Monday, May 25, 2009

Homebrewed Tool Tip

I'm trying to get my mechanical hubris back after yesterday's debacle, so I thought I'd dig back through the old shop bag of tricks for a post.

Today's tip is the legendary Homemade Poker/Scraper Tool. I can't take full credit for it since I got it from Paul, my head mechanic when I wrenched in Iowa City. Paul was a hidden legend -- nothing mechanical seemed to faze him, from epicyclic hub overhauls to adding grease fittings to the ski-tuning equipment. He was also doing off-road single-speeding back in the mid-90s before it had dawned on anyone else. The guy could shred all of us on a junked-out warranty frame with one cog and a homemade chain tensioner.

The poker/scraper is one of the simplest homebrewed tools ever. One: Find a broken old spoke. Two: Cut off the elbow (assuming it's not already gone). Three: Lay one end on a flat metal surface and whang on it with a big hammer until a couple inches have been flattened. Four: Sharpen the other end to a point (a bench grinder is the quick way, but a Dremel or file will do the trick too). If you're feeling extra fancy, bend the resulting tool until it has a little loop in the middle for pegboard hanging... or you can just store it by poking it into a pegboard hole.

It seems simple to the point of useless, but you'd be surprised how often a flattened and/or sharpened hunk of spoke can help out while wrenching. The poking end is great for opening up the liner in a freshly-cut piece of brake or derailleur cable housing. The scraping end can get gunk out from between cassette cogs (proceed with caution, however, as the poking end can bite). Dirt clogging up your cleat bolts? Shard of glass stuck in a tire casing? Need to toast a marshmallow for s'mores? Reach for the poker/scraper.

(Hubris sidenote: Today's 20-mile TTT -- Touring Time Trial -- was delightfully creak-free, so it would seem that yesterday's debacle paid off and the teflon plumber's tape performed as expected. Either that, or it was a coincidence and I accidentally tightened up the problem bolt while I was doing all that disassembly and assembly. Either way, I'll take it.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rookie Mistake

This just in... mechanic defeated by his own hubris.

I'd pulled off a pretty slick repair on our tandem so it would be ready for the farmers' market yesterday. I was feeling pretty good about myself. There was even some mention of my candidacy for the coveted Greatest Living Bicycle Mechanic in Central Iowa title.

Not so fast, slick.

I've been chasing a creak around my main ride, eliminating possible causes through a slow diagnostic process. Today, I had enough time to pull the cranks and bottom bracket. The plan was to grease the shoulders of the bottom bracket cartridge where they sit in the cups and wrap the cup threads with Teflon plumber's tape. It's an old trick from my days as a Cannondale mechanic, since a dry BB install would invariable make a small creak that would resonate through those big aluminum tubes until it sounded like a door opening in a horror movie.

That was the plan, anyway. And it worked for a while. I got everything out, cleaned it all up, greased up the cartridge, wrapped up the cups, and got the right side cup back in the frame, straight out of Sutherlands.

So, I started the left cup. And it felt a little snug. Before you ask, yes, I did know which cup had left-handed threads. Straight out of Sutherlands, remember?

"No biggie," I figured. "The Teflon tape makes it tight." So I kept cranking.

And it got even more snug. "Man, I must have put too much tape on that thing," I figured. So I grabbed a bigger adjustable wrench, clamped that bad boy on my BB tool and kept cranking.

It got even more snug. I could barely budge the thing, and it was barely a third of the way in. Only then did Mr. Fixit think, "Huh, that doesn't seem right." So I started backing it out again.

Cross-threaded. The aluminum cup was absolutely shredded where I'd ham-fisted it sideways into the steel bottom bracket shell. This is a family blog, so let's take the "edited for TV version of Snakes on a Plane" approach and pretend that I said, "I'm such a monkey-fighting idiot, cross-threading this Monday-Friday bottom bracket."

