Friday, June 19, 2015

If we like you, you get zip ties

Does this look like a lot of zip ties to you? Big G packed this bike about a year ago for a customer who was moving back to Santa Cruz, CA, after a few years working in the Boston area. The customer had always been friendly and appreciative. Big G went all out on the swaddling and securing.

The customer decided to bring the bike back here and buy a new one for out there, so he never unpacked it. It will stay here for visits back east, to the in-laws.

Here are all the zip ties I removed from the bike:
It seemed strangely interesting that these basically disposable items, which we had already salvaged from new bikes we were unpacking, had traveled all the way to California and then returned to us, still in re-usable condition. They've logged more miles than I have in the past 12 months.

The bike had some fascinating mold on it. I wished I had a camera that could capture the details of the microscopic Dr. Seuss forests scattered around on bar tape and brake hoods. It was even growing on the frame and the broad spokes of the Mavic wheels.

Some days my job is just so darn interesting. Right?

Bike Mechanic Retirement Home

Monday, June 15, 2015

Customers do the darnedest things, part 3,657

"There's something wrong with my brakes."

Look closely at where the barrel adjuster for the lever has ended up.

The rear tire was weirdly worn only on one side, like it would be on a car with bad alignment. We finally figured out that the intrepid young rider had been foot-braking against the tire to make up for the lack of a functioning rear brake.

Here's the front quick-release on the same bike:
Neither wing-nutted nor closed correctly, it was jammed up tight with the handle sticking out like that. You can just make out the mangled spring sticking out by the fork, too.

If you ever needed proof that bicycling is basically a safe activity and that humanity is bizarrely protected from the consequences of its own thoughtlessness, here it is. Disaster did NOT occur. Eventually, they got the bike to the bike shop and the nice mechanics made everything all right. No problem!

Your results may vary, of course. Having things properly connected is always a better idea than just stuffing it together in some vague approximation. You could be the unlucky one who actually has something come apart so badly that you're in no shape to enjoy the lawsuit afterward.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Tool tip, tiny tap handle

Over the weekend I had to reattach the directional cable roller for the front derailleur, on the lower rear side of the seat tube on a guy's Ridley cyclocross bike. Top-routed cables, whoopee.

The roller had fallen out and fallen apart while he was riding. He actually managed to find all the pieces and bring them to us.

The original bolt was now too short to reach the surviving threads in the riveted insert pressed into the carbon fiber frame. As the roller had jiggled and jostled its way out, it had reamed the threads at the outer end before it managed to depart. Before I stuck a new bolt in there, I wanted to freshen up the threads. But a tap handle would never fit in the space so close to the seat stays. But that spoke wrench would. I've used the trick in other close-clearance areas as well. You don't have a lot of leverage, but if you're just cleaning things up to make sure your bolt threads in smoothly and straight, you don't need a lot of leverage.

Exploding Spokes

The season of urgent repairs has arrived. People come to town for the weekend. Something goes wrong with the bike. They plead for emergency care.

Last Thursday it was two guys carrying a Specialized Secteur. It was 4:30 p.m. The shop would close in one hour.

"The bike was hanging in storage all winter," said the owner. "When I brought it out, a bunch of spokes were broken in the rear wheel."

I asked about the usual things: could a car have hit it, could a heavy object have fallen against it, do any people have access to the storage area who might be pissed off at him? He dismissed each of those possibilities. That left us with four broken spokes on the drive side, cause unknown.

The owner said that the bike had been hanging by the front wheel from a storage hook, in an unheated space during last winter's phenomenal cold spell in Boston. I had never encountered spoke failure due to cold, but there's a lot I haven't encountered. Still, I would have expected the rim to fail before the spokes. Or, more likely, the rim would contract more than the spokes, relieving tension on them.

I said I could not adequately investigate this mystery in what remained of the day. I would need a few hours to see if this thing would be safe to fly, even with the broken spokes replaced.

