Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thinking for myself

Reader Grego posted a comment with a link to Sheldon Brown's article on squeezing cogs onto freehubs technically too narrow for them. Rather than leave this in the comments I wanted to put it on its own post.

When I wrote the post I was going to say that I was sure greater minds than mine had thought of the idea years ago, but somehow in the press of time I forgot to put it in. Suntour launched the narrow chain movement in the 1970s with Ultra 6 freewheels that put six speeds on bikes that formerly had only five. If anything my post showed how slowly my mental wheels grind, not how rapidly.

I tend to make do with whatever I have. Especially when it comes to complicated devices like brifters and temperamental items like skinny chains I really try to resist the expense and complexity, weighing the advantages against the disadvantages for the self-supported cyclist. So it took me a long time to want that extra cog on the old seven-speed.

Laboring in a cycling backwater, and not addicted to reading about it on the Internet or in books, I receive my information as it drifts in. Presented with a customer problem I will do intense research. Then I go home and think about something else. So in a way, the fact that I independently developed the 8 of 9 concept validates the research of the true pioneers.

Sheldon also thought brifters were nifty. His article tells how to get those infernal mechanisms to work with the improvised cassettes, which is work you can skip if you declare your independence and shift in friction. He also prescribed skinny chains, where I'm running my 8-speed, reserving the option to go to nine if I notice any problems with chain width that did not appear on my test ride.

Friday, July 25, 2014

8 of 9 on 7

You can easily get caught up in the bike industry's definitions of things and start arguing in their terms, forgetting to analyze problems at their most basic level. Nowhere does this seem to exert more control than in drive trains.

I spend a lot of time getting people's shifting to work. I spend time getting other things to work, too, but shifting occupies a lot of brain space, working out compatibility issues and remembering what can and can't be fixed at all.

Aside from the fixed-gears, my other bikes have seven or eight speeds. My faithful old road bike had seven because I had never re-spaced the frame to 130 mm and I had a wheel with a seven-speed hub without too many miles on it. But commuting to work I discovered two things: First, I wanted a slightly lower low gear. The old 26-tooth cog, even with a 34 ring up front, was good enough for the relatively easy commuting route, but gave me no reserve for longer, nastier climbs. Second, I liked the 50-26 (The Ned), but I feel guilty using it.

I wondered if I could build an eight-speed cassette from nine-speed cogs and spacers that would then fit on a seven-speed freehub.

Yes I can.
When the Miche cogs and spacers came today I test-stacked them on a seven-speed hub from the box of salvage in the basement. Perfect! But would it work with my eight-speed chain? Not a big deal. Nine speed chains are a little more expensive, but still cheaper and more durable than  10- and 11-speed chains. I'd done some experiments on particularly troublesome drive trains that indicated you could run eight on nine and nine on ten in a pinch. And that was on indexed brifter systems. Shifting in friction opens up a lot of other options. If I didn't mind joining the Chain-of-the-Month Club I could make 11 on eight. Ten, anyway, but that's not exotic.

The road test disclosed no problems. I can shift the whole range from both chain rings. I've got my former Ned as a legitimate choice. The new Ned works, too. The chain was long enough.

Of course the disclaimers say you should never mix brands and types of cogs, bla bla bla. If you needed precise indexing performance that would be true...ish. I've mixed cogs for special needs indexing customers as well as friction shifting privateers. It's dicier when indexing is at stake, and downright impossible for the obsessive shifting-geek who thinks a Wippermann chain is "too noisy and slow." Someone that addicted will sell an organ and a couple of kids to have a directional Dura Ace chain when he needs it. Face REALITY, dude! You need help!

Shifting a crowded cluster in friction takes a light touch. Actually, this latest Frankencassette is not as touchy as I though it might be. The Campy Veloce derailleur was already very quick compared to the agglomeration on my Cross Check. Closing up the spacing and adding a cog has not made it unmanageable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

For what it's worth...

The doctor who examined me for my follow-up IV, 24 hours after my initial examination and treatment, disagreed with the MRSA diagnosis. He said the lack of infection reaction shown in the blood work and the character of the inflammation itself suggested a toxin of some kind, probably from an insect or spider.

I've been more or less contentedly coexisting with the creepy crawlers all my life. Except for a brief and debatable period of apparent allergy to bee and wasp stings I've never exhibited more than a normal response to bites and stings.

None of the big name spiders or snakes live around here, not to mention our lack of scorpions or unusually large centipedes. We hear of vagrant Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders that hitchhike in on grocery store produce, but chance had kept me out of produce departments for days prior to this incident. Because we're in a local CSA, we haven't brought in much that wasn't locally grown.