Proof that someone or something up there is looking out for morons and klutzes, at least it was an aluminum cup that sacrificed its life for the steel bottom bracket shell. If I'd needed the BB threads chased late on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I would have been stuck. And I made a decent save by pulling a cup out of my fixie that just happened to fit despite being an entirely different brand of cartridge bottom bracket. So, the fixie's down until I replace the cup, but at least my daily driver is going again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Shh... We're Having A Ride Of Silence

Carla and I took the tandem to the local Ride of Silence Wednesday night. It was a first for both of us.

I'm not much for bike "advocacy" (hence the scare quotes I insist on putting around the word). Do I believe that bikers have a place on the road? Sure. Do I believe that drivers should refrain from putting tire marks across a biker's back whenever possible? Well, of course. But I always have misgivings about some kind of organized "consciousness-raising" event that's supposed to deal with these issues. I'd rather see lots of bikers just get out on the roads and ride their bikes every day. Still, friends had told me that the R of S is a pretty moving experience, and I'm always up for a tandem ride, so we went.

Slight problem, though. The combination of no police escort (other than the lone representative of Des Moines' finest who bullhorn-shouted at us to quit congregating in the road pre-ride) and a ride leadership that seemed a little paranoid about the perception of bikers as stoplight-blowing scofflaws (thus, we were instructed NOT to cork intersections) kind of killed the experience for me. A big, silent, unified group of riders? That's a statement. Dozens of tiny pockets of silent riders getting stuck at stoplights, leapfrogging into and out of clusters, and getting strung out all over town? That's just a bunch of people on bikes who happen to be kind of quiet.

Getting a tandem going at a few dozen stoplights is kind of a chore, too -- sort of like a Mack truck working its way up through the gearbox. And, note to the racer dude in the all-matching-and-matched-to-the-color-scheme-of-his-bike kit who insisted on track-standing every intersection: One, nobody was impressed, and two, the Freddy Kruger nails-on-a-chalkboard sound of your brakes as you repeatedly demonstrated this non-impressive maneuver was NOT what I'd call "silent". (An admission that reveals my dark, twisted, gnarled inner self: I was secretly hoping he'd flub one and fall over, the way that I secretly hope kids on those stupid roller-skate-heel shoes will fall on their butts as they glide through the grocery store.)

Still, I got to spend some quality time with my better half on our two-seater, I got to see the whole Anderson Convoy (Tom and Holly on their tandem with the twins on their singles), I finally got to meet C's bikey knitting pal Jess, I got to check out Former Neighbor Steve's swanky new monster-cross gravel rig, and there were moments that I kind of felt what the event was supposed to be about.
Maybe it wasn't a "powerful experience of cycling solidarity", but it was a good ride... and there's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tire Stuff: A Follow-Up

My post about the humble Michelin Dynamic actually garnered an off-blog reader e-mail from (I presume) a real person who just stumbled into this dark corner of the interweb. I was more than a little humbled (though not as humble as the Dynamic) to find out that my audience is bigger than just the visible core that comments on my prattle. So, in Aden's honor (hi, Aden!), I'll try to address some of those off-blog tire questions here for the (questionable) benefit of all.

Aden writes:

I live in a relatively rural area in central Virginia, and my riding will be about 80 percent pavement (and to a lesser extent, hardpack bike trails)--lots of group rides, limited commuting, etc--and about 20 percent unimproved roads (dirt/gravel), fire roads, and the like--just casual outings, nothing that would really qualify as "mountain biking". So should I go with the 700x28s or the 700x32s (my rims are 15mm wide, inside measurement, BTW, and I'm a light rider at 145 lbs). I'm sure the larger tires would be smoother riding and perhaps better on the trails, but I'm also concerned about weight and shooting for minimal rolling resistance since the larger percent of riding I will be doing will be on pavement. What to do?

First, I need to disqualify myself on two counts. One, I've never been to any areas of any part of Virginia, so I can't say what's suitable for a rural area in central Virginia. Two, I haven't been 145 pounds since about the fourth grade (yup, I was a husky lad), so the world of the sub-150-pounder is about as foreign to me as the Klingon home world.

