Friday, May 30, 2008

A Visit With Seven Cycles

Just returned from a tour of the Seven Cycles plant, which, I recently found out, is about a seven-minute walk from my house here in good ol’ Watertown, MA. Anyone can take the tour – just call and make an appointment.

They have a nice facility, with nice people working there. My tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. Employees seem mostly young, from the folks in the administrative offices to those working the machines on the shop floor. The only people close to my (middle) age were those few who’d been with the company since its inception, lo those 11 years ago. The young’uns were very hip: Lots of bike-messenger clothes, tattoos and urban haircuts. Their gorgeously quirky fixies lined the bike racks just inside the factory door.

I got to see all parts of the process, which was delightful. First, there was a fellow butting titanium tubes (Seven’s most popular material), which helped me finally understand the term double-butted. He was machining some parts of the tube thinner than others, to create varied stiffness and noise absorption capacity. Sweet.

A few steps further down the line, I held up a makeshift welding eye-filter reserved specially for visitors, and leaned right over the shoulder of a Seven veteran welding the tubes of a steel frame together. Again, I learned something new. I’ve always wondered whey the welded joints on many bikes look like they’re layered with many tiny flakes. Turns out these are created by melting a thin rod of metal over the joint one juicy drop at a time. The drops layer on top of each other, and as they dry, they preserve that look for all time.

After a few other stopping points, we arrived at the finishing area, where frames are hand-polished with Scotchbrite, and painted those gorgeous colors that make you drool. Or they might be left proudly naked, with their impervious titanium sheen and a simple, ascetic Seven painted along the downtube.

My guide pointed out a paint guru who he told me is one of the only people in the company who isn’t very into bicycles. She has a design degree, and she helps customers arrive at custom paint designs. She sees a bike more as an intriguing design problem than as a quad-busting fun-machine. You might think having a non-biker in charge of what your bikes actually look like would be a mistake. Let’s just say that I saw one of her products in the showroom, and, simply put, it’s to die for. A drop-dead, one-of-a-kind paint job.

If you live in the area, you really owe it to yourself to stop by and meet the nice, talented, and very passionate people at Seven.

For my next tour, I plan to call up Independent Fabrication over in Somerville and see how they do what they do.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Like Riding a Bike

What has happened to me? I’m addicted.

It started about nine months ago, innocently enough. I’d been looking for a couple of years for a new sport to get into. But I’d had no success, mostly because of my knees. They’re 44 years old. The rest of me feels more like I’m in my early 30s, but my knees are as old as my driver’s license says I am, and then some.

Volleyball? No. No burn, and kind of dull, and too much jumping for my joints to stand. Basketball? Fun! But… the knees. Softball? Did that for many years, kind of done now. Running’s been out of the question for decades. Swimming, great workout, but I’m sorry. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g.

Then I began thinking... In my teens, I was quite taken with road cycling. I did youth hostel tours around the country. I logged crazy miles in Central Park, yes right there in the middle of Manhattan, getting up early on weekends to enjoy the empty bike path, devoid for the day of aggressive cab drivers. I drafted local racers just to see if I could. I spent spring afternoons disassembling my bicyle down to the ball bearings and re-building it – me, a very non-mechanical intellectual Jew from Manhattan. The bike had offered me, a thoroughly undistinguished athlete, passage into the land of the modestly accomplished.

But that was ages ago, I thought. Still… They do say that biking is good for the knees.

The only road bike my local bike shop rented out was a 20-year-old Univega, which seemed appropriate. About the same vintage as my first road bike, and about the same cheapo provenance, too.

It was a little too big for me. It had been 26 years since I’d ridden a bike more than a mile or two, and that maybe twice. I swung a leg over and ventured onto the neighborhood bike path. I rode eight miles or so. And I had a blast.

Eight miles is not much by my current standards. But more important than the distance: About 60% of the way through my out-and-back route, I found myself in an eerily familiar state, a kind of body-trance. My legs dancing rhythmically ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. The annoying mental muzak, which usually runs non-stop in my head, settled to the bottom of my awareness and my mind took on a luminous clarity. Total synchrony of purpose: body and mind one reality, indistinguishable, with liberty and justice for all.

This feeling, friends, is the very definition of velophoria. And it was eerily, sexily familiar, after 26 years of absence -- yet also fresh. In case you haven’t figured it out: I was back in love.

It was the beginning of the end. Or maybe just a new beginning. It depends on whether you ask my wife or me. I haven't stopped riding since, through the turgid New England winter and back again into the warmth. I've spent scandalous numbers of hours deciding what new gear to buy -- and spent more on that gear than I have on anything in years. I obsess about injuries that keep me off the bike. I research training ideas or bike repair tutorials. I've shed pounds, felt happier and more confident, and discovered a new part of the world. I've met lots of people, on the bike and on Internet cycling forums, and even made some friends.

End or beginning, I'm hooked.