Raleigh One Way. It's a very retro all steel single speed bike. Throw back features include a leather Brooks seat and handle bar tape, nice detail work on the frame, fenders, a shiny bell and pump and oversized bullet proof tires. All for a fairly reasonable price of slightly over $600. The Raleigh name is nostalgic to me. I had a 5 speed Raleigh folding bike in high school and college back in the 70's. It was a heavy beast, but cool. The One Way is neither heavy nor light. The lack of any components saves weight on what would be a heavy bike if geared. I would estimate it to be about 2 pounds heavier than the pre-Zvirman cyclocross. Gearing on the bike is 16/42. On the flats it's not as fast as the cyclocross or road bike, but it's not painfully slow like a single speed 29er I used to have. The commute to work takes about the same time as it did before, but I just can't reach as high a top speed on the Jail Trail. So far I haven't put a bike computer on the One Way and don't think I will as it seems to be bad karma for this retro machine.

The steel frame and fork are a pleasure. Instead of getting a jarring vibration transmitting through my body as I hit a pothole, the steel frame deadens the paved imperfections. It's not as supple as carbon, but the ride is just perfect for commutes through Pittsburgh's miserable streets. The other issue that I was wondering about is climbing in a single speed. My ride home takes me from the city's lowest point downtown to my home at one of the highest elevations in the East End. I ride from the Jail Trail through the Panther Hollow Trail and either up through Boundary Street to 5th Ave or through the CMU cut through to Flagstaff and the Golf Course. The gearing of the bike makes the climb manageable. I'm not so sure I would want to take it up Greenleaf or Sycamore, but that's not really why I have this bike. For long distance and climbing I have the road bike. The only problem so far with the bike is a defect on one of the water bottle brazeons. I can't get the screw out to mount a bottle cage. I'm sure the dealer will be able to take care of this.

The second phoenix of the Zvirman incident is still being built up. I bought a used carbon Orbea frame on Ebay at a nice price, and also picked up some Ultegra brakes and a carbon seat post. Either from the Motobecane or from my parts bin I had almost all of the rest of the components I needed. I did need to buy new wheels and pedals. The bike will be ready to go for the Sunday ride next week. I'll report back then.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thanks USAir

I can’t recall the last time, or ever, complimenting USAir, but they did right by me. We had a very bad 12 hour period. Our flight was scheduled for 7:50 PM from Pittsburgh to Savannah GA. We left in enough time, but were cutting it a bit close for the 30 minu

te drive to the airport. We also knew there was a Lil’ Wayne concert in the area, but really did not connect the two.

It quickly became apparent that we were in trouble. We entered the highway and were stuck in total gridlock. The normal 10 minute drive downtown

took an hour. We saw a car broken down in the middle of the parkway and figured that was the problem. At this point it was going to be touch and go to get to the airport on time. After the river of vehicles parted around the dead car, we figured that the traffic would flow, but it didn’t. It came to a grinding halt. We were screwed.

Checking the internet from our cell phone we learned that there were no other flights that night to Savannah. We called USAir and were told to go to the airport. There were seats available on the first flight out the next morning. If we booked that flight on the phone it was going to cost us an extra $500, but by going to the airport and going standb

y, since we missed a flight due to traffic they could get us on the flight the next day for no extra charge. We also called our hotel in Savannah and they were kind enough to cancel our room without charge.

As we worked our way through the Fort Pitt Tunnel our flight was boarded and ready to take off. There was an accident in the tunnel. I figured that was the delay, and that things would open up once we got out of the tunnel. Wrong again! Things were bumper to bumper gridlock on the Greentree side as well. We called our daughter who had left a half an hour before us to go to the Little Wayne concert. She was only a few miles in front of us. After observing a couple of more accidents we realized the issue. Lil’ Wayne is a dope smoking fiend. Many of his fans were smoking it up on their way to the show. Reactions were slowed down. Fenders and bumpers were mangled as a result, and traffic came to a standstill.

