Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Motorist outreach

We live in unsettling times. In the United States, the illusion of social evolution and increasing enlightenment was stripped away in 2016. As necessary as that was, to reveal the barely buried reality, it also constantly eats away at any kind of peace of mind or confidence.

Is there something you don't like? Attack it openly. It's okay now. Yell racial slurs. Refuse service to gay people. Practice random acts of meanness.

Under the heading of random acts of meanness, a motorist coming the other way on Elm Street gave a friendly, tootly, attention-seeking horn honk. When I lifted my hand to wave and turned my head, thinking that it might be someone I know, an unfamiliar bearded face extruded itself out the driver's side window above an outthrust middle finger.

Suckered into looking right at Finger Boy's insulting gesture, I responded with the universal WTF shrug: an expansive, palm-up gesture indicating that I see the juvenile overture, and I dismiss it. Still, I kicked myself for looking at all. The best response would have been to let him wave his finger at the side of my head as I ignored him completely.

Over the years I have fallen firmly into the habit of never looking directly at or into a motor vehicle. Friends occasionally wonder why I did not respond to a wave, but most of them understand, once I explain. I use my eyes defensively, in combat mode, not socially.

There's little point in making eye contact with motorists, despite what you may have read or heard. I don't want to know what they're thinking. I monitor their vehicles as potentially dangerous lumps moving, about to move, or likely to stop, depending on what might be most inconvenient. I try as much as possible to be emotionless.

Peripheral vision is better at detecting motion than your direct focused gaze is. You can learn to turn most of your field of vision into peripheral vision by letting your focus shift out into the classic thousand yard stare. I look at the road in front of me, scanning for small hazards like glass, metal, broken pavement, or chunks of blown tire that drop little pieces of wire from their reinforcing belts. I take snapshots of vehicles, noting make, model, color, and license plate. I don't retain the memory unless something makes me focus on it. For instance, Finger Boy's car looked like a 1980s Renault Alliance, white or pale blue. It had New Hampshire tags.

Even if there's an incident, it's hard to remember all the details. And without facial ID of the driver it's all worthless anyway, because police won't prosecute. So really, driving as if you're among computer generated characters in a game works just as well. We're all just matter in motion, trying to avoid collision. Most of us are trying to avoid it, anyway.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Suspended at work

Some things don't fit the work stand. There are several recumbent trikes in the area, but they don't come in often enough for me to have devised a foldable trike stand, or to need a permanent one. So I rigged a three-point lifting sling and used the e-bke hoist to raise this one to a comfortable working height.

The fact that it swings around imprecisely suits the feeling I get from working on it. There are no quick jobs on a trike. If it needed a chain, we'd have to graft together three or four of them. If you want to take the front wheels off, you have to remove the brake calipers. So everything is either okay or major surgery.

This particular trike has a SRAM Dual Drive rear hub, but doesn't have the official SRAM shifter for it. The internal gearing is controlled by a Shimano barcon. For some reason, it has a click in the second gear position, so you can adjust the hub properly...I think. The website for the company has no manuals for this old model, so I have not been able to dig up authoritative guidance. But this particular trike gets ridden only on basically flat ground at low speeds.

In other unusual requests, a customer appeared in the back stairwell during a slightly busy moment last Thursday with what I thought at first was a kid's bike made to look like a motorcycle. Instead it turned out to be an actual motorcycle.

The customer wanted us to fix the flat tire on the front. It's a 16-inch, but a bit wider than our standard tube. We told him that our 16X2.125 might not hold up, but he agreed that it was better than nothing. That bike went on the e-bike hoist as well. I weighed it after the job: 93 pounds.

An electric scooter with fat 12-inch tires waits in the basement for its turn.

Monday, July 23, 2018

1940s flatlander

A friend of mine has been cleaning out the house where she grew up. She found the bike she used to ride in the 1970s, which her mother had ridden in the 1940s.

The head badge says "Sterling. Built like a watch." The front fender says Columbia.

Given its age and state of corrosion, I could do very little unless I wanted -- and she wanted -- to risk getting drawn into the long slog and extended treasure hunt of restoration. So we aimed to replace the original tires, clean it up a bit, and leave most of its dings and patina intact.

Note the spacing of the chain pins:

The rear cog and chain ring have the widely spaced teeth typical for its time. By the time I got a bike like this new, in about 1962, they weren't doing this anymore. But my younger friend got her mother's hand-me-down. The bike served two generations of childhood. And now it will serve again as she rides it between two buildings where she works.

The New Departure brake:
I suppose New Departure implies that one has already had a Safe Arrival.

The tires were cracked, but I bet they would have held air. But rather than strand her on the far side of town with a flat, I found some modern Michelins that were the same size and a similar tread.

As I've observed before, old cheap stuff is more solidly built than new cheap stuff. And because the basic configuration of the bicycle was perfected well over 100 years ago, you can stick a person on one like this and off they go, pedaling happily.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Race horse vs. war horse

I could have said pack horse, but I get a feeling of going into battle when I set out on the commute. I know we're not supposed to say that it's a war out there, but a cyclist on the road never knows when hostilities might break out. It's true in motor vehicles, too, but people on bikes feel their exposure more. That sense of exposure to physical harm is probably the biggest deterrent to riding.

I used to ride my road bike to work most of the time. At one time, it was a state of the art racing machine. The state of the art has moved on, but that road bike remains the lightest, swiftest machine in my little fleet. Once in a while I still pump up the tires and take it for a cruise. For the daily grind, however, I mount the sturdy Percheron, mentally armed, if not physically. The lightweight thoroughbred can only try to outrun or outmaneuver anything that threatens us. Darkness falls, we might have a couple of little battery lights if I remembered to bring them. Rain comes down, we get soaked. In cleated shoes, I can't do much walking. On dirt roads, I can get through on the road bike, but it's not at its best. If I modified it to meet more of these challenges, it would no longer be the racy cruiser, and it still wouldn't have the geometry and ruggedness to stand up to long slogs off the pavement, and skirmishes with armored cavalry.

