Friday, December 26, 2008

Planting Seeds

In some of my earliest posts, I wrote a bit about cycling and what it means for me. Physically, it keeps me relatively fit. Mentally, it gives me a hobby and blocks of time to process the junk that builds up in my brain during the rest of my waking hours. Creatively, it gives me the ability to fabricate things, solve problems, and it gives me material to write about. It mobilizes me, and lets me get out and explore the region in a way that a car or motorcycle just can't replicate (they're both too fast, and cars are too insular). And it lets me just play with these simple, elegant and efficient machines.

My introduction to cycling was deliberate but casual. Both of my parents rode a lot when they were kids, but neither has ridden much as an adult, from what I can tell. Still, they provided me with no less than four bikes during my childhood. And because I was so into riding, the fourth was something of an upgrade compared to the bikes anyone else in my family rode.

My first bike was a little red bike that was leftover from probably the 1960's. I think it was a Ross, and I recall it having a faux tank and/or fenders. I've described the metalflake green banana-seat Ross that followed it already, up here. Later that bike would serve as sort of a pseudo-BMX bike for jumping over boulders and the like, in homage to the Evel Kneivel set.

My first multi-speed bike was a Sears Free Spirit juvenile (24" wheels) 10-speed in red, white and blue. I was probably 11 when I got it, and it was on that bike that I first took long rides with my family. We had a loop that Google Maps tells me tonight was four miles exactly. Just as an aside, it's interesting to note that at the time (1978 or so), I'd have had to hop into a car with my dad and drive the loop to figure the distance out, where today, I don't have to leave my desk or even stop what I'm doing to figure it out (and in less time than it'd have taken to find the keys back then)!

The Free Spirit wasn't a great bike, to say the least. It looked good, but it was an absolute tank with no more than the barest scrap of non-ferrous metal on it. It was a classic junior 10-speed department store bike, and I'm sure not anywhere near as nice as the bikes you can find at department stores these days. I don't remember much about riding it, other than a few snapshot memories of those longer rides. Actually, I mostly remember washing and waxing it for sale just after the Raleigh showed up.

The Raleigh was your typical entry level bike shop bike from the tail end of the bike boom. It also wasn't a great bike (I'd never choose one like it today), but it was a good bike for a kid who'd be beating it senseless for the next 5 years. And again, it was a noticeable upgrade from the Free Spirit, and I recognized and appreciated it as such at the time. That said, my friend's Rampar was yet another step up in the component department (until his mother closed the garage door on it and bent the top tube, that is), as was another friend's Peugeot (though that one was sized for a rider of a height neither of us ever approached). In any case, the Raleigh represented a higher level of encouragement/facilitation, but it didn't come with an active role from my parents -- cycling just became how I got around.

But given my own enthusiasm, I've taken a much more active approach. As my own girls move up the ladder of their own bikes, I don't want to simply facilitate their riding, I'd like to foster it -- even participate, if they'll let me. And apart from continuing to ask them to ride with me, I figure the best way to do this is to make sure the bikes they're riding stay interesting, along the way. And I know how to do that; keep the bikes technically interesting and functioning well, and involve them in the process of making the bikes what they are and keeping them that way. That means no department store bikes, and just enough hands-on time that they can't become detached, but also can't get bored or tired of working on them.

Juliana has a junior mountain bike that will almost certainly pass to Ava. It's not a life-changing ride, but it's a healthy step up from my green Ross. And she and I spent time last spring and summer working on a racing bike for her -- the Fuji I mentioned here. Juli's role in the refit was multi-faceted, ranging from color selector to bearing repacker to tool fetcher. She got her hands dirty with old and fresh grease, dropped a bunch of ball bearings into and outside of bearing races, wrenched a few things, threaded cable, and helped select components like the saddle and cable housings.

The specifics of the bike I'll talk more about in my next post. Actually, Juli and I have drafted the post's outline. And I'm going to invite her to participate in the editorial process, and to post a reply. But much more important than the details of the bike is the meaning the project itself took on for both of us. You see, over the course of the summer, Goodale's Bicycles up in Nashua had on sale a Specialized Allez Junior racing bike. It was just adorable, I have to say -- a little red marischino cherry of a bike. I took a picture of the bike with my iPhone, and that night offered it to Juliana in place of her Fuji. And she refused it, saying that she wanted the bike she and I built up together. Which is about as much as a father can ask for.

Because of that experience, Ava won't be getting the Fuji as a hand-me-down like she has with her other bikes (and that includes the tricycle she's with in this picture from 2005, as well as the puppydog Hotrock Juli is cleaning up). Her first road bike will be her own, and we'll spend as much time together as she is willing to give me on a rebuild. It will be her bike, not her sister's.

It may be folly to think that I can steer my daughters' interests, but I'd like dearly for them to pass into adulthood with a healthy respect and enthusiasm for bicycles and bicycling. The seed has been planted, I've done what I know how to do to try to nourish it, and will continue doing so. Ultimately, whether that seed thrives in one or both of my daughters will be their choice. But I'm hoping.

All for now,


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paramount Series 20 Mountain Bike

Just a quick post tonight, with an update about and pictures of my Paramount PDG mountain bike, which I spent some time writing about not long ago.

Three weeks ago, the washing machine here in the apartment blew up. Two weeks ago, I needed to make some space for the dryer (which normally resides on top of the now-dead washer) elsewhere in the apartment, so I had to get the Paramount out of the kitchen. It had been sitting idle since I moved in, in part the victim of a bent fork tip from a bike rack tip-over incident.

I'd picked up a new-old-stock Tange fork (I believe it's a B.O.S.S. model, whatever that is) on eBay, but hadn't gotten around to installing it. I briefly considered a shock fork, but didn't want to alter the geometry of the bike, and make the steering lazier. At any rate, having to find a new spot to park the bike inspired me to just get the fork installation done -- just in time for a blizzard.

As you can see, the new fork is black, possibly powder coated, and you can take my word for it that this one is somewhat beefier than the fork it replaced. The OEM fork had heat treated chromoly (Tange's Prestige tubeset) fork blades and forged tips and it was pretty nice. This one is also made of chromoly tubes, but they are fatter, and it has investment cast tips brazed into the ends of the blades. I don't know what the tubeset on the new fork is, but I'm guessing it's also Prestige. Whatever the tubing, it's stout and light. Sorry for the blurry picture -- the digital focus on the camera I use doesn't know how to handle bicycles for close-ups, it seems.

Installation was simple. I started by taking off the front rack that was on the bike (an inexpensive front cantilever rack). It wasn't adding any value, since I am using a self-supporting and smallish handlebar bag. Then I took off the brakes and took apart the headset to remove the fork. I'd just installed the XTR headset on the old fork last summer, and getting the crown race off proved pretty simple -- it was much harder to get it onto the new fork, but I've gotten pretty good at it, using a technique involving PVC pipes to avoid doing any damage. The last part of the front end replacement was installation of the front brakes. The only complication, there, was that I had to chase the threads in the cantilever studs with a 6mm x 1 tap before they'd take a mounting bolt.

You can also see that I installed a bunch of spacers under the headset nut. I ordered the fork with a longer-than-necessary steerer tube so I could do this. One thing about this bike when I got it is that the reach to the bars was very long. I'm now using some riser bars and a shorter, taller stem, and with the slight bump in steerer tube length, I can get the bars still higher if need be. An upright position may not be ideal for climbing steep trails, but it's far better on your back and wrists for most terrain.

In the spirit of making the bike a mountain bike again, I also took off the rear rack I've had on it since I first did the build for commuter duty. I'll keep it around, just in case, but if I do put a rack back on this bike, I may look for something nicer. At a minimum, I'll go with stainless hardware to replace the now-rusty chrome bits. I left the trailer bike hitch on there just in case I need it. And I also left the tires alone for now, but may switch to knobbies if I find myself back in the woods a lot.

Finally, I saddle soaped the old Brooks Professional again. This is a very old brown saddle that was not heavily used, but not well cared for, either. I used it on the Kestrel for training roller duty last winter, and on the Paramount last season, where it saw probably no more than 200 miles of use. It's possibly the least comfortable saddle I've ever used, so I've been softening it up with saddle soap and neatsfoot oil the past few months. If this approach doesn't work, I'll put it on the TV as a piece of sculpture and buy a different saddle.

So, just a little light work on the bike for now. Mostly I just wanted to share what the bike looks like, since I've started adding pictures more . It's really just an old mountain bike in its current state, but it introduced me to a whole new genre of riding, and never left me stranded in the woods.

I'd like to get the bike repainted. It's a mismatch today, of course, and the paintwork was never perfect (not that perfect paint much matters on a mountain bike -- it's bound to get trashed anyway). But more importantly, it's a pretty dated-looking pearlescent pearl white. Very 1993. Richard Schwinn responded to me in an email this fall that it'd cost me maybe $400 for a repaint with correct decals, and I'm thinking about it. The old Schwinn baby blue with white decals would be nice. Maybe someday.

All for now,


Friday, December 19, 2008

Trek Trailer Bike Upgrades

It's pretty hard for me to leave well enough alone when it comes to bicycles. Well... lots of things, I suppose. But bikes in particular.

When it was time for me to try introducing riding to my older daughter Juliana, I bought her a Specialized Hotrock kids' bicycle. It's a little single-speed bike in the BMX vein, except that it's got 16" rims, and is painted purple with puppydogs, rather than chrome with skulls or whatever. But the whole training wheel thing was pretty frustrating. Our driveway looks like something out of Eastern Europe, circa 1983, and Juli kept tipping over and scraping herself up. And a driveway isn't much of a ride anyway, and it's not like I'd let her out on the road on that little thing. It wasn't going to be enough to satisfy my urge to really introduce her to riding.

