Friday, October 28, 2005

Fundamental Issues

gundog99 said...

"Hey, just came across your blog. This post called me to comment. You're right about cycling being deceptively accessible. Except for the elitist snobs, and the consumerist industry culture. It becomes all too easy to buy into the lie of purchasing a new bike every other season. Manufacturers are building disposable bikes and components. And riders seem all too eager to eat it up. Getting the lightest this and the smoothest that. But then if you go against it, you become branded retro, or extremist. I'm not against buying new stuff, but I'm against riders blindfully lusting (and purchasing) new stuff just cause it's "new."

I don't know what my point is with this, other than you seem to be speaking about topics that are similer to thoughts and ideas I, myself am working through."

These points can't be made often enough. As people gradually find this blog, here or on, their comments indicate that cycling extends far beyond the marketed and publicized world of the popular cycling media.

Some people are more obsessed, more religiously fervent about riding than the mainstream media. Others are less obsessed. Both camps seem equally turned off by the force-feed of advertising and promotion that presents itself as the complete view of the activity. I say activity rather than sport, because for many of us it goes far beyond mere sport. I decline to use the term "lifestyle," because that trivializes it as an affectiation.

Cycling can simply be an integral part of an active, happy life. Take it as far as you want to go, in whatever direction. Change directions as you wish. The Industry will try to label and pigeonhole you, because it makes you easier to target for ads. Just keep moving. They can't hit you.

The downside is that when you do come into the shop, what you like may no longer be made, and the item intended to fill that need may not work with the rest of your stuff. That's when you have to decide whether the change reflects true improvement or just an annoying piece of industrial attention deficit disorder.

Just keep riding. The better you get at it, and at a bit of mechanical tinkering, the more you can be sure that, one way or another, you will always have something to ride.


Citizen Rider is now listed in the Bicycle Blogs Directory. Hop over there to find lots of links to other cycling blogs and a world of fact and opinion. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

High Visibility

Visibility is the primary component of traffic safety. We like to assume that if a motorist sees us he will avoid hitting us. For the most part that is true.

Many cyclists choose clothing in the eye-assaulting color I call Please Don’t Kill Me Yellow. While PDKMY certainly demands to be noticed, it has a few drawbacks that may reduce its overall effectiveness.

First of all, it only stands out because so few things in the natural or artificial world are that color, though some are. A certain species of crab spider that hunts on vivid yellow flowers masks its presence by sporting a variant you could call Please Let Me Kill You Yellow. But these spiders are very small.

If every small, underpowered vehicle followed the logic that bright yellow equals safety, anything smaller than a Lincoln Navigator, Hummer or Cadillac Escalade would blaze electric chartreuse. But then the tiny bicycle would be lost in that hideous sea of jangling color.


and when it fades to a gray shadow of its former glory it hardly shows up at all.

PDKMY also makes it impossible to make a clandestine visit to the shrubbery when need arises. Hey! Who’s that over there behind that bush, and what’s he doing!? Oh gross! Call the cops! You’d have to be 300 yards into thick woods to avoid detection. That’s when you’ll be glad if your PDKMY garment is something easily shed, like a wind vest.

In the bright months of summer I believe strongly in the power of the dark side. I wear lots of solid black or – because I got the jersey for free – a snappy black, white and red combo. Visibility comes from lane positioning in daylight and from lights at night. It comes from behaving relatively predictably and logically in the traffic flow, so you are where people expect to see an element of traffic when they are scanning routinely. Why be an eyesore on top of it?

Please Don’t Kill Me Yellow becomes useful in the fall, when days are short and commuters in particular may have to ride in the dusk. It’s also excellent in the fog. I got a PDKMY vest this fall, when we had a string of foggy days. In the dusk, when new, PDKMY garments actually seem to glow. They definitely enhance visibility in low light. At that point, aesthetics take a back seat to practicality. But given the chance I will choose aesthetics when I can.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What About a Work Stand?