If you try to defend yourself against every little thing that crawls it will drive you insane. Sitting here on my couch with my ugly ankle elevated on a stack of pillows as ordered, I looked over at the table next to me to see an impudent Parson Spider patrolling its edge. I see them all the time in here. They've never really bothered me, though they do like to crawl into beds. This is not a reflection on how often the sheets get changed. These little runners don't spend too long anywhere. But the write-up I found on line did mention that their venom could cause an allergic reaction. What I got seems like a hell of a whammo to take from a dinky little spider not known for being fearsomely toxic, but I have nothing else to go on.

This would be a lot easier to take from a nice macho rattlesnake. But that doesn't mean I want to do it again.

For now I have a patch of skin about four inches in diameter that looks like a peach that was left in the fruit bowl too long. The fever has subsided. The lymph nodes have calmed, mostly. Whatever it is, it seems to be receding. How soon can I get back on the bike?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guess I'm off the bike for a few days

An itchy patch of skin on my left ankle on Thursday grew into a pink swelling on Friday. Yesterday things really got interesting.

I rode to work as usual yesterday morning. My ankle was a little sore to walk on, but warmed up to riding. I pulled an average of 17 mph for the 14.3 miles of my normal route inbound.

When I got to work I felt lightheaded and headachy with a bit of neck stiffness thrown in for added interest. My ankle hurt and I felt what seemed like a lymph node up my thigh. Of course this happens as a weekend begins. If I couldn't hold out until Monday to try to get in with my regular doctor,  I would have to go to the emergency room. Ka-ching! Health care in America is already ka-chingy enough without going to the ER.

By late in the day I knew I would be a fool to delay treatment. No point losing a foot just to avoid a crippling medical bill.
Here's how it looks after one IV bag of antibiotics and two horse pills of additional antibiotics.

The cellist and I spent five hours in the ER getting the blood work, X rays and, eventually, treatment. I had been increasingly tired all day, so I napped during the long waits. I had a fever of 103. Hey! I'm hot blooded, check it and see! Yeah, and I'm old enough to have heard that song when it was new. In the musical vein, as it were, I have to go back for more intravenous meds, so There's a Hole in Daddy's Arm Where All the Money Goes:

The doctor said she identified it as MRSA. At least she didn't say flesh - eating bacteria. Losing a foot sounds like an expensive nuisance. I would want at least a slotted bike cleat prosthesis as well as an everyday foot.  Fortunately I don't appear to have to deal with that from this. 

Watching the nurse get the IV started, I laughed,  thinking about how I had started my day chasing air bubbles out of an injected fluid. Big G and I finally managed a good bleed on Mr. X's Stromer. George had to mind the syringe and coupling at the master cylinder while I put fluid in from the caliper end. Wow, that system hides a lot of air. 

Stromer did admit they have a problem with those calipers. They sent a couple for the affected bikes in the last shipment received by Mr. X and The Chairman. Oh yeah, and six more are on their way. But these are step-through models that have only exhibited electrical problems, not brake problems. Gee, and more often than not they actually work right out of the box. I can always hope. 

The cellist has forbidden me to ride for a week. I'm going to hate driving to work, but I need the money. Good timing to face the bulk of my recovery on days I'm normally off anyway. Apparently there's a good chance we don't have health insurance anymore. The cellist's school contract ran into August,  but she recalls getting a notice that the insurance ended on June 30th. You can't blame shenanigans like that on a fairly recent and highly flawed government program.  Termination of coverage is a time honored insurance company move. Hell, you don't make a profit by paying out money. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Today's contrast

This was on the stand:
when a guy walked in with this:
Mr X called to see if we could slap on the new rear caliper Stromer sent for his bike in 30 minutes or less. The person who said we could does not do wrench work and did not ask those of us who do. I got to disappoint him in person when he showed up.

Stromer has admitted that they have issues with those brakes. I was right.

Lunch is over.  Back to work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A friend's used bike

Between 1994 and 1996 Shimano seemed determined to set a definitive low point so that whenever anything went wrong with componentry they made after that they could say,"yeah, well at least it's not as bad as THIS crap."

These M290 Acera shifters from about 1995 are some of the worst they ever made. At best they feel like they're about to break. They feel flimsy in a way that implies that when something does snap in there it's going to jam up the whole works.

Usually what snaps is the cheesy gear indicator. Several models of Shimano shifter had cheesy indicators that year, all prone to failure.

