Friday, November 29, 2013

I don't really think of myself as a stud

Back around 1990-91 we had a winter with early ice and late snow. Even though we would all prefer to go cross-country skiing, we studded up our mountain bike tires and had a few laughs on the frozen lakes and trails. It was fun, but I felt it was more of a novelty than a policy. I sold my studded tires to an ice boater who would stake his DN out in the bay and ride ashore on his bike.

Now it's 2013.  Winter has become unreliable. After four winters without consistent exercise I'm going to try dashing out for a nooner on the mountain bike with studded tires rather than cling to any illusion that I might ski.

On the bike I'll be getting a workout right from the shop door. I can buzz over to the rail trail for a quick one even if the snowmobiles have packed it to concrete.

I lose my park and ride parking place as soon as my friend's driveway needs to be plowed.  They don't clear the non essential spaces. And the town lets all the other potential spots fill in,  too. So I would be driving to work as usual in ski season.  I would just be giving up the skiing in favor of something easier to arrange.

I still have a few commutes left, and maybe more than a few. Then when the snow closes in I can mount the toothy tires for my midday escapes.

Speaking of winter, on the path last week, on a morning that seemed cold at the time, on my way in I met two riders outbound with sled dogs towing their bikes. I'd seen other training rigs on the path, but this was the first time I had seen the mushers using mountain bikes. And it occurred to me that here was a much cooler pedal assist than an electric motor. Talk about renewable energy. Sled dogs love to run. A couple of dogs with nice personalities might even increase the cyclist's appeal to other road users.

I did wonder what it was like to be dragged into a rail crossing by a couple of boisterous dogs. I didn't get to see that maneuver.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beyond statistics

A comment on this thread at People for Bikes stated that overtaking motorists strike cyclists in only about 10 percent of recorded collisions. The debate was about protected bike lanes. Should they be called that? Are they really protected? Are they really desirable? Every rider has an opinion.

Statistics provide no comfort on a real street. Overtaking crashes may be rare, but harsh and threatening expressions of opinion from overtaking motorists are all too common. They may be verbal or nonverbal. Nonverbal threats other than the car horn include close passing, extended objects, thrown objects, even car doors opened on moving vehicles, depending on local fashion. Also, seeing a motorist make a dangerous pass, crossing into oncoming traffic because they didn't want to wait, is an additional source of stress. Even a veteran traffic-herder loses control of the mob from time to time.

The worst case scenario in any human interaction is simply a bloodbath. We've proven time and again how bad we can get. So you can only plan for an expected statistical average of bad behavior and operator error. You hope you're somewhere else the day the dookie really hits the propeller. For many riders and potential riders that "somewhere else" is a path or lane designated as their sanctuary.

I can't find the other thought-provoking comment I read on a cycling site in which the commenter stated that bicyclists "aren't taken seriously" as part of the traffic mix. This was cited as a reason infractions against cyclists are not prosecuted vigorously in most cases, if they're prosecuted at all.

The debate over what to call a protected bike lane and the lack of support from law enforcement both stem from the vague legal status of bicycle riders. And that stems from the fact that people can start riding bikes shortly after they're old enough to walk and continue to do so until they are old and feeble.

I was riding my bicycle on the streets, transporting myself to school and friends' houses, from about age 7. I rode with the traffic flow. Within a few years I learned how to make the proper hand signals, although some of them felt dorky to me. But because the bike could go places cars couldn't I felt fully justified in riding through those spaces as well. Sometimes it included the sidewalk, though I never felt right there. And riding the wrong way on a one-way street just felt like asking for trouble. But cutting through a field, a park, a yard or parking lot, or riding down a path or alley just made sense. And it didn't just make sense to me. Adults did not usually raise a fuss unless they saw child riders too close to dangerous equipment or in areas posted as hazardous. Good thing no one saw me the day I discovered I could fit underneath the tractor-trailer parked behind the IGA in Thomaston, Maine.

Moving forward to the surge of bicycling in the 1970s, the Baby Boomers brought their youthful habits into their teens and early twenties. We rode across school and college campuses, down streets and alleys much as we did in grade school. Even though awareness was growing of the bicycle's potential for adventure travel and competitive recreation, the majority of riders just rode.

As the Baby Boom set precedents in everything else, so it was with traffic cycling. It had been a long time since that many people wanted to ride bikes as adults on the public rights of way in this country. It might even have been since the 19th Century, when bicyclists got the hoop rolling to have more roads paved to a decent standard at all.

