Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Chick Magnet

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a 1998 Chevy Astro Van from a guy up in Clear Creek County. I've been wanting a vehicle which gets better mileage than the Big Damn Dodge, but which would still be useful for hauling things around. I couldn't find a 1966 Dodge van with A/C, so I started looking at Astro/Safari vans from the late 90's.

Anyway, I found this one, cheap, and bought it. Then, I took it to my mechanic and spent almost as much as I paid for the van in order to get it safe and reliable (and to make it pass emissions testing). Today, I put a new battery in it, so I think it's good to go for the most part. There are some small things (broken outer door handle on the passenger door, stereo/speakers) that I will take care of as time goes by, but the van is on the road.
 The Chick Magnet

I call it the Chick Magnet, ironically, but I actually do kind of dig the looks of it.


It's not perfect, but it sure is useful. The two rear bench seats come out, allowing a 4x8 sheet of plywood to lie flat. So, it is at least as utilitarian as the Dodge, for hauling. I can't get the motorbike in it, but I can't get the motorbike in the Dodge, either, as it sits too high for my ramp (plus it has a hard cover on the bed, which is a real pain to remove).


Here it is with one bench out, the other still in place. We have a show, tonight, and I am hoping that we can load everything up, in this configuration. If so, that means that all three of us could load up and head down to the Springs, or up into the hills for a show, if need be.

Worst case scenario is that both seats will have to come out, in order to haul all of the gear. If that is the case, I will devise some sort of jump seat arrangement in order to get us all on the road.

 I like the "half hatchback/half barn door" arrangement on the back.

The only real worry I have with the van is that it is 2-wheel drive. It has studded snow tires on it, right now, and I did test-drive it in the snow, where it did fine. Getting to work is not a worry, since I typically ride the bicycle to work when it snows. I just want to make sure we can get to and from gigs with the band.

If I get through a couple of snowstorms with no problem, I plan to sell the Dodge. I really don't want to own two trucks at once.

I also plan on building or buying a camp cot/storage unit to slide into the back, so that I can use the van as a mini-camper. Maybe I'll throw a Thule cargo box on top, too, if I can find one cheap.

All in all, I am pretty fond of The Chick Magnet, even though I realize it may well be the least-cool vehicle I have owned since my beloved 4-door Chevette (which I still miss).

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Blog Post #1000

Some thoughts on blogging ... skip this if you want. There is an actual post, below this.

Next month will make seven years that I have been posting on this blog. During that time, the "Golden Age" of blogging, it appears, has come and gone. I have bemoaned the exodus of bloggers to Facebook, before, and it probably means little to most of you. But, I do still miss the community of bloggers that existed back then. It seemed so much more social than "social media" does.

But, enough of that. Until Google kills Blogger, I will continue to post here. This truly is a web-log, for me; a public journal of my life and what's going on around me. I really like looking back through the posts to see what was happening at certain times, or even to check and compare the weather, today, versus at some other time. I hope someone continues to enjoy reading it, as well, but I will post, no matter what.

That said, the frequency of posts has certainly decreased, lately. That is partly because the audience has shrunk, and partly because I have gotten lazy. I'm thinking I will change that, going into the new year.



I'm still working on my fat-front mountain bike. As I mentioned in my last post (2 months ago!), the aluminum frame I had built up did not have enough clearance for the 27.5x3" rear tire, if the tire was inflated to over 27 psi. This was fine for street use, and slow cruising off-road, but riding with any speed over rough terrain caused repeated pinch flats. I also mentioned, in that post, that I had a possible fix in mind. That fix is shown in the picture, above.

I bought a cro-mo steel 29er frame from a vendor on Amazon, for $139.00. At that price, I figured I could take a chance on tire clearance and, since the frame is steel, I could  attempt to dimple the insides of the chain stays, or even re-bend them, if necessary. And, if all else failed, I could build it into a 29er and sell it cheap on Craigslist.

The clearance was better than the alloy frame's, but still not optimal. So, I did end up dimpling the insides of the chain stays. I might even do a little more, later, but I'm able to run 40 psi, now, if I need.


