Friday, May 28, 2010

Origami, Part 2: Assembly Line

 (It's starting to look like... a funny-looking little bike.)

I do not read instructions. Never have. Funny, since I write instructions in my quasi-professional life. It's a male ego thing. (Huh, a blogger with an ego, go figure.)

So when I unearthed the assembly instructions for the new Swift, I gave them a quick flip-through to see if there was anything unusual, found nothing of the sort, tossed them aside, and set upon the packing-wrapped bike like a vulture on fresh roadkill. And -- save for two big gotcha moments I'll explain later -- it came together like a bike oughta.

This was my first mail-ordered complete bike ever, so I admit to being a little curious how it would assemble. The "company line" in my shop-wrench days was that it took the careful hand of a trained mechanic (okay, pimply high school kid) to lovingly shape the pile of unrecognizable parts in a bike box into a harmonious wheeled whole. The thought that the average schmoe off the street could just pull a bike out of the box, slap it together with the three tools listed on the top flap (I believe they were "hammer, screwdriver/cold chisel, bigger hammer") and ride off was ludicrous.

Assembling the Swift both proved and disproved those old beliefs. For the most part, it was just fine. Brakes were pretty darn close. Derailleur, not so bad. Front wheel: Dead-on true and round. The front hub was a little snug and the headset was a little loose, but both were well within a reasonable person's tolerances. Let's call it a B minus.

THEN there was that back wheel. Oh boy. Grabbing the rim and giving a shake revealed the clunk of a slightly-loose hub. Weird. If a hub's going to be wrong from the factory, it's going to be tight 99 out of 100 times. So I loosened the quick release and gave a tug to drop the wheel out of the frame. Huh. Didn't want to come out. Okay, so that's just how it goes with the combination of track ends and a derailleur hanger, I figure. Kind of an awkward removal combination. I gently lifted the chain over the right dropout to eliminate that variable, no luck. Finally, I gave the tire a bit of gentle persuasion (read: "a serious whack") and the wheel popped out like a champagne cork.

Count this as Gotcha #1: The rear triangle uses 132.5mm spacing, between the road-hub standard of 130mm and the mountain-hub standard of 135mm. I know I read that on the Xootr website, but I'd forgotten. This "neither fish nor fowl" spacing (which -- in Xootr's defense -- is used by a few others too, including the usually-smarter-than-that Grant Peterson at Rivendell) needs to die a quick, painful death. I understand the well-intentioned theory: You can put a 130 hub in there with a little squeeze or a 135 with a little stretch, and heck, it's only a 1.25mm difference per side, so what's the big whoop? But in practice, the 130 makes it a nuisance to use the quick release and the 135 requires Charles Atlas forearms to spring the rear triangle -- especially when it's big, beefy and aluminum like the Swift's. Never mind the fact that you aren't supposed to cold-set aluminum, and mis-spaced/misaligned dropouts can eventually lead to axle or frame failure. So, thanks for the well-meaning attempt, Xootr folks, but you lose points on that decision. The next time I wrestle that hub out, I'm looking to see if there are any spacers I can remove to make the hub actually fit the frame.

Okay, Mr. Gripes-a-lot, you've got the wheel out, so what's Gotcha #2? As I'd guessed, the hub was loose. Hmm. The locknut wasn't snug against the cone on the drive side, so it had backed out. And the hub designer had thoughtfully buried the cone's wrench flats deep in the bowels of the cassette. So, happy day, I had to back the non-drive cone/locknut WAY off just to access the cone on the drive side (almost losing a couple ball bearings in the process) before I could snug it up. Minor annoyance, but an annoyance, and certainly not something the (long ago aforementioned) average schmoe off the street could deal with. So there goes Average Schmoe, who has popped his bike out of the box and ridden off, blissfully unaware that his rear hub is eating itself alive. Not good. (Aside: That loose locknut on the drive side also seemed to have prevented the cassette lockring from tightening sufficiently -- since those are probably driven on quick and dirty with an air tool -- but since I had to pop the cassette to access the hub anyway, that got fixed by default.)

I know this little installment of my (headed toward epic, copyright Rapha) tale is coming off pretty negative. Stay tuned for Chapter 3, when I promise to say plenty of nice things about the details on the bike (many of them quite thoughtful -- the details, not what I say about them) and -- gasp -- I might actually even ride the thing!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Origami, Part 1: The Unveiling

At long last, it's new bike time.

Irregular readers may recall that way back in the winter of aught-nine, I had a minor pining episode over the Xootr Swift folding bike. Well, after much hem-and-haw, I have finally scratched that itch.

