Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A true misnomer

One of the annoyingly persistent language errors these days is the use of the word "misnomer" when people actually mean "misconception." It's like, literally going to make my head explode. Really? Literally explode? Let me step well back and put on a rain suit and goggles first.

Working on a 16-inch child-size bike the other day I noticed a true misnomer. The Specialized tires were called "Rhythm Lite." I would think on a bike for young offspring they should be called "Rhythm Failure."

Monday, July 30, 2012

More unholy experimentation

Moving from approved and tested treatments to experimental therapies on the Bike that Kills Front Derailleurs, I wondered if the 9-speed SRAM PC 951 chain might fit just loosely enough on the FSA chainring to get sideways and jam there. The ring was technically only for 10-speed systems, which is a bummer if you're one of the poor saps who bought in when 9-speed was state of the art. Would a 10-speed chain work on the cassette?

Yes it would. The 10-speed Connex chain I slapped on for a test shifted perfectly well on the 9-speed cassette. It also jammed on the chain ring at least as badly as the 9-speed chain I removed.

Okay, let's go the other way. Maybe the floppy, sloppy fit of an 8-speed chain would allow it to slide off the chainring without a hitch. But would it fit the 9-speed cassette?

The 8-speed chain shifted and ran almost perfectly on the cassette, but jammed on the chainring as badly as the other candidates. It was only sluggish shifting between one set of cogs on the cassette, requiring just a little extra nudge at the brifter.

Ten-speed cassettes are probably more finicky about chain width. And of course Shimano now has its asymmetrical chains and drive systems supposedly requiring them, in case you want to give them a tighter grasp on your cogs.

I'm sticking with 8-speed chains and friction shifting.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sacerdos ab ordinario, rite confessus,...

One of our chronic problem customers has been destroying front derailleurs at a rate of about one a month since April. The first one was simply old. It had been on his bike since about 2005. He rides a lot and, judging by the look of the bike, without finesse. But something more persistent seems to plague him.

This bike was supposed to be his fresh start after he beat his old hybrid into the ground. It's a Fuji Roubaix, a moderately decent road bike. He's had to replace wheels. He trashed a carbon fork. He was plagued by flat tires for the longest time. He's had shifting problems. As annoying as the endless series of mishaps and accelerated wear and tear has been, we could generally find cause for effect. Until the Plague of Front Derailleurs, that is.

By the end of yesterday, an hour after closing time, I had looked up the Rite of Exorcism on line. I'd thrown everything else at the bike. I was ready to dump some major Latin on it. Then I saw it was 15 pages. Fun's fun, but that's a lot of "...aut saltem corde peccata sua detestans, peracto, si commode fieri possit, Sanctissimo Missæ sacrificio, divinoque auxilio piis precibus implorato, superpelliceo et stola violacea indutus, et coram se habens obsessum ligatum, si sit periculum, eum, se et astantes communiat signo crucis, et aspergat aqua benedicta, et genibus flexis, aliis respondentibus, dicat Litanias ordinarias usque ad Preces exclusive..." And so on.

At least we finally got to see what he's doing to mangle his derailleurs in his own unique way. The first one had broken at the front of the cage so it could not push the chain effectively. The second one went the same way, but also had the outer plate of the derailleur cage peculiarly bowed outward. The third and fourth derailleur have also had that peculiar outward bend to the outer cage plate.

The rider had neglected to mention, and the bike had failed to show us on any test ride until yesterday, that the chain was hanging up on the outer chainring when downshifting under load (his standard MO, apparently) and getting dragged up into the derailleur. Each incident progressively spreads the cage more and more until the bike will barely shift.

But here's the kicker. We have now changed absolutely every component involved: front derailleur, chain rings, chain, bottom bracket bearings, everything. All brand new. Chain still jams.

ADJÚRO ergo te, omnis immundíssime spíritus, omne phantásma, omnis incúrsio sátanæ,...

I might just resort to the Holy Sledge Hammer and call it good.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Employer's Guilt

The cellist and I are having a little addition put on the house. It's not like we're secret millionaires or just won a lottery. We're blowing our nest egg to do it. It's a simple decision at the end of a complex line of thought. How we got here doesn't really matter. The point is, we're creating jobs.

When you create jobs, people show up for work. They may be people with whom you don't normally spend time. This crew built a previous addition for us in 1999 to prepare for the arrival of the cellist when she came to live here full-time. A friend of mine had worked for them and his brother still does. So they're not total strangers. Two of them have mountain bikes. One still rides fairly regularly. The other rider has been hindered by a bout with lymphoma that left him with nerve pain originating from tumors near his spine.

