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.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Irrational Bike Lust Therapy Session, Part 3,251

I made the horrible mistake of test-riding a Felt Burner last night:

Regular readers already know of my cruiser obsession, matched only by my retro-mountain bike obsession. So when you mash two of those things together into one package and add those comically large 700c knobbies (I refuse to say 29er, so there, marketing flacks), I'm doomed.

Of course, I immediately started justifying one. "The kickback hub and coaster brake would make for a low-maintenance commuter! It's much easier to find good studded snow tires in 700c!"

But let's face it: Justification number one (and at the end of the day, the only one that matters) is that it's just freakin' cool.

Our chief graphic designer/spousal reality checker wasn't helping at all. "If you think you can sell one of your other bikes, you should just get it." Heck, she was almost loading it into the car for me!

I didn't pull the trigger, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about what's in the garage I could cut loose, in my ongoing bicycle catch-and-release program.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Widget Review: The N-Gear Jump Stop

This is one of those reviews I've been meaning to write for a while, but the widget in question does such a good job so unobtrusively, I honestly forgot it was there.

At the end of last season, I started having intermittent chain-drop problems on my Clubman with its 50-34 compact crank. 16 teeth is a tough shift, even with all machining, ramping, pinning and shaping that goes into modern chainrings and front derailleur cages. As a result, I'd sometimes find myself shooting for the 34-tooth chainring and ending up on the zero-tooth bottom bracket, even with my Yoda-like mystical powers of front derailleur adjustment.

I don't even remember why I had a Jump Stop in my parts pile -- which probably says something about my parts hoarding problem. But I dug it out, figured maybe it would help, and slapped it on. I didn't even have the instructions to offer guidance on how to position it and was too lazy to consult the Oracle of Internets. I just took a best guess and started riding.

That was literally -- yes, I literally mean literally -- the last time I threw the chain on that bike. I'm so confident that I'm taunting the Chain Drop Deity. The Jump Stop cost twelve whole bucks shipped to my door, added a pittance of grams to my bike, doesn't even show unless you're looking for it, and makes no noise except the occasional "ping" when an awkward shift hits it, which is just the happy sound of a derailment prevented.

Normally, I'd throw an Amazon link in here and maybe get my beak wet a little (a tiny fraction of twelve bucks at a time), but in this case, if you want one, go straight to the source at the N-Gear website, from whence I borrowed this image of the Jump Stop in action on a shiny blue bike:

I love the N-Gear site almost as much as the Jump Stop itself. Remember the Days of Web Past, with tiled background images, unstyled text, just a handful of pages, and straight-up HTML that looks like something I coded? They live on at N-Gear. (Please note: Unlike my usual default sarcasm mode, I am not making fun. I really do like this stuff. In fact, some of the best bike information on the net comes in the form of some pretty old-school coding by the late, great Sheldon Brown.)

The other great reason to go straight to the N-Gear source is the honesty. The author goes into great depth on the different types of chain guides, and while he's obviously fond of his own design, he readily admits that it might not be the best for all applications. I mean, who puts the question "Is the Jump Stop the best chain guide out there?" on their FAQ page and answers it with, "Depends on what you need"? And, in the days of e-commerce run amok, who sends you their product based on an email or phone call and tells you to send a check if you like it or send it back if you don't?

For that refreshing lack of marketing nonsense and for your nifty widget, I hope you live long and prosper, Jump Stop Guy.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why Electronic Shifting Is Not For Me

Oh boy, Ol' Man Nunemaker has his tinfoil Luddite Beanie on again...

Here's a big ol' quote from Lennard Zinn (an excellent technical writer on things bicycle, in this scribe's rarely-humble opinion) taken from a VeloNews tech piece on adjusting Campy electronic shifting for just the rear derailleur: 

"To adjust an out-of-tune derailleur, simply shift to the big/big gear combination and then hold both mode buttons down for six seconds until the indicator light glows blue on the side of the EPS interface. To adjust the derailleurs once the LED on the EPS interface glows blue, shift to the second-smallest cog and bump the rear shift lever either up or down, depending on which way the jockey wheels need to go to line up under the cog for the chain to run silently. Each bump of the lever in this adjustment mode moves the jockey wheels laterally 0.2mm. Once adjusted correctly, hit the right mode button once to memorize the adjustment. Then shift to the second largest cog (while still on the big chainring). Again, bump the right shifter up or down as needed to center the jockey wheels under the cog and silence the chain. Once adjusted properly, hit the right mode button again. You can fine-tune these adjustments as well, even while riding... hold only the right mode button down for six seconds. The LED on the EPS interface will now glow pink. Bump the right shifter up or down (which moves the rear derailleur in or out 0.2mm with each bump) until the issue is resolved. Then tap the right mode button again to memorize the adjustment."

