Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's My Line?

I outfitted a woman with a new rack and cautioned her husband that her nipples had to be securely covered because they are sharp enough to puncture an inner tube.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Now I know

I wondered if the newer Shimano brifters with the cables routed under the bar tape would be less prone to shred the cables and put the whole expensive mechanism at risk of an incurable jam.
Now I know.

This bike was introduced with the usual, "there's something wrong with my rear shifting." I popped the cable housing out of its stops so I could get enough slack to examine ferrules for damage. Then I rolled back the rubber hood and there was the rat's nest of frayed cable.

This bike isn't that old. The customer bought it on the Internet from Bikes Direct to the Repair Shop. He brought it to us to have its initial problems ironed out, which apparently included having 5 mm housing installed from the right shifter to the frame stop. The rest of the housing is stock cheesy 4 mm.

Because the housing is buried under the tape, a mechanic can't cut the damaged cable right outside the shifter. I had to extract damaged cable from the housing. Fortunately I could do this without unwrapping the bars.
Digging with a fine-pointed, curved pick I was able to pull forth a loop of wire I could make larger by pulling with needle-nose pliers. A broken strand did kick up a little down the length of the cable, but not enough to jam in the housing.

After I smoothed the tangled strands of the piece of cable in the shifter I cut it close and worked it gradually down through the mechanism with the needle-nose pliers.
Pushing the cable was made harder because the rubber hood does not want to peel back completely clear of the opening. That makes it more of a pain to do a routine cable change, let alone the delicate extraction of potentially damaging shards.
So: the new cable routing on Shimano brifters does NOT reduce the fatigue on shift wires and does NOT make extrication of a broken wire much easier, if at all.

Keep an eye on those cables!

Maybe crap like this is supposed to make electronic shifting look like a good idea. Then instead of complaining about cables going out of adjustment at an inopportune time you can complain about your batteries going dead.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A couple of things

Do you think it's a good idea to put your kid on a bike called a Wipeout? What other models do they have? The Reconstructive Surgery? The Faceplant? How about the Spittin' Chiclets?

Then there's this: These stickers are NEVER TRUE. I always get a good couple of turns on those screws. If I don't, the bike comes back in a few days with the stem all floppy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Apparently I make scientists laugh

The Union of Concerned Scientists has chosen one of my cartoons for their annual calendar contest again. It's one of the dealies where you can vote for the one you like. Here's a link in case anyone reading this wants to check it out.

Mine is number 12.

"I'm a great fan of science, you know."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Go straight to the cable

The bike industry is full of better mousetraps that are mostly better for the mice. I guess that's true of all areas of technology. Can't blame people for trying, although sometimes I get really pissed off that they persist on some lines to the detriment of others.

Today I was examining a road bike with yet another case of STI shifting that would not index accurately. This was isolated to two gears at the top of the cluster, not quite the lowest, but in the neighborhood. The mis-shift was so consistent and crisp I thought it might actually be an internal ratchet problem rather than congealed shifter lubricant or a cable or housing problem. But when I checked the cable as a matter of course I found a frayed, splayed Cable of Death getting ready to pierce the brifter's brain. I was able to extract the cable and its shards by a judicious use of sharp probing implements and a magnet. Good thing stainless cables are an alloy that responds to a magnet.

So: if your bike has weird shifting issues or won't stay in one or more gears, go straight to the cable first. Especially with road brifters, the shifter you save may be your own. And the money.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Strong and skillful athletes who lack mechanical knowledge risk losing their investment in time, effort and money when they are unable to diagnose and repair what may be only minor problems with their equipment. If they reach a high enough level a support staff will be provided. But the rest of them have to depend on luck and the benevolence of strangers.

I do work for one triathlete who is a great person and a fierce competitor, but not well-versed in the mechanical side of things. As long as transportation is as simple as putting the bike on a rack and driving to the race site, preparing the bike is fairly simple. But she just went to St. Croix, which involved air transport. The bike had to be put in a travel case, which required some disassembly. It was a serious test of my shifter noodle arrangement for the cable housings going into the head tube cable stops.

My friend texted me the morning before the race to say she was not able to get her lowest gear. The problem could have been any number of things as a result of the removal and replacement of the handlebars and the resulting disruption of the cables, even though they were not disconnected from the derailleurs. Or it could have been an issue with the change from daily wheels to race day wheels, although we had tried to iron that out. If anything was going to go from ironed to wrinkled it was bound to happen when she was thousands of miles away on some island, right?

The last message she sent me said that she had found tech support and gotten the gears satisfactorily adjusted. That was still the day before the race. Then I heard nothing.

The fact that she didn't contact me right away after the race indicated she did not have triumphant news. When she did finally call, she told me that for some weird reason she had been unable to shift into the big chainring during the race itself, even though the bike seemed to be working fine the afternoon before.  I told her to get it to me immediately.

My nightmare was that somehow my unorthodox cable arrangement had not been as brilliant as it had looked to me and that its collapse had kept her from being able to shift into the big meat once she got to the top of the nasty climb that had made her focus on the lowest gear.

When I finally got a look at the bike the cables were oddly tangled at the head tube, but that turned out to be an illusion because the housings had been pulled, tucked and gathered in all the bike's travels in a way that was easily smoothed back into its intended configuration. But when I pulled the front shifter it would not move at all.

