Monday, June 29, 2009

Rapid Rise Derailleur and Suntour Bar-end Shifters

I took a ride with my girls on Saturday morning, as I reported in my post about Juli's crash. This was on my Schwinn Sports Tourer, which I recently upgraded with new derailleurs. The front is a Suntour Superbe, which works pretty much like any other bottom-pull front derailleur. And the rear is a recent Shimano XT rear derailleur in rapid-rise guise. "Rapid Rise" is Shimanoese for "at rest, the derailleur wants to be in the lowest gear, not the highest".

So what did I learn in my first real ride, so equipped:

  1. The combination of Suntour barcons and a rapid rise derailleur works just fine. I need to take a little slack out of the cable (I can feel when the cable goes slack near the lowest gear), but that doesn't affect operation.
  2. The shifters have plenty of travel to support the 6-speed freewheel on there, which means they'd be fine with a 7-speed freewheel or cassette, too (both have 126 mm spacing). I haven't tried (but could) a 130 mm-8/9/10 speed road wheel to see how that works. Maybe over the winter, on my rollers.
  3. The derailleur works really well. All new Shimano stuff seems to, of course, but it's absolutely transparent in the shifting department.
  4. The derailleur feels heavy. No, not on the bike, in the hand. Weight weenies won't want one, but they wouldn't be looking at a MTB derailleur anyway, I suppose.
  5. I probably need to lube the shifters a bit because they're growing a little stiff. No fault of the derailleur, there.
  6. The reorientation is confusing as hell, especially since I'm trying to coach my daughters through upshifting and downshifting with their conventional rear derailleurs while I'm shifting my own drivetrain at the same time, the opposite way. Given the coaching and shifting and making sure Juli is using road smarts, I'd rather not have one more thing on my mind.
  7. The derailleur has plenty of capacity for my 13-32 rear cluster and my 39/52 chainrings. No more excess noise from interference between the biggest cog and the guide pulley, as with the last derailleur.

In hindsight, I should have just gotten a regular XT or LX derailleur. But my curiosity is now satisfied, and that's worth something. And for now at least, the inconvenience of remembering which way to move the lever is not so great that I'll be swapping the derailleur again.

We'll see if it ends up on my list for the off-season, though...

All for now,


Saturday, June 27, 2009


It was a big day for Juli today -- first crash on her road bike.

I'm not celebrating this, other than that I'm glad she's OK. But we've all been there, and we'll probably be there again. And probably so will she. The trick is to learn from these sorts of things.

The crash was a two-wheeling classic. I entered a cul-de-sac a few miles from our house, looping a wide path around the outside, with Ava in tow on the trailer bike.

Juli carved a tighter loop, aiming to cut me off.

But her inside pedal was at the bottom of the stroke. And her MKS track-style pedal was upside down, so the raised cage extended farther down than usual, eating precious clearance (small wheels, 165 crank)

The leading corner of the cage touched down, pivoting her rear tire up and off the road. Freed from the tire's grip, momentum was able to carry the back of the bike in a straight line, rather than being forced to follow the arc of her original turn.

We've all seen the tangled sort of hop/trip/skip/crunch that followed. She stayed mostly on her feet, but came away with a bruise from the saddle on her inner left thigh, several chainring teeth worth of scratches on her lower calf/Achilles, and an accompanying bruise.

As I was massaging the bruise, working the ouch out, we talked about what happened. I showed her the bent corner of the pedal cage, and gave her some pointers about crank position when cornering and a kiss on the nose. I straightened a few things out on the bike and pedaled it around a bit to make sure it would get her home OK. As I guessed she would, she threw a barb my way, implying I loved the bike more than her. I brushed it off, and she let it drop. She drew no blood, and let's remember... she's not yet 9. But her instinct to lash out is both familiar and worrisome.

Ava watched all of this play out, as she does. Watching, listening and learning.

Then we rode on. Each a little older.

All for now,


Sunday, June 21, 2009

She's Rolling

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

I hit a milestone in Fatherdom last weekend -- Ava rode without training wheels. Her pedal strokes were shaky and tentative, and there was lots of body language in her hips trying to stay balanced, but she rode 20 feet or more several times. Good stuff.

