Thursday, July 26, 2018

bike hacks: how to fix loose headset cups

At the shop today, I was handed a classic mid-80s Trek road bike that needed an overhaul.
It was a very nice old bike, with all original components. But it had seen better days.
The original wheels with their Matrix rims would have to be cut up and rebuilt, a project for another time; we swapped in another set of used wheels that would work just fine.

Then, I looked at the headset. The cups were both loose enough that I could remove them with my fingers. Not good.
I pulled everything apart, cleaned all the pieces and determined that, if properly re-installed with fresh grease it would be just fine.
So I went to work on fixing the loose cups.

1. Remove the cups from the head tube and clean out everything inside the head tube. Examine the inside of the head tube carefully to make sure nothing is cracked, sticking out or otherwise impeding the turning of the fork's steer tube.
Note how smooth the top of the inside looks. There's really nothing there for the cup to gain any purchase on. When the bike was new, this wasn't a problem, as the parts had close tolerances and fit together tightly; but many miles of riding have loosened things a bit, and sometimes the cups will get wobbly.
Ignoring this situation until it's really annoying will cause damage to the frame and fork. Don't wait!

You COULD fix this with a strong two-part epoxy, and I'll admit that I've done it that way once or twice in my early days of wrenching. But epoxy has two strikes against it: it's messy and hard to clean up, both during and after application; and it has nasty chemicals in it that are not good for you or the for the earth. So skip the epoxy and just use tools.

2. Take a chisel and a hammer. Working your way around the inside of the head tube of the frame, carefully aim the corner of the chisel's edge into the metal of the inside wall, and tap with the hammer. Be careful not to hammer too hard or you can risk damaging the headtube's edge. Take your time; a couple of lighter taps each time should do it. What you want to do is deliberately gouge out tiny metal "teeth" into the head tube, thereby making the inside diameter of the head tube a tiny bit smaller so the tolerance between it and the headset cup will be tight again. You don't need to go crazy with this; every 1/4" or so of tiny gouges all the way around should be sufficient.
When you're finished, you should be able to re-install the headset cup. Shop mechanics will be able to do this with a headset press (if both cups are loose, do the same thing on the other end of the head tube, and then install both cups together with the headset press.)
If you're at home, but you can still put your frame in a bike stand, there's another way to do this: Get a section of 2 x 4 (at least a foot long). Wrap it in a shop towel, position the cup on top of the head tube and position the wrapped 2 x 4 on top of the cup, making sure all edges of the cup are in contact with the wood. Take a hammer and carefully pound on the wood until the cup settles into the frame. Check your work periodically to make sure the cup isn't being ovalized, or going in so crookedly you'll need to punch it out and start again.

If all goes well, you should be able to install the cup with no "daylight" showing between the cup and the frame. (On older frames, the edge will already have been faced at the factory. I hope. If not, you have to decide whether it's worth it to pay a shop to do this -- most home mechanics don't have cutting tools. The ugly truth -- I am usually content to live with less than a millimeter of "daylight" if the cup is fully seated all the way around. Most casual home mechanics don't keep cutting tools at home, as they're very expensive and almost never needed for most simpler repairs.)

If you've done everything right, it should look something like this. You'll note that I installed one cup at a time, because the nonprofit where I'm working this summer doesn't have a headset press.
I made do with a 2 x 4 and a hammer, and it worked fine. Obviously, if the parts are very lightweight/higher quality, they will not stand up to this rough-and-ready sort of mechanistry, and you'll have to use a proper headset press, or pay a shop mechanic to do it for you.)

I repeated this process for the bottom cup. Then I added clean bearings and fresh grease, installed the fork and voila! Good as new.

(NOTE: Gouging out the inside of the head tube will only work on steel frames with external headset cups. I suppose it could work on select older aluminum frames, but I've never tried it and wouldn't advise it. And of course, never on carbon!)

