Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Breakthrough In Schraeder Valves? Really?

The Murray I recently tuned up came to me with a flat. Luckily, the owner planned ahead and bought a spare tube ahead of time, as the only Schraeder valves I have in my fleet are in the 20" diameterway. But when I opened the box, I had an "oh crap, she bought the wrong tube" moment. The valve looked like this:

As anyone who's worked in a bike shop will tell you, the quick and easy way to figure out which valve someone needs is to ask if it's metal or rubber. Metal equals Presta, rubber equals Schraeder. So when I saw threaded metal with a valve stem nut (a.k.a. "dork-nut"), I immediately thought I had a Presta valve. Checked the box, it said Schraeder. Checked again, still Schraeder. Had a momentary thought that someone at the factory put the wrong tube in the box. Scratched my cro-magnon-esque brow.

Then I looked again at that valve. Diameter's too big for Presta. And the core is down inside, not exposed. Holy schnikeys, that's a metal Schraeder valve! And now that I know they exist, I kinda want them for my 20" diameterway folding bike, since I run those tires fairly low pressure and often find myself shoving the valves into the rims while trying to get my pump head on them. It would be nice (in a "my life is too easy if these are the things I worry about" way) to be able to thread a dork-nut on there.

(The tube is from the law firm of Specialized, Specialized, and Specialized, by the way -- which makes me think that they've patented the metal Schraeder valve so they can sue the makers of Presta valves.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Just Like Starting Over

I have no excuse for my hiatus. Let's just put it behind us and move on.

What inspired me to un-hiatus is this recent visitor to the workshop:

A department-store MBSO: Mountain Bike-Shaped Object. Thrilling, right?

But not so fast, bike nerds. If you'll recall, this very blog started off with a tune-up of a vintage Sears BSO, so we here at The Cycle have a soft spot for budget bikes -- and this one is no different.

In the day, my snobby mechanic buddies and I would have called this a Murray Bwaa-ha. However, older and wiser me sees a lot to like in this humble Murray. For instance:
  • The drivetrain works. Stamped steel derailleurs, plastic shift levers, and full-length cable housing are usually a recipe for disaster, but with minimal muss and fuss, I was able to make it index reliably across all 18 gears. Oh, and that humble Ashtabula crank/bottom bracket combination? Perfectly smooth, and required zero adjustment.
  • The brakes work too. Again, stamped steel calipers on steel rims should be doom and gloom, but with some fresh pads (the old ones were worn to nubs) and some limited truing (more like bending and squeezing) of the rear rim, I was able to eek out a respectable amount of braking. The hubs were even surprisingly smooth once I backed out the too-tight adjustment on the rear.

And you know what? That's plenty. The thing will go, and the thing will stop. While we (the royal we of bike-geekdom, especially including the royal me) may get bogged down in the minutiae of having a 16-tooth cog filling the otherwise unacceptable gap between 15 and 17 or picking the correct brake pad compound for a 30% chance of rain with 50% relative humidity, the vast majority of the world just wants to feel the wind on their face and be able to stop before running into something. This bike does that.

In fact, I'd propose that more bikes like this would be a good thing. Today's BSO puts too much of its (limited) budget into worthless suspension, cheap knockoffs of fashionable disc brakes, and general gee-gawery. I wonder how much something like that Baja could be sold for today... basic frame/fork with no suspension (aluminum frames are probably cheaper than the Baja's steel now), low-gear-count entry-level Shimano drivetrain, and basic caliper brakes. Put the money you save on gee-gaws toward professional assembly (I probably put more time into one tune-up on this one than most see in their lifetimes) and you'd have something.

Would anyone buy it? I don't know. Marketing isn't my department.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Reader Considers Joining The Raleigh Club(man)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to get the following reader feedback from a nice fella named Tim -- mostly because I'm surprised to learn I have readers. Anyway, Tim (quoted with permission) writes...

