Sunday, May 24, 2015

Something's up

My employer had one of his periodic foaming shit fits yesterday. I heard his words, what he said he was absolutely shaking with rage about, but I also know from long experience that he only goes off like this when other stressors have put a bigger squeeze on him than the issue that hits the detonator.

Memorial Day Weekend appears to be a snooze this year. I was actually given the day off today -- Sunday -- because the register wasn't ringing lustily enough to justify full staff. The frigid Saturday could have suppressed customer activity, although we sold hats and socks in the morning. The afternoon was pretty dead in the whole neighborhood.

Today is supposed to be much warmer, with summer-like temperatures moving in tomorrow. I can't imagine that the one cold day kept people from scheduling a weekend getaway if they really wanted one. The deeper chill in people's finances is probably nipping most of that crop. We see a few people with smiles and money, but nowhere near as many of them as we saw ten and twenty years ago. It was a gradual and then a precipitous decline. The town never bustles the way it did in the '80s and '90s. We have our little surges, but no sustained festivity and merriment.

The surge of repairs has died out. The torrent of check-ins didn't dwindle. It just stopped. Another will come, but the shrinkage of repair requests puts us in a nervous, depressive holding pattern while we wait.

The collapse of the Sunday road ride group may not represent a huge financial loss, although it did spawn a lot of steady maintenance -- chains, cables, minor adjustments, creaking frames. It signals a loss in the local road biking community that shifts our business even more to the out-of-town visitor, who may arrive at any time or not at all. Our local riders mostly come from the rail trail crowd. We have to adapt our stock of repair parts to reflect the most likely needs, while still trying to stay prepared for the more technically oriented riders in other categories. You never know for sure who will come to the area to do what.

Our seasonal billionaire who used to pedal has now gone over completely to e-bikes. These two-ton behemoths arrive in huge boxes. "Assembly" is usually pretty simple, unless something arrives broken. But any subsequent service call requires a bunch of heavy lifting for our aging staff, as the octogenarian billionaire can only lend so much of a hand. He's willing, but limited. And the whole process of dealing with Stromer and chasing down electronic or hydraulic issues eats a fair amount of time for distinctly limited financial returns. Even those vanish if nothing goes wrong on the battery-powered marvels.

With unexpected time at home, I can do a few more fix-it projects. For instance, I got tired of the toilet roll holder coming apart, so I fixed that today:

It's classy work. That's a Campy skewer. Now to vacuum up a couple of bushels of cat hair, hang some laundry and head out to the grocery store. One thing about a lackluster holiday weekend: the store shelves won't be as devastated as usual.

Friday, May 22, 2015

I majored in advertising for a while

A car in the parking lot behind the shop had a crooked magnetic sign on the door that said "Out Haus Ales." This struck Big G and me as an unappetizing association for a beer brand.

"What, you don't want some Burning Urethra IPA?" I asked. "How about some Foaming Leak Pale Ale?"

"Or, It's Only Beets Red Ale," said George.

"Sure. And You'd Better Hydrate Brown Ale and Call Your Urologist Porter."

Asparagus Lager. Lift the Seat Wheat. Old Stinky Stout.

Beer that stands out from the pile: Out Haus.

Mind you, the beer itself is perfectly fine craft brew. But we had too much fun riffing on the pee jokes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Micro Landmarks

Every morning that I ride to work, I dodge the same discarded hose clamp on the shoulder of Route 28. I'm always in too much of a hurry to stop and pick it up. It's become a micro landmark.

A true micro landmark is something a person in a car would never see. There's a mysterious plastic disc set in the pavement of Elm Street. It could be the cap from a milk jug. But, if so, how has it stayed in the same place for years? Tiny road kill and the stubborn stains left behind by juicy bits of litter tell their stories to cyclists scrutinizing the pavement for a safe, smooth line. Some last for weeks. Some last for years.

Disposable diapers tend to turn into micro landmarks. They withstand the elements for a long time, and adopt-a-highway crews have an understandable blindness concerning them. Wouldn't you?

Micro landmarks fall into the larger category of micro scenery. Forget your herds of elk and bison, I get to see migrating newts. The cyclist sees individual bugs making their perilous way across the asphalt plain. We see really odd small objects people have thrown from cars. Coins raise the question, "would you stop for 10 cents? How about 25?"

Bike riders can take a good, long look at the roadside vegetation, too. On one of my woodsy detours, lady's slipper orchids grow in a bunch along just a few yards of roadside bank along a dirt road. The whole growing season presents flowers and foliage small and low for anyone who passes slowly enough to see it.

Odd objects include items from the Roadside Tool Company. Some items I won't even stop for, because I already have several. If time permits I will set them up where they can be seen better by more passersby. If they hang around a while they become micro landmarks. "Go out 28 until you come to the socket set sitting on that rock." "There'll be a screwdriver stuck in the top of a guardrail post."

