Thursday, June 29, 2006

Here comes Fourth of July weekend

The repair shop has been at capacity since early May, but the dam is really about to burst now. The first pleading and demanding customers of the full-on summer rush have arrived.

We know that the Fourth of July marks the first charge of a siege that will last for the next couple of months.

The occupation brings convoys of large vehicles to choke the streets and highways. I will ride in any conditions sooner than drive my car.

The locals try to plan every move around the tourist hordes. We know which stores jack their prices during the height of summer. We try to buy groceries mid-week, to avoid the locust plagues on Friday and Saturday, and the picked-over shelves on Monday.

It's time to put on the "Kiss My Ass, I Live Here" jersey and draft Escalades and Suburbans with giant boat trailers until they join the clots of other fat globules in the town's traffic arteries. Then just sprint around them and disappear. My transit time does not change.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Another work week begins with clouds gathering and a flood watch for parts of the state. Unrelenting humidity has made everything in the house damp.

We are developing the ability to breathe through our pale, moist skins. Our eyes grow larger to gather in more of the dim, greenish light.

Time to pack a lunch in the dry bag and set out on the fixed gear.

At least the weather is warm.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Classic Urban Assault Bike

This fixed gear was built on a 1970's Crescent frame. It was parked in the Old Port section of Portland, Maine. Posted by Picasa

Nice Color

I couldn't pull this out of the rack, but I loved the paint job. Even the chain used to lock the bike has been sprayed gold. It was in the pile of commuter bikes in the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal in Portland, Maine. Posted by Picasa

What is this "chain lube" of which you speak?

On, Crusty! On, Grimy! On, Foul and Disgusting!

On, Muddy! On, Slimy! On, Rotting and Rusting! Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006

Can You Tune My Bike?

"This has been hanging in the barn for quite a while. Can you tune it up for me?"

Swallows or pigeons had been perching on this thing for years. It was so gobbed with guano that none of us wanted to touch it. We looked at it for a while, but we figured the customer would never pay us what we'd need to get to clean it and then address its mechanical problems. The rest of the bike was only slightly less crusty than the area shown here.

This is just one of the worst things ever brought in. The legendary Earwig Bike had been in a chicken house for long storage. In addition to various chicken residues, it turned out to be harboring hundreds or thousands of earwigs inside the frame and other spaces. They came pouring out when disturbed.

Tuneup: $49.99

Delousing: $99.99 Posted by Picasa

Thundering Herds

New Hampshire's annual Motorcycle Week is over for another year.

My cynical emergency responder friend calls it "organ donor week." The death toll stood at ten as of this morning.

It used to be just a weekend. Some of the rowdier editions of it have been woven into tourist-season legend. Back in the day it involved a lot more open flames and public lewdness.

I had not lived in New Hampshire a year when I stumbled on Motorcycle Weekend. It was 1988. I was training for a double century. My schedule had been interrupted because I had to move from Tamworth, tucked into the southern flank of the White Mountains, to Tuftonboro, on a broad point sticking down into Lake Winnipesaukee.

Early on a Saturday morning I set out to ride around "the big lake" to try to get some kind of longer mileage before the really long ride a week later. It's only about 65 miles around Winnipesaukee by road, but it was all I had time to do.

As a tribute to the challenge of a 200-mile ride, I decided to shave my legs. I'd shaved when I was racing, but grew out the fur when I quit competing. Shaving helped me psych up for the discipline of the big ride. I set out around the lake the morning after a really exemplary shave.

When I raced, my race results were unimpressive, but I always won the shave. No razor rash or missed spots for this boy. I figured if I was going to risk being seen as a freak because I shaved my legs I should at least do a damn good job. No women would razz me. Anything you can shave, I can shave better. Anything below the panty line, anyway.

Off into the cool morning I pedaled, down into the quaint town center of Wolfeboro, out Route 28 to the south, bending down toward Alton. In addition to my freshly-shaved legs, I wore a brand-new set of lycra shorts out of the local shop's bargain bin. I'd gotten a great price because they were red. Hey, I had no money. I was hoping to earn some by doing my double century and then selling articles about it to whatever publications would buy them.

As I got closer to Alton I started to notice increasing numbers of motorcycles. I knew the state attracted a lot of them because the roads are so beautiful. I had never heard of Motorcycle Weekend.