So I also picked up a 20" Trek Mountain Train trailer bike at the same shop the Hotrock came from (and the Kestrel, for that matter). The Trek started out as a pretty basic bike, but didn't stay that way very long (you may be noticing a theme, here). When it arrived, it had all the stuff a kids' bike normally has: A single-piece (Ashtabula) crank, a gritty rear hub, a bottom-of-the-barrel Shimano rear derailleur, a cheap chain, a low-end Grip Shift 6-speed shifter, a no-name mountain bike rear tire, plastic pedals -- you know the stuff I'm talking about; the stuff of department store bikes. Also, most everything on the bike was made of steel, which is stronger than alumimum, but of course heavier.

For the first season, I pretty much just left the bike as it came. Juli and I started doing some 7-mile rides, and eventually got up to some longer distances around the surrounding towns, using the Paramount to tow her around. She was wiggly, which could be scary at times, but I could feel her working back there. Overall she seemed to enjoy riding and to genuinely appreciate the dedicated time with me out on the bike. So naturally for her second season on the trailer bike, I decided to make a few changes, to further the quality of the experience, and allow us to tackle longer distances more efficiently.

The goals were simple: Make the bike better, make it more like a road bike, and try to make it a little lighter. On each of these fronts there was a lot room for improvement.

The list of targeted upgrades pretty much mirrors the list a few paragraphs back. A lighter crank, decent pedals, a lighter seatpost, a lighter stem, drop handlebars, a brake and brake levers, a better derailleur, a better chain, a new saddle, a repacked hub and a roadworthy tire all made the initial list. And as the project progressed, a few other bits were added.

The seatpost is 25.4mm, and I was able to find an aluminum replacement in short order. At first, I just left the tiny, original plastic-covered seat on the bike, but later I replaced it with a Brooks B-17S womens' saddle. I was worried the Brooks might be too wide for Juli's bum, but in the second season she had started complaining about the original saddle, so I figured it was worth a shot. No complaints since the Brooks went on, so it was apparently a good decision. Note that the original saddle and seatpost are back on the bike now that my younger daughter is using it.

The BMX-style handlebars came off, along with the needlessly complex and heavy multi-adjustable stem that came with the bike. A lighter, simpler adjustable stem went on in its place, along with a set of used ITM drop bars I picked out of a used bars box at Belmont Wheel Works. I also picked up a set of Tektro compact brake levers. These are virtually identical to the Cane Creek units on my wife's Bianchi (compact, contoured, quick release and wide bodies), but the hoods are a little different and they were about a third cheaper.

I tried to keep the original shifter, but discovered there was no good way to mount one to a road bar (I tried several things). So I mounted it to a sawed-off mountain bike bar-end, bolted to the handlebar stem. But it was pretty stiff, so for the next season, I replaced it with a bar-end shifter that I cobbled together from a set of Ultegra bar end shifters and Ultegra down-tube shifters.

The shifter is an experiment that didn't work the way I hoped, but is at least functional. It turns out, though, that Shimano bar end shifter mounts don't work all that well supporting Shimano downtube shifters. At some point I'll pick up a set of better shifters for the Schwinn, move one of the Suntour bar-end shifters from that bike over onto the girls' Trek, put the Ultegra bar-end units back together and unload them on eBay.

There really isn't any place a water bottle cage would fit on this bike's frame, so I put a handlebar mount on, and bolted on an old black cage I had in my parts box. I think it had originally been on the Paramount early on. Plus, every kid needs a bell -- in this case, a purple rotating model bolted to the handlebar stem. The black plug in the left bar end is actually a flashing LED light. They came in pairs, but since the Trek has a bar end shifter, its mate is in the same spot on my wife's Bianchi. The left bar end is the part of the bike closest to the centerline of the road, so both lights are easily seen by drivers approaching from the rear.

One thing I wanted to make sure the girls appreciated about road riding is the need to maintain control over one's speed. For that you need brakes, so I added a brake to the Trek. I had in my parts box a pair of short reach Dia-Compe centerpulls, and wanted to use one of them on this project. Unfortunately, I found that the Trek's frame had a seatstay bridge way too far from the rim to locate a brake properly. So I thought about it and settled on making a bolt-on brake mount. I bought some wide aluminum bar stock at Home Depot, cut a matching pair of trapezoidal shapes, drilled them in two spots, and sandwiched them around the seatstays, bolting them through the brake bridge to hold them in place. Then I bolted the rear brake through the adapter, with a bunch of washers filling the space between the plates to offer some additional support. The brake cable didn't have a frame-mounted stop, so I hung one from the seatpost clamp bolt, and I also added one of the inline cable adjusters I've mentioned before, since there were no provisions for adjustment on this bike, either.

It all worked like a charm, but even with the adapter, the pad reach was a stretch. So this year when I took the long-reach Dia-Compes off the Schwinn, I put one of them onto the trailer bike to give me a bit more leeway for adjusting the pads. You can see all this in the photo below. Important safety note: If this was more than a training/auxiliary brake, there's no way I'd use this configuration!

The drivetrain represented most of the work of the upgrades. The rear derailleur was simple, though. With no front derailleur and only six speeds, a short-cage rear derailleur would be fine, and I had a spare Ultegra derailleur kicking around -- a very nice upgrade indeed! Since the rear dropout didn't have a derailleur hanger on it (the original derailleur had a claw-type hanger), I bought a claw-type adapter and bolted it onto the dropout. The rear wheel is a bolt-on unit, so it holds the derailleur securely with this asymmetrical setup (something I've had trouble with where a quick-release wheel is used).

"But wait!" you say. "There's a front derailleur right there on the seat tube!" Fair enough. But there's only one chainring and the front derailleur isn't connected to a shifter. You see, the chain kept falling off the chainring on early rides, and I had to do something about it. I tried putting on the rock ring you see on the crankset, but that didn't help at all (it does serve to keep socks and pants cleaner, though). So ultimately I just bolted on a front derailleur and it just sits there, keeping the chain where it belongs. It's a Campagnolo unit, bought originally for my Allegro project. But it was pretty cheaply made and I didn't end up using it. I thought about trying a track chainring (which is wider and not designed to shed a chain), but I had the derailleur, and didn't have a track chainring. IMO, it's not really worth putting the derailleur to work by adding another front chainring and a shifter, but that's always a possibility.

The rear wheel was taken off the bike, the freewheel removed and cleaned, and the hub disassembled. There was virtually no grease in the hub, and what was there was mostly dried out and living in the dust caps, not the races. The bearing races were oxidized from the lack of grease, and felt a little rough to the touch, so I used some Simichrome to polish them up a bit. When they were more or less shiny, I repacked the bearings with plenty of Pedro's synthetic grease and some grade 25 balls. The OEM freewheel was a basic Shimano 6-speed unit and honestly it seemed more than adequate for the task. It even has hyperglide-ramped cogs and shifts quite well. The chain is a nice SRAM unit, and the rear tire is a balloon Michelin road tire, installed after I found a Continental recumbent tire didn't fit properly (the rim is probably too wide).

The crank represented the biggest opportunity for weight savings, and took the most investigation. I went over to Landry's Cycling and Fitness in Natick and asked about options for replacing a single-piece crank with something lighter. As it turns out, forged 1-piece cranks are made for strength and abuse, and though there are trick models available, there aren't any one-piece replacements that would be any lighter. But they did point me at an MRP adapter kit that would let me fit a 3-piece crankset to the bike.

I ordered one, and it's a pretty cool idea. These are simple things -- essentially a pair of billet aluminum plates that fit into either side of the Ashtabula shell, and are clamped together with three bolts that hold them in place. Any sort of English-threaded bottom bracket screws right in. I'm using an inexpensive BulletProof 150mm crankset and Shimano cartridge bottom bracket. The adapter seems to be holding up well, and staying tight -- at least under the torque output of a 7 year old.

For pedals, I am currently using a set of MKS Sneaker pedals from Rivendell, though I had been using a set of MKS track pedals. I made the change because the track pedals are single-sided and Ava seemed to struggle with the concept 0f using a single side of the pedal just yet. By the way, if you ever buy MKS pedals, it appears they don't come packed with much in the way of grease. I've found it's worth taking the dust caps off, squirting in a bunch of grease and buttoning them back up before using them.

After a rough start (I literally rode the rig out from under her, and she plopped onto her bum in the driveway) Juli and I got into the habit of taking 21 mile rides on this combination. It'll probably be yet another season before Ava is ready for the same, but my hope is that she'll get into riding as much as Juli has. Ava has been a little less comfortable on the puppydog Hotrock than her sister was at the same age, but seems to revel in fast descents on the trailer bike. It will be interesting to see how her appetite for cycling develops, and how her confidence improves.

As for Juli, she and I spent time rebuilding a 24" Fuji racing bike last summer, and my guess is she'll be big enough for it in the spring. In the mean time, she's joined Ava and me on her 12 speed mountain bike this past year, for 7 and 8 mile rides. And with luck, the Fuji will allow her to join us for much longer rides next summer. That bike will be the subject of a future post -- perhaps my next. By the way, all of these photos were shot this morning in the driveway of my house -- yes, in the middle of a snowstorm. Pretty, if a little gray.

One other outcome of my trailer bike experience is that it's seeded a desire to pick up a tandem at some point. I don't have space for one at my apartment, so it'll probably be some time before a tandem makes sense. In due time.

