What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

+ creative destruction (- Sun Mistral rims)

Among the great goods of the bicycle, considered generally, are its longevity. Fifty- and sixty-year-old or older bicycles endure that still serve perfectly well for the purposes for which they were designed. As with the whole, so with the parts, I say. Though I’ll cheerfully change components to adapt a bike to current needs or replace what wears out, I don’t update equipment just to stay current.

On the other hand, innovation has given us better brakes, which are greatly to be desired. For those using bicycles for practical transport, lighting is vastly improving. And though the advance is harder to observe, wheels are lighter and stronger than, say, 25 years ago. Which brings us to today’s shed.

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction.

Our “vintage” 1988 Cannondale tandem has given us much joy, but the weak link has been its wheels, which were built of Suzue 7B hubs laced to Sun Mistral alloy rims. Granted that tandems carry more and are subject to more stress than solo bikes, we’ve experienced more than a typical share of trouble where the rubber meets the road. We’ve broken spokes, snapped a rear axle, and had more flats than I can count—often because we blew the tires off the rims.

That, I’ve come to understand, is because the Sun Mistral rims are straight-sided. Even in their day, they were an anachronistic design. All but the lousiest rims are “hook-beaded” now; they have a lip that helps hold the tire on the rim. Consequently, today’s clincher tires don’t have to clench as hard as yesteryear’s. Pump them up to maximum pressure and weigh them down with a tall tandem team, and sooner or later they’re going to come off straight-sided rims with a report like a gunshot as yet another tube is laid to waste. I imagined what we’d go through if we tried them with a touring load and didn’t like the picture at all.

Last summer, I’d had enough. We bought “Early” the Burley to serve as a temporary tandem while I tore down the Cannondale for a total rebuild. I didn’t get started on that as soon as I’d hoped … but now I’ve begun. Over the last couple of days, I’ve “unlaced” the wheels—unscrewed the nipples that secure the spokes to the rim and pulled them out of the hub flanges.

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction. Even though I long for what’s on its other side, I find it hard to set foot upon it. What’s known is, at least, known. Can I build better wheels on the old hubs with new Velocity Dyad rims? Only trying will tell, an attempt that had to begin with breaking something.

I’ll toss the old Sun rims into the metal recycling collection roll-off out at the county landfill on my next trip there. Old bicycle spokes make good probes and picks. I hardly need 80, though. Want a few? I’ll gladly share.

shedding style: demolish, recycle
destination: community metal recycling collection

Comments welcome … what might you destroy today?


– seedy sheet of paper

I hate to throw a seed away without giving it a chance.

I once received a sheet of paper made with flower seeds pressed into it as part of a stewardship education resource. The instructions suggested that children could tear the paper into bits, press them into soil, water generously, and care for the flowers as they grew.

I thought, “Come spring, my inner child and I will plant those.” But come spring, it was buried in a pile, and later landed in a file, where it spent about a decade. I totally forgot about it till one of our occasional spasms of file sorting and shedding brought it forth.

“Those seeds won’t be viable,” I told myself. “That should go straight into the recycling bin.” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to commit valuable garden space to it either, so it’s been cluttering our home office.

Nimue’s mother wisely says that when you give yourself only two choices, you don’t have a choice; you’re stuck. So I decided to re-frame how I thought of that sheet of paper. Instead of (probably) non-viable seeds or something recyclable, I called it compost. I tore the paper into bits, pressed them into soil, trusted them to the generous rain, and will accept whatever comes of it as good.

seedy paper with arugula

seedy paper with arugula

shedding style: compost
destination: front-yard garden

Comments welcome … have you got anything that could use a new name to free it (and you) up?


– shredded paper

Because heaven forfend our identities be stolen (and heaven helps those who help themselves), we shred papers that bear, in one of those phrases that define our times, “personally identifiable information.” Our city-county, however, doesn’t want shredded paper in the recycling collection because it’s too fine for the monster-machines that pick through the single-stream to sort it out. So I’ve been saving our shreds for garden mulch. A friend offered hers as well. Thus, over the winter, a baby mountain of bags grew on our front porch, and what had seemed like a good idea became clutter.

But this afternoon the paper became the foundation of paths between our front-yard garden beds:

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

I’ll cover it with a layer of leaves, and then it may toil with the soil to grow some goodness.

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– the Fuji Steed, part two


Jessica has a new bike!

Actually, it’s an old bike … 37 years old, which is older than Jessica … “vintage,” if you like the term. But it’s new to her, so it counts. And this is the story of Jessica’s new bike.

Jessica used to have a bike, one her uncle gave her. She loved it, not least because it was tall. Jessica is tall, too, and most bikes make her feel a bit like a string about to be tied into a knot. Not her tall Fuji, though. She rode it fearlessly till it suffered an accident that left it looking like a pretzel. (I’m not sure what Jessica resembled, but she looks okay today. Bodies have some advantages over bike frames.)

One day Jessica told her minister (whom she knew was an avid cyclist) about her late, lamented Fuji. She had no idea what an anticipation of satisfaction that set off in him. He had a quite tall Fuji himself, which he loved. But he wasn’t riding it, and felt badly it wasn’t getting used.