After 2 ½ hours we finally made it to the airport. Our flight was long gone. We went to the USAir counter. They were actually closed. The employee, already off duty and certainly anxious to get home after a long day at work, reopened for us and got us on the flight for the next day with no extra charge. The bottom line was the schedule was going to work out so we would arrive at our ultimate destination at about the same time as if we stayed on our original flight.

The next task was to find a place to sleep so we could make it to the gate for 6:50 boarding. We decided to pay a bit extra for convenience and stay at the Hyatt attached to the terminal. Sensing we were frazzled by the time we got to the restaurant at almost 10:00, the waitress really took care of us. She arranged for us to have breakfast delivered to our room at 5:30 the next morning so we could have coffee and some food before our flight. We also learned that Lil’ Wayne was booked at the hotel registered under the name of Mr. President. Maybe he should have chosen B. Rack.

The next morning we got up early. Breakfast was delivered as promised at 5:30. When I reached for my wallet to tip the server, it was gone. Panic set in. I looked all over the room. No wallet. This meant no credit card, no money, no ID. That meant “no” at the security, no flight, no trip. Panic morphed into a full scale anxiety attack. I went to the front desk. They didn’t find my wallet. Next I thought that perhaps I left it at home. Did I have enough time to drive home , find my wallet, drive back and get the flight. Unlikely, but what other choice did I have. As I ran to the car, I remembered I did have my wallet when I paid for short term parking and re-parked near the hotel in the extended lot. Sure enough the wallet had fallen out in the car and I found it. Relieved, I return to the hotel and overheard some airline personnel who also stayed at the hotel complaining about the Lil’ Wayne entourage that arrived on their floor at 3 AM and continued their party. I was glad they were not my crew. Who wants a pilot who didn’t get sleep and was engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke from his neighbors.

We boarded on time. The flight was totally full. Had the man at the gate not taken extra time and helped us the night before I would still be sitting at the airport stranded and the word “terminal” would have special meeting. I don’t know the man’s name, so I will just give a big thanks to USAir for kind and excellent service.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

2009 Keystone Country MS 150

This weekend we completed the Keystone Country MS 150. It's really a beautiful event in a lot of senses. The ride is gorgeous. The ride meanders through both sides of the valley between Hollidaysburg and State College PA. This is a little known area of the state that is reminiscent of Vermont. The back roads go along the Juniata River and through little towns. The hills are deep with green trees and roads cut by farms. The ride overnights in State College, a very nice college town.

The event is also beautiful because it brings family and friends together to support a very worthy cause. It also brings strangers together, who otherwise never cross paths. Motorcycle enthusiasts control traffic at the intersections to make sure the riders cross safely and make the right turns. Volunteers in small towns and villages are working rest stops making sure that the riders are nourished with food and drinks. The residents of these small towns stand on their porches and yards cheering the riders as if it was a stage of the Tour d' France.

There were a few challenges:
* The Hampton Inn in Altoona where our team, Lou's Crew, stayed on Friday night failed to give us our wake up calls, making us the last team to start.
* One of our riders fell off his bike after a downhill flat tire, cracked his helmet, got a concussion and overnighted in the Altoona hospital
* A young team member got lost and did a lot of unnecessary first day miles
* One of our teammates was involved in a paceline crash and ran his bike over the the accident

The highlights far exceeded the challenges. I will have lasting memories of the ride. The dinner the first night was highlighted by a presentation from an MS patient who demonstrated his MS guide dog. The dog did amazing things. He kept his owner from falling and could help him up if he was on the ground, she could pick items as small as dime, operate handicap doors, and even use a swipe key so her owner could access the secured work entry. The owner said that if it wasn't for money raised from the event, he wouldn't have his dog.

It was great to see Lou all weekend and share the happiness that the event brought to him. It also was impressive to see what an important figure he is to the MS Society. Also I loved how his family was participating and how his brother-in-law Gregg kept everything working like clockwork. Gregg took care of everything: meals, busses, t-shirts etc, and never asked for any thanks.