All for now,


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bianchi 650B Conversion

Generally speaking, one of three things happens to your hobbies and passions when you enter a long-term relationship with someone: first, you move away from them because of time or a lack of tolerance for them from your partner. Or second, you continue to enjoy them while your partner tolerates them (or not). Or finally, you share them with your partner and they become to one extent or another, a joint activity. For me, cycling fortunately fell into the last of these categories.

When the woman who'd eventually become my wife and I started dating, I already had the Kestrel and the Paramount, and was well into a rekindled relationship with cycling. The Shogun had been sent off to my parents' house, both as a practical matter, and also because my father had wanted to start riding, which he never really did. In any case, during our second Spring of dating (1995), she decided she wanted to start riding, probably at my encouragement.

As with many beginners entering a sport, my then-girlfriend wanted decent equipment, but didn't want to spend a ton of money. We eventually found a Bianchi Europa at the International Bicycle Center in Boston. The Bianchi was new, but a leftover from the prior season. It had a 47cm frame, a stem with a bit of rise and a short reach, a lugged steel frame from Taiwan, and a mix of Shimano components from the Exage and 400EX groupsets -- not a department store bike, but not much to write home about. And of course, it was celeste green.

Within 18 months of her buying it, I'd upgraded most of the components, and the cheapo Bianchi became a 24-speed mid-range bike with 105SC components in most cases, and an expensive Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. So configured, the bike campaigned in one Great Mass Getaway MS-150 benefit ride, and logged a bunch of miles of recreational riding. But it was eventually parked for a number of years, the result of a potent and self-sustaining combination of a lack of time, interest and comfort plus a bit of anxiety.

The anxiety was the most obvious thing, though. Every time my wife got onto the bike, there were several minutes of acclimation to her Speedplay clipless pedals, sometimes accompanied by some tipping over, which wasn't fun for her or fun to watch. It was really this obvious lack of confidence with the bike that got me thinking about what I could do to make it more approachable for her.

The obvious thing would have been to swap the pedals out, I suppose. That alone would have made riding much less intimidating for my wife. But at the time I hadn't regained an appreciation for pedaling free of restraints, and in my view toe clips are more dangerous/difficult than clipless pedals.

I also had a desire to try a 650B conversion. This was about the same time the cycling community was all abuzz with 650B conversions of 700C road bikes (which is still going on, but which is now consuming MTBs, as well). I had stumbled across number of articles on the BikeMan site that talked about the merits of 650B wheels and tires -- more air in wider tires means a more plush ride, a slightly smaller radius to the wheel and tire puts the rider (and bottom bracket) slightly closer to the road, and the reduced radius also offsets the added weight at the tires, retaining a spritely feel. And in my mind I'd connected my wife's needs and challenges with these attributes and benefits, and effectively settled on this as a solution to help make riding more fun for her. And of course as a potentially fun project for myself.

I guess the other interesting thing about all of the work I've done on the Bianchi over the years is that I wasn't modifying a bike I also rode myself, and I had to figure out what to do to it through observation and interrogation, rather than experience and feel. It's something I'll have to do with my daughters' bikes as well, and have started, I suppose, with my older daughter's Fuji and the trailer bike now used by my younger daughter. But even in that context, this was a unique project because I had specific objectives -- identify and solve problems keeping my wife off the bike.

So I plunged into the 650B part of the project and started gathering parts. Velo-Orange had a set of Rigida 650B rims and Grand Bois Cypres tires. eBay produced a set of Campagnolo Record hubs threaded for a freewheel and spaced at 126mm. And Belmont Wheel Works laced the wheels and supplied the Tektro long-reach brake calipers, 650B tubes and a Shimano 7-speed freewheel with Hyperglide cogs. A great start, but I'd ultimately need a lot more.

The build started out very easily. I pulled the 8-speed wheelset and shifters off the Bianchi and installed them on the Kestrel one day. Then I put the Kestrel's 7-speed shifters and the 65oB wheelset onto the Bianchi, followed by the Tektro brake calipers. I took the opportunity to swap all of the cables and housings in the process, since it was all very old stuff by then, and wrapped the bars in new tape. Clearance on the rear tire was fine, but the front tire clearance up at the crown of the Kestrel fork appeared very tight -- no rub at first glance, but very tight. Eager to try it out, I straddled the bike and had a seat and gave the right pedal a downward shove.

Rub... rub... rub. I heard the sound of complication as I headed down the driveway. It wasn't much, but it was there. Knowing full well what I'd find, I stopped the bike, lifted the front tire off the ground, and gave it a spin. Rub... rub... rub. I watched the front wheel and tire closely, both for proximity to the brakes and proximity to the fork. The wheel was true enough, but the handmade tire was not quite symmetrical, and the very tight clearance at the fork crown was too tight at one spot on the tire. I tried fooling with the tire, but there really wasn't any getting past the fact that the fork was designed for perhaps 25mm racing tires, not 32mm touring tires. There was also no getting past the fact that a rubbing tire is a very unhealthy thing for a carbon fiber fork!

But the complication didn't stop there. I learned a couple of other things in my brief ride down the driveway. First, the saddle was very uncomfortable. I'm not sure what kind of bum it was made for, but it was simply awful underneath mine. And second, I noticed that the brake levers were both stiff and had a long reach. They felt a little longer in reach than the 105 levers on my Kestrel, and struck me as not at all well-suited to small hands.

So now I had three things to fix: A miserable saddle, the wrong fork and lousy brake levers that were too large.

The fork was easy, but took a couple of steps to lock down. First, I put the original Bianchi unicrown fork back on (along with the steel headset), and started to look for a chrome fork with a traditional crown. After a few weeks, I found one with Columbus blades and a nice square crown to it. It came off a large-framed bike, so it had the added bonus of having lots of excess steerer tube. I cut it an inch or so longer than it needed to be, had it threaded and installed it with some spacers to raise the handlebar position up and back a bit. My wife's back hasn't been the same since she had the girls, so this was to help her with that, a bit. I also took advantage of the opportunity to pick up a brass bell from Velo-Orange, along with one of their neat headset spacer mounts.

For the saddle, I found a lightly used Brooks Professional S in honey tan, and mounted it to a NOS Campagnolo two-bolt seatpost, both sourced from eBay. The auction for the saddle closed on the cheap side, and as if that wasn't cool enough, it also came with a Brooks care kit. Also, the posting claimed the saddle had been a prop in an indy film. It's cool if it's true, but it looks good either way. My wife claims the saddle is significantly more comfortable and supportive than the Rolls, which is good. If I were to do it again, though, I'd probably get her a B-17S, as it has a little more flex and give than the Professional S.

The seatpost is gorgeous. It came from an eBay seller in Italy, and I'm keeping my eyes open for another for my Schwinn. Might be a little short for the Schwinn, though.

The saddle actually went on before the chrome fork, and what's interesting is that I had to adjust it after changing the fork out. It's noticeably shorter than the Bianchi fork, and the change in height steepened both the seat and head tubes and also made the saddle angle downward a bit. The good news is that none of these changes appears to have screwed up the bike's handling.

For the brake levers, I found some Cane Creek levers on one website or another. They're compact, look great, have contoured finger surfaces and even have built-in quick releases to augment those already on the brakes. They also have a lot less friction to them than the old Shimano units did. The only thing I don't like is that they seem to have very wide pivot bodies. They feel fine, but they look very bulky. I also picked up some honey tan Brooks leather handlebar tape while I was at it, and wrapped it over a strip of padded tape to give them a bit more cush. My wife purports to love the look of the Brooks tape, the feel of the padding underneath, and the reach and shape of the levers. So far, so good.

In trying to put my wife's seat wedge bag back on the bike, I snapped one of the hooks off. So rather than use it, I bought the tan bag pictured. It's also from Velo-Orange. With her short little stem, I didn't like how it hung from the handlebars, and I didn't think my wife would appreciate additional twine loops around the brake lever bodies and running to the side D-rings for added support (they'd tangle her thumbs, and remember, this build was all about increasing her comfort level with the bike). So I hung it off the saddle loops instead, and used a Viva bag support to hold it off the rear tire and take the strain off the fabric at the dowel ends. It can easily accommodate her phone, keys, a snack and a windbreaker. Finally, I added a new computer that also provides cadence.

The results are pictured here. I think it's a very pretty bike, now, and for each of the past two summers the bike has seen more use than it had the previous 8 combined (which is really what the rebuild has been about). I think this winter I'm going to put a set of nice road pedals and half toe-clips on it, to see if that helps increase her comfort level even further. I suspect it will, though she insists the Speedplays aren't a problem for her any more.

And I think with that, I'll be done. The Bianchi has been many things. It has been an entry-level bike introducing my wife to cycling, an upgraded road bike with two states of build with slicker, higher-end components, and now it's a 650B all-rounder. And though I'm not the owner of this one (just the caretaker), it's been as lovingly cared for as any of my own bikes, and I hope that'll continue, even as our relationship continues to change.

The 650B conversion is probably the Bianchi's final state of being, and it appears to be serving my wife very well. In her case, I think the wheel swap probably did help make the bike more comfortable and approachable. But if you haven't converted a bike to 650B before, I'd suggest starting out by thinking about the goals of the project and making sure your bases are covered. In my case, the goal was comfort and usability. The wheelset helped, sure. But so did the saddle, handlebar position and the compact brake levers, and I think a pedal swap will seal the deal. In this case at least, it was the full experience that made the difference.

All for now,


Friday, December 5, 2008

Schwinn Sports Tourer Build: Brakes

When I bought the Allegro, one of the first things I did was to also secure a set of brakes. I wanted something classic and inline with the bike's heritage. So for a Swiss bike, I went with a set of Swiss Weinmann brakes, you're thinking, right? Well, no. Actually, I went with a set of French Mafacs.