The spokes were all in a row. The rim is DT. The spokes are DT. The hub is one of those Specialized-labeled ones that look like they say SIXE if you read them upside down. It's "Axis." They've fixed the font now, but I liked it the old way. I can't remember what I read about those hubs, whether they're DT or Formula or some other generic maker. No matter.

The spokes had not broken at the bend or the threads. They had snapped somewhere in the middle. The edges of the breaks showed no pinching, as they would if a cutter had been used.

A cruise through the Internet turned up some forum posts about bad OEM spokes of Asian origin a few years ago. I had seen failure of various OEM spokes myself, but never DTs. Another forum thread mentioned corrosive environments that weakened spokes. The spokes on this bike did show signs of that. They had a black finish. On close examination you could see cracks in that, and some crusty residue. I sanded away the black around one, carefully and gradually, to see if the crack extended into the metal beneath. In my test area it did not appear to.

I determined the proper length for replacement spokes and installed four. Put the wheel on the stand and tensioned the new spokes. Straight, smooth, round, the wheel looked good. I stepped away to work on something else before I put the bike back together.

BANG! A black spoke snapped, sending the nipple-end across the room.

That's annoying. Glad I didn't have my eyeball down there, sighting along the truing stand calipers.

To me, that was the end of any stop-gap repair. This wheel needs to be rebuilt. To complicate the problem further, the non-drive-side spoke holes in the rim all showed little stress bulges. Nothing had cracked yet, but it made the rim a questionable candidate for the investment of parts and labor to respoke it. I don't know why the non-drive side would show stress that the drive side did not, but this wheel was clearly weird.

BANG! Another spoke fired off. That's it. This thing is dead. I took our spokes back out of it and set the remains by the rest of the bike, with some cloth draped over it as blast matting in case any other spokes decided to blow. It was less likely now that the tension had been reduced. Still, I didn't want any of us to have to dig a spoke fragment out of our leg.

While the front wheel had not misbehaved at all, its spokes had been in the same environment as the rear ones, and there are only 24 of them between the rider and a screaming face plant. Low spoke count wheels are technically strong enough for the stresses of performance riding, but they sacrifice most of their margin of safety by putting more and more load on fewer and fewer parts. When one part fails, the structure deviates much more than it would if more parts were carrying the load to begin with. Are you really going to rip down some exhilarating descent, congratulating yourself on the money you saved by not rebuilding or replacing that front wheel?

Not my decision. I did advise the owner to think about getting both wheels redone or replaced. Because he claimed -- as do they all -- that the bike barely had any miles on it, he was going to take up the matter with the shop where he bought it.

Barely any miles. Not that old. We hear that all the time. Your average ten-year-old bike is between fifteen and twenty years old. A guy brought us his 15-year-old Cannondales on Sunday, and they are 23 years old. Bikes we "just tuned up" show up in the repair records from two years ago.

Sunday started with barely enough work for the number of people on the schedule. We did not get a wave of check-ins, but the couple we did get kept us turning wrenches and looking useful until closing time. Summer has shrunk from the cheerful chaos of the 1990s and early 2000s to a brittle, somewhat desperate couple of months at best, starting on the Fourth of July weekend and not quite making it to Labor Day. But the warm weather can bring us little waves of business any time from now until the fall foliage fades.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Your friends might not know how to tell you...You've got GRIP GUNK

"Greg's an okay guy."

"Yeah, but have you noticed? He's got Grip Gunk."

"Ewwww! No!"

That's right, riders. Spend long, sweaty hours grabbing onto those handlebars? Put in your miles, come rain, shine, or sweltering summer heat? You could be developing grip gunk.

Take our man Greg, here. Loves his bikes. Rode the rear rim on one of them literally to pieces not long ago. He's a guy you'll see out along the highway, day after day, on one or the other of his trusty mountain bikes. And he's built up the gunk. You would not believe the olive-green, greasy paste that permeated the old grips, ground into the creases, even sliming up the insides of them from dirt and sweat that had slithered in there over the years.