Every motel and restaurant had rows of motorcycles parked out front. Even with all the parked ones, hundreds still cruised by me. As I neared Weirs Beach, at the Laconia end of the lake, they reached herd-migration numbers. At the Weirs they simply dominated everything. There were young studs on Jap screamers, prosperous-looking middle aged types on Gold Wings and Aspencades, BMW heads and tons of Harley-Davidsons.

Vendor tents offered food, drink and souvenirs, and probably tattoos and piercings as well. Four-wheeled vehicles were scarce and I was the only bicyclist.

Only the women -- and not all of them -- had shaved legs.

Interestingly, I never felt threatened. The motorcyclists just treated me like a retarded cousin. This proved to be the pattern through many years to follow. This year was the first time I encountered any passive aggressiveness or hostility. That's probably because motorcycling has attracted a lot of neophytes and posers. Only insecure people need to pick on people they think are vulnerable in order to feel tough.

Until this year, the most static I might get from a motorcyclist would be one of them pulling his feet off the pegs and pretending to pedal. I always got safe passing clearance and often got friendly waves.

The red shorts are long gone, by the way. I did make enough money to get some more presentable biking threads.

This year was different. I got passed close and revved at by a few riders. In one group of six, a couple of them brushed me when they could easily have made more room. Their indifference or insensitivity revealed their inexperience. I was on my way to work.

When I got to town, I found that the ongoing bridge construction had created an epic back-up out Center Street. I floated carefully down the outbound lane, which was currently unoccupied, because the construction crew had everyone stopped, both directions. It was a great time to be on a bike.

It was especially great when I saw the rude motorcyclists embedded in the traffic jam. Without comment, I rode smoothly past them.

"Hey!" yelled one, then "HEY!", perhaps as he recognized me.

Showers threatened soon after I got to work. We looked down from our windows onto the parking lot behind our building as a group of Hell's Posers loaded their shiny Hogs into a box trailer behind a chunky SUV. Real bikers don't box up the bikes and hop into a four-wheeled vehicle at the first sight of a gray cloud. It could even have been the same bunch from the morning commute.

We started coming up with poserwear for the faux biker. How about press-on greasy fingernails? Or a gray ponytail wig that hides a helmet? Stone-washed black tee shirts simulate the wear and tear of days on the open road.

So the official Motorcycle Week fades into history. Motorcyclists will continue to tour up here, because it's a great place for it, but now we'll just have week after week of Boneheads in Cars and SUVs Week until summer finally ends. At least some of them have racks full of bikes hung on the family tank.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sorry my blog is late, but my cat ate my router

After the disruption caused by the lightning strike early in the month, and a busy work schedule, then the internet connection went down again last night. As I poked around the cable modem and wireless router, I discovered that one of the antennas of the Linksys WRT54G was not standing up as straight as the other one and it had teeth marks near the tip of it.

At least two of our cats like to chew on pens and pencils. The antennas on the router must be even more fun to chew, because they have a softer outer coating.

I really don't know if the cat bites had anything to do with the interruption of service. I suspect the lightning did cause a little slow-acting brain damage, because the router showed normal indicator lights even when it would not allow traffic to pass through, and a night's unplugged rest seems to have cured it at least temporarily. The cat bites are funnier, though.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Don't Grin, Don't Laugh, and Don't Breathe with your Mouth Open

How many tons of insect life are hovering over Effingham at this moment?

I rode home from the Conservation Commission meeting in the dusk. Unexpectedly heavy showers earlier in the evening had prompted me to take the fixed gear, but they had passed. The last pink drained slowly off the bases of the drifting clouds as I flowed smoothly through the dusk. The fixed gear's continuous drive creates an endless connected series of overlapping circles through the air.

I stopped briefly to chat with my friend Lee. He's biked every road, hiked every trail and bushwhacked every glade in all four seasons around here. Lately he's been doing some trail work up in Conway. He keeps trying to get me to ride my mountain bike again. He's also an incredible boat handler, having been a boat jockey for Outward Bound at one point in his youth. He's pretty much your all-purpose outdoor traveler. The kind who never brags and whose advice is always short, quiet and dead on. He was chuckling because his daughter, home for a visit from Manhattan, can handle all-night city noise, but can't sleep through 4:30 a.m. birdsong.

It's all what you're used to. Actually, I sleep like a log anywhere, but I definitely prefer the birdsong and the unbelievable silence this place can produce at nght.

Once I left Effingham Falls and headed up the steady grade into the woods to skirt the shoulder of the Green Mountain massif I started to feel the impact of something like dry raindrops. Little motes of winged protein smacked into me as thickly as the earlier shower had peppered me with droplets. I wanted to laugh, but I knew I shouldn't open my mouth. I was glad I wear glasses.

All the wet weather has helped produce a crop of mosquitoes like something out of a horror movie. The shrieking swarm condenses around you the minute you venture into a vegetated area. They wait on tall grass and billow up in clouds. They hover in the forest and the undergrowth. Add to this all the other flitting and flying things that have to do their thing in the short warm season, and all the others that feed on them. Shake and pour out into the summer evening. Bip, bap pip pap pippity pap pepper the face of the night rider. How can you tell a happy cyclist? By the bugs in his teeth. Don't laugh. Don't grin. Don't breathe with your mouth open.

Assembling a Bike

Assembling a new bike out of the box involves more than just slapping on the parts that aren't already in place.

To do it right, you have to take it apart some more before you put it all the way together.

At this point, shop owners all over the world are giving thanks that I don't work for them. Or maybe not. It depends on their long-term view.

A fast mechanic can slap a bike together for the floor in less than an hour, maybe much less. It will probably work for a test ride and make it to the free tuneup a week or a month later.

If you figure the free tuneup only needs to be worth as much as the customer is paying for it, you can breeze through that in short order as well. Make sure the crank arms aren't going to fall off, the brakes don't squeak and the gears shift smoothly.

The mountain bike boom made me take a more critical look at assembly and tuneup procedures. In our area, people were really beating up their bikes. Anything less than battle-ready equipment would come back in embarrassing pieces. It was like a laboratory experiment in rapid aging of a bike.

A thorough assembly will help make the free tuneup a breeze, because properly assembled bikes won't come apart as fast as quickly assembled bikes. A carefully assembled bike is less likely to embarrass the shop. This is just self defense, people.

Most of our customers are regulars. Over time we collect a lot of history on their bikes. If we do good work from the outset, our job tends to get easier and the customers trust our opinion more, because their bike works better after it has been in our hands. Sure, we make mistakes, being mere humans. But overall a meticulous workshop costs less than a shoddy one.

When I assemble a bike I start by pulling the rear wheel off, removing the cassette or freewheel and adjusting the rear axle cones. Most factory-assembled bikes come with over-tightened hubs. Often the locknuts aren't properly locked, so this tight hub could very well turn rapidly into a loose one after hard riding. Then the bearings will get pounded into the cones, fracturing them. Or the hub might stay tight, grinding the bearings uniformly into the cones, digging a trench.

Grease and reinstall the cassette lockring. With a freewheel, grease the freewheel threads on the hub before reinstalling the freewheel itself.

Repeat the adjustment process with the front hub.

On both wheels, grip and squeeze sets of spokes to produce a crackling noise as the spokes de-stress. We nicknamed this procedure "cringling" because of the noise it makes. Do this until the spokes are quiet. Then true the wheels.

Inflate the tires before adjusting the brakes. Rims will flare very slightly when tires are holding full pressure. It's not too critical. I often forget to inflate the tires and seldom have to readjust brakes on a new wheel. Older rims, sidewalls eroded by brake pad wear, may bulge considerably, but new rims usually don't react too much. It's just a nice touch.

Set cantilever or linear-pull brake pads near the outer edge of the rim. As the pads wear, they will strike the rim lower and lower. If they're too low to start, they'll drop below the inner edge and develop a lip.

Road-type caliper brakes actually pinch inward and upward. The narrower the rim, the more noticeable the upward movement will be. You don't have to set the pads radically low, but avoid setting them too high.

Grease the threads on the top cap bolt of a threadless headset. I've seen these rust into the star nut threads. I've also seen alloy headset spacers corrode onto steel steerer tubes on mountain bikes that have been taken on many jungle cruises. If you are taking your bike apart frequently, this corrosion has little chance to develop. If you happen to leave an assembly together undisturbed for too long, you may get a rude surprise.

Remove water bottle bolts and other accessory bolts and grease the threads on them. Retighten them securely.

