Monday, October 28, 2019

The season of cabbage and caffeine

As bike commuting mileage drops, and other activities don't seem to fill in like they used to, I shift from using brown rice under a lot of my slapped-together meals, to using sautéed shredded cabbage instead. Shred it fine, and cook it over medium-high heat in a little oil (your choice) with some onion and seasonings you think you'll like. In another pan I cook up whatever meat and vegetables I would have slapped onto -- or mixed with -- the rice. Separate pans work out best for the quantities I try to make, because I make enough to get a supper and two or three lunch-size portions of leftovers. A grab and go container for lunch helps speed me through my typical morning stumble toward the door.

As daylight drops, my energy drops with it. During full bike commute season, I limit my morning coffee to avoid having to stop en route to release excess fluid. I might or might not have a little jolt in the afternoon. Once we get well into October I feel like crawling into a burrow. I certainly don't feel like vaulting out of bed. I'll drain the morning pot of coffee and definitely seek it in the afternoon. Any of y'all who can get by on spring water and meditation have my admiration, but that's it. I'm sure it's great.

The growing season ends with New England's well-known psychedelic splurge as deciduous trees withdraw chlorophyll from the leaves they are about to shed.

At summer's end, we get a rush at work, of people who waited until summer was over so that they could avoid the rush. We also get people who were holding off as long as they could, to keep riding in the prime season. Thus cash flow drops precipitously, but wrench work and brain teasers actually intensify.

This recumbent had tire and drive train problems. Once I got it back together, I found it basically unrideable.
Everything was hooked up right. I just couldn't get it to balance well at all. It resisted that first pedal stroke to establish forward motion, and wanted to flop over immediately. This was true in any gear. It was super twitchy. It was actually a late summer arrival, but I never had time to include it in a blog entry.

Then came someone's swamp buggy.
We'd replaced the chain previously. It hadn't skipped on a test ride, but it did skip when the owner rode it in the swamp. He brought it straight back to have the cassette replaced.

The owner of this Trek Y bike from the 1990s had a hankering to try riding again. He's a classic Van Winkle. Van Winkles are the people who have been asleep for twenty years and awaken to find the world much different than the one they dozed off from.
It doesn't help that he bought the bike used from a shop owner who was a trendoid. The bike had all the cool shit from 1998, including the Rapid Rise rear derailleur. I did learn from Sheldon Brown's website that, prior to Campagnolo's invention of the parallelogram derailleur, all spring-loaded derailleurs were "low normal," meaning that they used the return spring to pull the chain toward the low (largest) rear cog rather than down toward the smallest cog. It should tell you something that Campy's introduction of the high normal parallelogram derailleur established the design that the entire industry followed until Suntour introduced the slant parallelogram derailleur in the 1960s. Even after that, the basic parallelogram remained more common until well into the 1970s. According to Sheldon Brown, other companies didn't jump on until the expiration of Suntour's original patent in 1984, but I know that Shimano was already making slant parallelogram derailleurs before that. But they've always been aggressive competitors, not above pushing the envelope of decency, not to mention legality. They got slapped for it in the 1990s when it became too egregious to ignore. Nice guys finish last.

A happy couple of tourists brought their matched Sevens in for examination and any necessary repairs. They do well with their regular home care, so the bikes needed little. I did change the bridge wires on the rear cantilever brakes, changing the stock ones that were too short for longer ones that provided a firmer lever feel.

Another tourist, coming out of a long layoff, brought his vintage 1980s Trek for a full overhaul and upgrades to prepare for a long haul continental wander, perhaps next summer. He has laid out a route that would keep him in a 72-degree average daytime temperature the whole way along a meandering route that works with both latitude and altitude to hit the desired temperature. We discussed all his options, from total replacement with a Long Haul Trucker to full restoration on the Trek. Because the Trek was an old friend, and some of us are sentimental that way, we went that way.

The bike had been fitted with new wheels. The crank had been replaced because the original one broke. The bike had been built for 27-inch wheels, and the shop he went to had replaced them with 700c. The crank was a TruVativ, and rather cheesy.

I've put 700c wheels on bikes designed around 27-inch, but only with caliper brakes. You just get a longer brake if the one that's on there does not have sufficient range to lower the pads to the smaller rim diameter. I hoped that we could replace his old brakes with something more accommodating.
The mountain bike era began using brakes like these Dia Compes. Technology advanced rapidly with higher demand, leading to brake arms that allowed for pad height adjustment as well as every other angle in alignment. But you're limited by the immovable placement of the post itself. If it's low enough, you can use a modern brake to get the pad in range with good alignment to the rim. You can see here that the mechanic who made the wheel swap years ago just angled the pads down because that was all he could do. He didn't built the guy a decent 27-inch wheel, even though there were rims available. Do it cheap, don't do it right. Right?

