Monday, September 29, 2014

EXTREME test riding

Among the check-in notes on the Trek FUBAR I worked on last week was the instruction: "Test ride HARD." 

The owner of this bike is a teenager who may not yet be old enough to drive. His father brings the bike in. I did not see him this time, because I was off, but last time he told me the kid has been hucking 10-foot drops. Even when I was young and foolish I did not have that little regard for personal safety.

This guy always brings a quandary with his kid's bike. Last year the rear shock was acting up. I'm not even sure it was the same bike. I screwed up and spec'd the wrong size replacement shock. Not only did we have to give a refund, the kid had destroyed the incorrect shock in the meantime, so we ended up with nothing to resell to someone who could actually use it. Dad came in ready for a fight and told us he'd taken the bike back where he bought it, where they fixed it easily. Then he took his hundreds of dollars and we saw him no more. I figured he would never be back. But the other place managed to screw up during the intervening year, so there was the greasy carcass, awaiting my ministrations.

After replacing all that was bent, crushed, worn out and thrashed, and sponging away the sticky gook and grime I had to go out and try to reproduce some fraction of the young projectile's headlong riding style, so that Daddy-o would not come back and accuse us of shirking our duty after handing him yet another prodigious bill.

"I told you to test ride this thing HARD!"

Can't I just throw it off the roof a few times and call it good? But no. I have to be shifting under load while I ride up and down a mine shaft. I have to be hurtling down a cliff and then grab a double fistful of brake levers. I can throw it off the roof, but I have to be on it. And cross it up in the air, too.

 Even when I mountain biked actively I was more into endurance and uphill speed than downhill craziness. I just tried to survive the downhills. I know one or two riders around town who could give the bike a good workout. I should try to hire one.

Test ride it hard. I have a track around the building. If I had the chops and the foolish pride I could launch it off a retaining wall at one point. I almost did, on Saturday, but I figured I would probably stuff it right in front of a bunch of patrons at the neighboring restaurant. While I might be well advised to take that one and only chance at Internet video notoriety, I don't want to buy this kid any more bike parts, let alone get myself stove up. One trip to the emergency room per year is more than enough. I made several laps, but always veered away from the jump to shoot the slot between the rose bush and the litter barrel. I'm all about the corners. But unless you're laid out horizontal at the top of some berm you get no respect.

I don't deny I'm an old fart when it comes to mountain biking. How many mechanics could fix this bike and then put a ferocious hurt on it during the test ride? I'm sure someone can. But if you stuff it on the test ride, who pays? "You told me to ride it HARD." I wouldn't worry about it except that the Dad tells us to spend whatever it takes to get Junior's ride back up to snuff, and that always takes a bundle of cash because Junior is such a hammerhead. So then he feels like he's bought himself another trouble-free few months. If he doesn't get that there's liable to be another brittle scene.

I can't wait for this kid to get a driver's license so he becomes a car mechanic's problem instead of mine.

"Test drive it HARD! The tickets are on me!" Hell, that might be fun.

More gems of design

A customer -- formerly a triathlete at a professional or near professional level -- brought in this used Trek something or other he found on line to replace his mid- 1990s Aegis. He just wanted a cassette and some quick release skewers for the spiffy carbon wheels he bought. Our leader suggested he should bring the bike so we could make sure there were no weird compatibility issues.

The wheels will work. But what I would take to be an expensive bike has some pretty cheesy details.

These plugs on the top tube press into threaded bosses spaced as if for a bottle cage. They don't seem likely to pop out, but they also do not exclude water. The widened bit that holds them into the bosses does not fill and protect the threads the way a properly greased bolt would.
Every set of bosses has the same cheesy plugs. But that turns out to be a minor concern. See below:
When you need to replace the rear brake cable you'll probably just buy a new bike. I love how the brake arms just disappear into the frame. The cap screws that secure the cover have sockets for dinky little hex wrenches, so they'll probably round right out when you try to break them loose after their long service on the bottom of the bike.
Furthermore, the problem of a few inadequately plugged little holes loses a lot of significance when you pull off this squishy plastic shrouding to reveal a good sized tunnel going into the frame. 

This shot shows the rusted fasteners inside the hollow stem through which the cables run down to the top tube. Nearly every bolt was corroded on this bike. It probably saw a lot of trainer use, bringing downpours of sweat.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A visit from stupid wheels

The rider had noticed that one spoke in his front wheel was so loose it hit the computer pickup on every revolution. Fortunately he did not pull it out sideways and then twist it around an adjacent spoke. Riders who do that often make the repair significantly more complicated and expensive than it would have been if they'd found a less drastic way to secure it while they made their way home.