The front fork is certainly going to need a paint job, if this ends up being a permanent installation. The blue really doesn't complement the green frame.

 The frame looks enough like a Surly (especially with the green paint) that everyone seems to assume that it is. If I was that type, I could sticker it up and most people would never know the difference. The biggest difference is that the rear dropouts and triangle were way the hell out of alignment, when I received the frame. I spent about an hour and a half tweaking it, after I got it.

But, what do you expect for $139.00, shipped?


 I bought this rear fat wheel off of Craigslist, a couple of months ago. The rim is 80mm (like the one on my Surly 1x1), but it had the offset drilling and was dished to run on the rear. I re-drilled it, and  re-laced it to center it and even up the spoke tension. Works like a charm, and gives the front tire a much bigger footprint than the 50mm rim did.

I haven't had a chance to go mountain biking, since I put this together, but I have done some around-town riding on it and it's mostly working to suit me. I did get some thumb shifters for it, since the old GripShift shifters I have on it are a little stiff to operate. And I bought another 1990's LX rear derailleur to replace the one I removed from one of my Trek 930's just to get this bike rolling.

Hopefully, I will do enough mountain biking, this year, both just riding and bike-packing, to justify this build. More on that, later.


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Friday, September 30, 2016

September Was A Busy Month


First off, Steven Lee left the band, so we were left with no bass. Neither Steve L nor I wanted to go back to the the 2-piece mode, at this point, so I posted an ad on Craigslist (not expecting much), and started putting the word out that we needed a new bassist. The Craigslist ad got a lot of responses, oddly enough, and we met with some guys to jam a little and figure out how things felt.

Dan Clemens came in and, even though we had just met him, it was like an old friend had come back into the fold. So, we started practicing a set list for our first show - October 8 at Merchant's:


In the meantime, I had signed up for a mountain bike race, in Golden, which was the first-ever sanctioned race held on Jeffco Open Space trails. The proceeds were to go to trail maintenance and, the kicker, if you completed the long course you got a bottle of whiskey specially bottled for the race by Laws Whiskey House (a local distiller, here in Denver).

Even though I had done very little mountain biking, this year, really didn't have a bike appropriate for the downhill portions (at race pace), and only had 2-1/2 weeks to prepare, I signed up as soon as I read about it.

As far as training was concerned, I had no time to do anything significant. But, I did a little bit of commuting, and rode up Mt. Falcon in order to practice suffering...

Climbing with the big tires was not nearly as tedious as I had feared, and I felt pretty good about my time (only about 10 minutes over my time on a "normal" bike, when I am in a little better shape). The downhill taught me a lesson, though.

Due to tire clearance issues, I can only inflate the 3" 27.5 tire to about 28 psi. This is not enough to prevent pinch flats when jumping the bike off of water bars. Found that out the hard way, but I was at least close to the lower parking lot, and only had to walk a couple of hundred yards to get back to the truck. (It was my second flat of the day, and I didn't have another tube with me.)

I have a fix for that, but we'll talk about that in a later post.

I still didn't have a bike that I thought was raceable for the distance and elevation gain I was facing. So, I took the wheels off of the fat front, and installed a 27.5x2.3" tire on the rear, and a 29x2.3" on the front. I had planned on running 29" on both ends, but the only multi-speed 29" rear wheel I have is on the Funk, and I didn't want to take it off.

As it was, I had to use my 29" single-speed rear wheel as a front wheel, since the fork on the bike has 135mm spacing, for fat-bike wheels (old-school):

This is how the bike looked, in racing trim (of course, I removed the bags for the race):


I got a lot of thumbs up from other racers for having the nerve to race the rocky downhills on a full-rigid bike. Little did they know it was less a matter of nerve and more one of necessity!

The bike worked fine, for about the first 2/3 of the race. Then, at the bottom of one of the timed downhills (it was a stage race with 3 uphill stages and 3 downhill stages which were timed, connected by un-timed sections of trail and road), the 20-year-old XT rear derailleur decided to eject the bottom pulley.

Hmm, what to do? What to do?