Before I actually start showing stuff and quasi-reviewing the bike, I should give the obligatory blogger disclaimer: Xootr paid me absolutely NOTHING to write this stuff. In fact, they have no idea (yet) that I'm writing it. As far as they're concerned, I'm just a dude in Iowa with a credit card who wanted a bike. I know, very Consumer Reports, right? I may solicit them once the review is underway, but as of this date, there's been no contact between The Cycle World Headquarters and Xootr Central beyond that of a regular old customer off the virtual street.

With that out of the way, let us begin... with a tiny box:
(helmet included for scale... and yes, I'm a fathead, but my head is not THAT fat) 

The UPS guy was kind of flummoxed by this. "That's a bike?" All I could think to say was, "I hope so!" By the way, my invoice shows that my order hit Xootr on 5/6, and this cute little box (which I'm saving for future shipping/travel) was in my garage six days later. Not bad a'tall.
And while we're at it, how about a quasi-Freudian "check out the size of my seatpost!" shot?

 (overcompensate much?) 

Here's the spy shot with our test subject still clad in its disguise so the bike-paparazzi can't get a look at what's under the hood:

Okay, kids, that's enough for today. Time for bed. Watch for future installments covering assembly, fit, and first impressions.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Friggin' Bike Month

I know, I know, I teased about a new bike and went dark... and now I'm griping about a totally unrelated topic. I'll submit to a blog-flogging later.

But here are my gripes:

One... last night, riding down the brand-new bike lane in my neighborhood (the one that's being maligned by drivers and neighborhood businesses alike), I had a Charmin (that's a family-friendly insult... think of what you do with Charmin) scream at me from the window of a passing car. I really hoped I could catch him at the next light and scream back, but no luck. I had to respond in sign language instead. And although I know how to say "I love you" in ASL, I was proposing something a bit more carnal.

Two... this morning as I was leaving, I remembered that it was supposed to rain today. Too hurried to take off my messenger bag and stuff my jacket inside (cue ominous music), I rolled it up and jammed it into my saddlebag instead. Rode to work, promptly forgot it was in there, and left it. No worries, right? This is Iowa. The saddlebag is sacred, protected by a force field of goodness. It's like the bed of a pickup truck.

Um, not so much. When I came out tonight after work, my saddlebag had been looted. My tools (thankfully) were untouched, but my jacket -- the one I've ridden in for years, bought for me by my wife's clan and mended for me by my own mum -- was gone. I'm holding out the vain, naive Iowan hope that either a) a commuter coworker friend really needed to borrow it and will be returning it tomorrow, or at the very least b) the person now wearing it was really cold and wet and destitute and needed it much more than I did.

Still, I'm mightily cheesed. So local readers, if you see someone who isn't me sporting a banana-yellow J&G Cyclewear jacket around town, it might just be mine. Don't do anything dumb (like the Portland Folding Bike Posse) -- I don't need vigilante justice on my conscience. Just maybe give that person a "hey, nice jacket, where'd you get it?" gentle jab. Being a born-and-bred Midwesterner, passive-aggressive guilt is enough vengeance for me.
(artist's rendition of suspect in purloined rainwear begging for mercy 
as the barbs of snarky cyclists rain down upon him from the heavens)  

So, in a nutshell, that's been my Bike Month, which is why I'm looking forward to June.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Bike Is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

It's back to the 80s yet again at The Cycle! Crack open your premier issue of Cyclist magazine, use the Betamax to tape your favorite shows for later, and make sure you're immunized against Pac Man Fever.

Today's scan comes from the "Fast Bikes Under $400" feature, a three-bike shootout between the Club Fuji (shown), Gitane Sprint, and Trek 460. I should apologize for springing that gaudy monstrosity on you without warning. After all, the 1984 review noted (repeatedly) that the Fuji had a "bold" and "eye-popping" color scheme. Hope I didn't jangle your nerves with the sudden appearance of such an eyesore.

Thankfully, we've come around in the last 20 years and learned to use more subtle paint and decal combinations like this:

After that gawdawful Fuji, this is like Xanax on wheels, don't you think?

For those who don't read this site with the Babelfish "sarcasm to English" translator, I'm not a big fan of the modern NASCAR-bike aesthetic that looks like a paint/decal booth threw up on your ride. In fact, my main machine is generically decal-free after its last repaint. I kinda like the quizzical look that gets from label-obsessed riders who can't figure out whether it's a "good bike" without a sticker to tell them.

(Readers who are sick of the 80s will be glad to know that I just bought a brand-new, 2010 bike -- but since it's mine, it's still weird. Many, many reports and photos to come, but for now, let's just leave it as a tease.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There's A Supercommuter In My Blogroll!