Got all that? Because you still have a front derailleur to adjust. But if you don't get it right, don't despair -- there's another paragraph devoted to how you can tweak these adjustments out on the road, too!

If you go to the original article linked above (starting at Adjustment), you can see that I've edited out quite a bit just to stay somewhere in the vicinity of fair use (though the hoops I had to jump through just to copy the text made me want to go nuts and quote the whole dang thing -- uncool, VeloNews). And as I said above, Lennard Zinn is really good at his job, a job I would love to have if I thought I were remotely good enough. But when I read about holding buttons and finding Adjustment Mode when certain lights glow and pressing other buttons to make the microprocessor memorize the adjustment when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, my eyes glaze over -- and I'm GOOD at pushing buttons! I push buttons for a (quasi-) living, in addition to carrying around an electronic gidget in my pocket with a lot of glowing lights and buttons just for fun. When I'm riding my bike, though, I want something tactile, something physical, a simple mechanical interface between me and the machine. I don't need an app for that.

Could I describe adjusting a mechanical, indexed rear derailleur in fewer words than Lennard Zinn uses for electronics? Probably not, though I am tempted to try. And when my beloved mechanical indexed derailleurs hit the scene, could some snarky friction-shifting curmudgeon have lobbed the same complaint regarding the incantations and dark magic required to adjust those? Sure. I'm not saying that my arbitrary retro-grouch line in the sand is the retro-grouch line in the sand, or even that it's a defensible one. It's just the one I've drawn for myself.

(I will armchair-psychoanalyze Lennard Zinn for a second, though, in parentheses and a smaller whispery font: Later in the article, he's discussing the fact that Campy puts all the diagnostic/adjustment tools in the on-bike unit rather than relying on separate software, and claims this is in the interest of "simplicity, ease and convenience." When I see those three adjectives piling up on each other like triathletes attempting to ride a paceline, I feel like maybe the author doth protest a bit too much, no?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hoarders: Home Mechanic Edition

Few things in life frustrate me more than a project left unfinished. I lose sleep over a bike left hanging in the stand, half done and unrideable. That's how deep my obsessive-compulsive tendencies go. And while some unfinished projects reach that state for a good reason (a toolboard sadly lacking in a headset cup press, for example), most get stuck on the minutiae, that last 1% between "ready to go" and "albatross".

I suspect this is a common ailment among former shop mechanics. When you have an endless supply of the little things, you don't sweat them at the outset of the project. Never in my shop days did I play the mental chess of, "Ten moves from now, I will need a tandem-length brake cable for a road brake lever." I didn't have to, because I knew several of those cables were in a drawer somewhere. In the hopes of sparing other mechanics the forehead-slapping pain of poor planning (and hopefully reminding myself of some things I lack in the process), here's The Cycle's Home Shop Stockpile Shopping List:

CABLES: Since I already mentioned them, here's an obvious one. In a perfect world, I'd own the big file-box roll of 100, in road brake, mountain brake, and derailleur. A file box of tandem-length cables might be a bit much, so I'd just keep a few of those on hand. Obviously, I'd also want the file-box roll of brake cable housing and another of derailleur cable housing. Nothing makes a recabling job more fun than being able to zip out a length of housing and a fresh, shiny cable when you need it.

FERRULES AND CRIMPS: Having already belabored the point about cable ends, I'll just say get some. And while you're at it, get a bunch of cable housing ferrules. Nothing ruins the joy of that perfect recabling job like reaching the end and being one ferrule short. If you like the little rubber donuts that keep your brake cable from dinging on the top tube, get a bottle of those (I'm meh on them -- some bikes seem to really need them, while others get by just fine with naked cables).

