Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Fart Strip on Route 28

 A few years ago, NHDOT installed a rumble strip on the center line of Route 28. Any time motor vehicle tires hit it, a sharp, buzz-saw noise warned drivers that they were straying out of their lane. After the initial shock wore off, riders learned to like the sound, because it audibly indicated that a driver had moved over to give us room. The only remaining drawback for a transient rider was the collection of rainwater, which would then blow up in a gritty mist as vehicles passed during and after rainfall, but what can you do? At least they left the shoulder alone.

This summer, they repaved a long stretch, from about the Ossipee town line all the way in to where Center Street starts to look more like a street than a road. In the process, they obliterated the old rumble strip. I knew it was controversial with residents. It was audible miles away, let alone for people with houses right on Route 28 or in the neighborhoods close by. Maybe they'd done away with it.

They took so long to stripe the new blacktop that I started to think they would have to repave it again before they got around to painting it. A frugal Yankee, I also expected that they would cut their rumble strip, if any, before painting the centerline. Why waste paint if you're just going to cut it away? So, when they finally put the lines down, I took it to mean there would be no rumble strip. But no: the very next day they cut the rumble strip. Your tax dollars at work! I did realize that the line gave the strip cutters an exact guide, so it served a purpose, but it still seemed extravagant. I had recently returned from a brief and hectic road trip to the south on roads where the stripes were pale ghosts of their former selves, barely discernible in the night. To waste a bright yellow centerline seemed decadent.

They cut the rumble strip during the day while I was at work, so I didn't experience it until I was headed home. The first thing I noticed was all the residual grit. The crew had run a sweeper, which left occasional mounds of debris on the shoulder, but it also left quite a bit of stuff in the strip itself, where conscientious motorists could fling it into the air as they gave me the requisite space. And the strip itself was eerily silent. I attributed it to the clogging action of the leftover grit. But the next day, with much of the grit now distributed across the margins of the road and any hapless cyclists who had been riding by, the strip was still curiously quiet. Passing vehicles delivered a noise like a low fart.

As humorous as a fart strip is, it does not provide the audible alert that the old shrill screamer did. But I'm not complaining. I'm sure that humans and animals alike will rest easier with the milder noise.

 I have yet to drive 28 with the fart strip. The weather was fine for my first week back from my highway haul, and I was just as happy to spend the days out of the car, even though I was pretty depleted by the end of it. The jobs that had piled up while I was away were all the kind of frustrating and unsatisfying problems of finicky technological horseshit that leave me tired from all the various treasure hunts attendant to them. When something does work, it seldom conveys a triumphant confidence that it will stay that way. And since absolutely none of it attracts me, I can't even admire it. I climb gratefully aboard my steel bike with friction shifting and (OMG!) a triple crank, and plod home.

The Elm Street bridge opened late Monday afternoon. From my house I heard the work site go quiet, so I slipped over through the woods to a vantage point above the intersection. There it was, clear and deserted. I kept expecting an accident as motorists going by suddenly jammed on the brakes because they noticed that they didn't have to keep going miles out of their way. It would have been ironic if they'd caused a pileup and blocked the bridge.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Woman with Exploding Nipples

 It could happen to anyone with a low-spoke-count, highly tensioned wheel with trendy alloy nipples. They start popping without warning. This customer had come in a couple of times already for single incidents of nipple failure.

This rear wheel had 27 spokes: nine on the left side, 18 on the right. The rims were a little deep, but not hard to work with. Weird-looking wheels are part of what makes a bike look modern.

To begin, I had to remove the tire. Because it wasn't a punctured tire, I went to remove it without tools. When I pushed down on the wheel to work the bead around, another nipple exploded. I called the customer to let her know we were going to do a complete nipple transplant, not just an individual replacement.

On the stand, two more nipples popped when I put a wrench on them to start loosening them. This wheel had been a real time bomb. Imagine ripping down a bumpy descent when one spoke after another detaches from the rim.

Fortunately, the diameter and thread on the bladed spokes matched the DT brass nipples I was planning to use. And the low spoke count made the swap less time consuming. I would never ride a low-count wheel myself, but I appreciate the time I save on jobs like this.

