Monday, April 29, 2013

Poking around the shoreline

On a cloudy afternoon in East Lyme, Connecticut, a village in the home town of the eponymous disease carried by tiny ticks, my older brother and I set off after a few hours of yard work for our parental units to take a leisurely ride around the shore of Black Point.

The route overlooks the wide outlet of the Pattagansett River before turning to show some views across Long Island Sound. Then, by twists and turns it travels up the side of Niantic Bay. That section of shoreline saw fairly heavy damage right along the water from Hurricane Sandy. Most of the houses have been repaired, so they look very spruced up: fresh siding, new paint, new windows. There are still a lot of construction sites and contractor trucks as well. And a few buildings have had little or no repair. It certainly doesn't look as bad as the news tells us about some of the places along the Jersey Shore and in Queens. But I'm not about to quantify anyone's predicament when I did not have to deal with any storm damage of my own.

This was my brother's first ride on the Raleigh since I installed the triple crank. He had no opportunity to try the granny ring because none of the climbs around here require it, but the other gearing seemed to work well.

We rode into McCook Park. From the parking lot behind the beach a narrow roadway climbs to the top of the bluff. The McCook summer home is gone, but the restroom building was wide open, with the doors propped back, inviting one to ride in. I didn't have to worry about someone walking off with my bike while I was paying attention to something else.

On the heights I remembered I had a camera. A cormorant drying its wings caught my eye, out in the bay on a large rock.

It had stopped and folded its wings by the time I got the camera out of my jacket pocket. It's the speck on the left side of the rock. The two specks on top of the rock are other birds. Perhaps a couple of gulls taking terns.

Don goes to check if it's a cliff or just a bluff.
"You told me you fell off a cliff!"
"That was just a bluff!"
Looking back toward the areas of reconstruction.

We did a lot of riding on grass and gravel. A chip-stone path goes down to where a nice boardwalk had followed the shore of Niantic Bay beside the railroad in front of the village.
For some reason, these buoys denoting a swim area right up against the railroad fence made me laugh.
Where the gravel gave way to soft sand we walked, carrying our bikes the few yards to where the path went under the railroad tracks. This big orange sign informed us the boardwalk was closed.
Gee. Do ya think?
Pounding storm waves from Sandy had basically obliterated what had been a nice, fairly recently-completed walkway along the water.
While we were admiring our bikes, a train came through.
After the train passed, we rode on into the village, where traffic had a certain rush-hour intensity, if not density. It was after 5 p.m., and drivers  moved with purposeful urgency. No one was a jerk, but why put them under strain? We found more quiet streets to stretch the ride a few more minutes before piecing together the route home through residential neighborhoods.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Full frontal noodlety

Here's a short exploratory video of the shifter-noodle arrangement and some better pictures of the final version. It's on its way to St. Croix next Thursday for the St. Croix International Triathlon.

Gripping stuff here:
Mumbling in a cold garage...but it's at least as good as the subject matter deserves.

Here are the stills:

Chain of the Month Club

When I incorporated cycling as an integral part of my life, it was a way to be LESS enslaved by technology. For the first couple of decades it was pretty easy. Now it gets trickier to find quality parts for an uncomplicated machine.

My older brother enlisted my aid to fit a triple crank to an early-1980s Raleigh road bike. The front derailleur he had scavenged turned out not only to have a bent cage, the cage was fatigued and cracking. I went looking for a triple-compatible front derailleur with a 28.6 mm clamp and a cage that would fit the curvature of a 52-tooth ring. They have not disappeared entirely, but you don't have a lot of choices in new equipment. The compact double with a wide-range 10-speed cassette is now marketed as much more desirable than the triple.

At first the reasoning seems acceptable. It's easier to shift two rings than three. You can use a shorter-cage rear derailleur. You can have fairly closely-spaced gears across a range with as many choices as a 7-speed triple. But now you have to use a 10-speed chain.

Welcome to the Chain of the Month Club.

Just about every time someone brings in a bike with a 10-speed cassette, I drop a gauge in the chain and discover it needs to be replaced. Mosquitoes live longer than 10-speed chains. The only way to make them last a long time is to stay off your bike. So if you're an enthusiastic tourist, keep that in mind.

And now they're working on eleven.

Prices on line for 10-speed chains (as of today) range from about $35 to over $80 (US). What I know of the performance of these chains I have learned by observing the riders who use them in my area. Almost all of them insist on Dura Ace chains because they feel that the others we've tried on them, SRAM and Connex, are noisier and don't shift as cleanly.

With 10-speed drive trains becoming the norm, all chain companies are offering chains at many price points. I don't have any feedback from riders using cheaper ones. Do they last longer or does their lower price take some of the sting out of having to get a new one every six weeks?