What the rider did not notice was the similarly wobbly condition of the rear wheel. It's behind him, after all.

I had to check and adjust the tension in both wheels. Simple enough.  But the spokes are in pairs.
You can only turn the nipples one flat at a time. When you're tightening spokes that are flappy loose, that slows things right down.
You don't have to build a better mousetrap, just a weird looking one. The mice will laugh, but so will you, all the way to the bank. You're not out to trap mice. You're out to trap purchasers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Truth in labeling

The wear pattern on this frame decal, combined with the overall condition of the bike -- it has been ridden savagely, maintained badly and, oh by the way, backed over by a car -- inspired me to make a few additions to it.

THERE we go.

Everything I did was easily reversible, unlike most of what the rider, his last mechanic and a careless family member have done.  Parts are on order. I can pass the time until they arrive cleaning off the coating of either 90 weight or chainsaw bar oil on the entire bike.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We were the Culture of Speed once

An item I read about a bicyclist in Kentucky being arrested for vehicular cycling reminded me of the ChipSeal case from several years ago. I'd lost track of ChipSeal in the intervening years, so I went to see what he's up to. His blog reported police encounters from August 2013.

ChipSeal illustrates the difference between an advocate and an activist. He rides within the law, but he takes up every square inch the law allows. Because most people, including many of those paid to uphold it, do not know the law, the vehicular cyclist claiming a permitted share of the road looks conspicuously obstructive to motorists who firmly believe the cyclist has a legal duty to defer to them in all cases. And that, my friends, is the majority of motorists. So ChipSeal and others who assert their rights -- and ours -- in the face of civilian and police harassment keep motorists thinking about bicyclists, but not necessarily fondly.

Any set of principles can take on a religious level of dedication. If we as riders believe we have a right to the road, why do we not all claim this right, all the time? The activists seem to survive at least as well as the less assertive. They would say more so. By being in-your-face visible and present, they are told they make themselves a target, but they also force motorists to steer deliberately around them.

"It is common for motorists to be annoyed with my presence and express it with their automobile horns. Often, the more impatient motorists will pass me on the shoulder. Even when the road divides into two lanes again I will often get free unsolicited advice from motorists or their passengers as they accelerate past me." This is a quote from ChipSeal's blog entry for August 23. It indicates the psychological effect of assertive cycling on motorists and passengers in vehicles passing the assertive cyclist. They do not suddenly start thoughtfully considering the rights and the challenges of transportation cycling. They're just pissed off by one more idiot on a bike.

ChipSeal refers to the Culture of Speed and a windshield view of the world. We notice it now, after almost a century of motorist domination. But we were the Culture of Speed once. Not only did the introduction of human-powered two-wheelers lead to incidents of bad behavior, the bicycle as it evolved also greatly increased the speed and cruising range of a person who might previously have had to walk everywhere. Cycling groups led the movement to improve roads so they could go faster in greater safety. And from the bicycle, on the roads that cycling helped improve, transportation evolved to be even faster with the addition of external power sources that did not eat hay and crap on the road. So the bicycle was left behind by technological development. Whether it should have been is another matter. People wanted to go even farther, even faster, with even less personal effort, even though the automobile required massively greater utilization of resources and mobilization of workers, and thus a greater public cost than bicycling and a good rail system would have required. All that stuff created jobs and set money in motion, so it all seemed just wonderful.

The costs were spread over society in ways we have only begun to calculate. Individuals tend to look only at what they see coming directly out of their pockets. So they'll complain about the cost of a vehicle, registration, insurance, fuel, parking and maintenance and overlook public health and safety costs, congestion, sprawl, pollution, resource depletion and other ills until they get so bad they can't be ignored anymore.

Those of us who for various reasons took up bicycling have to varying degrees refused technology that the mainstream has accepted. Some purists refuse it entirely. Some recreationists don't really refuse it at all, even to the point of despising and persecuting bicyclists who ride on the road. Anyone can hop on a bicycle. Then, no matter what they really believe, anyone who sees them on it will lump them in with "bicyclists" as a category. The opinion of that category lies with the beholder.

Why do we ride? Usually people ride to go faster than a walk. I don't think too many people say, "I ride to go slowly." Even people who pride themselves on riding slowly will find that they have a lower limit. Otherwise, why pedal at all? So speed is relative, but it's always a factor. And relative speed is the root of all our problems with the motorized road user. It's also the root of our problems on paths where we are the fastest users. Then our speed is obvious even if we feel we are working hard to attain it.

