Category Archives: Bikes
MY FATHER MADE it clear to me that I was mechanically inept. “Sometimes it skips a generation,” was the phrase, and we believe what we’re told by people we believe love us. He had it, I didn’t, and because it had skipped me, I never would.
ALL THE QUOTES are from Pastime, a 1991 Spenser novel.
“Remember,” I said, “there were no women. Just my father, my uncles, and me. So all the chores were done by men. There was no woman’s work. There were no rules about what was woman’s work. In our house all work was man’s work. So I made beds and dusted and did laundry, and so did my father, and my uncles. And they took turns cooking.”
The first thing I bought to improve my kitchen was a serving spoon. I was working at Scholastic Books in Manhattan, and across from it was Dean and DeLuca, a very expensive gourmet shop where sometimes, to make myself feel better, I’d drop several dollars more on a treat than something only a scant degree less enjoyable would have cost at Cafe Duke.
They had utensils there, too, not just tony takeout. I thought about it and bought this big, pretty, satin-finish serving spoon.
THEN, BECAUSE I was reading Consider the Fork, and she swore by tongs, a pair of those, also from Dean and DeLuca; and thanks to a minor casino windfall of my wife’s, a rice cooker from Mitsuwa Marketplace—the largest Japanese grocery store in the US, which I’d sometimes stop into after riding my bike into New Jersey, to pack my single pannier with sake for me and mochi or candy for my family. Then the Microplane Zester/Grater—I think that was also from Consider the Fork—and I don’t remember the order of acquisitions after that. A thing here, a thing there. All haphazard, probably, from the outside, but tightly integrated to the emerging pattern in here. A pretty serving spoon was only needed if I was going to take food seriously enough to want to present it; we already had black nylon cooking spoons, which we used for both stirring and serving. This would not be used for stirring. Tongs were only necessary if I wanted to risk, on the say-so of a book, money on a utensil I’d never felt the lack of, but which an expert called her most valuable. And a rice cooker is a long-term decision about nutrition, expense, and self-reliance…and I have this Kurusawa/Mifune thing. The ronin in The Seven Samurai—as determined, scarred, and self-reliant as any knight-errant gumshoe—accept rice as payment.
Separated by weeks and freelance checks came: a good garlic press, a balloon whisk despite already having a spiral one, a small mortar and pestle, two nice big white serving bowls from Sur La Table, nested, even though mixing bowls had been serving the same purpose just fine. Each item requiring a second or third thought, and usually a second or third visit, before the purchase.
“So all of you cooked?”
“Yeah, but no one was proprietary about it. It wasn’t anyone’s accomplishment, it was a way to get food in the proper condition to eat.”
MY MARRIAGE ENDED, after a quarter-century, in July, 2014. She moved first, to the county in Connecticut we’d agreed on so the boys could have good schools and I could have train access to Scholastic. By the time the moving started, Scholastic had given all my work to a much larger vendor that could offer bulk pricing. No time to react. Two weeks later, I landed in the same county, different town.
I got the old raw-wood Ikea utility table. On our first weekend together, I had the boys sand and stain it with me, and it moved into our new kitchen as our new prep table. It fit perfectly. We didn’t have anywhere to eat yet, or even a wastebasket, but I knew what kind of little family of men I wanted.
THEY TURNED TEN soon after we moved. Now they’re eleven.
I called them to the top of the stairs to their room this evening, and said to the one who’s only intermittently interested in cooking, “There are two things I need done, and you can choose which. One, you can wash some dishes and set the table. Two, I need the chain taken off my folding bike, which is in the bike garage on the workstand, and put to soak in cleaner.”
His brother’s dream is to be on MasterChef Junior; I’ve been working with him on cooking since we moved here. This boy’s equivalent started four days ago, when he began his career as a mechanic by replacing the rear dérailleur and shifter cable on a little secondhand mountain bike his mom bought to keep at her place. His career will probably not be as a mechanic; he wants to be a scientist. I will probably never be able to send him to college, but I was struck, long ago, by Richard Feynman’s stories of being “The Boy Who Fixes Radios By Thinking,” and I can at least give him a tactile understanding of basic physics. The classical simple machines are lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. Bicycles are compound collections of four out of six, and the other two (wedge, inclined plane) are integral to fixing and riding them.