But, with those caveats in mind, here's my nutshell response: Read Volume 5, Number 1 of Bicycle Quarterly. Seriously. I'm just a subscriber, not a shill (and I have my issues with some of BQ's other research/hypotheses), but V5#1 (commonly known as the tire test issue) is a winner. It's the only research I'm aware of that attempts to put tires to a real world test (where most of us ride) rather than spinning them on a steel drum in a lab and calling it good.

In that real world, I've found BQ's somewhat controversial assertion that wider tires at lower pressures actually roll
faster to be true. How can that be, when everyone else seems to say that the skinner and harder you can run your tires, the faster you'll be? Think about the roads you ride on. Are they perfectly hardwood-floor smooth? I'm guessing not. Mine are pretty bumpy. And when I hit those bumps, a narrow tire with a lot of pressure tries to bounce. Maybe a tire bouncing Aden's 145 pounds is no biggie, but to bounce my girth takes some energy -- energy that's no longer available to move said girth forward.

Now, hit those same bumps with a tire that's maybe 10mm wider than race rubber (at least 32mm) and running down around 70-80 psi. The tire deforms rather than bouncing, and the bike/rider keeps plowing ahead with a lot less wasted energy. This is all a grotesque oversimplification of the fine work in BQ, but it at least gives you the drift.

Aden also asked about weight, which can often be the bugaboo of this "wider is better" argument. After all, tire manufacturers have chased that "skinnier is faster" fallacy for a while now, so they assume their 700x32/35/38 offerings are only being snapped up by tourists and commuters -- folks who aren't trying to get anywhere in a hurry, but want a tire that won't flat easily. That leaves the fat-tire buying public with a lot of similar choices: thick rubber, chunky sidewalls, belts to deflect poky objects, and a lot of weight -- which can take work to spin up to speed. The Dynamic isn't bad in a 700x32 (at a claimed 360 grams, though I kinda don't buy that), but it still starts with a thick cap of rubber in the tread area that could be lighter/more supple.

What I'd
like to see is an unbelted, folding semi-slick for 700c wheels in about a 40mm width. No extraordinary measures to prevent flats, just a reasonable rubber cap and nice flexible sidewalls. Proponents of the kooky 650B tire size (tee hee, how I love poking the 650B bear) claim that the 650Bx42 Gran Bois Hetre (imported by Bicycle Quarterly, so I guess I am a shill after all) is the tire I seek, but I'd like it in a normal diameter, please. And while you're at it, how about black sidewalls and tread? That's not a baguette in my pannier (I'm just happy to see you), so I don't need to look like a 1950s Frenchman headed out for a picnic.

Um, Aden, what was that question again?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Reviews Are In

I am "a funny man."

No kidding. I'm so proud!

This report from two-year-old Grace, daughter of good friends and my favorite toddler I'm not related to (though I hope Carla and I qualify as a non-related aunt/uncle pairing.) And everyone knows that toddlers tell the (sometimes too-honest) truth. Grace is one of those kids that makes me feel just fine with the decision not to have kids of our own. When I see cool people like our friends making smart, well-adjusted tykes like her, I figure the gene pool will do just fine without any little mutants I might have produced.

Carla won the coveted "favorite person" award. I suspect it's because she bribes the judge with hand-knitted toys and clothes.

So, other bloggers, you may have more readers than me, and you may get more comments than me, and maybe your ads get more click-throughs and generate more income than mine, but who cares?

Grace says I am a funny man. Neener neener neener.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This Little Piggy

I broke a toe this weekend, thanks to a combination of a) excessive clumsiness, b) an ill-placed box in a dark bedroom, and c) a late night trip to the bathroom. Kicked that sucker like it was a 60-yard field goal attempt to win the game as time expired. Ugh.