I ponder my place in the world more than is probably good for me. In terms of my overall contribution to society I often feel I should live in a hovel no matter what I might by chance be able to afford. I'm a bicycle mechanic in a rural resort town. It's not like I get to do heroic deeds in support of transportation cycling in an area where a lot of people can and will take it up. Around here it will always be a challenge of debatable worth. When the bike business had its high points, like the mountain bike craze of the 1990s and the very brief bike commuting surge in 2008 when gasoline first hit $4 a gallon, I felt like what I did mattered. Now, for most customers I service their hobby, their diversion. It's just not important.

I got over any great sense of superiority as a cyclist decades ago. Now I simply try to represent my people in a way that will do them credit. I'm known as that crazy guy who rides his bike from Effingham to Wolfeboro every day. A source of wonder, I am not a role model for more than a minuscule handful of people. They all know better. But if I want to continue to entertain and amaze them with my persistence, that's fine.

The builders could not commute by bike. They are not hostile to the concept. They simply can't do their jobs without trucks. Their work is physically laborious. Their tools and materials are bulky and heavy. And when you need them, you need them.

In the marketplace, people bring their needs and abilities together to make deals. People who spend all their time making money must trade it to people who make things and do things. People who make things and do things for their money still have to get products and services from other providers because of the time and training they have devoted to their particular specialties. Not everyone sweats and strains while making their legitimate contribution to society.

Work that looks like work needs no explanation. You see shovels moving or hear screeching power saws and the bang of nail guns. A building takes shape or changes form. Is a financial manipulator with no conscience really worth 700 times as much as these practical people giving physical form to an idea I sketched and handed to them?

When my money is gone, it's gone. It was a windfall, an utterly unexpected life preserver on the choppy sea of life. In an actual emergency like a serious medical problem it would evaporate faster than spit on a hot griddle. Expanding the shack means we can more comfortably accommodate visiting friends and family. Having lost a few of those in recent years, that seems like a higher value than trying to crouch on top of a little pile of money that wouldn't even make much of a fire.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The witness you carry with you

A friend just sent this link to a New York Times article about cyclists using their wearable video cameras to document attacks by aggressive motorists. I had that exact idea when I started to want a camera, long before I actually got one.

The link arrived a day after all three of us at the shop had incidents on the same day. Compared to getting machine-gunned in a crowded theater our troubles didn't seem like much, so I didn't post anything about them. Motorist nastiness is so routine anyway that it hardly seems worth calling out individual examples unless they do hit you. The problem is that you never know when that might occur.

Yesterday, when we each had our encounters, the driving public seemed inexplicably antsy. I'd had a fairly placid ride in the morning, when my colleagues reported their harassment, but within half a mile of my home on the evening run I had a driver put his car full of people, an oncoming car full of people and me at completely unnecessary risk by forcing past me when I was already covering the lane.

The volatile jerk ruins the effectiveness of a lane-covering cyclist by either mowing you down or simply going even farther into the opposite lane as if it's their indisputable right to pass without slowing and without regard for anyone else who happens to be trying to occupy the same general space at the time.

I was not wearing the camera, after weeks of uninteresting recording. I may put it on again, but I certainly don't relish the idea of sifting through the recording after getting hit.

While all the reports of ugly encounters resonate with all cyclists who have had them, you have to remember that you never hear about the thousands of cyclists who landed safely after an uneventful trip. Our standard of uneventful may have to be a bit flexible, but the fact remains that most trips go smoothly enough.

The sad reminders of human selfishness take their toll subconsciously. I seethe a little when I think about the fact that I might be maimed or die as a result of someone else's mere impatience. If I ever do give up cycling I'm going to drive really slowly down the dead center of the road with signs all over my car that say, "I used to ride a bike. You could pass me easily. How do you like me NOW?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fuzzy pictures with a clear message

Last week we had a rash of bikes that had developed mysterious shifting problems. Adjusted derailleurs would creep out of adjustment a little more with every shift.
 The fuzzy photo above illustrates how the inner wires of shift cable housing can punch through the ferrule and burrow into the brains of the shifter. They can also emerge from the other end, through the cable stop on the frame. Any section of housing in the system can do this, but it causes the most potential damage when the wires dig into the shifter.
This fuzzy video shows the actual extraction of exploded housing from a brifter and inspection of the shift cable itself for fraying inside the shifter, which can also have expensive consequences. A piece of the plastic liner of the housing has been shoved all the way through the shifter.

If you keep having to adjust your derailleur cable and take more and more cable through the anchor bolt, undo the cable and pull the housing out of all the stops along its route.

Five millimeter housing with beefy metal end caps is the least likely to fail in this manner. Cheesy OEM 4mm with plastic caps is the most likely. You decide.

"Can you fix my wheel?"