And not just of basic physics, but of applied physics; felt physics. Reading about springs and being able to repeat that they store energy is not the same as getting your finger pinched when a dérailleur snaps back on its hanger. The abstraction of reading says the physical world is readily understood and easily manipulated. The orneriness of reality teaches you that perseverance and endurance are the only things that really ever manipulate it.
The bike garage is the only room in the house where he’s allowed to swear.
I’ve struggled with dérailleur adjustment for two years, since I bought my first workstand and bike tool set during the same life epoch that pushed me to buy the serving spoon. Lightly guiding my budding mechanic through his own first repair blew away the last of the obstacles. I now get it. Last night after seeing my boys at a school concert and then leaving them and driving half an hour home by myself, I needed to make myself feel better, so I shouldered my randonneuring bike down the basement stairs and tuned up its winter-beaten drivetrain. I didn’t refer to any of my previous printouts from the web. It just makes sense.
It made sense to mechanical boy in a single day. Mostly I just tightened things his hands were too small for, made him stop when he jumped to the wrong conclusions, and told him not to hit himself in the face with the cable.
I also had him touch the cable near the shifter while turning the grip, to feel what’s going on up there, and then had him do it again while watching the dérailleur. His light bulbs went off so much faster than mine ever have. He’s got that thing I don’t.
“Your father sounds as if he were comfortable with his ego,” Susan said.
“He never felt the need to compete with me,” I said. “He was always very willing for me to grow up.”
SO I HAVE my fantasy house, my little family of men. I yell at them sometimes, which Spenser’s fictitious father and uncles never did, and feel unforgivably shitty and apologize. I’m trying to be an ideal, and that’s something nobody can maintain outside the hermetic chamber of a book. But even an unattainable ideal lies in a direction, and if we don’t aim for it, we don’t travel in that direction, and can’t get reshaped by the effort.
We’re still jerks sometimes, all three of us, including the one who’s not eleven, but I think we’re teaching each other how to be better men, one generation to the next.
IT WAS A very simple dinner tonight because of work and being tired and not-recovered-yet broke, and as a pan heated, I went downstairs, plausibly to make sure the mechanic knew where the Chain Brite was before he got started, but really to see about fingers not being pinched, and he was already done. The chain and master link were soaking in the yellow Domino Sugar tub. So I agreed that yes, it is very fun and he should totally do more of this kind of thing, and went back up to the kitchen and his brother said, “Can I butterfly these sausages for you, Dad?”
I know how I got here. I don’t want to sound disingenuous. It was intentional.
This is just a night when I had that moment, and am amazed.
So first Fat Cyclist called me out, and then I called him out back, and then he missed his story deadline, and then I made my deadline for “The Rambler, Part 2,” and gave him more time and he got “Last Ride on the Kokopelli” done, and then November 30th at midnight, I missed my deadline for getting the whole book together and up for sale.
So…I can’t tell who won anything. I think we both lost—but we also both finished our stories, and I’m about to finish the book. That’s noble and honorable, right? Coming in under your own power after you miss the cutoff?
Here’s the cover:
It still needs its back cover and spine designed, a missing author blurb snagged, ISBNs registered, and some other stuff that somebody’s got to do and I’m the only one here. I tried. Sometimes N+1 is how long it’s going to take to finish a book.
Should be a couple more days or so.
We also never quite got around to agreeing on exactly what would happen if one of us lost, but now that both of us have, it seems to me it should be doubled.
So if we take [never really figured out this bet] and double it, we get…uh…well, I think we get “donate money to each other’s favorite charity.”
What say you, FC?