A BIG, HONKIN' PATCH KIT: You were expecting spare tubes, weren't you? Sure, it's good to have those, since a) patching a tube during a ride sucks, and b) some flats just can't be patched. But in the luxury of my own garage, I'll bust out the sandpaper and rubber cement and make some butyl magic. In the shop, we always sold customers a new tube since the labor to patch cost more, which meant a big box of lovely, patchable tubes for the mechanics to take home and patch on their own time. I think I went five years without buying a tube.

CHAINS: If I had a nickel for every time I had to dash to the shop to buy a chain, I'd have enough nickels to nickel-plate a chain. Make sure you have a lot of whatever widget your particular chain uses to affix itself into a loop, whether that's Shimano's annoying little pins or some form of master link. And make sure the width of your widgets matches the width of your chains!

BAR TAPE: If you ride drop bars, sooner or later it will happen. Sure, you think you can unwrap the old tape with enough care to preserve it for a rewrap... and then it tears, and you're riding bare bars until you can get to the shop. In my perfect home shop, I'd have boxes of inexpensive fake cork tape (in black, since it matches everything in the fleet) just waiting on a shelf. If you ride flat bars, just find a bolt-on grip that makes you happy and buy it, cost be damned. It will pay for itself the next time you have to swap a brake lever and wreck your grip trying to get it off.

NUTS AND BOLTS: If you wrench long enough, you'll probably accumulate a decent assortment of fasteners. But without fail, if you need four, you'll have three. Or you'll want two that match for a highly-visible location and you'll have one black and one stainless. Just order a giant assortment of stainless metric hex head bolts from any number of online hardware stores and spare yourself years of hunting around the back of a drawer.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ways that a project can stall, but these are the ones that always bite me in the chamois. And in reviewing my list, I find that the shop here at The Cycle is sadly deficient in most of the items listed... so please take note when you're holiday shopping for your favorite blogger.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Great Moments In Obscure Parts: The Avocet Cross II Tire

Furthering my goal to monetize the crap out of this blog and purchase my own island, here's a review of something you can't buy any more from a company that (as far as I can tell) no longer exists. Savvy marketing plan there, Don Draper.

Long, long ago, there was a component manufacturer named Avocet. They made their name in saddles (among other things) with one of the first modern anatomic (translation: bumpy under your bum) models, the Touring. Avocet also cornered the market on cyclometers for what seemed like an eternity, offering their cute little mile-counters in an astonishing array of 80s colorways (confession: I had one in tennis-ball yellow to match my mountain bike of the same hue).

The Avocet folks really showed their weird genius in tires, though. They made two. When you chose an Avocet tire, the question was "dirt or not?" If the answer was "not", you got the FasGrip: A pure, Telly Savalas-esque slick with nary a hint of tread. If the answer was "dirt", you got the Cross II. (I'm disregarding the Cross, Avocet's first draft, with its chunkier tread and square shoulders, which had a disturbingly binary feel in corners: "I'm not leaning at all... OH SWEET MOTHER OF GAWD, I'M LEANING WAY TOO MUCH!")

Unlike pretty much every other treaded tire that got its grip from protruding features added to the tire, the Cross II got its grip from a zig-zag groove cut into the tire, like it started life as one of those nice, round FasGrips and then got snazzy racing stripes:

The black stuff is (logically enough) black rubber, while the white shows the negative space. When you're on hard asphalt, you're riding on just the center ridge and the shoulders -- pure, smooth, rubber, Telly Savalas-style. Hit the dirt, and all those edges around the grooves come into play, providing bite and traction. Granted, the grooves hummed like mad on pavement (and thus sounded slow), but this was a surprisingly fast tire on the road. The round casing (unlike its Frankenstein-head-shaped Cross ancestor) cornered like Velcro on the street... and in all but the gloppiest mud, those grooves hooked up like something much knobblier without clogging. (Fun fact: Riding a Cross II in fresh snow would shoot powder out the front of your front fender like a tiny snowblower.)

Sadly, the Cross II is no more, long out of production, a tire before its time. If someone found the molds and started popping these out again, I suspect the gravel nerds would be on them like the word "gravel" on dumb bike marketing. However, in one of those strange moments of Internet time-stoppage, the Avocet website (where I found the links and horked the tread image above) still exists, tantalizing me with a glimpse into a time when I had a full head of hair and no aftermarket parts. I think I'll sign up on their Receive Updates page and sit by my dial-up modem, waiting patiently for the AOL voice to say, "You've got mail!"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Meh Is National Bike Month

In case you didn't get the memo, we're currently living in the utopian transportation dream that is National Bike Month. Can't you hear the cacophony of bike bells and "on yer lefts" drowning out that one hapless motorist who must sheepishly abandon his car by the side of the road, unable to move amidst a month-long Critical Mass of human-powered smugness?