I know triple cranks can be more temperamental to shift. Almost immediately after nine-speed drive trains came in for mountain bikes we started seeing the first 2 X 9 gear setups. Rather than go for the full 27 speeds offered with a triple and nine cogs, riders sacrificed the big selection for the smoother operation of a double crank. Now double-ring setups are common on mountain bikes. But for the touring and commuting bike I'd rather have the durability of a beefier chain on fewer cogs and deal with the fiddling and lag time that comes with shifting a triple crank.

For the Bromobile I ended up using an older Deore LX derailleur shimmed from 31.8 to 28.6. To make it work I had to knock the big ring down to a 50 from 52. A 50-13 is actually going to be a bigger gear than his current 52-14. All he has to do is get a 13. There's room for a seven-speed freewheel. With friction shifters he can use whatever will fit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Off-label use of brake noodles

Head-tube cable stops are one of the stupidest things ever put on a bike. Only a few misguided builders are still putting them on some road bikes, but many bikes are still in use from the period when they were the height of fashion. They replace the minor problem of cable rub with the massively worse problem of tortured cable housing leading to premature failure.
I've tried various tricks to extend the lifespan of the cable housings and improve shifting performance. This week I'm working on a Serotta I set up several years ago. Since then the rider bought fancy-zoot new carbon fiber bars as part of several upgrades. I didn't get to install them because of some scheduling issues, so she went to the triathlon shop where she has some sort of sponsorship. They have a great reputation. They specialize in fitting. But their mechanical work is strictly by the book, as far as I can tell.

Housings in head tube cable stops bend abruptly when the rider swings the handlebars further than a few degrees to either side. This can happen in low-speed tight turns or when stuffing the bike into small spaces, like the back of a hatchback or a small SUV. The book has nothing to say about this. Obedient mechanics just keep replacing housings and sending riders back out to develop shifting problems.

The new bars on the Serotta have internal cable routing like the old ones did, but the housing exits from the aero extension a little farther from the head tube now. The way the bars are shaped at the outer end, the housing HAS to run inside and go out through the hole provided.

The other shop had tried a sweeping curve, but still had a tight kink at the stop. I fiddled with different lengths and angles for an hour or so until I had a brainstorm.
Brake noodles direct a cable around a curve. If I could find the right radius and get the housing length right, the noodles would be able to change angle, rotating in the stops in a way that regular housing cannot.

The junction ferrules on brake noodles are drilled for brake cables, which are fatter than shift cables. To insure that the linear-wire shift housing wouldn't push through the junction ferrules I replaced them with junction ferrules designed for shift housing. It was a little tricky feeding the plastic liner of the noodle through the smaller drilling of the new ferrule, but it eventually fit.

To make the installation less conspicuous I put shrink tubing on the noodles.
Today I actually modified the system. The first noodles were both Jagwire, with a short bend. I replaced one of them with a slightly larger-radius noodle so they could swivel more easily past each other. It looks basically the same. The added clearance is only a couple of millimeters.

Noodles probably wouldn't help with older STI levers on drop bars, but now that everyone is routing their cables under the tape the housings exit closer to the headset. That means the cables come in more vertically, which would probably feed into the noodles successfully.

I will be conducting more experiments. I doubt that they will end up in the book.

Unexpected allies

A young man was browsing among the bikes. He told me he was interested in a road bike. He'd done some research and ridden a borrowed bike, so he had a rough idea of the size he liked. I pulled down the only 54-centimeter bike we had, so he could check it out.

As we discussed his objectives and price range he told me he wants the bike to improve his physical fitness for motocross racing. Not bicycle motocross. Real motocross. Apparently, bicycling is a highly respected training method in competitive motocross.

I knew that downhill mountain bikers used motorcycles to train for the speed and handling aspects of their sport. I knew cross-country mountain bike racers had taken up road training long ago because it provided a more predictable, calculable workout for overall conditioning. I did not know that anyone in motorsports considered us as any better than learning-impaired cousins.

This is why you shouldn't make assumptions about whole categories of people. It saves embarrassment when you learn more about those people.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The first tendrils

This year I have to turn the garage from a dumping ground into a work space. It's a separate, unheated building, so winter is not the best time to dredge around in its stagnant backwaters trying to differentiate between sunken treasure and silty junk.

After yet another weird winter that kept coming and going, the promise of an early spring turned into a bad joke. It's been cold or wet or windy or some combination. But with a day here and a day there I've shoved a few things around to get ready for the real makeover. Since the transition also involves the basement, where the cellist's instrument repair and storage facilities replace my greasy exploits, a lot of pieces have to pass each other outdoors.

Little things help keep the project moving forward. Today I put a Velo Orange Grand Cru compact crank on my road bike, releasing the Sugino I'd been using. That's turning back into a triple on my brother's road bike. I'd been using it with only two rings because it was the nicest looking crank I could get when I needed it about ten years ago.

The Grand Cru I got doesn't have the drilled-out rings. I didn't use the stock rings anyway, even though I love the styling. 48-34 is just too low for my needs. I put on 50-36.