No doubt a shop-quality workstand is the best thing to hold your bike while you work on it. If you can afford one and have a place for it, buy it. Consumer workstands can be almost as good or really miserably bad. If you can see the stand and push it around before you buy it you can see how stable it is and examine the clamp. On a stable base, get a clamp as close to the pro model as you can.

Short of a solid work stand you can simply hang the bike by a loop of cord from a door frame. The bike will sway around as you turn the pedals or reef on tight threads, but it’s better than nothing. If you have to hang the bike like that, do your heavy yanking with the bike on the ground and only hang it to adjust gears or do rough wheel truing through the brakes.

Tools to Buy

Once you have a basic tool box with metric open wrenches, metric socket set, locking pliers, standard slip-joint, needle nose and water-pump pliers, assorted screwdrivers, ball-peen hammer, hacksaw and whatnot you can start acquiring bike-specific tools.

Cone wrenches are good. You can’t adjust hubs without those thin, flat wrenches that fit the adjusting flats on hub cones. Hence the name. The 16 mm wrench opens bottles.

Next you might consider the fourth hand tool used to hold cables at the desired tension so you can tighten the cable anchor bolt of brake or derailleur. I got the third hand tool, used to hold caliper brake shoes against the rim so that cables can be adjusted, but hardly ever used it after I got a fourth hand. Park makes a fourth hand with a ratcheting lock on it, so you don’t even have to hold onto it once you position it. Lifu and Pedro’s also offer ratcheting models.

My old fourth hand with no ratchet lock has a narrower snout than the new models, so it fits into tighter spaces. That can be handy.

Buy a good cable cutter. I got the legendary Felco C-7 years ago, but Pedro’s has cloned it for less money. I haven’t seen it to compare the quality. The C-7 will cut just about anything, year after year.

Jagwire cloned the Shimano TL-CT 10 cable cutter, which has a crimper for housing ferrules behind the jaws. Park’s CN 10 also has a ferrule crimper. This appears to be an improved update of their older cutter, which I found unimpressive.

Y-wrenches with 8-, 9-, and 10-millimeter sockets come in handy, thought they don’t replace spanners.

Box-open wrenches in a range from at least 8 millimeter through 19 millimeter will be more comfortable than double-open wrenches with a different size on each end. Double up on at least the 17 mm wrenches for three-wrench technique when adjusting hubs. If you have anything old and French you’ll want two 16mm wrenches for those hub locknuts.

A hex-key multi tool is great, but sometimes you want the separate keys, particularly with longer shanks. The Bondhus type, with the ball-end on the long end allow you to spin socket-head hex bolts into place even if you can’t get lined up exactly straight above them. The full set includes everything from 1.5 mm to 10 mm.

Even with the quick-disconnect links in SRAM and other chains, you need a proper chain breaker to cut a new chain to correct length or make emergency repairs in the field. A small tool like the Park Compact is good in the seat pack. A bigger tool with longer handles will be more comfortable in the workshop.

Buy appropriate freewheel or cassette locknut removers to fit your equipment. You’ll want a chain whip to hold the cassette still while you unscrew the lock ring, or to spin off a fixed cog from a hub.

Years ago I bought a set of sliding jaws that fit in a vise so I could clamp a freewheel for disassembly or unthread a fixed cog from a hub after fixing the cog teeth with the pins of the vise insert. I haven’t seen the tool for sale in quite a while, but it may lurk in the back of the United Tool catalog or some other arcane tome. It’s not that important. There are many other ways to loosen a fixed cog, and most of us don’t pull cogs off of thread-on freewheels anymore.

Back in the days of cup-and-cone bottom brackets I bought a flat fixed-cup wrench and lock ring tool, and a couple of varieties of pin spanner to fit adjustable cups. Kingsbridge made a burly tool for installing fixed cups, which I never got around to buying. Now it seems to be discontinued, so I bought a Hozan that seems to be based on the same principle. Machined cylinders thread together, clamping the flat faces of the fixed cup, which can then be threaded into the bottom bracket shell with considerable force, using large wrenches on the flats of the tool.