Lest my sarcasm-fueled title and introduction prove too subtle, I may be the only cyclist in the world who doesn't soil his chamois over the idea that we're given a whole month all to ourselves, capped off by the smugsplosion that is Bike To Work Week. Here's why: There are groups and causes in this world that deserve -- nay, need -- their own month. Black History Month? Sure. Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Yes. Don't Kick Puppies Month? Not a thing, but if it were, then it would need a month, obviously. But c'mon, folks. We are bicyclists. Our "burden" in life is that we choose to ride small, vulnerable vehicles on roadways inhabited by large, clueless, dangerous ones. Emphasis on choose. African-Americans didn't choose slavery. Breast cancer survivors didn't choose their tumors. Puppies don't choose to be kicked.

Don't get me wrong: Being a cyclist in an American city has its share of inconveniences, annoyances, and hazards. I can't always find a bike rack. People snicker at my funny shorts. And idiots surrounded by one-ton steel Viagra prescription supplements sometimes get hostile with me. Would I love to have those things magically disappear? Sure. But I'd be kidding myself to think that any of them (or all of them taken together, even) rise to the level of "injustice."

Now, the counter to all this curmudgeonism is, "But Jason, it's not about injustice or righting a historical wrong or ending a deadly disease or making sure all puppies go unkicked... it's about celebrating the bicycle!" Okay, fine. But if you really want to celebrate the bicycle, do it in June. Or January. Or on odd-numbered days. Or on days ending in Y. Don't spend a month singing Kum-bike-ya, bike to work for a day, pat yourself on the back, and hang it up until next May. Make it something you do. If enough of us make that choice, then the very idea of a National Bike Month will seem as silly as Breathing Air Month.

That's when I'll celebrate.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The King And I

If you're wondering where I've been hiding out, I spent last week getting all professionally developed in the Twin Cities, locked up in a hotel conference room learning about content strategy, SEO, web analytics... zzzz... huh? What? Where was I? Oh yeah, professional development. You don't think this blogging thing just happens, do you? It takes non-stop continuing education to maintain this level of drivel.

Normal people bring their kids and/or wives presents when they go all Cat's in the Cradle (Harry Chapin? Hello? Anyone? Is this thing on?), but as a) I have no children, b) my wife was with me on the trip, and c) I have never been normal, I bought my bike something pretty instead: 

If you're playing "Where's Waldo?" wondering what's new on the old green steed, it's those shiny stainless steel water bottle cages from King Cage. This falls into the category of "pseudo-placebo-upgrade" as there was absolutely nothing wrong with my existing water bottle cages. Sure, I think it's neat that they're handmade in a garage in Colorado rather than cranked out of a Chinese factory, but on pure function, this was just magpie money, shiny things for the sake of shiny things.

I'm told by those in the know that yes, the King Cage is hella-strong, and it feels light in the hand (though, c'mon, how heavy can a bottle cage be?), and it is admittedly a pretty thing, but -- like so many supposed upgrades we put on our bikes -- I seriously doubt it's going to make one bit of difference in my enjoyment of the ride. If I'm proven wrong, I'll actually review it. Otherwise, I'm standing by my defense of "it's pretty, an actual person made it, and I like it."

One thing that Mike Sinyard (of Specialized, the law firm that imports bikes on the side) could learn from the King Cage, though: Did you know there's also an American bicycle components manufacturer named Chris King? It's true! They started in the 1970s! And then this King Cage thing comes along in the '90s, yet to this day, nobody's been sued over the name! I kid you not! It's like these King guys (Chris or otherwise) have no interest in a lucrative revenue stream just waiting to be tapped!

(Ulterior motive: I'm hoping that relentless mocking of Sinyard and Specialized will get ME threatened with a cease-and-desist, so I can ride the resulting wave of social media goodwill to blogular fame and fortune. That's what a continuing education in content strategy will do for you...)