In Europe and Great Britain bicycles had persisted as transportation. For a long time they were naturally incorporated into the heterogeneous flow. The devastation of the Second World War probably helped keep the bicycle a viable option because for many in the aftermath it was considered a step up even to have that. The United States, its prosperity virtually unchecked by the war, hit the gas and rolled onto highways increasingly tailored to motor vehicle needs.

Bicycling was what children did until they could get a license and a car. So the progression of Baby Boomer bicyclists from schoolkids to young adult cycle tourists, commuters and racers did not figure in transportation planning any more than long hair and bell bottoms did. I'm sure a lot of transportation authorities hoped it was all just a phase, like rebellion and pot smoking and that awful music. No need to plan for the future of something that has no future. Just wait for it to go away.

In other words, bicyclists weren't taken seriously. That has been the basis of bike-related policy ever since. Sure, things are changing now, but from a mindset that views the adult cyclist as frivolous, voluntarily choosing a more vulnerable, less practical (in their view) mode of transportation. Even the tourist and racer must figure into the transportation mix just as much as the motorhome, the boat trailer, the motorcycle and any other vehicle whose trip is not directly related to earning income or moving products.

What sets the cyclist apart from the other non-essential road users is the neglect under which we operate. Crackdowns by law enforcement on illegal and dangerous cycling behavior are rare enough to draw the attention of bloggers and cycling journalists. They are often motivated by retribution for large numbers of complaints lodged by motorists, alleging multiple infractions by the annoying pedalers, rather than by any institutional desire to see cycling go better for both cyclists and non-cyclists alike. The rest of the time a rider can do practically anything in front of law enforcement and barely elicit a yawn. We're just not worth the trouble. We're not serious.

Riders operate in such a gray area even their supporters don't know what to call it. Bike lane? Bike path? Cycle track? Separated? Protected? Protected how? And what do we do at intersections?

As a rural cyclist I see all the attention lavished on urban and suburban areas and wonder what anyone will do about us hicks in the sticks. Do you know how many lane miles of shoulderless, hilly, curvy, narrow roads there are in this country? They're all some of us have. Having seen the behavior of some drivers "from away" when they encounter a local rider, and dealt with the indigenous rednecks who cherish and refine their predatory instincts and have no patience with some idiot who chooses to wobble along on some bicycle, I wonder how much thought (and expense) anyone will have left to clean up our gray area after making the cities and towns safe for the short-haul riders.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A little laughter, a few moments of terror...

Actually, the terror was a couple of days before the laugh.

On Wednesday I rode the park and ride commute on the Cotton Valley Trail for the first time in a week. A digestive complaint had kept me from eating or sleeping well for several days, so I ventured back out cautiously. The morning ride put me in a good mood for the day. I looked forward to the return trip in the dark.

Still unable to pound down my normal quantities of food and not entirely sure I was completely clear of the intestinal ninjas that had been ambushing me, I rode conservatively, but some sections encourage a little friskiness. There's one bit where the trail crosses a road, goes a few yards level, then hops up and over a small knoll. Coming down the back side of the knoll I always enjoy the acceleration and the way the generator light burns bright white.

The path runs outside the tracks here. Outbound, the tracks are  to the left. Just across them are a couple of houses on wooded lots. I could see lights inside and out on the house that sits closer to the tracks. I heard barking.

No big deal. I hear barking from houses along the trail all the time. This time, the barking went from a questioning woof to deep, aggressive, rapid barking. Crashing sounds in the undergrowth indicated that a large dog was charging me from the blackness to my left.

"Hey, dog," I said in a loud but friendly tone. Then "Hey! HEY! HEYYYYYY!!! GET YER DOG!"

As I bellowed for the dog's owner I was sprinting forward. Outside the light from my headlight all was blackness. Even with a good helmet light anything outside its beam would be in black shadow. I couldn't waste time or attention trying to see the beast that was thrashing after me. All I could do was crank as hard as I could and hope the stupid dog didn't crash into me or chomp down on any part it could grab.

In several years of incorporating that section of path into commutes in all seasons I have never had a problem there. Yesterday and today's rides followed the placid pattern I had come to expect. But now I have to be a little more alert in case the mysterious hound returns.

One day on, one day off: On Thursday I drove to work because that's the day I pay a musician to be my friend. I don't have time to do the bike commute in any of its forms and still get to the string band's meeting place on time.