According to the latest Planet Bike Newsletter, blog-pal Beth of the recently relocated bikelovejones is the latest recipient of Planet Bike's "Supercommuter" honor. I assume this means she's now faster than a speeding Cipolini, more powerful than a Kool Stop-equipped brake, and able to leap tall traffic jams in a single bunnyhop.

Big congrats to Beth -- we always knew you were super, but it's nice to see it recognized.

And thanks to both Beth and Planet Bike for combining bikes and superheroes, thus giving me an excuse to watch this clip again:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

37 Me, Meet 22 Me

Spent Saturday celebrating the third birthday of Wilson the World's Coolest Older Nephew, and -- as a favor to my sis/bro-in-law -- tuned up their bike fleet. (Aside: hi, Mark!)

Although you might not believe it, a three-year-old can make an outstanding Junior Mechanic in Training/Assistant Tuneup Specialist. 
  • First, they can help you see things you may have missed through an absolutely relentless application of the Socratic method. Even the smallest detail was met with questioning, from replacing brake pads to wiping the snot from my faucet-like nose (weird cold spell plus lack of toddler-germ immunity plus allergies equals bad news nose.) 
  • Second, if you have a bike up in a workstand and the front wheel needs some spinning, call a toddler. That kid can run up an odometer like nobody's business. 
  • And finally, Wilson showed astonishingly precocious talent when it came to inflating tires -- or as he called it, "putting gas in them." Pretty astute, as air is in fact a gas. Of course, being toddler-size, he was pretty much doing chin-ups on my floor pump -- which tapped his toddler attention span after about four strokes, so he wandered off to do something else. 
One particular tuneup was a strange flash-sideways for me. My sis is still riding on the 1995 Specialized Rockhopper that I sold to my since-gone Dad 15 long years ago. It was quite a treat to see how the old beast has held up since I first pulled it from the box as a punk kid mechanic at the now-defunct Iowa City location of Racquet Master Bike & Ski*. The bike even still has the little rectangular foil shop sticker on the downtube, right where I left it back in 1995. 

The amazing thing? Just how tight (in a way-too-young-for-me slang sort of way) that bike is after all these years. It traveled from Iowa to Illinois (where my dad rode it), then was temporarily gifted back to Iowa City for my then-just-a-significant-other to ride. When she was nuts enough to accept my marriage proposal and uproot to Ohio, the bike came with us... and lived on a porch for a couple years until I bought her a bike of her own. Then the Rockhopper went back to Illinois. After Dad passed away, my sister inherited it, and -- it seems -- rode the crap out of it.

Yet after all that, it snapped to adjustment in 2010 like it was fresh from the box again. Brakes didn't need to be touched. Bearings all felt good. Bolts were tight. The circa-mid-90s Grip Shift shifted like... well, circa-mid-90s Grip Shift (i.e., not great, but no worse than you'd expect from a cheap plastic twister).

I'm flailing for the moral/wrap-up, so here it is: I beat on bike shops a lot in these pages. And I buy a lot of my bike junk online, bypassing both the bricks and the mortar. But if you don't happen to have access to a snarky old ex-mechanic, you could do a lot worse than to find a good shop (note that I said a good one) and pay the extra few bucks it might cost you to get your stuff there. Back in 1995, I would have put our shop wrenches at RMBS up against anybody -- yep, anybody -- for deadly-accurate assembly and repair. Heck, if you could load that motley crew into a Delorean, I'd put the '95 Racquet Master staff up against the best of the 21st century. And although I've long since lost my touch, I was darn good at 22. The proof is in that old Rockhopper.

*The magic interwebs would seem to indicate that Racquet Master still exists but has just relocated, refocused on ball-smacking sports, and abandoned the bikes and skis.  

Friday, May 7, 2010

Everything Old Skool Is New Skool Again

Yep, The Cycle is still trapped in 1984, tight-rolling our acid-washed jeans, rocking out to Van Halen's aptly-named 1984, and wondering if that Lemond kid might someday pull off a few Tour wins, get shot in a hunting accident, get turned into a brand, and become the Salieri to that brash young upstart Wolfgang Armstrong Mozart.

Jeez, was that an Amadeus reference? I really am stuck in 1984.

Anyway, I have very little snark to aim at today's entry from the premier edition of Cyclist magazine, other than to note that it looks sort of familiar. Judge for yourself:

Press fast forward on your Walkman, and you get this:

Yup, that's a Barbie pink fixed gear alright. Weird... I thought I fast-forwarded the Walkman, but I'm still hearing (danger, noisy link!) this.