Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unconventional Headset Build

I recently picked up a chrome Klein 700C fork for Juliana's to-be 650B Schwinn, both to reduce the pink factor and to make the front brake reach situation a little more manageable than with the bike's original fork, which had very long legs (designed, as it was, for 27" wheels).  Something I didn't really anticipate is that this fork would create some complications from a headset perspective.

I was surprised to find that the steerer tube of the fork is fully chromed.  And on this fork, the threads stop about an inch and a half short of where they need to be for Juli's frame.  I think if I took the fork to a bike shop that has the tools needed to thread the fork down, they'd refuse to do it because the chrome plating would be hard on the threading die.  Also, the unthreaded length of the steerer is a little too short to support both a brake cable hanger (which I need because I'm going to install centerpull brakes on the bike) and a threadless stem, without having to clamp the stem onto a partly threaded area, which seems like a really bad idea.  And I've found it difficult to find 1" threadless stems with a short reach appropriate to a 10 year-old.  I have a nice Nitto quill stem with a short reach, though.

So, I probably can't thread the fork to work with this frame with a threaded headset, and I probably can't safely use it with a threadless stem.  What to do?  Well, here's what I'm going to try:
  1. Get a threadless headset (done)
  2. Get a threaded headset (also done)
  3. Find a brake cable stop/hanger that will clamp to the steerer tube (found, but not purchased yet)
  4. Buy a bunch of 1" headset spacers (not done yet)
  5. Buy a locknut for a 1" threaded headset (done -- NOS Suntour part)
  6. Install the threadless headset, spacers and cable stop, getting the spacer stack up into the threaded zone of the steerer
  7. And finally, the theoretical part:  Instead of using a star-fangled nut, top cap & bolt, spacer stack and stem to tighten the headset, I'll use the spacer stack, hanger, and the locknut and top nut on the existing threads. 
With the open steerer top, I will be able to use the Nitto quill stem I have, as normal.

Has anyone else tried this?  It's unconventional, and I haven't seen any postings on the web where someone has bastardized a headset this way, but I don't see any reason it wouldn't work, and work safely.  Just as with a threaded headset, there will be two threaded nuts tensioning the bearings and locked against each other -- the only difference is where the spacers will fall.  And just as with a threadless headset, I'll have spacers playing a role in tensioning the bearings.  Yeah, I'm pretty sure it'll work just fine.

Guess I'll find out!  If it doesn't, I'll have to go get a new fork, I guess, and flip this one back on eBay.  I don't think I'll end up wrecking any parts in the process, and if I can't use that configuration, I'll be able to reuse one of the headsets with a new fork.  I'll snap some pics and follow-up when I find out if it works.

All for now,


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Juli's Wheels -- Finished!

Just a short, final post about my wheelbuilding experience today.

Monday night was the final wheelbuilding class at Broadway Bicycle School.  The process was largely the same for the front wheel as I described for the rear wheel a couple of weeks ago -- a gradual and repetitive process of tightening spokes for tension, dish and true.  Once again, it was neither hard nor frustrating, but rather an engaging and deliberate process.  It would probably have been harder solo, though -- it was great to have Dave there as an expert resource to provide guidance.

The wheels look great -- nice and shiny -- and they should serve Juli well on her Schwinn frame.  I picked up rim tape and a 7-speed Shimano freewheel last night, as well, and need to buy some tubes and relatively narrow (32mm or so) 650B tires before the wheelset is complete.  The only mechanical work left on the wheels is to carefully lift the seals on the hubs' cartridge bearings and make sure they have enough fresh grease.  And I think the only other parts I need to start the Schwinn's build at this point are cables and housing (blue) and a stubby 1" threadless stem.

Tallying up the bill for the parts and the class, it's clear this wasn't a way to save money -- I could order a set of wheels from Velo-Orange for less than I spent on this experience.  But this really was never a scheme for saving money, as I doubt that my personal lifetime need for new bicycle wheels would offset the cost of tools alone needed to repeat this process on my own.  This has really been about the experience, about doing something that most people, even avid cyclists, will never do.  And what a great experience!  I understand a great deal more about the hoops that hold us up, and should be well-armed for keeping the wheels for which I am caretaker spinning true.

