Friday, September 30, 2011

Click! What?

I appear to have updated my template. I was doing a bit of housekeeping in the ol' HTML. Thanks to the new Blogger interface something must have crawled under the mouse when I was saving the changes I had intended to make. Oh well. The content all seems to be there. Maybe this new setup will make it easier to put interesting features up here. I can't worry about it right now. I have to get some sleep.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gratifying wizard fix

A customer had a mysterious shifting problem on his cyclocross bike. He has some mechanical knowledge. He has raced for years, so he has switched between racing and training wheel sets many times on different bikes.

On the cross bike he could not seem to get the gears to work on the race wheel. They were dialed perfectly for the training wheel. Ten-speed cassettes have to fit so much into the space originally designed for eight that manufacturers can't block each other out with proprietary spacing the way they had done when they had more room for those shenanigans. So why wouldn't one ten-speed wheel work as well as another?

He had already explored cable tension. That adjustment failed to dial in the lower gears on the race wheel. Unfortunately he only brought the bike with the wheel that worked when he first presented it to me to solve the problem. It wasn't broken, so I couldn't fix it. I did have a flash of inspiration as I stared at it.

To work with a ten-speed cassette on a road frame the wheel has to have a freehub body the proper width and an axle that measures 130 mm over the locknuts. That is all. What if the race wheel was spaced very slightly differently, so the limit screws of the derailleur still allowed it to span the whole cog set, but the start and end points were about half a cog off? I suggested he measure from the axle end to the outer face of the cog set on each wheel.

Guess what? The discrepancy was .6 millimeters. Six tenths of a millimeter. It was, in fact, enough to cause the annoying shifting problem.

Here's the tricky part. Spacers to fit that particular region start at one whole millimeter. Who has ever needed less than that? The industry yet again fails to catch up with itself as it pumps out temperamental sifting systems that can be disrupted by small tolerance issues and does not readily provide the curative shims.

A 1 mm spacer at least got the shifting in range of cable tension adjustment. The racer will have to remember to dial in the tension from one wheel to the other. This is fairly common. Meanwhile I have a .7 mm bottom bracket shim on order that should fit over the freehub body and reduce the discrepancy essentially to nil.

Perhaps I'm not so old and useless that I need to crawl out on the ice floe yet. It's often hard to stay interested in my job anymore. When it's just a parade of greasy, abused junk I take scant comfort in the "job security." Real satisfaction is so much more satisfying.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Expertise lives everywhere

Back in the 1990s there was a brief surge of interest in "buying American." This trend in patriotic consumerism seems strongest during recessions, when citizens suddenly care who is getting paid to make the things they buy. This does not stop them from chiseling the retailer mercilessly, by the way.

"Buy American" is back. The 21st Century version is more potent, the same as all the partial solutions rigidly demanded as complete philosophies in society and politics during the last few years.

When I posted a comment on someone's Facebook link pointing out that buying only American items would eliminate the vast majority of bicycles and their parts and accessories, he replied with a link to American bicycle products that contained few surprises. Least surprising is the fact that Buy American consumers are perfectly happy to buy a frame made in America, festooned with parts from all over Asia.

Even many American cars are stuffed with foreign parts. My Dodge van had a Mitsubishi engine. The Pontiac Vibe was a joint venture between GM and Toyota.  And Toyotas (to name but one foreign brand) are made in several of the United States.

While it is true that customers putting money into American companies on American soil will keep that money in somewhat tighter circulation in the domestic economy, it does not assure that American products will meet every need or be the best in their category. If the primary attraction is an American flag on it, that lowers the bar considerably. Look at how long the Big Three bike makers -- Huffy, Murray and Columbia -- pumped out truly reprehensible crap in their American factories until finally moving offshore before the turn of the century.

Matters get more complicated when the American worker, wages eroded by decades of pressure from other economic factors, has to flock to places like Wal Mart to find products they can afford. Consumers want to consume. If the goal of life is to make as much money as possible and get as much crap as possible for it, price is a factor. In fact, if you simply need to outfit yourself with clothes and appliances on a very tight budget, price is a factor.