The bike always loses when battle is seriously joined. The metaphor is just that: a state of mental preparedness. The war horse is heavy, slower than the racer, but built to take more of a beating in the feints, retreats, and evasions that make up an average commuting day. Slow to climb, slow to accelerate, it's still pure rolling hell on a downhill with a tailwind. I could ride through a brick wall.

The racer types are on a different trip. Sure, we have our skirmishes when we're riding the fast bike, singly or in a group, but it feels different when you're riding in rush hour -- or whatever passes for it where you live -- than on an elective ride on high performance equipment. The point of commuting and transportational cycling is to get from place to place, on a schedule. The point of recreational riding is to ride.

I've considered changing a few things to make the old racing bike more practical. Interrupter brake levers would be the first thing. They might end up being the only thing. They would improve my riding position for the dirt part of my commute, and in traffic. The lighter bike would certainly improve my average speeds on nice days. I just have to let go of the last vestiges of the racer that I never really was anyway.

Muscle memory matters, too. Because I ride most of the time on a bike set up a certain way, my reflexes are shaped to that. I catch myself reaching for brake levers that aren't there when I'm on the road bike, or test riding repaired bikes that don't have them. I quickly readjust, but if I'm going to do basically the same type of ride day after day, any bike should be configured to it.

The race horse becomes a light cavalry mount. Interrupter levers would make it easier to control the beast while swinging a saber.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Another great used bike

After getting a bunch of sass from hydraulic brakes for a couple of days, I figured I would knock out a quick tuneup on a used Specialized pre-gravel bike that someone found. First I had to extend the seatpost so I could clamp the bike in the repair stand.

Good luck with that. The seatpost was jammed in there like the worst rusted Muffy in the junk pile. Carbon on carbon. It's so tight, you'd think it was manufactured that way.

Here beginneth the floods of light oil and other procedures. The first treatment, plus leverage, only produced the first couple of light cracking noises that tell a mechanic to back off.

The rider would have to change the seat height for proper fit anyway. Or they could toddle around with their knees out, chortling about what a great deal they scored.

This is how hours get wasted in the workshop. A few minutes at a time, to save the rest of a profitable and productive repair job, half a day gets flushed away on one attempt after another.

Now put an electric motor and hydraulic brakes on that thing. And route the cables inside the frame, because everybody needs that shit, too.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Treading water in brake fluid

The repair shop continues to be busy. Nearly every time-sucking repair has involved hydraulic disc brakes. Even now I don't have time to go into detail, because I have to sprint to town to deal with the backlog. I'm trying to finish a bike for a guy who bought it from Bikes Direct to the Repair Shop. It arrived in many more pieces than he expected. After fumbling with it a bit, he brought it to us. He leaves for vacation this afternoon. It all went together routinely except for the rear SRAM Guide R disc brake, which has multiple issues. The symptoms don't make sense.

The work load would not seem heavy at all with two full-time mechanics, but we have been unable to fill the other full time position. Not enough people share the right balance of intelligence and delusion to want to get into the job. And the presence of another full time mechanic would reveal the underlying weakness in the economy. Most of the activity in Wolfe City is coming from millionaires and their minions, here for their summer getaway.

Our local billionaire stopped by to say hello. He wants to know why we aren't selling ebikes yet.

"I've got a whole garage full of them," he said.

I do not know anyone who owns one who has an income less than six figures.

I pointed out to him that for eight months of the year -- and I should have said ten -- there are 7,000 year-round residents sewing patches on their patches. For four months -- and I should have said two -- there are people with disposable income. And they all buy their stuff where they live, not where they spend their long, leisurely holidays.

Sunday, July 08, 2018


When bikes like this Cannondale come in, I feel like a veterinarian in Jurassic Park:
Early versions of a new phase of technology automatically look primitive and weird, like the bones of a giant sloth. As the bike industry moved aggressively toward disc brakes and a full commitment to suspension, each of their experiments looked futuristic for about a week. Once a format settles down, the changes become more subtle. All high end bikes are on a conveyor belt of obsolescence, but the critical differences are easier to overlook until you need to fix something.

Cannondale liked to invent their own stuff. Their technical curiosity is laudable, even if their results might not have been. To boldly go where no one has gone before...except for several other innovators who did it better. But beyond one company's specific early mutations, the products of the entire era are more abandoned than the the more settled technology of 1970s ten-speeds. Companies vied for control of the market with implications of exclusivity. For instance, the Coda brake fluid bottle calls it  a race-proven synthetic blend. They don't say whether it is glycol or mineral oil, implying that it could be some third thing that you can only get from them. Years later, the mechanic trying to decide which juice and bleed kit to use gets no help from the label. Forum posts on line indicate that it's mineral oil. Fortunately, I did not have to bleed them. Chasing air bubbles is a finicky, fiddly, time-eating task.

The rotors are held on the hubs with only four bolts. Good luck finding parts for that.

The crank has an aftermarket bash guard, an accessory that came and went and came again.
Crank manufacturers have embraced the concept now, so they are common. The crank shown here also exhibits the five-bolt, 58-94 BCD that was briefly everywhere, and now is almost nowhere.

This bike was over the threshold of the new age, but only barely. The equipment has evolved as mountain biking has split into subcategories. From a common ancestor, the genus has spawned numerous species. Each one requires habitat in which to flourish, and riders with money on which to feed.