Having recently spent some time working on his bike (which I apparently made look easy), a friend of mine suggested last night that I find a part-time job working at a bike shop.  Just a few hours here and there working in the service area for fun, he said.  I do love working on bikes, and I think I largely know what I'm doing.  And earning a little cash to feed my bike part habit would be useful.  But it wouldn't be about money, and I'm not sure that's really the right forum for exercising this hobby.  Maybe volunteering for a local earn-a-bike program or Bikes Not Bombs or something.

I've got Juli's bike to build up this winter, of course, and what will become Ava's Fuji to tear down.  But my own bikes are far fewer in number this year than they've been, and neither of them really needs more than a few minutes of work during the coming off-season.  I'm going to run out of bike projects early, and it would be good to find another outlet.  Anyone have any other ideas?

All for now,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pedal Rebuild

The Motobecane came to me with a nice old set of MKS pedals.  I got that bike about 18 months ago, and rebuilt the pedals shortly after it arrived.  They were installed on the Motobecane last year, and on the Schwinn this year.  I know I put just over 300 miles on them this year, maybe 30 of that in rain.  And I am guessing they had 200 miles or so logged last season.  So they haven't seen a lot of use, in other words.

On Thursday, I took the Schwinn to the grocery store for a quick bit of shopping.  While parking the bike, for some reason I reached down and turned the left pedal by hand, and was surprised to find that it was in need of another rebuild -- gritty and coarse in its movement.

So Friday morning, I pulled the pedal off the bike and brought it inside to take it apart.  It's a simple job, rebuilding pedals designed for it, and it took all of 3 minutes to unscrew the dust cap, loosen the locknut and then back off the outer cone with a screwdriver (the cones are slotted, not shaped for a wrench).

What I found inside was interesting.  First, the teflon grease smelled strongly of chemicals, where it barely smelled at all when I put it in.  I don't have any idea if this matters or not, but it seemed a little runnier (still grease, though, not oil) and was definitely stinkier.  Second, the outer bearings (the ones under the dust cap) were still turning in grease that looked clean, but grease in the inner bearings was black.

The bodies of these old pedals have a black plastic insert that appears to serve as a seal against the pedal axle.  I'm guessing that the blackness in the grease is a combination of contaminants, including some measure of plastic abraded away from this insert.  There are a couple of things that could cause such abrasion.  First, physical contact with the axle, which might have happened if I adjusted the outer cone too loosely, and the pedal body was able to move around under the load of pedaling, and actually contact the axle.  And second, grime making its way into the small crack between the axle and plastic seal could have become an effective abrasive.  Pulling the second pedal off and opening it up revealed much the same thing, but not quite as far along.

There's really not much to be done about grit -- it's out there, it's on the road, and all you can really do is clean it out when it gets to be too much.  But as for the bearing tension, I recalled what my instructor at Broadway Bicycle School had said -- to snug down the locknuts to make the bearings on a freshly packed hub feel a bit too tight, with the confidence that they'd loosen up a bit with use.  My last repack was done prior to this advice, so it's entirely possible I went a bit too easy on the adjustment.  So this time, after replacing the grease and 11 bearings per side, per pedal, I tighened the outer cone a bit more than I normally would have, and snugged the locknut down on a bearing which doesn't feel as loose as it ought to.

I've got a few more rides coming this fall, and I'll try to use the Schwinn as much as I can, to exercise the pedals and get them settled in.  I took it out today with the girls, where I followed Ava around on her little Gary Fisher mountain bike, iPhone in hand, snapping photos.  That's probably not smart, but it was still fun.  The pedals felt fine underfoot, not calling attention to themselves, and so Ava's increasing confidence got all of my attention.

With any luck this rebuild will last more than 500 miles or a couple of seasons.  If not, I suppose I won't feel too badly about retiring a pair of 35 year-old pedals.

All for now,


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Great Season

Fall is truly in the air this week, and my rides today and yesterday called for long sleeves.  Actually, that's true of my past 4-5 rides, now that I think about it -- temps are back around where they were in April and May, when I started riding outdoors again.

I took the picture above on Saturday morning, wearing a long-sleeved tee over another tee.  It was taken in Somerset, NJ or thereabouts, on a canal path.  It was a beautiful early-fall morning, with mist on the canal and the cool water doing its best to keep the sun's warmth in check.  The ride was easy; flat and only 11 miles -- time spent with a college buddy, as much as anything.  And once again I appreciated the versatility of the Schwinn, which carried me over packed rock dust, drying mud, dirt and sand without complaint and with nary a wobble.  There was only one portage required -- fifty yards across a mossy flagstone spillway, where the canal wall is lower, apparently designed to allow high water out.  The Paramount could have made it across, but the Schwinn isn't laid out for that kind of work.

