Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Organic chain lube

Having environmentalist inclinations I often wonder whether non-petroleum-based lubricants could perform adequately on the bike. Apparently commercially available olive oil might as well go on your chain rather than down your throat. I even recall some letters to bike magazines regarding the use of vegetable oils for eco-friendly chain lube.

I'm not quite ready to begin trials yet, but I have started considering the lubricating capabilities of dog slobber. The cellist and I recently adopted a geriatric terrier, so I am once again dealing with dog bowls. Washing Scruffy's bowl I have been reminded once again how persistently dog drool retains its slipperiness even after vigorous scrubbing with dish soap and water. Since wet-weather performance is a critical characteristic of chain lube, this durability may be a key advantage to dog saliva.

Dog drool may function as a true dry lube. It does seem to dry, but reactivates to full sliminess as soon as water hits it. So: does it reduce friction between link plates and rollers and does it act as an effective corrosion barrier? You've never seen a rusty dog tongue, have you?

The next step will be to treat sections of chain in my drawer full of leftover links and expose them to various environmental conditions. I might get to that some day. For now this remains a "thought experiment," which is the high-falutin' science term for daydreaming.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Colt 58

After two commutes of 29 miles each, the Brooks Colt seems to be shaping up nicely.

Very subtle differences in shape seem to make a difference in rider performance. The Colt has a narrower nose than the Turbo. One issue with the Turbo had been the way my thighs wore away the thin leather on the sides of the saddle. On the Colt my legs come in that little bit farther and still rub the sides. And that tiny change in angle may improve pedaling efficiency. I've had my two best commuting times of the year on these first two rides on the Brooks.

Other factors may be at work. Oddly enough, I had my two best commuting times last season on almost exactly the same dates. But the most recent times were faster.  I did not note in my obsessive little record book whether I was rested or tired last year, but I can tell you that this year I'm thrashed. I get to bed too late, drag myself out early and guzzle coffee just to get started. The dog we adopted has been squeaking to go out a half an hour before my alarm is set, thus disrupting even the inadequate amount of sleep I had intended to get. Yet I get on the bike and hammer. I really think that the narrower saddle is putting me in a better position over the cranks.

The saddle is shaping to fit me, as promised. On the first ride it felt comfortable enough. Aside from slithering around on the bit of residual Proofide that had escaped my polishing rag the saddle felt reassuringly similar to the one I had removed. None of the noticeable shape differences struck me as ominous. The second day was only better. So this colt is breaking nicely.

The workshop is filling up with the bikes of triathletes tapering their training ahead of a busy race weekend just over a week away. I hate doing race tunes because if anything goes wrong it will be my fault. When I raced I did all my own work. If I messed anything up I only ruined my own day. Not that I intend to mess anything up, but when lots of urgent jobs come in at once and other riders are also trying to get a last shot at summer fun it can get pretty chaotic. And we're operating on a survival crew of two this week.

Off to work. At least it's rainy today. That should keep the bike rental business quiet.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

My bike wears English leather

When you find a saddle you like, buy several of them. For me, the Avocet Racing II was a great fit. When those disappeared I switched to Sella Italia Turbo saddles. Even when Sella Italia quit making the original model I was able to scavenge lightly-used ones and even found a new-old-stock saddle still in a box. Then Sella Italia reintroduced the "Turbo 1980." I bought one.

After only two years, the Turbo 1980 looks like this:
Looking at that I realized that all the older ones had gone the same way. The leather covering is paper-thin. So screw it. I'm investing in real leather. I'd had a leather saddle before. My old Peugeot came with an Ideale leather saddle, but I bought the bike used and the saddle had suffered some abuse before I got it. That's when I started using Avocet saddles on the advice of a friend.

This return to real leather is the end of a research program lasting years. I've almost bought a Brooks several times. Two things kept me from going ahead with it: the weight and the care of the leather itself. At this point I can't claim to care a whole lot about bike weight, with rack, fenders, generator hub and lights. So I'll undertake the care of the leather.

After exhaustive study of the Brooks catalog I narrowed it down to the Team Pro, the Swift and maybe the B17 Narrow. I kept glancing past the Colt. But then I checked the dimensions more carefully on the Brooks site and decided it sounded like a good transition from the saddles I had used before. It's a few millimeters wider than the Turbo/Avocet, but not wide enough to cause problems. A saddle that's too wide for your bone structure will just push you forward onto the narrow part of itself. So choose wisely.

The saddle just went on the bike today, so I have not ridden more than a few yards on it. We'll see how the notorious break-in goes. Some people have a very easy time. Others willingly suffer to achieve the personalized fit for which fine leather saddles are known. Then there are the riders who run as fast and as far as they can to get away from the old leather torture device.

The way the rails are shaped the saddle can't be set very far back, but measuring with a plumb line I was able to get the nose of the saddle the same distance behind the bottom bracket as the nose of the Turbo had been. The saddle itself is taller, so I had to adjust the post height slightly. After just a couple of minutes riding I could feel that the leather had begun to reshape. Rapping on that wood-hard saddle in the box I would not have believed it.

So there it is.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Ten Mile Limit

Ever since the invention of the bicycle it has been an imposition on everyone who does not ride one. Even before the Draisine grew pedals, rowdies were terrorizing pedestrians with drunken shenanigans and out-of-control downhills. Even though the human-powered two-wheeler has enjoyed periods of great popularity, non-riders during those times simply gritted their teeth all the harder.

People are constantly coming up with reasons a rider should not ride on any given day. Objections usually hinge on the amount of time the ride takes or the types of freight a rider can or will convey. One can count on riding a maximum of ten miles a day before your habit begins to impose on the non-riders or less dedicated riders in your life. A safer bet would be five miles.

With a five- to ten-mile range, this makes most urban cycling acceptable and virtuous. A short hop in street clothes to work or for shopping helps ease traffic and parking congestion and makes a compact settled area more pleasant. Start trying to rack up more distance than that and you quickly enter the realm of the self-centered freak. Sure, a lot of riders manage to accumulate major mileage, but it always comes at the cost of some strain on personal relationships. An accommodating supporting population of friends, family members and loved ones will adapt, but I guarantee that none of them would protest if the rider quit cycling and took up activities that kept him or her closer to hand.

The cellist and I adopted a dog last month. He's a cute little guy, 13 years old, with congestive heart failure, but he still enjoys life. But he has needs. The cellist has been really dedicated to serving them, unlike a kid who whines to get a dog and then can't be bothered to care for it, but when she can't I get the puppy dog eyes from her and the dog.

She's headed out of town for a couple of days. She asked if I could drive to work on a beautiful summer Saturday so the dog could come with me. I said, "no, my employers don't want a dog in the shop because of the liability." Then the boss says, "Scruffy would make a great shop dog."

The cyclist always ends up being the selfish bastard for actually wanting to ride. And if it wasn't this it would be something else. "You get home so late." "You look tired." "I worry about you in traffic." That's from the people who care about you. The objections of the non-riders are much more pointed and hostile. They all boil down to  "get the F### out of the way."

Short hops in congested areas where the bike has the advantage are not only a great example of bike superiority. They're the only completely defensible use of it. That does not mean I will be curtailing my longer rides. It just means I know I'm building up what society perceives as a debt to them for doing so.