LAST AUGUST 1, I moved from an apartment in New York City where I lived with my wife and kids to a duplex in Connecticut where I live alone half the time and with my kids half the time. At that same moment, unrelated, I lost about 80% of my income.
So there’s been a lot of stuff to take care of. A lot of it, I didn’t know I’d have to take care of, but I’m the only grownup here, so care of has been taken. Or anyway, mostly taken. I now have my own floor steamer. I have an oil heater. I have a big cheery orange stock pot, a dining nook, a scratched car with a lease I shouldn’t have signed, two Freecycle window boxes of geraniums that face the wrong way on the porch because I don’t care if you can see them, hooks in the kitchen for three bike helmets and a tarp over two little bikes outside, a slow cooker, a roasting pan, a half-sanded Goodwill dresser for my bike clothes, a tiny Japanese clothes washer in my bathroom (with lint catchers and mesh laundry bags and a collection of detergents and stain removers in the cabinet above it, and we, the Snyder boys, who are a family, have a system), and a task grid called SCHOOL MORNINGS AT DAD’S hanging on a clipboard where we can all see it at breakfast. I have sleep deprivation and less hair, I have maybe 40% of my income back, and I usually have yellow flowers in Mason jars or whisky bottles by the kitchen windows.
I threw away all the salad forks. They are not missed. I gave away the microwave oven. It’s not missed either; Snyder boys cook. I got rid of all but the three bowls I thought we’d ever need at one time. That was less smart than the salad forks and the microwave.
I have regrets, deep exhaustion, a body that’s rarely ridden farther than the grocery store since the double-century 18 months ago, a roll-top desk half turned into a charging station, and not a stack, but an occasional discovery of papers from school that I haven’t read. And my floors are better than they were before I bought the steamer, but you don’t step in here and go Wow, this man’s quite the housekeeper!
My kitchen is clean when I need that symbolism more than I need to get somebody’s book designed, or when the boys show up and I want them to think I clean things all the time. It was cleaner during the first six months, when there was less paying work and more need to feel I was taking care of things.
I do take care of things. Not all the things. There sure are a lot of things.
ONE HALF-THING I took care of as I stumbled out one door and into another was I paid all the contributors to RIDE 3. I knew I was going to lose my grip on getting it edited, designed, and published, though I didn’t know for how long, and I didn’t want the weight of not paying people pressing down along with the weight of not having it done yet.
Blog entries, the good ones, are from impulse and urgency. There was one every couple of months. As real writing time came back, in tiny spans, I spent it half-assing the writing that meant the most to me, which was novel #5. It’s been a 14-year gap since novel #4. Then I’d quarter-ass my RIDE 3 story, which not only has a couple of plot things still left to solve, but is in iambic pentameter and has to rhyme.
Then the book will need designing, all the stories need typesetting, the POD has to be set up, the ebook versions have to be made, everything needs uploading, I have to figure out who to send it to for reviews and put together some sort of promo thing and blog it…
The contributors checked in every so often. I wrote back and said I’m doing my best, but it’s going to be a while. And I was doing my best. Eighth-assed was my best.
They were nice.
FROM ELDEN NELSON, Fatcyclist:
Yeah, I know it’s been two days since he called me out. I’ve been busy.
SO two things:
One, I hate when people say I have nothing to apologize for instead of accepting my apology. So—Elden, you’ve got nothing to apologize for, and I accept it anyway.
Two, you’re on.
Four, RIDE 3 will be up at Amazon by December 1, in time for holiday gift-giving that doesn’t just mean “Christmas gift-giving.”
Five, it’ll have my story, The Rambler, in it–either Part 2 of a sufficient length to be clearly not a cheat (Part 1 was in RIDE 2), or the whole thing.
Six, wait til you see these stories…
Seven, okay that was nine things.
Anyone who doesn’t make his deadline has to…donate Some Amount To Be Determined to a charity of the other’s choosing, as well as write a ballad praising the other’s bike prowess and calf and/or butt definition.
IF I DARE? Oh, I dare. Because I know the secret.