Because most of us use some form of cartridge bottom bracket, concentrate on the appropriate tool for your favorite brand. These are smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Hozan or
Kingsbridge tools for the old style BB s. Change can be good.

You may find yourself needing Torx wrenches as well. Change can be a pain in the butt.

Get a good, shop-quality crank puller. If you have a hollow-axle BB you need a special puller. You can work around it by inserting something to cap the end of the hollow axle so you can use an old solid-axle puller you might already own.

The latest-greatest Shimano bottom brackets with the outboard bearings call for a completely different set of tools.

Cranks used to come with the appropriate tools, years ago, but that was years ago. Now you have to ask and you should know what you’re asking for. Shimano alone accounts for at least a half-dozen tools in the crank and bottom bracket area. Good luck.

Buy spoke wrenches only if you feel confident messing with your wheels. The round type with multiple sizes makes a good start, but it is not that comfortable to manipulate if you’re doing a lot of wheel work. You have a lot of choices here, but the basic Park set in black, green and red covers the common range of nipple sizes. Pedro’s wrenches offer two jaw shapes in each size wrench, so you can tension a wheel quickly with the U-shaped jaw and increase the tension with the more secure diamond-shaped side of the wrench.

If you really get into wheel work, shell out for the Park TS-2 or a similar shop-quality, self-centering truing stand. Cheesy truing stands waste time and money. You spend a lot of time making up for the imprecision of the stand. I hardly ever use a dishing tool with the TS-2. I do use the T-gauge for checking the alignment of the stand itself.

The Park offset brake wrenches come in handy for aligning caliper brakes and adjusting brake center bolts.

Back in the days of the threaded headset, the home or professional mechanic needed headset spanners. Actually, a big, fat adjustable wrench was good for the top nut, because the fat wrench could hold the thinner headset spanner securely in place on the flats of the top headset race. Park’s HW-2 headset wrench is a thick wrench for 32- and 36 mm top nuts. The jaws have a semi-box shape to hold the nut more securely.

The Campagnolo crank bolt wrench was called the peanut butter wrench because the hungry mechanic could use the handle end to spread the PB on his PB and J at lunch time. That’s another loss to the 8 mm socket-head crank bolt era. Actually, I like the 8 mm bolts, but I was lucky enough to get a Campy peanut butter wrench to keep in my lunch box.

Nowadays, you might want a star-nut setter and a threadless fork cutting guide, in case you decide to slap in a new fork. But where do you draw the line? Buy a headset press? Better by the head tube reamer-facer too, and the crown race setter. Uh oh. You’re way down the slippery slope by then.

You’ll see me downslope ahead of you, in a pile of tools.

Interesting Evening Commute

Last Friday I headed out the trail after work, in the last few minutes of daylight. The walkers and runners I met looked at me like I was a nasty skin rash they thought they’d gotten rid of. I wished them good evening. Most of them said nothing in return. We sidled past each other on the long causeways where the railroad used to cross parts of Crescent Lake or Lake Wentworth. The rails were left in place for a rail-car club, so two-way traffic is supposed to be able to fit in the width of what may not have been a full-gauge railway in the first place.

Except for the causeways, the trail runs beside the tracks, where it can be wider.

Further out, a husband and wife exercising their sled dog team were much more cordial. They knew their presence on the trail was even more controversial than mine, so they were being nice to everybody. Eight yipping huskies were excited but not aggressive.

The dusk deepened under the trees. I switched on the Wall of Fire, my two LED headlights and the 10-watt Vista light on the handlebars. I was testing the 10-watt after running the 5-watt the week before. The fiver wasn’t bad, but I wanted more! More! I switched it off to save it for the real darkness.

With the lights, I don’t bother to hurry home the way I do when the days are a bit longer and I’m racing to beat the dusk. I can’t win that race now, so I prefer to dawdle on the path and let the darkness establish itself. Then I can take the long way home, avoiding much of Route 28 by taking Route 109 to minor roads to the east.

