Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day of the British Tourists

A large group seems to be passing through the area today. I've already replaced one front derailleur, straightened a rear derailleur hanger, provided a convenient refill of chain lube and consulted on modernization of one rider's brake system.

I do like to see people really getting out on a trip.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tropical Diseases of Handlebars

The owner of the Bike from Singapore wants to keep the bike.

"So it just needs a handlebar," he said when he finally got a look at it. True, the bar was just one more item on the list already compiled. He's really attached to this bike. It's my job to see that he can be securely attached.

After he left I stress-tested the bars to see how close they were to failure.

One side was more oxidized than the other. I hit the drop portion of that side sharply with a hammer. With each blow the weakened upper area split a little more.

After that I used a leverage bar to apply steadier force, because I didn't have a heavy glove to protect me from cuts if the whole thing crumpled into jagged bits. It actually broke pretty cleanly.

If you live in a tropical maritime environment and you have drop handlebars you might want to consider using clear tape so you can see what's going on under there. But I think there's more to this mystery than just that. Like maybe he forgot to mention the time it sank aboard an overloaded ferry boat or something. Wherever you live, check your bars every so often. It can't hurt.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

People vote with their cars

I wondered if I imagined the increase in aggressive driving every September, but a professional delivery driver confirmed it.

"You think it's the tourists that make it bad, but these are just the regular people," he said. "I think they're just used to fighting it all summer, so they're still fighting."

I have my own theory that the end of summer, the beginning of school and work schedules, shortening days and the urgency of early preparations for the season of cold and dark make people jumpy. Whatever the reason, I get a much more resentful vibe off of drivers for much of September.

If I can keep up the commute into fall, I become a roadside (or lane-covering) attraction. "Geez, look at that guy still riding." In fact, many people, even ones I don't really know, will ask me, "did you bike today?" when they see me in a store or at events and activities around the local area. I can only hope these aren't the same people trying to brush me back with the broad hood of the F-150 or GMC Yukon. Hard to say, really. People can innocently act out amazing double standards.

For now I have to be prepared for people expressing themselves with two tons of metal, slicing unnecessarily close and fast to let me know that, in their opinion, bike season is over. They still respond to herding. I just can't be lax about it.

Foliage tour buses can be the worst. The economy seems to have diminished their numbers, so there's a plus side to the rocky financial climate. I still keep an ear out for the distinctive smooth diesel of a box car full of gawkers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lights! Camera! Action!

As reported earlier, the light project ironically cost me the bike ride this morning.

I left the house with the bike ready to ride. I had everything I needed except sufficient time to arrive at work within even my highly flexible standards of punctuality. So when I finally got home for good at 8:30 p.m., there was plenty of darkness, and no reason not to tool up and down in front of the house to see if this rig is as good as I hoped it would be.
The generator is so much lighter and more compact than my ancient Union. The Sanyo that mounted to the bottom bracket was pretty cool, and new versions are available, but I'll probably go with a dyno hub if I move away from this sidewall model.
The tail light would not mount centered on my ancient Blackburn Expedition rack. I have an Axiom rack in my salvage pile in the crawl space, but the tail light bracket is tucked up under the projecting end of the rack. That protects the light from such mishaps as accidental breakage and possibly being seen by overtaking vehicles. Mounting this thing made me think about the problems with bike tail lights. They should really be mounted higher than any part of your average bike. Thus I maintain my large (and growing) collection of blinking lights on myself.

My two Beamer 3 headlights added useful fill light to the patch thrown by the IQ Cyo R Plus. Even without them, though, the generator light alone threw a subtly ample field of light down the road. The R version has a reflector and is hooded to direct light near the bike. This is very useful at low speeds on rougher surfaces. It still directed enough light down the road for me to feel secure in an upper-mid-range gear on this brief trial. Further supplemented by my helmet light this should be a formidable array.

LEDs don't put down the hard white light of a halogen bulb. That's what I meant by subtly ample. At first the bluish tint seems too close a kin to the navy blue of night itself. But then you realize that night has been negotiated with, rather than banished in the hard-edged way of filament lighting. I love the long useful life of LEDs and the endless energy of the generator as opposed to the helpless anxiety of fading batteries when you clearly have more ride than electricity left.

Wires present one of two drawbacks to installed on board lighting, weight and clutter collectively being the other one. I understand why sexy randonnée bikes have internal wiring. But I often think our vain habit of hiding the plumbing and wiring inside the walls of our houses is just a fussy invitation to really expensive problems when something goes wrong. I did the best I could to lead the wires simply and directly, with only sufficient slack to avoid straining splices and connections. After dark, the feeling of power and the fact that the details of the mounting are largely invisible cancel out any remaining aesthetic qualms.