She did this on her "new" bike, which I picked up two weeks ago. It's a used Gary Fisher Gamma Ray. Effectively very similar to the puppydog Hotrock which is now over at their mother's apartment, but I think a little older. It's in great shape, which is often the case for a little-kid's bike that has been stored indoors. Apart from getting dropped or left outside, little kids don't abuse their bikes much. It's the next bike, the bike they get really comfortable on, that gets trashed. Jumped over stuff. Crashed into stuff. Dropped onto sidewalks and streets. That kind of thing.

The Gary Fisher is red, as you can see, with black and yellow/gold accents. I think it was positioned as a boy's bike, but Ava likes red as much as any boy, so there. I've already repacked the headset, which was a bit loose anyway, and lubed the chain up. This weekend I need to repack the front and rear hubs, and the bottom bracket. One odd thing about the bike is that it came with a both a rear coaster brake and a rear cantilever brake, but without a front brake at all. Can't imagine why they did that, I'd have gone with a front caliper brake. I do have a kids' sidepull brake and lever set I can bolt on, but I'll see how she does without it, first. After she's got a few more laps around the cul-de-sac under her belt, the saddle needs to come up a few inches, as well.

In other news, I fixed the Motobecane's brake lever feel by slicing slits into the parts of the new Cane Creek hoods that were interfering with the Dia-Compe levers' travel, so I'm back to not complaining about the brakes again. I also swapped out the small ring on the Motobecane, dropping from a 42- to a 36-tooth small ring, and I shortened the chain by two links. Unfortunately, I think doing both was a mistake. The Cyclone derailleur doesn't have enough cage to take up the slack with such a small front ring, so I'll need a longer-cage derailleur. And a longer cage will possibly no longer allow the use of that chain. Oh, well -- chains aren't too expensive, if that turns out to be the case.

Anyway, I'm now watching eBay for a Cyclone II GT (long cage in Suntour parlance) that I can swap onto the bike.

And I'm still trying to figure out the crankset situation for the motobecane, because I'm finding it to be hard on my knees. The current 170-mm SR Apex crankset is cute enough and has a classic look to it I'd like to preserve. But if it's not comfortable, that's much more important than aesthetics. I need to measure the q-factor (how far apart the outer faces of the crank arms are, where the pedals screw in) of the (identical) cranksets on the Schwinn and Kestrel to see how those compare to the Motobecane. That should give me some data to mull over, and help me decide what variables to play with. The choices will be to mount a slightly narrower or wider bottom bracket, or to buy a new crankset with 172.5 arms and the right Q-factor. I'm hoping not to have to buy anything. I've got a bunch of components in hand already to make adjustments, I just need to know which adjustments to make and see what happens.

I've been riding a bit, but nothing I'd describe as an adventure yet. Last weekend I rode with the same friend again, but this time out in Concord and Lincoln. A good ride, and it's interesting how you can see people making progress in their riding technique from ride to ride. My companion on that ride fairly cruised up one hill I expected to see a struggle on, for example. Just a matter of attacking it differently, and it was good to see.

Yesterday I took a ride around town on the Kestrel. Only about 14 miles, but with my route plotted specifically to take me past three houses for sale in town. Two were village colonials (similar in layout to my Victorian-era home, but smaller) and one was a cape. I'm trying to get my arms around what to do next -- try to buy my wife's share of the house, or find something more manageable in town? Anyway, they were cute houses, but one of the two village colonials sat on a lot not much bigger than the house and both were near train tracks (one a low-traffic freight line and the other a high-traffic commuter and freight line). The cape was close enough to a Mass Pike overpass that trucks booming over the expansion joints at either end would be a constant source of irritation, not to mention the constant rumble and hiss of passing highway traffic. I don't think any of them are the right house, but I think I want to go look at the small-lot one to see what it looks like inside. It's good to look around and gauge my options, if nothing else.

All for now,


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Small changes, big impacts

It's funny how seemingly small changes can have a significant impact on your bike and/or the way you ride.

Last Friday night I made some tweaks to the Motobecane in advance of a ride. I lashed the Hupe down with some tie wraps (in a stylish faded fluorescent pink, just because), wrapped the bars with some black "cork" wrap, put the Cane Creek hoods I'd bought for the Superbe levers on, and... I think that's it. Oh, wait -- I installed the Tange Passage aluminum headset, too, in place of whatever that was that had been on it before.

