Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thinking for myself

Reader Grego posted a comment with a link to Sheldon Brown's article on squeezing cogs onto freehubs technically too narrow for them. Rather than leave this in the comments I wanted to put it on its own post.

When I wrote the post I was going to say that I was sure greater minds than mine had thought of the idea years ago, but somehow in the press of time I forgot to put it in. Suntour launched the narrow chain movement in the 1970s with Ultra 6 freewheels that put six speeds on bikes that formerly had only five. If anything my post showed how slowly my mental wheels grind, not how rapidly.

I tend to make do with whatever I have. Especially when it comes to complicated devices like brifters and temperamental items like skinny chains I really try to resist the expense and complexity, weighing the advantages against the disadvantages for the self-supported cyclist. So it took me a long time to want that extra cog on the old seven-speed.

Laboring in a cycling backwater, and not addicted to reading about it on the Internet or in books, I receive my information as it drifts in. Presented with a customer problem I will do intense research. Then I go home and think about something else. So in a way, the fact that I independently developed the 8 of 9 concept validates the research of the true pioneers.

Sheldon also thought brifters were nifty. His article tells how to get those infernal mechanisms to work with the improvised cassettes, which is work you can skip if you declare your independence and shift in friction. He also prescribed skinny chains, where I'm running my 8-speed, reserving the option to go to nine if I notice any problems with chain width that did not appear on my test ride.

Friday, July 25, 2014

8 of 9 on 7

You can easily get caught up in the bike industry's definitions of things and start arguing in their terms, forgetting to analyze problems at their most basic level. Nowhere does this seem to exert more control than in drive trains.

I spend a lot of time getting people's shifting to work. I spend time getting other things to work, too, but shifting occupies a lot of brain space, working out compatibility issues and remembering what can and can't be fixed at all.

Aside from the fixed-gears, my other bikes have seven or eight speeds. My faithful old road bike had seven because I had never re-spaced the frame to 130 mm and I had a wheel with a seven-speed hub without too many miles on it. But commuting to work I discovered two things: First, I wanted a slightly lower low gear. The old 26-tooth cog, even with a 34 ring up front, was good enough for the relatively easy commuting route, but gave me no reserve for longer, nastier climbs. Second, I liked the 50-26 (The Ned), but I feel guilty using it.

I wondered if I could build an eight-speed cassette from nine-speed cogs and spacers that would then fit on a seven-speed freehub.

Yes I can.
When the Miche cogs and spacers came today I test-stacked them on a seven-speed hub from the box of salvage in the basement. Perfect! But would it work with my eight-speed chain? Not a big deal. Nine speed chains are a little more expensive, but still cheaper and more durable than  10- and 11-speed chains. I'd done some experiments on particularly troublesome drive trains that indicated you could run eight on nine and nine on ten in a pinch. And that was on indexed brifter systems. Shifting in friction opens up a lot of other options. If I didn't mind joining the Chain-of-the-Month Club I could make 11 on eight. Ten, anyway, but that's not exotic.

The road test disclosed no problems. I can shift the whole range from both chain rings. I've got my former Ned as a legitimate choice. The new Ned works, too. The chain was long enough.

Of course the disclaimers say you should never mix brands and types of cogs, bla bla bla. If you needed precise indexing performance that would be true...ish. I've mixed cogs for special needs indexing customers as well as friction shifting privateers. It's dicier when indexing is at stake, and downright impossible for the obsessive shifting-geek who thinks a Wippermann chain is "too noisy and slow." Someone that addicted will sell an organ and a couple of kids to have a directional Dura Ace chain when he needs it. Face REALITY, dude! You need help!

Shifting a crowded cluster in friction takes a light touch. Actually, this latest Frankencassette is not as touchy as I though it might be. The Campy Veloce derailleur was already very quick compared to the agglomeration on my Cross Check. Closing up the spacing and adding a cog has not made it unmanageable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

For what it's worth...

The doctor who examined me for my follow-up IV, 24 hours after my initial examination and treatment, disagreed with the MRSA diagnosis. He said the lack of infection reaction shown in the blood work and the character of the inflammation itself suggested a toxin of some kind, probably from an insect or spider.

I've been more or less contentedly coexisting with the creepy crawlers all my life. Except for a brief and debatable period of apparent allergy to bee and wasp stings I've never exhibited more than a normal response to bites and stings.

None of the big name spiders or snakes live around here, not to mention our lack of scorpions or unusually large centipedes. We hear of vagrant Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders that hitchhike in on grocery store produce, but chance had kept me out of produce departments for days prior to this incident. Because we're in a local CSA, we haven't brought in much that wasn't locally grown.

If you try to defend yourself against every little thing that crawls it will drive you insane. Sitting here on my couch with my ugly ankle elevated on a stack of pillows as ordered, I looked over at the table next to me to see an impudent Parson Spider patrolling its edge. I see them all the time in here. They've never really bothered me, though they do like to crawl into beds. This is not a reflection on how often the sheets get changed. These little runners don't spend too long anywhere. But the write-up I found on line did mention that their venom could cause an allergic reaction. What I got seems like a hell of a whammo to take from a dinky little spider not known for being fearsomely toxic, but I have nothing else to go on.

This would be a lot easier to take from a nice macho rattlesnake. But that doesn't mean I want to do it again.