Grease crank bolts. You'd be surprised how often they come through dry. They will not tighten smootly or torque properly without lube.

A touch of grease makes a big difference over the lifetime of the bike. I will grease threaded adjusters on brake levers and derailleurs, cable anchor bolts, brake shoe posts, pretty much anything with threads, if I have the time. Many of these have a token amount of grease from the factory, but it's often that brown, semi-dry earwax, if anything.

If you decide you are going to be this thorough, you can develop your own streamlined procedures to knock off each step, rather than waste time trying to talk yourself out of it.

On high-end bikes, especially special orders, I will grease chainring bolts. Those are always dry.

All this extra care is in addition to the normal assembly activities, greasing pedal threads, seatposts and quill-type handlebar stems.

Time spent on assembly is time you won't have to spend getting a bike ready for a test ride or to be handed to a happy customer so they can take it right home. Thorough assemblies mean you don't have to tie up shop time on free tuneups when you could be doing paying repairs. Thorough assemblies mean you can slap on accessories like bottle cages or racks faster. Sales go more smoothly. Profits go up while customer service improves.

We all get tired and overworked. We fall short. But high standards at least give us something to shoot for.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Death Match: PG2000 vs. The Cheese

A large portion of the time spent tuning up a bike for a White Lightning addict goes to cleaning the cheese off of everything.

White Lightning cheese is powerful persistent stuff. Those polytetrafluoroethylene particles gather around the drive train and in gobs on the frame. They may land as far afield as the upper seat stays and forward of the front derailleur if the bike's owner just can't stay away from the stuff.

Solvents like Finish Line Ecotech and citrus degreasers do work, but using a degreaser around a drive train means you have to chase it with replacement lube. And The Cheese has proven pretty stubborn.

PG2000, the spray lube from Pro Gold, melts The Cheese faster than a blob of Velveeta in a hot frying pan. Just wipe away the excess after cleaning. The residue enhances the lube on derailleurs or chain, rather than thinning it as a degreasing solvent would. You don't have to use extravagant showers of it. Start with a little and add a little more until it cuts the cheese to your satisfaction.

Put your White Lightning addict into a 12-step program as soon as possible and get them on the Pro Link. They'll thank you for it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rigged for Rain

The faithful fixed gear, fenders in place. Note the dry bag used as a rack pack. This weather is really getting tiresome. I can't complain, though. My house didn't get flooded, and the lightning bolt that nailed a tree right outside only destroyed a few appliances. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hear No Evil, See No Evil and Damn Sure Speak No Evil

Sometimes the grunt in the backshop faces a moral dilemma when fragments of the talk on the sales floor filter back.

Yes, we need to sell some bikes. And maybe the deal in progress is fine. But it sounds like it skirts the edge. To know is to be responsible, at least to object if something isn't right. But having endured a number of excrement typhoons over the years when I piped up, survival takes precedence. As I said, it may turn out fine. And I've learned to implement corrective measures in stealthier ways when the frontal approach meets the blustering defense.

For now, I have earplugs and my meditative powers until I can delve deeper into the facts of the case.

Fix It or Sell It?

As cheap as human life is in a bike shop, repair costs still mount up quickly. As beer costs rise, so does the cost of labor. And parts aren't getting any cheaper, either.

Faced with a repair estimate of a hundred or two hundred dollars, customers will say, "for a little more I could have a new bike."

Yes and no. If you paid about $300 for your bike 15 years ago, it may have componentry as well made as on some bikes selling for $500 today. And if you get your bike serviced by a shop you will definitely spend more on repairs over its lifetime than you plunked down to buy it originally. You can't think about it just in monetary terms.

The more you can fix yourself, the more money and time you will save. Buy tools and parts.

I suppose most readers here know this, but I'm used to writing for papers where I hope the less sophisticated rider will read. I want them to outgrow me. I want them to stumble on this blog as source of information and a slice of life.

Bikes aren't like cars. For all the efforts of Shimano, there aren't a lot of mysterious, complicated systems in there. If your Wonder Shifting bites the big one you can always put on Stone Age Shifting and still have a bike to ride. That's not an option with your car. So in bike repair you have many routes to the single destination of a ridable bike. It may not be exactly the way you got it on the first day, but you will be able to get around. You have to decide how much you want to cling to the original configuration, or how close you can get to it with available parts when it does break.