Friday, October 17, 2014

Jigsaw puzzles and more

Do you like jigsaw puzzles? If so, the bike business may be just your thing.

Here are the pages showing derailleur hangers in the Quality  catalog.

Every time a bike comes in with a tweaked derailleur hanger we have to check it against the reference pictures, the way you consult the picture on the box when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle. As with jigsaw puzzles, we compare all angles, swoops, curves, cuts and protuberances to pick which one of several similar hangers will actually fit.

Disc brake pads are a less detailed jigsaw puzzle, but still important to get right.

The bike in front of me takes a Wheels Manufacturing  number 43. We have plastic tubs full of Wheels  Manufacturing  number 27, accumulated from Fujis that came with two in the box. The 27 looks somewhat like the 43, but not close enough to tempt improvisation.

Because most hangers are alloy, they often snap when you try to coax them back from what looks like a minor deviation. They're meant to fail to save the frame and possibly the derailleur. A wise off-road  rider should buy one or two spares ahead of time. I can't imagine too many shops bother to keep every style fully stocked.

Yesterday and the day before I spent bringing a 1991 Specialized Hardrock back from the dead.

Here's what I found inside the left shifter:

That's some kind of old bug nest. 

This thing was profoundly cruddy. It went well with everything else that was rusted to a lump.

 The derailleurs wouldn't even move. A day and a half of penetrating oil actually loosened them up. Hard to believe the bike functions, but it does. I was about ready to declare it dead when eyelids fluttered, metaphorically speaking.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

As darkness falls

Last night I headed out under cloudy skies in summer-like heat to ride the path and back roads back out to my car.

The path is not totally deserted yet, even in the outer reaches, but away from town other users are getting pretty scarce. So I might see the occasional dog walker or I might not.

I saw something. It was way out ahead of me. Dusk was not too deep yet, but against the backdrop of forest this black animal was hard to make out. Ordinarily I see a black animal without a white stripe and I figure it's a bear. They're pretty common. But when I got a profile shot this looked doglike. I thought I could see the downward sweep of a canine tail. But it was a hundred yards away in failing light. It was not near a house. It was not accompanied by a human. When I got to where it had entered the woods there was no trail. It had simply melted into the vegetation.

Here I am, unmauled and not even inconvenienced. But I wondered, not for the first time, what I don't see when I'm riding in full darkness the whole way.

October is spooky because the nights are getting longer while leaves remain on the trees to make the darkness darker under forest cover. Once November gets well established spooky just turns to dismal.

If something does come after you on a rail trail you can only flee in one direction or the other. The Cotton Valley Trail is so narrow in many places you wouldn't be able to reverse course anyway. I'll load up on garlic, silver bullets and whatnot to get through the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncivil Twilight

Around here, drivers seem to get more aggressive in September. This year it was a month late, possibly as a result of climate change. The increase in pushiness reinforced the second level of driver misbehavior that comes out after sunset.

When I got really good lights I tried pushing the commuting season into the months of darkness. Immediately I noticed that on certain parts of my route I could not control traffic as well as I do in the summer, even with summer's traditionally recognized heavier traffic and influx of "idiots from away." October brings the ghouls and goblins, the creatures of darkness, I guess. And a lot of them drive pickup trucks.

Fortunately, I can switch to the park and ride option, which uses mostly dirt roads and the rail trail. I've run into one or two off-season trail abusers over the years, but it's nothing like the rudeness on the road.

At different hours the mix of drivers might turn more compliant. I doubt it on the near end of my route, because night time brings out the hot rodders and tire shredders. They seem really attracted to the intersection near my house. It may be the only place for three miles in any direction where there's room to do a doughnut. Then there's a great straightaway in front of my house for the approach and the getaway.

To avoid the attention of violent redneck humorists I have gone night riding a few times around my neighborhood with only a headlight, no tail lights or reflectivity of any kind. At the first hint of an approaching vehicle I would dive for the ditch, snap off the light and freeze. If you can't be seen, acknowledged and respected, don't be seen at all. But when you do that you find out how many vehicles go by you on what seemed like a nearly deserted road. Don't be in a hurry to get anywhere.

An awful lot of human survival in general seems to depend on not meeting a psychopath at the wrong time. No strategy of defense or avoidance is perfect. And there are always the idiots.

Conditions are only slightly better driving a car in all this. You don't get more respect from other road users who are aggressive or inattentive. You just have a bit more armor plating. But the park and ride is better than no ride at all. I know its limitations.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I like big bus and I cannot lie

Caught my bus Friday morning and it almost caught me. Still figuring out how to insert subtitles and other Rantwick staples into a video. I had the helmet cam on to monitor traffic behavior on the way across town and I caught this bus. Oh boy! A draft! I got a bad drafting habit. When a truck or a bus goes by in a rush I gotta sprint! Get to that pocket and get in it!

I conveniently forgot that school bus drivers can be a little crazy after many missions shut in a metal box with a bunch of kids and some of them are apparently NASCAR wannabes. Check out how this one gets on it after pulling onto Main Street.

This was a short run -- almost abruptly short:

I'm getting old for this stuff. I can't help it, though. That wave of air invites me forward and I start grabbing gears. The bus driver stomps the brakes and I grab mine. I missed the corner of the bumper by a generous five inches and sauntered into the corner like I'd meant to do it that way. Just another day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bamboo cycle wipes

This sample of White Lightning bamboo cycle wipes showed up in the workshop this week. I finally read the info today.

The wipes are made of a tough, durable  but biodegradable bamboo fiber fabric. Supposedly it will degrade in 28 days when composted. Use a disposable product without guilt!

Yeah? What about the packaging?