43 riders of all levels came together to be part of Lou's Crew for the weekend. A smaller core group gets together every Sunday at Coffee Tree in Squirrel Hill. Some of us were old friends, others had no prior relationship with the other team members. Still others hadn't seen each other in decades and renewed and strengthened friendships. We have all become very close friends because of Lou's Crew. We have fun every Sunday, do something healthy and become better riders. On this weekend we remembered our real purpose for training. One rider in particular really stood out. Beth, not knowing anyone in the group, started riding with us in the Spring. She had never tried anything like riding 150 miles in two days, but she wanted to do it. Every week she became a stronger and more confident rider. Although she was nervous about the event she rode it quickly and easily. I think she actually amazed herself.

I personally had a great time. This is the first time my wife joined me for the weekend. She didn't ride, but she was there to support me and the group. It was really nice to share the experience with her and I appreciated that she took the time to join me. The first day I struggled. I got cramps in both hamstrings and couldn't keep up with my group during the last section. It really didn't matter. The day was beautiful. Other riders in my group had a great day. The second day I felt like bounced back. No cramps and I felt stronger at the end than the beginning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rage Against The (Pedal) Machine

   Tonight a young guy with an Irish accent asked me if it is safe to ride the jail trail at night.  I told him it's a lot safer than riding the streets any time.  The incidents of road rage against cyclists is just absolutely out of control.

      The picture to the left is of my Motobecane Cyclocross bike.  The picture was taken when I rode it from Pittsburgh to DC on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath Trail.  Good times: me and my Motobecane.  The good times ended on Monday evening as I was riding home.  A Ken Zvirman of Plum and owner of Jo-Mar Provisions in the Strip decided to punish me for an unthinkable sin.  As I was riding down a grade on Walnut Street, without any turn signals Zvirman starting backing up toward me, apparently not looking where he was going.  Afraid he was going to run me over with his black Nissan SUV, I yelled "Watch Out!"  Zvirman then launched into a profanity laced tirade at me for yelling "watch out."  Admittedly, I was mad and yelled back at him emphatically explained it was him and not me who was the asshole.
    The next thing I know Ken Zvirman:
1.  Said "I should take my gun and kill you."
2. After I asked him if he really had a gun he said "you should take a gun and kill yourself"
3.   He then got out of his SUV, started puffing his chest out like some type of tropical lizard while saying "what are we going to do about this"
4.   He jumped back into his truck and while I was just inches from the side of his truck while I was trying to mount my bike, he again starts backing up with reckless disregarded of where I was
5.  To get his attention and keep him from hitting me I slapped his fender with my open hand, which worked half way.  I got his attention, but he cut his wheel so the SUV would come straight at me, gunned his engine and ran over my Motobecane.

   When I pointed out that he just ran over my bike, the lovely Mrs. Zvirman said "well you touched our $50k truck."  I pointed out that it is not justified to ruin someone's bike and use a vehicle as a weapon as retribution for getting finger prints on one's fender, but I was actually thinking what kind of idiot spends $50k on a Nissan SUV and brags about it.  Later, when explaining things to the police, Mr. Zvirman indicated that he wanted to make an insurance claim against me because I "got finger prints on his $58k SUV."  After he stopped laughing, the police officer told Mr. Zvirman that he couldn't make an insurance claim for that.  Fortunately I wasn't seriously injured.

   Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.  Since Monday there have been several other reports of road rage against cyclists on the Bike Pittsburgh website:    

This type of behavior has to stop.  Motorist have to realize that when they lose their tempers and control of their actions their vehicles become deadly weapons.  Is it worth killing someone or subjecting yourself to jail time because a bike is in front of you going slower than you want to go, or a biker yells "watch out" instead of blowing a horn?  Bikers have to take precautions.  They are not surrounded by a ton of sheet metal and airbags.  They have no protection , but they have a right to be on the road.  Please checkout and support the Bike Pittsburgh website and protect cyclists when you drive. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Great Escape

   I apologize for a long delay in blogging.  I have not been in a Pittsburgh state of mind for awhile.  Over the last three weeks travels have taken me to South Carolina and Colorado.  Even the Pittsburgh Guy has to admit that both of these areas have treasures that we don't have in Pittsburgh.  Of course they don't have the Penguins or Steelers.
   First I relaxed on the beach in Hilton Head, which is a beautifully planned resort area.  Thought was given to adapting development to the environment as opposed to the opposite.  The island has a beautiful long and wide beach with gentle waves. At low tide the sand is packed enough to ride a bike on it.  The resort is interconnected with bike paths.  Also there are a series of lagoons on which gasoline powered boats are not permitted.  Unlike Florida, the island is not over built, as development is controlled.  I took time for biking and kayaking.  One day I joined a group of riders on the mainland.  They took on a fast paced, flat ride through beautiful sections of the lowland.

