Thursday, May 21, 2015

Micro Landmarks

Every morning that I ride to work, I dodge the same discarded hose clamp on the shoulder of Route 28. I'm always in too much of a hurry to stop and pick it up. It's become a micro landmark.

A true micro landmark is something a person in a car would never see. There's a mysterious plastic disc set in the pavement of Elm Street. It could be the cap from a milk jug. But, if so, how has it stayed in the same place for years? Tiny road kill and the stubborn stains left behind by juicy bits of litter tell their stories to cyclists scrutinizing the pavement for a safe, smooth line. Some last for weeks. Some last for years.

Disposable diapers tend to turn into micro landmarks. They withstand the elements for a long time, and adopt-a-highway crews have an understandable blindness concerning them. Wouldn't you?

Micro landmarks fall into the larger category of micro scenery. Forget your herds of elk and bison, I get to see migrating newts. The cyclist sees individual bugs making their perilous way across the asphalt plain. We see really odd small objects people have thrown from cars. Coins raise the question, "would you stop for 10 cents? How about 25?"

Bike riders can take a good, long look at the roadside vegetation, too. On one of my woodsy detours, lady's slipper orchids grow in a bunch along just a few yards of roadside bank along a dirt road. The whole growing season presents flowers and foliage small and low for anyone who passes slowly enough to see it.

Odd objects include items from the Roadside Tool Company. Some items I won't even stop for, because I already have several. If time permits I will set them up where they can be seen better by more passersby. If they hang around a while they become micro landmarks. "Go out 28 until you come to the socket set sitting on that rock." "There'll be a screwdriver stuck in the top of a guardrail post."

Time seldom permits when I'm inbound to work. Objects along the southbound lane have to wait for someone else. Northbound I might stop. Rarely, something is attractive or annoying enough to get me to cross the road for it.

For that hose clamp I think I'll put a magnet on a stick so I can snap it up on the fly. It looks damaged. I don't want it as a clamp. But it's a tire hazard. As it gets rustier and dirtier it will blend in more and more with the weathering chipseal, until I, or some other cyclist, fails to spot it in time and takes out a sidewall. The problem is, I forget exactly where it is when I'm riding the opposite way. I need to get it when I'm hurrying to work, before it gets me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Move the finish line

 As you may recall, Jake the Satanic Serpent absolutely refused to shift into the lowest gear on the rear cassette. Based on the noises from the inaccessible interior and the way it acted like it had too much and too little cable tension at the same time, I wondered if the cables had been run correctly when the bike was built. If they had somehow gotten tangled with each other, running a guide sleeve to install new cables would simply replicate the error.

With a bit of time to think about it I realized I could feel for any interference by shifting to the mid range on the rear and feeling the exposed section of cable below the chain stay as I shifted the front. There was nary a twitch.

Jake seemed strangely well-behaved today, even before I started adjusting things. The rear derailleur shifted pretty smoothly through ten of eleven cogs. But that last step, onto the lowest gear, was like a wall.

The limit screws on the rear derailleur were backed out far enough that it would start to shift into the spokes if I pulled cable tension by hand or simply shoved the derailleur over. The problem lay in the ratchet of the brifter itself. It could not pull any more cable. The rear derailleur cable was led properly, but the eleventh cog calls for tension at an angle that reduces the cable pull by just enough to prevent the shift.

If the derailleur won't go to low gear, low gear must come to the derailleur. A 1mm spacer was too thick for the lock ring threads to engage, but I had a .7mm spacer left over from someone else's weird problem. It was just enough to get the shifting to work across all rear gears from both front rings, in today's barometric pressure, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, with brand new cables and housing and everything clean.

That's as good as it gets with a lot of this ultra-modern stuff.

Jake's unfortunate owner is taking up these problems with the shop where he got the bike. I fully expect them to tell him I'm full of shit and the bike is fine.

If it comes back again, choking on silt, I'm going to drill bigger cable exit holes in the down tube by the BB. Maybe I'll cut a few big inspection ports in it, too.

Barcons, man. Eight speeds. Maybe nine. If he really wants to be competitive in 'cross, finicky brifters are just the beginning. He's going to have to turn into one of these neurotics with four different sets of sewup wheels. If that's not where he wants to go, why put up with this shit? Ah, but I ask myself that question many times a day in bike season. People believe the industry's marketing bullshit. They only have a choice of pseudo-racer tweakitude or some other very specific category. Even the all-around roadish bike has to be "a gravel bike" so it can be another freaking category.