The bike feels very snappy and quite fast enough for my current level of fitness. We'll see how I like it later in the season. If I need to I can make a Frankencassette with a 12. The rest of the gears felt like usable options on my short test spin in the early dusk. And the crank looks great with the Campy Nuovo Record front derailleur and Record steel road pedals.

Sliding ever further toward sporty comfort I had already put on 700X28 tires and slid the rear wheel back a little in the rear dropouts to take some of the slap out of bumps. At its tightest the bike was never as racy as my Grandis. That was a sweet ride I sold in a fit of personal austerity in 1986 after four years of tempestuous love. The link goes to a very similar bike on Classic Rendezvous. That thing was ridiculously tight, although in my 20s I did not consider the ride at all harsh. I'd be curious to see what I thought of it today.

The geometry on my road bike today is closer to the Eisentraut Limited the Grandis replaced. As road bike geometry evolved, road and criterium geometries grew closer and closer even before the advent of aluminum, carbon fiber and highly manipulated tubing shapes. The 'Traut was great for an all-day ride, but not so much for throwing elbows in a tight field. It wasn't sluggish, just more genteel than a short-course battle bike.

Not the greatest weather forecast for a bike commuter this week, but at least we don't have tornadoes, dust storms or howling blizzards.

Monday, April 08, 2013

"I'm so glad I don't own one of these."

"I'm so glad I don't own one of these."

At least once a day my colleague George or I will say those words as we minister to the ailments of someone else's bike. It could be a 40-pound piece of cheap junk or a 14-pound marvel of modern technology. It might be an arthropodically-jointed monster that crawls over rough trails and leaps down as big a drop as the rider dares to launch.

Working as a bike mechanic I have to learn about technology I don't want. It's somewhat like a doctor who studies the advance of a disease in order to make the patients who suffer from it as comfortable as possible as it ravages their bodies and their finances. But in the case of bicycling it's more of an addiction than a disease. Through peer pressure or advertising or some other seduction, the sufferers from excessive technology wind up enmeshed in the experiments of the pushers.

It's perilously easy to ignore the technology until I am forced to face it. Most recently I bungled a rear shock replacement because I did not think thoroughly enough about the problem. The work I did was clean, all fastenings properly tightened, but the shock, replacing a model no longer available, was selected incorrectly. Live and learn. I hate making mistakes, so I don't usually make them twice.

The bike companies don't make it easy to get detailed technical information, especially if you are not an "authorized dealer." When the bike is more than a couple of years old the information becomes even more difficult to find.

In the olden days, when there was an east coast bike trade show, we would go to it to collect information on brands we did not sell. We kept files with all the dealer information anyone could pick up from the exhibitors' booths. Not only did it give us wholesale price information so we could compare the deals customers were offered at other shops, it gave us the model-year specs so we could repair almost any bike that came to us with compatible replacement parts, if any still existed.

I suppose we could glean that information now by visiting every manufacturer's consumer website every year and collecting the specs on every model into a database. But the old method meant that we didn't have to look up anything until it was sitting right in front of us.

In most cases it is unnecessary because the answer sits right in front of you. You just have to take the time to examine the right parts so you compare the proper critical factors. We do maintain a library of Quality Bicycle Products catalogs going back to 1998 because we can use it to trace the lineages of componentry, particularly Shimano shifting systems, to see what can be made to work. That has mostly become easier now. When Shimano was experimenting wildly with their shifting systems and using the entire biking public as unpaid test pilots a mechanic really needed to stay current. Now they offer few choices at eight- and seven-speed for flat or upright bars. If you have a road bike with seven or eight speeds and brifters you are far lower than a second-class citizen.

Compatibility still matters on bikes a few years old, especially if they were built using unusual, technically incorrect combinations in the original configuration. The $12,000 Beater Bike had some really strange parts on it that gave me fits. And there have been plenty of others.

As I have said relentlessly and monotonously, it mostly comes down to shifting issues. Insist on convenience shifting and you become the slave of the merchants of obsolescence. When biking was booming in the 1990s the industry fed on a public that would believe anything. They did not plan for the long term, for the inevitable downturn. They cranked up the frenzy. And, as you observe them in the aftermath, they believed their own crap. They're still doing it. Would you like that bike with electric shifting? How about hydraulic? Ten speeds? Get with the program. We go to ELEVEN now.

Join the Chain of the Month Club!

If biking ever does take off again, consumers will consume whatever they are fed, just as they did before. It's human nature. Meanwhile, some are definitely turned off by too much technology, while a much larger number avoids biking because of perceived unpleasant riding conditions in so many places. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone tells me they're afraid to ride in traffic. Hell, I'm afraid to ride in traffic. I don't much care for it, anyway. I know how to take care of myself, but large numbers of passing drivers simply increase the odds that one of them will be completely brain dead or actively psychotic. So I will tell someone that they can get used to it and develop skills to make it more routine and less intimidating, but I can't tell them they're guaranteed to be fine. Ultimately, to keep riding, a rider simply has to love it enough to deal with the challenges. That can't be taught.