This has also been the Summer of Forgotten Through Axles. We've had several in a row. A rider calls up and asks if we have through axles in stock. We explain that there are different kinds (of course). They're not sure of the brand and type. We figure it out. We had one kicking around from a previous customer's special order that they then declined to pick up. We've accumulated one or two more, to try to cover some of the possibilities.

Next up on the list of modern problems, a mother and daughter had to forgo their bike ride because they had forgotten the keys to their ebikes, turning them into nothing more than immensely heavy regular pedal bikes. You can just ride them that way. It's a common claim in the advertising. But who would? No one, actually, unless they get caught out with a dead battery and have no one to call to pick them up.

Problems like this are right up there with forgetting the charger for your shifters. If you have electronic derailleurs and a dead battery, you got nothin'. 

There's still plenty of good old abuse and neglect to keep us busy. I figured out that the handlebar tape on these bars was about 15 years old when I removed it the other day.

The bars themselves were old enough and had been through enough rough use that I recommended replacement. The last bars I saw that had that much salt and oxidation encrusting them had been on a bike that had lived in Singapore for a year or two. Those bars were so deteriorated that I could poke a screwdriver right through them. These bars were nowhere near that level of deterioration, but still a risk according to most manufacturer recommendations. Better to be safe. It also gave us a good opportunity to put on a much shorter stem for the new rider of the bike.

Accidents will happen. One of the local ebike aficionados took a digger on their chunky steed. The owner called to see if we would work on it. To make it easier, he had contacted the president of the company that made the bike to hook us up with a direct pipeline to parts and advice. With clout like that, ebike ownership is smooth sailing indeed. When a bike weighs upwards of 60 pounds, it hits the ground with more force than a bike weighing less than 30. It also hits a rider with more force, should you happen to get on the wrong side of things as they're going every which way. The rider was apparently not hurt badly enough to be worth mentioning, so that's good. I was just musing about it as I looked at what was scuffed and tweaked.

The trickiest part will be replacing the battery case, which is cleverly inserted into the welded rear rack on this Pedego bike. It has thick cabling inserted into it, and has an irregular shape that does not appear to slide easily out of either end of the framework of the rack. The screws that hold it in place broke loose when the bike crashed, because they were never designed to restrain such a heavy piece of equipment in an impact at an angle. The good news is that the owner of the bike doesn't need it fixed instantaneously. We can put it off for at least a week or two before getting mired in its complexities.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Old reliable no more

Shifting problems barely existed before the invention of indexed shifting. Now they're a regular annoyance for riders in all categories.

In my private war to eliminate 4-millimeter shift housing, inline cable adjusters have been a reliable ally. But the bike industry has finally figured out how to mess that up.

For years, 4mm housing used thick-walled ferrules that made the ends fit into the 5mm cable stops commonly in use. Because of this, it was easy to substitute 5mm housing to reduce friction in a system that was getting erratic.

Because mechanical indexed shifting relies on perfect cable tension, shifting systems included fine tuners in the form of barrel adjusters somewhere in the cable run for all rear -- and most front -- derailleurs. Lately, barrel adjusters have become a necessity for front shifting because the indexing requires higher tension than you can get just by pulling on the cable as hard as you can when you hook it up.

At the same time as shifting systems have evolved a need for super high tension, the trend to run all the cables inside the frame has led to systems that can only use 4mm housing, because the cable stops are holes built into the frame and do not accommodate -- or need -- a ferrule. However, with inline adjusters I could reduce the 4mm section to the bare minimum needed to enter the frame, and put 5mm from the shifter to the adjuster. With ferrules on the housing, 4mm could go in one end, and 5mm in the other. So the bike industry introduced 4mm adjusters that take naked housing with no ferrule. But they still made the 5mm adjusters as they did before. I could sub in a whole new adjuster.

Not anymore. The last 5mm adjusters I ordered in blissful confidence were sized for 5mm housing without ferrules.