I hadn't ever had or used a set of these classic brakes, but as I researched the build last year, I stumbled onto a bunch of posts (here's one) on the Velo Orange blog and other places that spoke favorably of Mafac centerpulls equipped with modern pads. So when I saw an inexpensive set of the later Spidel Mafacs (which were nicely finished), less straddle wires, I bought them -- without realizing how difficult it would be to find those missing, critical bits. I actually never found any evidence that any of these straddle wires still exist, and I looked until well after the Allegro was gone and the Schwinn was being built up. These days I might have tried to cobble my own straddle wires together using brass tubing, solder and some brake cables, but not a year ago. And now that I've written that down, I'm not sure how much I'd trust that approach, anyway, especially with one of my girls in tow!

With no wires to actuate them, the time came when I needed to cut bait on the Spidels, and find an alternative set of brake calipers, and as I looked, I discovered that Dia-Compe was making long-reach brakes again. They're essentially the same as the Dia-Compes and Weinmanns I'd had on the Raleigh at various times as a teenager -- classic aluminum centerpulls, but with a much nicer level of fit and finish than those ever had, and stainless allen-head pivot bolts instead of chromed hex bolts. They're basic, but pretty, and struck a nice compromise between modernity and a style appropriate to the bike.

I have to say I had my doubts about these brakes, though. I didn't recall this design to be all that effective when I was a teenager, and remembered them being a royal pain to adjust, as well. If you grew up with these brakes as I did, you may have many of the same memories I do. But the doubts tugging at me were mainly related to performance. I've said up here before how much better the brakes on the Shogun were by comparison to the Raleigh. But I'd also read a couple of posts online about how to set up these brakes, about how strong they were, and how the evolution in cable technology over the last 25 years and modern brake levers all made them perfectly viable and effective brakes these days. So I happily bolted my new set on and looked forward to trying them out.

The Dia-Compes came with a set of basic-looking gray brake pads that didn't have the construction or look of a high end pad. So when I discovered on my first ride that the brakes flat sucked, I first blamed the pads. Off those came within a week or two, and on went a nice set of V-brake cartridge-type pads from Yokuzuna. These appeared to have much more promise than the Dia-Compe pads, if for no other reason than the aluminum pad carriers and the huge surface area of the pads. But in truth, the braking performance was still unimpressive, lacking both power and feel. They weren't dangerous, but there was also little risk of locking even the rear wheel under full braking, and eventually that lack of power just wore on me. Perhaps I didn't adjust the cables properly, or use the right kind of levers, or set up the pads properly or any number of things -- don't know. Regardless, they weren't satisfying and had to come off.

I'd since sold the Spidels, but in August I stumbled onto a set of NOS Mafac Racers on eBay and picked them up. They're not perfect, by any means. They squeal and skronk a little, they flex a lot under braking, they don't have provisions for rapid cable adjustment, the rear brake is at its very limit of pad adjustment (and could use a little more, honestly) and they're not much to look at in the finish department (much worse than the later Spidels, actually). But for all of their apparent crudeness, I have to say their performance is just terrific! I'm running them with a Kool-Stop Eagle Claw cantilever pad, in the Salmon compound, and they both modulate nicely and bite like crazy. The Dia-Compes are more nicely made and finished, and they even seem to flex less. But the Mafacs have a clear performance advantage, and that was obvious from the first short test ride.

To complete my braking package, I have a Mafac front cable hanger with a built-in quick release cable stop (in addition to the quick-release end on the straddle wires), an aluminum rear cable hanger that hangs off the seatpost binder bolt, blue Jagwire lined cable housings with stainless steel cables, and a set of Shimano 105SC brake levers I had bought new years ago to use on the Paramount for its commuter build. The cable housings don't quite fit in the cable stops on the frame, but that just means the outer jacket has deformed a bit with use -- no big deal. And because the brakes have no facility for cable adjustment, I added a pair of inline cable adjusters. You can sort of see a lot of this stuff in this blurry photo.

I first had a need for an inline cable adjuster back in the mid-1990's for building up the Paramount as a commuter rig. Like most mountain bikes, the Paramount has no cable adjustment for the rear cantilever brakes, apart from whatever the lever provides (the front has a barrel adjuster on the headset-mounted cable stop). Switching from mountain levers to road levers eliminated all of the rear adjustment, and I wanted an alternative to relocating the straddle hanger as the cable stretched. I tried to find an inline cable adjuster made for bicycles, and while my local bike shops could imagine them, they didn't have any and didn't know where to get them. This was back before the proliferation of Web sources made finding stuff easy (and who knows if they existed then), so I made one myself, with some success. I used a couple of barrel adjusters threaded into the ends of an inch-long hard nylon spacer I picked up at a hardware store.

It worked, and I could adjust the brakes with a little effort, but the nylon tube flexed and I could feel that as sponginess through the brake lever that wasn't there before I installed the adjuster. Still, adjusting the brakes was a good thing, and the brakes stopped the bike well enough, so I kept the adjuster on the bike for years. Maybe a decade after I made it, I found some mass-produced models in a Nashbar catalog, bought a pair and swapped one onto the Paramount. They're aluminum and steel, don't flex, and are of a much better design than mine was -- I can adjust the brakes one-handed while riding if need be. A second pair of the same parts now grace the Schwinn, as well.

Last thing: I bought a little front rack for the Mafacs. Actually, if truth be told, I bought two. The first is one of the cute little curvy Mafac racks from the blog post linked above. It's sitting in a parts box, waiting for the day I have another Mafac-equipped bike. It's tiny! Smaller than my hand, really. The one I'm using is similar in concept, but has a larger, squarer platform for carrying a bag. Both of these mount right to the Mafac brakes (but not the Dia-Compes -- I tried). They bolt to the mounting bolt and the two pivot bolts and make a nice little bag support. I don't know if my bigger one is any stronger than the Mafac rack, and neither looks suitable for a heavy load. But with its bigger platform, the square one is pretty good at steadying the bag I have on the Schwinn. That bag, by the way, is supported by two loops of twine around the brake levers (under the hoods), and is lashed to the loop on the rack with a little velcro strap originally intended to hold skis together (removed for this picture), and finally a strap around the head tube. The combo is plenty to hold it in place.

I'm keeping my eyes open for a set of Mafac RAID brakes, which have more rear pad reach. Today I have the rear brake pads at a slightly greater than perpendicular angle to the calipers, to compensate for needing just a bit more reach, which is apparent in the picture at the top of this post. RAIDs have longer arms and may flex more, but I'll feel better about being able to set them up properly (and I'll have another set of mixed-length Mafac brakes and a racklet with which to build up another bike).
When I fix the rear calipers, that'll be about it for brakes. It took a bit of trial and error to get everything working satisfactorily, but I have a bike that I'm comfortable stopping with either a child riding a trailer bike or with a full load. That they're funny-looking old French brakes just adds to the appeal, really. And in truth, all of the challenges the build posed have just made this project all the more fun.

I suppose that's about it for blog postings about the Schwinn for now. I have plenty of other bike stories to share, though. I've been keeping my eyes open for a Paramount, too. There are plenty out there, but they're not cheap. My thinking is that if I find a suitable Paramount, that might make a good light touring bike, and the Sports Tourer could perhaps migrate to more of a City Bike style of build. Not a short-term activity thouugh. I live in the suburbs and don't really need a City Bike. And with the economy seemingly in free-fall, I'm not eager to spend the money right now.

All for now,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Schwinn Sports Tourer Build: Drivetrain

When I moved from my battered old Raleigh to the shiny new Shogun, and then from the Shogun to the Kestrel, each step represented a leap forward in the quality of shifting. The Shogun was my first taste of reliable indexed shifting. And with the improvements in the derailleurs, shifters and rear cassette design that came with the Kestrel, shifting became rapid, skip-less and effortless.

In building up my Schwinn, I really had no interest in moving back to the dark ages of shifting. I wanted the drivetrain to perform like a bike from 1992, not 1972. Even in 2008, that's a pretty good thing (and actually it makes me think that I should go ride a current road bike to see what the state of shifting is like today). So what did I do? Well, I bought a bunch of 1990's Shimano drivetrain bits and put them together on the Schwinn. And I learned a lot in the process.

I've listed most of the bits before -- 105SC hubs, crankset and front derailleur, 700CX rear derailleur (long cage), 7-speed shimano cassette, SRAM chain, and I actually started out with Ultegra 8-speed bar-end shifters. During the initial drivetrain installation, the only thing that stymied me was that the seat tube was a little too large for the clamp-on Ultegra front derailleur I'd bought for the bike. I could almost get it around the tube, but tightening the bolt was going to either remove some paint paint, or more likely crimp the tube or snap the derailleur's clamp, none of which was on my list of goals.

So instead, I bought a slightly oversized clamp-on derailleur mount to adapt a braze-on front derailleur to the bike. I had the Kestrel's original front derailleur in my parts box, so that made making that shift easy. And three strips of aluminum flashing shimmed the clamp so it gripped the seat tube tightly enough. In truth I first shimmed it with two strips of thicker copper flashing. But the clamp is aluminum, and I eventually remembered that you're not supposed to have aluminum and copper touching, or they'll corrode. Not a big deal to swap out, though.

The maiden ride on the bike was with all those pieces in place, and the picture from a few posts back (of the bike in front of the rhododendron) was in that state of build. The only problem is that this configuration didn't work very well, and not only in the drivetrain department.