My "cycle wipes" are little squares of old cotton tee shirt tucked into the bags on each bike in the fleet. I carry another scrap or two in the bum bag I use for commuting. Those and saliva make up my cleaning kit. Every so often I launder the little rags. When they get too bad I throw them away.

Your alcohol based cleaning towelettes can potentially dry out in the package if you haven't had occasion to use them in a long time. On the other hand, if I can't produce saliva I have worse problems than a bit of grease on my hands.

Your socks come in handy for minor finger wiping, too.

Maybe if I had a rash of roadside breakdowns and had to grovel around the grimier parts of my bike several times in a row I would feel differently. How many non biodegradable packages of biodegradable wipes would dry out before that happened?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

This guy REALLY doesn't like dogs

A woman asked me to help get her father's bike out of the car so he could leave it with us to get new tires. The front wheel was off. The bike was stuffed into the back seat of a sedan.

In the bottle cage I saw a full size can of hornet spray. I said it was a strange choice of refreshment.

"He carries that for when dogs chase him," she said.

I ventured that it was pretty harsh stuff to blast a dog with. Not only that, blowback would be pretty rough on the rider,too.

"I know," she said.  "But he's been bitten a couple of times and he's 86 years old. I can't really tell him a thing."

So, word to the wise: don't startle or intimidate the old dude on the 17 inch black Fuji Absolute. And definitely don't bark at him.

Monday, October 06, 2014

My Negative is your Positive

Looking at that Trek tri bike from last week I suddenly missed the days when we used to go to Interbike. Back in the 1990s we did it for competitive reasons. The mountain bike business was festering and foaming with runaway innovation and reinvention of 1890s technology. Shops competed savagely. Consumers drove many miles to save a few dollars. You had to be informed if you wanted to survive.

We had a dozen smartasses a day back then, sneering at us if we didn't have a snappy answer about every product they'd just read about in Obsessive Tech Weenie Monthly. Interbike was our chance to see nearly everything for a coming year, and collect price information from our competitors.

It also allowed me to lodge doomed protests like these cartoons:
Still as valid today. And the Japanese Juggernaut has been joined by America's conglomerate answer, SRAM, destroyer of worlds. It was a dark day when they ate Sachs-Sedis. But you have to go on.

I suppose there were people who thought the new metal tools were foolish luxury when you could just pick up a piece of flint and chip it into whatever tool shape you needed. No fire required! No ore to mine and refine! Rock on, with Flint! Am I that bad? I think not.

My main objection to the bike industry's elaborations is that they eliminate valid choices for many riders, simply for the sake of the industry's economies of scale. They change the norm to suit themselves and to serve the limited clientele that could actually benefit from the complex technology dumped on us to replace what had been simply sufficient. Even within the higher price points of the super sophisticated technology a consumer has to be careful. The bike industry has never been reluctant to throw unready product into the marketplace to let paying customers do the R&D. Maybe the stuff basically works, but it's full of bugs that bite the early adopters. That's your reward for customer loyalty. Trust us! Go ahead!

After the mountain bike boom died and Interbike moved to Vegas on dates inconvenient for us we lost interest. Everything had gone quiet. We could keep up with the slower pace without going to the trouble and expense of a trip to the trade show. We weren't getting dragged through the mud about specs and prices the way we did in the frenzied years of The Boom. Only recently did I wish I'd been able to go for educational purposes. It still may not be worth the price of the trip, but it would give me a chance to see in real life whatever Great New Things were coming out of the industry's fire hose of obsolescence. With that information I can help customers make better decisions, or at least less bad ones.

Take the recent Trek for instance. Our customer did not consult us about it before purchasing, but say he had. If I had seen the beast at a trade show I would already have spotted the suspect bits and could tell him to be leery. Or another customer, who bought a wheel without taking into account the two different spline depths on Shimano-compatible freehub bodies, which limit your choice of cassettes.

You might advise me to read more, and you'd have a point. The bike industry and its adoring press repulse me enough to discourage me from reading a whole lot about their stuff, especially when the writeups aren't clinically critical of designs all the way down to fundamental principles. Maybe the editors and writers gave up on the ocean of crap years ago and now settle for simply describing the oily sheen on the turd-flecked surface in aesthetic terms. Or maybe they really are true believers.

I could fill a book with my observations of what technology really does provide advantages and to whom. For some riders, tinfoil chains, 18-cog cassettes and brifters are as necessary as machine guns were to modern industrialized warfare. But a rock never jams or misfires. Do you need a machine gun? Is it really worth buying, maintaining and toting around all the time? If the answer is yes, get the machine gun. My problem is that the industry always assumes the answer is yes. And when they do offer you a rock, it's a cheap, crumbly rock. And you have trouble finding much in between the rock and the machine gun.

Good stuff is out there. It goes to trade shows. The hands-on experience is far better than trying to analyze something from pictures and a written description, or even a video. At Interbike I could poke around at my own pace, generally undisturbed by booth attendants who were busy trolling for orders from the real buyers. I could look at something from whatever angle I wanted, for as long as I wanted. I don't know if I'll actually go to a trade show again, but it does seem worthwhile when it had not for so long.

My negative is your positive. I'm the guy who grabs your collar and yanks you back so you don't walk off a cliff while admiring a beautiful sunset. I'm the guy who warns you you're about to step in dog crap because you're looking up at the colorful fall foliage. While you're distracted by the attractions I'm looking for hornet's nests and poison ivy. I'm never going to be a cheerleader for anything, but that doesn't mean I hate everything. Take advantage of that. I may make you feel like an idiot for sucking up the propaganda and buying the sparkly new thing, but that's the first step on the road to deeper understanding of your tools, what they can do for you and what the industry that markets them to you really owes you. They owe you solid value and really good explanations, for a start.