Yesterday the weather was showery. The morning sleet almost convinced me to skip the ride, but I went for it instead. The dirt road and path were still frozen from the previous cold weather. On the evening ride the top layer had thawed, so it was like riding on flypaper. The tires didn't sink into glop but they stuck stuck stuck, demanding a full grunt from every pedal stroke. It was a real thigh burner.

And so we come to this morning. Things had frozen up again. My digestive system was still behaving itself. I was doing okay on time. The sun was out. Great.

As I started down from my parking point I did not seem to be getting as much speed out of the descent as I usually do. Maybe the road was still a little fly papery. Maybe my first cup of coffee in four or five days was making me tach up a little. I kept pushing, down and down until I got to the path.

Maybe my seat was too low. It felt a little low. It had felt a little high when I started using the mountain bike commuter this fall. Maybe I raised it last winter when I started wearing the Snow Sneakers and needed to raise it again now that I had gone back to them. I pulled one foot out of the toestrap so I could put my heel on the pedal to check leg extension. It seemed okay.

As I brought my foot back around to slip into the toeclip again I heard a weird metallic click as my shoe caught on something projecting from the bike. I discovered that one brake spring had popped out from my rear brake, probably from shoving the bike in the car and dragging it out again in a bit of a rush. A brake pad had been rubbing the rim since I started.

Wow, was I fast after that! At least until I hit the blasting headwind on the causeways where the path goes along the lakes. But headwinds in the morning are often tailwinds on the way home. And so it was.

The evening commute gained a whole lot of atmosphere when a thick snow squall moved in as I was starting from the shop. It was a snow shower at first, steady but light. It thickened after I got out of the downtown area and headed into the darkness. But that wind was behind me. The snowflakes flared in the headlight beam. Occasional big ones in just the right spot flashed brilliantly for an instant. The cone of floodlit snow streamed toward me as the dusting whitened the path. A wild evening.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Impossible perfection

Do people really learn from their mistakes? Do they avoid making the same one more than once?

It depends entirely on how much fun they had making them the first time.

I quit making mistakes I enjoyed enough to repeat more than 30 years ago. Now I really try to use them to keep from stepping in the same pile again.

Unfortunately, in the service business a customer will run into people who either don't or can't avoid the pile. Some businesses posing as service providers even make the pile so they can clean it up. So mistakes can create bad impressions in suspicious minds. All you can do is work tighter and tighter -- while remaining coolly relaxed, of course.

At a time of year when business is slow anyway, which happens to coincide with a time when The Business already has been crawling on its bloody knees from day to day, you notice the ones who used to come around who gave up after that one screwup. Forget the complete refund they got, still bleeding red ink onto the company ledgers. Forget that there was no attempt to evade or deny. I am now branded as incompetent.

A shop's business is only as good as its credibility. How many customers disappear because one rider had a problem and blackballed us to the whole club? How many people decide we acted out of incorrigible dishonesty or ineptitude?

I don't always radiate a lot of warmth. I'll admit that. Maybe that's the mistake I like to make too much to avoid repeating. But I guarantee I will make every effort to avoid screwing up the work I do for customers and friends depending on me. And whenever I fail, rest assured that it will bug me forever. I wish that kept me from making new mistakes, but that's just the dang human condition.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fun with an old axle

I needed a hole punch for some shim material, so I ground down an old axle.

Later I realized I could try it as part of a noodle bender to create a better shifter noodle using parts at hand.

It's not working all that well, but it's a first attempt. Working with noodle tubing without a noodle nozzle I will be able to use two axles to support the tubing at various points as necessary. I found a nozzle-less noodle in a parts bin.

Tinkering marches on.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A further delay

The rear hub of the Serotta felt gummy. The freehub was dragging. Inside I found this worn, cracked bushing.
Of course it's specific to Mavic.  Of course they don't sell it separately. Some guy on eBay offers them. I haven't pursued it yet. Frankly, I'm surprised to see a Mavic rear wheel this old that doesn't have an exploded rim. This rider is quite light, for all her ferocious power. I wish the rim had failed. Then we could walk away from the whole mess.

This Mavic wheel is so old it has 5mm socket flats in both ends of the axle. The newer ones have 10mm on one end.

Test riding the new shifter noodle arrangement will have to wait while we round up an interim wheel.

A Ridiculous Struggle

The next version of shifter noodles is ready to be tested.

A 4mm ferrule does fit over the metal pipe of a brake noodle. I replaced the junction ferrule with the 4mm ferrule and placed a Jagwire in-line adjuster over that. I shortened the housings leading into the adjuster from the handlebar and hooked the cables back up. Could it be that easy?