I'll get to some of the other issues later, but there were two main drivetrain problems. First, I couldn't get the 8-speed indexing to work right with the 7-speed rear cluster. I'd read (I think on Sheldon's site) that the two were pretty close, and that you could usually just set the adjustments up so that the last click was wasted and everything would work OK. Not so, in my case. I was never able to eliminate all the chatter that signals a misadjusted derailleur cable, and I'm very sensitive to annoying misadjusted derailleur cable clicking. For a while I turned off indexing on the shifters, and that of course let me trim the derailleur properly. And since I was living un-indexed, I eventually swapped them out to try out retrofriction units. What I've found since, is that I actually like non-indexed shifting just fine -- it's the smoothness of the gear change that's most important to me. And one of these days I'll try the retrofriction bar end shifters available from either Rivendell or Velo-Orange -- the Suntours are a little stiff.

The second problem was more vexing, and it's not often you get to use the word "vexing", is it? Anyway, the second problem was that the derailleur wasn't maintaining correct spacing, relative to the cogs. Remember that the function of a rear derailleur is to engage the chain with a specific sprocket of the rider's choosing. And the guide pulley has to sit in the right place, relative to the engaged sprocket, for the derailleur to do its job well. So this is pretty important stuff. On the Schwinn, the guide pulley was basically riding right on the cog, especially the largest one. It shifted OK, but it was noisy and struck me as a recipe for premature pulley wear.

I'd never had to use one, but I knew that derailleurs have an adjustment screw to properly position the guide pulley, relative to the sprockets. So the first thing I tried was to adjust the derailleur positioning screw. It didn't seem to help much, so I went out and bought a longer screw. Still no help. So I flipped the bike over and watched what happened with the screw when I adjusted it, and I found that the screw was angled such that it just overshot the little flat spot on the dropout it was supposed to engage with. The screw was doing absolutely no good at all. I tried a couple of things, including taking the screw out and threading it into its hole from the front, hoping the head would hit the right spot on the dropout, but that didn't work either.

I went online and eventually discovered that the Huret dropouts on the Schwinn were not consistent with the modern standard for locating the derailleur adjustment flat. I may have interpreted things incorrectly, but I think it basically said Campagnolo's standard for dropout shape ultimately prevailed, and everyone uses that spec today, including Shimano. On the Huret, that flat is maybe 30 degrees further forward, relative to the derailleur pivot bolt, which was far enough to render the adjustment screw useless.

One site I found showed some adapters that used to be available so that Campagnolo derailleurs could be used with Huret dropouts. Ah-ha! I shut the laptop and let my brain chew on the notion of an adapter for a bit. I ruled out trying to braze a wedge of metal to the flat to pull it rearward where it was needed, if only because I don't have any brazing equipment and don't know how to braze. I also ruled out trying to find an appropriate Huret derailleur, because I wanted the modern shifting quality of current Shimano bits. The adapter idea seemed to be the best option. I sketched out a couple of things involving fender washers, but was concerned about being able to cut and bend one with any accuracy -- they tend to be kind of thick, and mild steel also tends to rust.

Then a picture of the pile of screws and washers I have out in the barn popped into my mind, focused on a funny-looking plumbing washer I had. It was kind of like a fender washer, except in very thin, chromed brass and with two flat sides. Kind of shaped like a capital "O" in an old monospaced typeface or something. I walked out to the barn, grabbed the washer right off the pile where I'd pictured it, grabbed my tin snips and a small pair of pliers and started cutting and bending. No more than 5 minutes later I was looking at the thing in the picture, less the ragged center hole, which I hadn't yet drilled out.

Adapter in hand, I went back out to the barn, took off the rear derailleur and tried to fit it over the derailleur mounting bolt. The hole was a little too small to go over the bolt, so it was enlarged on my drill press (it got out of my vise in the process, which is why it looks so terrible in the picture). Ragged or not, this time it fit on the derailleur, and when I bolted the derailleur down, everything pretty much lined up. I had to tweak the folded tabs a bit to be more radial to the hole, but it fit perfectly otherwise. While I had it off, I took the picture, then cleaned up the snipped edges with a file, and it went back on the bike where it sits today, undisturbed and working invisibly to properly position the derailleur.

Now the cool thing for me is that I did all of this freehand. No measuring, no planning beyond a sketch, all freehand cutting and bending, and only the slightest bit of fitting during installation. I didn't even take the derailleur off the dropout to eyeball everything before I made the part -- I just grabbed the washer and started cutting and bending. Not bad, eh?

The only other thing I've really fooled with on the bike are pedals. I did the original build with Look road pedals. But as soon as I remembered how wiggly my daughter was on the trailer bike (especially this big, dramatic one -- you'll notice the look of suffering on her face in such an idyllic location), it occurred to me that trying to hold us up at a stoplight with only a hard plastic triangular contact patch on the pavement probably wouldn't have been the smartest thing to do. So I swapped those for some Look mountain bike pedals I have, which use SPD-compatible shoes with normal rubber soles. Those worked pretty well, and gave me plenty of grip. But the shoes always make my toes fall asleep in short order, and that didn't seem like a lot of fun for longer rides that were part of my mission for this bike.

Then at some point I read Grant Peterson's post about cycling shoes, and just loved the utter contrariness of it all. I just couldn't resist changing things up a bit to see what Grant was talking about. I bought a pair of Rivendell's Grip King pedals, and gave them a try with a stiff-ish pair of Teva's I had kicking around. The jury is still out for me on the whole unclipped pedaling experience. It has advantages in some situations, but I find my feet slipping forward off the pedals at the top of the stroke. I may not be pedaling in 360 degrees, to Grant's point, but my stroke has adapted to being clipped in, just the same. For now, I'm keeping them on the Schwinn, but on my other bikes I'm sticking with my Look's.

So quite a bit of discovery in here, about the bike, about component compatibility, about my own ability to fabricate stuff, and about different approaches to riding. As to the challenges -- in all there was nothing truly difficult, it felt good to solve these problems. Still does, in fact.

All for now,


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Schwinn Sports Tourer Build: Head parts

I didn't start to pull the Schwinn apart or attempt to rebuild it until I understood a bit about how it was going to go back together. And when working with an older bike, this is a process often full of potential surprises, because though there is some consensus around specifications and standards for bicycles, there's also a fair amount of divergence from those standards. These days, that divergence is usually in the name of innovation or performance, but in the old days it appears to have been more based on national or regional industry preferences than anything else. If you spend any time on Sheldon Brown's site, you can't help but bump into this reality, as it weaves its way through many of the articles up there. All things considered, the Schwinn wasn't hard to rebuild, but doing some research ahead of time certainly helped.

An area I did a lot of research about was in the area of the steering head. The Allegro had French threading on the fork's steerer tube and a French-spec inside diameter to the steerer tube, which had caused me some consternation in finding a replacement top nut for the Campagnolo headset, as well as a fair amount of difficulty locating a decent handlebar stem. Truth is I gave up on the frame at least in part because I wasn't finding what I wanted for steering parts.

I wasn't thrilled to learn that the Schwinn didn't use a modern headset spec, but by the time I figured that out I already had the frame. And as I looked around eBay, it didn't appear that there was much of a shortage of old-style US-spec headsets, as it was commonly used not just for Schwinns and the like, but also for BMX bikes. The bigger issue I had was finding a quality headset of this spec, not finding one at all. You can read all about the US/BMX headset spec on Sheldon Brown's website, as usual.

If you follow that link, you'll notice two things, there. First that the headset cup sizes are pretty far removed from other specs, and second that the inner diameter of the steerer tube is pretty different from that of other sizes, which meant I'd have to find an appropriate handlebar stem. I briefly considered replacing the fork and going with a threadless headset to get something a little more contemporary and avoid the challenge of finding an appropriate stem. But ultimately I decided to try to stick with a more original configuration in this case.

The first headset I bought was an Odyssey Dynatron. I found it on eBay, so I didn't have a chance to inspect it at all, and the description was pretty brief. When I got it, I was surprised to find that the grease cups were some sort of rubber or silicone or neoprene or something. The only thing I can figure is that this was an effort to make the headset serviceable in-place -- flip the cups up and out of the way, flush the bearings with degreaser, let them dry, grease them up, and off you go. It's a theory I haven't tested or tried to validate in any way.

I installed the Dynatron, as it seemed to be reasonably well made. The races were clean, the balls looked to be pretty decent and it had a nice level of finish to it. But once I got everything together, the floppy nature of the cups started to concern me. This was a road bike, after all, not a BMX racer. Why would I want soft cups that would allow grease to escape and grime to enter? I didn't want to be constantly checking the grease levels or servicing the headset, honestly, and when I popped the lower cup out of place when installing a front brake one day, I decided to swap it out.

I bought a replacement headset at a LBS. I don't really remember the brand, but it was the only one they had, and when I got it home and looked at it, I quickly wrapped it back up and put it back in its box. This was one of those cheap Chinese units that had rough bearing cages, coarsely machined interior cup surfaces, and appeared to have been made with all the care and finish of a popsicle stick. Back to eBay for another solution.

There I found a new old stock Tange BMX headset. Now, I am certain that Tange made as many cheap headsets in their day as they made nice ones, but the ones I've had have given me no reason to complain. So I snagged it and was reasonably pleased with it when it arrived. The only thing that gave me any concern was the headset's unsealed cups. The gap around the lower cup was fairly wide, and I judged pretty much guaranteed to let crud into the bearings. And unlike the Dynatron, servicing that steel headset would require some effort.