The answer ultimately was, "no."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Evolving as a cyclist: racer to tourist to A/V geek

First off let me say I always respected the skills of the AV geeks when I was in school. The term geek has become more of a role description than a term of disrespect. It conveys a level of dedication beyond the ordinary.

After a few weeks running the helmet camera I have concluded that my life is pretty boring. Much as I enjoy my commute, most of it is just long minutes of scrolling landscape to the accompaniment of wind noise, broken only by the unlovely sounds of my efforts to dislodge respiratory congestion. For some reason these come through with perfect clarity when my witty quips to passersby sound like someone muttering in a sack.

My plans for a "Commute with Cafiend" video series are on indefinite hold until I find the time to learn how to edit these things quickly.

For what it's worth, this video shows a pretty good run through the most fun section of the rail trail. Right at the beginning you get to see one of the rail cars, which are the reason we still have to live with the rails. It continues on out Eagle Causeway (without an eagle) and through the turns by Allen A Beach. From there I usually go back out to the roads. When I have time I will stay on the trail for another two or three miles to a quieter set of roads for a longer but more serene run home than on Route 28.

I took the camera off my helmet late last week. It's like a lottery ticket: maybe it'll win something. Usually it won't. I'll post a few other successful scraps later. Mostly it illustrates how routine bike commuting can be. Even the few boneheaded motorist maneuvers I captured don't look like much after the wide angle lens has exaggerated the distance and squished the offending vehicle to a speeding bug.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Three diapers and a weasel

The diapers are used.  The weasel is deceased. These are landmarks on the daily commute.

I think something finally came and dragged the unfortunate weasel away. It took a surprisingly long time for such a small, portable piece of carrion. I can understand leaving a porcupine for weeks, with the spines and probably weird-tasting meat. But squirrels, equal in volume to the weasel, seem to melt away.

The diapers will be here for months. Adopt-a-Highway crews develop selective blindness when it comes to other people's turd burritos. The weather will remove the biodegradable component but the diaper itself will remain recognizable forever.

We continue to run the shop with a crew of two when it needs a minimum of three to cover all stations. That slows repair work to a complete halt on some days. Mitt Romney has been in town, but I haven't noticed a massive improvement in the economy, only smiling billionaires and their extended families enjoying the prospect of another beautiful summer in their second (third, fourth, fifth, seventh) home.

Many in Wolfe City seem to think his presidency, even if not particularly good for the nation, would be great for tourism. I tend to doubt it because the realities of the office of President of the United States will probably keep him occupied elsewhere most of the time and the security issues peculiar to Wolfeboro's geography will make it a headache for the Secret Service. It seems easier to me to place a security zone around a large estate with ocean frontage than to cut off a chunk of a lake with occupied shore front all the way around it. How do you create a zone of exclusion without pissing off a bunch of rich neighbors? What sort of scary surveillance equipment and even scarier personnel do you use to make sure no one approaches from any of hundreds of access points on the convoluted shore of the lake and comes in under water to within detonating distance of Mittster's compound?

So far, the president of France has pumped a lot more money into our shop coffers than either candidate for the presidency of the United States, even the one supposedly so smitten with Wolfeboro.

It tells you something about Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro's immense concentration of wealth in the summer that Romney bothers with the place at all. He and the family could go tubing, jet skiing, jogging and biking anywhere, but the weird big-money magnet of Wolfeboro brought a bunch of them here.

Their trickle no longer assures our survival. In the grand scheme I guess that hardly matters to them. Someone else will replace us if we collapse. We're not too big to fail. We're too small to notice. The few among them who ride bicycles do their best to sprinkle us with largesse -- not without chiseling, of course, although they've gotten a little better about that over the years. But as the middle class has shrunk and fashions in recreation have changed we have felt the loss. You can't live just on rich people's tossed snacks.

We do our best. I have to head out now, past the diapers and the grave of the weasel to grapple with the pile in the workshop.

Monday, July 02, 2012

I'm a flip-flopper

In hilly country the two-sided "flip-flop" hub offers the fixed gear rider a relatively quick alternative. Gear range depends on how well you can manage the change in chain length.

In this video I change from low to high before a long, gradual descent with a few steeper drops. Even with the rear fender in the way and the bike's weird dropouts that force me to play around with the quick release adjustment, the change takes about a minute.

On a bike with no fenders and decent forged dropouts I could make the switch in 30 seconds on a good day.

My helmet is on the ground, braced up with my water bottle to frame the shot. An earlier attempt when I kept my helmet on and tried to bend my head down far enough to capture the action got some uninspiring shots of my handlebars and the ground.

By the way, it didn't really rain that day even though the forecast sounded certain enough to get me to go with the rain bike. That's okay. Occasional fixed-gear rides really help smooth out your pedaling technique and expand your power range in any given gear.