Some people think art comes from inspiration.
Some people think it comes from hard work.
But you and I know. True art comes from abject terror of public shaming.
You got six days…tick tock…
“I DON’T WANT to hear any woohoos. I want to see serious descending.”
He’d just climbed 300 feet over about three-quarters of a mile, and now we were over the crest and he was feeling the start of his reward, rolling T-right onto Spring Hill Road on his little 20″ kids’ bike and aiming it dead-center at gravity.
“ONE,” I’D SAID to him after making him stop with me at the crest. I was holding one finger up. “You’ll have to brake a lot sooner than you usually do. So do it way early, so you don’t shoot into an intersection and get squished by a car. Got it?”
He broke in with something happy and excited about the climb. I nodded and said, “Did you hear what I just told you?”
“What did I say?”
“Oh, right. I have to brake sooner than I think I will.”
“Correct. I’ll help you with that. When I tell you to do something, you have to do it. Got it?”
“OK, that’s one. Two is, if your bike starts to shimmy, clamp your knees on the top tube.”
“Oh, I do that anyway.” He showed me.
“So clamp, and also slow down. Don’t do it abruptly, or roughly. Nice and easy, controlled. Got it?”
“Got it! Let’s go!”
He was already rolling.
FIRST LEG, HE overshot the stop sign by a couple of feet. A mother on the other side of the intersection, twenty-five feet away, just barely started reflexively pulling her kids aside, but it was mom-protectiveness, no danger, and there were no cars anywhere.
I raised a hand in thanks and smiled, and she did the same.
“He just climbed it for the first time, so now he gets to descend it for the first time,” I said as we started up again from the stop, explaining why I’d been calling out directions.
“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, smiling as we passed, and then it changed to, “Oh, wow!”
We flashed down past a roadie coming up the next grade. He was mashing. We were a kids’ bike whipping downhill and fenders and bags behind it yelling NICE! GOOD JOB! NICE TUCK!
“OH MY GOD!” the kids’ bike shouted at the bottom, as we coasted on a short flat. “THAT WAS SO AMAZING! THAT WAS SO FUN! OH-MY-GOD!”
“Nice job. Left turn coming up. See it? That’s the next descent.”
I saw him searching, saw him find it. “Oh my god. That’s–”
“Stay right,” I said, and we tilted down.
I HAVE LANDMARKS along this hill for braking. Approaching Hoyt’s Hill on Fawn at full tuck and 223 pounds, the white mailbox is too far.
“OKAY!” I yelled. “I WANT YOU TO BRAKE IN THREE…TWO…ONE…BRAKE!”
In a couple of seconds, there was a tiny wobble in his rear wheel. I knew what that was, and I saw him ease off and get back inside it. He wasn’t to the intersection yet. Apprehension got me, as if there was anything I could do if he overshot now.
We put our feet down at the limit line together. This time yesterday, all three of us were out charging around a parking lot in a downpour. This kid’s just like me in a storm—he nearly glows with the thrill. He was very nearly that electric now.
“OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO AWESOME! How fast do you think we were going? Oh, you don’t know, you weren’t going as fast as I was. Oh my god THAT WAS SO COOL.”
“No, I was right there with you. I’m thinking maybe thirty.”
“THIRTY! OH. MY. GOD!”
“Maybe. Maybe thirty. Maybe mid-twenties. We’ll see when we get back and see what it looks like on Strava.”
“I think it was thirty! Dad, I could hear it in my ears, like–” he imitated the noise.
I grinned and nodded. Now it was something we both knew. Not just me.
“Okay, we’re going to cross and then stay right. … Go.”
TEN AND a half.
Next summer, adolescence. This summer, “I don’t like being home alone. Can I go too?” and a little red bike and a little white jersey in a tuck.