The cycling season that's now winding down has been terrific.  I've logged over 1500 miles, split about 600 each on the Kestrel and Motobecane (the Motobecane now slightly ahead of the now-retired Kestrel), with over 300 going to the Schwinn, which I mostly used for errands or riding with my kids.  I'm working with odometer readings, not logs, so I can't say for sure how many of the Schwinn's miles were logged with the girls, but I'm going to guess it's somewhere around 125.

I might fit another 100 miles in, here and there, before I bring my season inside to the relative monotony of my training rollers, but I don't expect to hit 2000 outdoor miles. Still, 1600-odd miles is a pretty big number, facilitated in this case by a dry summer and not working.  It looks like that may be drawing to a close as well, which is good -- I'm ready to be back, fully recharged and ready to go.

Cycling no doubt contributed to that recharge.  I'm in better shape, physically, than I've been since high school, if ever.  My weight is good and I'm really strong -- at least for me.  With every pedal stroke and every mile logged, I've had time to process -- to think through where I've been the past few years, what I've learned, and the direction I want to head.  I have lots of perspective, some reasonable conclusions that should serve me well, and I feel great about the possibilities ahead of me, both personally and professionally.

1500 miles and a stronger body, mind and heart.  What a great season.

All for now,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Juliana's Wheels -- Rear Complete

You know, building wheels isn't really all that hard.  Time consuming, yes.  Made a lot easier with the right tools and an expert on hand to help, yes.  But it's not hard work or tedious work, and I'm really enjoying the process.

I finished Juliana's rear wheel in class, Monday night.  It took about two hours to get it from laced to fully tensioned and true, in a very iterative process with lots of repetition both of steps and groups of steps.  Essentially, what all of those steps achieved was to shorten the effective length of each spoke wire, tensioning it between the rim and the hub, and centering the rim between the outer locknuts of the hub's axle.  That all sounds complicated, but the mechanics are really pretty simple, as are the steps involved.

The first step of the night was to tighten the nipples down so that the last thread on each spoke end was just barely covered up by the nipple.  This basically just tee'd each spoke up with a more or less uniform starting point.  From there, we added two full turns to each nipple, to snug them down just a bit more and again, keep them more or less uniform.

Next up, Dave asked us to use the closed end of a wrench to pry the spoke ends just a bit so that they sat nice and flush up against the hub body, rather than curving out a bit.  Then came another round or two of tightening, working the spokes on each side separately (since this is a rear wheel, with an asymmetric hub and different spoke lengths per side) and then squeezing pairs of spokes together to relieve the torsional wind-up that is introduced by tightening them.  What I mean by that is that as the spoke nipples are turned to tighten the spoke, friction forces some of that twist go go into rotating the relatively flexible wire of the spoke, rather than into pulling it tighter, the result being that the spoke is then carrying an undesired torsional load in the form of that twist.  Giving pairs of adjacent spokes a good squeeze together releases the stuck parts, letting the spokes un-twist.

After a couple of rounds, the wheel was tight enough to start thinking about making it true.  Actually, it was surprising just how out of true the wheel was, given that I was trying to keep everything pretty uniform as I went.  But it was pretty far off, and that first truing took a long time to get right.  And I didn't just have to make sure the wheel wasn't wobbly at the sidewalls, I also had to make sure the wheel was circular, with the axle centered in that circle.  That's the truing stand that the wheel is in, at top, and the little pinchy thing towards the front (partially cut off at the bottom) is an adjustable guide that provides a steady reference point to true against.  As the wheel rim is spun, it's easy to see it wobble, and then the guide is adjusted so that it just barely grazes the rim at a "high" spot on one side or the other.  Tightening one or two spokes will usually take care of that high spot by pulling the rim slightly towards the left or the right (depending on whether the spokes came from the left or right side of the hub), and then the process is repeated until there are no more high spots on the rim.