The shifter mounting tabs on the levers push the shifter pods into the rise handlebar, restricting them to a fairly steep angle. The plastic is so cheap that the nozzle broke off the right shifter, so I had to fabricate a metal ferrule into which to insert the cable housing. I cut a Schrader valve cap and pressed it onto the old adjuster I ground down to use as the ferrule. When I tried to use the adjuster full length, to provide convenient cable adjustment at the shifter and not just the derailleur, the threaded shaft of it jammed the shifter mechanism. Ground down, it made a more substantial ferrule than any of the others I had in my parts farm.

Purveyors of technology would ask, "why are you still running this crap? Buy our new stuff." It's not built to last. It's built to be replaced regularly. Hell, some of it isn't even built to be USED.

The M290 crank that went with this gruppo originally is one of the trio of "Cranks of Death" from the great recall of 1997. The others are the CT 90 Altus and the MC 12 Alivio. A few are still roaming around out there after all these years. We have treated two or three this summer. Cranks of Death is just a pet name. No actual deaths have been attributed to these cranks, only injuries including fractures.

A couple of years ago I had already replaced the original Crank of Death on this bike with a nice replaceable-chainring model and done a comprehensive tune up. Aside from the position change I had to de-earwax the shifters and pump up the tires. Those are on the verge of dry rot. I'll tell the owner to ride a lot to get full use out of the tread before the tire casing disintegrates. Maybe do some skids.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Instability in the atmosphere

"Showers are going to precede the front this afternoon and tonight. Then the front is going to stall over us," said the weather man this morning.

He didn't mention that it was going to stall right there, just to the west of town. Watching it on the radar I would have said the rain would be pouring sideways on gale force squalls half an hour ago. I can see it building and building without getting here.

Pretty annoying when I already called for the choppers. But there are few hospitable places on my route where I could take decent shelter if something large and electrical came through. I've lost more bets than I've won, trying to beat the weather around here.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More mechanic-friendly design from the e-bike industry

On a day when other people's schedule conflicts have left me running the mechanical side of the shop alone on a summer Saturday, in comes a guy who has blown the front tube on his E Z Pedaler T300.

On EZ Pedaler bikes the front one is the heavy one. It's not as heavy as a Stromer heavy wheel, but it's chunky.
There is no obvious way to disconnect the power cable. You have to undo the axle nuts and lower the wheel carefully to get the brake rotor clear of the caliper. You can then work the tire off the rim from that side. Be sure to provide a solid support for the wheel so it doesn't drop and hang from that cable.

I saw a couple of places where I might undo the connection, but they looked like they could just as easily be gateways to Hell.

When I got the tire off I discovered there was no rim strip.
The tube had blown in multiple places into the rim. Duh.

What passes for lunch is over. Days when I know I don't have the slightest chance of getting everything done are less stressful than when I believe I could and convince myself I should. I went into this day with a cheerfully doomed feeling.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


Last night I received this email from my colleague Big G, briefing me on the day's events so I could be prepared for what might await me.


Today was off the wall!  Sucking chest wounds punctuated by needy and stupid renters all day long. 

Well, today we have a new family to add to our infamous hall of shame.  First there were "The Chiselers of Weston", then "The Chaos Family" and now, "The Mayhems from Florida".  Yes, "The Mayhems of Florida".  All seven rented mountain bikes to ride The Cotton Valley Trail. 

I put Mom on the hybrid step-through, Big Sis on The Queen, next sis on The Duchess and the rest on assorted mountain bikes from our stable.  Only two out of the seven chose to wear helmets, Mom and Big Sis.

Four hours later, while I was test riding a bike out back, the youngest son rode into the parking lot stating the others would soon follow.  Five more pulled in. 

Mom was scraped up and bleeding from her hip to her foot.  Her arm was bleeding too.  I asked her what happened and she said she was watching a blue jay.  I told her she could get cleaned up in our rest room and that we have band-aids but she declined and said she would treat her wounds with vodka.  Then she said her daughter might be in worse shape with a broken wrist.  Just then, Big Sis appeared clutching her wrist while Middle Sis wheeled the bikes.  I told Mom where the hospital is but she said they would have "lunch" first.

Then there was Johnny, (Or whatever his name is.) "Where is Johnny?  He was RIGHT behind us!"  At that moment a car going down Mill Street slammed on its brakes and screeched to a stop in front of the deli.  "Oh, here he comes now." 

