Sunday, October 22, 2006


As the seasons change, and temperatures start to fall, the air pressure in a car's tires begins to fall. Typically, about 1 PSI per 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Finding a gas station that has a working, free supply of compressed air can turn what should be a five minute chore into a 30 minute hassle.

Our house has a bifurcated garage -- a small wood-framed two-car garage next to a big cinderblock structure -- and a couple of years ago, I decided to install a source of compressed air. I have a small contractor's compressor which is plumbed into a pair of hoses, one in each garage:

The compressor is a small, oil-lubed compressor intended for nailguns. I use it to pump up tires and run an impact wrench. It will run any kind of an air tool except for a drill, air-chisel, or cut0ff tool.

What I like about it (as opposed to a "normal" large-capacity shop compressor) is that it does every automotive chore for which compressed air is required (blowing out fuel lines, running an impact wrench, and blowing pistons out of brake calipers). The things that it doesn't do, can be done using electric tools. Because it is small, it builds pressure quickly (like 20 seconds from empty), so when it's time to pump up the tires, you're up and running quickly. With a big shop compressor, you have to waste the time and energy of pumping up the whole tank before you can do anything.

Tall bike: nearly complete

I'm working my way through the componentry on the tall bike, replacing and upgrading things that are worn out or obsolete. I was unable to get the existing cup-and-cone headset to adjust properly, probably because it was missing a spacer, so I decided to splurge and have Harris Cyclery in Newton install a new Chris King headset. So at this point, the key "big bearings" on the bike (headset and bottom bracket) are now high-end sealed units (Phil Wood BB and Chris King headset).

When I picked up the bike I happened to see a 68cm Rivendell Atlantis bike that was also in for service. It had a very high stem called a Nitto dirt drop. I asked if Harris had one for sale, and they did, so now I have my bars high enough and I don't have that ugly, kludgy, heavy, steel steerer extender no more!

So at this point, the only components that haven't been upgraded are the derailleurs, brakes, and wheels. The wheels are kind of a conundrum. The 126mm rear dropout spacing means that it's hard to find a good hub (although Phil Wood has one). Plus, because of my weight, a freehub would be a much better choice than a standard hub. Also, the current wheels are 630mm, while must replacements are 622mm. I'm not keen about dropping the bike by another 4mm, given the long 185mm cranks.

Or should I get a new bike? I love the look of the Rivendell Atlantis, which is available in a 68cm size. Or I could get Mike Flanigan to build me a custom. Or I could do the Peter Cole thing and get a used 68cm Cannondale touring frame.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

OK, maybe not...

So I actually went so far to go to the local Saturn dealer to price out the Saturn-badged version of the Montana (the Saturn Relay). But then I found out about the Relay was named to Forbes Magazine's list of the Ten Worst American Cars of 2006.

Oh well, guess we'll squeeze into the BMW for a while longer.

My little hiker

My older son is 3 1/2 years old, and for a while I've been taking him on little "adventures" in the woods. Mostly, these involve walks of perhaps a mile across mostly level ground.

On Thursday, however, we broke new ground by hiking to the summit of Noanet Peak in the Noanet Woodlands in Dover, MA. This hike is about three miles and includes a climb of about 250 feet. The summit is open, and offers a nice view of the Boston skyline.

He astounded me by making the entire hike without needing to be carried, including several steep rocky scrambles. He had so much energy on the way down, that he ran about 1/4 of the way!

This first sign that he and I will be able to enjoy the outdoors together has made me really, really happy!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nitto "dirt drop" stem

As discussed elsewhere, after a 25-year layoff, I've been doing some bike riding. When you're 6'9" tall setting up a bicycle (like lots of other things) isn't always straightforward. The bike frame that I'm using is the largest production frame ever made (68cm), but it's not big enough for me with normal components. Until recently, I had been using a steel steerer extender plus a Nitto technomic 100mm stem to get the handlebars high enough:

Last week, I had the bike in to Harris Cyclery in Newton to get a new Chris King headset installed, and when I picked up the bike I happened to see a 68cm Rivendell Atlantis bike that was also in for service. It had a very high stem called a Nitto dirt drop. I asked if Harris had one for sale, and they did, so now I have my bars high enough and I don't have that ugly, kludgy, heavy, steel steerer extender no more!

This makes me happy, because now I have a bike that is comfortable to ride, with decent components, and no obvious kludges:

Monday, October 02, 2006

Pontiac Montana SV6 Trounces Toyota Sienna

A significant personal upheaval recently took me to Las Vegas for a week, and while there I rented a minivan from Hertz. The first car they provided us with was a 2006 Toyota Previa:

Based on my experience owing a Toyota Matrix, I expected this car to be easy to operate, stone-reliable, and to have really uncomfortable seats. Well, I was right about the seats. Awful, cramped, squishy with absolutely no lower back support. But after driving for 15 minutes (temperatures in the low 80s F), the AC would stop working and the engine temperature would peg to the redline.

I took the car back to Hertz and they replaced it with a Pontiac Montana SV6 minivan:

This car was great! The driver's seat had enough travel and adjustment that I could get my 6'9" self comfortable, and the seat was supportive. The controls were simple to understand and clearly laid out. The on-board computer was especially nice. A set of three menu buttons atop the center stack, with a red alphanumeric display embedded in the speedometer. The driving dynamics were reasonable. Plenty of body roll made for slow transitions, and the tires had abysmal grip. Somewhat underpowered, with a lazy 4-speed automatic made for easy cruising. The AC worked perfectly on a trip through the mountains outside of Vegas to Hoover Dam.

All in all, I have to say I much preferred the Pontiac to the Toyota. If I were in the market for a minivan (which I might be, since the personal upheaval was my wife and I adopting a new baby), I'd be tempted by the Pontiac (or it's Chevy clone, the Uplander).