Back on the open road, I knocked one of my LED lights off its bracket at the start of a descent, just as a car came over the rise behind me. I was able to wave him off with the other lights so I could rescue the lost one as it spun in the road.

In summer, the trip over the dirt is just a pleasant afternoon tour. In the dark, approaching Halloween, it’s hard to quell all spooky thoughts, entering a dark tunnel through the forest. Hungry goats at a farm on the first bit of dirt bleated so shrilly they sounded like someone screaming. A minute later I heard a chainsaw fire up in the black forest to my left. It wasn’t very close, but it’s a disturbing sound. Who the hell is out there chainsawing in the dark?

From the height of land I could look across miles of country, across Lakes Wentworth, part of Winnipesaukee and over toward the Sandwich Range and the Ossipee Mountains. Below the dark blue bowl of the night sky, the horizon glowed with the last orange of the vanished sun.

No werewolves or people in hockey masks came charging toward me.

From that height the route is basically downhill for ten miles to my house. There are minor climbs, but much more descending. It was time for the 10-watt light.

The light held up all the way to Route 28, where I rejoin the highway to go down to Route 16 for the short jump to my next exit onto secondary roads. Then I noticed it dimming. That threw me back on just the LED lights. I knew motorists could see me, but the light patch from the LEDs wasn’t strong enough for me to see through the headlight glare aimed at me.

Life is an adventure race. You deal with challenges as they arise. When the road was dark I could flit along steadily. I could even snap on the big light for quick snapshots of the road ahead, or to signal strongly to approaching cars. Maybe the old stick battery has seen its best day. Another ride or two will tell me more.

Great Time for Bike Commuting

It’s a great time to be a cyclist in Wolfeboro. Construction has tied up one major route into town, and the flooding in early October took out a bridge on the most popular alternate route. Motorists can either wait in long lines or drive several miles out of their way to the next alternate way into town.

In the morning I can ride past the backup at a gentle pace, threading the tangle even if oncoming vehicles keep me from using the left lane. I don’t fly by contemptuously. I don’t want to annoy people. It also gives me time to react to car doors, oncoming vehicles or someone’s sudden urge to cut out of line.

At the construction site itself, I can reach a multi-use path if the street is completely closed.

In the evening, the washed-out bridge on Bay Street keeps me from using my usual route out of town. Instead, I use the Sorry Excuse for a Rail Trail (not its official name) to go all the way to Route 109 East, about three miles out of town. I generally avoid the path because its poor design makes it hazardous for many users at once, but with the dark and cold of autumn, fewer people are on it.

Consider the Toe Clip

Toe clips and straps have been pushed aside as outmoded and irrelevant, but they offer genuine advantages to some riders. They’re not just another badge of retro obstinacy.

As one who likes to make one bike do many tasks, I will wear different shoes for different applications. Because I date from the era of slotted cleats I have been able to compare the merits of straps versus step-in pedal bindings over many years. The SPD-style pedal and shoe does not answer all needs. A platform SPD pedal like the M545 or the M324, or a similar style pedal from another company only provides a flat pedal when the rider wants to forego cycling shoes.

With toe clips and straps I can use my slotted cleat on a stiff cycling shoe for any situation in which I want the full power of the strongest connection. For touring I can use a touring shoe with a moderately stiff sole and no cleat. For quick errands around town I can wedge my street shoe into the strap and still have some of the power and security to which I am accustomed.
With a platform/step-in, it’s all or nothing.

The major manufacturers, self-styled leaders of the bike industry, no longer offer a touring shoe that slips easily into a toe strap. Road shoes have the smooth, hard soles they always have, with bulky Velcro straps across the upper, to take the upward strain once borne by the relatively cheap, easily replaceable toe strap. Mountain shoes have gnarly tread on the soles. It may be better for portaging a mountain bike on an unridable section of trail, but it prevents easy entry into an old-style pedal.

Even shoes with smoother soles have thick soles or bulky bumpers around the sides, making them hard to position on the pedal.

