Tuesday, June 30, 2020

More service activity

By the end of the week, it's all a blur.

A road bike customer asked whether we could get him short cranks because he's got some sort of calcified tendon problem, and can't bend his knee far enough to get around a pedal stroke on 170mm crank arms.

A quick dip into internet research brought me immediately to Bikesmith Design, a machinist who specializes in exactly what our customer needs. In fact, our customer's brother or brother-in-law or friend or something went to an event in Minneapolis years ago for HPVs and met the machinist, who was already working on shorter cranks because HPVs need them to fit into the confined spaces within fairings on recumbent human-powered speed vehicles.

I got the machinist and the customer talking directly to each other so I could get on with other items in the deluge. Eventually, a couple of sets of little cranks arrived, with detailed instructions for our customer to follow as he explored the limits of his bad leg. One set was 85mm long. Mark, the machinist, suggested that the customer use the 85s on a trainer, because they weren't strong enough for real rides on hilly roads. There was a detailed process to determine what the final crank length should be, as well as a set of 100mm cranks that were fully cleared for road riding. The customer opted instead to have us mount the 100s right away, so he could go try them on the road.

Short cranks don't just lower the top of the stroke, they bring the bottom right up close, too. I raised the seat as much as I could, but the post wasn't long enough to cover 70mm. I sent the customer away with a longer post so he could make the swap after feeling out the new riding position. His fork is cut really short, so the best I could do to bring the bars up was flip the stem. If he reconfigures the bike permanently he will need to replace the fork to get a longer steerer. I don't recommend steep rise stems, and I definitely wouldn't put a big clunky stem raiser on the carbon steerer of the existing fork.

The owner of the Specialized Turbo Como 3.0 ebike we recently assembled came by a few days later and said that she'd had a problem with it not running right. "I just turned it off and back on again," she said. "Then it was fine." Hilarious. The bikes are so computerized that now you can use the classic advice: "Hello, IT department, have you tried turning it off and back on again?"

We assembled another $10,000 mountain bike. This one was shipped here by its owner so he could ride with his buddy, for whom we had built up the new one a couple of weeks ago. Here was a bike that he had owned and ridden for a while, and it shifted like crap. These wide-range drive trains with the 42- or 50-tooth large cogs make all kinds of noises and move really stiffly anyway, but this one looked like it had never been adjusted properly. Nothing was bent, but it threw the chain right over into the spokes without hesitation.

When the owner picked that bike up, he spent the entire time with his phone up to his ear as he monitored an important call.

The heavy hitters are here. One guy called asking for "several road bikes." I was stunned into silence. The pandemic bike frenzy has been big enough to get a few minutes of national news acknowledgement, as well as lots of coverage in the cycling media. But the caller might have been spending a few weeks or months on a private tropical island, having a cleanse and a digital fast. I gathered my wits. They may be few, but they scatter far when I drop them.

"You said 'several road bikes.' Is that to rent or to buy?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, sorry. To buy. All of my kids are big enough now that I wanted to get them nice road bikes that they won't grow out of."

I explained about the current shortage. Because I believe in providing as complete a picture as possible, I always start by explaining that the bike industry has been in decline for close to 20 years. Next I point out that the coronavirus broke out first where everything gets manufactured these days, torpedoing production before interfering with shipping and distribution as it swept around the globe. Thus, already small planned inventories were reduced even further because factories couldn't meet production targets, just as the public suddenly decided to rediscover bike riding after a long period of neglect. And they all got here a couple of months before you did, my unfortunate friend.

That may seem like a lot of unnecessary detail, but anything less makes the bike industry look sloppy and negligent, and retailers look like slackers. The bike industry is tech-obsessed and self-sabotaging, but they're not sloppy or negligent about it. It isn't even entirely their fault that the public lost interest at the end of the 20th Century. The mountain bike boom had already lasted almost twice as long as the 1970s ten speed boom did. The true believers in the surviving form of mountain biking were always a minority, but they were firmly enough addicted to form the nucleus of the addict pool that the industry farms today. The general population changed hobbies the way they always do.

Now they're back. We'll see where it goes. I doubt if it will last a year, let alone ten or fifteen. Meanwhile, our particular shop operates in an area where most of the categories have attracted a handful of adherents who come in on a regular basis to keep our brain cells challenged.

The owner of a Yamaha smokeless moped that he bought last year from somewhere else had had it shipped to us to assemble. This year, he brought it in because "it's making a grinding noise when I pedal hard." This is the same guy who didn't notice that he had Biopace chainrings for the first ten years that he owned his mountain bike, and then brought it in one day concerned because the chainrings had somehow turned oval. It was conceivable that he had only just now noticed that a mid-motor ebike makes noises when the motor engages. However, grinding might be a sign of something actually amiss. He mentioned that he'd read things on line from owners of the same brand who complained of grinding noises.

The Yamaha is light enough that I can actually lift it into the work stand without my little block and tackle rig, as long as it's early in my work week, and I got almost a good night's sleep the night before.

There was play in the bottom bracket. Or was it the bottom bracket? The crank axle disappears into the motor housing, engaging who knows what in there. I could see the face of a sealed bearing on each side. The play wasn't in those bearings. The motor itself was shifting. Under hard pedaling, this could cause gears to engage improperly. The owner said that he had tightened the mounting bolts and the noise had become worse.

I put a wrench on the bolts. They did not want to turn. They seemed bottomed right out. So I undid them, greased the dry threads, and reinstalled them. They torqued down properly instead of binding up. The motor no longer wiggled. There was a faint trace of play in the bottom bracket bearings themselves, but I couldn't do much about that. It was almost imaginary.

The bike made no alarming noises on a test ride. I called the customer to report that we had finished with it, and suggested that he should start a warranty claim with the original dealer if it made any further noises. I had also changed the chain, which was worn almost to the end of the gauge, and absolutely black with grimy lube.

The rate of repair check-ins seems to have slowed. In any normal season we would get these pauses, sometimes long enough to be alarming, but this is not a normal season. There's a blend of exuberant wealth, sober caution, and reckless, pent-up sociability. The people with money seem very happy. The reckless are ready to run out and embrace life, which sounds great until you consider how they are also exporting death and expecting everyone to be okay with that. Color me cautious, but I'm not going to bother to confront anyone outside of my job, because I don't need to get coughed on by some psychopath.

No comments: