Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bye bye to Summer

I don't know what these plants are, but I love how they look like a forest of upraised middle fingers by this point in the summer. Long years in the service economy will do that to you.

Actually, I encounter many people who present baffling and sometimes unpleasant challenges, but few I would wave off with an aggressive digital salute. I still love these flowers, though.

A few more days remain before the northern hemisphere officially goes to the dark side. Already I have to hurry on the way home. I don't really have to hurry. I have great lights. But months in lavish daylight lend urgency to the last little portion of it. Mornings are cool and foggy.

By November, the ends of the day will touch each other. Late fall and winter days have no middle. Early comes late and late comes early. Right now we still get a middle.

I was contemplating the tedious task of relocating merchandise for the seasonal changeover, because there was nothing else to do. Then this happened:

The owner of this bakfiets had developed gear trouble. She had ridden in from a neighboring town to take one of her kids to a sports practice. She had observed the exploding cable housing at the shifter. She hoped I could repair it in time for her to ride home after practice. We had about an hour and a half left to closing time. 

The vehicle uses a Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub with their Revo shifter. This made life more complicated at both ends of the cable.

I hoped to be able to change the cable without replacing the full-length housing. Only the cheesy plastic ferrule at the shifter had actually failed. The housing itself remained salvageable. 

As usual, yanking stuff apart was easy enough, even though you have to take the cover of the shifter apart to get at the cable. 

I used a metal ferrule in place of the crappy plastic one. I had dialed up a PDF service guide so I could keep checking on the anatomy of this beast as I went along. This proved very useful as the process slowly spun out of control.

The cable needs to be exactly the right length to work with the limited length of the threaded adjuster on the shifter. In a classic Shimanoism, their PDF specified that the distance from the end of the cable housing to the center of the anchor bolt must be 101 millimeters. Not "about a hundred." A hundred and one.
Anyone else out there remember the cigarette jingle, "a silly millimeter longer, 101?"

At first I hooked the cable up and adjusted it as simply as I'd hoped I could. But as I ran it back and forth to seat the cable and confirm the adjustment, it kept wandering. The oscillation increased.

I checked the hub. Things were all afloat. With a roller brake as well as the internal gears, removing this rear wheel wasn't a trivial prospect, especially as the time seemed to race toward closing.

I kept checking the PDF. As usual with these documents, they left a few questions unanswered. That delayed things further with experimentation.

I had to reattach the "cassette joint pulley" and the "cassette joint bracket" with their sketchy plastic lock ring. That meant dropping the wheel out of a vehicle that probably weighs more than 100 pounds. It has a pedal-assist motor and battery, in addition to its considerable size just by itself. I hoisted it with a cord system hung from the arm of the work stand.

The rider showed up at closing time. She said she could call for a lift home and leave the beast so I could do a few more odds and ends in the morning.

The few repairs that do come in all seem to be weird in some way. Guy came in for a flat tire repair. Said nothing about the right crank arm falling off. Another rider wanted the rear (and only) brake bled on his Trek mountain bike, set up for jumping. He also casually mentioned we might throw pads in it while we had it.

His old pads turned out to have a paper-thin layer of lining left on them. New ones are almost $50. He's cool with that.

To allow for bar spins, the bike had an extra loop of brake line wrapped around the stem. The line went down to the chain stay, creating numerous bends in which air bubbles could lodge permanently. I ended up taking the lever off the handlebar and stretching the line out. I clamped an old handlebar in the adjacent work stand and mounted the lever to that. I also had to detach the line from the frame to pull it into a gradually rising path. Merely elevating the front of the bike did not eliminate the air trap caused by the loop around the stem.

The Monday crew got to program a Shimano electronic road shifter. Because, yeah, you have to program your shifters. That bike also had wheels with some weird nipples buried in the rim, and piano wire spokes. I know the cool-kid shops in the big market areas are doing a lot more of this. I still think it's absurd. We've let the complicated bullshit creep in and creep in as an accepted norm. Almost no one (mostly just me) fought back against it in the early 1990s when it really started to foam up like a runaway science experiment.

I know bicycles have always been popular with experimenters. From the 1990s onward, the industry has been completely devoted to pickier equipment for dubious advantages. I'm not even sure it makes racing better. That's usually the excuse, that the new gear gives a competitive advantage or supports athletes better, leading to higher levels of achievement. But competitors would compete on Draisines, if that's all they had. Competitors compete. And when they're finished competing, they quit and don't look back. Why should the rest of us, devoted to pedaling for life, have to put up with the debris left behind by a bunch of egotists into it for short-term glory?

Then there's mountain biking. The quest for a light weight, sturdy, but basically traditional bicycle gave way to hulking crustaceans optimized for bashing. They're really good at what they do. What excuse does anyone have for clotting up the roads when you can get a wonderfully sophisticated machine for going out into the woods, where you bother no one? Be sure you keep up your maintenance schedule.

I enjoy the challenges of trying to fix this crap. Sometimes it's a pain, but for the most part I can just laugh at the folly and try to keep it working. Once in a while, something really cool comes in. As long as people pay their bills, it's an okay way to contribute to society.


Steve A said...

They went over the edge when they started narrowing chains on bikes intended for use by regular people. 8-speed cassettes were the practical limit.

cafiend said...

Ayyyyyyy--MEN! Except 9-speed cassette cogs and spacers are good for making 8-speed blocks that will fit 7-speed freehub bodies. You can still run an 8-speed chain! Shifting in friction, of course.

Steve A said...

IMO, seven speeds is the best. Perfect chain line in 4th gear.