High-dollar tickets often start with the words, "my friend gave me this bike." Or it might be, "my friend sold me his old bike when he got a new one," but there's always a friend. Friendship can apparently survive a lot.

The next bike after the Serpent was a Giant full suspension mountain bike, archaeologically dated to about 2004. The guy who brought it in initially just wanted to buy toe clips, a bottle cage and bar ends and install them himself. Cool, no problem. But as I looked over the bike to answer his questions I saw a few things and he began to open up about problems he had experienced with it. It wasn't shifting right. The old Avid BBDB cable disk brakes needed pads in the rear. The right crank arm was floppy loose.

Between the floppy crank arm on the drive side and the fact that the bottom bracket was crawling out of the frame, it's no wonder the bike did not shift right.

Luck was with this guy. The ISIS splined crank arm was not damaged from being ridden loose. I was able to examine the BB cartridge and crank it back in, before graunching down on the crank arm bolts with all the power of a mighty breaker bar.

Note: splined crank arms require frequent reapplications of high torque. They do not stay tight the way contemptible old stone-age square taper axles and crank arms do. Not to say you don't need to check those at somewhat regular intervals, especially after removal and reinstallation, but the square taper interface is supposed to be a press fit. Splined axles are not a press fit. So the bolt has to be tight tight tight.

Notice that the industry has basically abandoned the splined cartridge in favor of the cranks with the BB axle swaged into one side or the other of the crankset itself. This has led to its own set of problems, of course.

Once I had the Giant's BB back in the frame and the crank arms firmly attached I could start adjusting the gears. On the front derailleur I found another moving finish line: Someone had steadily shifted the limit screws on the front derailleur to chase the crank as it moved further and further out. Yep. Don't fix the underlying problem. Just move the derailleur.

Chaos is upon us. You can't look at the whole pile, only at what is right in front of you. Straighten one out, move it along. Grab the next one.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Satanic Serpent

Jake the Satanic Serpent came back to the workshop about three weeks ago because the shifting had gone crunchy again after another abusive mud wallow.

"Gloucester isn't until late September," said the owner. "I don't plan on riding it until a couple of weeks before that." He was referring to the big cyclocross race in Gloucester, Mass. in the fall. He said he would be riding his road bike for the spring and summer, so not to rush the 'cross bike.

I gratefully triaged around the Satanic Serpent, grappling with more urgent repairs for people who wanted their bikes now, not four months from now. I knew the urgent work would let up at some point in the summer so I could spend the hours of brain-frying quality time the Kona would demand.

Today the Serpent's owner called requesting the bike be ready for him to ride tomorrow. And he didn't call first thing in the morning, either. It was mid afternoon and I was still finishing a repair for someone who expected it today. So at 3:30 p.m. I started on the grungy 'cross bike.

The rear shifting was all out of whack. Mere silt and grime could account for all the symptoms. With every cog the industry adds to a cassette the shifting gets more sensitive to minuscule variations in cable tension. And somehow the rider had managed to get a kink in the rear derailleur cable about an inch above the anchor bolt. This would actually come into play when shifting to the lowest gear.

The first time around I had left one piece of 4mm cable housing -- the section from the brifter to the inline adjuster -- because it was under the tape. Reevaluating the cable routing I decided to replace it with a longer section of 5 mm to move the inline adjuster from a high position near the bar to a low position. The high position had almost eliminated a kink where the housing entered the adjuster, but a much lower position would eliminate it entirely. And the new housing would be 5mm with brass ferrules, so the cable should slide more easily through it.

With all the usual rigamarole, I removed the old cable, leaving a guiding sheath in place through the down tube.  I untaped the bars far enough to remove the 4mm housing and slid the old cable out of the brifter. I measured new housing, cut it, and slid the cable through it. Fed the cable through the guiding sheath. Pulled the sheath. Slid on the little chafe-guard that covers the cable where it emerges from the down tube. Ran the cable to the rear derailleur and anchored it. Then messed, messed, messed with the tension. And messed with it some more. Couldn't get it to shift up the cassette to lower gears. More tension...until it finally lifts, one cog at a time, will not shift into low gear no matter what. Check the limit screw, okay. More tension. More tension. More tension. It makes the last shift.

Hit the return lever. Nothing. Three clicks to get it to drop one cog. Ratchet ratchet ratchet it down to the bottom. Ease off some tension. It sort of works through nine cogs, just gets ten. Eleven? Absolutely not. Big ring, small ring, makes no difference. It either shifts pretty badly or really badly.

I pulled the cable again to make further refinements to the housing to get the smoothest curve with no tight bends or kinks. That didn't help. Changed the chain from a KMC to a brand-name Shi-no, just in case the derailleur and cassette were particularly loyal. Another waste of time.

