Sunday, August 9, 2009

Columbia Straight Bar Clunker

Today I took my kids to the Larz Anderson museum for a bike swap meet -- my second such excursion this year.

It was a short morning, but a good one. We met a friend of mine and her dog, and they joined us for a walk around the grounds and to look at the bikes and parts for sale. It was fun to watch the girls today -- they were looking forward to the bike show, but getting time with a dog (they really want a dog) was an unexpected bonus. He seemed to draw as much of a crowd as any of the bikes, especially with kids.

About halfway around the grounds, I saw an old straight-bar cruiser hanging on a rack. It was very much what I'd been thinking of when I wrote about picking up a Schwinn Cruiser a few weeks ago -- sort of halfway through the rework process. The bike had at one point been a Columbia De Luxe, but was wearing a modern fork and was missing all of its bodywork -- stripped to its essence. It wasn't a fancy bike (no complex construction techniques, here), but still an interesting design worthy of appreciation. In sum, it's a clunker. But the frame is very cool and I'm looking forward to tearing it apart and rebuilding everything. And for $80, it was perfect. There was actually a very similar Columbia there that wasn't rolling, but was more complete from a bodywork perspective. I skipped that one, but it's nice to know there are others out there, from a parts perspective. Schwinns appear to be growing on trees on eBay, but Columbias (made here in Massachusetts) not so much.

The frame has a very elegant design that makes me wonder why Schwinn ended up dominating the US bicycle market. The answer is probably that Schwinn built a better marketing and sales machine back in the day, but from a product perspective, the Columbia's frame is much more interesting to look at than contemporary Schwinns. For example, the top tube sweeps past the seat tube to intersect the seat stays in sort of a wishbone, rather than terminating at the seat tube. And the seat stays and chainstays are each formed from a single piece of tubing bent into a long U-shape. Also, there's a short tube running from the bottom bracket to the chainstays that's bisected by another tube that forms the kickstand mount. In any case, roughness aside, it's pretty cool to look at.

The parts on the bike appear to be a random mix of stuff, and it's hard to tell what, if anything, is original. The seatpost was turned upside down in the seat post to accommodate a sprung leather saddle and its clamp, which was made for a larger-diameter than the tapered end of the Columbia's post. The twin-rail sprung leather saddle is old and pretty cracked, but in usable condition. It's marked Dunelt, which as far as I know was a bike brand, not a saddle, so it may be an OEM Wrights or Brooks. The wheels are in decent shape. There's a Bendix coaster-brake rear hub and wide chrome rims in not too-terrible condition. I don't think they're S7 rims, which is probably a good thing. The headset is a generic chrome BMX piece, and the fork is a generic cantilever-brake BMX/MTB fork (with no installed brakes). The stem looks like a chrome Schwinn piece, or a knock-off. And the chrome bars look like kids cruiser bars. Blue grips and too narrow, but a nice bend. A bit of peppering in the chrome, but not awful. There's a generic 4-leaf clover chainring on the 1-piece crankset, and a set of metal-framed Wald pedals with rubber grips overlays (they're not rubber block pedals, in other words). There is no kickstand in that mount, unfortunately, but I'll look for one.

Mechanically, it works reasonably well. The bottom bracket and headset were recently repacked, and are oozing their share of fresh grease. And there's an obviously recent and generous application of oil on the chain, sprockets and pedals to quiet things down. Even so, there's a tick in the crank, and the coaster brake has a bit of a crunchiness to it as well. Both of which I can take care of during a teardown/rebuild.

Which I'll definitely have to do, because (as you can see) this afternoon I crashed headlong into a pallet full of cinderblocks, wrecking the junk fork. Seems you have to get used to having the right pedal position to adequately brake a coaster-brake bike. I remember reading something like that on Sheldon's website not too long ago. Should have paid more attention.

I wasn't hurt at all -- I wasn't going all that fast, and I stayed in the saddle, even. The poofy front tire served nicely as an airbag, and as I said, the fork crumpled, absorbing more of the impact. The legs bent back at the crown, and it's now scrap. The frame itself seems no worse for wear -- didn't see any signs of bending behind the head tube, probably because of the dual top tubes (and if it really didn't bend, that strength gives me a new appreciation for why the Rivendell Bombadil MTB was designed the way it was). I haven't checked the front wheel for damage, but am hopeful it didn't get all out of round on me -- I really don't want to spring for new wheels right now (though I may need to do that to support a front brake anyway).

So I now have another bike project, just when I was fresh out. This one will be equal parts cleanup, leather care and mechanical rebuild. There's another swap meet coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I already have a short parts list for it -- stem, seatpost, chainring, and most improbably, a Columbia kickstand. Should be fun figuring this one out!