When slotted cleats were common, you didn’t hear about the so-called “Q-factor.” Pedal designs offered more or less lateral freedom so a rider’s feet could find their natural position. If you discovered it mattered to you, you could find a brand of pedal and a cleat position to dial in that aspect of fit. People also didn’t get as finicky about microscopic details of bike fitting. You might get obsessed with a detail from time to time, but that was something to fear, not indulge.

Yes, it was a pain in the ass to have to flip a pedal up so you could get your foot in it. Step-in pedals eliminate that. Off-road, the ability to snap in and out quickly seems like an excellent feature. But at most street intersections I will try to do a track stand. If you don’t take your foot out, you don’t have to put it back.

Off-road I twist my feet laterally as I work the bike through technical sections. The strap keeps my foot from slipping off entirely, while allowing me to be half in the pedal. If I do come out, I have more trouble getting back into it than I would with a step-in pedal, but I put up with that inconvenience.

I’ve stockpiled as many slotted road cleats as I can find. I buy inexpensive shoes, because they have thinner straps across the top of the shoe. With a leather punch I can make my own holes for shoelaces, allowing me to trim away the straps as necessary to make it easier to slip the shoe in and out of a toestrap.

It’s harder to find a toe-clip friendly shoe for heavy-duty trail riding. Muddy conditions around here destroy shoes quickly, meaning I can’t nurse a favorite through many years. But lately I’ve enjoyed exploring dirt and paved roads on the cyclocross bike more than full-on trail riding through forest and bog. Rides like that don’t abuse the Diadoras I modified for cleatless touring.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gear Choice

Back in 19-aught-80 or so, when Shimano first announced the "cassette freehub," it promised to simplify a popular trend for customized freewheels. Suntour had their cog board. Regina had a similar layout. But ratcheted freewheel bodies required cogs with different internal diameters and attachment methods, splined or threaded, depending on position.

The cassette body moved the ratchet to the hub. This shifted the right-side bearing outward, to support the axle better, and made all the cogs except the last one splined with identical inside diameters. A rider could construct custom gears at home from a single size range of cogs. I thought it sounded great.

The drawbacks became apparent when trying to remove the last, threaded cog that held everything onto the freehub body, but the Hyperglide system with the separate lock ring cured that. But for many years now Shimano has not made the full range of cog sizes available.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Working Class

Cycling is deceptively accessible.

I was lured into racing soon after I got my first road bike in 1975. That summer I hung out with a racing crowd that was also a mechanically-inclined crowd, so I linked the two things from the start. Coincidentally, it made cycling even more accessible, because I didn’t have to pay anyone to work on my bike.

At the time, you could buy the bike that won the Tour de France for about $300, and for an extra $600 they’d throw in the guy who rode it. But $300 was a lot of money for a bike.

We all heard the legends, about the European racer whose off-season job was digging graves or cleaning chimneys. We met our own working-class heroes. And our training ground began at the end of the driveway. It was right there. We could ride around the block or across the continent.

Componentry advances have upped the ante considerably. Things just didn’t wear out as fast in the – dare I say it – old days. Shifting wasn’t as slick. We had to limp along with five or six speeds in the back. We had to feel around for the right gear like a violinist finding the right note. You thought about it before you shifted gears. It might make the difference between success or failure in launching an attack. Some people clearly were better at it, just as some people have the talent to play the aforementioned violin. But the rest of us fiddling hacks could still improve our chops by practicing. And chains and clusters just seemed to go and go and go, because our standards of precision were lower. We were much more likely to blame ourselves for a missed shift.

Real advances were welcome. The slant parallelogram derailleur improved shifting even with friction shifters. Aero brake levers cleaned up the cable jungle above the bars. The difference was slight enough that everyone remained competitive, or at least as competitive as they had been already.

The rider still wins the race. But riders demand more of the bike because they can.

