Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Experienced Misinformation

I've been watching an idiot riding in shorts through the last weeks of wintry temperatures. He's also mashing big gears, further straining his naked knees. I'm sure his friends know him as a big rider. It got me thinking about the effect of experienced misinformation in any activity.

Years in the bike and cross-country ski business have given me a valuable perspective on inside information compared to the wide variety of uninformed or partially informed speculation.

The first bike shop I worked in had the mechanics in the basement. I left that comfortable lair to try to sell some better bikes up on the sales floor so I wouldn't have to work on so much crap. I always intended to return to the mechanics' cave as soon as I had started the Ride Better Bikes Movement, but instead I moved on from the bike biz for a few years. In my current situation the workshop is accessible from the main shop floor. I get to hear every Loud, Confident and Wrong blowhard who brings his friend in to learn about bikes.

Mind you, just being in the bike business does not automatically confer full and complete understanding of how the machine and rider work. But the retail shop puts you in the center between producers and consumers. Much of their communication channels through you.

Magazines, websites, forums, books, films and gossip throw out clouds of information, knowledge, wisdom and fantasy, often completely undifferentiated. Riders and potential riders come in with opinions already shaped by these influences.

Even with good inputs, the learning rider needs to sift and sort for what applies in the individual case. Do you need to train like a top category racer or load like a transcontinental tourist to enjoy our particular type of riding? On the other hand, can you get away with being a haphazard slob with the amount of mileage you're putting on your bike and body?

The nice thing about human-powered vehicles is that very little is outright wrong, However, misapplication of technique or technology can be very unhelpful and occasionally distinctly harmful.

Big gears at slow cadences can -- but don't necessarily have to -- blow up your knees. If you have sufficient strength, augmented by diligent off-bike training, you can grunt around in the big meat all you want. You should set up your riding position for grunting rather than spinning as well, and accept the fact that you will have no snap and little tolerance for changes in cadence. And if your riding position and preparation aren't right, you will cause joint damage.

Riding in shorts in cold weather will lead to long-term knee damage and short-term muscle injury. You need to keep working muscles and joints warm enough to stay flexible and well lubed. Cyclists generate their own wind chill. Riding 15 miles per hour at 40 degrees you are pushing the old kneecaps through an effective 32 degrees -- freezing. The same speed at 50 degrees only gets you up to 36. A lot of riders in northern climes are tempted to show off their gams at 50 degrees. The venerable CONI manual said a rider should wear tights below 70 degrees. Personally I have pushed that to 60 degrees since I moved north, but I still tend to be more conservative than a lot of the aggressive riders and their uninformed disciples around here.

Aggressive riders may sidestep the consequences of their clothing choices by quitting the activity when they can no longer pursue it aggressively. They put in a few hard years and move on, believing when they finally get arthritic knees and quads that feel like dried-out rubber bands, that these are normal symptoms of aging. The "right" thing to do never would have mattered to them because they were not interested in longevity.

Unfortunately, observers equate speed and competitiveness with overall knowledge. This person must know what they're doing because they can always drop me on a ride. That's right. A V-8 is lots smarter than a 4-cylinder.

You might even see bare legs sticking down below a fairly bundled-up torso and arms. Far better to average out the coverage over the whole rider. I cover the legs first, add layers over the core and finally add sleevage. Since I'm older and more sluggish now the transitions may come much closer together. I admit I overdress more often than I under-dress. Having been caught far from home with too little clothing I don't want to repeat that misery. I can always peel a layer and tie it or tuck it.

Older beginners will suffer the consequences sooner. If you're already on the threshold of age-related frictions, and especially if you came from an abusive sport like running, you need to take care of what you have left if you want to continue to use it.

The unifying quality to all experienced misinformation is oversimplification. In this the misinformed get little help from the bike industry, because in any selling situation if a short distortion will get the buyer to fork over, why waste time with a longer, nuanced education? The only time someone focused on the sale will slow it down to address a point the buyer did not expressly introduce is when the consequences have bitten the seller on the ass enough times to make it worth the trouble to try to prevent it. Otherwise, let the mechanics deal with it down the road.

Humans are great at creating one problem to solve another. To some extent this is just how mutation and evolution work. But we tell ourselves we're better than that. Yeah? Prove it.

All the uncorrected impressions and sloppy explanations ripple outward through the world, crossing and recrossing in waves that wash back into the repair shops or stagnate in the corners of garages and basements.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nipple Alert

The tune up was going smoothly. Too smoothly. The owner of the bike is a big guy who rides a lot. How was I breezing through this toward my fast-approaching deadline? I'll just pop these wheels in the truing stand, even though they look pretty good.

I'd noted that whoever built the wheels had used alloy nipples. Don't get me started on alloy nipples. I've seen a lot of them sheared off over the years. But I began to wonder if alloy nipples might be the safety valve to take some of the strain off of heat-treated rims that fatigue and crack.