Along with speed goes flow. Traffic systems function best when they help the elements using them to flow with the least awkwardness. Wheels create the illusion of flight, so where paths intersect these flights have to cross each other. Mostly we use a system that subordinates the flow on one path to the flow on another, or we use interchanges that keep elements in motion, using ramps and bridges to manage the connections. But motorists can change speed without major muscular exertion, whereas pedalers cannot. We are protective of our speed just as much as drivers are. Indeed, much of our desire to use travel lanes has to do with avoiding the margins of roadways, where debris and poor surface conditions would hold us to very low speeds and rough rides.

We have other reasons to ride in the lane, notably to control passing behavior. But anyone who rides mostly on narrow roads learns to give way in some places and hold the line in others. Full-on vehicular cycling might not get you hit by a car, but it could get you pummeled by someone who followed you until you stopped or tagged into the ditch by someone who had to wait behind you until you did swing right to open the gate.

All of our decisions are calculated to maintain our flow -- in other words, our best sustainable speed.

The motorized Culture of Speed certainly runs at a more frantic pace. Its unquestioning participants can't begin to understand why anyone would settle for less. Only kids and drunks ride bikes to get from place to place. Them and weirdo freaks who probably don't smell very good and must not have real jobs to get to, families to raise and busy schedules to keep. You get nowhere emphasizing the differences between us and them. You have to try to minimize them. Don't think you can do that just by wearing regular street clothes. The drunks wear those. So do the kids. You need to solve the flow problem. Do that and no one will care how we look.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Introducing the IMBIBE: Ingenious Mechanics' Bashed In Barplug Extractor.

It can also be used as a corkscrew. Ingenious!

Mix it up

Those of us who get most of our exercise from transportation may find ourselves falling into a routine of the same activity over and over.

I used to mix it up, even in the commute. I had a deal going that allowed me to paddle four miles and walk at least a mile and a half as one alternative. The drive to Lake Wentworth, the paddle and the walk all together took at least an hour and a half each way. It was great fun, but I had to give it up. It ate too much time. But I have few options to insert walking into my commute. So I end up riding the bike every work day.

I'm not complaining, just observing.

By riding every day, more or less, I always use the same muscles in the same way. I stress the same joints. When I take a rest day it helps restore things, but the first day back on the bike doesn't feel as good as the second. The effect is the same with two days off or three.

Until this week.

With the shop closed on Sunday for a while, I gratefully accept the extra day to myself, pay cut and all. I come out of the summer with a lot of chores to finish before winter. I used to ride for fun or go paddling or hiking on days off, but American puritan guilt has finally worked its way into my brain so I don't enjoy anything that can't be related to work. I don't say this is a good thing. It has simply happened.  But on Tuesday, the middle day off, I got myself to go for a couple of hours of moderately strenuous bushwhacking up the mountain behind my house.

Logging has changed the vegetation. Where I used to be able to see quite a distance under the canopy of a mature forest,  now logging cuts of various ages have grown into impenetrable sapling hells. Side light from the open areas has increased the density of understory foliage in adjacent areas. Navigation has become quite tricky. With the prevalence of Lyme disease in the area I don't like to get too cuddly with the underbrush until we've had some hard freezes and shed the leaves. So while one could just shoot a compass bearing and shove on through,  it doesn't appeal to me. It's also been a banner year for ground nesting hornets. I don't want to be tangled in a thicket and suddenly notice the angry swarm I've kicked up.

All this led me to a circuitous path avoiding natural obstacles and an unfortunate house built by people who used to have a cabin in a hollow and now have a ch√Ęteau on a ridge. It's amazingly well concealed, but it's still up and out there. It used to be easy to avoid the cabin, which was seldom occupied anyway. They're okay people, but I don't go into the woods to socialize. And I don't want to intrude on their privacy either.

When the forest was all mature and the going was good I used to be able to reach the ridge top in an hour or less. This time I did not aim for the summit. There was plenty to see lower down and it was plenty of work to get there.

The next day was rainy. I had things to do indoors. So the hiking day was bracketed by rest days. This morning I rode with none of the creakiness I have when the pattern includes only cycling,  random physical labor and rest. I felt rejuvenated.

This is not a new idea. I merely note how the experience reminded me that it works. In my ideal living situation I would get to mix it up routinely, walking for some errands and riding for others. But I hate to give up a place so rural that I can stand in a grassy clearing in the woods and hear the wing beats of a raven 60 feet above me. So while I'm here I'll have to declare the walks medicinal and justify them that way.