Time seldom permits when I'm inbound to work. Objects along the southbound lane have to wait for someone else. Northbound I might stop. Rarely, something is attractive or annoying enough to get me to cross the road for it.

For that hose clamp I think I'll put a magnet on a stick so I can snap it up on the fly. It looks damaged. I don't want it as a clamp. But it's a tire hazard. As it gets rustier and dirtier it will blend in more and more with the weathering chipseal, until I, or some other cyclist, fails to spot it in time and takes out a sidewall. The problem is, I forget exactly where it is when I'm riding the opposite way. I need to get it when I'm hurrying to work, before it gets me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Move the finish line

 As you may recall, Jake the Satanic Serpent absolutely refused to shift into the lowest gear on the rear cassette. Based on the noises from the inaccessible interior and the way it acted like it had too much and too little cable tension at the same time, I wondered if the cables had been run correctly when the bike was built. If they had somehow gotten tangled with each other, running a guide sleeve to install new cables would simply replicate the error.

With a bit of time to think about it I realized I could feel for any interference by shifting to the mid range on the rear and feeling the exposed section of cable below the chain stay as I shifted the front. There was nary a twitch.

Jake seemed strangely well-behaved today, even before I started adjusting things. The rear derailleur shifted pretty smoothly through ten of eleven cogs. But that last step, onto the lowest gear, was like a wall.

The limit screws on the rear derailleur were backed out far enough that it would start to shift into the spokes if I pulled cable tension by hand or simply shoved the derailleur over. The problem lay in the ratchet of the brifter itself. It could not pull any more cable. The rear derailleur cable was led properly, but the eleventh cog calls for tension at an angle that reduces the cable pull by just enough to prevent the shift.

If the derailleur won't go to low gear, low gear must come to the derailleur. A 1mm spacer was too thick for the lock ring threads to engage, but I had a .7mm spacer left over from someone else's weird problem. It was just enough to get the shifting to work across all rear gears from both front rings, in today's barometric pressure, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, with brand new cables and housing and everything clean.

That's as good as it gets with a lot of this ultra-modern stuff.

Jake's unfortunate owner is taking up these problems with the shop where he got the bike. I fully expect them to tell him I'm full of shit and the bike is fine.

If it comes back again, choking on silt, I'm going to drill bigger cable exit holes in the down tube by the BB. Maybe I'll cut a few big inspection ports in it, too.

Barcons, man. Eight speeds. Maybe nine. If he really wants to be competitive in 'cross, finicky brifters are just the beginning. He's going to have to turn into one of these neurotics with four different sets of sewup wheels. If that's not where he wants to go, why put up with this shit? Ah, but I ask myself that question many times a day in bike season. People believe the industry's marketing bullshit. They only have a choice of pseudo-racer tweakitude or some other very specific category. Even the all-around roadish bike has to be "a gravel bike" so it can be another freaking category.

High-dollar tickets often start with the words, "my friend gave me this bike." Or it might be, "my friend sold me his old bike when he got a new one," but there's always a friend. Friendship can apparently survive a lot.

The next bike after the Serpent was a Giant full suspension mountain bike, archaeologically dated to about 2004. The guy who brought it in initially just wanted to buy toe clips, a bottle cage and bar ends and install them himself. Cool, no problem. But as I looked over the bike to answer his questions I saw a few things and he began to open up about problems he had experienced with it. It wasn't shifting right. The old Avid BBDB cable disk brakes needed pads in the rear. The right crank arm was floppy loose.

Between the floppy crank arm on the drive side and the fact that the bottom bracket was crawling out of the frame, it's no wonder the bike did not shift right.

Luck was with this guy. The ISIS splined crank arm was not damaged from being ridden loose. I was able to examine the BB cartridge and crank it back in, before graunching down on the crank arm bolts with all the power of a mighty breaker bar.

Note: splined crank arms require frequent reapplications of high torque. They do not stay tight the way contemptible old stone-age square taper axles and crank arms do. Not to say you don't need to check those at somewhat regular intervals, especially after removal and reinstallation, but the square taper interface is supposed to be a press fit. Splined axles are not a press fit. So the bolt has to be tight tight tight.

Notice that the industry has basically abandoned the splined cartridge in favor of the cranks with the BB axle swaged into one side or the other of the crankset itself. This has led to its own set of problems, of course.

Once I had the Giant's BB back in the frame and the crank arms firmly attached I could start adjusting the gears. On the front derailleur I found another moving finish line: Someone had steadily shifted the limit screws on the front derailleur to chase the crank as it moved further and further out. Yep. Don't fix the underlying problem. Just move the derailleur.