YESTERDAY I TALKED myself into taking my bike to the local shop instead of working. (Except for childcare, I’ve been basically working in this chair by myself for basically a month.) Mental health thing. I figured I could ask them to loosen the clipless pedals I couldn’t get the right leverage on so I could replace them with regular pedals I bought online. I’ve been wanting that since winter ended, so that I could just get on the bike and go to the store in regular clothes instead of either looking for bike shoes or riding clipeless pedals in street shoes.
So while it was there, the mechanic noticed the new bottom bracket they installed maybe 100 miles ago was loose, but he’s backed up two weeks because it’s early spring. So he loosened the pedals and handed me some tools and told me what to do about the bottom bracket.
Which I did.
Then I walked it home, since the clipless pedals were loose.
Today I took them off and put the regular pedals on.
I don’t think he really checked my crank work.
I WAS DEPRESSED when I woke up yesterday morning, and weight loss had reversed since I got sick earlier in the week, and it was 15° out and gloomy and there seemed no point. So I posted on Facebook:
Because I’d posted something all tough-sounding, now I had to be able to say later that I’d done it, so I eventually found all my winter cycling clothes (not the Lycra ones, the jeans and parka ones) and went outside.
Because I keep a very cheap bottom-end single-speed fatbike outside, and still have the buckskin mittens I got in the Arctic and never thought I’d use again, I could ride to my new workspace without worrying about getting stuck there if it snowed during the day.
Because cycling drives your psyche clean, I got there in a good mood, and because even 3.7 flat miles is a workout on a 60-pound bike with 15psi tires, I got there in a good mood and invigorated—and hungry.
Because I was now in Danbury, I didn’t have to eat random leftovers out of the fridge.
And because I was invigorated and fed, and have always loved any unfamiliar cold sweet drink, I was friendly and happy.
Because I was friendly, I got into a friendly conversation with one of the guys who started the Hackerspace, and because I’m “the book design guy,” was taken forcibly by the lapels and hauled across the street, to a medium-small press, where I was introduced to the publisher and acquiring editor.
Because I don’t have a headlight on this bike yet, I rode home just before dark.
Because I was home before dark, I had time to check out Open Mic Night at my local coffeehouse, which I liked better than the open mics I’ve checked out at local bars. I have a new song that’s almost done.
Because I hadn’t written all day, I felt the day had been a failure. But not the kind of failure where everything’s hopeless, which is how I’d felt in the morning; the kind where you know it actually is a failure of sorts, but because you got your riding in…eh, you know, no point being despondent. And the lard thing was pretty funny. Just do better tomorrow.
Here’s the lard thing. I have no idea how to count calories when buying Chinese food cooked by the owner of the grocery store:
THIS MORNING I weighed in at less than 220 for the first time since November.
I was also a little sorrowful for no very clear reason, and a little sick, still. But the depression wasn’t so bad. And because I didn’t want to break the new streak, I rode to work again.
Bicycling gives you the same ideas you get when you’re falling asleep, only you can write them down when you get there. When I got to the Hackerspace, I wrote down what the climax and ending of this novel are.
(Because bicycling also replays painful old gaffes on a loop, I imagined how people I’ve been weird to—because at specific times of my life, my personality wasn’t back together yet—would react to the book. Eh, Snyder. Yeah, don’t like him. YOU can, I’m not saying otherwise. We all have our tastes, and none are wrong. Just…you know…*raised eyebrows and shrug*.)
(Because bicycling also pumps good mood through your entire being, I remembered I don’t actually care all that much that I sometimes fumble the social thing.)
Because I know the climax now, I’m taking a break from plotting and narrative and working on blurbable reviews. Publishers Weekly will call it one of the first masterworks of the early twenty-first century. The New York Times will marvel that a genre writer could have produced such a layered work of subtle complexity. These are advance blurbs, and subject to change.
I will be accused, by my friends, of snobbishly distancing myself from genre, and will patiently explain what I really meant in the interview. My explanation will be grudgingly accepted, but only four of my friends will still talk to me a month later. That’s a net gain of two, so this works out great.
Metal tubes, cables, rubber, leather. Gears and levers. Miracles.