From the beginning, the cables have had a raspy sound and feel as they pass into and out of the down tube. The entry and exit holes are just big enough for the cable. I can't shine a light and paste an eyeball up there to see what might be snagging things in the interior. Really skinny fiber optic cameras cost some serious coin.

By 6 p.m. I was ready to use a fire ax to open it up. I called the customer about twenty minutes later to tell him he could ride it this way if he really wanted to use it now, and bring it back midweek and forget about it for a while. I need to be able to spend several hours with this piece of crap, figuring out where the drag is coming from.

By 6:30 I headed out into the cloudy evening to trudge home.

Routine chaos

I don't know...does this look crooked to you? One of our seasonal customers backed into a tree with his bikes on the rack. This one not only has a severely dislocated fork; it also has a slightly twisted main frame. The head tube is no longer in alignment with the seat tube. The bike is an undistinguished Peugeot from the late 1980s or so. It's not worth dumping a whole bunch of money into.
Here's a Schwein Sierra Al. Is that like Yosemite Sam? Continental Divide Clyde? Yukon Jack?

Friday was Bike to Work Day. In Wolfeboro, I think two people did it. I did, and the town planner.

The Sunday road ride group is falling apart as its aging participants do the same. But recreational path riding continues to be popular, as well as benefit rides.

Fundraising for the Climate Ride has begun around here. Local riders have signed up for the one from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Boston. Each rider is trying to raise $2,800.00 as the minimum buy-in. With seven riders taking part, that comes to $19,600.00 in donations they're trying to extract from our little rural area. Of course they will cast their net much wider through the Internet and their circles of friends and acquaintances. Then they all drive to Bar Harbor for the ride. From there they tour, unladen, while baggage wagons carry their stuff from stop to stop. At the end they drive home from Boston. Um...yeah.

The repairs have been interesting this year. The work no longer seems significant, but it gives the mind something to sort out and the hands something to do.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Perineal Favorites

The Brooks Colt saddle I started using last year has developed bun dents where the old ischial tuberosities drill into it. That's good. But this has led to a crest down the center of the saddle that puts pressure where I'd rather not have it.

A leather saddle changes shape when the rider is on it, more so than a molded-shell saddle of modern materials. I have no way to know what shape it assumes when I'm on the bike. I did reduce the tension slightly to see if it will get a little swayback shape. I also bought a new seatpost with a zero-setback clamp and a greater range of angle adjustment so I can get the nose of the saddle a little higher.

It seems counter intuitive, but raising the nose of the saddle often cures pressure problems on the crest of the saddle because it helps you stay back on the part of the saddle you want to be on. Sometimes, when a saddle appears level, the  curved shape of it makes it feel like it's tilted forward. You slide to the lowest point and grind.

The Colt had a very straight top line at first. Even now it looks pretty straight when I'm not on it. I had prematurely cranked a little tension onto it after just a few weeks, but backed off quickly when I read a little more about proper care of the saddle.

To complicate matters, all my bike shorts are old and mangled. The kind of "chamois" you get nowadays is a complicated marvel of padding and fabric. As is always the case, the more complicated something is, the more things can go wrong. Padding tears or shifts. Fabric wears or bunches up. Seams fray.

One huge problem is that people got the idea that the chamois in old classic bike shorts was a pad. It was not a pad. It was a chafe guard. The seams of the shorts and the patch of chamois were intended to provide a smooth and durable interface (intercrotch?) between the rider and the leather saddle on the bicycle. The leather saddle was designed to break in, conform to the rider's shape and provide a bit of springiness. If you look at the whole range of leather saddles, many models had springs incorporated into the rails.

A rider in tweed on an upright bike has no need of tight wool shorts with a chamois. The whole bike-shorts-and-chamois thing came in from racing. Longer, more strenuous efforts on a bike with a narrow saddle inspired the evolution. The fact that bike seats can be unforgiving led to the padding of both seats and shorts. But padding is largely palliative care. Like so many single-symptom treatments, it can cause as many problems as it cures.

A few years ago, I received a pair of Sugoi shorts to test. The padding in them was voluptuous. I called them my "flat tire shorts" because the padding imparted a bounce on bumpy roads that felt just like the early stages of a rear tire losing air. The cushion actually caused uncomfortable warmth and chafe on longer rides until it broke down enough so that I was more on it than in it. The shorts disintegrated soon after that.