I spent about 10 minutes of that timed section cutting my chain and single-speeding the bike in the granny gear. I had a 5 mile climb in front of me, and I figured the granny would be slow, but rideable. I was right about both and, at the top, I knew I couldn't ride another 10 miles in that gear, so I tried finding another gear I could use. After a couple of aggravating failures, I took the top pulley off of the derailleur, installed it in place of the lower pulley, and turned it into a chain tensioner so that I could use the middle ring on my crank-set.


It wasn't pretty, but it worked. 

I was so happy to see this sign, as I exited the trail after the last downhill section:



I rolled across the finish line in last place (although the final results showed that 3 other people actually rolled in with slower times than me, putting me fourth from last). I was happy with just finishing and getting what my buddy Rich referred to as the "participation trophy".


The total mileage of the race was probably about as much as my yearly total off-road, up to that date:


Here's my faithful steed and the prize at the finish area:


Throughout the month, I was also working on a couple of guitar projects. One is still in progress, but one got "finished":


I had bought another guys failed Telecaster kit project off of the local music gear swap page on FaceBook, and replaced the neck (which had a broken truss rod), as well as fixing some wiring issues. The more I played it, the more I liked the classic Tele honk on the bridge pickup. So, I decided to convert it to an Esquire (the original, single pickup Fender model, introduced in 1951).


So, I sourced an Esquire pickguard from Guitarfetish.com, picked up a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickup from another website, and ordered up a prewired Esquire control panel (all American components, mounted and soldered, for less than what I could buy the parts for!) and, the Saturday after the race, wired it all up.

So, now, all I have left of the original guitar is the body and the bridge. And, I have a new bridge on the way ... Some projects just turn out that way.

Along the way, I wrote 3 new songs (two of which I will play on this guitar, at the show on the 8th), worked a lot of long days on a project at work, and just generally lived my life.

It was a long, busy month which seemed to oddly take forever to go by and also disappeared in the rearview mirror in an eyeblink. So, here's my one blog post for September...

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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Little Jaunt On the Scrambler

...or, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation"...

I hit the road at 8:15 AM, last Monday (the 15th) after stopping by the DMV to renew my registration. I always do so online, but I noticed on Sunday, as I packed the bike, that I had somehow missed it. Due to my late start, I took the quick route past Ft, Collins on I-25, then west to 287 to Laramie, Wyoming. A hundred miles of I-80, then I turned north and went through Lander.

That's "The Bike Mill", one of the bike shops in Lander, in the background. Make the picture bigger and check the top of the grain elevator.

 After I left Lander, I noticed that the odometer was about to roll over on 20,000 miles, so I stopped and took a picture when it did. Of course, the bike actually has an additional 2461 miles on it, which I put on before swapping out the speedometer. Still, I like to see those 4-zeros numbers when they roll by.

Eventually, the Tetons came into view. Not long after, I turned north and reached the entrance to Grand Teton National Park. I paid my $40.00 admission fee, and rolled onward toward Yellowstone. I was unsure if I would have to pay, again, to enter Yellowstone and I was relieved to find that my 7-day park pass gave me access to both parks.

This is the gorge, alongside the road near the South Entrance. It was pretty impressive, but it was just a preview of what was to come.

I got to Grant Village, where I would be staying with my sister and her family while they were still out in the park. I decided to wait for them at the General Store/Souvenir Shop. I parked up near all of these bikes. I think that most of them were traveling together, since i saw a bunch of them riding together, the next day.

Isa Lake, which sits astraddle the Continental Divide. Each end of the lake drains to a separate coast. The east end drains to California, and the west end drains to the Mississippi.

Oddly (to me, anyway), I crossed the Divide 4 times on the way to Yellowstone, at elevations lower than 8,000 feet, and not in the mountains. All of my experience with the Divide, previously, has been in Colorado (10,000 to 12,000 feet elevation, in the middle of the Rockies).

This is a trail down to the bottom of a waterfall which most people see from the man-made overlook above. The nephews and I, of course, just had to climb down and check it out from below.

It was well worth the scramble.

Kyle, climbing up to a small cave he had spotted from riverside.

