Apr 18 2014

Photo Finish for April 18, 2014: Noah ‘Scape

Chaucer waxed lyrical about the month of April, whose “shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.” And e. e. cummings went on at some length about a world made “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful” by the coming of spring. But here in New York’s Borderlands, the spring of the year has lately assumed a somewhat ominous air. The roar of raging water is now the season’s signature tune, ushering in a newly familiar litany of road closures and evacuation orders, along with whispers of impending dam failures.

The blame falls, as always, on the usual suspects: deep drifts of snow in the hills and unusually heavy rains. And they play their part, to be sure. But snow and rain are nothing new in the Borderlands, are they? So maybe the explanation for the surging rivers lies elsewhere. After all, I don’t have to go far to see recently drained wetlands and freshly felled woods. And if you insist on paving paradise to put up a parking lot, you can’t really be surprised when the spring rains run right off the asphalt and swell the rivers, rather than soaking in.

Or can you? I suppose that depends on how tight you shut your eyes.

High Water

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Apr 17 2014

Feeling Their Oats — Readers’ Ruminations on Oatmeal

Dr. Johnson, I Presume?

Back in January, I wrote a column describing my search for an inexpensive instant oatmeal that retained some of the flavor and texture of the real thing, a search that culminated in my making my own. The experiment — for that’s what it was — proved a success, and it was successful in more ways than one. Not only did my homemade instant oatmeal live up to expectations, but the column generated an outpouring of reader mail. Oatmeal, it seems, is a hot topic, and one which generates strong feelings among paddlers.

That being the case, I figured I’d better pass along what I’d learned from the ensuing correspondence, and with the generous consent of the readers who wrote around my article, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll begin with a few words concerning Dr. Johnson on oatmeal… Read more…

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Apr 15 2014

Are Your Feets Too Big? The Cautionary Tale of Toe-Clip Overlap

If you’re a cyclist with biggish feet who rides a smallish frame, you’ve probably noticed that your toes occasionally rub against your front fender when you make tight turns at low speed. This is usually No Big Deal, though if the bump comes at the wrong time—or if you (a) don’t have fenders, (b) ride a fixie, or (c) are having a really bad day—it can bring you down. The phenomenon used to be called “toe-clip overlap,” but since few riders nowadays use toe clips, it’s often shortened to “toe overlap.” And here’s how it looks from the rider’s seat:

Toe Overlap

I’ve exaggerated things by sliding my foot foward on the pedal—the absence of my toe clip in the shot is the giveaway—but some folks really do have this much overlap. The determinants include:

  • Your bike’s frame size and geometry
  • Wheel and tire size
  • Crank length
  • Whether you’ve fitted fenders
  • Whether or not you use toe clips
  • The size of your feet

Tight, short-wheelbase racing frames are less forgiving than long, laid-back tourers, while the combination of big (700C) wheels on small frames makes for bigger problems. (Which is why some makers—Surly is one—fit smaller 26-inch wheels on smaller frames.) Fenders and toe clips further reduce clearance, as do long cranks, though at least the fenders give you an audible warning that you’re about to make contact with the wheel. Do I have to explain why big feet increase the likelihood of overlap? I didn’t think so.

OK. Toe-clip overlap is like the weather. It happens. And some people get rained on. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ll want to know what you can do about it. Well, here’s some good news: You really don’t have to do much. Overlap isn’t a concern when you’re going straight. Even when you head into a turn at speed, your lean does most of the work. Your bars—and therefore your front wheel—hardly move from the straight-ahead position. So overlap becomes a problem only when you have to make tight turns at low speeds, and your first few close calls usually teach you how much to backpedal in order to avoid being brought down. Fixie riders can’t do this, of course, which is why overlap is more of a nuisance for them.

All in all, though, it just isn’t something most of us need to worry about. Of course, if you’re unlucky enough to experience a lot of overlap, and if you often need to negotiate heavily traveled roads at slow speeds, dodging and weaving around potholes and double-parked cars, you’ll want to put in some practice time in an empty parking lot before venturing out onto the mean streets. (Wear your helmet. Elbow pads might be a good idea, too. Parking-lot asphalt is pretty unforgiving stuff.) For the rest of us, however, toe-clip overlap really is No Big Deal. It’s certainly not a good reason to reject an otherwise satisfactory frame—even if your feets are too big!

Sitting Pretty

This article was originally published in a slightly different form on October 10, 2011.

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