    Currently I'm in Colorado Springs, sitting on a balcony overlooking the mountains with a clear but distant view of the Garden of the Gods, where we hiked yesterday.  This treasure is a city park, free to the public.  It is scattered with ominous natural red rock formations jutting out of the landscape.  The hike was through a red rock trail with
 interesting formations and views at every turn, highlighted by the Siamese Twin Formation.   

      Before arriving in Colorado Springs, we spent a few days in suburban Denver.  I rented a bike and went for long rides on the Greater Denver's fantastic network of paved bike trails.  One day I rode to the Chatfield Reservoir Park and then along the Platte River to Confluence Park on the edge of the downtown/LoDo area.  My turnaround spot was Denver's flagship REI store housed in an old warehouse building.  This REI has a Starbuck's in it.  I stopped long enough for a macchiato and headed back.  
     The next day I rode the other way on the 470 trail and hooked up with a couple of local riders.  They were younger, a bit faster and altitude adjusted.  The lead me to the Cherry Creek Reservoir Park and back.  Hats off the Treads Bike Store in Parker.  I was able to rent a Cannondale road bike.  Attention was given to fit me properly and they loaned me a pair of clipless pedals.  
Unfortunately, meeting obligations probably won't allow me to rent a bike in Colorado Springs, which I imagine would be challenging, but sweet riding.  I saw the new Charmichael Training Center,  I would like to stop by and check it out.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Paris 66 Great New Bistro

Today we stopped by a brand new restaurant for lunch. Our friends Fred and Lori Rongier had their "soft opening" on Friday, June 5th. Fred is French and has created an authentic bistro like you would find in Paris. We have been hoping Fred would open a place ever since tasting his wonderful crepes at our son's school parties at Linden Academy.

The menu features crepes but also has entrees, salads, pastries, coffee etc. Prices are amazingly reasonable. The food is to die for. Located in the sprouting East Liberty/East Side area, the design and decor is right out of Paris. As you walk in you are greeted by a long case filled with delectables. Behind the case is an open kitchen gleaming with shiny stainless. The chef, Ceasir, is from the Brittany province of France. He is friendly, greeting customers to make sure they are happy with their meals and bellowing "Merci" to every compliment.

The service is great. Fred and/or Lori greet guests as they arrive. They are warm, outgoing, genuine people. Bussing are their two oldest children. The rest of the wait staff is very professional and experienced. Many worked at the recently closed Au Provence in Squirrel Hill. Our waiter was American, but spoke fluent French with a perfect accent and was extremely knowledgeable. In addition to the head chef, Paris 66 also has a French pastry chef.

We each had a savory crepe: the La Montmarte, made with organic buckwheat flour, chicken, mushrooms and bechamel, and the La Paris 66 with ham, swiss cheese, egg, mushrooms and tomato Provencal. Both were amazing. We split a chocolate mousse for dessert; this almost resulted in a brawl over the last morsel. It was fantastic, perfect flavor and consistency.

The dinner menu is very impressive. I can't wait to try the Seafood Spring Roll or the Salmon filet a la Parisienne. The most expensive item on the menu, Duck Confit is only $22.50. Also they have a BYOB policy with a specialty State Store only steps away at the Eastside Shops.

With summer upon us there is a back deck which will be full furnished by the June 21st official grand opening. They open early, 8:30 and stay open most nights until 10. Fred and Lori welcome cyclists to give that true spirit of France. Lou's Crew will be stopping by soon for coffee and crepes following a ride. With great food, atmosphere and prices Paris 66 is sure to be the hot Pittsburgh restaurant for 2009.