All for now,


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dedicated Time

Focus is a good thing.

And given that Juliana has a way of sponging up all of the attention that anyone present might have to offer, Ava doesn't get as much focus as her sister. From me, from my wife, from my parents -- anyone really. It's one of those things that's there in plain sight, that you want to do something about, but is very hard to address whenever both girls are present.

So we split them up this weekend -- yesterday I had Ava, and today my wife does. And vise-versa for Juli. It's amazing how much more I got out of Ava yesterday than I usually do. She's a sweet, adorable and playful little girl. And she's not as quiet one-on-one as she is when Juli is around -- not by a long shot.

Yesterday was a good day. I picked her up at 9:00 from her mother's apartment, and took her back to the house. We ran a couple of errands and I made a couple of phone calls relating to selling the place, then got the Schwinn Sports Tourer down from the barn ceiling and hooked up her trailer bike. I also pulled out my Nashbar shopping panniers and put them onto the Velo-Orange rack on the Schwinn, then loaded them up with pool stuff -- towels, sunscreen, flip-flops, noodle float, etc. The pool, you see, was the first item on the schedule Ava spelled out for us. Riding over was my idea.

The ride to the pool is just under 5 miles, and it's pretty flat. Even so, I was reminded of how noisy the Mafac front brake, in particular, became when I replaced the machined-sidewall rims with the polished alloy wheelset that came on the Motobecane. Not sure what I need to do there, besides try to wear the rims in a little and toe in the pads. But it's pretty loud and annoying, honestly.

After spending so much time on the Motobecane, switching to the Schwinn was interesting. The cockpit feels much more compact than the Motobecane, for some reason. I should do some measuring to see what the difference really is. And the ride quality is good, but the frame is not nearly as supple as the French bike's. The plump tires do a nice job of smoothing things out, though. The steering is fine, but I think I need to give the headset a little snugging-down. Also, I need to make some tweaks to the front derailleur, as it seems to rub a lot. Maybe the cage is just narrower than I'm used to.

On the ride over, Ava spent pretty much the whole ride talking and sharing what she was observing in the world around us. I noticed this much more than when I'm riding with the two of them, because though Juli is on her own bike, I'm spending as much time coaching and watching her -- helping to keep her safe -- as I am listening to Ava. Maybe more.

The pool was fun, but I got my iPhone pretty wet on the way back to the changing room, when a water botle with an open top leaked a third of its contents into the same bag my iPhone was in. I shook it out pretty good, but couldn't turn it off for several hours (it was stuck in a wierd loop). I'm hoping for the best, there; it's sitting in a ziploc bag with a bunch of rice (serving as a dessicant) down in the kitchen, and with any luck that'll do it. Or, Juli and I may be at the Apple store later today.

Wet phone aside, I have to say that shopping panniers are a pretty useful thing. They're out of the way, low and on the back of the bike, and they hold a good amount of stuff. If I had a job closer to home, I swear I could spend summers nearly car-free for most of my running around and commuting. Wire shopping baskets to hold reusable shopping bags would probably be even more useful, with a higher weight limit.

The ride back was fun, other than the noodle float uncurling a couple of times and popping out of the bag. And it was longer, because of all the stopping to fix the cargo, plus we detoured through a couple of neighborhoods where there are homes for sale. Nothing new to look at in the "non-money pit" and "5-year house" categories, but I'm trying to warm the girls up for a move. Juli is farther along than Ava on that score -- Ava just doesn't like talking about it, where Juli asks questions.

After cleaning up, our afternoon included a sushi lunch, an afternoon showing of "G-Force" the Disney movie centered around rodent commandos (which as was well done from a CGI perspective as Transformers or others like it, but also no less tedious from a story or dialogue perspective). Before dinner, Ava asked me to dance with her -- a curious blend of gymnastics and ballet, it turned out -- to music on her iPod. No, 5-year-olds don't need iPods, but they're good for certain situations. Like when my iPhone is sitting in a bag with uncooked white rice, for example. Her clip-on Shuffle sits in a bowl on the kitchen table most of the time.

Throughout the day, I was really struck by how much Ava just wanted to engage. She normally sort of hangs back, watching. I've even talked about that before up here. And I'd assumed that was just how she preferred things (I, myself am quiet that way in large social groups). But my sense now is that there's a dynamic at work that's triggered by the force of her sister's personality, which isn't good. But being aware means we can compensate and respond.

I have both girls together next weekend. We're going to ride, hit the pool, work on some house stuff together (siding the grain room on the barn) and head to the Lars Anderson Museum for a bike show on Sunday. I'm looking forward to all of it -- even if it's not quite as focused.

All for now,