Millimeters matter. The shifter noodles did not swing smoothly with the adjusters on them. The front brake came up against the shift cable going into the stop on the left side of the head tube. The rear shifting was still unreliable.

After a few hours in a cold garage, trying different possibilities I almost gave up and stuck it together with doomed housing going straight into the head tube stops. But I hate to let go of a good idea, and shifter noodles are a good idea on bikes with these infuriating defects on the head tube.

I tried using a short section of flexible brake housing on the front shifter cable, since it doesn't require perfect indexing. The springy shift housing pulled the flexible housing out at an awkward angle. The part that leads into the cable stop has to be rigid to feed the cable around the tight curve at the head tube.

In the end I had to grind off a couple of millimeters from the cable stop on the left side to make just enough space for the bars to swing unimpeded. The computer wire had to be led straight up the front of the brake cable to preserve the clearance.

Here's a crude video overview:
Shifter noodles designed for the purpose could be shorter, with a tighter bend. It would be tricky to re-bend a brake noodle without crimping it, but I guess that's the next phase of the experiment.

The real cure on any of the afflicted bikes would be to saw off the stupid head tube cable stops and put on a set of stops where they will actually work. But the industry wants to move into electrical shifting anyway. Batteries not included, of course.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The wrong way to put on a Cannondale Headshok boot

While I was replacing the air spring O-rings in a customer's early-21st Century Cannondale F600 I noticed that the fork boot had a rip in it. The Headshok has many fine qualities, but it all goes to hell if the boot does not remain sealed against contamination. The needle bearings on which the fork slides so smoothly get all gritty and crunchy. Then you have to rebuild the fork. That will force you to face some of the more vexing idiosyncrasies of the design.

I had not done a boot replacement in years. The last Headshok that needed a boot was on a bike already so beat that my field-hospital repair was good enough. I cut a section of inner tube and slid it down to cover the tender parts. But a little research found a source for real pleated shock boots with nice little clamps, at a place that styles itself as "The Cannondale Experts."

When the boot arrived yesterday I knocked the fork out of the frame and started trying to work the boot down over the large diameter outer tube of the shock to reach the skinnier part it is supposed to protect. The boot has a large end and a small end. Unfortunately, the small end is supposed to go on the bottom, making the boot basically impossible to stretch over the larger diameter seat at the bottom of the upper tube, where the larger opening gets fastened when the boot is in place. Lubing it and working gently with various blunt objects was getting nowhere.

Not to be defeated, I turned the boot inside out so I could lead with the large opening. Once I had it down on the skinnier part of the shock I was able to roll it back right side out with the help of one more blunt object. Ta daah!

I looked on line today and all the advice I saw said you have to tear down the fork to change the boot. But in case you don't want to bother, do it the wrong way. It worked for me.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Shifter Noodle Update

The Serotta tri bike on which I installed the shifter noodles  in April came back for some adjustments, including shifting problems. The junction ferrules I installed did not stand up to the twisting of the housing, so the linear wires of the housing were starting to push through. When that happens the shifting will not stay adjusted. The tension keeps easing as the housing collapses.

The rider also wanted to replace the old Deore XT derailleur I put on there to handle her wide-range gears with a newer model that might work more precisely on her 10-speed cassette.

Ten-speed is about to get shoved way down-market, along with derailleurs mechanically operated with cables. Did you spend thousands of dollars on a bike with a ten-speed cassette and mechanical shifters? Sucker.

The next stage after SIS (Shimano Index Shifting) and STI (Shimano Total Integration) is SMEGMA: Shimano Mechanical-Electrical Gear Manipulation Apparatus.

Until SMEGMA gets applied to every bike and imitated throughout the industry, we in the mechanical trade still have to keep people's old garbage more or less working. So I'll be upgrading the shifter noodles to try to make them as close to trouble free as anything can be.

The New XT derailleur has no cable adjuster on it. The system has no other adjuster, so an in-line adjuster may help as I try to replace the failed ferrules with something more robust. Lots of ideas jostle in my brain like clowns in a tiny car right now. We'll see who gets out the door first.

The solution may include 4 mm housing. A 4 mm ferrule might fit inside the junction ferrule of a standard brake noodle. Or I might try flat-wound housing, used on brake cables, because the progressive, bar-con shifters are not quite as fussy as brifters. And I will need to incorporate an in-line adjuster on the right side, at least, because adjusting the rear shifting without a fine-tuner is a huge pain.

Tomorrow I'll start collecting potentially useful bits for the next phase of experimentation.