It's not a terribly crucial toe, mind you. Just a pinky toe. The one that (according to legend) cries "wee wee wee" all the way home. So it's now taped to the piggy that had no roast beef in a kind of toe "buddy system" while it heals up.

On the bright side: I can still ride the bike. Chalk it up as another benefit of flat BMX pedals and non-bike-specific riding shoes. I just grabbed my Teva sandals, loosened one strap to take pressure off the sore spot, and pedaled off with all piggies (injured and otherwise) free in the breeze.

Thank goodness it's Spring. I may be a touring nerd, but even I have trouble crossing that line to sandals with socks. It's a slippery slope to wearing your glasses-mounted rearview mirror into the coffeehouse.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Retro Raleigh Rolling

A confession: None of my bikes are ever "done." Heck, I was just swapping pedals on a bike that I've owned for seven years, and last night that same bike got a rear rack (the same rack that I took off last year, which replaced the rack that had been on the bike two years before that). I say they're all works in progress, while my wife would probably say I'm a serial futzer. So I can't call the Raleigh a completed thing, but it's at least reached a point of temporary happiness.

The drivetrain is 40x17 fixed, with a de-toothed old 42-tooth chainring in the outer position as a chainguard. The chopped 42 doesn't give enough coverage over a 40, but it was the biggest sacrificial ring in my stash and it looks better than the black 40 sitting alone on the inner position (where chainline is best).

Just to prove that I'm developing a Wald addiction, the bars are straight outta Kentucky, model #8095 as seen at The 6-Miler. Cork grips for squish and style, brake lever with a lock button (for a parking brake effect), Kool Stop pads on the original Weinmann front centerpull, spare saddle, old saddlebag, ugly BMX pedals, and away we go!

(I didn't route the front brake to the right lever to be extra-British. I just can't find the left lever.)

In a perfect world, I'd have a bigger chainguard, some fenders (probably Wald again), a nicer-looking saddle, less-homely pedals, and fancier luggage (or a front basket -- do I dare say Wald? Jeez, I am such a shill), but as it stands right now, it's a hoot to hop on and just take off. Sure, it looks like I stole it from a pipe-smoking, leather-elbow-patches college professor, but it goes like a retro race rocket... at least until my pudgy legs can't catch up with the 40x17 any more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Happy Bionic Birthday To Me

I was doped on morphine and Valium at the time, but this is how I like to imagine the conversation among my doctors exactly two years ago today:

Jason Nunemaker. Bicyclist. A man barely alive.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.

We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man.

Jason Nunemaker will be that man.

We can make him better than he was before.




(Cue iconic trumpet theme here.)

Okay, so I'm not stronger or faster... but when I ride, it does sound like this.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Go Steve Go!

That's Local Steve F, a.k.a. Former Neighbor Steve, who is probably kneeling on the deck right about now, tying on his kamikaze headband and lubing up his Karate Monkey (which sounds really dirty, come to think of it) in preparation for this year's Trans Iowa Race.

If you don't know the TI, it crosses our great state on a network of gravel roads in two short days. No sag stops, no support cars, just a bunch of nutjobs out there making the pedals go around and around and around all by their lonesome. Think of it as the Great Divide Race without all the pesky mountains or RAGBRAI on steroids and Red Bull. It's been rainy all week, so those fine, well-maintained Iowa gravel roads should be a bog of tire-sucking, drivetrain-eating quicksand by now. Farmers around here often find the helmets of DNF Trans Iowa racers floating on the spot where rider and bike went under.

So, dear reader, bop on over to Zen Biking and clang your electronic cowbell in support as ol' Steve sets off on the adventure. I'm decidedly anti-Twitter (don't get me started), but I'll actually be watching for his tweets (which sounds dirty again, sorry) as he hits the checkpoints. It's the virtual equivalent of running alongside the race in a devil costume -- and Steve, if you actually see me running alongside you in a devil costume, you've been on the bike too long and need some sleep.