Sunday, May 14, 2017

Murphy in the Workshop

Saturday was a busy day, by current standards. As we relish our last couple of Sundays with the shop closed, we also face the mounting pressure of repair work without that extra day to do it. I hate that part. When we go back to full weeks, my life goes on fast forward until I flop out into September with another summer torched to a cinder. Days shorten and chill. Winter's uncertainties, always seeming more dire than those under generous sunlight, gather their forces.

With that in mind, I was preparing to stay late to finish two jobs that customers had hoped to get back before the end of the weekend.

The first was a road bike that needed some straightforward things like shift cables and housings, straightening up the handlebar angle, and a set of front brake pads. Oh, and by the way, the cable adjusters on the down tube have gotten mangled, so please replace the damaged adjusters with new ones.

The mangled adjusters were broken off. This is not unusual. I cleared away the loose parts as I removed the cables I was replacing anyway. But the stubs proved to be so severely corroded into the mounts on the frame that I was unable to spin them out by any of my normal methods. I flooded them with penetrating oil and left a message on the customer's phone to let him know that this job was now a couple of days out.

The next job was a wheel rebuild for a guy's fat bike. He brought it in because the alloy spoke nipples were all crumbling.

I hate alloy spoke nipples. I will tell you this plainly and repeat it as often as anyone brings the subject up: Do not use alloy spoke nipples. Do not let anyone try to convince you that they are an upgrade. They are a disposable item of crap componentry providing a dubious advantage of minuscule weight savings. And this was a fat bike! It was built for rough use in abusive conditions.

Here's where everything that could go wrong really started to pile up. Removing the cassette, I got the lock ring and the detached cogs off, but the block of riveted cogs had burrowed deeply in the aluminum freehub body. I've encountered this a lot. I can usually jostle the cogs loose with a couple of chain whips or a well-aimed tap here or there. So I tried one thing and another, finally snaking a long screwdriver through from the other side so I could give it a little nudge with the rubber hammer. Boink! The whole freehub body popped off, cogs still firmly embedded in it. Well, no harm, really. The axle cap just presses on anyway, and the pawls came out intact. The axle itself remained in the hub, so it would provide the correct spacing in the truing stand. I removed the brake rotor from the other side, so I could install the new spokes to go with the full set of brass nipples.

Back when the Surly Pugsley first came out, we got some adapters for our truing stand, to accommodate the unusual wheels that bike required. The original Pug was designed to use existing componentry in a non-standard way, specifically to allow a rider to use a rear hub on the front wheel. This was so that a rider on an unsupported expedition, far from tech support, could have a spare rear wheel. It was a limited use, esoteric option that made perfect sense in many ways: pure Surly.

As the industry has tried to make fat bikes a rage, the original practicality has disappeared under megatons of image. If fat is good, fatter is better. A mere 135mm rear hub long ago ceased to be good enough.

Because fat bikes really aren't a rage, shouldn't be, and probably won't be, we looked away for a bit, and failed to catch the truly ridiculous dimensions of things like...rear hubs, for instance.

There was absolutely no way that the hub on this wheel -- which was also filthy, by the way -- was going to fit into our truing stand.

I forgot to mention that this poor slave to modernity is also running a tubeless tire, which, of course, had to be removed to get all the way down to the spoke bed of the rim. So this wheel is in just about as many pieces as it can possibly be, and there's no way I can put it back together right away.

We priced the new truing stand that will accommodate hubs up to 215mm. It seems to list pretty consistently around $372 retail. Our price would be less, of course, but it's still another poke in the eye from the bike industry to small shops everywhere.

It's getting to the point where the bike biz is perhaps like the airplane biz. The guy who can do an annual on your Piper Cherokee might not be set up to work on F-18s or an Airbus. Hey, they're all aircraft, what's your problem? There was a brief period when the universe of available bikes could conceivably find succor under the roof of a small shop with a good staff and decent basic tools. And I ask you: is per capita bike use significantly higher now that we have all these increasingly sophisticated and disparate options? Or are we just collectively the victims of technological masturbation?

In the very beginning of the bicycle era, each brand was the product of a different shop, exploring uncharted areas in design and manufacturing with their own proprietary approaches. Standardization across brand lines occurred gradually. Bicycles paved the way, quite literally, for the mass-produced wheeled vehicles that followed. As those other technologies took over to drive innovation to greater complexity, bicycles languished, perfecting the artistry of the machine rather than breaking a whole lot of new ground in the use and processing of materials. Then, in the late 1970s, technological backfill began with test pieces like the Teledyne Titan and the Graftek. Those were merely modest precursors to the avalanche of engineering getting ready to thunder down on us when mountain biking exploded.

After mountain biking established the standard of having few standards, and adopted the shifting sands/seething lava pool technological landscape of virtually every other technology popular at the time, every form of biking felt the full brunt of technological attention, as a desperate industry continued to try to throw equipment at social problems.

A cutting edge is an instrument of pain. It is a surgical tool, amputating riders whose commitment is not strong enough to make them want to fork out the dinero to fund their addiction. If your needs and wants are modest, the industry has decreed that you don't deserve their best. With every cog they add, your old stuff drops a whole step lower when you go looking for replacement bits and pieces.

None of this will matter once civilization collapses to the point where the road system degenerates once more into wagon ruts, and we're lucky if we can rebuild the rail network for rapid transportation between major hubs. Sure, the bicycle was born in that environment, but it served a human race that had never known anything better. Riding a tall wheel with solid tires down a muddy track between farms was a new and desirable experience, face plants and all. But there's a good reason that the next phase of two-wheeled evolution was called "the safety bicycle." Who knows where we'll be able to land, once our obstinacy and superstition have assured that we can no longer maintain what we have. Maybe we'll all be walking, and eating "paleo."


Mike C said...

> ... new truing stand that will accommodate hubs up to
> 215mm... seems to list pretty consistently around $372...

I'm guessing y'all have thought of both of these things, but...
a) I have a little wheel-truing doohickey that attaches to a seatstay or fork tube and has a threaded pointer that can be screwed in or out to check the gap to the rim. (I'm guessing it's intended for energency on-road truing, though I've never used it for such.) No self-centering, obviously, so it would of course be slower to use, and of course time is money. But if truing fat-bike wheels is something you only have to do a few times per season, maybe something like that would suffice?
b) I've seen gobs of homemade truing stands online, usually knocked together out of some plywood. Again, no self centering, but maybe sufficient for occasional use?

I'm just cringing thinking of how many tubes, etc. you'd have to sell to make enough margin to cover a $375 tool... :-(

cafiend said...

We went ahead and invested in Big Blue. It will do all wheels, not just fatties. We might see an influx from the fat crowd because we have some active trail builders in the area now. The newest member of our staff is one of them. And he knows a lot of riders.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be able to expand on this list :-)