I gave the bikes a quick lookover and I think they are okay.  The way things were going I didn't have a lot of time to really check over things the right way.  If you rent the queen or the Giant hybrid step-through tomorrow give them another quick look, just in case.
........and, watch out for mayhem, or The Mayhems.   -G"

The Queen and The Duchess are nicknames for our two best step-through rental bikes.
Sounds like summer chaos has really blossomed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Stromer Tar Pit

Sunday, Mr. X pulled up in the back parking lot with his brand-new Stromer ST 1 Platinum on the bike rack of his SUV. The rear brake had gone mushy on this one exactly as it had on the other black diamond-frame bike in the batch I just assembled.

I was glad I had ordered a new bleed kit to replace the improvised one from the 1990s that our shop had used on Magura rim brakes. Along with all the other sucking chest wounds in the repair shop I told Mr. X I would have the bike ready for Monday morning when his gang was going for a ride. I'd already done it on one bike with a less than optimal tool kit. It should be a snap, right?

I put the bike in the stand, removed the neoprene sleeve over the wiring on the chain stay, unhooked all the wiring connections, cut the various zip ties, broke loose the 19mm axle nuts and maneuvered the 25-pound rear wheel out of the dropouts past the derailleur. I removed the brake pads and inserted the block to hold back the pistons in the brake caliper. Next I undid the forward mounting bolt to help orient the caliper vertically once the bike was positioned with the front wheel up at the ceiling. That had to be tied to a pipe in the overhead to hold it straight so the brake lever would remain in the proper attitude.

The latter maneuvers required a stepladder, as does the bleeding process itself on these bikes.

Once the bike was positioned I could hook up the syringes of the bleed kit to the fittings on the caliper and the brake lever.

Magura's video, in addition to being dubbed in English so Bernd the technician's lips keep moving after the narration has stopped, shows the bleeding procedure on a front brake on a conventional mountain bike. It's quick! It's easy! It's fun for the whole family! Need the caliper oriented vertically? It basically is already. Piece of cake.

Even though our new bleed kit supposedly has the fittings for Magura brakes, they don't fit exactly right. Magura's own kit is a lot more money and the fittings shown in the catalog look identical to the ones on our old rim brake kit, which also does not fit the new disc brakes precisely. So there's a bit of weeping and the chance of air being introduced during the procedure to eliminate air from the system.

Between interruptions from customers I worked my way through the bleed and reassembled the bike: untie, lower, clean caliper, insert pads, reinstall 25-pound rear wheel, reconnect wiring, and, finally, test squeeze the brake lever.

Totally dead. It was now 15 minutes to closing time and I was supposed to ride an hour home in time to shove down a bit of supper before some guests came over to share a birthday cake the cellist had made for me. But I'd told Mr. X we would have this done. I had to try at least one more time.

Tired of lugging that 25-pound rear wheel around, for this round of bleeding I removed the caliper completely from the bike, cut the remaining zip ties to allow it to hang down below the bottom bracket and screwed it to a wooden framework I scrounged up that happened to be a convenient shape and size. While this did not put the caliper and lever ends in exactly easy reach it was easier than going up and down a stepladder over and over. I was able to fill and bleed the system in half an hour.

Successful bleeding of the brakes on these two brand new $4,000 Stromer electric bicycles does not answer the question, "why did they need bleeding in the first place?" I had seen a sheen of fluid around the vicinity of the caliper on both bikes, but there was no big stain in the box when I unpacked them or a massive dripping mess to indicate where the system had emptied itself catastrophically. There was just that little schmear. It looks as if the halves of the caliper do not mate quite correctly, but nothing is obviously warped or loose. I won't be surprised to see a Stromer or Magura brake recall on MT 2 disc brakes before the year is out. But why only on the two black men's bikes and not on the white and red step-through models?

I've given up on getting a lot of two-way communication from Stromer. They're obviously too busy selling these things to worry about a few that don't work, even if the bikes belong to some of the richest people in the country. It's nice to see they're not letting their heads be turned by all that dough. You can see their point, can't you? The rich folks have already spent their money. That makes them no more use than any other customer who has already purchased the product. Time to move on to new conquests.

I'm not sure when loyalty to old customers became a liability and the quest for new new new ones became the mark of success. I guess it's all part of the growth philosophy that drives corporate planning and cancer. An old customer is only as good as the money they're willing to spend on your new product. And since the products are poorly thought out and badly supported, new customers are your only hope. Go for the people who haven't heard about you yet!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Bike Shop Gynecology

Dealing with issues of saddle discomfort, we in the bike shop business often have to provide courteous and thoughtful technical support to people describing their particular problem in their intimate regions.

After years of this I have  -- or thought I had -- developed a few general principles to help a rider select an appropriate saddle. I will never suggest a specific saddle. I don't want the blame if it doesn't work out. But by using a sizer to find the actual pelvic pressure points and then describing how riding style and position influences the choice of saddle shape and composition I can usually help a rider make a good choice on their own.