I think there were a couple of rounds of tightening and truing before the next step, but honestly it all sort of became a blur in there at some point.  Either way, we eventually got to the point where we needed to make sure that the rim was centered between the outer locknuts on the axle.  In normal circumstances, an uncentered rim isn't going to ride right.  The rim won't be centered in the notch of the fork or chainstays/seatstays, for one, which means the tires might not clear and the brakes won't grab properly.  It's easy to measure this with a dishing tool, which doesn't actually take measurements or anything -- it simply adjusts to mark the distance from the rim to the outer locknut, and then you flip the wheel over and fit the tool against that side to make sure that distance is the same.  If it is, the wheel is properly dished, and if not, the spokes on one side or the other will need to be tightened uniformly, to pull the rim this way or that.  Then true again, check the dish again, adjust again, true again, check the dish again, etc...

Once the dish is right and the wheel is true, it's time to check for uniform (give or take) spoke tension across each side of the wheel.  Park makes a gauge that makes this easy.  Essentially you clamp it in turn to each spoke and the clamping action tests how much it can bend the spoke.  If the spoke bends more, it's more slack, and if it bends less, it's more tight.  The objective is to have all of the spokes sit in a range of tension so that the wheel is neither too loose and flexible, nor so tight that it becomes overstressed and prone to breakage.  It turned out I had everything a little loose, so I had to tighten everything up a bit more, then check the true, check for uniformity again, adjust, true, check and repeat.

The last step was to plop the wheel on its side on a stool with a divot worn into its seat, and apply lateral pressure to the rim, then flip it over and do it again from the other side.  As with squeezing pairs of spokes, this is intended to relieve any lateral stress on the spokes that was introduced during the build.  Then check the dish, make sure it's true, adjust, recheck and repeat.

At the end of all of that tightening, checking and truing, I ended up with a rear wheel that seems like it'll do the job.  Juli certainly seems pleased, and I'm just thrilled that I was able to do it.  In two weeks, I'll have the last class, and I'll take a crack at the front.

I have one concern, looking very closely at the rear rim:  I didn't notice it before building the wheel, but it looks like these rims have the slightest amount of stagger to the rims' spoke holes, where the holes are slightly offset alternately to the left and right.  If that's true, I got lucky with respect to lacing up the correct side of the rear wheel with the correct holes in the rim.  But since I wasn't deliberate about that mapping (I didn't notice the staggered holes before, if they are truly staggered), I may not have been so lucky with the front wheel -- have to see.  I'm not sure I'll be able to re-lace the front wheel and tension it in one class window, but if need be, I'll give it a shot.

Anyway, so far, so good.  I'm still having fun, and part of me (the part that loves toys) is thinking about wheel truing stands, spoke tension gauges and a dishing tool so that I can build my own wheels whenever I please.  Probably best to ignore that impulse right now, though.

All for now,


Monday, October 4, 2010

Gran Prix of Gloucester Cyclocross, 2010

For all of my enthusiasm about bikes and cycling, I've never really been into bicycle racing.  I enjoy riding too much to take the fun out of it by competing seriously, and I know I'm not talented, young or strong enough to be particularly good at racing at this point, anyway.  And apart from a stint over a decade ago where I watched open-wheel racing pretty regularly, I've never been sucked into regular TV spectatorship of any sports.  TV is great for amplifying the action and talent, but for me the fun of a sporting event is tied tightly to the experience of being there.  So as for bike racing, I don't do it, I don't necessarily understand the tactics of it, and I don't really watch it on TV (the TdF or otherwise).

But I don't dislike it or anything, and going to see the TdF is on my bucket list somewhere after going to see the 24 hours of LeMans. So when I heard about the Gran Prix of Gloucester, one of the bigger cyclocross events in the US, hear tell, I had to check it out.

I don't know a lot about cyclocross, and won't pretend to, but the jist of it is road-ish types of bikes being raced on a broad variety of terrain, from pavement to grass, dirt and mud.  The races (at least these races) are timed events, not distance events.  They ran for an hour, or about the length of one of my typical workout rides.  But riding competitively, over grass and dirt and what-have-you for an hour is an entirely different animal than going out for a workout ride on the road, of course -- far more intense.  I have a hard time imagining that, honestly.