I haven't put on the permanent fenders yet. I try to avoid wet weather on the multi-gear bike. Realistically, however, wet weather finds me. I also go forth on wet mornings when fair afternoons are predicted. I'm starting to view the clip-on fenders as hypocritical and insufficient. Nothing like a spatter of wet grit to remind you that the vanity of fenderlessness is not worth the crap that gets all over you and your bike.

I have to say, it was still gross cleaning the crud out of the fenders. And I had to remind myself to look at my tires when I didn't have a view of the top of them all the time.

In any case, the bike is ready to go. I can refine the setup as needed.

Day of the Lost Commute

The cellist spent a restless night last night. She has to get up at 5 on the days she teaches in Maine. On this particular day she has to dash home, grab her luggage and jet off to Baltimore to take a praxis test so she can finish renewing her Maine teacher certification for the job she unexpectedly got back this summer after being laid off last year. Don't get me started on the capricious nature of individual states' teacher certification requirements. It's good to have a job. But she had to hit the ground running from a low-flying aircraft to jump into the slot being offered back to her less than a month before school was due to start.

The cellist is a bit of a restless night specialist. She asks me exasperatedly how I can make myself fall asleep seemingly at will. I can tell you how I do it, but I cannot teach you how.

Last night I did not let myself drop off. I'd poured much of the evening into the Generator Light Project on my commuting bike. It kept enticing me on, as bike projects do. Just one more widget will be the key to the perfect setup. I can finish in a few minutes!

It's almost never that simple.

I have no idea when we fell asleep. Midnight? Her alarm went off at 5. I let her get through the shower and into the kitchen before I crawled out around 5:30. She had to leave by 6, and then I could put in the few more minutes needed to complete the perfect light setup. Yeah!

I had (and still have, now at 2:40 p.m.) that sick, queasy feeling you get from too little sleep. It combined nicely with the buyer's remorse I nearly always get when I buy expensive equipment. Even if I know it's great I ask myself if I can justify it. And my clean-lined bike gets more stuff hung on it. But racks and lights and fenders make a bike stronger in the wild. This is not some spindly thoroughbred, fun to ride fast but not built for the tough haul. And certainly neither am I.

With my first cup of coffee I went downstairs to my laboratory to resume my Experiments with Electricity. I need a Van de Graaf generator in the corner, safely distant from the gas hot water heater.

Every aspect of the installation has been disturbingly improvised. I wished Surly included a dynamo bracket, because the Dymotec would bolt cleanly to it. Instead I had to use the brutal dynamohalter provided by Peter White. It comes with dire warnings about crushing your seat stays. The Cross Check is not made of tinfoil, but I still care for it. In spite of all the fumblings (to be reported in detail in a separate post), the system was finally coming together.

Examining the alignment and pressure of the dynamo as the wheel rotated, I finally noticed the big sidewall gash my rear tire has been sporting for who knows how long. I made a note to change that for the new one I had in stock before I left for work.

Sometime during all this I went upstairs for a moment and noticed it was about 7:10. Good. I would finish in minutes, you see. I could shove down some toast, guzzle the rest of the coffee, load up and head out into the foggy, damp morning.

Back down I went. I just had to do this and that, and maybe this and that and I'd be out of here! Yeah! Done!

I went up the stairs, looked at the clock.

Nine fifteen. NINE FIFTEEN!?!?! I hadn't even had breakfast and I was already late for work?

Alien abduction. Missing time. That was it. I don't know how they did it, but they did. Funny. I didn't feel probed.

Some latent sense of responsibility kicked in. I came to work by car.

With everything else cleared from the queue, it was time to work on the bike described in Freeze Frame earlier this summer.
Remember this one?
Closeup of that fattie with the crimps blown right out of it. The tire rubbed the frame.

I had consulted with my favorite expert in July when the bike came in. She had suggested I try pressing the crimp back into the stay using something like a socket (goes with socket wrench) and a C-clamp or a vise. Since the job wasn't urgent and the process sounded like it might require some elbow room I waited until now to take a whack at it.
Stage 1: C-clamp, old Rock Shox tool kit vise blocks and nondescript piece of metal.
Actually that is the sawed-off stub of a brace bit we cut to fit an electric drill in some other insane project. Never throw anything away!
After starting the shaping with the C-clamp I needed more power to press it deeper and fine-tune the shape. The outside of the stay needed to be able to flatten more than the vise block would let it. It needed to be able to assume its shape with minimal interference from its support, but not be pressed directly against the hard vise jaws.
These two views show the stay supported on the outside with a stub of hockey stick (nice hard wood) while a vise block holds one of several shaping cylinders.
Shaping forms included a crappy 9-millimeter socket and unidentified pieces from one of our useful Buckets of Bolts.
9mm socket held in vise block with double-stick carpet tape so it won't fall out before vise pressure takes over. Sacrificial rubber bands held the whole sandwich together until I could tighten the vise. To keep the bike frame from tipping, I tied the front end up with an old shoelace
Bucket of Bolts

After a couple of sessions in the vise, tire clearance was restored. Rear triangle alignment was undistorted.
Ta Daaaa!