Linear-wire shift housing has always needed a strong ferrule on each end to keep the stiff wires from poking through under the pressure of the shift cable tightening. We used to see ferrule failure a lot in the cheesy plastic ferrules on 4mm housing. The extruding wires would burrow into the shifter, making shifting maddeningly inconsistent, and sometimes even damaging the mechanism. That has gradually faded away as we see more metal 4mm ferrules and perhaps some reformulated plastic that is less prone to punch through. But that does not do away with the problem of drag from the skinny housing. The skinny housing is often applied over thicker cables with coatings that are supposed to make them slide better, but usually end up turning into lint in there.

The answer has always been 5mm housing and a 1.1mm stainless slick shift wire with no coatings of any kind. That's it. No secret formulas, no chemical agents, just the largest available housing with the skinniest available cable. And now you can't have it. As cassettes get more crowded and spacing between cogs gets smaller, smaller deviations make a noticeable difference. The bike industry once again makes riding less convenient and more expensive.

Monday, August 03, 2020

The road less traveled, more traveled

The work crew on the Elm Street bridge shows up earlier now, but not consistently. Wednesday I got through, but they were on site on Thursday morning, so I sprinted on toward the Pine River State Forest without hesitation.

This was only my second time through since the end of the 1990s, but it already felt familiar again. Still under-gunned on the spindly bike, I was making the best of it when a voice behind me startled me. A mountain biker on modern equipment announced that he was passing. We exchanged pleasant greetings as I pulled aside to let him go. He vanished quickly.

On the other side of the bridge, I took the low road and geared down early. The trail hit its first steep climb and I didn't even try to stay on. It leveled out a bit above that before hitting the real climb. Ahead of me on that, I saw the mountain biker on foot, pushing his own bike. I was actually gaining on him. But he hit the crest first. He was long gone by the time I reached the top about 30 seconds later. Mountain bike plus gravity equals speed.
The enemy of traction

A Long Haul Trucker might handle the trail better, particularly in the 54cm that I would ride, with its 26-inch wheels. The Trucker has a more laid-back head angle and no toe overlap, so it's less easily disrupted by the uneven surface. It's funny how small a rock can create a big jolt, like when you're digging a hole in the glacial soil around here and the shovel clanks with a wrist-numbing impact against what has to be a huge ledge, only to disclose a rock smaller than a lime. But I've said before that the Cross Check is very good at a lot of things, and was never meant for rough trails. It gets by.

These forest excursions are putting a hurt on my Diadoras. My regular kicks are fairly smooth soled, meant for the finer things in life. With this in mind, for Friday morning I put an old pair of mountain bike shoes in the woodshed. Because it would take only a minute or two to check the bridge, I figured I could start in my Diadoras and nip back for the more rugged footwear if the news was bad. And it was.

These date from the twilight of the toeclip era, so they have a tapered toe and a streamlined sole without a bulky rand. They don't protect as well from lateral rock strikes, but they slip into the strap easily and feel more secure when snugged in.

The sole has outlined areas to cut out for an SPD-style cleat. I never cut them out, but one broke loose and fell out on its own. I had to replace it with the screw-in cover that came on later models much more adapted to step-in pedals, assuming that the rider would go that route.
The plate protrudes slightly. It's a little bit slick to walk on, and pushes my toe uncomfortably into the clip after a while. But the shoes are a better choice than beating up the Diadoras, and they were surprisingly satisfactory on the road portion. Without that unfortunate damage to the sole I would have used them more consistently. Good luck finding anything well adapted to toeclip use anymore.

I've written before about the advantages of the humble and discarded toeclip. To recap briefly: clips and straps allow a rider to be connected with varying degrees of firmness. Fully tightened, straps transmit the most power. Straps loosened still provide some security and power transfer while permitting easier escape. A clip and strap system accommodates a variety of footwear. It is less convenient to get in and out of than flats or a step-in system, but neither of those provides the intermediate levels of connection, and step-ins only work well with their intended shoes.

The road less traveled is becoming a trade route. But in the evenings I still get to breeze through Elm Street, more or less.

Where they've dug out the rusted expansion joint, the trench is so deep and wide that you have to climb down through it. The surface with the rebar sticking up provides sketchy footing. But who's complaining, when no one is supposed to be going through there anyway? It's on me to leave no trace.