Yesterday I learned about a new variable.

A woman had called to ask about setting her old bike up with a more upright position and, by the way, trying to find a more comfortable saddle. These are common requests. When she came in with her bike I determined that she could do almost anything she wanted to customize her position. So far so good. Then she pointed to the saddle and said she was very uncomfortable on it.

The saddle looked like a 1990 Avocet women's gel mountain bike saddle. It's a pretty generic wedge. I pointed out that the shape of the top of it makes you think it's level when it's actually pushing you forward onto the narrow nose. I explained how it's counter intuitive, but setting the nose up on a saddle like this helps keep you on the part of the saddle where you want to be. She was nodding along all right, but she had a question.

"I don't know how much you know about female anatomy," she said, "but all vaginas are not the same." She didn't say it reprovingly, she said it to introduce her particular problem. She proceeded to describe her own genital architecture in sufficient detail that I immediately had a mental picture. You might think this was too much information, but it was completely relevant. The responsibility was on me to meet her trust with my own trustworthiness. We discussed various things she can try that have worked for other women I know who ride.

I won't pretend I did not have a few mental gyrations going on as she took me on this journey into her pants on a beautiful sunny morning. I make no claim to superhuman powers of detachment. I'll find the detachment when it's required, but I may have to dope slap a few primitive compulsions while I'm doing it. If my work more routinely exposed me to intimate revelations I might develop a more seamless compartmentalization. Instead it's like so much else we deal with in our shop. You never know when you'll have to go from a Huffy to a Cervelo, from a billionaire to a dishwasher, from laughing it up with your fellow greasy grunts to guarding someone's intimate secrets. I'm going to assume for the moment that she doesn't just dart around telling everyone about the configuration of her private parts. That's all up to her. Like I said, in this case it was completely relevant. That's all I know.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Social Worker

Since my colleague George returned from the distant land of Nova Scotia the mood in the workshop has gone from glum and tedious to a facsimile of the old determined chaos. The glory days are gone forever, but we can still have fun doing good work.

Summer business arrived overnight as the Fourth of July weekend began. The Fourth itself was torrentially rainy here, so parades and fireworks were postponed. The forecast probably kept a lot of people away entirely, but the ones who showed up had little else to do but stroll through the shops. We got a lot of repair work done.

Hurricane Arthur rolled past last night. Tropical rain poured down until at least 5:30 this morning. Sunrise revealed a gray-green overcast similar to what we'd been enduring for several days already. But a freshening breeze tore a few pale blue rips in it. Dropping temperatures and humidity foretold the clearing day.

The season of celebrity rumors and occasional actual sightings is upon us. I really wonder how many movie and TV star types who have been reported in town have ever actually been there. I know some really do spend some time here, but it's probably a lot less than the impression created by the gossip. When would they have time to do whatever made them famous if they're lolling by the lake for weeks?

Deep throating pot roast  aside, it's good to see the variety of work that summer brings. With Big G back in action I feel less like the last guy at the Alamo, thinking, "I'm doing this just so we can have Texas? &%#$@# that!" Banter passes the time much better than a solitary battle. Each individual gets more work done.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Funky assembly #479

"I was told this bike was put together by someone who didn't know what they were doing," the customer said.  She brought in an early- '90s Cannondale road bike. Initially she had wanted to know if the bike would take wide enough tires to ride comfortably on the local rail trail. At best the frame and fork would accommodate a 28 tire if it wasn't too tall. So the discussion moved to a tune up.

"Someone I was riding with said the brakes were backwards or something," she added. We haven't figured out what that meant, but I've found a few other weird things. No one had mentioned the horribly stiff headset. I took that apart to find it packed with something that acts more like plumber's putty than grease.
I'm having to pick the stiffened crud out manually because it will not dissolve in any solvent I have tried so far.

The workshop has gone from a trickle of repairs to a flood. Before you say some stupid thing like, "It's great to be busy," imagine getting six weeks worth of meat by having a 12 pound pot roast shoved down your throat. This shit was fun back in the rockin' 1990s, with another really good full time mechanic sharing the load. We were a center of activity then, not an afterthought. We're just another errand now, like getting the dry cleaning done. Maybe we get a tad more appreciation, but no more of the old feeling that we were in the middle of the action.

Since I started writing this a couple of hours ago I've been dragged away from the cruddy headset to deal with several more urgent crises. And the headset was part of a repair already marked as urgent itself.

Back to it.