Thursday, May 24, 2012

FedEx Fr(e)ight

This is the worst one we've had in a while, but most of our bike shipments arrive with one or more kicked to crap. I wonder how it is in other industries. This came off the truck looking like this. Another box was merely ripped open at the top. Others arrive crushed, dented or punctured in various ways.

Several decades ago when I was considering a transcontinental  bike tour I was going to take the bike almost completely apart so I could ship the frame and wheels separately in boxes smaller and sturdier that did not suggest that a bike was  inside. It's a good argument for a take-apart frame so the box dimensions are more compact. Shippers seem to like that.

It's not practical for production bikes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Another antique

A local antique dealer brought this Western Flyer tandem in for tires. She doesn't want to put a lot of money into it, of course.

 I love that weird extra tube for the stoker handlebar.
The bike still has a full set of original streamers. They match the grips.

Too bad whitewall tires were out of stock indefinitely from our supplier. We had to go with period-appropriate blackwalls instead.

I rode it by myself. It handles like a damaged truck. Perhaps the weight of a second person would make the frame sag enough to correct the front end geometry.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


The bike I'm working on right now smells like cat urine. That odor has become way too familiar lately as two of my cats have been pursuing a territorial dispute for weeks.

I make sure to spend as much time as possible around the lilacs while they're blooming. Some years, lilac season seems to zip by before I know it.

The front brake on Stinky has a squeal that won't quit. Because the bike has a through-axle fork, every time I remove the wheel to try something else on the brake it's a process.

A friend who came in during the afternoon reported that he'd read in Bicycle Retailer that within a few years all road bikes will have disk brakes too. Nothing stupidly over-technological has surprised me about the bike industry since the mid 1990s.

When bicycling fractured into distinct sub-groups as a result of the technofascist tsunami of the 1990s it paved the way for a new wave of small companies to replace the ones eradicated by the corporate juggernauts of the mountain bike boom. The 1990s were all about the big guys crushing the little guys, destroying some and assimilating others. But the surge of products thrown out as bait for a disinterested public did actually separate the riding public into categories that are now awkwardly small for a humongous bike company to serve effectively. I don't think the big players have noticed yet, but they don't have to. Just as the little mammals established themselves under the noses of the big reptiles, so do the small, agile companies start to find that the economics of the bike business may suit their scale better than the size and appetite of a big company that needs to move thousands of units to stay afloat. With biking broken into niches, how many of a particular category should Megabikecorp produce this year?

Time will tell. For now I just have to get Stinky's brakes to behave and mediate a lasting peace among warring cats.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


America took its biggest wrong turn when people were encouraged to start taking pride in their paychecks instead of their work.

I've just spent an hour or more of my life trying to get the shifting to work on a display-model Wal-Mart Schwein that was left out in the rain and then scraped off on a sucker for "a great sale price." This is after I had to scrap the adjustable stem because someone at some point graunched down on the stem pivot bolts hard enough to weld them in place and strip out the bolt heads.

As I ran the bike through the gears, the water trapped inside the rear rim spritzed me in a way that would have been pleasant on this rather warm day, except I can't vouch for the purity of the water after its sojourn inside the wheel.

This pride in money takes its most malignant form when the financial sector eclipses the manufacturing sector. Investment income does not depend on bringing better products and services to market, only on tricks with math that spin off a few percentage points of graft to split up among the freebooters looting American business. They've got a few years to pillage before they have to face the fact that they actually need a fair number of the "the little people" to do well in order for their world to survive. I'll be deep in the shit well before then. Meanwhile I will be here, bailing the frigging Titanic with a teacup until the ocean claims me.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Italians don't get earwax

Shimano's very clever indexed-only shifters notoriously suffer from congealed lubricant that makes them quit working. When Rapidfire shifters were shoved down our throats introduced in 1990, Shimano made sure to let everyone know these shifters could not be serviced. We were told to replace any units that ceased to function. Dutifully, we did so. Enterprising mechanics tried to teach themselves how to work on things in there, but usually the patient died. The mechanism was intimidatingly complex and the basic problem was little understood.

These days, whenever an older bike comes in we routinely check for earwax and perform preventive or corrective procedures. We hardly ever replace a shifter anymore.

The road shifters are somewhat less prone to earwax and much harder to service if they develop it.

Campagnolo's Ergopower road brifters do not develop earwax. That's the good news. If something goes wrong you can repair the shifters using Campy's detailed diagrams and fully-listed spare parts. The bad news is that you have no excuse not to.

The fun starts here

Follow these simple instructions

It doesn't always have to be like this
This is on my mind because I just did ratchet springs in a Campy lever last week and now I'm doing about the tenth de-earwaxing of the young season on a 1993 or '94 mountain bike with Shimano trigger shifters.

No one has brought me any of Campy's flat-bar shifters, so I don't know what they're like inside. If you only learn things as you need to you have plenty of brain space left over to use as a playroom.