Years ago, though, I recalled seeing a little neoprene scarf from Lizard Skins designed to be strapped around lower headset cups on mountain bikes to effectively create an outer barrier to crud. A little digging online turned one of these up, and that pretty much put to rest any concerns I had about the lower headset seal. The Tange headset and Lizard Skins seal are now providing great service on the Schwinn, and the lower bearing is now further protected by a front fender.

Finding a 21.15mm-steerer handlebar stem was actually pretty simple. Steel units from old Schwinn kids and cruiser models abound, though they're often a little scruffy. I wanted something lighter, but traditional "10-speed" style Schwinn stems seemed pretty rare. So when I found a fairly nice aluminum gooseneck unit that mimicked the lines of the old chromed steel ones, I snapped it up and it slipped right into the steerer like it was made for it. Which it was, of course.

Unfortunately, it wasn't made for road bars. Something I didn't consider (for even a moment) when purchasing the stem was that road bars have a lot more curve to them than city, mountain or traditional cruiser bars found on the types of Schwinns those stems came on. The Nitto 115 bars I had on hand wouldn't thread through the gooseneck stem, unfortunately. The stem's clamp area was too wide and it wouldn't handle the radius on the bars. Back to eBay!

After a few weeks, a suitable OEM Schwinn stem was listed, and I managed to "win" the auction without dropping a lot of money in the process. Once again, it slipped effortlessly into the steerer tube, and this time the bars wound their way through the clamp, too. But older Schwinn stems were apparently not made for sleeved Nitto bars -- the clamp diameter was just a hair too narrow. So I used a pair of wedge-shaped pliers as a wedge (imagine), spreading the clamp just a smidge, then slipped the bars in. As I said previously, they creak anyway, so I'm going to pull them out and use a set of Belleri randonneuring bars. These have a ballooned clamp area, so shouldn't creak, and they have, as an added bonus, a smaller clamp diameter than the Nitto bars.

I guess the only other thing to add re: the head parts is that there's a brake cable hanger for the centerpull brakes setting under the top nut on the headset. It's a chromed steel Mafac part that unfortunately flexes quite a bit under braking. But given that the steerer tube was long ago cut to length for something similar in thickness, I don't think I have enough room to put something thicker and stiffer in there. As I said in my last post, I'm satisfied with the brakes now that I've changed them to Mafac's anyway, but that's another topic.

All for now,


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sports Tourer Build

I mentioned that my Schwinn Sports Tourer frameset came to me with four installed components -- the headset, the bottom bracket, the seatpost clamp and the kickstand. Of the four, only one was used during the build -- the kickstand. Everything else had to be sourced, either from my existing parts cache or from somewhere else.

Why did I toss the headset, BB and seatpost clamp? Well, the headset didn't feel bad, but it didn't feel great, either. It had just a hint of indexing to it, where you can feel indentations as the bearing turns, corresponding to places where balls have pitted or dented the races. The bottom bracket likewise just didn't feel good. Plus it was a cup-and-cone bottom bracket, and history has shown that I have no talent for adjusting these properly -- they always loosen up on me. And it was a Nervar, which wasn't going to work with the crankset I had in mind. And finally, the seatpost clamp was both incomplete (but otherwise in good condition) and perhaps the most poorly finished bicycle part I've ever seen in my life. It was purportedly a Schwinn original, which I think is true, and let me tell you, it was hideous. All three of these were removed and either discarded or flung into a box. After all, I was starting from scratch -- why start with stuff I wasn't happy with? And with that, the Schwinn became something of a blank canvas.

I've already said I wanted a relatively modern build-up, and as I gathered parts first for the Allegro and ultimately for the Schwinn, I kept that in mind. And fortunately, I had a bunch of stuff kicking around to draw from.

A decade or more ago, I rebuilt my wife's lowish-end Bianchi with a better set of components. Off came a bunch of heavy 300EX parts, and on went a more or less complete Shimano 105SC groupset, less the brake levers and bottom bracket. It received 8-speed wheels, with 105SC hubs and Velocity rims, a 105SC triple crank, Ultegra 8-speed shifters, 105SC front and rear derailleurs, and 105SC brake calipers. My wife is petite, always a little intimidated by her bike, and she pretty much stopped riding once we had kids. So 18 months ago, I started trying to make the Bianchi a little more user-friendly. I bought a set of vintage Campagnolo hubs and a new set of Rigida 650B rims, had a set of wheels built out of those. I got a 7-speed Shimano freewheel, a pair of Tektro long reach brake calipers and short reach Cane Creek levers, a Brooks saddle and bar tape and set to work making her old Bianchi into what is now a lovely light touring bike with comfy cushy tires. The fork was swapped a couple of times in the process, too. Actually, the Bianchi's various states of being are really a story for another post, but the point is I freed up a bunch of parts in the process, some of which were immediately bolted onto other bikes, and others of which went into a parts box for future use.

A pair of wheels is what provides the dominant shape (and name, for that matter) of a bicycle. The Schwinn began to take shape when I clamped on an idle but well-loved wheelset. The wheels had been on my Kestrel until my wife's 8-speed wheelset was freed up, and were comprised of that bike's original 105SC hubs with a set of Mavic rims, slightly mismatched, that had over time replaced the OEM Araya rims.

To turn the wheels, you need a drivetrain. I had also at some point set aside the 105SC crankset that originally came with the Kestrel. It had been scratched since the day I bought it (scratched in the showroom by a metal stand designed to slide over the left crank arm -- bad design), and I'd replaced it after several years of use with an essentially identical (but prettier) crankset. That went onto the Schwinn as soon as I picked up a cartridge bottom bracket in the right size. Looking for wide gearing, I scavenged a set of 39/52 chainrings from the Shogun and put the original Biopace chainrings back on that bike before sending it off to my brother in law. Screwed into the crank arms at the moment are a set of pedals from Rivendell (I love this article, btw). They have a monstrous platform, and look kinda funny. They work just fine, but I'm not necessarily sold on free pedaling, vs. using clipless pedals.

I didn't want to buy a triple crank, but did want to use this bike for light touring. So I bought the widest spread in a rear cassette I could find -- 14-34, I think it is. So my lowest gear is a 39/34 combo, which is short enough for most situations. To swap gears, I bought a Shimano 700CX rear derailleur. This is a groupset I've never seen before, but it looks just as nice as LX or 105 stuff. It's apparently a decent cross bike groupset. In any case, it's attractive, aluminum, and it works. For the front derailleur, my hope was to use an Ultegra clamp-on derailleur that I'd bought, but that didn't work out so well. I ended up buying a clamp for a braze-on derailleur and using the 105SC front derailleur that originally came on the Kestrel (which had since been upgraded to Ultegra).

But as someone said (Pirelli?) -- power is nothing without control. And the primary controls on a bike center around the handlebars. I went through a handful of headsets before settling on a classic Tange unit, and found an original Schwinn stem. For handlebars and brake levers, I used the ones I had on the Paramount when it was built up as a commuter bike. That would be a set of 105SC brake levers clamped to a Nitto 115 bar. Which creaks maddeningly and is slated to be swapped for a Belleri I bought from Velo Orange last summer. The shifters are bar-ends, and at the moment they're old Suntour retrofriciton models.

The rider needs somewhere to sit, of course. The seatpost was easy -- it's one that came on my wife's Bianchi that I swapped out in favor of a beautiful old Campagnolo post at some point. And that's one of the few easy things on the bike! Clamped to the top of it is a green Brooks B-17 Champion Special, with the big copper rivets. Securing the seatpost is a modern aluminum seatpost clamp that I really wish was polished instead of black. Hanging from this clamp is a cable hanger that lets me use centerpull brakes.

Brakes! Yes, once everything is set up for going, you will eventually need to think about stopping. Because I built a bike laid out for 27" rims up with 700C rims, the brake reach is pretty long, particularly in the rear. And getting to brakes that didn't suck royally took some doing. I'm currently running a set of Mafac calipers front and rear, and they work way better than I expected them to. There's a lot of flex (which makes their effectiveness hard to fathom) and a little noise, but it's hard to complain about their functionality. The rear Mafac is essentially at its very limit in terms of pad adjustment and I really need to find a set of Mafac RAID's to address that.

Bikes are much more useful if you can carry stuff around, and even more so if you don't have to worry about getting sprayed with road crud on damp days. Bolted to the front Mafac is a little square rack that doesn't have the pretty and delicate lines of the old Mafac racklet, but it's got a bigger platform to support a handlebar bag, and I'm using a biggish bag up there. At the rear there is a Velo Orange rack (in truth it was a "seconds" purchase) that I need to figure out what to do with. The problem being that my panniers won't hang on it. I need a new rack or new panniers. Fitting between the racks and wheels at both ends are a cheap set of zefal plastic fenders that are functional, if not elegant. The rear needs a spacer at the front mounting point -- it bends way forward and looks terrible, I know.

And finally, there are a few other accessories lashed to the frame that keep me rolling. I have a Quicker pump, a pair of King stainless bottle cages that feel like they'd survive a thermonuclear blast, bolted to odd but effective mounts from Minoura I think. I have a Blackburn computer with cadence giving me data. And there's that wonderful kickstand! Of course it holds everything up, without having to lean the bike on anything. What's nice about that is that the only scuffs on my Brooks are from my 4 year old daughter knocking the bike over. In both directions. On the same day. So at least there's love there. A brass bell is clamped to the stem, sitting just in reach of my thumb. I don't use it much, but it chatters incessantly on New England roads, keeping me company, I suppose. And... I think that's it. The current final result is shown here. But as with all my bikes, it's a work in progress, and bound to change.

I bet there are 10 posts buried in the paragraphs above, each with a lesson about what worked and didn't, and the sometimes circuitous route I took in getting to the build above. Should be fun!