For a couple of years I was using the cheapest Bellwether shorts. The cut was not bad. They're 6-panel shorts with a modest pad. They seem pretty durable. Unfortunately, the pseudo-chamois has a shape pressed into it that created a weak point. The pad tore in one pair, but the fabric covering it did not, so I had basically nothing in one spot, and then a bunched-up wad right next to that, both right in the grind zone. So those shorts went in the trash. The second pair feels like it may be developing the same problem.

A pair of Pearl Izumis developed a wear hole in the crotchal region next to the pad. Those were 8-panel shorts, not exactly bottom-shelf merchandise. The padding wasn't too obnoxiously thick. I can still wear them when I know I'll have tights over them, or at home on the rollers. Scuzzy shorts, wife-beater shirt, three or fours days' unshaven beard, cranking away in the basement.

Looking to add a pair or two of new shorts, I looked at the Pearl Izumi shorts in this year's inventory. The padding in them was thicker than ever. It felt like cheap, open-cell foam that would turn into a fungus factory and a hot, wet sponge. So I ordered some of the Bellwether O2 shorts I'd liked. When they arrived, the padding had been "upgraded" in them as well. It's not as foamy as the Pearl padding, but still more elaborate than it used to be. I haven't worn them yet, because I want to try the new seat position first. When chasing down a problem, especially a fit or comfort problem, only change one variable at a time.

At the same time I got the shorts and the seatpost I got a Brooks B-17 Narrow saddle to try on various bikes. The B-17 was a contender in my original saddle search. It has a slightly different profile than the Colt, with a flatter top. I want to put it on one of the bikes to compare the feeling after break-in. The Colt is sexier, with its hammered copper rivets and chamfered skirt. I might put it on the road bike and use the B-17 for the daily trudge on the commuter.

After persistent cold weather and lifeless vegetation, bam! We have leaves. Bam! We have black flies. And BAM! The workshop is buried in the bashed, the abused and the incomprehensibly f(ouled) up. No time to write, and plenty of inspiration. If only I did not need food or sleep.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Give me a reason

Right out of college I imagined I would take many long bike tours. First I wanted to ride across the United States. Then: up here, down there, wherever, I just wanted to ramble.

Plans for The Big One kept falling apart, but I did manage a three-week tour from just south of San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon. I've never taken another long tour, for various reasons, but I did come away from that one believing that three weeks is a great length. For the first few days you're getting settled in. In that middle week, you feel like you've been on the road forever and you see no end. It is your whole life. In the last week, the destination comes closer. You want to get there. You whittle the distance down. But still you have all that time behind you to give you strength and confidence.

At the moment, the shop schedule gives me three days off in a row. I do notice the loss of income, but I still wouldn't trade the three-day span. The middle day is a lot like that middle week. It has a timeless peace no two-day weekend can provide.

Thinking about the three-day span got me thinking about the three-week tour. That's when I realized that my one long tour was actually transportational. The other rider was doing an exchange year at the University of Oregon during her undergraduate career at Rutgers. Neither of us had the time or the budget to ride from New Jersey to Oregon, but she came up with the idea of riding from San Francisco. I was thinking about staying out there, so we were both relocating, not taking a mere vacation trip. It was point-to-point. Granted we could have done it faster and more cheaply by Greyhound. But we did want to get a tour out of it.

I never got around to riding another tour largely because I needed a better reason than just because I wanted to have done it. Maybe that will become a good enough reason before I'm too infirm to pull one off. Maybe I'll include a bike segment in my final crawl into the wilderness.

Riding in general, I need a reason. A cyclist has to interact with other road users, all of whom have an opinion about whether any sweaty mouth breather ought to be out there in the way. As much as I enjoy cycling, no ride is pure carefree fun because every ride brings the possibility of unpleasant interaction. It may be a low probability, but the chances are never ZERO. They're seldom even close to zero. So I calculate the value of a given ride against the cost of going without it.

This constant exposure to hostile opinion was a strong motive for taking up backpacking for my recreational journeys. I'll take natural hazards over human moods swings any day. But the bike is too good to give up completely.

When I toyed with racing I still commuted by bike. Mistakenly, I thought other road users would respect an athlete in training, which would excuse my long rambles in the countryside, and would respect a working man going to make his contribution to the economy, which would excuse my commuting. Turns out no one really picks up on those nuances. They just see some idiot slowing people down.

Racing was easy to give up. Commuting not so much. I'll defend that turf because everyone should have the right to try to live without being shackled to a motor vehicle. Racers have a right to the road, too, but their activity is consumerist. Touring is actually less consumerist because it blends with all sorts of transportation, education and cultural possibilities.