Value is not the same as price. Whenever possible I buy a better-made item because it will work better and last longer than a flimsy, cheap one. I appreciate being able to shop from a world-wide selection. When the American product is the better choice I will choose it. The economic anomalies that have made it cheaper to ship things all the way across the Pacific Ocean to this country will continue to give a pricing advantage to certain items. That decision is controlled at the top management level. Company owners send jobs overseas. Take it up with them in strong language.

In olden times one might argue that you got better product support from a company that wasn't spread out across half the globe. These days, product support is a bad joke in nearly every industry. You call a support number or send an email assuming you will spend a long time in a telephone labyrinth or get a reply email from someone who signs the name Chad or Cynthia, but whose use of English betrays that it is not their first language.

The bicycle is a world traveler and a world citizen. It knows no boundaries any more than birds and animals do. It is a human creation shaped by contributors from many lands.

To consumers I say, "Insist on good stuff." To manufacturers I say, "Make good stuff." The rest will take care of itself.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An American Bicycle

 A man brought in this 1950s Columbia for us to pack so he can ship it to someone who bought it from him on eBay. He has brought in reproductions before, but never the real item.
 This type of bike has never interested me except as a historical curiosity.
 I love the suspension fork.
Then there's the headlight

The Delta Super Rocket Ray: guaranteed to make the owner of this bike the second largest purchaser of D-size batteries in the country. I'm not sure who would be the largest purchaser of D batteries, but I tend to reserve the top spot because there's always something greater.

 FIVE Star Superb.

 Place tushie here
Place friend here.
 Adios! Admire my mud flap.

This bike sums up the American attitude toward pedal powered transportation pretty well: it's gaudy, impractical, and you'll only want to ride it a short distance. It's built like a 1950s car. The sheet metal is a gauge never seen on later Muffies. Mufolumbias, actually. The paint, the chrome and the machining show care and investment that also had diminished by the next decade and disappeared in the decade after that. When better bikes were built in this country they borrowed from European designs. Meanwhile the old-school American method rolled on with Huffy, Columbia and Murray. Schwinn had their own twist on it.

While I was down in the back parking lot doing this photo shoot, two brothers on Surly Long Haul Truckers came in the other door to see if we could take care of a minor shifting issue on one of the bikes. The older brother, Scott, couldn't get the indexing to work even though the barcon shifter still clicked. The shifter can be switched to friction. Sometimes the switch gets bumped just enough to move it from the index position. It still clicks but the clicks don't line up with the gears.

Younger brother Jim keeps his shifters in friction. Scott said he would practice that. Meanwhile, we got the shifter working so they could continue their tour. I may see them on my commute this morning. Their route comes up this way.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Roadside Emergency Kit

Riders often ask me what they should carry with them on the bike in case of a minor mechanical problem.

My own seat bag is a dense mass containing a spare tube, patch kit, chain tool, multi-tool hex key set, individual 8-, 9-, and 10-millimeter box-open wrenches, a spoke wrench and a little scrap of rag. I ride a rural route and sometimes venture onto roads much less traveled. I like to get myself out of a predicament rather than ask anyone for help.

The comprehensive tool kit developed during the time when our shop held weekly mountain bike rides. Many of the participants did not have tools or know how to use them. But I was always the guy with the tools, even 30 years ago when I raced. On the training rides I bothered to carry the stuff other riders just hoped they wouldn't need.

Not all the riders who ask my advice take it. Some of them just carry a cell phone so they can bother a willing supporter to come fetch them back from wherever they broke down. Others want to pick their emergencies. Most often they prepare for a flat tire. They get a tube and a pump or CO2 inflater.

"Should I carry a patch kit?" they ask.

Absolutely. Not only might you patch a minor puncture if you have already used your spare tube, in case you have a serious mechanical problem or -- god forbid -- an injury, you can sniff the glue in the kit to amuse or anesthetize yourself until help arrives.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How close is too close?

During my first year as a working class bike commuter I also started bike racing.  You learn right away to relax with other riders almost touching you. In fact, you'd better learn to keep your wits about you when you actually bump another rider or a bunch of you may be hitting the pavement.

When I commuted back then, the space around me among the motor vehicles seemed generous by comparison to a crowded criterium field.  I appreciated a little elbow room, but generally did not freak out when vehicles greased past me in a tight squeeze. It was the way of the world. As long as I was still up I had few complaints. Plenty of drivers gave me ample cause for anger by doing aggressive things like honking, yelling or throwing things. I wasn't going to sweat the average daily squeeze play.