All for now,


Sunday, November 16, 2008

1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer

About 18 months ago I bought (I'm hard pressed to use the term "won" for an eBay auction) an Allegro frameset and started gathering parts for it. It was a pretty frame, with fancy Nervex lugs and 531 tubing, but it had a few more issues than I was ultimately willing to correct -- namely some rusty cable stops that needed to be ground off, and a thick layer of awful blue paint. So I ended up selling it and looking for something else. The something else was also found on eBay -- a 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer frameset located in Somerville -- nice and local. Not that not having to ship it helped me much -- there was a bidding run at the end of the auction, and it wasn't at all cheap. I could actually have spent just a bit more and bought a complete vintage Sports Tourer!

But that wouldn't have fit the plan, honestly. The plan was not to have a period-correct bike, but rather to find a classic and user-friendly frameset, build it up with a modern component group and end up with an all-rounder to tow my kids with. I remembered without fondness the sloppy shifting and sketchy braking of my old 10-speeds, and wasn't having any of that. And I wanted more than 10 speeds, too -- 14 was the plan, mostly because I already had a 7-speed wheelset.

When I saw the frameset on eBay, I did a little research about the fillet-brazed Schwinns on Sheldon Brown's treasure trove of a website at Just as his site had helped me while I gathered parts for the Allegro, it came through for me again in researching the Schwinn. Actually, before researching the Allegro, I didn't know who Sheldon was, but I recognized him from his pictures as someone I'd seen around. I started looking at the Schwinn just after he passed away, and his site helped me throughout the build -- thank you, Sheldon!

What I liked about the Schwinn is that it is unique. It has uncommon construction and a mix of features that make it sort of a bridge between two eras of cycling in the US. It has many of the characteristics of "modern" higher-end bicycles, but also carries over attributes from traditional American bikes. For example, sitting just behind the contemporary English-threaded bottom bracket shell (as opposed to an Ashtabula-style bottom bracket shell), is a brazed-on Schwinn kickstand mount and chromed steel kickstand. What I didn't realize then is how far that blending of eras carries with this bike. While the frame's classic lines call out "lightweight 10-speed", virtually nothing on the bike adheres to the standards of lightweight European or Japanese 10-speed, but instead follows Schwinn's usual practice. This made the build interesting, to say the least, since modern component manufacturers pay little attention to Schwinn's old specifications. More about these nuances later.

The frameset is orange, and the paint seems exceptionally tough, which is great. It came with a headset, bottom bracket, partial seatpost clamp and that massive and wonderfully practical kickstand. Everything else was left for me to source. I thought I had some pictures of the frameset from just after I bought it, but I must have deleted them. But here's a shot taken just after I finished the first iteration of the build. The bike has changed quite a bit since, having evolved from this relatively sporty build in more of a light touring direction.

I've already written about how much I enjoy the Schwinn, now that it's built up. It rides comfortably, steers with confidence, and though it's a little heavy, it's as solid as a rock. And in one of my first rides pulling the trailer bike with it, I rediscovered the ability for a road bike to tackle diverse terrain. During a hike with the family last Spring, I doubled back to the parking lot to check on the bike and trailer bike, which weren't secured to anything. On a lark, I decided to try riding back to the family, taking the rig onto the footpaths in our local convservation land, and much to my surprise there was absolutely no drama in doing so. There's a photo up here in an earlier post from that day, in fact. My daughter and I even rode out together, once I met back up with them. The Schwinn has turned out to be even more than I hoped it would -- it's a great companion for rides where I'm not quite sure where I'm going to end up.

I'm going to keep this short, and follow this introduction up with a handful of short and detailed posts about the build. I want to share some of the challenges the build posed, mainly owing to the differences in standards I mentioned above, and also what I learned in experimenting with different components. My hope is that someone out there in the world building up an old Sports Tourer will benefit from those experiences and opinions.

There's one other goal, there, as well. One of my objectives for this blog was to learn a bit about social media tools through experimentation. I've been using Blogger and Blogspot for 10 weeks or so, now, and for the past few weeks have had Google Analytics installed as well. I'll be interested in seeing how changing up the content, organization and titles of my posts affects traffic and visitor activity. That's not all that interesting to readers, of course, but it's good stuff, sitting in this chair.

All for now,


Friday, November 7, 2008


When I was a kid, I rode my bikes pretty much everywhere. And I don't just mean that I spent a lot of time on bikes. That's true, yes, but what I really mean is that I rode whatever bike I had at that time just about anywhere they'd roll, and most of them could roll just about anywhere.

The first bike I had that was really specialized in a specific direction was the Shogun. It was nearly unrideable on anything but paved roads. I think it originally came with 25mm wide tires -- hard to say, really. But as they wore or were damaged, they were replaced by tires even narrower. At one point I was running 700x20 Continental Grand Prix tires that non-cyclists would even take note of as being impressively narrow. But they were also fragile, harsh and made the off-road limitations of the Shogun even more pronounced. Good sense eventually got the better of me, and the last tires I installed were 28mm wide.

The tires weren't the only problem, of course. The geometry of that Shogun's frame (and that of the Kestrel that followed, for that matter) was laid out for responsive handling, not for stability. I won't claim expertse about bike geometry, but the angles of the head and seat tubes, along with the shapes of the fork blades (where they locate the wheel, relative to the head tube, essentially), has a lot to do with how a bike feels from the saddle and behaves underneath you. Look at a bike from the side, squatting down low. Notice how the seat tube angles back towards the rear? And likewise the head tube? In general, bikes with steeper angles tend to be twitchier, and bikes with shallower angles tend to be more stable. Or something. In any case the Shogun is a nimble bike, not a stable bike, and it's not particularly happy on gravel or grass, or anything sandy. The Kestrel is worse -- it just wants to crash on any of the above. A slight exaggeration, but even so, after riding these two for a few years, I pretty much forgot that it was even possible to ride road bikes across any of those types of terrain.

So where was I going with all that... right -- mountain bikes! Being a roadie, for a while I looked at mountain bikes with scorn. They were heavy, slow and clumsy, from what I could tell, and with such big tires! I'd see (and hear) them riding on the road, and I just knew the rider was working hard. And when I saw them at the MS rides I'd participate in, I just couldn't believe anyone would do that to themselves, riding one of those any distance on the road. I still can't, actually, but a lot of my other opinions have since been reshaped by experience.

Sometime in '94 or '95, I bought my Paramount. It was new, but was at least one season old; perhaps a few. I picked it up for between $400 and $450, if I recall, in a bike shop down in the Branford, CT area where a nearly lifelong friend lived at the time. They had a range of Paramount mountain bikes, and the cheapest of them was the one I picked -- a series 20. The PDG bikes were designed and spec'ed by the Paramount group, as I understand it, but built in Japan. The higher-end bikes were really nice, but even my lower-end model compares well with contemporaries. The frame and fork is made of Tange Prestige (heat treated butted chromoly) tubing, which gives a nice ring when you tap on it. The dropouts are forged, both on the fork and the rear triangle. The construction is tig-welded, which isn't as nice as lugged construction, but less labor intensive. It's a rigid bike dating before even suspension forks were common or affordable, and its geometry wouldn't readily accomodate a longer fork (suspension forks are longer). And finally, the details on the frame are pretty nice -- it has cable stops and cable-guiding noodles, a pulley to re-route the front derailleur cable from a top pull to a bottom pull, a chain peg, two bottle cages, and even rack eyelets on the dropouts and seat stays. It's a pretty fancy frame for a low-end model. The paint job is a pearlescent white, kind of like an old Lexus.

I honestly don't remember why I bought it, other than that whole toy acquisition thing. I really don't remember test riding it -- certainly not the same way I remember the first ride on the Shogun, or the first few strokes of the crank on the Kestrel. I think I may have taken it out into the parking lot and ridden it around there. Maybe dropped the front tire slowly over the curb and off the sidewalk, down into the parking lot. I probably swerved it around and got a sense for just how much I could move around on it, getting it around this thing or that. And I probably cruised over bark mulch and grass and other stuff around the perimiter of the lot, all without crashing. I don't remember first experiencing any of these things, but of course I know all of them well, today. Where my road bikes lock me into a handful of poses, facilitating a fast, smooth, efficient spin, my Paramount encourages me to get up out of the saddle and throw the bike around underneath me. It's a very different style of riding, and it's satisfying in very different ways.

For several seasons, the Paramount served me very well in its intended role. I rode it around the woods in Lincoln and Belmont, MA on a regular basis, and occasionally in some of the green spaces in Boston. But the place I worked it hardest was up in New Hampshire, where it would occasionally carry me through multi-hour Odysseys in the mountains. The friend I mentioned (Dan Collins -- now married and up in Calgary with a young family) had ended up with the same model Paramount, in black, perhaps a year after I bought mine, and we both still own them. Up outside of Laconia, Dan and I would ride through mud, alongside beaver ponds, over dirt singletrack, across mountain-top grass fields, and ocasionally over bare rock. Ascents were always a bear, and descents always a rush. We got lost, ran out of food and water, but had a great time in the process. And we managed not to get shot or even shot at by the deer hunters sharing those woods (no it wasn't smart, I agree).

The components our bikes came with were Suntour XC Ltd. These were perfectly serviceable, and are actually very nice bits, with lots of aluminum and a nice level of finish. The drivetrain didn't work as well as the later Shimano LX/XT components that adorn the bike these days, but they give away nothing in appearance and finish. And many of the components are still on the bike, working perfectly well -- the crankset, the front derailleur, the front hub and skewer and the cantilever brakes. On mine, the shifters, brake levers, rear derailleur and rear hub have all been swapped for Shimano stuff. I'm not really sure what Dan has on his these days, but I'm pretty sure it's a similar mix of original and replacement bits.