And here is the Cafiend stay-recrimping kit:
Projects like this help keep the end of bike season from being tedious. Tomorrow I get to consult with Singapore Guy about whether he wants to dress up a frame with his surviving componentry or go completely modern with a new bike.

Blame Singapore

It started with a broken flange on a Bonerager rear hub. An athletic-looking guy who looked to be somewhere in his flurfties -- what do you call the age we're getting to now? We're not middle aged. That sounds so stodgy. But we're not ferocious young athletes anymore, either. In good shape for our age? That sounds like something you say about 95-year-olds who don't need a walker. Anyway, this guy comes in with his late-1990s LeMond road bike with this cracked hub flange. He said he was grunting up a climb.

I told him the wheel was toast. We discussed his options. He selected a built wheel from a reputable supplier rather than engage my talents for a custom build. Because his bike was very rusty that seemed like a good compromise.

He requested an overhaul on the bike while we waited for delivery of the wheel. We discussed the rust.

I've seen some nasty rust on bikes people ride on their trainers. He admitted to some of that, but he and his wife blamed most of it on the time the bike had spent with them in Singapore, with its tropical humidity and surrounding salt water.

He loves how the bike handles. I said I would check the frame for cracks before proceeding. This I did, in due time, when I finally started the repair a few days later. For some reason the frame was intact. For how much longer, I could not say.

I'm so glad I unwrapped the handlebars before I went too far on any other work. I've seen trainer corrosion, I've seen metal fatigue. This was the first time I had seen handlebars that had literally turned to powder inside the bar tape.
I was able to poke a screwdriver through the handlebars in many places. See?
Screwdriver inserted into bars
I called a halt to this repair until the customer can see what we're up against. I've suggested he transfer the many good surviving parts and his groovy new rear wheel to a Surly Pacer or similar sporty road frame.

I can't believe he was riding this. He was one good pothole away from collapsing those bars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Light up

The cellist starts putting pressure on me this time of year to quit cycling and start driving because of the darkness. Eventually I heed, but a really good light system still makes sense.

I had fiddled around with my 1982-vintage generator light system a few times over the years, but its performance did not seem to be worth the complication of mounting it. Technology really has improved in some areas. Dynamo lighting releases the night rider from concerns about battery life and dead battery disposal. Systems that include a standlight keep the light on at short stops. My old system used a battery pack to provide the standlight. It weighed about a pound and occupied a box mounted on the down tube. The new systems incorporate the circuitry into the light itself.

After seeing the setup on my brother's Trice, I knew I would get myself another dynamo light set. As the days shorten, I have just ordered a Busch & Mueller system from Peter White Cycles in Hillsborough, NH.

Peter seems like my kind of cyclist. He also builds wheels. It's another case of parallel evolution, in which different forms of the same organism develop in different places. Peter obviously stuck with the cycling thing more closely than I did. Even so, we developed similar opinions about bling versus substance and realistic wheels as opposed to impressive-looking dispo-a-wheels. Everyone read his Wheel Rant.

This stuff is not cheap. I did not buy anywhere near the top end, and I laid out just over $200 US. But a really hot rechargeable battery set would cost at least that much and has limited life.

Some of the systems on Peter's site include battery chargers for NiMH batteries in the lights themselves or for powering and charging the batteries of other devices. If you get out more than I do, you probably already know about all this. It only makes sense, considering how many electronic types are out there innovating like crazy.

I will still use the Beamers for supplemental lighting and unplanned dusk and dark riding on the bikes not equipped with the new system. The helmet light and blinkies complete the array.

Because Hillsborough is so close, I hope to receive my new lights tomorrow. UPS doesn't usually show up until late in the day, so I may not get them installed right away.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Forget the rules

People who ride their bikes against traffic make me wish I had a grenade launcher. This is just one of several reasons I don't have a grenade launcher, regardless of my Second Amendment rights.

Blame my short index fingers: I have an anger problem. In the course of a single day I drop enough F-bombs to level a small city. Catastrophes leave me unmoved, but petty annoyances hot wire my brain. Sparks fly.

Wednesday morning, when I rode up Main Street to work I met a gray-haired woman on her hybrid riding against traffic. I never know exactly what to do with those people. If I go to the right to shove them into oncoming traffic, I'm closer to parked cars or the debris field in the gutter. I might not want to go farther to the left at that moment. Even if I do, I hate to enable the wrong-way rider.