Over the years my perception changed as motorists took too many chances with my safety and I began to imagine the point of view of riders who had not raced in large groups.  A motorist has far less at risk than a cyclist. Sitting in the La-Z-Boy, piloting their rocket sled down the road with only their own schedule in mind, it's too easy for a driver to decide that a maneuver is acceptably safe when that driver definitely will not be paying the price for miscalculation.

Riders who don't have the strength, speed and experience to play racer games with the motoring public deserve their space. But how much is enough?

Many states have enacted safe passing laws that specify a distance motorists are legally required to maintain. These are virtually unenforceable even if law enforcement officials were interested in enforcing them. Some agencies or certain individuals might be more sympathetic than others, but you can't have a cop in every car and truck to make sure the driver stays sober, doesn't play with electronic devices and stays the proper distance from cyclists, passing only when it is clear enough to leave the mandated margin. The laws make two statements. Overtly they acknowledge that a cyclist is a legitimate and vulnerable user of the road. By implication they make it clear that the operator of any vehicle has the ultimate responsibility to operate safely on the honor system, without supervision. The safe passing law is a "best practice." Since you'll probably never ever see anyone ticketed for violating it, it is purely advisory.

With the number of substance abusing, tired, angry, depressed, distracted or fatigued people in the population, it's a wonder we don't have more collisions of all kinds out there. It's a testament mostly to luck.

This summer I decided to rely on luck a little more in some of the tight places.  I opened the gate on more sections of road where I had been taking a strict view of the bicyclist's right and duty to control passing vehicles. Obviously it was okay. I'm here, undamaged.

I still held the lane where it really mattered.  Except for a couple of aggressive idiots back in April or May, drivers seemed to understand why I was out there.  As soon as I could slide to the right without putting anyone at risk I would release anyone who had not already shoved past me.

You can't call what I did an experiment. It proves nothing except that the bad event never happened.  I would not let a big vehicle like a tractor-trailer squeeze past me, but few large vehicles came along in the spots where I would have had to make that decision. Meanwhile, a bunch of people in smaller vehicles were happier because they had an easier time getting around me. They might not have been perfectly content, because I was there at all, but they were able to move on quickly enough to prevent them from wanting to stick around and get ugly about it.

All this time I noticed I was still riding with a speed and efficiency uncommon among people who don't study the craft of cycling at least somewhat. I hesitate to call us serious riders, but you know who we are. We are into biking enough to consider it an important -- if not vital -- part of our complete lives. Maybe you might like to sit more upright, ride with flat pedals and have a basket on your bike, but you're not going to take crap from anybody and you're not going to quit riding just because some driver wishes you would. Right? Bikes --all bikes -- belong. A rider who is not set up like a racer can still ride efficiently. Why waste energy? It's your own personal energy, not some cheap, dirty fuel we pump out of one smelly tank into another and burn with seldom a second thought except to bitch about the rising price. So we ride mindfully.

The people I dodge when I'm walking on the sidewalk and they're riding down it probably see the street in a different way.  It is a hostile environment where they do not belong. Or perhaps some of them are just too lazy and think of the bike as a law unto itself, so they're taking a short cut. They're never in the mood to be interviewed.

As we move into autumn the mood becomes darker with the days.  The teeming summer population of visitors and seasonal residents dwindles, but the locals have bred in plenitude. Until those kids become young adults and leave the area to experience life in the wider world they drive for several years as teenagers. Some of them never leave, so they work through all their young adult issues right here on the road beside me. It's been interesting to observe over the years, especially as mountain biking ceased to be a rite of passage and the Fast and Furious movie series added more and more episodes. They are remarkably benign in spite of that. But I may benefit from my own legend, since I've been riding the same commute on a local highway for 21 years. Your results may vary.

I've also been using the rail trail to get out of town in the evening. It turns out to be pretty clear during supper hour, so I don't have to squeeze past too many other users in the long narrow stretches between the rails. I have about a 5 -minute video I shot on the trail. I just have to find time to put some music to it, Rantwick-style. Or I might just post it with all the rattles, bumps and heavy breathing as it is.