In the stand, the rear wheel looked pretty straight, but I saw a tiny waver I could reduce to nothing. I set the spoke wrench on the flats of the nipple and barely shifted my fingers. The nipple crumbled to powder. It took no force at all.

On an older wheel I check for cracks in the rims. On eyeleted rims I look for loose eyelets. So when I surveyed the wheels for more deterioration I marked bad nipples with red tape on the spoke and bad eyelets with a bit of tape on the rim.
I can't say for sure how close the wheels were to catastrophic failure, since the spokes still held even after the nipples had crumbled under exploratory pressure, but they weren't being ridden over rough roads by a large guy right then, either.

Particularly disturbing was the number of bad nipples in the front wheel. If eight spokes decided to let go at the same time in a front wheel I think you'd stop pretty abruptly. And that's in a conventional wheel with 36 spokes. Do the math. Reduce the number of spokes, correspondingly increasing the load on each one and then subtract a bunch all at once. A rider I know lost ONE spoke in a Mavic wheel on a fast descent and it almost locked up the wheel completely. He was able to bring the bike to a controlled stop, but it was a scary few seconds.

So, my weight-conscious friends, examine your wheels very critically if you have had them a few years. These wheels had a lot of miles, so fatigue is not unreasonable, but if no one had checked they might have announced their retirement at a surprise party they threw for themselves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

2014 cranks up

First ride to work today.  In a few weeks I hope to feel like a well oiled machine. Right now I just feel like a greasy doughnut.
This was waiting for me on the work bench. It's duh speshul tool for eleven speed. Boy oh boy. Gotta have that special tool. Of course Shimano has had plans for 14-speed in the files since the mid 1990s. Can you doubt that skinnier chains and more special tools are in our future?

In my immediate future is a pile of repairs.  Then I have to drag my slug ass home.

The Snirt Mountains

The temperature has shifted so the snow is melting. It has a long way to go.
This bank has actually melted down about a foot. But ground level on the yard is down around my handlebars. The first terrace of flower bed is just above hub level.
I was thinking of having an ice-out contest for this part of my driveway. Rain last night beat it back some. I might even be able to open the big sliding door on the front of the garage now.
The sun makes everything look better, even mud and snirt.

I tried to take a couple of videos to show the streams full of melt water and the Snirt Mountains along one section of Green Mountain Road, but the wide angle lens on the helmet cam really flattens everything out. The result is pretty boring.

Conditions are improving. I think the heat may come on the way the cold did.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Dual Drive earwax

One of the early repairs this year is a Cannondale hybrid with SRAM Dual Drive rear hub. The owner said the bike had been stored for a couple of years. He reported no functional problems, only requested that we figure out how to raise the handlebars.

Dual Drive uses internal hub gears combined with a freehub body to provide a set of external gears shifted with a derailleur. This particular bike had a three speed hub.
A single unit controls both internal and external gears
The control linkage for the internal gears has been disconnected in this picture. 

While I had the wheel out for truing I noticed that only one of the internal gears was engaging. I remounted the wheel to confirm this by reconnecting the shifter. Yep. It was totally air pedaling in low and medium gear ranges. This was not just an adjustment problem. 

With a little Internet mining I got to a tech manual on SRAM's site that showed me how to break into the thing, but I saw nothing in the schematics that suggested an obvious flaw that would lead to this kind of gear loss. The troubleshooting guide made no reference to it. Based on some residue on the end of the hollow axle I suspected congealed grease in the "lifetime lubricated" inner recesses. I flooded the hub with light oil and left it overnight. 

This morning it works.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A study in motorist psychology

If you want to understand a culture, live in it for a while.

I had not lived as a motorist since high school. I began my transition to predominantly cycling as I started college. Its advantages compounded over the years so that I came out of college car-free. Although motor vehicles made their way back into my life, I have considered myself a bicyclist who drives sometimes rather than the opposite.

This long, cold, snowy winter combined with other circumstances to make me a driver. I'm not proud of the tendencies that too easily turn me into a dickhead behind the wheel, but I'll use my own descent into hell to illuminate the psychology of the habitual driver.

Let's start by saying bluntly that there's no excuse for rude and dangerous piloting no matter what you're steering. I know myself well enough to head off the behavior even if I lack the spiritual advancement to avoid the desire to act impatiently or aggressively in the first place. But immersion in circumstances that inspire the feelings gives the analytical mind plenty to consider.

The average driver steeps  in a broth of impatience.  The situation that made me a driver this winter also made me concerned with scheduling.  Transit time suddenly mattered more than it had for years. On the bike my travel time is very consistent. But in the car it can vary ten to 25 percent due to circumstances beyond my control. That's a significant range. So leave earlier. That's the simple answer.  But what if the normal chaos of life delayed departure? We can still save this if everything goes right! Let's go!