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

disc brakes are mostly overkill

No automatic alt text available.
I admit it. I have not jumped on the disc brake bandwagon. Disc brakes are expensive, add an awful lot of weight to a bike, and are easily damaged and fussy as hell to readjust. And frankly, they're overkill for all but the wettest and/or downhill conditions -- or when someone is riding too fast to properly control their bike.
In short, they're a boondoggle by the bicycle industry to sell us more stuff we don't actually need.
(Insert Grumpy Cat face here.)

So a couple months ago, when these decals showed up at a local bike shop, I jumped on the last two and immediately affixed them to my cargo hauling BStone, which has old-school cantilever brakes.
Which work just fine, even under load.
I'm sure I've just sunk my chance of ever working in a full-service modern bike shop again.
I can live with that.

Coming soon: recycling everything in the name of sustainability (aka cheapskate repairs that are totally safe and good).
Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

today's hack: brake substitution

Working at a grassroots nonprofit, I don't usually have the option of going to a warehouse shelf and pulling the exact replacement parts I need. This hybrid came in with a broken canti boss in the fork. Being a budget-level variety, the boss couldn't be unscrewed from the fork blade. So our only option was to replace the fork. Unfortunately, there was nothing on hand with a long enough steer tube (to fit the frame) that would also fit a 700c hybrid wheel.

So that's when I suggested we keep the original fork and convert it to a dual-pivot sidepull brake.

It was fairly simple. Saw off what was left of the mangled boss; saw off the other boss, still intact; file the surface flat; touch up with some nail polish and then mount the sidepull brake, which should clear the boss platforms easily.  

If this were a for-profit bike shop, I'd never even be able to suggest this repair. Cosmetically it wuld fall far short of most shops' standards. If the cosmetics didn't stop a service manager, the potential for liability would.
To which I'd say: WHAT liability? The brake worked just fine, and stopped the bike quite well on its test rides.
This fallback on cosmetics and liability concerns is, of course, driven by a bicycle industry that is all about planned obsolesence in the name of Selling More Stuff.

We have enough stuff in the world as it is. We shouldn't be in such a rush to make more, in the name of profits or even to support more workers. (Let's teach people how to reuse and repair things first, yes?)

And this is yet another reason I'm happy not to be a wage-slave in a for-profit bike shop these days.
Happy riding.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

nostalgia night at portland short-track

Tomorrow night (7/16) I'll be pulling on my Team Slow t-shirt and cap, throwing a stiff, creaky leg over Stompy and heading down to PIR for Portland Racing's "Getting the Band Back Together" night.
Series promoter Kris Schamp isinviting all STXC alumni to come back and celebrate the 14th season of the series. They'll be given discounts of they want to race; or they can enjoy a fun-for-all "hot lap" before the real racing begins. (Having ridden my last short-track race in 2013 before hanging it up, I'll be opting for the hot lap and skipping the real racing, but I'll stick around to enjoy the evening.)

If you're around, come on down to PIR at 5:45pm. The hot lap starts a little before 6. Stick around to watch some pretty awesome local racing. Bring a box dinner (no alcohol, please) and hang out.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

lock that bike! lock it like you mean it!

Last week, I tuned up a friend's bike. She's having a great time on it now.
But she asked what lock she should use to keep it secure.

So I decided to build a blog post around that topic.

First, skip the woven steel cable. Don't waste your time using this as a primary lock, anywhere. I can cut through one of those in a few seconds with simple bike shop cable cutters, or with a bolt cutter available at any Harbor Freight store for under twenty bucks.

A U-lock is what you're looking for.
Skip the cheapo brands and go straight to either Abus or Kryptonite. Today's versions use flat/rectangular keys and cannot be popped with a Bic pen.

Note: Be prepared to spend upwards of $50-70 for a good U-lock. That may sound like a lot of money but it's still a lot cheaper than having to buy a new bike.

Here's a few to start with:

1. Kryptonite Evolution series Standard U-lock. I have one of these that's several years old and still going strong. It's ideal for fatter-tired city bikes with fenders, or any bike where you need a standard-length shackle to secure it to a rack.