I ordered some linear pull brakes and the drop bar levers designed to go with them, hoping that the range of vertical adjustment would make it work. I also built the guy some 36-spoke wheels with wider rims to replace these 32s with Mavic MA2s. The MA2 was a nice enough rim in its day, but narrow for a wider touring tire. I've been getting good service out of Sun CR18s. Not only does the wider rim support the tire better, it moves the braking surface closer to the brake arm. I hoped that the combination of factors would allow the use of 700c wheels.

I could have gotten 27-inch rims for the new wheels, but the selection of rubber in 27-inch isn't as good. It's a crap shoot these days. When I geared up for touring around 1980, and when this guy did just a few years later, 27-inch seemed like the better choice for touring in North America, because 700c had not taken over. Performance clinchers themselves were fairly new technology. We figured that you could probably find a 27X1 1/4  just about anywhere at that time. Now, though, you're more likely to find a dedicated bike shop in the hinterlands, and 700c has become the road/hybrid/gravel norm. You can't plan for every contingency.

I also dug up an old mountain bike crank for the bike, with nice forged arms and 5-bolt chainrings. Things were coming together. But the brakes weren't going to work. Those mounting posts were just too high. With the pads all the way down, they still had to be angled down to get anywhere near the rim. And it wasn't near enough.

After consultation, the customer decided to go with a Surly Long Haul Trucker frame, onto which I would put all of the upgrade and restoration parts. The crank I found for him is the same model I have been using since 1992, when it started out on my Stumpjumper, then moved to the Gary Fisher frame with which I replaced the Specialized, and later went onto the Surly Cross Check I've been riding since 2000. It's one of the few accidentally durable things made by Shimano. It probably helps that I'm not much of a sprinter. Even chasing a truck draft I seldom get out of the saddle.

Into this whole lineup of touring bikes came a near-neighbor of mine (less than 4 miles apart is right next door in rural areas) with his 1970s Raleigh Competition. He's another person who "used to work in a bike shop" and is still enjoying the swag.
It's all Campagnolo Gran Sport, with the less-common three-bolt crank.

The handlebars, a solid 40+ years old, are bent down slightly on one side. That's a bad sign, considering that the handlebar industry recommends replacement every three years. We all know that expiration dates are mainly designed to get you to buy more stuff, but I have seen older handlebars snap off next to the stem after two or three decades. When they outright droop it's a good hint that you might want to renew that particular critical piece. Other than that, the job is just a straightforward  overhaul and some tires from this century.

Into the midst of all this archaeology come the day-to-day weird jobs like this John Deere pedal car with the cranks falling out.

Hell has nine circles. So does this thing.

The pulling threads on the right side are twice as deep as normal, for no discernible reason. But the fun doesn't end there. The threads were also buggered in a way that made it impossible to get the crank puller to thread in at all. This is after I had to remove absolutely every piece of shrouding from the fully enclosed drive train to undo every nut and bolt to take tension off the chain.

I removed the left crank arm and slid the BB out through the right side, since it was falling out that side already. Then I braced the right crank arm in the vise so I could gently and precisely persuade the  axle to drop out of the crank arm, using a drift and a small sledgehammer.

The BB is mounted to a bolted-on bracket that was attached backwards to the frame, so that the BB cartridge couldn't be installed the right way around. Normal use would unscrew it from the frame. I unbolted the mounting bracket and reinstalled it the right way around. The people who assembled this thing clearly did not understand its bike-derived components at all. And I don't know how they ever got the chain on it, because I had to add a half-link just to get it onto the sprockets.

Speaking of not understanding bike parts, this has been the year for people putting the pedals in the wrong crank arms. When it won't go in straight and it's binding up like a bastard, why do you keep graunching on it? But they do. Then I get to extract the pedals -- if they haven't fallen out of the stripped-out holes already -- and either re-tap or replace the crank arms. One of those cases came in just last week. It's one of those repairs where you can't really give an estimate without trying to fix it first, to see if there's enough metal left to tap.

Still in the crank and pedal department, one of the local riders is a lad -- now an adult -- who spends hours a day riding all over town on whatever mountain bike he is putting to the test at the moment. He isn't an official product tester, but he definitely puts them all through the wringer of long, continuous use. He's not a jumper or a sprinter. He just goes. And goes. And goes. When he finally brings a bike in because the gears skip or the shifting is funky, we'll discover something like the bottom bracket shell completely broken loose from the seat tube. Worn-out chains are just par for the course. It's the special touches that elevate it from the mundane. This time, his chain had fallen off the front, and neither he nor his father could get it back on. Something was jammed up. Well I guess so.

He was "just riding along." The crank arm bolts are tight. Something inside ain't right.

And there it is:
The axle is snapped right off. At least it's a simple fix. We plugged in a new BB cartridge and off he went again.

Trainee David wanted to adjust the bearings in his XT pedals before an upcoming 'cross race. I helped him figure out how to get in there.