For many years his “Fuji Steed” had been his only bicycle. Then he got a racing bike. He kept the Fuji, though, to ride to the store or on days when he didn’t want to bother with putting on cycling shoes. (Which are uncomfortable and look silly until they snap into the pedals that are their sole-mates.) All was well until he built up another frame into a commuter-and-touring bike. Then his purpose for the Fuji was lost … gathering dust in the garage doesn’t count as a use. In a crazy but harmless foible, revdarkwater is convinced that bicycles speak to him. (His wife Nimue might reserve a judgment about the harm or not, however, whenever he brings another stray home.) He felt the Fuji’s sadness personally.

“I’ll offer the Fuji to Jessica!” revdarkwater thought. “But I want to fix it up right before I do.” The Fuji is thoroughly old-school; it has loose bearings in the hubs, headset, and bottom bracket, and they needed to be cleaned and re-packed with fresh grease. The finish had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (well, it had had some bad luck, anyway). Finally, he had a horror of entrusting his friend Jessica to ancient brake cables. In short—tearing the Fuji down and building it back up took awhile.

on the road again: 1978 Fuji Gran Tourer

on the road again: 1978 Fuji Gran Tourer

But this week it was ready. Last night he took it to Jessica and Dean’s. She’s a little intimidated by the gears, but delighted to have a bicycle again. Dean took it for a quick spin up and down the hill in front of their house and made the Fuji look like a thoroughbred. revdarkwater drove home feeling happier than he’s felt in weeks. He’d heard the Fuji Steed say, “She’s beautiful, I love her! I’ll give her good miles. Thank you, old friend!”

And they all cycled happily ever after.

shedding style: give away
destination: Jessica & Dean’s present and future

Comments welcome … does something that is yours, even something beloved, actually belong to someone else?


– the Fuji Steed, part one

Thirty years ago, I entered a pawnshop in Bloomington, Indiana, intending to buy a bicycle—not my first bike, but the first I purchased myself, as an adult. I’d decided I had to have a bike because my Pontiac’s transmission had shredded its innards in tiny shiny steel bits and the car looked to stay sidelined for at least a month.

I spent $100 for a maroon Fuji. the best-looking of the mostly sorry lot chained to the bars over the windows. A couple years before I’d visited a local bike shop which sold Fujis, so I recognized the manufacturer’s name and reasoned it must be a good one. As ignorant as I was, I was fortunate in my choice (though I probably paid too much).

It was a Fuji Gran Tourer with a 25” frame (tall, as I am). I know now that the Gran Tourer was a mid-level “sport-touring” model, aimed at casual riders who nevertheless wanted a fairly good bicycle. Mine was stamped with its serial number in December, 1977. The original dealer sticker is peeling, but I can still make out “Schoops Bicycle Sales” in La Porte, Indiana. They likely sold it sometime during 1978. I wonder sometimes about its first six years and how it came to the pawnshop.

scan from a 1978 Fuji catalog ... original at http://www.classicfuji.com/GranTourer_1978_PageB.htm

scan from a 1978 Fuji catalog … original at http://www.classicfuji.com/GranTourer_1978_PageB.htm

I’d grown up riding in southern Indiana on single-speed bikes with coaster brakes—had loved riding, but like so many North American males suddenly quit as soon as I got an automobile (or the car got me). So I had to check books out of the library to decipher the mysteries of derailleurs. Some of our first miles were a mutual struggle. But the bike got me into town to work and back to the farmhouse where I cooked and slept. A friend joked that it was my “Fuji steed.” The name stuck.

When the transmission shop finally released my car, just three gears no longer enough seemed enough. I kept the Fuji Steed and kept riding it. When I left Bloomington for Chicago’s south side, I managed to stuff it into the Vega that replaced the Pontiac. I reasoned it would be easier sometimes to ride than find parking for the car. But really, I loved the promise of seeing the city from its seat—a promise both the bike and city kept.

Down through years, wherever I moved, the Fuji Steed went too, and got me around my new home at least occasionally. But less and less as its condition deteriorated. I’d had to park it in damp basements and unheated sheds, and hard knocks took their toll. One day I realized the Fuji Steed wasn’t safe to ride. I told myself I’d eventually acquire the skills and special tools to make it right. For then, however, I just leaned it against a wall.

Then another wall. Then another, as years passed … sad times for the Fuji Steed.

But ten years ago, my friend David (appearing in the role of the Fuji’s fairy godfather) invited me to ride with him. “I would,” I said, “but my bike’s in terrible condition.” “Let me take it to my mechanic,” he offered. “Huh,” I said as the sun of insight dispelled the darkness of unknowing. “I guess bike shops do work on bikes, don’t they?”

Replacing the rotting tires, fitting new brake blocks, oiling stiff pivots and generally making everything serviceable cost as much as I’d originally paid for the Fuji, but it was worth every penny. We were riding again! I rode with David. I rode by myself. I rode with my associate Diane, who’d made cycling the foundation of her “get fit” program. We started holding our staff meetings on bicycle, and they instantly became more productive. —A happy ending, right?

It’s coming. But not before a plot twist.

Comments welcome … would you shed cliffhanger endings if you could?