The headset worked out OK, but the threading seems a little different. Maybe Italian pitch to the threads or something. Anyway, it felt like the steel steerer was cutting slightly different threads into the top nuts, but they secured just fine, and it feels good. The crown race is slightly smaller than 26.4, and wouldn't hold the new race, which is odd, and I ended up just reusing the old crown race, since it fit the crown snugly. I didn't see anything on Sheldon Brown's headset page that showed a smaller crown race seat diameter, so not sure what's up. Maybe someone swapped the race in the box, and that's a 27? Or maybe it's an odd size -- dunno. The steerer is still too short to use my Velo-Orange decaleur mount, though. Bummer.

The bar tape worked out OK too. Feels fine, giving me more to hold onto and some shock damping. But the lack of coordination in the bike's color scheme is really highlighting the mongrel effect. Tan and blue and black and brown and red and chrome and maroon and dark anodized and silver anodized and I think unanodized and stainless. Plus the faded fluorescent pink and gray plastic dip of the Hupe. There's a lot of visual noise on the bike right now. Doesn't look nearly as good as it did when I first rebuilt it. But it rides well.

Except for the brakes -- putting the hoods on totally messed up the brakes. Two things: They make getting the cables on and off much harder, and they interfere with the levers' travel. As I said last time, getting the cables on and off quickly was one of the things I really liked about the brake levers. That ability went out the window with those hoods. And the levers are much stiffer with the hoods on. I'm going to try trimming them down, I think, to see if that helps. Trim off the part where the cables enter, so they're free again. And trim them back away from the levers at the bottom, so they don't add, in essence, a rubber spring to the lever. Then we'll see how the next ride goes. I don't care how they end up looking, so much -- the bike is already a mongrel, remember.

The ride on Sunday was good. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the air was cool -- perfect for riding.

I rode over to the conservation land, met up with a friend and took a ride from there. We did probably 8 or 10 miles together, and I added another maybe two miles at each end. The loop I took us around is through familiar territory -- my childhood neighborhood, in a sense. We cut from Southborough into Ashland (which is very close-by at that part of town), skirted the edge of Hopkinton State Park (most of which is actually in Ashland proper), stopped at the Bay Path Humane Society to check out the dogs. I'm still a ways off from a dog, and I need a new car before I can transport one. But as with many things, it's always nice to look. Then we cut into the state park for a bit before cruising back to the conservation land. Made one more quick refreshment stop along the way, too, where I shot the photo above.

My riding partner on Sunday is still a relative newbie to riding, and I spent some time coaching -- emphasizing the importance of spining, rather than grunting up hills, recommending gears, listening to the drivetrain and calling attention to a front derailleur in need of trimming, etc. I enjoyed the role, and tried to share and to help without making an ass of myself.

Reflecting on that attempt at coaching now, I can point at specific moments where something has changed the way I ride or the depth of effort I put into my bikes and cycling. Getting the Shogun. Adding Look pedals. Getting the Kestrel. Having my friend Dan point out that I don't spin enough. Having Dan chide me for not trimming my front derailleur cage (same timeframe, and possibly the same ride). Rebuilding the Paramount as a commuter bike. All great examples of where a simple piece of feedback or a new experience or experiment deepened my relationship with and my passion for cycling. I'm not sure that bikes have ever really just been an appliance for me, as they are for so many riders (nothing wrong with that, btw). But through the sum of all such events, my perspective on cycling is very different than it once was.

It'll be interesting to see if and how that same enthusiasm takes root in my friend. Or in my daughters for that matter. In each case it's up to them, not up to me, and I'm not trying to force anything on anyone. But I like to share.

Next weekend Dan will be in town from Calgary and he's carved out Sunday morning for a visit before heading to the airport. I won't have the girls, so we're hoping to get a ride in. I'll let him use whichever bike he wants, and I've got some other gear he can borrow. No helmet though, I'm just now realizing. Anyway, assuming he doesn't pick the Schwinn, my goal is to get some time with the new derailleurs I installed.

All for now,