For now I have a patch of skin about four inches in diameter that looks like a peach that was left in the fruit bowl too long. The fever has subsided. The lymph nodes have calmed, mostly. Whatever it is, it seems to be receding. How soon can I get back on the bike?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guess I'm off the bike for a few days

An itchy patch of skin on my left ankle on Thursday grew into a pink swelling on Friday. Yesterday things really got interesting.

I rode to work as usual yesterday morning. My ankle was a little sore to walk on, but warmed up to riding. I pulled an average of 17 mph for the 14.3 miles of my normal route inbound.

When I got to work I felt lightheaded and headachy with a bit of neck stiffness thrown in for added interest. My ankle hurt and I felt what seemed like a lymph node up my thigh. Of course this happens as a weekend begins. If I couldn't hold out until Monday to try to get in with my regular doctor,  I would have to go to the emergency room. Ka-ching! Health care in America is already ka-chingy enough without going to the ER.

By late in the day I knew I would be a fool to delay treatment. No point losing a foot just to avoid a crippling medical bill.
Here's how it looks after one IV bag of antibiotics and two horse pills of additional antibiotics.

The cellist and I spent five hours in the ER getting the blood work, X rays and, eventually, treatment. I had been increasingly tired all day, so I napped during the long waits. I had a fever of 103. Hey! I'm hot blooded, check it and see! Yeah, and I'm old enough to have heard that song when it was new. In the musical vein, as it were, I have to go back for more intravenous meds, so There's a Hole in Daddy's Arm Where All the Money Goes:

The doctor said she identified it as MRSA. At least she didn't say flesh - eating bacteria. Losing a foot sounds like an expensive nuisance. I would want at least a slotted bike cleat prosthesis as well as an everyday foot.  Fortunately I don't appear to have to deal with that from this. 

Watching the nurse get the IV started, I laughed,  thinking about how I had started my day chasing air bubbles out of an injected fluid. Big G and I finally managed a good bleed on Mr. X's Stromer. George had to mind the syringe and coupling at the master cylinder while I put fluid in from the caliper end. Wow, that system hides a lot of air. 

Stromer did admit they have a problem with those calipers. They sent a couple for the affected bikes in the last shipment received by Mr. X and The Chairman. Oh yeah, and six more are on their way. But these are step-through models that have only exhibited electrical problems, not brake problems. Gee, and more often than not they actually work right out of the box. I can always hope. 

The cellist has forbidden me to ride for a week. I'm going to hate driving to work, but I need the money. Good timing to face the bulk of my recovery on days I'm normally off anyway. Apparently there's a good chance we don't have health insurance anymore. The cellist's school contract ran into August,  but she recalls getting a notice that the insurance ended on June 30th. You can't blame shenanigans like that on a fairly recent and highly flawed government program.  Termination of coverage is a time honored insurance company move. Hell, you don't make a profit by paying out money. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Today's contrast

This was on the stand:
when a guy walked in with this:
Mr X called to see if we could slap on the new rear caliper Stromer sent for his bike in 30 minutes or less. The person who said we could does not do wrench work and did not ask those of us who do. I got to disappoint him in person when he showed up.

Stromer has admitted that they have issues with those brakes. I was right.

Lunch is over.  Back to work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A friend's used bike

Between 1994 and 1996 Shimano seemed determined to set a definitive low point so that whenever anything went wrong with componentry they made after that they could say,"yeah, well at least it's not as bad as THIS crap."

These M290 Acera shifters from about 1995 are some of the worst they ever made. At best they feel like they're about to break. They feel flimsy in a way that implies that when something does snap in there it's going to jam up the whole works.

Usually what snaps is the cheesy gear indicator. Several models of Shimano shifter had cheesy indicators that year, all prone to failure.

The shifter mounting tabs on the levers push the shifter pods into the rise handlebar, restricting them to a fairly steep angle. The plastic is so cheap that the nozzle broke off the right shifter, so I had to fabricate a metal ferrule into which to insert the cable housing. I cut a Schrader valve cap and pressed it onto the old adjuster I ground down to use as the ferrule. When I tried to use the adjuster full length, to provide convenient cable adjustment at the shifter and not just the derailleur, the threaded shaft of it jammed the shifter mechanism. Ground down, it made a more substantial ferrule than any of the others I had in my parts farm.

Purveyors of technology would ask, "why are you still running this crap? Buy our new stuff." It's not built to last. It's built to be replaced regularly. Hell, some of it isn't even built to be USED.

The M290 crank that went with this gruppo originally is one of the trio of "Cranks of Death" from the great recall of 1997. The others are the CT 90 Altus and the MC 12 Alivio. A few are still roaming around out there after all these years. We have treated two or three this summer. Cranks of Death is just a pet name. No actual deaths have been attributed to these cranks, only injuries including fractures.

A couple of years ago I had already replaced the original Crank of Death on this bike with a nice replaceable-chainring model and done a comprehensive tune up. Aside from the position change I had to de-earwax the shifters and pump up the tires. Those are on the verge of dry rot. I'll tell the owner to ride a lot to get full use out of the tread before the tire casing disintegrates. Maybe do some skids.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Instability in the atmosphere

"Showers are going to precede the front this afternoon and tonight. Then the front is going to stall over us," said the weather man this morning.

He didn't mention that it was going to stall right there, just to the west of town. Watching it on the radar I would have said the rain would be pouring sideways on gale force squalls half an hour ago. I can see it building and building without getting here.

Pretty annoying when I already called for the choppers. But there are few hospitable places on my route where I could take decent shelter if something large and electrical came through. I've lost more bets than I've won, trying to beat the weather around here.