This morning we had a clear sight line for quite a distance, so I sat up, hands off the bars, and pointed, first at her, then at the proper side of the street, several times.

She just laughed at me and rode by.

"Ha ha ha, ya dumb b#&*^!!" I said in a loud conversational tone. It was a tone appropriate to conversation at, say, a rock concert. Glancing back I thought I saw her swing over to the proper side of the street. I turned my attention back to my own course.

It only occurred to me later that I might know this person. I still don't know for sure, but I did see her riding back to the coffee shop. I reflected glumly on my short fuse and blunt language.

In town traffic I ride in the lane anyway. The wrong-way cyclist is therefore no more trouble for me than for a motorist. The rider will pass my right elbow, no doubt oblivious to my sneer of contempt.

Out on the busy highway it's more of a problem. I have run a wrong-way cyclist into the ditch because I could not shoulder into traffic in the only available lane and I wasn't going to take the ditch myself. Fortunately there WAS a ditch. It would have been much uglier in one of the sections hemmed in by guard rails. The offender, a regular commuter who rides my route in the opposite direction, has not ridden against traffic again, at least not around me.

At the end of the day, riding out Route 28, I heard a strange engine behind me. It turned out to be a fat man on a large ATV. Riding an ATV on the highway is illegal enough. Then he whipped it across the highway and started heading down the throat of oncoming cars. I started cheering, laughing and applauding that display of sheer selfishness and brass balls. The fat man turned his bald head to see where that noise was coming from. Meanwhile, cars flashed their lights and slowed sharply as he turned into his driveway.

I had a revelation in that moment. Who cares which side of the road you ride on? Everyone has a moral obligation to watch out for people doing stupid things. Enough people get away with stupid things to make all the whining and preaching about "proper" behavior seem a little ridiculous. What's the big deal? Any driver who knows what they're doing will see you no matter what direction you're coming from.

Road rage mostly stems from our deceived expectation that other people will do "the right thing" in a given situation. Many of our operating rules are based on the principle of taking turns. It's my turn. It's your turn. Hey! Don't cut in on my turn! Don't take that! It's MINE! You get to go AFTER me! I'm telling!!

If we dump the rules, everyone has to watch out. If you come into an intersection with no idea who will do what, you bet you'll pay attention.

During the transition period, traditionalists will righteously kill other road users. After the initial bloodbath, things will settle down to a new norm.

You're already free to act as if the rules do not exist. Even if you ride legally, if a motorist kills you they will probably face no charges at all. Bicyclists are tolerated at best, never welcomed, as part of the traffic mix. There's an automatic assumption that anyone who ventures out there without massive horsepower and armor plating is simply asking for inevitable catastrophe. When the worst happens it is simply nature's cruel justice. Soft little animals get crushed by larger, harder ones.

Soft little animals proliferated by exploiting niches the large ones could not. They did it by breeding in large numbers to offset large losses. They survive by agility and by appearing in any number of ways unappetizing.

Coincidentally, I finally started reading Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt today. It addresses questions I had been pondering for years. For instance, I wondered if there was buggy rage and competitive driving when conveyances were horse-drawn. The answer is yes. Humans on wheels have always had a tendency to turn into jerks. That includes past and present bicyclists. I knew from other reading that draisine (Laufmaschine) riders had engaged in antics worthy of any rowdy crowd on a weekend night, annoying people with reckless operation. People have many different temperaments, but nearly everyone has been some kind of a jerk at some time while operating a vehicle. I guarantee I have. I've barely started the book. It's fascinating.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Innovate with the Dead

Yesterday, The Backshop Academy of Sciences considered an idea for self-inflating inner tubes. Because most bike owners only inflate their tires (or have them inflated) when they get a tube replaced after a pinch flat from under-inflation, they would benefit greatly from a tire that maintains its pressure longer.

It occurred to us that if you put a dead rat in the tire, the gases of putrefaction would build up on their own until that phase of decomposition had ended. Then we realized that the weight of the rat carcass would cause the wheel to rotate unevenly. We would have to put the rat in a blender to create a rat slurry that would then decompose anaerobically inside the tube. We would use special apparatus to inject the slurry and change it for new mixture when the old batch was exhausted.

Larger tires would require a larger carcass, like a 'possum, or multiple rats. Of course, the use of slurry would simplify the process. A certain number of milliliters of any species of animal should suffice for a given volume of inner tube.

The idea of sticking a dead rat in someone's tire has a certain appeal for certain customers. Although the system needs quite a bit of work before it can be implemented widely, we may try some preliminary experiments.