Modern bike componentry comes in two forms: stuff you can't take apart, and stuff you can take apart that will make you wish you hadn't. This is the latter. Of course you can find chirpy forum posts about how easy and fun it is, from people who claim to do it every one month/six months/year, but it's seldom more obvious that no manufacturer actually wants you to fix anything than when you try. The left pedal has some irreducible slop in it, either from a worn (not readily available) bushing or from the loss of an equally unavailable rubber seal. The rubber seal shouldn't be structural. None of the forum chirpers refer to it as load bearing. But David's has vanished somewhere in the vastness of the New England cyclocross circuit, and now the pedal clicks and wiggles no matter how tight the adjustable bearings are. The metal bushing is present, and looks about the same as the one in the right pedal. The pedal shaft itself is a bit worn, possibly from riding too long with a loose bearing. But the right pedal bearings were equally loose before we adjusted them, and that pedal is tight and smooth now. The only obvious difference is the lack of the rubber seal in the left one. And you can spend hours poking around on the Internet to see if anyone really knows, without ever finding out for sure.

The Campy Gran Sport pedals on the old Raleigh are classic cup and cone bearings. Campagnolo Record pedals were so securely closed that they would run smoothly for years. On that level of Campy, pedals and bottom brackets had a reverse threaded section that expelled dirt as you rode. They didn't do it on the lower models, but you're still not dealing with microscopic bearings sitting in an almost imaginary race. Step-in pedals have higher cornering clearance and other added values for the competitive rider. We've all been trained to beat things up and wear them out rather than keep them going through years of appreciative, moderate use. Repair attempts these days are usually just a preamble to justify replacement. You keep it up as long as you can afford it.

These are the darkest nights, even though they are not the longest. The trees have not entirely gone bare, so the forest shadows are dense black. These are the spookiest nights as well. Half naked trees raise bony arms against what you can see of the sky. Any wind makes the branches creak and rattle like a marching skeletal army, while dry leaves skitter like rats on the forest floor you can barely discern even with a good light. The sight of another person sparks a moment of misgiving rather than sociability. What's anyone doing out here now? Only a weirdo would be out in the woods in the dark. You guzzle some caffeinated courage before heading out on the lonely ride toward home.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Imagine no motor vehicles

Coline commented on the previous post: "I have just returned from a family visit to France where cyclists are everywhere and not targets of abuse. This may change as now great numbers of electrocycles are being moved about badly by non cyclists who do not seem to think that they need to learn how to use them!

Worse were the trottinettes, scooters which hurtle silently about with total disregard for anything or body, least of all their own safety. Brave new world!"

I had said that I would rather share the road with smokeless mopeds than with monster trucks, but Coline raises a good point about the behavior of newcomers who make up their own rules when they buy equipment and dive into alternative transportation.

Back at the University of Florida in the mid 1970s, most people got around campus on bicycles. Cars were barred from most of it, and the sprawling distances made walking from class to class difficult for many. People did walk, but large numbers of riders would hit the streets at every class break and at the beginning and end of the day. The town supported at least four bike shops.

If you weren't a cyclist, just a bike rider, you would join the flow and move placidly with it to your next stop. But if you felt fit and frisky it was as frustrating as any traffic jam. It even included a few real mopeds, puffing clouds of blue smoke. I had a good crash one time when I tried to push the pace and got hooked by a rider in front of me with a sudden urge to turn left. My error. 

Crowded multi-use trails also provide a preview of what a motorless -- or at least less motorized -- society would be like. The herd average would set the speed limit. Because the vehicles are much more maneuverable than big, bulky automobiles and trucks, they can behave more erratically and swerve more unpredictably.

It would reduce the amount of distracted piloting. You can stare at your phone and walk into a fountain, but you can't really bury your face in the screen for too long when you're trying to stay up on two wheels in a crowded field. I'm sure that distracted cycling happens already, but it's more self-limiting than distracted driving or distracted walking. You hit that lamp post much harder on a bike.

We who ride in traffic complain about the range of hazards we face from the masses of metal charging along beside us. But the simple fact of our weakness licenses us to work to the limit of our strength more often than would be the case if everyone moved by meat alone. It's nice to find a quiet road where we can set our own pace, fast or slow, but those roads are made quieter by the fact that so few people cycle on them. The dominance of motor vehicles means that the road is seen as reserved to them. If the system was built solely for bikes, would the lanes be as wide? Would the grading be built for the speeds that some of us are willing to reach? Think of your average bike path. Even if a descent would allow you to top 50 miles per hour, do you think that the designers would have planned for it? The motorways are a playground because of motorized speeds. Some stretches are a slog because the terrain is boring, or stressful because the motorized users are always abundant, but the good parts can be very good indeed.

I'm more in favor of Biketopia than of continuing our current exaltation of horsepower, but I can appreciate the accidental benefits that the culture of speed has conferred on those of us who work for our momentum. A true Biketopia would design with that in mind. We would need some motorized equipment to maintain the network of bike routes at a high standard. We are not an afterthought. We shouldn't be, anyway.