Gross does not even begin to describe it.

Grip gunk: don't let it happen to YOU.

Empty Mind: A Survival Strategy for the Overly Imaginative

In 1980 I took the Greyhound bus from Eugene, Oregon, to Washington, DC. Straight shot, no layovers, just three days of incarceration. On the very first day, the guy in the seat next to me offered me a hit of speed.

"Why?" I asked. "Are we going to have to take turns driving this thing?"

With nothing to do for the next three days but sit in a bus seat and look out the window, read, talk with fellow passengers and gradually get more greasy, why would anyone want to crank themselves up? Hallucinogens I could see. Maybe. But you run the risk of wanting to get interactive with your imaginary friends. The most complicated thing any of us had to do was get back on the bus after a coffee stop and not blow our transfers in Salt Lake City and Chicago.

With no duties to perform, we found ways to amuse ourselves. But eventually it was the middle of the third night somewhere in Pennsylvania and I was standing in the aisle, reaching out cruciform to hang from the luggage racks, my self-entertaining fantasies exhausted, my body incapable of remaining seated. I needed emptiness.

My day job demands more from me than mere stillness on a bus ride, but there are some crucial similarities. I have to stay until the journey is complete. Misbehavior could get me thrown off. And too much energy or imagination just make it harder to endure.

Yesterday I went in feeling empty from the start. With my employer's volatility, interaction with him is like trying to have a backyard barbecue in a minefield. The mines are few and widely spaced, but they're out there, trust me. He doesn't follow most of the twists and turns of my imagination anyway. Big G does, but the company can't afford to have us both on duty at the same time anymore. We intersect on Saturdays, and some Fridays and Sundays. But really, what's the point of wasting a lot of energy and imagination at work? It's not like I get to do anything with it. Instead of cheering me up, it's just bringing me down. Empty it.

The emptiness does not mean I bring any less attention to the work itself. It means that I dismiss anything that does not relate to the task in front of me. Anything that is not on my work stand is not my business.

I'd gotten so that I talked to myself constantly. It's a harmless habit that I continue on my bike rides and at home. But at work it's a gateway to too much thinking. And too much thinking just causes trouble. There's a time and place for that. Just not at work. Beyond my work stand I need to ignore anything but an actual fire breaking out.

Emptiness is not suppression. Thoughts occur. You let them go. Suppression takes effort. Emptiness saves effort. Silence saves effort.

Yesterday was easy. I felt a little sick from the stress of returning there after the monumental ass-reaming I had received on Saturday. I could focus on that to make my posture small. I moved slowly because I really couldn't move any faster. I kept my eyes down. I spoke only when spoken to or when I needed to cover the front while The Boss ate his lunch at the Bayview Cafe -- our name for the desk in the workshop, with what used to be a nice view of the water. The trees have filled back in after our clandestine pruning, so mostly all you see are people in our back parking lot. But we still call it the Bayview in sentimental remembrance of better days.

At lunch I sat at the Bayview only because my original plan to sit in the dusk of the back room, to avoid mental stimulation, would probably have provoked another big scene because I was not behaving "normally." But I did not look out the window, because I did into want to think about anything I might see out there: cars left idling, otherwise nice people sucking cancer sticks, the usual crap. I turned the chair toward the room and looked at the floor. It was a mess I could accept more easily than the mess of the outside world. My emptiness is fragile. Perhaps -- with time -- the empty eggshell will grow thicker around the vacant center.

I started to lose the lyrical drift around 3 in the afternoon. I needed to think a bit more about not thinking. The weather gave me a bit of a hand, because I could use it as an excuse to bolt about 15 minutes early to beat a line of thunderstorms bearing down on us.

Depending on whether I am furloughed again this Sunday, yesterday was the first of five or four days under the new approach. Breathe. Release. Relinquish. Be alive on your own time.