Bike racing needs more divisions. Perhaps price categories as well as rider categories. Perhaps material divisions. As fun as it is to stomp past the carbon fiber steeds on an old steel frame, it takes its toll as time goes by. And people of lesser means deserve the choice to buy quality with fewer doodads instead of just cheesier doodads.

I say this as a person of lesser means. When I read or hear of the exploits of people with large amounts of disposable income, I know better than to become enthralled by the gaudy trinkets and bragworthy races or tours. It’s just pushing the pedals after all, whether it’s Tuscany or Tulsa.

Maybe what evolves is what’s really for the best. The few who want to keep it simple have cultivated the skills that go with it. For us there are an appropriate few choices in new gear we have to assemble and maintain ourselves. We don’t have to keep beating a dwindling stock of vintage bikes to death on the long, hard road. The fundamentals have never really changed.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Itch to go Retro

I’m sorry. I just don’t miss wool.

I know it’s the miraculous natural fiber that inspired all the synthetic under- and outerwear, but it inspired them for a reason. I know it’s the badge of the true retro devotee, but I put up with years and years of nip-rash and pit-chafe, finally resorting to a cotton tee shirt under the wool, which half defeats the purpose.

Protogs gave us Superwash, which was definitely softer than some of the steel wool coming out of the cheaper European clothiers. But I could always tell. Sooner or later it got to me.

I hate putting sheep out of work. But now they can get their haircut to suit their own fashion sense, not my need for cycling apparel.

While we’re at it, natural chamois presented its share of challenges. After one washing it turned into sandpaper without constant lubrication after it dried. And as a natural substance it certainly seemed as if it should happily host all manner of fungus and bacteria.

Natural chamois isn’t enjoying the vogue that wool jerseys are. Retro posturing ends where the pad meets the privates.

The retro jerseys do stir up a few fond memories of times when we all looked like that. I like them on other people. Maybe I’ll dig mine out of the bottom of the dresser and sport around on cooler days. I’ll have an excuse for the undershirt then.

Chasing the Patch

I always knew night riding felt weird, but I only realized last night what really caused the visual effect.

With little or no visual horizon reference and not much peripheral vision, the rider focuses almost exclusively on the patch of light on the road ahead. Things are visible in the patch for a much shorter time than they would be in full light, so the mind barely registers them compared to the seemingly unmoving patch of light itself.

Other senses convey a sense of motion and speed, which only highlights the fact that the most visible object in front of you never gets any closer. The patch becomes an object in its own right.

Off-road, larger objects come through the light to provide a bit more visual reference to speed, but even then the confinement of the light patch alters perception.

In cities, with more ambient light, the effect may hardly seem noticeable. Out here in the country it's almost constant.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Own Tools

The first rule of mechanical independence is “Buy tools.”

The second rule is “Buy good tools.”

After a few years slacking off on buying tools, I suddenly made up for lost time this week.

The contrast between the workshop at the bike shop and my workshop at home was getting too great. It was a combination of little things, like double-ended cone wrenches, and big things, like having to drag a frame to work or a heavy tool home to do something like press a headset or chase a bottom bracket.

I don’t live right in town. It’s a big deal for me to haul a heavy shop tool home on my bike. And then I have to make sure I get it back immediately. Transporting a big tool usually ends up involving a car in some way.

Is it worth more than a thousand dollars to avoid all that? Apparently. But I could spend that much on a home theater setup and just have something to sit in front of and get fat. Tools open up vastly more possibilities.

Part of the motive is competitive. Among the athletes, riders match their strengths, sprinting, climbing, endurance. Among the mechanics, we match our skills and equipment. I’ve already conceded it’s a bit late in life for me to build up a complete machine shop. But I like to own the tools I know how to use. You never know when one might come in handy. Once they’re bought, they cost nothing to own.

The danger in buying a bunch of serious tools is that you then buy something to work on, or hope something serious breaks. Actually, with the sudden increase in my tool inventory I now have to reconfigure my work space just to be able to unpack the real big dogs. The major frame tools still nestle in their boxes. I need to talk some friend into buying a frame.