2. Kruptonite Evolution-7 Mini (comes with cable). I use one of these on my other bike, which has smaller tires and wheels that are closer to the frame. With care, I can run it through my front wheel and frame to a "staple" rack.
The lock comes in a pack with a cable, which I use as a secondary lock anytime I feel I'm in a riskier, higher-theft area. Simply loop the cable through itself around your front wheel and frame, then bring the free end back to the U-lock, which goes around your real wheel and frame to the bike rack.

3.  Kryptonite NY Lock. I had one of these back in the day when I went to grad school and lived in Center City Philadelphia. Coming from Portland, OR I felt I needed to up my game a bit. And while I was glad to have the extra protection this lock provided, its weight  was enough to convince me to sell it when it was time to leave Philly and go home to much smaller PDX. Still, if you live in an especially big, bad city where bike theft is crazy-high, this could be the lock to get. Comes in standard and mini sizes. Weighs a freaking TON.
KRYPTONITE|New York Lock4. Abus U-mini U-lock. Similarly constructed and priced to the Kryptonite Evolution Mini, this is a good, solid lock for city and campus use. Combine it with a cable for more protection.

ABUS U-Mini U-Lock: Yellow

5. Abus Granit 640 U-lock. For use in higher-risk areas. It's heavier and costlier, closer in strength and weight to the NY Lock above. With a retail price over $100, get this if you're riding a very fancy or hard-to replace bike that you can't bear to lose. 

6. TiGr mini Titanium lock. In the Other Lock department, I've started to see these pop up on bikes around Portland. This mini version costs around a hundred bucks and weighs less than a pound. I have yet to hear of one being successfully broken by a would-be thief. The mounting bracket is sort of funky and requires a lot of space on a bicycle frame, so it may not be ideal for smaller-sized bikes; but with its light weight you could easily carry it in a backpack or pannier.

It's not enough to buy a great lock. You also need to use it properly.

A U-lock should ideally go through the rear wheel and frame to the rack, especially if you only have the one lock. (If you have a cable, use that to secure the front wheel, running the end to the U-lock.)
If you're locking a bike on campus, park it near other bikes in a well-lit, public area.
Remove all accessories that arean't bolted onto the bike -- tools, pump, lights, pannier.
If you don't want to hassle with all that every time you lock up, consider carrying less stuff on your urban rides. Bring a patch kit, a mini-pump and a mini-tool. If you need anything more than that in the city, you're not far from a bike shop or public transit. (And if your city's transit doesn't allow bikes on board, then you have something to work on there.)

If you are able to store your bike in a garage, lock it up inside the garage, to something solid and very heavy if possible. Serious bike thieves can and do break into garages where they know bicycles are stored, and sometimes they do it forcefully (a truck plowed through a garage door in Portland earlier this summer, allowing thieves to steal six bikes from a family). If you can hang your bikes up from the ceiling, that will make it take long to steal and could attract attention from neighbors.
If you live in an apartment building, store your bike in your apartment. If your manager requires you to lock up in a shared basement, lock your bike to the gas meter. And if you aren't able to store a bike inside the building, consider looking for another apartment to live in.

Even if you live in a single-family house, you should still lock your bikes inside the house, and away from big windows that allow thieves to see them easily. Serious bike thieves will case a place for days or even weeks, to establish an occupant's routine and determine when the best time is to break in.
You may not be able to prevent bicycle theft, but at the very least you should make it as hard as you can. If our bike looks more securely locked than other bikes nearby, the thief will choose an easier target somewhere else.

Register your bikes with local law enforcement, or with an online service like Project 529.
If you have renter's or homeowner's insurance, make sure you keep photos and serial numbers on file to share with your insurance agent in case of theft.

And above all, remember that a couple of minutes is all it takes for someone to see an opportunity and act on it. So LOCK YOUR BIKE EVERY TIME. Period. No excuses. Your bike will thank you for it.

Happy riding.