Chaos is upon us. You can't look at the whole pile, only at what is right in front of you. Straighten one out, move it along. Grab the next one.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Satanic Serpent

Jake the Satanic Serpent came back to the workshop about three weeks ago because the shifting had gone crunchy again after another abusive mud wallow.

"Gloucester isn't until late September," said the owner. "I don't plan on riding it until a couple of weeks before that." He was referring to the big cyclocross race in Gloucester, Mass. in the fall. He said he would be riding his road bike for the spring and summer, so not to rush the 'cross bike.

I gratefully triaged around the Satanic Serpent, grappling with more urgent repairs for people who wanted their bikes now, not four months from now. I knew the urgent work would let up at some point in the summer so I could spend the hours of brain-frying quality time the Kona would demand.

Today the Serpent's owner called requesting the bike be ready for him to ride tomorrow. And he didn't call first thing in the morning, either. It was mid afternoon and I was still finishing a repair for someone who expected it today. So at 3:30 p.m. I started on the grungy 'cross bike.

The rear shifting was all out of whack. Mere silt and grime could account for all the symptoms. With every cog the industry adds to a cassette the shifting gets more sensitive to minuscule variations in cable tension. And somehow the rider had managed to get a kink in the rear derailleur cable about an inch above the anchor bolt. This would actually come into play when shifting to the lowest gear.

The first time around I had left one piece of 4mm cable housing -- the section from the brifter to the inline adjuster -- because it was under the tape. Reevaluating the cable routing I decided to replace it with a longer section of 5 mm to move the inline adjuster from a high position near the bar to a low position. The high position had almost eliminated a kink where the housing entered the adjuster, but a much lower position would eliminate it entirely. And the new housing would be 5mm with brass ferrules, so the cable should slide more easily through it.

With all the usual rigamarole, I removed the old cable, leaving a guiding sheath in place through the down tube.  I untaped the bars far enough to remove the 4mm housing and slid the old cable out of the brifter. I measured new housing, cut it, and slid the cable through it. Fed the cable through the guiding sheath. Pulled the sheath. Slid on the little chafe-guard that covers the cable where it emerges from the down tube. Ran the cable to the rear derailleur and anchored it. Then messed, messed, messed with the tension. And messed with it some more. Couldn't get it to shift up the cassette to lower gears. More tension...until it finally lifts, one cog at a time, will not shift into low gear no matter what. Check the limit screw, okay. More tension. More tension. More tension. It makes the last shift.

Hit the return lever. Nothing. Three clicks to get it to drop one cog. Ratchet ratchet ratchet it down to the bottom. Ease off some tension. It sort of works through nine cogs, just gets ten. Eleven? Absolutely not. Big ring, small ring, makes no difference. It either shifts pretty badly or really badly.

I pulled the cable again to make further refinements to the housing to get the smoothest curve with no tight bends or kinks. That didn't help. Changed the chain from a KMC to a brand-name Shi-no, just in case the derailleur and cassette were particularly loyal. Another waste of time.

From the beginning, the cables have had a raspy sound and feel as they pass into and out of the down tube. The entry and exit holes are just big enough for the cable. I can't shine a light and paste an eyeball up there to see what might be snagging things in the interior. Really skinny fiber optic cameras cost some serious coin.

By 6 p.m. I was ready to use a fire ax to open it up. I called the customer about twenty minutes later to tell him he could ride it this way if he really wanted to use it now, and bring it back midweek and forget about it for a while. I need to be able to spend several hours with this piece of crap, figuring out where the drag is coming from.

By 6:30 I headed out into the cloudy evening to trudge home.

Routine chaos

I don't know...does this look crooked to you? One of our seasonal customers backed into a tree with his bikes on the rack. This one not only has a severely dislocated fork; it also has a slightly twisted main frame. The head tube is no longer in alignment with the seat tube. The bike is an undistinguished Peugeot from the late 1980s or so. It's not worth dumping a whole bunch of money into.
Here's a Schwein Sierra Al. Is that like Yosemite Sam? Continental Divide Clyde? Yukon Jack?

Friday was Bike to Work Day. In Wolfeboro, I think two people did it. I did, and the town planner.

The Sunday road ride group is falling apart as its aging participants do the same. But recreational path riding continues to be popular, as well as benefit rides.

Fundraising for the Climate Ride has begun around here. Local riders have signed up for the one from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Boston. Each rider is trying to raise $2,800.00 as the minimum buy-in. With seven riders taking part, that comes to $19,600.00 in donations they're trying to extract from our little rural area. Of course they will cast their net much wider through the Internet and their circles of friends and acquaintances. Then they all drive to Bar Harbor for the ride. From there they tour, unladen, while baggage wagons carry their stuff from stop to stop. At the end they drive home from Boston. Um...yeah.

The repairs have been interesting this year. The work no longer seems significant, but it gives the mind something to sort out and the hands something to do.