For my bike, the changes were really prompted by an impulse purchase of a Trek 950 mountain bike in 1996, along with a desire to ride to work from time to time. The Trek is a slightly more compact bke, and it's a bit more comfortable to ride in the woods, because you're not so far stretched out (the Paramount was a little extreme that way). And though the Trek is not a fancy or high-end bike, it's by no means junk. In any case, in adding the Trek to the stable, I was able to repurpose the Paramount as a commuting bike, by adding a different stem, road handlebars, road brake levers, slick tires, bar end shifters and a rack. I had to cobble up some inline cable adjusters in the process, so that I could adjust brake cable tension as the cables stretched and pads wore. A couple of years after this, these became readily available commercial items, but at the time they seemed to be nowhere to be found.

I rode the twelve miles to work from Waltham to Cambridge maybe twenty times during the year after I repurposed the Paramount. I know that's a feeble stat for many folks, but hey, it's a start. I also took that bike on a couple of light touring rides, where it and I served as the cargo mule. Unfortunately, we ultimately moved out to the suburbs, out of practical range of a bike commute, and my wife and I carpooled into town instead. I've worked in two other companies since, each progressively further away from the house, and the practicality of commuting by bike just hasn't been there.

In truth, the Paramount was just OK for this role anyway. The rear triangle is too short for bags to fit comfortably, and my heels rubbed the panniers. And with the saddle high enough for road riding, the riding position is too far back on the bike. This unloads the front tire and makes for dodgy climbing stability. But the bike looked good and steered well, and I really I liked the idea of having it in that configuration. It seemed like an ideal bike to give to my Dad when he expressed an interest in riding, since it was geared so widely. But unfortunately it sat out in his woodshed unused.

Three seasons ago, I started riding again and bought the Trek trailer bike you've seen before to take my older daughter Juliana along with me. The Shogun and Kestrel were completely unsuited to tow duty. Kids move around a lot, and the trailer bike mounting system translates those wiggles and weight shifts into a lot of wobble on the bike. Wobble doesn't translate well on a twitchy bike that wants to crash on unpaved surfaces, and riding that way was really pretty unpleasant. And though I tried my Trek a few times, it wasn't really right either -- too inefficient and not enough positions for long road rides.

Since I wasn't doing any mountain biking at all, I dropped the Trek off at my folks' house for my Dad, and collected the Paramount, still in commuter guise. And it was a great bike for that purpose, except that the brakes didn't feel quite secure enough (because of those cobbled together adjusters, which always flexed a bit). Since it was a mountain bike, Juli could wiggle without introducing too much wobble, and even if I was deflected off course, the bike would just roll over whatever was in its new path, rather than crash. Good stuff!

Then this year, I built up my 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer and tried it out with the trailer bike. It worked really well, actually. More efficient than the Paramount, nearly as stable (and more stable on climbs), and suddenly my remaining need for a repurposed mountain bike vanished. And the Schwinn even reminded me that not only mountain bikes can be ridden off road, but that's another posting for another day.

I didn't have a mountain bike on hand anymore, so the Paramount began its transformation back into a mountain bike. It's got mountain bars, brake levers and shifters on it again, but I need to take the racks off and swap the road tires to true knobbies to complete the transformation.

I brought the Paramount with me to the apartment, with every intention of using it to go to the supermarket up the road, but that didn't work out. The fork popped out of the rack when I pulled into the driveway of the apartment on my first trip over here, and bent one of the forged tips. I found a replacement fork on eBay (and it's a nice one -- a Tange fork with investment cast dropouts), but haven't had the time to install the fork, yet -- two months on. This month, I'm telling myself again, now that it's November.

I suppose the inactivity isn't surprising. With the arrival of fall has come a need to tinker with tractors, and I've somehow had less time to play living in the apartment than I had living at the house. Besides, in a sense, the apartment itself is an escape, and I've needed to escape into tinkering to a lesser degree. The trial period of our separation is winding down, though, and it's time for me to figure out what to do about all this escaping.

All for now,


Friday, October 31, 2008


Not blog posts -- porch posts.

I said in my first post that this wasn't going to be about my house. But I did want to put in at least a little bit about my home, because it's been such a central part of my life for nearly 10 years, now.

My wife and I moved into the place on our second anniversary, a year and a half or so before we had our first daughter. I'll be honest -- the house was really my find (that's a story unto itself) and my home, more than it was my wife's. That's a little ironic, given I'm not living there anymore and she is, but that's OK -- I'm still there every day, and I'm still taking care of the place.

That first post also mentioned how much of my time the house consumes. A lot. A staggering amount of time, really. Two simple examples: Last summer, I had three lighting fixtures fail in one or multiple ways in the span of four weeks. A pull chain broke, an overhead socket went, the wiring in that same overhead fixture got cooked and needed to be replaced, and the chandelier in the dining room fell out of the ceiling, and hung there by its wires. And within six months of moving into the place, I swear to God that every interior door fell off its hinges -- plus a couple of exterior doors. All the screw holes had long ago stripped out, and the screws were being held in by toothpicks and Elmer's Wood Glue, from all appearances. With all due respect to Elmer's Wood Glue, that's not really much of a repair job...

But this post is about one specific project. Or maybe just tees up a second chapter of that project. That is the replacement of the posts on my porches.

Two and a half sides of my house are wrapped in porches that were no doubt added sometime after the house was built. There's a porch on the back wing of the house, facing south. That's the kitchen porch, and it shelters both the entrance to the kitchen and the barn. We've had plans drawn up to rip that off and bump the kitchen out to make an entry downstairs and a master suite upstairs. There's a south-facing sun porch on the southern wall of the main part of the house. Across the front of the house is an open porch that runs the full width of the place. And on the northwestern corner and side of the house is a screened porch which was either rebuilt not long ago, or was screened in not long ago. It has new walls and windows, but not a new roof or decking.

The roofs on the two open porches are held up by posts -- five across the front of the house, and two on the kitchen porch. They're not too fancy -- just square section, with baseboards, some trim, a shelf and some beveling. But they aren't overly simple, either, and they have a nice look to them. You can see one of them pretty clearly behind the leafing rig in the picture from my last post, holding up the roof of the kitchen porch. When we moved in, they were accompanied by railings and neat balusters, but they were in pretty rough shape, and I pulled them off years ago, with all intention of replacing them at some point. Haven't gotten to that yet, and may never at this rate.

When we moved into the house, all but two of the posts were original. At least, they were painted with very old looking paint and were significantly weathered. Five or six years ago, I noticed that the baseboards on the kitchen porch posts were looking pretty rough, and I decided to replace them. "Rough" isn't really the word to use, I discovered when I started working on them -- "crumbling" would be better. In pulling them apart, I discovered that the posts themselves had significant integrity problems, and were also, in fact, hollow -- just a box section of 1x4s, with some trim layered on. I also learned that they had been sawn off about 10 inches off the deck, and were propped up by a few 1x4's, which were in turn held in and hidden by some trim pieces at the post bases. I think I got a little ashen when I realized I'd been up on that roof the year before, doing some tarring work.

Anyway, I gave my head a good, long, incredulous shake, replaced the pieces propping the posts up with some PT 4x4's, and made a note to replace those posts the following spring. Then I took a good look at the other original posts (on the front porch), and noticed many of the same problems. Only the posts at the northwest corner of the front porch looked OK. I believe the previous owner had made those. They were obviously recently made, appeared to be nicely done, and I didn't feel the need to mess with them. I had also found and used some puzzling L-shaped lumber scraps in the basement that began to make some sense when I started pulling apart the posts, and these led me to believe the two new posts weren't hollow. So my post project swelled from two to five (better than seven!), and my months ahead would now apparently be filled with carpentry.

That winter I bought a table saw and router and miter saw (toys!), and spent hours and hours in the basement making new (and solid-core, btw) posts for installation when the weather turned. Making five posts took a while, but it was simple work made faster with the right tools. I won't get into how I made them here, but I'll get back to that. And yes, I still have all my fingers. Installing them was pretty simple, in part because I already had a pair of big hydraulic jacks that I'd used the summer we moved in to prop up the barn floor with posts and beams from below.

On a side note, one of the original front porch posts is still providing supporting services today. It's at my sister and brother-in-law's place, along with the Shogun Katana bicycle I mentioned a while back. Only instead of sitting in a shed, the post is busy holding up a neat bird house my brother-in-law made. Mike is a super guy. He's a former technology guy who decided to follow his heart, and is now making custom furniture and cabinetry. And it's very nice stuff, at that. His blog is at, and his website is

A few weeks ago, I'd planned to do some painting on the porches, so I borrowed my boss' power washer, and cleaned everything up a bit. And in the process, I discovered that the baseboard of one of the two posts I didn't replace (one the previous owner had made) was rotting. I pulled the baseboard off, and found the core of the post to be soaking wet and rotten as well. It seems the end-grain had been wicking water its entire life, and my guess is that it had stayed wet because that corner stays shaded by a big maple. Another project! Sweet! (That's sarcasm, btw.)

So I'm now in the process of making a sixth post. And with fresh data that Douglas fir will both wick water and rot, I'm going to make that post out of cedar (fortunately, just like the first five I made), and put a wicking barrier on the end grain. Cedar has gotten expensive, by the way. A 10' 4x4 was like $90 -- that's close to mahogany prices! I'll have pictures and more on the post fabrication process later. Happy Halloween!

All for now,