Peel out of the driveway and the blockers move in. They take many forms. School busses are obvious.  Stoners, texters and the inexplicable weavers, wobblers and wanderers mysteriously sprout from the very heaved and potholed pavement itself. Maybe an opportunity to pass comes up. Probably it does not. All the while I wish I was on my bike.

I don't live in a six lane highway kind of place. It's two lane blacktop, baby. Not that it makes a huge difference.  We all know that more lanes just breed more traffic. The impatience that afflicts drivers acclimated to Gridlock Land probably springs more from the hideous realization that they're pissing away years of their lives sitting in traffic. That's right,  buddy.  You're growing old and dying in the driver's seat, delicately holding ridiculous horsepower to a crawl.

Cars represent independence to people. How ironic is that?

So the big revelation is that motorized transportation is a perfect  breeding ground for judgmental resentment.  Drivers judge each other.  They act aggressively. And there we are, one more thing. And we're small, slow and without armor. Time to vent!

This is obvious. Obvious, obvious, obvious. But put yourself in that frame of mind. Really absorb the character of the undiluted habitual driver. After only about three months I could feel the beginning of a sense of entitlement trying to take hold. Think how pernicious the infection must be in people who act on impulse without questioning their motivation.

Generations have grown up with the automobile as an undebated necessity of life. Look both ways before crossing the street,  kids. You don't want to get in the way of a driver! Let's get going!  We want to get a good parking place. Road trip! Hippies started bike touring. Questionable people.

Argue all you want about the true demographics of cycling. Drivers don't see statistics through their windshield.  They see things that might slow them down. You don't have to be the worst offender to draw their ire. You're an easy target. That's all that matters.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Job security or death knell?

The Internet brings me word of the proliferation of 11-speed drive trains and hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes among the many technological bounties showering from the broken sewer pipe of the bicycle industry and its chief driver of costs and complications, Shimano.

As if ten-speed chains did not wear out fast enough. While I chuckle on my own behalf as I ride my 8-speed steed (24, actually, with its hideously outmoded triple crank), I also tear my hair as I consider that most of my time is spent helping customers who have no intention of replacing their old bikes keep them going.

It's like working in rehab. The poor riders come in addicted to their conveniently-located shifting. It used to be state-of-the-art. Now it's relegated to the cheap models. The bike industry wants these dupes to buy newer bikes with more speeds. But they can't afford the stronger drugs you're peddling. And they don't need them.

If you get tagged by some irritable idiot in a pickup truck, does it matter whether your bike had 11 cogs or eight in the rear? Does it matter whether you had electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes or barcons and old cantilevers? Will the new bikes ride any better over potholed road edges than the old ones did?

Component manufacturers shove their innovations down through the price points because they need a lot of suckers to buy in to finance the few people who really benefit even slightly from the capabilities of the new machinery. I guarantee that racers will race on whatever they can get. THEY don't drive the innovation unless you can tell them one of two things: it's an advantage other competitors won't be able to get or it's what everyone else has, so they need it to start from an equal footing. But if everyone has it, everyone has it. That was true when it was toeclips and downtube shifting on steel framed bikes and it's true now with exotic frame materials and far more expensive and temperamental drive trains. No one has the technological edge for long. Meanwhile, the innovations warp values throughout the industry and cycling in general.

Now we need another shelf facing in the parts department for 11-speed chains. We have to stock 11, 10, 9, and 8-7-6-5, as well as a few models of 1/2"X1/8" and a 3/16" for good measure. The poor schmucks who want a nice bike and get stuck buying an 11-speed swell the ranks of the Chain of the Month Club even if they've never heard of it. And most people haven't.

"Got this great new bike! Of course my genitals still get numb on a long ride, I still breathe hard and huck up a lung on steep climbs and angry motorists still try to kill me, but thank heaven I have that one more cog!"

Riders may love cycling and still not want to shell out for a new bike very three years. Even among racers -- a small percentage of the cycling population -- there are many who may lust for the newer stuff but simply can't afford it. They'll get the best they can and thrash it and themselves to death.

Far more numerous than the real racers are the citizen riders with their myriad motivations, who buy the best bike they can, with every intention of using it for many years. The bike industry betrays them with its constant debatable "improvements."

As far as I can see the bike industry divides the customer base into two broad categories: the exploited and the neglected. At this they're no worse than many other industries, but when will that stop being the basis of acceptability?

Where's the big noise about improving riding conditions on every road in the country? Where's the huge investment in public image and education that would really increase consumer demand? Does the bike industry believe that will take care of itself or do they actually believe it's not worth the investment? They'll just keep throwing ideas at different rider groups and aim for the center of the biggest flocks until there are no more. As a rider I don't feel supported by them. As a professional mechanic I don't feel supported by them. As a small retailer I emphatically don't feel supported by them.