I looked for kinks or places the cable could be snagged. There were none. I tried to move the front derailleur cage by hand. It would not move at all. When I disconnected the cable the cage still would not move. It wasn't jammed on the chainring, as would happen if it had slipped down the seat tube. It was correctly aligned and not bent.

Someone had screwed the limit screws all the way in, blocking out the big ring. This cannot happen by accident. She would not have done it in a misguided attempt to fix the shifting. It had to have been done while the bike was racked in the first transition area.

When I told her she had been sabotaged she said, "Oh, yeah. That stuff happens all the time. Some of these people are really serious about this."

I did a web search on it. In the first page of results I found a forum thread about all the bad practical jokes and sleazy tricks triathletes had experienced at the hands of their fellow competitors. I didn't bother to look further. The information I found confirmed that it's a fairly common phenomenon. Apparently, competition  brings out the worst in a few people. The things they do to each other's equipment in transition areas must seem really clever to them. Basically, whoever did this to my friend stole the money she spent on air fare, accommodations and entry fees and robbed her of the irreplaceable time she put into training. They must be very proud.

Personally I avoid competitive events for a host of reasons, but I won't discourage people who feel they still want to try them. I like to do things in my own time, at my own pace, without a lot of other people's personalty problems involved. When someone's sleazery can totally nullify all your best efforts, whether it's by hooking you into a parking meter in a crit or slashing your tires or having teammates block you when you have no allies of your own you have to ask what the whole event is worth in time and aggravation. I really enjoy my utilitarian cycling and aimless rambles, going fast when the mood strikes and enjoying the scenery the rest of the time. But I'm a classic underachiever. The fact that I might underachieve for six hours in the saddle and rack up a hundred miles in the process doesn't alter the utterly frivolous basis of the endeavor.

I'm a big advocate of that kind of frivolity. I keep hoping a large number of people will suddenly notice the small number of us who are out there having fun not hurting anybody, and think it looks like something they want to do, too. Any number can play.

Some people have a lot of trouble absorbing mechanical concepts. They have other strengths to share. My friend might never be able to get herself out of a jam. There are a lot of little variables, so no one can memorize each separate solution. And I don't think the ability to analyze a mechanical problem can be taught to any- and everyone. It seems to elude some people forever. As I said, they have other strengths.

I'll go to races as tech support if anyone wants to pay my way.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Small cargo

This morning I had to deliver a cat turd to the vet as a follow up to a checkup one of the cats had a couple of weeks ago.

With three cats in residence it's complicated to isolate the output of just one.  Even if you bring a random three samples from one of the litter boxes you can't be sure you've gotten one from each, and you don't know who has what if the lab finds something.

Anyway, I caught a lucky break yesterday afternoon when I spotted the cat in question digging her little hole in the woods just behind the garage. I was able to obtain the requisite amount.

With this small cargo to deliver to the vet and a short list of small items to pick up at the store, these errands seemed perfect for the bike. It was also a beautiful, warm morning.

The whole trip came to 10 miles. Planning an easy pace I preferred to wear relatively normal clothing. It helps humanize the cyclist. One could argue that performing ordinary errands in cycling garb helps normalize the perception of the garb, but I doubt this is the case.

Thirty years ago, Woolrich made some touring shorts that were just like regular hiking shorts with a chamois pad sewn in. Among all the offerings of "baggies" and touring shorts, no one makes anything quite like them that I can find today. They were made of nice heavy khaki, with cargo pockets. I preferred to ride without a lot of stuff in my pockets, but then when I walked away from the bike I could carry lots of little useful things. On my tour from San Francisco to Eugene we made several hikes on days we didn't ride. Today I wore cargo-pocketed black nylon river shorts over stretchy cycling shorts. The combination was far from perfect because the overshorts would ride lower than the cycling shorts, impeding me when I remounted the bike.

If I'd just been going five miles or less I might have gone with hiking shorts and regular underwear rather than the cycling shorts.

In Annapolis I commuted in jeans, corduroys or painter pants. I wore cleated shoes for the sprinting ability and kept regular shoes at work. When I moved out of town and rode a longer commute I shifted to cycling clothing because it was more efficient for the greater distance. That meant I had to carry work clothing or leave some at work, but either option was easy enough.

The items I bought fit easily in the old panniers. I did discover that my rack pack is not quite long enough to contain a dozen eggs, but they stayed in for the short trip home. I'm checking out new rack packs anyway, because this one has put in a dozen hard years. No hurry.

Casual errands on the bike are some of the most rewarding rides. It's life, not a special little subset of life.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Sloppy front shifting: beyond the Marvin Bolt

The owner of this front derailleur complained that it wouldn't shift easily to the big ring and kept dropping the chain off the inside when shifting down.

If you look closely at the picture you can see the pressed-in pivot pin trying to crawl out. The cage could shift a couple of millimeters under pressure, creating the problems noted by the rider.

I pressed the pin back in so the guy can ride until his new derailleur comes in.

If your wheels look like this

If your wheels have nipples at the hub like this, get them stolen or destroyed so you can get something designed better.