The view from inside the cave.
Once we climbed back up, Joy and Steve pointed out this beetle in the parking lot. Pretty impressive antennae!

Old Faithful Inn, built in the early 20th Century.

Inside the lobby of the Inn.

I loved this fireplace and chimney.
One of the hot springs, in the geyser field. I found the springs mesmerizing, for some reason, maybe because they offer a tantalizing look under the surface, but you can't see far and it adds some mystery. I actually found them as interesting, if not more, than the geysers.

The Inn, from across the geyser field.

Old Faithful. Can't go to Yellowstone without taking a picture of the world's most famous geyser...

Over Steve's shoulder is the view from the second floor veranda of the Inn, looking directly at Old Faithful. This would be an awesome place to watch the geyser erupt, vodka tonic in hand!

The weight-driven clock on the chimney was awesome. (I should have been an anthropologist or archaeologist, instead of a geologist. I'm always fascinated as much by the man-made structures by the natural wonders I encounter.)

The grand Prismatic Spring was huge (200 feet across) and really colorful.

These red dragonflies were visible throughout the park. I had never seen them, before, and finally manged to catch one at rest so that I could get a picture.

Goofing off.

There were some fires burning in the north end of the park, close to the West Entrance. At one point, the smoke was blotting out the sun.

Bison on Parade. This was common, along the roads.

There is an Osprey nest on top of that rock spire, with a juvenile Osprey sitting in it. As we watched, one of the parents flew in, dropped off a fish for Junior, ythen took off again.

My Matthew Brady phase of photography.

Kyle found this Bison wool (it builds up on their necks and they shed it, eventually). We really wanted to take it home, but, National Park regulations don't allow. So, we left it for someone else to enjoy.

On Thursday, I got up and left before breakfast, but still didn't get on the road until, once again, 8:15. But, since I wasn't on a schedule, I decided to take the scenic route home (which is also the slow route), down through Grand Teton, then Jackson and, eventually, to Vernal, Utah, where i would turn east and head home through Steamboat Springs.

Photo ops abound, along the way.

Highway 191, just south of Jackson, had an 8-mile "No Passing" zone which consisted of curve after curve after curve, alongside a nice little river. I enjoyed that stretch enough to make the slow route worthwhile, on its own.

Just north of the Wyoming/Utah line, the road overlooks some pretty impressive scenery.

The road takes you through Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, which is beautiful, and may well become a destination for a future trip.

After turning east, I was plagued by strong crosswinds, worse than the already bad wind i had fought, off and on, all day. Then, 5 miles from Steamboat, the rain I had been skirting all day finally got me.

At sundown, i was gassing up in Steamboat, with my rain gear on. I was a little nervous about heading toward Kremmling at that time of day. There is a lot of wildlife which likes to cross the road, in that area.

 The trip to Kremmling was uneventful, but there were two separate stretches of highway, south of Kremmling, where the pavement had been completely ripped out, in preparation for repaving. So, 11 hours into the ride, I was riding on mud. In the rain. At night. On a loaded motorbike.

Fun, fun!

I stopped in Silverthorne, and put on all of the warm clothes I had packed for mountain riding, then took off, again, into the rain. The temperature in Silverthorne was 35 degrees F, but it was actually about 5 degrees warmer at the tunnel, so I wasn't concerned about hitting snow.  And, yes, that is a possibility, even in August.

The trip to the tunnel, and down to Idaho Springs was a fairly scary ride. But, as it always does, eventually, the rain let up and i cruised on into Denver on dry roads.


At the end of the day, I was on the road for 14 hours, and I covered 690 miles.

I'm already looking forward to my next trip!

The next day, I took this picture of all of the additional clothing I had on between my regular riding gear and my rain suit: snowboard pants, hoodie sweatshirt, knit cap, winter gloves and arm warmers just barely kept me warm, But, they did keep me warm enough to ride until I got down to a lower elevation.

On Friday, I rode the mountain bike down to the coffee shop, to work some of the kinks out. It was a nice change. Kinda makes me want to do a big bicycle ride, too...

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