"I’ve been ogling a Clubman leftover at a shop near me for probably 2 years. If they still have it (and I think they do) I want to go get it. Do you have any additional comments on the bike now, 2 years later? I do most of my riding via an 18-mile (one way) commute over relatively flat terrain. I do it on either a singlespeed (80s Shogun), fixed gear (80s Lotus), or a Kona Smoke (26” wheels, maybe 10 years old?). The Smoke has 1.75 tires – I’ve ridden that thing all over the universe and love it but really want something that is a little more traditional. I’ve been a forever-fan of steel – lugged or otherwise."

If you aren't an obsessive follower of the blog (and who is?), I should explain that "2 years later" refers to the fact that I haven't really blathered at length about my Clubman since checking in with both a 519-mile review and a 992-mile review in ought-twelve... which means it's probably time for a longer-term check-in. The bike's been through a couple cyclometers since then, so I don't have a mileage tag. Let's just say "lots."

What I told Tim off-blog is that the Clubman is about as close to perfect as I think I'll get for my admittedly quirky tastes without going to a full custom. Stock, it was maybe 85% of the way there, but the bump-up to true 32mm tires (which, admittedly, required some brake and fender changes detailed in the 992-mile review) took it to 95%. The last 5%? Getting rid of the slight toe/fender overlap, and having just a tiny bit more tire clearance for giggles, both of which would require frame modifications that are too much hassle just to satisfy my perfectionism. That's not bad for an off-the-shelf bike.

The most noticeable feature of the Clubman has been the ride. I don't subscribe to the "steel is automatically magical and plush" trap, but this particular steel frame? A winner. I've struggled with how to describe it for the 3+ years I've owned it, and the best I can come up with is that the feel is analog rather than digital. Whereas some bikes (regardless of frame material) have a distinctly on/off, one/zero feel over bumps, the Clubman follows the shape of the road with more nuance. Think of a sine wave versus a sawtooth wave -- curves versus edges. Admittedly, a lot of that comes from the tires (the too-cheap-to-be-so-good Panaracer Paselas), but this characteristic was also there on the undersized Continentals they replaced, and could even be sensed through the noise of the absolutely awful stock Vittorias.

Further proof, however, that I am utterly out of touch with the bike industry today -- the Clubman is notably absent from the 2014 lineup on the Raleigh site. I can't say that I'm too surprised, as it is kind of a weird, quirky bike, even in stock form before my enhanced quirkification. So if Tim (or anyone else) wants a Clubman, the only hope is for one of those dusty dealer closeouts (for extra quirk, you could try to find the 2013 mixte version), or for prying mine from my cold, dead hands.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Self-Indulgent Proud Uncle Moment

During a visit with the nephews over the recent holiday weekend, Uncle Jason got a special request from Elder Nephew Wilson. He wanted the training wheels off his bike. Mom and Dad agreed that he was ready, so I borrowed a BFW (Big, Fantastic Wrench) from my brother-in-law and went to town.

I fully expected that this activity would lead to an afternoon straight out of a tearjerker TV commercial: Uncle Jason running down the street alongside a wobbly nephew until finally letting go and proudly watching him ride off on his own. While preparing for this scene, however, there was a tug at my t-shirt. Younger Nephew JT wanted his training wheels off too. With my backlog of repair tickets piling up, I quickly finished Wilson's bike and set it aside, turning my attention to JT's.

When I finished JT's bike and looked up again, here's what I saw:

Yes, that's Elder Nephew Wilson, tearing off down the street unaided by a proud, tearful uncle. Apparently, he didn't get the script for our TV commercial.

And wouldn't you know it? While I was distracted, this happened:

If you're scoring at home, that's TWO fearless nephews riding without training wheels. No grownups hanging on, no wobbles, not a worry in the world.

By this point, Wilson was circling back and preparing to stop -- and I feared disaster. But he did a cyclocross/Pony Express running dismount like it was nothing. It wasn't until later that I realized where I'd seen that move before; his grandfather dismounted the same way, though that grandfather was gone years before Wilson was even born.

Meanwhile, JT was off riding through ditches and over the biggest rocks he could find. That kid's going to have a lot of good stories and a lot of scars to go with them someday.

So my TV commercial was a flop, but I was a proud uncle just the same.