The bikes sit somewhere between road and old-school mountain bikes.  Their frames look like road racing bikes in terms of their geometry and overall shape, and they run 700c wheels and drop bars like racing bikes.  But they're also generally equipped with cantilever brakes (to keep the tire clearance nice and open, vs. caliper brakes), lower gearing for hill climbing, additional brake levers on the bar tops, and knobby (if narrow) tires.  The riders' posture in the saddle is very much like a road riding posture, and it looked to me as if they use the saddle most of the time, rather than spending the race standing up and using body english like on a mountian bike.

Just to dwell on the hardware a bit more, it was cyclocross bikes that got me thinking differently about cycling a few years ago.  Way back in the day, my early ten-speed bikes were generalists, and I rode them anywhere I could on lightly treaded road tires.  Not sand, so much, but dirt, grass and even snow sometimes.  Then over time, my road bike purchases became more and more specialized in favor of road use, to the point where my recently retired Kestrel could be really twitchy, and seemed to want only to crash on gravel, grass or other unpaved surfaces.  Some of this was undoubtedly the narrow and high-pressure tires I was running on the Kestrel and Shogun before it, but I'm sure it had to do with the bikes and their geometry, as well.

But a cross bike?  Gosh, they look a lot like road bikes, and just look at the terrain they're piloted over.  Seeing them years back started me thinking about more rational road bikes, and that ultimately led me to a couple of projects rebuilding vintage road frames into all-around bikes.  My Schwinn Sports Tourer wears lightly treaded Panaracer Pasela tires, and can be ridden on dirt paths, grassy trails and other uneven surfaces without fear of crashing.  It's not as fast as my Kestrel was, but I can ride it most anywhere I want. And while my Motobecane Grand Touring (also shod with Paselas) is a little sketchier than the Schwinn, it too is a far better ally off-pavement than the Kestrel was, without being meaningfully slower than that bike.  I think it's fair to say that I have a restored appreciation for cycling versatility, thanks indirectly to cyclocross.

This was my first time at a cyclocross event, and really, I just dipped my toe in.  I had the girls, and they were more interested in the beach and the playground than the racing.  And I had my dog, who can be a handful around other dogs while on-leash, which makes it hard to bring him places.  We watched most of one race, and then walked around the vendor tents that had been set up for a bit, seeing what was there.  We saw and waved to my wheel-building instructor, Dave, at the Pedro's tent (he races with Pedro's sponsorship), but he looked busy and we didn't bug him (he told me in class later that he'd placed in the 30's of some 90 riders -- pretty good!)  Then, after a bit, we watched the first few laps of the elite womens' race, before starting to make our way along the course and back to the car.  Next time I won't bring the dog, I'll bring a picnic, and maybe invite some friends who'll appreciate the event more than my kids did (no slam on the kids or the dog, there).  It was fun, though, and interesting -- and most importantly, I know what to do differently next time.
All for now,


Friday, October 1, 2010

Cat pee, Nike? Seriously?

A non-bike post today.

So, for the record, most of the sneakers I've owned have been Nikes, and one of my current pairs is from Nike. And I like them! I like their innovation, with the Apple tie-ins, etc.

In the past, I've bought a mix of Nikes and Adidas and who knows what for my girls for Soccer, and Juli's current cleats are Nike. Or were, I should say. I bought these in I think March or so. They're series 90 or something like that -- have a couple of big 90's on them, in any case. And oh my God do they stink like cat pee!

Now, I don't have a cat, and the shoes weren't left somewhere someone else's cat could pay them a visit. And they didn't start out smelling like that. No, according to what I found online, these shoes start to smell that way when they get wet. And of course in New England, kids practice and play soccer on wet fields. And of course if one day you notice that your kid's cleats smell like cat pee, the first thing you do is what? That's right, you wash them, and then let them dry in the sun. Only in this case, washing them just makes it worse because then the shoes are well and truly soaked, and whatever it is about the materials in the shoes that makes them smell like cat pee is activated just that much more. Nice.

It's easy to find reports on Google about this, and it would seem that Nike isn't (or wasn't) taking responsibility for the problem. When I spoke with Nike this morning, my customer service rep was friendly, but either didn't know anything about the problem or wouldn't acknowledge any known issue. I'm going to send them in to Nike to return them and we'll see if they do anything for me, but the 'net has set my expectations low on that score. OMG these things stink -- I have that one there sitting next to me after my customer service call, and it's unbearable!

In the mean time, I will have to hit Sports Authority this weekend to buy Juli a new set of cleats. Adidas, I think.

All for now,